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September 7, 2007

Future Shock

Great Leaps Forward, National League

by Kevin Goldstein

Our four-part series moves on to the National League, and the breakouts in the Senior Circuit's systems.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquired from the White Sox for Danny Richar in late June, outfielder Aaron Cunningham made steady improvements throughout the year, finishing at .308/.375/.509 across three levels, and tacking on 16 home runs and 28 stolen bases. He's interesting in the sense that while he lacks that one plus-plus ability to wow scouts, all of his tools rate at least as average.

Honorable Mention: After signing too late to make his debut last year, 2006 second-round pick Brett Anderson was one of the Midwest League's top pitchers in the first half of the season, posting a 2.21 ERA in 81 1/3 innings, before holding his own in the hitter-friendly California League. Wilken Castillo is a strong-armed catcher whose other defensive skills fall short, but his bat came alive at Double-A Mobile (.302/.333/.437).

Atlanta Braves

After hitting .240/.293/.376 last year, center fielder Jordan Shafer led the minor leagues in hits while showing at least average power, plus speed, good plate discipline and Gold Glove-caliber defensive skills.

Honorable Mention: A pair of draft-and-follow pitchers each took a giant step forward, as Tommy Hanson struck out 154 in 133 innings thanks to a mid-90s fastball, while fellow righty Cole Rohrbaugh finally signed prior to the draft, and then limited opposing batters to a .154 batting average while striking out 96 in 61 1/3 innings, relying on an outstanding curveball.

Chicago Cubs

Geovany Soto entered the year as the best catching prospect in the system, but he became one of the better ones in the game after leading the minor leagues in slugging percentage while hitting a monstrous .353/.424/.652 at Triple-A Iowa.

Honorable Mention: Sinker/slider specialist Billy Petrick began the year in High-A, but moved through three levels on the way to the majors. Only 20 years old, righty Jose Ceda is big and throws in the mid-90s. When not dealing with some elbow soreness, he was untouchable at Low-A Peoria, allowing just 14 hits in 46 1/3 innings with 66 strikeouts.

Cincinnati Reds

Jay Bruce went from one of the better prospects around to arguably the best, playing his way from High-A to Triple-A as a 20-year-old while batting .319/.375/.587 with 80 extra-base hits.

Honorable Mention: Third baseman Juan Francisco showed remarkable power for a teenager (he only turned 20 in late June), leading the Midwest League in home runs, although with 161 strikeouts against only 23 walks, there's still much work to be done with his approach at the plate. Acquired in last year's big trade with the Nationals, righty Daryl Thompson led the organization with 14 wins while compiling a 3.18 ERA in 27 starts split between the organization's two A-ball teams.

Colorado Rockies

Second baseman Daniel Mayora hit .310/.366/.477 at Low-A in his full-season debut, smacking 14 home runs and stealing 26 stolen bases. However, scouts and analysts both wonder if his season is a product of hitter-friendly Asheville, as Mayora slugged .616 at home, but just .337 on the road.

Honorable Mention: A control specialist who also has decent stuff, righty Brandon Hynick fell 15 strikeouts short of the California League pitching Triple Crown, going 16-5 with a 2.52 ERA and 136 strikeouts. Also at Modesto, shortstop Chris Nelson re-established his prospect status with a nice comeback season by batting .289/.358/.503.

Florida Marlins

Speedy outfielder John Raynor is already 23 and only in Low-A, but he still delivered an MVP campaign in the Sally League with a .333/.429/.519 line that included 13 home runs and 54 stolen bases in 62 attempts.

Honorable Mention: With all the pitching prospects in the system, it was a bit of a surprise that little-known lefty strike-thrower Graham Taylor led the organization in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. Toolsy center fielder Jai Miller made some huge strides at Double-A, hitting .261/.354/.438 after putting up a sub-600 OPS in the Florida State League last year.

Houston Astros

After tying the Appy League home run record with 24 in 2004, outfielder Mitch Einertson all but fell off the map over the past two years due to injuries and personal issues. However, he bounced back this year by hitting .305/.365/.482 at High-A Salem, earning the Carolina League MVP award for his efforts.

Honorable Mention: A sixth-round pick last year, righty Bud Norris had a 4.56 ERA this year, but he's one of the hardest throwers in the organization, and he recorded 117 strikeouts in 96 2/3 innings. Left-hander Polin Trinidad compiled a 143/48 K/BB ratio in 157 innings thanks to excellent command and an ability to change speeds effectively.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Six-foot-five right-hander James McDonald came out of nowhere, suddenly throwing in the low 90s with a plus curveball and decent change, which propelled up to Double-A while striking out 168 in 134 2/3 innings.

Honorable Mention: Shortstop Chin-Lung Hu stepped up his offensive game in a major way, as one of the minors' best defenders hit .325/.364/.507 between Double- and Triple-A while continuing to astound scouts with his glovework. A solid hitter with little in the way of tools, outfielder Delwyn Young stepped up his game by hitting .337/.384/.571 at Triple-A Las Vegas; he might now project has having some career beyond that of a Quadruple-A hitter.

