March 20, 2008
State of the Systems, AL East
2008 Rookies: Luis Hernandez takes over at shortstop, and while the defensive upgrade from Miguel Tejada should not be ignored, the offensive dropoff draws comparisons to Niagara Falls. James Hoey and Rocky Cherry are both competing for Opening Day bullpen jobs, although Hoey has had arm troubles. In the 'not really a rookie category', Adam Jones takes over in center. PECOTA gives him a weighted mean of 22 home runs and .273/.333/.468 batting line, which matches up very well with what scouts think of him.
Minor League Road Trip: Top prospect Matt Wieters will likely open the year at High-A Frederick, where he'll be joined by fellow 2007 draftee Jake Arrieta, recently-acquired power righty Chris Tillman, as well as prospects Billy Rowell and Brandon Erbe, who are both looking to bounce back from tough 2007 campaigns.
Pivotal Season: No matter how young he is or how hard he throws, a 6.26 ERA is still bad, and Brandon Erbe needs to take a big step forward with his command to avoid getting projected as a reliever in the end who can't be counted on in the late innings due to wildness.
I Like Him Better Than Most: With three plus pitches, an outstanding ground-ball rate, and a durable build, right-hander Chorye Spoone is a Top 100 prospect for me, and seemingly nobody else.
Don't Believe The Hype: While 2005 first-round pick Brandon Snyder had a nice recovery from injury, hitting .283/.354/.422 in 2007, just remember that was at Low-A in Snyder's third year as a pro, and that he's now limited to first base.
Get Your Bags Ready? The Orioles won't be competing in the always-difficult AL East this year, so they won't be shoring up the big league team at the deadline. In addition, they've already traded away their big guns in the Tejada and Erik Bedard deals. They're in stand-pat mode.
Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: While the Orioles pick fourth in June, it's hard to see them finding a talent to match Wieters. Everyone after that is a big-time longshot.
Matt Wieters: 4-3
2008 Rookies: There are two, but they're both pretty much known commodities. Clay Buchholz will step into the rotation, and while his workload will be monitored closely, he could be the Red Sox' second-best starter on a per-inning basis. Jacoby Ellsbury is a very good prospect, but the hype of being in Boston and his play in the World Series has helped him become a bit overrated. Offensively, he's no major improvement over Coco Crisp, although the difference in speed, defense and energy is tangible.
Minor League Road Trip: Beyond the miniature Fenway Park fans get to see at Low-A Greenville, the team will also field a ton of outstanding young talent, including outfielders Ryan Kalish and Che-Hsuan Lin, and an infield that could include Oscar Tejeda, Ryan Dent, and Will Middlebrooks.
Pivotal Season: After suffering through a case of the yips in 2007 that led to a 7.08 ERA and 78 walks in 75 innings--as well as 27 wild pitches--2006 first-round pick Daniel Bard is already at a career crossroads.
I Like Him Better Than Most: Kind of lost in a deep system, Lin is an outstanding athlete with plenty of tools and a ton of upside.
Don't Believe The Hype: Lars Anderson has tons of raw power and a approach that is mature beyond his years, but don't forget that he hit just 11 home runs last year. That said, a season at Lancaster could still produce huge numbers.
Get Your Bags Ready? If the Red Sox look to shore up the team at midseason, trading Jed Lowrie seems like the obvious option, as he's blocked in Boston, and ready to step up to the big leagues right away and be a productive middle infielder.
Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: The graduation of Buchholz and Ellsbury leaves a wide-open race for No. 1, and their willingness to spend in the draft means the No. 30 pick could be better than it should be. Lowrie's odds take a dip because of the chance that he just won't be around anymore.
2008 Rookies: Joba Chamberlain is probably the most well-known rookie in the game. It's foolish to expect him to match last year's dominance, but he'll still be pretty damn good. Ian Kennedy looks like he'll break camp at the end of the rotation, and that's the right decision, as he's a solid big league starter now and will remain so for at least the next decade. While he won't break camp with the big boys, righty Alan Horne will likely make his debut at some point during the year.
Minor League Road Trip: Double-A Trenton's outfield includes Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata, and they're worth the price of admission alone, but they'll be joined by Colin Curtis, a guy who still has some upside. The Triple-A staff will be watched closely, as Horne, Ross Ohlendorf, Humberto Sanchez, and Kevin Whelan will all be trying to pitch their way to big league looks.
Pivotal Season: After missing all of 2007 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Sanchez turns 25 in May and needs to rebound quickly. As promising as Tabata is, some want to see the talk stop, and the elite production begin.
