Does Petrick have a future in Colorado?

As Ben Petrick continues to struggle in Colorado, how much longer will the Rockies wait for him to develop?

Originally Published: May 3, 2002
By John Sickels | Special to ESPN.com

No preliminaries this week. Let's hit the mailbag.

Bronson from New York asks: Is it time to give up on Ben Petrick, or should we have given up some time ago? How did you initially rate him when he was a prospect? I mean, are you surprised at all with his performance thus far?

Petrick
Petrick

Petrick has been a disappointment for me. I've always been rather high on him, intrigued by the power/speed/patience combination he showed in the minor leagues, even if his batting averages have never been stellar. He's off to a very slow start again this year, hitting .154 so far in 13 games. On the other hand, his career numbers entering '02 aren't awful: .277/.364/.476. His home/road splits are pretty even; he hasn't benefited that much from Coors Field.

Petrick has not developed well defensively. He's got more than enough athletic and mental ability to be a fine catcher, but he has trouble with his throwing mechanics, and is still prone to the passed ball. The Rockies keep splitting his time with veteran catchers, which is totally understandable, but may also serve to limit his development to some extent. There are frequent rumors that he'll be shifted to the outfield if he doesn't improve his glovework behind the plate soon.

At 25, Petrick is still too young to give up on. He may need a change of scenery. Still, we're talking about a 25-year-old catcher with a career OPS over .800. He has value, even if he doesn't develop into the star player that I originally anticipated.

Avram F. asks: I was wondering when we will see a mea culpa from you about Alfonso Soriano, despite the fact that it is early in the season? His OPS is currently 1.067, and while he might not stay up that high, he looks like he will be a really good player for a long time.

Soriano's OPS has dropped below 1.000 since Avram wrote in, but his point is still valid. Is it time for a mea culpa about Soriano? Maybe. I've always had mixed feelings about him, intrigued with his athleticism and obvious raw ability, but very concerned about his weak strike zone judgment. He entered 2002 with a career on-base percentage of .294. I can't get behind someone with a .294 on-base percentage, no matter how much speed and power he has.

Soriano is off to a really hot start this year, but his numbers will come to earth unless he improves his patience. Through 29 games, he has four walks and 33 strikeouts. That would put him on pace to draw 23 walks and fan 178 times in a 155-game campaign. If Alfonso Soriano hits .348/.372/.600, or anything close to that, with a BB/K ratio that dreadful, I'll eat my Kansas Jayhawk hat.

Now, all that said, Soriano is a very exciting player. He has raw star ability, no question, but his talent is not as refined as his early surface numbers would indicate. At 24, he has a ton of development time ahead of him. He will have a fine career, possibly an outstanding one, but I wouldn't get those Hall of Fame plaques ready just yet.

Ted O. from Ohio writes: Can you tell me what Houston's draft strategy has been to allow them to acquire so many hot pitching prospects? I remember Rob Neyer talking about them not fearing short pitchers, but have they just been exceptionally lucky to get so many good arms or what?

Rob is right, a big part of Houston's success has been the fact that they aren't scared of short pitchers. Oakland has the same philosophy, and other teams are starting to adopt it as well. It is another example of a traditional prejudice being discarded once people understand the actual facts.

Miller
Miller

Oswalt
Oswalt

There is a great deal of luck involved in the amateur draft, yes. But the Astros are very aggressive about loading the odds in their favor as much as possible, by scouting players in different locations like junior colleges and out-of-the-way high schools, and taking a chance on guys with unusual backgrounds.

It is interesting to note that, of the core pitchers on the Houston staff, only Billy Wagner was a first-round pick. Houston has had great success picking up guys like Roy Oswalt (23rd round) and Wade Miller (20th round) in the later portions of the draft. Some teams stop taking their draft picks seriously once they get past the 10th round. The Astros also have a successful, and cost-effective, scouting program in Latin America, especially Venezuela.

So, to answer your question, yes, luck is involved. But it takes effort and skill as well, which helps load the odds in your favor. The world is an awfully big place, and there is plenty of talent out there if you are creative enough to find it.

Don S. asks: I heard the Dodgers spent some big bucks (approximately $2 million) on a shortstop from the Dominican last year who was only 16. Where is he playing this year? What's his name? How's he doing in the early going?

I'm sure you're thinking of Joel Guzman, signed to great fanfare last July to a $2.2 million bonus. Guzman is just 17, and is in extended spring training, waiting for assignment to short-season ball in June. He is a terrific athlete, drawing comparisons to Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra, both offensively and defensively. Of course, we don't know how he'll actually develop, but he'll be one of the most intriguing players to track in short-season ball this year.

MCK writes: What do you think of left-handed pitching prospect and current Toledo Mudhen Eric Eckenstahler?

Eckenstahler is a very tall lefty, standing 6-7. He hits 90-92 mph, and has a pretty good breaking ball. He's been used as a lefty bullpen guy throughout his career, having signed as a 32nd-round pick in 1999 out of Illinois State. I've seen him pitch, and I think he has enough stuff to be a decent bullpen contributor, but he must improve his control. He's walked 13 in his first 11 innings this year.

John Sickels is the author of the 2002 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook. He is currently writing a biography of Bob Feller. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com, or you can visit his homepage at hometown.aol.com/jasickels/page1.html.

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