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September 6, 2007
Two Steps Back, American League
Our four-part series continues with the American League, and the bad news to be found within each system.
Right-hander Brandon Erbe's outstanding fastball is still there, but he made no progress developing his secondary stuff, and his control took a major step backwards as he put up a 6.26 ERA at High-A, including a 8.73 mark in his last ten starts. If there's any consolation here, he doesn't turn 20 until December, and his age provided some room for a mulligan.
Almost as Disappointing: After an outstanding pro debut, 2006 first-round pick Billy Rowell missed the first seven weeks of the season with a strained oblique, and then hit a disappointing .273/.335/.426 at Low-A Delmarva. Not bad numbers, but he was consistently mediocre, never putting up a 800+ OPS in any single month. After impressing in short-season ball last year, shortstop Pedro Florimon's full-season debut was an absolute flop (.197/.257/.272).
A first-round pick last year who signed too late to make his debut, right-hander Daniel Bard suffered through a nightmarish campaign, opening the year with a 10.13 ERA in five starts at High-A Lancaster during which he got a case of the yips (22 walks in 13 1/3 innings), and then making little progress after a demotion posting a 6.39 ERA in 17 Low-A starts. Overall, in 75 1/3 innings, he walked 78 and whiffed just 48.
Almost as Disappointing: Last spring, Rice closer Bryce Cox suddenly 'found it,' got drafted in the third round, and had team officials anticipating a possible big league debut this year. Instead, he lost it in the offseason, battled hamstring problems, and finished the year down in Low-A with a 5.40 ERA and a slider that has stopped missing bats. Add to that 2006 first-round pick Jason Place, who proved to be far more athlete than baseball player in his full-season debut at Low-A Greenville, hitting just .214/.298/.359 with nearly as many strikeouts (160) as total bases (165).
After opening some eyes in spring training, six-foot-eight right-hander Adam Russell got battered around for 159 hits in 138 2/3 innings at Double-A Birmingham and was even worse (5.60 ERA) following a move to the bullpen.
Almost as Disappointing: The club's 2005 first-round pick, Lance Broadway, spent the whole year at Triple-A and rarely dominated, putting up a 4.65 ERA in 26 games while compiling an uninspiring 108/78 K/BB ratio in 155 innings. Meanwhile, it's probably time to give up on Ryan Sweeney's mythical power potential--in his fifth minor league year, he slugged .398. I know he's big and strong and looks like he should hit 30 a year, but it's not going to happen.
Entering the year looking like one of the better pure leadoff prospects in the game, outfielder Trevor Crowe crashed and burned at Double-A Akron, needed a huge second half to finish at .259/.341/.353.
Almost as Disappointing: After an impressive full-season debut that including a SportsCenter highlight with a home run off a rehabbing Roger Clemens, 2005 first-round pick John Drennen struggled at High-A Kinston, putting up a .254/.336/.391 season. The rare left-handed reliever with closer potential, Tony Sipp started the year on the DL with elbow problems, and then finally succumbed to Tommy John surgery in mid-July, meaning that he'll miss a portion of 2008 as well.
Brent Clevlen's downward spiral continued, as the 2005 Florida State League MVP hit just .220/.304/.360 at Triple-A Toledo, and unlike last year, he did not get a brief major league look to try to make up for it.
Almost as Disappointing: Other than
The top overall pick of 2006, Luke Hochevar led the organization with 138 strikeouts, but he also proved to be very hittable, with a 4.86 ERA and 163 hits allowed (including 24 home runs) in 152 innings. Scouts still like his stuff, but question his lack of aggressiveness on the mound.
Almost as Disappointing: Left-hander Tyler Lumsden's inability to miss bats finally caught up to him a Triple-A, as the groundball specialist posted a 5.88 ERA in 25 appearances, as PCL hitters teed off on him for a .306 average. After hitting .414 in a pair a complex league stints, infielder Jeff Bianchi had a rude awakening at Low-A Burlington, hitting just .247/.296/.315.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Right-hander Nick Adenhart looked to be moving up to elite status after putting up a 0.80 ERA in his first five starts at Double-A Arkansas, but he struggled with consistency from there on out, with a 4.45 mark the rest of the way. While there's been no official word, there have been questions as to if he was really entirely healthy at the end of the year.
Almost as Disappointing: Fireballing righty Stephen Marek's inability to develop a usable breaking ball led to a 4.30 ERA in High-A, and more troubling, a significantly lower strikeout rate. Tool-laden infielder P.J. Phillips hit 13 home runs and stole 34 bases in 38 attempts at Low-A Cedar Rapids, but there's little hope for him unless he can make some massive improvements in his plate discipline after whiffing 154 times while drawing just 15 walks.
