WTNYOctober 20, 2004
Winter for More
By Bryan Smith

Writing the past two articles about Cubs prospects playing winter ball sparked an interest in the Arizona Fall League. Todays entry wont be an update of the best prospects, or a couple neat stories from the games there. Instead, Im going to look at the players there, and try to find out why. It was impossible to do all 30 tonight, so I focused on just of the teams. Hopefully, at some point, Ill hammer out the other 75%.

Atlanta Braves

After writing my first article previewing the AFL in August, Braves minor league expert Brad Dowdy posted the following in my comments:


The Braves tend not to send their top flight pitching prospects to the AFL, but rather guys they want to see step it up a notch after a mediocre year. Last year it was Brett Evert, Alec Zumwalt, and Kevin Barry

This is true, as the Braves decided against sending Capellan, Meyer, Davies, Lerew, Stevens, and James. The pitchers that are in Arizona follow a theme: if not put on the 40-man roster, each is available for the Rule 5 draft. From a talent standpoint, no loss would hurt the system more than Macay McBride, the Braves version of Andy Sisco (talent, not results). McBride must show in Arizona hes worth protecting, and in the end, I believe they will.

Matt Coenen and Zach Miner, however, are not promised the same fate. Coenens year in AA was neither sensational or disappointing, and his value to the organization is in question. There is a chance that Coenen could be drafted if left unprotected, a risk I believe the Braves will be willing to take (see Zumwalt, Hernandez). Miner is like McBride in the sense that his results were ghastly in 2004, but he doesnt quite have the talent McBride has. To keep the Cubs analogies going, think of Miner as the Braves Chadd Blasko.

Atlanta sent five hitters to the AFL, but the reasons for each follows one of two trends. Scott Thorman and Tony Pena Jr. already hold spots on the 40-man roster, but Atlanta is questioning whether to keep it that way. Pena is fantastic on defense, but cannot handle the stick. Think of him as a poor mans Hector Luna, the Rule 5 pick that lasted the entire season with the Cardinals. Thormans power numbers slipped heavily in 2004, a year in which proving his worth over James Jurries was essential. Expect Jurries to win the battle. Aaron Herr is not on the 40-man, but his spot in the AFL is simply to help the Braves decision to keep it that way.

Finally, we have Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann. These represent two of the Braves three best hitting prospects, an honor considering the great state of this system. Both add star power to the Grand Canyon Rafters. Atlanta has sent them there to help their projected ETAs, which likely read 2006 for Francoeur, and mid-2006 for McCann.

San Francisco Giants

More of the same from the Giants, who have brought some prospects, and some auditioning for the Rule 5. Their stars, while not quite as valid a word, consist of David Aardsma and Fred Lewis. The former is a former Rice closer that after being a 2003 first-round pick, pitched in the Major Leagues this season. With Robb Nen on the way out, the Giants will be looking for a closer next year. The AFL will help San Fran decide if Aardsma is their man. A similar situation is present with Lance Niekro, who is in Arizona to decide how the Giants attack the first base position this winter.

Lewis, destined for the 40-man roster, had a good year in the California League before finishing in the Pacific Coast League. He just missed a mention in my discussion of the depth at the outfield position, and probably figures into the top 30 prospects at that position. Lewis power spike, highly dependent on triples, shouldnt be expected to continue. But what the Giants are looking forward to is a leadoff-type hitter that hits for power, and takes a walk. Expect the Giants to be preaching for less strikeouts this winter as well.

After those three, the Giants made an interesting decision sending Chris Begg and Mike Cervanek to winter league ball. Begg was signed into the Giants organization after a sensational 2003 with the St. Paul Saints, from the Independent Leagues. In 2004, Begg had a 9-1 record in the Eastern League, with a 2.30 ERA. His peripheral numbers, while not jaw-dropping, were solid. But in nine PCL starts, Begg was disastrous, with a 6.97 ERA and some of the worst peripheral numbers possible. Still fairly young, the Giants are just trying to discern how great a talent they have here.

Cervanek is another Independent League signing, but one made by the New York Yankees. After a solid collegiate career with the University of Michigan, Cervanek had 2 great seasons with the Chillicothe Paints of the Independent League. His great numbers convinced New York brass, who sent him to the Eastern League in 2001 and 2002. After a release, San Francisco picked him up, where in 2003, he posted the same kind of .275/.330/.450 numbers that he had in his preceding AA seasons. But in 2004, Cervaneks OPS hit .997, before earning a late season promotion to AAA. A third basemen, Cervenak appears to be the latest version of Byron Myrow.

Finally we have Scott Munter, a reliever with solid ERAs, but a terrible K/9. Hes Rule 5 eligible, but has given the Giants no reason to put him on the 40-man roster. The AFL is his last, dying chance.

St. Louis Cardinals

For the Cardinals, almost all the focus is on the Rule V draft. Carmen Cali was fantastic in AA and AAA, before getting a September call-up with the Major League team. His name currently sits on the 40, with his AFL deciding whether he slots into the 2005 plans, is sent to AAA, or taken off the forty and surely selected in the Rule 5. Chris Duncan had a great season, but the Cardinals are likely questioning whether to put a 1B/OF on their 40. If not, he could be a left-handed Chris Shelton. John Nelson finally matched his hype with a great AA season, and would need a terrible AFL to stay off the Cardinal 40-man.

The next three, I cant explain as well. Gabe Johnson appears to have enough service time to be a minor league free agent this offseason, so in my opinion, is auditioning for a signing with the Cardinals. Reid Gorecki is Rule 5 eligible, but in Palm Beach, hardly had the kind of year to keep around. His draft status is fine, since no team would take this gamble. Finally, we have Andy Cavazos, whose reason for being here I cant answer.

