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Do Phils have two gems in Utley and Machado?

I should have more information about how to order the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book very soon. I'll mention it here when I know, plus ordering details will be listed on my website. I want to thank everyone who has expressed interest and support. The Minor League Scouting Notebook may be dead, but I hope to make the Baseball Prospect Book even better than the old MLSN.

My Nov. 6 look at infield prospects continues to generate mail. Let's answer a few queries.

David H. writes: I was looking at the list of top middle-infield prospects you posted a couple of weeks ago. I was wondering, where would you put the Phillies' Chase Utley if he were still playing second base? His defense is average, but his offensive production was very good this season, while learning a new position. Also, what is your take on Anderson Machado? His strike zone judgement is still suspect, but he is starting to mature physically and show some power. And, he has always been young for his league.

Several people wrote in to ask about Utley. Several wrote in to ask about Machado. But David H. asked about both, so let's get two Phillies with one question.

I'm not entirely certain that Utley will remain at third base. I saw him play there in Arizona a couple of weeks ago, and he looked awful, playing the corner with an awkward flow, poor footwork, and a general lack of grace. He's not good at second, either, but at least he has more experience there. It's true the Phils could use a third baseman, but would his shaky hot-corner defense satisfy the coaching staff? It's hard to know. His bat is in the "solid" category. He won't be the batting champion envisioned when he was at UCLA, but he should develop into a .280/.330/.450 kind of guy.

Machado has an intriguing profile. A 21-year-old Venezuelan, he hit just .251 at Reading in the Double-A Eastern League, but he contributed 12 homers, 72 walks, and 40 steals. He strikes out a lot, but the walks take some of the sting out of that. He is erratic defensively, but has very good range, a strong arm, and soft hands. With Jimmy Rollins holding down shortstop, Machado may move to second base eventually. I think he needs a year of Triple-A before being ready for a major-league job, but his youth is very impressive, he's got lots of tools, and his skills are developing.

D.R.J. asks: I was reading your article about middle infielders on and wanted to ask you a question. What do you think about Chris Burke of the Houston Astros? Do you think he can be a force in the major leagues?

Burke is one of my biggest disappointments for 2002. He was an excellent college player at the University of Tennessee. Drafted in the first round in '01, he hit .300 with 21 steals in his 56-game pro debut, drawing walks and showing good gap power. That was in the Midwest League, but considering his rapid adjustment (apparently) to wooden bats, and his success in college, I had no doubts that he'd emerge in '02 as a hot prospect.

That is not what happened. Assigned to Double-A Round Rock for '02, Burke was basically awful, hitting .264 but with weak production, a .330 OBP and a .356 SLG. His walk rate dropped sharply. He stole 16 bases, but was caught 15 times. He was erratic defensively. I saw him play early in the summer, and was not at all impressed. He looked like he was trying too hard to hit the ball in the air; he hit just three homers, so if that's what he was doing, it didn't work.

Is there still hope for Burke? Of course. Although his walks were down, he did not strike out excessively, so at least he was still making contact. No one doubts his attitude or work ethic. He doesn't turn 23 until March, so just purely on age, he is too young to give up on. But he needs to make progress in '03 to avoid being tagged as a first-round draft disappointment.

Scott N. asks: Is the Bobby Crosby you wrote on in your middle-infield prospects story the same player as the Bubba Crosby I rooted for while I attended Rice?

Nope. Bobby Crosby was a first-round pick by Oakland in 2001, out of Long Beach State. Bubba Crosby (no relation to my knowledge) was also a first-round pick, but from Rice in 1998, by the Dodgers. Bubba is an outfielder, not an infielder. He's still playing pro ball, and reached Triple-A this year, but is no longer considered a real prospect by most scouts. He's had some injury problems, and has been unable to show with the wooden bat the same pop he had in college. He hit .262 this year at Las Vegas, which is about .220 in Dodger Stadium. He has a little power, some speed, and a good outfield glove, but no one expects him to be more than a reserve outfielder at this point.

John C. writes: As a long-suffering Padres fan, I have two quick questions. Who do you think will turn out to be the better pro, Xavier Nady or Tagg Bozied? In that they both play the same positions, do you think the Padres will eventually get rid of one of them?

Both Nady and Bozied have very impressive power. Both are first base/outfield types. At this point, I rate Nady ahead of Bozied. He's reached Triple-A and had some success there, but I have to admit that neither has developed as quickly as anticipated.

Nady has a more complete approach to hitting, and should be able to hit for both power and average, but he's also had a lot of injury problems which have held him back somewhat. Bozied may have more raw power, but is less polished in other ways. He hit just .214 in 60 games after moving up to Double-A this year, and he tends to swing for the fences too often and get himself out. My guess at this point is that Nady will have a better career.

Todd D. writes: Angels pitcher Bobby Jenks is lighting up the Arizona Fall League. What do you think of him? Has he turned the corner? Will he be in Anaheim next year?

Jenks is pitching great in Arizona, yes, with a 1.08 ERA and 54 strikeouts so far in 42 innings, allowing just 33 hits, though he has walked 17. He's throwing regularly in the upper 90s, and his curveball is inhuman. He's also one of the youngest players in the league at 21.

Predicting what Jenks will do is difficult. He is one of the most overpowering pitchers in baseball when he throws strikes. But I'm still worried about his command. It's been better in Arizona, but we are still talking about a guy who walked 90 in 123 innings this year. Great stuff or not, he's got to cut the walks down in order to succeed in the majors.

If history is any guide, there's a good chance he'll blow his arm out before he masters his profession. What he's doing in Arizona is nice, but he's pitching against competition that is both tired and bored. If the Angels are smart, they will give him at least another full year in the upper minors. His arm is terrific, but scouts say his general baseball skills need a lot of polish. Angels fans, and team officials, need to be cautious in their expectations.

John Sickels is the author of the 2002 Minor League Scouting Notebook, and is now working on the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book. His biography of Bob Feller will be published next spring. 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 JohnSickels.com.