One-Two Starting Rotation Punch, 1999 Michigan Battle Cats
Underrated Prospects of 2000
The 2000 book was the first book where I gave grades to short-season players. These grades were extremely conservative, so I don't count as "underrated" any short-season guys. Still, there were some full-season guys who exceeded expectations and count as underrated.
Morgan Ensberg, 3B
Rated Grade C after hitting .239/.353/.412 for Class A Kissimmee at age 23. He hit 15 homers in a tough league, and his walk rate was nice. But he didn't exactly wow scouts, didn't play that well with the glove, and was older than ideal for the FSL. 23-year-olds who hit .239 in A-ball are not exactly what you'd call top prospects. Promoted to Double-A in '00, he broke out with an excellent season, and has turned into a solid major league regular.
Travis Hafner, 1B
Rated Grade C after hitting .292/.387/.546 with 28 homers and 111 RBI for Class A Savannah at age 22. Hafner's performance was excellent, but I gave him a Grade C because he was repeating the league. Although this was a legitimate concern, and some scouts felt he would struggle badly against higher-level pitching, Grade C was too low considering how well he hit. A better rating would have been a notch higher at C+ or maybe even B-.
Brandon Inge, C
Rated Grade C after hitting .244/.320/.403 in the Class A Midwest League at age 22. Inge impressed scouts with his defense, but his hitting was quite anemic, and I thought he'd be, at best, a future reserve catcher. Indeed, his hitting remained very weak until 2004, when (at the age of 27) he spiked some power while raising his batting average and OBP some 60 points. There was no evidence in his minor league numbers that he could do this, although to be fair, some scouts thought he would hit well eventually due to his athleticism and strong hand/eye coordination.
Roy Oswalt, RHP
Rated Grade C+ after going 13-4, 4.46 with a 143/54 K/BB ratio in 151 innings for Class A Michigan. The scouting report I wrote about Oswalt was actually quite positive, pointing out that his high ERA was misleading, and that his strong K/IP and K/BB ratios were more important markers. "He doesn't get as much attention as other guys in the Houston system, but I like his chances" I wrote. And remember, Grade C+ is actually a decent complement from me about an A-ball player. But the fact remains that C+ was too low given what Oswalt has accomplished.
I gave him a straight Grade A in the 2001 book.
Johan Santana, LHP
Rated Grade C+ after going 8-8, 4.66 with a 150/55 K/BB ratio in 160 innings for Class A Michigan. Like his Michigan teammate Roy Oswalt, Santana's ERA was high but his component ratios were strong. There must have been something funny in the Michigan water that season. Actually, think about that: the Michigan Battle Cats of 1999 had both Roy Oswalt and Johan Santana in their starting rotation! Anyhow, Santana was selected in the Rule 5 draft that winter, going over to Minnesota. I wrote in his comment that I liked Santana, but that it was "unlikely" that he would stick on the Twins roster. It looks like I was wrong about that one, eh?
Carlos Zambrano, RHP
Rated Grade C+ after going 13-7, 4.17 with a 98/62 K/BB ratio in 153 innings for Class A Lansing at age 18. I underrated this one by paying too much attention to his mediocre K/IP ratio, and not enough attention to his ground ball tendencies and his youth. I did write that "Zambrano's career could take off," but scouts said that he needed to make major improvements with his breaking ball before being ready for higher levels. I regard the Grade C+ as a legitimate ranking based on the information available at the time.