Prospect Retrospect: 2001

John Lackey was ranked #2 on the inaugural Top 10 Prospects report in November 2001. has published an Angels Top 10 Prospects report every November since 2001. It’s the longest running top prospect report of any Angels fan site, but then is also the longest running Angels fan site so there you are.

As with the amateur draft and player development in general, projecting prospects is always more art than science. Unlike in the fantasy realm where it’s all about adding up points, in the reality world we’re dealing with flesh-and-blood human beings who may have loads of talent but something doesn’t click when they get to the big leagues. Players who were drafted as an afterthought sometimes surprise and go on to fine major league careers. And then there are those destined for stardom, only to have an injury or unforeseen tragedy cheat them of their careers.

It takes at least five years to accurately evaluate if a draft was successful, and perhaps even longer when looking at high school draft picks. If an amateur is selected at age 17 or 18, he may seem like a “bust” to impatient fans demanding instant gratification, but the reality is most pro players don’t hit their prime years until at least 25 if not older. So that’s a good seven to eight years before we really even know if he’s going to have a substantive major league career.

Looking back over the Top 10 lists, I think I’ve done pretty well.

Over the first five years, 2001-2005, 45 of the 50 ranked players reached the major leagues. That’s 90%.

My reports come out in November, after the season ends. Baseball America will publish its annual Prospect Handbook in January 2010, so their equivalent to mine would be the 2002-2006 books. Their track record in that period? 45 out of 50. 90%.

So I’m in pretty good company.

When we get into the individual rankings, of course, it gets more subjective, and it may be many more years before we can judge the accuracy of the rankings. In 2005, for example, I had Kendry Morales #4 and Jered Weaver #6. BA had Weaver #5 and Morales #7. We both had Brandon Wood #1. How will those rankings look in 2015? In 2020? Who knows.

I write in the preface of every report that it’s only a snapshot in time, and this proves the point. As of December 21, 2009, Morales and Weaver are big league stars while Wood is waiting for a full-time job. But by 2015 the story may be different.

Over the next few weeks, the quietest time of year on the baseball calendar, I’m going to write a series of columns looking back at the 2001-2005 reports. I think enough time has gone by that we can judge how accurate those columns were.

My thinking each year changed, of course, based on the more I learned about baseball and also what were the Angels’ priorities. As I wrote in the prefaces, I take into account the parent club’s needs, whereas BA looks more at a player’s “ceiling,” i.e. how well he’ll do if given a big league job somewhere, sometime. I would tend to lower a pitching prospect on the list if the Angels’ starting rotation is stocked. On the 2009 list, Mark Trumbo moved up a couple notches once I found out the Angels intend to give him lots of right field experience at Salt Lake in 2010, because they’re really thin on power-hitting corner outfielders and such a move gets Trumbo to Anaheim a lot quicker than if he’s waiting for Kendry Morales to take his free agency in another four or five years. BA wouldn’t care about that, but I would because my list is exclusive to how the players fit into the Angels’ plans.

My 2001 list was:

  1. Chris Bootcheck RHP
  2. John Lackey RHP
  3. Brian Specht SS
  4. Casey Kotchman 1B
  5. Nathan Haynes OF
  6. Bart Miadich RHP
  7. Bobby Jenks RHP
  8. Jeff Mathis C
  9. Joe Torres LHP
  10. Alfredo Amezaga 2B-SS

The BA equivalent was:

  1. Casey Kotchman 1B
  2. Bobby Jenks RHP
  3. John Lackey RHP
  4. Chris Bootcheck RHP
  5. Joe Torres LHP
  6. Alfredo Amezaga SS
  7. Francisco Rodriguez RHP
  8. Nathan Haynes OF
  9. Ervin Santana RHP
  10. Jeff Mathis C

BA had Specht at #11 and Miadich at #21.

Let’s look at each of my picks in retrospect.

1. Chris Bootcheck RHP — Chris was a far more polished prospect than John Lackey coming out of college. He was ranked one of the top college starters, and represented by Scott Boras. The Angels selected him with the #20 pick in the first round of the June 2000 draft. As with Jered Weaver in 2004, Bootcheck held out, but once he failed to return to college for his senior year he was backed into a corner and signed. Chris made it to Anaheim for parts of five seasons, primarily as a reliever, having never become the dominant starter he was in college. He spent 2009 with the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate, and made it to Pittsburgh for thirteen relief appearances with an 11.05 ERA.

2. John Lackey RHP — Lackey was little more than a thrower when the Angels selected him in the second round of the June 1999 draft. He was primarily a first baseman in high school, and had been pitching part-time for only a year before the draft. Unlike Bootcheck, Lackey had a fierce competitive mentality that drove him into a successful big league career and a recent lucrative free agency signing with the Red Sox.

3. Brian Specht SS — Brian was ranked #3 by BA analyst Jim Callis in their early 2001 publications, but Josh Boyd had a different opinion one year later, after Specht suffered the first of what would become a series of injuries that finally derailed his career. We saw a glimpse of his potential when the Angels gave him the Fred Haney Memorial Award in 2004 for the outstanding rookie performance during major league spring training. Some of the others on that list are Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, Bengie Molina, David Eckstein and Kendry Morales, but then there are also George Arias, Mike Fyhrie, Keith Luuloa and Dusty Bergman. A bad back finally ended Specht’s career, and he’s now in medical school.

