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July 18, 2006

Future Shock

Division Roundup, NL Central, 7/18/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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Chicago Cubs

  • Triple-A Iowa (9-1 in last 10 games; 48-45 overall)

    With the Cubs out of it, and second baseman Todd Walker a likely subject of trade talks, instead of wasting more plate appearances on Neifi Perez, why not see if you can get something out of the Sammy Sosa trade by giving Mike Fontenot a chance? He's always been a decent hitter, but he's taken a step forward this year with a .313/.394/.476 line and could have some limited value at the big league level in the end. On the mound, it looks like Jerome Williams (4.74 ERA, 30 K in 57 IP) will never live up to expectations. In other news, don't give up on Mike Wuertz just yet. With a low 90s fastball and excellent command, the righthander has 60 strikeouts in 38 innings and just nine walks.

  • Double-A West Tenn (3-7; 55-40)

    What on earth happened to Brian Dopirak? After threatening to break the Midwest League home run record with 39 dingers in 2004, he slumped in the Florida State to just 16, and this year, he's become Clint Barmes. He missed the first two months of the season with a broken foot, and since he's returned, he's at 124 at-bats without a home run and counting. Catcher Jake Fox seemingly came out of nowhere with 16 home runs at Daytona in the first half, but the breakout has broken with a .217/.277/.383 line in 18 Southern League games. Speaking of breakouts--righthander Shawn Gallagher has a 2.60 ERA in six starts, but already has handed out more free passes (23) than he did in 13 starts for Daytona (21).

  • High Class A Daytona (7-3; 51-41)

    I talked about Ryan Harvey yesterday, and while he's struggling, he's also one of the few position player prospects on this team, unless you want to count outfielder Sam Fuld (.313/.393/.428), who projects as no more than a fourth outfielder but could almost get to the big leagues on makeup alone. Is it possible that Donald Veal has leapfrogged everyone to become the top prospect in the system? In five starts for Daytona, the power lefty has a 1.20 ERA--and in 19 starts total, his mark is 2.25 with just 64 hits allowed in 103.2 innings. Only control issues (56 BB) prevent him from being elite.

  • Low Class A Peoria (3-7; 53-40)

    When catcher Mark Reed (.285/.336/.346) was among the Midwest League leading hitters, he was an interesting prospect. Currently in an 8-for-63 slump and nearly a month out from his last extra-base hit, he's now a singles-hitting catcher with no secondary skills. Funny how things work out. The team lost their best starter when Veal moved up to Daytona, and the team was even more aggressive with closer Ed Campusano, pushing him to Double-A after he compiled a 1.21 ERA in 26 games with 47 strikeouts in 29.2 innings. He's 24, and occasionally touched 90 mph from the left side, so he's no more than a possible future LOOGY option.

  • Short-season Boise (14-13)

    The Cubs gave righthander Jeff Samardzija a record bonus that seemed way out of line with his skills, and they recently promoted him to Peoria despite the fact that he didn't exactly light it up with the Hawks, allowing 15 hits in 14 innings while striking out nine. Also failing to impress is 2005 first-round pick Mark Pawelek, who has a 4.21 ERA in 17 innings with nearly as many walks (11) as strikeouts (13)

  • Rookie-level AZL Cubs (6-14)

    A ninth-round pick who got fifth-round money, toolsy outfielder Cliff Anderson is struggling, going 9-for-54 (.167) with 22 strikeouts.

Cincinnati Reds

  • Triple-A Louisville (7-3; 51-43)

    Can I take a pass here? Seriously, look at this roster and let me know if anything interests you. Sure Chris Denorfia (.347/.409/.454) has some nice numbers, but he's a singles hitter who is the classic example of the kind of player that everybody wants playing every day... until he actually starts playing every day and his weaknesses are exposed. They're hardly bullpen studs and barely prospects, but I don't understand why you don't give a guy like Mike Burns (1.21 ERA in 25 G) or Brad Salmon (39 Ks in 31.1 IP) a chance in relief before you deal two everyday players from your lineup. But maybe that's just me.

