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June 13, 2006

Future Shock

Division Roundup, AL East, 6/13/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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Baltimore Orioles

  • Triple-A Ottawa (5-5 in last 10 games; 31-33 overall)

    There just isn't much here to talk about. Their best hitter is failed Arizona prospect Luis Terrero (.314/.357/.514), and the two best hitters after that are 32-year-old Andy Tracy (.253/.339/.480) and Fernando Tatis (.289/.354/.428)-- and it's easy to forget he was the ninth best hitter in the National League (by VORP) in 1999. As far as pitching goes, forget about it, although relievers Eddy Rodrigeuz (0.34 ERA in 26.1 innings) and Julio Manon (27 Ks in 20.1 IP), each of who already have had a look this year, both have a chance to be usable, but are not future stars.

  • Double-A Bowie (3-7; 27-34)

    More "veteran leadership" here, as the BaySox don't have a regular position player under the age of 24 except for Jeff Fiorentino, who has been a massive disappointment (.204/.286/.354) this year. With lefty Adam Loewen now up in the big leagues (and getting hit pretty hard), the pitching staff is weak. Highly-regarded righty Brian Finch has a 3.30 ERA, but his 43/30 K/BB ratio in 71 innings is a disturbing indicator.

  • High Class A Frederick (2-8; 25-38)

    Nick Markakis is still in the major leagues (even though he should be in Triple-A, but I digress), so outfielder Nolan Reimold is the best hitter in the system, with .304/.435/.538 averages thanks to power (16 doubles, nine home runs in 184) and patience (40 walks), although a strikeout rate of one per 3.3 at-bats is a little higher than one would like to see. He's been playing a little center field of late, but right field is likely his true position in the end. After getting off to arguably to hottest start of any pitcher in the minors, righthander Radhames Liz has returned from orbit, allowing 10 runs over 15 innings in his last three starts. His numbers on the season (80 strikeouts in 64 innings, allowing 39 hits) remain sick.

  • Low Class A Delmarva (4-6; 35-26)

    Last year's first-round pick Brandon Snyder had a sparkling debut in 2005, batting .291/.386/.488 at Bluefield and Aberdeen, but since coming off the disabled list with a shoulder strain, he's 6-for-39 (.154), dropping his averages to .206/.248/.359. In his last three starts, Brandon Erbe has allowed six hits in 15 innings while striking out 21, and on the season he's allowed one or zero earned runs in eight of 12 outings. Keep in mind that he was 17 when drafted, and does not turn 19 until Christmas day. Drafted in 2003 but in his first full season league, reliever James Hoey has a great name and equally great numbers, with 42 strikeouts in 26.1 innings.

Boston Red Sox

  • Triple-A Pawtucket (7-3; 31-31)

    One gets the feeling that Boston is showcasing David Murphy, who was bumped up from Portland after hitting a so-so .273/.315/.436. In 16 games with the PawSox, Murphy's bat has taken off (.339/.429/.661), and the fact that he can play center could make him an attractive trade chit. It's too early to say Dustin Pedroia (.271/.357/.376) has solved Triple-A pitching, but he is 12-for-33 (.364) in his last eight games. Jon Lester's call up to start in a double header was partly well-deserved, as the lefty had a 1.29 ERA in his last seven starts, but the stretching out process has been slow, as he's yet to go more than five innings this year due to conservative pitch counts.

  • Double-A Portland (9-1; 36-22)

    The search for Brandon Moss' bat enters year number two, as the left-handed hitting outfielder who hit .353 in 2004 is 14-for-37 (.387) in his last 12 games, but just .229/.288/.367 overall. Third baseman Chad Spann (.292/.376/.432) is one of their best performers, but he's going to need to find either some power (three home runs in 185 at-bats) or extreme plate discipline to become a prospect again. The Sea Dogs' top pitcher is David Pauley, and he pitched this weekend for the big league club. He has excellent command of stuff that is just good enough to project him as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

  • High Class A Wilmington (3-7; 29-35)

    2005 first-round pick Jacoby Ellsbury is receiving rave reviews from scouts, and with good reason. Since returning to the lineup three weeks ago from a strained quadriceps, the former Oregon State star is batting .377 in 20 games and .342/.411/.479 overall. Coco Crisp being signed through 2009 might be one year too long. Another first-round pick last year, shortstop Jed Lowrie, missed a month with an ankle sprain, but is 2-for-16 since his return and at just .213/.287/.287 overall on the season. Outfielder Jeff Corsaletti got some attention last year for hitting .357/.429/.490 last year after signing as a sixth-round pick out of Florida, but he's leveled off at .248/.368/.362. Not much interesting on the mound for the Blue Rocks, although organizational reliever Kyle Jackson has put up some big numbers, with 52 strikeouts in 36 innings and just 18 hits allowed.

