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?

Atlanta Braves

  • 2007 Rookies: Scott Thorman takes over at first base, and the Braves hope he can be 80% of what Adam LaRoche was last year. If he struggles, Craig Wilson is ready to platoon or fill in. Reliever Joey Devine should make it back to the big leagues eventually, while Anthony Lerew could get a audition at some point should he get all the way back from 2006 struggles.
  • Minor League Road Trip: Double-A Mississippi will feature an impressive lineup that includes Brent Lillibridge at shortstop, Brandon Jones in the outfield, Kala Kaaihue and Van Pope on the corners and possibly Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate. Matt Harrison will lead off the rotation with fast-rising lefty Jo Jo Reyes right behind.
  • Pivotal Season: The rare college first-rounder for Atlanta, reliever Joey Devine was expected to be a closer candidate by now, but injuries and inconsistency have haunted him since signing. He’s healthy this spring, but his performances are still up and down.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: 18-year-old Neftali Perez touches 98 with a free and easy delivery. It’s the first building block for greatness, and he’ll work on his command and his secondary pitches in extended spring training before another half-season.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: Glowing scouting reports have built up the Elvis Andrus hype machine, but unimpressive performances, including a .265/.324/.362 line last year in his full-season debut, bring him down. He’s reportedly had an excellent camp, with the Braves expecting a breakout. I’m not convinced yet.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: After closing in the College World Series for national champs Oregon State, lefty Kevin Gunderson had a 1.08 ERA in his first 15 pro games. Unfortunately, the skinny 5-foot-10 southpaw relies on pinpoint control of an upper-80s fastball, and a solid slider. Not a future closer, but intriguing LOOGY possibilities.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: 2006 first-round pick Cody Johnson is an impressive athlete with top-notch raw power, and little idea how to tap into it during game situations. For now, he’s an overly raw strikeout machine.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: Saltalamacchia is one of the most valuable trade chips in baseball, but it’s doubtful that the Braves will be trading him to make a run for the playoffs. More likely is a scenario that has a bevy of prospects coming to the Braves if Andruw Jones becomes late July’s big prize.

Florida Marlins

  • 2007 Rookies: Nothing like last year, that’s for sure. There are still plenty of jobs up for grabs in Florida. Eric Reed has the lead for the center-field job, not that it should excite anyone. With Taylor Tankersley slow to recover from shoulder problems, the closer battle has come down to former Mets prospects Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom, with Owens having the better chance of being effective. Yusmeiro Petit is in the mix for the fifth-starter job, along with Sergio Mitre.
  • Minor League Road Trip: High Class A Jupiter’s pitching staff will be loaded, even without top prospect Sean West, who will miss the 2007 season following shoulder surgery. 2005 first-rounders Aaron Thompson, Ryan Tucker and Chris Volstad will be joined in the rotation by 2006 first-round pick Brett Sinkbiel, while the West injury could make room for Dutch fireballer Rick Vander Hurk. Brett Hayes gives the pitchers an outstanding receiver, while the club hopes for steps forward from outfielders Greg Burns and Kris Harvey.
  • Pivotal Season: Petit was a dominant force in the minors while in the Mets system, but the upper levels have proven to be a major roadblock for his style of pitching, which relies more on deception and location than power. While he’s in the mix for a big-league job, he’s given up 15 hits and nine runs in 11 2/3 innings this spring.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: It would be West, but now it goes to Tucker. Forget about the 5.00 ERA, Tucker’s fastball is the best of the bunch, and he made dramatic improvements during the second half of the season in his control and secondary pitches.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: While Gaby Sanchez surprised everyone with the best April in the minor leagues last year, his athleticism limits him to first base, where he projects as no more than an average offensive player at best.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: Undrafted out of Mississippi State, it’s impossible to not root for right-hander Todd Doolittle, who had a 1.23 ERA in 46 games last year, split between the organization’s two A-ball affiliates, with 105 whiffs in 80 1/3 innings. His stuff remains average at best, but many scouts think he’ll at least get there, which makes him a major find.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Greg Burns‘ tools draw Kenny Lofton comparisons, and he is still just 20 years old, but he’s also a career .231/.307/.333 hitter in 212 pro games. He could explode at any moment, but each year it becomes less and less likely.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: After cleaning house last year, the Marlins are in no position to either makes trade for prospects, or trade prospects for veterans. They should be pretty quiet unless they make a youth-for-youth deal, like the much rumored trade for Rocco Baldelli.

