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April 18, 2006

Future Shock

NL Central Roundup

by Kevin Goldstein

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Chicago Cubs

  • Triple-A Iowa (Pacific Coast): 3-4 last week, 21 runs scored, 26 allowed; overall record 6-5

    Last week, in a Cubs game I attended with some of my BP brethren, Chicago's starting outfield consisted of Matt Murton in left, Juan Pierre in center, and Angel Pagan in right. That's not a trio that'll get a team anywhere close to playoff contention, not even if you replace Pagan with regular right fielder Jacque Jones. What alternatives are there? Felix Pie was on pace for a call-up last year, before a broken ankle in June ended his season early. He's picked up where he left off this season, batting .326/.380/.558 with 14 RBI during his 11 games in the leadoff spot, while also showing early signs of improved patience. The Cubs are wary of bringing Pie up, believing that their rushing Corey Patterson to the majors helped lead to his premature demise as a prospect. Pie is just 21, and while he's not a classic right fielder when it comes to power, he's easily one of the top three outfielders the Cubs' organization can boast of, and he should be up by mid-season. Mentioned last week as one to watch because he was looking more like the pitcher he was at Rice when he was a 2003 first-round pick, righty David Aardsma was promoted on Monday, and will get a chance to help an inconsistent Cubs bullpen after firing seven scoreless innings as Iowa's closer, allowing just two hits and striking out 11.

  • Double-A West Tenn (Southern): 4-2, 18/14, 7-3

    Speaking of Pattersons, Corey's younger brother, Eric Patterson, looks like he could bring an end to the second base mess at the big league level by next season. He's not as toolsy as his brother, but he's a better fundamentals player. He not only knows what a walk is, but he knows how to draw one, as well. He's batting .308/.378/564 in ten games for the Diamond Jaxx, and in 129 games as a pro he's now scored 100 runs, amassed 57 extra-base hits, drawn 64 walks, and stolen 49 bases. The most interesting arm on the team belongs to Dominican Carlos Marmol, a converted outfielder who has begun the season with back-to-back six-inning, one-hit efforts.

  • High-A Daytona (Florida State): 2-4, 25/29, 2-8

    Last year, righthander Sean Gallagher went from non-descript 12th-round pick to prospect when he began the year at Low-A Peoria with a 0.75 ERA in his first ten starts on his way to winning the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year award. He's begun the year with 12 scoreless innings, but I'm still not buying the hype. He rarely touches 90 mph with his fastball, and he gets by mostly on command and a big-breaking curve--the kind of mix that rarely works as well at the upper levels. Outfielder Ryan Harvey continues to show impressive raw power (three home runs in his last three games), and no ability to control the strike zone (14 Ks in 31 at-bats, with just one walk).

  • Low-A Peoria (Midwest): 2-4, 21/34, 4-6

    The team is very light on prospects. The most interesting one might be hard-throwing lefty Donald Veal, who has nine strikeouts in nine innings, but also nine walks.

Cincinnati Reds

  • Triple-A Louisville (International): 5-3, 37/28, 5-6

    The Bats lineup is chock-full of has-beens, even after the team released Jacob Cruz, because that was to give more at-bats to guys like Terrence Long, Alex Sanchez, and Brian Buchanan. On the mound, lefthander Mike Gosling has allowed only two runs in 11 innings, and he could be first in line for a call-up should the Reds need a body since he can start or relieve.

  • Double-A Chattanooga (Southern): 4-3, 24/25, 7-4

    After a disappointing 2005 campaign, first baseman Joey Votto has enjoyed his escape from the Florida State League so far, batting .341/.383/.636 in 11 games. He's limited defensively, so his bat will have to carry him, but the Reds' current starting first baseman is Scott Hatteberg, so it's not as if he has a significant roadblock ahead of him. Closer David Shafer will never fill that role in the big leagues, but he's begun the year with four shutout innings, allowing just one hit, and the Reds think he could get to the big leagues quickly as a middle reliever.

  • High-A Sarasota (Florida State): 4-2, 21/18, 4-6

    At some point in time, we're going to have to start taking shortstop Adam Rosales seriously as a prospect. A run-of-the-mill 12th-rounder out of Western Michigan in last year's draft, Rosales was seen as merely a safe senior pick, but he surprised everyone by hitting .325/.388/.558 in his debut while splitting time between Billings and Low-A Dayton. Pushed up to Sarasota for his full-season debut--he turns 23 next month--Rosales has responded, batting .323/.432/.516 so far. If somebody told me that Homer Bailey would have zero walks in his first two starts after his walking 5.4 per nine innings last year, I would have predicted that he was dominating. Instead, he's given up eight runs on 12 hits in 10.1 innings. At least Sam Lecure is making me look smart after his seven one-hit innings with nine whiffs last Wednesday.