Milwaukee Brewers

An undersized third baseman who entered the year seen as little more than an organizational player, 20-year-old Taylor Green showed an excellent approach and surprising power while batting .327/.406/.516 at Low-A West Virginia.

Honorable Mention: Defensive specialist Alcides Escobar lacks any secondary skills, but at least he's finally hitting for average, reaching Double-A before his 21st birthday while batting .306/.331/.366. Draft-and-follow righty R.J. Seidel looked good in his pro debut, limiting Pioneer League hitters to a .207 average.

New York Mets

Right-hander Bobby Parnell needs to improve his secondary stuff and start throwing more strikes, but he opened some eyes by consistently hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun in the course of reaching Double-A and striking out 136 in 144 innings.

Honorable Mention: After hitting .189 last year, second baseman Hector Pellot found his stroke this time around, earning Sally League All-Star honors with a .275/.348/.388 line that included 35 stolen bases. First baseman Nick Evans cut his strikeout rate dramatically, riding a second-half power surge to finish up at .286/.374/.476 at High-A St. Lucie.

Philadelphia Phillies

A third-round pick last June, infielder Jason Donald surprised even those within the organization with his line-drive bat, gap power, and keen batting eye; hitting .304/.395/.473 between Low-A Lakewood and High-A Clearwater.

Honorable Mention: Right-hander Drew Carpenter mixes three average pitches, throws strikes, and keeps hitters on their toes by changing speeds--all of which helped him put up a 3.20 ERA at Clearwater while winning 17 games. Defensive-minded catcher Lou Marson made big improvements with the bat, hitting .288/.373/.407 in the Florida State League.

Pittsburgh Pirates

First baseman Steven Pearce proved that his 2006 breakout was anything but a fluke, beginning the year in High-A and finishing it in the big leagues while winning the organizational Triple Crown by hitting .333/.304/.622 with 31 home runs and 113 RBI in 134 games.

Honorable Mention: Acquired from the Mets three years ago in the Kris Benson deal, Matt Peterson finally found his stride in a bullpen role, leading the organization with 24 saves and finishing the year with a 1.99 ERA. Outfielder Jamie Romak came over from Atlanta in the Adam LaRoche deal last winter, and showed plenty of secondary skills to make up for a low batting average by hitting .256/.383/.496, proving that he'll be ready for Double-A in 2008.

St. Louis Cardinals

One of the best stories in baseball this year, Rick Ankiel sat among the minor league leaders in home runs all year, finishing his season at Triple-A Memphis hitting .267/.314/.568 at the time of his callup, and then smashing seven home runs in his first 77 big league at-bats. His current line of .338/.386/.675 is far from a realistic expectation for what he'll do in the majors from here on out, but he's definitely going to be around for a while.

Honorable Mention: Six years after getting drafted, outfielder Joe Mather finally began translating his tools into performance, hitting .271/.357/.522 with 31 home runs while reaching Triple-A. An 11th-round pick last summer, righty P.J. Walters pitched for three teams, reached Double-A and finished with a 2.55 ERA and 147 strikeouts in 151 2/3 innings. However, scouts remain unconvinced that his excellent command and impressive changeup will make up for a mid-80s fastball in the end.

San Diego Padres

Third baseman Chase Headley added power to his already well-rounded game, batting .330/.437/.580 to lead the Texas League in all three triple-slash categories, good enough to earn him the league's Player of the Year honors.

Honorable Mention: Happily, 2006 first-round pick Matt Antonelli established himself as the best second base prospect in the game, hitting .307/.404/.491 between High- and Double-A while hitting 21 home runs, stealing 28 bases, drawing 83 walks and scoring 123 runs in 131 games. A left-hander with below average velocity but a plus-plus changeup, Wade LeBlanc reached Double-A in his full-season debut, finishing up with a 2.95 ERA and a WHIP just barely over one.

San Francisco Giants:

Garnering little attention in the Arizona League last summer, Dominican right-hander Henry Sosa came out firing bullets this year, with his heat sitting in the 93-96 mph range while he also showed that his big breaking curveball can be an effective out pitch. After putting up a 0.73 ERA at Low-A Augusta in 62 innings, he struggled at times in the Cal League, but Sosa could become a dominant force with improved command.

Honorable Mention: With three average pitches and pinpoint command, 2006 fourth-round pick Ben Snyder cruised against the younger hitters of the South Atlantic League, finishing with a 2.09 ERA. Outfielder John Bowker more than tripled his home run total from last year, smashing 22 bombs as part of a .307/.363/.523 line at Double-A.

Washington Nationals

Outfielder Justin Maxwell always had all the ability in the world, but it had been seemingly years since he was healthy enough to show it on the field. However, in just 114 games this year, he hit 27 home runs, swiped 35 bases, and was rewarded with a September callup.

Honorable Mention: While he was the organization's first-round pick last year, outfielder Chris Marrero still exceeded expectations by moving up to High-A, and cranking out 23 home runs in his full season debut. Left-hander John Lannan began the year at High-A Potomac, but used his power sinker to get all the way up to the big leagues, compiling a 2.31 ERA across three levels.

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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