23 February 2006

First Book/IHOP Blogger Conference Call With HoF Pitcher Jim Palmer

Last week, I was privileged to receive an invitation to take part in a Blogger Conference Call" on Tuesday, 22 February 2006, with Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer. The call was sponsored by First Book, a non profit organization that works toward literacy for underprivileged children by providing them with new books, and they're receiving support from the International House of Pancakes. Kyle Zimmer, President and Co-Founder of First Book, hosted the call and asked some questions of her own, and there were some others there, though no list of participating blogs was provided, unfortunately.

Jim "Cakes" Palmer, who received the nickname due to his penchant for consuming pancakes before games he pitched (268 of those being victories), seemed a logical spokesman for such a venture, and Palmer will be
doing so on February 28th, which is National Pancakes Day (also Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or if you live where I do, Faustnaught Day. It's a Pennsylvania Dutchy thing. Don't ask.) If you're interested to hear the call, you can download the audio in mp3 format from First Book's web page, here. And just in case that eventually drops off their homepage, I've got a copy of it here as well.

So, if you've ever wondered what the voice of your favorite blogger sounds like, well, I can't really help you. You'll have to go to David Pinto's website and hear one of his many audio posts here to do that. But if you're interested in hearing the voice of your, say, 37th or 49th favorite blogger, you're in luck!

The whole "show" is only about 25 minutes, and mercifully, I don't speak for very much of it. I did, however, get to ask two of the four quesitons from bloggers, including the first one. This either means that

A) Almost nobody else was invited to this thing, or

2) ...almost nobody else showed up, or...

Thirdly, maybe the lines were jammed but John Perricone and Mike Carminati and Alex Belth and Aaron Gleeman and everyone else was just too awestruck to ask a question. Somehow, I doubt that.

In any case, below is a transcript of the first half or so of the call, including my first question and Jim Palmer's response. (I only transcribed half of it because it took me over an hour to do 15 minutes of audio, which ended up being four pages long, and besides, it kind of defeats the purpose of having the audio.)

If you'd rather just listen to me on the audio, and don't want to muddle through all the "pre-game ceremonies" you can find my questions at 11:00 minutes and 16:30 minutes, and Jim's (did I mention that Jim and I are on a first-name basis now?) responses immediately after each.

In all, I thought it was very interesting. If you listen to the audio, to his response to my second question, you'll learn how Jim actually got injured and managed to miss a season and a half early in his career, and it's something you'd never guess. Jim seems to have a keen grasp of the meaning of numbers in the game, though I didn't get a chance to ask his opinion on sabermetrics and such, as I had hoped.

Also, it's certainly a good cause. With a wife who's an elementary school teacher, I can appreciate the need for children to start reading and to learn the skill at an early age if they are to succeed in life, and Jim spends a lot of time talking about "success" at least in response to my question. So, without further ado...

Kyle Zimmer: Thank you all for coming. I just wanted to welcome everybody on behalf of FirstBook and make a quick statement before we get to the start of the show. FirstBook, for those of you who don’t know us yet, we are a national non-profit organization with a very simple mission: We provide brand new books to the most disadvantaged children in the country, and we’re here today to celebrate National Pancakes Day.

National Pancakes Day actually dates back to England in the 1500’s and marks the beginning of Mardi Gras. Now this year, on Tuesday, February 28th, IHOP is marking this occasion by celebrating National Pancakes Day and they’ve designated FirstBook as their principal charitable partner. So on this day IHOP will be giving away a free, short stack of pancakes to restaurant patrons and encouraging their guests to donate what they would have spent on pancakes to FirstBook.

And this is where we really need your help. FirstBook runs a very tight ship and we don’t have advertising dollars. But this kind of campaign can have tremendous power, and can really be the element that puts books directly into the hands of children. So we’re asking you, as members of the media and as bloggers in your own right, to please put this on your site, to please get the word out, so that we can fill those restaurants and fill those collection boxes so that kids in hundreds of communities around the country will have their very own first book.

