Continuing from Friday’s piece, we move on to the prospects of the prospects in the National League.
Great Leap Forward: It took a year longer than expected, but Justin Upton is living up to the promise he showed as the number one overall pick in 2005, reaching Double-A before his 20th birthday while batting .318/.399/.535 overall. Also just 19, 2006 second-round pick Brett Anderson leads the organization in wins (nine), ERA (2.63) and strikeouts (98).
Not What We Expected: Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is paying the price for his overly aggressive approach at Double-A. With 33 of his 80 hits going for extra bases, the power is there, but his overall numbers are just .256/.296/.438, and he has a 425 OPS against lefties.
Open Questions: Is Max Scherzer the next big thing, or will his limited arsenal move him to the bullpen? Is it time to just pull the plug on Jason Neighborgall after he walked 18 batters in 2 2/3 innings?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Upton might get a September look at best, so he’s a lock for the slot.
Great Leap Forward: The Braves always have a number of young arms in the system on the verge of stepping up, and this year it’s Tommy Hanson. The 6-foot-6 righty signed last year as a draft-and-follow, and has bumped his velocity into the 92-97 mph range while mixing in a hammer curve, decent change, and above-average command and control. Recently promoted up to High-A Myrtle Beach, Hanson has a 2.54 ERA in 16 games with 98 strikeouts in 78 innings.
Not What We Expected: Yes, shortstop Elvis Andrus is still very young (18 and in High-A), and yes, Andrus has outstanding tools. But no, he still hasn’t done a thing offensively, and that’s for the second straight year (.243/.330/.341).
Open Questions: How will the McCann/Saltalamacchia situation play out in 2008 when both deserve a full slate of at-bats? Can Jo-Jo Reyes be the answer to the Braves’ massive problems at the back of the rotation as they make a run for the playoffs this year?
Who Will Be No. 1?: With Salty gone to The Show, it’s a wide open race, with Hanson and lefty Matt Harrison the two leading candidates. The Braves have plenty of good prospects, but are missing an obvious choice.
Great Leap Forward: Catcher Geovany Soto has added power to his game, batting .341/.412/.584 at Triple-A Iowa; why he’s still at Triple-A when the big league team lacks a single big league catcher is a bit of a mystery.
Not What We Expected: After signed for a record draft deal, right-hander Jeff Samardzija has allowed 102 hits in 80 innings while striking out only 31. Top prospect Donald Veal has a 5.57 ERA at Double-A Tennessee, but at least he’s struck out 35 in 29 innings over his last six starts.
Open Questions: Will shortstop Ronny Cedeno (.383/.457/.611 at Triple-A Iowa) get another chance to fill the parent club’s gaping hole at shortstop? Will injured 2005 first-round pick Mark Pawelek ever be ready for a full-season league?
Who Will Be No. 1?: With Felix Pie out of the picture, Veal has a shot at repeating if he can stay hot, but No. 3 overall pick Josh Vitters could be the choice once he signs.
Great Leap Forward: A 10th-round pick out of UCLA last year, Josh Roenicke is making his case for a job in a big league bullpen that is desperate for any kind of power arm. With a plus fatsball/slider combo, Gary Roenicke‘s son has reached quickly Double-A by striking out 51 in 35.2 innings.
Not What We Expected: Drew Stubbs, last year’s first-round pick, continues to have problems making contact, hitting just .249/.355/.356 at Low-A Dayton with 88 whiffs in 309 at-bats. After a fantastic debut in the Gulf Coast League, infielder Milton Loo has literally gone AWOL-he’s currently on the Restricted List for failure to report.
Open Questions: Will Jay Bruce (.325/.384/.602) be a starting outfielder in the majors before his 21st birthday on April 3, 2008? After missing nearly two years with major arm problems, how optimistic should we be with the amazing comeback of righty Richie Gardner?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Jay Bruce is one of the top five prospects in baseball; even if Homer Bailey gets returned to the minors, I’d still favor Bruce.
Great Leap Forward: An eighth-round pick last year out of Birmingham-Southern, righty Brandon Hynick did not allow an earned run in his first five starts for High-A Modesto, and currently sits with a 2.48 ERA and just 18 walks in 116.1 innings.
