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July 25, 2006

Future Shock

Division Roundup, AL East, 7/25/2006

by Kevin Goldstein

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Baltimore Orioles

Triple-A Ottawa (7-3 in last 10 G; 52-51 overall)

It's pretty clear that baseball does not belong in Ottawa. The Lynx average attendance of 1,656 is a complete embarrassment. By contrast, the second lowest attendance in the league, Richmond's 4,646, is nearly three times that of their Canadian mates. That said, there's really nothing to see at all in the Ottawa lineup either--we don't even have Luis Terrero or Fernando Tatis (both now in the big leagues) to make fun of anymore. Daniel Cabrera has given up seven runs in two starts while still struggling with control as he tries to figure things out, and Hayden Penn is back from his appendectomy and pitching well. Penn has an excellent chance to be in the 2007 Opening Day rotation. Cabrera does not.

Double-A Bowie (5-5; 44-53)

It would be interesting to go back through each draft, find the first position player to make it to the big leagues from each class, and figure out how good each one ended up. I'm guessing outfielder Jeff Fiorentino might end up being the worst of them, as his sub-700 OPS at Double-A (.237/.326/.365) isn't going to get him back to the majors any time soon. At least there are some interesting arms here, as two of the Orioles' top pitching prospects have joined the team over the past month. Lefty Garrett Olson hit Double-A barely more than a year after signing and has pitched well, firing 15 shutout innings in his last two starts and compiling a 34/9 K/BB in 38 innings. Fireballer Radhames Liz delivered six shutout innings in his Double-A debut, but gave up four runs in five innings the next time around. Liz's fastball is among the best in the minors, but he doesn't have much else that's usable, so when his command goes, so goes Liz.

High Class A Frederick (3-7; 40-57)

Outfielder Nolan Remold is in a miserable slump, batting just .185 in his last 30 games, but his power and extreme patience keep his overall numbers at a respectable .262/.403/.462. When Baltimore used a supplemental first-round pick in 2000 on third baseman Tripper Johnson (.274/.345/.384), they thought they had found one of the best high school hitters in the draft. Six years later, I'm imagining the club hoped he'd be somewhere further along than the Carolina League. An eighth-round pick in 2004 out of Illinois-Chicago, left-hander Dave Haehnel entered the year with a career 1.96 ERA, 34 saves in 79 games and 132 strikeouts against just 31 walks in 106 innings. So the Orioles decided to mess with a good thing and put him in the rotation. Three months later he has a 6.61 ERA, including a 9.48 showing in his last eight starts, while handing out 49 free passes in 79 innings.

Low Class A Delmarva (4-6; 47-49)

Brandon Erbe (3.01 ERA) has been scuffling a bit of late, but he's still doing two things very well: missing bats (111 Ks in 89 2/3 innings) and throwing strikes (29 BB). To have those skills to an extent that allows him to dominate at times as an 18-year-old in the South Atlantic League speaks volumes about his ceiling, as does the fact that late in his first full season, he's still routinely hitting 96 mph with his fastball. Like nearly all of the Orioles' affiliates, there's just not much to talk about in the lineup. The Orioles are depressingly thin when it comes to hitting prospects.

Short-season Aberdeen (19-13)

2005 first-round pick Brandon Snyder flopped at Delmarva, but he's picked it up back with the IronBirds (.277/.308/.406). It's still a far cry from his .291/.386/.488 showing last year.

Rookie-level Bluefield (13-18)

Outfielder Kieron Pope has opened some eyes with a .317/.383/.490 showing, but five walks and 30 strikeouts in 104 at-bats shows that there's still quite a bit of work to do by a player with some of the best tools in the system. Last June's first-round pick, third baseman Billy Rowell is 7-for-32 (.219) with 13 strikeouts, but it's early.

Boston Red Sox

Triple-A Pawtucket (7-3; 51-50)

The PawSox have been scoring runs in bunches lately, going 13-10 in July despite a team ERA of 5.47 during that time. Infielder Dustin Pedroia continues to surge, batting .377 during the month and .307/.388/.439 overall, but his timing isn't very good, as both Alex Gonzalez and Mark Loretta have put a stranglehold on the major league up-the-middle jobs, meaning Pedroia may have to wait until 2007. If you are wondering why Kason Gabbard (4.97 ERA) got the emergency start over the weekend, the Red Sox were just riding the hotter hand, as Abe Alvarez has given up 23 runs on 28 hits over 16 innings in his last four starts, while David Pauley hasn't fared much better, giving up ten or more hits in three of his last four games. Like Alvarez and Pauley, Gabbard has good control of just enough stuff to project him as a No. 5 starter or long reliever.