Now with that, I’d like to take this amazing opportunity that I have to introduce everybody to Jim palmer, and this is certainly somebody who the phrase “needs no introduction” completely applies. Nonetheless, I was reading your biography, Jim, and I just can’t resist because some of the things I didn’t even know. At 18, Jim signed his contract with the Baltimore Orioles, and in 1966 he became the youngest player ever to pitch a World Series shutout game. Jim Palmer is also the only American League Hall of Famer to win the Cy Young Award three times, as well as four Gold Glove Awards, and there are so many more accolades and accomplishments than I could possibly list and many of the callers on the phone already know your credentials inside and out because they’re gigantic fans. We’re just here to say, “Kids need heroes like Jim Palmer”. There are kids around the country and around the world that Jim has been, and continues to be, a terrific hero for. They need heroes and they need books, and we’re here to celebrate both of those things in this call today, so, I thought, I will be quiet now and introduce and allow Jim, if you wanted to share some thoughts, and then we can go on to the Question and Answer period.

Jim Palmer: Well, thank you very much, Kyle. I think a lot of people have asked me, “Why would you be interested in something that IHOP is doing in National Pancake Day?” I guess it’s kind of an amusing story about when I first started my career. You mentioned I actually signed when I was 17 and played one year with Cal Ripken, Sr. Of course, we all know his son, Cal Ripken Jr., who broke Lou Gehrig’s record, but I played for his team in Aberdeen, South Dakota and the next year I actually played in the major leagues at age 19. That year, that following, the year you talked about when we were in our first World Series ever for the Orioles, which was 1966, we had acquired Frank Robinson, who went on to be one of the best outfielders in the history of the game, 586 home runs, won a Triple Crown in 1966. But that year I became a starting pitcher for the first time. The year before I had kind of pitched in relief and also was a spot-starter, but in 1966, at age 20, I was our youngest starter. I won, I had some success early on and then we left Anaheim to go to Kansas City, and we left early in the morning on a commercial flight to fly on the day of the game and I didn’t have a chance to really eat breakfast except on the plane…I missed my…I was eating pancakes and I was winning baseball games. When I lost that night in Kansas City, Curt Blefary, who had been Rookie of the Year, he was one of our young outfielders, said, “Well, what do you expect? You didn’t have your pancakes!” So I became really known as Jim “Pancake” Palmer. I think the first endorsement I ever did was for a small pancake company in Baltimore/Washington, Washington Pancake Company, and you know, they had a picture of me eating a stack of pancakes before I pitched in the World Series. I pitched against Sandy Koufax. It was his last game, my first World Series game. He actually pitched very well. Willie Davis dropped a couple of fly balls, we won six to nothing, and kind of the rest is history. But for the rest of my career, my nickname was “Cakes” because I used to eat pancakes so much, and you know, it’s just part of my daily ritual when I was pitching.

And of course, over the years, I think everybody’s eaten at IHOP. They’re everywhere. I think they’re in about 1300 communities and when I heard that they were doing something for literacy and I think back and I remember my early years. I don’t know if I really remember my first book. I remember my grandmother used to read me Pinocchio, because then she knew that I wouldn’t lie because my nose would start growing, but I think back, and when you’re growing up in the early ‘50s, mid- ‘50s, television certainly wasn’t as prevalent and you didn’t have DVDs and things like that. So I was a big sports fan. I grew up in New York and for some reason I idolized the Yankees. I used to run down to the end of the drive way and read the sports section of the Daily Mirror, which is now the New York Post. But I think I kind of started, I remember reading Beauty and the Beast, Black Beauty, and some of the Rudyard Kiplings, the Jungle Book, and things like that. So, at an early age, I think, my parents used to tell me to go to bed and I’d put the covers over me and get my reading light and read for another hour until I fell asleep. SO I know how important it is, as a child, to have books, to be literate, and to be able to sometimes escape and dream of certain things. For me, of course, it manifests itself in becoming a baseball player. I had a chance to play with some of the greatest players and against some of the greatest players and to play on some of the best teams in the ‘70s and the ‘80s.

Kyle Zimmer: Boy, it’s fabulous, Jim. And of course those players had the benefit of playing with you. I know that we want to get to questions quickly, and Jordan, I thought I would take the prerogative of tossing in the first question, if you don’t mind.

