Similar players eyeing that big-league chance

Chris in Kentucky asks: Can you tell me why the Cardinals won't call John Gall up to the Show? He has some very nice stats at Triple-A. I've heard he's not a very good fielder, and that his true position (first base) is taken as of now. Do you think the Cardinals could dangle him as trade bait as the trade deadline draws closer? Maybe he could be a DH in the American League.

I've mentioned Gall before, so let's review and see how he's doing.

Gall was an 11th round pick in 2000, out of Stanford. He's moved steadily through the Cardinals farm system, and has hit well at every level. He came into 2004 with career marks of .303 batting, .355 OBP and .458 SLG, half of those numbers compiled in Double-A and Triple-A. He's hitting great once again this year, currently at a clip of .315/.363/.555 at Triple-A Memphis. Gall has already set a career-high this year with 21 home runs.

So why doesn't this guy get any attention? He hits the ball well; you'd think scouts would love him, but questions about his lack of speed and defense hurt his stock. He's very slow, and grounds into a lot of double plays as a result. He can play first base OK, and this year the Cardinals are using him in the corner outfield spots a lot to try and increase his versatility. He can also play third base in an emergency. He'll never win any Gold Gloves, but he'll do anything he's asked to do.

It would help if Gall were a left-handed hitter; he'd be easier to fit on a roster as a pinch-hitter/DH type that way. Alas, he hits from the right side. But we're still talking about a guy who projects as a .280+ hitter, with power, at the major league level. He's not a walk machine, but he controls the zone well and doesn't strike out much. Someone should be able to use him, at least as part of a DH/first base/corner outfield platoon. It may have to come with an American League team though, as you point out. But I do think he'll hit and hit well, if he ever gets the chance.

James from York, Pennsylvania, writes: Since being acquired by the Braves in the sixth round of the 2002 draft from Tulane, all James Jurries has done is hit. He has always struck out a good bit, but his OBP has generally been respectable. This year, he is leading the organization in home runs, and has earned a promotion to Triple-A Richmond. I have always heard criticisms about his defense but, so far, that is the only thing that I have heard negative about him. Despite his excellent minor league career, he is never mentioned as being much of a prospect. What do you think of him, and does he have any decent chance for helping out the big club -- either this year or in the future?

Since being promoted to Richmond, Jurries is hitting .284 with a .359 OBP and a .516 SLG, in 66 games. His walk and strikeout numbers are a problem though. He's drawn 25 walks in 251 plate appearances, which is an OK ratio. But he's fanned 70 times, more than once a game, and a statistical marker that he has holes in his swing that advanced pitchers are able to exploit. Jurries has shown good power development this year. His previous career-best home run total was nine, and he's already exceeded that by a good measure. The main worry offensively is his plate discipline, which is something that a lot of Atlanta hitting prospects struggle with.

Defense, as you point out, is the other issue. He was mostly a third baseman last year, but made too many errors, and has played mostly at first this year. He does a better job there, but the problem is that it will be hard for him to find a slot in the Show as a right-handed-hitting first baseman with plate discipline questions. If Gall, who is a better hitter than Jurries, can't find a job, then Jurries has his work cut out for him. Now, he has shown improvement this year. But at age 25, he needs to continue to get better and better in order to avoid being stuck with a "minor league hitter" tag.

Mike A. from Simi Valley, California, asks: Why hasn't Jon-Mark Sprowl been moved up to Double-A by the Yankees? Last year his batting average was over .300 with nearly 100 walks. This year his batting average is down, but his OBP is good and he has 41 walks and 24 strikeouts. I bet if you compare his OBP and walks to strikeouts with the other Yankees minor leaguers he would be near the top. I also like that he is a left-handed hitting catcher. Why isn't he considered a top prospect?

Like Gall and Jurries, Sprowl is a guy who can hit, but who has questions about his defense. Sprowl came into 2004 with a career .292 batting average and .399 OBP. One problem for him is age: he's 23, turns 24 in August, and has yet to receive a trial in Double-A. Sprowl has great plate discipline, doesn't strike out much, and has some line drive juice from the left side of the plate. Although he's hitting just .256 this year for the Class A Tampa Yankees, he does have a sharp .381 OBP since he draws tons of walks.

However, his defense is a big problem. He tries hard, and he calls a pretty good game behind the plate. But he has trouble throwing out baserunners, is slow, and isn't the kind of guy with super athletic skills that scouts will be patient with while he learns the position. His arm is pretty good, and there's been talk of moving him to third base eventually, but he may not have the hands for the corner.

Sprowl is a guy with one big well-defined positive skill: the ability to control the strike zone. That's critical. But by itself, without more power production or a clear defensive slot, it's not quite enough for him to get a job.

David writes: Could you comment on outfielder Mickey Hall, who is playing in low Class A ball for the Red Sox organization in Augusta in his first full season of pro ball. Since a slow start, he has gotten his season line up to .251/.364/.479. He's young (19) and represented the rare high school pick for the Red Sox in the 2003 draft, yet he seems to have decent plate discipline (46 walks and 86 strikeouts in 300 plate appearances). He also hit under .200 for the first several weeks of the season, so he's been tearing it up of late. Is he a legitimate prospect now?

Hall is the flip side of Gall, Jurries, and Sprowl. Rather than a guy who can hit but has questions about his age, athleticism, or defense, Hall is a toolsy young player, drafted in the second round last year out of high school in Georgia. The question for him isn't tools, but rather how much refinement he would show at the plate. The Red Sox picked him because they thought he could develop the skills to go with his tools, and it looks like they were right.

Hall hit just .227 last year in rookie ball, but he drew 19 walks in 21 games, a positive marker. His numbers have fallen off a bit since David submitted his question, but Hall is still hitting .248/.353/.470, the OBP and SLG being more impressive than his batting average. He has strong secondary skills, and is drawing walks at a good clip, along with decent power production. His strikeouts are very high (90 in 79 games), and there are questions about his batting average at higher levels. But as long as the walks and power production continue, the Red Sox will be happy. He's only 19, giving him lots of development time.

John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, Jeri; son, Nicholas; and feline friends Toonces and Spot.