Adam Wainwright was the last player selected to the team, who had a terrible year in the PCL after so much hype. The Cardinals are hoping to ignore Wainwrights AAA numbers, a la Edwin Jackson, and his AFL will make that easier. Plus, he has to stay ahead of Brad Thompson and Anthony Reyes in the organizational depth chart.

Chicago Cubs

After two days of writing about it, Ill quickly summarize. Sean Marshall and Jae-Kuk Ryu both suffered injuries at various points of the season, and are in the AFL for extra work. Brian Dopirak is the stud prospect looking to provide a timetable, and help prospect raters decide where he slots in. The other four (Greenberg, Soto, Cedeno, Rohlicek) are fighting for 40-man spots.

Colorado Rockies

In the high altitudes, we have battles of new prospects, and old prospects. Jeff Baker and Ryan Speier just had big years, and are in the AFL to get more work. Baker is a third basemen more Major League ready than Ian Stewart, with limited upside. Speier is a near-ready reliever, and probably one of the best five in the AFL. As for the old prospects, Jayson Nix had a disastrous year, and will likely be left off the 40-man roster. I doubt any team will gamble on him. As for Cory Sullivan, hes an outfielder that missed all of 2004, and is in the AFL to help the Rockies decide on a level for him next season.

The final two are pitchers: Zach McClellan and Zack Parker. The latter is Rule 5 eligible, but will stay that way after a disastrous season in the Texas League. Acquired from the Kansas City Royals in the offseason, McClellan is the most intriguing Rockie here. I like what I see from a Texas League pitcher: 4.15 ERA, K/BB over 3.00. But his 17 home runs in less than 140 innings are disgruntling, and McClellan has to improve that rate in the next month.

San Diego Padres

Before now, weve mentioned solid relievers in Aardsma, Cali, and Speier, but none had a better season than Brad Baker. Formerly a starting prospect with the Red Sox, his transition to relieving went flawlessly: ERA under 1.50, 34 saves, K/9 in double-digits. Again, the Padres are just deciding if hell be ready in 2005, or need one more year of seasoning. Josh Barfield, despite a disappointing year in the Southern League, is still a prospect, and like Rickie Weeks, was sent to the AFL for nothing more than confidence. Hes still projected to replace Mark Loretta.

The next two prospects, Ben Johnson and Paul McAnulty are somewhere between question marks and prospects. The latter had a great year in the California League, but still needs to convince Padres brass that a 1B/OF like him should be retained. Johnson is more talent, an ex-Cardinal prospect, but has batting average issues. If his discipline and ISO can ever be put together with a .300 average, hes a fine prospect.

The last two, very well could factor into the much-talked about Rule 5. Chris Oxspring is currently protected, on the Padres 40-man roster, and probably would have to pitch very bad to leave that status. His time in AAA was cut a bit short by injury, and is also pitching for a spot on the 2005 Padre roster. On the other hand, Randall Spiehs is likely to stay unprotected. His numbers were very good in the Southern League, after good numbers in the San Francisco organization before that. I would take a flier on Spiehs, though I wish he struck out a few more men.

Washington Insert-Name-Heres

Bill Bray was the teams first-round pick this past June, a player said to be very polished when they selected him. Drafting players and seeing results quickly is a luxury that must be afforded by a franchise like this. Seung Song is a prospect ready for the Majors, simply pitching in the AFL to get more work. Finally, more was expected from 2003 second-rounder Jerry Owens, an outfielder out to prove hes better than his sub-.800 OPS suggested this year. Finally, I like Shawn Norris, a third basemen the Expos are hoping is not the second coming of Scott Hodges.

Josh Labandeira is that kind of sub-.800 OPS hitter, but hes a pretty solid defensive infielder. Hes probably closer to the Hector Luna/Jose Morban type than Tony Pena Jr., but thats not to say the Expos should put him on the 40-man. This is the type of player an organization can afford to let go, even the type that will be banking on an unproven Izturis at shortstop next year. They also have a decision to make with Jay Bergmann, who pitched well in relief when being moved there in high-A. I am leaning towards no, but a solid AFL performance can change minds.

Thats all for today folks, hope everyone will be watching the game of the year at seven tonight. And thats not East Coast bias talking

Comments

Great article Bryan!

I'd say you are pretty much spot on with the Braves analysis, and our ever present 40-man issues. Right now, the Braves have 10 spots open on the 40-man. Andy Marte, Kyle Davies, Anthony Lerew, Gregor Blanco, Brayan Pena, and Macay McBride are locks to make the list, leaving four slots open for the time being.

The next group to fill in those slots consists of James Jurries, Billy McCarthy, Adam Stern, Josh Burrus, and Luis Hernandez for the hitters, and Zach Miner, Buddy Hernandez, Kevin Barry, Ray Aguilar, Matt Coenen, and Gonzalo Lopez for the pitchers. Needless to say, we are going to have a tight squeeze in trying to fit all of those players in.

Picking four out of that remaining list is tough for me, but gun to my head I protect Stern, Hernandez, Miner, and Barry. The Braves organization, on the other hand, will swap one of those four for Josh Burrus, who has never lived up to the big bonus we paid him, but showed some signs of life this season. Gonzalo Lopez is a big one to keep, but we may risk leaving him exposed since he wouldn't be likely to stick with a major league team at this point in his career. I would be ill if he was selected.

The rest of the guys are likely to be exposed, with a couple of them being selected in the Rule 5, mainly James Jurries, and probably Buddy Hernandez.

Who knows, much can change before the draft with current 40-man guys like Pena, Thorman, Onil Joseph, and Mike Hessman, possibly clearing additional room for those listed above.