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The minor league regular season is over at the end of
August, which means we’ve now reached the halfway mark. Let’s take a look at whose
stock has risen and fallen, who the candidates are to be each team’s top prospect
in my postseason rankings, and what unresolved questions need to be answered as
we officially move into summer.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Great Leap Forward: Righthander Micah Owings
began his first full season at Double-A Tennessee, but the move turned out to
be anything but aggressive, as last June’s third-round pick was bumped to
Triple-A at the beginning of the month and won his first two starts, including
a six-inning no-hit performance in his Tucson debut. Credit the Diamondbacks
staff for turning his slider into a plus pitch to complement what was already a
very good fastball. A 14th-round pick in 2004, Mark Reynolds
blasted 19 home runs for Low Class A South Bend last year, but has absolutely
exploded at High Class A Lancaster, batting .336/.418/.672 and challenging for
the minor league leads in home runs (20) and RBI (64).

Not What We Expected: 2005 No. 1 overall pick Justin
Upton
certainly has not been bad (.279/.349/.392) by any measurement, but
many anticipated an Alex Rodriguez-like breakout. Fellow 2005 first-rounder Matt
Torra
has missed the entire season recovering from labrum surgery.

Open Questions: Will Reynolds and uber-prospect Carlos
Gonzalez
(.315/.366/.550) be able to make the adjustments at Double-A like Conor
Jackson
and Carlos Quentin did, or struggle like former big time prospects
Jamie D’Antona (.244/.341/.455) and Jon Zeringue (.215/.280/.313)
have? Will Upton turn it on in the second half? What moves will be made
between now and 2007 to get Stephen Drew, Quentin, and Chris Young

in the big league lineup?

Who Will Be Number One: Good question. The
candidates are numerous, as the Diamondbacks have as many as five prospects who
could be No. 1 in many other organizations. Second half performance will play
a large role in figuring out who has the edge.

Atlanta Braves

Great Leap Forward: A first-round pick in 2000 who
took a slow but steady path through the Atlanta system, slugging first baseman Scott
Thorman
finally broke through at Triple-A Richmond, batting .324/.394/.570
and earning his first big league call up earlier this week. Speaking of slow
developers, big lefthander Jo-Jo Reyes, a second round pick in 2003, has
also finally showed up at Low Class A Rome, with a 2.99 ERA in 13 starts while
leading the organization with 84 strikeouts in 75.1 innings. Yes, it’s his
fourth year as a pro, and he’s only in the Sally League, but at the same time,
he’s still just 21.

Not What We Expected: Possibly the biggest
disappointment in the minor leagues, Jarrod Saltalamacchia entered the
year as the top catching prospect in the minors and was expected to improve
upon his .314/.394/.519 numbers as he escaped Myrtle Beach. Instead, he limps
into the second half with a batting line of .212/.319/.320. Joining Salty on
the mystery train is righty Anthony Lerew, who began the year as
alternative starter option No. 1, and now finds himself demoted to Double-A
Mississippi after giving up five or more runs in seven of 12 starts for a 9.38
ERA at Richmond.

Open Questions: With Thorman up in the big leagues,
is the Triple-A lineup now historically bad? No current starter has an OPS
over .713. When 2005 first-round pick Joey Devine returns to action
next week, can he pitch his way back to “closer of the future” status?

Who Will Be Number One: Got me. There’s really no
obvious candidate at this point. Do we give Saltalamacchia a one-year mulligan,
or just bank on the ridiculous potential of shortstop Elvis Andrus, who
has held his own (.273/.330/.357) at Rome as a 17-year-old?

Chicago Cubs

Great Leap Forward: Righthander Sean Gallagher
got mediocre reviews last year despite earning the Cubs minor league pitcher of
the year award. This year the performance continues (2.30 ERA in 13 starts at
High Class A Daytona before earning a promotion to Double-A West Tenn), but the
stuff has taken a major step forward as well–including a fastball that has
gone from 88-90 mph to 92-94. Catcher Mark Reed (.343/.388/.429) leads
the Midwest League in batting average.

Not What We Expected: After collapsing in 2005 at
High Class A Daytona, 2004 Midwest League home run champ Brian Dopirak
missed almost the entire first half with a broken foot, and is homerless in 50
at-bats for West Tenn. Meanwhile, 2005 Midwest League home run champ Ryan
Harvey
is following in Dopriak’s footsteps at Daytona (.208/.248/.343).

