This year’s State Of The Systems features some new categories, so before we get going, some of the sections require a little bit of explanation.

  • 2007 Rookies: Simple enough–what first-year players will contribute in the big leagues this year.
  • Minor League Road Trip: A common question I get via e-mail goes something like this: “I live in [minor league town], who should I look for?” For each team I’ll identify to full-season affiliate that should have the most compelling squad. Keep in mind that this is a research-driven hypothesis, and that spring performances, injuries and organizational needs can mean certain players don’t end up where expected.
  • Pivotal Season: For this category, I’ll identify one player who is at a crossroads in his young career.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most/Don’t Believe The Hype: Last year’s selections have already been reviewed, and I think overall, I did pretty well here–they’re always among the most popular, so they return.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Named after Red Sox infielder Dustin and Yankees righthander Tyler, this is the one player who fans of that team tend to overrate by going on statistics alone.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: In the interest of fairness, this award goes to the player who is the opposite. The tools are certainly there, but where is the performance? The award is named after two of the all-time tools busts in draft history–outfielder Jeff Jackson (Philles first round, 1989) and triple-digit flamethrower Colt Griffin (Royals first round, 2001).
  • Get Your Bags Ready: When the trade deadline comes down, prospects are always part of the discussion. Who could be available? Who do teams want? Who’s a likely candidate to be moved because he’s blocked?

Baltimore Orioles

  • 2007 Rookies: Not much to talk about here, but young players like outfielder Nick Markakis and lefty Adam Loewen are both ready to be major contributors. The only positional player prospects at the upper levels are Val Majewski and Jeff Fiorentino, a pair of guys who both profile as bench outfielders–something Baltimore already has plenty of. Righthander Hayden Penn will likely be the sixth starter, and therefore the first to get a call should the need arise. Lefthander Garrett Olson and righty Radhames Liz have the opportunity to pitch their way into late-season looks.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Low-A Delmarva should be awfully fun, particularly in the infield, with the organization’s top hitting prospect, third baseman Billy Rowell, making his full-season debut, and with an athletic combination of second baseman Ryan Adams and shortstop Pedro Florimon handling up-the-middle duties. They’ll be joined by ultra-toolsy outfielder Kieron Pope and fireballing 2006 first rounder Pedro Beato in the rotation. And don’t forget about 2005 first-round pick Brandon Snyder, who is recovering from shoulder surgery and will join them once ready.
  • Pivotal Season: After an outstanding pro debut, Snyder’s 2006 season was limited to 72 nightmarish games in which he was hampered by the injury. He enters the season hit with the double whammy of being a year behind the majority of his draft class and likely not a catcher anymore, so he needs to get going.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Florimon is already an outstanding defender who Baltimore is hoping will develop enough offensive abilities to profile as more than a utility man. He has quick wrists and a solid understanding of the strike zone, so he’s off to a good start there.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: Outfielder Nolan Reimold has good power and draws walks in bunches, but his long swing is a big issue. Reimold is 23 and has a career batting average of .267, and he hasn’t gotten out of single-A yet. Does that sound like a future star to you?
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Fiorentino has consistently hit for decent averages, shown decent power, and drawn a decent number of walks, but he lacks the tools to project for anything more.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Pope’s athleticism still offer plenty of reason for excitement, but last year’s breakout in the Appalachian League needs to be tempered by his 8-for-75 (.107), 33 strikeout performance after a promotion to the New York-Penn League.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Orioles system is much-improved from previous years, but most of their top prospects are still in the lower minors. It’s hard to see them making a playoff run this year, so everyone should be staying put.