  • Double-A Chattanooga (6-4; 59-36)

    First baseman Joey Votto (.324/.401/.582) hasn't gone two games without a hit since early May and, if anything, he's getting better with a .364 batting average and 27 extra-base hits in his last 40 games. The big story on the mound, of course, is righthander Homer Bailey. The 2004 first-round pick gave up his first Double-A runs on Saturday, upping his ERA to 0.75 in four starts while limiting Southern League batters to a .169 batting average overall. Meanwhile, something interesting happened on July 5th. Outfielder Rick Asadoorian, a 1999 first-round pick who has turned into a journeyman, was put on the mound in an emergency stint. All he did was strike out five over two scoreless innings and touch 95 mph. It's worth another try, no?

  • High Class A Sarasota (5-5; 39-53)

    Very little here hitting wise, as second baseman Drew Anderson, a marginal prospect at best, was promoted to Double-A after batting .300/.360/.450 in 83 games. The Reds hope disappointing shortstop Paul Janish (.251/.333/.372) can earn the same with a good second half, as he continues to try to find some offensive value to go along with his top-flight glove work. With Bailey gone, the best starting pitcher is 2005 fourth-round pick Sam Lecure, who has a 1.72 ERA in his last six starts.

  • Low Class A Dayton (6-4; 47-46)

    The Dragons started the season with two outfielders loaded with tools and high expectations, and the results could not be more different. 2005 first-round selection Jay Bruce has clearly established himself as one of the top outfield prospects in the game with a .315/.383/.563 line that includes 14 stolen bases, while B.J. Syzmanski has struggled to a .238/.315/.428 mark with a whopping 123 strikeouts in 320 at-bats. Want more good or bad news (depending on which player you're looking at)? Bruce is four-and-a-half years younger. While 2005 second-round pick Travis Wood (4.14 ERA) has struggled of late, third-round pick Zach Ward (2.45 ERA) has come on strong, with an undefeated (7-0) record in 18 starts, including a 1.43 ERA mark in his last nine.

  • Rookie-level Billings (17-7)

    First-round pick Drew Stubbs (.247/.374/.340) isn't striking out (20 in 81 at-bats) at quite the alarming rate some expected, but he's also yet to hit a home run. Still, he's shown good plate discipline and used his speed to rack up three triples and 11 stolen bases.

    Rookie-level GCL Reds (7-16)

    Last month's fourth-round pick, speedy outfielder Justin Reed, has four triples in 80 at-bats, but little else to brag about (.238/.337/.363).

Houston Astros

  • Triple-A Round Rock (7-3; 59-35)

    While Jason Lane (6-for-17 in three games) can't be happy to be back in the minors, he's probably having a better time than Charlton Jimerson (.249/.285/.472), a Reggie Abercrombie clone when it comes to both athleticism and lack of approach. Jimerson smacked a double on Sunday, and that's notable because it was his first hit this month, ending an 0-for-35 slump that included 18 strikeouts, giving him a minor league-leading 135 whiffs to go against just 16 walks in 341 at-bats. Righthander Jason Hirsch (2.28 ERA) hasn't pitched in an official game since July 5th because of the Futures Game and the Triple-A All-Star contest, but he's riding a four game streak in which he hasn't allowed an earned run over 27 innings. Two weeks from now, chances are good that he'll either be in the big league rotation, or in another organization.

  • Double-A Corpus Christi (4-6; 56-37)

    Outfielder Hunter Pence (.298/.358/.567) ended a 14-game homerless streak on Saturday by going deep in both ends of a double-header, while catcher J.R. House's comeback (.338/.391/.494) continues to be the system's most pleasant surprise. Righthander Matt Alberts looks to be over his problems with alcohol, as he has a 2.31 ERA in 18 starts to go along with some of the better raw stuff in the system. Closer Jailen Peguero is an undersized, hard-throwing Dominican who earned a promotion to Triple-A after putting up a 0.70 ERA in 27 games with 48 strikeouts in 38.2 innings.

