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April 6, 2007

Future Shock

Double-A Preview

by Kevin Goldstein

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As I mentioned in yesterday's Triple-A preview, predicting standings and/or win-loss records is a silly exercise for minor league teams, as rosters change constantly. Besides, winning not only isn't everything in the minors, it's really very little--just like every other level below The Show, it's all about player development. So our best bet is to focus on the players, or in this case groups of players, but keep in mind that even in the first week of the season, rosters are highly flammable.

Eastern League

Best Rotation: The Eastern League is pretty short in the stud pitcher department, with just two Top 100 prospects in a rotation. Clay Buchholz pretty much stands alone in the Portland (Red Sox) rotation, but of course our own Rany Jazayerli will have his eye on Charlie Zink's starts. Chuck Lofgren of Akron (Indians) fronts the deepest rotation in the league, as solid prospects J.D. Martin and Scott Lewis pitch behind him, with Aaron Laffey serving as a decent fourth starter. New Hampshire (Blue Jays) also goes four-deep with Jesse Litsch, David Purcey, Ricky Romero and Kyle Yates. Erie (Tigers) has two of their top 10 prospects, Jair Jurrjens and Eulogio De La Cruz, in the rotation, with a third arm that just missed, Dallas Trahern, behind them. However, Erie's most interesting player is probably former first-round pick Kyle Sleeth, who has come back very slowly from Tommy John surgery.

Best Bullpen: Double-A bullpens are rarely star-laden, unless an organization has put a big investment into a college closer of late, like Harrisburg (Nationals) closer Zech Zinicola, or Portland's Bryce Cox. As far as combos go, Bowie (Orioles) features Dave Haehnel, James Hoey and Jim Miller, while Connecticut (Giants) has right-handers Brian Anderson, Osiris Matos and Justin Hedrick, who combined last year at different levels for 58 saves and 281 whiffs in 217 innings, despite the fact that only Matos features power stuff.

Best Outfield: Across the board, it's impossible to match Akron's trio of Brian Barton, Trevor Crowe and failed Rule 5 pick Ryan Goleski, though Bowie does feature three real prospects as well in Jeff Fiorentino, Dustin Majewski, and Nolan Reimold. Beyond that, the league has some one-man outfields, where one guy has serious star power, such as Portland's Jacoby Ellsbury, Altoona (Pirates) centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, and Fernando Martinez of Binghamton (Mets), who's reached Double-A at the tender age of 18.

Best Corner Infielders: The only combination that features at least decent prospects on both sides is Erie, with one-dimensional sluggers Jeff Larish at first and Kody Kirkland at third. Altoona's Neil Walker goes the Todd Zeile route with a conversion from catcher to third base, while more youth is served in Binghamton, with 20-year-old Mike Carp playing first after an eye-opening spring.

Best Middle Infield: Hard to find a good combo here as well, though Portland should get the best production out of Jed Lowrie and Jeff Natale. Those who like glove work should focus on Akron's Asdrubal Cabrera and Argenis Reyes. After two miserable years at Triple-A, one-time prospect Sergio Santos moves down a level at New Hampshire and pairs with Ryan Klosterman. Sleeper pick: Another very young one in Binghamton, shortstop Jose Coranado.

Best Catching: Nothing to see here folks, as the best catching prospect in the league might be fringy Akron catcher Wyatt Toregas. Binghamton's Mike Nickeas and Connecticut's Todd Jennings are only noted here to make the paragraph more than one sentence long.

Really? He's Still Playing?

Nic Jackson, OF, Binghamton
Robin Jennings, OF, Harrisburg
David Parrish, C, Altoona

Southern League

Best Rotation: Last year, the Southern League was dominated by pitching, with a runs per game total lower than even the notoriously low-offense Florida State League. The talent level is not the same this year, with few teams going deep in the rotation. Tennessee (Cubs) easily has the best one-two punch in the circuit, with Top 100 prospects Donald Veal and Sean Gallagher leading off in the rotation. While it lacks the stud factor, Birmingham (White Sox) is one of the only three-prospect-deep groups, with Gio Gonzalez, Lucas Harrell, and the talk of spring training, Paul Bunyan-esque righty Adam Russell. Other interesting duos include Gaby Hernandez and Rick Vanden Hurk at Carolina (Marlins), Matt Harrison and Jo-Jo Reyes at Mississippi (Braves) and Scott Elbert/Justin Orenduff at Jacksonville (Dodgers).

