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March 2, 2007

Future Shock

Systems Retrospective, American League

by Kevin Goldstein

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Next week, I'll begin the State Of The Systems series that served as my debut at Baseball Prospectus. Before that begins, however, let's look back at last year's columns. How did I do? For each team I selected one player I liked better than most, and one I didn't with the Public Enemy-inspired heading of "Don't Believe The Hype." Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it, so lets see how I did in the American League.

Players I Was Higher On Than Most:

Baltimore Orioles
Player: Brandon Erbe, RHP
What I said: "... all the planets seem to be aligned as we enter the season."
What happened: Erbe struck out 133 over 114.2 innings in his full-season debut as an 18-year-old, and limited opposing batters to a .217 batting average while giving up only two home runs. He elevated himself to the top of the Baltimore prospect list, and into the overall Top 50 prospects in the game.
Grade: A

Boston Red Sox
Player: Michael Bowden, RHP
What I said: "It's easy to find high school pitchers who can throw hard, but Bowden adds what is already a plus breaking pitch and very good control."
What happened: Bowden had an outstanding full-season debut at Low-A Greenville, with 118 strikeouts and just 31 walks in 107.2 innings, while limiting batters to a .224 average, and finishing the year as the No. 3 prospect in the system.
Grade: A-

Chicago White Sox
Player: Chris Getz, 2B
What I said: "... could become a low-rent version of Dustin Pedroia."
What happened: Pushed to Double-A for his full-season debut, Getz kept making contact, with just 47 strikeouts in 508 at-bats, but the contact didn't prove to be of much value, his walk rate plummeted, and he finished with a .256/.326/.321 line.
Grade: F

Cleveland Indians
Player: Fernando Cabrera, RHP
What I said: "I think he's one of the best relief prospects in the game."
What happened: While his 5.19 ERA doesn't excite, he still struck out 71 in 60.2 innings, but was troubled by giving up too many home runs. I still think there's room for optimism here.
Grade: C

Detroit Tigers
Player: Kody Kirkland, 3B
What I said: "... solid numbers in the Florida State League and the tools to build on them at Double-A."
What happened: Finished tied for third in the Eastern League with 22 home runs, but everything else was a nightmare, including 167 strikeouts and a batting average just north of the Mendoza line. The good news: the tools and athleticism remain.
Grade: D

Kansas City Royals
Player: Luis Cota, RHP
What I said: "... hoping that his stuff will finally show itself on a more regular basis."
What happened: It didn't, as Cota had a miserable season (7.09 ERA) pitching in a miserable park (High Desert).
Grade: D-

Los Angeles Angels
Player: Mike Napoli, C
What I said: "... an outside chance of becoming something between Gene Tenace and Mickey Tettleton."
What happened: A surprise big league starter when Jeff Mathis failed, Napoli's .228/.360/.455 line certainly looks like something out of the Tenace/Tettleton mold, although a miserable second half puts his job in jeopardy.
Grade: B

Minnesota Twins
Player: Jason Kubel, OF
What I said: "... could force the Twins to get his bat into the lineup."
What happened: Kubel hit well at Triple-A, but struggled mightily in the majors as he continued to struggle with his health. The Twins still think he's going to be valuable, and so do I.
Grade: C-

New York Yankees
Player: Jose Tabata, OF
What I said: "... ceiling is as high, if not higher, than any low-level prospect in the game."
What happened: Playing in the Sally League as a 17-year-old, Tabata hit .298/.377/.420 before an injured thumb cut his season short. Despite his age, he was one of the best reviewed prospects at the Futures Game, and all is as on track now as it was a year ago.
Grade: B, which is almost the maximum grade one could give here, as selecting Tabata wasn't exactly going out on a limb.

Oakland Athletics
Player: Javier Herrera, OF
What I said: "... on a pure tools level, he has 30-30 potential."
What happened: Herrera injured his elbow during spring training, and missed the entire year recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Grade: Incomplete

Seattle Mariners
Player: Ryan Feierabend, LHP
What I said: "... not overwhelming by any measurement, but could develop into a solid back-of-the-rotation starter."
What happened: Feierabend held his own in the tough Double-A Texas League as a 20-year-old, and shot up most prospects lists, ranking as the No. 6 prospect in the Seattle system during the offseason. In the quote above, change "could develop" to "should develop."
Grade: B+

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Player: Elijah Dukes, OF
What I said: "... one would hope that with those tools, he could be successful enough to easily distance himself from his past."
What happened: When he wasn't getting into even more trouble, Dukes had another nice year in the minors, batting .293/.401/.488 in 334 plate appearances. Irony of all ironies, Dukes might be in the big leagues this year anyway, as the team isn't sure what else to do with him.
Grade: Incomplete

Toronto Blue Jays
Player: Chi-Hung Cheng, LHP
What I said: "... he could take off with a little more fastball and a few minor adjustments."
What happened: Cheng finished sixth in the Midwest League ERA race with a 2.70 mark, and third in strikeouts with 154 in 143.1 innings, though he also finished second in walks (68). Any progress there was eliminated when he went under the knife for labrum surgery in the offseason.
Grade: B-

Texas Rangers
Player: Anthony Webster, OF
What I said: "... the Rangers are desperate for a true center fielder, and Webster has a chance to be that guy."
What happened: Webster had a very good first half (.310/.364/.463) at Double-A Frisco, but struggled a bit in Triple-A. More importantly, he's never gotten better in the outfield, and now projects as a corner outfielder, where his offense is no more than bench-worthy. He didn't blossom, but he didn't move down either.
Grade: C

Players I Was Lower On Than Most:

