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 email 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?

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

  • 2007 Rookies: Plenty of potential star-quality young players, both on the mound and on the right side of the infield, but the team could break camp without a single player who has rookie status. Top prospect Brandon Wood heads to Triple-A to work on his new position (third base), while he’ll likely be joined by catcher Jeff Mathis, who waits for another chance to prove he can hit big league pitching.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Double-A Arkansas suffered through a miserable 2006 season, going 51-87, thanks mostly to a 5.65 team ERA, as the rotation featured three pitchers with ten or more starts and ERAs over 6.50. That will change this year, as Nick Adenhart leads off a rotation that will include a pair of additional top 10 prospects in righties Stephen Marek and Jose Arredondo. The enigmatic Rafael Rodriguez will likely join them, and his raw stuff ranks right up there, though his performances do not.
  • Pivotal Season: As disappointing as Mathis’ .145/.238/.291 showing in the big leagues was last year, his .289/.333/.430 one at Triple-A was just as troubling, as the 2001 first-round pick has gone from future star to future backup in the eyes of some.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: While shortstop Sean Rodriguez will likely need to move to the outfield or the right side of the infield in the not-so-distant future, he remains an underrated offensive dynamo with power, speed, and a patient approach.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: Shortstop Erick Aybar‘s performance has dropped with each promotion over the last two years, as he remains a player getting by on sheer athleticism alone, making no progress at all on his overly aggressive approach, bad baserunning, and inconsistent defense.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Outfielder Reggie Willits had a .448 on-base percentage at Triple-A and a .411 mark during a brief major league stint, but his skills are more those of a solid fourth outfielder than an everyday player.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Jose Arredondo throws harder than anyone in the system, reaching 98 mph at times, but the reason his ERA ballooned from 2.30 at High-A to 6.53 at Double-A was that throwing hard is really his only solid skill. It’s a great place to start, but he needs to find a more consistent breaking ball, and learn how to set up hitters.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Angels are generally leery of trading prospects, but as favorites in the American League West, they may be busier than normal come July. Infield depth from the majors on down makes a number of interesting prospects possibly available.

Oakland A’s

  • 2007 Rookies: Likely none on Opening Day. Jason Windsor is the proverbial sixth starter who could fill in once a need arises. Both first baseman Daric Barton (who has looked outstanding in camp after missing most of 2006 with a broken arm) and catcher Kurt Suzuki are in similar positions, only likely to get called up in case of emergency, but penciled in for important roles in 2008.
  • Minor League Road Trip: The top three prospects in the system–Barton, Suzuki, and Travis Buck–will all be in the everyday lineup at Triple-A, where they’ll be joined by Windsor (in the rotation) and converted outfielder Marcus McBeth, the club’s closer.
  • Pivotal Season: Catcher Landon Powell was already a year older than most when he was drafted as a college senior. After missing all of 2005 with a knee injury he was merely average in his return, and downright embarrassing at the end of the year as his weight once again ballooned. He’s reportedly in good shape, and at 25, needs a breakout campaign at Double-A Midland.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Some were disappointed by second baseman Kevin Melillo‘s performance after he lead the organization in home runs with 24 in 2005, but he continued to show gap power, draw walks, and play fundamentally sound defense, basically doing his best Mark Ellis impersonation.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: Righthander Jared Lansford had a 2.86 ERA in 18 starts at Low-A, including a no-hitter, but he’s going to need an out pitch he can rely upon, or more advanced hitters are going to give him trouble.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Windsor tied for the minor league lead in wins last year, but at the same time he projects as no more than a back-of-a-rotation starter. Grab a sheet of paper and list all of the upper-echelon starters in the big leagues whose best pitch is a changeup. It won’t take long.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: The A’s rarely wind up with toolsy projects, and Richie Robnett, one of the few they’ve taken, isn’t doing much to change their minds. Spending the majority of the last two years at High-A Stockton, Robnett has slugged 31 home runs in 184 games for the Ports, but also struck out 224 times.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The A’s are always competitive, but if they make any moves at the deadline, they’ll likely only be minor ones, involving lesser prospects.