Jordan: Absolutely.

Kyle Zimmer: And then we’ll go on to those folks who are cued up. I think you know, there is, being involved in the Little League or team sports an all these things and reading…these are sort of the wonderful pillars of great childhood experiences, and I wondered, did you play in the Little League, and do you have any advice to parents who have kids like I do, little boys who love baseball and can’t wait for spring time to come around so they can get a hold of their bats?

Jim Palmer: Well I think, it’s interesting, you know, I grew up in New York and I was adopted and my dad was in the dress business and my mother had come from Council Bluffs, Iowa actually had a job in a little dress shop and she met my dad, but he put her youngest brother through the Juliard School of Music and he went on to play with Tommy Dorsey’s Band. So I come from a background where it was kind of really in the clothes business. My dad was a big sports fan but he passed away when I was 10 and we moved from New York to California. I ran into a man who used to sell my dad all these piece goods, he was kind of, really like an uncle, and he said, “Well, you know your dad loved baseball but he never would have expected you to have been a player.” But you when I would go to summer camp in New York, you know, I’d play all the sports. You know, of course, when you go to camp you swim and you hike and you do all those kind of things. I remember going down to watch the “big boys” play once and they needed a catcher and I said, “I’ll catch.” I was like ten years old, and of course that was the last time I ever caught because it was not something I wanted to do, but when I moved to California I played in the Golden State League and I had to make my first club. I think it’s the only club I was never felt that I wasn’t going to make. But I got into organized sports for the first time and, you know, I was just as nervous as anybody else. You know you end up in the Baseball hall of Fame, but when you’re ten years old, you’re trying to impress people and you’re not really comfortable and you don’t really know a lot of kids, but I found out that it’s a great way to sort of integrate yourself into your community. You learn the exhilaration of winning but also the disappointment of losing. Of course if you’re going to play professional sports or really do anything in life you’re going to have to encounter those things and deal with them.

So for sports, I think back, and if you’re a Hall of Fame baseball player, you didn’t get there by yourself. You had tremendous coaches and you had organizational people who went out and drafted you and you had people that worked in the front office and you had your family, whether it’s your parents or wife and children and all that that were very supportive. It all started in Little League. So I guess my advice, and it’s kind of a long answer, is basically: You know, when it’s football season I played football, when it was basketball I played basketball. I got a chance to play different sports and decide what I wanted to do. I suppose because so many of the influential people early in my life were coaches, I would have been a coach if I hadn’t been a professional baseball player.

Kyle Zimmer: Well, Jordan, shall we open it up?

[…Instructions from Operator…]

Operator: Our first question comes from Travis Nelson.

Travis Nelson: Hello, Jim?

Jim Palmer: How are you?

Travis Nelson: I’m good, how are you?

Jim Palmer: Oh, I’m excellent.

Travis Nelson: Great to talk to you. I was looking at your stats on Baseball-reference.com. You won 20 games eight times. That’s as many as Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz combined. Who, in your mind, besides Roger Clemens, is the greatest pitcher you ever saw, if in fact Roger Clemens doesn’t fit that bill?

Jim Palmer: Well, I mean, Roger Clemens certainly has a lot of success. I think the one thing about baseball is, before we got into the so-called “Steroid Era”, when you’re comparing hitters or even pitchers because they had to pitch in that era, the great thing about baseball is you can compare one generation to the other. Times have changed a little bit so I think that maybe the numbers are somewhat distorted, but I think if you go back, of course when you’re a kid you’re pretty impressionable. Whitey Ford, of course, wasn’t overpowering but he played on all those great Yankee teams with one of the best earned run averages and winning percentages ever. Sandy Koufax, I talked about him and he pitched, what, I think five no-hitters. Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson…I had a chance to actually pitch against them and see them pitch in person. But, you know, Randy Johnson, I think if you think of the modern day people. In think for somebody that looks like he’s going to sell you life insurance, Greg Maddux has had the most success. I think he’s gone 15 years or 16 years winning more than 15 games until last season. Tom Glavine’s had a lot of success. Guys that are not overpowering and when I talk to young pitchers, that’s what I try to tell them. These guys throw barely 90 mph but they know how to pitch, they’re smart, they’re good hitters because they’ve played their careers in the National League. They have great change-ups, they can pitch when they don’t have their best stuff, and you know, they pay attention. They’ve always been on winning teams and they’ve been a major part of the reason the teams they’re on have won. But when you talk about dominating guys, and you talked about a guy like Clemens who’s won seven Cy Young Awards and at age 43 still had an excellent year, you’re talking about one of the great pitchers ever. You know, Roger was a guy that had arm surgery in 1984 and I think a lot of people thought that maybe his career would be short circuited, but he’s had a lot of success. I think, again, Steve Carlton was a kid I pitched against when we were both 18 in A-Ball, and he ended up winning over 320 games, and I had a chance to not only see, as a broadcaster, but also play against some of the great pitchers in the era of baseball.

