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March 23, 2008

Future Shock

State of the Systems, AL West

by Kevin Goldstein

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

2008 Rookies: None will start the season with the team. Brandon Wood's continuing struggles in the contact department have taken him out of any competition for a spot, though he still could be up at some point in the season. Top pitching prospect Nick Adenhart is lined up for a September look at best.

Minor League Road Trip: Wood and Adenhart will both be monitored closely at Triple-A to evaluate their major league readiness. The Low-A team will feature Jordan Walden and Mason Tobin in the rotation, and they'll be pitching to sleeper catcher prospect Anel De Los Santos.

Pivotal Season: With 15 strikeouts in 36 spring training at-bats, Wood is getting to the point where his remarkable California League season of 2005 is too far in the rear view mirror and he needs to start getting in done at the higher levels.

I Like Him Better Than Most: While third baseman Matt Sweeney has defensive issues and an impatient approach, his combination of plus-plus raw power and a good feel for contact is rarely seen in a young player.

Don't Believe The Hype: Right-hander Stephen Marek has one of the better raw arms in the system and tends to throw strikes, but his fastball is straight as an arrow and his secondary stuff lags behind, leaving many to project him as no more than a reliever.

Get Your Bags Ready? This one could be interesting. The Angels tend to shy away from trading prospects, and they should comfortably win the American League West. That said, their performance in the postseason of late could lead them to making a move to help themselves out in that department, and they have plenty of middle infielders and arms to offer around.

Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: Wood's regression and unsure big league role makes it difficult to set odds, and he'll be ineligible with another 100 at-bats. Adenhart should be safe, so he's the clear favorite.

Nick Adenhart: 5-2
Jordan Walden: 7-2
Brandon Wood: 5-1
Hank Conger: 30-1

Oakland Athletics

2008 Rookies: The A's are in full-scale rebuilding mode, but this is a marathon and not a sprint, so much of the talent they acquired in the offseason won't be hitting the big leagues until 2009-2011. That said, both Carlos and Gio Gonzalez (no relation) should get a good chunk of big league time. That leaves Daric Barton a the lone guaranteed rookie; look for him to eclipse PECOTA's weighted mean projection of .274/.360/.426.

Minor League Road Trip: The rotation to start the year at High-A Stockton could be the best in the minor leagues, with three Top 100 prospects--Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, and Fautino De Los Santos--backed up by power righty Henry Rodriguez and little-known Mexican import Arnold Leon, a 19-year-old right-hander who many think is a big-time sleeper.

Pivotal Season: No longer a young player filled with promise, 23-year-old Javier Herrera faces the kind of year that will define his future career: as a productive big leaguer, or just a bench outfielder.

I Like Him Better Than Most: Former White Sox first baseman Chris Carter is known for his plus-plus power, but he's also anything but a one-dimensional slugger at the plate, as his plate discipline and bat control allowed him to project for good numbers in all three triple-slash categories.

Don't Believe The Hype: Ryan Sweeney still looks great in a uniform, and still has his believers, but now that he's 23 and has two years of Triple-A under his belt, the arguments about age and level no longer apply, and he's simply a guy who doesn't hit enough to be a major league regular.

Get Your Bags Ready? If anything, the A's will be adding to an already-deep system. While the market for Joe Blanton has dried up of late, it could kick back into action once the season begins and contenders find themselves willing to pay for a highly durable, slightly above-average starter. If a team is willing to pay a high price for Huston Street, he could move on as well.

Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: With Gonzalez and Gonzalez likely in the big leagues at some point during the year, their odds take a hit because of the risk that they'll lose eligibility. The A's also have a high draft pick for the first time in years, selecting 12th overall; that should bring an excellent (but not elite) player into the system.

