I'm writing from Burlington, Iowa, a charming city on the Mississippi River. I'm here for three days of Midwest League scouting. Thanks to the glories of the internet, I can still hit ye olde mailbag. Let's see what's in it.
Brian P. from Redding, Calif., asks: With all the talk about the lack of good starting pitchers for the Rangers, what do you think the ceiling is for the pitchers recently drafted by the Rangers -- John Danks, Matt Lorenzo, Wes Littleton, and John Hudgins? Are there any high-level prospects in this group?
Let's look at these guys one at a time.
Danks: A first-round pick last year out of high school in Round Rock, Texas. Southpaw Danks throws in the low 90s and has an excellent curveball. His changeup needs work, but that is true for most pitchers his age. Scouts like his personality and aptitude for pitching, and he has the highest ceiling of this quartet. Currently pitching for the Clinton Lumberkings in the Midwest League, he has fanned 12 in his first six innings. He's an excellent prospect, but like all pitchers his age, he's a risky, if high-reward, investment.
Lorenzo: Drafted in the fifth round last June out of Kent State. Lorenzo is a right-hander with a 90-mph fastball, a curveball, slider, and changeup. His physical ceiling isn't as high as Danks', but he is more polished, more experienced, and will likely be promoted first. He is a teammate of Danks at Clinton, and is also off to a good start, fanning 12 in his first eight innings.
Littleton: A fourth-round pick last year out of Cal State Fullerton. Littleton is a right-hander with a low 90s fastball and a nasty slider. He has a changeup, but it is inconsistent. He's been hit hard in his first six innings this year, allowing 11 hits and seven runs for Stockton in the California League. There were rumors he could see the Show as early as this year, but he'll have to pitch better than that to keep such an aggressive schedule.
Hudgins: This Stanford product was drafted in the third round last year. He is pitching at Stockton and has allowed 10 hits and three runs in his first seven innings. Hudgins' fastball is the weakest of the group at 88 mph, but he has a complete arsenal of breaking pitches and is very polished and mature. There's been some concern about the mileage on his arm, so we need to see if he can stay healthy.
This is a strong group of pitchers, with Danks having the most long-term potential. Lorenzo, Littleton, and Hudgins are all college guys who could move very quickly and provide some pitching depth at the upper levels. Of course, having four pitching prospects means you'll likely get just one solid major league pitcher out of the group, but one is better than zero.
G.M. writes: I was intrigued to see outfielder Jason Kubel on the Twins' 40-man roster during spring training. Does Kubel have a shot in the near future of squeaking into the crowded Twins outfield?
Kubel is a very good prospect and deserves more attention than he's received. He was a 12th-round pick in 2000 out of high school in California. He's shown the ability to hit for power and average, and is raking the ball in Double-A so far this year, hitting .520 with a .960 slugging percentage in his first six games at New Britain. A left-handed hitter, Kubel has plus bat speed and outstanding strike zone judgment. He's not a huge walk machine, but he very seldom strikes out and doesn't swing often at bad pitches. He came into this year with a career .310 batting average and is still just 21 years old. I think he's one of the best hitters that people haven't heard much about.
His ability to find a place to play in Minnesota is another matter. The Twins can't find at-bats for the players they already have. I think the Twins should consider trading some of their outfield depth to bolster the middle infield and/or the pitching staff. But then they didn't ask me. Kubel will deserve a place to play within the next year.
Jayson T. from Colorado Springs asks: I saw a guy named Joe Gaetti is playing in the Rockies system. Is he related to Gary Gaetti? I grew up in Minnesota and Gary was my favorite player when I was a kid.
Yes, Joe is the son of Gary. He was drafted in the 12th round last year out of North Carolina State. Like Gary, Joe is a right-handed hitter with some pop in his bat and a lot of enthusiasm in the field, though he doesn't have as much raw power as his father did. He was erratic, if occasionally successful, in college. He's an outfielder rather than a third baseman like his dad was. Like his dad, Joe has weak strike zone judgment, but he may not have the pure bat speed to enable him to survive and succeed despite that handicap.
Gaetti's pro career is off to a mediocre start. He hit .276 with a .474 slugging percentage in the Northwest League after signing, which is OK but not overly impressive for a college player in that circuit. He's 5-for-24 (.208) with a homer so far this year, playing for Asheville in the Sally League. He looks like a fairly marginal prospect at this point, but the sample size is small and he still has time to impress.
Orson from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Can you update the progress of Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin, top draftees by the Diamondbacks last spring?
Jackson (first round, University of California) and Quentin (second round, Stanford) are both power-hitting outfielders, assigned to the Lancaster JetHawks in the California League. Jackson is off to a blistering start (.346/.526/.538) in eight games, while Quentin is struggling (.107/.242./.143) after playing seven games. Quentin had to have Tommy John surgery after the draft last year, and his slow start could be related to that.
Both Jackson and Quentin are right-handed sluggers with solid strike zone judgment. Both are corner guys with naturally strong arms, but injury problems that could hamper their throwing. Jackson has lost some zip due to a shoulder injury, and Quentin will have to show his elbow is OK. Quentin is a bit more athletic and toolsy, while Jackson is a more polished and consistent hitter. Both did well in college against top-notch competition. Jackson's faster start puts him a notch higher on the depth chart, but it's early and that could change easily.
John Sickels is the author of The Baseball Prospect Book 2004, which can be ordered through his Web site, Johnsickels.com. His other book, "Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation," is also out, and can be ordered through online book outlets or your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas, and feline friends Toonces and Spot.