Open Questions: Was Triple-A too aggressive an
assignment for centerfielder Felix Pie (.257/.323/.400)? Is Rich
Hill
proof that there is such a thing as a 4A pitcher? $7.25 million for
fifth-round pick Jeff Samardzija? Really?

Who Will Be Number One: 2005 first-round pick Mark
Pawelek
has a chance to pitch his way into the spot with a big half-year at
Boise, and Pie is still a candidate based on his youth and potential. Coming
on strong is Donald Veal, who is big, left-handed, throws
hard, and has allowed just 45 hits in 73.2 innings for Low Class A Peoria while
striking out 86.

Cincinnati Reds

Great Leap Forward: First baseman Joey Votto
has returned to 2004 form, batting .315/.387/.563 at Double-A Chattanooga and
competing for a Triple Crown in the Southern League. 2005 first-round pick Jay
Bruce
has exceeded expectations at Low Class A Dayton, batting
.290/.346/.537 with 39 of 75 hits going for extra bases.

Not What We Expected: A second-round pick in 2004,
outfielder B.J. Szymanski is a lesson in why you take raw, athletic high
school players, but not college ones. At 23, Szymanski is only in Low Class A,
batting .231/.310/.455, and has a strikeout for every 2.49 at-bats. Catcher Miguel
Perez
is hitting just .223/.283/.287 at Chattanooga, and while he doesn’t
have to hit a ton because of his outstanding defensive skills, he certainly has
to hit more than that.

Open Questions: 2004 first-round pick Homer Bailey
has two no-hit outings, has allowed fewer then two runs in six of 13 starts at
High Class A Sarasota, yet has also given up four or more runs six times. With
that kind of inconsistency, why rush him with a promotion to Double-A? Can the
team resist the urge to also push Bruce and lefthander Travis Wood?

Who Will Be Number One: It’s between Bailey and
Bruce. While Bruce has closed the gap some, it’s probably not enough to pass
up Bailey, one of the few pitching prospects with true No. 1 potential.

Colorado Rockies

Great Leap Forward: Catcher Chris Ianetta is
raking at Double-A Tulsa to the tune of .331/.429/.649, giving the Rockies the legitimate prospect behind the plate that they so desperately need. Before
spraining an ankle, outfielder Dexter Fowler was doing an impressive job
of translating tools into performance at Low Class A Asheville
(.306/.374/.488).

Not What We Expected: Third-baseman Ian Stewart

was bonkers in spring training, but at .253/.333/.440, he hasn’t dominated in
the regular season since 2004 in the Sally League, hitting in the friendly
confines of Asheville. Infielder Matt Macri was moved from shortstop to
second base, which meant a step forward with the bat was a necessity–but that
hasn’t happened at Tulsa (.246/.300/.382).

Open Questions: Can talented righthander Ubaldo
Jimenez
actually have an entire season of health and effectiveness? Can
the team give us any rational explanation for taking Greg Reynolds with the
No. 2 overall pick two weeks ago?

Who Will Be Number One: At this point, one could
argue that shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (.274/.347/.460 at Tulsa) gets the edge over Stewart because of the position he plays.

Florida Marlins

Great Leap Forward: With so many prospects thrust
into big league jobs, most of the quickly rising stocks have been at the major
league level. The biggest surprise by far has been second baseman Dan Uggla,
who is batting .313/.366/.532 and leads all major league second baseman in
VORP. The minor league system is filled with arms, with small righty Jose
Garcia
and giant lefty Sean West doing the most so far to improve their
stock.

Not What We Expected: The team’s top pick last June,
righty Chris Volstad has given up 109 hits in 93.1 innings at Low Class
A Greensboro while striking out just 65. Jason Stokes is hurt yet
again, and 2003 first-round pick Jeff Allison has gone from depressing
story to feel good story and back to depressing.

Open Questions: Who is the best hitter in this
system? The system is loaded with pitchers, but it’s hard to find a single bat
to be excited about.

Who Will Be Number One: With so many of last year’s
prospects now in the big leagues, it’s fairly wide open. Righthander Anibal
Sanchez
has been good-not-great at Double-A Carolina, with a 3.15 ERA and
92 strikeouts in 85.2 innings, and probably has the lead going into the second
half.

