Around the MinorsDecember 11, 2010
Reviewing the 2010 Rule 5 Draft
By Marc Hulet

The Rule 5 draft has lost some luster since the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement was re-worked to allow teams an extra year of control before having to add minor league players to the 40-man roster or expose them to the draft. The 2009 Rule 5 draft was an absolute yawn. This year, though, teams were able to unearth a few gems.

The Best Picks:

1. Aneury Rodriguez, RHP (Houston from Tampa Bay)
As weird as it might sound, Rodriguez is probably talented enough to land on Houston's Top 10 prospect list for 2011. I recently completed Houston's list at and he'd probably slide in after Vincent Velasquez, who's out after Tommy John surgery. Rodriguez has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter and those types of prospects (sadly) are far and few between in the Astros system. The right-hander recently turned 23 and spent the majority of 2010 in triple-A where he posted a 4.04 FIP in 113.2 innings. He started 17 games and came out of the bullpen for another 10. Rodriguez' fastball ranges from 88-94 mph and both his secondary pitches - breaking ball and changeup - are average offerings right now. He should serve as a long man out of the Astros 'pen in 2011 but with some experience and good coaching he could reach his ceiling as a No. 3 starter.

2. Brad Emaus, 2B/3B (New York NL from Toronto)
Emaus was the one position player that I just didn't understand why he was left unprotected. As a Canadian, I cover Jays prospects a lot so I've been familiar with the infielder since he was drafted in 2007. Two years ago, I even wrote an article for the Toronto Sun newspaper that spoke highly of him. Now, Emaus does have some limitations - mostly on the defensive spectrum - but he projects to be a solid MLB utility player in the Scott Spiezio or Eric Hinske mold and can play both second base and third base, and could probably pick up first base pretty quickly too. I'm glad he's headed over to the National League where he has a chance to be more valuable. The organization will also have some pretty good scouting reports on him, as Special Assistant to the GM J.P. Ricciardi was Toronto's General Manager when Emaus was drafted out of Tulane University. The infielder spent the majority of 2010 in triple-A where he hit .298/.395/.495 in 309 at-bats. He's a stocky player with line-drive power and a good eye at the plate. Emaus has a nice quiet, open stance at the plate. He's not gifted with great bat speed and the swing occasionally gets loopy.

3. Joe Paterson, LHP (Arizona from San Francisco)
I love this pick for the Diamondbacks, more so than any other reliever they've picked up recently through free agency or trade. I've mentioned Paterson in a few articles both at and here at suggesting that he'd be a perfect LOOGY in the Majors. His ceiling isn't huge, obviously, as a future Ron Mahay or Brian Shouse, but most teams are in need of a good left-handed reliever. Paterson, who throws with a sidearm angle, had a solid college career at Oregon State University and his minor league numbers have also been impressive. He had a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League after posting good numbers in 46 triple-A games in 2010. Paterson, 24, also has solid ground-ball numbers. Left-handed hitters batted .220 against him in 2010, while right-handers produced a batting average of .280. In '09 at double-A, lefties hit just .112. The year prior to that, they hit .108 in high-A ball.

4. Josh Rodriguez, SS/2B (Pittsburgh from Cleveland)
Like Emaus above, Rodriguez comes from a solid college baseball background and he appears to be near-MLB-ready with a modest ceiling as a utility player. Clubs made a bit of switch away from a Rule 5 trend that saw teams nab raw hitters with good speed and/or defensive abilities. Both infielders mentioned here are solid bats with questionable defensive skills. Rodriguez is not a MLB shortstop, but he should hold his own at either second base or third base. At the plate, he hit .293/.372/.486 in 364 triple-A at-bats in 2010 after missing much of the 2009 season to injury. He has a nice, compact swing, and he does a good job of keeping the bat level through the zone. His strikeout rates have been high throughout his career, but he gets on base at a good clip thanks to above-average patience (11.0% walk rate in '10). He'll provided excellent depth to the Pirates' 25-man roster in 2011, especially with Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young gone.

5. Pedro Beato, RHP (New York NL from Baltimore)
The Mets club originally nabbed Beato out of a New York high school during the 2005 draft but was unable to come to terms with him. He attended junior college and was then picked up by Baltimore in the 2006 draft. He signed for $1 million. Beato's career was slowed by command issues, although he posted OK control numbers, including a walk rate of 2.87 BB/9 in 2010 at double-A. He was moved to the bullpen full-time this past year and flourished thanks to a more consistent fastball - both in terms of command and velocity. I have to admit that I was a little confused by Baltimore's approach to compiling its 40-man roster for the off-season. The club has one of the worst minor league organizations in terms of depth and it left three quality players unprotected - Beato, Ryan Adams, and Wynn Pelzer; all three could arguably show up as members of the organization's Top 15 prospects.

6. Mason Tobin, RHP (Texas via Chicago NL from Los Angeles AL)
Tobin was nabbed by the Cubs and then sold to Texas, an organization that is clearly hoping the right-hander can stay off the disabled list from here on out. He missed all of 2010 and pitched in just three games in ’09 and eight games in ’08. Tobin, 23, could be stashed on the DL for much of 2011 but it will significantly damage his future potential as he’s already lost two years of development time. From the Rangers’ perspective, though, it’s a worthwhile gamble as Tobin has shown a plus fastball and good slider. He has a three-quarter arm slot and throws with some effort, which helps to explain the health woes.

7. Robert Fish, LHP (New York AL from Los Angeles AL)
It's been a rough off-season for the Angels organization. After a miserable regular season, the club missed out on a number of key free agents (specifically Carl Crawford) and now it lost two pretty nice arms in the draft. Unfortunately, the club's minor league system just isn't that deep so it's a little shocking that both Tobin and Fish were left unprotected. I would argue that Anthony Ortega and Matt Palmer both had better chances of remaining in the organization than Fish or Tobin... even if they had been designated for assignment to get them off of the 40-man roster. There isn't much need to keep Ryan Budde or Freddy Sandoval on the roster, either.

Back to Fish. The southpaw will clearly have an uphill battle to win a spot on a club like the Yankees. Just 22, he split the year between high-A and double-A. He's battled some health issues and control problems throughout his five-year pro career. On the plus side, Fish has flashed some nice strikeout numbers in his career, including 10.20 K/9 in 42.1 innings in double-A. He posted an 8.93 ERA but his FIP was better at 5.40, in part due to a massively-high BABIP at .457. His ground-ball rates have been pretty average in his career. Fish's repertoire includes a good fastball at 88-92 mph, a curveball and a changeup. His body is maxed out from a projectability standpoint and he throws from a high three-quarter angle. He does a nice job of throwing his pitches all from the same arm slot but he does slow his arm down from time-to-time on the breaking ball.

The Rest:

Elvin Ramirez, RHP (Washington from New York NL): Ramirez was considered a lock to be lifted from the Mets in the draft because he has plus fastball velocity. It remains to be seen if his control is good enough for him to succeed in the Majors. He's with the right club to get a fair shot.

Jose Flores, RHP (Seattle from Cleveland): Flores posted some impressive numbers but it was in low-A ball and was also his first year in North America. The chance that he'll be able to stick - even with solid control for his age - is very slim.

Adrian Rosario, RHP (Baltimore from Milwaukee): To be honest, I don't get the interest in Rosario. He seems like a pretty run-of-the-mill pitcher. He posted solid but unspectacular numbers in low-A. When he's got his good command, he induces a solid number of ground-ball outs.

Nathan Adcock, RHP (Kansas City from Pittsburgh): Adcock spent a second straight year in high-A ball while displaying good control and a solid ground-ball rate. The right-hander has an average fastball, a plus curveball and a changeup. I'm a little surprised the pitching-starved Pirates would look the other way on this prospect.

Patrick Egan, RHP (Milwaukee from Baltimore): Egan is a tall right-hander that does a nice job of throwing on a downward plane, which helps him produce above-average ground-ball rates. He held up pretty well in the Arizona Fall League but may not strike out enough batters to succeed at the MLB level.

George Kontos, RHP (San Diego from New York AL): The former Northwestern grad has a big, strong pitcher's body but he got beat around in triple-A and the Arizona Fall League in 2010. He has the chance to be a long man in the bullpen - especially in San Diego. He's flashed OK stuff in the past but he's been haunted by inconsistencies and command issues.

Scott Diamond, LHP (Minnesota from Atlanta): This Canadian prospect doesn't have the best stuff but he induces a solid number of ground balls. He's a potential - and inexpensive - long reliever in the Twins' bullpen.

Cesar Cabral, LHP (Tampa Bay from Boston): Cabral is a southpaw that produces above-average ground-ball rates but he gave up a lot of hits in high-A ball in 2010. He had a BABIP-allowed of .391 and a very unlucky LOB-rate; Cabral had a favorable FIP of 2.60 (His ERA was 5.81).

Michael Martinez, IF/OF (Philadelphia from Washington): Martinez is extremely versatile, but he's a small player that doesn't produce much power at all and he doesn't walk nearly as much as he should given his offensive profile. He's a dime-a-dozen player.

Brian Broderick, RHP (Washington from St. Louis): Broderick is a big, strong pitcher who uses his size to help generate good ground-ball rates. He doesn't have much of a fastball, though, and succeeds with above-average control.

Lance Pendleton, RHP (Houston from New York AL): As a Rice University grad it should come as no surprise that Pendleton's early pro career was derailed by injuries. Healthy now for the past few seasons, he could settle in at the back-end of the rotation or as a middle reliever at the MLB level.

Daniel Turpen, RHP (New York AL from Boston): Turpen is your basic right-handed middle reliever and it will be a shock if he can break through into the Yankees' 2011 bullpen. There is nothing overly impressive about his resume and he wasn't all that good in the Arizona Fall League, despite an OK fastball.

Around the MinorsOctober 08, 2010
NL Prospect Values: Climbing the Depth Chart
By Marc Hulet

The 2010 minor league baseball regular season has come to an end. As with every season, we've seen a lot of prospect values both increase and decrease over the long season. Pre-2010 Top 10 prospect lists are sadly out of date and prospect mavens are madly starting to update their rankings for the off-season, which will see a fresh batch of indispensable lists from the likes of Baseball America, Kevin Goldstein, Keith Law, John Sickels, and FanGraphs.

It's still a little too early to talk Top 10 lists, but let's peruse the National League organizations for some prospects that have significantly increased their values over the course of the 2010 season. Recently, we looked at the American League prospects.

The Arizona Diamondbacks

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, A+
Experience: 2 years
Age: 23

Goldschmidt did exactly what a first base prospect has to done: He slugged his brains out with an overall triple-slash line of .314/.384/.606 in 525 at-bats. He posted an impressive .291 ISO and has massive raw power. On the down side to Goldschmidt's profile, he was playing in a very potent offensive league. He also posted a 30.7% strikeout rate, with a modest walk rate of just 9.5%. With those kind of rates - along with a BABIP of .385 - he doesn't project to hit for average at higher levels... unless he can make some adjustments.

The Colorado Rockies

Jordan Pacheco, C, A+/AA
Experience: 4 years
Age: 24

Originally a utility infielder, Pacheco's prospect value took a huge increase when he moved behind the plate in 2008. He made huge strides behind the plate in '10 but still struggles a bit with his receiving skills and allowed 14 passed balls this season. His throwing is improved and he nailed 36% of base runners in high-A ball. Offensively, Pacheco projects to be at least average offensively for a catcher. He hits for a good average, and shows patience at the plate. Unfortunately, he doesn't have much power (.123 ISO). His overall triple-slash line at high-A was .321/.407/.444.

The Los Angeles Dodgers

Trayvon Robinson, OF, AA
Experience: 6 years
Age: 23

At worst, Robinson should develop into a fine fourth outfielder. He he can trim his strikeout rate (28.7%), though, he could develop into a solid regular at the MLB level. The .401 OBP is extremely attractive for a leadoff-type. The walk rate has improved from 6.7 in '08 to 9.5 to 14.0% in '10. His power numbers dropped from an ISO rate of .194 to .138, which suggests (along with the increase in OBP) that he's buying into his profile.

The San Diego Padres

Drew Cumberland, SS, A+/AA
Experience: 4 years
Age: 21

Not surprisingly, Cumberland enjoyed playing in the offense-boosting California League in 2010. His .177 ISO was and .365 batting average were definitely impacted by the environment (and his .398 BABIP) so don't expect those numbers to continue. Still, scouts like his actions in the field - including his range - and his bat should be at least average. Cumberland has the potential to steal 15-20 bases at the MLB level.

The San Francisco Giants

Brandon Belt, 1B, A+/AA/AAA
Experience: 1 year
Age: 22

An adjustment to his batting stance led to massively-improved numbers in 2010. Belt zoomed through the minors after beginning the year in high-A with a triple-slash line of .381/.491/.626 in 270 at-bats. His batting averages at high-A and double-A were aided by high BABIPs. He showed massive power (.260 ISO rate) and kept his strikeout rate below 20%. There are not many holes in his offensive game right now, although he hit just .229/.393/.563 in a 13-game trial at triple-A. He could be in the Majors by mid-2011.

The Cincinnati Reds

Devin Mesoraco, C, A+/AA/AAA
Experience: 4 years
Age: 22

Mesoraco entered 2010 hanging by a thread over the Prospect Bust Pit. He made adjustments and flew through three levels of the minors. He posted a .449 ISO in high-A and .421 in double-A. He slumped a bit at triple-A with a triple-slash line of .231/.310/.462. The 26 homers shows that Mesoraco has a lot of power, but he also shows some good patience. The organization will soon have a very good problem on its hands when 2010 No. 1 draft pick (and fellow catcher) Yasmani Grandal reaches the upper levels of the minor (which shouldn't take too long).

The St. Louis Cardinals

Joe Kelly, RHP, A
Experience: 2 years
Age: 22

There is nothing I love more than a pitcher with solid ground-ball rates and Kelly backs that up with a fastball that can hit the mid-90s. He simply needs to improve upon his secondary pitches if he's going to remain in the starting rotation. If not, he could make a dominating closer. It's a little surprising that the organization left the 22-year-old hurler in A-ball all season but his ERA did look a little mis-leading at 4.62 (3.31 FIP). Ground-ball pitchers tend to struggle in the low minors - especially in terms of hits allowed - because they put so many balls into play with poor defenders (and fields) behind them. Kelly also needs to improve his control (3.92 BB/9).

The Milwaukee Brewers

Jake Odorizzi, RHP, A
Experience: 3 years
Age: 20

The organization has used kids' gloves with Odorizzi, who spent two years in rookie ball and then a full season in low-A despite some good success. The right-hander saw his strikeout rate jump to 10.07 K/0 while his walk rate remained respectable at 2.98 BB/9. He posted an average ground-ball rate at 46% and his overall numbers were aided slightly by a BABIP of .299. Odorizzi has the makings of a No. 2 starter.

The Houston Astros

Tanner Bushue, RHP, A
Experience: 2 years
Age: 19

Bushue is a highly-projectable pitcher who has tons of potential. He struggled with the long ball (1.21 HR/9) but had a respectable strikeout rate (7.68 K/9) and walk rate (3.23 BB/9). Still, a ground-ball rate of 39% needs to improve if he's going to have success in the upper levels of pro ball. Age is on his side.

The Pittsburgh Pirates

Bryan Morris, RHP, A+/AA
Experience: 5 years
Age: 23

Injuries and make-up issues have marred Morris' career to this point but he seemingly turned the corner with the Pirates organization in 2010. The right-hander projects as a solid No. 3 starter, which is welcomed news for a club that has struggled with pitching depth for years. At double-A in 2010, Morris posted a 3.87 FIP with a +50% ground-ball rate in 89.0 innings. I'd like to see Morris continue to pitch well in 2011 at triple-A before I truly buy into his turnaround.

The Chicago Cubs

Chris Archer, RHP, A+/AA
Experience: 5 years
Age: 22

A former Indians draft pick, Archer has struggled with both his command and control throughout his career, which has caused him to move slowly through the system. His game took a big step forward in 2010. His control was improved in high-A when he posted a 2.85 FIP. Unfortunately, it rose from 3.24 to 5.01 BB/9 with a promotion to double-A. There is work to be done but all the pieces are coming together.

The Atlanta Braves

Brandon Beachy, RHP, AA/AAA/MLB
Experience: 3 years
Age: 24

Beachy has gotten a lot of press for his impressive season but the hype is a little unjustified right now. Yes, he had a very good minor league season but his overall repertoire is fairly average and he dominated minor league hitters with good command and control of his stuff. His ground-ball rate is also a tick below average. He'd probably be a middle reliever in the American League but will probably survive as a No. 3 or 4 starter in the National League.