Travis Nelson: Great!

OK, so I didn't have much to say after that, but my good friend Jim had plenty more to say, and you can hear the whole thing, here.

And when you're done listening, make some plans to go out next Tuesday, have some free pancakes, and help buy some books for kids who need them.

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20 February 2006

All-Baseball.column: Say it Ain't Sosa! Sammy Retiring?

Though no official announcement of Sammy Sosa's retirement has yet been made, his agent has been quoted as saying that Sosa's career is "clearly over". The difficulty of his 2005 season is not something that Sosa wants to re-live, at least not for a paltry half-million guaranteed dollars. For a million, he'll talk.

There are nearly as many opinions of Sosa's legacy as there are Sosa home runs (588 to be exact, more than all but four players in history), so it's not as though mine makes much difference in the landscape of baseball writing. Travis Nelson's opinion is just one more "happy little tree" on the great Internet canvas, whereas someone like Dave Pinto or Rob Neyer is probably a mountain or the brook.

ESPN is Bob Ross.

Come to think of it, I'm probably not even a "happy little tree". I'm more like a crow or a snail or something you can't even see from more than five feet away, or maybe just a blotch of paint on the palette.

Fortunately for me, though, you're at a computer, only two or three feet away, and (amazingly) you're still reading, so I'll get back to Sammy Sosa.

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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15 February 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Tyler Clippard

Tyler L. Clippard, RHP
Tyler Clippard
Born: February 14, 1985 in Lexington, Kentucky
Height: 6-3 Weight: 170
Bats/Throws: Right
High School: J.W. Mitchell HS, Trinity, Fla.
Drafted by Yankees in 9th round (274th overall) of 2003 June amateur draft

It's a two-for-the-price-of-one week here at Pending Pinstripes, as you get an additional prospect profile based almost entirely on the fact that this one just had a birthday on Tuesday. That's right, for the first time in his life, Yankees prospect Tyler Clippard could celebrate both his birthday and Valentines Day with alcohol and not get arrested for it.

But can he pitch?

In a word? You bet your bippy!

Tyler Clippard was drafted by the Yankees out of high school in 2003, and though I’m not necessarily a fan of drafting high school pitchers in the first round, a 9th round pick seems like a worthwhile risk, and Clippard has not disappointed. His lanky frame is not atypical of such a young player, and it’s only a matter of time before he fills out a little more. The above height comes from The Baseball Cube. Baseball America’s scouting report has him even taller, at 6′4, but still only 170 lbs. (Side note to Tyler: Don’t worry. When I was your age, I was also 6′4", 170 lbs. After I turned 21 my metabolism changed and I started gaining weight. I’m up to about 250 lbs now, but my “fast”ball still wouldn’t be pulled over for speeding on the Interstate. If you’re lucky you’ll at least get to keep most of your hair.)

Baseball America’s scouting report also called Clippard’s 2005 “a breakthrough season” but frankly, I don’t see that. His numbers for the last three years are shown below (though he did pitch 6 innings in Low-A Charleston, striking out 10, before his promotion to High-A Tampa in 2005, and he pitched one inning at AAA Columbus as well).

