Atlanta Braves

2008 Rookies: Josh Anderson is in the lead for a backup outfield spot. With speed, the ability to play all three positions, and a contact-oriented approach, he’s ideal for the role, but if he’s pressed into full-time duty when the annual Mark Kotsay injury arrives, the holes in his game will be exposed. A far better prospect, outfielder Brandon Jones has been sent to Triple-A to play consistently, but he should be up during the season. It looks like right-hander Jair Jurrjens has done enough to earn one of the final rotation slots, but that decision isn’t officially final.

Minor League Road Trip: The Braves’ talent is pretty spread out, which is a good thing. Triple-A is worth watching for the performances of Jones and shortstop Brent Lillibridge, while the squad a Low-A Rome will likely feature Jeff Locke and Cole Rohrbaugh in the rotation, with resurgent slugger Cody Johnson in the outfield.

Pivotal Season: After collapsing at Double-A with a miserable .223/.298/.340 showing, it’s unlikely that 24-year-old third baseman Van Pope will get more than one chance to turn things around.

I Like Him Better Than Most: While he’s a bit blocked at the moment, Brent Lillibridge is far greater than the sum of his parts, as he can get on base in a variety of ways, has gap power, runs very well, and plays a fine shortstop.

Don’t Believe The Hype: The decision to make Jurrjens a big league starter is the right one. However, despite his youth, his size limits his projection, and he’s better known for his command and control than his raw stuff. He’ll be a solid big leaguer, but don’t expect much more than that.

Get Your Bags Ready? The Braves are loaded with young pitching, and could be ready to strike a deal with one of those arms to shore up the big league squad at the deadline.

Next Year’s No. 1 Prospect Odds: The team’s top two prospects, outfielders Jordan Schafer and Jason Heyward, are both spending the entire year in the minors, and it should be a two-man race between them despite the group of impressive arms.

Jordan Schafer: 2-1
Jason Heyward: 3-1
Julio Tehren: 30-1
Cole Rohrbaugh: 40-1
Cody Johnson: 50-1
Tommy Hanson: 50-1

Florida Marlins

2008 Rookies: The Marlins have gone from a team with a lot of rookies to a team with a lot of young players. There are no true rookies on this year’s team, and there’s very little talent at the upper levels of the system. Chris Volstad might get a September look. Outfielder Cameron Maybin has been dispatched to Double-A to work on his troubling contact issues; he’s more lined up for a full-time job in 2009 at this point.

Minor League Road Trip: Double-A Carolina is the place to be. The rotation should feature Volstad, Brett Sinkbeil, and Ryan Tucker, while Maybin will get some offensive help from infielder Chris Coghlan.

Pivotal Season: The team’s top prospect going into the 2007 season, lefty Sean West is coming back from shoulder surgery, and all eyes will be on the radar gun, as velocity was the key to his upside.

I Like Him Better Than Most: Always loaded with tools, center fielder Jai Miller took a major step forward last year at Double-A with a strong second half, and could turn into at least a temporary answer in center while the team waits for Cameron Maybin to develop.

Don’t Believe The Hype: After a monstrous two thirds of a season in the Sally League (.325/.419/.534), Coghlan crashed and burned in the Florida State League, hitting just .200/.277/.331 in 34 games. The truth is probably in between, which leaves his ability to develop into an everyday player in doubt, as he can only play on the right side of the infield.

Get Your Bags Ready? They’re not competing, and have few veterans with big contracts–don’t expect much trade deadline activity.

Next Year’s No. 1 Prospect Odds: Maybin getting sent down to the Southern League helps his odds, but there’s still a decent chance that he’ll get enough at-bats to lose eligibility, which takes his odds down a bit from overwhelming, as does the No. 6 overall pick in the draft.

Cameron Maybin: 2-1
2008 first-round pick: 3-1
Chris Volstad: 18-1
Matt Dominguez: 20-1
Brett Sinkbeil: 50-1
Sean West: 50-1

New York Mets

2008 Rookies: A bad system–especially at the upper levels–and a team designed to win means no rookies for the Mets this year.

Minor League Road Trip: While Fernando Martinez is obviously the one to watch in this system, he’ll be joined at Double-A Binghamton by lefty Jon Niese and sleeper third baseman Dan Murphy, with 2007 first-round pick Eddie Kunz also having the possibility of reaching that level in his first full season.

Pivotal Season: The age and level arguments in his favor still work for Martinez, but he needs a healthy and productive season to regain his elite prospect status.

