Flamethrower Griffin makes adjustments

Nathan from Girard, Illinois, asks: The Royals' drafting of pitcher Colt Griffin never excited me too much. Drafting a kid just because he throws hard almost never works out, especially not for the Royals. But, Griffin seemed to develop some control toward the end of last season. Do you see him as a contributor in the majors? If so, in what kind of role?

Griffin has made some progress. He no longer burns the radar at 100 mph. He works at 92-94 now, but has more movement on his fastball at that velocity. When he rears back and fires at maximum strength, his ball flattens out. Griffin improved his slider and changeup last year, and his stats certainly got better. At Burlington in the Class A Midwest League, he dropped his ERA from 5.36 in 2002 to 3.91 in 2003. He also improved his ratios, getting his K/BB to 107/97 in 150 innings. That's still not good, but it beats his 66/82 mark in '02. Griffin's strikeout rate remains low for a guy with his kind of arm, and his control, while better than it used to be, is still shaky more often than not.

My guess is that Griffin has a better chance to be successful out of the bullpen than he does in the starting rotation. But the Royals want him to start, to continue racking up innings and experience. He could take a step forward in 2004. He'll be pitching at Class A Wilmington, which is a very good park for pitchers. I think he'll improve his numbers early in '04, at least superficially (ERA, wins, etc.). But his K/BB and K/IP will give us a true read on his actual progress.

Although the Royals haven't given up on him by any means, he has fallen behind other guys like Zack Greinke and Jimmy Gobble on their pitching prospect depth chart. This is good in the sense that they will be less tempted to rush Griffin if he gets off to a hot start. I can't say I'm especially wild about his chances, but they look better than they did a year ago at this time.

Brad from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, writes: I was wondering if you could give some information on a pitcher in the Mets' farm system. His name is Yusmeiro Petit. He pitched in Kingsport (Rookie ball) and Brooklyn (Class A) in 2003 and appears to have dominated the competition. His K/BB ratio was outstanding, and he only surrendered 2 home runs all season long. How much of a prospect is he considered to be now?

Petit made a very successful North American debut in 2003, splitting the season between Kingsport and Brooklyn. As you point out, his numbers were excellent. At Kingsport, he went 3-3 but with a 2.32 ERA and a stunning 65/8 K/BB ratio in 62 innings, allowing just 47 hits. At Brooklyn, he made two starts and was similarly effective, posting a 2.19 ERA and a 20/2 K/BB in 12 innings. That combines for an 85/10 K/BB in 74 innings, obviously outstanding. All of his ratios come out strongly positive, and given his age at the time (18), it certainly looks like he's a top prospect.

Scouts aren't convinced just yet though. Petit definitely throws strikes and knows how to pitch, but his fastball is average, and his breaking ball and changeup, while effective, are not in the "WOW" category. He succeeded last year because he works the strike zone much better than most pitchers his age, and short-season hitters have a hard time with that. He is clearly worth watching, but we need to see how his stuff holds up at higher levels.

Jared writes: David Kelton was once considered one of the hot prospects in baseball, but it looks like the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty set without him. Is he still considered a hot prospect? If not, why the change? Should I look for him to be traded? Kelton's progress at third base should be blocked for a long time by Aramis Ramirez. Is there any chance of a position change for him?

Kelton is an outfielder now, due mostly to his inability to develop reliability at the hot corner. He has enough range and arm strength, but he has a very hard time making reliable throws in the infield, possibly due to a mental block. He should be decent with the glove in the corner outfield spots with a bit more experience, and he can also play first base.

His bat seems to have stalled out. His 2003 numbers at Triple-A Iowa (.269/.338/.446) were nearly identical to his 2002 numbers at Double-A West Tennessee (.261/.332/.462). He has power, but his plate discipline remains erratic, and I don't think he'll be much more than a .250 hitter at the major league level unless he improves it. In the games I've seen him, he's shown a fairly short stroke for a power hitter, which is why scouts think he'll hit for a decent average. But it hasn't shown up in the numbers yet, and what he's done so far is not good enough for the corner outfield. At 24, his window to improve will start closing in another year or so.

Kelton may end up as a "tweener," a guy with a fairly good bat, but not quite enough offensive production to force his way into a job as an outfielder.

Arnie from St. Cloud, Minnesota, asks: Do you think Pete Rose should be reinstated and put in the Hall of Fame?

In a word, no. Or perhaps it should be two words, hell no.

I realize I'm apparently in the minority about this among baseball fans. But I really don't understand why so many people are so anxious to forgive Rose. I was trained as an historian, so I tend to look at things through the lens of history.

Gambling very nearly destroyed baseball, and the harsh penalties for gambling on the game are there for a reason. It's the only real "Death Penalty" in baseball, and deservedly so, for gambling threatens the integrity of the outcome on the field. Call me na´ve, but in my view, it is a far more serious matter than steroids or drug abuse.

It's not like Rose didn't know what the penalties were. If it were up to me, reinstatement for Rose wouldn't even be an option. Banned for life would mean banned for life, and no Hall of Fame plaque.

I'm generally a pretty liberal guy, but call me a rock-ribbed law-and-order conservative on this one.

Jeff from San Marcos, California, asks: I don't recall you writing anything on Merkin Valdez, the minor league pitcher the Giants got from the Braves in the Russ Ortiz deal. How's he coming along, and when do you think he'll be ready for the Giants' staff? A lot of Giants' fans are excited about him, but I believe he's 23 and hasn't pitched above Class A yet.

I like Valdez a lot, and I'll do a profile on him later this week. We need to see him at higher levels, but he is one of the better prospects around in my opinion. Check in on Friday for a full view.

Book update
The Baseball Prospect Book is at the printer, and we remain on course for mailing to customers the first Monday in February. If you order now, you get the 50/50 list via email. Please remember that the 50/50 is copywritten material that I give to book readers early as a courtesy. Please treat it as such.

John Sickels is the author of the 2004 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered only at his Web site, johnsickels.com. He is also the author of "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," which will be released just before Christmas by Brassey's. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.