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August 8, 2006

Future Shock

Division Roundup, AL West

by Kevin Goldstein

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Los Angeles Angels

Triple-A Salt Lake (66-48)

As conservative as the Angels are when it comes to trading prospects, it was still somewhat surprising to see them not get something for Erick Aybar to help them down the stretch. With Orlando Cabrera locked up until 2009, Aybar is completely blocked while being pretty much ready, but he hasn't let it affect his performance, batting .345 in 20 games since returning to the minors and .312/.355/.462 overall. Another hot bat since getting sent down is first baseman Kendry Morales (.329/.367/.536), who is 17-for-46 (.370) with five home runs since coming back to Utah. Completing the trio is outfielder Reggie Willits (.323/.441/.424), who has had a breakout season and is also not letting a demotion get to him; the center fielder is batting .400 while reaching base 43 times in 19 games since returning to the minors. All three will likely be added to the big league roster when they expand to provide some speed, defensive versatility and thump off the bench.

Double-A Arkansas (44-68)

Outfielder Terry Evans just keeps rolling along in what is by far the most unanticipated performance of the season. With 32 home runs overall, Evans is second in the minor leagues, trailing only Triple-A Durham's Kevin Witt, and he's gone deep in five of his last six games. Batting .297/.355/.624 at Double-A Arkansas since coming over from the Cardinals for Jeff Weaver, the 24-year-old Evans offers no track record to go on and an ugly 102/30 K/BB ratio in 414 at-bats, but a great season is a great season and he's certainly some kind of prospect. Shortstop Brandon Wood (.274/.358/.548) is hitting just .223 in 33 games since the start of July, but 18 of his 27 hits have gone for extra bases, as Wood has just 49 singles on the season, to go with 39 doubles, three triples and 23 home runs. After exploding in the California League and pitching a complete-game five-hitter in his Arkansas debut, righty Jose Arredondo has hit a wall, giving up 26 runs over 23.1 innings in his last five starts.

High Class A Rancho Cucamonga (50-63)

Shortstop Sean Rodriguez (.304/.380/.540) just keeps mashing, batting .331 in 34 games since July with seven home runs and 20 walks in 133 at-bats. His reviews defensively are mixed, which means that his strongest supporters only feel that he can become average there. If he's forced to move to second base, he'll need to prove that the bat is real, and not just a product of the California League. A weak rotation has been bolstered by the promotions of righthanders Nick Adenhart and Stephen Marek. Adenhart has a 3.76 ERA in seven starts, but that's offset by one start when he gave up eight runs. Marek is a big-budget draft-and-follow, and while he has move velocity than Adenhart, he's also nearly three years older and doesn't have as deep an arsenal--though many scouts think he could be dominant in a bullpen role where he could concentrate solely on his big heavy fastball and sharp curve.

Low Class A Cedar Rapids (50-63)

The team had high hopes for 20-year-old shortstop Hainley Statia going into the season, and he's finally begun to hit. He went an even 40-for-100 in July with 15 walks and batting .295/.371/.385 overall while playing outstanding defense, leading the Midwest League with 71 double plays. The Angels don't make a lot of big money mistakes, but Mark Trumbo is beginning to look like one. Given $1.425 million as a 18th-round pick in 2004, Trumbo is batting .229/.313/.378 and is already limited defensively to first base. It's not time to think about it yet, but he had loads of potential on the mound coming out high school as well. While Adenhart and Marek have moved up, righthander Tommy Mendoza has stayed behind, and with a 4.32 ERA it's understandable--but I still like him as a prospect. He's been plagued by inconsistency, allowing two or fewer earned runs in 10 of 23 starts, while also surrendering seven or more runs four times. Showing the ability to pitch very well is a much better sign than if he were just mediocre every time out. Season totals can be dangerous for pitching prospects; game logs are much more telling.

Rookie-Level Orem (29-17)

2005 second-round pick Ryan Mount (.277/.368/.458) has looked much more comfortable in his second year as a pro, showing power and patience--secondary skills that he'll need to continue developing, as few think he'll be able to stay at shortstop.

Rookie-Level AZL Angels (22-15)

First-round pick Hank Conger's season is done after 19 games, as he hit .319/.382/.522 in 69 at-bats before breaking a bone in his hand.

Oakland Athletics

Triple-A Sacramento (62-54)

The River Cats have been quite the juggernaut offensively of late, scoring 260 runs in 34 games (7.6 runs per game) since July 1. The bad news is that most of the damage has been done by minor league veterans like Hiram Bocachica (.340/.438/.632) and D'Angelo Jimenez (.303/.417/.485), as well as first baseman Dan Johnson (.406/.486/.720), who's been doing his best Ted Williams impression since being sent down. First baseman Daric Barton would be the youngest contributor on the team, but his return from an elbow fracture has been slower than expected and he hasn't played since late May. From the "don't forget about me" files comes former Cleveland reliever Kaz Tadano, who has a 6.09 ERA overall, but has looked especially impressive out of the bullpen lately, allowing one earned run in his last nine appearances while striking out 16 in 12.2 innings.

