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September 27, 2007

Future Shock

NL Sleeper Review

by Kevin Goldstein

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After yesterday's look at my American League sleeper picks, lets move on to the senior circuit:

Arizona Diamondbacks

What I Said: Nineteen-year-old outfielder Gerardo Parra is a long-bodied, left-handed-hitting Venezuelan with tools galore, including power and a laser-guided missile for an arm. If you are saying to yourself that the combination sounds like Carlos Gonzalez from three years ago, you get a gold star on your homework.

What Happened: Ding ding ding ding ding! Parra had a breakout campaign in the Arizona system, batting .320/.370/.435 at Low-A South Bend, and then holding his own in a one-month California League stint. He doesn't have Gonzalez's power, but he has center field speed to make up for it.

Atlanta Braves

What I Said: A second-round pick in 2003 now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, left-hander Jo-Jo Reyes led the organization with 142 strikeouts in 141 innings split between Atlanta's two full-season A-ball squads while flashing a low-90s fastball and a much-refined curve.

What Happened: Good things and bad things. Reyes had a good first half at Double-A Mississippi, and then put up a measly 1.00 ERA in six Triple-A starts before getting a big league callup. Unfortunately, things have gone downhill from there, with a 6.75 ERA in 10 games for Atlanta. The stuff is there, but he's struggled mightily with his location. He could still play an important role on the '07 squad.

Chicago Cubs

What I said: Right-hander Lincoln Holdzkom was acquired from the Marlins after missing most of the 2004 and 2005 seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. Known for his velocity in the past, Holdzkom put up solid numbers out of the bullpen despite being out of shape and sitting at only 88-92 mph at the beginning of the year while slowly building his arm strength back up. Now in the Arizona Fall League, he's touching the mid-90s, and getting the attention of scouts.

What Happened: Holdzkom impressed scouts in Houston enough to be a Rule Five selection, but when he didn't make the team, he ended up in the Boston organization as a waiver claim. Splitting time between Double- and Triple-A, the fireballer had a 2.97 ERA in 42 appearances, but his control problems remain, as he walked 44 in 63 2/3 innings.

Cincinnati Reds

What I Said: Signed in 2003 as a 39th-round draft-and-follow, right-handed reliever Calvin Medlock gets little attention but continues to get batters out at every level, putting up a 2.97 ERA this year at Double-A Chattanooga with 70 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings. Despite being listed at 5'10" and looking smaller than that, Medlock deals in the low 90s, touches 95-96 mph, and features a very good changeup.

What Happened: Medlock was an absolute workhorse out of the bullpen this year, throwing 111 innings in 73 appearances, and wound up striking out 109 and allowing only 87 hits on the season. He pitched well enough to be picked up by the Devil Rays in a minor midseason trade. He still projects as a solid big league middle reliever.

Colorado Rockies

What I Said: It's weird to call a Top 10 pick from two years ago a sleeper, but it's possible that shortstop Chris Nelson has become just that. His star streaked across the sky when he hit .347/.432/.510 in the Pioneer League after being drafted, but following two pedestrian seasons at Low-A Asheville, he's seemingly all but fallen off the radar. Nonetheless, there's still a solid set of tools here, and he made some major steps forward in 2006, stroking 38 doubles and 11 home runs. Like Fowler, the chances for a breakout in the California League are definitely there.

What Happened: That breakout occurred, as Nelson hit .289/.358/.503 with 19 home runs and 27 stolen bases to put himself firmly back on the radar. He's likely going to need a positional move to second base or the outfield, but the bat is looking awfully good again.

Florida Marlins

What I Said: Yes, he hit just .231/.307/.333 this year at Low-A Greensboro, but it's far too early to give up on toolsy outfielder Greg Burns. Still just 20, Burns has plus speed and his long, lanky frame lends for some power projection. The Marlins made some in-season adjustments to both his swing and his approach, and the changes paid some immediate dividends, as Burns hit .299/.379/.468 in August. Just 17 when drafted, Burns can afford a repeat performance at Low-A, and there are some ingredients for a breakout here.

What Happened: While it wasn't a breakout, it was a significant improvement, as Burns did repeat Low-A as a 20-year-old and upped his OPS by over 100 points with a .280/.347/.401 line. There's still a lot of potential here, but Burns needs to keep the improvements coming next year in the Florida State League.

Houston Astros

What I Said: While it was his third year in a half-season league, outfielder Jordan Parraz finally came alive in 2006, batting .336/.421/.494 for Tri-City in the New York-Penn League. He's behind the development curve, but he's also a 6'3", 220 pound tools-laden monster with more athleticism than anybody in the system. All the ingredients for a breakout are there.

What Happened: Parraz's full-season debut was solid but unspectacular, with a .281/.364/.446 line at Low-A Lexington. He'll turn 23 in October, so he's not a kid who can afford to do this one level at a time, and he needs a big 2008 to retain his semi-prospect status.