Not What We Expected: Few left-handers in the minors can match Franklin Morales‘ raw stuff, but he’s still winless at Double-A, posting a 4.05 ERA while demonstrating some disturbing control problems. Expected to be in the big leagues this year, power righty Ubaldo Jimenez has completely fallen apart at Triple-A Colorado Springs (6.09 ERA).
Open Questions: After makign only one start since mid-May, how serious are 2006 first-round pick Greg Reynolds‘ shoulder problems? First-round pick Casey Weathers begins his pro career next week at Low-A Asheville-is the over/under on his big league debut set at 7/1/08?
Who Will Be No. 1?: This race is as wide-open as any team’s in the game, but more because of bad performances than good ones.
Great Leap Forward: A system desperate for hitting prospects has found one in 2006 first-rounder Chris Coghlan, as the second baseman is hitting .325/.419/.534 at Low-A Greensboro and should soon move up to the Florida State League. A 10th-round pick last June out of Miami of Ohio, lefty control specialist Graham Taylor has a 2.98 ERA for Greensboro, with 93 strikeouts and just nine walks in 117.2 innings.
Not What We Expected: Top prospect Sean West underwent shoulder sugery and will miss the entire season, while the club’s top pick from 2005, Chris Volstad, continues to get a lot of ground balls while also remaining far too hittable, giving up 128 hits in 106 innings at High-A Jupiter.
Open Questions: Will any of the numerous pitchers the Marlins have invested high draft picks in over the last few years step up? Can hitters like Coghlan and outfielder John Raynor (.332/.426/.502 at Greensboro) keep it up once they are at a more age-appropriate level?
Who Will Be No. 1?: The Marlins system is pretty bad, and top pick Matt Dominguez might be able to start his career as the organization’s top prospect when he signs.
Great Leap Forward: Outfielder Mitch Einertson tied the Appy League home run record in his 2004 pro debut, but followed that up with two lost seasons. He’s back with a vengeance in ’07, batting .303/.367/.490 for High-A Salem. Fellow outfielder Josh Flores hit .325/.392/.500 for Salem before moving up to Double-A.
Not What We Expected: Considered the top righty in the system entering the season, Jimmy Barthmeier is nevertheless getting raked by Texas League hitters at a .319 clip; hr sports a 6.03 ERA at Corpus Christi. The organization’s 2006 first-round pick, Max Sapp, is still looking for his first home run of the year while hitting .250/.351/.319 for Low-A Lexington in 216 at-bats.
Open Questions: At what point should we start paying attention to righty Brad James, who has an ERA around two for the second straight year (2.05 at High-A), a huge ground ball ratio (2.39), and very few strikeouts (51 in 87.2 innings)?
Who Will Be No. 1?: By default, it looks like left-hander Troy Patton (2.99 ERA at Double-A before a promotion), as a barren system got few reinforcements from a draft that featured no first- or second-round pick.
Great Leap Forward: Shortstop Chin-Lung Hu has come alive with the bat in his second season at Double-A Jacksonville, batting .329/.380/.508 in 82 games to go along with his always-stellar defense. Now in his third year at Triple-A Las Vegas, outfielder Delwyn Young has taken it up a notch with a .336/.381/.583 campaign.
Not What We Expected: One of the best lefties in the minors entering the season, Scott Elbert lasted just three starts before undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery. More streaky-bad than streaky-good, 2006 first-rounder Preston Mattingly has struggled to a .236/.274/.346 line at Low-A Great Lakes.
Open Questions: Is Greg Miller (59 walks in 40.1 IP) too far in the weeds to ever regain the talent that once made him among the top pitching prospects in the game? Is the system out of stud hitters?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Clayton Kershaw has crazy good stuff and twice as many strikeouts (103) as hits allowed (50) in 76.1 innings. There is no other candidate.
Great Leap Forward: Finally healthy, lefty Manny Parra has a 2.45 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning while on the verge of a big league call-up. Outfielder Darren Ford is in High-A and batting .321/.385/.475 with gap power, improving plate discipline and tons of speed.
Not What We Expected: After an impressive full-season debut last year, athletic outfielder Lorenzo Cain has slipped to .272/.332/.330 at High-A Brevard County. Even worse for the Manatees has been 2006 third-rounder Cole Gillespie, who sits at just .242/.356/.384.
Open Questions: Does Mark Rogers have a career left? Can 2007 surprise first-round pick Matt LaPorta become an acceptable left fielder?