Boston Red Sox

  • 2007 Rookies: Daisuke Matsuzaka is officially like a rookie, so we have to talk about him. PECOTA projects triple crown stats of 13 wins, 162 strikeouts, and a 3.83 ERA, my gut tells me that’s light by somewhere around 10-15%. Dustin Pedroia takes over at second base and should immediately become an average second baseman offensively, maybe a little above with the glove. Reliever Craig Hansen has shown no signs of turning things around this spring, but if fellow bullpen ace Bryce Cox moves as quickly as expected, he could get a late-season look.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Not only does Low-A Greenville have arguably the coolest minor league park–a miniature version of Fenway Park–but Boston’s 2006 draft haul should converge there as well. Pitchers Daniel Bard and Justin Masterson, slugging first baseman Lars Anderson, and toolsy outfielders Ryan Kalish and Jason Place are all worth watching.
  • Pivotal Season: As a first-round pick in 2005, Hansen was expected to be ready for the closer’s job by 2006, if not sooner. Since then he’s struggled both statistically and on a stuff level, as his slider is not what it used to be for reasons not fully clear to anyone.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Righthander Clay Buchholz gets outstanding reviews, but is generally not in the discussion when the subject is the top pitching prospects in the game. With excellent command of three or four plus pitches, he deserves to be there.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: First baseman Lars Anderson has Red Sox fans awfully excited, but keep in mind that he signed for pretty much where scouts saw him–second-round money. His bat has to carry him, and while the power is impressive, the swing is long, and there are some holes to fill.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Second baseman Jeff Natale hit .304/.446/.469 last year, but keep in mind that while he’s Pedroia’s doppelganger physically, he’s also a year older than the big league starter, and in possession of fewer tools, not to mention the fact that he’s yet to escape A-ball.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Signed to a $500,000 bonus, outfielder Luis Soto has done little since signing other than getting hurt and making outs.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: While it’s likely that Boston’s top prospects are nearly untouchable, if it’s late July and the Red Sox are knotted up with the Yankees again, one could be moved, though it would have to be a blockbuster. Outfielder David Murphy and catcher George Kotteras are likely names to be tossed around in lesser deals.

New York Yankees

  • 2007 Rookies: Like Matsuzaka, lefty Kei Igawa is technically a rookie, and should be a solid back-end starter, but nothing more than that. The big question is when Philip Hughes will arrive. The answer lies somewhere between how well he does in Triple-A, and how well (or not well) Carl Pavano does in the fifth starter role. Set the over/under on June 23rd. The Yankees don’t need any young hitters, and that’s a good thing, because there aren’t any coming for a couple of years.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Not only do you get to visit Legends Field in Tampa when you visit their High-A affiliate, but if you show up early in the season you’ll see a a rotation headed up by a pair of 2006 first rounds in righties Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy. While the Yankees have few hitting prospects, their best one, 18-year-old Jose Tabata, will hit in the middle of the Tampa lineup.
  • Pivotal Season: First baseman Eric Duncan has been a disappointment since being the club’s first round pick in 2003. Add back problems to the resume and a lack of athleticism that forced a move across the diamond from third, and it adds up to his needing a huge year that just might not be in him.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: In 78.1 pro innings, reliever Kevin Whelan has 110 strikeouts in 78.1 innings while limiting batters to just 39 hits (.147 batting average). He’ll start the year in Double-A, but he’s on the fast track with his strange mix of three pitches…all of them fastball variations.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: Outfielder Brett Gardner has top of the line speed and understands the value of a walk, but with as much power as Luis Castillo, he may never be a starter in the big leagues–at least not for a first-division team.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Kennedy put up some bigtime numbers at Southern California, but six-foot righthanders with upper 80s fastballs just don’t project well, not matter how great the command is. The $2.25 million bonus for such a player is either puzzling, or another piece of evidence to prove just how good Scott Boras is at his job.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Considered the big prize in the Gary Sheffield trade, righty Humberto Sanchez is six-foot-six, dials it up into the mid-90s and backs it up with a wicked slider. At the same time he has a career ERA of 4.16, a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of less than 2-to-1, and constant injury issues that have prevented him from throwing more than 124 innings in any of his four full seasons.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: Hughes and Tabata are untouchable, as are members of the impressive 2006 draft class. That leaves little of value for the Yankees to toss out there when the trading deadline arrives.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

