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May 16, 2006

Future Shock

NL West Roundup

by Kevin Goldstein

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Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Triple-A Tucson (6-4 in last 10 games; 19-19 overall)

    The Sidewinders roster is all about offensive prospects. As loaded as they are, their best hitter statistically has been outfielder Scott Hairston, who has seemingly worn out his welcome with the Diamondbacks but is hitting .301/.389/.559. First baseman Chris Carter is highly unorthodox and about as athletic as I am, but he's also 22-for-45 in his last 13 games, raising his averages to .318/.397/.473. I get the feeling that at some point in the next two years, there's going to be a "Free Chris Carter" campaign started by somebody, with t-shirts and coffee mugs and all that, but that'll turn out to be about as smart as the "Free Jack Cust" campaign was, as the players are highly similar. On of the weirdest lines currently belongs to outfielder Chris Young. After hitting 26 home runs at always-tough-to-go-yard Birmingham last year, and striking out 129 times in 466 at-bats, Young has just one homer in 51 at-bats, but also just five strikeouts. It's a weird, and likely temporary, metamorphosis.

  • Double-A Tennessee (5-5; 17-21)

    Going into 2005, two of the top hitting prospects in the Arizona system were outfielder Jon Zeringue and corner infielder Jamie D'Antona. Both hit a wall at Double-A in 2005, as Zeringue hit .241/.283/.342 and D'Antona batted just .249/.322/.385. While Zeringue's stall (.226/.297/.321) has continued, D'Antona has at least found his power stroke--with nine home runs in 106 at-bats, D'Antona has already matched last year's season total. The bad news is that he's batting just .226. On the pitching side, righty Garrett Mock continues to be far too hittable (5.73 ERA, 55 hits in 44 innings) for a pitcher with his kind of power stuff, but 2005 third-round pick Micah Owings (2.70 ERA in seven starts) looks like the real deal.

  • High-A Lancaster (4-6; 13-24)

    Carlos Gonzalez is off to a somewhat disappointing start at .274/.343/.460, as his strikeout rate has ballooned from one every six at-bats last year to one every four. The JetHawk starting rotation is one of the most mixed bags in baseball. Greg Smith (1.94 ERA) is proving that fringy stuff from the left side works much better than A.J. Shappi's (9.00 ERA, 67 hits in 37 innings) fringy stuff from the right. Lefty Matt Chico has more than a strikeout per inning, but it's also his third year in A-ball, while Kellen Raab (7.59 ERA) and Matt Green (9.00 ERA) are both still taking the mound every five days despite having both allowed more than two baserunners per inning.

  • Low Class A South Bend (6-4; 16-20)

    The team was all but completely prospect-free until the arrival of Justin Upton. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft is batting .300/.380/.400, and the only holes in his game are just one home run overall and a 3-for-22 (.136) mark against lefthanders, not that either is any sort of concern. It's hard to miss Ryan Doherty's 7-foot-1 presence in the bullpen when you see the Silver Hawks play--even when he's sitting, he's towering over the guy who's warming up. He has 20 strikeouts in 17 innings, but he went undrafted for a reason as he rarely touches 90 mph.

Colorado Rockies

  • Triple-A Colorado Springs (7-3; 15-22)

    First baseman Ryan Shealy has returned to the lineup, and has four home runs in 41 at-bats, but if he has any future, it better be soon, as he turns 27 at the end of the season. He's obviously blocked by Todd Helton in Colorado, and as a first-baseman only, he doesn't hold a lot of trade value. At least he gives the SkySox a prospect in the lineup. Now if only the pitching staff could find one.

  • Double-A Tulsa (4-6; 19-17)

    Top prospect Ian Stewart is in a funk, having gone homerless in 16 games; he's batting just .265/.353/.485 overall. Over the last two seasons, he's batting just .235 against lefthanded pitching with only two home runs in 170 at-bats, and if you think about it, the only time he's been dominant was in 2004 in hitting-friendly Asheville. I'm just saying... Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is batting .317, but his power (two home runs in 123 at-bats) has been a disappointment. Righthander Ubaldo Jimenez has some of the best stuff in the system, but his inconsistency remains an issue. He has 40 strikeouts in 31.2 innings, but also has a 4.26 ERA thanks to a pair of starts in which he's allowed 11 runs in 10 innings. In his other four outings, he has a 1.66 ERA.