Seattle Mariners

  • 2007 Rookies: Not a one. Top prospect Adam Jones and catcher Jeff Clement should both get looks at some point during the season, but like the rest of the prospects in the system, they have ETAs of 2008 or later. Don’t count out lefty Ryan Feierabend building off of last season’s debut at some point.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Beyond Clement, Jones and Feierabend toiling away at Triple-A, youth will be served at Low-A Wisconsin, with the rotation featuring a pair of high-ceiling 2006 draftees in Anthony Butler and Christopher Tillman. The lineup will feature a slew of intriguing teenagers that would make the Epcot Center proud, including Dutch outfielder Greg Halman, Italian third baseman Alex Liddi, and their big international prize from last summer, Dominican shortstop Carlos Triunfel.
  • Pivotal Season: Since signing for a third-round record $2.29 million in 2004, third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo has done precious little, posting a career batting line of .270/.349/.371, one that falls to .260/.346/.347 once you take away his monster 20-game debut in the Arizona Rookie League.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Lefty Justin Thomas came on strong in the second half of the season, and struck out more than a batter per inning in the California League. He’ll begin 2007 in Double-A, and is solid across the board, with an effective three-pitch mix, durable body, and outstanding makeup.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: First baseman Bryan LaHair split time between Double- and Triple-A last year and hit .309/.381/.474 in the process, but he’s limited to first base, blocked by Richie Sexson, and probably not a good enough hitter to play everyday there.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Second baseman Yung Chi Chen hit .324/.380/.468 in a breakout 2006 campaign, but his secondary skills remain highly suspect, and a lack of speed inhibits his range and base-running skills.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Outfielder Wladimir Balentien offers as much raw power as anyone in the system, but his 47 home runs over the last two seasons are tempered by 300 strikeouts in 916 at-bats.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Mariners have an outside shot of competing for the wild card, and could find some takers for raw players with one or two outstanding tools like Balentien or reliever Stephen Kahn.

Texas Rangers

  • 2007 Rookies: There’s some youth, but few rookies. What’s left of the DVD trio, righthanders Edinson Volquez and Thomas Diamond, could bounce up and down between Triple-A and the majors as they line up for their shots at jobs in 2008. Eric Hurley doesn’t have a fancy-named group to be a part of, but at the same time he’s a better prospect, and could make a late-season debut. Josh Rupe could be in the mix for a bullpen job. The Rangers have precious little when it comes to hitters, especially at the upper levels. Jason Botts might be edged out for a job once again, and is looking more and more like a career minor league slugger.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Hoping for some big years out of some young players, many Texas eyes will be focused on Low-A Clinton, which will have 2006 first-rounder Kasey Kiker leading the rotation, and a lineup that includes slugging first baseman Chris Davis and slick-fielding shortstop Marcus Lemon.
  • Pivotal Season: Volquez has had two straight seasons of pitching very well in the minors only to get called up and get hammered with the Rangers. He’s to the point where a move to the bullpen or a change of scenery might be in order.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: The Rangers rarely spend big money on players with signability issues, but Lemon was their exception, getting $1 million as a fourth-rounder. His approach to the game, both offensively and defensively, is mature well beyond his years, and the Rangers hope it will make up for a smallish frame.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: Obtained from the White Sox in 2004’s Carl Everett trade, righthander Josh Rupe gets some good reviews, but he just doesn’t strike out enough batters to project as anything more than a low-leverage reliever.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Reliever Jesse Ingram has 170 career strikeouts in just 117.2 innings, but he’s anything but a power closer, depending more on pinpoint command of a no-more-than-average fastball. He’s also turning 25 in a month, yet he’s barely out of A-ball.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Selected from the Yankees (instead of Robinson Cano, mind you) in the Alex Rodriguez trade, shortstop Joaquin Arias flashes plenty of tools in batting practice and fielding drills, but precious few of them show up in games: he posted a .268/.296/.361 line at Triple-A last year. With Michael Young locked up with a long-term deal, Arias will return to the minors and try to learn some new positions to give him more versatility.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Rangers are unlikely to contend, and even if they do, they have few prospects at Double- or Triple-A who others teams would find attractive, other than the big arms, who are unlikely to be available.

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