Perhaps dealing with relentness negativity for weeks at a time has left me with a weakened immune system. Regardless, the result is that I have the flu. Generally I don’t get sick and this is easily the worst I’ve felt since coming down with pneumonia back in late 2012. There’s no way I can contribute an article today so I hope you can enjoy this trip in the way back machine.
Below is a prospect report I wrote for Baseball Weekly back in January of 2000. There are a couple of important things to remember. One, this was a print issue and we were constrained by page sizes and column inches. Two, this format was used for all 30 clubs, whether it made sense to do so or not. And three, this piece was limited by the lack of analytical tools available as well as the desire not to be too controversial. One year I wrote about Arnold Gooch and the following week the paper had to write a retraction, saying he was under team orders to do whatever it was I blasted him for. The goal was to never have that happen again.
Anyway, see how man names you recognize and don’t forget to pour one out for the late Brian Cole. Oh, what might have been…
NEW YORK METS
The Mets traded away much of their future in 1998 to acquire Al Leiter and Mike Piazza. Last season, the Mets shipped out OF Terrence Long, their top remaining upper-level position prospect, in the deal to acquire Kenny Rogers from Oakland. The New York farm system is practically barren now, though there are a handful of truly promising talents among pitchers and position players.
SETBACKS: OF Alex Escobar was limited to 11 at-bats because of two different injuries. OF Juan LeBron, a former first-round pick of the Royals who was acquired over the winter for Joe Randa, was out all season after undergoing shoulder surgery. LHP Jim Dougherty, who had gone 21-3 in his first two years, was out all season because of shoulder surgery and RHP Jae Wong Seo missed most of the season for the second consecutive year because of elbow problems. OF Jay Payton, who played well at Triple-A when healthy, batted just 170 times because of injuries that have interrupted his career the last four years.
— By Brian Joura
ERIC CAMMACK (RHP): The Eastern League All-Star features a deep repertoire and pin point control to shut down the opposition. Highlighted by a 13-inning hitless streak that included opponents going 40 consecutive at-bats without a hit, Cammack finished second among league relievers with a .151 average against. The 24-year-old has great command of an upper-80s fastball, two breaking balls and a changeup, as well as a delivery that makes it tough to pick up the ball. He uses the outside corner of the plate effectively against fellow righties and held lefties to a .139 average despite not having overpowering stuff. The 6-1, 175-pounder fanned 100 batters in 65 1/3 innings in 1999 and in the Arizona Fall League he struck out 22 batters in 18 2/3 innings. A 13th-round selection in the 1997 draft out of Lamar University, Cammack has allowed just 83 hits in 164 1/3 innings while fanning 234 batters.
JORGE TOCA (1B/OF): Toca, a Cuban defector who signed for $1.4 million, is an outstanding hitter with the best power in the organization. In his first season, Toca finished second among Mets farmhands in homers (25) and RBI (96) while showcasing a compact swing with little extraneous movement. Though listed as 24 years old, rumors have been circulating that Toca is actually upwards of four years older than that. A former member of the Cuban National team, he was removed due to fears that he would defect during an international tournament. Prior to signing with the Mets in September of 1998, Toca had a nine-month layoff from competition and his rust showed as he batted just .235 in the Arizona Fall League. The 6- 3, 220-pounder hit grand slams in back-to-back innings of a game in June for Binghamton and was fourth in homers and RBI when promoted to Triple-A. Toca showed good balance during the season, handling both righties and lefties well and batting over .300 both at home and on the road. While no one doubts his ability to hit, there are questions about where Toca will fit defensively. He played both left field and first base, where his lack of speed and suspect arm were less of a factor.
UP AND COMING
BRIAN JENKINS (OF): New York’s fifth-round pick in 1997 , Jenkins has four above-average tools, including the best bat speed in the organization. He also has power, good speed and a strong throwing arm. After hitting .349 in the Gulf Coast League in 1997, Jenkins slipped to .259 at Kingsport in 1998, but 17 of his 52 hits went for extra bases and he was the toughest batter to strike out in the Appalachian League, fanning just once every 13.29 at-bats. The 5- 11, 195-pounder got off to a great start last year at Columbia, batting .328 before ending up on the DL in June. He finished the year fourth in the league with a .513 slugging percentage. Additionally, Jenkins, now 21, hit .438 in the playoffs. A converted catcher, Jenkins played primarily in right field last year. The organization is confident he can become better defensively as he gets adjusted to his new position.
GRANT ROBERTS (RHP): The South Atlantic League’s Most Valuable Pitcher in 1997 (11-3, 2.36 ERA), Roberts was viewed as one of the game’s top pitching prospects before undergoing elbow surgery. He missed five weeks in 1998 and has since been battling to regain his status. The 6- 3, 205-pounder had a roller coaster season in 1999. He had 12 quality starts at Binghamton but there were also eight outings in which he gave up five or more runs. He has a mid-90s fastball, a slider and curveball. He’s regained his velocity after the surgery and has proven himself completely recovered by not missing a start the entire year. Just 22 years old, Roberts needs to work on his command of the outside corner of the plate. He also needs to come up with a pitch to throw against left-handers.
PAT STRANGE (RHP): The Mets’ second-round draft pick in 1998, Strange led the organization in ERA (2.63) and finished tied for second in wins (12) while pitching for Columbia. With a fastball in the low 90s, the 6- 5, 240-pounder is a prototypical power pitcher. Strange was brought along slowly in 1999 as one of the youngest hurlers in the South Atlantic League, but he won six consecutive decisions at one point. Just 19, Strange is advanced for his age. He has good mechanics, excellent control and works both sides of the plate. Not afraid to pitch inside, Strange hit 10 batters last year despite walking just 29 in 154 innings. While his curveball and changeup are still developing, he does a good job of keeping the ball low in the strike zone, as he gave up just four home runs.
