2006 Story From the Systems: Surprises
Hard to believe, but the minor league baseball season is narrowing down. The season has been full of every weird twist and turn that we have each year on the farm.
For the next five Fridays, we'll attempt to look back on this season and find context for it all. We start with the season's largest surprises, beginning with the clubs in the American League...
Kansas City - Quite simply, demotions are bad news for any rebuilding process. This season, my surprise story has been a pair of Major Leaguers spending time in the minor leagues: Mark Teahen and Zack Greinke. Teahen, the prize acquisition in the Carlos Beltran trade, was sent down to Omaha in early May sporting a .195/.241/.351 line. After torching the Pacific Coast League in just 79 at-bats, Teahen has been one of the AL's best hitters in June. Greinke's story is far more strange and doesn't offer a happy ending. After leaving during Spring Training citing personal problems, the pride of Kansas City has spent much of the season in Wichita, pitching inconsistently in a league where he was once the best prospect.
Tampa Bay - The easiest pick of the group, and the strangest story of the season: the Durham Bulls. Take your prized D-Rays prospect, and take your pick. Delmon Young? Forget the lack of power, Delmon missed 50 games for his infamous thrown bat. B.J. Upton? The good boy of the Durham clan had a DUI after the Bulls were shut out in a doubleheader against Buffalo. Elijah Dukes? Ejected and suspended multiple times, Dukes is now at home in Florida, contemplating giving up baseball. This, of course, came months after Dukes showed signs of being the best of the group. You can bet make-up has suddenly become an important aspect of the D-Rays scouting staff's requirements.
Cleveland - Simply put, no system has had a jump in 2006 like the Indians, thanks to three equally surprising breakouts. While Andy Marte was brought in during the off season to be the future at the hot corner, Kevin Kouzmanoff has made things interesting. After nearly hitting .400 in the Eastern League, Kouzmanoff has continued to flourish since replacing Marte in the Buffalo lineup. Next spring's position battle promises to be one of the year's best. Brian Barton is the ultimate draft day faux pas story, and looking more and more like a legit prospect with each swing in AA. Finally, Chuck Lofgren went from the athletic southpaw with an intriguing upside to a polished pitching prospect worth the Indians delicate touch.
Baltimore - Since Jeffrey Maier, it appears bad news is a staple of this organization. While things appear dismal on the Major League front, the farm system does appear to be making baby steps towards mediocrity. While both Radhames Liz and Brandon Erbe would make good choices for this column, it always seems that with a little good news comes bad news for the Orioles. Brandon Snyder looked great in his pro debut last summer, immediately validating his selection in the first round. The wheels came off quickly this year, and Snyder has yet to make a pit stop. In Low-A, injuries and ineffectiveness led to Snyder playing just 38 games before a demotion, where his season line reads .194/.237/.340. While the New York-Penn League should have offered a vast improvement, Snyder's struggles have not subsided, and the catcher sports a poor .606 OPS.
Seattle - Chris Snelling spends much of the season on the DL? Old news. Aggressive promoting all through the system? A Bavasi staple. And while most of his pushed players have struggled at the higher levels, the Mariners are looking like geniuses for putting Mark Lowe in the bullpen. Once a middle-of-the-road starting prospect, Lowe has been the Mariners own K-Rod/Gagne story of the season, not allowing a run in his first 11 games. Seattle won't be able to tell the Lowe story in the playoffs, but his unsung season is a remarkable story.
Texas - It wasn't long ago that the DVD trio was supposed to be the Rangers saving grace, the pitching that had been lacking in Arlington for a decade. Suddenly, things don't appear so easy. Thomas Diamond, once poised and filthy off the bump, has 68 walks in 107.2 innings at AA. John Danks has continued to be inconsistent as can be, allowing a few too many hits and runs to be an elite pitcher. Surprisingly, Edinson Volquez has been the best of the bunch, but he too comes with control problems: 72 in 120.2 innings. Considered three future anchors six months ago, it would no longer be too shocking if DVD represented half of the Rangers future bullpen.
