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September 5, 2007
Great Leaps Forward, American League
Repeating a feature from last year, this four-part series will look at which players saw their stock rise or fall the most in each organization. We'll start today with the American League, and on the positive side of the ledger. These are not prospect rankings, nor are these the best players in the organization--they're just the players who most exceeded expectations.
The Orioles always had faith in right-hander Chorye Spoone's stuff, and his performance began to catch up this year, as the 21-year-old began to throw more strikes and trust his changeup more. His low-90s fastball touches 94-95 and features more sink than anyone else's in the system, leading to a truckload of groundballs, a 3.26 ERA at High-A Frederick, and a .200 batting average against in the Carolina League.
Honorable Mention: David Hernandez made yesterday's Ten Pack by striking out 18 in his final start of the year, but he showed much improved (albeit inconsistent) stuff throughout the year. Outfielder Brandon Tripp was a little old for Low-A Delmarva, but he showed impressive athleticism and tools while batting .288/.377/.531.
A 17th-round pick last year who signed for sixth-round money, outfielder Josh Reddick was held back in extended spring training to start the year, but he hit the ground running when arriving at Low-A Greenville in late May, batting .306/.352/.531 in 94 games by showing a surprising combination of contact ability, raw power, and decent athleticism in right field.
Honorable Mention: Scouts still criticize his range on the left side of the infield, but they no longer have problems with the bat of shortstop Jed Lowrie, who bounced back from a rough full-season debut in 2006 to hit .298/.393/.503 while reaching Triple-A. One of the organization's big Latin American signings from last summer, 17-year-old shortstop Oscar Tejeda showed tools aplenty while batting .298/.342/.405 between Boston's Gulf Coast and New York-Penn League squads.
A relative unknown entering the year, 21-year-old Dominican righty Fautino De Los Santos came out firing bullets this year, dominating A-ball hitters with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and hard-biting curve. In 122 1/3 innings, De Los Santos allowed just 69 hits (.163 opponent's average) while striking out 153.
Honorable Mention: After struggling at Double-A in the Phillies organization last year, Gio Gonzalez repeated the level with the organization that drafted him and led the minor leagues with 185 strikeouts in 150 innings. Drafted last year as a second baseman, John Shelby was moved to center field, the position his father excelled at, and began to thrive at the plate, hitting .322/.351/.572 during the second half at Low-A Kannapolis.
After getting just two at-bats in all of 2006 due to a broken bone in his hand, 19-year-old Canadian outfielder Nick Weglarz proved to be less raw than anticipated, racking up 24 home runs and drawing 83 walks. Those are his only skills, but they're a good two to have.
Honorable Mention: Infielder Asdrubal Cabrera was dropped a level to Double-A, where he rediscovered his batting stroke with a .310/.380/.448 campaign, and has now taken over for Josh Barfield in the majors as the Indians hit the stretch run. After four years of very little production, thanks in part to a brutal knee injury suffered in a pickup basketball game, 2002 first-round pick Matt Whitney led the organization with 32 home runs and 113 RBI across the system's two A-level teams. His age and a necessary move to first base won't help him going forward, but he's back in action and producing.
A 16th-round pick last year, Michigan native Duane Below led the organization with 160 strikeouts at Low-A West Michigan while showing solid command of a three-pitch mix. The left-hander doesn't have projection past a back-of-the-rotation starter or middle reliever, but his fastball, curve, and changeup all project as average pitches, and he had a 0.72 ERA in his last six starts while allowing just 21 hits in 37 1/3 innings with 44 punchouts.
Honorable mention: Diminutive catcher Jamie Skelton showed solid contact skills, a keen batting eye, and a rocket arm while batting .309/.402/.448 at Low-A. First baseman Jeff Larish saw his power jump at Double-A Erie, hitting .267/.390/.515 while leading the Eastern League in home runs (28) and RBI (101).
While plenty of starters put up big numbers at High-A Wilmington, righty Daniel Cortes showed the most impressive stuff, as the 20-year-old righty compiled a 3.04 ERA in 24 starts and nearly a strikeout per inning. Already in possession of a low-90s fastball, Cortes' curve showed improvement throughout the year, and in his last eight starts, he posted a 0.77 ERA while allowing just 34 hits and 12 walks in 47 innings.
Honorable Mention: Fellow Blue Rock righty Julio Pimentel has one of the better fastballs in the organization and finished third in the Carolina League with a 2.65 ERA, but scouts still want to see more from his secondary offerings. Like Pimentel, reliever Jarod Plummer was also acquired from the Dodgers and has the same issues, but he projects as a solid big league reliever after compiling 91 strikeouts against just 18 walks in 82 bullpen innings.
A 19th-round pick out of Loyola Marymount last June, outfielder Chris Pettit was leading the Midwest League in hitting at .346/.429/.579 when the Angels promoted him to the California League at the All-Star break. He's not especially big or toolsy, but after putting up a .309/.395/.502 line at High-A Rancho Cucamonga, scouts are convinced that the kid can hit.