  • High Class A Salem (6-4; 43-48)

    The worst offense in the Carolina League (3.86 runs per game) has very little worth mentioning, although second baseman Drew Sutton (.256/.367/.413) is at least a fringe prospect because of his power and patience. The pitching staff keeps the team in games, particularly Chad Reineke and Troy Patton. Reineke (2.98 ERA) touches 95 mph with his fastball and gets good angles out of his 6-foot-6 frame, but he's also three-and-a-half years older than not-so-tall lefty Troy Patton (3.12 ERA) who hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in nine straight starts.

  • Low Class A Lexington (6-4; 54-39)

    On a team with disappointments throughout the lineup, catcher J.R. Towles continues to rake (.314/.387/.519), though it's a little surprising that he hasn't been moved up to Salem yet. As far as not living up to expectations, take your pick from infielder Koby Clemens (.232/.308/.348) or outfielders Mitch Einertson (.226/.274/.380) and Eli Iorg (.235/.287/.395). A pleasant surprise on the mound has been righthander Tip Fairchild, a 14th-round pick last year who was promoted to Salem after compiling a miniscule 1.66 ERA in 18 starts, and allowing just three runs over 42 innings in his last six. The Astros think they have a late-bloomer in Fairchild, who has a low 90s fastball, two different effective curveballs and excellent command.

  • Short-season Tri-City (16-10)

    The Astros challenged first-round pick Max Sapp by starting him one level above rookie-ball, and he's struggled at the plate, batting .208 in 17 games, but surprisingly, has been excellent behind it, nailing seven of eight base stealers.

  • Rookie-level Greenville (12-13)

    20-year-old Columbian Ronald Ramirez spent three years in the Venezuelan Summer League and is opening some eyes in his stateside debut, going 34-for-72 (.432) in his first 20 games.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Triple-A Nashville (8-2; 51-42)

    In our studies for what exactly is a 4A pitcher, maybe we should use Ben Hendrickson for the model. His numbers at Nashville include a 1.84 ERA in 83.1 innings with just 48 hits allowed, yet in 58.1 big league innings, he's allowed 50 runs and 78 hits. As a similar finesse/control righty, Carlos Villanueva had more success than Hendrickson in the big leagues, and fired seven one-hit shutout innings in his first start since getting sent down. Meanwhile, outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. is going up after batting .305/.363/.396. He could have a long career as a valuable bench player based on his speed and defensive skills alone.

  • Double-A Huntsville (5-5; 34-60)

    2005 first-round pick Ryan Braun hit a disappointing .274/.346/.438 at Brevard County, but has picked things up a bit in the Southern League, batting .359 in his last 10 games to bring his averages up to .278/.325/.514. He'll need to stay on a roll offensively, as based on his defensive reviews at third base, a move to a corner outfield slot could be coming soon. It wouldn't be a Brewers discussion without bringing up Yovani Gallardo. The righthander began his Huntsville career with 18.2 innings and a zero ERA--and while he gave up two earned runs on Friday, his overall numbers remain gaudy: 1.76 ERA in 102.1 innings, 70 hits, 128 strikeouts.

  • High Class A Brevard County (5-5; 44-44)

    The Manatees began the year with one of the more interesting middle-infield combinations in the minors, and it's been a 50/50 proposition so far, as second baseman Hernan Iribarren has hit well (.316/.358/.386) and played good defense, while shortstop Alcides Escobar has only done the latter (.254/.302/.332). My sleeper remains Charlie Fermaint, as the 20-year-old center fielder fell a single short of the cycle on Sunday and is batting .285/.353/.417 while drawing good reviews from scouts for his bat speed and defensive skills. 2004 first-round pick Mark Rogers seemed to be turning things around with a series of good starts in June, but then things went south again as he walked 13 over nine innings in his last two starts before getting shut down with "tightness in his shoulder." The seriousness of the shoulder injury is unknown at this time, but any hiccup for Rogers at this point is a bad thing.

