As I mentioned in my Triple-A and Double-A previews, predicting standings and/or win-loss records is a silly exercise for minor league teams, as their rosters change constantly. Besides, winning not only isn’t everything in the minors, it’s really very little–in every level below The Show, it’s all about player development. So our best bet is to focus on the players, or in this case groups of players, but keep in mind that even in the first week of the season, rosters are highly flammable.

California League

Best Rotation: Boston begins their first year with Lancaster as their High0A affiliate, and they’ll try to combat the high-octane environment with one of the rotations you’ll see in any A-ball league. Michael Bowden, Daniel Bard, Kris Johnson, and Justin Masterson are the big four, while the team remains hopeful for some signs of life from Mike Rozier. Combined,
this group cost the Sox over $5 million in signing bonuses. Visalia (Diamondbacks) features 2005 first rounder Matt Torra, while trying to figure out if Dallas Buck can regain the form of his sophomore year at Oregon State. As strange as it may sound, Stockton (Athletics) goes young with the trio of Jared Lansford, Vince Mazzaro, and Ryan Webb, with Lansford the best
statistically, but the other two having more long-term promise. The Rangers
assigned struggling-yet-talented righthander Edison Volquez to Bakersfield; whether or not the gambit pays off remains to be seen.

Best Bullpen: Finding quality relievers in A-ball is a difficult task. Visalia has a trio with Daniel Stange and 7-foot-1 lefty (if only he threw hard) Ryan Doherty setting up 2006 first-rounder Brooks Brown. San Jose features David Quinkowski, who had a 1.43 ERA last year at Augusta, while allowing only 36 hits in 75 innings despite a fastball that sits in the high 80s. Keep an
eye on High Desert (Mariners) sidearmer Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who not only has a great name, but can reach 90+ with the deceptive delivery.

Best Outfield: It’s a disappointing group of outfields to choose from. The only team with an all-prospect outfield is in Visalia, where Justin Upton looks for a breakout season; he’s flanked by professional hitter in the making Cyle Hankerd and Leyson Septimo. Other toolsy center fielders around the league include Dexter Fowler of Modesto (Rockies) and Stockton’s Javier Herrera, who looks to bounce back after missing all of last year due to Tommy John surgery.

Best Corner Infielders: There’s an interesting duo at Lake Elsinore (Padres), as Kyle Blanks and David Freese combine for over 500 pounds and loads of Three True Outcome potential. Some other interesting moves in the league come with the Dodgers dropping Blake DeWitt down a level to Inland Empire while moving him back to third base, while the Rangers jump Bakersfield’s Chris Davis up two levels to the while moving him across the diamond to third from first.

Best Middle Infield: Fans of defensive wizardry should enjoy Stockton’s duo of Cliff Pennington and Justin Sellers, who both enter seasons where it’s more important that them come alive with the bat. Lake Elsinore has a pair of first-round picks in Matt Bush and Matt Antonelli, not that either generates a whole lot of excitement among scouts. Eric Young, Jr. and Chris
should do some interesting things at Modesto.

Best Catching: The best catcher in the circuit is probably Bakersfield’s Taylor Teagarden, who missed nearly all of 2006 because of Tommy John surgery. Anthony Recker of Stockton and Lancaster’s Mark Wagner both have above-average offensive skills for the position.

Really? He’s Still In A-Ball?

Tony Pluta, RHP, Bakersfield Brad Sullivan, RHP, Stockton Josh Womack, OF, Inland Empire

Carolina League

Best Rotation: The Carolina League is anything but a pitching-rich league. The best starter is 19-year-old Brandon Erbe at Frederick (Orioles), and the Keys’ rotation follows with impressive 2006 draftee Jason Berken and intriguing Charye Spoone, who has two plus pitches but little in the way of results to show for them so far. Salem (Astros) has a pair of high draft picks in Brian Bogusevic and Sergio Perez, with finesse lefty Chris Salamida trying to prove that last year’s 1.06 ERA in the New York-Penn League wasn’t a fluke. Interesting pairs include Shairon Martis and constantly frustrating Clint Everts at Potomac (Nationals) and David Huff with Taiwanese import Sung-Wei Tseng at Kinston (Indians).

Best Bullpen: Most scouts see Sergio Perez as a reliever (and possible closer) in the end, but for now he starts. Little, gutsy lefthander Kevin Gunderson begins the year at Myrtle Beach (Braves), and while his upside might end at situational reliever, his skills could have him moving quickly.

Best Outfield: Salem has an interesting group in Mitch Einertson, Josh Flores, and Eli Iorg. All have been disappointments for one reason or another, and the Astros are hoping for at least one to take a step in the right direction. Kinston has a solid pair in sweet-swinging John Drennen and fleet-of-foot Jose Costanza. Aaron Cunningham is one of the few prospects at Winston-Salem (White Sox), but he’s also a nice sleeper.

