Borchard vs. Dunn: Power hitters supreme

I discovered this tidbit while researching my book about Bob Feller. The following excerpts come from the Des Moines Tribune of August 7, 1934. The article is titled "Passing of Ruth to Mean End of High Ball Salaries."

    The fans will miss Babe Ruth next year but his brother ball tossers will miss him far more. For when the Babe passes, the high salaries for which he was responsible will pass with him. A major league official Tuesday said that the major league clubs already are planning drastic cuts for next season, and if the hired hands don't like it, they will have to find more lucrative fields for their talents. ... Despite increased attendance in several cities, only a few major league clubs will make money this year. ... You may expect to hear some awful wails of anguish from the poor downtrodden wage slave of the diamond who can hardly afford to devote a couple of hours an afternoon for six months for 10 or 12 thousand dollars... But wails or no wails, when Ruth goes, those high salaries are going with him and it will be a long time before they come back.

The article quotes major league officials as saying that only the Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, New York Giants, and Cubs would make a profit in '34. The Indians, Pirates, and Cardinals "might" break even, but all the other teams would lose money.

Let's hit the mailbag.

Casey R. writes: Joe Borchard seems to be the "golden boy" of the White Sox farm system. Knowing he has to cut down on strikeouts, do you think he and Adam Dunn of the Reds can be a new wave Sosa/McGwire phenom?

It's possible. Dunn has established himself as a home-run force to be reckoned with. It is scary to consider how good he can be given a normal development curve. I wouldn't worry about the fact that he's hit just one homer so far in 2002. His strike zone judgment is intact (12 walks in 55 at-bats), and as long as that remains steady, he'll be fine.

Borchard broke his right foot in spring training, and is currently on the shelf. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts when he returns. Foot injuries are problematic; sometimes they are no big deal, but other times they can mess up a hitter's balance and stride at the plate, especially if he tries to come back too early and play in pain.

We need to see how Borchard adjusts to Triple-A pitching in any event. He fanned 158 times in Double-A last year. The strikeouts don't worry me too much, since he also draws walks. But he doesn't draw as many as Dunn does, plus he is 23 years old, rather than Dunn's 22; the extra year does give Dunn a real advantage over Borchard. When Borchard returns to action, we need to monitor his strike zone judgment closely. That will be the best indicator of whether or not he will live up to expectations.

My gut feeling is that Dunn will be better. He should challenge for some home run records if he stays healthy and works hard. I'm not certain that the same is true for Borchard, though he will probably also be an excellent player.

Chris R. asks: I noticed you left Robb Quinlan off your list of players that will help the Anaheim Angels. I am a childhood friend of Robb and he has excelled at every level (including professional ball) and I wondered how he could not be included.

Quinlan is someone I've had my eye on for a couple of years. I didn't write about him for ESPN, but I did put him in my book. A 10th-round pick from the University of Minnesota in 1999, Quinlan hit .317 in Class A in 2000, then .295 in Double-A last year, with 14 homers and 53 walks. He owns a career average of .310, and has pretty good patience at the plate. He can hit, but his main problem is that he is a right-handed-hitting first baseman. Unless you have excellent power, it is hard to get a job with that profile, and while Quinlan hits for average and gets on base, his home run production has always been marginal.

He is off to a very good start this year, hitting .340/.386/.540 at Triple-A Salt Lake. He is splitting time between first base and the outfield to give him more versatility, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him in Anaheim sometime this year. I think Quinlan can hit enough to help off the bench, but long-term, he probably doesn't have a future as a regular first baseman in Anaheim, since he has hot prospect Casey Kotchman on his tail.

Darren B. writes: The Phillies lost Miguel Ascencio in the Rule 5 Draft to the Royals. Will he stay on the Royals roster the entire season? How good do you think he will be?

Ascencio made the team, and the Royals say they are committed to keeping him. He's pitched just one inning so far, allowing four runs. They want to keep him in the back end of the bullpen, working mop-up relief, to avoid putting him in situations he isn't prepared to handle. The Royals need a starting pitcher right now, with Chad Durbin having been demoted and with Darrell May on the DL, but it appears that no consideration has been given to using Ascencio in that spot. This is understandable and wise.

Long-term, he is a fine property, so it makes sense for the Royals to baby him. Ascencio is 21, and went 12-5 with a 2.84 ERA last year in the Florida State League. He runs his fastball to 90-94 MPH, and he has an excellent changeup. His breaking pitch is mediocre right now, and he does not always throw strikes, walking 70 in 155 innings last year. The lack of a breaking pitch is what will keep him out of the rotation for now.

The plan is to carry him this year, then send him back to the minors next year to pick up some innings and refine his breaking stuff. Rule 5 gambles seldom work out, since sitting on the bench for a year tends to leave players rusty, and hurts the development of young players. But it doesn't seem to hurt pitchers as badly as it does hitters, so hopefully it will work out. In any event, using the 25th roster spot to carry someone like Ascencio makes more sense than wasting it on a useless vet like Doug Henry.

Keep an eye on another Royals rookie, Jeremy Affeldt. He is the real deal, having boosted his velocity from 88-90 to 91-94, while maintaining his good control and sharp breaking stuff. He could end up making some starts.

John Sickels is the author of the 2002 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook. He is currently writing a biography of Bob Feller. 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.