Who Will Be No. 1?: With Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo graduating to the big leagues, there are no more excellent prospects in the system. Will Inman and Jeremy Jeffress are both intriguing arms for vastly different reasons (security versus upside), and LaPorta is seen as the best hitter in the system at this point, even though he’s yet to have a professional at-bat.
Great Leap Forward: Right-hander Bobby Parnell has started to fulfill some of his projection, gaining 2-3 ticks on his fastball while moving up to Double-A and nearly striking out a batter per inning. Only 20, shortstop Jose Castro is the polar opposite of a three true outcomes type of player, generating two home runs, six walks, and 19 strikeouts in 250 at-bats; a boatload of singles has him at .348/.388/.420 for High-A St. Lucie.
Not What We Expected: The much-ballyhooed righty duo of Philip Humber and Mike Pelfrey has done little. Humber has rarely dominated at Triple-A New Orleans in posting a 4.48 ERA in 17 starts, allowing 101 hits in 96.1 innings. Pelfrey spent much of the first half in the big leagues, and has accumulated more walks (22) than strikeouts (21) in 41.1 innings as he continues to try to find a breaking ball.
Open Questions: Is outfielder Fernando Martinez‘ year at Double-A Binghamton (.271/.336/.377) a step in the wrong direction, or an impressive performance for a 19-year-old? We can ask the same question about 18-year-old Deilos Guerra at High-A St. Lucie after he’s put up a 4.58 ERA.
Who Will Be No. 1?: With no top draft pick, it will be up to the teenage sensations to step it up in the second half of the season.
Great Leap Forward: While there has been no true breakout in the Phillies system, a pair of Top 10 Prospects have bumped up their stock a bit. Second baseman Adrian Cardenas is batting .307/.366/.449 at Low-A Lakewood while earning raves from scouts, and righty Josh Outman has a 2.58 ERA in 97.2 innings at High-A Clearwater with 96 whiffs.
Not What We Expected: The club’s top pick in 2005, Mike Costanzo, leads the organization with 17 home runs at Double-A Reading, but that hardly mitigates a .240 batting average, 112 strikeouts in 329 at-bats, or 22 errors. Last year’s first-rounder, Kyle Drabek, has been hampered by elbow problems, and posted only a 4.33 ERA at Lakewood; he topped out at just 85 mph in his last outing.
Open Questions: While Carlos Carrasco has limited batters to a .199 batting average while reaching Triple-A as a 20-year-old, should we be concerned with his much lower strikeout rate (67 in 90.1 IP)? At .278/.320/.430 for Clearwater, Greg Golson is having his best year as a pro-but is that reason for optimism, or too little too late?
Who Will Be No. 1?: It’s Carrasco in a system that doesn’t have any other candidates.
Great Leap Forward: First baseman Steven Pearce has transformed from a college hitter ripping young talent into a very real power prospect, reaching Double-A and batting .334/.401/.659 with 22 home runs in 296 at-bats. A move from behind the plate to the hot corner has been just what the doctor ordered for Neil Walker‘s bat, as the 2004 first-round pick is hitting .293/.359/.507 for Double-A Altoona, though the defensive reviews of his work at third say he’s still pretty shaky there.
Not What We Expected: After a huge full-season debut in 2006-and almost making the big league club out of spring training-outfielder Andrew McCutchen has struggled with a double-jump up to Double-A, hitting just .238/.303/.350 for Altoona. Continuing their run of luck-bad luck-the Pirates’ first-round pick of 2006, Brad Lincoln, underwent Tommy John surgery before the season began.
Open Questions: So, 2007 first-rounder Daniel Moskos-starter, or closer? Does whoever is taking over as the new CEO realize that there are very few answers to the Pirates’ problems in their weak farm system?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Entering the year, the organization’s top three prospects were McCutchen, Lincoln, and current Brave Brent Lillibridge. Has Walker leapfrogged his way to the top?
Great Leap Forward: Rick Ankiel‘s move to the outfield has been nothing short of remarkable, as the game’s former top pitching prospect has 26 home runs in 289 at-bats for Triple-A Memphis while batting .270/.312/.592. Outfielder Joe Mather has been this year’s version of Terry Evans, turning tools into production quite suddenly by reaching Triple-A and batting .283/.367/.579.
