1B Chip Cannon, Phoenix Desert Dogs (Arizona Fall League, Blue Jays)
An eighth-round pick in 2004 out of The Citadel, Cannon put himself on the map last year by smacking 32 home runs across three levels, finishing up at Double-A. He stayed at that level all season long in 2006, and led the organization with 27 home runs. However, his overall line of .248/.335/.476 with 158 strikeouts in 475 at-bats reflected that the holes in his game began to get exposed. With a run of four home runs in three games last week, Cannon leads the AFL in homers with seven, and at .385/.484/.846, he leads the league in slugging while ranking among the top five in runs, RBI, and OBP. Cannon turns 25 next month, and his severe lack of athleticism limits him to first base, so this is not a performance that should get anyone too worked up. This is more like what Tagg Bozied did in Arizona a couple of years back.
C Jeff Clement, Waikiki Beach Boys (Hawaiian Winter League, Mariners)
At what point do we start to wonder if we were just dead wrong on a guy? While Triple-A was a little too lofty an assignment for Clement after some minor surgery, more was expected than a .257/.321/.347 line with just four home runs in 245 at-bats. Clement’s calling card as the second overall pick in the 2005 draft was supposed to be power, but it just didn’t show up in the PCL. Now in Hawaii, and playing against a much lower overall level of competition than he would have been up against in the Arizona Fall League, Clement continues to struggle. He finally hit his first homer of the winter season on Friday, but is parked at just .179 overall, with eight strikeouts and zero walks in 28 at-bats. The last hot-hitting catcher out of Southern California who was supposed to be the next big thing was Eric Munson; we may be closer to starting those comparisons than some others might want to admit.
RHP Gavin Floyd, Peoria Saguaros (Arizona Fall League, Phillies)
Is he out of chances? Maybe. After another season of struggles at the big league level and very little performance at Triple-A to warrant another chance, Floyd’s Arizona Fall League season started off with yet more struggling, including allowing seven runs in 1.2 innings in his second start. However, since then he’s pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just one hit, and on the short season opposing batters are batting just .171 against the 23-year-old righthander. Obviously, seven innings does not equal a complete turnaround by any means, but Floyd is the kind of guy who is under the microscope, as the team will always look for any sign of progress from a player who was the fourth overall pick in 2001 (receiving a $4.2 million bonus). A classic power righty at 6-foot-5, many attribute Floyd’s struggles over the past 24 months to his confidence, as the physical tools are there, but the results are not. So, while it’s just seven innings, at this point even the smallest amount of success could be just what he needs.
RHP Radhames Liz, Estrellas Orientales (Dominican Winter League, Orioles)
Liz was one of the better pitchers in the minors during the first half of the season, posting a 2.82 ERA in the Carolina League with 95 strikeouts in 83 innings. Promoted to Double-A in the second half, Liz struggled, logging a 5.36 ERA in ten starts, learning a tough lesson that an upper-90s fastball isn’t enough when it’s combined with control problems and inconsistent secondary offerings. Liz was lights-out in his Dominican debut on Friday, striking out eight, but walking four over four no-hit frames. At 23, Liz has a strange combination of relatively advanced age and raw talent, meaning his future might be in the bullpen. If the Orioles decide to move him there at the beginning of the year, he could make it up to The Show by mid-2007.
A fourth-round pick in 2001, for years McBeth arguably possessed the best tools in the Oakland system. Long and wiry-strong, McBeth is a graceful athlete with speed, power potential, and one of the best outfield arms in the system. One problem: he couldn’t hit. After racking up a career line of .233/.311/.359 in three seasons without even getting up to Double-A, the organization finally convinced McBeth to take his arm to the mound. There, the results have been surprising, both in terms of immediate results and in the quickness with which he adaptated to closing. After saving 25 games at Double-A Midland this year, McBeth is continuing his development in the desert, earning the save in Friday’s Arizona Fall League All-Star game by striking out a pair in a perfect ninth to preserve the East’s 3-1 win. Because of the late start to his pitching career, McBeth is already 25, but his stuff is impressive, including a 92-94 mph fastball that he can dial up to 97 on occasion; he compliments it with a decent slider and a surprisingly advanced changeup that he throws with a lot of confidence late in the count. While he’ll start the 2007 season at Triple-A Sacramento, he could give the Oakland bullpen a much-needed power arm at some point in the year to come.