ROBERT STRATTON (OF): The Mets’ first-round pick in the 1996 draft, Stratton is one of the top power prospects in the organization. An All-Star at Kingsport in 1997, he blasted 15 home runs in just 245 at-bats. Last year at Columbia, Stratton smacked 21 homers in an injury-shortened campaign. The 6- 2, 220-pounder was included as part of the package that the Mets sent to Florida to acquire Al Leiter prior to the 1998 season, but he was returned by the Marlins because of injury concerns. Stratton missed time that year with back problems that necessitated surgery and limited him to just 46 games. He got off to a hot start last year, batting .393 with nine home runs, including six over an eight-game span in April. A corner outfielder, the 22-year-old runs and throws well and is known for having a fine work ethic. Stratton needs to make better contact but made strides in recognizing the offspeed pitch last year. Stratton, who has not reached the 100-game plateau in any of his professional seasons, needs to shake the injury-prone label.
JASON TYNER (OF): The 21st player selected overall in the 1998 draft, Tyner is a leadoff hitter with outstanding speed. After hitting .303 with 15 steals at St. Lucie in his pro debut, the Texas A&M product followed up with a .313 mark, a Binghamton franchise-record 162 hits and 49 steals in 1999. The Mets were criticized for taking Tyner too early but they felt the organization lacked an impact leadoff hitter. In 1999 he batted .361 when leading off an inning. Tyner further adds to his leadoff skills by putting the ball in play. He was the third-toughest batter in the Eastern League last year to strike out, averaging a whiff every 12.83 at-bats. The 22-year-old put together four hitting streaks of 10 or more games. The main knock on Tyner is his complete lack of power. The 6-1, 170-pounder did not homer in college and has yet to do so in his pro career. In fact, just 24 of his hits went for extra bases in 1999. Tyner does a good job of playing within his limitations, putting the ball on the ground and legging out 49 infield hits last season. Tyner has played mostly in center field, although his lack of arm strength could push him to left field.
LEANDRO ARIAS (2B): A Gulf Coast League All-Star, Arias was a catalyst from the leadoff spot in 1999. The native of the Dominican Republic finished in the top five in eight offensive categories, including second in total bases (93), fourth in runs (38) and fifth in RBI (33). The 5- 10, 160-pounder, who has a good batting eye, works the count in his favor and sits on the fastball. Like most young hitters, he has had problems with the curveball but should improve with experience. The 18-year-old flashed solid defensive tools with good range and fine hands. He has decent speed but needs to learn the intricacies of basestealing.
LESLIE BREA (RHP): A power pitcher whose fastball has been clocked as high as 97 mph, Brea finished fifth in the Florida State League with 136 strikeouts in 1999 despite being a reliever for half of the season. Converted from the pen both to gain pitching experience and to curb St. Lucie’s shortage of starters, the 21-year-old is more suited to the pen with his two-pitch repertoire. In addition to his heater, he has a tight slider that he throws to keep hitters honest. While he has experimented with a changeup, Brea is reluctant to use it in a game. Acquired from the Mariners in the Butch Huskey deal, Brea will need to improve his command to succeed at the upper levels of the minors. In his four-year pro career, he has allowed 144 walks in 224 2/3 innings. Last year he issued 68 bases on balls, fourth-most in the FSL. The 5- 11, 170-pound righty also needs to work on a pitch to throw to lefties, who batted .309 against him last year.
BRIAN COLE (OF): After earning All-Star status in the Appalachian League in 1998 when he hit .300 and tied for the league lead with eight triples, Cole repeated the honors in the South Atlantic League last year. The Mets’ 18th-round pick in the ’98 draft finished second in extra-base hits (63), third in runs (97), fourth in average (.316) and fifth in steals (50). A top-of-the-order hitter, Cole batted over .300 against both righties and lefties. The 5- 9, 168-pounder had a strong second half of the season, batting .390 with eight homers, 20 RBI and 13 steals in July and posting a 15-game hitting streak in August. A broken left foot late in the year held him out of the post season. Defensively, the 21-year-old played all three outfield positions last year, although he was primarily a center fielder. While he has the range to play center, his arm might eventually land him in left. Cole led the organization in steals last year.
ENRIQUE CRUZ (SS): Cruz overcame a 2-for-25 start of the season to bat over .300 and earn all-star honors in the Gulf Coast League. He tied for second in doubles (14) and tied for fourth in extra-base hits (20). One of the youngest players in the league, the native of the Dominican Republic turned 18 in the off season. The 6- 1, 175-pounder filled out during the season and will eventually outgrow shortstop. Cruz displayed fine hands and a strong arm but a shift to third base seems inevitable.
YON GERMAN (LHP): German made his full-season debut in 1999, cruising through the South Atlantic League before earning a midyear promotion. He won eight consecutive starts and was well on his way to winning his ninth , leaving with a two-hitter and a 3-0 lead after eight innings, but wound up with a no-decision as the bullpen couldn’t hold it. The native of the Dominican Republic went just 1-7 after his call-up to St. Lucie, losing six consecutive games despite posting quality starts in the last three outings of the streak. Four starts after his promotion, the 5-11, 155-pound southpaw had his season temporarily halted when he left to pitch in the Pan Am games. After three years in the Dominican Summer League, German pitched in the Appalachian League in 1998, finishing second in the league in ERA (2.34). Compared to former Met farmhand Jesus Sanchez because of his build and stuff, the 22-year-old German has an upper- 80s fastball with movement. He also features a slow, big-dropping curveball and good control.