Houston Astros

Great Leap Forward: Outfielder Hunter Pence
hit 31 home runs last year, but scouts were not sold on him and he was a little
old for the Sally League. Jumped up to Double-A Corpus Christi, Pence has lost
nearly all of his doubters, batting .294/.347/.574. Catcher J.R. Towles

is hitting .331/.401/.560 for Low Class A Lexington, but he’ll probably get the
same criticism Pence did until he repeats it at a higher level.

Not What We Expected: The 2005 draft ain’t looking so
hot these days. First-round pick Brian Bogusevic made just five starts
at Lexington and allowed 18 runs in 12.2 innings before getting shut down with a
tender elbow. He’s just returned and is pitching in the New York-Penn League.
Supplemental first-round pick Eli Iorg is batting .247/.294/.401 for Lexington, which isn’t good, and even worse when you look at his birth date–because of a
Mormon mission in college, he’s 23.

Open Questions: Will righty Jason Hirsch get a
look in the second half? What did Houston see in first-round pick Max Sapp
that others didn’t? They’re not really going to call up Koby Clemens–batting just .227/.313/.307 at Lexington–in September, are they?

Who Will Be Number One: Pence is the likely choice in
a system that lacks elite prospects.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Great Leap Forward: The major league squad has once
again been beset by injuries, allowing a number of prospects to contribute at
the big league level, but the biggest surprise is outfielder Matt Kemp.
Kemp, who played last year in the Florida State League, hit .327/.402/.528 at
Double-A Jacksonville, and has a 1.000+ OPS in the majors after 21 big league
games. Outfielder Sergio Pedroza is batting .284/.454/.555 at Low Class
A Columbus, but falls in the “beware of experienced college hitters in the
Sally League” category.

Not What We Expected: Joel Guzman has hit a
mediocre .289/.345/.426 at Triple-A Las Vegas, and earned a brief major league
look, but he has gotten some negative reviews from scouts. If you analyze his
career numbers, they become far less impressive when you look at him as a first
baseman/left fielder, which he is now, as opposed to a shortstop, which he was
then. Infielder Blake DeWitt is batting .274/.338/.399 at High Class A
Vero Beach, and has an overly-lofty reputation for a player who has never
really produced much.

Open Questions: How serious is third baseman Andy
LaRoche
‘s labrum tear? Can James Loney become a valuable first
baseman as a player who hits for a high average but little power?

Who Will Be Number One: Righthander Chad
Billingsley
looks like he might be up for good, leaving LaRoche as the
clear choice unless his injury ends up more serious than expected. Lefthander Scott
Elbert
and first-round pick Clayton Kershaw should also rank highly.

Milwaukee Brewers

Great Leap Forward: Righthander Yovani Gallardo
has become one of the better pitching prospects in the minors, with a 2.09 ERA
in 77.2 innings for High Class A Brevard County with 103 strikeouts against
just 23 walks.

Not What We Expected: Most everyone expected much
more from 2005 first-round pick Ryan Braun, who is batting just
.274/.346/.438 at Brevard County but nonetheless received a mid-season
promotion to Double-A Huntsville. There he’ll join first baseman Brad
Nelson
, who was demoted to Double-A after putting up a .215/.311/.362 line at
Triple-A Nashville and is now almost four years removed from his 2002 campaign
when he led the minor leagues in RBI.

Open Questions: What does outfielder Nelson Cruz

(.298/.383/.539 at Nashville) need to do in order to get a legitimate shot? Is
2004 first-round pick Mark Rogers‘ current three game streak (20.2 IP, 5
H, 29 K) a real sign of things coming together?

Who Will Be Number One: Right now it’s Gallardo,
unless the answer to the question about Rogers (above) is ‘yes.’

New York Mets

Great Leap Forward: Cuban righthander Alay Soler
went from almost being written off to becoming an important part of the major
league rotation in about seven weeks. The biggest signee ($1.4 million) in
last year’s international market, outfielder Fernando Martinez has hit
.321/.384/.473 at Low Class A Hagerstown, but has also been limited to just 31
games thanks to a variety of injuries.