Double-A Portland (2-8; 55-45)

2005 first-round pick Jacoby Ellsbury is moving rapidly through the system, batting .333/.360/.396 in his first 12 Double-A games, but more secondary skills would be nice. An interesting sleeper in the system might be third baseman Chad Spann, a fifth-round pick in 2002. Spann hit just .248/.322/.423 last year at Wilmington, but the Red Sox brass always liked his bat, and he's starting to show why, batting .307/.372/.494 overall along with a 993 OPS in July. Batters may be catching up to closer Edgar Martinez (3.21), as he continues to search for any usable pitch beyond his plus-plus fastball. After striking out 17 batters in 12 2/3 April innings, he has only 26 whiffs in his last 35 innings.

High Class A Wilmington (6-4; 50-48)

The bloom is rapidly coming off of the rose of second baseman Jeff Natale (.242/.401/.315), who can't get by solely on walks and has gone nearly a month without an extra-base hit. On the hot side is outfielder Jeff Corsaletti, who is 16-for-40 in his last ten games and batting .273/.398/.416 overall, but as a 23-year-old corner outfielder, he projects as no more than a bench player...if that. The rotation is loaded with guys like Thomas Hottovy (2.79 ERA) and Andrew Dobies (3.68) who project in much the same manner as the previously discussed trio at Pawtucket.

Low Class A Greenville (8-2; 55-45)

Don't give up on Christian Lara just yet, as the shortstop is batting .326 in his last 40 games and .275/.359/.340 overall. He'll never hit for power, but he knows what a walk is, and he has 27 stolen bases. Third-round pick Aaron Bates has arrived after batting .360 at Lowell, and he's gone 4-for-10 in three games so far. As a right-handed-hitting first baseman, it's going to be a long haul for the former North Carolina State star. Twenty-year-old Aussie Timothy Cox has a lot of dings against him, including a 5'10" frame, big scars on his elbow from Tommy John surgery and a fastball than never gets to go even 90 mph. He also has a lot of good things going for him, including exquisite command, great movement on all of his pitches and a WHIP under 1.0 in 75 innings as he pitches on an interesting schedule; going three-to-four innings out of the bullpen every four-to-five days.

Short-season Lowell (16-16)

Another 2006 pick paying early dividends is second-round pick Justin Masterson, whom the organization has already converted to the bullpen after he was a starter at San Diego State. He's big (6-foot-6, 250 pounds), and he throws hard, and he's allowed one run over his first 11 innings with striking out 13 and not issuing a single walk.

Rookie-level GCL Red Sox (15-12)

First-round pick Jason Place is batting .259/.353/.293, still looking for his power stroke and trying to cut down on his strikeouts (17 in 58 at-bats).

New York Yankees

Triple-A Columbus (4-6; 44-56)

It's a classic Columbus lineup, filled with sub-standard veterans like Ben Davis, Danny Garcia, Russ Johnson, Terrence Long and Carlos Pena. Outfielders Bronson Sardinha (.263/.341/.553) and Kevin Thompson (.272/.351/.449) are both hitting well and have just enough skills to be decent bench players. It was interesting to see Colter Bean (2.92 ERA) get a start on Friday, and he pitched well, allowing one run on two hits over five innings while walking five and striking out seven. At 255 pounds, delivering 100+ pitches with his sidearm delivery should be relatively easy, so it's an interesting gambit. Remember the six-year period from 1997-2002 when Ramiro Mendoza was a remarkably valuable long reliever/occasional starter? That's not going to happen again, as the 34-year-old Panamanian has a 4.89 ERA in 46 innings.