Although 2006 first-round pick Chris Parmelee showed off impressive raw power in batting practice and at times in games, overall he hit just .239/.313/.414 with 137 strikeouts in 447 at-bats. Beyond the bat, he offers very little in terms of tools.
Almost as Disappointing: Center fielder Denard Span hit just .267/.323/.355 at Triple-A Rochester, further convincing the organization that he will not be ready to be a cheap replacement for Torii Hunter. High-ceiling shortstop Paul Kelly missed the majority of the season with a knee injury.
Humberto Sanchez was considered the big prize coming over from Detroit in the Gary Sheffield deal, but his constant elbow problems finally caught up to him, as the beefy right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery before pitching an inning for his new team.
Almost as Disappointing: Reliever J. Brent Cox was going to be given an outside shot at making the team in spring training, but his invite to big league camp was rescinded when he broke his hand in a bar fight. To add injury to insult, he then needed his own Tommy John surgery before the season began. Once considered one of the better young bats in the system, third baseman Marcos Vechionacci's second go-round at High-A Tampa was a little better, but still just .266/.327/.366.
Matt Sulentic looked like a draft day find in 2006 after he hit .354 at Vancouver, but he found himself back in the Northwest League after two months at Low-A Kane County in which the outfielder hit .175/.234/.218. Things improved, but not much, as he hit .265/.367/.393 back in the Northwest League, but strangely, his strikeout rate skyrocketed.
Almost as Disappointing: After tying for the minor league lead in wins last year, righty Jason Windsor was getting torched for a .302 average by Pacific Coast League hitters in 10 starts before finally succumbing to shoulder surgery. Landon Powell was having an impressive bounceback year, reaching Triple-A and batting .292/.385/.525, before tearing up his ACL and requiring the second major knee surgery of his career.
A six-foot-seven lefty who whiffed 12.3 per nine in his pro debut, Tony Butler struggled with his command all year, needing a strong finish to end up with a 4.75 ERA at Low-A Wisconsin.
Almost as Disappointing: After breaking out in 2006, second baseman Yung-Chi Chen's season-ending shoulder injury turned out far worse than expected, required major surgery and costing him the majority of the season. After hitting 21 home runs last year, athletic outfielder Michael Wilson completely came off the tracks at Double-A West Tenn, hitting 10 home runs in 208 at-bats, but also whiffing 89 times and compiling averages of .188/.272/.385.
While he's still a good prospect, few scouts see ace potential any more in humongous right-hander Jeff Niemann, who finished the year at Triple-A Durham with a 3.98 ERA, 144 hits allowed in 131 innings, and more missed time due to shoulder stiffness.
Almost as Disappointing: While also still a highly-regarded player, more was expected from shortstop Reid Brignac, who limped home at Double-A Montgomery with a .260/.328/.433 line. Matt Walker held his own last year at Low-A in a rotation that included Wade Davis and Jacob McGee, but his control disappeared suddenly, as the right-hander finished the season at High-A Vero Beach with 82 walks in 95 2/3 innings while delivering an ugly 5.55 ERA.
A 2004 first-round pick who entered the year with 382 strikeouts in 325 2/3 innings, Thomas Diamond entered the season with a solid shot at making his big league debut at some point in the season, but instead underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training.
Almost as Disappointing: Watching their 2006 third-round pick Chad Tracy spend most of the season at Low-A Clinton while proving to the organization that he has zero chance at catching, so that he'll have to hit a whole lot more than .250/.309/.420 to be seen as a prospect. Constant disappointment Joaquin Arias had a lost season, as thumb and shoulder problems limited him to a grand total of five games.
After taking him with the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft, the Blue Jays still have little to show for southpaw Ricky Romero, who posted a 4.89 ERA at Double-A New Hampshire while allowing 153 runners in 88 1/3 innings. The six players selected after Romero two years ago include Troy Tulowitzki, Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen, and Jay Bruce.
Almost as Disappointing: Toronto dipped back into the Latin American market last year to spend big money on third baseman Balbino Fuenmayor, but he looked lost in the Gulf Coast League this summer, batting .174/.244/.242 with 68 strikeouts in 178 at-bats. After leading the Arizona Fall League in home runs and slugging last year, first baseman Chip Cannon hit 17 more in 109 Double-A games, but also hit .241 with 155 strikeouts.