Fautino De Los Santos: 4-1
Brett Anderson: 4-1
Carlos Gonzalez: 8-1
Gio Gonzalez: 10-1
Henry Rodriguez: 12-1
2008 first-round pick: 18-1
Chris Carter: 20-1

Seattle Mariners

2008 Rookies: Catcher Jeff Clement has already been sent to Triple-A, and outfielder Wladimir Balentien should be joining him soon. That will leave the big league team with no rookies, although one or both could come up once the team comes to their senses and realizes that Jose Video shouldn't be anyone's designated hitter. The fact that new right fielder Brad Wilkerson has managed an average of only 107 games over the last two years also bodes well for Balentien.

Minor League Road Trip: As long as the two sluggers mentioned above are there, Triple-A Tacoma will be the place to be, and their rotation will also feature left-hander Robert Rohrbaugh, who should get the call when a starter goes down. Low-A Wisconsin should have high upside talent, both on the mound in Phillippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez, and in the outfield with Danny Carroll and Greg Halman.

Pivotal Season: Third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo made some impressive strides with his hitting and his approach in 2007, but he needs to begin tapping into his raw power in order to really profile as a big league third baseman.

I Like Him Better Than Most: Outfielder Michael Saunders' 2007 breakout could be just the beginning, as the 21-year-old Canadian is loaded with tools and athleticism, so there's plenty of room for even more improvements.

Don't Believe The Hype: It takes a special, special player to hit what Carlos Triunfel did last year at his age, in full-season leagues, and against older competition. At the same time, he's shown no power, no patience, and his thick frame has everyone thinking he'll need to move off off shortstop sooner than later. A great talent? Absolutely. An elite one? I don't see it.

Get Your Bags Ready? The Mariners have an outside chance at competing in the West, and if the opportunity arrives, Balentien could be team's first bargaining chip of note, because of his power, readiness for the big leagues, and the fact that Seattle would be dealing from a position of strength.

Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: Clement and Balentien's status just confuses things. This one will be a year-long horse race.

Carlos Triunfel: 5-1
Wladimir Balentien: 6-1
Juan Ramirez: 8-1
Jeff Clement: 8-1
Phillippe Aumont: 8-1
Michael Saunders: 10-1
Greg Halman: 20-1

Texas Rangers

2008 Rookies: One of the deepest systems in the game won't be doing much for the organization at the big league level in 2008. Luis Medoza is the surprise winner of a rotation job thanks to a strong showing this spring. The Mexican righty is a sinkerballer with decent secondary stuff who hits his spots well, but his inability to miss bats could lead to struggling, a la Kameron Loe.

Minor League Road Trip: The Double-A Frisco squad will be loaded offensively, with slugging first baseman Chris Davis joined by catcher Taylor Teagarden, catcher Max Ramirez, and 19-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus. The Low-A squad at Clinton will be loaded with young arms, and might get an offensive boost from insanely toolsy outfielder Engel Beltre.

Pivotal Season: Now in his second year removed from Tommy John surgery, Teagarden needs to prove that he can catch every day, or his future becomes cloudy. Speaking of Tommy John survivors, former first-round pick Thomas Diamond returns after missing all of 2007, and could still develop into a power reliever--a role many forecast for him when he was first drafted.

I Like Him Better Than Most: Neftali Feliz has been the given for this category for a couple years now. You don't need more than one hand to count the number of teenage righties who can match his upside, and his full-season debut is one of the most anticipated in the system.

Don't Believe The Hype: While there's plenty to love about Elvis Andrus, especially in terms of defense and makeup, he still needs a full-season of offensive success to project as more than a Gold Glove candidate who has to bat seventh or eighth.

Get Your Bags Ready? The Rangers are in rebuilding mode, not compete mode, so don't expect much movement, unless even more prospects are added to the system.

Next Year's No. 1 Prospect Odds: With all of their top guys likely still prospects next year, as well as the 11th overall pick in June, this one could be anyone's call.

Neftali Feliz: 4-1
Elvis Andrus: 5-1
Engel Beltre: 8-1
Chris Davis: 10-1
Michael Main: 16-1
Blake Beavan: 18-1
2008 first-round pick: 20-1
Eric Hurley: 20-1
Taylor Teagarden: 25-1

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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