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September 10, 2001

2001 Ken Phelps All-Star Team

Part Two - Outfield/Designated Hitter

by Jeff Bower

Part One

(Introduced by Bill James in 1987, the Ken Phelps All-Star Team is a way of acknowledging players who, based on their performance in the minor leagues, deserve a chance to play in the majors, but who have not received the opportunity. In Part Two of his three-part series, Jeff Bower looks at the outfielders for his Phelps All-Stars, and picks a DH as well.)

Left Field: Israel Alcantara

Label: Poor attitude, quick temper, lead glove

Dominican-born Israel Alcantara was originally signed as a 19-year-old by Montreal in 1992, and made slow, steady progress in his six years in the Expos system. After spending a year in the Devil Rays' organization, he signed with the Red Sox and Dan Duquette, who remembered Alcantara from his term as general manager of the Expos. Although Alcantara hasn't hit fewer than 27 home runs or slugged under .581 in the upper minors since 1997, he didn't get the opportunity to don a big-league uniform until last year. His subsequent actions--and the standoff that followed--won't quickly be forgotten.

In only his sixth game with the Bosox, Alcantara failed to hustle on three separate occasions. Then-manager Jimy Williams wanted him immediately removed from the squad, but Duquette overruled Williams and insisted that Alcantara be kept on the active roster. The result was an eight-week impasse where Alcantara was so deep in Williams' doghouse that his spot on the bench could have been mistaken for Boston's Granary Burying Ground. Back in Pawtucket this year, Alcantara further tarnished his image by practicing kickboxing maneuvers on the opposing catcher after being brushed back, earning a six-game suspension.

Baseball history is littered with "bad actors." However, players with questionable attitudes aren't going to receive as many chances as Alex Johnson unless they also have Johnson's five-tool talent. Because Alcantara can flat out hit, we're going to wipe the slate clean, put him in left field and hide our eyes when the ball is hit in his direction. And have an anger management specialist on call.

Reserve: Lyle Mouton

Center Field: Jacob Cruz

Label: Failed in opportunities, injury prone

Since the 2001 Ken Phelps All-Star Team is going to sacrifice leather for lumber in the outfield corners, it needs somebody in center field who can adequately field the position without dragging down the offense. Jacob Cruz fills that job description nicely.

Sometimes it's really tough to figure out how players get their labels. I've read in more than a few places that Cruz hasn't shown much when given playing time at the major-league level. However, heading into this season, Cruz's career line was .260/.341/.404 in 257 plate appearances scattered over five campaigns--average numbers for a center fielder.

Cruz's real problem hasn't been one of performance, but opportunity. Despite winning the Pacific Coast League batting title with a .361 average in a return engagement in Phoenix in 1997, Cruz found himself back in Triple-A for a third season the following spring, a victim of Dusty Baker's lust for veterans (super-scrub Alex Diaz was given the fifth outfield job). When more graybeards--Ellis Burks, Joe Carter, Shawon Dunston--were hauled in at the trading deadline, Cruz was sent to the Indians in the Jose Mesa deal.

In Cleveland, he was a regular passenger on John Hart's Lake Erie hydro shuttle before suffering major injuries: a torn thumb ligament in August 1999 and a torn ACL that cost him nearly all of last year. Lady Luck may finally be smiling on Cruz, though, as he recently showed up on the Rockies' roster. Similar to Terry Shumpert, Cruz could be holding a winning lottery ticket and carve out a career with a Coors-inflated September.

No one facet of Jacob Cruz's game is remarkable; however, the sum total is a player who hits for a reasonable average, works a free pass every 10 at-bats, has average-to-above power and plays a fair outfield. It seems there should be a number of teams in the market for a player with that profile.

Reserve: Chris Latham

Right Field: Roosevelt Brown

Label: Can't hit left-handers, poor work ethic, suspect defensively

Though it seems like he's been pounding on the gates of Wrigley Field since Dubya's daddy slept in the White House, Roosevelt Brown is just 25 years old. Brown was drafted by the Braves in 1993, and for those of you who enjoy playing the ponies, he comes from good bloodlines (his cousins include Ellis Burks and former Iowa Cub outfielder, Mike Carter). After three years in the Braves system, he was sent to Florida for the remains of Terry Pendleton. It was while with the Marlins that his reputation took a blow, as he concluded his days on the Fish Farm on the suspended list for repeated tardiness and was exposed in the minor-league portion of the 1997 Rule 5 draft, whereupon the Cubs snared him.

