...where credit is due. The Major League season is now about 20% over, making the usual pretender/contender game a bit more valid. However, I don't want to rain on parades in Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston and Colorado, so we'll try to find optimism elsewhere.
In replacement for the usual Friday notes column, I decided to give credit to the top half (records-wise) of the MLB and write a paragraph detailing each farm system. It is in no way an attempt to be comprehensive, but merely a simple tool for word association. Among the minor league happenings that have drawn my eye recently...
Chicago White Sox - The idea to replace Brian Anderson with Ryan Sweeney in the outfield makes such little sense to me. Anderson has provided Rowand-ish defense so far, and offers pop that Sweeney doesn't: 72 extra-base hits in 1149 professional at-bats. Batting average isn't everything...Aaron Cunningham is the type of player that I might pick to break out next year. He's been sensational in the Sally League at the age of 20.
Cincinnati Reds - Homer Bailey is really starting to turn on the gas, literally proving he has "no hit" stuff. With enhanced control this season, minor league baseball might not have a better pitcher once the summer hits full swing... Paul Janish has played so well this season, but don't buy into his stock. It's the college-draftee's second time in the league, and the Florida State League will prove how weak his bat is. The glove should turn him into a nice minor league veteran, though.
New York Mets - A farm system of four players, only three of whom have serious ceilings. Milledge, Pelfrey and Fernando Martinez are all great prospects, but Alay Soler is probably the subplot of the season. Considered by many this past winter as a lost cause, Soler (with the help of Pelfrey) will make Victor Zambrano an afterthought. Let's just hope that Soler, Brian Bannister and Scott Kazmir are teaching the front office a lesson: older isn't always better.
St. Louis Cardinals - A farm system that I think is on the upswing, thanks to a good 2005 draft and a good number of picks in 2006. Colby Rasmus continues to bounce back from him slow start, but we can now add southpaws to the growing weaknesses list that already includes breaking pitches. Let's hope the list ends there ... Adam Wainwright has been great in the Majors so far, which really creates a lot of questions surrounding Anthony Reyes. With all the arguments we have for the most over and underrated prospect, one thing we should all agree on is that Reyes is the least appreciated prospect.
Boston Red Sox - He didn't make it to my recent article praising new prospects, but Mike Bowden would make a top 75 if I wrote it up today. Subtract one start from his numbers, and Bowden is an elite talent. Even his inconsistency has not plagued a great set of peripheral statistics. Bowden has surely bested Clay Buchholz so far ... Speaking of bad starts, Jon Lester is starting to return to his status as an elite pitching prospect. In his last four starts, spanning 18.1 innings, Lester has allowed just four earned runs. When are we going to accept he just always starts slow?
Detroit Tigers - This is a very hard system to get a feel for, with an odd blend of prospects. In terms of upside, the top two talents are definitely Cameron Maybin and Humberto Sanchez. The Tigers have dealt with bad pitching for so long, it's interesting that Jim Leyland has been handed a rotation of fireballers. Sanchez always seems to be too inconsistent as a starter, but even more so than Joel Zumaya, I think he could make a dynamite reliever. Trying Zumaya and Jordan Tata in the rotation, while filling their bullpen slots with Sanchez might be a good late-season experiment for the Tigers.
New York Yankees - So much for Eric Duncan's big turnaround as a prospect, huh? The first baseman is hitting .228/.295/.277 in a season when Jason Giambi has a .500+ on-base percentage. Duncan's strikeouts are down, which is nice, but where oh where are the power numbers? ... If you think the support Cole Hamels has gotten for his call-up has been extensive, think about Phil Hughes' upcoming promotion. No, it won't be too soon, but an August injury could bring a phenom to New York.
Houston Astros - Last year the Astros drew a lot of publicity for a draft which included Brian Bogusevic, Eli Iorg and Koby Clemens. It seems now as if the praise might have been premature. Clemens has been hurt for much of the season, but ineffective while playing. Eli Iorg's OPS is below .600, thanks to 3 walks for the season. Most of the hits are being credited to Bogusevic, who has allowed 25 in just 12.2 innings. I wouldn't want to be the person accountable for these misplayed millions.
