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March 21, 2007

Future Shock

State of the Systems, NL 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 of the sections require a little bit of 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 to full-season affiliate that should have the most compelling squad. 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 righthander Tyler, this is the one 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 Cubs

  • 2007 Rookies: Rookies and Lou Piniella don't mix - luckily the Cubs have little to offer and will likely break camp without a rookie on the roster. Outfielder Felix Pie should make his debut at some point in the season, while reliever Rocky Cherry, who had an impressive camp, begins the year at Triple-A as the first bullpen arm to call on should the need arise. He's not any kind of future stud, but he should be of some value.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Double-A Tennessee will have a rotation that features the two top pitching prospects in the organization, with lefthander Donald Veal and righty Sean Gallagher, a twelfth-round pick in 2004. No sure things in the lineup, but sluggers Ryan Harvey and Brian Dopirak both look for rebound seasons.
  • Pivotal Season: Three years ago, Dopirak chased the Midwest League home run record, finishing with 39, a .307/.363/.593 batting line and an MVP award. He suffered through a tough 2005 in the Florida State League the following year, and 2006 was even worse, as a broken foot limited him to just 52 games, in which he went deep just once in 179 at-bats. If he fails to get back on track this year, it's unlikely he ever will.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Not that others in the ranking game don't like Veal, but I still think he's underrated. He's big, he's left-handed, he throws hard and he has the secondary pitches to back it up. He's been absolutely unhittable as a pro (117 hits allowed in nearly 200 innings), and he's only some control adjustments away from being elite.

  • Don't Believe The Hype: Righthander Jeff Samardzija get a truckload of money, and the hype machine has begun. He has the ideal pitcher's body and can dial it up to 98 mph at times, but he's very raw for a 22-year-old - still very much more of a thrower than a pitcher, and while the Cubs insist he was their top talent in last year's draft, most clubs had him pegged as a late first-round talent.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Outfielder Sam Fuld is gritty, gets the most out his tools, plays as hard as anybody and has an excellent approach, but with such limited power and a resume that has him reaching Double-A for the first time at 25, it's hard to project him as anything more than a fourth outfielder.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Harvey's raw power is a pure 80 on the scouting scale, but with 262 strikeouts and just 49 walks over the last two years, it's clearly apparent that he needs to be more selective with his swing.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The National League Central should be competitive this year, with the Cubs right in the thick of it. Corner infielder Scott Moore is blocked, and could be their top trading chip.

Cincinnati Reds

  • 2007 Rookies: At this point, it looks like Rule five pick and former No. 1 overall pick Josh Hamilton will make the team, which is amazing in itself, but also makes for one of the most difficult projections in recent years. After that, Reds fans are probably waiting until mid-year at the earliest for the Homer Bailey era to begin, while Joey Votto is in line for a late-season call up to prepare for taking over at first base in 2008.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Triple-A Louisville is the gimme with Bailey and Votto, but don't forget about Low Class-A Dayton. The Dragons should have 2006 first-round pick Drew Stubbs in center field, impressive draft-and-follow shortstop Milton Loo at shortstop, and intriguing Dominican teenager Juan Francisco at third base.
  • Pivotal Season: A first-round pick by the Red Sox in 2000, lefty Phil Dumatrait didn't reach Triple-A until he was 25, and to complicate matters, he didn't pitch very well when he got there. He needs to find a more reliable out pitch and better command this year to avoid being relegated to organizational player status.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: While his 2006 season was wrecked by shoulder problems, there are still high hopes for righthander Daryl Thompson, acquired in the Austin Kearns/Felipe Lopez trade last summer. The Nationals felt he was on the verge of breaking through before the injury, and now the Reds hope the same based on Thompson's plus fastball and solid curve.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: Shortstop Chris Valaika had a stunning debut last summer, earning Pioneer League MVP honors with a .324/.387/.520 line and putting together a league record 32-game hitting streak. He'll be bumped up to High A this year, and needs to show a more patient approach, and more importantly reverse some of the scouting reports that project an eventual move to second base.

