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John Sickels' Column: Previewing the 2010 Baseball Prospect Book

John Sickels

John Sickels

John Sickels writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Previewing the 2010 Baseball Prospect Book

Every year I write and publish The Baseball Prospect Book. The 2010 edition contains scouting reports, analysis, and grades on 1,170 minor league players from all 30 organizations, ranging from the best prospects to obscure sleepers. The book is at the printer now, and will begin shipping to customers on February 2nd. The book isn't available in stores, and can only be ordered directly at www.johnsickels.net.

Here is a sample of some of the player comments you can find in the book. I use a blend of traditional scouting and statistical analysis, and I also try to make it an entertaining read. Note that the actual comments in the book include statlines going back at least two years, plus a list of grades received in previous books.

James Adduci, OF, Chicago Cubs
Bats: L Throws: L HT: 6-2 WT: 185 DOB: May 15, 1985

The Cubs added Adduci to their 40-man roster this past winter to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He's not a spectacular prospect, but he could have some value as a reserve outfielder. He runs well, can go get the ball in center field, and makes an effort to work the count. Although he lacks power, he stays within his limitations and is adept at the old-style "little ball" game: bunting, hit-and-run, etc. He would have been a useful option as a fifth or sixth outfielder 20 years ago, but nowadays with teams using 12 and 13-man pitching staffs, it is harder for a guy like Adduci to get a job. He went to high school in Evanston, Illinois, making him a hometown guy for the Cubs. Maybe that will give him a slight edge in getting a job sometime. In fantasy terms, he might be a source of cheap steals if he gets any playing time. Grade C.

Geison Aguasviva, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Bats: L Throws: L HT: 6-2 WT: 170 DOB: August 3, 1987

I will admit that part of the reason I'm putting this guy in the book is because "Geison Aguasviva" is a cool name. Working with an 88-90 MPH sinker and an effective breaking ball, Aguasviva is particularly tough on lefties, holding them to a .203 mark last year. He's rather scrawny and concerns about his long-term durability may prevent use as a starter at higher levels, but I can see him developing into a good LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY). If not, he can always develop a line of aftershave lotion or bottled water. Grade C.

Kyler Newby, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-4 WT: 225 DOB: February 22, 1985

Kyler Newby sounds like he should be a Gunsmoke character. "Matt Dillon and Festus met Kyler Newby down at Miss Kitty's to welcome the new saloon girls to Dodge City." Newby spent a day on the Diamondbacks 25-man roster back in May, but didn't get into any actual game action and spent the rest of the season at Double-A Mobile. A 50th round draft choice back in 2004, Newby breezed through the A-ball levels but found the going more difficult in the Southern League, losing almost half of his previous strikeout rate. He has an 88-92 MPH fastball, and both his splitter and slider are effective when his command is on. There's still a chance he can be an effective middle reliever, but I'd like to see the strikeouts come back. Grade C.

David Newmann, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Bats: L Throws: L HT: 6-2 WT: 200 DOB: June 24, 1985

SLEEPER ALERT!!! Newmann was a fourth round pick in 2007, out of Texas A&M. His college career was marred by a difficult recovery from Tommy John surgery, but he had a great season in '07 and looked like a sleeper heading into pro ball. Alas, the injury bug struck again when he blew out a knee ligament in 2008 Spring Training, costing him another year of development. He came back healthy and effective in '09, quietly having a very good year in the Florida State League, especially late in the season: he went 4-0 with a 0.82 ERA and a 45/9 K/BB over 44 innings in his last seven starts. Newmann's fastball has average velocity at 87-90 MPH, but it sinks well and he picks up a lot of grounders with it, posting a 1.81 GO/AO. His curveball and changeup are solid, he throws strikes, he knows how to pitch, and he's dealt with adversity. He turns 25 in June so he needs to get off to a quick start in Double-A, but I like his chances to surprise us. Grade C+.

Jon Niese, LHP, New York Mets
Bats: L Throws: L HT: 6-4 WT: 215 DOB: October 27, 1986

Niese had little left to prove in Triple-A and was holding his own in the Mets rotation last summer, when he tore a hamstring tendon so badly it required surgery to repair, ending his season. Health reports in late December are positive and he's supposed to be ready to pitch by spring training. When healthy, Niese throws an 88-92 MPH fastball, a big-breaking curveball, and a decent changeup. He throws strikes and knows how to pitch, and profiles as a classic number three/four starter who keeps his team in the game. What he did last year in five starts is about what he should be expected to do: post an ERA slightly better than league average, with a decent K/BB ratio and about a hit-per-inning given up. Niese can be streaky and will have some bad outings, but he'll also have games where he breezes through a lineup with ease. I am pro-Niese and I think he'll have a good career. Grade B.

Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas Rangers
Bats: S Throws: L HT: 6-4 WT: 220 DOB: December 5, 1986

Smoak lived up to lofty expectations in the first half of last year in the Texas League, posting a +27 percent OPS and showing outstanding strike zone judgment. He strained an oblique muscle in June, and while rehab reportedly went well, he didn't look quite the same playing in Triple-A in July and August. He still controlled the strike zone remarkably well, but his swing looked a little longer and at times he appeared to be favoring the oblique a little. All told, I'm not worried about his bat: I still think he'll hit for a high batting average with good power and an excellent on-base percentage. The Mark Teixeira comparisons made when he was at South Carolina might not pan out completely, but Smoak still looks like a future All-Star first baseman to me. Although he doesn't have much running speed, he's very mobile at first base, has soft hands, and should be a Gold Glove contender eventually. I don't need to change his grade, and I think he'll hit more homers in 2010. Grade A-.

Josh Vitters, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-3 WT: 200 DOB: August 27, 1989

As elite prospects go, Josh Vitters is a tough to analyze. The strengths are obvious: if you see him play, he has a beautiful swing and tremendous bat speed, one of the quickest bats in the minors. He makes contact easily and seldom strikes out. He has power to all fields. On defense, he has a strong throwing arm and is reasonably mobile for a big guy. Statistically, he hit very well in the Midwest League with a +26 percent OPS, and he also looked good against older competition in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .353/.380/.485. But for all the strengths, there are some negatives in the record that make grading him difficult. His walk rate is incredibly low. It is a mistake to say that his strike zone judgment is bad; he's not a free swinger in sense of being fooled or overmatched by the pitchers. But if there is a pitch remotely close to the strike zone, he'll swing at it, even if it is a pitch that he can't do much with. He manages to make contact on pitches that other guys miss, which keeps the strikeout rate low despite his lack of patience, but at higher levels the lack of discipline is going to become a bigger issue. His poor performance in the Florida State League should serve as a wakeup call for him. On defense, he makes too many errors, and a lot of scouts worry that he will lose the range to play third as he gets older, which would increase the pressure on his bat. Vitters is just 20 years old and there is plenty of time to remedy his problems, but I have to admit I'm not sure exactly what to make of him. I don't think 16 games in the Arizona Fall League outweigh how badly he hit at Daytona last summer. If I were the Cubs, I would send him back to the Florida State League for at least another 50 games. Grade-wise, he's either a weak B+ or a strong B. I initially went with a B+, cutting him some slack due to his youth, but it's a tough call and I eventually decided to downgrade him slightly to Grade B.

Joe Wieland, RHP, Texas Rangers
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-3 WT: 175 DOB: January 21, 1990

Wieland was drafted in the fourth round in '08, out of high school in Reno, Nevada (home of the world's best sheriff's department). I rated the Washoe County product as a major sleeper and breakout candidate in last year's book, but alas he didn't pitch too well in the South Atlantic League. His command was okay, but his K/IP and H/IP were disappointing. Still, he was young for full-season ball, and he remains a pitcher to watch closely. Wieland has a low-90s fastball, and his curveball and changeup have positive moments. He throws strikes and keeps the ball down. I still like Wieland's long-term potential and still consider him a breakout candidate. His FIP was 3.75 last year, which implies that he didn't get a lot of defensive support and could rebound quickly in '10 with better luck and better glovemen behind him. Short-term expectations need to be pushed back a notch, but he's still a valuable property. Grade C.

Travis Wood, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
Bats: R Throws: L HT: 6-0 WT: 165 DOB: February 6, 1987

Wood was horrible in Double-A in 2008, but he returned to the level last year and was much more effective, thanks to slightly better velocity and improved command of his excellent changeup. His component ratios at Carolina were very sharp, although his FIP at 3.04 shows that the 1.21 ERA overstated matters somewhat. He continued to remain effective after a promotion to Triple-A, and has a shot at making the Reds rotation in '10. Wood is a typical finesse lefty relying on changes of speed and location to survive, but his feel for pitching is solid. He could likely use more Triple-A time. For me, he projects as a number four or five starter. Grade C+.

NEXT WEEK: Revising the RotoWire Top 100 Prospects List

Article first appeared 1/24/10

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