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March 29, 2006

Future Shock

Spring Prospect Report, National League

by Kevin Goldstein

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 player's 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 National League's best and worst performances by prospects. Statistics are through games of March 27.

Arizona Diamondbacks:

Impressing: Conor Jackson, 1B. Jackson has hit everywhere he's played except at the major league level. He had a rough debut last year that the team attributed to a lack of consistent playing time, and he was handed the first base job after the season despite Tony Clark's rebound year. With the pressure off, Jackson has had a monster spring, and manager Bob Melvin is so impressed with him that the 2003 first-round pick has been moved up to fifth in the lineup. Extra credit to Clark for treating the situation with absolute class.

Disappointing: Alberto Callaspo, 2B/SS. With the Angels rich in high-quality infielders, they could afford to deal Callaspo to Arizona for wild fireballer Jason Bulger. Callaspo can play second base or shortstop, has a career minor league average of .315 and almost never strikes out (113 Ks in 2200 ABs), but his rough spring means a return to Triple-A. He's blocked at second base by Orlando Hudson and he's not moving back to shortstop in a system with Stephen Drew and Justin Upton, so his immediate future might be as a utility player.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
A. Callaspo    .222 .300 .289 45  6 10  3  0  0  5  3
Conor Jackson  .463 .569 .780 41 14 19  5  1  2  9  2

Atlanta Braves:

Impressing: Joey Devine, RHP. It was a strange 2005 for Devine, who was the first player from the June draft to reach the majors (after just 26 minor league innings), but had a 12.60 ERA in five innings and gave up the 18th-inning home run to Chris Burke in the playoffs. Expected to begin the year at Triple-A for more seasoning, Devine came out throwing bullets this spring, and earned a spot in the bullpen. For now, he'll be setting up Chris Reitsma, but there could be a reversal of roles by July.

Disappointing: Anthony Lerew, RHP. A 2001 11th-round pick who worked his way slowly but surely up the ladder, Lerew entered camp in the mix for a bullpen role, but was among the first cuts when he struggled nearly every time out. He could help the bullpen or serve as a back-of-the-rotation starter if he can rebound at Triple-A Richmond.

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Joey Devine    8  2.45 .250 11.0 11  6  3  1  3 17
Anthony Lerew  6 13.50 .286  6.0  6 12  9  0  5  4

Chicago Cubs:

Impressing: Sean Marshall, LHP. With Mark Prior out for at least the first few weeks of the season, Marshall has made a surprising entrance into the running for the fifth starter job, taking advantage of Rich Hill's struggles. Marshall is a lot like Hill in that he's a big lefty, and the two are pretty even in that Marshall has better velocity and a good curve, while Hill has better command and a great curve. The biggest difference on a long-term basis is that Marshall is two-and-a-half years younger.

Disappointing: Rich Hill, LHP. The job was definitely Hill's to lose, and he almost did it. His stats below looked much worse a week ago, but the good news is that he's missing bats and he has put together a string of solid outings in the last ten days. The race for the fifth starter job is not decided yet, and with the Cubs not needing one until mid-April, the decision might come down to how each one does in their first start at Triple-A Iowa.

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Rich Hill      5  6.92 .278 13.0 15 10 10  2  6 15
Sean Marshall  5  0.00 .097 10.1  5  0  0  0  1 11

Cincinnati Reds:

Impressing: Homer Bailey, RHP. Bailey made just four appearances with the big league squad, but he has some observers saying that this 2004 first-round pick is better than half of the Reds rotation right now. The Reds will do the right thing here and start Bailey in the High Class A Florida State League, but getting to the big leagues before he's 21 is a distinct possibility. The over/under is currently May 3, 2007.

Disappointing: Mike Gosling, LHP. In 2001, Arizona signed Gosling to a $2 million bonus, and he began his career in 2002 by leading the Texas League in wins (14) while finishing third in ERA (3.13). Then something went wrong. He's had some minor shoulder surgery, but nothing that jumps out at you--he just hasn't been able to get people out. Arizona finally gave up on him after a pair of failed big league auditions, prompting the Reds to pick him up and hope he might earn major league spot. At least he kept the ball in the park.