The New York Mets

Cesar Puello, OF, A
Experience: 3 years
Age: 19

Puello produced promising numbers for a teen-aged speedster in 2010. The right-handed batter produced a triple-slash line of .292/.375/.359 in 404 at-bats, while also stealing 45 bases. He continues to make adjustments and his walk rate has improved in each of his three seasons and was at 6.8% in 2010, which is OK but not great. Although he hasn't shown much power in his ISO rate, Puello has seen his line-drive rate increase dramatically since 2008 (9 to 13 to 15%). Defensively, he made some over-aggressive errors but shows good range.

The Washington Nationals

Brad Peacock, RHP, A+/AA
Experience: 4 years
Age: 22

A position player college, it's taken Peacock some time to get his feet underneath him on the mound in pro ball. He has a solid fastball that can touch the mid-90s and his secondary pitches are developing nicely. His strikeout rate jumped to 10.28 K/9 in 103.1 high-A innings. His walk rate was good at 2.18 BB/9 but it jumped to 5.12 BB/9 in 38.2 double-A innings. Peacock has shown flashes of an above-average ground-ball rate but it was average in 2010.

The Philadelphia Phillies

Trevor May, RHP, A/A+
Experience: 3 years
Age: 21

May had a very nice beginning to the season with a FIP of 1.94 in 65.0 A-ball innings. He moved up to high-A and saw his FIP jump to 4.76, mainly due to a walk rate that skyrocketed to 7.74 BB/9 despite a strikeout rate of 11.57 K/9. If May can get the ball over the plate consistently, he could be a dominating starter thanks to a mid-90s fastball and two other solid pitches (curve, changeup).

The Florida Marlins

Brad Hand, LHP, A+/AA
Experience: 3 years
Age: 20

Hand isn't flashy (although his fastball velocity is above-average for a southpaw) but he reached double-A at the age of 20. He posted a 3.37 FIP in 140.2 high-A innings despite a .352 BABIP. His walk rate of 3.14 BB/9 was solid and improved over '09's rate of 4.65 BB/9. He projects to be a No. 3 starter who can provide a lot of innings.

Around the MinorsSeptember 10, 2010
AL Prospect Values: Climbing the Depth Chart
By Marc Hulet

The 2010 minor league baseball regular season has come to an end. As with every season, we've seen a lot of prospect values both increase and decrease over the long season. Pre-2010 Top 10 prospect lists are sadly out of date and prospect mavens are madly starting to update their rankings for the off-season, which will see a fresh batch of indispensable lists from the likes of Baseball American, Kevin Goldstein, Keith Law, John Sickels, and FanGraphs.

It's still a little too early to talk Top 10 lists, but let's peruse the American League organizations for some prospects that have significantly increased their values over the course of the 2010 season.

The Texas Rangers

Michael Kirkman, LHP, AAA/MLB
Experience: 6 years
Age: 23

Ranked by Baseball America as Texas' 16th best prospect entering 2010, Kirkman took a huge step forward with his four-pitch repertoire and 90-94 mp fastball. The lefty still needs to work on his control (4.67 BB/9 in triple-A) but he posted a solid 3.64 FIP in triple-A and allowed just 114 hits in 131.0 innings. He could also stand to induce a few more ground balls - especially if he's going to be pitching in Texas. Kirkman doesn't have a huge ceiling but he could be a solid No. 3 or 4 starter.

The Oakland Athletics

Steve Parker, 3B, A+
Experience: 2 years
Age: 23

Parker, the A's '09 fifth round pick, had a breakout 2010 season while playing in high-A ball. The third baseman scored more than 100 runs while just missing the milestone for RBIs. Overall, he hit .296/.392/.508 in 139 games. He also showed good power with an ISO rate of .212 while keeping the strikeouts to a respectable level for someone with his power potential: 20.0 K%. The power is good sign (although he played in a pretty potent league) because he's likely going to have to move off of third base (33 errors, and his foot work isn't good) to first base.

The Seattle Mariners

Johermyn Chavez, RF, A+
Experience: 5 years
Age: 21

Nick Franklin had a pretty nice season for Seattle in low-A but he's gotten a fair bit of press so let's talk about Chavez. Acquired in the "oops" trade of Brandon Morrow with Toronto, the minor league outfielder is trying to take some of the sting out of that swap. Chavez' numbers are somewhat inflated by his environment (one of the best hitting leagues in baseball) but he still slugged 32 homers (.262 ISO) after knocking out 21 in '09 in perhaps the toughest league in the minors to hit a homer. Overall in 2010, he produced a triple-slash line of .315/.387/.577 in 136 games. Chavez doesn't have great range in the outfield but he has a strong arm and profiles well in right field. Double-A will be a big test for him in 2011 and he'll be just 22 years old. He needs to trim his Ks and also learn to be a better base runner.

The Los Angeles Angels

Jean Segura, 2B, A
Experience: 4 years
Age: 20

Alexia Amarista was a fast mover in the system in 2010 but I prefer fellow second baseman Segura. Amarista is limited due to his lack of size, limited power, and aggressive nature at the plate, which causes him to look more like a future utility player. Segura, on the other hand, is a better all around player with good speed (50 steals in '10), more power potential (.151 ISO) and better patience (7.7 BB% in '10). Overall, he hit .313/.365/.464 in 130 low-A games. The 20 year old does need to work on being more consistent in the field, although he has some arm strength that helps him make up for some of his mistakes.

The Kansas City Royals

Salvador Perez, C, A+
Experience: 4 years
Age: 20

Kansas City has the best minor league system in baseball without a doubt. One of the club's best prospects in '09 draft pick and catcher Wil Myers. Myers, though, is likely to move out from behind the plate before too long... but that doesn't leave a huge hole at the position thanks to the presence of Perez. Prior to '10, the 20-year-old catcher was basically considered a glove man with below-average bat. He's still an above-average defensive prospect (44% caught stealing, excellent game calling) but Perez also produced solid offensive numbers for his age and experience level. At high-A, he produced a triple-slash line of .290/.322/.411 in 99 games. He doesn't walk much (4.5 BB%) but Perez makes good, consistent contact and struck out at a rate of just 10.4%. At 6'3'' and 175 lbs, he has room to add muscle onto his frame.

The Minnesota Twins

Liam Hendriks, RHP, A/A+
Experience: 4 years
Age: 21

Hendriks doesn't have a fastball that he can blow by hitters but the Australian hurler is in the right organization. The Twins club is known for getting the most out of prospects who have a good feel for pitching and solid command/control. Hendriks posted a 0.96 BB/9 rate in 74.2 high-A innings in 2010, while also producing a FIP of 2.14. He also does an outstanding job of keeping the ball on the ground (52 GB%). Look for him to develop into a third or fourth starter, especially if he improves his secondary pitches. He could move up to double-A in 2011 as a 22 year old.

The Detroit Tigers

Wade Gaynor, 3B, A
Experience: 2 years
Age: 22

It wasn't a great season for the Tigers' minor league system but Gaynor is deserving of some attention. The '09 third round pick had a horrendous debut season but rebounded significantly in '10 in low-A. The third baseman as the potential to be an average defender, although he made 25 errors this season. Offensively, he hit .286/.354/.436 in 514 at-bats. Gaynor hit just 10 homers in '10 but he was playing in the Midwest League (a tough homer league) and he slugged 39 doubles. The right-handed hitter will look to tap into his raw power even more in 2011 at high-A ball. He's also a solid runner on the base paths, which is surprising considering his 6'3'', 225 lbs frame.

The Chicago White Sox

Brent Morel, 3B, AA/AAA
Experience: 3 years
Age: 23

A number of the White Sox's top prospects lost value in 2010. Morel, a third baseman, had a solid 2010 season split between double-A and triple-A. Overall, he hit .322/.359/.480 in 490 at-bats. With 37 doubles, he has some gap power but Morel's over-the-fence power is definitely below-average for the hot corner. The 23-year-old prospect made just three errors in 63 games at third in triple-A but he also played some shortstop and could develop into a utility player at the MLB level. He has a strong enough arm to play anywhere in the field. Left-handed pitcher Charlie Leesman is another player to keep an eye on in 2011. He's still raw for a former college draftee (control, secondary pitches) but he has solid velo on his heater for a lefty and induces a lot of ground balls

The Cleveland Indians

Joe Gardner, RHP, A/A+
Experience: 1 year
Age: 22

The Indians organization had a number of breakout prospects in 2010, including Jason Kipnis and Gardner. The right-handed throwing Gardner had a lot of success in six low-A starts before continuing to roll in 22 high-A games. His FIP sat at 3.62 and he had a respectable strikeout rate at 7.65 K/9. The key to Gardner's success, though, is his sinking fastball, which induced a staggering ground-ball rate of 67%. He reminds me a bit of current Indian Justin Masterson and could develop into a solid No. 3 starter if his secondary pitches continue to develop.

The New York Yankees

Gary Sanchez, C, R/A-
Experience: 1 year
Age: 17

Just 17, Sanchez made huge strides in 2010 with the bat after signing a $3 million deal with the Yankees in 2009 as an international free agent. The catcher hit .353/.419/.597 in 119 rookie ball at-bats before moving up to short-season ball for a 17-game stint where he posted a .339 wOBA. Like fellow Yankee catching prospect Jesus Montero, Sanchez has outstanding raw power. Unlike Montero, though, the younger prospect should remain behind the plate and has a very strong arm. He just needs to work on his game calling and receiving skills. Pitcher Dellin Betances had a bounce-back year after struggling with injuries in 2009. With that said, he made just 17 starts in 2010 and needs to be more durable to make good on his massive potential.

The Tampa Bay Rays

Jake McGee, LHP, AA/AAA
Experience: 6 years
Age: 24

Pitching is without a doubt the strength of the Rays organization and the return of McGee just helps add to the incredible depth. The lefty suffered a torn elbow ligament that required surgery in 2008 and he came back in '09 but did not return to form until 2010. McGee, 24, made 19 starts in double-A while posting a 2.53 FIP and strikeout rate of 10.19 K/9. Moved up to triple-A, the 23-year-old pitcher moved to the 'pen and tossed up a strikeout rate of 14.02 K/9 with just nine hits and three walks in 17.1 innings. Even prior to his injury, scouts thought McGee's best position would likely be closer and it looks like that may still hold true.

The Boston Red Sox

Ryan Lavarnway, C, A+/AA
Experience: 3 years
Age: 23

Lavarnway entered 2010 as the fourth or fifth player on Boston's organizational depth chart at catcher but moved to the forefront after second straight 20+ homer season. A former eighth round draft pick out of Yale University, Lavarnway could battle double-A teammate Luis Exposito for the future starting role in Boston - unless you buy into Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Combined between high-A and double-A, the catcher hit .288/.393/.489 in 462 at-bats. He strikes out a bit (26.6 K% in double-A) but it's a good trade off for his power output and Lavarnway also takes a good number of walks (13.7 BB%). Defensively, he's working on his receiving but he threw out 33% of base stealers.

The Toronto Blue Jays

A.J. Jimenez, C, A/A+
Experience: 3 years
Age: 20

Toronto has arguably the best catching depth in the Majors when you look at J.P.Arencibia, Brian Jeroloman, Travis d'Arnaud, Carlos Perez, Santiago Nessy, and Jimenez. The Puerto Rican was a steal in the '08 draft after he slid to the ninth round due to concerns about an injured elbow (that some thought would require TJ surgery but did not - although his elbow did act up late in '10). On the season in low-A, Jimenez hit .305/.347/.435 in 262 at-bats and he also received a two-game audition in high-A ball at the end of the season. He strikes out a bit too much (21.4 K%)for his modest power (.130 ISO) but Jimenez has shown better pitch recognition and patience and he's also a good athlete and solid base runner (16 steals) for a catcher. Defensively, he has a strong arm and projects to be an above-average defender. (51% caught stealing in '10).

The Baltimore Orioles

Zach Britton, LHP, AA/AAA
Experience: 5 years
Age: 22

Britton entered 2010 as one of Baltimore's Top 3 pitching prospects but he ended the season as a Top 50 overall MLB prospect. The 22-year-old lefty posted a 3.30 FIP in 15 double-A games before moving up to triple-A where his FIP sat at 3.18. His strikeout rate on the year was OK but not eye-popping while in the 7.35 K/9 range but his heater has great sink and he induced ground balls at a rate of 64%. While in triple-A, Britton handled right-handed batters better than fellow lefties (.238 vs .259 average). Look for him to develop into a No. 2 starter - and he could secure a spot in the O's rotation for 2011.

Next Week: The National League

Around the MinorsJune 28, 2010
The 2010 Amateur Draft: Bulk Investments
By Marc Hulet

One of the quickest ways to turn a lower-ranked minor league system into a top-tiered powerhouse is to draft well. This approached is helped along significantly when a Major League organization has a plethora of top picks during a given draft.

The Arizona Diamondbacks organization is a perfect example of this, thanks to its 2009 draft, which saw it add the likes of Bobby Borchering, Matt Davidson, Mike Belfiore, Chris Owings, Eric Smith, Marc Krauss, A.J. Pollock and Ryan Wheeler, among others. Thirteen '09 draft picks were amongst the top 21 rated in Baseball America's Top 30 prospect list for the organization entering 2010. Obviously, a lot can change in two to three years... but it's still a great return.

However, having multiple picks in a draft does not guarantee a turn around to an organization's system. As we saw in 2007, four organizations had multiple picks in the first three rounds - San Diego (nine picks), Toronto (eight), San Francisco (six), and Texas (six) - but none of them received a full return on their investments. Here is a list of each organization's haul, and how the players rank in terms of current value.

San Diego Padres

1. Cory Luebke, LHP
2. Drew Cumberland, SS
3. Eric Sogard, 2B (now with Oakland)
4. Nick Schmidt, LHP
5. Brad Chalk, OF
6. Mitch Canham, OF
7. Danny Payne, OF
8. Kellen Kulbacki, OF
9. Tommy Toledo, RHP (did not sign)

The club appears set to receive a mid-rotation starter (Luebke) and an average to slightly-above-average middle infielder (Cumberland). Schmidt is the dark horse in all of this after undergoing Tommy John surgery, which delayed his development.

Toronto Blue Jays

1. Brett Cecil, LHP
2. J.P. Arencibia, C
3. John Tolisano, 3B/OF
4. Justin Jackson, SS
5. Trystan Magnuson, RHP
6. Alan Farina, RHP
7. Eric Eiland, OF
8. Kevin Ahrens, 3B

Cecil has been a solid contributor to the rotation this season and also helped out in '09. Arencibia has been on fire in triple-A for the past month and looks like the catcher of the future beginning no later than April 2011. Magnuson and Farina look like they could develop into useful middle relievers. The club has had little to no luck with developing prep players from this draft and the minor-league coaching staff may have been unprepared to handle the initial wave.

San Francisco Giants

1. Madison Bumgarner, LHP
2. Nick Noonan, 2B
3. Charlie Culberson, IF
4. Tim Alderson, RHP (now with Pittsburgh)
5. Wendell Fairley, OF
6. Jackson Williams, C

Bumgarner has just been called up to the Majors but his ceiling is significantly lower than what it was when he had better fastball velocity and crisper pitches. The same can be said for Alderson, which seems to point at a trend. Noonan and Culberson could develop into platoon or back-up players but neither is a sure bet to develop into an everyday player. Williams' defense is strong enough to play in the Majors right now (and probably was from the moment he was drafted) but he needs to show that he can hit above .200 at double-A.

Texas Rangers

1. Julio Borbon, OF
2. Tommy Hunter, RHP
3. Blake Beavan, RHP
4. Michael Main, RHP
5. Neil Ramirez, RHP
6. Matt West, 3B

Both Borbon and Hunter are already useful big-league players. Beavan (lost velo) and Main (injuries) have been a little slower to develop than expected and both have lower ceilings than what were originally projected. Still, they're both promising arms, as is Ramirez. West has yet to show much of anything with the bat.

Out of the four '07 drafts, I would argue that Toronto had the best return on those picks, as well as the best overall draft when you consider Marc Rzepczynski, Brad Mills, Brad Emaus, Michael McDade, and even Darin Mastroianni.

Clearly, having multiple picks is not a recipe for success; an organization must invest heavily in quality scouts and talent analysts, as well as be prepared to pay the price for quality prospects.

* * *

Now let's fast-forward to the 2010 draft and look at the seven clubs that have multiple picks (at least five) in the first three rounds. Players in bold have signed

Toronto Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays organization had nine picks in the first three rounds, including three supplemental first round picks and three second round selections. Entering the year, Baseball America ranked the Toronto minor league system as 28th overall out of 30 clubs, in terms of minor league talent/depth.