Year Team Age Lev W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO
2003 GCL Yankees 18 Rk 3 3 2.89 11 5 43.7 33 16 14 3 5 56
2004 Battle Creek 19 A 10 10 3.44 26 25 149.0 153 71 57 12 32 145
2005 Tampa 20 A 10 9 3.18 26 25 147.3 118 56 52 12 34 169

To me, his 2005 numbers look almost exactly like his 2004 numbers and for that matter, no so very different from his 2003 numbers in the Gulf Coast League. His games pitched, innings pitched, walks, homers allowed, earned runs and strikeouts are all very similar, if not identical, and the rates of walks, homers and strikeouts are quite close to those 2003 GCL numbers, though they were compiled in only 44 innings. The only real differences from 2004 are the number of hits he gave up and the number of unearned runs allowed, both of which dropped off considerably. Whether either of those trends is sustainable remains to be seen, but at this point Clippard is showing the Yankees exactly what they want to see: A high school pitcher dominating at the low levels of the minors and moving up the ladder, one level per year.

What’s he got going for him?

According to BA, Clippard worked with Nardi Contreras this year to improve the consistency of his mechanics, giving him a more repeatable delivery and thereby improving all of his pitches. Speaking of which, he throws four of them for strikes, an 89-92 mph fastball that occasionaly flirts with 94 mph, a “plus” curve, a slider and a change-up. And of course, he throws them all for strikes pretty consistently, as his walk rates (roungly 2 per nine innings) will attest. He also strikes out about a batter per inning, and rarely surrenders a home run, which are both excellent indicators of long-term success.

What’s he got going against him?

Clippard is making progress, yes, but is still very young, just having turned 21 yesterday, as I mentioned. You could probably pave I-95 from Florida to New York with the resumes of pitchers who’ve had this kind of success in Single-A ball and never saw the Big Leagues, so don’t mortgage your house to place a big bet on Clippard starting the 2008 season in the Yankees rotation. He’s got talent, yes, but AA and AAA ball are both big hurdles to overcome, even for someone who looks this good right now.

In addition, as I mentioned, Clippard is so skinny that when he pitches from the wind-up he becomes nearly invisible to the people at home plate. He’s likely to gain some weight over the next couple of years (hopefully not 80 lbs, like me) and that will affect his delivery, so we’ll have to check back in and see if he learns to use that weight gain well. If he doesn’t gain weight, it’s hard to imagine someone this thin NOT breaking down with an arm injury or something of that nature. There just isn’t enough of him to withstand the kind of abuse to which a major league pitcher’s body is subjected.

Also an issue if he doesn’t gain some poundage, with those ears, is that a stiff breeze might come through the infield and woosh!, it’s time for a call to the bullpen…

Prognosis for 2006:

Clippard will start the 2006 season at AA Trenton, where I hope to get to see him pitch at least once. He’ll be one of the youngest players on is team, and will have his work cut out for him, both in retiring Eastern League batters and in drawing the organization’s attention away from #1 prospect Phillip Hughes, who could move up to New Jersey from Tampa by mid-season if he’s successful down there.

Personally, I hope to get to see Tyler pitch in Trenton early in the season, as I’m not sure he’ll still be with the Thunder come July or August. Success in Trenton will get him a call up to Columbus, where we’ll get to see (wait for it…)

Clippard the Clipper!

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13 February 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Darrell Rasner

The New York Yankees claimed RHP Darrell Rasner off waivers from the Washington Nationals this weekend.

Darrell W. Rasner, RHP
Born: January 13, 1981, Carson City, Nevada
Height: 6-3 Weight: 210
Bats/Throws: Right
High School: Carson City High School (Carson City,NV)
College: University of Nevada
Drafted Expos in 2nd round of June 2002 amateur draft

Rasner had struck out more than a batter per inning in his senior year as a starter at the University of Nevada in 2002. He threw in the low 90s back then but there are reports that his fastball has dropped into the mid 80s, and concerns about the health of his arm led the Nationals to waive him. Recognizing that he's still been getting batters out, regardless of his actual velocity, the Yankees picked him up. His strikeout rate has dropped considerably, from 10 to 8 to 6 per nine innings in the last three years, but it seems to have leveled off in that range. On the other hand, he's also walking batters much less frequently, establishing a personal record low with 1.74/9IP in 150 innings in 2005.

