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May 9, 2006

Future Shock

AL West Roundup

by Kevin Goldstein

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (and Placentia, and Buena Park and Stanton too, I guess, if you think about it)

  • Triple-A Salt Lake (6-4 in last 10 games; 18-11 overall)

    Dallas McPherson's struggles were well documented by Jay Jaffe in a recent Prospectus Notebook, but those struggles may be no more, as the third baseman has homered in four straight games, including a two-home run game on Sunday. He's still hitting .232 with 48 strikeouts in 95 at-bats, but with just four of his 22 hits being singles, he's slugging .579. Draw any conclusions you want from this, but since Howie Kendrick moved up to the bigs, Erick Aybar is batting just .244. At least 2004 first-round pick Jered Weaver has been dominant in four of six starts, with a 46/6 K/BB ration in 35 IP despite still occasionally struggling against lefties. Acquired for Alberto Callaspo prior to the season, flamethrowing righthander Jason Bulger has 22 strikeouts in 14.2 innings, and has limited righthanded hitters to an .087 average. Although the back end of the Angels' bullpen has generally been outstanding, the struggles of Esteban Yan could open a slot for Bulger.

  • Double-A Arkansas (5-5; 13-16)

    Going back to the beginning of 2005, Brandon Wood has played in 163 regular season games and amassed 210 hits, 51 home runs and 141 RBI. However, his strikeout rate is up significantly this year (one per 2.9 ABs), the primary reason he's batting just .269. After allowing just one run over 17 innings in three starts for Rancho Cucamonga, hard-throwing righthander Rafael Rodriguez has given up 15 runs over 13 innings in three starts for the Travelers. Beginning the year in the closer role, former Southwest Missouri State star Bob Zimmerman began the year with four scoreless innings and a pair of saves in three games, but has a 16.50 ERA since, allowing 19 hits in 8.2 innings while striking out just three.

  • High-A Rancho Cucamonga (5-5; 16-14)

    In a pre-season look at potential league breakouts, I noted shortstop Sean Rodriguez and outfielder Drew Toussaint as a pair of Angels who could take a statistical jump forward in the friendly hitting confines of the California League. While Toussaint has struggled to keep his average above the Mendoza line, Rodrugez leads the Quakes in home runs (4) and total bases (57), and batting .339/.381/.523 despite an inexplicable bout of impatience at the plate. Entering the season with a career rate of one walk every 6.7 at-bats, Rodriguez has just four in 109 at-bats this year. Jose Arredondo is a 22-year-old Dominican righty in the process of becoming interesting. A converted shortstop, he's understandably raw, but he can get it up into the upper 90s, and has recorded 49 strikeouts in 31.1 innings.

  • Low-A Cedar Rapids (5-5; 15-15)

    The offense has little to talk about, as first baseman Mark Trumbo is hitting more like an 18th-round pick (.203/.256/.354) than an 18th-round pick who signed for nearly $1.5 million. The rotation is where it's at for the Kernels, as Nick Adenhart continues to look like a $710,000 bargain with a 1.96 ERA in six starts, and Tommy Mendoza (2.95 ERA in six starts) continues to look like a fifth-round steal. Stephen Marek has posted a 2.75 ERA, and continues to flash one of the best fastballs in the Midwest League.

Oakland Athletics

  • Triple-A Sacramento (2-8; 13-17)

    As impressive as Jeremy Brown's .333/.400/.507 start is, more impressive still has been his defense. He's thrown out eight of 16 potential base stealers, a huge improvement over his allowing 111 stolen bases last year while nailing just 23 percent. With that going for him, he might get to the big leagues before top prospect Daric Barton, who started off gangbusters but is currently in a 4-for-32 slump. In 2004, outfielder Matt Watson hit .305/.377/.515 for the RiverCats, last year he hit .315/.404/.516, and this year he's batting .324/.409/.523. Unfortunately, he's 27, limited to left field, and he bombed in a brief big league cameo last year. Lefthander Dan Meyer's 3.73 ERA is a significant improvement from last year's debacle, but with 16 strikeouts in 31.1 innings, he's still a shadow of his former prospect self.

  • Double-A Midland (7-3; 18-12)

    Catcher Kurt Suzuki hit .277/.378/.440 last year for Stockton, and was seen as a good-not-great hitting catcher with good-not-great defensive skills behind the plate. The former College World Series hero for Cal State Fullerton has taken a step forward in both regards, batting .330/.443/.477 while nailing more than half (12 of 22) of opposing stolen base attempts. Suzuki's battery mate with the Titans, righthander Jason Windsor, had a 5.71 ERA in 11 starts for Midland last year before going down with a sore arm. He's bounced back early this season, allowing just two runs over 18 innings in his last three starts. Nobody can accuse righty Brad Ziegler of not making adjustments. On May 2, he gave up six home runs to Tulsa in three innings, and five days later he limited them to four hits over seven shutout innings.