1. Deck McGuire, RHP, College
2. Aaron Sanchez, RHP, HS
3. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, HS
4. Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, College
5. Griffin Murphy, LHP, HS
6. Kellen Sweeney, 3B, HS
7. Justin Nicolino, LHP, HS
8. Chris Hawkins, 3B, HS
9. Marcus Knecht, OF, JC

It's clear that the Jays organization had a new draft approach under first-year GM Alex Anthopoulos and first-year director of amateur scouting Andrew Tinnish. The club took more prep players in one draft than former GM J.P. Ricciardi took during his entire eight-year tenure with the organization. The overall success of this draft will be dependent on inking the four unsigned picks above (Murphy and Nicolino allegedly have deals in place but are awaiting MLB approval). Anthopoulos went on record saying the club has $16 million set aside for the draft, which is a huge budget, and should allow the club to sign some other over-slot deals with the likes of Dickie Thon, Tyler Shreve, Eric Arce, Nick Vander Tuig, Logan Ehlers, and Kris Bryant. Because it's such a young draft, it will take longer than three years (like the 2007 draft) to have a really good idea of how the club did.

Los Angeles Angels

The Los Angeles Angels organization had eight picks in the first three rounds, including three first round selections and two supplemental first round picks. Entering the year, Baseball America ranked the Los Angeles minor league system as 25th overall out of 30 clubs.

1. Kaleb Cowart, 3B, HS
2. Cam Bedrosian, RHP, HS
3. Chevez Clarke, OF, HS
4. Taylor Lindsey, SS, HS
5. Ryan Bolden, OF, HS
6. Daniel Tillman, RHP, College
7. Wendell Soto, SS, HS
8. Donnie Roach, RHP, JC

I really like this draft, because the club nabbed Cowart, Bedrosian and Bolden. It's a very prep-heavy draft with only one collegiate selection and one junior college pick. The organization made a big splash is '09, too, with grabbing Mike Trout, who may be one of the biggest draft steals in the past five to 10 years. The club has done a nice job securing the services of five of the eight '10 picks already, but will likely be slowed down by Major League Baseball, which suppresses a lot of the agreements until right before the signing deadline, which hurts the players' development.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays organization had six picks in the first three rounds, including two first rounders and two second rounders. Entering the year, Baseball America ranked the Tampa Bay minor league system first overall out of 30 clubs.

1. Josh Sale, OF, HS
2. Justin O'Conner, C, HS
3. Drew Vettleson, OF, HS
4. Jake Thompson, RHP, College
5. Derek Dietrich, 3B, College
6. Ryan Brett, 2B, HS

I like this draft, too. Sale was one of my favorite picks, as was O'Conner - especially considering that the club got him with the 31st overall pick and he was projected to go in the Top 15. The organization has done well to sign 50% of these picks. The Rays club is looking to rebound from its '09 draft that saw it fail to sign its first two picks: LeVon Washington and Kenny Diekroeger. The club did make up for it later in the draft with a number of over-slot deals with the likes of Jeff Malm, Luke Bailey, and Kevin James.

Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers organization had six picks in the first three rounds, including two first rounders, and two supplemental first round selections. Entering the year, Baseball America ranked the Texas minor league system as second overall out of 30 clubs.

1. Jake Skole, OF, HS
2. Kellin Deglan, C, HS
3. Luke Jackson, RHP, HS
4. Mike Olt, 3B, College
5. Cody Buckel, RHP, HS
6. Jordan Akins, OF, HS

I'm not overly thrilled with this draft. Both Skole and Deglan appear to be over-drafts. On the plus side, it allowed the club to get pre-draft deals done with both players, which allows them to get into pro ball right away. The best player taken in the Rangers' last two drafts is still Matt Purke, who has been pitching in the College World Series for Texas Christian University. The club was unable to come to terms with him after drafting him 14th overall in '09. He was absolutely dominating as a freshman pitcher and will be draft eligible after his sophomore year of college in 2011.

Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox organization had five picks in the first three rounds, including two supplemental first round picks. Entering the year, Baseball America ranked the Boston minor league system as sixth overall out of 30 clubs.

1. Kolbrin Vitek, 2B, College
2. Bryce Brentz, OF, College
3. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, College
4. Brandon Workman, RHP, College
5. Sean Coyle, SS, HS

A college-heavy draft, this has a chance to work out really well for the club even if I'm not thrilled with the choices. If Ranaudo is healthy, he could be a huge steal - but that's also a huge "if." I'm not sold on either Vitek or Brentz being anything more than solid regulars; neither of them seems to have star potential. The Workman selection is probably my favorite pick from this draft and it was a surprise to see him last into the second round. The club will no doubt be busy right up until the August signing deadline as the organization has handed out 16 over-slot deals, outside the top three rounds, in the past three seasons.

St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals organization had five picks in the first three rounds, including two supplemental first round selections. Entering the year, Baseball America ranked the St. Louis minor league system as 29th overall out of 30 clubs.

1. Zack Cox, 3B, College
2. Seth Blair, RHP, College
3. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP, HS
4. Jordan Swagerty, RHP, College
5. Sam Tuivailala, SS, HS

Cox is a tough sign... and will be very expensive. He's a sophomore-eligible pick, so he has a lot of bargaining power. I am a big Blair fan, so I like this selection. The supplemental first round pick of Jenkins was another ballsy selection for the organization, as he's a multi-sport prep star with a commitment to Baylor University to play quarterback. This organization needs minor league depth quite badly so it will be a huge loss is the Cardinals cannot get deals done with all these picks. The club did pick up some intriguing pitchers in the '09 draft with the selections of prep star Shelby Miller and college sinker baller Joe Kelly.

Houston Astros

The Houston Astros organization had five picks in the first three rounds, including two supplemental first round choices. Entering the year, Baseball America ranked the Houston minor league system as 30th overall - or the worst - out of all 30 clubs.

1. Delino DeShields, 2B, HS
2. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, HS
3. Mike Kvasnicka, 3B, College
4. Vincent Velasquez, RHP, HS
5. Austin Wates, 2B, College

This is another organization that needs to get the deals done for all of its players. The club has done a much better job of identifying talent during the past two drafts. With that said, DeShields seems like a bit of an over-draft but there were a lot of clubs hot on his heels for the supplemental round. The club was lucky to have Kvasnicka available with the 33rd overall pick. He was another player that was coveted by a few other teams. Velasquez' injury history scared some teams but the Astros could have a real steal if he is A) healthy, and B) the former two-way player takes a big step forward in his development by focusing on one role. The club followed up a strong '08 draft (Jason Castro, Jordan Lyles) with a so-so '09 draft.

This article is pretty much a teaser for what is to come. As you probably know, it's going to be quite a while (at least four years) before we get a true feel for this draft... but it's still fun to speculate. We will definitely check back with the 2010 draft after the August signing deadline line and once we know exactly who has and hasn't come to terms.

Around the MinorsMarch 07, 2010
Year of the Rookie: The 2010 AL Edition
By Marc Hulet

Last week, we took a look at the Rookie of the Year candidates in the National League. This week, we're looking at the top MLB-ready (or almost ready) prospects in the American League. There are some impressive players on the cusp on the Major Leagues for 2010 so it should be an exciting race in the season to come.

Early 2010 Rookie Favorites

Brian Matusz, LHP, Baltimore
2009 Peak Level: Majors
2010 Roadblock: David Hernandez

One of the top 2008 draft picks, Matusz more than held his own in an eight-game trial at the Major League level in '09. He posted a 4.08 FIP in 44.2 innings. The southpaw showed solid control with a walk rate of 2.82 BB/9 and he missed some bats (7.66 K/9). On the downside, he allowed a lot of hits (52) and produced a low ground-ball rate (31.2%), which led to a HR/9 rate of 1.21. With that said, he's well positioned to take over the No. 4 starter spot - right behind Brad Bergesen and one spot ahead of sophomore Chris Tillman - in the Orioles rotation in 2010.

Scott Sizemore, 2B, Detroit
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Ramon Santiago

The Tigers organization has not afforded many opportunities to rookies over the past few years but Sizemore is one of two prospects that should see regular playing time in the field. The 25-year-old second baseman will be making his MLB debut if he makes the club out of spring training as expected. Last season, he split the year between double-A and triple-A. At the senior level, he hit .308/.378/.473 in 292 at-bats. Overall, he slammed 17 homers and stole 21 bases (in 25 tries) on the year. Sizemore saw an increase in both his power and speed numbers in '09 so we must be cautious in our expectations: a .270 batting average with 10 homers and 15 steals is probably a good start.

Austin Jackson, OF, Detroit
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Clete Thomas

Part of the loot for Curtis Granderson, the 23-year-old outfielder spent all of '09 in triple-A but would have reached the Majors in '09 for most clubs. Jackson hit .300/.354/.405 in 504 at-bats. His power numbers were down last year (.105 ISO) but he showed good speed on the base paths and nabbed 24 bases in 28 attempts. On the downside of Jackson's game, he doesn't walk enough for a top-of-the-order hitter (7.2%) and he strikes out too much for his modest power (24.4%). Defensively, he has good range in center field.

Wade Davis, RHP, Tampa Bay
2009 Peak Level: Majors
2010 Roadblock: Andy Sonnanstine

Davis, 24, impressed a lot of people with his first six MLB starts. In 36.1 innings of work, he allowed 33 hits and posted a walk rate of 3.22 BB/9. He also had a solid strikeout rate at 8.92 K/9 and his FIP was 2.90. There is some concern around the fact that he allowed a 25% line-drive rate and he'll likely need to use his secondary pitches a little more in '09 after favoring his heater (74.2% of the time). When he used it, his curveball was a valuable pitch. The Rays have an exciting, young rotation with James Shields, Matt Garza, Jeff Niemann, David Price, and Davis. Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson is also not far away.

Neftali Feliz, RHP, Texas
2009 Peak Level: Majors
2010 Roadblock: Tommy Hunter

After a lights-out debut as a reliver in '09, there has been some talk that the Rangers should just leave Feliz, 21, in the 'pen so he can dominate hitters. Luckily, the club has decided not to do that, though. Feliz' ceiling is even higher than Joba Chamberlain (who has been in a similar situation with the Yankees) but the Rangers organization desperately needs reliable starting pitching. In '09, Feliz gave up just 13 hits in 31.0 innings and showed good control for his experience level (2.32 BB/9). Along with a .129 batting-average-against, the right-hander posted a strikeout rate of 11.32 K/9 and had a tiny line-drive rate of just 4.6%.

The Sleepers

Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland
2009 Peak Level: Majors
2010 Roadblock: Matt LaPorta/Russell Branyan

The recent signing of Russell Branyan hurts Brantley. The outfielder could now lose playing time to Matt LaPorta (a natural first baseman) who will likely get at-bats in left field in 2010, like he did in '09. Brantley will certainly not push Grady Sizemore out of center or Shin-Soo Choo out of right. As the fourth outfielder, though, Brantley could still be a valuable player and is one injury away from significant playing time. The rookie is a rare young player who truly understands his game. With zero power (.094 ISO in triple-A), Brantley's game is to get on base and use his legs (46 steals in 51 tries). He's done a nice job of actually walking more than he strikes out in his minor league career (1.23 BB/K in '09).

Michael Taylor, OF, Oakland
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Rajai Davis

Taylor was busy this past winter, going from Philadelphia to Toronto to Oakland during the Roy Halladay trade (He was flipped from Oakland in a rare prospect-for-prospect trade that saw Brett Wallace land in Canada). The 24-year-old outfielder spent much of the '09 season in double-A where he hit .333/.408/.569 in 318 at-bats. He also appeared in 30 games in triple-A and he was a 20-20 player on the year. Taylor has the potential to be a very good player but he's currently blocked at the MLB level by both Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney - two inferior players. Expect Taylor to break through sooner rather than later.

The Second-Half Reinforcements

Brett Wallace, 1B/3B, Toronto
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Lyle Overbay

Toronto tried unsuccessfully to trade incumbent first baseman Lyle Overbay during the off-season. However, he's in the last year of a multi-year deal so it's possible that the rebuilding Jays will be able to find a taker in the second half of the season. Wallace has the potential to be a .280-.300 hitter with 20-plus homers. He's definitely not a third baseman so first base (or DH) is his future destination.

Kyle Drabek, RHP, Toronto
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: Various

With the trade of Roy Halladay, the Jays club has few proven arms in the starting rotation, which will benefit Drabek as he attempts to break through to the Majors. On the downside, he's low man on the totem pole with quite a few arms ahead of him, including Marc Rzepczynski, Brett Cecil, Brad Mills, David Purcey, Zach Stewart, etc. Drabek's fastball/curveball combination could help him reach the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter.

Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: Lou Marson

The talented Santana will not be held off for long by fellow rookie Lou Marson. Santana is an offensive juggernaut with the ability to hit .300 with 20+ homers. He's also a proven run producer (97 or more RBI in the past two seasons) and he gets on base at a crazy rate thanks, in part, to his walk rates of 15-16%. The only hole in his game right now is his defense, as he was converted to catcher just a few years ago.

Tyler Flowers, C, Chicago
2009 Peak Level: Majors
2010 Roadblock: A.J. Pierzynski

Another offense-first catcher, Flowers received his first taste of MLB action in '09. Veteran A.J. Pierzynski is signed through 2010, which is really the only thing keeping this prospect from blooming in the Majors this season. The slugger is similar to Carlos Santana in the fact that he gets on base a lot (18.0% in double-A) with power (.246 ISO) but he's not going to hit .300 in the Majors. The Braves organization will likely regret trading Flowers more than Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Jesus Montero, C/DH, New York
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: Jorge Posada

As scary as it is to consider, Montero's bat may be MLB-ready right now. And that's keeping in mind that he has just 44 games above A-ball and he's just 20 years old. With that said, his defense behind the plate is definitely not ready. As such, and considering that the club is not desperately in need of offense right now, there is no harm in keeping Montero is the minors where the organization can only hope his defense improves enough to make him a future backstop in the Majors.

Chris Carter, 1B, Oakland
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Daric Barton/Jack Cust

Another slugger, Carter is suffering the same fate as Michael Taylor; the first baseman has no where to play right now, although he may be MLB ready. Carter can only hope that Daric Barton (or Jack Cust) will have a slow start to the season. A .250-.270 projected hitter in the Majors, the former White Sox prospect could hit 30-40 homers with massive strikeout numbers.

Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Matt Joyce

Jennings is a step behind Matt Joyce, who already has his own sabermetric fan club. However, a slow start could mean disaster as Jennings is all but ready for a MLB shot. The prospect showed improved power in '09 while also hitting above .320 with 52 steals (in 57 tries). If Jennings makes it to the Majors and shares the outfield with B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford, the Rays may have one of the best defensive (and speediest) outfields in all of Major League Baseball.

Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Tampa Bay
2009 Peak Level: Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Wade Davis

The future sure is bright in Tampa Bay. Hellickson is another Rays prospect that is blocked by other young players. Just 22, he's shown consistently-good control throughout his career and he posted a walk rate of 2.35 BB/9 in nine triple-A starts in '09. He also managed a strikeout rate of 10.99 K/9. On the year, right-handed hitters batted just .164 against Hellickson. One thing he needs to work on, though, is his ground-ball rate, which was just 39.9% combined between double-A and triple-A.

Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: Chris Davis

Smoak got off to a good start in double-A in '09 and he hit .328/.449/.481 in 183 at-bats. He also produced an outstanding walk rate of 17.2%. When he moved up to triple-A, Smoak found the pitching a little more challenging and his triple-slash line dropped to .244/.363/.360 in 197 at-bats. His BABIP went from .375 to .293. Once he shows a little more pop against southpaws (.214 average vs LHP, .326 vs RHP), the smooth-fielding Smoak should take over first base.

Around the MinorsFebruary 28, 2010
Year of the Rookie: The 2010 NL Edition
By Marc Hulet

One of the more exciting story lines each season in Major League Baseball is the Rookie of the Year race. The announcement of the eventual winners is really not the best part, though. The most exciting aspect of the competition is the race itself for the simple fact that we get introduced to the stars of tomorrow.

The 2010 season is shaping up to be another great year for rookies. The '09 season ended up being a pretty amazing run with fans being introduced to the likes of Florida's Chris Coghlan, Atlanta's Tommy Hanson, Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, Oakland's Andrew Bailey and Brett Anderson, Baltimore's Chris Tillman, Toronto's Ricky Romero, and Texas' Elvis Andrus... as well as many, many others.

