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October 4, 2007

Future Shock

Arizona Fall League Preview, Part 2

by Kevin Goldstein

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After an overview of the three East squads in Part 1, the Arizona Fall League preview wraps up with a look at the teams in the West.

Peoria Javelinas (Braves, Mariners, Nationals, Rockies, Yankees)

Sure, But Where Do You Put Him?: Seattle catcher Jeff Clement had a fine year at Triple-A Tacoma, batting .275/.370/.497 while impressing enough defensively to have most scouts believing that he'll be able to stay behind the plate. Kenji Johjima is locked up for another year, and Clement needs no more time in the minors, so the possibility of a unique catcher/DH platoon in 2008 is there.

Sure, But Where Do You Put Him? Redux: Cutting ties with Andruw Jones is the first indication that the Braves are looking to go young, and shortstop Brent Lillibridge will be an essential part of that movement. A trade of Edgar Renteria could be part of the process, but don't forget that Lillibridge was a plus defender in center field during his college days, so keep an eye on those AFL boxscores.

Don't You Forget About Me: Rockies outfielder Dexter Fowler hasn't played since June 17th because of a broken hamate bone, but don't let an injury ding his prospect status. After a slow start, Fowler was batting .349/.438/.444 in 16 games before the injury, and remains the toolsiest player in the Colorado system. With a good showing in the desert, he could start next year in Double-A, in line for a late-season look.

Remaining In Control: Yankees reliever Kevin Whelan throws all kinds of fastballs--from a straight two-seamer, to a sinker, to a cutter, to a forkball--and misses plenty of bats with them, as evidenced by his allowing just 45 hits in 82 1/3 innings to go with 96 strikeouts. The only knock on his season was a mid-season case of the yips that led to nearly a walk per inning in May and June. He spent some time back at High-A Tampa to work with the instructional staff on his mechanics, and he clearly made some progress towards the end of the season, but the problems possibly cost him a big league look this year when the big league squad was desperate for arms.

A Lost Cause?: When Garrett Mock (Nationals) was in the Arizona system, he drove scouts crazy. A right-handed pitcher with an ideal frame and plus stuff to boot, his performance simply never matched the scouting report, and things took another step backwards this year. Dealing with a knee injury, Mock never got comfortable landing on the surgically-repaired joint, and ended the year with a 5.12 ERA across three levels while getting racked for a .300+ opponents' batting average. The Arizona Fall League gives him a chance to get back in the prospect picture.

Player Haiku: Ching-Lung Lo (Rockies)

They call him 'Dragon'
Big bonus, big expectations
Smoke, but no fire

Team Outlook: The offense is one of the more balanced ones in the league, with a good collection of slash-hitting burners like Lillibridge, J.C. Holt (Braves), and Brett Gardner (Yankees), pure power guys like Clement, and power/speed combos like Fowler, Justin Maxwell (Nationals), and Jordan Schafer (Braves). They'll have a million ways to score runs, and just one look at their pitching staff lets one know that they are going to need all of them.

Peoria Saguaros (Dodgers, Marlins, Padres, Phillies, Tigers)

What I Learned This Summer: That Cameron Maybin isn't ready for the big leagues after going 7-for-49 with 21 strikeouts. What I still don't understand is why he was there in the first place, and more importantly, once he was there, why the Tigers didn't play him every day once they were out of the playoff race in order to better figure out just how ready he is or isn't? That said, he's still the best prospect on the team.

Just Have Them Hit It To The Left, But Not Way To The Left: The Saguaros have two shortstops on their roster. Both are property of the Dodgers, and both are outstanding defensive players. Ivan DeJesus Jr. learned the trade from his father, and also brings some solid on-base skills to the game, while Chin-Lung Hu is an absolute wizard with the glove who broke out offensively this year, batting .325/.364/.507 between Double- and Triple-A affiliates. Hopefully they'll cover enough ground to make up for the third base pair of Mike Costanzo (Phillies) and Blake DeWitt (Dodgers), both of whom do an excellent impression of a lawn ornament over at the hot corner.

