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September 20, 2008

Future Shock

NL Two Steps Back

by Kevin Goldstein

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In this year's 'Two Steps Back' series, we're dealing only with players who entered the year on their team's Top 11 Prospects list, while also trying our best to avoid players with injuries. We're looking for those who played their way down, as opposed to those who went down because they didn't play. We already covered the American League, and today we'll finish up with the National League teams. Numbers in brackets represent their ranking on the team's list coming into the season.

Arizona Diamondbacks

A key component to the Jose Valverde deal, right-hander Juan Gutierrez [5] struggled mightily at High-A Tucson, posting a 6.09 ERA in 25 games while being lit up for a .318 opponent's average. A slight dip in velocity really hampered him, and his secondary offerings remain sub-standard.

Runner-up: A supplemental first-round pick last year who was seen as an offensive-oriented catcher, Ed Easley [8] showed very little with the bat this season at High-A Visalia, finishing with a disappointing line of .247/.313/.336 in 118 games.

Atlanta Braves

The train for shortstop Brent Lillibridge [3] came to a screeching halt thanks to a .220/.294/.344 line at Triple-A Richmond, as he got away from his on-base and contact skills and turned into a pull-happy hacker, a mistake for a guy who never had much power in the first place.

Runner-up: After having what looked like a breakout complain in 2007, outfielder Brandon Jones [4] hit just .260/.343/.405 at Richmond, and scouts' projections for him dropped from an everyday player to more of a fourth-outfielder type.

Chicago Cubs

Power left-hander Donald Veal [3] repeated Double-A but made absolutely zero progress with his control issues, walking 81 in 145 1/3 innings while finishing the year with a 4.52 ERA. He might be best served at this point by a move to the bullpen.

Runner-up: After a massively successful pro debut, catcher Josh Donaldson [5] was hitting a pathetic .217/.276/.349 when he was included as a throw-in in the Rich Harden deal. For whatever reason, everything began to click as a member of the Oakland organization, as he hit .330/.391/.564 at High-A Stockton and added four home runs in the postseason.

Cincinnati Reds

Out of excuses, former stud prospect Homer Bailey [2] put up an uninspiring 4.77 ERA in 19 Triple-A starts when he wasn't getting hammered for 36 runs and 59 hits in just 36 1/3 big-league innings. His stuff, mechanics, and command all vary wildly from outing to outing, frustrating both scouts and the Reds' front office.

Runner-up: A 2007 first-round pick, Devin Mesoraco [6] looked slow and out of shape while hitting just .261/.311/.399 for Low-A Dayton. Making matters worse, the next two catchers drafted after him were Toronto's J.P. Arencibia and Philadelphia's Travis D'Arnaud, both of whom had outstanding years.

Colorado Rockies

After helping pitch his team into the World Series in 2007, lefty Franklin Morales [1] saw a massive regression in both his stuff and his ability to harness it, as after walking nearly twice as many as he struck out in the big leagues, he had a 5.47 ERA at Triple-A Colorado Springs while walking 82 and striking out just 83 in 110 1/3 innings. Scouts say the frustration is noticeable, and he's begun to aim his pitches-a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

Runner-up: After slugging .503 and stealing 27 bases last year, the 2007 season of shortstop Chris Nelson [2] is looking like a California League mirage, as he hit just .237/.324/.346 at Double-A Tulsa.

Florida Marlins

Right-hander Brett Sinkbeil [4] is accurately named for his plus sinker, but that's pretty much all he showed with a 5.02 ERA at Double-A that included just 66 strikeouts and 172 hits allowed in 143 1/3 innings.

Runner-up: Gaby Hernandez had a 7.24 ERA in 13 starts for Triple-A Albuquerque, but then made four decent starts at Double-A before moving to Seattle in the Arthur Rhodes deal. In six starts for Double-A West Tennessee following the trade, he had a 5.01 ERA and had trouble throwing strikes.

Houston Astros

Expected to provide an immediate offensive upgrade over Brad Ausmus, catcher J.R. Towles [1] instead absolutely pancaked, going 20-for-136 (.147) before being sent back to Triple-A, where he at least showed he can still hit (.304/.370/.500). He'll get another chance, but the Astros are unlikely to be as patient.

