An educated guess (cont.)
Posted: Thursday June 7, 2007 2:06AM; Updated: Thursday June 7, 2007 2:05AM
Callis added that even apprentice hitters who show plate discipline get a wake-up call in the majors.
"If you watch the big leagues, you can be down 3-1 in the count, and the guy might be able to put a fastball on the outside corner for strike two," Callis said. "You're not going to get the cripple pitches as much. ... You just see fewer mistakes in the big leagues.
"A lot of guys in AAA can throw 95, (but) maybe not 95 and put it on the corner or 95 and get much life on it."
Callis and Goldstein could both name examples of top prospects who had everything going for them -- then just flamed out in the bigs.
"Sean Burroughs -- that one baffles me," Callis said of the former Little League World Series star, taken ninth overall in the 1998 draft. Burroughs had an OPS of .853 as a 21-year-old in AAA, reached the majors with San Diego, but is now back in AAA with Tacoma and struggling. "The guy was such a good hitter, always very young for his league. It's not like the guy had shrunk on a national stage at all."
Further illustrating the challenge of making the right draft-day decisions, the Padres had even worse luck with Matt Bush, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft. Goldstein noted that while signability issues with other players pushed Bush to the top spot, "he was still a legitimate top-10 talent."
Last week, with an OPS of below .600 in approximately 800 career minor league plate appearances, Bush announced he was going to try to resurrect his stagnant career by becoming a pitcher. Plagued according to several accounts by makeup issues -- a factor in any prospect's major league hopes, Goldstein said -- Bush never showed any life as a hitter, even in Rookie ball.
Of course, players need to be given time to adjust -- and knowing when to stay with or give up on a player is part of the gamble. "Coming into this year, we probably could have put B.J. Upton into this discussion," Callis said of the 22-year-old Tampa Bay Devil Ray (picked second overall in the 2002 draft), whose OPS has increased from .593 in 2006 to .958 this season. But some problems come unexpectedly and won't ever get solved.
"One of the things that can happen -- kids' mechanics can change," White said. "You have a car that has brand new tires and axles and it runs great. Let's say the axle breaks on the car -- it's not going to run as good. ... Sometimes kids, especially when they're young, they get into bad habits, and sometimes their mechanics can change from what they were."
Teams trying to get hitters over the major-league hump face a conundrum -- should they let promising hitters try to learn (and possibly fail) on the job in the majors, or try to break them in with periodic starts.
"I think there gets to be a point where you can kind of say, he's proved everything he needs to prove in AAA," Callis said. "(But) if you have a young player, and he's going to come up and get eight at-bats a week , that's also hard, even though you need to see that kind of pitching to develop."
White concurred: "I think you need more at-bats than that per week."
Goldstein pointed out that a cellar-dwelling team like Kansas City can afford to play 2005 second-overall pick Alex Gordon (.566 OPS) every day without damaging any pennant hopes. On the other hand, AL Central contender Cleveland recently sidelined its Andy Marte project after he started the season 9 for 50 with one walk.
"They can't wait on him," Goldstein said. "It seems Marte's development has been on hold for a couple of years from now, to the point where people think he's not as good as people think he is."
In the end, though its not as if every major league All-Star came was the 1,390th player chosen in the draft like Mike Piazza in 1988, teams drafting hitters simply have a challenging task. They'll have a strong idea of who are the best prep and college hitters are in the country, but only an educated guess about how those skills will translate at the major-league level.
"Anytime you're picking, you're still betting on a guy and putting a certain amount of money on him," Goldstein said. "You hope you have some confidence before you give a million dollars. ... That first-round pick is going to get a fifth of your whole (draft) budget."
Just don't use the word "hope" around White, who says it's up to him and his staff to do due diligence on hitting prospects, no matter what it takes. No excuses.
"I think you've just got to see BP (batting practice), you've got to make sure you see workouts," White said. "If you didn't get a good feel for what you saw when he's hitting, you go back.
"If the makeup's there and they have good solid mechanics, they're usually gonna be a good hitter."