Brown has been primed to contribute in the major leagues since hitting .358/.401/.713 in three months at Triple-A Iowa in 1999. Back for a return engagement in Des Moines last year, he led the I-Cubs in many categories, including missed team flights. This spring, Brown broke camp with the parent club, but received just 13 plate appearances before being farmed out because manager Don Baylor didn't want to "stall the career of a prospect"--wisdom that Baylor conveniently forgets as it pertains to Corey Patterson. Apparently, Brown has come to understand that bad work habits won't enhance his career opportunities, as after the demotion he showed up early every day to work on his defense.

Brown's .265 major-league EqA with Iowa this season further demonstrates he doesn't need more Triple-A schooling. While his numbers at Iowa indicate that the left-handed-hitting Brown may be susceptible to southpaws (870 OPS versus lefties, compared to 1040 when facing righties), a team that has given time in the outfield to Todd Dunwoody, Damon Buford, Chad Meyers, and Gary Matthews, Jr. has enough offensive holes that they need to get creative and find a way to get Brown's bat in the lineup.

Reserve: Chad Mottola

Designated Hitter: Phil Hiatt

Label: Too old, Quadruple-A player

I'll admit to thinking like a typical fan when I cast my All-Star votes, in that I too heavily weight what a player has done this year. That "What have you done for me lately?" mentality explains why Phil Hiatt makes the squad as the designated hitter, as he laid waste to the Pacific Coast League this year.

Hiatt played half his games Las Vegas's Cashman Field, a good hitters' ballpark consistently ranked in the top third of the PCL for run scoring. Still, Hiatt totaled 315 total bases in just 113 games, while batting a zesty .330/.406/.722 with 44 home runs. His total base figure projects to 452 over 162 games, territory trod in the major leagues only by Babe Ruth.

At age 32, Hiatt isn't going to be mistaken for a prospect; his professional career almost extends back to when Bill James published the original Ken Phelps All-Star Team. Including a season in Japan, the Dodgers are his seventh organization in the past seven years. Hiatt has had four campaigns with 30 or more homers, but has flopped in all his big-league trials, compiling a composite line of .212/.276/.365 and earning the reputation of a 4-A player who can crush cripple pitches. However, this year Hiatt has both the highest batting average and lowest strikeout rate of his long career, indicating that he has taken his offensive game to a new level.

Then again, it could just be there is something to those Area 51 rumors, after all.

Reserve: Brooks Kieschnick

Performance Analysis

Having chosen the position players for the 2001 Ken Phelps All-Star Team, the logical question that follows is: "How would this team fare on the field?"

A cursory look at the offense shows that it compares most favorably with the big-league average at catcher, first base, left field, and designated hitter. Defensively, the team's strengths are virtually a mirror image: fairly strong up the middle and at the hot corner. This yin-yang relationship wasn't an accident, nor should it come as a surprise, as Phelpsers are not without weaknesses. The problem is that "baseball men" underrate their strengths or overall game.

Though batting order doesn't make a big difference (you could pull names from a hat, a la Billy Martin, and run scoring would decrease by about 20 runs over the course of a season), the lineup was set as follows for the purposes of analysis:

               Overall EqA   Estimated EqR
Bellhorn, 2B          .231              67
Brown, RF             .260              89
Durazo, 1B            .283             108
Hiatt, DH             .274              97
Alcantara, LF         .275              96
Orie, 3B              .255              78
Estalella, C          .240              66
Cruz, CF              .224              54
Velandia, SS          .208              44

"Overall EqA" is the aggregate EqA of each player for the 2001 season, taking into account time spent in the majors and minors. "Estimated EqR" is an approximation of the number of runs they would score in this lineup over the course of a 162-game season. Thanks to Clay Davenport for the number crunching.

Summing the individual estimated Equivalent Runs yields a team total of 699--not an offensive juggernaut, but if it were combined with a similar-level pitching staff the ballclub would win around 70 games. The 2001 Ken Phelps All-Star Team has a team EqA of .252, which is a better lineup than the Devil Rays, Pirates, Royals, Orioles, and Expos have fielded this year, and equal to that of the Mets and Tigers. Perhaps best of all, it could be had for about a tenth of the starting position-player payroll of any of those seven teams.

Jeff Bower is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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