This week, we'll take a look at the National League's most promising rookies. Over the past 10 seasons, the winners of the Rookie of the Year award have gone on to do some great things. Some of those successful winners include: Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, Florida's Hanley Ramirez, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, New York's Jason Bay, and St. Louis' Albert Pujols. A few of the past winners that have failed to build upon their immediate successes include Florida's Dontrelle Willis, and Colorado's Jason Jennings. The jury remains out of '08 winner and Chicago Cub Geovany Soto.

Early 2010 Rookie Favorites

Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington
2009 Peak Level: Arizona Fall League
2010 Roadblock: His arbitration eligibility

Yeah, last summer's top draft pick could probably hold his own in the Majors right now. But why should he? The organization would be much better off by giving him some minor league innings of experience and delaying his arbitration eligibilty, which will therefore help control his cost and possibly keep him in Washington longer. Strasburg is likely already better than three projected members of the '10 starting rotation: Scott Olsen, J.D. Martin, and Garrett Mock. And he could very well be better than John Lannan, and Jason Marquis. You really have to appreciate how rare it is for a prospect - with basically zero pro experience - to be better than all five big-league pitchers in a club's starting rotation.

Buster Posey, C, San Francisco
2009 Peak Level: The Majors
2010 Roadblock: Management and Bengie Molina

The Giants club saved Molina from a chilly free agent market, but who is going to save general manager Brian Sabean from himself? The club's man-crush on veterans is once again showing its ugly face, as the MLB-ready Posey is in danger of A) beginning the year in the minors, or B) seeing his development stunted by playing multiple positions. Yes, the kid is athletic enough to play a number of positions, but he hasn't been catching all that long so he needs to keep polishing his act behind the dish. Long-term, his value is at its highest by wearing the tools of ignorance.

Jason Heyward, RF, Atlanta
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: (snicker) Matt Diaz

Over the past year, as the Heyward love has increased, readers have been asking: "Is Heyward really that good?" In a recent FanGraphs podcast I likened his possible immediate big-league impact to Albert Pujols... and yes that is extremely high praise, but the 20-year-old outfielder really is that good. Check out his triple-slash line from double-A in '09: .352/.446/.611 in 162 at-bats. With Chipper Jones in decline, Heyward could be the club's best hitter in 2010 (His biggest competitior is probably Brian McCann) and, with apologies to Tommy Hanson, he is the future face of the franchise.

Alcides Escobar, SS, Milwaukee
2009 Peak Level: The Majors
2010 Roadblock: Craig Counsell

Fans received a glimpse of Escobar's potential last season after he replaced incumbent shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was demoted to the minors. With Hardy's off-season trade to Minnesota (which says a lot about the club's faith in its new shortstop), the full-time gig is now Escobar's and he could have an Elvis Andrus-type of season at shortstop for the Brewers... and the Rangers' infielder's '09 season was good enough to earn him the runner-up spot in the Rookie of the Year race in the American League. Escobar is a little bit more experienced than Andrus and he has a great glove, as well as some speed on the base paths (42 steals in 52 tries at triple-A in '09). With the likes of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in the line-up, the rookie should score a lot of runs.

Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco
2009 Peak Level: The Majors
2010 Roadblock: Todd Wellemeyer

There has been a lot said about Bumgarner's drop in velocity in '09 but velo, although important, is not the end-all-and-be-all for a pitcher's success. With that said, the lefty could probably use a little more seasoning in the minors if you consider the fact that his FIP has risen (3.56 FIP in double-A, compared to his ERA of 1.93), while his K/BB has dropped (to 2.30 BB/K), with each promotion. Bumgarner still has the ceiling of a No.2 starter for me, but he's just 20 years old. However, the fact that Wellemeyer is the other option for the fifth spot worries me.

The Sleepers

Josh Thole, C, New York
2009 Peak Level: The Majors
2010 Roadblock: Rod Barajas

You can't really fault the Mets organization for nabbing Barajas. The club got great value for a veteran catcher who slammed 19 homers last year for the Blue Jays. Thole is a much different type of player, with almost zero power (.094 ISO in double-A). However, you don't find many big league catchers that can hit .300 with a solid eye at the plate.

Drew Storen, RHP, Washington
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: Matt Capps, Brian Bruney

Storen is that other guy that Washington selected in the first round of the '09 amateur draft. Well that other guy is rather talented, too, although he'll need to shed the curse that has infected the likes of Craig Hansen and Ryan Wagner - fellow college relievers who reached the Majors quickly only to burn out almost as fast. Storen's chances of closing for Washington in '10 took a significant downturn after the club acquired both Capps (free agency) and Bruney (trade).

Ian Desmond, SS, Washington
2009 Peak Level: The Majors
2010 Roadblock: Cristian Guzman

The Washington organization has been promoting Desmond as its shortstop of the future since he was in High-A ball and he's seemingly struggled with the pressure at times. However, a strong '09 season, which included as successful MLB audtion, seemed to finally thrust him into the '10 starting role by bumping incumbent shortstop Guzman to second base. However, the club then went out and signed Adam Kennedy to play second, which now shifts Guzman back to short or it will make him a very expensive back-up.

Chris Heisey, LF, Cincinnati
2009 Peak Level: The Majors
2010 Roadblock: Jonny Gomes

The Reds club recently re-signed Gomes to a big-league deal so he's the favorite for playing time in left field. However, there is a rather unimpressive backlog of outfielders, including Chris Dickerson, Wladimir Balentien and Laynce Nix, vying for playing time at the position. Heisey could end up being the best of the bunch, although his long-term outlook is probably fourth outfielder due to his average power for the outfield corner.

Eric Young Jr., 2B, Colorado
2009 Peak Level: The Majors
2010 Roadblock: Clint Barmes

I'm an unapologetic Young Jr. fan. As such, I have no issues with suggesting that he brings more to the table on offense than Barmes, who currently projects to receive the majority of the playing time at second base. Yes, the incumbent hit 23 homers, but he also posted a .294 OBP. The ability to get on base and steal 50+ bases from Young could have a much bigger impact in the Rockies lineup, which would wreak havoc on the base paths with four 20+ stolen base threats. Maybe the Rockies and I can meet half way if the club agrees to use Young in a super-sub role that guarantees him 400 at-bats.

The Second-Half Reinforcements

Mike Stanton, RF, Florida
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: His Strikeout Rate

Stanton is one of the Top 5 prospects in all of baseball but the club is likely to receive more immediate help from first base prospect Logan Morrison. Stanton reached double-A in '09 at the age of 19 but his massive strikeout rates (33.1%) and modest double-A numbers suggest he has more work to do.

Andrew Cashner and Jay Jackson, RHPs, Chicago
2009 Peak Level: Double-A and Triple-A
2010 Roadblock: Randy Wells and Tom Gorzelanny

The Cubs big league club is set to infuse some youth into its veteran-laden rotation. Both Cashner and Jackson and near-MLB ready, which is good considering the health questions surrounding most of the pitchers in the starting rotation.

Jason Castro, C, Houston
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: J.R. Towles

The tandem of Towles and Humberto Quintero will not strike fear in the hearts of many opponents. However, Towles has posted some good minor league numbers so there is still hope that he'll realize his potential. If he continues to struggle, though, Castro should be summoned to the Majors... and he has a much brighter future than rookie shortstop Tommy Manzella, who has received a lot of attention lately.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh
2009 Peak Level: Double-A
2010 Roadblock: Andy LaRoche

LaRoche cannot afford to slip this season. The incumbent third baseman had a respectable season in '09 (.324 wOBA) but he is now 26 and has yet to play up to his former prospect hype. Alvarez' triple-slash line at double-A in '09 (.333/.419/.590) has the former No.1 draft pick breathing down LaRoche's neck.

Aroldis Chapman, LHP, Cincinnati
2009 Peak Level: Did Not Play
2010 Roadblock: Matt Maloney, Micah Owings

The Cincinnati Reds organization surprised a lot of people by making a late, successful charge at the hard-throwing Chapman. He's impressing a lot of people early on in spring training but it's probably a little much to expect him to step right into a big league rotation. The organization seems serious about trying to win in '10 so it likely won't hesitate to lean on Chapman if he has some early success.

Next Monday: The American League Rookies

If you're looking for a great advantage for the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Season, considering purchasing a copy of the 2010 FanGraphs Second Opinion fantasy baseball companion. It features 582 pages of in-depth analysis for just $7.95.

Around the MinorsDecember 11, 2009
Reviewing the 2009 Rule 5 Draft
By Marc Hulet

It was a pretty lackluster Rule 5 draft this past Thursday, which was to be expected. Since October 2006, when Major League Baseball increased the 40-man roster addition requirements from three years of pro experience to four (for players signed at age 19 and above) and four years to five (for players signed at age 18 and below), it's given teams more time to evaluate their in-house talent. You can find the rules for the draft HERE.

Of the 17 players selected in the '09 Rule 5 draft, 14 were pitchers (six left-handers, eight right-handers). Two outfielders were taken (with the first and second picks) and a third baseman was also selected (eighth overall).

In 2008, the Rule 5 draft saw four of the 21 players selected stick in the Majors in '09: shortstop Everth Cabrera (San Diego from Colorado, third overall pick), left-hander Donald Veal (Pittsburgh from Chicago NL, fourth overall pick), right-hander Luis Perdomo (San Francisco, later claimed on waivers by San Diego, from St. Louis, sixth overall pick), and right-hander Darren O'Day (New York NL, later claimed off waivers by Texas, from Los Angeles AL, 15th overall pick).

In 2007, 18 players were selected. Perhaps the biggest name selected was right-hander Randy Wells, who went from the Chicago Cubs to the Toronto Blue Jays. He actually made Toronto's opening day roster, but had just one appearance before being offered back. In '09, he was called up to the Majors by the Cubs and was one the best rookie starters in the National League.

During the 2006 draft, two significant diamonds in the rough were uncovered: right-hander Joakim Soria (Kansas City from San Diego, second overall), and outfielder Josh Hamilton (Cincinnati via Chicago NL, from Tampa Bay, third overall). Catcher Jesus Flores (Washington from New York NL, sixth overall) has also shown promising, although he's been bitten by the injury bug.

The 2009 Rule 5 Draft

The Intriguing Picks

Ben Snyder | LHP | Texas via Baltimore, from San Francisco

A former fourth-round pick out of Ball State, Snyder is a left-hander with good stuff, and above-average command (although his control has slipped a bit since leaving A-ball). He'd probably be more successful in the National League than in Texas, but the 24-year-old southpaw has a chance to contribute out of the 'pen if he can keep the ball down. Unfortunately, his 37.1% ground-ball rate suggests he didn't do that overly well at double-A in '09. He has nice splits against left-handers: .178 average, 1.71 BB/9, 10.65 K/9. With C.J. Wilson as the only guaranteed left-hander in the bullpen in 2010 (and possibly the recently-acquired Clay Rapada), it was smart of the club to target some southpaw depth.

Bobby Cassevah | RHP | Oakland from Los Angeles (AL)

If you're a ground-ball freak like me, then Cassevah is your man. The 24-year-old right-hander spent the '09 season in double-A and posted a ground-ball rate of 70% on the season, which is borderline ridiculous. Over the past four seasons, he's allowed just four homers. Aside from the sink, his stuff is otherwise ordinary (velo, break, etc.). His control could get him into trouble in the Majors (4.54 BB/9) and his strikeout rate has dropped each of the past three seasons, but he's a good gamble. Cassevah adds some depth to an inexperienced bullpen, but it remains to be seen just how good the A's infield defense is going to be in 2010.

Hector Ambriz | RHP | Cleveland from Arizona

A solid starting pitcher at UCLA for four seasons, Ambriz' stuff does not play as well in pro ball, thanks to his below-average heater. He did have some nice results in triple-A in '09, though, despite the 5.57 ERA. His FIP was just 3.80 and he suffered from a .372 BABIP, so you can explain away some of those 164 hits in 127.2 innings. He has always shown good control (2.82 BB/9 in '09) and he misses enough bats (7.26 K/9). Career-wise, he has pretty even numbers against right-handed and left-handed hitters. Despite making just three relief appearances over the past three minor league seasons, Ambriz is not an option to start in the Majors (especially the AL), but he could provide innings out of the inexperienced 'pen.

Steven Johnson | RHP | San Francisco from Baltimore

Part of the loot in the mid-2009 trade of closer George Sherrill to the Dodgers, Johnson made just seven starts for his new organization before heading back to the NL West. The right-hander has average stuff, but he has good command/control and posted a strikeout rate of 9.43 K/9 on the season. Although he struggles with his control against left-handed hitters (4.83 BB/9), Johnson handles them well otherwise: .219 average, 10.28 K/9. The club basically traded Snyder for Johnson, which was a pretty good move, especially considering the organization already has pretty solid left-handed depth. And Johnson has a chance to pitch out of the starting rotation down the road.

Kanekoa Texeira | RHP | Seattle from New York (AL)

The better of the two Te(i)xeiras to lose, Texeira was acquired from the White Sox prior to the '09 season. Given the organization's reputation for trading pitchers who then fall victim to injuries, New York may have just been happy to get one healthy season from the reliever. In 101.1 double-A innings, the durable righty allowed 90 hits and posted a walk rate of 3.82 BB/9. His strikeout rate of 7.82 K/9 was solid, as was his 61.2% ground-ball rate. He certainly won't benefit much from Seattle's excellent outfield defense. Oddly, his strikeout rate was 10.69 against left-handed batters and just 4.25 against right-handed batters. With the likes of Sean White, Jason Vargas, and Garrett Olson vying for spots in the bullpen, Texeira has a good shot at making the opening day roster.

Why Bother?

Jamie Hoffmann | OF | New York (AL) via Washington, from Los Angeles (NL)

This choice was puzzling... and made even more so by the fact that the Yankees traded up to get Hoffman. Yes, the 40-man roster boasted just four outfielders prior to the Rule 5 draft, but the club does not need to pinch pennies in effort to build its bench. As well, if Hoffmann is such a desirable commodity, why didn't the Yankees grab him on waivers when he was designated for assignment by the Dodgers just three months ago on Sept. 1/09? He'd have more value in that scenario because he has minor-league options remaining, which cannot be utilized as a Rule 5 pick. Most of Hoffmann's player value is in his defense, as well as his willingness to take a walk (11.1% in triple-A) and his base running (15+ steal capability in regular playing time).

John Raynor | OF | Pittsburgh from Florida

Raynor is an interesting pick for the Pirates organization, which actually has a fair bit of depth at the position with the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Lastings Milledge, Brandon Moss, and Delwyn Young (as well as Garrett Jones) kicking around. Raynor brings some speed (18 steals in 26 attempts) and the ability to play all three outfield positions. He had an off-year in '09 by hitting just .255/.326/.357 (.336 BABIP) after back-to-back seasons of hitting .312+, but he also had BABIPs of .404 in each of those two seasons. As a result, his '09 numbers appear far more realistic. Raynor needs to curb his strikeouts (27.0%).

Chuck Lofgren | LHP | Milwaukee from Cleveland

Another interesting pick-up, Lofgren was considered one of Cleveland's top pitching prospects as recently as 2007. His stuff has gone backwards since then, but he still has an above-average breaking ball that could make him an OK LOOGY reliever in the Brewers 'pen (He has modest left/right splits. At double-A in '09, Lofgren allowed 94 hits in 98.1 innings, while posting a walk rate of 3.02 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 5.67 K/9. If either Mitch Stetter or Chris Narveson falter, Lofgren should be ready to step in.

Edgar Osuna | LHP | Kansas City from Atlanta

With just one left-hander (Dusty Hughes) on the 40-man roster prior to the selection of Osuna, the organization clearly needed some southpaw depth. The 22-year-old hurler reached double-A in '09 where he allowed 74 hits in 77.1 innings and posted a walk rate of 2.44 BB/9. While his control rates have remained fairly static over his career, Osuna's strikeout rate has dropped rather significantly since he left low-A ball and bottomed out at 5.70 K/9 in double-A. His career 40% ground-ball rate is nothing to write home about. You also have to hope the Royals are not looking to him as a LOOGY. His career splits are not favorable: .285 average/7.05 K/9 vs lefties and .242/8.90 vs righties.

Jorge Jimenez | 3B | Florida via Houston, from Boston

There is honestly nothing about Jimenez that really suggests he's going to be even an average big-league third baseman. The left-handed hitter is a platoon waiting to happen, with a double-A OPS of .600 against southpaws. Overall, he hit just .289/.366/.424 in 498 at-bats. With a .135 ISO, his power output is below-average for a third baseman. But hey, Jimenez, 25, is probably an offensive upgrade over Emilio Bonifacio.

