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May 7, 2008

Future Shock

AL West Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The Best Team In The Minors: ... at least on a performance level. The Triple-A squad at Salt Lake has gotten out of the gate with a 25-5 mark, thanks to an offense hitting .309/.382/.495 as a team and averaging 6.7 runs a game. Add in a pitching staff with a 3.53 team ERA, and you can understand why their expected winning percentage is .743, or an estimated record of 22-8 after 30 games. That said, it's not the strongest team prospect-wise. Their best hitter has been fringy 26-year-old Matt Brown, who is hitting a ridiculous .402/.444/.735, and after stud righty Nick Adenhart their best starter has been 30-year-old Puerto Rican off-speed specialist Giancarlo Alvarado. Beyond Brandon Wood's return to form and some intriguing bullpen arms like Jose Arredondo (1.38 ERA and eight saves) and Jason Bulger (10 K in 6 IP), keep an eye on Sean Rodriguez, who already made his big league debut earlier in the year. While he's hitting just .250, his walk rate has returned to its lofty levels from his Low-A days, and 10 of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases, giving him a full line of .250/.429/.531 while splitting time between second base, shortstop, and the outfield. One scout recently noted that Rodriguez reminded him a bit of Tony Phillips, but without the speed.


Oakland Athletics

He's Baaaaaaaack: Going into the 2007 season, outfielder Matt Sulentic was one of the most talked-up prospects in the system. After a nearly historic senior year playing for a Dallas-area high school, Sulentic fell to the third round because scouts saw the bat as his only plus tool. Nevertheless, it was a tool that looked like more than enough when he hit .354/.409/.479 at Vancouver, generally facing far older pitchers. Everything fell apart last year, as he started the year in a slump at Kane County that turned into a death spiral, as his averages sat at .175/.234/.218 before he was mercifully sent back to the short-season leagues. Between his horrible year and all the changes in the Oakland system, Sulentic was all but off the radar. Going into the year, the A's decided to do something that they've never done before with a struggling prospect--move him up a level. "We had a lot of discussion about this," said farm director Keith Lieppman. "We weren't sure what we'd get by returning him to Kane County. There's a chance that he could get into the been-there/done-that mode, and it's a pitching-oriented league, it's cold, and it's not a great place to get off to a big offensive start," he continued. "Putting him in Stockton was a good opportunity to get him into a hitter's environment, surround him with good players so we can hit him down in the lineup, and just let it evolve."

Evolve it has, as the 20-year-old outfielder is batting .322/.412/.506 in 26 games for the Ports, while also showing some significant improvements defensively. Lieppman insists that there have been no changes in Sulentic's swing or grinding approach to the game, but rather a rebuilt confidence. "He just hadn't had much success after the debut," Lieppman explained. "He's kind of a prototypical A's guy with a tremendous strike zone, but he became really passive and careful and cautious. We reminded him about who he was when we drafted him, and how everyone would stop what they were doing to watch him take BP in Vancouver, and give him credit; he made a point to really work this offseason. Hit hit all winter--just really worked hard on it."

And while batting eighth in a lineup filled with top prospects has taken the pressure off Sulentic for now, Lieppman is confident he'll produce when placed back into the middle of a lineup. "Putting him where we have has done a lot, and he's really learned a lot from some of the older players on this team while also getting his confidence back." Lieppman concluded. "He used to be the main man, and now he's someone that's just there... he'll get those main man opportunities again down the line."


Seattle Mariners

Will They Accelerate Aumont? The Mariners are notoriously aggressive with their prospects and promotions, and most saw Aumont as a pitcher with a very high ceiling who entered the year very raw due to his French-Canadian upbringing. However, he surprised even Mariners officials with his spring training showing and began the year at Low-A Wisconsin, where his ERA remains a perfect 0.00 in five appearances, surrendering just seven hits in 14 2/3 innings while registering 15 strikeouts. He's yet to throw more than four innings as they stretch his arm out, but if the usage pattern of Chris Tillman last year is anything to go by, he could finish the year as the rare teenage starter in the California League. "I saw him in spring training," gushed one scout, "and that size, and that stuff, he was just... wow."

A Rush To Judgement: For some reason, infielder Carlos Triunfel has been the subject of a number of emails and chat questions, mostly asking if people should give up on him after a slow start at High-A High Desert. It's very early in the season, and all of a sudden, Triunfel has reeled off a seven-game hitting streak, including a 4-for-5 showing on Sunday that included three doubles. Have I mentioned that the kid just turned 18 in February, making him the same age as most high school seniors? Triunfel will most certainly not be a shortstop in the end--he's already playing some second base this year--but he is still most certainly a very special hitting talent.


Texas Rangers

First Round Update: While most talk about how the organization re-stocked their minor league system with a flurry of 2007 trades, the Rangers also had five picks in the first 54 last June to bolster the minor league corps even more. Here's a brief update on how the quintet is doing:

  • Blake Beavan, RHP, 17th overall, $1.4975 million bonus
    The Rangers are taken it very easy with their 2007 class of young pitchers, anticipating a workload of no more than 120 innings for them. After beginning the year in extended spring training, Beavan made his pro debut last week, firing six shutout innings against Great Lakes while giving up just three hits and not walking a batter. One scout in attendance was surprised by the six-foot-seven righty's lack of velocity, as he sat in the mid to upper 80s, but he also noted that Beavan's command and location were impeccable, and he looked like he was throwing a bullpen session and had much more velocity in his back pocket. In his second start of the year on Monday, Beavan again didn't walk anyone, but allowed four runs over six innings, including a pair of homers--so that velocity needs to start showing up in games.
  • Michael Main, RHP, 24th overall, $1.2375 million bonus
    Main's pro debut last year was the most impressive of any Texas draftee, but his full-season debut has been delayed by a fractured rib. His timetable currently projects a late-May/early-June return to the mound.
  • Julio Borbon, OF, 35th overall, $800,000 bonus
    Borbon was arguably the top college center fielder in last year's draft, which says as much about that position's weakness as Borbon's talent. After a strong showing this spring, Borbon has made some adjustments to his game, showing a more patient approach and being less pull-conscious. A current ten-game hitting streak (17-for-47) has brought his season totals at High-A Bakersfield up to .295/.340/.358 in 22 games, and his outstanding speed has allowed him to display good range in center while swiping 10 bases in 11 attempts. Scouts are mixed as to whether he's a starter or good fourth outfielder in the end.
  • Neil Ramirez, RHP, 44th overall, $1 million bonus
    Another young arm the Rangers are being very cautious with, Ramirez has reportedly been outstanding in extending spring training, up to 94 mph with his fastball, and will likely be joining the staff at Clinton soon.
  • Tommy Hunter, RHP, 54th overall, $585,000 bonus
    The only college pitcher selected early, the Rangers have challenged him with a full-season assignment at High-A Bakersfield, and he's responded fairly well to it, with a 3.95 ERA. He makes up for giving up 48 hits in 43 1/3 innings by walking only five. He provides a unique physical presence on the mound--standing six-foot-three and tipping the scales at somewhere between 250 and 260 pounds--but he's not a pure power pitcher. He adds and subtracts from his fastball, which generally sits in the 88-94 mph range with a lot of sink and he pounds the strike zone with it, as well as a solid curveball. His ceiling isn't tremendous, but he has what it takes to be a back-of-the-rotation starter.

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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