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August 2, 2006

Future Shock

Division Roundup, NL East

by Kevin Goldstein

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Atlanta Braves

  • Triple-A Richmond (38-69)

    Trying to find a positive note when looking at one of the worst upper-level teams in the minors is a difficult task, but it's possible that outfielder Gregor Blanco has worked his way back into the prospect world by hitting .299/.399/.347 in 38 games since a promotion from Mississippi. He has some valuable skills for sure, including speed, the ability to take a walk and very good defensive skills. He doesn't have enough contact ability or enough pop to be an everyday player, but he's only 22 and those three existing abilities alone can equal a lengthy big league career coming off the bench. How bad is the Richmond lineup? Only two players hit more than one home run in July: one of them is 29-year-old veteran Mike Ryan, and the other, first baseman James Jurries, hit .171 overall.

  • Double-A Mississippi (46-60)

    Jarrod Saltalamacchia's (.221/.344/.374) return to the land of hitting was documented on Monday, which leaves me with very little to discuss here, as the team scored just 90 runs in 26 July games with a team on-base percentage of .298. Basically, if the Braves had a decent hitting prospect in the upper levels, he came up in 2005--the team keeps developing pitching, but the position player pool is wading-area thin. That said, toolsy outfielder Brandon Jones remains the system's best-kept secret, batting .280/.336/.515 in 36 games since a promotion and showing unprecedented power. There's finally some good news on Anthony Lerew's progress, who had an inexplicable 9.38 ERA at Richmond. Sent down to the Southern League, things are coming together, as the righthander has a 1.44 ERA in eight starts and has given up just one earned run in his last 29.2 innings; he could get another shot at the International League soon.

  • High Class A Myrtle Beach (55-50)

    21-year-old first baseman Kala Kaaihue was one of the talks of the system during the season's first half, batting .329/.458/.614 for Rome, but it's been a very different story in the Carolina League (.217/.327/.450). The walks and power are still there, but his long swing--designed to either hit the ball a mile or not at all--is catching up with him. 2005 first-round pick Joey Devine was in the major leagues last year shortly after being selected, but after missing much of the season with a torn disc in his back, he's been lost in the weeds at Myrtle Beach, with a 7.24 ERA in nine appearances. His mechanics have been highly inconsistent, but signs of dominance are still there, as evidenced by 22 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. I certainly wouldn't give up on him yet.

  • Low Class A Rome (58-48)

    Speaking of back problems, third baseman Eric Campbell, ranked as the No. 8 third baseman in the minors, landed on the disabled list for two weeks with a strained back. He had been bothered by it during a 3-for-28 slump that dropped his averages to .285/.323/.486. With better plate discipline, he'll rank much higher next year, as his raw tools are outstanding both at the plate and in the field. A pair of lefties drafted in June--fourth-round pick Lee Hyde (Georgia Tech) and fifth-round selection Kevin Gunderson (Oregon State)--have both looked good in limited action out of the bullpen.

  • Rookie-level Danville (24-15)

    Second-round pick Chase Fontaine (.308/.414/.438) is off to a nice start with the bat thanks to an advanced approach.

  • Rookie-level GCL Braves (14-19)

    First-round pick Cody Johnson drew widely varying reviews in high school, with the Braves feeling strong enough about the Florida prep star to sign him for $1.375 million, while one team's scouting director referred to him as "a total myth." So far he's batting .236/.288/.327 in 55 at-bats with 22 strikeouts, and he has yet to hit a home run.

Florida Marlins

  • Triple-A Albuquerque (53-55)

    The Marlins have exceeded all expectations at the big league level, and those young hitters better keep it up, as the Marlins' Double- and Triple-A lineups are just as depressing as the Braves'. After giving Hanley Ramirez some strong competition in spring training, shortstop Robert Andino (.257/.301/.374) has gone back to his light-hitting ways, while first baseman Jason Stokes (.262/.349/.446) has landed on the disabled list for what seems like the 1,873rd time. After a miserable nine-game stint in the majors, righthander Yusmeiro Petit is back in the minors at Triple-A, and his inability to miss bats at the upper levels has continued. Many, many scouts thought this would happen in the end. A better prospect at this point might be former Cub Renyel Pinto, who has a 3.40 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning thanks to an average fastball and plus curve while making solid in-season progress with his control.