  • High-A Stockton (5-5; 15-16)

    The Ports roster is filled with both good stories and disappointments. A 2005 first-round pick, Travis Buck is a fantastic hitter, but his lack of power made his profile as a left fielder a little cloudy. His three home runs in 110 at-bats isn't drawing any Albert Pujols comparisons, but he is batting .345 and leads the minor leagues with 15 doubles. Outfielder Richie Robnett has returned to Stockton this season, and he's improving his plate control, striking out 27 times in 117 at-bats after whiffing 151 times last year. After missing all of 2005 recovering from major knee surgery, 2004 first-round pick Landon Powell has been fantastic both at the plate (.296/.363/.519) and behind it, throwing out a remarkable 17 of 28 potential base stealers. On the bad side we have Oakland's top pick last June, shortstop Cliff Pennington. Pennington had four hits on Sunday, and that raised his average to .150, because he started the season 11-for-94 (.117).

  • Low-A Kane County (5-5; 17-13)

    It's amazing how much a few in-person views can fool you, and here's a split you'll never see anywhere else. In games I've attended, 2005 6th-round pick Justin Sellers is 9-for-13 with a pair of doubles. In his other 26 games, he's 15-for-91 (.165), so I'll stop raving about him. Two-thirds of the team's much-hyped teenage trio--Vince Mazzaro and Craig Italiano--have been both impressive and inconsistent, while the third, Jared Lansford, fired five shutout innings in his season debut last week.

Seattle Mariners

  • Triple-A Tacoma (5-5; 16-12)

    The Mariners have been very aggressive with their assignments this year, and a pair of prospects who started last year at Low-A Wisconsin are now starting for the Rainiers. Catcher Rob Johnson has stuggled (.277/.299/.338), but shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera continues to excite. Just 20 years old, Cabrera is not only hitting .327/.450/.490, but he's also played error-free baseball, going 17 games and 79 chances without a miscue. Center fielder Adam Jones' power continues to blossom, with six home runs in 96 at-bats, but he remains raw, both at his new position and in his approach at the plate (21/2 K/BB ratio).

  • Double-A San Antonio (5-5; 11-17)

    After a breakout season in the California League (.310/.373/.510) last year, first baseman Bryan LaHair continues to mash (.340/.426/.600), just not against lefthanders (.222 with one extra-base hit). Catcher Jeff Clement was off to a nice start (.288/.386/.525) before going down with some minor surgery. With Kenji Johjima inked, it's not like he needed to be rushed through the system anyway. Notice how I've gotten through the Mariners upper level teams without mentioning a pitcher? It's for a reason.

  • High-A Inland Empire (5-5; 17-13)

    The 66ers feature one of the best one-two bullpen punches in the minor leagues, as Mark Lowe and Stephen Kahn have combined for 65 strikeouts in 42 innings while allowing just 18 hits. Understandably, both could be in Double-A soon. After a horrible start, shortstop Matt Tuiasosopo is 16-for-38 (.421) in his last nine games, raising his season average above .300, but his overall numbers remain poor (.305/.348/.390). Infielder Yung-Chi Chen has always hit for average, and is batting .347 this year, but like Tuiasosopo, his on-base skills (.368 OBP with just three walks in 101 at-bats) could use some work.

  • Low-A Wisonsin (5-5; 14-16)

    Move along, nothing to see here. Outfielder Michael Saunders (.260/.361/.340) and infielder Luis Valbuena (.225/.350/.304) have done little after impressive half-seasons for Everett in the Northwest League last year. At least lefthander Harold Williams has been dominant out of the bullpen, striking out 32 over 20.1 innings while allowing just 11 hits, but he's walked 18.

Texas Rangers

  • Triple-A Oklahoma (1-9; 9-21)

    The team is in the midst of a nine-game losing streak, as slugger Jason Botts has stopped hitting (6-for-32 during the streak), shortstop Joaquin Arias is off to another slow start (.248/.280/.327), and the already-shaky pitching staff has faltered. Edison Volquez (5.23) continues to stuggle along with his DVD brethren down at Frisco. John Rheinecker's 3.81 ERA leads the rotation, but he's allowed 38 hits in 28.1 innings.

  • Double-A Frisco (6-4; 16-13)

    The Rangers may have finally found a way to get something out of 2003 fourth-round pick Wes Littleton. After struggling last year in the bullpen, he's allowed just one earned run in 11 appearances, and been effective against both lefties and righties. A pair of players who impressed in Bakersfield last year, outfielder Kevin Mahar (.215/.270/.409) and third baseman Travis Metcalf (.247/.344/.395) have both fallen back to earth. While John Danks had his best start of the year on Friday, striking out ten over six one-run innings to lower his ERA to 5.97, Thomas Diamond has also been struggling (4.70 ERA), racking up strikeouts (30 in 23 innings) in bunches, but also walks (20).

  • High-A Bakersfield (4-6; 12-18)

    The Rangers converted Emerson Frostad to catcher this year, and he's been pretty impressive behind the plate while his bat has also taken off (.286/.382/.597). He's already 23 years old, so he's well behind the standard development curve, but he's worthy of some mild interest. Only 20, righthander Eric Hurley gets overshadowed by the Rangers' upper-level pitchers, but he has a 2.27 ERA in six starts, and his stuff ranks right there with any of them.

  • Low-A Clinton (4-6; 10-12)

    The Rangers look like they were right about 2005 first-round pick John Mayberry's power potential, as he's slugged five home runs in 74 at-bats, but he's also batting .230 with 27 strikeouts. After being picked in the second round of 2005, Johnny Wittleman had a .393 on-base percentage in his pro debut, but he has also disappointed people with a .233/.336/.359 start.

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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