WTNYJune 24, 2005
Reviewing the Breakouts
By Bryan Smith

With most of the minor leagues at or near their midseason All-Star breaks, now is as good a time as ever to begin to rehash prospect, and breakout lists. Today I thought I would do the latter, and critique how I did with my 15-man list that I wrote before the season. Below is a quick review of those players, and their statistics are below. Enjoy...

Andy LaRoche- I liked him, sure, but this much? Leading the minor leagues in home runs as we almost enter July? No, not quite. And as Brandon Wood is no doubt being helped by his environment, the California League, LaRoche has not exactly been playing in hitting havens. At this point, I wonder what separates LaRoche from Ian Stewart, except for a couple years that Ian has on him. With that being said, LaRoche is undoubtedly the third best prospect at his position, and with Andy Marte graduating to the Majors, has an argument for the top spot. There are things like patience and defense that could still be improved, but if you're good enough to send Joel Guzman back where he came from (SS), you are being noticed.

Francisco Liriano- A rather raw southpaw before the season, having spent 2004 recovering from arm surgery, Francisco seems to have put it all together this season. He very quickly became one of the Eastern League's best pitchers this year, striking out hitters at a fabulous rate. A big southpaw with fantastic stuff, the Twins very may have been planning to include Liriano in their playoff bullpen to add yet another powerful arm. Now, with the playoffs looking more and more unlikely, it won't be long until the Twins try giving Francisco and Scott Baker a few starts. Proving to be on top of the Twins deep, deep system, Liriano struck out eight in his first AAA start, spanning six innings.

Jon Lester- Last year, Lester's season stats were a bit misconstrued by bad play early and bad play late. I worried the same would happen this year, when Lester began the season allowing six runs in eight innings. There were good signs (13K/1BB), but an ERA of 6.75 was not how I hoped he would start the season. Since then he has been dynamite with a 2.27 ERA and 6.82 H/9, even if his K/BB is 'just' 61/26. While Lester has been outshone in the Boston system by Jon Papelbon and Anibal Sanchez, both of whom were fantastic early on, Lester is every bit as good as they are. Despite being a southpaw in an organization like the Red Sox, Jon continues to be a sleeper. People are waiting for that Verlander-type game, not appreciating the consistency that Lester has had en route to his 2.75 ERA.

Nick Markakis- With all the press that Jeff Fiorentino received making a surprise trip to Baltimore, Markakis fell a bit by the wayside. Fiorentino proved that he could already hit in the Majors, so many felt like Jeff had jumped over Nick and Majewski and became the top Baltimore outfield prospect. Personally, I don't see it. Fiorentino played OK in Baltimore, but hasn't even been spectacular in the Carolina League. Sure, Markakis has not done too much better, but the potential is there. I just love the walks, I love the doubles, and I love his right field play. Simply put, with a bit more power, this guy is a future superstar. Here's to hoping he finds it, and puts enough confidence into Oriole management not to re-sign Sosa for too long.

Ambiorix Burgos- If you had asked me back in March how Burgos would make the Majors, I surely would have predicted the relief role. I wouldn't, however, have gotten his ETA quite right. I still would not have gotten it right in mid-April, when Burgos was doing alright in the Texas League. But when the Royals called up Burgos and his 4.50 ERA from AA, they must have seen something that I did not. I believed in Burgos, but after walking 75 in the Midwest League last year, he needed a lot of minor league seasoning before reaching the Majors. In fact, what Burgos needed was to get thrown into the fire, and for his team to have the patience to let him get his way out. Burgos was doing just that before his recent bout with shoulder soreness, which Will Carroll tells me will hopefully go away with a few weeks of rest. Cross your fingers, because in his eight June apperances, Burgos allowed just one run in 9.2 innings, striking out 13 batters. He had found his way out.

Elijah Dukes- One of the streakier players in the minors this year, Dukes had an amazing April, followed by a horrible May. Luckily, a solid June has brought his average back over .300, and his slugging again over .500. Dukes has shown very good power in Delmon Young's shadow, and while not quite running as much as Young, also has solid speed. With Rocco Baldelli injured, the door has been open for the next Devil Ray center fielder to step forward, and Dukes is attempting to do that. It's amazing that a team with no chance in 2005 has not been more aggressive, not doing anything to B.J. Upton, Young and Dukes despite very good offensive years at their current levels. For some reason, I don't think Chuck Lamar has learned any lessons from Terry Ryan.