Not What We Expected: Outfielder Carlos Gomez
is hitting just .220/.293/.323 at Double-A Binghamton, but he’s not completely
to blame as having him skip a level after hitting .275/.331/.376 in the Sally
League was nonsensical. Anderson Hernandez stopped hitting just when he
had a shot at the big league second base job while first baseman Brett
Harper
, who smacked 36 home runs last year, didn’t go deep in 65 at-bats at
Binghamton before going down with a shoulder injury.

Open Questions: Is Mike Pelfrey up before
September? Is Lastings Milledge up for good? How will 2004 first-round
pick Philip Humber look when he returns from Tommy John surgery later
this month?

Who Will Be Number One: It’s going to come down to
whether or not Milledge and Pelfrey are still prospects at season’s end. If
they are both ineligible, Martinez could be the choice if his knee isn’t a long-term concern.

Philadelphia Phillies

Great Leap Forward: Lefthander Cole Hamels has
remained relatively healthy and become an integral part of the Phillies
rotation. Fellow southpaw Matt Maloney has been unhittable at Low Class
A Lakewood (1.56 ERA in 80.2 innings), but as a 22-year-old from a big college
program, we can’t be sure what they have here without a more challenging test.

Not What We Expected: 2004 first-round pick Greg
Golson
is repeating the Sally League, yet his stats have gone backwards
(.208/.246/.316). But Golson isn’t alone as far as offensive prospects moving
in the wrong direction. Witness Golson’s teammate, Welinson Baez, who
raked in the New York-Penn League last season but is at .207/.273/.302. High
Class A Clearwater anticipated a strong left side of the infield with top 2005
pick Mike Costanzo (.248/.331/.366) at third base and Australian Brad
Harman
(.229/.316/.300) at shortstop, but neither has hit a lick.

Open Questions: Is it time to give up on Gavin
Floyd
? Will anybody start hitting?

Who Will Be Number One: If lefthander Gio Gonzalez
fails to return to his April form, it just might be first-round pick Kyle
Drabek
, which says as much about the system’s talent as it does about
Drabek’s.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Great Leap Forward: Tom Gorzelanny seems to
get a little better each year, as the lefty has a 2.53
ERA in 15 starts for Triple-A Indianapolis with a sub-1.00 WHIP. First baseman

Steven Pearce is 23, and not out of A-ball yet, but he leads the
organization with 18 home runs and 60 RBI. Righthander Josh Sharpless
is rapidly approaching a spot in the big league bullpen, striking out 47 in
37.1 innings between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.

Not What We Expected: Catcher Neil Walker
missed the first six weeks of the season recovering from wrist surgery, but
he’s still looking to recover his hitting skills (.256/.308/.364) at High Class
A Lynchburg. Chris Duffy (.187 EqA) and Nate McLouth (.224) have
both proven that the Pirates might have to wait for Andrew McCutchen

before they have a real live center fielder.

Open Questions: Will John Ven Benschoten, who
hasn’t pitched since 2004, pitch in 2006 at all? How about Bryan Bullington,
who also has yet to show up in a box score? Will first-round pick Brad
Lincoln
be doomed to the same fate?

Who Will Be Number One: It’s McCutchen or Lincoln–what we see from here on out will hopefully make the decision a little easier.

St. Louis Cardinals

Great Leap Forward: Signed in 2002 as a 47th-round
draft-and-follow, 24-year-old outfielder Terry Evans entered the year
with a career batting line of .239/.303/.394 in 398 minor league games. This
year, he’s suddenly the best fantasy player in the minors (if there was such a
thing), batting .317/.381/.601 between High Class A Palm Beach and Double-A
Springfield with a minor league-leading 21 home runs while throwing in 25
stolen bases to boot. It’s easily the most unexpected performance in the minor
leagues this year, and we just don’t have enough information to go on yet as to
just how real it is. The Cards thought they had a sleeper in Jaime Garcia,
but many more people know his name now that the 19-year-old lefty was promoted
to Palm Beach after striking out 80 over 77.2 innings at Low Class A Quad
Cities with a 2.90 ERA.

Not What We Expected: The big question about 2005
first-round pick Tyler Greene was if he would hit, and with a
.216/.298/.310 line at Palm Beach, it’s still a pretty big if. Outfielder Cody
Haerther
seemed poised for a breakout at Springfield, which is not the term
than comes to mind based on his .222/.279/.394 averages.

