June 14, 2007
State of the Systems, AL Central
Triple-A Charlotte (28-37; International League)
Brian Anderson is back at Triple-A, and with a .256/.333/.380 line, he's likely not coming back anytime soon. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Ryan Sweeney is also stagnating, batting .296/.364/.432, with his power potential looking more and more like it will be permanently lodged on the potential side of the ledger. With Joe Crede out for an extended time, the White Sox will finally get an extended look at Josh Fields, who was hitting .283/.394/.498 and still striking out a ton (60 K in 205 AB), but also adding a significantly more patient approach (39 BB) to his resume. Bad news for knuckleball fans, as Charlie Haeger has a 5.77 ERA in 13 starts, allowing 126 baserunners in 73.1 innings. On the slightly more positive side of things, 2005 first-round pick Lance Broadway has a 3.27 ERA, but with more walks (32) than strikeouts (31) in 66 innings, there's little reason to think he could help in the majors.
Double-A Birmingham (30-35; Southern League)
High-A Winston-Salem (35-29; Carolina League)
The best player on the team in the eyes of scouts remains outfielder Aaron Cunningham (.285/.360/.475). His greatest strength is his lack of weaknesses--he has gap power now (with potential for more), he's
drawing walks at the highest rate of his career, and he's stolen 18 bases. First baseman
Low-A Kannapolis (29-36; South Atlantic League)
After leading the Pioneer League in home runs last year, first baseman
Triple-A Buffalo (35-29; International League)
Third baseman Andy Marte has taken his second demotion in good stride, batting .333/.417/.714 in June with five home runs in his last 51 at-bats; don't give up on him quite yet. Meanwhile if you want to give up on
Double-A Akron (36-26; Eastern League)
Trevor Crowe's season is not just the biggest disappointment in the Cleveland system, it's arguably the biggest in all of prospect land. After an incredible full-season debut, Crowe looked like a quality future leadoff man. Instead, he's simply never gotten going at Double-A, sitting at .191/.289/.256 on the season, and having not hit more than .200 in any one month. Fellow outfielder and 2006 breakout player Brian Barton is having no such problem, hitting .314/.413/.467--the only thing missing from last year is the power. Despite a 4.03 ERA in 11 starts, big-time prospect Chuck Lofgren was promoted to Buffalo thanks mostly to 65 strikeouts in 60.1 innings. Lefty Scott Lewis led the minor leagues in ERA last year, but the Eastern League is far different from the Sally League, and his 3.88 ERA shows that Lewis is merely pretty good, and nowhere near pretty great.
High-A Kinston (41-22; Carolina League)
It's hard not to root for first baseman Michael Aubrey. A never-ending string of injuries, most of them related to a chronic back problem, limited the 2003 first-rounder to just 42 games in the last two years, but he's come back with a bang, taking the field in late May and hitting .400/.492/.800 in 13 games before moving up to Akron. He was just a temporary part of a great offense that has features outstanding years from 2006 top pick
Low-A Lake County (29-35; South Atlantic League)
The organization finally got infielder
Triple-A Toledo (36-30; International League)
What kind of odds could one have gotten 12 months ago that former Tiger
Double-A Erie (33-28; Eastern League)
Nobody is quite sure what has gotten into third baseman Kody Kirkland, but nobody is complaining much either. After batting .217/.290/.453 last year at Erie, Kirland has improved to .254/.341/.472, and with 26 walks in 58 games, he's already equaled last year's total. The slugger, on the other side of the diamond,
High-A Lakeland (28-35; Florida State League)
The bad news on Cameron Maybin is that he's hit just two
home runs in his last 47 games (and those came in the same contest) and has
struck out 68 times in 216 at-bats. The good news is that he's nevertheless hitting .310/.410/.454 while still being very far from realizing his full potential. Also far from his potential, but just flat-out not performing, is
Low-A West Michigan (36-29; Midwest League)
Multi-faceted outfielder Gorkys Hernandez (.309/.362/.381) has proven he can hit, and proven he can fly by stealing 26 bases, but now he needs to add some other secondary skills to his game, starting with better pitch selection and little more juice in the bat. While the home park is a pitcher's heaven, no amount of mitigating factors can excuse the performances of high-profile draftees
Triple-A Omaha (32-33; Pacific Coast League)
Outfielder Billy Butler (.277/.395/.511) has been in a downward spiral since returning to the minors, batting just .221/.344/.442 in 26 games since coming back down. It's not a huge concern, and a fairly common occurrence when young players get a brief taste of big league life and then find themselves back on a bus. The bigger story in the minors has been the performance of minor league journeyman 1B/DH Craig Brazell, who leads the minor leagues with 22 home runs, many of them from a five-day stretch in late May in which he had four two-home run games. Since then, he's hit .222 with just two long balls in 17 games. The pitching staff is not loaded with prospects, but the team has gotten disappointingly little from lefty Tyler Lumsden, who has a 5.90 ERA, just three quality starts in 11 attempts, and has given up eight home runs in 58 innings, a surprisingly high total for a groundball pitcher.
