Wednesday, April 13, 2005

And now for something completely different (aka Have I used this title before?)...

In the past I have stated that I would only use this space to write about baseball. I broke that promise once, to rant about people complaining that politicians only do things for your vote and nothing more, then complain when politicians dont' pander to them. Well, count this post as deviation number 2.

A little over a week ago I made a trip to the local Barnes and Nobel to grab reading material for work. I settled on Natan Sharansky's The Case For Democracy and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. I wanted to do a little thought exercise and throw down some thoughts about these two books and where I am with them right now and I couldn't think of as good an arena as this one in which to do it.

I am currently about 1/3 to 1/2 the way through Guns, Germs, and Steel. It is about how certain societies from certain regions came to dominate the world. Why did some societies begin to farm and start the process of domesticate animals millenia ago while some only did in the last millenium and others never did? Why did some peoples (i.e. Western Eurasian or White) develop the guns, immunity to certain diseases, and steel needed to conquer the world?

Before you get to mad at me for buying and reading a book that seems to teem with racial overtones, Diamond's thesis is that it has nothing to do with the people themselves. He believes that environmental, geographical, and geological factors were much more influential in the development of guns, germs, and steel than the racial, social, or cultural factors that we instinctively point to. He supports this by going back to our earliest known history and prehistory to prove that Mesopotamia was more suitable for these 'inventions' than New Guinea or the Eastern United States.

All told, one of the underlying themes to Diamond's book is that all people no matter what race, religion, or culture they use to identify themselves, have the same capabilities. In some ways this is also a theme of Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy. Anatoli 'Natan' Sharansky is best known as the Soviet dissident that Ronald Reagan demanded to be freed from the Gulag in the mid 1980's. Today he has made some news as writing the book that President George W. Bush points to as his foreign policy manifesto. That book is the aforementioned The Case for Democracy.

To be fair, Democracy isn't merely a book promoting Bush 43's foreign policy. Sharansky was a minister in the Isreali government and Soviet dissident without any official ties to the latest Bush Administration. In fact our current President is only a minor player in the book. Still, Sharansky lays out, in more elquent terms, the case that all people everywhere want to live in a free society and that a world of free societies is an inherently safer one. This may sound like neo-con propaganda, but Sharansky makes a very compelling case, one that I, even as a liberal, am very receptive to.

Before I tout Sharanksy as the modern day Macchiavelli, there are some things in this book that I either take umbrage to or disagree with. In no particular order they are...

1. According to Sharansky the man most responsible for the end of the Cold War was Ronald Reagan. This is a defensible, though I believe incorrect, position. What is odd is that he gives Mikhail Gorbachev next to no credit for the fall of his own 'empire'. Why? As Sharansky sees it the policies that Gobachev enacted that led to the downfall of the USSR weren't enacted to achieve that aim. Of course Gorbachez didn't try to bring down the Soviet Union and so it should be obivous that he didn't intend the consequences of those actions. But he still tried to open the USSR up economically. Could you have seen Brezhnev, Kruschev, or Stalin trying to open up the Soviet Union? Reagan nd Gorbachev are at least on equal footing when it comes receiving credit for the fall of the Soviet Union. I think that Sharansky's bad experiences with his home country jade his view on this subject.

2. There are too many cries of anti-semitism in this book. It is Sharanky's belief that anyone who questions Israel right to exist as a state has a prejudice against the Jewish people. I think that is only natural for each generation to wonder if our great grandparents did the right thing in kicking the Palestinians off their land to put another people there. I think we should all wonder if we would be having the problems that we currently have in that region if we hadn't created Israel. We should all find the Muslim claim to Jerusalem at least partially legitimate. That being said, Israel does exist now as a country and they are our allies. At this point they do deserve to exist, but I take umbrage at the notion that anyone who thinks about these subjects is an anti-semite.

