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July 6, 2007

Future Shock

Risers and Fallers, American League

by Kevin Goldstein

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As we approach the All-Star break, now is a good time to assess where each team's minor league system stands. With the shorter season, we're a little bit past the halfway mark. Here's who is moving up, moving down, and maybe moving into the No. 1 position when I compile each team's Top 10 Prospects in the offseason. Today, we start with the American League.

Baltimore Orioles

Great Leap Forward: While lefty Garrett Olson is an obvious choice after limiting International League hitters to a .211 batting average and reaching the major leagues, a more obscure choice might be righty Chorye Spoone, who's used two plus pitches (a low-90s sinker and a power curve) to strike out 39 over 27.2 innings in his last six starts.
Not What We Expected: The Orioles had teenagers at the No. 1 and 2 spots on their top prospect list going into the season, and neither has lived up to expectations. Right-hander Brandon Erbe has been as inconsistent as one can get at High-A Frederick, giving up half of his earned run total in just three bad starts. He's still looking for a consistent breaking ball, and his control falters far too often. Billy Rowell, the Orioles' 2006 first-round pick, missed the first six weeks of the season with an oblique strain, and he's done precious little since arriving at Low-A Delmarva, hitting just .261/.329/.388.
Open Questions: Does the fact the James Hoey gave up three runs in 1/3 of an inning in his only big league game of the year mean he doesn't get another chance despite a sub-one ERA in the minors and over 13 K's per nine? Is there any hope for 2005 first-rounder Brandon Snyder, who is now playing first base, and doing little at Low-A (.268/.340/.384)?
Who Will Be No. 1?: It seems pretty clear to me that once No. 1 draft pick Matt Wieters signs, he'll be immediately crowned with the title.

Boston Red Sox

Great Leap Forward: While it may seem silly to have the guy I ranked at No. 1 here, right-hander Clay Buchholz has gone from the team's top prospect to arguably the best right-hander in the minor leagues, posting a 1.77 ERA at Double-A Portland to go with 116 strikeouts in 86.2 innings and just 79 base runners allowed.
Not What We Expected: Sadly, 2006 first-round pick Daniel Bard has had a lost season, as his control has completely abandoned him. After crashing down out of the California League, Bard is back in Low-A, and in 35.2 total innings, he's walked 41 men. Also, wasn't Bryce Cox, now joining Bard in Low-A and sitting with a 5.53 ERA, supposed to be just months away from the big leagues going into the season?
Open Questions: Will any of the big boppers at High-A Lancaster, where five everyday players with OPS greater than 950, be able to reproduce those numbers once they play in a normal environment at Double-A? Will the team ever find a catcher to replace an aging Jason Varitek?
Who Will Be No. 1?: It's unlikely that Buchholz will get 50 big league innings this year, so he's a shoo-in.

Chicago White Sox

Great Leap Forward: 21-year-old Dominican righty Faustino De Los Santos has come out of nowhere to dominate the Low-A Sally League, allowing just 42 hits in 77.2 innings while punching out 96. The even better news is that the scouting reports match the numbers, as his fastball and slider both grade out as plus pitches.
Not What We Expected: Charlie Haeger has had a hard time getting the knuckler to knuckle, putting up a 4.81 ERA at Triple-A Charlotte while walking 57 in 92 innings. After being the talk of spring camp, big righty Adam Russell has settled into mediocrity at Double-A Birmingham, with a 4.40 ERA in 18 starts, and more hits allowed than innings pitched.
Open Questions: When do we stop predicting a power surge for Ryan Sweeney, who has five home runs in 244 Triple-A at-bats, and just come to grips with the fact that it's not going to happen? How much better will this bad system look after the trade deadline?
Who Will Be No. 1?: John Danks is no longer eligible, Josh Fields is well on his way to that status, and Ryan Sweeney's stock is down. That leaves lefty Gio Gonzalez, who is back with the team that originally drafted him and having an outstanding year at Double-A Birmingham, showing much improved control and a 2.91 ERA in 17 starts with 110 strikeouts in 92.2 innings.