  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Righthander David Shafer had 26 saves, a 2.36 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning at Double-A Chattanooga last year, but he's anything but a classic power closer - using his average fastball to set up two plus secondary pitches in a sweeping slider and solid changeup.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Nobody denies Stubbs' outstanding tools, with one scout calling him one of the top ten defensive centerfielders in the game, at any level. His speed is well above average, as is his raw power. In the end, however, it doesn't mean a thing if he can't curb his strikeouts.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Reds will not be trading any prospects this summer, though replenishing a shallow system with another trade of veterans could be in the works.

Houston Astros

  • 2007 Rookies: While outfielder Hunter Pence has been the story of Houston's camp, he's likely headed to Triple-A in order to get consistent at-bats. Astros fans might see any number of relief arms at various points in the season, with righty Paul Estrada the most likely option, while lefty Troy Patton aims for a late season debut.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Triple-A Round Rock will be loaded with prospects. Pence leads the offense, but the pitching staff should include Matt Albers, Chance Douglass, and Juan Gutierrez lining up behind Patton, with Estrada serving as the primary closer.
  • Pivotal Season: After an impressive pro debut, outfielder Eli Iorg struggled in his full-season debut, needing a strong second half to even finish at .256/.313/.437 for Low Class-A Lexington. With a pre-college Mormon mission, Iorg has an age problem, and he's about to be challenged with an assignment to High Class-A while being a month older than Pence.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Ignore catcher Max Sapp's .229/.301/.317 line in his professional debut, as it's tough to be a high school player in the college-heavy New York-Penn League. Sapp can hit, and while the numbers don't show it, he has plus power and a good understanding of the strike zone. More importantly, beyond the numbers, Sapp made leaps and bounds defensively, increasing his stock significantly by proving he can stay behind the plate.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: Righty Chris Sampson had a 2.51 ERA at Triple-A, and an even better big league mark of 2.12 in 12 late-season appearances, but at both levels, he had strikeout rates that made such success tough to repeat. His outstanding command gives him a good chance at a big league career, but little chance to be an impact arm.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Second baseman Brooks Conrad led the minors in extra-base hits (79) last year, but he's destined to return for a third year of Triple-A ball at the age of 27, as his defense limits him to second base only, and he's not even very good there.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Venezuelan righthander Felipe Paulino has lit up radar guns to the tune of 100+ mph on several occasions, but he has a career ERA of 4.54 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of under two-to-one to show for it.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Astros are loaded with Latin American arms who are high on velocity, but mediocre on performance. Still, they're the kinds of players many teams like to take chances on in the trade market.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • 2007 Rookies: Not a one. Ryan Braun hit well enough to make it as the team's starting third baseman, but his defense got in the way, as in every game Braun homered in, he also committed a throwing error. Nonetheless, he'll be up at some point in 2007. The same could be said about righty Yovani Gallardo, sent to Triple-A after getting rocked by the Cubs on Monday.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Milwaukee's High Class-A affiliate in Brevard County will be a must-see for Sunshine State scouts. Strike-throwing righthander Will Inman leads off the rotation, but it's the lineup that will have everyone talking, as it includes catcher Angel Salome, third baseman Mat Gamel, and possibly an all-prospect outfield of Lorenzo Cain, Charlie Fermaint, and Cole Gillespie.
  • Pivotal Season:When lefthander Manny Parra is healthy, he has the stuff to be a top five prospect in the organization. Unfortunately, shoulder problems have limited him to just 51 starts in total over the last three seasons. He's healthy and looking good in camp, but that seems to be the case every year.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: While making it as a second base prospect is a tough road, Hernan Iribarren is making a pretty good go of it, with a career pro batting average of .330, followed by an impressive camp in which he garnered the attention of the major league staff by hitting .441 in 34 at-bats. Keep an eye on him at Double-A this year.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: Iribarren's double-play partner last year, shortstop Alcides Escobar, is toolsy, young, and an outstanding defender, but he needs to do something offensively to prove he's a prospect, as a .269 career average without walks or power just ain't cutting it.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Catcher Angel Salome is a career .305/.359/.478 hitter who will begin the year at High Class A as a 20-year-old, but real quick, name all the five-foot-seven catchers in the big leagues. Needless to saw, as a physical specimen, scouts don't know what to make of him.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: When the Brewers drafted righthander Mark Rogers with the fifth overall pick in 2004, they saw a high school arm with elite-level potential thanks to a fastball that touched 98 mph and a power breaking curve. With control problems hindering him throughout his career, he finally seemed to be putting it together last summer when his bad mechanics caught up to him and his shoulder started to hurt. Surgery will cost him all of 2007.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Brewers could be part of the buyer's market in July for this first time in a long while, with the ability to improve their big league team by dealing any number of interesting outfielders in the system.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • 2007 Rookies: The Pirates are desperate for a marquee player that will put fannies in the seats, and while Andrew McCutchen has a chance to be that player, he's not ready yet, despite an outstanding spring. He'll likely begin the year in Double-A. Not much after that, although reliever Josh Sharpless and his slider still has a shot at a bullpen job.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Beyond McCutchen, the Altoona squad in the Eastern League should also feature former number one pick Neil Walker at third base (his new position) and slugging first baseman Steven Pearce.
  • Pivotal Season: The first overall pick in the 2002 draft, Bryan Bullington missed all of 2006 while recovering slowly from shoulder surgery, but he's been impressive this spring, including a four-shutout-inning performance in a recent minor league game. He'll start the year in Triple-A, with the Pirates hoping to reap some benefits from their investment by 2008.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Righthander Todd Redmond would certainly fit the description of control pitcher, but at the same time, his stuff is much more than fringy, with his fastball, curve, and changeup all grading out as borderline plus pitches at times.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: Now that Walker has cast aside the tools of ignorance, he needs to start hitting. It's not a matter of hitting for average, as a .286 career average attests to has hand-eye coordination, but he needs to find something of value beyond the singles. His 21 career home runs and 52 career walks in 1,046 at-bats are nowhere near enough.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Pearce hit 26 home runs last year, but as a player who put in four years of college ball, bashing around A-ball pitchers is not an overly impressive accomplishment, as Pearce's age (24 in April), size (5-foot-11), and free-swinging ways work against him.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: A second-round pick in 2005, outfielder James Boone is loaded with tools, and has had a pro career loading with injuries. He enters 2007 as a 24-year-old in Low A with just 96 games of experience.