New York Mets

  • 2007 Rookies: Not on this veteran squad. Mike Pelfrey remains in the mix for the fifth-starter job, but take your eyes off the 1.29 ERA in 14 innings, and put them on the three strikeouts. There’s still work to be done there. After a pretty impressive camp, 2006 draftee Joe Smith, a righty sidearmer, is on the fast track and could get there as early as this year.
  • Minor League Road Trip: The team’s Florida State League affiliate in St. Lucie, will have top prospect Fernando Martinez in the outfield, and a rotation that could include Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey and Jon Niese.
  • Pivotal Season: After smacking 36 home runs in 2005, first baseman Brett Harper went homerless in 19 games before missing the rest of 2006 because of a shoulder injury. He turns 26 at the end of July, and it’s now or never.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Sean Henry has spent all three pro seasons in half-season leagues, but his bat came alive last year with a move from the infield to center field, and the athleticsm allows him to project for a larger step forward.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: The top pitching prospect in 2005’s international market (if we go by bonus money), righty Deolis Guerra had a 2.20 ERA in the Sally League as a 17-year-old, but his best pitch is a changeup behind a fastball that is still more projection than reality.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: A six-foot-four right-hander with a career minor league record of 27-9, righthander Mike Devaney can’t get out of the 80s with his fastball, and scouts don’t see a big-league out pitch among his secondary pitches.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: 2006 fourth-round pick John Holdzkom is highly similar to his brother Lincoln. Both can light up radar guns, but both have big-time control problems and troubling histories off the field.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: While the Mets will likely want to make moves at mid-season, a lack of depth gives them little to dangle out there, with the elite prospects likely not available, even in a blockbuster.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • 2007 Rookies: Not much to see here. Carlos Ruiz will get a good chunk of the playing time at catcher, but he’s more of a minor-league veteran finally getting a shot than some kind of up-and-comer. A number of marginal young rookies, including Joe Bisenuis, Eude Brito and Rulr 5 pick Jim Ed Warden are competing for end-of-the-bullpen spots. In-season fill-ins for injuries should include outfielder Michael Bourn and right-hander Zach Segovia.
  • Minor League Road Trip: The Low A team at Lakewood should include a rotation with Kyle Drabek and Edgar Garcia, with those two pitching in front of an impressive up-the-middle combination of Jason Donald at shortstop, Adrian Cardenas at second base, and toolsy D’Arby Myers in center field.
  • Pivotal Season: 2005 top pick Mike Costanzo has struck out 222 times in 208 pro games, without showing enough power to make up for it.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: Myers was especially impressive in his pro debut, considering how raw he was coming into the pros. His body, athleticism and tools give him a sky-high ceiling, and he’s arguably the Phillies best breakout candidate this year.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: Teenage right-hander Edgar Garcia gets high marks for his projection and command, but he’ll need to fill that projection in his full-season debut, right now he’s more of a strike thrower than anything else, as his breaking ball is slurvy and his fastball a bit too true.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: As a 22-year-old polished college lefthander, Matt Maloney simply overmatched the Low Class A Sally League in 2006, but scouts fail to see how he’ll succeed at the upper levels with a mid-to-high 80s fastball and below-average control.
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Greg Golson is one of the best athletes not only in the Phillies system, but in all of the minor leagues. Unfortunately, his approach is an absolute mess, including a 160-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2006. Any steps forward begin with addressing that glaring weakness.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Phillies are favored by reach the playoffs in 2007, and their pitching depth could allow them to be busy at the trade deadline. How teams value the performances of Maloney and left-hander J.A. Happ, as opposed to how they value their scouting reports, could dictate just how much they can improve the team.

Washington Nationals

  • 2007 Rookies: Trying to figure out the Nationals rotation is like trying to figure out what really happened on Twin Peaks, but it seems like Shawn Hill and Matt Chico have locked up rotation slots. They might not be high-ceiling elite prospects, but they deserve a shot over what else is available and could be solid back-end starters. It looked like Kory Casto would be a starting outfielder before camp started, but despite a good spring, he’s going to Triple-A as Ryan Church and Chris Snelling battle for the left-field job. Rule 5 choice Jesus Flores will stick as the backup catcher.
  • Minor League Road Trip: With arguably the worst system in baseball, the Nationals began a rebuilding process with a plethora of early picks in the 2006 draft, many of whom will be taking the field together at Low Class A Savannah. First-rounder Chris Marrero leads the offense, and there’s an outside chance that 17-year-old shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez will join him. The rotation should include the threesome of Glenn Gibson, Jhonny Nunez and the team’s other 2006 first-round pick, Colton Willems.
  • Pivotal Season: Shortstop Ian Desmond created high expectations with an eye-opening performance in big-league camp two years ago, but his minor-league performances have come nowhere close to matching his impressive tools, with a career line of .238/.293/.342. He’s young, but he needs to show some kind of sign performance-wise.
  • I Like Him Better Than Most: A nice return from the Giants for a rental of Mike Stanton, righty Shairon Martis gained national attention for a seven-inning no-hitter in the World Baseball Classic, but also had a solid year in the minors as well thanks to plus command of a solid three-pitch repertoire.
  • Don’t Believe The Hype: Are there any much-hyped prospects in the Washington system? Being the top upper-level pitching prospect in the system doesn’t mean much here, as rightly Collin Balester would just be another decent arm in most other organizations, projecting as no more than a middle-of-the-rotation innings eater.
  • Pedroia/Clippard Award: At 25, Casto is simply cooling his heels in Triple-A, and there’s no more projection in him. Now that he’s limited to a corner outfield spot or first base (where he worked some in camp), will his solid but not spectacular performances be enough to matter?
  • Jackson/Griffin Award: Garrett Mock has now baffled both Arizona and Washington with the gap between his excellent stuff and mediocre stats. Washington is hoping that minor knee surgery in the offseason will help correct the problem.
  • Get Your Bags Ready?: The Nationals certainly won’t be trading for veterans this year, but they might be shopping some–not that they are the kind of veterans that would bring much back. Then again, they did get Martis for Stanton…
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