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March 28, 2006

Future Shock

Spring Prospect Report, American League

by Kevin Goldstein

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With spring training close to wrapping up, and most prospects without big league jobs already reassigned to minor league camp, it's not too early to take a look at the spring statistics to see which players' stocks are rising and falling. Spring stats should always be taken with a grain of salt, so here's some additional background of some of the American League's best and worst performances by prospects. Statistics are through games of March 26.

Baltimore Orioles:

Impressing: Nick Markakis, OF. Markakis has been one of the biggest stories in Florida, and he's still in big league camp with a chance for a big league job on opening day. The Orioles are in a bit of pickle with Markakis, though; if they want to keep him in the big leagues, they want to play him every day, and the outfield positions are pretty crowded right now with Jay Gibbons in right, Corey Patterson and Luis Matos in center and Jeff Conine and Kevin Millar fighting for playing time in left. Markakis will likely begin the year at Triple-A Ottawa, but his timetable has been accelerated with the spring performance. Keep in mind that despite a great contact rate and fantastic plate discipline, Markakis' power is still far more projection than reality.

Disappointing: Val Majewski, OF. Going into 2005, Majewski was generally seen as the second best hitting prospect in the system (behind Markakis) after a .307/.359/.490 season at Double-A Bowie. He missed all of 2005 with labrum surgery, looked rusty in the Arizona Fall League and never got going this spring. He turns 25 in June, so he's well behind the standard career curve and needs to bounce back quickly to project as anything more than a fourth outfielder.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Nick Markakis  .346 .444 .519 52 11 18  6  0  1 10  4
Val Majewski   .200 .242 .300 30  4  6  3  0  0  2  5

Boston Red Sox

Impressing: Craig Hansen, RHP. Hansen's stuff was good enough to be considered by Arizona for the No. 1 pick last June, and being represented by Scott Boras allowed Boston to steal him at No. 26. He was expected to be ready very quickly, but the Red Sox admittedly rushed him last year by calling him up after 13 minor league innings when their bullpen began to implode. He's yet to give up a run this spring, but he's not missing the kind of bats one normally expects from a pitcher with Hansen's power stuff. Keith Foulke is still a bit of an unknown, and while Mike Timlin did yeoman's work last year, Hansen is the closer of the future, and that future could be sooner than originally expected.

Disappointing: Jon Lester, LHP. Lester led the Double-A Eastern League in ERA and strikeouts last year and has plus velocity for a lefthander and solid secondary stuff. He's seen as one of the top prospects in the organization and nearly ready, but he was downright awful in three appearances, and he struggled with his mechanics. He was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket earlier than expected, and is worth keeping an eye on early in the season there to see if the problems remain.

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Craig Hanson  10  0.00 .143 10.2  5  0  0  0  3  5
Jon Lester     3 19.50 .444  6.0 12 13 13  3  6  2

Chicago White Sox:

Impressing: Josh Fields, 3B: Fields is a difficult player to evaluate because while he was a college draftee, he's still a raw player because he was also Oklahoma State's quarterback. He's an outstanding athlete with plenty of projection and his 2005 season featured both the good (power, decent walk total) and the bad (tons of strikeouts, shaky defense). Fields' performances in Arizona this spring were singled out for praise by Ozzie Guillen on multiple occasions, and while Fields will begin the year at Triple-A Charlotte, he could be a low-price option if the team decides that they don't want to deal with Joe Crede's free agency after 2007.

Disappointing: Jerry Owens, CF: While the White Sox handed Brian Anderson the starting center field job after trading Aaron Rowand to the Phillies, Owens wasn't considered too far behind. Like Fields, Owens is a late bloomer because of an amateur commitment to football, but he exploded last season at Double-A Birmingham in 2005, winning the Southern League batting title (.331) while scoring 99 runs in 130 games. His spring performance shows that the gap between him and Anderson might be bigger than initially expected, but he's still in the mix if Anderson needs to slide over to a corner in the not-so-distant future.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Josh Fields    .391 .440 .913 23  4  9  3  0  3  2  6
Jerry Owens    .167 .286 .250 24  6  4  0  1  0  4  1

Cleveland Indians:

Impressing: Ryan Mullhern, 1B/OF: An 11th round pick out of South Alabama in 2003, Mulhern was seen as no more than an organizational player before exploding in 2005, batting .315/.389/.640 in 112 games between High Class A Kinston and Double-A Akron with 32 home runs in 403 at-bats. Still, the fact that he turned 25 in November and is limited defensively kept most prospect hounds nonplussed. A strong winter in the Dominican, more power in the spring and then two more home runs in a spring game for Triple-A Buffalo has Mulhern looking far more legitimate these days, and with 1B/DH a crowded position in the Tribe system, he could move back to the outfield, where he played in college.

