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March 9, 2007

Future Shock

State of the Systems, AL Central

by Kevin Goldstein

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This year's State Of The Systems features some new categories, so before we get going, some explanation.

  • 2007 Rookies: Simple enough: what first-year players will contribute in the big leagues this year.
  • Minor League Road Trip: A common question I get via e-mail goes something like this: "I live in [minor league town], who should I look for?" For each team I'll identify two full-season affiliates that should have compelling squads. Keep in mind that this is a research-driven hypothesis, and that spring performances, injuries and organizational needs can mean certain players don't end up where expected.
  • Pivotal Season: For this category, I'll identify one player who is at a crossroads in his young career.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most/Don't Believe The Hype: Last year's selections have already been reviewed, and I think overall, I did pretty well here; they're always among the most popular, so they return.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Named after Red Sox infielder Dustin and Yankees right-hander Tyler, this is the player who fans of that team tend to overrate by going on statistics alone.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: In the interest of fairness, this award goes to the player who is the opposite. The tools are certainly there, but where is the performance? The award is named after two of the all-time tools busts in draft history: outfielder Jeff Jackson (Philles first round, 1989) and triple-digit flamethrower Colt Griffin (Royals first round, 2001).
  • Get Your Bags Ready: When the trade deadline comes down, prospects are always part of the discussion. Who could be available? Who do teams want? Who's a likely candidate to be moved because he's blocked?
Chicago White Sox
  • 2007 Rookies: It's a veteran team, and it's going to stay that way. Top prospects Ryan Sweeney and Josh Fields are blocked, with Brian Anderson likely getting the first shot at center field, though he will be on a short leash. For now, the team isn't moving Fields to the outfield, meaning both he and Sweeney will return to Triple-A. Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger seems a lock to make the team, and even has an outside chance at the fifth-starter job, though the team is still hoping for a miracle from Phillies flame-out Gavin Floyd. Acquired in the Brandon McCarthy trade, lefty John Danks is the team's top prospect, but would be best served by some more time in Triple-A, though he's definitely the long-term answer in the rotation. Also acquired from Texas, Nick Masset should stick in the bullpen; while his stats are uninspiring, his scouting reports are glowing, especially the ones on his short stints as a reliever.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Assuming Fields and Sweeney fail to break camp with the team, Triple-A Charlotte is the place to see the future. What was a rotation loaded with minor-league veterans last year becomes prospect-laden with Danks and 2005 first-round pick Lance Broadway leading the way, possibly joined by the end of the year by 2006 first-rounder Kyle McCulloch and re-acquired lefty Gio Gonzalez.
  • Pivotal Season: After a breakout campaign in 2005, everything fell apart for left-hander Ray Liotta last year: he found himself back in High-A with a composite 5.89 ERA in 28 games. At 24, it's now or never.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Righty Oneli Perez began 2006 in Low-A, finished in Double-A and had an ERA under 1.00 at all three stops, finishing with an 0.81 mark in 77.2 innings while giving up just 46 hits and whiffing 91. He's an almost-sidearmer who could struggle against lefties, but with expanded pitching staffs in the minors, there's room for a ROOGY these days.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: Pitching in Double-A as a 20-year-old, Gio Gonzalez struck out over a batter per inning, so there's some good stuff there. At the same time, he has major control issues, and his lanky, sub-six-foot frame leaves many wondering if he has the durability to start in the big leagues.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Broadway's 2.74 ERA last year is impressive, but Birmingham is a pitchers' park, his strikeout rate was mediocre, and so is his stuff.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Right-hander Adam Russell has Jeff Juden's size (6-8, 250) and velocity (consistently sitting at 93-96 mph), and about as much success with it thanks to a lack of movement and an inability to find a consistent breaking ball.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: They're not moving Fields, and Joe Crede is locked in at third base until 2008. One of them is going to move on to a different organization eventually, maybe even by the trade deadline. If things are going well in the standings, Fields is their top trading chip, and Kenny Williams likes to deal.
Cleveland Indians
