Sox could have a keeper in Pauley

W.W.S. asks:
David Pauley came to the Red Sox as part of a three-player package from San Diego in exchange for Dave Roberts (coincidentally, the player the Sox used to get for Roberts last July -- Henri Stanley -- came off of waivers from San Diego, so it's like the Sox got three players and cash for nothing).

While I'm confused as to why San Diego would give up so much for just Roberts, I'm more surprised as to why there's no talk about Pauley, who was described by some as one of the Padres' best prospects. Why is there no fuss about this guy? I really feel like he'll fit in well with the arms that the Sox will have at Double-A Portland in '05, and I'd like to know more about him.

I agree with you about Pauley; he looks interesting to me. He was drafted in the eighth round in 2001, out of high school in Colorado. In 2003, he went 7-7 with a 3.29 ERA and 117/38 K/BB ratio in 118 innings for Class A Fort Wayne in the Midwest League. Promoted to the California League in '04, he went 7-12 with a 4.17 ERA, but maintained interesting ratios with a 128/60 K/BB in 153 innings. His strikeout rate dropped compared to '03, but was still decent. Pauley has been inconsistent with his fastball, which may be why the Padres were willing to let him go. Sometimes he throws 92-93 mph, but more often he is in the 88-90 range. His curveball is very good; in fact, it is so good that he throws it too often, which takes away some of the value of the pitch when hitters start to expect it.

Pauley isn't consistent enough to rate as a premium prospect at this point, but he is certainly intriguing, and could end up being quite a surprise down the road. He adds additional pitching depth to an improving Boston farm system.

Vance N. from Monroe, Louisiana, writes:
What is your take on Cubs first-base prospect Brian Dopirak. He destroyed the Midwest League last season. How do you project him and how does he compare to other hitters like the A's Daric Barton?

"Destroyed" is actually a somewhat mild word for what Dopirak did in 2004. He hit .307 with a .363 OBP, a .593 SLG, 38 doubles, 39 homers, and 120 RBI in 137 games for Lansing. A second-round pick from a Florida high school in '02, he is a 6-4, 230-pound monster.

How does he compare to Barton? Their styles are very different, for one thing. Barton is a left-handed hitter with superb plate discipline. Dopirak is larger physically, hits from the right side, and is not nearly as sharp with the strike zone as Barton. Dopirak drew 48 walks in '04, but with 123 strikeouts. Scouts say that he's not just a hacker; Dopirak has enough natural swing quickness to hit for average at higher levels, but he will have to gain at least somewhat better command of the strike zone for that to prove true.

I think Dopirak's power will carry forward easily, but I'm not so sure about his batting average and OBP. He doesn't have to turn into Rod Carew, but even marginally better strike zone judgment would go a long way towards making him a complete hitter. Despite his weaknesses, he is still one of the top hitting prospects around. He also has a good work ethic, so effort is not a problem. But unless he makes a few adjustments, Dopirak could end up as more of a "dangerous-but-containable" slugger than a complete hitter like Barton. We will know a lot more at this time next year.

A.M. from Topeka asks:
What can you tell me about Leo Nunez, who the Royals acquired from the Pirates for Benito Santiago during the winter meetings? His numbers in Pittsburgh's system look good.

Nunez is a 21-year-old Dominican right-hander, signed by the Pirates in 2000. He had one of the best fastballs in their system, 93-95 mph. And he throws strikes, too, witness his 140/46 K/BB ratio in 144 innings in the Sally League in '04, along with a 10-4 record and 3.06 ERA in 27 games. Very nice stats. So why did the Pirates trade him for a 90-year-old catcher?

Nunez has the great arm, yes, but he's also a small, scrawny guy, listed at 6-1, 150. He's had arm problems in the past, notably a tender elbow, and many scouts don't think he'll be able to hold up under a starter's workload in the long run. His curveball improved in '04, but is still secondary to his fastball, and his changeup remains a work-in-progress.

From Pittsburgh's perspective, Nunez is probably 2-3 years from being ready to make a contribution, and given his small size and questionable durability, even that may not happen. The Pirates think that Santiago has another year or two left in him, and they need a catcher, so they pulled the trigger on the trade.

From K.C.'s perspective, this was a chance to add a 95-mph fastball to the farm system in exchange for an old catcher who no longer fit into the franchise's plans. Even if Nunez doesn't develop, this is the kind of trade that rebuilding clubs need to make.

Personal note: I'm almost done with the 2005 Baseball Prospect Book, and it'll be going to press on schedule. When the book is done, grade lists and an updated 50/50 Prospect List will go out to people who have pre-ordered and provided a valid e-mail address. Thanks!

John Sickels is the author of The 2005 Baseball Prospect Book. The book ships on Feb. 1, and can be ordered only at Johnsickels.com. He is also the author of Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, which can be ordered online or at your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas and two happy cats.