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Homer Bailey   4  2.45 .300  7.1  9  6  2  0  3 10
Mike Gosling   5 14.09 .447  7.2 17 13 12  0  5  2  

Colorado Rockies:

Impressing: Ian Stewart, 3B. Stewart's 2005 season was a minor disappointment statistically as he missed the first month of the season with a hamstring injury and then took a while to find his stroke. It looks like there will be no such delay this year as Stewart has led the Rockies in runs, hits, total bases, home runs and RBI this spring. He'll start the year at Double-A Tulsa, but he's firmly in Garrett Atkins' rearview mirror.

Disappointing: Ryan Shealy, 1B. The Rockies went into 2006 hoping to convert Shealy into an outfielder in order to get his bat into the lineup. That went much worse that expected (even though expectations were low for the 6'5", 240 pounder), and a sore right elbow kept him from getting at-bats. He's going to begin the year back at Triple-A, back at first base, and with no real future in Colorado. He does have some trade value, but an unproven minor league slugger who turns 27 in August won't command much on the market.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Ryan Shealy    .143 .200 .214 14  2  2  1  0  0  1  3
Ian Stewart    .396 .434 .792 48 14 19  4  0  5  4 10

Florida Marlins:

Impressing: Hanley Ramirez, SS. Ramirez had been a much-hyped Boston prospect for years, but a career minor league OPS of .793 left many wondering when (and even if) Ramirez would take the next step forward. That time may be now. The big prize in the Josh Beckett trade, Ramirez was immediately thrown into a competition for the starting shortstop job with slick fielding Robert Andino, and the 22-year-old Dominican has been one of the talks of the Grapefruit League, showing speed, power and exciting defense. All of a sudden, his name is right there in the pre-season favorites for Rookie of the Year honors.

Disappointing: Travis Bowyer, RHP. Acquired from the Twins in the Luis Castillo deal, Bowyer and his fastball that can reach triple digits were expected to compete for a closer role, but the Marlins learned that other than the heater, Bowyer has no dependable second pitch and spotty command. In the end, he couldn't earn any bullpen spot, even with the Marlins, and was shipped out to Triple-A.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Hanley Ramirez .339 .361 .644 59 14 20  1  4  3  2  6

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Travis Bowyer  8  7.36 .355  7.1 11  6  6  1  7  4

Houston Astros:

Impressing: Taylor Buchholz, LHP. Buchholz was the most prominent prospect received from the Phillies in the Billy Wagner trade, but in two Triple-A seasons for Houston, he's put up a 5.05 ERA in 174.2 innings while dealing with shoulder soreness. Not considered in the mix for a big league job entering camp, Buchholz is now part of a very crowded competition for the fifth starter job that includes Carlos Hernandez and Fernando Nieve.

Disappointing: Jason Hirsh, RHP. Hirsch had one of the biggest breakouts in the minors last year, going from fringe prospect to Texas League pitcher of the year as every part of his game took a step forward. He had an outside chance at entering the above-mentioned fifth starter competition with a strong spring, but that didn't happen and he was sent down after just three appearances, all of them bad.

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
T. Buchholz    6  1.96 .247 23.0 21  8  5  0  4 11
Jason Hirsh    3 10.13 .342  8.0 13 11  9  2  4  2

Los Angeles Dodgers:

Impressing: Hong-Chih Kuo, LHP. After pitching just over 40 innings over five years while undergoing a pair of Tommy John surgeries and a third operation to clean things up a bit, Kuo came back with a vengeance in 2005, striking out 86 in 54.1 minor league innings and making his big league debut. After his lights out spring performance, he's in the big leagues for good, and what at one time looked like a certain bust now looks like the possible back-up closer if something goes wrong again with Eric Gagne.

Disappointing: Matt Kemp, OF. People love Matt Kemp's athleticism and potential, as well as his .306/.349/.569 season at Vero Beach last year. But something about him scares the hell out of me. Vero Beach is the Florida State League's hitting paradise, and Kemp's home/road splits look like two completely different players.