  • Low-A Dayton (Midwest): 1-5, 21/42, 2-8

    The Reds got a huge boost from last year's draft when first-round pick Jay Bruce and second-rounder Travis Wood both enjoyed stunning debuts. Splitting time between center and right, Bruce is batting .317/.364/.537, but his struggles against lefties (0-for-9 after batting .237 last year) are a concern. As far as some more unambiguously good news, Wood has recorded 15 strikeouts in 8.2 innings. Meanwhile, B.J. Syzmanski is making me look smart as well with his .162/.205/.405 start.

Houston Astros

  • Triple-A Round Rock (Pacific Coast): 4-3, 35/28, 5-6

    Not much to talk about here, as the team has few real prospects, and none of them is doing anything special. However, it is remarkably cool to see that Alan Zinter (4-for-12 with two home runs) is coming off the bench for this team. How many first-round picks from the 1980s (Mets, 1989) are you going to find in the minor leagues? Zinter has played in over 1,600 minor league games while bashing 240 home runs.

  • Double-A Corpus Christi (Texas): 4-2, 30/32, 5-5

    Despite a career line of .317/.392/.574 in 171 career minor league games, outfielder Hunter Pence had his doubters, thanks in part to his having a loop in his swing, and also that he did most of his damage in the Sally League as a 22-year-old. Moved up to Double-A, Pence continues to rake (.385/.400/.795 with four home runs in 39 at-bats), meaning he's either closed the hole, or he has enough hand-eye coordination that it doesn't matter. Also, former Pirates wonderboy J.R. House is back in baseball, and batting .429/.442/.667.

  • High-A Salem (Carolina): 1-6, 21/38, 4-6

    This team is nearly without a player resembling a hitting prospect, and it shows with a team OPS of 682 and an isolated power clip of .088. The only saving grace is that the team leads the Carolina League in walks. Lefthander Troy Patton has a 0.00 ERA in two starts with 13 strikeouts in eleven innings; he could be in Double-A by midseason.

  • Low-A Lexington (South Atlantic): 4-3, 39/37, 8-3

    The Lexington Legends are the opposite of Salem in that the team has a number of notable hitting prospects, but they don't walk. Backstop Justin Towles is batting .480, and outfielder Josh Flores leads the team with 20 total bases, yet the pair have combined for zero free passes in 65 at-bats.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Triple-A Nashville (Pacific Coast): 5-2, 40/19, 6-5

    Welcome back to prospect-land, Ben Hendrickson. Hendrickson had a 2.02 ERA in Triple-A in 2004, but then posted a 6.22 ERA in ten major league starts at the end of the season. He spent all of 2005 back in Triple-A, a full-season exile that reflected how much his stock plummeted as his command faltered--that sort of shortcoming is death on righthanders who throw in the upper 80s. Hendrickson will never be more than a fourth or fifth starter, but he's fixed a mechanical problem that plagued him last year, and started the season with 11 shutout innings while allowing just two hits. Along with Zach Jackson and Dana Eveland, the Brewers have a number of young pitchers in Triple-A who could help them this year.

  • Double-A Huntsville (Southern): 4-3, 30/29, 6-5

    Only one hitter on the Stars has an OPS over 800, and it's Callix Crabbe, so that's all you need to know about the team's offense. Don't worry Huntsville, third baseman Ryan Braun will be arriving soon. Pitching-wise, the team is also pretty much sans prospects, with their best starter being Corey Thurman. That name sound familiar to you? Remember that one guy who spent 2002 in the Blue Jays' bullpen? Yeah, that's him.

  • High-A Brevard County (Florida State): 5-1, 37/24, 9-1

    The middle infield combination of Alcides Escobar and Hernan Iribarren both have OBPs over .400, with Escobar's five walks already equaling 25% of last year's total, amassed in 127 contests. Former 2004 first-round pick Mark Rogers continues to blow away hitters (eight strikeouts in 6.1 innings) when he's not handing out free passes in bunches (10 walks).