3. I believe that he is way too nice to George W. Bush. Here is the short version of a chapter of this book. Sharansky tells a story before a round of peace talks where he is laying out his ideas for peace to Bill Clinton. He says that Clinton was very receptive and even took such ideas to his cabinet and maybe even to the Palestinians. Alas, nothing really comes of Clinton's enthusiasm and Sharansky blasts Clinton and his staff for this. Later, Sharansky tells of a now obscure Bush Speech in which the current Commander in Chief insinuatiates that peace in the Middle East is connected to democracy in that region. A few weeks Bush's now famous "Road Map" is unveiled and while some of the language of that speech is there, the ideas aren't. To Sharansky the Road Map is a repeat of the highly ineffective Oslo Accords. So who gets the blame for this? Well the State Department and a few administration officials. Bush gest a pass for an accord that he himself unveiled. So on one hand it is Clinton's fault that he listened to his advisors but it isn't Bush's fault that he listened to his. Right.

4. Moral Clarity. It is repeated about 55 times in the first 15 page. I hate this phrase, seriously what does it mean? To me it looks like a veiled way of saying that someone who disagrees with you on moral grounds is in actuality being immoral.

5. Sharansky attacks both detente and Henry Kissinger because all detente did was cover over the human rights violations of the USSR. Of course it also avoided a Nuclear Holocaust as well. Personally I am not really an expert on this and am speaking from a relative position of ignorance here (the reason I only write about baseball in this space). But it seems that Sharansky's position is that everything and anything had to be done to create a free society in the Soviet Union. If New York got nuked in the process so be it.

That last statement may be phrased in a way not entirely fair to Sharansky, but it does give a fairly accurate picture of Natan the idealist. To all idealists, those who are skeptics or realists are devoid of moral convictions and relatively soul less. This is definitely a theme of this book.

So what exactly is Sharansky's argument and why am I sympathetic to it? He believes that all people want to live in free societies, and I agree. I have always cringed inside whenever I heard anything like, "Muslims don't want to democracy because it would be taking Allah out of their lives. The Koran doesn't preach freedom of speech, etc." Well there are millions of Muslims living in democracies in Europe and the United States who are doing just fine, however. The same things were said about the Germans and Japanese after World War II and about the Russians during the Cold War. These people had strong, tryannical leaders because in their hearts the Germans, Russians, and Japanese wanted them in charge. Until that is, they didn't. So why did non-democratic leaders get into power in these areas of the world? Well, I bet it has more to do with the factors that Diamond points to in Guns, Germs, and Steel than with their desire to live in fear.

So everyone wants to live in a free society. Democracy is the best form of a free society because dissenting opinions can have their political say, or at least until Bill Frist has his first. So why does this help the world in general? Couldn't Hamas, Hezbollah, or some organization that is hostile to us win an election or five? Sure they could and that country may not be our friend. But if they enact policies that aren't in the best interests of their respective countries they won't be in charge for very long. Inevitably an election will come about that they don't win. In a democracy the people won't stand for dangerous foreign policy AND they won't let their leaders forget about the situation back home. Even more importantly they have the power to change things when and if their leaders are negligent.

So how is this to be achieved? Sharansky suggests that all future aid, entrance into international organizations, etc. be tied to the human rights situation of the people living a country with a despotic leader. We should no longer deal with dictators, instead we should force them to give their people more rights. The way that a leader treats his own people is a direct proxy for how he will treat the rest of the world, or so the theory goes. Sharansky goes on to say that we are more hated in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia than in Iran or were in Baathist Iraq. Why? because we support their tyrannical leaders. He belives that we should end our policy of siding with the lesser of two evils becuase it simply hasn't worked. The Middle East isn't any more safe, nor is its people aren't any more free. Again, this man is an idealist.

This makes the United States more safe, because democracies don't rush to war. Well...
Sharansky pretty much dares us to come up with a war fought between two truly free societies. That most of us would have to resort to our history books to come up with one only proves his point that they are truly rare. Although, that a world of free societies is something pretty much tied exclusively to the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st seems to escape him.

So why should a liberal like myself be sympathetic to Sharansky's argument? Well, as a liberal I believe that a government should do all that it can to help its citizens. I am a big proponent spending on public schools, Social Secutiry and especially universal health care coverage. Why should I stop caring about people because they don't live in my country? Sure, I do think that our people need to come first 9or atleast should be the top priority of a government), but why should we continue to persist with a policy that only props up dictators routinely violate human rights, especially since it is a policy that hasn't worked?