Zach Kroenke | LHP | Arizona from New York (AL)

Kroenke is an interesting selection, as he was also picked in the '08 draft. However, the Florida Marlins chose not to keep Kroenke and he was offered back (and accepted) by the Yankees. If the southpaw fails to make the Arizona club this time around, he will become a free agent before the Yankees have a shot at taking him back. The 1.99 ERA at triple-A in '09 is nice, but his FIP was 3.64 and he was aided by a low BABIP at .251. His strikeout rate was nothing special at 6.84 K/9 but his ground-ball rate of 60.0% against left-handers suggests that he might have a future as a LOOGY. The Diamondbacks club could use some help in that department with just Clay Zavada currently on hand.

Mike Parisi | RHP | Chicago (NL) from St. Louis

Injuries prevented Parisi from making more than five starts during the regular season in '09. However, he pitched well in the Arizona Fall League and showed a heavy ball. Parisi made seven appearances (six starts), which was obviously enough to catch the eye of the Cubs. He'll open the 2010 season at the age of 27, so he has little upside. The club can use the depth in the bullpen.

Zech Zinicola | RHP | Toronto from Washington

Zinicola actually had a better season than many of his stats would suggest. The right-hander posted a 3.25 FIP in 20.2 innings at double-A and a 3.29 FIP in triple-A, so his defense definitely let him down at the higher level, which led to the 47 hits in 33.1 innings, and misleading ERA. The .417 BABIP and 52.5 LOB% are definitely not going to stick. Zinicola does have a nice heater (topping out around 93 mph), which led to a strikeout rate of 8.37 in triple-A, and he displayed at least average control in '09. You also have to love the 56.7% ground-ball rate, as well as the low 11.8% line-drive rate. On the worrisome side, Zinicola has struggled against right-handed batters in each of the past two seasons (.345 average in '09, .318 in '08), possibly due to inconsistent fastball command. The Jays club has a fair amount of depth in the bullpen, so Zinicola could have trouble finding a home.

Carlos Monasterios | RHP | Los Angeles (NL) via New York (NL) from Philadelphia

Monasterios, 23, was originally acquired by the Phillies from the Yankees in the Bobby Abreu deal of '06. The right-hander has average stuff, but he displays above-average control and posted a walk rate of 2.96 BB/9 in high-A ball in '09. He worked as a swing-man this past season, making seven starts and 28 relief appearances. Repeating high-A ball in '09, Monasterios improved his home-run vulnerability and dropped his HR/9 rate from 1.81 to 0.44. He opened some eyes recently while pitching in the Venezuelan Winter League and has allowed 45 hits in 51.1 innings. His ceiling is probably middle to long reliever in the Majors.

Ben Jukich | LHP | St. Louis from Cincinnati

Another low-ceiling pick, Jukich is 27 years old and he spent the entire year in triple-A with the Reds. In 123.0 innings split between the starting rotation and the bullpen, he allowed 125 hits and posted a walk rate of 2.93 BB/9. He had some trouble with the long-ball and posted a HR/9 rate of 1.17. His numbers against southpaws were nothing to write home about: .242 average (.164 BABIP), 5.71 K/9. Dennys Reyes has a potential partner now, though, in the bullpen.

Armando Zerpa | LHP | Los Angeles (NL) via Tampa Bay, from Boston

Along with Monasterios, the Dodgers actually added two Rule 5 picks, and the club is not likely to compete for the NL West title with both pitchers in its bullpen. Zerpa is definitely the odd man out at this point, even if he has the edge of being a lefty. The club actually already has pretty solid depth and Zerpa has pitched just 16 games above low-A ball. He allowed just 19 hits in 45.0 low-A ball innings in '09 but he was helped significantly by a .200 BABIP. Zerpa does generate a fair number of ground balls (53.3%) and he has good career splits against left-handed hitters (.166 career average).

Kenny (David) Herndon | RHP | Philadelphia from Los Angeles (AL)

A 2006 fifth-round pick of the Angels, Herndon never developed the secondary pitches needed to stick in the rotation. After dabbling in relief in '08, he went all-in in '09 and posted a 4.65 FIP in 65.1 innings. He gave up too many hits in double-A (70) but he didn't hurt himself by issuing walks (1.93 BB/9). His 4.82 K/9 rate leaves something to be desired, as does the 1.24 HR/9 rate. Herndon has never fared well against left-handed hitters, and they hit .313 against him (with a strikeout rate of just 2.54 K/9) in '09.

Around the MinorsAugust 13, 2009
The 2009 Draft Deadline Looms
By Marc Hulet

About a month ago we took a look at which 2009 first round draft picks had come to terms with their new organizations. Not a whole lot has changed since then, but there have been a few more signings. With just four days to go, though, that is sure to change in a hurry. As it stands, Bobby Borchering (Arizona) and Donavan Tate (San Diego) are both rumored to be close to agreeing to contracts. The majority of the national coverage will no doubt center around first overall pick Stephen Strasburg and whether or not he'll be able to come to an agreement with Washington.

Let's see who has already signed in the first round and how they're doing with less than a month to go in the minor-league season. The players who have signed since our last update have been underlined. Signing bonuses have also been added for everyone in the first round.

First Round

4. Pittsburgh: Tony Sanchez | Catcher | Boston College [$2.5 million]

Sanchez has yet to slow down despite playing in low-A ball. The 21-year-old catcher has a line of .347/.460/.574 with four homers in 101 at-bats. He also has a nice walk rate of 12.9 BB% and a respectable strikeout rate at 19.8 K%.

5. Baltimore: Matt Hobgood | RHP | California high school [$2.422 million]

Hobgood has made four short starts in rookie ball and has a 6.75 ERA (but 3.33 FIP) in eight innings. He's struggled with his control by walking five batters, but he also has seven Ks.

7. Atlanta: Mike Minor | LHP | Vanderbilt [$2.42 million]

Minor recently signed and has yet to make a professional appearance.

10. Washington: Drew Storen | RHP | Stanford [$1.6 million]

Storen was the quickest signee, agreeing to a contract on draft day. He's already pitched well at two levels (low-A, high-A) and he just made his first appearance in double-A. Storen worked a perfect inning and he could be in Washington in September.

17. Arizona: A.J. Pollock | Outfielder | Notre Dame [$1.4 million]

His numbers aren't flashy, but Pollock has been holding his own in low-A ball. He currently sports a line of .267/.306/.404 with three homers and five steals in 161 at-bats. Pollock could stand to be a little more patient at the plate (4.7 BB%).

20. Toronto: Chad Jenkins | RHP | Kennesaw State [$1.35 million]

Jenkins just came to terms with Toronto yesterday (Wednesday) so he has yet to make a pro appearance.

21. Houston: Jiovanni Mier | Shortstop | California high school [$1.358 million]

Mier is arguable having the nicest pro debut so far of any of the first rounders. He is currently hitting .298/.405/.476 with three homers and eight steals in 124 at-bats. He is showing advanced patience at the plate with a walk rate of 13.3 BB%. His strikeout rate is a little high at 22.6 K%.

23. Chicago AL: Jared Mitchell | Outfielder | Louisiana State [$1.2 million]

Mitchell spent a little time on the disabled list after signing but he's been hitting well since being activated. Mitchell currently has a line of .277/.440/.415 in 65 low-A at-bats. He's stolen four bases in seven attempts and has a walk rate of 22.6 BB%. Unfortunately, that comes with a strikeout rate of 33.8 K%.

24. Los Angeles AL: Randal Grichuk | Outfielder | Texas high school [$1.242 million]

Grichuk, like Mier, is having a nice pro debut with a line of .324/.359/.500 in 182 rookie at-bats. Unfortunately, his walk rate is just 3.7 BB% and his BABIP is a highly-unsustainable .442. He's stolen six bases in nine attempts and has 21 extra base hits, including 12 doubles and seven triples.

25. Los Angeles AL: Mike Trout | Outfielder | New Jersey high school [$1.215 million]

Trout is also producing an outstanding line at .369/.424/.541 with 10 steals in 111 at-bats. His BABIP, though, is also out-of-this-world at .460. He has a better handle on the strike zone than his teammate Grichuk, with a walk rate of 9.8 BB% and a strikeout rate of 20.7 K%.

26. Milwaukee: Eric Arnett | RHP | Indiana [$1.197 million]

Arnett's superficial numbers are not very good (0-3 record, 5.09 ERA) but he's allowed just 14 hits in 17.2 innings of work and has a FIP of 3.60. The biggest red flag for this right-hander is the walk rate at 7.13 BB/9.

28. Boston: Reymond Fuentes | Outfielder | Puerto Rico high school [$1.134 million]

Fuentes is yet another early prep pick who is having success in rookie ball. The athletic outfielder is currently hitting .301/.351/.379 in 103 at-bats. He also has nine steals in 14 attempts. His strikeout rate is respectable at 16.5 K%, but he could stand to take a few more walks (6.4 BB%).

31. Chicago NL: Brett Jackson | Outfielder | California [$972,000]

Considered a stretch for where he was selected in the draft, Jackson has hit well in three minor league stops. He is currently in low-A where he's hitting .328/.418/.586 with four homers and six steals in 58 at-bats. His walk rate (9.4 BB% at low-A) has dropped with each promotion, but so has his strikeout rate (20.7 K%).

32. Colorado: Tim Wheeler | Outfielder | Sacramento State [$900,000]

Wheeler has spent his entire time in short-season ball since signing. The outfielder has a line of .270/.335/.362 with two homers and six steals (nine attempts) in 185 at-bats. He has a walk rate of 8.9 BB% and a strikeout rate of 20.0 K%.

Supplemental First Round

In the supplemental first round, 13 of the 17 selections have officially come to terms. High school catcher Steven Baron was the first player taken in the round. Also signing were Rex Brothers (Colorado), Matt Davidson (Arizona), Aaron Miller (Los Angeles NL), Josh Phegley (Chicago AL), Tyler Skaggs (Los Angeles AL), Chris Owings (Arizona), Garrett Richards (Los Angeles AL), Mike Belfiore (Arizona), Matt Bashore (Minnesota), Kyle Heckathorn (Milwaukee), Tyler Kehrer (Los Angeles AL), and Victor Black (Pittsburgh).

Over-slot Deals (Beyond the 3rd round)

4th round: Pittsburgh, Zach Dodson | LHP | Texas HS [$600,000]
5th round: Milwaukee, D'Vontrey Richardson | OF | Florida State [$400,000]
6th round: Pittsburgh, Zack Von Rosenberg | RHP | Louisiana HS [$1.2 million]
6th round: San Francisco, Matt Graham | RHP | Texas HS [$500,000]
6th round: Philadelphia, Steven Inch | RHP | Alberta HS [$300,000
6th round: Chicago NL, Brooke Raley | LHP | Texas A&M [$750,000]
7th round: Pittsburgh, Trent Stevenson | RHP | Arizona HS [$350,000]
7th round: Baltimore, Aaron Wirsch | LHP | California HS [$200,000]
8th round: Pittsburgh, Colton Cain | LHP | Texas HS [$1.125 million]
8th round: Philadelphia, Jonathan Singleton | 1B | California HS [$200,000]
9th round: Baltimore, Ryan Berry | RHP | Rice [$417,600]
10th round: Cincinnati, Tucker Barnhart | C | Indiana HS [$250,000]
10th round: Boston, Brandon Jacobs | OF | Georgia HS [$750,000]
11th round: Boston, Jason Thompson | SS | Tennessee HS [$300,000]
13th round: Arizona, Patrick Schuster | LHP | Florida HS [$450,000]
14th round: Kansas City, Crawford Simmons | LHP | Georgia HS [$450,000]

Tick-tock, goes the clock. Tick-tock. The draft deadline will soon be here (Thank goodness).

Around the MinorsJuly 16, 2009
The 2009 Draft: Sign On the Dotted Line
By Marc Hulet

It's been just over a month since the dust settled on the Major League Baseball 2009 amateur draft. The event featured a no-brainer first-overall pick (Stephen Strasburg), a surprise Top 10 selection (Tony Sanchez at No. 4), and a few other interesting first-round choices (Randal Grichuk, LeVon Washington).

Of the 32 picks taken in the first round of the draft, 12 players (37.5%) have signed. There are exactly 31 more days for teams and players to come to an agreement on terms or players will have to wait at least one more year to pursue their MLB aspirations in professional baseball (or at least three more years for prep players entering a college program).

Last season, two players failed to come to terms: Aaron Crow (Ninth overall to Washington) and Gerrit Cole (28th overall to New York AL). Crow returned to the draft this season and went 12th overall to Kansas City.

Of the 2008 players who signed, most appeared in at least a handful of games in the minors during their draft year. Players who failed to sign in time to make their pro debuts in '08 included Pedro Alvarez (Pittsburgh), Brian Matusz (Baltimore), Josh Fields (Seattle), and Brett Lawrie (Milwaukee). The debut for Ethan Martin (Los Angeles NL) was delayed due to injury. Some of the selections who got on to the playing field early have already made their Major League debuts, such as Gordon Beckham (Chicago AL), Ryan Perry (Detroit), and Daniel Schlereth (Arizona). Corner infielders Justin Smoak (Texas) and Brett Wallace (St. Louis) are both in triple-A knocking on the big-league door.

Let's have a look at the 2009 first-round draftees who have signed so far:

4. Pittsburgh: Tony Sanchez | Catcher | Boston College
The highest-drafted pick to have already signed on the dotted line, Sanchez played in four short-season games before moving up to low-A ball. In nine games at that level, he's hitting .405/.522/.622 with one homer in 37 at-bats. Sanchez also has five walks and five Ks. The right-handed hitter is also 6-for-6 (1.000) versus left-handed pitchers.

5. Baltimore: Matt Hobgood | RHP | California high school
Although he's signed, Hobgood has yet to pitch in a professional game.

10. Washington: Drew Storen | RHP | Stanford
The first pick to sign, Washington had to choose someone that was willing to go pro because this pick was compensation for failing to come to terms with Aaron Crow last season. Failure to sign Storen would not have resulted in a 2010 compensation pick. As a result, the right-hander was a bit of a stretch as the 10th overall pick. So far in 2009 while playing in low-A ball, Storen has a 3.95 ERA in 13.2 innings. He's allowed 11 hits, no walks and he's struck out 23 batters.

17. Arizona: A.J. Pollock | Outfielder | Notre Dame
Pollock is holding his own in low-A ball. The former college star is hitting .293/.323/.414 with two steals in five tries over a 13-game span. He has four extra-base hits (including two doubles and a homer).

21. Houston: Jiovanni Mier | Shortstop | California high school
One of the more recent signings, Mier is enjoying professional baseball. The shortstop is currently hitting .308/.416/.492 with four triples and three steals in 65 at-bats. He also has 13 RBI in 17 games; not bad for a player whose strength was supposed to be his glove.

23. Chicago AL: Jared Mitchell | Outfielder | Louisiana State
Mitchell was placed on the disabled list before taking his first pro at-bat.

24. Los Angeles AL: Randal Grichuk | Outfielder | Texas high school
One of the surprise picks of the first round, Grichuk is looking pretty good so far. The outfielder is currently hitting .291/.318/.418 with four doubles and three triples in 79 rookie at-bats. The teenager needs to alter his approach a bit at the plate, though, as he has just three walks to go with 27 Ks.

25. Los Angeles AL: Mike Trout | Outfielder | New Jersey high school
Trout has joined Grichuk in the Arizona rookie league but he's appeared in just four games, but he has nine hits in 17 at-bats (including a double and two triples). He's showing a better approach at the plate with six walks and four Ks.

26. Milwaukee: Eric Arnett | RHP | Indiana
Arnett has made four appearances, including two starts. In 6.2 overall innings, the right-hander has allowed seven hits and five walks. He's also struck out seven batters.

28. Boston: Reymond Fuentes | Outfielder | Puerto Rico high school
The speedy Fuentes has gotten off to a flying start in rookie ball for Boston. The left-handed hitter is currently batting .382/.436/.441 with 13 hits in 34 at-bats. He's taken three base-on-balls and struck out four times. Fuentes has two steals in four attempts.

31. Chicago NL: Brett Jackson | Outfielder | California
This surprise first-round selection began his pro career in rookie ball and hit .455 in three games. He was then moved up to short-season ball where he is hitting .300/.417/.425 with one homer in 40 at-bats. Jackson has walked seven times, while also striking out in 10 at-bats.

