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June 27, 2006

Future Shock

AL West Division Roundup, 6/27/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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Los Angeles Angels

  • Triple-A Salt Lake (8-2 in last 10 games; 45-31 overall)

    The team is loaded with big names that get plenty of attention, and with good reason, but it's time to talk about some other players on the team who are still pretty decent prospects. Let's start with outfielder Reggie Willits. Because he was drafted as a senior in 2003, Willits is already 25, but he's turned himself into an on-base machine this year, batting .319/.438/.437. His ability to play all three outfield positions almost guarantees him a bench role, but he's raised his ceiling into a servicable starter. The Jered Weaver conundrum is well understood, but that probably doesn't have lefty Joe Saunders feeling any better. The 2002 first-round pick is a rare survivor from shoulder surgery and has a 2.50 ERA in 15 starts while allowing 87 hits in 101 innings. Unfortunately, he'll just have to wait his turn.

  • Double-A Arkansas (4-6; 25-48)

    As good as the Triple-A squad is, both by record and by level of talent, that's how bad the Double-A team is ... after shortstop Brandon Wood of course. Wood is silently having a very good year with the Travelers, batting .283/.370/.552 with 15 home runs, but the strikeout rate (96 in 279 at-bats) has taken a dramatic jump from last year's breakout campaign. Nobody on the pitching staff deserves mention, as the team ERA is 5.67, nearly a run and a half higher than any other Texas League club.

  • High Class A Rancho Cucamonga (1-9; 33-43)

    The Quakes have lost 12 of their last 13 games, thanks mostly to an offense that has averaged fewer than four runs a game in June. The team is getting nice production from the left side of the infield, as shortstop Sean Rodriguez (.289/.350/.507) has tied his career high with 14 home runs while starting to come around in the plate discipline area, where he previously excelled. Switch-hitting third baseman Freddy Sandoval (.292/.390/.429) is reaching base at a rate of nearly twice per game this month, but at the same time, he's 24 and lacks the power to project well. The news on the mound lately was the brief appearance of 19-year-old Venezuelan Amalio Diaz, who went 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four emergency starts before heading back to the team's Arizona complex. With just 10 strikeouts in 23.2 innings, it was a nice run, but not exactly sustainable. Righthander Jose Arredondo remains the real deal, despite some tough luck of late. He's taken the loss in four of his last five starts, despite allowing just 17 hits and eight earned runs in 34.2 innings while striking out 40.

  • Low Class A Cedar Rapids (5-5; 33-41)

    The Kernels offense is just as bad as the Quakes, with a team batting mark of .230/.299/.337 in June, but unlike the Rancho squad, they have the pitching to make up for it. While Nick Adenhart gets all the attention for his 2.11 ERA, and deservedly so, righthander Stephen Marek has actually been the better pitcher, especially of late. While he's nearly three years older than Adenhart, and not in his class as a prospect, Marek is still a pretty good prospect, and is remarkably consistent for a Low Class A starter: he has yet to give up more than three runs in any of his 15 outings while compiling a 2.14 ERA. An interesting sleeper is closer Ryan Aldrige, a 2004 17th-round pick who was moved to relief after missing most of 2005 with shoulder problems. Armed with a fastball that can get up to 95 mph and a plus slider, Aldridge took the loss in his first two games of the season but has been unhittable of late, pitching scoreless baseball in 14 of his last 16 games while allowing just eight hits in 16 innings and striking out 21.

  • Rookie-level Orem (4-2)

    P.J. Phillips is the younger brother of Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, and he has similar tools but a much larger frame at 6-foot-3, giving him a little less speed and a little more power. Playing primarily at third base, the 2005 second-round pick is 7-for-18.

  • Rookie-level AZL Angels (1-2)

    It's only three games, but first-round pick Hank Conger is 5-for-13 with a double and a triple.

Oakland Athletics

  • Triple-A Sacramento (4-6; 38-39)

    This wasn't a very interesting team to start with, filled mostly with insurance policies and 4A types, and it became less interesting when first baseman Daric Barton (.259/.389/.395) broke a bone in his elbow that will keep him out until August. Righthander Jason Windsor is a perfect 6-0 in nine starts since getting a promotion, but he's also been pretty lucky, as he has succeeded despite allowing 27 hits and 15 runs in 23.1 innings over his last four starts. 2002 first-round pick Ben Fritz has finally reached Triple-A as part of an injury-plagued career, but he's given up 30 baserunners (17 hits, 13 walks) in just 13.1 innings.

