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March 8, 2007

Future Shock

Systems Retrospective, National League

by Kevin Goldstein

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Our now-annual State Of The Systems series begins on Friday, but for now, we're looking 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 after looking at the American League hits and misses last week, let's move on the National League.

Players I Was Higher On Than Most:

Arizona Diamondbacks
Player: Micah Owings, RHP
What I said: "... the organization also tinkered with his slider, and it became a second plus pitch."
What happened: Owings had an outstanding full-season debut, beginning the year at Double-A, and moving up to Triple-A after going 6-2, 2.91 in 12 starts. He was a perfect 10-0 for Tucson, but his 3.70 ERA, .291 opponent's average and merely decent strikeout rate say he's solid, not a superstar. Nonetheless, very impressive.
Grade: B

Atlanta Braves
Player: Eric Campbell, 3B
What I said: "... he has plus power... and is one to watch when he makes his full-season debut this year."
What happened: The full-season debut was impressive, as Campbell led the Sally League in home runs with 22 while batting .296/.335/.517. They tried him out at second base in the Hawaiian Winter League, and that didn't go so well, but all other indicators are up.
Grade: B+

Chicago Cubs
Player: Donald Veal, LHP
What I said: "... a raw high-risk/high-reward guy with plus-plus velocity for a southpaw."
What happened: Veal rocketed to the top of the Cubs' prospect rankings after reaching High-A, putting up a 2.16 ERA in 28 starts, and striking out 174 in 154.1 innings while allowing just 91 hits.
Grade: A

Cincinnati Reds
Player: Sam LeCure, RHP
What I said: "... the rare college pitcher with a very fresh arm, and he struck out more than a batter per inning in his pro debut."
What happened: LeCure finished sixth in the Florida State League with a 3.43 ERA, and looks like he could turn into a solid bottom-of-the-rotation starter. He's not a stud, but he's more highly regarded than he was a year ago.
Grade: B

Colorado Rockies
Player: Chris Iannetta, C
What I said: "... an outstanding defender with very good plate discipline and a little pop."
What happened: Well, that worked out well, as Iannetta hit a combined .336/.433/.567 between Double- and Triple-A, firmly entrenching himself as the Rockies' starting catcher this year, and staking his claim among the top catching prospects in the game.
Grade: A

Florida Marlins
Player: J.T. Restko, OF
What I said: "... among my top sleepers in the game."
What happened: Restko remained asleep with a miserable .255/.325/.350 season at High-A Jupiter. The power disappeared, the approach fell apart, and he dealt with some injuries.
Grade: D-

Houston Astros
Player: Brooks Conrad, 2B
What I said: "... he can hit a little, has surprising power, draws a decent amount of walks and steals a few bases."
What happened: Conrad had a career year at Triple-A Round Rock, leading the minors with 79 extra-base hits (including 24 home runs) while batting .267/.334/.534 overall. A second baseman, and a bad one at that, Conrad has been worked at other position with limited success and at 27, he's likely lined up for another year in the minors. A good year, but one that left him with not much improved prospect status.
Grade: C+

Los Angeles Dodgers
Player: Hong-Chih Kuo, RHP
What I said: "... could be special if he can improve his breaking ball and hone his command."
What happened: After walking 33 in 59.2 big-league innings, the command obviously still needs work. At the same time, 71 strikeouts show that the special potential is still there as he fights for the role of fifth starter, with bullpen setup work looking like the consolation prize.
Grade: B-

Milwaukee Brewers
Player: Charlie Fermaint, OF
What I said: "... offers plenty of tools."
What happened: Fermaint had a solid year with the Brewers' Florida State League affiliate, batting .276/.349/.392. He didn't turn 21 until October. The tools are there, as is the projection; if anything, his stock is up.
Grade: C+

New York Mets
Player: Lastings Milledge, OF
What I said: "... everything about him screams future star to me."
What happened: By taking Milledge, I was simply saying that I saw superstar potential in him, and that he should play with the Mets immediately. He played well at Triple-A, struggled in the big leagues, and is fighting this spring for a big-league job, battling with Shawn Green. He'll likely start the year back at Triple-A, coming up when Green struggles, and I still think there's a star here--but I'm not convinced of the "super" label anymore.
Grade: C

Philadelphia Phillies
Player: Jason Jaramillo, C
What I said: "... good defensive skills and a knack for contact... projects as a solid everyday catcher."
What happened: Jaramillo took a big step backwards at Double-A, batting just .248/.320/.388 in 364 plate appearances while earning mixed reviews on his defense. He now projects as no more than a backup.
Grade: D+

