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September 26, 2007

Future Shock

AL Sleeper Review

by Kevin Goldstein

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In last year's Top 10 prospect rankings, I chose a sleeper for every team. I defined the term loosely--sometimes it was a player who sat just outside the Top 10, and sometimes it was a player I just had a feeling about based on conversations with scouts and team officials. In the interest of accountability, let's take a look back. Overall, I'm pretty pleased with my picks. Yes, there are some busts here, but at the same time, there are also plenty of players moving way up the prospect ranking ladder that you may have read about here first.

Baltimore Orioles

What I Said: A sixth-round pick in June, right-hander Jason Berken combines average stuff with outstanding pitchability. The Orioles are already talking about him as a potential back-end starter who could move up quickly.

What Happened: Berken was worse than mediocre at High-A Frederick, finishing the year with a 4.53 ERA in 151 innings. His fastball is average, his changeup solid, and his command is fine, but if he can't find more consistency with his breaking ball, he's not going anywhere.

Boston Red Sox

What I Said: Yes, another later-round pick (9th) who got big-time money ($600K), outfielder Ryan Kalish is an outstanding athlete who needs to adjust to playing baseball full time, but has a lot of upside as a power/speed combination.

What Happened: Bingo... kind of. For about a month, Kalish was the talk of the New York-Penn league in terms of both scouting reports and statistics, and the tools-laden outfielder showed average power, very good hitting ability, a patient approach, and plus-plus speed while batting .368/.471/.540 in 23 games for Lowell. Then he suffered a season-ending wrist injury, the outlook remains positive.

Chicago White Sox

What I Said: Second baseman John Shelby slipped to the fifth round last June after a disappointing junior year at Kentucky, but he looked good in his pro debut and has good speed to go with above-average power for the position.

What Happened: Another hit, and teams that passed on Shelby might be regretting it now after his .301/.352/.508 year at Low-A Kannapolis. Moved to the outfield at about the midway point of the season, Shelby's bat exploded in the second half, as he hit .322/.351/.572 after the All-Star break and cranked out 10 home runs in his final 25 games. The White Sox are desperate for offensive prospects, and Shelby moved way up a very short list.

Cleveland Indians

What I Said: Signed off of the Taiwanese National Team, right-hander Sung-Wei Tseng comes stateside featuring a nice slider and a low-90s fastball that becomes a splitter when he takes a little bit off. He could make some noise in the bullpen within a couple of years.

What Happened: Tseng pitched well early in the season, but struggled in the second half, which might be attributable to his first full-season workload. His stuff was a little less than advertised, as was his command; his stock is down.

Detroit Tigers

What I Said: 2006 third-round pick Brennan Boesch is a big, athletic outfielder who never lived up to expectations during his three years in Berkeley with the Cal Bears. He's got plenty of power potential that is still just potential, unfortunately, to go with decent hitting skills.

What Happened: Bust. Make that four years of not living up to expectations, as Boesch hit just .267/.297/.378 at Low-A West Michigan. Don't blame the worst hitting park in the worst hitting league either, as Boesch's OPS was actually four points higher at home.

Kansas City Royals

What I Said: Rule 5 selection Joakim Soria is a tall, lanky right-hander from Mexico who was lights-out in the Mexican Pacific League, but who has pitched a total of 16 2/3 innings in Estados Unidos and turns 23 in May. He relies primarily on a fastball/changeup combination, but could stick as a spot starter/long reliever.

What Happened: I can say I nailed this one, or I can say I was a fool not to put him in the Top 10. With a 2.59 ERA, 17 saves, a WHIP under one, and 72 strikeouts in 66 innings in The Show, the 23-year-old Mexico native should be an above-average or better big league reliever for the next decade.

Los Angeles Angels

What I Said: 2005 second-round pick Ryan Mount is loaded with secondary skills: hitting for power, drawing walks, and stealing bases during a .285/.370/.448 showing in the Pioneer League. He strikes out a lot and probably lacks the range to stay at shortstop, projecting as an offensive second baseman.

What Happened: The Angels agreed with the defensive assessment, moving Mount to second base for his full-season debut, but his bat failed to respond, generating a disappointing .251/.320/.378 line.

