July 31, 2008
AL Prospect Help
One of the absolutes about the trade deadline is that there's no way that every team can get what they want to shore up their club. That's where the prospects come into play. Looking at the seven strongest American League contenders, let's see which players at the upper levels for each franchise could end up helping with the playoff push. Playoff odds are through Tuesday's game, and adjusted to resemble a true line.
Boston Red Sox
Approximate Post-Season Odds: 4-3
The Big Gun: He doesn't exist. Their top upper-level prospects are already helping the big-league club.
Extra Starters: The Red Sox have little to worry about should someone in the rotation need some time off. Michael Bowden is now at Triple-A and pitching well after a sizzling start in the Eastern League, while David Pauley has been consistent and should be a solid fifth-starter type. Knuckleballer Charlie Zink has a 2.70 ERA and is a bit of a wild card-it's hard to trust a knuckleballer in a situation with no wiggle room.
September Fortifications: The PawSox are loaded with home run threats, and minor league veterans like Jeff Bailey, Chris Carter, and Jonathan Van Every could all be solid bench bats down the stretch. George Kottaras could be useful as a third catcher. He's hitting just .235, but drawing a lot of walks and has surprised everyone with 19 home runs.
Long Shot: If there was a minor league comeback player of the year, 2006 first-round pick Daniel Bard would be a strong candidate. After walking more than a batter per inning last year, he's converted to relief and struck out 84 in 63 innings, while walking only 22. He's had consistent success since his Double-A promotion, and could be an x-factor.
Chicago White Sox
Approximate Post-Season Odds: 3-2
The Big Gun: Non-existent in one of baseball's weaker systems.
Extra Starters: The Triple-A rotation is filled with mediocre strike throwers, which is why you've seen Clayton Richard summoned from Double-A ahead of them, as Lance Broadway, Jack Egbert, and Wes Whisler are all command-and-control types. If the need arises, Egbert is likely first in line.
September Fortifications: Josh Fields will likely be back, but his performance at Triple-A (.248/.325/.450) hasn't exactly earned him the call. Former Pirate prospect Brad Eldred has a .607 slugging percentage thanks to 28 home runs in 305 at-bats, and could be an all-or-nothing bench bat. Chris Getz is a lefty bat with on-base skills, can fill in at five positions, and could get an audition for a big-league gig next year.
The Long Shot: Their 2007 first-round pick, Aaron Poreda, is already in the Double-A rotation, and scouts still think the six-foot-six lefty with plus-plus velocity (but little else) could dominate out of the bullpen.
Approximate Post-Season Odds: 9-1
The Big Gun: The Tigers sacrificed much of their system in the off-season acquisition of Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. Nobody here is going to make an impact.
Extra Starters: Eddie Bonine got the first call from Triple-A earlier this month, and continues to pitch well at Triple-A Toledo, although former Cardinals first-round pick Chris Lambert has had a surprisingly solid year there and also deserves a look.
September Fortifications: Jeff Larish should be back as a power option off the bench, as should minor league veteran Mike Hessman, who has 32 home runs for Toledo and plays a solid third base. Former White Sox bench player Timo Perez can play all three outfield positions and runs well, though he's behind actual prospect Clete Thomas in the pecking order. Francisco Cruceta and Blaine Neal could be extra arms out of the pen.
The Long Shot: As ridiculous as it sounds, the one guy with an outside chance of contributing (but who you can hardly count on at this point) might be Dontrelle Willis, who pitched on Saturday for High-A Lakeland and gave up three runs in 4 1/3 innings.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Approximate Post-Season Odds: 29-28
The Big Gun: Brandon Wood has been on fire of late, batting .354/.443/.697 and slugging nine home runs in his last 12 games. He's also walking more, striking out less, and has made just one error in his last 33 games. Everything seems to be coming together for him statistically, and scouts have noticed the changes as well. It's taken a little longer than expected, but he might finally be ready to break through at the big-league level.