32. Colorado: Tim Wheeler | Outfielder | Sacramento State
Playing in short-season ball, Wheeler is currently hitting .272/.355/.370 with one homer and five doubles in 77 at-bats. He's walked 11 times, with 18 strikeouts. Wheeler has stolen three bases in five attempts.

* * *

Overall, seven of the first 12 picks to have signed were college selections, while the other five came from the high school ranks. Seven of the signees are outfielders and three others are right-handed pitchers.

In the supplemental first round, nine of the 17 selections have officially come to terms. High school catcher Steven Baron was the first player taken in the round and he recently signed with Seattle. Also signing were Rex Brothers (Colorado), Matt Davidson (Arizona), Aaron Miller (Los Angeles NL), Josh Phegley (Chicago AL), Mike Belfiore (Arizona), Matt Bashore (Minnesota), Tyler Kehrer (Los Angeles AL), and Victor Black (Pittsburgh).

Both the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies did not have their first selections until the second round (due to free agent signings during the 2008-09 off-season). The Mets chose New York prep lefty Steve Matz 72nd overall, but have yet to come to terms. The Phillies took California high school outfielder Kelly Dugan 75th overall and have already inked the youngster. He is batting .281 in 16 rookie ball games.

Overall, Toronto and Tampa Bay are the only two clubs that have yet to sign at least one of their Top 4 selections. Toronto had five selections in the first three rounds and has yet to come to terms with any of them and media reports suggest none of them are overly close to signing, which is highly unusual for Toronto. The Jays organization is normally one of the most aggressive when it comes to getting its top picks under contract and into the system. The highest drafted player to sign so far is seventh rounder Egan Smith, a left-handed pitcher who was taken out of a Nevada community college. Tampa Bay's highest signee is sixth round selection Devin Fuller, a right-handed pitcher out of an Arizona community college.

Hopefully we'll see the signings start to pick up. Major League Baseball's pressure on teams to avoid announcing over-slot signings prior to the signing deadline takes a little fun out of the post-draft coverage - and it also keeps players from getting much-needed pro experience.

Around the MinorsJune 12, 2009
Familiar Names in the 2009 College World Series
By Marc Hulet

It should be an entertaining College World Series this year when things get underway this weekend (June 13-23/24). Both Virginia and Southern Mississippi are making their first-time ever appearances in the series. The University of Texas, on the other hand, has played in the series 32 (going on 33) times and has five titles. Only two teams from the 2008 series - Louisiana State and North Carolina - return in 2009.

In the first round you have: Cal State Fullerton vs Arkansas; Virginia vs Louisiana State; Arizona State vs North Carolina; and Southern Mississippi vs Texas.

There are not quite as many big-time prospects in this year's College World Series. Last year, the series featured seven first-round draft picks, while this year there are just four, including CF/1B Dustin Ackley, who went second overall to the Seattle Mariners. In total, 43 players were drafted from the eight teams in the series, down from 58 in 2008.

It's also interesting to note that a number of MLB teams drafted multiple players from the eight teams playing in the series, whether by design or coincidence: Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, and the Seattle Mariners.

Arizona State
Record: 47-12
Coach: Pat Murphy
Last Title: 1981

  • Mike Leake, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
    First Round (8th overall)

    Leake had an impressive statistical season, but his pitchability far outweighs his stuff (which is still pretty good). As such, many people were surprised to see Cincinnati tab Leake with the 8th overall selection. He is the undisputed ace of the staff after winning 15 games and posting a 1.23 ERA... The Reds organization will just hope he does not get too overworked in the series.

    Other Names to Know: Jason Kipnis, OF, Cleveland (2nd round); Josh Spence, LHP, Los Angeles AL (3rd); Carlos Ramirez, C, Los Angeles AL (8th); Jared McDonald, SS, Chicago AL (21st); Raoul Torrez, 2B, Los Angeles AL (32nd).

    Record: 44-13-1
    Coach: Augie Garrido
    Last Title: 2005

  • Austin Wood, LHP, Detroit Tigers
    Fifth Round (150th overall)

    Wood made headlines, but not for the right reasons. The senior closer was forced to work 13 innings in relief during a playoff game against Boston College that went into extra innings. On the plus side, he was dominating through the first 10 innings as he did not allow a hit during that span. He's probably not a closer in the Majors, though as he relies mainly on a low-90s fastball and good changeup.

    Other Names to Know: Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco (5th round)

    Record: 46-12
    Coach: Brian O'Connor
    Last Title: Never

    Names to Know: Andrew Carraway, RHP, Seattle (12th round); Jeff Lorick, LHP, Atlanta (20th); Robert Poutier, RHP, San Diego (29th); Matt Packer, LHP, Cleveland (32nd); Tyler Cannon, SS, Pittsburgh (41st).

    Cal State Fullerton
    Record: 45-14
    Coach: Dave Serrano
    Last Title: 2004

    Names to Know: Josh Fellhauer, OF, Cincinnati (7th round); Khristopher Davis, OF, Milwaukee (7th); Jared Clark, 1B, Colorado (12th); Dustin Garneau, C, Colorado (19th); Michael Morrison, RHP, Detroit (29th); Kyle Witten, RHP, Seattle (41st); Joseph Scott, 2B, Colorado (42nd).

    North Carolina
    Record: 45-16
    Coach: Mike Fox
    Last Title: Never

  • Dustin Ackley, OF/1B, Seattle
    First Round (2nd overall)

    Obviously this Ackley kid is pretty good. Dave Cameron at even made an interesting argument for the gifted hitter to go first overall in this week's 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. He's certainly the key cog in North Carolina's offense. He led the team in average, home runs, RBI, walks, and was tied for first in stolen bases. Ackley also has the flexibility to play both first base and center field.

  • Alex White, RHP, Cleveland
    First Round (15th overall)

    White has had an up-and-down junior season, but he's made big pitches when needed in the playoffs. The right-hander held opposing batters to a .230 average and he struck out 97 hitters in 90 innings of work.

    Other Names to Know: Kyle Seager, 2B, Seattle (3rd round); Mark Fleury, C, Cincinnati (4th); Adam Warren, RHP, New York AL (4th); Brian Moran, LHP, Seattle (7th); Colin Bates, RHP, Oakland (37th).

    Louisiana State University
    Record: 49-16
    Coach: Paul Mainieri
    Last Title: 2000

  • Jared Mitchell, OF, Chicago AL
    First Round (23rd overall)

    Mitchell has the ability to completely dominate a game if he can get on base. The athletic outfielder stole 33 bases in 65 college games this season. He also has some pop and he slugged nine home runs, good for third on the team. Although he strikes out a lot (58 times), he also took his fair share of walks (50), which means he doesn't have to be swinging well to make an impact.

    Other Names to Know: D.J. LeMahieu, 2B, Chicago NL (2nd round); Louis Coleman, RHP, Kansas City (5th); Ryan Schimpf, 2B, Toronto (5th); Blake Dean, OF, Minnesota (10th); Sean Ochinko, C, Toronto (11th).

    Record: 37-22
    Coach: Dave Van Horn
    Last Title: Never

    Names to Know: Dallas Keuchel, LHP, Houston (7th round); Stephen Richards, LHP, Florida (8th); Scott Lyons, SS, Kansas City (15th); Ben Tschepikow, 2B, Kansas City (17th); Michael Bolsinger, RHP, Oakland (33rd); Ryan Cisterna, RHP, Los Angeles AL (34th).

    Southern Mississippi
    Record: 38-24
    Coach: Corky Palmer
    Last Title: Never

    Names to Know: Brian Dozier, SS, Minnesota (8th); Jimmy Ballinger, RHP, Chicago AL (11th); James Ewing, 2B, New York NL (12th); Ben Davis, OF, San Diego (24th).

  • Around the MinorsMay 21, 2009
    A Giant Future
    By Marc Hulet

    We've heard a lot recently about the excellent young pitching that the Giants organization is developing, and rightfully so. The team nabbed two excellent prep arms in the first round of the 2007 draft and both those players - LHP Madison Bumgarner and RHP Tim Alderson - were recently promoted to double-A Connecticut, just two small steps from the Majors.

    But that's not all. The Giants organization has a plethora of young, exciting talent, which should be sustainable over the next eight to 10 seasons if the club plays its cards right. It's actually hard to believe how many good prospects there are, given the reputation that the team (and its management) had for almost laughably favoring aging veterans.

    This isn't Dusty's team anymore. Or Barry's. With its electrifying mix of young hitting and pitching talent, it just might be the most dominating team in the National League for the next decade... beginning in 2010. Let's take a look at how dominating the San Francisco Giants could be even if it only fielded players originally signed/drafted by the club.

    The Starting Rotation

    The Ace: Tim Lincecum
    Drafted: 2006 1st round (University of Washington)
    Born: 6/84 (24)
    Pro Experience: Four seasons
    MLB Experience: Two years
    Notes: The club has about four seasons remaining before Lincecum will be eligible for free agency. Barring some terrible injury, there is no season to expect that the Giants won't lock up this talent long term. Lincecum is durable (227 IP in 2008), he's a proven winner (18 wins last year) and he's dominant (10.19 K/9, 7.5 H/9 MLB career).

    The No. 2: Madison Bumgarner
    Drafted: 2007 1st round (North Carolina high school)
    Born: 8/89 (19)
    Pro Experience: 1.2 seasons
    MLB Experience: None
    Notes: The kid skipped over short-season ball after being drafted and went right to A-ball. He then all but skipped over high A-ball en route to double-A at the age of 19. As an 18 year old, he led the South Atlantic League in wins, ERA, strikeouts and WHIP. The left-hander can touch 97 mph with his plus fastball and the secondary pitches are still improving, which is a scary thought.

    The No. 3: Tim Alderson
    Drafted: 2007 1st round (Arizona high school)
    Born: 11/88 (20)
    Pro Experience: 1.4 seasons
    MLB Experience: None
    Notes: Alderson has a funky delivery that worries some people, but he's always been durable and he has above-average control, as well as plus command of his fastball. He skipped right over low-A ball in his first full season and was one of the best pitchers in high-A ball. Alderson threw 6.2 innings of no-hit ball in his double-A debut recently, but he was pulled because he threw too many pitches while striking out 10 batters.

    The No. 4: Matt Cain
    Drafted: 2002 1st round (Alabama high school)
    Born: 10/84 (24)
    Pro Experience: Eight seasons
    MLB Experience: 3.4 seasons
    Notes: A 24-year-old pitcher that has thrown 200 innings twice and struck out 186 batters in 2008 would probably be a No. 2 or 3 starter for most teams. In San Francisco, though, he projects to be the No. 3 or 4 guy in terms of overall talent and potential. Cain walks too many batters (4.50 BB/9) but he's a durable innings eater. He's signed through 2010, but the Giants organization has an option for 2011, which will take him up until his first free agency year.

    The Hopefuls:
    Young pitchers Scott Barnes (9/87), a 2008 draftee exceeding expectations, and Clayton Tanner (12/87), a raw Australian hurler, are amongst the names vying for the one available rotation spot.

    The Bullpen

    The Closer: Brian Wilson
    Drafted: 2003 24th round (Louisiana State University)
    Born: 3/82 (27)
    Pro Experience: 4.2 seasons
    MLB Experience: 2.1 years
    Notes: Considering he was drafted in the 24th round, Wilson has come a long way and he's still developing as a closer despite saving 41 games last season. He's shaved almost 1 BB/9 off his walk rate and he's relying more heavily on a cutter to complement his 96 mph fastball and slider.

    The Set-up Man: Henry Sosa
    Signed: 2004 Dominican Republic
    Born: 7/85 (24)
    Pro Experience: 4.7 seasons
    MLB Experience: None
    Notes: Sosa has shown flashes of dominance in the minors, although he's also struggled with injuries. The right-hander is pretty much a one-pitch pitcher with a dominating mid-90s fastball. If he can improve his curve or change, he could be a closer candidate down the road. In his career, he's holding batters to a .190 average with runners in scoring position.

    The Others:
    Sergio Romo (3/83) doesn't have top-shelf stuff, but he knows how to use what he's got and he's quite adept at changing speeds. Waldis Joaquin (12/86) is a power pitcher with two potential plus pitches: a mid-90s fastball and a slider. Lefty Joe Paterson (5/86) is the epitome of a LOOGY; he's held left-handed batters to a .126 average and hasn't given up a home run while facing 168 batters (and striking out 67, or 13.11 K/9).

    The Starting Lineup

    The Catcher: Buster Posey
    Drafted: 2008 1st round (Florida State University)
    Born: 3/87 (22)
    Pro Experience: 0.3 seasons
    MLB Experience: None
    Notes: Posey went from being drafted 1,496th overall out of high school by the Angels to being taken fifth overall three years later after a solid college career. His time in pro ball has not been too shabby either, as the athletic catcher has a .300 career average. Posey has been creaming lefties to the tune of a .400 average in 40 at-bats. Not many teams can boast that they have a catcher who can hit .300 with 20 homers.

    The First Baseman: Angel Villalona
    Signed: 2007 Dominican Republic
    Born: 8/90 (18)
    Pro Experience: 1.7 seasons
    MLB Experience: None
    Notes: Villalona has moved across the diamond from third base to first base, but his power potential is more than enough for his new position. He's also hitting .314 in high-A ball, although the right-handed hitter is struggling against southpaws with a .225 average. Villalona also struggled against lefties in 2007, so it's something to keep an eye on. If he can learn to hold his own against southpaws, he could hit 30 homers in the Majors. Think David Ortiz in his prime, if everything clicks.

    The Second Baseman: Emmanuel Burriss
    Drafted: 2006 supplemental 1st round (Kent State University)
    Born: 1/85 (24)
    Pro Experience: 2.7 seasons
    MLB Experience: 1.0 years
    Notes: Burriss seized the bull by the horns with an unexpected opportunity last year and he's not looking back, although he did struggle early this season and hit only .182 in April. He's batting more than .400 in May, though. The switch hitter's base-running abilities are a valuable asset to this lineup. Burriss could even slide over to shortstop, his natural position, to make room for Nick Noonan.

    The Third Baseman: Pablo Sandoval
    Signed: 2002 Venezuela
    Born: 8/86 (22)
    Pro Experience: 6.2 seasons
    MLB Experience: 0.5 years
    Notes: With Bengie Molina blocking him behind the plate in San Francisco, Sandoval moved to the hot corner, where he's adequate defensively. Sandoval does not appear to be moving back behind the dish any time soon with Buster Posey on the way. The Venezuelan does not have the traditional power that one expects from a third baseman, but he hits for average and is a smart player. His best position is probably first base, but he cannot compete with Angel Villalona's total package.

    The Shortstop: Brandon Crawford
    Drafted: 2008 4th round (UCLA)
    Born: 1/87 (22)
    Pro Experience: 0.3 seasons
    MLB Experience: None
    Notes: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2008 draftees, Crawford was recently promoted to double-A along with 2007 draftees Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson. After two good college seasons, he slumped in his draft year when he was unable to get comfortable at the plate and had trouble repeating his swing. San Francisco has smoothed that out for him and his bat is now playing up (.353 career average in 150 at-bats), along with his defense, which includes a plus arm.

    Left-Fielder: Roger Kieschnick
    Drafted: 2008 3rd round (Texas Tech University)
    Born: 1/87 (22)
    Pro Experience: 0.2 seasons
    MLB Experience: None
    Notes: Another good-looking 2008 draftee, Kieschnick is the cousin of former two-way MLB player Brooks Kieschnick (Cubs, Brewers). The younger cousin has good power and has actually hit better than expected in pro ball, including an average above .300 at high-A ball in 2009. Kieschnick just needs to play with more control at the plate and stay back on breaking balls to keep the strikeouts down to a respectable level for a slugger.

    Center-Fielder: Fred Lewis
    Drafted: 2002 2nd round (Southern University)
    Born: 12/80 (28)
    Pro Experience: 7.5 seasons
    MLB Experience: 1.8 years
    Notes: The oldest of the position players on this roster, Lewis was a raw college draft pick that did not earn a full-time MLB gig until he was 27. The premium athlete has the skills needed to produce 20 homers and 30-40 steals, both of which could come with time. Originally a center-fielder, he could return to the position to make room for corner outfielders with more sock in their bats.

    Right-Fielder: Nate Schierholtz
    Drafted: 2003 2nd round (Chabot College)
    Born: 2/84 (25)
    Pro Experience: 5.6 seasons
    MLB Experience: 0.5 years
    Notes: The outfield projects to be the weakest area on the Giants team going forward, but there is some talent nonetheless and Schierholtz can flat out hit. He is a career .300 hitter with good, raw power that does not always show up in-game - but that can come with experience. Schierholtz has a very strong arm in right field.