Cleveland Indians

Great Leap Forward: Acquired last year from Seattle for Eduardo Perez, slick-fielding Asdrubal Cabrera was always a little young for the level he was playing at, which kept his numbers from being evaluated properly. Dropped one level down to Double-A, but still just 21, Cabrera has come alive with the bat, hitting .338/.414/.502.
Not What We Expected: Trevor Crowe looked like one of the top pure leadoff prospects in the game last year, but he's been pressing all year at Double-A Akron, batting just .222/.318/.286. The good news is that he's riding a ten-game hitting streak in which he's gone 17-for-42 (.405).
Open Questions: Was third baseman Jared Goedert's remarkable first half at Low-A Lake County (.364/.475/.715) a sign of things to come, or just another advanced college hitter beating up on younger pitchers in a hitter-friendly park? Will Adam Miller spend the second half of the season in the big league bullpen?
Who Will Be No. 1?: If Miller is still eligible at the end of the year, he'll likely be No. 1 again despite some minor injury problems this year. Miller's stock is down just slightly, and nobody else in the system has stepped up enough to pass him up.

Detroit Tigers

Great Leap Forward: His pure stuff thrills nobody, but right-hander Virgil Vasquez has utilized his sinker/slider combination to strikeout 92 in 99.1 Triple-A innings, and even got called up to the big leagues for one (admittedly disastrous) emergency start. At 5-foot-11 and just 165 pounds, Jamie Skelton hardly looks like a catcher, but the Midwest League all-star is batting .335/.400/.485 for Low-A West Michigan while gunning down 42% of attempted base stealers.
Not What We Expected: A 2006 second-round pick, Ronnie Borquin hit just .192/.326/.218 in 26 Florida State League games this spring before being sent back to extended spring in an attempt to straighten things out. He's back in the New York-Penn League, and 9-for-26 (.346) in seven games. After a big debut in the NY-P last season, fifth-round pick Scott Sizemore is drawing a lot of walks at Low-A West Michigan, and that's about it (.252/.382/.380).
Open Questions: When do we finally get to see Cameron Maybin play somewhere that doesn't severely repress his power? Is Eulogio De La Cruz one of the answers to Detroit's bullpen issues?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Cameron Maybin is still very young, very good, and very eligible.

Kansas City Royals

Great Leap Forward: There's no obvious candidate, so is it totally foolish to give some love to Joey Gathright? Gathright came out of the box at Triple-A Omaha a changed man--keeping the ball on the ground and drawing walks like they're going out of style--batting .328/.450/.392. Called up to the big leagues, he's continued to get the job done, producing at a .317/.406/.367 clip.
Not What We Expected: Pick any pitcher who began the year among the Royals' Top 10 prospects. The biggest offenders are a pair of righties, Luke Hochevar and Tyler Lumsdem, who were expected to be ready for the big league rotation by next year. While Hochevar leads the Texas League with 88 strikeouts, he also has a 4.40 ERA and the league is slugging .460 against him. Lumsden has been even worse, with a 6.17 ERA at Triple-A Omaha while giving up a .475 slugging percentage.
Open Questions: Why does Billy Butler have just one walk in 73 big league at-bats? What do we make of Craig Brazell, a 27-year-old career minor leaguer with Butler-esque defensive skills who is nonetheless batting .330/.368/.658 and leading the minors with 30 home runs?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Butler will likely play his way out of contention, leaving Hochevar with the lead coming into the stretch. First-round pick Mike Moustakas could make a run if he signs in time to make some noise in the Arizona League.

Los Angeles Angels

Great Leap Forward: With a .328/.354/.569 line at Triple-A Salt Lake, outfielder Terry Evans has proven that last year's shocking breakout wasn't a fluke. A 19th-round pick last year out of Loyola Marymount, outfielder Chris Pettit crushed Midwest League pitching to the tune of .346/.429/.579 before moving up to the Cal League.
Not What We Expected: Top pitching prospect Nick Adenhart has had some bumps and bruises, as have his pitches at Double-A Arkansas, evidenced by 92 hits allowed in 88.2 innings, and a disappointing 62 strikeouts. Meanwhile, catcher Jeff Mathis (.244/.295/.376 at Triple-A) is on the express train from prospect to non-prospect.
Open Questions: After getting a $1.425 million bonus in 2004, first baseman Mark Trumbo is hitting .273/.331/.432 in his second year at Low-A--is it time to see what he can do on the mound? Can anybody explain why infielder P.J. Phillips was a Midwest League All-Star reserve when he is hitting .229/.260/.358 with 88 strikeouts and six walks in 240 at-bats?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Adenhart and Brandon Wood both have two months to state their case in a system that is down significantly from where it was a couple of years ago.

