Sunday, March 06, 2005

Looking back at top prospect lists

I saw Jon Weisman do this over at Dodger Thoughts (on, and it was so much fun, I thought I'd steal the idea and do it for the White Sox...

Baseball America just put out its top-100 prospect lists for every year going back to 1990. Here's a list of the Sox to make it, by year:

15. Robin Ventura, 3b
26. Wilson Alvarez, lhp
29. Frank Thomas, 1b
78. Scott Radinsky, lhp

58. Johnny Ruffin, rhp
91. Wilson Alvarez, lhp

45. Roberto Hernandez, rhp
74. Johnny Ruffin, rhp
90. Mike Robertson, 1b

8. Jason Bere, rhp
66. James Baldwin, rhp
80. Scott Ruffcorn, rhp
88. Larry Thomas, lhp

8. James Baldwin, rhp
32. Scott Ruffcorn, rhp
77. Robert Ellis, rhp

23. Scott Ruffcorn, rhp
25. James Baldwin, rhp
28. Ray Durham, 2b
75. Jimmy Hurst, of

52. Chris Snopek, 3b
91. Jeff Abbott, of

31. Mike Cameron, of
80. Jeff Abbott, of

34. Mike Caruso, ss
43. Carlos Lee, 3b
56. Magglio Ordonez, of
80. Lorenzo Barcelo, rhp

28. Carlos Lee, 3b
46. Joe Crede, 3b
77. Aaron Myette, rhp

14. Kip Wells, rhp
32. Jon Garland, rhp
63. Aaron Myette, rhp
96. Joe Crede, 3b

4. Jon Rauch, rhp
23. Joe Borchard, of
36. Joe Crede, 3b
44. Matt Ginter, rhp
61. Dan Wright, rhp

12. Joe Borchard, of
23. Jon Rauch, rhp
32. Corwin Malone, lhp
94. Joe Crede, 3b

28. Joe Borchard, of
73. Kris Honel, rhp
92. Jon Rauch, rhp

25. Jeremy Reed of
55. Kris Honel rhp

37. Brian Anderson, of
42. Ryan Sweeney, of
49. Brandon McCarthy, rhp
95. Josh Fields, 3b
96. Tadahito Iguchi, 2b

Studs: Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Magglio Ordonez
Thomas should be an obvious Hall-of-Famer, and as I've written before, Ventura should get more consideration than he will. Ordonez has had a very nice career, which helped him land a very nice contract earlier this year. Only Thomas is an elite hitter.

Pretty Useful: Carlos Lee, Ray Durham, Wilson Alvarez, Mike Cameron, Roberto Hernandez
Alvarez was the No. 3 starter on a division-winning team, and the ace of the staff in 1997 when he was dumped in the White Flag Trade. Hernandez, also sent packing in that deal, saved 161 games for the Sox. It wasn't always pretty, but he generally threw well while in a Sox uniform. That the Sox got future uber-closer Keith Foulke in the trade is another bonus. Both Alvarez and Hernandez are still relieving in the majors.

Durham was always under-appreciated in his time with the Sox. With an OBP around .350-360, and a slugging percentage around .450 most years, with some good defense at second base, he should have brought more in return when he was traded in 2002 (to Oakland for Jon Adkins). Still with the Giants, still setting the table when healthy, Durham might not be good enough to get into the Hall of Very Good, but he's still a nice player.

Cameron has set the standard for defense in center field, and it became very noticable once he replaced Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle's outfield. Never a high batting average (.240 for his career), Cameron still gets on base (.340 career OBP) and has some power (at least 19 HR and 26 doubles the past 6 seasons).

Lee's a good hitter, but won't be missed too much now that he's been traded to the Brewers.

Somewhat Useful: James Baldwin, Scott Radinsky, Jason Bere. Kip Wells, Jon Garland
Baldwin had two good years for the Sox. His rookie campaign in 1996 when he went 11-6 with a 4.42 ERA in 169 innings, and then in 2000, when he went 14-7 with a 4.65 ERA for the division winners. Every other year he was a below-average inning eater. Even when he went 13-6 in 1998, he still had an ERA of 5.32, but was lucky and had a decent offense behind him. A fifth starter or a guy that can soak up innings is useful, so it's not his fault the Sox, or BA at one point, expected him to be a top-of-the-rotation guy.

Garland is another inning-eater. He's hurled close to 200 each of the last three years, and has been exactally league-average in each of those years. He broke in when he was only 20-years-old, so expectations have always run ahead of his production. So far he's just like James Baldwin, but with three major differences: 1) His best seasons haven't been as good, 2) His worst seasons haven't been as bad and 3) He broke into the majors much earlier, so as a 25-year-old this season, he could still lay claim to a much better career.

