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May 2, 2007

Future Shock

State of the Systems, AL East

by Kevin Goldstein

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Baltimore Orioles

Triple-A Norfolk (7-14; International League)

On a prospect level, the team might be even worse than the record. Offensively the team is led by minor league veterans like Mike Cervenak (.337/.396/.530) and J.R. House (.321/.394/.457), and even the guys not hitting, like Jon Knott (.164/.292/.364) and Terry Tiffee (.289/.313/.355), are players way past their prime. More bad news is to be found on the mound, as right-hander Hayden Penn is going to have surgery to remove a bone chip in his elbow and will miss most of the year. Lefty Garrett Olson is pitching better than his 5.04 ERA would indicate, but at the same time, he's not exactly making his case for a big league look anytime soon.

Double-A Bowie (12-11; Eastern League)

The organization was hoping for a return to form for outfielder Nolan Reimold (.338/.377/.600), and they were getting just that before he hit the disabled list with a strained oblique. Former top outfield prospects Jeff Fiorentino (.160/.222/.200) and Val Majewski (.247/.333/.383) are on their way to having the 'former' become a permanent part of their resume. Cubs fans used to be excited by Brandon Sing (.154/.175/.256), who is having his trouble gaining the same support on the East Coast. Fireballer Radhames Liz has 22 strikeouts in 18.1 innings, but with 13 walks and a 5.40 ERA, the calls for him to convert to a reliever, where his limited arsenal would serve him better, are getting louder. There he could join closer James Hoey, who throws even harder than Liz (occasionally touching triple-digits); Hoey has fired seven shutout innings, allowing five hits and striking out nine.

High-A Frederick (11-10; Carolina League)

A fourth-round pick last June who was skipped to High-A for his full-season debut, shortstop Blake Davis is about 15 percent of the way towards what could be a breakout campaign, with a .343/.395/.514 clip in 19 games. Once a promising power prospect, and the son of Hall Of Famer Robin, Dustin Yount was let go after a 1-for-33 start. The rotation is led by Brandon Erbe, still just 19. After three so-so starts, he allowed one run over six innings last time out while striking out seven. Chorye Spoone (2.82 ERA) is another hard thrower in the system who could move up the rankings with better command and secondary stuff.

Low-A Delmarva (8-15; South Atlantic League)

Excellent news from the lowest level, as 2005 first-round pick Brandon Snyder is batting .277/.348/.422 now that he's 100 percent; he'd spent much of 2006 on the shelf, or not hitting when he was healthy enough to play. He's still not catching, and likely won't until next year. Outfielder Brandon Tripp is one of the hottest hitters in all of the minors with a .420/.490/.705 line, but he's more of a polished college product beating up on less-experienced competition than any kind of newfound prospect. The best pitcher on the team is 2006 first-rounder Pedro Beato (3.38), but he's been up and down in five starts, often struggling with his command.

Boston Red Sox

Triple-A Pawtucket (9-12; International League)

Outfielder Brandon Moss looks like he's re-found the sweet swing that made him the 2004 South Atlantic League MVP. After a pair of mediocre seasons at Portland, the 23-year-old Moss is batting .316/.395/.566 and showing more power and patience than he has in the past. On the flipside, catcher George Kottaras is struggling at the plate (.212/.339/.385) while continuing to show why scouts question his ability to stay behind the plate, throwing out only two of 23 opposing basestealers. Jon Lester's success was detailed in Monday's Ten Pack, and right now the number two option might be David Pauley, a finesse righthander with a 2.25 ERA over 24 innings and just three walks. Neither Manny Delcarmen nor Craig Hansen has found their mojo in the minors--Hanson has 12 strikeouts in 10 innings, but has also allowed 20 base runners, while Delcarmen has 16 whiffs in 11.1 frames, but a lofty 7.15 ERA.

Double-A Portland (8-8; Eastern League)

Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury has been the best hitter in the league at .455/.507/.667, but that's the only good offensive news on this squad, as shortstop Jed Lowrie (.170/.286/.264) continues to struggle while second baseman Jeff Natale (.267/.384/.350) is looking like a one-year wonder. The news is mixed on the mound as well, with top prospect Clay Buchholz living up to his number-one status with a 2.35 ERA, 18 strikeouts and just three walks issued in 15.1 innings, while reliever Bryce Cox is off the fast track after striking out just three in 10.1 innings while walking eight. Knuckleball fans keeping hope alive for Charlie Zink have been well served so far, as he's posted a 1.00 ERA in 18 innings with just nine hits allowed.

High-A Lancaster (14-11; California League)

With 191 runs scored in 25 games, everyone is hitting, as the Jethawks have cumulative averages of .303/.402/.509. Sure, first baseman Aaron Bates is at .284/.439/.591, but he's also a college-trained first baseman without a lot of upside. Sure second baseman Tony Granadillo is at .381/.527/.595, but he's kind of like Dustin Pedroia--but with fewer tools. Basically, it's hard to judge any numbers in the offensive environment of Lancaster, though the team hoped it would lead to turnarounds for former prospects Christian Lara (.189/.318/.351) and Luis Soto (.222/.300/.319), with little avail. Like the hitting, it's hard to judge the pitching staff, as the team ERA of 4.95 almost looks impressive if you tilt your head the right way. With a 2.33 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning, righthander Michael Bowden has been unquestionably great, though one has to worry about the full-season debuts so far of Kris Johnson (7.17 ERA) and Justin Masterson (6.26). As for 2006 first-round pick Daniel Bard, who has a 10.13 ERA to go with 21 hits allowed and 22 walks in 13.1 innings, he's been awful no matter what context you want to put it into.