Los Angeles Dodgers

What I Said: The son of a 15-year veteran, shortstop Ivan DeJesus Jr. inherited his father's slick-fielding ways, and while his power is limited, he had a .361 on-base percentage in his full-season debut at 19 thanks to an excellent approach at the plate and a compact, line-drive swing.

What Happened: DeJesus cemented his spot on this year's Top 10 by continuing to wow scouts with his fielding prowess, and continuing to draw walks and slash line drives at the plate, putting together a .287/.371/.381 line at High-A Inland Empire as a 20 year old.

Milwaukee Brewers

What I Said: A 40th-round draft-and-follow who signed in 2004, right-hander Robert Hinton has pitched in nearly complete obscurity, but has 222 strikeouts in 215 career innings thanks to plus command of a low-90s fastball and a sweeping slider that opponents have a tough time picking up. He'll pitch out of the Double-A bullpen this year, so he's getting close.

What Happened: A bad pick, as Hinton scuffled at both Double- and High-A, finishing with a 5.65 ERA in 44 games while allowing 99 base runners in 65 1/3 innings. He's off the radar.

New York Mets

What I Said: 2004 draftee Sean Henry has surprising power and solid hitting skills despite a smallish frame and the fact he's yet to get out of short-season ball. He looked good in a conversion from the middle infield to center field in 2006, and could be an interesting power/speed combination at Low-A this year.

What Happened: Because Henry had played three years in the short-season leagues, the Mets jumped him to High-A. He responded well, posting a .293/.355/.456 line at St. Lucie, including 11 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 114 games, which helped the team flip him to the Reds for Jeff Conine. He's now one of Cincinnati's sleepers--a nice little player who could be a fine fourth outfielder.

Philadelphia Phillies

What I Said: Acquired from the Yankees in the Bobby Abreu deal, teenage catcher Jesus Sanchez has a line-drive approach that should produce a decent batting average, supplementing one of the top defensive packages of any minor league backstop around, including a quick release and plus-plus arm strength.

What Happened: He's still a fine defender, but the bat disappeared, as Sanchez hit just .208/.315/.250 in a return engagement in the Gulf Coast League, thus making the Abreu deal look even worse than it did at the time.

Pittsburgh Pirates

What I Said: Third-round pick Shelby Ford is a switch-hitting second baseman with good hitting skills and at least average power who should move through the system quickly despite lacking an especially high ceiling.

What Happened: He still doesn't have the highest of ceilings, but his track to the big leagues remains intact following a .281/.360/.433 line at High-A Lynchburg. Ford showed gap power and a solid batting eye, and also stole 14 bases without getting caught.

St. Louis Cardinals

What I Said: One of the last of the draft-and-follows as a 44th-round pick in 2005, right-hander Blake King finished with twice as many strikeouts (79) as hits allowed (37) over 62 2/3 innings in his pro debut. A power pitcher with a plus fastball/plus slider combination, he offers plenty to dream on, with some of those dreams within the organization culminating in closer possibilities.

What Happened: King's power stuff still ranks with that of almost any other pitcher in the Cardinals system, as evidenced by his 127 strikeouts in 110 2/3 innings, but his 4.96 ERA and 78 walks show that he still has much to learn about his craft.

San Diego Padres

What I Said: A draft-and-follow from 2005, Aaron Breit struck out more than a batter per inning in his pro debut for Emerald in the Northwest League. A long, lanky 6'3" righty with a highly projectable frame, Breit sits in the low 90s now, has room for a little more, and already has a plus breaking ball.

What Happened: Breit was one of the worst pitchers on a very bad Low-A Fort Wayne squad, posting a 6.73 ERA in 31 games for the Wizards as he completely fell apart mechanically, losing velocity, command, and movement. The only bright side to the story was his delivering some more consistent performances late in the season, including a 1.93 ERA in his last six games.

San Francisco Giants

What I Said: 2006 third-round pick Clayton Tanner held his own in the Northwest League after high school, an impressive feat by any measurement. A skinny left-hander who already possesses an 88-92 mph fastball, Tanner has solid mechanics and good projection.

What Happened: Tanner was solid-but-unspectacular at Low-A Augusta, with a 3.59 ERA in 27 games and more than a hit allowed per inning. He's just 19 and there's still projection in him, so his stock is neither up nor down.

Washington Nationals

What I Said: The Nats were shocked with how quickly fourth-round pick Glenn Gibson succeeded as a pro. A 6'4" skinny lefthander with plenty of projection, Gibson has a decent fastball, very good curve, and tons of polish--not surprising considering that he's the son of former big leaguer Paul Gibson.

What Happened: Washington took it slow with Gibson, having him pitch in the New York-Penn League, and he finished with a 3.10 ERA in 12 games, with peripheral numbers than were even more impressive, including 58 strikeouts in 58 innings and just 47 hits allowed. Scouts love his approach, command, and ability to set up hitters, while also wondering if he has a true big league out pitch to depend on as he moves up through the system.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Big League Debut,  The Call-up

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