  • 2007 Rookies: Very few pure rookies, but plenty of young talent as guys like third baseman Andy Marte and left-hander Jeremy Sowers spend their first full year in the big leagues. The bullpen could features legitimate rookies like lefty Juan Lara and right-hander Edward Mujica. Top prospect Adam Miller could reach the big leagues by mid-season with a strong start at Triple-A.
  • Minor League Road Trip: As with the White Sox, Triple-A is the place to be. The Buffalo outfield will probably consist of three Top 10 Prospects in (from left to right) Trevor Crowe, Brian Barton and Brian Snyder. Miller will front a rotation that could include Rafael Perez and Fausto Carmona, while intriguing power lefty Tony Sipp is the likely closer.
  • Pivotal Season: Since being drafted in the first round out of Ball State in 2003, Snyder has consistently teased the organization with his tools, and frustrated with his lofty strikeout totals. Another 150+ strikeout season with a sub-800 OPS will having him teetering on the line between prospect and Quad-A slugger.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: 2006 second-round pick Josh Rodriguez isn't really a shortstop, but he could end up as an offensive-minded second baseman who provides above-average power for the position.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: 2006 first-rounder David Huff has below-average velocity and relies primarily on commanding the strike zone and keeping hitters off balance with his very good changeup. His ceiling is limited.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Southpaw Scott Lewis led the minor leagues with a 1.48 ERA last year, but he's yet to have the reins taken off when it comes to pitch counts and his finesse-only style will catch up to him as he moves up.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Snyder has plus power, speed, and arm strength, but if he can't make more contact, it's just not going to matter.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The way things are going, it looks like the Tribe might be more likely to trade veterans in order to make room for prospects, as opposed to moving prospects for established talent. Jake Westbrook could be attractive to some teams while making room in the rotation for Miller.
Detroit Tigers
  • 2007 Rookies: Nope, that was last year, as Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya helped carry the team to the American League title. Rule 5 pick Ed Campusano has looked solid in camp and has a good chance to stick as a situational reliever.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Double-A Erie should have 2006 first-round pick Andrew Miller fronting the rotation, and whispers are that uber-prospect Cameron Maybin could skip a level and join him there. The infield should have interesting-but-one-dimensional sluggers Jeff Larrish and Kody Kirkland on the corners as well, with righty Jair Jurrjens lining up behind Miller.
  • Pivotal Season: Kirkland hit 22 home runs last year at Erie, but everything else about his season was a nightmare, from the .217 average to the 24 errors, to the 157 strikeouts. Turning 24 in June and returning to Double-A, he should be further along in translating his tools to performance.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Campusano was one of the better Rule 5 picks in December. In the end, he'll be more than just a LOOGY, as his plus-fastball/plus-slider combination makes him equally effective against hitters from both sides.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: Righty Dallas Trahern led the Florida State League with four complete games while finishing fourth with a 3.30 ERA, but while his sinker generates a truckload of ground balls, how much faith can one have on a guy with a strikeout rate of 5.35 per nine innings at High-A?
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Shortstop Michael Holliman hit .278/.386/.501 at Low-A West Michigan last year, finishing among the Midwest League's top five in walks, total bases and slugging. So what's the problem? Well, he was 24 years old in the Midwest League and isn't really a shortstop.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Righty Eulogio de la Cruz can hit triple-digits with his fastball and has an outstanding curve. So why doesn't he dominate? Scouts are baffled as well, but command problems are the primary issue, as is often the case.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: If the Tigers make another run at the playoffs, outfielder Brent Clevlen is the one hitter teams will be asking about, and Maybin's rapid rise could make him expendable. With a young, talented and full rotation, arms like De La Cruz and righty Jordan Tata could also draw some interest.
Kansas City Royals
  • 2007 Rookies: Hey, they got Alex Gordon, what else do you want? Gordon should be an immediate impact player, and is the best bet to be the Royals' representative at the All-Star game. Rule 5 selection Joakim Soria should have no problem earning a bullpen job and no problem being a decent reliever, while power arm Ryan Braun is also fighting for a relief role in spring training.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Let's forget about the big-name prospects for a bit, as guys like Billy Butler, Luke Hochevar, Chris Lubanski and Mitch Maier could all be shuffling teams quite a bit this year. The more intriguing roster might be at Low Class A Burlington. While these guys are mostly high-risk players who offer little in the way of guarantees, players like left-hander Brent Fisher; infielders Jeff Bianchi, Chris McConnell and Jason Taylor; and outfielders Joe Dickerson and Derrick Robinson give the Bees more prospects than they have had in years.