Extra Starters: This is one of the few scary aspects of the Angels' stretch run, as their pitching prospects have not performed well at the upper levels. Right-hander Nick Green has pitched better of late at Triple-A Salt Lake, but 30-year-old veteran Giancarlo Alvarado might get the first look if somebody's needed, and while he'll hardly dominate, he's also the least likely to get hammered. The biggest disappointment continues to be Nick Adenhart, who has given up 82 hits and walked 27 over 52 2/3 innings in his last ten starts with a 9.40 ERA.
September Fortifications: Now on the Olympic team, Matt Brown can play first and third and tortures left-handed pitching. Sean Rodriguez has a wide-ranging set of skills and can play multiple positions in the infield and outfield. Kendry Morales has never developed enough power for his position, but he has big-league experience and can hit for average. Bobby Wilson is a solid extra catcher. He might be up earlier, but former Arizona prospect Jason Bulger has been the most dominant reliever in the Pacific Coast League of late, reeling off 21 straight scoreless appearances and striking out 42 over 22 innings in the process.
The Long Shot: Manager Mike Scioscia likes to have a lot of offensive options, and outfielder Peter Bourjos offers plus-plus speed and bunting skills, though it's unlikely that the Angels will want to start his service clock.
Approximate Post-Season Odds: 3-1
The Big Gun: Obviously, it's Francisco Liriano, who in his last six starts at Triple-A Rochester has allowed 27 hits in 41 innings while walking six and striking out 51. He's looking very much like the player who was once the top lefty prospect in the game, and might be the key to the Twins' playoff hopes.
Extra Starters: Of the two upper-level pitchers acquired in the Johan Santana deal, Philip Humber has struggled, but Kevin Mulvey has been pitching well and could be a serviceable extra starter. He's really the only decent option.
September Fortifications: Not much to talk about with the Twins at the upper levels. Maybe Trevor Plouffe could get a shot because of his defensive flexibility in the middle infield. Bobby Korecky and Ricky Barrett are hardly studs, but they've pitched well in the Rochester bullpen.
The Long Shot: Big right-hander Robert Delaney doesn't have monster velocity, but he has shown fantastic command and a plus slider while compiling a 57/7 K/BB ratio between High- and Double-A in just 50 innings to go with a 1.44 ERA.
New York Yankees
Approximate Post-Season Odds: 4-1
The Big Gun: No Joba this year, sorry.
Extra Starters: The Yankees have traded some of the better options away, but they still have Ian Kennedy in their back pocket. He's been fantastic at Triple-A, giving up a total of seven hits over 20 innings in his last three starts. He also might be their only option, unless somebody has a strange desire to see Kei Igawa get lit up again.
September Fortifications: Despite the fact that he did precious little in July, Brett Gardner will likely return solely for the value his speed and defense provide. The Yankees have numerous bullpen options, most of which have already reached the majors at one time or another. Veterans like Jason Lane and Ben Broussard could provide bench help.
The Long Shot: Another relief arm, righty Mark Melancon has had a fantastic recovery from Tommy John surgery, with a 1.81 ERA at Double-A Trenton to go with nearly a strikeout per inning and a ground ball ratio of greater than two to one.
Tampa Bay Rays
Approximate Post-Season Odds: 5-4
The Big Gun: While a performance like Joba Chamberlain's 2007 comes once a decade at best, the Rays have a potential impact bullpen arm if they decide to bring up 2007 number-one overall pick David Price. Most scouts agree that he could easily get big-league hitters out right now. In addition, if Andy Sonnanstine's struggles continue, Price just might end up in the rotation down the stretch.
Extra Starters: 2004 first-round pick Jeff Niemann has already gotten his feet wet in April, and while he remains inconsistent, he's still likely to be the first to get the call should the need arise. Mitch Talbot waits behind him.
September Fortifications: Former A's first baseman Dan Johnson is hitting a healthy .296/.414/.542 at Durham, and should be a solid pinch-hitting option from the left side. Fernando Perez can run, bunt and is a plus defender in the outfield. Relievers Juan Sales and Dale Thayer might be able to provide a little more bullpen flexibility in blowouts.
The Long Shot: While he hasn't been as good as expected, and isn't quite there as a stater, right-hander Wade Davis' fastball and curve would likely work in a bullpen role at the big-league level.
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
Click here to see Kevin's other articles.
You can contact Kevin by clicking here