Colorado Rockies - Everything is on the up and up for this organization. If the Kansas City Royals make the Tim Lincecum mistake, the Rockies will be handed a major piece to their puzzle. All the talk for the 2006 draft has focused around the lack of heavy talent at the top, but Andrew Miller is the type of player this organization needs. A boring two-seamer, a 95+ four-seamer and a fantastic slider seems to be a potential recipe for Coors success. Chris Nelson seems to be the exception to the rule of good first-round picks by the Rockies recently.
Toronto Blue Jays - Ricky Romero looked great in his minor league debut, and should be up to the Major Leagues in short order. Given Josh Towers' struggles in the early goings, it won't take much for some aggressive promoting. Romero in Toronto by season's end? Bet on it ... The early returns on the Blue Jays' early-round college outfield selections have been positive, especially with Ryan Patterson's recent 6-for-6, 3 HR day in Dunedin. Drafting in the middle rounds has been a successful venture for the Riccardi regime.
Philadelphia Phillies - The question now is: how will Gio Gonzalez react now that the pressure is placed on his left shoulder, with Cole Hamels graduating to the big leagues? Gonzalez is a pretty fantastic talent, and the Phillies will have the makings of a young, talented rotation by 2007. How the likes of Scott Mathieson and Zach Segovia fit in, at this point, is unknown ... Whither Bradley Harman? After garnering my prediction for a 2006 breakout, and performing well in the World Baseball Classic, Harman has been a non-entity in Clearwater. One of my biggest disappointments of the young season, to be sure.
Arizona Diamondbacks - Mike Rizzo is one of the most talented scouting directors in baseball, and I would never tell him how to do his job. But, I also have a plan for the Diamondbacks draft. Why not take relatively cheap players with the 11 and 34 selections, and then gamble with #55? Given that the club's low-A affiliate is in South Bend, Indiana, is there a better fit for Notre Dame WR/RHP Jeff Samardzija? Scouts love his potential in both sports; Mel Kiper has him 7th on his first 2007 draft board. With a creative contract and the ability to play in his college town, Samardzija could really test the baseball waters with this organization.
San Diego Padres - The hopes of the entire farm system lay on the bat of George Kottaras, currently managing a .292 ISO in Mobile, a very tough hitters' park. Kottaras also was surrounded by power red flags, but the consistent addition of that to his game is a benefit. However, how must the Padres front office be balancing such encouraging signs with his 34 strikeouts (in 96 at-bats)? Like the rest of the farm system, it really seems to be one step forward, two steps back ... Given the huge outfield in PETCO Park, you really have to wonder if Kevin Towers winces every time he sees Jered Weaver throw seven scoreless innings with more than a dozen flyball outs.
Texas Rangers - I did not like the trade for Freddy Guzman yesterday at all. Guzman's career should double that of a fifth outfielder's, with some outside ceiling to become a leadoff hitter. Conversely, John Hudgins has potential as a back-end pitcher a la John Maine, while Vince Sinisi has a bit of thunder in his bat. Neither player's loss in the Rule 5 Draft would have caused Jon Daniels to blink this past winter, but that hardly means he should begin pressing ... Another draft combination that I think is perfect: Luke Hochevar in Texas. A hard-throwing sinkerballer in a pitching-starved organization with a hitter-friendly ballpark? A good connection with Scott Boras? Only one pick in the top 85? Drafting Hochevar and offering $2.5 million is in the best interests of all parties involved.
Oakland Athletics - Last year Marcus McBeth was moved to the mound full-time, and spent his season split between the Rookie Leagues and the Kane County Cougars (low-A). While McBeth started the season off great in the Cal League, allowing just one hit in 8 appearances, his promotion to the Pacific Coast League was too extreme. The former outfielder is a great talent off the mound, but rushing him makes little sense. Bring him into the majors in 2008, as he is hitting his physical peak, and see a true Brooks Kieschnik success story ... Daric Barton, Kevin Mellilo, maybe Travis Buck. The future of this team is really about to hit the Majors for good, providing good fodder for Moneyball 2.