This doesn't mean that I am a supporter of President Bush's foreign policy. I do not believe in unprovoked war in any form, even if it is to topple a dictator. There are other means to this end. I also think that we will need strong allies to get this done. In other words, I still believe the Iraq War to be a msitake if only for moral reasons (there are plenty of practical reasons for calling this war a mistake) and I dont' believe in the unilateralism that Rumsfeld, Bolton, Cambone, and Feith are all proponents of. But can we as the World's biggest superpower put pressure on Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Pa, etc. to improve the human rights situation in their countries? Sure we can, though if the EU, Russia, and Japan still trade with them the affect will be minimal.

Well, I guess that is it. Just throwing down some ideas. Could this merely be a young buck getting caught up in a recent book? I guess so, but I have been pretty tortured by the twin feelings of horror and agreement that Bush's rhetoric has given me. There are also many things here I didn't cover, like terrorism, Oslo, and Helsinki to name a few. So if there are questions, feel free to contact me. A lack of debate on issues of this ilk is one of the things I miss most about living where I do and not at 377 W. Louther.

Back with baseball next time, I promise.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

I know that this is late, but I am finally getting around to posting my NL predictions. There won't be many comments.

NL East

Braves 87-65
Phillies 84-68
Marlins 83-69
Mets 81-81
Nationals 62-100

I am only picking the Braves because they have won the division each of the last 10 seasons, and won the NL West the last three full seasons before that. The last team to win the NL East in a non-strike year? The Phillies in 1993. However, the Marlins have won two World Series in that time and the Mets won a Pennant. Any of the top four teams can win this division, there is no great team, probably not even a really good team, just four good teams.

NL Central
Cardinals 92-70
Cubs 88-74
Astros 79-83
Reds 75-87
Brewers 73-89
Pirates 66-96

NL West
Dodgers 90-70
Padres 86-76
Giants 81-81
D-Backs 71-91
Rockies 65-97

This is a tight league with any one of ten teams sporting realistic hopes of winning the Pennant. I think the Cardinals are the best team still, but it is close. They will miss Renteria and their pitching won't overperform the way it did last year. They weren't a 105 win team, but a 97 win team that got lucky. Just ot show how tight I see this league here the top ten teams ranked by my expected wins.

Cards 92
Dodgers 90
Cubs 88
Braves 87
Padres 86
Phillies 85
Marlins 84
Mets 81
Giants 81
Astros 79

Over in the American League the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, A's, and Twins are head and shoulders above the rest, not so here.

A few notes from recent games that I watched...

...On the way home from the Phillies game on Thursday I was subjected to the wailing and whining of Phillies fans after their 2nd loss in 3 games on WIP 690. Manuel is overmatched, the bullpen isn't very good, Abreu and Thome are finished, we have no pitching, etc., etc. Well, Charlie Manuel didnt' do much to ease those tensions on Friday afternoon. Bottom of the 8th, game at 5-4 and Larry Walker at the plate. Ryan Madsen wasn't having a good outing so Manuel goes to the bullpen to get his top reliever with the game on the line right? Wrong. He goes and gets Aaron Fultz, a LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY) to face Walker, a lefty. Who would you want facing a top hitter in a crucial position in the game: Billy Wagner (who is also a lefty by the way) or Aaron Fultz. managers cost their teams more games by not going to their top relievers earlier in the ball game and this one was no different as Fultz walked both Walker and Pujols and the Cardinals won 6-5.

...The Yankees started Ruben Sierra at DH this afternoon instead of putting Tino Martinez at 1B and Jason Giambi at DH. Why? The Orioles were pitching lefty Bruce Chen. This makes some sense, Tino is a lefty and Ruben is a switch-hitter, but Chen tops out at around 88 MPH and is only effective when he is spotting his changeup. Sierra is a hitter whose only strength is pelting low inside fastballs. When he doesn't get taht pitch, Sierra is about as potent as Doug Glanville at the plate, only he is slower. In other words, there was no reason for Torre to sacrifice defense in order to get the righty into the lineup. It is not like Chen is a guy like Randy Johnson who lefties fear because of his great fastball.