I Like Him Better Than Most: Control issues and some elbow problems dropped righty Dellin Betances' stock in many people's eyes, but his size, stuff, and makeup still give him a ceiling that few teenage pitchers can match.
Don't Believe The Hype: Despite the fact that he won 15 games last year at Double-A, right-hander Jeff Marquez is a bit of a one-trick pony who gets a ton of groundballs with his plus sinker, but his below-average secondary stuff limits his ability to miss bats.
Get Your Bags Ready? The Yankees' strength is pitching, so that will be likely what is offered around at the trade deadline. At the same time, this is the Yankees, and winning in the big leagues is priorities number one, two, and three, so anyone could be fair game.
Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: Chamberlain and Kennedy in the big leagues leave Tabata and Jackson as the top prospects in the system, and while Jackson ranks as a slighty better prospect right now, Tabata is more capable of a breakout campaign.
Jose Tabata: 9-5
2008 Rookies: A team loaded with young talent might open the season with no rookies on the Opening Day roster, as word on the street is that the team will open the year with third baseman Evan Longoria at Triple-A. I've rarely criticized the Rays, but this decision makes no sense whatsoever. Longoria is earning raves from scouts while hitting .333 this spring with three home runs in 30 at-bats, nine walks, and improved defense. The only reason not to open the year with him in the big leagues is a service-time issue, which is not exactly the way to ingratiate yourself to a young talent that could end up the face of the franchise. Tons of other players could get looks at some point in the season, including righty Jeff Niemann, who should be first on the list for a fill-in role in the rotation.
Minor League Road Trip: Triple-A Durham will be loaded with a left side of the infield consisting of Longoria and shortstop Reid Brignac, as well as a pitching staff that might include Wade Davis, Chris Mason, and Jake McGee in addition to Niemann. High-A Vero Beach gets David Price to begin the year, and has Jeremy Hellickson behind him in the rotation, and also has tools maven Desmond Jennings in patrolling center field.
Pivotal Season: This could be Joel Guzman's last chance to avoid being doomed as a stiff, unathletic Triple-A lifer.
I Like Him Better Than Most: Because his breakout campaign was such a surprise, many are still a little skeptical of Desmond Jennings, but his incredible array of tools and advanced approach gives plenty of reason to believe that what we saw last year was very real.
Don't Believe The Hype: It's not that I don't like him, and lord knows I heard plenty from his fan club when the top 100 came out, but while Jacob McGee's combination of size, left-handedness, and velocity is rarer than rare, he needs to develop more consistent secondary stuff to avoid getting labeled as a reliever.
Get Your Bags Ready? This is a long-term process, and it's going well enough that it's easy to see the Rays competing for playoff spots very soon, even in the AL East. Don't anticipate much in the way of trades.
Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: Longoria will be gone, but the Rays once again have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. There's lots of talent here, and lots of possibilities. Price takes a hit because of the outside chance that he shoots through the minors and loses eligibility.
2008 first-round pick: 3-1
2008 Rookies: The combination of little talent at the upper levels and a team pretty much set across the board (although not always in an especially good way) means that the Jays will be rookie-free.
Minor League Road Trip: The Blue Jays have one elite prospect, his name is Travis Snider, and he opens the year at Double-A New Hampshire. 'Nuff said. Still, there's 2007 draft shows plenty of promise, and the lineup at Low-A Lansing with be worth keeping an eye on, especially on the left side of the infield with third baseman Kevin Ahrens and shortstop Justin Jackson.
Pivotal Season: With a career ERA of 4.20, and marginal scouting reports, Ricky Romero is running out of chances to go down as anything more than a constant reminder that Toronto could have selected Troy Tulowitzki.
I Like Him Better Than Most: Despite his .230/.321/.339 showing in the Gulf Coast League, 2007 first-round pick Kevin Ahrens is a switch-hitter with plus power and good defensive skills who has an excellent chance to move up the prospect lists this year.
Don't Believe The Hype: Curtis Thigpen has his share of positives, but in the end he's a bad defensive catcher with little power and it's hard to figure out how he fits on a big league roster.
Get Your Bags Ready? It's nearly impossible to get good return on unproven talent, and Travis Snider is understandably untouchable. It shouldn't be a busy season on the transaction wire for Toronto.
Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: Even though Snider will start the year in Double-A, he's not looking at anything more than a handful of big league plate appearances at best. As promising as the Jays' 2007 draft was, nobody comes close to his talent and potential.
Travis Snider: 7-6