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June 20, 2006

Future Shock

Division Roundup, NL East, 6/20/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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Atlanta Braves

  • Triple-A Richmond (0-10; 26-44 overall)

    Not only has the team lost ten games in a row, they've lost their only offensive threat, as Atlanta promoted Scott Thorman to replace the injured Brian Jordan. At .324/.394/.570, the Canadian slugger is very similar in size and skill set to fellow Canuck Justin Morneau, and earned a slot after batting .419 with six home runs in 16 June games. With Joe Sheehan recently explaining that the Braves really are out of it, Thorman deserves a chance to see what he can do as an everyday player, be it in left field or at first base, where Adam LaRoche has had plenty of time to prove he'll be more than adequate and continuously come up short. How bad is the Richmond offense without Thorman? Among current starters, outfielder Bill McCarthy (.263/.321/.380) has the highest OPS. The fact that Lance Cormier had to make a start for the big league club on Saturday shows you just how well the starters at Richmond are doing (i.e. not well).

  • Double-A Mississippi (4-6; 31-38)

    More bad news for Braves fans, as while there are some nice prospects in the system, they sure aren't close to the big leagues. Best hitter for their Double-A squad? 28-year-old first baseman Mike Rosamond (.264/.301/.552). That's an extremely disappointing answer for a team that has catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who entered the year as arguably the best catching prospect in the minors. Now he's hitting just .210/.319/.320 and hasn't gone deep in 39 games. Infielder Yuni Escobar's batting line of .282/.384/.378 looks a whole heckuva lot better if he's playing shortstop rather than third base, where he's been splitting his time lately. Righty Matt Wright's stock has been a yo-yo over the past few years, but it's back on the up, as the 24-year-old has a 1.90 ERA in 11 games with more than a strikeout per inning, including a string of allowing just two runs over 30.1 innings in his last five starts.

  • High Class A Myrtle Beach (6-4; 35-35)

    Outfielder Brandon Jones was a trendy pick for a breakout season based on his tools, and he got off to a quick start for the Pelicans, but is 4-for-38 (.105) in his last eleven games, dropping his season averages to .257/.329/.420. Second baseman J.C. Holt was a third-round pick in 2004 and has top of the line speed, but that's not of much use when you're batting .217/.296/.261. Big lefthander Matt Harrison has a 2.59 ERA in 12 starts, but his low strikeout total (58 in 76.1 IP this year) has always been a concern.

  • Low Class A Rome (3-7; 42-28)

    At some point, we might have to start taking first baseman Kala Kaaihue (.333/.461/.622) seriously, but I'm not going to until he does it in a second year. More impressive for me has been catcher Maximiliano Ramirez (.294/.406/.467) and third baseman Eric Campbell (.299/.335/.504) who are both doing well (while playing premium positions, too) after big seasons at Danville in 2005. A second-round pick in 2003, 21-year-old southpaw Jo-Jo Reyes has been slow to develop, but has a 2.99 ERA in 13 starts with 84 whiffs in 75.1 innings. He has plus velocity for a lefty, so it's not getting done with smoke and mirrors.

Florida Marlins

  • Triple-A Albuquerque (2-8; 38-33)

    If you are a career 4A kind of guy, Albuquerque is a nice stop to pad the resume; just ask 31-year-old Scott Seabol (.316/.385/.613), 33-year-old Mike Kinkade (.354/.425/.505) and 36-year-old Jason Wood (.313/.370/.522). Among actual prospects, perpetually injured first baseman Jason Stokes (.246/.324/.410) got off to a nice start, then went into a 5-for-43 slump and landed on the DL (again), this time with a back injury. The team's best starter has been ex-Cub Renyel Pinto, who has a 2.93 ERA in 11 starts with 57 strikeouts in 55.1 innings, but needs to learn how control his big-breaking curveball better, as over five walks per nine rarely earns you an important phone call late at night.

  • Double-A Carolina (5-5; 32-38)

    The lineup is nearly sans prospects, which allows me to mention that infielder Rex Rundgren (.216/.266/.243) is Todd Rundgren's kid. I just found out (believe me, at 37, you start realizing that CNN's crap is more important than Spin Magazine's crap) that Todd is now fronting "The New Cars," which is three-fifths of the old "The Cars," only missing Ben Orr (who is dead) and Ric Ocasek (who has better things to do, like produce indy rock bands and snuggle with Paulina Porizkova). There should be a law against this, but I've already gotten way too far away from baseball as it is. There is some good news on the mound, though while Anibal Sanchez has 86 strikeouts in 76.2 innings, he's been far more hittable (75 allowed) than in the past. Sleeper alert: keep an eye on Dominican righty Jose Garcia. Just 21 years old, Garcia had a 1.87 ERA in 77 innings for Jupiter, and has given up just one earned run over 12.2 innings since his promotion to the Southern League. He's undersized at 5-foot-11, but his stuff is plenty big, with a low 90s fastball and a plus changeup.