    The Bench

    Jackson Williams (5/86) may never hit more than .220-.240 at the Major League level, but his defense is more than good enough to warrant his inclusion on the roster of the future. Infielder Kevin Frandsen (5/82) was actually putting together a pretty nice career with the Giants before he missed almost all of 2008 after blowing out his Achilles tendon. Nick Noonan (5/89) was a supplemental first round pick in 2007 and is in line as the Giants' second baseman of the future. He'll have to wait his turn, though, with Burriss already holding down the fort. Outfielder Eddy Martinez-Esteve (7/83) was considered a top prospect at one time, but injuries and defensive inefficiencies have all but extinguished that talk. He still possesses a solid bat, though, and could be an excellent pinch hitter.

    Around the MinorsMay 06, 2009
    The MLB Draft: College or Prep... The Debate Continues
    By Marc Hulet

    For those of you who have been reading this site for a while, you probably know that one of my favorite things to write about is Major League Baseball's amateur draft. The 2009 draft is about a month away (June 9-10) so I though it might be a good time to take a look at one of the more popular debates around baseball, as well as the Internet.

    There is a belief amongst some people that it is "safer" to pick a college player in the first round of the MLB amateur draft than it is to select a prep player. This belief was spawned - or at least made popular - by the Moneyball era. But is there really any such thing as a "safe" draft pick in baseball, given the nature of the beast? Baseball, unlike most other pro sports, generally requires top-ranked amateurs to spend many years honing their skills in the minor leagues before they are ready to play amongst the best athletes in the world in their chosen sport. The skill-level gap between Major League Baseball and amateur baseball is much larger than with football or basketball. And we haven't even mentioned the risk of injuries.

    So let's take a look at the first rounds of the draft from 2001-2003 and see if the above belief has held true or not. We'll also break it down by position to see if college shortstops are more likely than, say, college catchers to meet expectations (We'll make the assumption that clubs are expecting a first-round pick to be at least a league-average regular at their position). There is a certain amount of subjectivity to deciding if a player has met expectations so you may disagree slightly with my opinions. As well, this type of study is difficult because players' stocks can fluctuate from year-to-year, but let's see how things play out. Players will be assigned either a (Pass) or (Fail) for meeting expectations. There are a couple (Undecided) as well.

    * I was going to include 2004 and 2005 as well, but there were just too many players that had futures that were still too much up in the air.

    2001 MLB Draft

    College Hitters
    Mark Teixeira, 1B (Pass)
    Chris Burke, SS (Fail)
    Jake Gautreau, 3B (Fail)
    Gabe Gross, OF (Fail)
    Mike Fontenot, 2B (Pass)
    John-Ford Griffin, OF (Fail)
    Bobby Crosby, SS (Pass)

    High School Hitters:
    Joe Mauer, C (Pass)
    Casey Kotchman, 1B (Pass)
    Josh Burres, SS (Fail)

    College Success Rate: 3/7 (43%)
    High School Success Rate: 2/3 (67%)

    College Pitchers
    Mark Prior, RHP (Pass)
    Dewon Brazelton, RHP (Fail)
    Josh Karp, RHP (Fail)
    Chris Smith, LHP (Fail)
    John VanBenschoten, RHP (Fail)
    Kenny Baugh, RHP (Fail)
    Aaron Heilman, RHP (Pass)
    Brad Hennessey, RHP (Fail)
    Jason Bulger, RHP (Fail)
    Justin Pope, RHP (Fail)
    Noah Lowry, LHP (Undecided)

    High School Pitchers
    Jeremy Sowers, LHP (Did Not Sign)
    Gavin Floyd, RHP (Pass)
    Colt Griffin, RHP (Fail)
    Mike Jones, RHP (Fail)
    Kris Honel, RHP (Fail)
    Dan Denham, RHP (Fail)
    Macay McBride, LHP (Fail)
    Jeremy Bonderman, RHP (Pass)
    Alan Horne, RHP (Did Not Sign)

    College Success Rate: 2/10 (20%)
    High School Success Rate: 2/7 (29%)

    2002 MLB Draft

    College Hitters:
    Khalil Greene, SS (Pass)
    Drew Meyer, SS (Fail)
    Russ Adams, SS (Fail)
    Nick Swisher, OF (Pass)
    Josh McCurdy, SS (Fail)

    High School Hitters:
    B.J. Upton, SS (Pass)
    Prince Fielder, 1B (Pass)
    Scott Moore, SS (Fail)
    Jeremy Hermida, OF (Pass)
    James Loney, 1B (Pass)
    Denard Span, OF (Pass)
    Jeff Francoeur, OF (Pass)
    Sergio Santos, SS (Fail)
    John Mayberry, 1B (Did Not Sign)

    College Success Rate: 2/5 (40%)
    High School Success Rate: 6/8 (75%)

    College Pitchers:
    Bryan Bullington, RHP (Fail)
    Jeff Francis, LHP (Pass)
    Joe Saunders, LHP (Pass)
    Royce Ring, LHP (Fail)
    Bobby Brownlie, RHP (Fail)
    Jeremy Guthrie, RHP (Pass)
    Joe Blanton, RHP (Pass)
    Ben Fritz, RHP (Fail)

    High School Pitchers:
    Matt Cain, RHP (Pass)
    Cole Hamels, LHP (Pass)
    Chris Gruler, RHP (Fail)
    Adam Loewen, LHP (Fail)
    Clint Evert, RHP (Fail)
    Zack Greinke, RHP (Pass)
    Scott Kazmir, LHP (Pass)

    College Success Rate: 4/8 (50%)
    High School Success Rate: 4/7 (57%)
    Notes: Derick Grigsby, RHP, who was drafted out of community college, was not considered.

    2003 MLB Draft

    College Hitters:
    Rickie Weeks, 2B (Pass)
    Michael Aubrey, 1B (Fail)
    Aaron Hill, SS (Pass)
    Brian Anderson, OF (Fail)
    David Murphy, OF (Pass)
    Brad Snyder, OF (Fail)
    Conor Jackson, 3B (Pass)
    Brian Snyder, 3B (Fail)
    Carlos Quentin, OF (Pass)
    Mitch Maier, C (Fail)

    High School Hitters:
    Delmon Young, OF (Pass)
    Chris Lubanski, OF (Fail)
    Ryan Harvey, OF (Fail)
    Ian Stewart, 3B (Pass)
    Lastings Milledge, OF (Undecided)
    Matt Moses, 3B (Fail)
    Brandon Wood, SS (Undecided)
    Eric Duncan, 3B (Fail)
    Daric Barton, C (Undecided)

    College Success Rate: 5/10 (50%)
    High School Success Rate: 2/6 (33%)

    College Pitchers:
    Kyle Sleeth, RHP (Fail)
    Tim Stauffer, RHP (Fail)
    Paul Maholm, LHP (Pass)
    Ryan Wagner, RHP (Fail)
    Chad Cordero, RHP (Pass)
    David Aardsma, RHP (Fail)
    Brad Sullivan, RHP (Fail)

    High School Pitchers:
    Chad Billingsley, RHP (Pass)
    Jeff Allison, RHP (Fail)
    John Danks, LHP (Pass)

    College Success Rate: 2/7 (29%)
    High School Success Rate: 2/3 (67%)
    Notes: Nick Markakis, OF, who was drafted out of junior college, was not considered.

    * * *
    So let's total things up:

    College Hitters Success Rate: 10/22 (45%)
    High School Hitters Success Rate: 10/17 (59% - three undecided)
    College Pitchers Success Rate: 8/25 (32% - one undecided)
    High School Pitchers Success Rate: 8/17 (47%)
    Conclusions: Maybe clubs like Toronto need to re-think their reluctance to draft prep pitchers due to their "unpredictability." Drafting pitching in the first round was not a safe bet (less than 50%) regardless of picking a college or prep pitcher between 2001-03, but the college success rate was dismal. It would be interesting to see if this trend would hold true if we were to research the draft back another 10 years. Surprisingly, prep hitters also performed better than their college counterparts.

    College Success Rates by:
    Catcher: 0/1 (0%)
    First Base: 1/2 (50%)
    Second Base: 2/2 (100%)
    Third Base: 1/3 (33%)
    Shortstop: 3/7 (43%)
    Outfield: 3/7 (43%)
    Right-Handed Pitcher: 5/19 (26%)
    Left-Handed Pitcher: 3/5 (60%)

    Notes: Wow. College right-handers were really not the best choice, although they were by far the most popular. Yikes.

    High School Success Rates by:
    Catcher: 1/1 (100%)
    First Base: 3/3 (100%)
    Second Base: ---
    Third Base: 1/3 (33%)
    Shortstop: 1/4 (25%)
    Outfield: 4/6 (67%)
    Right-Handed Pitcher: 5/12 (42%)
    Left-Handed Pitcher: 3/5 (60%)

    Notes: Obviously high school second basemen are not a hot commodity, which is not overly surprising, considering a large number of MLB keystone players probably started out as shortstops in the minors. The prep first basemen that were chosen have performed pretty well.

    Overall Conclusion (sort of):

    So, is there any such thing as a safe pick? Not really. But interestingly enough, prep hitters were the more successful choice between 2001 and 2003, followed by... prep pitchers. Teams that chose prep prospects, in general, had a 53% success rate. Teams that chose a college prospect had a success rate of just 39%. Collectively, the three years studied is a pretty small sample size in the grand scheme of things, so we cannot really read too much into the numbers above, but what it does is provide some food for thought. It could also serve as a great starting point (or hypothesis) for a much larger study on the successes and failures of the Major League Baseball amateur draft.

    Around the MinorsApril 10, 2009
    Around the Minors: Opening Day
    By Marc Hulet

    The young stars of tomorrow are back. A few days after the Major League Baseball season got underway, the Minor League Baseball season was back in full swing as each team's top prospects took to the field. Let's have a look at how some of the top prospects began their seasons.

    Arizona Diamondbacks
    Daniel Schlereth: 1.0 IP, walk, strikeout, save

    Atlanta Braves
    Tommy Hanson: 4.1 IP, three hits, zero runs, two walks, 10 strikeouts
    Jason Heyward: 1 for 4, strikeout

    Baltimore Orioles
    Matt Wieters: 0 for 3

    Boston Red Sox
    Lars Anderson: 1 for 4

    Chicago Cubs
    Josh Vitters: 0 for 3, run

    Chicago White Sox
    Gordon Beckham: 4 for 6, double, three runs, RBI
    Dayan Viciedo: 1 for 5, RBI, three strikeouts

    Cincinnati Reds
    Yonder Alonso: 1 for 3, homer, three runs, two walks, strikeout

    Cleveland Indians
    Carlos Santana: 0 for 3, walk, two strikeouts
    Matt LaPorta: 3 for 5, two doubles, homer, two RBI, three runs

    Florida Marlins
    Michael Stanton: 0 for 4, two strikeouts
    Logan Morrison: 2 for 4, triple, homer, two runs, three RBI, walk, strikeout

    Houston Astros
    Jason Castro: 1 for 5, double, strikeout

    Kansas City Royals
    Eric Hosmer: 1 for 4, RBI, strikeout, caught stealing
    Mike Moustakas: 0 for 4, walk, strikeout

    Los Angeles Dodgers
    Andrew Lambo: 2 for 6, strikeout

    Milwaukee Brewers
    Mat Gamel: 2 for 4, double, homer, two RBI, walk, strikeout
    Brett Lawrie: 0 for 4, run

    Minnesota Twins
    Ben Revere: 0 for 4, strikeout

    New York Mets
    Wilmer Flores: 0 for 3, RBI, two strikeouts

    New York Yankees
    Jesus Montero: 0 for 4, walk, strikeout

    Oakland Athletics
    Adrian Cardenas: 0 for 4, three strikeouts

    Pittsburgh Pirates
    Pedro Alvarez: 3 for 4, double, home run, 4 RBI

    St. Louis Cardinals
    Brett Wallace 4 for 5, four runs, two homers, six RBI

    San Diego Padres
    Kyle Blanks 0 for 5, strikeout

    San Francisco Giants
    Buster Posey 0 for 5, RBI, strikeout

    Seattle Mariners
    Greg Halman 0 for 4, two strikeouts

    Tampa Bay Rays
    Tim Beckham 2 for 5, homer, three RBI

    Texas Rangers
    Justin Smoak 2 for 5

    Toronto Blue Jays
    J.P. Arencibia 2 for 5, double, two RBI

    Washington Nationals
    Jordan Zimmermann 5.1 IP, 4 hits, three runs, walk, four strikeouts

    What prospects are you most excited about this season?

    Around the MinorsApril 02, 2009
    The Rule 5 Draft: Day of Reckoning
    By Marc Hulet

    Twenty-one players were chosen this past off-season as part of the annual Rule 5 draft. Of those selected, 16 were pitchers which obviously speaks to need for pitching depth at the Major League level. Unlike past years when "big" name players were chosen, like Dan Uggla and Josh Hamilton, no name stood out in the 2008 draft. That shows in the fact that only a few players are going to stick with the teams that chose to draft them this past December.

    1. Terrell Young RHP | Washington from Cincinnati

    No official decision has been announced with Young, but he's struggled with his command this spring with nine walks in as many innings. He has also allowed nine hits and six earned runs. The 23-year-old hurler is a former 10th-round selection out of high school by the Reds organization. He could stick with Washington because, well, look at the other options...

    2. Reegie Corona INF | Seattle from New York (AL)

    It's hard to know what Seattle is thinking sometimes. But with Ronny Cedeno and Chris Burke around, there probably isn't room for Corona. The young infielder started the spring off slowly, but has picked things up and is now hitting a respectable .281/.311/.386 in 57 at-bats.

    3. Everth Cabrera SS | San Diego from Colorado

    What a difference an organization makes. Cabrera, with a line of .262/.297/.344 with seven stolen bases in 61 at-bats will make the Padres' 25-man roster as the back-up infielder. The saddest thing is that starting shortstop Luis Rodriguez really isn't much better.

    4. Donald Veal LHP | Pittsburgh from Chicago (NL)

    Perhaps the biggest name in the draft, Veal is still under consideration to make the Pirates, although no decision has been made officially. The big left-hander has crazy numbers this spring after allowing just four hits in 13 innings... but he's also walked 13 batters. Sadly, those kind of numbers put him about fourth on the bullpen depth chart. It's going to be another long season in Pittsburgh.

    5. Lou Palmisano C | Baltimore (to Houston) from Milwaukee

    Palmisano was a bit of a strange pick given that he missed most of the 2008 season with injuries, and he did not have a very good spring. His fate was sealed when the Astros nabbed free agent Ivan Rodriguez at the last minute. Offered back to Milwaukee, his originally organization declined and he will remain in the Houston organization - but in the minors.

    6. Luis Perdomo RHP | San Francisco from St. Louis

    Perdomo threw up a stinker of a performance recently, but he still appears to have won a spot in the Giants' bullpen after impressing the manager with his 94 mph fastball and slider combination. His ERA recently jumped from the 4s to the 6s.

    7. David Patton RHP | Cincinnati (to Chicago NL) from Colorado

    The Cubs club is going to field a veteran-heavy team this year but Patton has an opportunity to head north with the club after a solid spring. He has allowed 10 hits and two walks in 12.1 innings. He has also struck out 15 batters without allowing a homer.

    8. Kyle Bloom LHP | Detroit from Pittsburgh

    Detroit barely has any prospects... or pitching for that matter... but Bloom still wasn't good enough to make the club. He had an 8.44 ERA in five games.

    9. Jose Lugo LHP | Kansas City (to Seattle) from Minnesota

    Lugo gave it a shot by posting a 2.45 ERA in 11 games, but the ERA was misleading. He allowed just three hits in 7.1 innings but struck out just one batter and did not overpower anyone. The Mariners don't have many quality left-handed bullpen options, so his return to the Twins speaks volumes.

    10. Benjamin Copeland CF | Oakland from San Francisco

    Copeland was drafted by the wrong organization. Oakland has a ton of outfield depth, although the outfielder has yet to be sent back to San Francisco. He injured his shoulder earlier this month so the A's could always stash him on the DL for awhile and see how things play out. He's hit just .182 in 22 spring at-bats.

    11. James Skelton C | Arizona from Detroit

    As mentioned earlier, the Tigers organization is hurting for prospects so it was surprising when the club left this young catcher unprotected for the draft. Arizona is not in desperate need for catching with Chris Snyder and Miguel Montero, but Skelton is athletic enough to play other positions on the field, which could help him make the club in April. He's hit just .150 in 40 at-bats after spending 2008 in High-A and Double-A.