  • Double-A Midland (4-6; 37-37)

    Outfielder Travis Buck (.306/.388/.490) has gotten a lot of attention for all of his doubles, but he remains a left fielder who doesn't put the bull over the fence (four home runs in 157 at-bats) a whole lot. At the same time, catcher Kurt Suzuki is the same age, has been at Midland all year, has been just as effective (.304/.408/.460) at the plate and plays a much more difficult defensive position. The rotation doesn't feature much, as righthander Brad Knox, who had 14 wins and a 2.59 ERA two years ago at Kane County, has a 5.47 mark with the RockHounds, proving man can not live by curveball alone.

  • High Class A Stockton (5-5; 37-38)

    Catcher Landon Powell, a 2004 first-round pick who missed all of 2005 with a knee injury, has had a solid year at .278/.362/.487. He's been on fire of late, with four home runs in his last eight games. Like Powell, third baseman Myron Leslie (.288/.370/.428) spent four years in college and is a little old for the league; like Powell, he's been hot of late, including a .338 mark in his last 20 games. 2003 first-round pick Brian Snyder was sent down after struggling at Midland and has yet to walk in 24 at-bats. Why is that weird? Because in May, Snyder had one of the strangest batting lines you'll ever see. How's .067/.391/.067 hit you? That 3-for-45 with 24 walks.

  • Low Class A Kane County (4-6; 43-30)

    While third baseman Jeff Baisley (.314/.397/.531) continues to drive in runs in bunches with 62 RBI in 69 games, he was also drafted after four years of college and turns 24 in the offseason. While much was made of the teenage trio from the 2005 draft in the Cougars rotation, the results have been mixed. Craig Italiano lasted just four starts before being shut down with a shoulder injury, while Vince Mazzaro and Jared Lansford have both been plagued by inconsistency, with neither missing many bats. The Cougars' best starter was 2005 8th-round pick Jason Ray, who had a 3.02 ERA in 65.2 innings with 68 strikeouts and was bumped up to Stockton. He's a little small and lacks a third pitch to project as a starter, but his plus fastball/power curve combination gives him plenty of projection as a big league reliever.

  • Short-season Vancouver (4-3)

    Fifth-round pick Jermaine Mitchell went 8-for-11 in his first three pro games but is 1-for-15 since. First baseman/occasional catcher Don Sutton (.100/.208/.100) was a sleeper candidate when he hit .333/.408/.571 in the Arizona League ... in 2003. Three years later a variety of injuries have limited him to just 112 pro games and he's only in the Northwest League.

  • Rookie-level AZL Athletics (1-2)

    Eighth-round pick Angel Sierra (1-for-9) is a toolsy outfielder form Puerto Rico who is still just 17.

Seattle Mariners

  • Triple-A Tacoma (8-2; 41-35)

    The Rainiers have gone 16-8 in June thanks to a juggernaut of an offense that is batting a composite .301/.388/.468 in June and averaging 6.6 runs per game. The keys have been an outfield that has flip-flopped defensive positions and combined for 53 runs and 48 RBI in 24 games this month. Shin-Soo Choo (.300/.378/.449) is a nice little player who lacks that one tool to project him as a starting corner outfielder, while cannon-armed Adam Jones (.268/.314/.454) leads the team with 11 home runs and has the highest upside, having yet to celebrate his 21st birthday. Taking over in center field is the always-hitting or always-injured Chris Snelling (.288/.391/.441) who is 10-for-24 since moving there. 2005 No. 3 overall pick Jeff Clement was off to nice start at San Antonio (.288/.386/.525) before having minor knee surgery. When he returned, they bumped him to Triple-A. So you have your best prospect in his first full season, he's coming off surgery, he's a catcher and Kenji Johjima is under contract through 2008. Why is he in Tacoma? It's a mystery for now.

  • Double-A San Antonio (6-4; 30-42)

    The Missions roster is loaded with guys who spent the first half of the season in the California League. The biggest name bat-wise is Matt Tuiasosopo, who is 3-for-16; if it wasn't Seattle, who is becoming notorious for their aggressiveness in assignments, one would be surprised by the promotion after a so-so .306/.359/.379 line for the 66ers. Reliever Mark Lowe continues to be the biggest surprise in the system, firing 12 shutout innings in seven appearances after striking out 46 in 29.1 California League innings. A 2005 fifth-round pick, fireballer Stephen Kahn hasn't been able to replicate Lowe's success, allowing 15 runs in 11 innings after giving up just 16 in 27.2 California League frames. Another sleeper is lefthander Ryan Feierabend, who has a 4.23 ERA, but is just 20 years old and has allowed just two runs in his last three starts. He doesn't have star potential, but he should be a solid third or fourth starter and his career record needs to be reconciled with his age (like many Seattle prospects) for proper analysis.

