April 18, 2007
State of the Systems, AL Central
Chicago White Sox
Triple-A Charlotte (International League; 5-5)
The offense is averaging just 3.3 runs per game, as returning stars Josh Fields and Ryan Sweeney have yet to get going. Fields is batting just .211/.316/.311, while Sweeney's power continues to be all about projection, with just one home run (.395 slugging) in 38 at-bats. After pitching six innings of four-hit, one-run ball in his season debut, Gavin Floyd got knocked around for 11 base knocks last Thursday, so his Jekyll and Hyde career continues. Knuckleballer Charlie Haeger hasn't done himself any favors by giving up eight runs in 12 innings.
Double-A Birmingham (Southern League; 9-2)
An interesting group of pitchers has taken advantage of a friendly ballpark to combine for an ERA of 1.89. With a 2.25 ERA in three starts, Gigantor-like right-hander Adam Russell actually has the highest mark in the rotation, but might be the best long-term prospect. Lefty Gio Gonzalez and righthander Jack Egbert both have ERAs below two while combining for 32 strikeouts in 21.1 innings. Even long-forgotten former first-rounder Kris Honel got into the act with six shutout innings before being skipped over for his next start, as he just can't stay healthy. In the bullpen, Dewon Day's utter domination was recently discussed in detail. The offense is far less impressive. One-dimensional slugger Tom Collaro is riding a hot bat at .286/.348/.595, but with 15 whiffs in 42 at-bats, little progress has been made on his contact problems. Do keep an eye on second baseman Chris Getz, who I projected a breakout season for last year, only to be horribly disappointed. One of those classic fundamentally sound scrappy types, Getz has a .413 OBP and two home runs already this year, to go with more walks (eight) than strikeouts (five) in 38 at-bats.
High-A Winston-Salem (Carolina League; 5-4)
The top position-player prospect in the system not at Triple-A, outfielder Aaron Cunningham began the year with an eight-game hitting streak and is batting .382/.436/.529 overall. The team's best hitter has been David Cook, who has three home runs in the first nine games, but he's a 25-year-old organizational player as opposed to any kind of prospect. Fans of the side-arm delivery should note 2006 sixth-round pick Brian Omogrosso, who has allowed just four hits in eight innings while limiting fellow righthanders to just one hit in 13 at-bats. As a Tommy John survivor, he's also a rarity among sidearmers.
Low-A Kannapolis (South Atlantic League; 6-5)
The Intimidators have smacked just four home runs all year in 369 at-bats, but half of them have come off the bat of Chris Carter, who is hitting .295 and impressing scouts with a shorter stroke. He's one of the few bright spots in a lineup short on prospects, but outfielder Anderson Gomes, arguably the best athlete in the system, is showing some signs of life for the first time in his career, posting a line of .286/.350/.429. Power righty Matt Long was last June's second-round pick, but has been roughed up in both of his starts, giving up 14 hits and seven runs in nine innings.
Triple-A Buffalo (International League; 7-1)
The Bisons' quick start is easily explained by their having outscored opponents 47-24, as the team is reaching base at a .369 clip. Leading the way is outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who has seemingly taken his demotion well by going on a 9-for-21 tear with six walks (.571 OBP). Less happily, the organization was hoping for the fourth straight year that Brad Snyder might reduce his unacceptably high strikeout rate, but things are instead going in the wrong direction, as the former first-round pick is 4-for-20 with 10 whiffs. Top prospect Adam Miller (2.77 ERA) was shaky in his season debut, but bounced back on Sunday by allowing just one run on six hits over seven innings.
Double-A Akron (Eastern League; 3-4)
The much-ballyhooed outfield of Brian Barton, Trevor Crowe, and Ryan Goleski has been a collective bust early on. Barton is batting just .231 with 12 strikeouts in 26 at-bats, Crowe is a .143/.273/.214 wreck, while Goleski, the top pick in last winter's Rule 5 draft who's returned from Oakland, is still looking for his first extra-base hit. The club hopes that former prospect Jake Dittler has found a home in the bullpen--in three appearances, the righty has given up just one hit over six scoreless frames.
