The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, March 03, 2006


The New Phone Books Are Here!

Been meaning to get to this for a few days, but work and deadlines have been in my way...

• I've had similar feelings of pride when holding my initial copies of The Juice and Mind Game, but nothing felt quite like seeing my name on the front page of Baseball Prospectus 2006 when it arrived on Thursday. Will Carroll once compared joining BP to donning the pinstripes, and by that analogy, this feels like hearing Bob Sheppard intone my name in front of 55,000 fans on a chilly October night. "Attention ladies and gentlemen... writing the Dodgers chapter... page two-hundred and forty-two... Jay... Jaffe!"

Having been privy to nothing but my own contributions to the book prior to receiving it, I spent a good couple of hours browsing through it, when a telling moment happened. My Bob Sheppard moment having long passed, I reflexively turned to the Dodger chapter , thinking to myself, "I wonder what they say about..." and then it hit me: *I* wrote the chapter. In the introduction, co-editor and co-founder Christina Kahrl had mentioned that one of BP's goals was to write the book that they wanted to read. If that's not a case in point, I don't know what is.

• The Fantasy Baseball Index Internet Update, including updated depth charts and some 7,400 words covering all 30 teams from yours truly, is is available here; you'll need your copy of the Index to find the day's password.

• Enough about me already. One of the more exciting developments to come down the pike in awhile at BP is the addition of Kevin Goldstein, formerly of Baseball America, to our roster. I met Kevin at the Anaheim Winter Meetings in 2004, and found him to be personable, incredibly knowledgeable, and immensely entertaining. On the final night of the meetings, Goldstein and Carroll kept a group of us in stitches with their imitations of various Cubs announcers, with Goldstein lampooning the homoeroticism of Hughes' descriptions of bulging calves and pectorals. By the time he and Carroll were finished, I felt like I'd done about 100 crunches, my abs were so sore from laughing.

Goldstein brings more than a fine sense of humor to BP. He's got an encyclopedic breadth of knowledge when it comes to prospects and player development; my Dodgers and Braves chapters in BP06 were considerably enriched by lengthy discussions with him, and he provided a hefty chunk of background on David Ortiz for my Mind Game chapter on Big Papi. He'll be covering the prospect beat for BP, writing 4-5 times a week during the season, adding a voice that might stand in stark contrast to the stathead bent which dominates our coverage. Riffing on Dayn Perry's favorite analogy for the need to mix a statistical perspective with a scouting one, Nate Silver's introduction of Goldstein is tellingly titled 2"Now Serving Beer... and Tacos!"

In addition to an introductory chat laden with prospect questions, Goldstein has begun his time at BP with a six-part series called "State of the Systems," a division-by-division rundown of each team. Friday's installment is the AL East, and here's what he has to say about the Yankees:
What's Working: This is a system on its way up, but it's going to require patience. Because the Yankees are always good at the major league level, they never get a high draft pick, and their annual forays into the free agent market leave them with even fewer picks. Compounding the problem was that until 2003, the Yankees did a horrible job with what few picks they did have. The 2003 and 2004 drafts showed a little more promise, and new scouting director Damon Oppenheimer had a solid 2005 set of selections -- despite Big George's insistence that the club hand out no major league deals to draftees, preventing them from selecting Craig Hansen in the first round. It will be interesting to see if what the Yankees did with Austin Jackson will be the beginning of a trend. Jackson entered the draft with possible first-round talent, but also a perceived stronger desire to play basketball, where he was one of the top point guards in the country with a full ride to Georgia Tech lined up. So teams shied away from Jackson, but the Yankees took him in the 8th round and lured him away from hoops with $800,000. Just like the free-agent market, the Yankees are uniquely able to draft and get under contract some of the more difficult signability players in any year, and it's an ability that they should take advantage of more often. Beyond the improved drafting, a dramatic shift in international scouting is also paying dividends. Always one of the bigger spenders in Latin America, the Yankees have gone away from getting involved with the big names (like Wily Mo Pena for $2.44 millioin in 1999), and instead spreading a number of six-figure bonuses around to a number of talents, which has stocked the low levels with some exciting high-ceiling talents like outfielder Jose Tabata and shortstop Eduardo Nunez. As you can see by the size of this paragraph, even at the minor league level, things are always interesting in Yankee-land.

What's Not Working: Despite the unquestionable uptick in the system's overall talent pool, there's still plenty to make up for from the moribund years early in the decade. Nearly all of the system's top players have yet to play above the Low-A level, and the upper levels are filled with minor league veterans and fringe prospects.

