Twins' Mauer tops among prospects

Twins catcher Joe Mauer heads the list of players who could be future All-Stars in the major leagues.

Originally Published: February 27, 2004
Baseball America
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The term "Moneyball" has become such a part of the lexicon, it's even used by scouts in other sports.

"Moneyball" was Michael Lewis' book chronicling how general manager Billy Beane and the Athletics incorporated statistical information into their analysis of players. The A's, Lewis wrote, had realized, "What these geek numbers show -- no, prove -- is that the traditional yardsticks of success for players and teams are fatally flawed."

The A's and an increasing number of other clubs have applied "geek numbers" to the draft in recent years, filling their farm systems with players drafted out of college rather than high school. The Blue Jays (GM J.P. Ricciardi), Dodgers (GM Paul DePodesta) and Rangers (assistant GM Grady Fuson) have hired former A's lieutenants to bring the approach to their organizations.

But while the trend in the draft has meant more college players being picked, the majority of impact players in the minor leagues -- at least as judged by Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list -- would not be considered "Moneyball" players. Among BA's top 25, just two -- Brewers infielder Rickie Weeks and White Sox outfielder Jeremy Reed -- played at four-year colleges. (Another, Orioles left-hander Adam Loewen, played one year at Chipola, Fla., Junior College).

As Pat Gillick once said, average tools make average players make average teams. High school players with big tools and a track record of performance head the list, which also includes international signees such as Mets shortstop Kazuo Matsui. Players who are rookie-eligible (without regard to service time) were considered for the list.

1. Joe Mauer, c, Twins
Like fellow Cretin-Derham Hall alumnus Chris Weinke, Mauer signed a letter of intent to play football at Florida State. Unlike Weinke, he's not going to ditch baseball to run back to Bobby Bowden. To nitpick, Mauer has hit just nine home runs in more than 1,000 career minor league at-bats. History also isn't on the side of catchers drafted out of high school, or of Mauer's stature (6-foot-4). History, however, is on the side of minor leaguers who hit .330, get on base more than 40 percent of the time, throw out more than 50 percent of opposing basestealers and have an approach to the game as mature and as polished as Mauer does.

2. B.J. Upton, ss, Devil Rays
Think Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy would still want the Pirates to take a college player with the No. 1 pick in 2002? They drafted Bryan Bullington instead of Upton, in part because many scouts had questions about Upton's bat. The 6-3, 170-pound shortstop answered those questions emphatically in 2003, drawing an astounding 73 walks in his first full season while hitting .297 and reaching Double-A. Upton's wiry frame and excellent bat speed have scouts projecting him to hit 20-30 home runs a season. Defensively, Upton led the minor leagues with 56 errors, but his arm, range and hands all are considered above-average for the position. Now all he needs is experience.

3. Delmon Young, of, Devil Rays
Third in the minors and second in his own organization, Young was the first player drafted in 2003. Few high school players have compiled a similar track record or thrived against better competition as consistently as Young, the younger brother of Tigers outfielder Dmitri Young. A two-time Baseball America High School All-American, Young also dominated international amateur competition (nine homers in eight games during the 2002 World Junior Championship, for example). In his first taste of pro ball, he went straight to the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League and batted .417. He combines raw power and a strong throwing arm with an old-school work ethic and big league bloodlines.

4. Edwin Jackson, rhp, Dodgers
The Dodgers knew Jackson had immense athletic ability when they drafted him, and let him DH in 2001 after he signed just to make sure they liked his electric arm better than his bat. They pushed him to Double-A in 2003 because they saw his 91-97 mph fastball, darting slider and developing changeup missed bats consistently. Jackson rocketed to the big leagues last year because he combined velocity with excellent command of his fastball, which stems from his athleticism and picture-perfect delivery. His slider and change need more consistency, which he should hone this season in the forgiving environs of Dodger Stadium.

5. Rickie Weeks, 2b, Brewers
Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., has produced its share of players, from Lou Brock and Ralph Garr to Danny Goodwin, the only player ever taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft twice (1971 and '75). Weeks has received more hype than any of them. He set an NCAA record with a career .473 average, then hit .329 in his pro debut and .319 in the AFL. His bat speed catches scouts' attention first, but so does his speed on the basepaths. His defense at second base can be raw, and some have suggested center field is in his future. Some batting titles might be, too.