  • High Class A Inland Empire (7-3; 43-32)

    Another interesting prospect is outfielder Michael Wilson, a second-round pick in 2001 who took a long time to get going, but earned a promotion to San Antonio after batting .315/.389/.555 in the first half for Inland Empire. He's a fantastic athlete who had Division I football options out of high school, and it's taken a long time for him to translate his athletic ability into baseball ability, but watch out. One productive hitter not yet making the jump to Double-A is Taiwanese infielder Yung-Chi Chen, who is batting .444 in his last 16 games and .342/.388/.478 overall. He can play second and third and obviously makes good contact, but his secondary skills leave something to be desired. Lefthander Robert Rohrbaugh, a seventh-round pick last year out of Clemson had a 1.46 ERA start in 10 games before moving up, getting by with classic control/finesse stuff.

  • Low Class A Wisconsin (2-9; 28-46)

    The Timber Rattlers' offense is downright awful, with no regular featuring an OPS over .740, but the good news is that 20-year-old Venezuelan second-baseman Luis Valbuena is showing signs of life. The top prospect on the team, Valbuena (.265/.365/.374) has a mature approach as evidenced by more walks (37) than strikeouts (36) and is batting .417 in his last 10 games. A second-round pick and perennial disappointment, first baseman Jeff Flaig's descent continues (.200/.276/.248).

  • Short-season Everett (6-1)

    Sixth-round pick Adam Moore is 9-for-19 with five doubles, while seventh-rounder Doug Fister started his pro career with a bang, firing five hitless innings in his debut with nine whiffs.

  • Rookie-level AZL Mariners (4-0)

    19-year-old outfielder Carlos Peguero is a 6-foot-5, 220 pound man-child who either hits the ball really hard (5-for-13, three doubles and a home run) or doesn't (seven whiffs).

Texas Rangers

  • Triple-A Oklahoma (6-4; 38-37)

    After a rough start, lefthander John Danks strung together four straight quality starts to earn a promotion to Triple-A, and the former first-round pick held his own in his PCL debut, allowing three hits and three runs over five innings. There he joins Edison Volquez, who has been filthy in his last four starts, allowing just eight hits in 27 innings while striking out 33. Memo to the Rangers: you're in a dogfight with the surging A's in the AL West--maybe it's time to give Volquez another shot instead of calling up Robinson Tejada every time another starter is needed. Going the safe route rarely gets you into the playoffs. After batting .396 in his last 40 games for Frisco, outfielder Anthony Webster joined Danks at Oklahoma, going 6-for-16 in his first five games.

  • Double-A Frisco (2-8; 35-39)

    Last year, third baseman Travis Metcalf and outfielder Kevin Mahar both put together big years at Bakersfield, but Metcalf was 23 and Mahar was 24. One year later both are struggling in the Texas League, with Metcalf at .219/.304/.316 and Mahar batting a slightly better .244/.284/.417. Players like that need to move quickly, not slow down. Falling behind Danks and Volquez is 2004 first-round pick Thomas Diamond, who has 84 strikeouts in 69.1 innings, but has a 4.67 ERA as his control (50 walks) has abandoned him. Many scouts saw his future as a closer when he was first drafted, and it might be time to try him there.

  • High Class A Bakersfield (5-5; 31-45)

    Outfielder Ben Harrison is the team's best hitter at .292/.389/.530, but he's almost 25 years old and still in A ball. Far more interesting is fellow fly chaser Steve Murphy. A 14th-round pick last June, Murphy was the MVP of the Northwest League last year at Spokane, and this year, he's proving it's not a fluke with a .298/.346/.524 line. As a corner outfielder, he'll need to develop more power or better on-base skills (or both, of course) to profile as a big leaguer. 20-year-old stud Eric Hurley is expected to replace Danks at Frisco by the end of the month. In 14 starts, the 2004 first-round pick has a 2.92 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 83.1 innings.

  • Low Class A Clinton (5-5; 26-47)

    Just a dreadful team all around, the Lumber Kings are loaded with big draft pick disappointments like 2004 2nd-round selection K.C. Herren (.221/.300/.289) and 2005 2nd-round pick Johnny Whittleman (.214/.318/.307) who does have 36 walks, but is 5-for-32 in his last 10 games, though one of those hits is a home run--his first of the year. 2005 first-round pick John Mayberry has the highest OPS of any regular, but that's more of an indictment of the whole team as he is hitting just .229/.322/.417--even more of a disappointment than Herren or Whittleman as Mayberry was drafted out of college.

  • Short-season Spokane (1-6)

    Seventh-round pick Grant Gerrard has 14 total bases in seven games and four stolen bases while third-rounder Chad Tracy is 5-for-15 in three games.

  • Rookie-level AZL Rangers (2-1)

    Signed for $250,000 last summer, Dominican teenager Johan Yan made his much-anticipated U.S. debut, going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Yan has a pro frame at 6-foot-3, but some scouts think he'll have to move off shortstop as he fills out.

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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