2006 Rookies: None, zero, nada, nunca, zilch. If there is a player in the current Yankees system getting significant playing time with the big league club this year, that means that something, somewhere has gone horribly wrong.

I Like Him Better Than Most: Tabata is potentially one of the most exciting prospects in baseball -- his distance from the major leagues is the only negative thing one can say about him. At the same age of most American high school sophomore and juniors, Tabata hit .314 in the Gulf Coast League, walked more than he struck out, led the league with 22 stolen bases, and showed big-time power potential. He'll play in a full-season league this year, and he doesn't turn 18 until August 12. His ceiling is as high, if not higher, than any low-level prospect in the game, but he so far from it there's just so much that can go wrong.

Don't Believe The Hype: Eric Duncan may have won MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League, but the AFL record book is littered with names like Steve Pegues and Orlando Miller. So do you want to base your excitement off those six weeks, or his 316 minor league games in which he's hit .258 with just OK power and a ton of whiffs? Add in the fact that he's not really a third baseman and he is moving to first, and I'll take a pass.
Good stuff from Goldstein, and definitely some value added to the price of a BP subscription.

• One of the more interesting tidbits that I discovered in my trek through all 30 teams is that the likelihood of the Dodgers two top prospects getting a shot with the 2006 team appears to be increasing. Earlier this week, the team moved its top hitting prospect, 6'6" Joel Guzman, out of the shortstop position and announced that he's headed for leftfield, and will have a chance to supplant Jose Cruz, jr. as the team's Opening Day starter. The catch is that Guzman has no experience in the outfield yet, so while he'll work on the side with the Dodger coaches at getting up to speed, he'll likely be playing first base -- a position he's played in winter ball -- in the early exhibition season. Guzman ranked 14th on BP's Top 50 Prospect list, and Nate Silver's PECOTA system -- a component of the other list, but the former also includes more subjective consideratins -- has him as the most valuable prospect among shortstops, with only Prince Fielder, Chris Young, Delmon Young, Jeremy Hermida, Howie Kendrick, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Zimmerman, and Andy Marte outpacing him.

Meanwhile, pitcher Chad Billinglsey, Guzman's teammate at Double-A Jacksonville last year, will reportedly get a long look in consideration for a spot in the rotation. With Derek Lowe, Odalis Perez, Brad Penny, Brett Tomko, and Jae Seo ahead of him, Billingsley will need a break -- likely in the form of an injury to one of that quintet -- to make the grade. Given that Perez and Penny combined for just 48 starts last year due to various woes, that's hardly out of the question.

Billingsley ranked 24th on BP's Top 50, and Silver's system has him as the 11th-most valuable among current pitching prospects. Still, the team has a balancing act to do to avoid rushing the 21-year-old, who's never pitched above Double-A. The lessons of since-traded Edwin Jackson are fresh in memory, but I do think it's imperative for the Dodgers to have Billingsley bypass the heartbreak of Triple-A Las Vegas, where Cream of Pitcher is the soup du jour. Breaking camp in the bullpen seems like the best outcome available.

• I'm still looking forward to my upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, where I'll see a pair of World Baseball Classic games, but the endless stream of player withdrawals has dashed a bit of my enthusiasm for the tournament. ESPN's WBC home page has no shortage of headlines regarding withdrawals: Pedro Martinez and Aramis Ramirez due to injury, Vlad Guerrero due to the death of his cousin, Melvin Mora due to being asked to play outfield, Manny Ramirez, Billy Wagner, C.C. Sabathia... the list goes on. The Yankees rather tastelessly apologized to fans for the absence of their stars at spring training games, which is somewhat ridiculous when one considers that the big names rarely get more than one or two at-bats in the early exhibition season.

Still, this is turning into a PR disaster for Bud Selig and company, and not without cause; taking players away from their teams for three weeks in springtime is likely to have all kinds of ramifications, from the risk of injury in a glorified exhibition to WBC pitchers not getting enough innings to prepare for competition to the players left behind playing against substandard competition. But I do think that the perspective of Americans on this event differs from view of those in the Carribean countries, in particular. I don't know too many of us who are swollen with pride at the thought of Team USA, but the nationalistic fervor appears to run deeper when it comes to the Venezuelan, Dominican, and Puerto Rican teams and the nations they represent. Not only are those teams, in particular, gunning for a shot to beat the US, but they've also got bragging rites amongst themselves at stake. Hopefully I'll get more time to write about the WBC before I depart.

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