  • Pivotal Season: A million-dollar bonus baby as a draft-and-follow, right-hander Luis Cota has been a massive disappointment since signing, culminating with a 7.09 ERA at the not-so-friendly confines of High Desert last year. The bad news: he's returning to High-A. The good news: the Royals moved their affiliate to Wilmington in the Carolina League.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Lefty Danny Christensen is a Tommy John survivor who held his own at High Desert with three average pitches and decent command. He's one to watch at Double-A this year and could work his way into the back of the rotation by 2008.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: Acquired from the White Sox for Mike MacDougal, righty Tyler Lumsden is a big-bodied lefty with excellent velocity, but the stats just don't match the stuff, especially when it comes to missing bats.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: First baseman Justin Huber saw his production slip in 2006 along with his opportunity, and despite a patient approach and good hitting skills, he's probably just short of being an everyday player there.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Robinson, a fourth-round pick last June out of a Florida high school is an absolute burner who also features a little bit of pop, but he's incredibly raw and needs to greatly improve his approach and contact ability to improve his stock.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Royals won't be in a position to shore up the big-league team at mid-season. If anything, they'll be adding prospects, not trading for them.
Minnesota Twins
  • 2007 Rookies: Nothing on the offensive side of things, and very little in pitching. Matt Garza and Glen Perkins are competing for rotation jobs, but the team is leaning towards beginning the year with Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz in the rotation for reasons apparent only to them. Garza's mysterious neck pain and headaches this spring aren't helping matters, either. Once a highly regarded arm, righty J.D. Durbin is out of options and could land a bullpen job.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Provided the big-league club breaks camp with a veteran rotation, the staff at Triple-A Rochester will be impressive with Garza, Perkins and Kevin Slowey, who arguably has the best command in the minors. The lineup will open with the one-two punch of former first-round pick Denard Span and second baseman of the future Alexi Casilla.
  • Pivotal Season: Other than a solid half-season at High-A Fort Myers in 2005, third baseman Matt Moses had done little to justify his selection in 2003's first round, collapsing at Double-A last year with a .249/.303/.386 season while his defense continued a disturbing downward slide.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Dutch lefty Alexander Smit had his fair share of struggles over the last few years, but thrived with a late-season move to the rotation at Low-A Beloit last season, with a 2.43 ERA in 13 starts and more than twice as many strikeouts (98) than hits allowed (44) in 74 innings. The 2007 season in the Florida State League could be his coming-out party.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: Not that I don't like Slowey: I like him plenty. However, his 1.88 ERA and 151-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio puts him among the best pitchers in the minors on a statistical level, and he's just not that good. It's all about command for Slowey, and he's likely an effective number-three or number-four starter in the end, as opposed to any kind of star.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: First baseman Erik Lis led the Midwest League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging in 2006, but as a polished college first baseman playing in the Midwest League, what else was he supposed to do? He's a bad defensive player without a big power ceiling, and he's well behind the standard development curve.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Span is the best athlete in the system and an instinctual, graceful center fielder...but he's also a .280 hitter with few secondary skills who has yet to figure out how to turn his blazing speed into an offensive asset.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Twins system is highly lopsided in the favor of pitching, and any number of young, Latin American power arms like Eduardo Morlan, Yohan Pino and Oswaldo Sosa could be available if the Twins look to make a deadline move.

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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Prospectus Today: Let'... (03/09)
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Premium Article Future Shock: Systems ... (03/08)
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