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March 28, 2007

Future Shock

State of the Systems, NL West

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 (Phillies 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?

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • 2007 Rookies: Last year's cornucopia of prospects who made it up weren't the last crops from this farm system, as Chris Young joins the team as the everyday center fielder. PECOTA might be a little high on him, but only initially--he'll have many seasons like his projections in the not-so-distant future. On the mound, Micah Owings looks like he'll be the sixth starter, first in line for a call when a pitcher is needed, with Dustin Nippert coming after that (a bit of a demotion for him). Dana Eveland is still battling for a bullpen job.
  • Minor League Road Trip: With many top prospects in the system in the majors or on the verge, the next generation begins at Low-A South Bend, leading off with outfielder Gerardo Parra (another toolsy Venezuelan), and 2006 second-round pick Brett Anderson, who signed too late to make his debut but has been one of the talks of camp.
  • Pivotal Season: Nippert made an impressive return from Tommy John surgery in 2005, returning early enough--and pitching well enough--to win the Southern League ERA title. Things took a step backwards last year at Triple-A, as his mechanics got inconsistent, and with that, his control faltered. With younger pitchers coming, he needs to bounce back to avoid getting passed up.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Scouts don't like the body, but as the son of a major college coach, Anderson has the stuff and command of a polished college product. He could move quickly, even if his ceiling isn't tremendous.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: First baseman Chris Carter has bashed his way through the minors to the tune of .306/.396/.522 in 345 games, but he's a born designated hitter with zero athleticism whose power took a big step backwards last year at Triple-A Tucson, which makes it even more disturbing.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Despite going reaching Double-A, going 14-4 there, and pitching for Team USA in his full-season debut, lefty Greg Smith's success depends primarily on throwing strikes and pitching backwards.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Right now it's Justin Upton, as the 2005 No. 1 overall pick had one of the more disappointing seasons in the minors last year. Scouts still love the tools, which are almost too good for him to fail.
  • Get Your Bags Ready? With the National League West looking like a dog fight, the Diamondbacks will be dealing. Their positional player depth used as trade chips, as the big league roster is already stocked with young hitters.

Colorado Rockies

  • 2007 Rookies: Troy Tulowitzki gives the organization their first offensive shortstop in franchise history, and he was recently named the team's spring MVP, though his batting line of .283/.327/.391 in camp made it a curious choice. Chris Iannetta steps into the starting backstop role with high expectations from the statistical community and scouts alike, while Jason Hirsh is in the rotation, with the jury still out on how rookies and a humidor-affected Coors Field work together.
  • Minor League Road Trip: The Rockies' talent is pretty well spread out, but the rotation at Double-A Tulsa could be a monster, boasting Samuel Deduno, Franklin Morales, and Greg Reynolds.
  • Pivotal Season: Since rocketing up prospect charts with a .319/.398/.594 campaign in his 2004 full-season debut, third baseman Ian Stewart has had one injury-plagued disappointment in the California League, and an even worse year last year in Double-A, without any obvious excuses.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Projected by many as an average starter, PECOTA likes Chris Iannetta enough to give him a projected VORP of 22.6, which would have almost put in the top 10 among all catchers last year. Add in above-average defense, and 'average' just doesn't do him justice.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: Greg Reynolds isn't a bad player by any measure, but it was apparent to most on draft day that he wasn't the second-best player in the draft, and after seeing the pro debuts of those picked after him, that pick looks even worse now.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: In 154 pro games, second baseman Corey Wimberly has scored 110 runs, stolen 86 bases, and posted a .414 on-base percentage. At the same time, he might be the only player in pro ball who makes Dustin Pedroia look big, and nearly 90% of his career hits have been singles.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Since his 2003 US debut, Juan Morillo has touched 100 mph nearly every time out, but he has little to show for it, and Colorado hopes that a move to the bullpen will allow him to pitch off of his fastball more effectively.
  • Get Your Bags Ready? The Rockies are in a rebuilding stage, and feature one of the better systems in baseball. If anything, they'll be adding to it at the deadline, as opposed to subtracting from it.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • 2007 Rookies: Most of the top pitching prospects are at least a year away, and top offensive prospects like Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, and James Loney seem bound for Triple-A in deference to veterans who offer little evidence that they'll be more productive than the young talent.
  • Minor League Road Trip: With top prospects spinning their wheels in Las Vegas--and there are worse places to get stuck--the Low-A Great Lakes Loons make their debut with über-lefthander Clayton Kershaw in the rotation and power-hitting third baseman Josh Bell in the middle of the lineup.
  • Pivotal Season: Three years ago he was one of the top prospects in the game, but two shoulder surgeries later, Greg Miller is still trying to figure things out. The plus fastball/slider combination remains, but his control has faltered, even in a bullpen role. He impressed management this spring enough to be in the mix for the fifth starter job for a few weeks, and while he didn't win the job, he will return to the rotation in the minor leagues.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Bell's all-or-nothing approach needs be curbed, but his kind of in-game power is a rare find.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: If Rafael Furcal isn't ready by Opening Day, Tony Abreu could be the surprise starter at shortstop. His range is a little lacking for the left side of the infield, and while he hits for average, he offers little in the way of power or on-base skills.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: A career .295/.357/.499 hitter, outfielder Delwyn Young has a knack for hard contact but is limited to a corner thanks to well below-average athleticism. It's hard to project him as a starter, and the lack of versatility limits his bench options.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: More a case of where do the tools go to, righthander Josh Wall has yet to show the stuff as a pro that got him drafted in the second round two years ago.
  • Get Your Bags Ready? Will the Dodgers trade veterans to make room for the rookies? Or will the young talent be shipped off for more veterans? We shall see.