Pittsburgh Pirates
Player: Jeff Sues, RHP
What I said: "... an injury history, but also has two plus pitches: a fastball that can get into the mid-90s and a good slider."
What happened: The injury history has won out so far, as Sues has yet to throw a professional pitch since being selected in the fifth round of the 2005 draft. By all accounts, he's finally healthy, and should finally make his debut this year.
Grade: D-

St. Louis Cardinals
Player: Daryl Jones, OF
What I said: "... a raw product with top-of-the-line tools."
What happened: Returning to the Appalachian League in 2006, Jones increased his on-base percentage by 56 points and his slugging by a whopping 185. His full-season debut this year is definitely one to watch.
Grade: B

San Diego Padres
Player: Matt Bush, SS
What I said: "Don't give up yet... has Gold Glove potential defensively, and the offensive tools to develop into an everyday shortstop."
What happened: Bush played just 21 games at Low-A while dealing with ankle and hamstring issues, batting just .268/.333/.310 in the process. Maybe it is time to give up...or just move him to the mound, where the arm graded as an 80 as an amateur, and might now have more value.
Grade: D-

San Francisco Giants
Player: Ben Copeland, OF
What I said: "... a left-handed hitter with solid tools across the board... [staying in centerfield] could be the key to his prospect status."
What happened: Copeland played most of the year in left field. Strike one. He hit .281/.368/.410 at Low-A Augusta--his tools remain solid, but at 23, the projection ain't much; strike two.
Grade: D

Washington Nationals
Player: Justin Maxwell, OF
What I said: "... ultra-athletic, with plus power and speed, and showed good plate discipline in college."
What happened: Maxwell pancaked at Low-A Savannah, but rebounded with a nice showing in the New York-Penn League. He went backwards, but remains ultra-athletic.
Grade: C-

Players I Was Lower On Than Most:

Arizona Diamondbacks
Player: Garrett Mock, RHP
What I said: "... his stuff is far better than his stats and... scouts don't really have a good explanation for it."
What happened: ... and they still don't. Mock had a 4.95 ERA at Double-A before moving to the Nationals in a late-season deal that reunited him with Mike Rizzo, the man who drafted him. It wasn't a happy reunion, as Mock went 0-4 with a 10.26 ERA in four Eastern League starts for Harrisburg, giving up 29 hits in 16.2 innings.
Grade: B+

Atlanta Braves
Player: Chuck James, LHP
What I said: "... based on the numbers alone, it would be easy to assume that James is among the top pitching prospects in baseball. Quite simply, he is not... profiling as a No. 3 or 4 starter."
What happened: James went 11-4 with a 3.78 ERA in the big leagues, but I'm not giving up the fight yet on this one. James gave up 20 home runs in 119 innings, and as we point out in Baseball Prospectus 2007, his BABIP was incredibly low and likely unsustainable. He's still a No. 3 or 4 starter for me after having better statistics than any minor league pitcher in 2005.
Grade: B-

Chicago Cubs
Player: Sean Gallagher, RHP
What I said: "... with an upper-80s fastball, he'll have a tough time repeating that kind of success against most advanced hitters."
What happened: Gallagher cruised at High-A Daytona, earning a midseason promotion to Double-A West Tenn, where he was even better, with a 2.71 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 86.1 innings. Gaining three or four mph on his fastball made the comment above accurate, but irrelevant.
Grade: D

Cincinnati Reds
Player: B.J. Szymanski, OF
What I said: "... he's still a very raw product at 23... he'll have to begin translating those tools quickly to avoid being well behind the traditional development curve."
What happened: No translation was available, as Szymanski hit just .239/.309/.415 at Low-A Dayton while leading the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts in 482 at-bats. As strange as it may sound, Szymanski is 24 and nearly out of time.
Grade: A

Colorado Rockies
Player: Juan Morillo, RHP
What I said: "... exceeds 100 mph... but can't strike out a batter per inning."
What happened: The issues remain. Morillo had a 4.62 ERA at Double-A Tulsa while striking out 132 in 140.1 innings and walking 80. He's yet to develop even a consistent second pitch, not to mention a third, and the Rockies have officially moved him to the bullpen, which has seemed his likely destination for years.
Grade: B

Florida Marlins
Player: Hanley Ramirez, SS
What I said: "... he's had three full seasons to put up a big season statistically and has yet to do anything close to it... maybe the pressure of playing in the big leagues will be what he needs to turn it around."
What happened: There was more than one scout who would tell you that Ramirez was simply bored in the minors, like the gifted fifth grader who gets Cs in math class even though he already understands calculus. Those scouts would tell you that there was no way in hell that Ramirez's tools wouldn't play, and I should listen to those scouts more.
Grade: F

