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Floyd primed for breakout in '05?

Sally T. from Allentown writes:
Now that he's pitched in the Show, what's your feel on Phillies right-hander Gavin Floyd?

Floyd came into 2004 as one of the best pitching prospects in the game, so let's deconstruct his numbers and get a read on his current status.

Floyd began the year at Double-A Reading, where he posted a 6-6 record in 20 starts, though his other numbers were more impressive. He finished with a 2.57 ERA, with a 94/46 K/BB in 119 innings, allowing 93 hits. He gave up just five homers, an excellent marker for his future. He led the Eastern League in ERA, and his ratios were all good or better than good, earning his way to Triple-A in August. The going was rougher at Scranton, however. In five starts he went 1-3 with a 4.99 ERA. His ratios fell off as well, with a 18/9 K/BB and 39 hits allowed in 31 innings, including four homers.

Despite not pitching that well in Triple-A, Floyd still got a September call-up, and acquitted himself reasonably well. In 28 innings for the Phillies (six games, four starts), he posted a 24/16 K/BB ratio, gave up 25 hits, with a 3.49 ERA. His K/IP and H/IP marks were just fine, but his walk rate was higher than ideal, weakening his K/BB, and over a complete season that would hurt him. Still, he did well for a 21-year-old making his major league debut.

So, where does Floyd stand today? His Triple-A numbers imply that he's not ready for a full-time starting role in the Show just yet. He actually pitched better in the majors than in Triple-A, although even for the Phillies his walk rate was higher than average, and his ERA will rise (perhaps significantly) if he doesn't fix the walks. Of course, both his major league and Triple-A sample sizes are rather small. Drawing broad conclusions on 59 innings split between two leagues is risky.

Stuff-wise, Floyd is just fine. His fastball is consistently in the low 90s, sometimes a bit higher. His curveball is excellent, and he's made progress with his changeup. He only needs to tighten up his command a bit. His spring training performance will likely determine whether he starts 2005 in the major league rotation or not. He remains a premium prospect without doubt.

Kent from Nova Scotia asks:
Are you disappointed in what Alexis Rios did this year for the Blue Jays? Is he still a good prospect?

Rios broke through with an outstanding 2003 campaign in Double-A, hitting .352 at New Haven and looking like he was turning his undoubted physical tools into impressive skills. Things did not go quite as well in 2004, although the season should still be considered a success. Splitting the season between Triple-A and the majors, he hit .259/.292 OBP/.373 SLG at Syracuse. In Toronto, he actually hit better, batting .286 in 111 games. But his power was disappointing: he hit just one homer. Twenty-four doubles and seven triples helped get his slugging percentage to .383, but that's still not what you want out of a corner outfielder. He did steal 15 bases and was caught just three times. He also hit right-handers and left-handers equally well, meaning he won't have to be confined to a platoon role.

Rios wasn't overmatched in his major league exposure, but he still has a lot of work to do to get his production above average. His swing is tailored for the line drive right now, and at times this year it appeared that he was happy just to make contact. He hits a lot of balls on the ground. Given his natural strength, he should hit more homers in time, but it's possible that he'll never be more than a 15-20 homer guy. If he hits .300 or higher (which many scouts expect), and draws enough walks to keep his OBP up, no one will complain about "just" 20 homers. He's also a very good defensive right fielder.

So, overall, no I'm not disappointed in Rios. He's just 23 years old, and held his own in the major leagues without much Triple-A experience. Given a normal development curve, he should still be a solid regular, and possibly much more than that.

David G. writes:
Is Walter Young in the Orioles system a prospect? He set Bowie's single season home run record this year at age 24. The fact that the fellow who held the record before him was Calvin Pickering, has caused at least one Baltimore sports writer to compare the two. Pickering though was 21 when he set the record. The one notable thing I saw in Young is that he was (seemingly) quite adroit in the field. He even caught a popup with his back to the infield in the ninth inning in a game. (That would show good instincts as well as a flair for showmanship!) Is he likely to be anything more than another Sam Horn?

If you like your first baseman to be big, with big arms, big swings, and big strikeout totals, then Walt Young is your guy. The lefty slugger hit .274/.343/.539 at Double-A Bowie this year, contributing 33 homers, 28 doubles, 47 walks ... and 145 strikeouts in 133 games. He is listed at 6-5, 290, and looks it. Who is this guy and is he a prospect?

Young was originally in the Pirates system, a 31st round pick back in '99 out of high school in Purvis, Mississippi. The Orioles picked him up with a waiver claim last November. He had a good record of power hitting in the Pirates farm system, but Pittsburgh brass didn't think he had a position, and was concerned that he would strike out too much at higher levels. Despite hitting .333 with 25 homers in 2002, and .278 with 20 homers in 2003, they didn't consider him one of their top prospects.

The Orioles gave Young his first shot in Double-A this year, and he certainly showed he can hit for power against pretty good pitching. Young is actually a good athlete for someone his size (he almost played football at LSU), and is surprisingly mobile. But his range will never be more than adequate, and as he gets older he'll likely be confined to the DH role.

He's not the prospect that Pickering was, due to the age factor you mentioned. And Young will always have to fight skeptical scouts due to his weight. But at the least he'll make a nice living as a minor league slugger, and some sort of Sam Hornish future is quite possible ... keeping in mind that Sam Horn was underrated and had some moments of success in the Show.

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.