I Like Him Better Than Most: Mets officials are very excited about Wilmer Flores, signed for $700,000 last summer. He’s not a true shortstop, but he has big-time power potential and some feel that among players within the system, only Martinez has more offensive upside.

Don’t Believe The Hype: Is there anyone hyped in this system other than Martinez? While he had a brief but outstanding pro debut, righty Brant Rustich still has plenty of questions about his future after his college career ended with a 6.10 ERA.

Get Your Bags Ready? Top to bottom, the Mets are the most talented team in the National League, but everything has to break right, as the team can’t afford any injuries, and has no real trade chips come July, either.

Next Year’s No. 1 Prospect Odds: It’s F-Mart and then a big drop-off, and while the Mets have a number of high picks in this year’s draft, the first one doesn’t come until No. 18.

Fernando Martinez: 5-4
Wilmer Flores: 30-1
Any 2008 draft pick: 40-1
Jon Niese: 50-1

Philadelphia Phillies

2008 Rookies: Like the Mets, the Phillies have little talent in the upper levels of the system, and their big league roster is pretty much fixed. Some of the young arms at Double-A, like Carlos Carrasco and Josh Outman, have an outside chance of getting brief looks, but little more.

Minor League Road Trip: Beyond Carrasco and Outman, the Double-A Reading rotation will also have ultra-finesse righty Drew Carpenter, and all three will pitch to impressive catching prospect Lou Marson. Also joining them will be shortstop Jason Donald, who had a very impressive showing this spring.

Pivotal Season: After missing most of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Kyle Drabek will likely miss the first half of 2008, putting him well behind the development curve, which is confounded by the fact that he wasn’t especially impressive before the procedure.

I Like Him Better Than Most: A slow recovery from a minor shoulder procedure dropped Joe Savery to the No. 19 overall pick last year. If he can have a full return to form this year, that will look like a steal.

Don’t Believe The Hype: After 173 strikeouts against just 23 walks, including a 49-2 ratio at Double-A, Greg Golson is looking like nothing more at this point than a more expensive version of Reggie Abercrombie.

Get Your Bags Ready? The Phillies will be competitive, and they have some advanced arms at Double-A who could net some significant big league help for the stretch run.

Next Year’s No. 1 Prospect Odds: Unless there’s a big deal, the Phillies’ system in 2009 should look very similar to how it does now, as the upper-level talent isn’t lined up to help this year.

Carlos Carrasco: 5-2
Joe Savery: 3-1
Adrian Cardenas: 18-1
Kyle Drabek: 20-1
Travis D’Arnaud: 50-1

Washington Nationals

2008 Rookies: Like the Marlins, the Nationals have plenty of young talent, but little in the way of pure rookies. Fringy left-hander John Lannan has likely earned a rotation job, but his inability to miss bats severely limits his upside. The Nats came close to keeping Rule 5 pick Matt Whitney, but he was returned to Cleveland when Washington was unable to reach an agreement in a trade for him that would allow the team to put him in the minors.

Minor League Road Trip: While top prospects Chris Marrero and Ross Detwiler will be ahead of them, the South Atlantic League Low-A squad will have the deepest collection of prospect talent, with Michael Burgess in the outfield, where he’ll be joined by Jake Smolinski. The team will also feature a deep rotation that includes Josh Smoker, Colton Willems, and Jordan Zimmerman.

Pivotal Season: Once one of the top prospects in the system, righty Collin Balester has been buried by the incoming talent of the last two excellent drafts. He’s been solid at the upper levels, but rarely dominating.

I Like Him Better Than Most: Like Savery, outfielder Michael Burgess dropped because of a below-expectations draft season, but after leading the Gulf Coast League in on-base percentage and slugging, he has already earned some Gary Sheffield comps.

Don’t Believe The Hype: While Jack McGeary is an impressive talent who netted a $1.8 million bonus, his unique deal has him focusing on school for now, and giving little time to baseball, which is a concern for his long-term development.

Get Your Bags Ready? Jim Bowden loves to make trade, but if anything he’ll be adding to a much-improved system, as this team isn’t going to compete. Right now, he’s trying to find a decent price for infielder Felipe Lopez.

Next Year’s No. 1 Prospect Odds: The top two prospects in the system, Chris Marrero and Ross Detwiler, are lined up for 2009 jobs, but there’s plenty of talent at the lower levels with a chance to take a major step forward, with Burgess having the best odds. The ninth overall pick in the draft also could get into the mix.

Chris Marrero: 2-1
Ross Detwiler: 3-1
2008 first round pick: 12-1
Michael Burgess: 15-1

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