Is Bynum still a top-level prospect for Padres?

Can you believe the season is almost over? I can't. It seems like April was just this morning.

Here's the mail.

Justin asks: Can you help me out with the progress that Joe Torres is making in the Angels' farm system? He was highly touted when the Halos took him straight from high school in Florida, but I haven't heard much on him since. What's the outlook on his advance to the Show and where does he rank among his peers?

Torres began the season with the Class A Cedar Rapids Kernels, but was shut down after just three starts with a "tired arm." His fastball didn't have much zip, he was having trouble getting his curve over the plate, and his mechanics (smooth in high school and in his 2000 pro debut) were fouled up.

He went to extended spring training, rehabbed his arm, and worked to get his mechanics back in gear. Torres then went to the Provo Angels in the Pioneer League once short-season ball started. He did OK, fanning 39 in 31 innings and showing better velocity, but his overall performance was mediocre, with a 4.02 ERA and 15 walks. When he came out of high school, Torres looked like he would advance very rapidly, but obviously his timetable has been pushed back. I think 2002 will tell us a lot about his future: was this season a bump in the road or a major fork? We don't know yet. It does serve to remind us however just how risky high school pitching prospects, even the best ones, can be.

Christopher V. writes: Please give me an evaluation of the Dodgers' farm system.

Well, the Dodgers system was very weak during the late 1990s. The upper levels are still pretty thin, but there are signs of life. Chin-Feng Chen is back, having destroyed Double-A pitching this year now that his shoulder is healthy again. Despite the suspension from Dominican scouting that resulted from the Adrian Beltre debacle, the Latin American scouting program is in better shape than it was a few years ago, and this is showing up at the lower levels.

Class A Wilmington had a very promising pitching staff this year, with impressive performances from Fernando Rijo, Jose Rojas, and 2000 draftees Ben Diggins and Joel Hanrahan. All throw hard and flashed good command at times this year. Hitting is still a problem; the Dodgers have focuses on getting athletes and speedsters lately, so I remain concerned that they don't have much offensive depth. But the pitching stock has been boosted lately, and overall I'd say the system is on the upswing.

Dan G. asks: What is the latest news on Padres pitching prospect, Mike Bynum? I am not hearing his name mentioned as one of the highly regarded pitching prospects in the Padres organization. Have Jason Middlebrook and Dennis Tankersley surpassed him?

Bynum has definitely been passed, by Tankersley especially but also right-hander Jake Peavy. Bynum missed time with a knee injury this year, and wasn't especially impressive when he did pitch, posting a 5.02 ERA and mediocre peripherals for Double-A Mobile. He still has the killer slider which stood him in good stead in the California League last year, but he hasn't been able to sharpen the command of his other pitches sufficiently to make up for his lack of overpowering velocity. My guess is that he'll eventually end up in the bullpen.

Glenn writes: A few weeks ago you talked about Royals outfield prospect Ken Harvey. What do you think of his Double-A teammate, outfielder Alexis Gomez, and his chances for making the majors? I hear he has good tools, and he's hitting around .300 at Double-A after finishing second on his A-ball team in hits and stolen bases last year.

Gomez finished at .281 with 15 steals in 82 games for Double-A Wichita. That's better than I thought he would do; his plate discipline was weak in A-ball and I thought he would struggle badly against Double-A pitching. He did at first, but he got hot in late July, thanks to (drumroll) better plate discipline. I saw him quite a bit this year, and it was obvious that he was trying harder to work the count and get ahead of the pitchers. Wichita officials told me that this was being done due to orders from the organization: both Gomez and shortstop Angel Berroa were getting extra instruction about plate discipline. Both showed increases in their walk rates and better production as the season progressed, so hopefully the lessons will stick. I still don't think that Gomez will develop enough power to be a star, but his speed and defensive ability should earn him a major-league role if he does keep his plate discipline together.

Phil D. asks: I was just wondering what were your thoughts on the pair of Aussies in the Mariners organization, Craig Anderson and Chris Snelling? Both are having great years in the California League, so what do you think the future holds for them?

Anderson went 11-4 with a 2.26 ERA in 28 starts, including a terrific 178/39 K/BB ratio in 179 innings. He allowed just 142 hits, excellent in any league but especially the California League, and he did this without a great fastball. He relies on his breaking stuff and changeup, so we'll have to see what happens for him in Double-A. There is nothing in his statistical profile to indicate trouble ahead, but as a finesse guy we have to be cautious with expectations for him still.

I have no such qualms about Snelling. He hit .336 with a .418 OBP and a .491 SLG. He hustles like crazy, swings the stick strongly from the left side, and is only 19 years old. His main problem is a tendency to get hurt; he has frequent nagging injuries and muscle pulls, usually attributed to his all-out style of play. If he doesn't burn himself out, I think he'll be a solid major-league player and possibly a star.

John Sickels is the author of the 2001 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook. 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.