AL mL Report (Pt. 1)
As promised, this is the second edition of Wait ‘Til Next Year weekly, and just a day late at that. Today, largely due to the desire of my readers for minor league content, I will give a report on how American League prospects are currently faring. Let me say that over the last year I have become a huge prospect nut, and find it to be the most uncovered area of the ‘blogworld’. Hopefully places like this can turn into discussion forums for prospectdom, if such a place exists.
Before starting on the team-by-team detail, I want to give my bit about my Major League team, the Chicago Cubs. Unfortunately, the cross-town White Sox are riding a hot streak that has placed the Cubs as Chicago’s number two team, but that shouldn’t last for long. Houston, despite Roger Clemens, is just not taking advantage of injuries to Mark Prior and Mark Remlinger, two huge pieces of this team. Prior will stabilize this rotation like no one else can, and Remlinger, even with his BB/9 that’s too high, will likely offer more control than Kent Mercker.
In last week’s article, a reader asked my opinion on the Felix Sanchez for Jon Connolly trade. Ruz touched on this a little at Transaction Guy, calling Connally a “genuine prospect.” In my opinion, that’s a little over-the-top, as Connolly never seems to shock scouts enough to be on prospect lists. He was the minor league ERA leader last year at 1.41, but didn’t get any press, missing out on the Tigers Baseball America Top Ten. Pat Caputo, the man that compiled the Tigers’ prospect rankings, reasoned that with this bit:
Connolly doesn't throw hard nor is athletic. He has excellent command and is able to dominate with it at lower levels. At higher levels, the hitters are more patient will wait him out. Then we'll see if he has enough "stuff.'' He could be another Andy Van Hekken.
The throwing hard is irrelevant, although I do worry what higher levels could do to Connolly. This trade is a Moneyball v. Scouting deal, with the Cubs getting the former. Sanchez is a hard-throwing southpaw that just doesn’t have the name to crack the Chicago roster, and probably never will. Left-handed relievers are fairly easy to come by, so this deal really has no risk. But should Connolly, or the player to be named, turn out, this was a fantastic move. Connolly’s system debut went beautifully, as he went five innings, allowed two hits and no walks, all while striking out eight. I’ll try to chart his progress, along with the red-hot Rommie Lewis (acquired in the Juan Cruz trade...hitting .354/.416/.646 in 21 AA G) in the coming weeks.
Let’s move now to the promised topic discussion, my minor league report. Let me start out by saying that all numbers I use come from Baseball America on Saturday. Overall numbers have changed a bit in three days, but I hope everyone can bear that ‘problem’. Enjoy...
Top to bottom, the Baltimore organization is suffering from one huge problem: control. I touted this as the most changed organization before the year started, pointing to many trades the two-headed GMs had made to acquire minor league pitching. But, TINSTAPP has applied the first month, as very few of their prospects have been able to consistently throw the ball over the plate. In fact, John Maine has been the best player, allowing only seven walks in 21 innings (and 26K and 13H) at AA.
Adam Loewen, Baseball America’s top Oriole prospect, has walked fifteen in 20 innings. Rommie Lewis has walked 13 in 18.1 innings. Don Levinski, in the Jeff Conine deal, has walked fourteen in 17.1 innings, against only nine strikeouts. The other part of the Conine trade, Denny Bautista, has walked twelve in 18.1 innings. The worst has been Ryan Hannaman, the southpaw acquired for Sidney Ponson, who has walked 14 in only 11.2 innings. This has worked out for an 8.49ERA, and while it’s early in the year to stick a fork in him, he’s setting his own table at this point.
Moving to the hitting side of things, things aren’t so bright there. Last year’s first-round pick, Nick Markakis, a pick I wasn’t too fond of, is hitting .241/.302/.310 at low-A. Maybe they should move him back to the mound, eh? A reader last week asked me in the comments section to mention Mike Fontenot, a second basemen that might pressure Hairston or Roberts. I don’t think we are looking at the same numbers, as Fontenot has simply been an empty batting average, hitting .297/.320/.352 in 91AB. No, I think Brian Roberts should be feeling pretty safe right now. Finally, Tripper Johnson has been the best hitter, as the third basemen is hitting .250/.353/.536 at high-A. With Melvin Mora currently making an error-a-day at the position, the Orioles will really be pushing for his arrival.