Double-A Midland (56-56)

Second baseman Kevin Melillo (.289/.370/.430) is suddenly having a pretty good season by going 19-for-37 with seven walks during his current 10-game hitting streak. He hasn't been able to replicate last year's power numbers, but his on-base skills remain top notch. Righthander Connor Robertson continues to be one of the better bullpen sleepers in the system thanks to one of the more deceptive deliveries you'll see, as his extreme body twist before delivery hides the ball from opposing batters until the moment of release. In his last 15 appearances, the former 31st-round pick has 32 strikeouts in 23 innings, and in his career, he has 249 whiffs in just 180 frames. Relief sleeper number two is Marcus McBeth, as the converted outfielder has a 2.68 ERA in 32 games and more than a strikeout per inning despite remaining extremely raw.

High Class A Stockton (57-54)

If you are looking for disappointing first-round picks, Stockton is the place for you. 2003 first-round pick Brian Snyder (.303/.416/.400) is 24 and already pretty much reduced to a bad third baseman whose only skill is a propensity for walks, while fellow 2003 first-round selection Brad Sullivan is back in Arizona trying to figure out something... anything after giving up 29 runs over 9.2 innings in his last 10 appearances. Going back a year, 2002 first-round pick John McCurdy (.284/.323/.467) has had the smallest of rebounds, but he's now 25 and has already flamed out at the upper level, while going forward a year we have catcher Landon Powell (.262/.347/.427). A four-year college player who couldn't afford development interruptions, Powell missed all of 2005 recovering from knee surgery, and hasn't exactly set the world on fire. The Ports are about to get a much needed injection of youth this week in the arrival of 19-year-old and 2005 second-round pick Jared Lansford, who was promoted over the weekend. While he had a 2.86 ERA in 18 starts, and allowed just 87 hits in 104 innings, his Wang-esque strikeout rate (4.3 per 9) will require him to prove it at every level.

Low Class A Kane County (66-47)

Third baseman Jeff Baisley (.302/.377/.541) is among the minor league leaders with 94 RBI, but the list of 23-year-old sluggers putting up big numbers in Low A only to disappoint at the higher levels is pretty long. Arriving on the scene last week, third-round pick Matt Sulentic will make the last month of Cougars box scores much more interesting. After cruising through the college-heavy Northwest League at a .354/.409/.479 clip, the 18-year-old outfielder is 4-for-12 in his first three full-season league games. Three highly regarded teenagers began their year in the Kane County rotation, and while Lansford has moved up and Craig Italiano went down with a shoulder injury, Vince Mazzaro keeps plugging away with a 4.86 ERA. His numbers are not impressive--as he's struggled to find consistency with his offspeed pitches--but he is coming off his best outing of the season on Sunday, allowing four hits over eight innings and striking out nine.

Short-Season Vancouver (26-21)

Sixth-round pick Andrew Bailey is a big righthander with a big fastball and excellent command. In seven games he has a 1.67 ERA with 27 strikeouts in an equal number of innings and just three walks.

Rookie-Level AZL Athletics (14-23)

Eighth-round pick Angel Sierra (.191/.327/.245) has drawn 17 walks in 94 at-bats, but his other abilities are still far more tools than skills.

Seattle Mariners

Triple-A Tacoma (61-53)

Triple-A is proving to be not only an illogical destination, but a far too aggressive assignment for last year's first-round pick, Jeff Clement. Batting just .248/.306/.372, Clement has shown little power and a surprisingly impatient approach. Are the frequent injuries finally catching up to Chris Snelling? Currently in an 0-for-21 slump, he's also just 7-for-78 (.090) in his last 23 games and .223/.331/.344 on the season--unacceptable numbers for a hitter who needs to hit .300+ because of his sub-standard secondary skills. Korean righthander Cha-Seung Baek got hit hard in a brief 2004 big league look and was torched for a 6.41 ERA at Tacoma last year, but he was once highly regarded and has turned things around this season, with a 2.80 ERA in 135 innings and quality starts in 16 of his last 19 outings.

Double-A San Antonio (51-60)

After hitting .342/.388/.478 in the California League, Taiwanese infielder Yung-Chi Chen was riding a 10-game hitting streak with the Missions, batting .324/.361/.574 in 17 games before dislocating his shoulder in late July. Just 20 years old, third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo doesn't belong in Double-A, and his performance at Inland Empire did not merit a promotion. Nonetheless, more was expected than a .191/.262/.206 line in 37 games with just two extra-base hits in 131 at-bats. He's already been moved off of shortstop, and his prospect status has taken a big hit this year. Now having been traded at each of the last three trade deadlines, righthander Travis Chick has a 2.23 ERA in six starts, but with a 24/22 K/BB ratio in 36.1 innings, it looks like luck more than anything else.

