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May 16, 2007

Future Shock

State of the Systems, AL West

by Kevin Goldstein

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Los Angeles Angels

Triple-A Salt Lake (22-16; Pacific Coast League)

At .400/.483/.615, Nate Haynes is one of the hottest hitters anywhere in the minors, but his prospect window has been closed for awhile. A decent prospect in the Oakland system back when years began with a one instead of a two, Haynes was signed last year out of indy ball, and doesn't have a big future. In the land of real prospects, fellow outfielder Terry Evans (.326/.359/.556) continues to create believers, but also needs a more patient approach at the plate. After a brief big league debut, third baseman Brandon Wood is scuffling a bit at .241/.336/.405, but time is hardly running out for him the way it is for catcher Jeff Mathis (.256/.296/.360) and big-money Cuban import Kendry Morales (.287/.302/.372). In most other organizations, lefty Joe Saunders (3.04 ERA) would be in the big league rotation, and he's first in line should a need in Los Angeles arise. That's a good thing, as the rest of the rotation at Triple-A is awful. At least minor league veterans Jason Bulger (3.12 ERA, 23 whiffs in 17.1 innings) and Marcus Gwyn (1.31 ERA) provide some extra bullpen options.

Double-A Arkansas (15-22; Texas League)

After a fantastic start to the season, shortstop Sean Rodriguez is batting .174/.321/.283 in May to drop to .260/.386/.441 on the season, but the good news is that his walk rate has returned to pre-2006 levels. The team's best performer is infielder Adam Morrissey (.310/.417/.468), who is well past his prime. Catcher Bobby Wilson continues to shut down the running game, nailing 15 of 27 attempted basestealers, but none of that is going to matter if he can't hit more than .221/.294/.390. Mirroring Rodriguez is top pitching prospect Nick Adenhart, whose sub-one ERA suddenly moved up to 2.55 after giving up 14 hits and nine runs over 8.2 innings in his last two starts. With violent mechanics and little more than an upper-90s fastball, righty Jose Arredondo has made the logical leap to closing, but with mixed results. Eighteen strikeouts in 16 innings and converting five of six save opportunities is nice, but 10 walks and control problems in pressure situations are a bit of a concern.

High-A Rancho Cucamonga (19-19; California League)

This is just a miserable offensive squad, hitting .223/.289/.315 as a team--and that's with the benefit of an awfully hitter-friendly home park. The good news is that the lineup features few prospects where not much was expected, as the only real disappointment has been shortstop Hainley Statia (.268/.351/.369). Sleeper alert goes to right-hander Brok Butcher, a sinker/slider specialist who has a 0.96 ERA in eight games, five of which he's held the opponent scoreless. On the disappointing side of things, righty Stephen Marek continues to look for a more varied arsenal while putting up a 3.86 ERA in six starts with just 20 strikeouts in 32.2 innings. Undrafted after a successful four-year college career at Florida, side-armer Darren O'Day has been untouchable as the Quakes closer, with a perfect 0.00 ERA and eight saves in 11 games, giving up just five hits in 11.1 innings.

Low-A Cedar Rapids (18-16; Midwest League)

The Angels loaded this team with exciting young position players, and to a man, they've struggled. Outfielder Peter Bourjos (.275/.346/.385) isn't reaching base enough to take advantage of his blazing speed. First-round pick Hank Conger was nabbed in the first round in anticipation of his being something, but he's showing power but little else at the plate (.250/.294/.429), and he's struggling behind it, throwing out just 16% of would be basestealers. Second baseman Ryan Mount (.232/.304/.283 has seemingly lost the power stroke that he showed last year in the Pioneer League, while shortstop P.J. Phillips (.219/.248/.362) has an inexcusable 41 strikeouts and two walks in 105 at-bats. Adding to the pain is first baseman Mark Trumbo. It's nearly time to give up the ghost on a $1.425 million bonus baby who is hitting .252/.276/.369 in his second go-round with the Kernels. Righty Sean O'Sullivan got $500,000 as a draft-and-follow last year, but Midwest League hitters are batting .289 off of him; his fastball is still nowhere near the velocity he showed as an amateur, for reasons that remain a bit of a mystery.