Not What We Expected: While he has the best power stuff in the system, righty Mark McCormick can’t stay healthy, and has missed the entire season with shoulder woes. The organization had high hopes for toolsy outfielder Daryl Jones in his full-season debut, but he’s hit just .196/.292/.268 for High-A Quad Cities.
Open Questions: Will the Cardinals resist the temptation to rush center fielder Colby Rasmus (.258/.354/.513 at Double-A Springfield) and let him develop into a more consistent hitter instead of an all-or-nothing type? Is Double-A closer Chris Perez ready for the big leagues with 55 strikeouts and just 16 hits allowed in 35.2 innings?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Rasmus still has some holes in his game, but his ceiling remains roof-high; he’s the obvious candidate in a weak system.
Great Leap Forward: The one thing missing from Chase Headley‘s game entering the season was power, but not any more. Headley got a brief call-up to the big leagues, and was batting .345/.441/.624 at Double-A San Antonio with 14 home runs in 255 at-bats. Speaking of power surges – after going homeless in his 205 at-bat pro debut, Matt Antonelli has 13 in 80 games for High-A Lake Elsinore while batting .315/.408/.494.
Not What We Expected: Outfielder Cedric Hunter earned some big accolades after hitting .364 last year in his pro debut, but his first full season has been less impressive, as his .281/.335/.363 line reflects a significant lack of secondary skills. Top pitching prospect Cesar Carrillo lasted 15 2/3 innings with an 8.62 ERA at Triple-A Portland before going down with Tommy John surgery.
Open Questions: With a very weak system and eight picks among the first 87 this June, how much turnover will there be in next year’s Top 10? Just how real is Matt Bush‘s early showing on the mound (0.00 ERA in 5.2 innings with 11 K’s)?
Who Will Be No. 1?: It’s pretty wide open, with the multiple picks all having a shot at the crown with a big debut.
Great Leap Forward: Dominican righty Henry Sosa came out firing bullets this year at Low Class-A Augusta, touching 99 mph with his fastball and moving up to High-A San Jose after putting up an 0.73 ERA in 62 innings with just 30 hits allowed. Outfielder’s Nate Schierholtz‘ shortened swing paid some immediate dividends with a .345/.375/.530 line at Triple-A Fresno to go with some productive big league at-bats, although his power is way off.
Not What We Expected: Eddy Martinez-Esteve was expected to hit the ground running after 2006 shoulder surgery, but his shoulder is still bothering him, as are some hamstring troubles; he’s limped to a .239/.306/.291 line at Double-A Connecticut. Toolsy shortstop Sharlon Schoop crashed and burned in his full-season debut, with a .235/.286/.301 line at Low-A Augusta before getting sent back down to a short-season team.
Open Questions: Which Manny Burriss is real-the one with the .165/.237/.180 line at High-A San Jose, or the one who has hit .326/.364/.381 since moving down to Low-A Augusta? Will reliever Billy Sadler (5.29 ERA at Triple-A) harness his control to rediscover the promise he showed last year?
Who Will Be No. 1?: In a weak system that has already graduated Tim Lincecum, it could be Angel Villalona, that despite the fact the teenager is likely no more than a first baseman as far as his future position.
Great Leap Forward: The club’s 2006 first-round pick, Chris Marrero, is looking more like the player who entered last year’s draft season as the top high school hitter before a below-average senior seaso; he’s moving up to High-A Potomac and batting .294/.347/.528 overall. Oft-injured outfield prospect Justin Maxwell seems to be finally living up to his promise, reaching Potomac with Marrero by batting .295/.384/.554 with 16 home runs and 18 stolen bases.
Not What We Expected: After initially looking like he’d rocket through the system, reliever Zech Zinicola has been awful at Double-A Harrisburg, posting a dreadful 6.06 ERA. Stephen King, a third-round pick in 2006, has been nothing short of scary, with a .180/.261/.258 at Low-A with 51 strikeouts in 128 at-bats before moving down to the Gulf Coast League, where his contact troubles have continued.
Open Questions: Has Kory Casto stagnated at Triple-A Columbus (.261/.365/.432)? Does the team have any shot at signing sixth-round pick Jack McGeary, who fell due to signability issues?
Who Will Be No. 1?: Marrero was No. 1 last year, and he’s had a great season, but first-round pick Ross Detwiler could earn consideration.