Red Sox have a keeper in de la Rosa

Let's hit the mailbag. Today's theme is questions about left-handed pitchers.

A.N. asks: I have been hearing a lot about Red Sox prospect Jorge de la Rosa, especially in trade talks. I went back and looked at his numbers. His K/BB ratio seems to be pretty good. What do you think about him?

The Red Sox farm system is quite thin, so it's no surprise that De La Rosa's name might pop up in trade rumors. He's one of the few young players they have that other teams are interested in acquiring.

He made 20 starts at Double-A Portland, going 6-3 with a 2.80 ERA and a 102/36 K/BB ratio in 100 innings. This earned him a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he went 1-2 in five starts, with a 3.76 ERA and a 17/12 K/BB in 24 innings. The Portland numbers are quite impressive, the Pawtucket performance less so but still decent. The figures hint that he'll probably need some adjustment time in Triple-A before being ready for a full-scale major league audition.

De la Rosa is from Mexico and was signed by the Red Sox in 2001, former GM Dan Duquette going so far as to compare the lefty to John Rocker (in terms of stuff, not personality). He has a fastball clocked as high as 94 mph. His slider is very good, and he improved his ability to change speeds this year. His biggest problem right now is still command, as his mechanics can be inconsistent, which hinders his ability to throw strikes where he wants them. But he's improving, and another year of development should help. Some people think he'll end up as a reliever, since he's generally more effective against lefty hitters.

I'd expect to see him in more trade rumors, but it's also possible the Red Sox will want to hold onto him.

Bob from Chicago writes: Can you give an update on Cubs prospect Andy Sisco, and how far from the majors he is.

Sisco missed two months this year after breaking his pitching hand punching a dugout wall, but he was effective when he did take the mound. Sisco posted a 3.54 ERA in 19 starts, with a 99/31 K/BB ratio in 94 innings. I like people who fan more than a hitter per inning, while keeping their K/BB better than 3-1.

A second-round pick out of high school in Washington state in '01, Sisco is a huge 6-9, 250 pound lefty. Due to his size, people compare him to Randy Johnson. Sisco doesn't throw quite as hard, but his fastball is still above-average at 90-93 mph, occasionally hitting 95. His curveball is improving, and he has a solid split-finger pitch to keep hitters guessing. He still needs to work on his changeup, and his command, while good, will need to get better at higher levels.

Sisco should reach Double-A sometime in 2004, and might even begin the season there if he has a good spring training. An appearance in Wrigley is possible, but not likely, in '04. I'd start looking for him in 2005. If he avoids injuries and learns to punch with his glove hand (he should watch Bull Durham), he could be a very intimidating, dominating starting pitcher.

Harry from St. Cloud, Minnesota, asks: What do you think about Francisco Liriano, the lefty the Twins got in the A.J. Pierzynski trade? Is he as good as Boof Bonser, the other young pitcher they got in the deal? What do you think of the trade in general?

I think it's a good deal for both clubs. The Twins have Joe Mauer ready to take over the catching job, and needed to find a taker for Pierzynski. The Giants wanted a relatively young catcher and had sufficient depth in their farm system to give up a couple of premium arms. Joe Nathan can take over a bullpen spot for the Twins if they can't keep LaTroy Hawkins from the free agent market. Bonser is making the transition from thrower to pitcher and should be ready to step into the Twins rotation in 2005. I think this is a good fit for both clubs.

Our focus in this report is Liriano, since he's the lefty and is the one you asked about. A 20-year-old Dominican, Liriano has an electric arm, capable of throwing a 95-mph fastball and a devastating slider. His command is OK, and he's said to be a very bright person. The problem is health. He missed the second half of 2002 with shoulder problems and was limited to just nine innings of work in 2003. Surgery has been avoided, and if he can stay away from the doctors, Liriano should develop into a special pitcher. That's a huge "if," of course. I'd be more comfortable if it was an elbow problem, which is easier to fix nowadays than shoulder woes.

Donald from Taos, New Mexico, writes: What happened to Mike Gosling of the Diamondbacks? I thought he was supposed to be a good prospect, but he got hit hard in Triple-A this year.

A second-round pick out of Stanford in 2001, Gosling was supposed to be in the Arizona rotation by now. He went 14-5 with a 3.13 ERA in 27 starts in Double-A in '02, but his 115/62 K/BB ratio in 167 innings was unimpressive and a warning sign for his chances in Triple-A. Indeed, Pacific Coast League hitters nailed him hard in '03, pushing his ERA to 5.61 in 26 starts for Tucson, leading to a 9-12 record. He gave up an incredible 190 hits in 136 innings, while posting a weak 89/56 K/BB ratio.

What happened?

Gosling isn't the classic finesse lefty; he has decent stuff, including a 89-92 mph fastball, a slider and a curve. He throws strikes, and control in the classic sense wasn't his main problem this year. In college, he had bouts of inconsistency when he failed to throw quality strikes, and that seems to have been the problem in '03. His stuff is good, but it's not awesome; he can't just throw the ball down the middle of the plate and expect it to work.

I didn't see him pitch for Tucson. But I talked with an observer who did. Gosling went through a long bout this year of "nibbling," getting behind in the count, then coming in with stuff down the middle of the plate when he got behind the hitter. That, plus the standard difficulties of pitching in the high-offense PCL, was the root of his problem according to this source. That's correctable, and Gosling should not be regarded as a lost cause by any means. All this assumes there isn't some underlying health problem.

Reminder: I am now taking pre-orders for The 2004 Baseball Prospect Book, which you can get on my Web site at Johnsickels.com. I need pre-orders to cover printing and production costs. I anticipate a shipping date of Feb. 2, and I have the bugs worked out of the production process this year, which means fewer typos and editing glitches!

My book about Bob Feller (Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation) should start shipping in mid-December. You can find that on Amazon.com, and it should be carried in most bookstores.

John Sickels is the author of the 2004 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife, son and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.