Low-A Greenvilee (11-14; South Atlantic League)

Two big-name '06 draftees are making their full-season debuts and delivering mixed results. First-round pick Jason Place (.179/.239/.381) was expected to have some problems as he tries to turn his athleticism into performance, and he has. First baseman Lars Anderson has been impressive out of the gate at .314/.392/.477, but with 27 strikeouts in 86 at-bats, there are some contact issues. As if playing in a near-replica of Fenway Park isn't enough, the Drive even have a Papelbon closing, as Jeremy has five saves and a 2.19 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 12.1 innings. Don't expect the same career path, however, as the little brother is a side-armer, not a power pitcher.

New York Yankees

Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (10-12; International League)

Averaging less than four runs per game, there's little good to say about the offense, although Duncan has been their best hitter. Oh wait, that's Shelley Duncan (.318/.387/.682), a second-round pick from six years ago who's more of a one-dimensional Quadruple-A hitter without a defensive home. Meanwhile, 2003 first-round pick Eric Duncan (.239/.333/.457) is playing like... another one-dimensional Quadruple-A hitter without a defensive home. Guys cut from that same cloth, like Andy Phillips (.269/.352/.474) and Kevin Thompson (.233/.361/.267), are waiting around for an injury at the big league level. Philip Hughes was called up, and the rest of the rotation has been a letdown, as Tyler Clippard (4.19 ERA) can't get lefties out (.488 OBP), while two arms acquired in the Randy Johnson deal, Steven Jackson (7.27 ERA) and Ross Ohlendorf (4.91), have both had their problems as well. The bright spot has been a resurgent Matt DeSalvo. The greatest pitcher in NCAA Division III history, DeSalvo had a case of the yips in 2006, but looked outstanding in spring training and has a 1.35 ERA in four starts, allowing just 13 hits in 20 innings. He's a low-ceiling guy, but he's back to being a guy who could be a solid fifth starter/long reliever type.

Double-A Trenton (17-2; Eastern League)

The good news is that the Thunder have the best record in the minor leagues. The bad news is that it's not like there's a bunch of big prospects tearing it up. The team's success revolves around a pitching staff with a team ERA of 1.81. Chase Wright got a brief callup because of his 0.90 ERA, but on the big stage he struggled. The best prospect in the rotation is Jeff Marquez, who has a 1.24 mark, but more unearned runs (five) than earned runs (four) on his tally; he's more of a sinker-slider guy with solid potential, but not a super-high ceiling. Reliever Kevin Whelan (2.53) started off great but has struggled in the last week or so, while a name to watch is Edwar Ramirez, a pickup from the indy league circuit who has struck out 18 in 10.2 innings out of the bullpen. His swing-and-misses come off his breaking ball as opposed to any kind of power arsenal, so he still has some proving to do, but so far, so good.

High-A Tampa (10-14; Florida State League)

With Hughes in the big leagues, outfielder Jose Tabata (.294/.384/.388) becomes the best prospect in the system, and while he started off the year on fire, he's batting .200 in his last 11 games after initially running up his average to .400 on April 16. The lineup also features a pair of sleepers in outfielder Colin Curtis (.318/.451/.424), a classic smallish, grinder type of player who has endeared himself to the organization with his all-out style of play, and catcher Frank Cervelli (.308/.392/.400), a switch-hitting Venezuelan with defensive chops and on-base skills. Joba Chamberlain is still on the shelf with a strained hamstring, so in his absence the rotation has been led by 2006 first-rounder Ian Kennedy, who sports a 2.22 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 24.1 innings. The fact that he's dominating at this level is no surprise, so he still has his share of doubters.

Low-A Charleston (16-9; South Atlantic League)

A moribund offense, as bonus baby Austin Jackson (.215/.257/.323) seems to be regressing in his second Sally League go 'round. Nate Silver already explained why he didn't trust second basemen Wilmer Pino's projection, and based on the season he's having (.213/.244/.275), Nate won't have to worry about him next year. After a big pro debut, '06 seventh-rounder Tim Norton keeps missing bats, with 32 whiffs in 26.2 innings, although scouts see him as a reliever in the end. While neither are considered major prospects, relievers Jonathan Hovis and David Robertson have combined for 19 appearances and 27 innings of scoreless relief.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Triple-A Durham (11-14; International League)

Don't worry D-Rays fans, pitching is coming, as the Rays have three solid options in the Durham rotation. First, they have the big power pitcher in Jeff Niemann (3.60 ERA), who has 30 strikeouts in 25 innings, but they also have the command specialist in Andy Sonnastine (2.70 ERA), who has 37 whiffs in 30 innings, and the in-between option in Jason Hammell (2.36 ERA), who's limited International League hitters to a .173 average. All this mitigates a rough start for Mitch Talbot (6.48 ERA). There are more options in the bullpen with Chad Orvella pitching well again, allowing just seven hits in 14 innings, while onetime stathead favorite Steve Andrade has 20 punchouts and just one walk in 14.1 innings. In one of the few boring lineups in the Rays system, second baseman Elliot Johnson (.182/.236/.313) isn't doing much, while third baseman Joel Guzman (.253/.275/.400) continues to see his stock plummet.

