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July 11, 2006

Future Shock

Division Roundup, AL Central, 7/11/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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Chicago White Sox

  • Triple-A Charlotte (6-4 in last 10 games; 58-31 overall)

    Does a 22-year-old Triple-A pitcher with a 1.95 ERA have less trade value because he depends on a knuckleball? I'm guessing yes, but that doesn't mean the White Sox won't put Charlie Haeger on the block this month to shore up the big league squad. With their major league pitching staff, the White Sox have little need for Haeger or righthander Sean Tracey (3.58 ERA in 88 IP). Between Haeger's one pretty miserable start in the big leagues and Tracey's inability to follow Ozzie's directions, neither is exactly in good shape in this organization right now, but other teams will be aware of that in trade talks. Third baseman Josh Fields continues to mash (.329/.408/.559), and could allow the White Sox to do with Joe Crede what they did with Aaron Rowand this past winter.

  • Double-A Birmingham (5-5; 42-48)

    The Barons have a prospect-laden rotation, but they all have a good share of warts as well. Lefthander Ray Liotta got off to a great start but has completely bottomed out with a 7.39 ERA since June 1st. Fellow southpaw Tyler Lumsden has a 2.74 ERA in 18 starts, but only 66 strikeouts in 111.2 innings, while the third lefty in the rotation, Corwin Malone, has been their best pitcher of late, but is 26 years old, three years removed from being highly regarded and the owner of a medical record only slightly shorter than War and Peace. The righty is 2005 first-round pick Lance Broadway, who has put on a Jekyll & Hyde show for the fans, giving up two or fewer earned runs in 12 of 18 starts while giving up five or more runs five times. All four are available in the right deal, as the White Sox look to convert their pitching depth into some help in the AL Central race.

  • High Class A Winston-Salem (5-5; 47-39)

    The Carolina League is not the place to score runs this year, as with a paltry .250/.322/.386 batting line, the Warthogs are actually second in the league in OPS. Not that anyone in the lineup is worth talking about--it's relatively prospect-free. In addition to the low-scoring offense, the team ERA leads the league at 3.08, with the top prospect being righthander Lucas Harrell (2.42 ERA in 16 starts), who gets good sink on a low-90s fastball and features a decent curveball. Average total runs scored in a Winston-Salem game this year? 8.1.

  • Low Class A Kannapolis (3-7; 24-63)

    If you thought the Winston-Salem offense was subpar, try a .297 team on-base percentage for the poorly named Intimidators. Outfielder Aaron Cunningham is the most interesting position player, batting .268/.360/.476. A fifth-round pick out of a Washington junior college last year, Cunningham has above-average power and speed, but like many young players needs to refine his approach. I tried to find a pitcher to say something nice about. Believe me, I did.

  • Rookie-level Bristol (5-13)

    After dominating the Dominican Summer League last year, lefty reliever Rafael Brujan has struck out 14 in seven innings, allowing one run on three hits.

  • Rookie-level Great Falls (10-9)

    So far, so good for this June's first-round pick, righthander Kyle McCulloch. The former Texas star has allowed two hits and one run over five innings with five strikeouts.

Cleveland Indians

  • Triple-A Buffalo (6-4; 47-44)

    An anemic bat and inconsistent glove has Tribe fans calling for Aaron Boone to be replaced by Andy Marte, and it sure seems like a logical move to me as Marte has recovered from a slow start to blast 11 home runs and drive in 27 over his last 28 games while batting .307 over that span. Warning to Tribe fans who want Marte in the big leagues: be careful of what you wish for. That said, the Bisons haven't had the best year as first baseman Ryan Garko (.256/.360/.446) has gone backwards and outfielder Jason Cooper (.190/.287/.341) has failed to build on what looked like some solid progress in 2005. The best hitter on a performance level is none other than infielder Lou Merloni, who is batting .293/.368/.459 in the cleanup role. An interesting sleeper in the bullpen is righthander Tom Mastny, who has fringy stuff, but to use the oldest cliché in the book, just knows how to pitch. With a career ERA of 2.24, the 6-foot-6 Mastny gets a good downward plane on his pitches and hides the ball well, limiting right-handed batters to a .152 average (19-for-125) this year.