So what happens? Sierra hits a game winnings 3 run home run off of reliever Steve Kline. Figures. Of course the pitch was a thigh high fastball on the inside half of the plate. Today's HR aside, the more games Sierra starts, the less runs the Yankees will score. He is a useful all or nothing pinch hitter and a guy who should start against pitchers like Johan Santana or Barry Zito. However, he shouldn't get 300+ at bats. If he does it is proof that the Yankees weren't paying attention when the Red Sox depth gave them a huge edge in the ALCS.. Then again, they are platooning Rey Sanchez and Tony Womack at 2B, so maybe they aweren't paying attention.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Harold Reynolds and John Kruk just picked the Yankees to win the World Series over the Braves and the Marlins, respectively. We're F**ked.

I had a very weird feeling of Deja Vu when tonight's Yankees/Red Sox game started. It was cold and blustery, the place was rockin' and most of the Yankee players are the same. It was like you take a two week vacation from work and upon return wonder if you ever left or if your vacation was just a dream. On the heels of what seemed like 48 consecutive hours of watching the Yankees lose in October, my mind is all screwed up.

Be back tomorrow with my NL preview.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The seasons gets underway early next week with an eraly matchup between the Yankees and the Red Sox. I am both psyched and dissapointed. I hate jumping right into Red Sox/Yankee games, it is better to have a week or two or practice first. Well with such a small amount of time beween now and the first pitch of the 2005 seasons, here are my American League predictions.

AL East
Red Sox 97-65
Yankees 93-69
Orioles 77-85
Blue Jays 69-93
Devil Rays 68-94

For the first time in history, I am picking the Red Sox to win the division before the season starts. I have tabbed the Sox to win the World Series before the playoffs twice ('03 and '04) but never to win the division. The Yankees spent big on pitching giving multi year deals to Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, while trading for and extending the contract of Randy Johnson. Even with all of this 'additional' help, the Yankees still lag behind the sox for a few reasons. The first is that Pavano and Wright can't be expected to pitch much above league average and Wright may be well below that. The second is teh Sox depth. The Yankees have equivalent frontline talent (ARod, Jeter, Sheff, Big Unit vs. Schill, Ortiz, Manny, etc.) but will be giving lots of at bats to guys liek Tino Martinez, Ruben Sierra, and Tony Womack. Their bench consists of Sierra, Rey Sanchez, and the evil of all evils, Doug Glanville. The Red Sox, on the other hand, will have no real weak spot in their lineup and a bench including Ramon Vazquez, Jay Payton, and Kevin Youkillis. Advantage Sox.

As for the rest of the division, there aren't any contenders right now. The Orioles have the sock to put up a ton of runs with a middle of the order consisting of Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada, Viagra Man, Javy Lopez, and Me No Speaka (that was a reference to said player's actions during the congressional hearings, not his nationality). However, that core is aging, even a guy with a relatively short period of productivity like Mora is 33. The rest of the lineup is mediocre at best and their pitching should be...well...interesting. Lots of youth, little polish, and the talent level isnt' even all that great. If they get a miracle year out of their pitching staff they may contend. The Blue Jays and Devil Rays will fight it out for last place, I think the Jays are a slightly better team, but the Rays have much more upside and tons of exciting young talent .

AL Central
Twins 88-74
Indians 82-80
White Sox 75-87
Tigers 71-91
Royals 68-94

The Twins are favored to win their fourth consecutive AL Central crown and get blown out by the AL East winner for the third straight year. They ahve had decent teams, but they also have a problem maximizing their talent and playing in a weak division has helped them immensely. To wit, Luis Rivas and Juan Castro are slated to be the starting middle infielders right now (rookie Jason Bartlett will hopefully get the nod but he wont' be anythign special this season). That pairing is even worse than the Rivas/Christian Guzman combo they have had for the past four seasons. All the while players like Michael Cuddyer (3B/2B/OF) Michael Restovich (OF), Lew Ford (OF), and Mike Ryan (OF) have toile din the minors. One would think at some point they would have leveraged some of their OF depth into some decent middle infielders, they haven't as of yet. At this point, Restovich and Ryan are over 27 and fading, Ford is coming will be the top outfield reserve and Cuddyer is the starting 3B. They still have bad MIers.

The Indians are everyone's sleeper pick in the AL, and while they are a very young and very talented club, I jsut dnt' see them really contending this year. Last season saw career years out of Ronnie Belliard, Travis Hafner, and Jake Westbrook that won't be repeated. They have plaenty of young, talented players like Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Brndon Phillips, and Jhonny Peralta, but only Sizemroe and Lee look to be anything appraoching star potential. Look for the Indians in 2006.