  • Low-A West Virginia (South Atlantic): 4-3, 25/31, 6-6

    All 5'7" of catcher Angel Salome cranked at a .415/.469/.673 pace in the Pioneer League last year, and he's off to a .341/.408/.500 start in 11 games in his full season debut, leading the team in walks, total bases, and RBI. He has a plus arm, but he's already been charged with four errors this year, and the arm is the only positive part of his defensive game.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Triple-A Indianapolis (International): 3-3, 21/19, 5-5

    While the major league rotation has a collective ERA of 7.25, lefthander Tom Gorzelanny is coming along quickly. In his first two starts, he's fired nine shutout innings, allowing four hits while punching out 13. He could be up before the All-Star break, and could immediately become their second-best starter. Gookie Dawkins leads the team with a 1059 OPS, and his presence is a reminder that one 32-game hot streak at Double-A (as Dawkins had in 1999) does not a prospect make.

  • Double-A Altoona (Eastern): 4-2, 32/15, 8-2

    Righthander Matt Peterson was the big arm acquired in the oh-so-long-ago Kris Benson trade, but he regressed in a year-plus at Altoona, with a 116/96 KK/B ratio in 180 innings. Attempt number three to succeed in the Eastern League has been good so far, with 11 shutout innings against just one walk.

  • High-A Lynchburg (Carolina): 4-3, 22/33, 5-5

    Prospect-wise, the Hillcats are an utterly non-descript team. They've hit only three home runs all year, and those have come off of the bats of Mike Carlin and Brad Correll--a pair of 24-year-old organizational guys.

  • Low-A Hickory (South Atlantic): 3-4, 41/35, 4-7

    Last year's first-round pick Andrew McCutchen is batting .333, but it's fairly empty average: thanks to just two extra-base hits and three walks, his OPS is a pedestrian 775. Behind the plate, catcher Steve Lerud, a former fourth-round pick from 2003, has been long on potential while playing just 109 games as a pro due to a variety of injuries. He's finally breaking out by batting .342/.419/.711 in the early going, and is worth watching.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Triple-A Memphis (Pacific Coast): 1-6, 28/36, 1-10

    The team started the season 0-9, much of it thanks to a bullpen that features three regulars with ERAs still in double-digits. Those kinds of performances have left top prospect Anthony Reyes without a win or a loss in three games. Reyes has one great start and two mediocre ones, but his command (17 Ks and one walk in 18 innings) has been excellent. Gunning for another chance in the big leagues, Junior Spivey has been doing his best Ed Yost impression, drawing 11 walks in 42 at-bats, and posting a .436 OBP.

  • Double-A Springfield (Texas): 4-2, 44/29, 6-4

    The team has been scoring runs in bunches, batting .302/.362/.522 collectively. That's despite the struggles of the squad's top prospect: Cody Haerther is hitting only .243/.243/.459. Rico Washington, 28 and now playing shortstop in his seventh straight year of Double-A (spread across four different organizations), has been one of the minors' top hitters so far, batting .375/.432/.875 with 18 RBI in 10 games. Despite a .344/.398/.564 pro debut with Low-A Peoria last year, few were impressed with outfielder Nick Stavinoha, a seventh-round pick out of LSU. A senior signing, he'll already be 24 in a couple of weeks, but his .366/.400/.488 line stands out in a system that is extremely light on hitting. Notice how I avoiding talking about pitching? There's a reason for that.

  • High-A Palm Beach (Florida State): 3-3, 37/41, 6-4

    Time was running out for 2004 second-round pick Mike Ferris, who entered the season with a career batting line of .222/.325/.373 in 167 games. He's off to a .342/.422/.684 start for Palm Beach, and has always featured a solid approach, so don't give up on him yet.

  • Low-A Quad Cities (Midwest): 4-2, 31/22, 6-4

    After becoming a 2005 first-round pick, Colby Rasmus hit .296/.362/.514 in his pro debut last season, but his 73 whiffs in 216 at-bats was a red flag. He was 4-for-6 last Thursday against Peoria, but in his other nine games he's 3-for-36 with 12 strikeouts. Righthander Mark McCormick looks like a future ace one day (six one-hit innings with seven whiffs on April 8), and a complete mess the next (four runs and five walks in 4.1 innings on April 13). With a fastball that touches 98 mph and a plus curveball, his ceiling is higher than any Cardinals pitcher (including Reyes), but his inconsistency can be maddening.

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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