High Class A Inland Empire (60-52)

The Mariners have moved a number of players to Double-A this year, with little prospect-wise to replace them. Second baseman Luis Valbuena (.259/.328/.362) is up after finally getting hot at Wisconsin, and he's a decent second base prospect with some gap power and on-base skills. The pitching staff has been awful of late aside from 6-foot-5 righthander Cibney Bello, whose average stuff and average ERA (4.06) is enough to make him one of the best pitchers on the team at this point.

Low Class A Wisconsin (41-73)

Busier than most teams in scouting Asian talent, the Mariners signed outfielder Kuo-Hui Lo last summer to a just-over six-figure bonus, and he's batting .266/.320/.351 in 24 games after making his pro debut at Everett. A tall, lanky outfielder who is not without tools, Lo's plus-speed has allowed him to steal 14 bases in 15 attempts, but he has little power and will need to develop a more patient approach to move up. Undrafted out of Princeton, righty Brian Kappel has moved from closing at Everett to closing at Wisconsin and his 31 strikeouts in 21.1 innings--but he went undrafted for a reason, as he gets by on knowing how to pitch (not surprising for a Princeton guy) more than stuff, as he rarely hits 90 mph on the radar gun.

Short-Season Everett (23-24)

Eighth-round pick Doug Fister has moved from the rotation to the bullpen, but the 6-foot-8 righty has pitched well in both roles, with a 0.94 ERA in 28.2 innings.

Rookie-Level AZL Mariners (18-19)

First-round pick Brandon Morrow has stuggled with his control as a pro, with eight walks and three wild pitches in 10 innings.

Texas Rangers

Triple-A Oklahoma (58-58)

Righty Edison Volquez went from the Pacific Coast League disabled list (strained calf) to the big league rotation, where he struggled against first-place Oakland in his first Ranger start of the season. Volquez sat in the low-90s and struggled with his command, which has been a bugaboo all year. All swings and misses from Oakland bats came off his plus-plus changeup. Lefthander John Danks might have to wait until next year to get the call, but the 21-year-old former first-rounder makes up for a 5.32 ERA with his youth, good stuff and 49 strikeouts in 45.2 innings. Can we start admitting to ourselves that shortstop Joaquin Arias just isn't that good? Now batting .268/.305/.367, Arias has solid tools across the board, but he has no power and swings at everything, so even when he hit .300, his OPS was in the .750 range.

Double-A Frisco (57-56)

Nate Gold is batting .299/.380/.582, but it's pretty hard to get excited about a big mashing first baseman who is 26 years old. Kevin Mahar has come on strong, batting .333 in his last 30 games and .273/.320/.476 overall, but it's hard to get excited about a big mashing center fielder who is 25 years old. You get my drift. While righthander Thomas Diamond has been beyond inconsistent this year and has a 4.26 ERA, his counting statistics are pretty impressive, including 128 strikeouts and just 86 hits allowed in 107.2 innings. Two-and-a-half years younger than Diamond, but pitching at the same level, righthander Eric Hurley has limited Texas League hitters to a .194 average in three starts since his promotion.

High Class A Bakersfield (48-65)

Conversions to catcher are often a last resort, but former third baseman Emerson Frostad is batting .308/.377/.531 and has looked at least decent defensively. The Rangers entered the year with high expectations from righthander Michael Schlact (6.20 ERA), and while an inability to miss bats hurt him in the Midwest League last year, it has destroyed him in the offense-heavy California League this season, with lefthanders teeing off against him for a .357 average.

Low Class A Clinton (34-79)

Once of the worst teams in the minors has lost 28 of their last 35 games but has at least found something to be optimistic about in the performances of two of their top draft picks from last June, outfielder John Mayberry (.252/.335/.450) and third baseman Johnny Whittleman (.232/.319/.368). While neither has statistics to get excited about, Mayberry hit .299/.342/.495 in July, while Whittleman hit .267/.324/.525 with seven of his nine home runs on the season coming over a 20-day period.

Short-Season Spokane (18-29)

The only two players with double-digit home run totals in the Northwest League are third-round pick Chad Tracy (.291/.367/.532 w/ 10 HRs in 158 at-bats) and fifth-round pick Chris Davis (.288/.356/.622 with 13 HRs in 156 at-bats).

Rookie-Level AZL Rangers (13-23)

Great news for Rangers fans: the club was able to pry shortstop Marcus Lemon away from a full ride at the University of Texas, signing the fourth-round pick for first-round money with a cool $1 million bonus. Chet's son is, not surprisingly, a great defender, and he's hit .304/.429/.435 in his brief pro career.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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