Best Corner Infielders: Myrtle Beach has power on both sides with Kala Kaaihue and Eric Campbell. Boxscore watchers will enjoy the confusion as Kala’s brother Kila plays for Wilmington. Kinston has a power duo of their own with Stephen Head and 2006 draftee Wes Hodges making his pro debut, while Lynchburg (Pirates) has at least half a pair with slugging first baseman Steven Pearce.

Best Middle Infield: Optimistic Braves fans are hoping for a breakthrough year from highly-touted Elvis Andrus, but playing half of his games at Myrtle Beach won’t make it easy. Salem pitchers will love having glove men Wladimir Sutil and Tommy Manzella behind them, but will wince when they step to the plate.

Best Catching: The best catcher in the league is Salem’s J.R. Towles, but at the age of 23, and with a career batting line of .311/.395/.487, it’s a mystery as to why he’s still only in High A. Kinston’s Max Ramirez has a fine resume when it comes to offensive production, but defensively, he’s just plain bad. The Pirates still have some faith in oft-injured Steve Lerud at Lynchburg, while Myrtle Beach’s Clint Sammons has some strong support within the Braves organization.

Really? He’s Still In A-Ball?

Tripper Johnson, 3B, Lynchburg
Kennard Jones, OF, Frederick
Nate Panther, OF, Kinston

Florida State League

Best Rotation: The Florida State League has a long history of being friendly to pitching, and with the ridiculous amount of mound talent there this year, it could be downright unfair. Jupiter (Marlins) delivers a rotation with five first round picks in Jacob Marceaux, Brett Sinkbeil, Aaron Thompson, Ryan Tucker, and Chris Volstad–which at least gives them the deepest rotation, if not the most talented. Vero Beach (Devil Rays)
features an electrifying trio of Wade Davis, Jacob McGee, and Matt Walker, who combined to whiff 404 in 362 innings last year at Low A. Fort Myers (Twins) goes four deep while bringing an international flair with Cuban Eduardo Morlan, Dutch lefty Alexander Smit, Venezuelan Oswaldo Sosa, and a token American in Kyle Waldrop. Other interesting trios include Drew Carpenter, Carlos Carrasco, and Josh Outman at Clearwater (Phillies), and Mark McCormick, Adam Ottovino and Nick Webber at Palm Beach (Cardinals). We’re nowhere near done yet. Rapidly rising Deolis Guerra and John Niese give St. Lucie (Mets) a nice 1-2 punch, while Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy do the same at Tampa (Yankees), as does Johnny Cueto and Travis Wood at Sarasota (Reds). Oh yeah, Andrew Miller is at Lakeland (Tigers). Man, I would not want to be a position player in the Florida State League, because this is just an insanely good group of starters.

Best Bullpen: Jupiter has the early advantage with a rehabbing Taylor Tankersley, but undrafted Todd Doolittle can fill in nicely once he’s gone. Fort Myers features a pair of power arms in Yohan Pino and Jay Rainville. If you want a sleeper, keep Rick Asadoorian of Sarasota in mind. A first-round pick by the Red Sox in 1999, Asadoorian has never hit much, but when he was used as an emergency reliever last year, he struck out the side and touched 98 mph.

Best Outfield: The only outfield with prospects across the board is at Brevard County (Brewers), where Lorenzo Cain, Charlie Fermaint and Cole Gillespie can all hit and all cover ground defensively. After that, there are some outfields that feature individual real studs, such as Cameron Maybin at Lakeland, Jay Bruce at Sarasota, Jose Tabata at Tampa, and (on a
lesser level) Tyler Colvin at Daytona (Cubs).

Best Corner Infielders: Two power combinations stand above the rest of the field, with Chris Errecart and Matt Gamel at Brevard County, and Cuban signee Juan Miranda pairing with Marcos Vechionacci at Tampa. Vechionacci is making a return engagement in the FSL, although he’s still one of the younger players in the
league. In search of a decent partner are Jupiter first baseman Gaby
and Dunedin third baseman Anthony Hatch.

Best Middle Infield: The cupboards are bare. Alcides Escobar returns to Brevard County, trying to get his offensive potential to catch up to his defense.

Best Catching: Sergio Pedroza begins the year at his new position, hoping that with his offensive skills he can develop into a Mickey Tettleton-esque backstop. Mark Reed hits like older brother Jeremy in spurts, while Jupiter’s Brett Hayes and Dunedin’s Brian Jeroloman both have troubles at the plate but enough defensive chops to make it to the majors solely on that skill.

Really? He’s Still In A-Ball?

Dante Brinkley, OF, Jupiter Vic Hall, OF, Clearwater Bobby Malek, OF, St. Lucie

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