Open Questions: How will the club handle the next
couple of years with an older lineup in the majors and no hitting prospects at
Double- or Triple-A who can help? Considering the weakness of the system,
wouldn’t the organization have been better served with some riskier picks in
the draft as opposed to building organizational depth?

Who Will Be Number One: Chances are that righthander Anthony
Reyes
will no longer be a prospect once October rolls around. That could
leave 2005 first-round pick Colby Rasmus as the system’s lone
combination of production (.304/.369/.477 at Quad Cities) and ceiling.

San Diego Padres

Great Leap Forward: There is no obvious giant
breakthrough in the Padres system. Catcher George Kottaras is showing
unprecedented power and patience (.280/.402/.488) at Double-A Mobile–a tough
place to find any sort of success offensively. The two-headed first
base/designated hitter combo of Kyle Blanks (.294/.391/.475) and Daryl
Jones
(.265/.351/.469) have both impressed at Low Class A Fort Wayne.

Not What We Expected: Injury problems have plagued
each of San Diego’s last two first-round picks. Cesar Carrillo
reached Triple-A before getting shut down with a “loose elbow.” 2004
first-round pick Matt Bush, who couldn’t afford to miss development time
after a miserable .221/.279/.276 season last year, sat out the entire first
half of the season recovering from a broken leg.

Open Questions: If Bush is a complete offensive zero
again this year, do the Padres try him on the mound? Can 2005 second-round
pick Cesar Ramos maintain his effectiveness (3.03 ERA at High Class A
Lake Elsinore) while averaging less than a strikeout for every two innings?

Who Will Be Number One: It’s between Carrillo and
Kottaras, with the final ruling on Carrillo’s elbow playing a significant part
in the judgement.

San Francisco Giants

Great Leap Forward: Outfielder Fred Lewis has
recovered from a disappointing 2005 to hit .276/.401/.480 at Triple-A Fresno.
Lefthander Jonathan Sanchez made three dominant starts at Double-A
Connecticut before moving to the bullpen and earning a promotion to the big
leagues after compiling a 1.15 ERA in 31.1 innings with 46 whiffs. He’s been
used sparingly since moving up, but has yet to allow a hit in eight
appearances.

Not What We Expected: After batting .300/.407/.400 in
his full-season debut at Low Class A Augusta, infielder Marcus Sanders has
pancaked at High Class A San Jose (.213/.302/.265). Slugger Eddy
Martinez-Esteve
had just two home runs in 92 at-bats at Connecticut before
injuring his shoulder in early May. Another star from last year’s excellent San Jose squad, outfielder Nate Schierholtz has also hit a wall at Double-A
(.234/.298/.347).

Open Questions: Can we now assume that Merkin
Valdez
(4.21 ERA at Fresno) will never again be the pitcher who showed so
much promise in 2003? Will first-round pick Tim Lincecum be brought to
the major leagues quickly as a reliever, or be groomed as a starter with a
longer ETA?

Who Will Be Number One: I can’t see anyone currently in
the system I’d take over Lincecum.

Washington Nationals

Great Leap Forward: Third baseman Kory Casto has
taken a step forward in on-base skills and power with a .300/.426/.536 line at
Double-A Harrisburg, but he’ll probably have to move to a corner outfield slot
in deference to Ryan Zimmerman. First baseman Larry Broadway is hitting
a career high .331 at Triple-A New Orleans, but the power (seven home runs in
257 at-bats) has dropped significantly. It’s important to note that even with
the breakout players, they’re only semi-breakouts in a very weak system.

Not What We Expected: The rotation at High Class A
Potomac began the year with the Nationals three best pitching prospects–yet
the entire trio has disappointed. Righthander Collin Balester has a
5.86 ERA while 2002 first-round pick Clint Everts isn’t much better at
5.76. Lefty Mike Hinckley has shown signs of life with a 3.98
ERA, but has only 36 strikeouts in 72.1 innings.

Open Questions: Will this June’s draft, which looks
excellent on paper, provide a much-needed boost to a stagnant system?

Who Will Be Number One: Right now, I honestly have no idea,
which tells me it might be one of their two first-round picks, third baseman Chris
Marrero
and righthander Colton Wilems. I ran this question by an
American League scout who said, “I would bet their top prospect five weeks
from now is in somebody else’s organization today.”