High-A Kinston (Carolina League; 4-4)
The K-Tribe are batting just .229 as a team, with catcher Max Ramirez (.296/.424/.333) one of the few semi-bright spots, but with three passed balls in six games, he continues to struggle defensively. More symptomatic is 2006 million-dollar draftee Wes Hodges, who hit his first pro home run last week, but it's one of just four hits on the season, as he's missed nearly a week with hamstring troubles. Also getting off on the wrong foot are outfielder John Drennen (.212/.278/.333) and first baseman Stephen Head (.219/.286/.375). A supplemental first-round pick last June, David Huff has given up just two earned runs in eight innings, but scouts are still looking for a big-league out pitch, and with just three strikeouts, so are Carolina League hitters.
Low-A Lake County (South Atlantic League; 4-7)
On a team desperate for catching prospects, 2006 second-round pick Matt McBride might be the answer, as he's off to a .382/.488/.471 start. Five years ago, third baseman Matt Whitney was a first-round pick and one of the best young hitters in the organization. Never the same after breaking his leg during a pick-up basketball game, Whitney is still only in Low-A ball, but hitting for the first time (.361/.400/.556) in half a decade.
Triple-A Toledo (International League; 5-6)
The Tigers have a veteran-laden roster at Triple-A, with little in the way of prospects, although Chris Shelton (.333/.444/.472) is doing his best to convince Jim Leyland that he's a better option at first base than the struggling Sean Casey. The pitching staff is equally uninspiring, although veteran bullpen arms Tim Byrdak, Vic Darensbourg, Jason Karnuth, and Aquilino Lopez have combined to allow just one run and 12 hits in 26.1 innings.
Double-A Erie (Eastern League; 4-3)
Shortstop Michael Holliman got little credit for a .278/.386/.501 campaign in the Midwest League last year, but that's because he was 24 years old. Double-jumped to the Eastern League, he's making some more believers by hitting .391/.559/.609 out of the gate. Third baseman Kody Kirkland smashed 22 home runs for Erie last year, but also hit just .217 with 157 strikeouts; he's looking much improved so far (.360/.385/.520). First baseman Jeff Larrish is the only player on the team with two home runs. One of the talks of spring training was the return of righty Kyle Sleeth. The third overall pick in 2003, Sleeth has been very slow to return from Tommy John surgery, and while he looked good in camp, he got hit for four runs in two innings on Monday.
High-A Lakeland (Florida State League; 4-7)
The team's first-round pick in 2006, Andrew Miller has given up just 13 hits in 18.2 innings, and only four earned runs (1.93 ERA), but his 11 strikeouts is a bit of a surprise. Even with consideration for the small sample size, he's yet to strike out a better per inning in any of his three outings. After going 0-for-11 in his first four games, über-prospect Cameron Maybin is 10-for-24 since and batting .286/.432/.571 overall, although the 16 whiffs in 35 at-bats is a little jarring. Ronnie Borquin is batting just .148, including an 0-for-7 mark with five whiffs against southpaws, very disappointing for a guy picked in the second round after Miller.
Low-A West Michigan (Midwest League; 4-5)
While the Whitecaps have scored just 25 runs in nine games, teenage sensation Gorkys Hernandez is batting .304 with three doubles. His immature approach is still working against him, though, as he's still looking for his first walk. Left-hander Chris Cody has dominated in two starts, with a 0.00 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 11.2 innings. Don't be fooled--the 23-year-old rarely gets out of the mid-80s, but throws strikes and changes speeds with the best of them.
Kansas City Royals
Triple-A Omaha (Pacific Coast League; 5-7)
"Outfielder" Billy Butler is proving why he's one of the best young hitters in the game, batting .341/.442/.614 with just four strikeouts in 44 at-bats. Today is his 21st birthday, and he's ready to hit in the big leagues. As for his defense, he still has the range of my grandmother (who's been dead for 15 years), but at least he's only made one error. From the "I Don't Know What To Make Of It Either" files, Joey Gathright is batting .220 (that part I get), but also has drawn 14 walks in just 41 at-bats, good for a .439 on-base percentage. No word on how many cars he's jumped (I'm serious, that link is a must-click). Acquired in the off-season from the Mets, righthander Brian Bannister has allowed one run over seven innings in each of his last two starts, and could get a big-league look soon.
Double-A Wichita (Texas League; 5-6)
Back in the Texas League more because of a numbers game than anything else, outfielder Chris Lubanski is off to yet another slow beginning (.250/.302/.375). Meanwhile, first baseman Mike Stodolka is batting .200/.282/.314, making his surprising conversion from pitcher to hitter last year looking like a High Desert-created mirage. While two starts is nothing to make a judgment on, I imagine the Royals hoped for more from 2006 number one overall pick Luke Hochevar. On a strict 75-pitch limit, Hochevar has struck out nine in 7.1 innings, but also given up 10 hits and seven walks.