The rest of the division isnt' anythign special. The White Sox have pinned their hopes on a couple of middle of the rotation guys they are convinced are aces in Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia. They even have two former Yankee/Cuban defectees in Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez. To top things off, they traded a useful power baat for a speedy white guy who had a career year in 2003 at the age of 29. Said, speedy white guy, Scott Podsednik, is an even money bet to be the worst Corner OFer in the AL this season.

The Tigers gave a gimpy, RFer who has already turned 30 a 5 year $75 millions dollar deal. Magglio Ordonez will improve the team this season but that is probably the worst contract given out in an offseason of bad contracts. What will hurt them this season is the inevitable fall back to earth for Carlos Guillen, Ivan Rodriguez, and especially Brandon Inge. The Royals have soem decent young talent (or as I like to call them 'Future Oakland Athletics') but they will be lucky to see 4th place this season.

AL West
A's 88-74
Angels 84-78
Mariners 77-85
Rangesr 75-87

Toughest division in the American League. It isnt' out of the question that any of these four teams could win the division. Most of the offseason talk has been about how the A's have traded away two of their Big Three (and the best two at that) but very little of it has centered on the fact that a) they got a lot of talent back, and b) Mulder and Hudson weren't the same pitchers in 2004 that they had been from 2001-2003. The A's also upgraded their offense with Jason Kendall and Keith Ginter, while having fantastic depth (Charles Thomas, Bobby Kielty, Adam Melhuse, Mark Ellis, etc.). Team depth could be the new market inefficiency as the GMs most associated with the 'Moneyball' concept are teams with very good depth (Boston, Oakland, and LA).

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim didn't have a very good offseason in my view. They went out and paid big money for an awful defensive CFer whose only decent skill right now is power. Then they went out and gave even bigger money to a guy who only had a VORP of 20 last season. Steve Finley and Orlando Cabrera dont' really push the Angels any closer to a division title as much as they make the media fawn over what you are doing.

The Mariners went out and bought some power to compliment Ichiro Suzuki in Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre. They are still giving to many AB's to guys like Raul Ibanez and Randy Winn to have a great lineup, though. Their pitching will be medicore at best, unless Felix Hernandez is called up before the All-Star break. He is 18 and has some of the most wicked stuff EVER, think a young Doc Gooden or Pedro.

The Rangers have an overrated offense because they play in the AL's msot hitter friendly park. They got a preformance from their pitchers that will be totally unsustainable in 2005. Put the two together and you have an inevitable fall back to earth for the AL's surprise package of 2004.

Be back with the NL soon.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

I am fresh off of my Sunday Morning routine of watching Meet the Press, where I learned that 63% of fans think that players who have used performance enhancing drugs should have their records erased and 66% believe they should never be in the Hall of Fame.

If those are true I would like to see the records and Hall of Fame plaque of Willie Mays and others who took amphetamines (the evidence is stronger that they did greenies than the evidence that Bonds and McGwire did steroids) to enhance their performance in the 60's and 70's. I want to start the campaign right now! I will be heading up to Cooperstown this week, please join me!

Now that was ridiculous, of course. Mays should stay in the record books and in the Hall of Fame. You cannot take away accomplishments because you learn what a player may or may not have done in the past. That is George Bush 43's nemesis, revisionist history, in all of its glory Those polls are knee jerk reactions that give me a little less faith in the ability of the American plublic to think for themselves on an issue and not just regurgitate what a biased press tells them.

And just so we clear we are not talking about poltical liberal/conservative bias. I believe it is pretty apparent that the mainstream press is outraged here in order to moralize and grandstand. That, my friends, is bias.

Friday night I turned on Pardon the Interruption and, to my horror, Jay Mariotti was taking the place of usual co-host Tony Kornheiser. Mariotti is a complete and utter hack who has no ability to use logic or analyze anything put in front of him. His opinions are of a knee-jerk variety and smack of someone who a) thinks a lot of himself, and b) has a grudge against professional athletes based on an inferiority complex. He is one of the 5 or 6 worst sports writers in this country (on level Bill Plaschke and Skip Bayless). That he can make it to the top of his profession is proof that his respective profession isn't one that either attracts or knows what to do with intelligent, affluent people. Right now I am the better sports writer between us, period.