Runner-up: After putting up a 1.98 ERA in the Carolina League last year, the inability of righty Brad James [4] to record strikeouts caught up to him at Double-A Corpus Christi, as he whiffed just 45 in 93 innings while getting hit for a .300 batting average.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Third baseman Andy LaRoche [2] was hoping for a new lease on life with a trade to Pittsburgh, but put up a .172/.260/.276 line in the majors and .297/.445/.428 in the minors; that's a huge gap between the two levels for a second straight year, but now the Pirates will be looking for an explanation for the mystery that they've inherited from the Dodgers.

Runner-up: The Dodgers tried to begin the year with shortstop Chin-Ling Hu [3] as a utility player, but inconsistent opportunities ruined his timing and he hit just .161/.230/.205 in 58 games. He made some progress in returning to form with a .295/.323/.385 line at Triple-A Las Vegas, but was pressing there and regressed by opening up his strike zone.

Milwaukee Brewers

Expected to help the bullpen (and they sure need it!), Triple-A closer Luis Pena [9] saw his control decline throughout the year, finishing up with a 6.93 ERA in 52 games that included 47 walks in 49 1/3 innings. Over the last two months, he allowed 25 runs in 16 2/3 innings by giving up 25 hits and walking 25.

Runner-up: Ultra-toolsy shortstop Brent Brewer [11] made little progress in going from athlete to ballplayer, batting just .236/.307/.334 in 123 games split between two A-levels.

New York Mets

After an impressive pro debut in the Gulf Coast League, the Mets inexplicably sent 18-year-old infielder Ruben Tejada [10] to High-A St. Lucie, where he quite explicably struggled, batting just .229/.293/.296 in 131 games.

Runner-up: Right-hander Bobby Parnell [10] has always had a great fastball, but his inability to develop secondary offerings caught up with him at the upper levels, as he has a 4.62 ERA between Double- and Triple-A.

Philadelphia Phillies

Last year's first-round pick, Joe Savery [2] began his year by allowing just two runs over 20 innings in his first three starts at High-A Clearwater, but had a 4.63 mark the rest of the way as his velocity remained no more than average throughout the year.

Runner-up: Finesse specialist Drew Carpenter [10] got hammered for 68 runs in 93 2/3 innings during 16 Triple-A starts before finding some success again at the lower levels.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The fourth overall pick last June, left-hander Daniel Moskos [4] was out of shape, mechanically broken, and rarely got out of the 80s with his once-plus fastball while finishing the year with a 5.95 ERA.

Runner-up: Third baseman Neil Walker [3] led Triple-A Indianapolis with 16 home runs and 80 RBI, but an overall .242/.280/.414 line in 133 games showed there is still much work to be done.

St. Louis Cardinals

Top prospect Colby Rasmus [1] had an outstanding spring training but pouted when he didn't break camp with the big leagues, and was only starting to get going when a knee injury ended his Triple-A line at .251/.346/.396. There are issues on and off the field that allow him to get a bit of a mulligan for this season, but he's still not guaranteed a big-league job next year.

Runner-up: Adam Ottavino [4], a 2006 first-round pick, made some progress in the second half of the season, but he still scuffled overall, finishing the year with a 5.23 ERA at Double-A Springfield.

San Diego Padres

After hitting 21 home runs, stealing 28 bases and drawing 83 walks last year, second baseman Matt Antonelli [2] saw everything fall apart as Triple-A Portland as he hit just .215/.335/.322 but nonetheless earned a September audition. He spent much of the year tweaking his swing mechanics, but finally seemed to find last year's form by the end of the year.

Runner-up: Right-hander Drew Miller [4] lost some velocity and break on his pitches and struggled all year at High-A Lake Elsinore, finishing the year with a 6.10 ERA in 27 games.

San Francisco Giants

After hitting .307/.363/.523 at Double-A last year, outfielder John Bowker [8] struggled at Triple-A initially, but after being pressed into service in the big leagues, he's hit just .243/.291/.387. At age 25, he's not getting any younger, and does not have a lot of projection.

Runner-up: Defensive-minded shortstop Charlie Culberson [11] was exactly that at Low-A Augusta in his full-season debut, batting just .234/.290/.319.

Washington Nationals

After pitching a few innings in the big leagues just months after being drafted, righty Ross Detwiler [2] began the year at High-A Potomac with the thought that he'd move quickly, but he never escaped the level-posting a 4.86 ERA in 26 starts and showing significantly less-effective stuff than he had in his college days.

Runner-up: After posting a 1.78 ERA in 2007, absolutely nothing went right for reliever Adam Carr [11], as he finished the year with a 6.60 ERA split between High- and Double-A while allowing a home run every six innings.

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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