  • Low Class A Greenville (7-3; 33-29)

    With 2005 32nd-round pick Jeff Natale's dominance (.343/.487/.571) coming to an end with a promotion to Wilmington, there's still a sleeper around in catcher Mark Wagner, who has some decent all-around tools and is batting .308/.360/.503. Both high picks Last June, righthanders Michael Bowden and Clay Buchholz have both been brilliant at times, with Bowden compiling a 64/9 K/BB ratio in 52 innings and Buchholz at 56/11 in 47.1.

New York Yankees

  • Triple-A Columbus (3-7; 25-37)

    The everyday outfield includes Terrence Long and Rob Stratton, and no, I didn't just make that up. Have I mentioned that the infield includes Russ Johnson and former Mets castoff Danny Garcia? The only real prospects on this team were Melky Cabrera, who's playing decently (but no more) at the big league level, and overrated corner infielder Eric Duncan, who hit .209/.279/.255 without a home run in 110 at-bats before getting injured, which gave the Yankees a convenient excuse to send him back to Double-A. Meanwhile, the Yankees have a pretty interesting reliever in T.J. Beam, who thrived in a move to the bullpen last year and has 12 strikeouts in six innings after putting up a 0.86 ERA in 18 games at Trenton. He's not special, but he's serviceable, and certainly a better option than Scott Erickson.

  • Double-A Trenton (4-6; 31-31)

    The good news is Eric Duncan is 5-for-17 with a pair of home runs since returning to Trenton. Small sample size warnings implied, of course. Kevin Howard had a nice year in 2005 with Cincinnati and moved to New York in the groundbreaking Tony Womack deal, but he's dipped to .217/.278./.344, dimming his possible future as a utility player. While Philip Hughes (4.46 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) has hit a bit of a bump in the road since his promotion to Double-A, righthander Tyler Clippard, who had a 3.18 ERA at Tampa last year with 169 strikeouts in 147 innings, has been frustratingly inconsistent all year. He's allowed two or fewer earned runs in half of his 12 starts, but six or more runs three times, including eight in just one inning last time out. The result is just 52 hits allowed in 63 innings with 59 strikeouts, but a seemingly incongruous 5.29 ERA.

  • High Class A Tampa (5-5; 30-31)

    It's been a tough year in the Florida State League, as outfielder Brett Gardner (.335/.444/.436) is the only starter with an OPS over .800. With 41 walks in 218 at-bats and 28 stolen bases, he has leadoff man potential. After that, it's a parade of disappointments, as outfielder Tim Battle (.133/.184/.188), shortstop Eduardo Nunez (.184/.223/.340) and infielder Marcos Vechionacci (.178/.242/.237) have all found themselves demoted to Charleston after slow starts. Righty Alan Horne has 67 strikeouts in 55.2 innings with only 44 hits allowed, but his ERA is 4.85 thanks to 31 walks and Clippard-esque consistentcy.

  • Low Class A Charleston (7-3; 33-30)

    If Venezuelan outfielder Jose Tabata were American, he wouldn't be eligible for the draft until 2007--instead he's batting .312/.372/.473 for the River Dogs, which becomes more impressive the more you think about it. In April he drew just two walks and whiffed 20 times in 90 at-bats, and since then he has 12 walks and 22 strikeouts in 115 ABs. Leadoff man Austin Jackson (.272/.366/.377) continues to show surprising polish, while 2005 first-round pick C.J. Henry (.230/.324/.385) has not lived up to expectations. For a quick lesson on why short-season statistics are about as dependable as college stats, check out last year's New York-Penn League champ Staten Island's dominating pitchers and what they're doing this year at Charleston.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

  • Triple-A Durham (3-7; 30-32)

    Elijah Dukes (.310/.407/.547) is the team's best hitter, but the non-baseball issues remain, leaving Dukes nearly untradable and unpromotable. Shortstop B.J. Upton's error count is at 24 (still too high), and he's been solid-but-unspectacular at the plate (.272/.377/.396). It seems like something needs to be done here, but I honestly don't have a good suggestion. The good news for the struggling Bulls is that Delmon Young returns to the lineup next week. Righthander Edwin Jackson (5.93 ERA) allowed one run over seven innings on Sunday, continuing his trend of teasing the big club with his talent once a month.