Los Angeles - Howie Kendrick, Brandon Wood, even Nick Adenhart, they aren't surprises. These names are tributes to the Angels scouting department, yes, but their 2006 successes come as a small surprise. The one player to turn the most heads, however, has been Jose Arredondo, just 2 years removed from donning a helmet and wood bat. Probably the Cal League's best pitcher before his promotion, Arredondo dominated in one of the minors most difficult environments for pitchers. Arrendondo has struggled in AA, and is raw enough to still have the PROJECT label across his forehead, but for the first time in awhile, the right-hander is beginning to look more like a pitcher than a thrower.
Toronto - While the Blue Jays lack of development in the pitching category is a story of itself, Toronto's big surprise is Adam Lind, who has added something to a faceless system. While Toronto's risk-averse drafting has yielded little dividends in recent years (read: Russ Adams, Aaron Hill), Lind provides validation for the pure college hitter. After flashing polish and gap power in the Florida State League a year ago, Lind added strength in the winter, and now many of his long balls are clearing the fence. Lind is now the clear-cut top prospect in the organization, but no one else has advanced like he has in 2006.
Oakland - Another organization often deemed risk-averse, the A's big story could be the poor full season debuts of their prep pitching trio. But the happier story, the more surprising story, has been Jason Windsor's catapult through the system. The former over-worked Titan CWS MVP has been gangbusters this season, offering enough control and a good enough fastball to get out players consistently in both AA and AAA. While his Major League debut wasn't so hot, Windsor's 11-0 record at AAA speaks for itself. We're a long way from Billy Beane complaining about his collegiate usage habits at this point.
Boston - Opposite from Oakland, the Red Sox season's success story stems from their young pitching draftees. Normally a college-heavy organization, the Red Sox went out on a ledge drafting Clay Buchholz (JC boy) and Michael Bowden (HS right-hander) last season. However, neither player has missed a beat in the South Atlantic League this season, making up for the system's loss of the Jons, Papelbon and Lester. I maintain my preference for Bowden as the better prospect, but with near identical peripherals, it's hard to tell at this point. If not these two, recent draftee Bryce Cox makes for quite the story, as closing in Wilmington is a long way from the back end of Rice's bullpen.
Minnesota - Doubt Mike Radcliffe, and this is what you get. While Matt Garza was not a sexy first round choice 14 months ago, the Fresno State ace would be a top ten pick if the draft were re-held today. With Francisco Liriano out indefinitely, Garza is in the Major Leagues, a long way from his original Fort Myers assignment. However, Garza proved able in each stop between Florida and Minnesota, even dominating in five AAA starts before his call-up. Garza is one of a huge group of pitching success stories for the Twins: Pat Neshek the other feel-good story of the season. Now we're all but waiting for Eduardo Morlan to become elite, seemingly the next Twin in the pecking order.
Chicago - A no-doubter: Josh Fields. What looked like a stretch on draft day looked even worse last season, as Fields couldn't help drawing comparisons to Drew Henson with his long, contact-averse swing. However things clicked for Fields in the winter, and he's been one of the best hitters in the International League in 2006. Problem for Fields is that Joe Crede has been just as good in the Majors, making his .315/.389/.526 line look only moderately appealing. Most shocking, Fields has still not really sunk his teeth into a new position, as Scott Podsednik's seemingly-forthcoming exit would usually open a hole for a hitter of Fields' caliber.
New York - Plain and simple, a 17-year-old in full season baseball is a unique sighting. One of three in the Sally League this season, Jose Tabata has looked like the best and most consistent in 2006. The Yankees newest elite prospect wasn't fantastic, but his near-.800 OPS has convinced many people that he's the future in the Yankee Stadium outfield. Still a long way from the Majors, things get ugly when one thinks about what the NYC hype machine could do to a great story like Tabata. So, for the hope of avoiding that, I nominate J.B. Cox as the season's success story.
Detroit - Flame-throwing is now synonymous witht he Tigers, as Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander are a pair of the best stories from the Major League season. If we look to find a continuation of this in the minors, it's easy, as the arrival of both Humberto Sanchez and Andrew Miller have made minor league headlines this season. Sanchez' arrival is one of refinement, going from a projected reliever to a key September arm for Detroit in their Cinderella season. Miller will also be making a cup of coffee, as his Major League contract stipulates so. After landing Cameron Maybin in 2005, the Tigers landed a bigger heist on draft day 2006, finding consensus top prospect Andrew Miller in the six-hole.