  • 2007 Rookies: The Delmon Young era begin in Tampa as the ├╝ber-prospect takes over the right field, with the talk of him batting third possibly helping him rack up some impressive counting stats in what should be a highly competitive Rookie of the Year race. That’s it for the hitters, but that’s enough. On the mound, Jeff Niemann starts the year at Triple-A with eyes on a mid-season look, while Juan Salas, a 28-year-old converted infielder eyes a bullpen role.
  • Minor League Road Trip: The best system in baseball should be pretty interesting at every level, but for the sake of argument, let’s take High-A Vero Beach, where a staff with Wade Davis, Jacob McGee, and Matt Walker in the rotation gives you a 60% chance of seeing a top 10 prospect on the mound.
  • Pivotal Season: Now that Joel Guzman has gone from one end of the defensive spectrum to the either, he needs to tap into his power potential to avoid getting lost in the shuffle. Tampa needs a first baseman, so the opportunity is there.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Outfielder Fernando Perez led the minor leagues in runs scored last year–hitting leadoff in the California League and having Reid Brignac behind you certainly helps. A center fielder with defensive chops, speed, solid hitting skills, and baseball instincts blended with an Ivy League background, Perez will get more attention if he repeats the success at Double-A.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: Outfielder Sergio Pedroza has a career batting line of .274/.404/.546, but he’s been consistently been old for his level, strikes out a ton because of an inability to pick up breaking balls, and is a below-average athlete.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Righty Andrew Sonnastine has a career ERA of 2.55 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of more than 6-to-1, but scouts don’t see a big-league out pitch from the control specialist who rarely hits 90 mph.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: With no obvious candidate in the minors, we bequeath a honorary award to B.J. Upton, who continues to baffle both scouts and the organization with his disappointing big league performances.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The big league squad won’t be good immediately, but they’re going to be a force to contend with fairly soon, so nobody of import is going anywhere. So more prospects might arrive at mid-season, if anything.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • 2007 Rookies: Quite possibly none. Outfielder Adam Lind‘s finger injury has hampered his ability to compete for a big league job, and as it was, he was likely destined for Triple-A anyway in order to get consistent playing time. There are a number of marginal arms near ready, but few worth really talking about.
  • Minor League Road Trip: In a system loaded with low-risk/low-ceiling prospects, all eyes will be on Low-A Lansing, where 2006 first-round pick Travis Snider makes his full-season debut after winning Appy League MVP honors last year after signing.
  • Pivotal Season: A first round pick by Arizona in 2002, shortstop Sergio Santos was moving swimmingly through the minors–until he got to Triple-A. Coming over to Toronto in the Troy Glaus/Orlando Hudson deal after a miserable year at Triple-A Tucson, things got even worse at Syracuse with a .214/.254/.299 season. Scouts are wondering what happened to the power he flashed at lower levels.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Righty Kyle Yates separates himself from a large group of low-velocity strike-throwers because of a plus-plus curveball that he sets up well. He took a major step forward in the Arizona Fall League and projects as a No. 5 starter or long reliever in the big leagues.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: The Blue Jays still believe they’ll be vindicated for selecting southpaw Ricky Romero with the sixth overall pick in 2004, but scouts still see little reason to project him as anything more than a No.4 starter.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Take your pick, but righthanders Josh Banks and Jesse Litsch stand out as arms with decent numbers whose success depends more on plus-plus control of marginal stuff than the ability to blow hitters away.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Lefty David Purcey is six-foot-five, built like a linebacker and can dial it up to 95 mph. f he had any command and control, he’d be pretty interesting–but alas, he doesn’t.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: Will the Blue Jays make a run at a wild-card race? And if so, what do they have to deal? They lack the kind of impact prospects to land a big star, but lesser players could be picked up with the multitude of pitchers in the system who don’t project as much, but who do nevertheless project as big leaguers.
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