Oakland Athletics

Triple-A Sacramento (24-14; Pacific Coast League)

The team is led offensively by older talent like outfielder Hiram Bocachica (.313/.444/.618), a first-round pick 13 years ago, and Triple-A veteran J.J. Furmaniak (.313/.413/.563), who still has utilityman possibilities in a Keith Lockhart kind of way. Thinking more about the real future major leaguers, second baseman Kevin Mellilo (.282/.383/.449) and catcher Kurt Suzuki (.289/.365/.400) have both performed almost exactly to expectations, while Daric Barton (.236/.337/.379) is now about 18 months removed from his last effectiveness at the plate. Expected to be early in line for big league looks, right-handers Jason Windsor (5.24 ERA) and Shane Komine (5.98) have both been battered around, creating opportunities for southpaw Dallas Braden to leapfrog them. Also earning a big league look has been Connor Robertson, who took over closer duties after Marcus McBeth got dealt to the Reds. Low on stuff, but very high on deception thanks to a Tiant-esque body turn, Robertson has a 1.93 ERA in 15 appearances with more than a strikeout per inning. He's been called up to the A's bullpen with the injury to Huston Street.

Double-A Midland (24-10; Texas League)

The biggest story for the RockHounds has been the return of Brian Snyder, a 2003 first-round pick who missed much of the last two-and-a-half years with injury and conditioning problems. All but given up on, Snyder reported to camp in the best shape of his career, was moved from third to second base, and is hitting .302/.395/.547 in 29 games while committing just two errors. Oakland is still waiting for similar turnarounds from two other first-round picks--catcher Landon Powell (.245/.368/.347) and outfielder Richie Robnett (.247/.282/.418). From sleeper to question mark and back to sleeper, if not all-out prospect, Gregorio Petit is back at his natural position of shortstop and hitting .326/.367/.388 while playing sterling defense. When right-hander Brad Knox (2.19 ERA) and his plus curveball were promoted to Triple-A, he was replaced by former Ohio State star Mike Madsen, who has been even better, posting a 1.08 ERA in four starts and 30 strikeouts in 25 innings with just 11 hits allowed, though his scouting reports (small strike thrower with average stuff) don't match the stats. Converted side-armer Brad Ziegler is learning on the job, but clearly learning quickly with a 1.42 ERA in 19 innings, and doing what his new delivery's designed to do by limiting right-handed hitters to a .211/.244/.237 mark.

High-A Stockton (20-18; California League)

After missing all of 2006 recovering from Tommy John surgery, outfielder Javier Herrera (.248/.333/.403) got off to a horrible start, but has warmed up with the weather, batting .333/.417/.690 in 11 May games. Cliff Pennington was dreadful last year at Stockton (.203/.302/.277), belying his first-rounder status in the 2005 draft, but he's doing much better this year (.266/.372/.396). Scouts see a much different player now that his hamstring issues are completely behind him. A sleeper alert goes to catcher Anthony Recker (.286/.371/.469), a big, power-hitting catcher with a good arm. Flying under the radar a bit with a 3.99 ERA is Ryan Webb; seen as a project when drafted in the fourth round three years ago, the 6-foot-6 beanpole combines a heavy fastball with plus control, and he still has plenty of projection. Also showing progress is righty Vin Mazzaro, who reeled off quality starts four of his first five times out before getting racked for 14 runs over 5.1 innings in his last two.

Low-A Kane County (8-28; Midwest League)

Normally a league powerhouse, nothing has gone right in Geneva, Illinois this year. After a monster debut, 2006 draftee Matt Sulentic has looked completely lost at the plate (.161/.233/.186). While fellow outfielder Jermaine Mitchell similarly entered the year with equally high expectations after his 2006 showing, he's finally heating up and sits at .292/.385/.336, although with just two extra base hits. Back from shoulder surgery, fireballer Thomas Italiano has 24 strikeouts in 17 innings, but the good news ends there, as it accompanies a 12.71 ERA, 32 hits allowed, and 16 walks. Joining the team late after extended spring training, 2006 second-round pick Trevor Cahill faced just seven batters in his season debut, allowing three hits and walking two. This is the shortest paragraph in the Oakland section for a reason.