Theo Epstein has a lot of decisions to make this offseason on which of his many free agents to re-sign. The team was likely hoping that Kelly Shoppach and Kevin Youkilis would step up and make the Jason Varitek and Bill Mueller decisions easy. But neither has really done so. Shoppach started the year a little late, and still is hitting just .224/.286/.397, and the Greek God of Walks has an unspectacular line of .291/.380/.443. Both of these players must start hitting the ball harder, or Theo will have no dough for Pedro (rhyming not intended).
If Pedro leaves, the Red Sox will have an open rotation slot though, right? While the team would be likely to fill that hole through a signing, I don’t think Theo would mind having a prospect change his mind. Charlie Zink, Baseball Prospectus’ 50th prospect, is knuckleballing well, with a 2.86ERA in 22 innings at AA. Abe Alvarez, an early round choice last year, has an ERA of 4.26, with some decent peripherals. I like Alvarez, a southpaw from Long Beach State, and think he might turn out to be the best of last year’s draft bunch.
While that might be so, Matt Murton will give Alvarez a run for his money. Murton is dominating high-A, to the tune of .311/.381/.608, including six home runs. Murton plays the corner outfield slot, and should finish the year in AA. If he continues onward with his torrid pace, a 2006 arrival is probable. Hanley Ramirez, who I balked at for inclusion on my prospect list, is struggling horribly, hitting only .278/.337/.380. But who knows, maybe some GM will help make Theo’s decisions easier this winter if Epstein relinquishes Hanley.
Things are bad in the New York system, leaving the Yankees with very few players to trade this All-Star Break. Robinson Cano was almost in the A-Rod trade, but instead is continuing his annual ritual of starting off the year red-hot, Sean Hillenbrand-like, hitting .338/.385/.606 in AA. Dioner Navarro, the stud catching prospect that got some pub last year, was hitting .281/.379/.386 Saturday, not displaying the power numbers that Omar Minaya was hoping for (see Jose Vidro trade, 7/31/04).
There isn’t a lot of pitching in this system, but it’s all in AA. Sean Henn has a 2.78ERA and has struck out 21 in 22.2 innings, and Chien-Ming Wang has a 1.53ERA there. After reading Alex Graman’s name on a Yankee roster, I’m thinking anything’s possible.
While Baseball America did a feature story on the Yanks’ minor league futility, there is signs of hitting at the lower levels. Outfield prospect Bronson Sardinha is hitting .349/.433/.442 in the Florida State League, attempting desperately to become this year’s Jeremy Reed. Moving to the Midwest League, centerfielder Melky Cabrera (.318/.347/.420) and third basemen Eric Duncan (.291/.384/.465) are exciting Yankee brass. Maybe so much that they’ll find themselves being mentioned by the Transaction Guy this year.
Everyone expected the two big names to produce this year, but no one saw it coming from a host of unknowns. Yes, B.J. Upton is living up to his billing, hitting .323/.405/.492 at AA. Delmon Young on the other hand, has left a little to be desired. He has walked just twice in 22G, and also hit just .267, good for a .287 average. His power is just .411, so numbers are down across the board. The third prospect, Joey Gathright, is doing well, hitting .360/.467/.480 at AA. At this pace, maybe he’ll de-throne Rocco Baldelli, or at least move him to right.
And now for the unknowns. Few pitching prospects are hotter than Chris Seddon, a southpaw that’s simply dominating the California League. Chris has a 0.82ERA, and has allowed just fourteen hits and three walks in 22 innings, all against twenty-two strikeouts. Battling Seddon for pitcher of the month is reliever Chad Orvella, who has the minor’s most disgusting line in the Sally League: 17.2IP, 2ER, 5H, 2BB, 27K. Wow. Stealing Delmon’s hitting line has been third basemen Vince Harrison, currently hitting .349/.414/.619 for Bakersfield.
Pardon Blue Jays fans for having high hopes prior to this season, but we all felt it was justified. The Major League team was promising to give the Boston/New York combo a run for their Wild Card money, and the minors were said to be filled with more prospects than anyone else. A month into the season, fans are gasping for air as the Blue Jays are hanging on for life and the team’s upper-level hitting prospects can’t hit.
Russ Adams, supposed 2005 replacement for Orlando Hudson: .243/.345/.378.
Alexis Rios, supposed 2005 replacement for Reed Johnson: .270/.293/.461.
Guillermo Quiroz, supposed 2005 replacement for Kevin Cash: .241/.344/.407.