Honorable Mention: Converted outfielder Warner Madrigal thrived in his first full season on the mound, compiling 20 saves at Low-A Cedar Rapids to go along with a 2.07 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 65 innings. He was especially sharp in the second half, touching 98 mph with his fastball and showing a hard, biting slider to allow just two earned runs in his last 27 games (0.57 ERA) while limiting opposing hitters to a .127 batting average. Australian righty Rich Thompson never developed as a starter, but he came alive in a bullpen role with a 2.01 ERA across three levels and 85 strikeouts in 76 innings. With an above-average fastball and even better curve, Thompson has reached the majors and should stay there for years to come.
Jeff Manship's $300,000 bonus as a 14th-round pick last year paid immediate dividends, as the former Notre Dame star started in the Midwest League All-Star game and won 15 games across two levels to go with a 2.30 ERA in 149 innings. He's a command pitcher, but he's got more than just finesse stuff, with a low 90s fastball as well as an impressive changeup.
Honorable Mention: Signed in 2006 as a draft-and-follow, six-foot-five right-hander David Bromberg's fastball jumped into the 92-94 mph range as he won Appy League Pitcher of the Year honors thanks to a 9-0 record and 81 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings. Moved to a full-time relief role, Eduardo Morlan was able to focus solely on his fastball/slider combination, and both pitches took a step forward as he recorded 99 whiffs in 69 2/3 innings between High-A and season-ending week at Double-A.
Both were highly regarded, but nobody predicted that 2006 draft picks Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy would both rocket through the minors and play integral roles in the big league squad's race for a playoff spot. Chamberlain is already becoming something of a big-city folk hero thanks to his size, stuff, performance, background... and willingness to throw at the heads of Red Sox hitters.
Honorable Mention: Right-hander Alan Horne took a major step forward, earning Eastern League Pitcher of the Year honors after leading the circuit in ERA (3.11) and strikeouts (165). Some mechanical adjustments led to a second-half breakout for athletic outfielder Austin Jackson, who hit .345/.398/.566 after a promotion to High-A Tampa.
Oakland's top draft pick (second round) last year, right-hander Trevor Cahill established himself as the highest high-ceiling arm in the system, posting a 2.73 ERA at Low-A Kane County with 117 strikeouts in 105 1/3 innings. He didn't allow more than one run in any of his last nine outings, compiling a 0.97 ERA while allowing just 30 hits in 55 2/3 frames.
Honorable Mention: Righty Andrew Bailey averaged 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings while dominating at both levels of A-ball, and then taking a no-hitter into the seventh in a late-season emergency start at Triple-A. Converted to a sidearm delivery, Brad Ziegler did his best Elroy Face impression by leading the organization with 12 wins (all in relief) and compiling a 2.41 ERA between Double- and Triple-A.
Although 17-year-old shortstop Carlos Triunfel was rushed though the system, as the Mariners are apt to do to their youngsters, he responded by hitting .296/.333/.367, which are incredible numbers for a player so young who spent the majority of his season at High-A. The only bad news is he's not going to grow up to be a shortstop in the end.
Honorable Mention: After hitting just .230 last year at Double-A, toolsy slugger Wladimir Balentien cut down on his strikeouts without sacrificing other parts of his game, batting .291/.362/.509 at Triple-A Tacoma. Twenty-year-old outfielder Michael Saunders made a huge jump in translating his athleticism into on-the-field performance, reaching Double-A by the end of the year and batting .298/.390/.470.
Everything clicked for center fielder Desmond Jennings in his full-season debut, as the 20-year-old athlete became a baseball player in the blink of an eye, batting .315/.401/.465 at Low-A before his season was cut short by a minor knee injury. He has the potential to hit 20 home runs annually while stealing 50 bases.
Honorable Mention: After spending three years in short-season leagues and batting just .254/.294/.446 in the process, outfielder Ryan Royster made a run at the Low-A South Atlantic League Triple Crown with a monster .329/.380/.601 campaign that included 14 home runs in his last 26 games. Also at Columbus, right-hander Heath Rollins went 17-4 with a 2.54 ERA thanks to plus-plus command of surprisingly good stuff.
After an impressive pro debut in 2006, third baseman Chris Davis absolutely exploded with a .297/.347/.598 season that included 36 home runs, 118 driven in, and 296 total bases in 129 games. The bad news? His 150 strikeouts, and an inability to stay at the hot corner.
Honorable Mention: After missing nearly all of 2006 recovering from Tommy John surgery, catcher Taylor Teagarden is still having problems playing behind the dish, but showing no problems with the bat, reaching Double-A while showing off a Mickey Tettleton-like combination of power and patience on the way to a .310/.426/.586 campaign. Also at Double-A, short and stocky second baseman German Duran came from seemingly out of nowhere to hit .300/.352/.525.
Eighteen-year-old Venezuelan slugger Yohermyn Chavez showcased one of the more impressive bats in the Gulf Coast League this summer, batting .301/.389/.494. A bit of a hulking slugger, Chavez doesn't have much in the way of athleticism, but he has an intriguing combination of bat control and raw power.
Honorable Mention: Finally out of A-ball, catcher Robinzon Diaz kept on lacing singles all over the field and playing solid defense, batting .320/.346/.413 between Double- and Triple-A, with only a broken hamate bone preventing him from getting a September call-up. Fellow backstop Brian Jeroloman had a downright bizarre year at High-A Dunedin, but there has to be some value to a defensive stalwart who hit .259/.421/.338--thanks to 85 walks in 290 at-bats.