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March 10, 2006

Future Shock

State of the Systems: NL West

by Kevin Goldstein

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This is part six of a six-part series in which I'll look at the State Of The System for all 30 major league teams. I'll talk about what's working, what's not, and identify a few names to look out for (or beware of) in 2006.

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • What's Working: Under the helm of scouting director Mike Rizzo, Arizona's system is among the best in baseball. Their top five prospects, Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin and Carlos Gonzalez are better than any top five in baseball, and it's not even close. Rizzo has had four first-round picks in the last three years and seemingly struck gold each time. I want to go on record here as being the one person in the world who liked the selection of righthander Jason Neighborgall in the third round last June. Neighborgall is well-known for his Steve Dalkowski-like stuff and control problems, and the chances of him ever coming around are slim. However, the draft is about finding impact talent, not replacement-level players, and while Neighborgall has about a one-percent chance of becoming an elite pitcher, that chance is higher than 95% of the arms out there, and it's a risk well worth taking.

  • What's Not Working: The system is a little top heavy, as the depth begins to fade away quickly. Like many systems, Arizona is light on lefthanded pitching, and other than Miguel Montero, there is little catching. The Adriano Rosario/Antonio Pena fiasco is a bit of an embarrassment all around.

  • 2006 Rookies: Despite his 30 home run comeback season last year, Tony Clark gives up the first base job for sweet-swinging Conor Jackson. PECOTA sees Jackson's last two years in the minors as highly inflated by friendly hitting parks, so it's something keep an eye on. Righthander Dustin Nippert, the team's top pitching prospect and a favorite of many scouts, will most likely start the year at Triple-A, but should be the first to get a chance should the opportunity rise. The most interesting story could be at shortstop. With Alex Cintron traded to the White Sox this week, and Craig Counsell dealing with a labrum injury that the club is trying to treat without surgery, D'backs fans could get an early glimpse of the future with Drew, their 2004 first-round pick. Drew is a spectacular talent who brings along all of the baggage of his brother (injuries and questionable desire), but he's better than Counsell right now, and could be a perennial all-star.

  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Righthander Micah Owings transferred from Georgia Tech to Tulane for his junior year in 2005, and he led the Green Wave in home runs at the plate and strikeouts as a pitcher. Scouts almost universally saw his future on the mound, and the Snakes took him in the second round. Keeping him in the bullpen in his pro debut to limit his workload, the organization also tinkered with his slider, and it became a second plus pitch (to go along with his 92-97 mph fastball) as he recorded a 30-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22 innings. Gonzalez has been universally praised, but I think he's worth even more.One scout told me that Gonzalez was the best position player he had seen in the Midwest League since Miguel Cabrera. Don't believe in scouting? That Cabrera was the one who hit .268/.328/.382 for Kane County in 2001, yet had everyone pegging him as a future star with big time power.

  • Don't Believe The Hype: Righthander Garrett Mock led the California League in wins (14) and strikeouts (160) in 2005, but also gave up 202 hits in 174 innings. He has the ideal pitcher's body, and excellent command of a four-pitch repertoire. I've talked about disconnect pitchers--those for whom the stuff doesn't match the numbers--and Mock is on the other end of that spectrum. He's kind of the anti-Yusmeiro Petit in that his stuff is far better than his stats and, like Petit, scouts don't really have a good explanation for it.

Colorado Rockies

  • What's Working: It's a good system, but it's not a great system. The organization has at least a decent prospect at nearly every position, which is a rarity. They've done well with their first-round picks of late, getting Jeff Francis in 2002, Ian Stewart in 2003, too-early-to-give-up-on Chris Nelson in 2004, and Troy Tulowitzki in 2005. Tulowitzki could be a steal, as most saw him as much higher than the 7th best talent in the draft.

  • What's Not Working: They still play in Coors Field, and the Rockies have no pitching that's ready to help right now. Australian righty Shane Lindsay had a fantastic half-season in the Northwest League, but then was diagnosed with a torn labrum. The previously mentioned Nelson fell of the table in 2005 after a spectacular debut. 2001 first-round pick Jayson Nix has yet to solve Double-A pitching after a breakout season in 2003, while slugging third-baseman Jeff Baker has a career minor league line of .306/.387/.512 as he struggled to stay on the field because of injuries.

  • 2006 Rookies: Not much here. Baker is a better player than Garrett Atkins, but he'll need a solid and healthy start at Triple-A to get a chance to usurp him there. Omar Quintanilla and Josh Wilson are battling for a utility job, and Wilson's defensive abilities give him the edge. Ryan Shealy is certainly ready, but there seems to be no room at the inn for consistent at-bats.

  • I Like Him Better Than Most: The big league team needs catching, and luckily Chris Ianetta isn't too far away. Ianetta is an outstanding defender with very good plate discipline and a little pop. He'll start the year in Double-A, and could get rushed to the big leagues during the second half when Colorado realizes that they're starting Yorvit Torrealba.

  • Don't Believe The Hype: Righthander Juan Morillo is the Colorado version of Brandon League. He touches or exceeds 100 mph several times a night, but he can't strike out a batter per inning in the California League? When the pitch has no movement and it's his only option, that's what happens.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • What's Working: When Logan White is your scouting director, things are good, and the Dodgers system is absolutely stacked with potential impact talent. White is possibly the best in the business. I had an interesting conversation with a team executive recently, and the conversation went to the Dodgers system. While we both agreed that White deserved more consideration for the Dodgers GM job when the team canned Paul DePodesta, the executive wondered if the hit on the scouting department would be worth it. He's that good, and the system is proof of that.