Baltimore Orioles
Player: Nick Markakis, OF
What I said: "... no problem with the argument that Markakis is a very good prospect and the best in the Baltimore system ... to put him in the elite class is still doing a lot of dreaming."
What happened: Markakis got off to a slow start, but finished with a .291/.351/.448 batting line thanks to a big second half. In April and May I was right, after that I was wrong.
Grade: C-

Boston Red Sox
Player: Dustin Pedroia, 2B
What I said: "... I see no evidence on any level that he'll be a star." What happened: One year later, most of Pedroia's comps on the power-hitter side have disappeared, and his projections are now more in line with what scouts expect. Again, a solid player, who deserves the chances he's getting in Boston, but not a future impact player.
Grade: B

Chicago White Sox
Player: Ryan Sweeney, OF
What I said: "... he's yet to show any ability to hit for power."
What happened: Sweeney's .296/.350/.452 line at Triple-A represented a step forward, with his proven ability to play center field an even more pleasant surprise. Thirteen home runs was a career high, but the power is still more potential than anything else.
Grade: C-

Cleveland Indians
Player: Jeremy Sowers, LHP
What I said: "... I don't see stardom for him, as he's more of a command/finesse specialist who doesn't overpower opposing hitters."
What happened: Sowers was outstanding in Triple-A, and pretty good in his big league debut, but at the same time, is an above-average ERA sustainable with ratios like Sowers? 35 strikeouts in 88.1 innings just doesn't make sense unless you have Wang-like groundball ratios.
Grade: C

Detroit Tigers
Player: Humberto Sanchez, RHP
What I said: "... he's injury prone, has conditioning problems, and has consistent trouble finding the strike zone."
What happened: Two issues remain for Sanchez, who's now a Yankee after the Gary Sheffield deal. In 2006, it was elbow problems. He's still yet to throw 125 innings in a season, and he's still fat. At least the control improved.
Grade: C+

Kansas City Royals
Player: Justin Huber, 1B
What I said: "... middle-of-the-road power prevents him from ever being a true impact first baseman where the offensive expectations are gargantuan."
What happened: Huber had a middling .278/.358/.480 season at Triple-A, and is now behind the recently acquired Ryan Shealy on the first base depth chart in Kansas City. Unless something changes, he could be on his way to Quadulpe-A land.
Grade: B

Los Angeles Angels
Player: Jered Weaver, RHP
What I said: "... hard to project as more than a No. 3 or 4 starter."
What happened: Weaver cruised through Triple-A, and won 11 games in 19 big league starts with a 2.56 ERA, which would have been good enough for the American League lead if he had enough innings. Following one of his early big league starts, a pro scout emailed me with simply, "If that's not a top of the rotation starter, I don't know what is." I was dead wrong, and provided his early-season arm troubles don't become a long-term concern, he'll probably rack up some genuine ERA titles down the road.
Grade: F

Minnesota Twins
Player: Denard Span, OF
What I said: "... he's going to have to hit .300+ at the big league level to have any value offensively, as he offers little when it comes to secondary skills."
What happened: Span repeated his .285 average at Double-A, but with just 24 extra-base hits and 40 walks, his 689 OPS was a definite step in the wrong direction.
Grade: B+

New York Yankees
Player: Eric Duncan, 3B
What I said: "... just OK power and a ton of whiffs... he's moving to first, and I'll take a pass."
What happened: After 110 homer-less at-bats at Triple-A, Duncan rebounded a bit at Double-A, but only a bit, and he's fallen off most top 10 lists. Now a first baseman, he's officially in trouble as far as having a future.
Grade: B+

Oakland Athletics
Player: Danny Putnam, OF
What I said: "... hit .307 with 100 RBI in his full-season debut... just doesn't have enough juice in his bat to profile as an everyday player there."
What happened: Limited to just 76 games (most of them at Double-A) because of knee problems, Putnam hit just .265 with nine home runs, and needs to bounce back in 2007 to profile as anything more than a bench bat.
Grade: B

Seattle Mariners
Player: Matt Tuiasosopo, SS
What I said: "... he'll have to move away from shortstop ... his power shows up in batting practice for more often than it does during games."
What happened: Tuiasosopo was moved to third base, but rushed to Double-A for no reason at mid-season, and hit just .185 there to go with just two home runs all year in 448 at-bats. Not good at all.
Grade: A

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Player: Jeff Niemann, RHP
What I said: "... pitched just 31 innings since signing... mix in the ugly recent track record of Rice pitchers in the pros, and it's a scary combination."
What happened: Niemann finally returned to action in the second half and turned in his first successful, extended run of starts as a pro. He's in line for a big league look this year, but he's not completely out of the injury nexus yet.
Grade: D

Toronto Blue Jays
Player: Brandon League, RHP
What I said: "... at some point you have to stop getting excited... if it's not generating any results."
What happened: League returned to the big leagues in 2006, and found some success in the bullpen with a 2.53 ERA in 33 games. He's still not striking people out, but he's getting a lot of ground balls and not walking anybody. It still doesn't look like he'll ever close, but he looks like a useful big league arm.
Grade: D

Texas Rangers
Player: Joaquin Arias, SS
What I said: ". . . still a lot more promise than reality . . . a lack of power and plate discipline leaves him better suited for the bottom half of the lineup."
What happened: Four home runs, just 19 walks, 24 errors, and a .268/.296/.361 set of averages at Triple-A Oklahoma has Arias' stock plummeting.
Grade: A

Summing It Up

There are some big clunkers here, but there's also plenty to be proud of, as quite a few calls were on the button. I did better in picking the overrated guys than the underrated ones, but that's also the easier task, as most teams only have a few breakout candidates, if any, in a given season. We'll see how things looked in the National League early next week.

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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