  • High-A Modesto (6-4; 19-17)

    In 98 games as a pro, second baseman Corey Wimberly has 150 hits (.369 batting average), 81 runs scored, and 55 stolen bases, but he doesn't draw walks and he has virtually zero power, so he has to get a hit in one-third of his at-bats all the way up the ladder to be of value. In his last 162 games, outfielder Matt Miller has 37 home runs and 135 RBI, but he'll be 24 at the end of the year and has played in some awfully sweet hitting environments.

  • Low-A Asheville (7-3; 20-15)

    Outfielder Dexter Fowler has the best set of tools in the system, and playing in a full-season league for the first time, he's been most impressive, hitting for average (.318), showing a decent approach (.395 OBP), surprising power (17 XBH, .512 SLG) and expected speed (18 stolen bases). Shortstop Chris Nelson (.299/.351/.440) is bouncing back nicely from a miserable 2005 at the plate, but he's already committed 14 errors. I recently compared Wimberly to a young Eric Young while forgetting that the Rockies already had the perfect young Eric Young in none other than Eric Young Jr., who leads the minor leagues with 26 stolen bases, but does little else.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Triple-A Las Vegas (6-4; 23-14)

    It's a weird group at Las Vegas. There are plenty of good prospects to choose from, but for the most part, they all have some chinks in their armor. Willy Aybar (.358/.409/.585) has cooled down from a white-hot April, but he's already hit seven home runs, which is two more than he hit last season for Las Vegas in 108 games. The concern has always been a lack of power for Aybar's position--third base--and with just one home run in his last 11 games, those concerns are back in the picture. James Loney's 14-game stint in the big leagues may have jump-started his career. The 2002 first-round pick is batting .385 in 19 games, but has just one home run and a .123 ISO. Outfielder Joel Guzman seems to be working on his approach, drawing eight walks in his last 15 games after accumulating just two free passes in his first 21. After being lights-out in his first six starts of the year, righthander Chad Billingsley hit a bump in the road on May 9, allowing six runs in 1.1 innings against Memphis, but he bounced back on Sunday with nine strikeouts over five three-hit innings.

  • Double-A Jacksonville (6-4; 22-16)

    Matt Kemp's exploits were covered yesterday, but a pair of top prospects have been struggling for the Suns. Andy LaRoche (.255/.368/.343) has seen his power cut in half, as he now has one home run for every 33 at-bats at Double-A after bashing one per 16.6 at-bats before reaching the Southern League. Chin-Lung Hu is one of the best defensive shortstops in the minors, and has just one error this year, but after batting an encouraging .313/.347/.430 last year at Vero Beach, his OPS is currently at .625. Former top prospect Greg Miller continues to excel while pitching 2-to-3 innings out of the bullpen every four days. He's allowed a run to score in only one of ten appearances while giving up just ten hits in 22 innings.

  • High-A Vero Beach (3-7; 12-24)

    Last year, the stat-minded folks fell in love with Travis Denker for hitting .310/.417/.556, while scouts favored the picture-perfect hitting mechanics of Blake DeWitt, who hit a more pedestrian .283/.333/.428. They've flip-flopped defensive positions this year, with Denker moving to third base and DeWitt moving to second, where he won't be blocked. So far, DeWitt has been the one to take a step forward (.314/.378/.436), while Denker has fallen off the map (.214/.254/.282). Both sides could agree that lefty Scott Elbert was outstanding last year, and he continues to be so in the Florida State League, with a 2.21 ERA in seven starts.

  • Low-A Columbus (6-4; 18-18)

    Outfielder Sergio Pedroza is getting a lot of attention for his .308/481/.598 start, and with good reason, as he has eight home runs in 117 at-bats to go along with 32 walks. However, keep in mind that as a 22-year-old coming out of a big-time college program (Cal State Fullerton), Pedroza is expected to dominate in the Sally League, and will have to keep hitting at every level because, other than the bat, his other tools are sub-par. His strikeout rate of one per four at-bats is also a red flag. The most interesting arm at Columbus has been that of 6-foot-5 lefty Brent Leach. Leach pitches in the low 90s and has occasional control problems, but the 2005 6th-round pick has racked up 50 strikeouts in 36 innings.

San Diego Padres

  • Triple-A Portland (7-3; 21-16)

    Paul McAnulty is becoming interesting again, by not just hitting for average as always, but by jacking eight home runs in 108 at-bats. He might become useful just yet. Jack Cust is batting .267/.470/.571, but let's face it, he's still Jack Cust. Former No. 4 overall pick Tim Stauffer has never had the stuff as a pro that he showed in college at Richmond, and if anything he's taken a step backwards this year, allowing at least a run for every two innings in seven of eight starts to go with more than twice as many hits allowed (53) in 43.2 innings as strikeouts (22).