    Get Your Bags Ready?: Well on their way to another losing season, the Pirates will not be trading prospects. Looking at their roster, it's hard to see them getting much value for any of their tradeable veterans, either.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • 2007 Rookies: Right now, it's looking like none. We tipped you off to Dennis Dove last fall, and he's suddenly stating his case for the last bullpen job.
  • Minor League Road Trip: The Cardinals don't have a ton of prospects, but a huge chunk of them will be at High Class-A Palm Beach this year. While there are still some decisions at the upper levels that could effect the Florida State League roster, the team could feature an outfield of top prospect Colby Rasmus in centerfield flanked by 2006 draftees Shane Robinson and John Jay. Bryan Anderson provides offense from behind the plate, while the rotation could feature 2006 first-rounder Adam Ottavino and enigmatic righty Mark McCormick.
  • Pivotal Season: A first round pick in 2004, righthander Chris Lambert has yet to adjust to the upper levels, and with 42 starts in Double- or Triple-A, he's had plenty of opportunities. He needs to find better command and a better breaking ball before it's too late.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Also a candidate for the Jackson/Griffin award, I could be a complete sucker for outfielder Daryl Jones' tools and ceiling, but the improvements he made from 2005 to 2006 were impressive, and his full-season debut is met with great anticipation.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: A 2006 second-round pick, Jay hit .342 in a full-season league during his pro debut, and while nobody complains about his hitting tools, his athleticism profiles him as a corner outfielder, while his lack of power limits him to fourth outfielder status.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Robinson put up some sick numbers as Florida State's leadoff man, but as a pro, he's your basic undersized, under-tooled college slap hitter with very little upside.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: McCormick can get it into the 97-98 mph range, and his curveball is outstanding, but his inability to throw strikes, stay healthy, and stay focused are currently preventing him from reaching his potential.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Cardinals will likely be looking to make some moves come July, but what is there to offer? The upper levels of the system are pretty damn barren, which could put the team at a disadvantage come deadline time.

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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