Double-A Trenton (5-5; 54-46)

Welcome back to Prospectland Eric Duncan. After pancaking at Triple-A while dealing with a back injury, the former first-round pick is batting .286/.380/.558 for the Thunder, and just as impressively, has more walks (21) than strikeouts (18), an excellent indicator that this isn't a fluke for a player who entered the year with more than twice as many whiffs as free passes. Righthander Tyler Clippard has a 4.05 ERA in 20 starts, but he also has 117 strikeouts in 113 1/3 innings and has been especially hot of late, with a 1.57 ERA in his last seven outings to go with 55 punchouts in 45 1/3 innings. He won't come as quick, or be as good as uber-righty Philip Hughes, but the Yankees are close to not needing to sign guys like Sidney Ponson to fill out the back of their rotation anytime soon.

High Class A Tampa (6-4; 51-47)

It's hard to evaluate Alan Horne as a prospect. The Indians drafted him with their first-round pick in 2001, but he chose to attend college instead. Then, between that time and 2005, Horne pitched at three schools (Mississippi, Chipola JC and Florida), had Tommy John surgery and never really pitched great anywhere, but scouts liked his body and his solid-average stuff. The Yankees took him in the 11th round last year, but paid him $400,000 (roughly third-round money) to sign--even though it's hard to see what kind of leverage he had in negotiations. Now he's in his first full season, already 23 years old, and has a 5.09 ERA in the Florida State League...but there is some silver lining, including 99 strikeouts in 93 2/3 innings and just 14 hits allowed over 23 frames in his last five starts.

Low Class A Charleston (2-8; 51-49)

Not all is going so well anymore for the big three teenagers on the Riverdogs. 2005 first-round pick C.J. Henry has been prone to slumps and is batting just .226/.318/.330 overall with 24 errors. As a potential leadoff man, you have to like center fielder Austin Jackson's (.262/.353/.353) 50 walks and 30 stolen bases, but his low-ish batting average and 109 strikeouts in 374 at-bats are troubling. Nothing is wrong with 17-year-old sensation Jose Tabata's play (.303/.383/.427), but he's landed on the disabled list after being hit in the thumb with a pitch.

Short-season Staten Island (20-13)

After winning just three games at Northwestern this year in 16 starts, fifth-round pick George Kontos (3.23 ERA) has already matched that total in six pro starts while striking out 32 in 30 2/3 innings.

Rookie-level GCL Yankees (15-12)

The Yankees were the only team willing to give eighth-round pick Dellin Betances a seven-figure bonus, and the 6-foot-7 righty has allowed one run over six innings in two games while striking out six.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Triple-A Durham (5-5; 48-53)

The B.J. Upton (.264/.367/.391) move to third base hasn't done anything for his offensive game, but just two errors in 12 games at the hot corner is a good sign. At the same time, new shortstop Ben Zobrist has made a seamless transition to both his new organization and Triple-A, reaching base 22 times in 11 games. Delmon Young has obviously shown tons of power in the past, but where is it this year? The three home runs in 204 at-bats wouldn't bother me as much if he had a boatload of doubles, but 52 of his 69 hits are singles. Like Zobrist, former Royals lefthander J.P. Howell arrived in a midseason trade and has performed well, with a 2.23 ERA in six starts.

Double-A Montgomery (5-5; 53-46)

Memo to baseball fans: if you are looking for high-scoring action, avoid Montgomery games at all costs. In 19 July games, the Biscuits have scored just 66 runs, but allowed only 44. That's 5.8 total runs per game, so at least the fans are getting home early. The only batter keeping up his end of the deal is second baseman Elliot Johnson (.303/.359/.507), whose breakout performance continues. Right-hander Andrew Sonnastine (2.79 ERA) has achieved something rarely seen in the minors or majors these days, with four complete games in his last seven starts. He's not a pure finesse guy, but he's certainly not a power pitcher either, as evidenced by a mediocre 108 strikeouts in 135 1/3 innings. What he does have is remarkable command (24 BB), and a sub-1.00 WHIP despite not missing bats. The next Bob Tewksbury?

High Class A Visalia (7-3; 51-48)

Shortstop Reid Brignac (.310/.368/.533) is going through his first slump of the season, with a .204 batting average in his last 16 games. First-round and No. 3 overall pick Evan Longoria has more than picked up the slack, batting .363/.454/.688 in 21 games, including seven home runs and 22 RBIs. Taking advantage of batting ahead of Brignac and Longoria--as well as catcher John Jaso (.321/.378/.451) and slugging outfielders Patrick Breen (18 home runs) and Shaun Cumberland (16)--is leadoff man Fernandez Perez (.292/.390/.360). A pure 80 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) runner who knows how take advantage of his speed both offensively and defensively, Perez has reached base 175 times this year and scored a minor-league-leading 83 runs.

