Well, Thanksgiving is past. I'm stuffed full of turkey, mashed potatoes, homemade bread, and butter-laden corn. I'm supposed to be on one of those low-carb diets, since I'm overweight and my cholesterol is somewhere over 4,000, but how can you have Thanksgiving dinner without potatoes? I'll start being good again today.
In my contraction mailbag last week, I mentioned that letters regarding contraction were running 300something to two against. Some of you apparently took that as a challenge, since I've received several pro-contraction letters over the last week. I promised to return to normal Down on the Farm mailbag protocol this week, and I'll do that below, but I wanted to address a couple of these contraction points before moving on.
There were two basic themes sounded in pro-contraction comments. The first goes something like "Minnesota stole the Twins from Washington D.C., so what goes around comes around, HAHAHAHA!" Well, I can understand the feelings of disgruntled Senator fans, but as I pointed out in my first article about contraction, there is a difference between relocation and elimination. As I wrote, if the Twins moved to North Carolina, D.C., or Kabul for that matter, that would be sad and upsetting, but the continuity of the franchise would carry through. It would still be possible to trace the history of the franchise back to Minnesota and then again to Washington. The farm system would remain intact; this current set of players would remain a team, and could be followed as such. But contraction/elimination/execution is different: we are talking about ending a franchise, ending history, breaking up a family.
The second theme sounded in pro-contraction comments is "it may be sad, but baseball is a business and it is a sound business decision. Why should we be angry at Twins owner Carl Pohlad for doing what is best for his pocketbook?" Yes, baseball is a business, but it is also a sport, intertwined with concepts of community and identity. Bud Selig himself says that baseball has a social responsibility in times of national crisis, such as this, to bring people together. Contraction violates that principle. I'd also point out that contracting the Twins makes no sense purely from a business sense: the team makes money, has a successful past and a promising future, and is certainly in better condition financially than other troubled franchises. The World Champion Diamondbacks had to borrow money to meet payroll this year, and are heavily burdened with debt.
I'm increasingly convinced that none of this will happen, at least for 2002. There is no way this will get past the arbitrator, not with the way it is set up now. The owners latest proposal has 25-man rosters for the 28 surviving teams, so the roster increase to 27 or 28 that was supposed to make the union go for this isn't on the table. I'm not an expert on labor law, but that sure looks like an attempt to unilaterally change working conditions and the salary structure, which is a clear violation of the basic agreement. It's almost as if the owners want the arbitrator to rule against them.
OK, let's put this contraction business behind us for now, and dig into the mailbag for some prospect questions.
Steve B. writes: What's your opinion of shortstop Juan Uribe of the Colorado Rockies? His progress this season was very impressive as he posted a good average and power numbers, and he draws rave reviews for his fielding. But I'm concerned about his plate discipline (eight BB and 55 SO in 273 AB). Is he a future All-Star or do you think he'll struggle once NL pitchers figure him out?
Uribe hit .336 with a .586 slugging percentage at Coors Field, but just .269 with a .469 slugging percentage on the road. His OBP splits were .356/.298. Obviously, the thin air helps him tremendously, but while his OBP is weak on the road, he still showed some pop there. He's a better hitter than Neifi Perez, at least, and given his age (just 21), he has a lot of development time ahead of him. His defense is excellent, so he'll stay in the lineup for a long time even if he doesn't improve offensively. As you point out, strike zone judgment is his biggest weakness. If Uribe doesn't improve his plate discipline, I wouldn't expect him to improve much. But even mild progress will help him, and given his age, that is quite possible. It wouldn't surprise me to see Uribe make some All-Star teams, though whether he develops into a genuine star, or just a Coors Field-boosted player, depends on the strike zone judgment.
Wes D. asks: B.J. Garbe (Minnesota Twins organization) and Ryan Doumit (Pittsburgh Pirates organization) are two friends of mine. I was wondering about their progress. Is Doumit's arm really as good as people say it is? With J.R. House as a great catcher and the Pirates already having Jason Kendall, what are his chances of even staying with the organization? And will B.J. ever be a good hitter? Would the Twins ever turn Garbe into a pitcher if he doesn't pan out as an outfielder?
Garbe and Doumit both attended Moses Lake High School in Washington state. Ryan was a second-round pick by the Pirates, B.J. a first-round pick of the Twins, in 1999.
Doumit is a very sound defensive catcher. He has some problems with his release occasionally, but his arm is quite strong, and he shuts down the running game more often than not. As you know, Ryan is very intelligent, and handles the mental chores of catching quite well. Whether he emerges as a potential starter or just as a reserve depends on his hitting. He is a switch-hitter with pop from both sides, though he isn't likely to emerge as a gigantic offensive threat. His future with the Pirates, again as you point out, depends on House and Kendall. Ryan is superior defensively to House, but doesn't have J.R.'s offensive potential.
Garbe has been a big disappointment for the Twins. He hasn't hit well in full-season ball, hitting just .233 in 2000 and .242 in 2001, with little power in either campaign. He isn't a lost cause, however. His plate discipline is good, and scouts remain intrigued with his athletic ability and overall potential. He's also been quite young for the leagues he's played in. I wouldn't give up on him just yet, but he does have work to do tooling his swing.
Brent writes: I saw Bobby Jenks pitch in the Arizona Fall League. What kind of prospect is he? He was throwing 98-99 mph with a downer of a curve and had good control. I've heard he's a headcase. What are your impressions of him?
Jenks was a fifth-round pick in 2000, out of Spirit Lake, Idaho. He was academically ineligible for high school baseball three years out of four, which is the genesis of his reputation as a headcase. Headcase or no, he has a ton of talent, with a 97-99 mph fastball and a big curve. His control is a problem, and he posted a 5.27 ERA in the Midwest League this past year. His ERA in Arizona was 6.97, but he fanned 49 in 31 innings.
What kind of prospect is he? Well, he obviously has a great arm. But it takes more than that to be a great pitcher, or even a good one. You also have to have some measure of intelligence and pitching smarts. Note that his academic problems in school do not mean he isn't intelligent; intelligence is an ephemeral concept, difficult to measure or even define. You have to be smart to be academically successful, but you don't have to be academically successful to be smart.
Whether Jenks has enough pitching intellect to succeed in the long run, I do not know.
Jeremy G. asks: As a Giants fan I have been hearing Jerome Williams' name pop up from time to time. Both Peter Gammons and our own radio broadcaster Mike Krukow seem to think the kid is the real deal. Is he a sought-after-prospect by other teams and is he rated higher than Kurt Ainsworth?
Ainsworth has a chance for the Giants' rotation next year, while Williams is a year behind. But his overall ceiling is probably higher than Ainsworth's; how you rate them depends on how you value current performance versus long-term potential.
Williams has a 90-95 mph fastball, depending on the day. His curve, slider, and changeup are all major-league pitches, and he shows good control and solid pitching instincts. His numbers for Double-A Shreveport this year were decent: 9-7, 3.95, 84/34 K/BB in 130 innings. The strikeout rate is low for a guy who throws hard, but he was one of the youngest pitchers in the Texas League. I think Jerome will need a year of Triple-A, but if he stays healthy, he should be a very good pitcher. Scouts like his pitching instincts, confidence, and intellect. Yes, other teams covet him, but barring a major trade, I'd expect to see him in a Giants uniform late next year.
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.