Double-A Montgomery (12-12; Southern League)

On the best left side in the minors, shortstop Reid Brignac (.302/.340/.500) and third baseman Evan Longoria (.286/.419/.536) are both living up to expectations, while speedy center fielder Fernando Perez continues to improve in the leadoff role, drawking walks in bunches and batting .272/.416/.407. One of the few prospect-light pitching staffs in the system features right-hander Chris Mason, coming off a troubling full-season debut, but who is now giving the team yet another pitching prospect thanks to a 1.26 ERA after five starts.

High-A Vero Beach (9-14; Florida State League)

Playing primarily at designated hitter while he learns how to catch, Sergio Pedroza is struggling at the plate (.174/.333/.261) and looking even worse in the field, as teams are running on him with ease. The team's most productive hitter, third baseman Pat Cottrell (.354/.409/.570), is 25 years old and seen as more of an organizational player. The story of the team is the rotation, and of the three big names, two have excelled. Wade Davis (2.18 ERA) and Jacob McGee (1.52) have combined for 55 strikeouts in 53 innings with just 37 hits allowed. The bad news is Matt Walker, who has a 10.29 ERA.

Low-A Columbus (15-10; South Atlantic League)

Entering the year as the system's sleeper, toolsy center fielder Desmond Jennings is now wide awake with a .320/.387/.450 start to the season with gap power, a good approach, and 12 stolen bases. Yet another rotation loaded with interesting arms, right-handers Jeremy Hellickson (1.64 ERA), Josh Butler (1.61), and Wade Townsend (2.25) all have good numbers to go with good scouting reports.

Toronto Blue Jays

Triple-A Syracuse (9-13; International League)

With Adam Lind called up after only eight games, the Chiefs' lineup is loaded with veterans and washouts. Decent catching prospect Curtis Thigpen (.269/.339/.500) is playing decently, while Russ Adams (.227/.318/.333) isn't getting any closer to returning to the big leagues. Right-hander Dustin McGowan earned rave reviews this spring, and has continued to shine with a 1.64 ERA in five starts, though the team's second-best starter has been veteran righty Geremi Gonzalez, as strike-thrower deluxe Josh Banks (4.44 ERA) continues to strike out fewer batters at each level as he moves up.

Double-A New Hampshire (12-7; Eastern League)

Reclamation project number one: Sergio Santos. Acquired from Arizona as part of the Troy Glaus deal, Santos had a miserable year at Syracuse last year, but the 23-year-old is starting to show the talent that made him a first-round pick five years ago, putting up a .277/.333/.692 line that includes nine doubles and six home runs in 65 at-bats. Reclamation project number two: David Purcey. As a six-foot-five lefty who can get it into the mid-90s, Purcey should be a monster prospect, but control issues have been a constant bugaboo. This year, he has a 2.81 ERA in four starts with 28 whiffs in 25.2 innings, and more importantly just four walks. They're still hoping for signs of life from 2005 first-round pick Ricky Romero (5.17 ERA). A pair of Blue Jays who had excellent showings in the Arizona Fall League are failing to build on that success--righthander Kyle Yates (5.40) is not showing the same command he has in the past, while first baseman Chip Cannon, the AFL home run leader, is hitting .194 with a disastrous 32 strikeouts in 67 at-bats.

High-A Dunedin (11-13; Florida State League>

Not the kind of lineup that exactly inspires, as the team's two best hitters, outfielders Cory Patton (.325/.413/.500) and Jacob Butler (.296/.389/.543) are older talents with little upside. When the team drafted Brian Jeroloman in the sixth round last year, they felt they'd selected an outstanding defensive catcher who they hoped would hit. With a strange line of .220/.395/.305, he's at least proving he can walk. A fourth-round pick last year as a college senior, the organization hoped highly-regarded Brandon Magee could handle the jump to High-A for his full-season debut, but he's gotten rocked to the tune of a 9.56 ERA while allowing 40 baserunners in 16 innings.

Low-A Lansing (14-6; Midwest League)

We went over this on Monday, but 2006 first-round pick Travis Snider is good...really good. Good to the tune of .405/.419/.646 in his first 20 games good. Now in his third year at Lansing, outfielder Yuber Rodriguez (.182/.270/.218) looks great in a uniform and has outstanding tools, but it's too bad he can't play baseball very well. Despite a team ERA of 2.71, there are few notable arms on the team, though co-closers Seth Overbey and Paul Phillips have combined for a 0.00 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 19 innings.

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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