      AB HR  AVG  SLG
Home 219 22 .361 .749
Away 199  5 .246 .372

Throw in his free-swinging ways and I see a disappointing start for Kemp at Double-A Jacksonville.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Matt Kemp      .114 .135 .286 35  3  4  1  1  1  1  6

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Hong-Chih Kuo  8  0.00 .118 10.0  4  1  0  0  1 12

Milwaukee Brewers:

Impressing: Vinny Rottino, 1B/3B/OF/C. Rottino's career path looks more like something from the 1930s than modern-day baseball. A native of Racine, Wisconsin, Rottino was signed as an undrafted free agent after starring at Division III Wisconsin-LaCrosse, and instead of becoming a nice organizational player, he hit .304/.352/.482 in his 2004 full-season debut at Beloit with 124 RBIs. The Brewers pushed him to Double-A last year, and while his power fell off, he still hit .296/.351/.403 while playing all over the diamond. He almost made the big league team out of camp and should get there at some point in the season because he can play first, third, left, right and even catch in a pinch. He'll never be a star, but he'll certainly be a hometown fan favorite.

Disappointing: Dana Eveland, LHP. Eveland is often compared to David Wells, in that he's lefthanded, more than just a little pudgy, but can also pitch. To borrow from Bull Durham--if you are pushing 43 and still pitching in the big leagues and have 227 big league wins under your sizeable belt, that makes you colorful. Until that happens for Eveland, it means he's a slob.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Vinny Rottino  .435 .563 .696 23  9 10  2  2  0  7  2

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Dana Eveland   4 15.75 .500  8.0 19 14 14  0  6  1

New York Mets:

Impressing: Brian Bannister, RHP. Bannister pitched well enough to earn the fifth starter's job, and will begin his career with 134 wins fewer than his father. He'll never be much more than a fifth starter, but he could be one for a very long time and that's much more than anyone thought of Bannister 12 months ago.

Disappointing: John Maine, RHP. Maine is really a lot like Bannister. He's a strike thrower with a full arsenal of pitches, but none is a dominant offering. He was given the same chance Bannister had at the beginning of camp, but he fell flat. At least his wife isn't a pain in the ass.

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
B. Bannister   5  0.95 .152 19.0 10  5  2  0  6 13
John Maine     3 12.60 .250  5.0  5  7  7  1  4  2

Philadelphia Phillies:

Impressing: Gavin Floyd, RHP. Floyd's 2005 was a nightmare, as he allowed 240 baserunners in 137.1 Triple-A innings after putting up a 10+ ERA in 26 innings for the Phillies. It's rare to see a first-round pick who got a $4.2 million bonus play winter ball, but Floyd did just that, and things started to turn around in Puerto Rico. That success has continued into spring, and while Floyd is still a bit of a longshot to make the team, he's still just 23 years old and it's not time to give up on him yet.

Disappointing: Eude Brito, LHP. Finding lefthanders who can throw in the mid-90s is rare, and Brito went 6-1, 3.47 when getting moved to the rotation at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, then performed admirably with the Phillies as an emergency starter late in the year. Expected to win the No. 1 lefty bullpen job, Brito is now fighting for any job at all other than a return to the International League.

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Eude Brito     4 10.80 .333  6.2 10  9  9  2  3  3
Gavin Floyd    6  2.08 .224 21.2 17  5  5  3  7 15

Pittsburgh Pirates:

Impressing: Jose Bautista, 3B. Bautista's path has been circuitous to say the least. After playing just 58 games in 2003, he was a Rule 5 pick by Baltimore and, through a series of attempted slides through waivers, he spent time in the clubhouses of the Orioles, Devil Rays, Royals, befreo going back to the Pirates in 2004. So after missing what amounted to two years, Bautista hit .283/.364/.503 at Double-A Altoona last year, and Joe Randa is a roadblock made more of Styrofoam than concrete.