High-A Wilmington (Carolina League; 4-6)
One of the worst offenses in the game has scored just 20 runs and hit .183/.237/.254. They've hit just one home run in 323 at-bats while striking out 72 times. The good news is that the pitching has been outstanding. The most interesting arm belongs to righthander Carlos Rosa, a fastball/sinker specialist who's gone two starts without allowing an earned run.
Low-A Burlington (Midwest League; 7-2)
Like the Wilmington club, the Bees are dependant on pitching, with a remarkable team ERA of just 1.66--they've allowed just 39 hits in 76 innings, while limiting opposing hitters to a .148 batting average. Two deep sleeper alerts on this staff. The first: Angelo Morales, a 20-year-old Panamanian with a monster breaking ball who has limited batters to four hits in 11 innings while striking out 14 and not issuing a single walk. The second: Harold Mozingo, a sixth-round pick last June with solid stuff across the board, good mechanics, and outstanding pitchability. Like Morales, he has impressive ratios, with five hits allowed in 11 innings, 13 strikeouts, and one walk. From among the hitters, 2005 fourth-round pick Joe Dickerson has been one of the few offensive highlights, batting .360/.500/.440. The kid can hit, but projects as a tweener in the outfield, with the offensive game of a centerfielder, and the defensive chops of a corner guy.
Triple-A Rochester (International League; 3-2)
A pair of first-round picks who seemingly hit a wall at Double-A last year, the declining stocks of third baseman Matt Moses (.160/.192/.160) and center fielder Denard Span (.154/.241/.154) seem to be declining even more steeply. It's especially upsetting for an organization that could use young players at both of those positions. The rotation is loaded, and while Kevin Slowey and the recently-promoted Glen Perkins both delivered six very good innings in their first starts of the year, top prospect Matt Garza has had some mysterious problems in spring training with neck soreness and headaches, and has yet to get on track, allowing 17 base runners in eight innings and having all sorts of control problems.
Double-A New Britain (Eastern League; 2-4)
Not the strongest lineup prospect-wise, but two players who needed to get out of the gate quickly are doing so. Former first-round pick Trevor Plouffe has struggled with the bat but excelled with the glove, going 6-for-21 with four extra-base hits, while third baseman David Winfree, who took much of 2006 off while he questioned his own commitment to the game, is batting .304/.370/.478. Not much to talk about on the mound when the best pitcher is former Red Sox and Padres first-round washout Brad Baker.
High-A Fort Myers (Florida State League; 5-5)
The Miracle, on the other hand, have some serious pitching. Right-hander Kyle Waldrop looks to be finally living up to his first-round status, pitching five no-hit innings in the team's opener and then outdueling Detroit's Andrew Miller on Monday. It's hard to find good bullpen arms in A-Ball, but Fort Myers has a three-headed monster of Angel Garcia (also a literal monster at 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds), Eduardo Morlan, and Yohan Pino. All three are good-to-very good prospects, and they've combined to hold opponents scoreless in 17 innings, giving up just four hits. There's not much here hitting-wise, though first baseman Whit Robbins, a fourth-round pick last year out of Georgia Tech, is batting .303/.439/.424. He doesn't have a high ceiling, but does have a short resume that says "professional hitter."
Low-A Beloit (Midwest League; 3-4)
Minnesota spent its first two picks last June on a pair of high-ceiling outfielders, Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee. Both had solid debuts in the Gulf Coast League, but both are now struggling in their first taste of full-season baseball: Benson's gone 5-for-27 with no extra-base hits and 10 strikeouts, while Parmelee's at 4-for-22 with 11 whiffs. Second baseman Brian Dinkelman is batting .273/.407/.545, but he's not a big-time prospect, nor was he the co-host on the first season of "American Idol." Four years ago, right-hander Jeff Manship was one of the better prep players in the country, but he went down with Tommy John surgery before pitching an inning at Notre Dame. The Twins got creative in the draft and took him in the 14th round as an eligible sophomore, luring him away from his final two years of college. He's undersized, but his fastball is at least average, his curveball is well above that, and like most Twins prospects, he's precise with his command, as evidenced by a 16-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11.1 innings.