What’s he got going for him?

Like I said, Rasner gets batters out. He’ll probably never blow anybody away, but he’s had pretty consistent success at three different Single-A levels and in two years at AA Harrisburg, though he’s gone about it in differnet ways. The player comments in Baseball Prospectus indicate that he has a three-pitch repetoire, fastball curve and change, and his obviously good control (i.e. low walk rate) indicates that he knows how to use those pitches. Health does not seem to be an issue either, as he has pitched at least 100 innings in each of the last four years (combining his numbers in college and the NY-Penn League for 2002).

What’s he got going against him?

Rasner’s a pretty good sized guy (I know better than to say that he “throws hard“), but right handers who only throw in the mid-80s have a tough time getting into the majors. Scouts and front office personnel have inherent biases against pitchers, especially right-handers, who either aren’t at least six feet tall or don’t throw very hard. Jay Tessmer, long-time Yankees organizational soldier, kept runners off the bases and saved minor league games for eight years without ever getting more than a cup of coffee in the majors, simply because he threw underhand and therefore rarely broke 85 mph with his fastball. Rasner doesn’t throw submarine style, so at least he’s not tabbed with the “Weird” label, just the “Slow” one, which may be worse.

Prognosis for 2006:

BP’s 2006 weighted mean projection (4.77 ERA in 123 innings) suggests that Rasner could be a league-average pitcher right now, but I suspect that the Yankees will stow him away at AAA Columbus. He just turned 25, and while it would be nice for a college pitcher like him, especially a second-round pick, to have already mastered the highest level of the minors, Rasner’s progress is both encouraging and undeniable. Having him in AAA will serve the dual purposes of helping him refine his skills at a higher level (he did get a cup of coffee with Washington last year, but hasn’t pitched an inning in AAA yet.) and giving the major league club another option should their aging rotation again suffer the injury/ineffectiveness problems that plagued them in 2005.

If, as he says, Rasner’s just chosen not to throw as hard, recognizing that he can get batters out with his smarts instead of speed, and therefore save his arm for the rest of his career, then kudos to him for remaking himself. Lots of pitchers suffer injuries because of trying to do too much and are forced to re-learn pitching, later in life, with a different skill set. Rasner was smart enough to prevent that scenario in the first place. The only question now is whether he has enough “stuff” to get by in the Big Leagues. Given the injury history and age of the starters in the Bronx, I’m guessing that it’s just a matter of time before we get to see if Rasner’s a real talent or not.

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10 February 2006

All-Baseball.column - Orioles in Oh-Six?

A recent ESPN.com feature discussed the possibilities of "surprise" teams for 2006. Jerry Crasnick, ESPN contributor and author of License to Deal, discusses the Brewers and Twins as teams that could, in his estimation, do much better than expected and possibly make the playoffs. Personally, I don't think the Twins are a particularly brave pick for that role, as they had won their division for three straight years before 2005 and underperformed considerably last year. They still won 83 games despite the fact that firstbaseman Justin Morneau flopped in his second full season, catcher (and Rookie of the Year candidate) Joe Mauer missed 30 games, and the rest of the infield provided almost no offense at all. The Twins were so desperate that they actually tried Bret Boone for a while in mid-summer, to no avail. Based on regression to the mean alone, the Twins should bounce back and improve their offense considerably, which has nowhere to go but up after scoring the fewest runs in the AL last year.

My pick? The Baltimore Orioles.

Baltimore hasn't had a winning season since 1997, the last time a team other than the Yankees won the AL East. I'm still picking the Yankees to continue that streak, but I think that the Orioles could surprise people and win the Wild Card, or at least contend for it. How? Glad you asked...

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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07 February 2006

Pending Pinstripes: Mike Vento Signs with G-Nats

Lee Sinins reported today that the Washington Nationals signed former Yankees farmhand Mike Vento, former Red Sox farmhand Anastacio Martinez and erstwhile D-Backs and Tigers prospect Andrew Good (who, ironically, isn't) to minor league contracts with invitations to Spring Training.

