Bill from Bozeman, Mont., writes: Hi John. Chris Lubanski is off to a nice start at Burlington for the Royals. Do you suspect that KC is committed to leaving him in low A for a full year, or can we expect him to play in Wilmington before the year is out? Thanks.
I saw Lubanski play this past weekend for Burlington, and had a chance to talk with him for a few minutes after Saturday's game. He is a very personable and focused young man. On background, he was the Royals first-round pick last year, out of high school in Pennsylvania, and the fifth player picked overall.
A left-handed hitting center fielder comparable to a young Johnny Damon, Lubanski has very good speed, gap power, and good strike-zone judgment. He works hard to control the strike zone, and he told me that's the main thing the Royals want him to work on: plate discipline. He's off to a decent start, hitting .268 through 12 games, but with a .423 on-base percentage and a .415 slugging percentage. He's drawn 10 walks in 12 games.
Lubanski is rather lanky, and has broad shoulders. He has plenty of bat speed, and I think he will develop more power than Damon in time. He's already a fine defensive player in center field as well. I asked him about his timetable, and he said the Royals want him to get comfortable in pro ball, refine the strike zone, and just basically get experience. Unless he starts hitting .400 or something, I imagine he'll spend this year at Burlington. The Royals see him as the long-term replacement for Carlos Beltran, but they don't intend to rush him. David DeJesus (off to a fast start in Triple-A) will get first crack at Beltran's job, then eventually move over to left field once Lubanski is ready. That would be 2006 at the earliest.
Joey from Utah asks: Hi John. Who is Dionys Cesar? I'd never heard of him before this year, and all of a sudden he's tearing up the Southern League. Is he for real, and can a Reds fan expect him to be the (new) heir apparent to Barry Larkin in Cincinnati? The last two heirs apparent (Gookie Dawkins and Felipe Lopez) haven't panned out that well.
Cesar is off to an excellent start for Chattanooga in the Double-A Southern League, hitting .500 so far (22-for-44) with three homers, 15 RBI, and seven walks in 52 plate appearances. He's a switch-hitting infielder, and has split his appearances between third base (six games) and shortstop (five) so far this year.
Despite his quick start, Cesar is more of a journeyman than a prospect. He is from the Dominican Republic, and was signed by Oakland back in 1993. At age 27, he is too old to be considered a real prospect. He has yet to appear in the major leagues, and has spent the last four years bouncing around in Double-A, Triple-A, and the Mexican League. He's played pretty well at times, showing a bit of gap power, some speed, and defensive versatility. He doesn't have the range or reliability to play shortstop every day, so he would fit better on the roster as a utility player.
Cesar isn't any worse than a lot of utility infielders, but his chance hasn't come yet. He would be OK on the bench, but can't be considered an heir apparent for a regular job.
Chuck from Allentown, Penn., writes: How soon will we see Gavin Floyd in Philadelphia? I saw he was off to a good start at Reading.
Floyd has made two starts for Double-A Reading this year, and pitched well both times. He is scheduled to make his next start Friday, April 23. In his first outing, he pitched five shutout innings against Akron, allowing no hits, one walk, while fanning six. His second start was also against Akron, and this time he went 5.2 innings, giving up three hits, three walks, while fanning six and allowing no runs again.
Floyd features a 90-95 mph fastball and an excellent curve. His focus has been on improving his changeup, and it looks like he's made progress in that direction. If he continues to pitch well, he could see Philadelphia late in the second half, but unless they really get desperate for pitching, I don't expect the Phillies to rush him. We will do a full profile on Floyd later this spring for Down on the Farm.
Felix from Albany, N.Y., asks: I know the Yankees farm system is pretty thin. I remember there was a lot of talk about a pitcher named Sean Henn a couple of years ago, but he got hurt and sort of disappeared for awhile. Where is he?
Henn was a 26th-round pick in 2000, but didn't sign until May 2001, as a draft-and-follow pick. It took a bonus of over $1.7 million to get him to sign; if he'd gone back into the draft pool, he would have been a clear first-rounder. But he blew out his elbow after signing, and had to have Tommy John surgery. This cost him all of 2002. He came back in 2003, but wasn't the same pitcher, throwing 88-92 mph rather than the 94-97 readings he put up before the injury. He managed a 3.61 ERA in 16 starts for Class A Tampa, but his control was weak, his breaking ball was disappointing, and he was generally inconsistent.
Henn has looked better this spring, and has done well so far for Double-A Trenton, fanning 11 in his first 9.2 innings and giving up just one earned run.
He still needs to tighten up his control, and will have to show he can consistently use his breaking ball, which remains very erratic. When Henn was drafted, the Yankees saw him as a starting pitcher. While he's still starting for now, my guess is that he'll end up in the bullpen eventually.
GLANCE AT A PROSPECT: Joe Saunders, drafted by Anaheim in the first round in 2002, missed all of '03 rehabbing from a torn rotator cuff. He is back on the mound this year, and pitching effectively for Class A Rancho Cucamonga in the California League, allowing two earned runs in his first 17 innings, with a 14/3 K/BB ratio. His command and control are outstanding, but he'll have to show he can maintain this sort of performance when he reaches Double-A, as he lacks overpowering stuff.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, is also out, and can be ordered through on-line book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas, and feline friends Toonces and Spot.