Minnesota Twins

Great Leap Forward: Pitching, pitching and more pitching. Yohan Pino just threw a no-hitter, Eduardo Morlan looks like one of the better relief prospects around, but the bigger step forward has come from right-hander Jeff Manship, as the former Notre Dame star has joined the other two in the Florida State League thanks to a 1.64 ERA and a 89/14 K/BB ratio in 87.2 innings.
Not What We Expected: After an intriguing full-season debut at Low-A Beloit, shortstop Paul Kelly missed the first half of the season with a knee injury as is now just getting started in the Gulf Coast League. Dutch lefty Alexander Smit (5.55 ERA at High-A Fort Myers) has seen his control problems return in an organization that has little patience for such things.
Open Questions: Now that former first-round picks Matt Moses (.224/.244/.305) and Denard Span (.242/.295/.326) have continued their downward trends as prospects at Triple-A, is there a hitting prospect in the system that can help before 2009? Is first-round pick Ben Revere a steal, or the reach of the decade?
Who Will Be No. 1?: This is going to be a tough call, with Matt Garza, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey all likely finishing the year with too many big league innings to be eligible. Take a deeper look at the numbers of 2006 first-rounder Chris Parmelee (.243/.314/.453), and you'll find some very impressive secondary statistics for a teenager in the Midwest League.

New York Yankees

Great Leap Forward: The best collection of pitching talent in the minors has been even better than expected as 2006 draftees Joba Chamberlain (2.26 ERA and 99 K's in 67.2 IP) and Ian Kennedy (1.63 ERA and 111 Ks in 94 IP) have both been even more than advertised. Indy league signee Edwar Ramirez had an insane first half in which he recorded four times as many strikeouts as hits allowed; he struck out the side in his big league debut.
Not What We Expected: The big prize in the Gary Sheffield trade was righty Humberto Sanchez, but his continuous elbow problems finally came to a head with season-ending Tommy John surgery. The three prospects acquired from Arizona in the Randy Johnson deal--Alberto Gonzalez, Stephen Jackson and Ross Ohlendorf--have all been either hurt or awful.
Open Questions: Where are the hitting prospects? Will outfielder Jose Tabata (.312/.382/.389 at High-A) ever find his power stroke? By just how large of a margin will the team overpay first-round pick Andrew Brackman?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Philip Hughes is close to returning, and 40 innings away from losing eligibility. If he's gone, Tabata's small step backwards and Chamberlain's giant step forward could make Joba the top dog.

Oakland Athletics

Great Leap Forward: Right-hander Michael Madsen had an outstanding debut in 2005, a rough 2006, and is in the midst of a breakout 2007, currently leading the organization in ERA (2.78) and ranking second in strikeouts (95). Moved up to Triple-A, he fired 7.2 shutout innings in his Sacramento debut, and could get a look next year if he can avoid the Bret Saberhagen see-saw career path. Then there's 2006 sixth-round pick Andrew Bailey--he's been one of the few bright spots at Low-A Kane County this year, registering 74 strikeouts in 51 innings.
Not What We Expected: Seen by many as a breakout candidate going into the year, outfielder Matt Sulentic hit a depressing .175/.234 /.218 at Kane County before getting sent down to short-season Vancouver. Considered the top upper-level pitching prospect in the system, righty Jason Windsor put up a 5.40 ERA at Sacramento before hitting the disabled list with shoulder problems.
Open Questions: With a big league roster loaded with 1B/DH types, how will they find room for Daric Barton? Will the A's return to a college-heavy draft strategy pay some dividends in a system sorely lacking with big league-ready talent?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Barton's breakout year at Triple-A Sacramento (.324/.411/.482) assured him of the No. 1 position, assuming he doesn't spend the second half of the year in the big leagues. If he's gone, it's a much tougher call.