  • Double-A Mobile (2-8; 12-25)

    Catcher George Kottaras continues to hit and draw walks in bunches (.302/.431/.575), and despite a 14-game homerless streak, he's establishing himself as one of the top offensive catchers in the minors. The Padres were excited about the progress of Drew Macias last year at Lake Elsinore, and he's continued to hit (.327/.415/.478), though his lack of power and speed profile him as more of a solid fourth outfielder. Righthander Jared Wells led the California League in ERA last year, but his strikeout rate plummeted in seven starts for Mobile. This year, he has 28 strikeouts in 29.2 innings and a 2.12 ERA, but he's missed his last two starts with a hamstring injury.

  • High-A Lake Elsinore (6-4; 19-17)

    Despite a record only two games over .500, the Storm has the worst offense in the California League, averaging 4.4 runs per game with a team OPS of .700. After slugging nine home runs in 96 at-bats for Lake Elsinore last year, catcher Colt Morton has just two in 85 at-bats, and if he's not hitting home runs, he's pretty useless. Chase Headley has brought his outstanding plate discipline from college to the pros with 21 walks in 127 at-bats, but he's going to need to step up the average (.252) or power (.370 SLG) to profile as an everyday player. 2005 supplemental-first-round pick Cesar Ramos has a 2.54 ERA in seven starts, but he's allowed more than a hit per inning while striking out only 4.9 per nine--hardly the kind of numbers that promise future success.

  • Low-A Fort Wayne (6-4; 18-16)

    The are some interesting hitters with the Wizards, and only at first base. With both the gargantuan Kyle Blanks and the high-ceiling/little performance Daryl Jones both ready for a full-season assignment, the Padres have split the two between Fort Wayne's first base and designated hitter duties, and both have produced. Blanks is batting .343/.451/.559, and Jones is leading the team with five home runs while hitting .287/.403/.470. Both have drawn nearly two walks per ten at-bats and feature plenty of power potential. The one major disappointment so far in the Fort Wayne lineup has been catcher Nick Hundley, as the 2005 second-round pick is batting just .227 and has yet to go deep in 97 at-bats.

San Francisco Giants

  • Triple-A Fresno (2-8; 14-23)

    A 1-for-25 slump has dropped outfielder Fred Lewis' batting average nearly 80 points in eight days, but his ability to reach base (19 walks in 102 at-bats) keeps him in the leadoff spot. He should make his major league debut sometime this year. After being acquired from Philadelphia at the 2004 trade deadline for Felix Rodriguez, righthander Alfredo Simon has yet to find any success dealing his 90-plus fastball in the Giants' system. The 25-year-old Dominican has a 5.26 ERA in seven starts this year, while allowing 51 hits in 39.1 innings.

  • Double-A Connecticut (7-3; 21-13)

    The Defenders were expected to be one of the more interesting lineups in the minors after last year's powerhouse team at San Jose, but top hitters like Nate Schierholtz (two home runs in 122 at-bats), Eddy Martinez-Esteve (two in 92) and Travis Ishikawa (one in 80) are all looking for their power strokes. Luckily, the pitching staff has been outstanding, with a league-leading team ERA of 2.71. The bad news is that most of the successful arms are control/fringe guys. The exception is lefty Jonathan Sanchez, who has three times as many strikeouts (39) as hits allowed (13) in 27 innings, and has recently been moved to the bullpen to accelerate his timetable for the short term.

  • High-A San Jose (7-3; 24-11)

    Like the Double-A squad, San Jose has been disappointing at the plate but outstanding on the mound. The biggest letdown has been infielder Marcus Sanders, who is batting just .194/.286/.272 in 27 games after putting up a .300/.400/.407 line in his full-season debut last year. Nick Pereira could prove to be an interesting find from the tenth round of the 2005 draft, getting picked from the team's own backyard. Pereira didn't begin pitching until his sophomore year at the University of San Francisco, and he's recorded over a strikeout per inning while limiting opposing batters to a .190 average.

  • Low-A Augusta (8-2; 20-14)

    The Giants haven't had many high draft picks of late, so there's not much to talk about here. As a fourth-round pick last year, outfielder Ben Copeland was actually the Giants' top selection in last year's draft. He hit a solid .315/.372/.514 in his pro debut, but he's off to a disappointing .265/.327/.353 start for the GreenJackets.

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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