  • Double-A Akron (4-6; 54-34)

    2005 first-round pick Trevor Crowe was the most disruptive force in the Carolina League, batting .329/.449/.470 in 60 games while reaching base 122 times, stealing 29 bases and scoring 51 runs. So far, nothing has changed in Double-A, as Crowe is 4-for-8 with a pair of stolen bases in two games. Righthander Sean Smith was a surprising selection to the Futures Game, but his 2.36 ERA in 14 starts, 10 of them quality, makes the choice statistically defendable, though scouts see his stuff as fringy. Righthander Adam Miller is enjoying his best run since his 2004 breakout campaign, with a 2.52 ERA in his last eight starts at a strikeout per inning.

  • High Class A Kinston (6-4; 56-31)

    With Crowe gone, the K-Tribe needs to find some offense, and two of the top prospects on the team have had difficult seasons. 2002 first-round pick Matt Whitney is quickly running out of time. He missed all of 2003 after breaking his leg in a pickup baseketball game, and has never been the same since. Now 22, he's batting .200/.302/.377 with 91 strikeouts in 215 at-bats, but at least he snapped out of a downright depressing 0-for-43 slump over the weekend. Meanwhile, first baseman Stephen Head, who smashed six home runs in 10 New York-Penn League games after signing as a second-round pick last June, has only eight this year in 81 games as part of a .211/.283/.340 performance. Two starting pitchers, Scott Lewis (1.53) and Chuck Lofgren (1.95) have ERAs under two, and both are pretty good prospects--especially Lofgren, a 20-year-old lefty with good size and plus velocity.

  • Low Class A Lake County (6-4; 39-49)

    Chances are that outfielder John Drennen is going to be remembered for more than just taking Roger Clemens deep in a minor league game. Batting .333 since facing Clemens, Drennen is just 19 years old and batting .318/.411/.477 in his full-season debut. He's a little small, and struggles vs. lefthanders, but he's the best under-21 player in the Cleveland system. As a big, raw righthander who throws hard, the Indians decided to let Cody Bunkelman develop as a reliever, and the choice looks sound, as he's been able to focus on his fastball/slider combination and has limited Sally League batters to 24 hits in 40 innings while punching out 46.

  • Short-season Mahoning Valley (11-9)

    Shortstop Adam Davis started the year as a potential first-round pick, but he suffered through a season-long slump at Florida that dropped him to the third round. That slump has carried on with the Scrappers, as evidenced by a .175/.242/.316 line in 14 games.

  • Rookie-level Burlington (9-10)

    Righty Scott Sumner has 22 strikeouts in 13.1 innings, including 13 in his last six, but he's also a former 20th-round pick who turns 23 in a couple of weeks.

  • Rookie-level GCL Indians (10-6)

    You want a commitment to player development? How about three half-season teams. That's a significant outlay when it comes to players, coaches and facilities. 2005 ninth-round pick Roman Pena has at least average tools across the board and is 20-for-44 (.455) in his first 13 games.

Detroit Tigers

  • Triple-A Toledo (6-4; 50-41)

    Like the White Sox, the Tigers have a nearly impenetrable rotation at the big league level, but a number of starting prospects at Triple-A who could get dangled on the trade market. After cruising through the Eastern League, righthander Humberto Sanchez has a 2.15 ERA in six starts and may be untouchable, but fireballer Wil Ledezma (2.52 ERA) and finesse specialist Jordan Tata (3.34) could both be attractive to the right suitors. Ryan Raburn is splitting time between second base and left field, and doesn't look especially good at either position, but there has to be some interest in his bat (.288/.369/.527).

  • Double-A Erie (4-6; 37-49)

    Last year's Lakeland squad was one of the best in the minor leagues, but a number of their top hitters have struggled mightily after jumping to Double-A. Outfielder Brent Clevlen has fallen farthest, as last year's Florida State League MVP has slipped all the way to .219/.304/.324. Third baseman Kody Kirkland has already established a new career high with 17 home runs, but at the same time he's hitting just .223 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio (108-to-15) is downright laughable. Righthander Jair Jurrjens cruised through the Florida State League and has a 2.00 ERA after five starts, but his peripheral numbers, including 24 hits in 22 innings, aren't as impressive.