  • Double-A Carolina (45-62)

    A prospect-less offense played like it in July, hitting a composite .239/.297/.357 in 26 games while scoring 79 runs. The pitching staff is nearly as uninteresting, though hard-throwing reliever Scott Tyler (2.80 ERA) might still have a chance if he can keep throwing strikes. After walking 30 in his first 32 innings, he's given up just four free passes in his last 13 frames while striking out 17.

  • High Class A Jupiter (44-60)

    J.T. Restko had a breakout season in 2005, but has been one of the system's many disappointments this year, batting just .226/.317/.343 for the Hammerheads. The good news is that he hit .281 in July. Undrafted out of college and more than just a little on the small side, 23-year-old righty reliever Todd Doolittle just keeps getting the job done, and scouts tend to think he's more than a simple fluke, with just enough stuff and moxie to get there. In 11 Florida State League games, he's given up one run in 16.1 innings while striking out 21. On the flipside is 2005 first-round pick Jacob Marceaux, who was not only drafted, but got $1 million as the 26th overall pick. With a 4.07 ERA and a 57/43 K/BB ration in 86.1 innings, the righthander has seen significant drops in both velocity and control--a troubling combination.

  • Low Class A Greensboro (52-52)

    Kris Harvey is tied for third in the Sally League with 15 home runs, but he's coming off a miserable month in which he went 15-for-92 (.163) with 28 strikeouts, lowering his season averages to .248/.295/.434. If it doesn't work out at the plate, they can always have him give pitching a shot--like his father, former all-star closer Bryan Harvey, the kid pumps mid-90s gas from the mound. 2006 first-round pick Brett Sinkbeil (2.31 ERA in two starts) now completes the Grasshoppers rotation, giving them five first-round picks. Despite a season ERA of 5.11, righthander Ryan Tucker has been the best of them lately, allowing three earned runs over his last 26 innings while allowing just 13 hits and striking out 29.

  • Short-Season Jamestown (20-17)

    Seventh-round pick Don Czyz was one of the nation's best closers at Kansas, and after giving up seven runs over less than an inning in his pro debut, he had a perfect July with ten straight scoreless appearances.

  • Rookie-level GCL Marlins (18-16)

    Second-round pick Tom Hickman (.283/.390/.458) has shown patience, power and a tendency to strike out a lot.

New York Mets

  • Triple-A Norfolk (42-66)

    With Xavier Nady jettisoned to Pittsburgh, the Mets called up Lastings Milledge, who suffered through a bit of big league-itis after getting sent down last month, hitting just .237/.314/.387 in July. Nonetheless, he shouldn't result in any immediate drop off from Nady, and obviously his future is much, much brighter. With Milledge gone it's a pretty awful team, with Victor Diaz's season-long slump (.231/.287/.345) continuing and Norfolk fans actually paying good money to see Jose Offerman (.227/.323/.343) still getting a paycheck.

  • Double-A Binghamton (57-49)

    The B-Town Mets are coming off a fantastic month in which they went 22-5 and outscored their opponents 133-87. The offense was led by 20-year-old center fielder Carlos Gomez (.280/.340/.430), who had a miserable first half but went 41-for-101 in (.406) in July with nine doubles and four triples. His plate discipline still leaves much to be desired, but it's a nice run for such a young player, and his tools are as good as anyone in the system. Heck, even shortstop Corey Ragsdale (.205/.275/.334) hit .280 with five home runs, but he kept up his amazing strikeout rate with 32 more whiffs, giving him 145 in 341 at-bats. Reliever Henry Owens struggled with his command in a three-game big league audition, but his ratios at Binghamton remain on the insane level, with just 14 hits allowed in 31.1 innings to go along with 62 strikeouts and nine walks. Those three games with the big boys do not convince me that he's a worse option than Roberto Hernandez.

  • High Class A St. Lucie (59-46)

    20-year-old first baseman Mike Carp (.292/.385/.440) gets nice reviews from scouts. Carp is showing impressive power for his age and a nice on-base percentage that is augmented by 20 HBPs this year. Yes, he crowds the plate. Already at the wrong end of the defensive spectrum, Carp will need to continue to make improvements to project as an every day player, but so far, so good. Closer Carlos Muniz has 24 saves and a 1.80 ERA over the last two months, but he's getting by solely on a plus slider; his lack of velocity will likely catch up to him as he moves up the ladder.