  • High Class A Jupiter (5-5; 29-37)

    Every year, some college guy rips up Low A ball and we all get a little too excited. Then he moves up a level and that's the end of that. 2005's version was first baseman Brad McCann, who hit .295/.355/.552 for Greensboro last year, but now is at .226/.278/.342 in 59 Florida State League games. I have to bring him up, as the Hammerheads' lineup isn't much more impressive than Carolina's, on either a performance or prospect level. There are more disappointments on the mound, as former Met Gaby Hernandez has a 4.07 ERA in 14 games, though he has recorded nearly a strikeout per inning, while 2005 first-round pick Jacob Marceaux has a 4.20 ERA in 11 starts and has gone more than four innings just five times.

  • Low Class A Greensboro (4-6; 36-34)

    First baseman Gaby Sanchez is raking at a whopping .317/.447/.603 rate, but before you get too excited, go back about 100 words and re-read what I said about McCann. I've made much of the quartet of 2005 first-round picks in the rotation, but giant (6-foot-8) lefthander Sean West is starting to pull away from the pack in terms of performance. In nine games, he's held the opponent scoreless five times, including three of his last four--compiling a 1.26 ERA in the process and limiting left handed hitters to a 2-for-30 mark with 15 punchouts.

New York Mets

  • Triple-A Norfolk (5-5; 28-42)

    The everyday lineup for the Tides includes Michael Tucker (.250/.340/.379) and Jose Offerman (.238/.341/.371). The bad news (and you thought that was already the bad news) is that the pair are two of the team's top performers. I never root for the failure of a prospect, despite popular belief, but I'm glad that the deluges of e-mails from last year telling me that I'm underselling Chase Lambin (.232/.331/.309) have come to an end. The 18th overall pick in the 2002 draft, lefthander Royce Ring came over in the 2003 version of the Roberto Alomar trade, and was generally considered a bust. Never count out lefties, however, especially ones who throw hard. Since returning from the disabled list in early May, Ring has rolled off 14 straight scoreless appearances, allowing just five hits in 16.2 innings while striking out 20. Left-handed hitters are just 3-for-34 against him this year, and he could have some value to the big club down the stretch.

  • Double-A Binghamton (6-4; 30-39)

    Congratulations Corey Ragsdale! You're the first minor league player to reach 100 strikeouts! A second-round pick in 2001, Ragsdale is not without tools--he has good range, a canon for an arm, and when he makes contact, it's generally pretty good contact, as he slugged 19 home runs last year. He also whiffed 169 times in 500 at-bats, and that trend has only gotten worse in his first full season at Binghamton, as he's batting .181/.250/.266 including an 8-for-65 (.123) run in his last 17 games with 31 whiffs. Ouch. The Mike Pelfrey watch is back in full effect; last year's first-round pick has returned from a tough start following his promotion to Double-A by allowing four earned runs over 25 innings in his last four starts, striking out 30. Mets fans might want to start a Henry Owens watch, as well. Back from the disabled list, Owens has pitched five scoreless innings in June with eight whiffs, running his sick season totals to 41 strikeouts in 19.2 innings while allowing six hits and six walks.

  • High Class A St. Lucie (5-5; 38-29)

    In recently discussing the exploits of catcher Jesus Flores (.257/.323/.505), I've left myself with little to talk about offensively. Now that outfielder Ambiorix Concepcion is 22, his .297/.353/.398 line becomes simply marginal, while time has seemingly run out on guys like Jamar Hill (.250/.299/417) and Alhaji Turay (.210/.248/.312). The second half should be pretty tough for the team, as they've lost their top two starters in Pelfrey and Alay Soler, leaving Michael Devaney as their ace. To Devaney's credit, he has a 1.81 ERA in 13 starts, but his stuff is marginal.

  • Low Class A Hagerstown (5-5; 28-42)

    The best story all year at Hagerstown was wunderkind outfielder Fernandez Martinez, as the 17-year-old Dominican has hit .321/.383/.480... when he's been healthy. After missing nearly a month with a thumb injury, Martinez lasted all of three games before he injured his knee sliding into second base last week. The injury will not require surgery, but is fairly serious and will keep him out until August. 2005 fourth-round pick Hector Pellot has hit just .185/.288/.249, including a 12-for-77 (.156) mark in his last 20 games; he has a grand total of one RBI in his last 26 games. 19-year-old lefty Jon Niese has 80 strikeouts in 66.1 innings, but also 37 walks, including 16 in his last 23 innings.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (4-6; 37-33)

    Chris Roberson put up nice numbers in each of the last two seasons, but because he was always a little old for his level, he needed to keep performing to maintain his prospect status. At 26 years of age and with a batting line of .288/.339/.379, he's taken a major dip and is on the verge of earning 4A status along with teammates Josh Kroeger (.230/.275/.356) and Joe Thurston (.283/.349/.438). Back in the minors (again), righthander Gavin Floyd pitched a complete game in his first start, went seven solid innings five days later, but allowed five runs over six innings on Saturday.