Disappointing: Brad Eldred, 1B. In his minor league career, Eldred has averaged 43 home runs per 600 at-bats... and 184 strikeouts. He spent the second-half of 2005 with Pittsburgh and hit .221 with 12 home runs in 190 at-bats... and 77 strikeouts. Now let me tell you that Eldred is 6'6" and somewhere around 240 pounds. Any reasonable assumption you make with the above information is correct, and Eldred's going back to Triple-A to perform his world-famous Dave Kingman impression.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Jose Bautista  .346 .426 .712 52 13 18  7  0  4  6 14
Brad Eldred    .186 .222 .465 43  5  8  3  0  3  2  9

St. Louis Cardinals:

Impressing: Chris Duncan, 1B/OF. Duncan is the son of St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan, and the Larry Bigbie injury means he could break camp with a bench job. He'll never hit enough to be an everyday player, but he bats left-handed, has a little pop and understands the strikezone, the basic recipe for a Mark Sweeney/Greg Colbrunn type of career.

Disappointing: Anthony Reyes, RHP. The top prospect in the Cardinals system, Reyes began the spring with an engraved invitation to a rotation slot and promptly torched it by getting torched.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Chris Duncan   .280 .337 .520 75 12 21  6  0  4  7 20

PLAYER         G   ERA  AVG   IP  H  R ER HR BB SO
Anthony Reyes  4  8.10 .368 13.1 21 12 12  4  4  8

San Diego Padres:

Impressing: Josh Barfield, 2B. Why the Padres brought in Mark Bellhorn to compete for the second base job is still a mystery, but Barfield's outstanding spring ended the battle quickly. His spring performance (and his .343-11-50 performance last year over the final three months) was attributed to a change in approach that saw Barfield using the entire field, as opposed to trying to pull everything. If he can bring that approach into the regular season on a consistent basis, he'll far exceed his PECOTA forecast.

Disappointing: Paul McAnulty, 1B/OF. By resigning Brian Giles, the Padres effectively ended what little hope McAnulty had for a starting job, and in reality his skillset (limited defensive player with on-base skills but below-average power) is better served in a bench role anyway. Still, you'd think that San Diego would give McAnulty a better chance as opposed to bringing in retreads like Eric Valent and Jack Cust to camp.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Josh Barfield  .386 .413 .705 44 16 17  9  1  1  1  8
Paul McAnulty  .200 .429 .300 10  4  2  1  0  0  4  2

San Francisco Giants:

Impressing: Kevin Frandsen, 2B. Scouts love Frandsen as much for his off-the-charts makeup as his raw ability, but he's an excellent line-drive hitter who reached Triple-A in his first full season. His career minor league line in 153 games looks like an all-star:

AB   R   H  2B 3B HR BI BB SO SB CS  AVG  OBP  SLG
612 119 201 45  4  9 90 41 50 21 16 .328 .393 .459

He's a good defensive second baseman who can play shortstop or third base if necessary. He'd be a great option off the bench for the Giants right now, but they'll keep him fresher at Triple-A Fresno.

Disappointing: Dan Ortmeier, OF. As one of the few upper-level Giants prospects worth noting, Ortmeier repeated Double-A last year, but hit .274/.360/.463 with 20 home runs and 35 stolen bases. After going 3-for-22 in a big league look last September, Ortmeier again looked out of his league in spring training, and he has some more impressive all-around prospects from last year's California League champion San Jose gaining on him.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Kevin Frandsen .396 .431 .679 53 12 21  5  2  2  2  5
Dan Ortmeier   .220 .245 .320 50  5 11  3  1  0  2  8

Washington Natoinals:

Impressing: Ryan Zimmerman, 3B. It's been a weird spring for Zimmerman, who has clearly taken a more power-focused approach that has given him a surprisingly high number of home runs and strikeouts, not to mention an uncharacteristically high six errors. Still, an OPS right around 1.000 is nothing to complain about and the raves on Zimmerman continue to fly.

Disappointing: Kory Casto, 3B. It's hard to get too excited or disappointed in seven at-bats, but there's a bigger story here. Casto hit .290/.394/.510 last year at High Class A Potomac, but at 24, he was a little old for his level. The Nats planned to move him to second base, which would increase his prospect value considerably, but that didn't work out and now he's back at third, playing at Double-A, and blocked by Zimmerman.

PLAYER          AVG  OBP  SLG AB  R  H 2B 3B HR BB SO
Kory Casto     .143 .143 .143  7  0  1  0  0  0  0  1
Ryan Zimmerman .318 .375 .621 66 10 21  5  0  5  5 16 

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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