  • Low Class A Hagerstown (45-61)

    As crazy as people are for Yankees outfielder Jose Tabata, and deservedly so, Fernando Martinez deserves just as much acclaim. Actually two months younger than Tabata, Martinez has outhit the Yankees' top hitting prospect with a .333/.391/.481 line. Tabata has a better approach and much more power projection, but Martinez is a center fielder, while Tabata is destined for a corner. They're both among the highest-ceiling players in the game. Speaking of youngsters, righthander Deolis Guerra is even younger than Martinez and Tabata, with a date of birth (4/17/89) that makes most everyone feel old. Even more eye-popping is his 2.45 ERA in 14 starts, remarkable numbers for a pitcher who would still be a high school junior if he were born here instead of Venezuela.

  • Short-Season Brooklyn (22-17)

    Third-round pick Joe Smith has a plus-plus slider and has been the best closer in the New York-Penn League, allowing one earned run in 20 innings with 28 whiffs, while giving up just 10 hits and three walks.

  • Rookie-Level Kingsport (20-18)

    A 20th-round pick in 2004, the Mets have seen Sean Henry as a bit of a sleeper, but he's in his third year of rookie-ball, yet hitting a solid .266/.361/.477 as he has moved from the middle of the infield to center field.

  • Rookie-Level GCL Mets (14-21)

    Fourth-round pick John Holdzkom can get into the upper-90s with his fastball, but he has little clue as to where it's going. The 15 strikeouts in 14.2 innings are nice, but an 11.66 ERA thanks in part to 13 walks and 11 wild pitches are more than just a bit concerning.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (62-46)

    With Bobby Abreu off to the Big Apple, I was frankly confused by the team's decision to send Michael Bourn back to Triple-A in favor of Chris Roberson (.293/.350/.367). At nearly 27 years old, Roberson has proven himself to be no more than a fourth outfielder at best, while the speedy Bourn is hitting .330/.418/.457 in 24 games for the Red Barons and is a much better defensive player. Scott Mathieson got the call to replace Cory Lidle and he's the best pitching prospect in the system, but don't forget about lefty Eude Brito, who has had brief stints in the big leagues in each of the past two seasons. With a 3.07 ERA, Brito has allowed just 91 hits in 120.1 innings and has a 1.10 ERA in his last six starts.

  • Double-A Reading (51-54)

    While big, finesse lefty J.A. Happ (2.17 ERA in six starts) continues to cruise through the Eastern League, what in the heck has happened to small, power lefty Gio Gonzalez, the former White Sox prospect who came over in the Jim Thome trade? Check out this freefall:

    
    MONTH   ERA   IP   H  OPPAVG
    ----------------------------
    April  1.48  24.1 15  .174
    May    3.31  35.1 24  .190
    June   5.40  30.0 33  .282
    July   8.88  24.1 31  .313
    

    For those looking for entertainment value, the Reading team might have the ultimate minor league veteran in 36-year-old outfielder Pedro Swann, who hasn't played in the majors since 2003 and began the year in Mexico, but is 31-for-82 (.378) in 21 games.

  • High Class A Clearwater (52-53)

    2004 first-round pick Greg Golson is trying to regain his prospect status after nearly two years of struggles at Lakewood. He was batting just .220/.258/.333 this year in the Sally League, but got promoted anyway, because eventually you have to, and he's playing his best baseball of the season, going 9-for-29 (.310) in eight games with a pair of home runs. Speaking of disappointing top picks, still no signs of life from 2005 top selection Mike Costanzo (.238/.334/.376) who has 109 strikeouts but has at least looked good defensively, leading Florida State League third basemen in both fielding percentage and assists. Sleeper Alert! Righthander Pat Overholt was a 22nd-round pick last June out of Santa Clara as he was slow to recover from Tommy John sugery, but he's touched 96 mph this year and flashed a plus slilder, striking out 69 in 56.1 innings split between Lakewood and Clearwater.