Asdrubal Cabrera- Few teams in recent memory have had middle infield depth in the minors like the Seattle Mariners. Up to a few weeks ago, Seattle had Jose Lopez and Mike Morse in AAA, Yuniesky Betancourt in the Texas League, Adam Jones and Michael Garciaparra in high-A, and Cabrera with Matt Tuiasasopo and Yung Chi Chen in low-A. And the problem is, a good problem at that, is that no one is playing poorly. Jones is hitting like he never has before in the Cal League, Tui is proving his short-season performance of last year not to be a fluke. Even Lopez and Morse are making waves since being promoted to the Majors. But, maybe with the exception of Lopez, I think Asdrubal is the best of the bunch. In fact, Cabrera proved to have the whole arsenal in the Midwest League this year: versatility (played 2B, SS, 3B), defense, contact (.318 AVE and just 32 K's in 192AB), patience (30 BB), and even pop (.156 ISO). Now Asdrubal has been promoted to the Cal League, which was Seattle's plan of their polished infielder since before the season. Moving forward, the Mariners should be planning to keep Lopez at second, Cabrera at short, and move Tui to either third or the outfield. And if you ask me, all the other players mentioned are far more likely to be suspects than legit prospects.

Francisco Rosario- On Tuesday, I wrote that Rosario might be the next player to make a successful move from starting to relief. Because simply put, Rosario is not putting the type of results into box scores as his organization would hope. As Liriano has taken his stuff and transformed himself into an elite prospect, Rosario cannot do that. For as good as his H/9 is, he allows too many home runs, and does not strike out enough batters. The latter two do not bode well for relief, I admit, but who knows what will happen when the pitch counts get turned down. Kenny Baugh can put forth those type of numbers in the International League and draw pity from me, but Rosario just breeds frustration. Like Brandon League, Francisco needs to find a home quick, because both are on the verge of falling out of favor.

Chris Young- Before the season, I may have been the only person alive to think Young a superior prospect to Ryan Sweeney. Shortly into the season, I warmed to Sweeney, and Young's cold start worried me. Now, I just wish you could put Young's positives with Sweeney's, which would eliminate any weakness, and create the super prospect (a.k.a Delmon Young). For example, put Young's power (.229 ISO) with Sweeney's contact (11.0 K%), Young's range with Sweeney's arm, and Chris' baserunning (13/16) with Ryan's age. If only. Instead, we have to take Chris Young for what he is: a .233 hitter that is likely to strikeout in excess of 150 times annually. Young still profiles to be Mike Cameron at best, but now is simply no different on the White Sox' radar than he was a year ago. This July, opposing organizations would be smart in asking for Young (low on the CWS outfield chain) as that player to be named later in Ken Williams' latest move.

Melky Cabrera- On April 21, Yankees prospects Eric Duncan and Cabrera looked pretty helpless in the Eastern League, hitting .164 and .232 respectively. But since then the two are learning similarly to Burgos, as both were thrown into AA a bit prematurely. Cabrera is still the better of the two statistically, though his numbers have dipped since he topped .300 a few weeks ago. Cabrera looks to be a very streaky player that is showing power for the first time this season. Still, a .150 ISO for a player that doesn't hit .300, walk a ton or have a bunch of speed just isn't enough, so Melky needs to begin excelling in some area. And for him, as he's proven before, contact is what he needs to succeed. As a .300/.360/.450 player, Cabrera is very valuable. At .270/.330/.420, not so much.

Alex Romero- Alex is just like Melky Cabrera, just above him. There is not one area that Romero excels at, and he doesn't even play the defense that Cabrera does. His numbers this year have been a little better, particularly showing the bit of power that he did develop in the Venezuelan Winter League. Romero also started with a big slump, so his decent numbers should be taken into context. The reason I have Cabrera ranked higher is one of projectability. It seems like Cabrera has a bit of star potential that Romero does not. Maybe both will be players in the mold of Aaron Rowand and Eric Byrnes, with the latter being what Romero could be. But those have now become the ceilings of these two players, not Bernie Williams, as I have mentioned before.

Sean Marshall- Where many of the pitchers on this list entered the season very raw, I liked Marshall for his polish. A broken hand and abrupt promotion last year had made him virtually unnoticed, but I could not overlook how good his K/BB numbers always were. In the FSL Marshall made 12 starts, and his 61/26 ratio was the worst of his career. But he stayed effective due to a solid hit rate, proving that he can still succeed without his best stuff. The Cubs have now promoted him to AA, where he finished last season, and where the test begins. I think this organization likes Marshall better than Rich Hill, who is currently learning the nuances of a Major League bullpen. Marshall will not be like that: he will be starting, good results or bad, until his career ends.