Seattle Mariners

Great Leap Forward: A number of fine options, as Triple-A Tacoma's terrifying threesome of Wladimir Balentien (.323/.395/.589), Jeff Clement (.273/.360/.518), and Adam Jones (.314/.383/.514) are all nearly ready to contribute at the big league level. Reaching for a less obvious choice, athletic outfielder Michael Saunders has turned a patient approach and gap power into a .298/.397/.481 line at High-A High Desert.
Not What We Expected: After an eye-popping pro debut, six-foot-seven lefty Tony Butler has had a miserable time while playing his first full season at Low-A in his home state of Wisconsin, putting up a 7.02 ERA in 10 games with more walks (30) than strikeouts (29) in 33.1 innings.
Open Questions: Will the Mariners go for the playoff race and stick with what's working, or call up one (or more) of the big guns at Tacoma? And do those things have to be mutually exclusive?
Who Will Be No. 1?: It all revolves around how many at-bats the Tacoma trio get at the big league level. Jones needs just 56 at-bats to lose eligibility, and is the most likely to be gone.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Great Leap Forward: Outfielder Desmond Jennings has done a surprisingly swift job in translating some of the best tools you'll see into real baseball skills, batting .316/.399/.477 at Low-A Columbus with 36 stolen bases. Already quite a prospect, Wade Davis has possibly ascended to the position of top righty in the system--reaching Double-A with a 1.86 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 97 innings.
Not What We Expected: After a strong first month at Double-A Montgomery, opposing pitchers have begun feeding shortstop Reid Brignac with a steady diet of breaking balls that have depressed his numbers to .244/.299/.391. Finally healthy, there are no more excuses for righty Jeff Niemann, who has an uninspiring 3.75 ERA at Triple-A Durham with 101 hits allowed in 98.1 innings.
Open Questions: How does Evan Longoria fit into the lineup next year? How soon will this year's top overall pick, David Price, get to the big leagues once he signs? With all this pitching in the minors, are the Devil Rays a 90+ win team by 2009?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Right now, it's Longoria, but once Price signs, we have some thinking to do.

Texas Rangers

Great Leap Forward: After a lost 2006 season due to Tommy John surgery, catcher Taylor Teagarden has exploded at High-A Bakersfield--hitting home runs and drawing walks in droves for a .330/.461/.598 line. More importantly, the arm is back: he's nailed down nearly half of opposing basestealers. Joining him at Bakersfield is third baseman Chris Davis, who is making his full-season debut at High-A and batting .302/.341/.580 while sitting among the league leaders in home runs (18) and RBI (76).
Not What We Expected: While overall the system is up from where they were a year ago, there have been some injury problems, as all-tools/no-hit shortstop Joaquin Arias has been all but lost this year due to shoulder problems, while 2004 first-round pick Thomas Diamond underwent Tommy John surgery prior to Opening Day.
Open Questions: Now that he's bashing at Triple-A (.324/.430/.588) again and closing in on his 27th birthday, isn't it time to fish or cut bait on Jason Botts? While it's nice to see first-round pick Michael Main batting .313 in the Arizona League, they're going to let him pitch at some point too, right?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Eric Hurley should be able to reclaim the position, as he's unlikely to pitch 50 innings in the majors. Moving way up however is 2006 first-round pick Kasey Kiker, who's been outstanding at Low-A Clinton, with a 2.25 ERA and nearly 12 strikeouts per nine.

Toronto Blue Jays

Great Leap Forward: Finally healthy, and finally permanently installed in a starting role, right-hander Dustin McGowan cruised through the International League with a 1.64 ERA in five starts before showing some flashes of greatness in the big leagues.
Not What We Expected: Shoulder soreness has limited lefty Ricky Romero to just seven starts--and they haven't been especially good starts. After a solid full-season debut, outfielder Ryan Patterson hit a wall at Double-A New Hampshire (.247/.276/.419).
Open Questions: Can we be done with Brandon League now? How many 2007 draftees will be in their Top 10 in the offseason? Does five sound like too many?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Last year, it was a debate between Travis Snider and Adam Lind. Lind is in the big leagues, Snider is raking in Low-A, and no players have made a big step forward. This one is a no-brainer.

--

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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