Will Fossum be a starter or reliever for Red Sox?

It may seem sentimental, but I think what the Expos and the Orioles did on Wednesday was classy. In case you missed it, the Expos traded Tim Raines Sr. to the Orioles for a player to be named later, so Senior could play on the same team with Junior. When Junior got drafted a few years back, Senior said his goal was to last long enough to play on the same team with his son. Junior's rapid development, Senior's hard-fought comeback from lupus, and the people in the two front offices made it possible. Congratulations to all.

By the way, I should have mentioned Corwin Malone in my "Breakthrough Prospects" article. I'll do a full write-up for him next week.

Adam C. asks: Since the Red Sox called up Casey Fossum in August, he didn't make it into your September callups feature. I'd like to know your thoughts on him. Can he develop into a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the majors. He seems to have one well-above-average pitch (his curveball), as well as a decent fastball and developing changeup. Do you see him sticking in the rotation next year, or suffering the same types of jitters that befell Tomo Ohka and Paxton Crawford this season?

Fossum has split his time between the rotation and the bullpen since coming up in August. In seven starts he has a 5.97 ERA; in six relief outings his ERA is 0.93. He's held lefty hitters to a .188 mark, but has been less impressive against right-handers (.275). This may make it sound like he belongs in relief, but I do think his long-term role will be as a starter.

Since he came up directly from Double-A, he may need 10-15 starts at Triple-A Pawtucket to finish polishing up his game, and he may get that next year if he doesn't make the club in spring training. But he'll certainly be in the mix. Even though his fastball isn't a blazer, I like his overall package. I think Fossum will have a good career, provided he isn't jerked around too much or expected to do too much, too quickly.

Andrew B. writes: John, as a prospect junkie, I'd like to nominate you for president. I need a first baseman for my Diamond Mind team. How would you rank Carlos Pena (Rangers), Nick Johnson (Yankees), and Hee Seop Choi (Cubs)? And just to be irritating, do you think they will all be better than my so-called first baseman of the future, Daryle Ward?

Well, while I do harbor long-term political ambitions, I'd rather not be president right now. I doubt I could be elected to anything higher than city council in any event, not being particularly telegenic, and not being a very good liar.

As for your question, I'd have to rank them in the order you presented them: Pena, Johnson, Choi. I absolutely love Pena. He got off to a slow start this year, but was extremely strong in the second half and looks ready for a major-league job. Johnson should have the last of his 2000 rust shaken off by next spring. He has less power than the others, but will post excellent OBPs. I rated Choi very highly this spring, but he struggled this year in Triple-A, mostly because of a hand injury he tried to play through. If that isn't a long-term problem, he could end up ranking ahead of Johnson.

Basically, you can't go wrong with any of the trio.

As for Ward, his main problem is lack of playing time with the Astros. He'd be better than half the first basemen in the major leagues if he got the at-bats to get in a groove.

Mike from Chicago asks: The Indians' second- and third-round picks in 1998 after taking C.C. Sabathia in the first round were a middle infield pair, Zach Sorenson and Scott Pratt. At the time they were being touted as being not unlike Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, though I haven't heard much about them since. Do you have a report on where they fit in to the Indians organization now?

Neither Sorensen nor Pratt are in Cleveland's long-term plans at this stage, at least in any role beyond that of utility infielder. Neither has hit as well as expected. Sorensen is at .253 batting, .329 OBP, .369 SLG for his career. Pratt has been a bit better: .261, .347, .382. Both have had injury troubles.

My guess is that Pratt has a slightly better chance to contribute, though I've liked Sorensen better in previous years. Either or both might get a bench job someday, but a regular job would be a long shot, and they won't be anything close to Whitaker and Trammell.

Kyle writes: I am mainly asking about a couple of Oklahoma City guys: Matt Roney and Brian Tallet. I know that Roney was highly touted until suffering a shoulder injury, but Tallet has a really good K/BB ratio as well as a very good WHIP. Can you give me an update on what the future holds for them?

Roney, a first-round pick of the Rockies in 1998, was very mediocre for Class A Asheville this year. He went 8-10 with a 4.98 ERA in 23 starts. His control is decent, and he struck out 115 men in 123 innings, but he also gave up 131 hits. He is big and strong (6-4, 225) and has been clocked as high as 94 mph, but the shoulder injury he suffered in '99 reduced his velocity and put his timetable back significantly. I wouldn't give up on him yet, but he has a lot of work to do.

Tallet was a second-rounder drafted by the Indians out of LSU in 2000. He was brilliant in the Carolina League this year, posting a terrific 164/38 K/BB ratio in 160 innings, allowing just 134 hits and rating a 3.04 ERA in 27 starts. Tallet doesn't have a blazing fastball, but his velocity is decent and he knows how to pitch. Some scouts believe that he will struggle at higher levels, despite his good performance in college and the lower minors. His slider draws mixed reviews. He'll have to prove himself in Double-A, but there is nothing in his statistical record to warn that he will struggle. It isn't out of the question that he could be pitching for the Indians next September, but keep in mind that there is a bit of disagreement in the scouting community about Tallet. I like him based on his numbers and what I saw him do for LSU.

Justin C. asks: Will you evaluate the progress of Seattle catcher Ryan Christianson?

No one has ever doubted Christianson's defense. He was a first-round pick in 1999 out of high school based mostly on his glove work, and he's started to show some hitting to go with it.

Behind the plate, he draws raves for his arm strength, accuracy, mobility, and command of the pitching staff. The questions have been about his bat. Christianson hit just .248 and fanned 112 times in 528 at-bats for Class A San Bernadino, but he also hit 12 homers and 42 doubles. The doubles are a sign of more power to come. His plate discipline is OK; he isn't a horribly wild swinger, but will need to make some adjustments when he reaches Double-A.

I'm certain he'll reach the majors on the strength of his glove work alone, but whether he becomes a star or just another catch-and-throw guy will depend on how his bat develops. Right now I'm an agnostic about where Christianson's career will go.

John Sickels is the author of the 2001 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com, or you can visit his homepage at hometown.aol.com/jasickels/page1.html.