Seattle Mariners

Triple-A Tacoma (17-22; Pacific Coast League)

Center fielder Adam Jones continues to just get better. Currently at .307/.392/.474, Seattle wanted Jones to become a more patient hitter at the top of a lineup, and he's responded by drawing 16 walks against 137 at-bats, a rate well above his previous years. While he's slowed down a bit, fellow outfielder Wladimir Balentien is hitting a healthy .322/.388/.564 with a greatly reduced strikeout rate; his tools rank with anyone's in the system. The news is less sunny for catcher Jeff Clement--the third overall pick in 2005, he got a bit of a pass for his poor 2006 showing due to injury issues, but now he's hitting .226/.331/.414 with no such mitigating factors. With a team ERA of 5.08, there are few positives when it comes to the pitching staff. The top prospect in the rotation, Ryan Feierabend, has a solid 3.61 ERA in eight starts, but he's allowed 53 hits in 42.1 innings. The comeback of lefty Jim Parque is on shaky ground, as PCL hitters have bashed him around for a .357 average and 37 runs in 36 innings.

Double-A West Tenn (17-21; Southern League)

While the organization is still waiting for third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo to tap into his power, he's made remarkable progress at the plate, hitting .323/.421/.444 in 39 games after putting up a miserable 477 OPS at Double-A last year. He's one of the few productive players on a team hitting .235/.321/.343. Among the actual prospects not getting the job done are second baseman Luis Valbuena (.195/.265/.331) and outfielder Sebastien Boucher (.197/.304/.244), a former stathead favorite whose previous numbers were inflated by the California League. Acquired from the Phillies at the end of last year, Andy Baldwin made three great starts in the California League after the trade, but he's come back to earth this year, allowing 68 hits in 44.1 innings. After breaking out at High-A last year, lefty Justin Thomas missed most of the first month with a minor injury, but has returned to action this month and pitched well, allowing seven hits in 14 innings. Keep an eye on gigantic reliever Jose De La Cruz, who has a 1.27 ERA in 14 games while limiting hitters to a .162 average.

High-A High Desert (13-25; California League)

How bad is the Mavericks offense? Playing in the best hitting environment in the game, they're batting just .262/.334/.390 as a team. There are some bright spots, however, including toolsy outfielder Michael Saunders (.279/.406/.407) suddenly turning into a walk-generating machine. Seattle's sleeper alert goes to offensive-minded catcher Adam Moore (.275/.349/.532), who has eight home runs in 109 at-bats with scouts noticing better work on the defensive side of the ball. The pitching staff has a 5.62 team ERA and is without a prospect, though Dominican righty Juan Zapata is stating his case out of the bullpen with a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings while striking out 16.

Low-A Wisconsin (10-25; Midwest League)

One of the youngest lineups in the minor leagues is averaging less than four runs a game, but when you take the players' ages into consideration, it's not so bad. Shortstop Carlos Triunfel has yet to show any secondary skills hitting .288/.316/.360, but for a player who just turned 17 during spring training, it's an impressive performance. Just a year older at 18, Italian third baseman Alex Liddi is hitting just .206/.313/.361 with 34 whiffs in 97 at-bats, but that's a big improvement over April, as he was down to .143/.234/.310 just three weeks ago. Weather played havoc with the Timber Rattlers' schedule early in the year, and the rotation is just now getting stretched out. Chris Tillman, a 2006 second-round pick, has been up and down, striking out 28 in 27 innings, but not getting past the first inning in two of his last three starts, and posting a 4.33 ERA. Last year's third-round pick, 6-foot-7 lefty Tony Butler, has been dominant at times with 21 strikeouts and just 14 hits allowed in 19 innings, but his command is spotty (17 walks). Acquired with Baldwin in the Jamie Moyer trade, reliever Andy Barb is more deception than power stuff, but he's whiffed 22 in 15.2 innings while allowing only eight hits.