Low Class A Southwest Michigan (4-6; 44-55)

Wade Davis (3.20 ERA, 126 Ks in 107 IP) and Jacob McGee (2.78 ERA, 129 Ks in 107 IP) were the best 1-2 pitching punch in the Midwest League during the first half of the season, but both have hit a bit of a wall in their full-season debuts. Davis has a 5.43 ERA in is last 10 starts, a far cry from the Gibson-esque 1.00 mark in his first 10. Scouts who have seen him recently noted a drop in velocity, with him sitting at 91 mph with little movement as he struggles to find the strike zone. For McGee, the dropoff is not as significant but still there, as his hit rate has gone up as his strikeout rate has gone down.

Short-season Hudson Valley (14-19)

Josh Hamilton has hit a respectable .273/.333/.386 in 13 games, but the best actual prospect on this team right now might be Jeremy Hellickson, as the 2005 fourth-round pick has a 2.12 ERA in seven starts, striking out 38 in 34 innings while allowing just 21 hits and nine walks. Hellickson has been sitting consistently at 93-94 mph this year, and his hammer curveball gives him two plus pitches as a 19-year-old.

Rookie-level Princeton (13-16)

A eighth-round pick out of Tomball High School in Texas, righty Tyree Hayes has yet to give up a run in eight innings, punching out nine.

Toronto Blue Jays

Triple-A Syracuse (5-5; 46-56)

Acquired from Arizona in the offseason, former first-round pick Sergio Santos stopped hitting last year, and he hasn't started this year, sitting at .219/.261/.296. Like many Triple-A teams, the SkyChiefs feature a number of veterans and hangers-on, but as the saying goes, it beats the hell out of working at Sears. Left-hander Davis Romero is not a highly regarded prospect, but they keep moving him through the system, and he keeps getting batters out. He has future LOOGY potential.

Double-A New Hampshire (6-4; 45-56)

I've complained about outfielder Adam Lind's lack of power in the past, but at this point, it looks like I was just plain wrong. Lind is currently batting .309/.357/.536 and leading the league in home runs and RBIs while placing second in the batting race. The chances of him hitting enough to be an every day corner outfielder grow by the day. Now for where I've been right--2005 first-round pick Ricky Romero's lack of an out pitch is hurting him at the upper levels, as the lefty has a 8.00 ERA after five Eastern League starts, with just 13 strikeouts in 27 innings.

High Class A Dunedin (5-5; 54-47)

A fourth-round pick in 2005 as a senior out of Louisiana State, Ryan Patterson (.288/.327/.520) is already 23 years old, but at the same time he leads the Florida State League with 19 home runs. Power is really his only plus tool, so the bat will have to be his ticket to the majors and the clock is ticking. Catcher Robinzon Diaz (.299/.333/.374) has always been somewhat highly regarded, but he's just six months younger than Patterson and has yet to get out A ball while playing in his sixth pro season.

Low Class A Lansing (2-8; 51-46)

21-year-old Taiwanese southpaw Chi-Hung Cheng (3.09 ERA) has shown improvements in his second year with the Lugnuts, and has been downright dominant in July, allowing four earned runs in 30 innings with nearly twice as many strikeouts (35) as hits allowed (18). His fastball is just in the upper 80s, but he can sink it or cut it with great effectiveness, and his curveball features big-league break. Also repeating the Midwest League is outfielder Yuber Rodriguez (.217/.314/.279) who has made absolutely no progress in translating his plus tools into performance.

Short-season Auburn (14-18)

Fifth-round pick Luke Hopkins (.262/.377/.449) is a giant first baseman and college stathead favorite who has brought his extreme patience (21 BB in 107 at-bats) to the pro game, but has yet to find his power (three home runs).

Rookie-level Pulaski (19-13)

First-round pick Travis Snider has 26 strikeouts in 97 at-bats, but at .299/.376/.474 has also shown a good approach and a knack for hard contact.

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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