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May 14, 2007

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Michael Bowden, RHP, High-A Lancaster (Red Sox)

Bowden fired seven innings of one-hit shutout baseball Friday nigth at San Jose, lowering his ERA on the season to 1.37 in eight games. He's third in the California League in ERA and second in strikeouts, with 46 in 46 innings, allowing 35 hits and walking just eight. He's actually pitched even better than that. No pitcher on a talented Lancaster staff is handling the nightmare of pitching in Lancaster as well as Bowden has, and in a park that sees an average of 15.5 runs per game, Bowden has a 2.30 ERA in five home starts. In three road starts, he's fired 18.2 shutout innings. His stock is already high, and so far it's still rising.

Clay Buchholz, RHP, Double-A Portland (Red Sox)

Last year, Bowden and Buchholz each had breakout full-season debuts at Low-A Greenville. Two years older than Bowden, the Red Sox skipped a level with Buchholz, accepting the risk of assigning him to Double-A. He's passing the test with flying colors. On Friday, Buchholz whiffed a season-high 11 in 6.2 innings, while allowing four hits and one earned run to lower his ERA to 1.85. At one point, Buchholz struck out eight consecutive batters to set a new team record, while sitting in the 92-95 mph range when he wasn't freezing batters with a plus curveball. With 46 strikeouts and just four walks in 34 innings, Buchholz is suddenly in line for a big league look at some point in the season. Despite Jacoby Ellsbury's big April, Buchholz is still the top prospect in the system, and one of the best righthanders in all of the minors.

Joba Chamberlain, RHP, High-A Tampa (Yankees)

Chamberlain signed too late to make his pro debut last year, but after blowing away the Hawaii Winter League, his regular season debut was much anticipated. Then the injury bug bit Chamberlain again, as a hamstring injury kept him out until early May. The former Nebraska star is quickly making up for lost time--in his second start of the year on Saturday, Chamberlain fired five no-hit innings against St. Lucie, striking out six, and has now pitched nine shutout innings with 11 punch-outs. Even in these early stages, Chamberlain is touching 97 mph with his fastsball while flashing a plus slider, and with Philip Hughes in the big leagues, Chamberlain becomes the best pitching prospect in a system with plenty of worthy candidates.

Chris Marrero, OF, Low-A Hagerstown (Nationals)

Last spring, Marrero went into the 2006 season as the top high school hitter in the draft, but a highly disappointing senior season dropped his stock so much that when the Nationals took him with the 15th pick in the first round, it was generally viewed as a surprise. Faith in Marrero was restored with a solid showing in the Gulf Coast League last autumn, and reviews from scouts were generally positive so far this year, as Marrero initially put up good-not-great numbers. Those numbers began to catch up to the scouting reports over the weekend, as the 18-year-old had three hits, two home runs, and drove in six on Friday, and then smacked his seventh homer of the year on Sunday, raising his season averages to .302/.325/.526. There are still some negatives here--his approach is still impatient, and as a corner outfielder his bat his to carry him--but in a system desperate for any kind of prospect, Marrero is the number one bat, and top prospect overall.

Greg Miller, LHP, Triple-A Las Vegas (Dodgers)

Not so long ago, Miller was the best left-handed prospect in the game. Before he turned 19, he made four starts in the Double-A Southern League, striking out 40 in 27 innings while allowing three earned runs. Then disaster struck, as shoulder surgery, followed by a second procedure to clean up the first, cost him all of 2004 and most of the following season. Used out of the bullpen since his return, Miller still has excellent stuff, with a low- to mid-90s fastball and a vicious slider, but control problems have kept him from developing into something dependable. This spring he pitched very well and was a candidate for the fifth starter's job in the big leagues late into March, but since beginning the year in the Triple-A rotation, everything has gone downhill. Since the six no-hit innings he threw on April 19, Miller has been unable to find the strike zone at all, including a start on Friday in which he recorded just one out while walking four, hitting one, and uncorking a pair of wild pitches. On the season, he's walked 32 in 23.2 innings to contribute to a 6.46 ERA, and we're all back to dreaming about what could have been.

Eric Patterson, 2B, Triple-A Iowa (Cubs)

Patterson is the Cubs' second baseman of the future, no question about that, but the future seems to be coming a little quickly of late. On May 2, Patterson went 0-for-1 in a pinch-hit role to lower his season average to .240/.293/.333, hardly the kind of performance that gets any attention from those in charge at Clark and Addison. Since then, his bat has been one of the hottest in the minor leagues. Over the weekend, Patterson went 7-for-12 in three games, going deep in all three contests, and continuing a 10-game run in which he's gone 22-for-43 (.512). In just a week and a half, he's at .339/.389/.517, and that eighth-round flyer the Cubs took on him three years ago is looking brilliant.

Lewis Rollins, RHP, Low-A Columbus (Devil Rays)

An 11th-round pick last year out of Winthrop, Rollins was a two-way star in college, but the D-Rays preferred his mound skills, and it's looking like a sound decision. Friday night, Rollins fired a career-high eight innings against Augusta, giving up just two hits and striking out seven without allowing an earned run. The soon-to-be 22-year-old righty has now gone five starts without giving up an earned run, tossing 32 innings in the process while allowing just 15 hits. He lacks any single pitch that blows scouts away, but he has an effective three-pitch mix comprised of an average 88-92 mph fastball, a decent slider, and changeup solid enough to keep hitters guessing. High ceiling? Hardly, but another prospect in the Tampa Bay system to keep your eye on? Absolutely.

Max Scherzer, RHP, Ft. Worth Cats

He's the last of a dying breed--the year-long holdout. The 11th overall pick in last year's draft, Scherzer has yet to sign with the Diamondbacks, and by all accounts, Arizona and Scherzer's agent, Scott Boras, are still millions away from completing a deal. This is the last time any scenario like this will occur, as new draft rules have a final signing date of August 15th, limiting the game of bonus chicken to just 10 weeks instead of the old 51. Just like last year's version, Luke Hochevar, Scherzer is pitching in Ft. Worth, and in his first start over the weekend, scouts saw good things. Sitting in the mid-90s and touching 98, the former Missouri star is already showing better arm strength than any college righty, though teams are still waiting to see how his secondary stuff comes around. He's suddenly in the mix for the Royals (who picked Hochevar) with the No. 2 overall pick, and has at least three more starts to make his case.

Taylor Teagarden, C, High-A Bakersfield (Rangers)

Teagarden missed nearly all of 2006 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and while he came out of the box raking in the California League, there was another step backwards when he hit the Disabled List in mid-April with elbow pain. Returning last Thursday after three weeks off, Teagarden went 6-for-12 with two doubles, two home runs, and seven walks in four games, and is now batting an eye-popping .391/.576/.761 in 14 games for the Blaze. The bad news is that he has yet to catch since returning, only DH'ing so far. With four home runs in 46 at-bats and a crazy 20 walks, Teagarden has the secondary skills to be valuable even when he hits .250, but if the elbow problems continue and he can't return to the Gold Glove form he showed behind the plate in college, it will be hard to figure out what to do with him.

Johnny Whittleman, 3B, Low-A Clinton (Rangers)

A second-round pick in 2005 out of a Texas high school, Whittleman was looking more like a bust than a prospect after hitting .227/.313/.343 at Clinton last year. Returned to the Lumber Kings for 2007, Whittleman has turned everything around. By going 11-for-19 in his last five games, Whittleman is batting .368/.464/.658 in 33 games, leading the Midwest League in all three triple-slash categories. Scouts are raving about his swing and power potential, though his defense at the hot corner is still lacking. In a system that needs some good news, Whittleman is a hit from a young player perspective.

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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