Texas Rangers

Triple-A Oklahoma (19-18; Pacific Coast League)

More of a veteran squad than a prospect-laden one, the team's top hitter is former Phillies prospect Marlon Byrd (.365/.435/.555), who could be the next to get a look in a depleted big league outfield. Slightly more prospect-y is fellow outfielder Kevin Mahar (.349/.429/.512), who turns 26 next month and lacks any kind of a ceiling because of that. One-time prospects who are now officially languishing at Triple-A, Jason Botts (.241/.335/.366) and Freddy Guzman (.231/.342/.354) have entered the regressions of their respective careers. For former Astros prospect Ezequiel Astacio, it's been a tale of two seasons--after pitching 15.2 innings of relief without allowing an earned run, Astacio was moved to the rotation where he gave up nine runs in 6.2 innings in his first two starts. The top prospect in the rotation, righty Josh Rupe, has a 4.89 ERA and barely a strikeout for every two innings pitched, and he's probably not getting another look any time soon.

Double-A Frisco (22-15; Texas League)

Frisco's lineup is another prospect-free zone, though third baseman Travis Metcalf (.280/.353/.492) and outfielder Anthony Webster (.256/.306/.474) both at least fall into the fringe guy category. Number one prospect Eric Hurley is living up to expectations at first glance by posting a 1.84 ERA, but add in seven unearned runs and a lower strikeout rate, and he's been merely good, not great. One of the most surprising Opening Day assignments was right-hander Edinson Volquez beginning the year at High-A in an attempt to help him get his confidence and command back. While he had a 7.13 ERA for Bakersfield in seven outings, he was nevertheless promoted to Frisco, where in his first outing he allowed two runs over five innings, but walked five more. One contact at the game indicated that Volquez was as he's been for the last year or so--the stuff was great, the control was anything but.

High-A Bakersfield (15-23; California League)

Catcher Taylor Teagarden (.407/.573/.796) has earned Ten Pack mentions, and it's hard to find a hotter bat in the minors. After looking like he was breaking out with a huge showing in the Hawaii Winter League, 2005 first-round pick John Mayberry (.232/.288/.471) has returned to his all-or-nothing ways. Also hitting a lot of home runs (seven in 132 at-bats) and striking out like crazy (47) is Chris Davis, who is also struggling with the glove, committing ten errors so far in an attempt to play third base. Acquired prior to the season from Cleveland, the Rangers might have a sleeper in righty Bear Bay, who leads all starters with a 2.60 ERA. He's got a big frame and a plus fastball, but is still looking for consistent secondary offerings. After putting up a 5.99 ERA last year at Clinton, 2005 third-round pick Michael Schlact continues to scuffle, striking out just 18 in 43.1 innings.

Low-A Clinton (22-14; Midwest League)

This is the one level in the Rangers' system where there's all sort of good news. Third baseman Johnny Whittleman joined Teagarden in getting props in Monday's Ten Pack, and joining him in the strong rebound group is K.C. Herren. A second-round pick in 2004, Herren hit .221/.294/.306 at Clinton last year before getting sent back the short-season ball. Everything has clicked this year for the ultra-athletic outfielder, who sits at .358/.404/.613 after 30 games; he's still just 21 years old. As far as less-happy news, two expensive 2006 draft picks are struggling. Chad Tracy (.285/.318/.465) needs to hit more now that he's a first baseman and not a catcher, while shortstop Marcus Lemon (.223/.304/.282) has struggled from day one. The fastest-rising prospect in the system is 19-year-old Venezuelan righty Omar Poveda, who has a 2.51 ERA in seven starts while giving up just 25 hits in 43 innings. The only negative against him is a tendency to work high in the strike zone, leading to five home runs surrendered and strong flyball tendencies.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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