An Aggressive Assignment: The Phillies think they got a steal with Joe Savery in the first round of this year's draft, but at the same time, sending a pitcher with 26 1/3 innings of pro experience to face some of the better hitters in the upper minors in a hitting-friendly environment doesn't seem like the best formula for realizing the value of that steal.

Which One Is Real?: Desperate for anything resembling a hitting prospect, the Marlins thought they had one on their hands when 2006 first-round pick Chris Coghlan hit .325/.419/.534 during the first half of the season at Low-A and was selected to the Futures Game roster. A promotion to the Florida State League treated him rudely, however, as the second baseman hit just .200/.277/.331 in 34 games for Jupiter. The next month will determine whether he begins 2008 in Double-A or with a return engagement in the Sunshine state.

Juuuuuuuuust A Bit Outside: It's hard to believe that Dodgers lefty Greg Miller is just 22 years old (he turns 23 next month). Once the top left-hander in the minors, Miller still has knockout stuff after a pair of shoulder surgeries, but his command has all but disappeared, as he led the minor leagues in walks this year with 89--and he needed just 76 2/3 innings to do it. He hasn't run out of chances yet, but people are beginning to discuss when he will be.

Player Haiku: Greg Golson (Phillies)

Scout's dream; crazy tools
Forty-nine strikeouts, two walks?
Double-A is hard!

Team Outlook: Another unbalanced team. With offensive forces like those already mentioned to go along with Matt Antonelli (Padres) and Jeff Larish (Tigers), the Saguaros will have little trouble putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard, but what's there to prevent their opponents from doing the same? Savery, fellow Phillie Josh Outman, and Dodgers righty Justin Orenduff provide some optimism.

Surprise Rafters (Angels, Indians, Rangers, Reds, Royals)

Finally Gets To Wear The New Uniform: While the Rangers received left-hander Matt Harrison from the Braves as part of the Mark Teixeira bounty, he's yet to pitch an inning for his new organization because of a case of shoulder tendonitis. If he's healthy, he's a pretty darn good prospect, but that 'if' factor cost Atlanta a couple of extra players to get the deal done.

But He Sure Can Hit: The only pure third baseman on the roster is Chris Davis of the Rangers, but he's a third baseman in name only after committing 34 errors and showing the range of your standard water buffalo. That said, he still has a lot of supporters for his bat after a breakout .297/.347/.598 campaign that included 36 home runs in 495 at-bats. He strikes out a lot, but for this kind of production you can live with it, and he should hit enough even for the anticipated move across the diamond to first base.

A Tale Of Two Halves: Cleveland outfielder Trevor Crowe entered the year as one of the most intriguing pure leadoff prospects around, but he got off to a bad start, hitting just .225/.315/.309 at Double-A Akron. In the second half, however, he suddenly got closer to the Trevor Crowe we know and love, with a .314/.384/.428 line. We need more evidence to learn which Crowe he really can be, and sometimes that's what the AFL is best at providing.

An Enigma Wrapped In A Mystery: Royals outfielder Chris Lubanski started the year back in Double-A more due to a numbers game than anything else, and unlike previous years, he actually got off to a good start, batting .295/.361/.490. This time, he saved his annual slump for the second half, as Lubanski provided little to nothing following a promotion to Triple-A, putting up a .208/.273/.363 line in 49 games for Omaha. He enters his sixth pro season next year, and he needs a slump-free season.

The Sleeper: A year ago, Angels outfielder Chris Pettit was an obscure 19th-round pick coming off a nice showing in the Pioneer League--hardly a rarity for an experienced college player. This year, he put himself on the map by hitting .327/.411/.538 for the Angels' two A-ball affiliates, and scouts say it's not a fluke. Whether he projects to hit enough to be an everyday corner guy in the big leagues is still a matter of some debate, but evaluators are looking forward to seeing how he does against more advanced competition.

Player Haiku: Michael Aubrey (Indians)

Chronic back problems
Hinder chance at the big leagues
Shame; he sure can rake

Team Outlook: The offense lacks the firepower of its league brethren, and like most squads, the pitching staff lacks big-name arms. The only surprise will be if this team can stay out of the bottom of the standings.

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:  Year Of The Injury,  Haiku

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