Anways, I digress. I watched PTI for like 35 seconds and in that short span of time I got the privilege to hear Mariotti say that Mark McGwire lost his vote for the Hall of Fame (That baseball's legacy is in the hands of a piece of **** like this....). AARRGGHH!!!! YOU HAVE NO EVIDENCE THAT HE TOOK STEROIDS!!!!! PLEADING THE FIFTH (more or less) CANNOT BE USED AS AN ADMISSION OF GUILT!!!!! THAT IS WHY WE HAVE THAT OPTION IN OUR LAWS!!!!! @#$%^&*!!!!

Thus ends the vitriol.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Spent a decent part of the day watching the congressional hearings on steroids in baseball on ESPN. In bullet point form here are some of my immediate thoughts.

That's all folks! I am usually one for bipartisan work in order to get things done. Today, however, was bipartisan suck. I can't even blame today's farce on George W. Bush, and this from a guy who has blamed W for a burnt Hot Pocket!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Phillies Top 10 Prospects Part II

First a correction,

Anderson Machado injured his knee playing winter ball in his native Venezuela and will be out for a good chunk of the season. So chances are that he would not have been a cost effective version of Tomas Perez in 2005. However, I guess you could argue that had he not been traded events may have turned out differently.

When taking a look over the Phillies system, I believe that there are five players that are real keepers, five very good prospects, five players that most any team woudl like to have in their system. Prospects #'s 10-6 were either really really raw (Golson, Mitchinson), had serious injury concerns (Fisher), or didn't really have star potential (Roberson, Bucktrot). If you were depressed by that list, here is the good news.

5. Michael Bourn CF Age 22
.315/.431/.467, 413 AB in Low A Lakewood

Most prospect mavens have Bourn at #4, but there is another guy that I like slightly more. Either way, this guy looks to be very promising. Baseball Prospectus tranlates/converts every minor leaguers AVG,OBP, and SLG into a nuetral Major League context. Michael Bourn's Major League line would have been .302/.381/.411 in 2004. That isn't a lot of power for an outfielder and batting average can be a very volatile statistic, but a translated .381 OBP in Low A? Tasty.

Bourn also gets very high marks for his baserunning. He is lightining fast, but seems to have good instincts as well, making him more Kenny Lofton than Coco Crisp. His 58 for 64 SB line may very well have been the best in the all of Minor League Baseball in 2004. He isn't exactly a fluid CF now, but he certainly has the speed to cover it throughout his prime.

The Downside? What BP calls 'Jackie Rexrode Syndrome.' Rexrode was an Angels prospect five or six years ago who posted kick-ass OBP's, a little average and next to no power. Scouting convential wisdom said that a player like him would 'have the bat knocked out of his hands' when he mde the majors. So who was right BP or the scouts? Rexrode never made the major leagues. A few years later, its tranlation system, PECOTA, was giving bad projections to players with tons of walks and little else to their credit. Guys like Jeremy Giambi and Kevin Youkilis turned out not to be the players that BP thought they were. Prospectus decided to call a mea culpa and give a win to scouting CW.

So how does this affect Bourn? Well, he is a slap hitter whose most impressive offensive feature is his walks. His ISO isn't bad for his age at .152, but with 14 of his 39 extra base hits being triples, that is as much a function of his speed as his raw power. Phillie instructors are trying to work with him to make him drive the ball. If they succeed just a little we could have a star on our hands. Much like Roberson, his speed will keep getting him chances, but it is possible that he may not develop into more than an outfield reserve if they fail.

4. Jake Blalock LF Age 21
.271/.350/.449, 517 AB's for Low A Lakewood

Mike Schmidt saw some of the Phillies most impressive young stars in 2004 as coach of the Lakewood Blueclaws and none was more impressive than Jake Blalock, little brother to Rangers All-Star 3B, Hank Blalock. I had Blalock at #7 last year and his performance merited that selection, now I expect him to progress a little more on the way to being a good Major League player.