  • Low Class A West Virginia (3-7; 49-43)

    Not much to see offensively for the non-aptly-named Power. Catcher Angel Salome has just one home run in his last 35 games, but is still batting .310/.365/.466 and among the league leaders in hitting, doubles and RBI. A third-round pick who pitched exceedingly well in his pro debut last year, Will Inman missed a month will a sore shoulder, but since returning, he's been kind of good, dealing 21 scoreless innings and allowing just 11 hits. In 14 games this year, he's allowed a run just three times. More importantly, we all wait for the team to play Lakewood, so West Virginia can start Will Inman while the Blue Claws counter with Josh Outman in what could be an epic battle. Or something.

  • Rookie-level Helena (10-16)

    After helping lead Oregon State to their first College World Series title, third-round pick Cole Gillespie just keeps on rolling, batting .410 in his first nine games including a 6-for-6 effort last week.

  • Rookie-level AZL Brewers (8-12)

    First-round pick Jeremy Jeffress has been as expected--both dominant (8 Ks in 7.1 innings) and raw (five walks, two wild pitches).

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Triple-A Indianapolis (7-3; 51-41)

    It's easy to forget about John Van Benschoten or Bryan Bullington--both have yet to appear in a box score this year because of shoulder surgeries--but Sean Burnett (5.07 ERA) still shows up every five days, a shadow of his former self after elbow surgery, to remind fans of a rotation that could have been. And then there's Oliver Perez, who whiffed 13 over seven innings in his first start after being sent down, but has given up eight runs over 12.2 innings since. The lineup is a combination of never-was and never-will-bes. Maybe infielder Craig Stansberry (.341/.396/.500 in 13 games since a promotion) can hit enough to earn a bench role, but he epitomizes everything about the hitters for Pittsburgh's two upper level teams: a bunch of guys for whom it's hard to project as anything more than replacement level.

  • Double-A Altoona (6-4; 54-38)

    More mediocrity here, although it's cool that veteran outfielder Vic Buttler (.308/.358/.495) has 14 triples in 82 games. Shortstop Brian Bixler is hitting .263/.328/.439 in 16 games after a solid first half (.836 OPS) at Lynchburg. Speed is his best tool, and he could hit his way to utility-man status. One of the keys to the 2004 Kris Benson deal, righthander Matt Peterson is in year number three at Altoona, and with a 5.78 ERA, there's little reason to believe he'll ever find the success he had in the Mets system.

  • High Class A Lynchburg (1-9; 38-53)

    Catcher Neil Walker gets a slight break for his disturbingly bad season (.247/.303/.329) because he missed the first six weeks of the season recovering from wrist surgery, but how much of a break do we give him? He's a very aggressive hitter and his power is completely gone, with just 11 extra-base hits in 48 games, including only one home run. Shortstop Brent Lillibridge is a step above of both Stansberry and Bixler when it comes to both tools and performance. Promoted after batting .299/.414/.522 at Hickory, Lillibridge is loaded with secondary skills, including 11 home runs, 54 walks and 31 stolen bases in 83 games.

  • Low Class A Hickory (7-3; 45-48)

    While Andrew McCutchen's numbers (.279/.350/.425) don't blow anyone away, the season is quite impressive when taken into context. As a raw toolsy player, he offers tons of projection, and his statistics are remarkably without a weakness--his average is good, he draws a fair share of walks, and he's already reached double-figures in home runs. So there's plenty of room for improvement, yet all of his skills statistically are starting out as average or worse. Lots to like there. A 2002 10th-round pick out of Canada, lefthander David Davidson has 68 strikeouts in 53 innings and has been getting his arm stretched out lately with three inning stints. In his last three outings he's allowed two hits over eight shutout innings while striking out 13. With an upper 80s fastball and plus curve, Davidson has been unhittable against lefthanded batters who have gone 7-for-53 with 21 strikeouts against him.