  • High Class A Lakeland (4-6; 46-41)

    The Tigers love first-baseman Jeff Larish's power and patience, as he has 15 round trippers and 51 walks in 309 at-bats; at the same time, he played four years at college, turns 24 at the end of the year and is batting just .249 with 72 strikeouts. After a solid full-season debut at West Michigan last year, 2004 third-round pick Jeff Frazier hit .293 with five home runs in April, but is at an ugly .231/.272/.339 overall after hitting .206 with two home runs since. After a tough May, closer Kevin Whelan and his four different fastballs (two-seam, four-seam, cutter, splitter) are dominating once again, as in 15 games since June 1st, the former Texas A&M hurler has 22 strikeouts in 13.2 innings while giving up just four hits. In his last four games, he's retired all 13 hitters he faced, seven by strikeout.

  • Low Class A West Michigan (9-1; 56-29)

    After missing just over a month with a strange finger injury, center fielder Cameron Maybin (.314/.412/.466) has simply picked up where he left off and put on a tools-heavy show in Sunday's Futures Game. Entering the year as a talented-yet-raw product, Maybin is hitting for average, drawing walks (30 in 192 at-bats) and stealing bases (16 for 18). The only tool missing is power (three home runs), but you won't find a scout anywhere who doesn't think it will come. Shortstop Michael Hollimon is the Whitecaps' second best hitter at .278/.388/.462, but he's also 24 and needs to move quickly.

  • Short-season Oneonta (13-6)

    2006 third-round pick Brennan Boesch (.274/.308/.507) is among the New York-Penn League leaders in RBI with 16 in 17 games, as 11 of his 20 hits have gone for extra bases.

  • Rookie-level GCL Tigers (6-9)

    Shortstop Audy Ciriaco impressed in his pro debut last year, but season number two in the Gulf Coast League has not gone as well, as the 19-year-old Dominican is just 9-for-56 (.161).

Kansas City Royals

  • Triple-A Omaha (4-6; 34-56)

    Shane Costa wants his job back. Since being sent down to Triple-A Omaha, the former Cal State Fullerton star has shown unprecedented power, batting a whopping .407/.471/.703 in 23 games with five home runs in 91 at-bats. First baseman Justin Huber (.265/.347/.471) has failed to build on his 2005 breakout year, and could be setting himself up for a long career as a Triple-A insurance policy if he can't turn things around. Like Costa, righthander Denny Bautista started the year in the big leagues, but he hasn't been able to earn consideration for a return engagement with a 6.23 ERA in six starts and more walks (19) than strikeouts (17) in 26 innings.

  • Double-A Wichita (6-4; 44-43)

    It's difficult to call 2005 No. 2 overall pick Alex Gordon's season a disappointment, as he's batting .301/.402/.507, but at the same time he's batting just .266 with two home runs in his last 30 games. Outfielder Billy Butler (.318/.380/.477) is hitting well, but has also seen his power disappear, with just five home runs in his last 67 contests. Remember when second baseman Donnie Murphy looked like a pretty decent middle infield prospect? Yeah, well you can forget about that (.225/.295/.392). The only story pitching-wise is Zack Greinke, who has a 5.49 ERA in eight starts but might be coming around. On July 3rd he pitched a complete game two-hitter with 12 strikeouts and he followed that up with six solid innings on Friday night, allowing two runs and striking out seven.

  • High Class A High Desert (7-3; 50-37)

    Converted pitcher Mike Stodolka is not only the best story on this team, he's also the best hitter (.294/.407/.504). The most surprising thing about Stodolka's transformation isn't the power (10 home runs in 248 at-bats), it's the remarkable plate discipline (50 walks). Still, he's almost 25 years old and doesn't have any defensive options after first base. It's nearly impossible to judge pitchers in High Desert, but it's not hard to see that Luis Cota (6.94 ERA) has been a massive disappointment, while starters Billy Buckner (3.90 ERA) and John Gragg (3.53) both deserve gold stars for keeping their ERAs under four.