Houston Astros
Player: Hunter Pence, OF
What I said: "... his power dropped and his strikeouts spiked after a promotion to High-A, and scouts don't like his hitting mechanics."
What happened: After Pence put up a .283/.357/.533 line at Double-A Corpus Christi, scouts don't care about the unorthodox hitting mechanics anymore. The lower batting average and increased strikeout rate remain, but his secondary skills more than make up for it.
Grade: D

Los Angeles Dodgers
Player: Joel Guzman, OF/1B
What I said: "... has a much tougher road to stardom ahead of him now that he's outgrown shortstop and moved to left field."
What happened: A possibly even tougher road now that he's at first base. Guzman has lost some athleticism with his immense 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame, and his swing has gotten River Nile-long. Shipped to Tampa Bay, where he did nothing for Triple-A Durham, he's only 22, so he's not at a crossroads or anything, but he is in a bit of trouble.
Grade: B

Milwaukee Brewers
Player: Zack Jackson, LHP
What I said: "... tied for the minor league lead with 16 wins last year... his regression as he moved through the Toronto system is disturbing."
What happened: Jackson had a 4.12 ERA at Triple-A Nashville. and was roughed up in his big league audition, posting a 5.40 ERA in 38.1 innings, while opposing batters battered him around for a .304 average--so, the regression continued.
Grade: B+

New York Mets
Player: Brian Bannister, RHP
What I said: "... his lack of velocity will hinder has ability to set up his plus-plus curveball in the big leagues."
What happened: Bannister won the number-five starting job in spring training and lasted six games before hamstring injuries limited his time on the mound the rest of the year. With Bannister posting more walks that strikeouts, all the Mets could get for him in the offseason is a frustrating reliever with a great arm and zero command.
Grade: B

Philadelphia Phillies
Player: Greg Golson, OF
What I said: "... at this point he is so far from [his ceiling], that nearly everything will have to fall in place for him to get there."
What happened: Golson returned to Low-A, and was on his way to another miserable campaign, batting .220/.258/.333 in 93 games before finally putting some things together after a promotion to the Florida State League. He hit .264 with six home runs in 159 at-bats for Clearwater, but 160 strikeouts and just 30 walks in 546 at-bats have it looking more like a short-term fluke than anything else.
Grade: B+

Pittsburgh Pirates
Player: Nate McLouth, OF
What I said: "... PECOTA loves him, but McLouth is one of those players who does many things well, but nothing outstanding."
What happened: While he spent the entire season in the majors, he thrived in neither a starting or bench role, with a .242 EqA and a sub-.300 OBP. After 147 big-league games, he's doomed to a bench career at best.
Grade: B+

St. Louis Cardinals
Player: Travis Hanson, 3B
What I said: "... had 20 home runs in Double-A last year, but he's a sloppy defensive player, and PECOTA is as unimpressed as I am."
What happened: Hanson collapsed beyond even the most pessimistic expectations, finding himself back in Double-A after a .220/.282/.291 line in 67 games for Triple-A Memphis, and hitting just three home runs all year in 475 at-bats.
Grade: A

San Diego Padres
Player: Paul McAnulty, OF/1B
What I said: "... a classic tweener who doesn't have the power to be an everyday first baseman or left fielder."
What happened: McAnulty had a very good year at Triple-A Portland, batting .310/.388/.521, but an attempted conversion to third base was an abject failure. He remains the player described above.
Grade: B

San Francisco Giants
Player: Eddy Martinez-Esteve, OF
What I said: "... best pure hitter in the system... a born DH on a National League team."
What happened: Martinez-Esteve lasted just 27 games at Double-A Connecticut before finally taking care of a nagging shoulder injury with season-ending labrum surgery. He's still a bad defender, so nothing really has changed, other than the lost year of development.
Grade: Incomplete

Washington Nationals
Player: Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
What I said: "... his lack of power prevents me from seeing stardom for him."
What happened: I put way too much stock in a homer-less pro debut, when everything else statistically and in the scouting world screamed that those 58 at-bats were fluky in more ways than one. He's a star, he's a star, he's a big bright shining star.
Grade: F

Summing It Up

I did a little better here than I did in the American League, with more hits than misses. Identifying Campbell, Iannetta, Owings and Veal was especially gratifying. So who are this year's potential breakout candidates and busts? We'll start finding out on Friday with the American League Central.

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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