Mike Vento had been in the Yankees farm system for eight years. He was born in Albequerque and then made a left turn and went to Santa Ana College in California. The Baseball Cube doesn't discuss him being drafted, so I'm guessing that the Yankees signed him as a minor league free agent or something like that.

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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02 February 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson, OF

Born: February 1, 1987
Height: 6-1 Weight: 185
Bats/Throws: Right
High School: Ryan High School (Denton,TX)
Drafted: by NY Yankees in 8th round of 2005 June amateur draft

Happy Birthday to Austin Jackson, who turned 19 years old yesterday. If he's good, it should be just a matter of time before the pundits start calling him 'Action' Jackson, except that I doubt any of his teammates in the Gulf Coast League are old enough to remember that awful movie. Good for them.

Baseball America lists Jackson as the Yankees’ 5th best prospect this year, and notes that they spent an 8th round record $800K to sign him and make sure he didn’t go to Georgia Tech to play basketball instead. His first year in professional ball wasn’t bad, especially considering that he was all of 18 years old:

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO Avg Obp Slg Ops
40 148 32 45 11 2 0 14 11 2 18 26 .304 .374 .405 779

Though he didn’t quite make the listings on The Baseball Cube, Jackson was near the GCL leaders in runs scored, doubles, steals and walks, all good signs for souch a young player. He hit for average, showed some patience and speed, and didn’t strike out every three trips to the plate. He also didn’t ever get a chance to jog around the bases, with zero homers in 148 at-bats.

What’s he got going for him?

Jackson’s very young, and the organization has known about him for a long time. He was first scouted by the Yankees when he was 12(!) That’s right: In the time of life during which you and I were delivering newspapers and trying to figure out how many sets of pegs we could get on our BMX bike at the same time, Austin had scouts from the Yankees coming to his Little League games. Just doesn’t seem fair.

Anywho, so he’s young. He’s also patient, which is not typical of youngsters in any industry, so much less with baseball players. Baseball America reports that he’s got good bat control and an “inside-out” stroke not unlike Derek Jeter’s.

What’s he got going against him?

Youth, ironically. Except it’s not so much a strike against Jacklson’s talent as it is a detriment to our ability to evaluate that talent. It’s so early, with only 40 games on his record, that anything can happen to this guy before he ends up in The Show, which might not be for another five years or more, for all we know. The other issue is his lack of power, as he failed to hit a homer in any of those 40 games. Most 18 year olds are not yet “filled out” and so when Jackson gains some years and some weight, we’ll have to see if he can also gain some power without losing all that speed and patience.

Prognosis for 2006:

Jackson will get some action in Class A, probably in Charleston of the Low-A South Atlantic League. River Dogs’ hitting coach Torre Tyson will try to teach him to pull the ball there, which is ironic because in his 5-year minor league career, Tyson was also a speedy, patient slap hitter who never had more than 3 homers in a season. Jackson might go as far as High-A Tampa by the end of the year, but not farther than that this season.

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01 February 2006

All-Baseball.collumn - Unfinished Business: Piazza Catching on With the Padres

Two California teams signed once-great players, now in the twilights of their respective careers, to one-year, free agent contracts this weekend. The San Diego Padres picked up Mike Piazza, easily the best hitting catcher in history, and to the north, the Oakland Athletics picked up Frank Thomas, possibly the best right handed hitter in history, easily in the top ten for that distinction. Rob Neyer has already written eloquently (and more concisely than me) on the latter of those signings, so I won't get into the Thomas signing, at least this week, but the Piazza signing interests me. Of course, any time a future Hall of Famer changes teams and/or coasts it interests me, and Piazza's such a colorful and controversial player that one can't help but pay attention when he does something like this. The Mets may not have wanted him, but Mike's convinced that his career isn't over yet, and so he'll take his Tools of Ignorance and his still-useful bat across the country to take care of some unfinished business.

Mike Piazza, C
Age: 37
2005 Numbers: .251/.326/.452, 19 HR, 62 RBI in 129 games

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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