Wells lost his job to Garland in the rotation back in 2000, though neither acquitted himself well that year. The Sox traded him to the Pirates in the ill-advised Todd Ritchie deal, and he was one of the better starters in the National League before hitting a bump last year. It's too bad none of his success has been in a Sox uniform.

Radinsky was lights-out in 1991 and '92. He had ERAs of 2.02 and 2.73, and would have racked up more than 23 saves if it hadn't been for Hernandez and Bobby Thigpen. He was besieged by injuries, but would be a good reliver again for the Dodgers from 1996-98 as a 28-year-old. After 30 more innings he was done, but he was a good lefty out of the pen for a number of years. His last game was Oct. 5, 2001 with the Indians. Like Jack McDowell, he's a rock-and-roller.

Bere was great down the stretch for the Sox in 1993, but ...

Casualties: Bere, Lorenzo Barcelo, Jon Rauch, Dan Wright
Bere was tremendous down the stretch for the 1993 AL West champs. He went 12-5 with a 3.47 ERA. He followed that with a 12-2 record and a 3.81 ERA. But trying to pitch through the pain of a torn elbow in 1995, Bere had a 7.19 ERA in 137 innings. The Sox tried to nurse him back to healthy, but would only get about 120 innings of sub-par ball from him over the next three seasons.

His best campaign since demanding his release from the Sox in 1998 was his 2001 season with the Cubs, when he went 11-11 with a 4.31 ERA. He rehabbed with the Indians last year, and will try to catch on again this year. He'll be 33-years old this May.

Rauch came up in 2002 and threw 27 2/3 innings, but blew out his shoulder. He hasn't been the same since, though his stuff was never overpowering to begin with. He basically relied on his freak-show-style height (he's been listed as tall as 6-foot-11) to keep hitters from picking up on his delivery. No dice anymore. He was dealt to Montreal last year, and might emerge this spring at the back end of their rotation.

Barcelo did have tremendous stuff before he tore his labium, but hasn't recovered from the loss of velocity. His best showing in the majors was 2000 when he went 4-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 39 innings, 22 games and one start. He came from the Giants in the White Flag trade, and he's back there now trying to catch a break.

Wright won 14 games in 2002, despite being below-average in his 196.3 innings. Just more than 100 innings later, he had blown out his elbow AND his shoulder. He had surgery on the elbow last summer, but was released by the Sox this winter. Sounds like the end of the line for Wright.

Flameouts: Mike Caruso, Joe Crede, Aaron Myette, Joe Borchard, Corwin Malone, Scott Ruffcorn + Casualties
In the span of a year and a half, Caruso went from being an A-ball player that was the key prospect in the White Flag trade, to third place in the Rookie of the Year balloting in 1998. Just 20-years-old when he made his debut, Caruso batted .308 with six triples, 22 doubles and 22 stolen bases.

But it was too much too soon for Caruso, who had never developed much plate discipline or defensive prowess in the minors. Despite more free passes in his sophomore season, he only walked to first base 20 times. His batting average slid all the way to .250 as he commited 24 errors in the field, raising his two-year total to 59 boots. His range afield slid as well.

Before the 2000 season, the Sox picked up Jose Valentin, to whom Caruso would lose his job. Only 23-years old at the end of that season, he was released by the Sox that next winter. Caruso has been in several organizations, but has only resurfaced in the big leagues for 20 at-bats with the Royals in 2002. He'll only be 28 this spring, so if he's still playing, someone might give him a shot. It's unlikely he'll do anything with it. Unless he gets in again, his last game was Aug. 9 2002.

In the early 90s, when it seemed like the Sox were churning out one good pitcher a year from their minor leagues, Ruffcorn seemed like the heir to the legacy of Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Alvarez and pre-blowout Bere. Never able to command the strike zone, he instead became the next to follow in the footsteps of Rodney Bolton.

Ruffcorn walked a batter an inning over his career, which consisted of 70 1/3 innings. While also giving up 86 hits, he had a career ERA of more than 8.50. His most sucessful season, if it can be termed a success, was the 39 2/3 innings he tossed for Philadelphia in 1997, during which he posted a career-best 7.71 ERA while striking out 33 and walking 37. He was 27-years old when he tossed his last game on Aug. 17 of that year.

Back when Myette was coming up with the Sox, the local sports writers wondered if Myette would be able to continue wearing his trademark eye black once he reached the big leagues. Now clinging to his baseball job, that's the least of anyone's concern. He did get in five times for Cincinnati last season, but his ML ERA is still 8.16, which his 4 1/3 inning in 2004 did not lower. Myette will only be 27 this season, so he could still make a career of it as a reliever. But even that might be asking a lot at this point.

Borchard, after getting the biggest amatuer signing bonus in Sox history, still can't make contact. His serviceable numbers at AAA haven't translated at all to the ML level in almost 300 at-bats, in which he's been struck out 89 times.