Carlos Marmol- Last night, I watched Jorge Sosa pitch well (better than the numbers indicated) against the Marlins, continuing his quest to be Leo Mazzone-reclimation project of the year. in fact, Sosa has been a reclimation project for multiple years, as it wasn't long ago that the Mariners opted to move Jorge to the mound. The Cubs decided to do the same with Marmol a few years back, moving the ex-catcher to the mound. Good decision. After furthering the learning process in 2004, Marmol has excelled in the Florida State League this year, leading to an all-star berth. There is very little to dislike about Marmol's numbers, with the only nitpicking to be his walk total. Carlos still has a long way to go before being noticed in this system, but there is no question that his first half caught the eye of Oneri Fleita. The problem with Marmol is his need to be on the 40-man roster, which just might make him an attractive Rule 5 candidate in December. And with the Cubs, I'd guess that's a sore subject.

Francisco Hernandez- In the South Atlantic League, two catchers with very high expectations entering the season were Hernandez and Yanks' 2004 second-rounder Jon Poterson. Instead of living up to these thoughts, the Sally League proved to be too much for either player, as they combined for a 1.078 OPS. Now both players will be dropped to short-season baseball, where they must again prove past expectations to be correct. This leaves me in a conundrum, as I simply don't know what to do with Hernandez, no matter his success in rookie ball. At best I was trigger-happy with Francisco, as I proved to be with Fernando Nieve in 2004. At worst, Hernandez is the next example of why trusting statistics from any league below low-A is foolish.

Finally, here is a look at the statistics for all these players, starting with the hitters:

AL	A+	249	0.333	0.380	0.651	19/38
NM	A+	253	0.289	0.368	0.470	32/48
ED	AA	242	0.302	0.361	0.504	22/49
AC	A-	192	0.318	0.407	0.474	30/32
CY	AA	270	0.230	0.330	0.456	37/81
MC	AA	290	0.272	0.316	0.421	19/48
AR	AA	253	0.273	0.331	0.443	18/36
FH	A-	148	0.223	0.287	0.318	13/28

And, now for the pitchers:

FL	AA	76.2	70	92	26	3.64
JL	AA	75.1	63	74	27	2.75
AB	MLB	24.1	25	28	12	4.44
FR	AAA	82.1	70	63	27	3.72
SM	A+	69	63	61	26	2.74
CM	A+	72.1	60	71	37	2.99

That's all for now. How'd I do? Who did I miss?


Thanks, Bryan. Having read your top 75 list, I think you do some of the best prospect analysis I've seen. (I'd never heard of Chris Young before coming across your list.)

A couple of questions --

a) Where does Joel Zumaya fit in the pantheon of pitching prospects now? He's one of the youngest pitchers in AA and has ridiculous K rates. Is he top five? top ten?

b) Are you shortchanging Chris Young in your review? He's got 16 HR after today, 43 XBH, and 38 walks in under 300 AB, along with good speed. The K's are very high, but everything else in his profile looks encouraging. Are you concerned that with the high K rate he'll just get exploited at higher levels of pitching?

c) Along the lines of the Zumaya question, where would you rate Francisco Liriano amongst minor league pitching prospects now?


Thanks for the comment, Donovan. I'll be doing a ranking very soon, so I won't comment on that directly, but besides that, will answer as best I can.

a) I've mentioned before that I love pitchers in the Zumaya mold: players that get by purely on the fastball, which give them a 'basement' (opposite of ceiling) of a Major League reliever. Zumaya's fastball is fantastic, and he is undoubtedly the Jose Capellan of 2005. If you want to know where Zumaya will rank, I would recommend going into my archives and checking out how I handled Capellan. I think Zumaya is a very good prospect, but probably not one of the top five pitching prospects in the game. Off the top of my head, he'll be on the border of top ten, probably off, depending on who I include.

b) I would doubt I'm shortchanging Young, because I probably think higher of him than any other source. With Chris, when he is good at something, he's the best. With his weaknesses, they are glaring. Of all the players I consider legit prospects in the minors, Young might just have the worst contact skills of all. But he compensates, with an outstanding HR%, patience, and great defense. His presence on the Futures Game and in a recent Chicago Tribune article surprised me, as he's probably more on the White Sox' radar than I realized. But he has a long way to go in this organization, that's for sure.

c) Liriano is fantastic, surely one of the top three lefties in the minors. More on him in my rankings.

Again, thanks for reading!

>> Who did I miss?

Thomas Pauly? He must be hurt though... got no stats.

Hey Bryan,
Great work - I love reading up on prospects here. I think you might have put SHELLEY Duncan's #'s in for Eric Duncan in your summary above ... I was reading through and didn't think Duncan was hitting .302 .... Shelley is over 5 years older than Eric, and turning 26 in September, but plays for Trenton too.

Eric's real line is .250/.348/.399 with a 43/71 bb/K ratio

However, over the last 2 weeks, he has raised his average about 30 points, and hit 5 of his 11 HR ... looks like he is finally adjusting to the challenge of AA as a 20-year old.