Aaron Hill, 2003 first-round pick: .207/.347/.224
Ty Godwin, ex-first round pick: .154/.214/.215
John Ford-Griffin, ex-first round pick: .190/.320/.262
OK, I’ll stop the beating, we’ll look at some positives. Dustan McGowan has been the hottest starters of any of my top 50, sporting a 1.21ERA at AA, including only twelve hits in 22.1 innings. Josh Banks has a microscopic 0.41ERA at high-A, with a WHIP well below 1.00 and 27K in 22IP. Francisco Rosario has bounced back well, striking out twelve in twelve innings.
Vito Chiaravalloti continues to defy scouts, hitting .300/.389/.525 in the Florida State League. Digging deeper, both outfielder Mike Galloway (.321/.379/.566) and second basemen Ryan Roberts (.387/.519/.629) are dominating the Sally League. The moral? If you dig deep enough, there is always hope, even for Canadian baseball fans.
Chicago White Sox
I already mentioned him in this piece, so I figured I should start the Sox report on Jeremy Reed. The latest numbers are in, and Reed is hitting .322/.361/.422 at AA, which is in my mind, good enough to replace Aaron Rowand soon. But before that happens, Reed should improve his BB/K, seeing as it’s only 4/13 right now. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s Joe Borchard with the insanely low BA (.218), but the high walk total (10). Never thought you’d hear that, huh?
Things seem to be going well in Birmingham, as Arnie Munoz must be making some Sox higher-up happy. Someone decided to move Arnie to the rotation, and well, it’s working. Munoz has a 1.46ERA so far this year, allowing 11 hits and striking out 25 in 24.2 innings. Felix Diaz might be making a run at that White Sox 5th starter’s job at AAA, but Munoz must garner some competition at some point. Another is Tetsu Yofu, a Japanese swingman with a 2.31ERA in AA. He’s only walked four in 23.1, and should make one helluva middle reliever some day, if not soon.
Who would have thunk it, but shortstop is turning out to be a good position for the White Sox. Michael Morse, an unheard of, is hitting .325/.365/.638 at AA, and Sox brass is already plotting his ETA. Jose Valentin is a free agent at the end of the year, Willie Harris stinks, so why not 2005? Well, I wouldn’t bet on it happening that way. The other shortstop is the quick Robbie Valido, the low-A middle infielder with ten stolen bases in 21G.
Things are not always as they appear. Sure, Grady Sizemore looked like a can’t miss prospect and Brandon Phillips looked washed up before the year, right? Wrong. Phillips is back to the ’02 version, hitting .369/.455/.508 at AAA, while Sizemore’s OPS hasn’t topped .800. But hey, he’s not been as bad as say, Jeremy Guthrie, who in his second go-around in AAA has an ERA of 7.91.
In AA, people are all living up to expectations. Franklyn Gutierrez is hitting over .300, and Corey Smith has revived himself with a SLG over .600. Francisco Cruceta has a great ERA with 2.70, but is managing to keep those K numbers down, striking out only 13 in thirty innings. Jake Dittler has been fabulous, with his ERA at 1.59 in AA. But no one has matched Adam Miller, the right-hander looking to become this season’s Greinke. Miller has a 1.44ERA this year in low-A, allowing only 14 hits in 25IP, with 31K and 7BB.
Dave Dambrowski isn’t catching breaks. After seeing his Major League team defy expectations in the first two weeks, the team is slowly waning below .500, slipping place-by-place on the division standings. And all the while, Dambrowski just simply can’t buy himself a prospect, I mean, even first rounders can’t be counted on.
Apparently, low SLG are a necessary part of being a Tiger. Curtis Granderson has a .339SLG at AA (against a .418OBP!), Scott Moore has a .371, Brent Clevlen’s got a .361, and Kody Kirkland is a organization low with .274. Only middle infielders David Espinosa (.553) and Tony Giarratano (.458), are escaping the low SLG bug.
With Connolly gone, I see only three note-worthy pitchers in the organization. Kyle Sleeth is struggling at high-A, currently pitching with an ERA of 4.43. Joel Zumaya is worse at 5.40, largely because of his sixteen walks in 26.2 innings. Finally, Kenny Baugh is struggling with his comeback from arm surgery, allowing 28 hits in 22 innings. Any team thinking about drafting a kid from Rice, watch out, they really ride those arms.
I’m barely half way through, but have touched the 2,500 word mark. Another six teams and I’ll be pushing 4,000, but with no readers left. So, how about I’ll make a second post this week (we’ll shoot for Thursday), and open the comments section up for any prospect that was left out, or any non-mentioned American League team’s prospect that I should talk about on Thursday.