So why is he over Michael Bourn? One word: power. If given the choice between walks and power in a minor leaguer the choice will almost always be power, especially at Blalock's age. Of course his SLG was less than that of Bourn, .467 to .449. However, a closer look at the two players 2004 lines reveals Jake's superiority in this department. Their ISO's were .152 for Bourn and .178 for Blalock. Bourn's high SLG was based on his 14 triples, which is mostly a speed measure, and his high batting average. Blaloch his 16 HR, 11 more than Bourn, and had 40 2B, 20 more than Bourn. Doubles power is a key indicator of future home run power when dealing with young players.

He does have his warts, however. He strikes out way too much (126 times in 517 AB's). With Major League players K's aren't any more or less important than other outs. For youngsters like Blalock, guys who are still developing, it makes one wonder if he will ever be more than a .240-.260 hitter in the big leagues. You need a good bit of power (which I think Blalock has) and a good batting eye (jury is still out) to overcome that low of a BA and still have a bat worthy of an OF corner. Of course there are still question about his ability to handle an OF corner. so he may even be a 1B. He could turn into a very solid contributor for a few years, think Pat Burrell, or he could turn into a solid platoon/pinch hitter type. Either way, I think he makes it to the show.

3. Cole Hamels LHP Age 21
24/4/0 in 16 IP, 1-0, 1.12 ERA at High A Clearwater
147/39/0 in 100 IP between Low A and High A in 2003

Hamels was my #1 prospect in 2004 and his performance merited that ranking this past year. So why had he fallen to #3? Because he only pitched 16 innings due to soreness and inflamation in his left elbow. Looking at his career stats, 171 K's and only 43 BB in just 116 IP, with the next HR he allows being his first due to a nasty changeup, he looks like a future ace. But elbow problems are scary for pitchers of Hamels age and he may have surgery in his future (I don't know this, it is just a guess). Until he puts together a full, effective season the Phillies should handle him with baby gloves. Most likely player on this list to make 8 All-Star games and give a speech in Cooperstown in 2030.

2. Ryan Howard 1B/LF? Age 25
.297/.386/.647 in 374 AB's at AA Reading
.270/.362/.604 in 111 AB's at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre
50 (!!!) Home Runs at three level in 2004

He isn't young, he makes Greg Luzinkski look like Garry Maddox in the outfield, he doesn't have a great batting eye and he strikes out way too much. With that out of the way, Howard has 30-35 home run power, maybe more, RIGHT NOW. Of course he isn't going to play over Burrell or Thome so, barring injury, that is kind of a moot point for 2005. He could use a little time in AAA to improve his K's and BB's but he may not get much better than this.

At the plate he looks a bit like a younger David Ortiz and his PECOTA comparables list includes guys like Derek Lee and Carlos Delgado, so there is a ton of upside if he cuts down on the K's and brings up the BB's. However, that list also includes flameouts like Daryl Ward and Franklyn Stubbs. Next decent offer the Phillies get for him they should take. His trade value will never be higher than it is right now, they are contenders right now, and he isnt' plying for them right now nor will he be for the foreseeable future. Of course, I advised this exact same thing in last year's prospect list and Howard is still here.

1. Gavin Floyd RHP Age 22
94/46/5 in 119 IP, 6-6, 2.57 ERA at AA Reading
18/9/4 in 30.2 IP, 1-3, 4.99 ERA at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre
24/16/1 in 28.1 IP, 2-0 3.49 ERA at Philadelphia

Floyd pitched at three levels in 2004. Looking at his AAA line one wonders why they rushed him up to the majors, but I guess they had nothing to lose at that point and he did pitch well. He has always had impressive ERA's at every stop (except AAA), but his peripherals were never anything to get excited about. That was supposed to change this season as Floyd was finally allowed to throw his vaunted curve ball, touted by many as being one of the 10-15 best in all of baseball. So what happened in '04? Well he once again posted some decent ERA's and once again his K rates and K/BB ratio were dissappointing.

At 22, there is plenty of time for him to turn things around and start striking guys out. Maybe he has yet to learn how to set up the outpitch that he has only thrown competitvely for one year. Maybe he turns into that pitcher with great stuff that never breaks out until it is too late, a la Estaban Loaiza. Maybe he never breaks out, a la Jon Garland. Either way he needs more seasoning in AAA so having Cory Lidle and Amaury Telemaco around will be helpful. He should be up by the end of the season, beginning a career as a good #2 starter.

So that is the list. I will be back soon with write-ups on some of the near misses and a look at last year's Top 10 list.

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