  • What's Not Working: There are a few weak spots in the system here and there, particulary up the middle. Their best shortstop prospect, Taiwanese import Chin-Lung Hu has Gold Glove potential, but will probably have to hit at the bottom of the order. There are no center fielders to speak of, and Russ Martin, while outstanding, is the only catcher of note. With no first-round pick in 2005, the Dodgers seemed to find a first-round talent when they took Tennessee righty Luke Hochevar with their second round selection. One of the top college arms available, Hochevar fell because teams feared agent Scott Boras' bonus demands. Negotiations went nowhere, and then turned into a complete fiasco.

  • 2006 Rookies: In the field, there are few opportunities, though Martin could unseat Dioner Navarro by mid-season. Top pitching prospect Chad Billingsley will likely begin the year in Triple-A, but should make his big league debut at some point. Righthander Jonathan Broxton and intriguing lefthander Hong-Chih Kuo each bring power arms to the bullpen.

  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Kuo is not only a great story, he has closer potential. Signed out of Taiwan for a $1.25 million bonus in 1999, Kuo struck out seven batters over three innings in his 2000 pro debut, but blew out his elbow in the process. Over the next four years, he pitched just 39.1 innings while dealing with not one, but two Tommy John surgeries and a third procedure to clean things up in the joint. Finally healthy in 2005, Kuo struck out 96 batters in 59.2 innings, including 10 in five big league frames. Despite all the medical work, Kuo still hits 98 with his fastball and could be special if he can improve his breaking ball and hone his command.

  • Don't Believe The Hype: . . . Or believe it. All of the highly-rated Dodgers prospects are worthy of the praise they receive. Joel Guzman has a much tougher road to stardom ahead of him now that he's outgrown shortstop and moved to left field.

San Diego Padres

  • What's Working: The Padres are trying to recover from miserable drafts in 2003 and 2004, and their 2005 selections immediately brought up the talent level considerably. First-round pick Cesar Carillo instantly became the team's top prospect, while second round picks Chase Headley and Nick Hundley both look like solid selections. The Padres have yet to develop a home-grown Dominican player, but that didn't stop the club from spending $350,000 on outfielder Yefri Carvajal when they were outbid by the Mets for Fernando Martinez.

  • What's Not Working: The 2004 draft has been mostly a nightmare so far. No. 1 overall selection Matt Bush has hit .216/.282/.272 as a pro. Even if he can rebound, he's still a colossal mistake with the top pick, though Padres ownership (who did not allow the team to take Stephen Drew) is more to blame than team management for the pick. Third-round pick Billy Killian was slow to develop and was used as a throw-in as part of the Adam Eaton deal, and fourth-round pick Daryl Jones has been even rawer than expected. Draft-and-follow giant (6-6, 290) Kyle Blanks has an outside chance to be the draft's saving grace. The system is especially weak on the mound, where Carillo is the only pitcher who projects as more than a back-of-the-rotation starter.

  • 2006 Rookies: Second baseman Josh Barfield is ready, and should be productive, so it was curious to see the team bring in Mark Bellhorn to camp. Outfielder Ben Johnson was in line for a starting job before the surprising re-signing of Brian Giles, but could end up being the fourth outfielder. Rule 5 pickup and stathead favorite Steven Andrade should be an effective middle reliever, but no more.

  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Don't give up yet on Bush. The California League could be just what the doctor ordered for him. He has Gold Glove potential defensively, and the offensive tools to develop into an everyday shortstop that hits in the bottom-half of the lineup.

  • Don't Believe The Hype: Paul McAnulty is a career .304/.400/.485 hitter in the minors, but he's a classic tweener who doesn't have the power to be an everyday first baseman or left fielder, the only positions his limited athleticism allows him to play.

San Francisco Giants

  • What's Working: Matt Cain stayed healthy, got better every year, became one of the best prospects in baseball, and is now in the rotation. Without many draft picks in the last couple of years, the Giants have found some nice late-round talent. In 2002, they took first baseman Travis Ishikawa in the 21st round and gave him $955,000 to avoid college, and he's developed into a top-flight defensive first baseman with power and patience. Lefty Jonathan Sanchez is a 27th round pick (2004) who punched out 166 in just 126 innings in his pro debut, while infielder Marcus Sanders is a 2003 draft-and-follow with the potential to be a classic leadoff man. In 166 pro games, Sanders has scored 140 runs, thanks to a .410 on-base percentage and 85 stolen bases.

  • What's Not Working: Due to some free-agent signings and the curious timing of some other signings, the Giants scouting department has spent a lot of time twiddling their thumbs lately during the first hour of the draft conference calls. The team didn't pick until the fourth round last June, and had to wait until the 70th selection came around in 2004. This has limited the Giants in their ability to build system depth, and the organization is especially weak at catcher and upper-level starting pitchers.

  • 2006 Rookies: Cain should be the only one, but he could be a doozy. He's immediately the Giants' second-best starter behind Jason Schmidt, and should be the best within three years.

  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Outfielder Ben Copeland rewrote the University of Pittsburgh record book before being taken with the Giants' first pick (No. 132 overall) in 2005. A left-handed hitter with solid tools across the board, Copeland hit .315/.372/.514 in his debut and showed that he has a chance to stay in centerfield, which could be the key to his prospect status.

  • Don't Believe The Hype: Eddy Martinez-Esteve is just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's the best pure hitter in the system by a considerable margin, but he has absolutely no defensive skills whatsoever, and seemingly no desire to develop any. So he's a born DH on a National League team which, last I checked, is only an option for the Giants in a handful of games per season.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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