Disappointing: Jeremy Sowers, LHP: Because he's not a power pitcher, Sowers has to rely on pinpoint command and a mix of effective pitches to succeed, and the margin for error reduces dramatically with each level he moves up. His spring performance has the Indians indicating that righty Fausto Carmona (0.75 ERA in 12 innings) will be the first to get the call from Triple-A Buffalo should the need for a starter arise.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Ryan Mullhern  .250 .308 .792 24  5  6  1  0  4  2  7

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Jeremy Sowers  3  5.40 .355  6.2 11  4  4  1  6  3

Detroit Tigers

Impressing: Kody Kirkland, 3B. Everyone knows the Justin Verlander/Joel Zumaya story, so I took a third in Kirkland, one of the first players mentioned by new manager Jim Leyland as standing out when the team made their first cuts. Kirkland has plenty of bat speed and power, and is one of my picks to take a major step forward in 2006 as he begins the year as Double-A Erie.

Disappointing: Tony Giarratano, SS. Giarratano played well for Italy in the World Baseball Classic, but struggled at the plate in his return to Tigers camp. Despite hitting well in his first season and a half with the Tigers, he hit just .266/.334/.373 at Double-A last year. His outstanding glove work will get him a big league career, but his lack of secondary skills indicate it will probably be as a utility player.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Kody Kirkland  .296 .355 .556 27  7  8  2  1  1  3  6
T. Giarratano  .235 .316 .294 17  2  4  1  0  0  2  5

Kansas City Royals:

Impressing: Mitch Maier, OF. Maier has spent little time in big league camp, but he's gotten spot starts here and there and raked every time they've put him in the lineup. He's an interesting hitter with a career .297 average in the minors and 46 doubles per 600 at-bats. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds he has power projection along with the athleticism to hold his own in center. If some of those doubles start to carry over the fence, look out.

Disappointing: Shane Costa, OF. Costa is a weird guy because he's built like a pro wrestler, but has just 16 home runs in 839 minor league at-bats while neither walking (64) or striking out (75) much--so he hits more like a guy built like a pro wrestling fan. The fact that he's still in camp competing for a backup job shows that the Royals think he's good, but not somebody they see as an everyday player or he'd be lined up for everyday at-bats in Triple-A.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Mitch Maier    .467 .500 .800 15  7  7  1  2  0  1  4
Shane Costa    .226 .265 .355 31  5  7  0  2  0  2  6

Los Angeles Angels

Impressing: Kendry Morales, 1B/OF/DH. Generally seen as the top hitting prospect to ever defect from Cuba, Morales hit .315/.362/.534 in his pro debut last year (mostly at Double-A) with 22 home runs in 371 at-bats. The bad news is that he was a disappointment defensively. That might not matter as with Garret Anderson's health problems and Dallas McPherson's horrible spring (see below), Morales had moved up the depth charts and could be in the running for the designated hitter job at the big league level when the Angels realize that Juan Rivera isn't very good.

Disappointing: Dallas McPherson, 3B/DH. While he's no longer officially a prospect, McPherson is anything but an established big leaguer either, and now he's an injury-plagued slugger returning to Triple-A. The trend lines are all going in the wrong direction here.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Kendry Morales .340 .364 .642 53  6 18  5  1  3  2  5
D. McPherson   .161 .235 .226 31  3  5  0  1  0  3 11

Minnesota Twins

Impressing: Justin Jones, LHP. Jones was once one of the top pitchers in the Cubs system, but he's struggled with elbow problems over the last two years and ended up going to the Twins in the complicated Nomar Garciaparra trade in 2004. The good news is that (a) Jones has not required surgery, (b) the Twins feel they've corrected the problem in his delivery that was straining the elbow and (c) when he's been healthy, he's pitched well. Despite seemingly being around forever, Jones is just 21, has good stuff, and could take off this year at Double-A.

Disappointing: J.D. Durbin, RHP. Once one of the stud arms in a strong Minnesota system, Durbin has had shoulder problems (a far greater concern than elbow injuries) of late and his lack of polish worked much better when he was in the upper 90s than the mid-90s, while his arrogance has gone from strength to annoyance now that he is no longer dominant.

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Justin Jones   3  0.00 .261  6.0  6  1  0  0  2  4
J.D. Durbin    4 16.20 .417  5.0 10  9  9  1  4  3

New York Yankees

Impressing: Eric Duncan, 1B/3B. OK, maybe that Arizona Fall League explosion was for real after all. Between what he did in the desert and this spring, it does look like Duncan is finally beginning to tap into his unquestionable potential, and it's possible that moving to first base and no longer worrying about his defensive problems at third has brought the bat around. With Jason Giambi an offensive force once again, the Yankees can be patient with Duncan, and he'll be a relatively young 21 in Triple-A Columbus this year.

