DeSalvo unlikely future ace

W.W. asks: Hi John. I'm curious about a Yankee prospect in single-A called Matt DeSalvo. I heard that some scouts think he might be a future ace, and his single-A stats look great this year. I was wondering if you'd seen this guy play or heard anything about him.

DeSalvo was signed as an undrafted free agent last year out of Marietta College in Ohio. He is the NCAA Division III all-time leader in strikeouts and victories, yet he was available on the free agent market because his fastball is in the 87-88 mph range, mediocre for a right-hander. I saw him pitch for Battle Creek last year after he signed, and I was very impressed with his curveball and especially his changeup.

DeSalvo went 6-3 with a 1.43 ERA and 80/30 K/BB in 75 innings this spring for the Tampa Bay Yankees, allowing only 48 hits and one homer. He was just promoted to the Double-A Eastern League, and has pitched well in his first two starts for Trenton: 13 innings, 13 strikeouts, three walks, nine hits, 3.46 ERA.

He isn't a big guy and his lack of a hot fastball keeps him off the top prospect lists. But his command is sharp, he keeps the ball down and he misses bats. Hitters have a hard time getting a good read on him due to his deceptive delivery and ability to change speeds. I don't think you can say he's a future ace, and it may be hard for him to get a shot with the veteran-oriented Yankees. But he's had no trouble adjusting to pro ball, and if he continues to pitch well in Double-A (which I think he will), he'll get a chance eventually, with the Yankees or someone else.

Russell from Norfolk, Va., writes: I have a question about Buddy Hernandez, Triple-A with the Richmond Braves, I played college ball with Buddy at North Carolina Wesleyan College and I was wondering what his chances are of making it up to the big club. He has put up great numbers each year in the Braves organization and this is his second year at Richmond.

Hernandez is having another good year in Triple-A: 3.00 ERA, 34/13 K/BB in 39 innings, just 27 hits allowed. He had a 3.42 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 71 innings at Richmond last year and he came into 2004 with a career professional ERA of 2.08. He's shown ability at every level, except when it counted most: in spring training with the Oakland Athletics in 2003. Oakland had picked him up under Rule 5 and gave him a shot at a middle-relief job, but he didn't pitch well and got sent back to Atlanta.

Hernandez is someone who scouts and radar guns discount, but who continues to get people out. Like DeSalvo, he relies on changing speeds, mixing his sinking fastball with a variety of junk offerings and changeups. He's only 5-foot-9 and scouts discount short right-handers, especially those who don't push past 90 mph. But even his detractors can't deny that he's been an effective pro pitcher.

I think Hernandez deserves another shot. He has nothing left to prove in Triple-A, and his K/IP, K/BB, and H/IP rates all point to potential success in the majors, at least in a middle relief role. He may be a so-called "Quadruple-A" pitcher who gets Triple-A guys out but can't handle The Show, but he deserves a chance to show us one way or another, in my opinion.

Dan asks: Hi John, I was wondering what you thought about Mariners SS/3B/2B prospect Jose Lopez. He's having a good year in AAA Tacoma and is only 20. Surely he is one of the best middle infield prospects in baseball?

Lopez was having a fine season at Triple-A Tacoma, hitting .279/.331/.502 through 59 games, with 11 homers. Unfortunately, he sprained his left knee a couple of weeks ago, and may be out until mid August. Fortunately, surgery was not required, so his long-term potential should remain undiminished.

Lopez doesn't turn 21 until November, so he's quite young for Triple-A. Although he hit just .258 last year in the Texas League, he hit 13 homers and was just 19 years old. The point here is that he's been very young for his leagues, and age-relative-to-league is a crucial factor in prospect analysis.

From Venezuela, Lopez is rated as an excellent defensive infielder, with plus range, a strong arm, and quick hands. He needs time to develop consistency, and it would help if the Mariners would settle on a position for him. He's spent time at second, third, and short this year. At the plate, he has line drive power and has good pop for a thin 6-2, 170 pound guy. He makes contact, but could use better plate discipline, though he isn't a completely helpless with the strike zone. He runs well, but may not be a big stealer in the long run.

I love Lopez's long-term potential, but it's unclear whether he'll develop into Edgar Renteria or Deivi Cruz. Either path is possible.

Tim A. from San Jose, California, writes: Hi John, What is the story in A's pitching prospect Jairo Garcia. Is he the real deal? Rumor is that A's owner Steve Schott originally turned down the deal for Octavio Dotel because the Royals wanted Garcia. Is he really that good?

I heard the same rumor about Garcia and the Beltran-Dotel trade, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if it were true. While Oakland gets a lot of press attention for its Moneyball draft philosophy, the A's also have an extensive and underrated scouting operation in Latin America. Garcia is one of their finds, signed out of the Dominican in 2000. He may be just 6-foot tall, but he's got a great arm and the stats to back up his status as a top prospect.

He had 16 saves, a 0.30 ERA, and a 49/6 K/BB ratio in 30 innings at Kane County (Class A) this spring. He was just promoted to Double-A last week, where he's given up two runs in his first two innings, though he's fanned five. Garcia has the 95-97 mph fastball to go with these K/IP ratios, and his command is much better than you normally find in 20-year-old hurlers. He could be a dominating closer down the road, but his rise has been rapid, and some consolidation time in Double-A would be advisable.

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.