  • Low Class A Burlington (4-6; 42-43)

    After entering the year with a career batting average of .333 in 107 short-season games, shortstop Chris McConnell has had a nightmare of a year for the Bees, reaching base just 58 times in 68 games and smacking just five extra-base hits for a beyond awful line of .177/.262/.208. 20-year-old first baseman Miguel Vega (.235/.263/.405) leads the team with 10 home runs and has real power, but when you have ten times the number of strikeouts (73) than walks (7), that's a very, very bad thing. A second-round pick in 2004, righthander Erik Cordier missed all of 2005 with a knee injury, so if anything, he has a fresh arm. After striking out 19 over 16 innings at Idaho Falls, Cordier delivered a quality start in his full-season debut, but had just one punchout in his six frames.

  • Rookie-level Idaho Falls (13-6)

    Eighth-round pick Josh Cribb is an undersized righty who was Clemson's best pitcher for much of the year and has allowed just one hit over eight shutout innings so far as a pro.

  • Low Class A AZL Royals (10-4)

    Shortstop Jeff Bianchi torched the Arizona League last year at a .408/.484/.745 clip, but missed the first half of 2006 with a shoulder injury. So now he's back in Arizona and doing it again (.429/.537/.667 in 12 games).

Minnesota Twins

  • Triple-A Rochester (5-5; 51-39)

    Remember Jason Tyner? Well, he still doesn't hit home runs, but he's the best Red Wing (well, the best statistically) starter still on the roster right now, batting .329/.379/.405. Still, he's just Jason Tyner. Outfielder Alex Romero lasted just eight games at Rochester before getting demoted to Double-A, with rumors that his attitude had as much to do with it as his performance. Back in Triple-A since June 15th, his performance has been no better, as he's gone 7-for-43 (.163) with no walks and one extra-base hit. Righthander Scott Baker beat Francisco Liriano for a rotation slot in the spring, but he's back in Triple-A and has a 2.92 ERA in seven starts, giving the team a nice insurance policy.

  • Double-A New Britain (4-6; 36-50)

    Pitching good, hitting bad. Righthanders Kevin Slowey and Matt Garza have both showed no signs of slowing down since moving up to Double-A, as Slowey now has a ridiculous 116-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 110.1 innings and Garza is just as impressive at 121-to-25 in 101.2. Former first-round pick Matt Moses (.240/.294/.384) looked poised for a breakout campaign after a fast start, but he's batting .176 with two home runs in his last 30 games.

  • High Class A Fort Myers (5-5; 45-41)

    With so many pitchers in the system stepping forward, what happened to righthander Anthony Swarzak, who entered the year as the top righthander in the system? The 2004 second-round pick has allowed just one earned run over his last two starts, but his ERA still sits at 4.11 and he's given up 102 hits in 92 innings. Even more disappointing has been 2004 first-round pick Trevor Plouffe, who has dropped to .219/.316/.281. The good news is the return of power-hitting corner infielder David Winfree, who left the organization for two months for personal reasons. In nine games since returning, he has three home runs.

  • Low Class A Beloit (6-4; 46-40)

    After starring at Georgia Tech, the Twins decided that fourth-round pick Whit Robbins could handle a full-season assignment, and so far, they've been proven right, as the corner infielder is hitting .410/.519/.744 in 11 games. 2004 first-round pick Kyle Waldrop is repeating the Midwest League, and while he's lowered his ERA by over a run at 3.62, he's still a control specialist who doesn't walk anybody (13 BB in 104.1 IP), but doesn't miss any bats (62 K) either. More interesting is 20-year-old Eduardo Morlan, who has better stuff and has whiffed 78 in 65.2 innings.

  • Rookie-level Elizabethton (11-6)

    After co-hosting the first-season of American Idol, second-baseman Brian Dinkleman (.255/.314/.362) assaulted the NAIA record books before getting drafted in the eighth round in June. Oh wait, that was Brian Dunkelman. Never mind.

  • Rookie-level GCL Twins (9-6)

    First-round pick Chris Parmelee is hitting just .192 (5-for-26) in seven games, but four of his five hits have gone for extra bases, including a pair of home runs.

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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