  • Short-season Williamsport (8-15)

    Second-round pick Mike Felix and fourth-round selection Jared Hughes both have WHIPs under one, though neither has more than a strikeout per inning.

  • Rookie-level GCL Pirates (12-10)

    Brad Lincoln we talked about yesterday. Seventh-round pick Austin McClune is another one of those raw toolsy guys, and he's off to a good start with 20 hits in his first 17 games.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Triple-A Memphis (2-8; 38-55)

    Outfielder Chris Duncan (.271/.359/.448) recently got the big call, but it's hard to distinguish him from other guys on the team like Brian Daubach (.279/.387/.478) and John Gall (.287/.361/.408). They're all limited defensively, Daubach is the veteran, Duncan has the power, and Gall is probably the best pure hitter of the bunch. Another thing they have in common is that none of them should be playing every day in the big leagues. Remember Orber Moreno? The Venezuelan put up some wacky numbers in the Royals system during the late 90s, but got hurt--then he ended up less effective while bouncing up and down in the Mets system before getting hurt again and missing all of 2005 while recovering from shoulder surgery. He's back, he's 29, and he's allowed just one run on seven hits in 12 innings.

  • Double-A Springfield (7-3; 50-42)

    The team's top two hitters are gone, with minor league vet Rico Washington moving up to Triple-A and outfielder Terry Evans moving on to the Angels for the wrong Weaver. That puts more pressure on outfielder Cody Haerther (.244/.297/.393) who the organization had high hopes for entering the season. Those looking for fluky clutch statistics need to look no further than reliever Justin Garza, who has a 2.86 ERA despite ugly peripheral stats. How's this for pitching to the situation?

    SITUATION      AB   H  OppAvg
    Bases Empty    52  15  .288
    Runners On     80  18  .225
    Scoring Pos.   52   8  .154
    RISP w/ 2 out  26   2  .077
    

  • High Class A Palm Beach (5-5; 50-44)

    After a fantastic first half at Quad Cities (.310/.373/.512), 2005 outfielder Colby Rasmus (.204/.291/.347) has learned what fellow 2005 first-round pick Tyler Greene already has--the Florida State League is hard. A third-round pick in 2003 out of Georgia Southern, the Cardinals have always liked righty Dennis Dove's arm strength, and a move to the bullpen, where he can live primarily off his plus fastball, has resurrected his career. 20-year-old lefthander Jaime Garcia (3.70 ERA) went to the Futures Game this year, but like Rasmus, he's finding that the Florida State League is far more challenging than the Midwest League.

  • Low Class A Quad Cities (6-4; 47-45)

    A pair of 2006 draft picks, outfielders John Jay (second round) and Shane Robinson (fifth round) have done well in assignments to a full-season league, with Jay at .338/.403/.500 in 16 games and Robinson batting .354/.389/.434 in 23 contests. Both lack power, and neither have great walk rates, so be skeptical. The biggest sleeper in the organization might be catcher Bryan Anderson. A fourth-round pick last June out of a California high school, Anderson is hitting .315/.409/.451 in 74 games--showing a good approach and gap power--but his defensive skills lag behind his bat.

  • Short-season State College (12-13)

    Supplemental second-round pick Mark Hamilton continues to mash, with seven home runs in 85 at-bats as part of an overall line of .294/.371/.588.

  • Rookie-level Johnson City (9-15)

    Still no signs of life from 2005 supplemental first-round pick Tyler Herron, who had a 5.61 ERA for Johnson City last year, and is at 6.38 this year, allowing 19 runs on 32 hits in only 24 innings.

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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