Fair or not, he'll always be compared to Jeremy Reed because it was Reed that was dealt for Freddy Garcia last year. They're two different players, and maybe Sox GM Kenny Williams is right when he believes Borchard has more upside. After all, Reed will never hit for power. And if Borchard could gain a little plate discipline, he'd be a monster.

It's not working out that way. And even if you give Borchard extra-credit for not being a full-time baseball player until 2000, you still have to face the fact that he's 26-years-old and running out of time to be any kind of a big-league player.

Malone was balleyhooed as starter after he put together a nice season in 2001. A reliever before, a starter's workload didn't agree with him. He hasn't ever been the same since that great year, and will be lucky to carve out any kind of a career.

Why is Crede here? Because after four years of being ranked on BA's list, he's turned into a good-glove, absolutely no-hit third baseman. After a wait that seemed like an eternity, Sox fans expected more. Crede turns 27 next month, and with Josh Fields coming up behind him, this might be his last chance to produce. He'll have to if the Sox are going to contend in 2005.

At Least You Said Hello: Jeff Abbott, Chris Snopek
Snopek got a chance at third base in 1997 after Ventura suffered a gruesome leg injury in spring training. He flopped, pretty badly, hitting ..218 with an OPS of .582 in almost 300 at-bats. After spending the next season splitting time with Sox both White and Red, as a utility infielder, he's bounced around the minors. Snopek's last ML game was Sept. 27, 1998. He's currently 34-years-old.

Abbott popped a dozen home runs for the Sox in only 244 at-bats back in 1998. He batted .279, but because of only nine walks, reached base at an anemic .298 clip. Traded to the Marlins for Julio Ramirez (who, incidentally, was ranked right behind Magglio Ordonez in BA's 1998 prospect list), Abbott was last seen getting locked in a bathroom during a game in which he was supposed to be playing for a Brewers minor league affiliate. His last ML game was Sept. 29, 2001. Abbott will be 33-years-old in August of this year.

Where Are They Now?: Larry Thomas, Mike Robertson, Jimmy Hurst, Johnny Ruffin, Matt Ginter, Robert Ellis
Ginter is with the Mets, and while he might be a serviceable reliver, it hardly merits inclusion any higher in our little hierarchy.

Robertson poked his head out in the majors in 1996 for the Sox, when he got seven at-bats in six games. He collected eight hits in 58 ML at-bats over three seasons with Chicago, Philadelphia and Arizona. His last game was for the Diamondbacks on June 26, 1998.

The second-best Thomas in a Sox uniform during the 90s, Larry came up for 13 2/3 innings in 1995. He had a nice season in 1996 as a left-handed specialist, posting a 3.23 ERA in 30 2/3 innings spread across 57 appearances. He tossed fewer than four ML innings after that, and his last game was May 25, 1997, when he was 27-years-old.

Hurst appeared in 13 games for 1997 Tigers, a team that won 79 games, thus making it possibly one of the most respectable teams Detroit has fielded since the last time the franchise finished over .500 (1993). That was it for Hurst, who turned 33 last week. Happy birthday, Jimmy.

Ruffin became a footnote to the Sox' great 1993 season when he was dealt to Cincinnati as part of the Tim Belcher trade. A 21-year-old reliever at the time, Ruffin went 2-1 with a pair of saves and a 3.58 ERA in 37 innings the rest of that season. He followed that with a great season in 1994, when he had a 3.04 ERA and went 7-2 in 70 innings over 51 appearances.

The workload in that strike-shortened season must have taken it's toll, because while he pitched well in 1995, he only tossed 13 innings (in which he punched-out 11 batters). He threw 63 innings in 1996 for the Reds, but 37 walks and 10 home runs helped push his ERA to 5.49.

Ruffin didn't turn up in the majors again until 2000 with Arizona, where he gave up nine runs -- all earned -- in nine innings. He threw less than four innings for the Marlins the next year, and his last game was Aug. 2, 2001, just six days shy of the 8-year anniversary of his ML debut. He'll turn 34 this year.

Ellis was traded to the Angels for Pat Borders on July 27, 1996, and on Sept. 12 of that year he made his ML debut. He disapeared for four seasons before resurfacing in 2001 with Arizona. Always very hittable, he's given up 138 hits in 118 ML innings, spread out over four seasons. Ellis has also walked 48. It doesn't look like he'll get to add to those totals. His last game was Aug. 16, 2003 for the pitching-desperate Rangers.

Too Soon To Tell: Brian Anderson, Ryan Sweeney, Josh Fields, Tadahito Iguchi, Kris Honel
You could argue the merits of putting a guy like Iguchi on lists like this, but predecessors in the foreign-free-agent market like Jose Contreras have made it, so we'll play by BA's rules. We'll find out about Iguchi pretty soon. This could be a make-or-break year for Honel to prove he's a real prospect. The other guys we'll probably have to wait a couple years.