I’ve pimped Meloan enough, but he’s been earning it so far in the Arizona Fall League. The 22-year-old reliever is tied for the league lead in strikeouts with 13 in 9.1 innings, while allowing just five hits. As he did in the regular season, Meloan’s dominance of left-handed hitters has continued in the desert, as opposing left-handed hitters are 1-for-12 with eight strikeouts so far. Yet another Logan White find, the 2005 fifth-round pick is showing two plus pitches out of the bullpen (fastball, curve), and some think he has closer potential. He’ll likely begin the 2007 season at Triple-A Las Vegas, but if his year-long roll continues, he won’t be in Sin City for long.
OF Alex Romero, Tigres de Aragua (Venezuelan Winter League, Twins)
Romero was one of the bigger disappointments in the Twins system this year, bombing at Triple-A Rochester before finding his stroke back down in Double-A, and then hitting nearly .300 in his return engagement in the International League. After hitting a career-high 15 home runs last year, Romero hit just five this season, and while he’s homerless in Venezuela, he’s nonetheless swinging a hot bat, leading the league with a .436 batting average in 13 games, going 21-for-48 overall. As a corner outfielder, he’ll needs to do more than just be a singles hitter to develop into an everyday player, and his effort has come into question in the past. Nonetheless, his performance so far is doing a little bit to save a tough regular season, and puts him back in the picture for an eventual big-league look when he starts 2007 back in Triple-A.
CF Denard Span, Tigres de Aragua (Venezuelan Winter League, Twins)
A first-round pick in 2002, Span has long been seen as the Twins’ leadoff man of the future. While he’s a career .287 hitter in the minors, his lack of secondary skills has hampered his development overall. This year, 129 of his 153 hits were singles, he drew just 40 walks in 526 at-bats, and he’s still learning how to steal bases, getting caught 11 times in 35 attempts. A teammate of Romero’s at Double-A New Britian and now in Venezuela, Span has scored 12 runs in 13 games to sit among the league leaders while batting .293/.369/.310. He’ll likely begin 2007 with Romero at Triple-A, because there’s no reason to hold him back, but he’s looking like nothing more than a fourth outfielder.
Tabata established himself as one of the top prospects in the game by batting .298/.377/.420 at Low-A Charleston as a 17-year-old, but his season was limited to just 86 games, as he missed much of the second half with a thumb injury. While his performance left everyone impressed, it also left everyone looking for more proof that this was all real. In Venezuela, Tabata is playing against even more advanced competition, as the league is stocked with plenty of Double- and Triple-A players, some with considerable minor league experience, and once again, Tabata is impressing. On Saturday, he went 1-for-1 with three walks, reflecting his advanced approach, and on Sunday he was 4-for-4 with a double and a home run, reinforcing his advanced hitting ability. This is a special, special prospect.
During the first half of the regular season, Young was a bit of a novelty act. Running every time he reached base, Young led the minor leagues with 87 stolen bases, while also getting caught 31 times. During the second half, however, Young became a true offensive force at Low-A Asheville, batting .353 in 55 games after July 1 while drawing 33 walks in 206 at-bats. The hot streak has continued in Hawaii, as the 21-year-old leads the pitching-heavy circuit with a .333 batting average in 16 games, with another ten stolen bases. Third baseman Ian Stewart and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki are generally considered the best left-side infield combo in any one organization, but Young and first baseman Joe Koshansky might round out the entire infield.
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