4. Casey Kotchman 1B — Casey was one of the top high school hitting prospects in the nation when drafted in June 2001, and was the “hometown boy” because his father Tom is a longtime scout and minor league manager in the Angels’ organization. He was widely considered to be a future big league star, but has yet to manifest his potential at that level. Casey was traded in July 2008 to Atlanta in the Mark Teixeira deal, then was sent a year later to the Red Sox for Adam LaRoche. Kotchman will be 27 in February, and he’s buried on the Boston bench, so it seems unlikely he’ll blossom into what was predicted for him when he started his pro career.

5. Nathan Haynes OF — Nathan was the top prospect acquired by the Angels on July 29, 1999 when they sent 2B Randy Velarde and RHP Omar Olivares to the Oakland A’s for Haynes, OF Jeff DaVanon and RHP Elvin Nina. The Angels got a lot more mileage out of DaVanon. As with Brian Specht, Haynes suffered a series of injuries that cut him down before he reached his prime. Nathan retired for 2004-2005 but returned to independent ball in 2006; the Angels re-signed him and he reached Anaheim for 40 games in 2007. The Tampa Bay Rays claimed him on waivers in the spring of 2008, and he passed through the Rangers organization last spring before being released.

6. Bart Miadich RHP — This ranking was back in the era where the Angels were finding discarded pitchers such as Brandon Donnelly, Ben Weber, and Al Levine to turn into effective major league setup relievers. The Angels signed Miadich as a minor league free agent at the recommendation of Don Wakamatsu, who had managed Miadich in the Diamondbacks’ system. “Wak” was the manager at Double-A Erie in 2000, so Miadich joined him with the SeaWolves and appeared to be on the fast track for the Angels’ bullpen. In 2001, Bart had a 2.44 ERA in 55 relief appearances with Triple-A Salt Lake and 27 saves. For whatever reason, he was never given an extended audition at the major league level, pitching just ten innings for Anaheim in 2001 and two innings in 2003. Miadich moved on to the Padres in 2004 and ended his career in the Marlins’ system in 2006. Wakamatsu now manages the Seattle Mariners.

7. Bobby Jenks RHP — Bobby was the personification of the Nuke LaLoosh character in Bull Durham, at least according to the pundits, but in comparison LaLoosh was Orel Hershiser. Jenks was overweight, he was uneducated, and had self-loathing issues that the public later learned about through an article in ESPN the Magazine. On April 19, 2004, Bobby left a Salt Lake game at Fresno in the second inning with an elbow injury after his velocity was down to the high 80s; was there, click here to watch the video. Pins were placed in his elbow to hold it together. During rehab, he got into a fight with a teammate, the latest in a series of disciplinary issues. The Angels tried to move him that winter off the 40-man roster to the Triple-A roster, but the White Sox claimed him on waivers. The Sox sent him back to Double-A in 2005 attempting to resurrect his career as a reliever, and it worked. Bobby is considered one of the better relievers in the A.L., although he posted a 3.71 ERA in 2009.

8. Jeff Mathis C — Jeff’s bat has yet to materialize, but defensively he’s already considered one of the best in the A.L. and also one of the best game callers. Manager Mike Scioscia highly values defensive catching skills, which is why Mathis remains in the lineup despite his poor offense. I remember writing my 2001 report thinking, “Jeff’s going to manage in the big leagues one day,” and I still think that, but that day is far off. Mike Napoli has the power bat, but Jeff’s defense keeps the two of them in a platoon situation reminiscent of the Dodgers’ Joe Ferguson/Steve Yeager platoon in the 1970s.

9. Joe Torres LHP — Joe was considered the top left-handed high school pitching prospect in the nation when the Angels selected him with the #10 pick in the June 2000 draft. Injury problems quickly disrupted his career, with first a shoulder problem in 2001 and then “Tommy John” surgery that cost him part of 2003 and all of 2004. The Angels let him go after 2006, and the White Sox tried to resurrect him as a reliever; unlike Jenks, there was no miracle for Joe. He was last seen pitching in relief for the Dodgers’ affiliate in Inland Empire this year, posting a 0.98 ERA at age 26 in High-A. Another career derailed by injuries.

10. Alfredo Amezaga 2B-SS — Back in 2001 I projected Alfredo as a utility player, and that’s been his career, although most of it has been with the Florida Marlins, who used him in center field along with all four infield positions. He was just non-tendered, making him a free agent. Alfredo has appeared in 544 major leagues with a career AVG/OBP/SLG of .251/.311/.341; I described him in 2001 as “pretty much a singles hitter” and that’s what he’s been. I’d love to see him back in the organization, but would only offer him a Triple-A contract and I’m sure he’s looking for more. Amezaga would add some infield depth with the departure of Chone Figgins, although he’s certainly not going to knock anyone off the big-league depth chart.

Why didn’t I rank Francisco Rodriguez or Ervin Santana as BA did?

With both of them, I was concerned that their mechanics would lead to injuries.

Frankie was headstrong, undiscplined, and let’s just say he was “rambunctious” off the field. He’d posted a 5.38 ERA at High-A Rancho Cucamonga that year, and suffered a forearm injury due to his bad mechanics. I’m still surprised he hasn’t broken down by now, although the move to the bullpen in 2002 probably has a lot to do with that.

As for Ervin, he wasn’t even Ervin at that time. He was Johan, having used a relative’s birth certificate to appear eleven months younger than he was when he signed. That came out a year later, but in any case he was only 18 (or 19, depending on which calendar you use) in November 2001 and had only thrown in fourteen Rookie-A games at that point. He tended to fly wide open in his mechanics back then, a problem later corrected, but if you’ve watched him pitch with the Angels in recent years you know it doesn’t take much for him to get out of whack. When he’s healthy and his mechanics are sound, he’s one of the best pitchers in the league.


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