  • Double-A Montgomery (3-7; 33-31)

    Second baseman Elliot Johnson gets little attention as a non-drafted player, but the 22-year-old has plus speed, solid hitting skills and is batting .283/.344/.498 while on pace for a 20-20 season. From the way-back machine comes outfielder Michael Coleman (.237/.311/.417) who was a hot prospect in the Red Sox system back when Pavement was still releasing masterpieces. 2004 first-round pick and perpetually injured righty Jeff Niemann makes his season debut on Saturday... until we're told otherwise.

  • High Class A Visalia (6-4; 30-33)

    Shortstop Reid Brignac continues to rake at the plate (.322/.371/.545) and struggle in the field (20 errors). Catcher John Jaso had a breakout campaign last year at Southwest Michigan, and is batting .327 this year, but both his power (four home runs in 162 at-bats) and patience (14 walks), have taken a significant downturn. The Oaks have three starting pitchers with ERAs over 5.50, but keep an eye on James Houser, who has a 3.52 ERA and plus velocity for a lefty. Houser hasn't lost for a month and has a 1.65 ERA in his last five starts.

  • Low Class A Southwest Michigan (5-5; 31-32)

    The worst offense in the Midwest League, the little Devil Rays are batting a composite .228/.301/.304 while averaging 3.27 runs per game. The reason the team is nearly .500 is starting pitching, particularly the 1-2-3 punch of Wade Davis, Jacob McGee and Mike Wlodarcyzk. Davis, a righthander, and McGee, a lefty, are both real power-pitching prospects, with the former striking out 84 in 65 innings, and the latter punching out 90 in 71.2. At 23, Wlodarcyzk is significantly older than his two rotation mates, and hasn't missed as many bats (63 Ks in 73.2 IP), but he's more than just a finesse/command guy--he has a low-90s fastball and big-breaking curve that seems to fall out of the sky.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Triple-A Syracuse (6-4; 28-35)

    Russ Adams was batting .338/.400/.500 in 17 games since getting sent down, which was good enough to get him called back up. There's really not much here in hitting prospects, as one of their best performances belong to outfielder Chad Mottola (.268/.327/.474), the fifth overall pick fourteen years ago. Former Arizona first-round pick Sergio Santos is in the midst of an 18-game hitting streak, but that only brings his averages up to .263/.283/.376. Returning to the big leagues with Adams is reliever Vinny Chulk, who allowed 11 hits over 20.1 innings while striking out 24. Brandon League, as always, still gets hit (43 hits in 39.2 innings) far too much for somebody with his stuff, which annoys me, but I'm sure it annoys the Blue Jays much, much more.

  • Double-A New Hampshire (6-4; 27-33)

    Catcher Curtis Thigpen is having an injury-plagued year, but when he's healthy, he hits, including a .342 mark in his last 20 games and overall averages of .288/.386/.496. Meanwhile, last year's breakout player in the Blue Jays system, first baseman Chip Cannon, has hit a bit of a wall at Double-A (.237/.330/.434). The pitching staff is interesting in that they are fourth in the league with an impressive 3.37 ERA, yet they are last in the league in strikeouts. The key is that they are last in the league in walks allowed, which means the staff is dominated by command/control/finesse types who don't really project well in the big leagues. If you want to pitch in the majors, you'd better have an out pitch.

  • High Class A Dunedin (3-7; 34-29)

    Everyone knows outfielder Ryan Patterson (.302/.346/.502) can hit, but he's 23, and we're not going to know if it's enough for an everyday corner job until he gets to Double-A. Center fielder Dustin Majewski has almost equally good numbers (.275/.397/.465), but at 24 is even older than Patterson--the fact that he's a good center fielder helps his projection at least a little bit. One of the few pitchers of note here is 2005 first-round pick Ricky Romero, who has a 2.50 ERA in seven starts and a nifty 41/9 K/BB ration in 39.2 innings.

  • Low Class A Lansing (5-5; 38-24)

    It's a winning team, but it's like one of those old Kane County teams that the A's used to throw out there--a bunch of guys 3-5 years older than the competition, so it's hard to say they're prospects. For example, their best hitter, outfielder Corey Patton (.305/.354/.525) turns 24 next week, so I'm not sure what we are learning about him by watching him play in the Midwest League. As far as relatively young players go, toolsy outfielder Yuber Rodriguez (.222/.321/.296) is still just toolsy.

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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