Double-A Wichita (25-39; Texas League)
Back at Double-A more because of a numbers game than anything else, former first-round pick Chris Lubanski keeps plugging away with a good but not great season (.291/358/.493), and between his being limited to left field defensively and not hitting lefties (.222/.357/.289), his future isn't quite so bright. In a similar vein, Mike Stodolka made an impressive transition from pitcher to first base last year, but the 2000 first-round pick is now pushing 27, and first basemen who hit .270/.375/.449 at that age aren't that special. The real concern involves the number one overall pick of the 2006 draft, Luke Hochevar. While the right-hander has struck out 72 in the same number of innings, he also has a 4.75 ERA and has given up 82 hits, including 11 home runs. Scouting reports are matching the stats as well, with scouts particularly pointing to the former Tennessee star's tentativeness on the mound.
High-A Wilmington (29-34; Carolina League)
It's bad offensive team, both on a performance (.252/.323/.348 as a team) and scouting level. Second baseman Josh Johnson has a ton of athleticism and draws a lot of walks, but at .209/.344/.225, that's all he's doing. A big-time sleeper alert for right-hander
Low-A Burlington (27-37; Midwest League)
Triple-A Rochester (32-29; International League)
While infielder Alexi Casilla (.233/.250/.256) struggled in his big league debut, he's gunning for another chance with a .378/.451/.533 run in 11 June games. He's still in line to replace
Double-A New Britain (31-27; Eastern League)
The Twins were hoping for bounceback campaigns from both players on the left side of the infield, and the pair has been neither good nor bad. Trevor Plouffe (.268/.319/.418) got off to a blistering start, hit just .231/.289/.316 in May, and now he's hot again with 23 total bases in 11 June games; the former first-rounder (2004) might yet live up to his initial promise. Third baseman David Winfree (.264/.313/.421) took a large chunk of last season off to assess his commitment to baseball; he has as much raw power as anyone in the system, but needs significant work on his approach. After looking like a breakout candidate in the Florida State League, right-hander Kyle Waldrop is having trouble keeping it up at Double-A, with a 6.21 ERA in five starts.
High-A Fort Myers (28-36; Florida State League)
With anything even close to a decent offense, the Miracle would be at or near the top of the standings, as they're barely averaging over three runs a game while batting a composite .221/.299/.296. The only everyday player with an OPS over 700 is Erik Lis (.266/.353/.406), who probably lacks the offensive firepower to be an every day first baseman and/or left fielder, but will always be able to tell his kids he took Roger Clemens deep during one of the Rocket's 2007 tune-ups. The pitching staff is loaded with talent, the most surprising of which has been the resurgence of Jay Rainville, a first-round pick in 2004 who missed all of last season recovering from shoulder surgery. While his velocity is still off (he's sitting in the upper 80s), the right-hander still has a power curveball, and has put up a 3.00 ERA in 14 games, delivery his best start of the year with seven shutout innings and seven strikeouts on Tuesday night. Ranked as the No. 7 prospect in the system prior to the season, righty Eduardo Morlan has been converted to closer, where his plus command of a very good fastball/slider combination has served him well. The Cuban émigré has four wins and nine saves to go with 48 strikeouts in 34.2 innings. Surprisingly, he's been deadly against left-handed batters, limiting them to a 5-for-54 (.093) mark with 22 strikeouts and just two walks.
Low-A Beloit (41-23; Midwest League)
The Twins' top two 2006 draftees are young, raw, toolsy...and struggling mightily. First-rounder