Best Bullpen: One a pure prospect level, it's hard to top Jonathan Meloan (backed up by Zach Hammes) at Jacksonville, while Mississippi looks for a rebound (or anything) from Joey Devine. Carolina's trio of Jesus Delgado, Harvey Garcia, and Scott Tyler can all light up a radar gun.

Best Outfield: Thin pickings here. Mobile (Diamondbacks) certainly has the league's best outfielder in Carlos Gonzalez, while Chris Rahl is a solid stick, and Jon Zeringue should be, but he's had trouble making adjustments. Montgomery's trio of Shaun Cumberland, Fernando Perez, and Jason Pridie could surprise.

Best Corner Infielders: Montgomery begins the year with Evan Longoria at third base, and Gaby Martinez is at least a decent bat at first, so they win by a landslide. Mobile is the only other group with prospects on both ends with 2006 breakout player Mark Reynolds at third and minor league slugger Cesar Nichols at first. Braves prospect Van Pope forms half of a nice combo by manning the hot corner for Mississippi.

Best Middle Infield: Once again, it's very hard to find a team with two prospects up the middle. With Reid Brignac at shortstop, Montgomery has by far the best left side in the minors, but sticking to the category, only Mississippi, with waterbugs Brent Lillibridge and J.C. Holt fit the bill. Sleepers: Paul Janish and Drew Anderson at Chattanooga (Reds).

Best Catching: Mississippi's Jarrod Saltalamacchia. 'Nuff said. In 2003, the Cubs drafted their future catching core by selecting college backstops Jake Fox and Tony Ritchie. Four years later, they're both only in Double-A. Montgomery's John Jaso is also worth noting.

Really? He's Still Playing?

Brooks Badeuax, 2B, Montgomery
Fernando Lunar, C, Mississippi
Matt Riley, LHP, Jacksonville

Texas League

Best Rotation: Royals fans will have one eye on Wichita every five days, as number one overall pick of the 2006 draft, Luke Hochevar, takes the mound. He's not alone, however, as Billy Buckner and Daniel Christensen line up behind him for a talented threesome. Frisco (Rangers) also goes three prospects deep with Armando Galarraga, Daniel Haigwood, and top prospect Eric Hurley, while Corpus Christi (Astros) does the same with Jimmy Barthmaier, Tip Fairchild, and Troy Patton. Prospect-y goodness among the starting moundsmen doesn't end there, with Nick Adenhart and Jose Arredondo at Arkansas (Angels). Colorado Rockies duo Franklin Morales and Greg Reynolds star for Tulsa.

Best Bullpen: The weakest group of the bunch. Tulsa will be interesting, as Juan Morillo brings his triple-digit heat to a bullpen role after failing to find success as a starter despite outstanding stuff. Longtime readers of Future Shock will be rooting for Brad Ziegler as he begins his conversion to a submarine style at Midland.

Best Outfield: Springfield (Cardinals) goes three-for-three when it comes to outfield prospects, with top dog Colby Rasmus, just 20 years old, patrolling center field. He's flanked by Cody Haerther and 2006 draftee John Jay. Midland has an interesting group with low-tools/high-performance guys like former third baseman Myron Leslie and Danny Putnam playing on either side of high-tools/low performance center fielder Richie Robnett.

Best Corner Infielders: Normally a hitter's haven, the Texas League just doesn't begin the year with many hitters of note. San Antonio (Padres) has the best third baseman in on-base artist Chase Headley, while 2006 Midwest League MVP Jeff Baisley plays the hot corner at Midland, trying to prove that last season was more than just a 23-year-old beating up on teenagers. There simply are no first basemen of note.

Best Middle Infield: Yet another remarkably weak group. Angels shortstop Sean Rodriguez spends the year at Arkansas trying to prove that last year's breakout campaign was for real, while Tulsa's Jonathan Herrera is an interesting sleeper in the Colorado system.

Best Catching: Well, at least there are some catchers in this league. The most surprising name on a roster is Bryan Anderson, who is making a two-level jump to join Rasmus as under-21 prospects on the Springfield roster. A's backstop Landon Powell heads to Midland, with scouts--and everyone else, for that matter--keeping an eye on his weight. San Antonio's Nick Hundley and Corpus Christi's Lou Santangelo are both decent prospects as well.

Really? He's Still Playing?

Vince Faison, OF, Midland
Tim Olson, 3B, Tulsa
Curtis Pride, OF, Arkansas

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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