I've gone from one end of the baseball spectrum to the other in the span of a week. I spent last weekend at Perfect Game's World Wood Bat Association World Championship, observing hundreds of prospects for the 2014-16 First-Year Player Drafts. On Wednesday, I lucked into two tickets (thanks, MLB.com's Phil Rogers) to Game 6 of the World Series and took my oldest son to see the Red Sox win their third championship in the past 10 seasons.
I viewed players aspiring to pro careers at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla., and watched others achieve their sport's ultimate goal at Fenway Park. I saw potential stars such as Rancho Bernardo High (San Diego) catcher Alex Jackson and current megastars such as David Ortiz. I enjoyed both events immensely, which is why I still find my career as a baseball writer so fulfilling after 25 years.
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Even with no Game 7 needed Thursday, there's plenty of baseball to ruminate about. Readers provided several questions for the latest edition of the Pipeline Inbox, and it's my duty to answer them:
Between Byron Buxton (Twins) and Oscar Taveras (Cardinals), who has the better present hitting tool? How about in a couple of years from now?
-- J.P. S., Springfield, Ill.
Buxton and Taveras are the two best prospects in baseball, both outfielders but different types of players. Buxton is a tremendous athlete with better hitting ability than most players who fit that description. Taveras is a solid athlete but stands out mostly for his bat.
Taveras is 18 months older and entered pro ball three years earlier, so he has had the opportunity to prove himself against upper-level pitching in the Minors, and Buxton hasn't. Taveras doesn't have an equal in the Minors with his ability to barrel balls, and he has more strength to drive the ball with authority than Buxton. He makes more contact at the plate, too.
Taveras has the better present hitting tool, and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for the future because he has a better track record, too. When they both get to the Majors, they may produce similar batting averages because Buxton's blazing speed will allow him to accrue a lot of infield hits. They both could be future batting champions.
Astros first baseman Jonathan Singleton was highly thought of in 2012, but most experts seem to be really down on him now because of his suspension and subpar 2013 season. Has anything changed with Singleton from a tools standpoint? Is an above-average bat and power unrealistic?
-- Carl B., Greensboro, N.C.
After batting .284/.396/.497 as a 20-year-old in Double-A last year, Singleton earned consensus acclaim as baseball's top first-base prospect. His encore wasn't nearly as impressive, as he missed 50 games with a suspension after testing positive for marijuana, then batted .230/.351/.401 with 110 strikeouts in 304 at-bats, mostly in Triple-A.
Singleton is still the game's best prospect at his position, because he's still young and there isn't a bumper crop of first baseman in the Minors. It's still safe to project him as an above-average power hitter, and his raw pop grades out even better than that.
Singleton's strikeout rate has risen steadily as he has progressed through the Minors, however, so I wouldn't slap a plus grade on his bat. His swing appears longer now than it was in the lower level of the Minors, and he has yet to solve left-handers.
What are your thoughts on Anthony Gose? Do you think he'll be a starter in the future? What about fellow Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar?
-- David S., Montreal
There aren't many Major Leaguers with more all-around athletic ability than Gose, which is why the Blue Jays wanted him from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay trade and eventually got him from the Astros in the deal for Brett Wallace. Gose's speed, center-field defense and arm all grade as 70 or better on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he might have the strength to grow into average power.
The question with Gose is his bat. He has hit just .240/.294/.361 with 96 strikeouts in 313 at-bats with Toronto during the past two seasons, and he has yet to curb his overaggressiveness at the plate. Still just 23, he still has lots of potential and perhaps can bloom later in his career like Carlos Gomez did.
While Gose has yet to meet expectations, Pillar has been an overachiever. He set an NCAA Division-II record with a 54-game hitting streak in 2010 before signing as a 32nd-rounder out of Cal State Dominguez Hills the next June. He won the Class A Midwest League MVP Award in his first full pro season and reached Toronto in his second.
Though Pillar hit just .206/.250/.333 with 29 strikeouts in 102 at-bats with the Blue Jays, he has demonstrated the ability to make consistent line-drive contact in the Minors. If he can do the same in the Majors, he could be an everyday center fielder because he has solid speed, defense and arm strength. He may be more of a good fourth outfielder, though he already has shown it's foolish to bet against him.
Outside of third baseman Maikel Franco, is there anyone in the Phillies' system who might be a potential above-average Major Leaguer in the next three years? Overall, does the system give fans any reason to have hope for the future?
-- Brian R., Philadelphia
While winning five straight National League East titles, two pennants and one World Series from 2008-12, the Phillies used several prospects (including Singleton and Gose) in trades to help their Major League club. As a result, there's not much left in the upper levels of their system.
Outside of Franco, the only prospect who's close to the Majors and has a reasonable chance to be an above-average big leaguer is left-hander Jesse Biddle. Biddle still has some work to do, though, as he has one consistent plus pitch (his curveball) and struggles with his control and command at times.
There are some players with upside in the lower levels, such as shortstops J.P. Crawford and Roman Quinn and outfielder Carlos Tocci. But if Philadelphia is to reverse its slide from 102 to 81 to 73 wins over the past three seasons, it's unlikely that its farm system will be the reason why.
What has gone wrong with Giants 2010 first-rounder Gary Brown? This season he hit only hit .231 for Triple-A Fresno after batting .336 with 53 steals two years ago in Class A Advanced San Jose. Is San Francisco still high on him and where do you see him when he gets to the big leagues?
-- Kenneth P., Redding, Calif.
After his big season in 2011, Brown figured to have taken over in center field for the Giants by now. But he regressed in 2012 and did even worse this year. There always have been scouts who have questioned his setup at the plate, and he's swinging and missing much more now than ever before.
Brown still has top-of-the-scale speed (though he attempted only 28 steals this year and was caught 11 times) and plays a fine center field, but he no longer looks like the dynamic leadoff man he appeared to be two years ago. He'll need to make some adjustments to become a big league regular. Right now, it's hard to project him as more than a fourth outfielder.
Which the emergence of Brian Dozier, what do the Twins do with their sudden second-base depth with Dozier and prospects Eddie Rosario and Jorge Polanco?
-- Thomas B., Sioux Falls, S.D.
The Twins likely will let the situation play out over the next couple of years to find out exactly what they have. Dozier had a strong offensive and defensive year in Minnesota, swatting 18 homers after never totaling more than nine in a Minor League season. But is his power for real and will his strikeouts catch up with him?
Rosario figures to start 2014 in Double-A and Polanco probably will begin next season in high Class A. If Rosario, a converted outfielder, can improve his defense, he's the best bet to be the Twins' second baseman of the future. Polanco could have the best all-around tools of the trio but needs the most development.