  • Low Class A Lakewood (62-44)

    Can we get Matt Maloney up to Clearwater already? At 22, and coming out of a bigtime college program at Mississippi, it's not a huge surprise to see him with a 1.55 ERA in 20 starts. With good control of an average, but deep arsenal, we won't know if what he does works until we see it against more advanced hitting, and obviously, he's ready for that test. Like Golson, third baseman Welinson Baez (.225/.287/.342) is another highly thought of player trying to recover from a nightmarish first half. His batting average was below the Mendoza line less than a month ago, but he's hit .324 (23-for-71) with 11 extra-base hits in his last 20 games.

  • Short-Season Batavia (16-20)

    Fourth-round pick Jason Donald had a disappointing junior year at Arizona but is off to a solid start, batting .274/.381/.372 at the bottom of the Muckdogs lineup. I included that last phrase solely for the purpose of saying Muckdogs. Say it with me. It's fun. Muckdogs.

  • Rookie-Level GCL Phillies (14-19)

    The team's top two 2006 picks are here with very mixed results. First-round pick Kyle Drabek has been downright awful, allowing 14 runs in 10 innings, and never less than three in any of his three appearances. Meanwhile, after betting .647 in high school this spring, the hits keep coming for supplemental first-round pick Adrian Cardenas (.333/.403/.459).

Washington Nationals

  • Triple-A New Orleans (55-54)

    The Nationals greatly augmented their system with a nice draft in June, but most of their real talent is at the lower levels, and the Zephyrs roster is just sad. They're best performers are outfielder George Lombard (.290/.403/.490) and infielder Brandon Larson (.416 in July), who, let's face it, are still George Lombard and Brandon Larson. While the big league club just called up former Reds first-round pick Ryan Wagner, he wasn't especially effective. Why not give 27-year-old righty Chris Schroder a look? The six-year veteran has an average fastball but a very good curve and has 419 strikeouts in 353 career innings.

  • Double-A Harrisburg (52-56)

    First baseman Josh Whitesell (.271/.352/.467) is a hulking slugger whose bat finally caught fire in July with a 1.049 OPS in 27 games, including seven home runs in 80 at-bats. That's really the only good news for the Senators in July, as the team went 9-21 with a team batting average of .228 and a composite ERA of 5.41.

  • High Class A Potomac (50-56)

    Step right in folks, and welcome to the Land Of Faltering Prospects! Watch, as ultra-athletic shortstop Ian Desmond returns from an over-aggressive assignment at Double-A to hit just .237/.305/.371. Thrill, as righthander Collin Balester comes off a breakthrough season in 2005 to give up 61 runs in 92 innings, including 13 in his last 12 frames. And enjoy the ultimate tease in 2002 first-round pick Clint Everts, who gives up just one hit total in a pair of starts early this month, only to follow that up by surrendering eight runs over 9.1 innings in his next two outings to get his ERA up to 5.30. Warning: some portions of the show may not be suitable for children.

  • Low Class A Savannah (46-62)

    My faith in this working out is very, very low, but I'm keeping an eye on 23-year-old righthander Donald Levinski. A second-round pick by the Expos (remember them?) in 2001, Levinski had a 3.02 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning in his full-season debut, but did walk 55 in 119.1 innings. Traded to the Marlins as part of the Cliff Floyd deal towards the end of the 2002 season, the wheels started to fall off, as Levinski walked 70 in 87 innings. Traded to the Orioles towards the end of 2003, he was downright awful in the Baltimore system, putting up a 6.48 ERA in 31 games for Frederick in 2004. He pitched just 4.2 innings last year for Aberdeen, allowing 14 runs on 11 hits and six walks. It seemed over, but his original organization is giving him another chance, and in 29 innings, he's allowed just 18 hits and struck out 31, but the control (18 walks) is still spotty.

  • Short-Season Vermont (14-26)

    It's looking like I just missed on outfielder Justin Maxwell, who had a lowly .622 OPS in 17 games at Savannah, and hasn't done much more (.259/.341/.378) back in the short-season leagues.

  • Rookie-Level GCL Nationals (16-20)

    The Nationals wasted no time in moving first-round pick Chris Marrero from third base to left field, but he's hitting well (.304/.372/.406).

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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