  • Double-A Reading (4-6; 28-40)

    Speedy center fielder Michael Bourn (.271/.346/.344) will never hit for power, and while he has drawn 30 walks in 273 at-bats, he'll need to step up the rate or become a .300 hitter to become anything more than a fourth outfielder. Not much else to discuss here, as 28-year-old outfielder Matt Padgett (.274/.380/.429), who began the year in the Cubs system, is the only starter with an OPS over .800. Righthander Scott Mathieson had a 1.62 ERA in his last five starts with 36 strikeouts in 28.2 innings, and deserved Saturday's big league start over lefty Gio Gonzalez, who had a 1.48 ERA in April, followed by 3.31 in May and 6.38 in four June starts.

  • High Class A Clearwater (5-5; 30-36)

    Another bad offense, as nearly 25-year-old minor league veteran Brian Burgamy (.276/.387/.443) is the only starter with an OPS over .756 as 2005 top pick Mike Costanzo (.257/.340/.378) and Australian shortstop Brad Harman (.232/.320/.307) represent major slides. The good news is that Costanzo is hitting .340 in June--the bad news is that he hasn't homered since May 28 and has struck out once every 3.23 at-bats. Lefty J.A. Happ struck out a season-high 10 on June 6 and seems ready for Double-A, which is a test we'll need to see him pass before we can trust his fringy stuff.

  • Low Class A Lakewood (7-3; 37-32)

    The team's best hitter is former Georgia Tech star Jeremy Slayden (.310/.385/.494), but he's a nearly 24-year-old corner outfielder with just three home runs in 158 at-bats--so move along, nothing to see here. Outfielder Greg Golson is hitting .258 in June, and that's brought him over the Mendoza line at .208/.246/.316, still well off expectations for a first-round pick repeating the level. 2005 third-round pick Matt Maloney has a miniscule 1.56 ERA in 13 starts and 93 strikeouts in 80.2 innings, and has gone 11 straight games while allowing two or fewer earned runs while going six or more innings. He's ready for the next level, and like Happ, we need to see him tested against competition more in line with Maloney's age to evaluate exactly what the Phillies have here.

Washington Nationals

  • Triple-A New Orleans (3-7; 37-34)

    If Nick Johnson's back troubles prove to be more problematic than originally expected, it could mean the major league debut for first baseman Larry Broadway, as the 2002 third-round pick is batting a career high .340 as part of a .340/.390/.504 line, but he's still searching for his power swing (seven home runs in 250 at-bats). Ryan Church is batting just .207/.318/.348, which isn't exactly helping his chances of getting back to the big leagues. Righthander Pedro Astacio is trying to see if he still has it, and a 6.43 ERA in three starts and trio of cortisone shots instead of a start this weekend seems to indicate that the answer is no.

  • Double-A Harrisburg (8-2; 38-30)

    Third baseman Kory Casto is the hottest hitter in the system, batting .414 in 15 June games with 23 RBI and 13 walks in 58 at-bats, upping his season averages to .302/.420/.539. With Ryan Zimmerman entrenched at the big league level, Casto is at the wrong position, but the Nats think he has the ability to become an offensive second baseman. As far as the pitching for the Senators, if you can't say something nice...

  • High Class A Potomac (4-6; 33-37)

    After crashing (.182/.214/.231) in 37 games following an over-aggressive assignment at Harrisburg, shortstop Ian Desmond is doing much better (.245/.297/.351) playing where he belongs, but he's not exactly setting the world on fire. Three of the top pitching prospects in the system are at Potomac, and it has been a pretty massive disappointment so far, as 2002 first-round pick Clint Everts has a 5.76 ERA in 12 starts, and 2005 breakout player Collin Ballester is even worse at 6.44 in 12 starts. Meanwhile, lefty Mike Hinckley is showing some signs of life lately, allowing three runs over 19.2 innings in his last three starts to lower his ERA to 3.98.

  • Low Class A Savannah (4-6; 28-42)

    Outfielder Justin Maxwell needed to stay healthy, but he's been available for only 17 games this year, and when he actually is in the lineup, he doesn't hit (.172/.294/.328). He's heading to Vermont to try to figure things out in the New York-Penn League. Donald Levinski became a pretty interesting prospect in 2002 when he had a 3.02 ERA in 119.1 innings at Low Class A Clinton with 125 strikeouts in 119.1 innings. He struggled at High Class A Jupiter in 2003 after being traded to the Marlins, and what was shaky control upgraded to a case of the yips following a trade to Baltimore, as he walked 73 in 86.2 innings in the Orioles system while giving up 106 hits. All but given up on, Levinski has been pitching out of the Savannah bullpen since late June, and given up just four hits over 12.1 innings while striking out 13... but walking eight.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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