Disappointing: Sean Henn, LHP. Henn got $1.7 million as a draft-and-follow in 2001, and while he's never been the same since Tommy John surgery early in his career, he still showed occasional glimpses in the past two seasons, and was seen as a possible option in the bullpen as well as a chip in trade talks. After a miserable spring, he'll need to bounce back at Columbus to regain either of those statuses.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Eric Duncan    .414 .452 .793 29  6 12  3  1  2  2  4

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Sean Henn      4  9.45 .379  6.2 11  7  7  1  7  4

Oakland Athletics

Impressing: Freddie Bynum, INF/OF. The A's top pick in the 2000 draft, Bynum has been slow to develop, but the A's have tried recently to convert him into a Chone Figgins type of utility player, as he's seen time at every position other than first base and catcher over the past two years. Bynum can hit just enough to keep his head above water and has top-of-the-lineup speed, but there is no room at the inn at Oakland and Bynum is out of options. Look for a trade before the season starts, as Bynum would never get through waivers.

Disappointing: Mike Rouse, INF. In 2003, Rouse was a shortstop who hit .300/.392/.405 at Double-A Midland. Now 26, he's headed for his third consecutive year at Triple-A, and he may lack the range to be an everyday shortstop defensively, to say nothing of his regressing offensive skills.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Freddie Bynum  .375 .434 .646 48 16 18  6  2  1  5 10
Mike Rouse     .175 .313 .175 40  5  7  0  0  0  7  6

Seattle Mariners

Impressing: Asdrubal Cabrera, INF. Cabrera is a very good shortstop, but he's being moved to second base because that's where the need is within the organization. More importantly, he can play. He's likely going to be assigned to Triple-A Tacoma for opening day, which is a risky proposition for a 20-year-old with a grand total of 61 games above A-ball. His spring performance has the Mariners feeling a little better about it.

Disappointing: Adam Jones, OF. Another former shortstop who has been moved to another position (center field), Jones is one of the best athletes in the game, and made a tremendous step forward last year in converting his tools into production. I wouldn't read too much into the poor spring, and Jones is definitely still a breakout candidate at Double-A.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
A. Cabrera     .368 .455 .632 19  4  7  2  0  1  3  3
Adam Jones     .160 .250 .320 25  5  4  2  1  0  3  7

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Impressing: Elijah Dukes, OF. I've praised Dukes in the past, and will continue to do so. Maybe I'm a sucker--who knows? Dukes has been one of the talks of camp this year, smacking balls all over the the place and impressing everybody who makes the attempt to actually get to know the prodigious talent with the troubled past. If you're not rooting for him to succeed, there's something wrong with you. He'll start the year at Triple-A, but even with the crowded outfield situation in Tampa, he could force some sort of decision by mid-season.

Disappointing: Chad Orvella, RHP. With the trade of Danys Baez and the spring injury to Japanese import Shinji Mori, the closer's job was Orvella's to lose--and it looks like he's done just that. With a career minor league ERA of 1.22 and an unreal 160-to-17 K/BB ratio in 111 innings, Orvella seems like he should have "closer stuff" at first glance, but he's more 91-94 mph with his fastball featuring exceptional control. When that control went south, so did Orvella.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Elijah Dukes   .400 .538 .700 20  6  8  1  1  1  6  4

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Chad Orvella   8  8.38 .289  9.2 11 10  9  3  6  8

Texas Rangers

Impressing: Gerald Laird, C. Laird's career is in limbo. He has the job, got hurt, and then Rod Barajas all of a sudden at the age of 28 found his power stroke. Laird is better right now than a number of everyday catchers in the big leagues, but you rarely hear his name mentioned in trade talks as the Rangers are seemingly convinced that Barajas is destined to turn back into a pumpkin.

Disappointing: Drew Meyer, INF. Meyer was the 10th overall pick in 2002, and with each passing day, he's looking more like a bust. The list of players the Rangers passed over for Meyer is enough to make Texas fans nauseous, as is Meyer's career minor league OPS of .701.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Gerald Laird   .357 .379 .607 28  5 10  2  1  1  1  6
Drew Meyer     .100 .091 .400 10  3  1  0  0  1  0  5

Toronto Blue Jays

Impressing: Brian Tallet, LHP. A second-round pick by the Indians out of LSU in 2000, Tallet was sidetracked by Tommy John surgery and inconsistency in Cleveland, and the Blue Jays picked him up on waivers in November. The 20+ scoreless innings are an eye-opener and may have earned Tallet a job, but he's a weird one--a big guy (6'7") with a finesse repertoire. Missing bats at the upper levels has always been Tallet's problem, and a look at his secondary numbers show that nothing has changed there.

Disappointing: Guillermo Quiroz, C. It's been a roller coaster of a career for Quiroz. He started high, when the Blue Jays won a bidding war for his services and signed him for $1.2 million in 1998. After three years of doing close to nothing, Quiroz regained his prospect status with a solid showing at Dunedin in 2002 before then breaking out with a .282/.372/.518 campaign at Double-A New Haven in 2003. He suffered a collapsed lung during the post-season that year and hasn't been the same since. He'll be back in Triple-A Syracuse for the third time.

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Brian Tallet  16  0.00 .206 20.2 14  0  0  0  8 10

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
G. Quiroz      .107 .167 .250 28  3  3  1  0  1  1  5

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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