San Diego Padres

  • 2007 Rookies: Former Indian Kevin Kouzmanoff takes over at third base, and he's stayed healthy all spring, and therefore he's hit. That will pretty much be the story of his season--health equals production at the plate. If Paul McAnulty's knee injury proves to be minor, he'll be an effective bench bat.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Hoping to find the next big thing, Low-A Fort Wayne will have a number of prospects from the 2006 draft class, including third baseman Matt Antonelli and outfielder Cedric Hunter, both of whom showed impressive on-base skills in their pro debuts.
  • Pivotal Season: The number one overall pick of 2004, Matt Bush needs a healthy and productive year in the California League, or it's probably not going to happen. The good news is that he has a possible move to mound as a backup plan.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Kouzmanoff might not be the ideal rookie, as he turns 26 at midseason, but there's no way to argue with his offensive skills, and PECOTA thinks he can step right into the big leagues, slugging near .500 from the get-go.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: Hunter got a lot of attention, and with good reason after hitting .364/.458/.469 in his debut. But he's got a long way to go in order to be considered elite; his power ceiling is an open question, as is the ability to stay in center field. We'll know much more after his full-season debut this year.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: A short, squat professional hitter in the mold of Matt Stairs, McAnulty's 2007 season will go a long way in determining whether he has a big league career, or goes the way of former Padre Triple-A sluggers Tagg Bozied and Jon Knott.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Bush's tools, including an arm that rates as an 80 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) remain impressive, but he's done so little with them so far that it's fair to call him a bust at this point.
  • Get Your Bags Ready? If the National League West turns into a dogfight, the Padres become underdogs, as their lack of minor league talent puts them at a significant disadvantage when it comes to making midseason improvements through trades.

San Francisco Giants

  • 2007 Rookies: While Tim Lincecum's 2007 debut will easily make him one of the most compelling rookies in the game, the Seabiscuit era won't begin until later in the season. Jonathan Sanchez is fighting for a lefty bullpen job.
  • Minor League Road Trip: All eyes will be on each of Lincecum's starts at Triple-A Fresno, which will feature a outfield that includes Fred Lewis, who Joe Sheehan has made a strong case for on numerous occasions, and power-hitting Nate Schierholtz.
  • Pivotal Season: After missing most of the 2006 season recovering from shoulder surgery, outfielder Eddy Martinez-Esteve needs to have a big season in the plate and prove that he's capable of being at least adequate in left field before he gets a look in the big leagues.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Shortstop Sharlon Schoop combines an impressive array of tools with a mature approach, which could put him in line for a breakout campaign in his full-season debut.
  • Don't Believe The Hype: Righthander Adam Cowart had a minuscule 1.08 ERA in his pro debut, but as a sidearmer whose heat sits in the low 80s, it's hard to see him even ending up as a ROOGY in the big leagues.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Infielder Kevin Frandsen is one of the top makeup guys in the minors, the very definition of the term "gritty." But he needs to add walks to his game, as there's no power in his stroke, and no projection of power in his contact-oriented approach.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Travis Ishikawa's size and picture-perfect swing drew comparisons to Will Clark when the Giants gave him nearly a million dollars to woo him away from college. Unfortunately, the power has never really developed, and he seemed to hit a wall at Double-A last year.
  • Get Your Bags Ready? The Giants have a number of hitters in the upper levels, including Lewis and Schierholtz, who could draw some interest at the trading deadline.

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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