As most of you know, the amateur baseball draft takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday. I'll have a recap of the first round for you on Wednesday, with a quick analysis of each pick, and will add additional material about the draft class as the summer progresses, such as sleeper picks and other guys to watch.
Let's hit the mailbag.
PNB writes: I'm a Rutgers grad, so I got interested last year when everyone was saying that Bobby Brownlie might go No. 1 in the draft this year based on some stellar numbers for Team USA. This year, though, he's been solid yet unspectacular. 6-6, 3.50 ERA, 80 H, 19 BB, 66 K, in 80 IP. How far has his stock fallen? What do you project for him in the draft and for his career?
Before the college season started, Brownlie was the consensus best talent in the 2002 draft class, based on what he did last year. Scouts loved his 95-mph fastball, his big-breaking curve, and his sharp control. He wasn't in the Mark Prior Uber-Prospect Class, but he was expected to advance to the major leagues very quickly. Things haven't gone quite as planned for Brownlie this spring. As you point out, his performance has been decent rather than spectacular. His velocity is down; he's throwing in the upper 80s and low 90s rather than the mid 90s. He's also struggled with a sore shoulder, and has had trouble throwing his curve. Add in the fact that he's chosen Scott Boras as his "advisor," and it's no wonder his stock as dropped.
He won't be the first player picked, but is still very likely to go in the first round. Baseball America projected him last week to go 21st overall to the Cubs, and that seems like a reasonable slot. I wouldn't expect him to slip past the sandwich round. I think Brownlie is a fine pitcher, but I do worry about his arm. He'll carry more risk than it seemed he would last year. A team with extra picks in the draft, like the Cubs or the Athletics, would probably be more likely to roll the dice on him, than a team with only one first-round selection.
Russell B. asks: I was wondering how Marlins prospects Adrian Gonzalez and Chip Ambres are performing. What type of MLB ETA do you give them?
Gonzalez and Ambres are both former first-round picks, Gonzalez from a California high school in 2000, and Ambres from a Texas high school in 1998. Gonzalez is more advanced at this point, despite being younger. He hit .312 with 37 doubles, 17 homers, and 103 RBI last year in Class A, not bad for a 19-year old. He was promoted to Double-A this year and his holding his own against older competition, hitting .253 with seven homers so far. That's not great but he is very young and should improve. Gonzalez is a very promising line-drive hitter, with a balanced and level swing, though he needs better strike zone judgment (17 BBs/46 K's). I wouldn't expect him to challenge for a job before 2004.
Ambres has been plagued with injuries, and has yet to get in a full season. He's shown flashes of strong power/speed potential, and is a good defensive outfielder. Scouts also like his work ethic and intelligence, but he hasn't been able to put his package together, in part due to all the injuries (knees, hamstring, broken leg). He's hitting just .240 for Class A Jupiter right now, with poor patience and only a little power. At 22, he still has time to improve, but is clearly not where the Marlins thought he'd be by this point.
Such are the risks of the draft, even for first-rounders.
Herman W. asks: What are the chances of Tim Kalita (Tigers) of making it up to the majors? He's got great numbers the past few years despite not having great "stuff."
Kalita was drafted in the seventh round in 1999, out of Notre Dame. He throws 88-90 MPH, has a good curveball, and has proven very durable, throwing 200 innings last year for Double-A Erie, without ill effect (he went 15-9, 3.83, with a 147/49 K/BB ratio). This year, Kalita is just 1-7 at Triple-A Toledo, but has been done in by poor run support and bad defense. His ERA is 3.65, and he's been mentioned as a possible call-up for later in the year.
Kalita is a classic Grade C pitching prospect, someone with a decent arm and a decent track record, but who doesn't stand out or get mentioned much on top prospect lists. He'll get a shot at some point, but unless he pitches well right away, he isn't likely to be given much slack by major league organizations. If Tim improves his control from "pretty good" to "excellent," and fights a tendency to nibble too much, he'd have a chance to be a surprise.
Scot S. writes: Obviously the Scott Rolen situation in Philadelphia is going to be talked about all season, but I was wondering what you thought of the two prospects currently in line to try and replace him: Chase Utley and Travis Chapman. Utley is doing well at AAA, while Chapman is tearing up the Eastern League. Who do you see as the eventual replacement for Rolen?
Utley is hitting .276 with a .512 slugging percentage for Triple-A Scranton. These are much better numbers than he posted last year in Class A (.257, .422), and he's improved despite skipping a level. A second baseman before this year, he's made 14 errors in 53 games at third base, and will likely need the rest of the season to fully adjust to the position.
Chapman is hitting .361 with a .560 slugging percentage at Double-A Reading. He hit .307 the year before at Clearwater, but is showing more power this year. His strike zone judgment is excellent. Chapman has more experience at third base than Utley does, and has a lower error rate, but is not considered to have as much raw athletic ability.
Chapman is sixth months older than Utley (both are 23 right now), and before this year he was not considered a hot prospect, being a 17th-round pick out of Mississippi State in '00. Utley, on the other hand, was a first-rounder that same year, from UCLA. Utley gets a lot more press, and is more highly-regarded by the Phillies, but if Chapman keeps hitting like this, that could change.
Either one could end up being a good replacement for Rolen; in fact, they could end up platooning, since Utley hits left and Chapman hits right. Chapman's numbers this year are just stunning, and I really don't think he's a fluke. Utley will still be given a full shot, due to his pedigree, but Chapman is a great backup plan, and I really think the platoon thing could happen, unless the Phillies go for a veteran solution through trade or free agency if Rolen leaves.
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.