Minnesota Twins

What I Said: 2006 second-round pick Joe Benson is an outstanding athlete with tools to spare who, like Chris Parmelee, was much more baseball-ready than initially expected. His full-season debut at Beloit is definitely one to watch.

What Happened: Benson's .255/.347/.368 line at Low-A Beloit doesn't tell the whole story, as the raw talent developed and Benson became a real offensive threat at the top of the order in the second half. He batted .273/.370/.382 after the break, and then .289/.341/.579 in nine playoff games. There's still lots of untapped potential here, and he just might repeat as a sleeper.

New York Yankees

What I Said: Center fielder Brett Gardner is a water bug with plus-plus speed that makes him dangerous on the base paths and in the field. He could get there as a valuable fourth outfielder by 2008.

What Happened: Gardner had a two-part season, starting with the good in Double-A Trenton (.300/.392/.419), and finishing with the bad at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (.260/.343/.331). He's still a slashy, powerless left-handed bat who draws walks and runs like the wind, so projections for him remain unchanged.

Oakland Athletics

What I Said: After missing all of 2005 recovering from knee surgery, catcher Landon Powell had a disappointing '06 campaign, batting .264/.350/.439 in the High Class-A California League as a 24-year-old and then embarrassing himself in the Arizona Fall League as his weight ballooned to nearly 300 pounds. He's dedicated himself to his conditioning in the off-season and has already dropped 40 pounds. If he's in shape, he's a dangerous player, with power, patience, and very good catch-and-throw skills. Warning: we've seen this before, as Powell got fat as a college junior, only to get into shape for his senior year to improve his draft status.

What Happened: I was looking brilliant during the first half of the year while Powell was hitting .292/.391/.502 at Double-A Midland, and then slugged three home runs in his first four Triple-A games. Then another major knee injury ended his season, so now the 25-year-old Powell has another year away from the game to get fat again.

Seattle Mariners

What I Said: At 6'2" and 240 pounds, outfielder Michael Wilson is built more like a linebacker than an outfielder, and because of his football background he's been a bit of a late bloomer, but finished second to Wladimir Balentien for the organizational lead in home runs last year.

What Happened: My worst choice on this list, as Wilson was beyond awful at Double-A West Tenn, batting .188/.272/.385 with 89 strikeouts in 208 at-bats. Yuck, yuck, and double yuck.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

What I Said: An outstanding football prospect in high school and junior college, outfielder Desmond Jennings was the team's 10th-round pick in June, and had an impressive pro debut, showing plus-plus speed, surprising power potential, and a solid approach to hitting (.277/.360/.390 at Rookie-level Princeton, with 32 steals).

What Happened: Jennings more than made up for the Wilson pick with a breakout campaign at Low-A Columbus, batting .315/.401/.465 with 45 stolen bases in 99 games before his season came to an early end due to minor knee surgery. He's quickly established himself as one of the top center field prospects in the game, and will rank quite high on what will be one of the most talented Top 10 lists in the game.

Texas Rangers

What I Said: Sixth-round pick Jack Brigham is a tall right-hander with a plus fastball, clean mechanics, and excellent control, giving him a nice head start over most. If he can find some more consistency with his secondary pitches, he becomes an interesting name.

What Happened: Brigham is still an interesting name, albeit still an unproven one after putting up a 3.16 ERA at Short-season Spokane. He's got solid stuff despite some command problems, but of greater concern was how quickly his stuff dropped off within his games, as evidenced by his 1.95 ERA in the first four innings, and a 7.41 mark thereafter.

Toronto Blue Jays

What I Said: The Blue Jays accurately assessed the signability of Kyle Ginley, who inked for $155,000 as a 17th-round pick in June. The powerfully-built righty whiffed 48 over 36 2/3 innings in his pro debut, thanks to a low-to-mid-90s fastball.

What Happened: Ginley's velocity still ranks with almost anyone's in the Toronto system, but he showed little feel for his craft at Low-A Lansing, finishing the year with a 4.73 ERA in 121 2/3 innings. The 129 strikeouts prove that he can throw hard, while the 142 hits allowed show that he still has almost nothing when it comes to secondary offerings.

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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