    Update: Skelton did not make the team, but the Diamondbacks worked out a deal today to keep the catcher's rights. Arizona sent pitcher Brooks Brown, a 2006 supplemental first round draft pick, to the Tigers.

    12. Zachary Kroenke LHP | Florida from New York (AL)

    Another pick out of the Yankees organization, Kroenke was sent back to his original club last week after barely registering a blip in camp with the Marlins. He's a former fifth-round pick out of the University of Nebraska.

    13. Gilbert De La Vara LHP | Houston from Kansas City

    De La Vara was recently returned to the Royals after allowing 14 hits and three walks in 9.2 innings for the Astros. The 24 year old has appeared in just 21 games above A-ball.

    14. Jason Jones RHP | Minnesota from New York (AL)

    The third pick out of the Yankees system, Jones failed to make the Twins but his rights were retained after the club sent pitching prospect Charles Nolte to New York. Jones had a 2.70 ERA but allowed 11 hits and three walks in 10 innings, so he was hardly dominant. If the Twins have one thing, it's pitching depth... so Jones may have been better off heading back to the Yankees.

    15. Darren O'Day RHP | New York (NL) from Los Angeles (AL)

    O'Day appears to have made the Mets. The right-hander has struck out just five batters in 13 innings, to go along with 12 hits allowed and three walks. He's lucky that the Mets' pen is not overly deep.

    16. Eduardo Morlan RHP | Milwaukee from Tampa Bay

    Morlan has always shown good stuff, but he has also always stumbled when trying to take that next step. He failed to close the deal as a member of the Brewers organization and was sent back to the Rays. Morlan was originally signed by the Twins and sent to Tampa Bay in the Delmon Young/Matt Garza deal.

    17. Robert Mosebach RHP | Philadelphia from Los Angeles (AL)

    Mosebach failed to make the reigning World Champions after allowing 15 hits and two walks in 7.2 innings of work.

    18. Miguel Gonzalez RHP | Boston from Los Angeles (AL)

    Gonzalez has battled elbow problems this spring so the Red Sox could stash him on the DL, if the organization wants to waste a roster spot on the 24-year-old reliever.

    19. Derek Rodriguez RHP | Tampa Bay from Chicago (AL)

    A 7.71 ERA with 12 hits and three walks allowed in 7.0 innings is not going to endear you to a new organization. Not surprisingly, Rodriguez was sent back to his old club.

    20. Ivan Nova RHP | San Diego from New York (AL)

    Nova never wowed anyone with his stuff, but he always managed to get results... until spring training 2009, that is. The right-hander posted an 8.31 ERA and allowed 13 hits and four walks in 8.2 innings of work. He struck out three batters and allowed as many home runs. He was sent back to New York.

    21. Rocky Cherry RHP | New York (NL) from Baltimore

    O'Day was able to make the Mets, but Cherry was not as lucky and he actually got released because he would have become a free agent anyway. He signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox. Cherry was the most experienced pitcher in the draft at the age of 29 and with 40 MLB games under his belt.

    So there you have it. A lackluster Rule 5 draft ends up with about seven or eight players (33-38%) beginning the 2009 season with the club that acquired them in the Rule 5 draft.

    Around the MinorsDecember 01, 2008
    The 2008 Rule 5 Draft: The Hitters
    By Marc Hulet

    It is almost here. The 2008 Rule 5 Draft is 10 days away. Last week, we took a look at some of the pitchers that could be scooped up during the draft, as organizations look for cheap, talented options that will hopefully stick on the big league roster for the entire 2009 season. As always, if you need a refresher on the rules and history of the Rule 5 Draft, click here.

    The Catchers

    James Skelton | Detroit
    Position: Catcher
    Born: October 1985
    2008 Level: High-A/Double-A

    One of the more quizzical omissions from the 40-man rosters, James Skelton creates flashes of Jesus Flores, whom the Washington Nationals stole from the New York Mets with the sixth overall pick of the 2006 Rule 5 Draft. Flores is now producing just as well for the Nationals as the Mets' big league catchers, and at a much lower cost. The Tigers organization is seriously lacking in prospects and the 40-man roster had room for Skelton. He was originally selected by the Tigers in the 14th round of the 2004 draft out of a California high school. Skelton has hit more than .300 in each of the past three seasons - a rarity for catchers. This past season, he hit .307/.467/.406 in 212 High-A at-bats and moved up to Double-A and posted a line of .294/.423/.388 in 85 at-bats. There are concerns about Skelton's defence. His is just 5'11'' and 165 lbs - small for a catcher. His arm also lacks strength, but he threw out 43% of base stealers in 2007, and 19 of 54 (35%) at High-A in 2008, followed by nine of 19 (47%) at Double-A. It will be shocking if no one takes a flyer on the left-handed hitting catcher with an excellent eye at the plate and the ability to hit for a high average. The list of clubs that could use catching depth include Toronto, San Diego, Cincinnati, Houston, Chicago (NL), Washington, Florida, Balitmore, Chicago AL, Tampa Bay and Boston.

    Francisco Hernandez | Chicago (AL)
    Position: Catcher
    Born: February 1986
    2008 Level: High-A

    The list of available catchers is not overly deep and Francisco Hernandez sticks out as an interesting option. His bat regressed in 2008 - .245/.333/.382 with a .137 ISO in 241 at-bats - but he was the 21st best prospect in the organization prior to 2008, according to Baseball America. His rates were respectable at 11.7 BB% and 13.7 K%. Hernandez has an excellent arm and threw out 37 of 86 (43%) base stealers in 2008 and is at least average in all other defensive facets. If selected, he won't hit much but he should be at least average defensively as a back-up catcher.

    The Corner Infielders

    Jordan Brown | Cleveland
    Position: First Base
    Born: December 1983
    2008 Level: Triple-A

    Jordan Brown has something a lot of Rule 5 prospects don't: A MLB-ready bat (and he swings from the left side too). The first baseman, though, does not have much power. Brown would be an excellent option for a National League team looking for a pinch hitter. In 2008 at Triple-A, he hit .281/.336/.417 with an ISO of .136 in 420 at-bats. The former fourth-round draft pick is a career .300 hitter and traditionally walks almost as much as he strikes out, although his rates dipped in 2008 to 7.7 BB% and 16.0 K%. He would be a cheaper and possibly more effective option for a club looking at a free agent like Mark Sweeney, who has made a career out of coming off the bench.

    Jesus Guzman | San Francisco
    Position: Third Base
    Born: June 1984
    2008 Level: Double-A/Triple-A

    Jesus Guzman was originally signed by the Seattle Mariners and then signed as a minor league free agent prior to the 2007 season by the Oakland Athletics. He became a free agent once again after the 2008 season and recently signed with the San Francisco Giants but was not placed on the 40-man roster, which makes him eligible for the draft. A number of teams expressed interest in him as a minor league free agent (including the A's) so one of those clubs that missed out in the bidding process could nab him on Dec. 11. This past season, Guzman hit .364/.420/.560 with a .196 ISO in Double-A. He was then promoted to Triple-A but struggled a bit and hit just .237/.286/.373 in 59 at-bats. The switch hitter also slugged 25 home runs and drove in 102 runs for Seattle's High-A club in 2007. Guzman has the ability to play third base, second base and the corner outfield, which could make him a valuable utility player for a Major League club.

    Erik Lis | Minnesota
    Position: First Base/Left Field
    Born: March 1984
    2008 Level: Double-A

    Traditionally, first basemen are not overly popular in the Rule 5 draft, but Erik Lis might be of interest to a Major League club. He hit .277/.322/.462 with a .185 ISO in 405 Double-A at-bats in 2008. The former ninth round draft pick has seen his power output improve each season and he has above-average bat speed. Lis is not overly athletic and is a one-dimensional player with all his value wrapped up in his left-handed bat. He can play both first base and left field, which adds to his attractiveness as a pinch hitter and left fielder.

    Adam Loewen | Toronto
    Position: First Base/Left Field
    Born: April 1984
    2008 Level: Hawaii Winter Baseball

    A club in search of the next Rick Ankiel or Brian Bogusevic may look to former Orioles hurler Adam Loewen, who recently signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was a talented two-way player in high school and injuries ruined his pitching career. A number of teams (including Seattle) were interested in signing Loewen as a free agent hitter, but Toronto won out as the left-handed hitter is a native Canadian. In his first taste of professional hitting, Loewen hit .207/.368/.207 in 29 at-bats during the Hawaii Winter Baseball league this fall. He is definitely raw as a hitter but has a ton of power from the left side.

    The Middle Infielders

    Daniel Mayora | Colorado
    Position: Second Base/Shortstop
    Born: July 1985
    2008 Level: High-A

    Daniel Mayora's exclusion from the Rockies 40-man roster is more a testament to the organization's enviable middle infield depth than a comment on the infielder's ability or promise. As it was, the Rockies added three middle infielders to the roster this fall in order to protect them from the Rule 5 draft: Chris Nelson, Eric Young Jr., and Hector Gomez, joining four other middle infielders already on the roster. Mayora lacks the athleticism of some of the other prospects but he hit .288/.347/.422 with an ISO of .134 in 486 High-A at-bats. He stolen just eight bases in 2008, but nabbed 26 the previous season. Mayora is solid defensively at both second base and shortstop.

    Corey Wimberly | Colorado
    Position: Utility Infielder/Outfielder
    Born: October 1983
    2008 Level: Double-A

    Corey Wimberly, like Mayora above, was caught in the Big Roster Crunch of 2008. He has done nothing but hit and run in professional baseball after being selected in the sixth round of the 2005 draft. He began his pro career by hitting .381 and compiling 107 hits in 67 games. In 2008, the speedster hit .291/.359/.345 with 59 stolen bases in 388 Double-A at-bats. He has no power (.054 ISO in 2008) but he can steal a base in his sleep and can play all over the diamond. Wimberly should definitely garner interest in the draft, although it would help if he walked a little more often (9.6 BB% in 2008).

    Will Rhymes | Detroit
    Position: Second Base
    Born: April 1984
    2008 Level: Double-A

    Like Skelton, Will Rhymes' 40-man roster omission is a little surprising. At Double-A, he hit .306/.361/.391 in 516 at-bats. He has limited power (.085 ISO) but he has the potential to steal 15-20 bases. Rhymes also has respectable rates (although he could stand to walk a bit more) and does not strike out much: 7.9 BB% and 12.8 K%. He is average defensively at second base and his value is hurt by his lack of versatility. He held his own in the Arizona Fall League by hitting .287/.322/.324 in 108 at-bats, but managed just two extra base hits.

    The Outfielders

    Jamie Romak | Pittsburgh
    Position: Outfield
    Born: September 1985
    2008 Level: High-A/Double-A

    The Rule 5 Draft's outfield depth is lacking, but Jamie Romak is an interesting name. The former Braves prospect was traded to Pittsburgh during the 2007 Adam LaRoche deal and was rated by Baseball America as the Pirates' seventh best prospect entering into 2008. He offers massive power potential but a low batting average. He is still very raw, but the Canadian has intriguing upside. In 2008, he hit .279/.351/.552 with 25 doubles and 18 homers (.272 ISO) in 290 High-A at-bats. Upon a promotion to Double-A, he hit .208/.307/.433 (.225 ISO) in 120 at-bats. He is a huge risk, but if he rebounds in 2009 a club will have a tough timing prying him from Pittsburgh. That said, he struggles with off-speed stuff and could easily become a Quad-A slugger.

    Mitch Einertson, Eli Iorg and Jordan Parraz | Houston
    Position: Outfielders
    Born: April 1986, March 1983, and October 1984
    2008 Level: Double-A, Double-A, and High-A

    The remainder of the outfield depth for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft is sponsored by the Houston Astros. Mitch Einertson, a former fifth round selection out of high school, caught the baseball world's attention when he made his pro debut and slammed 24 home runs in 63 games. But that was Rookie Ball and also 2004. Since then, Einertson has struggled to live up to those lofty numbers, especially considering he was never looked at as a power hitter while in high school. This past season he hit .262/.309/.427 in 382 Double-A at-bats. He is more of an interesting name, rather than a true threat to be nabbed in the draft.

    Eli Iorg comes from a talented baseball family and is loaded with raw athletic ability but has had troubles translating his skills to the baseball diamond. At Double-A in 2008, he hit .268/.303/.407 with an ISO of .139 in 459 at-bats. He also stole 21 bases after nabbing 42 in 2006. Iorg walked just 4.4% of the time in 2008. His numbers were down a bit in 2008 because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery in late 2007.

    Jordan Parraz is not quite as athletic as Iorg, but he has a better chance of hitting for average. He has moved slowly through the system and was old for High-A but he hit .289/.382/.419 with 21 stolen bases in 425 at-bats. Parraz also has a cannon for an arm and can hit the mid 90s off the mound.

    Around the MinorsNovember 26, 2008
    The 2008 Rule 5 Draft: Previewing the Pitchers
    By Marc Hulet

    There are only 15 more shopping days left. Major League Baseball's Rule 5 draft will occur on at the end of the Winter Meetings on Dec. 11. The draft, which is explained here, has become extremely popular in the eyes of online fans, but participation amongst teams has been up and down in recent years.

    Players selected:
    2007: 18 | Best Player: Brian Barton, St. Louis selected from Cleveland
    2006: 19 | Best Player: Josh Hamilton, Cincinnati (via Chicago NL) selected from Tampa Bay
    2005: 15 | Best Player: Dan Uggla, Florida selected from Arizona
    2004: 12 | Best Player: Shane Victorino, Philadelphia selected from Los Angeles (NL)
    2003: 20 | Best Player: Willy Taveras, Houston selected from Cleveland
    2002: 28 | Best Player: Luis Ayala, Montreal selected from Arizona
    2001: 12 | Best Player: Jorge Sosa, Milwaukee selected from Seattle
    2000: 10 | Best Player: Jay Gibbons, Baltimore selected from Toronto
    1999: 17 | Best Player: Johan Santana, Minnesota (via Florida) selected from Houston
    1998: 13 | Best Player: Scott Sauerbeck, Pittsburgh selected from New York (NL)
    1997: 11 | Best Player: Scott Podsednik, Texas selected from Florida

    The 2008 Rule 5 draft could be popular. The economic woes and uncertainty are impacting professional sports, just like the rest of the world. The draft is an opportunity for clubs to find cheap - and potentially talented - roster options. A club can pick up a 24th or 25th man pretty cheaply through this process.

    As you can see above, the draft peaked in 2002 and dropped off sharply in 2004 - which is likely because teams started altering the way they protected prospects after almost 50 players were selected between 2002 and 2003. It is much harder to find a Johan Santana these days as all promising young pitchers - even those in Short Season ball or A-ball - are being protected on 40-man rosters.

    The 2008 draft does not appear to have a raw, talented future star available, but then again, who knew Santana's name in 1999... aside from Minnesota and Houston? What this draft does have, though, is a ton of potential back-up infielders and left-handed relievers... as well as a few other interesting names. Let's take a look at some of the top options on the mound. Next week we'll look at some intriguing hitters.

    Right-Handed Pitchers

    Eduardo Morlan | Tampa Bay
    Position: Right-Handed Reliever
    Born: March 1986
    2008 Level: Double-A

    Eduardo Morlan was traded to Tampa Bay from Minnesota last winter in the Matt Garza-Delmon Young swap. He can dial his fastball up into the mid-90s and he has a high-80s slider that acts as his strikeout pitch. His numbers were down in 2008 after switching organizations but you don't get the chance to nab a player with this skill set after a fabulous season. He still allowed just 44 hits in 47 innings with rates of 2.87 BB/9 and 8.62 K/9.

    Chris Mason | Tampa Bay
    Position: Right-Handed Starter
    Born: July 1984
    2008 Level: Triple-A

    Chris Mason has always been a Top-10 prospect, but he was also considered a step below the top two pitching prospects in the system: Jacob McGee and Wade Davis. Mason's horrendous 2008 season certainly did not help his cause. After going 15-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 2007 at Double-A, Mason regressed at Triple-A with a 6.21 ERA and 144 hits allowed in 108.2 innings. A former second-round amateur draft pick, he has the talent to succeed in the Majors and many scouts have felt he has always been better suited to pitching out of the bullpen. His slider is excellent, the change-up is very good, but the fastball is just OK at 87-91 mph.

    Alan Horne | New York (AL)
    Position: Right-Handed Starter
    Born: January 1983
    2008 Level: Triple-A

    Alan Horne spent the majority of the season battling a bicep strain and was not at his best when he made eight starts at the Triple-A level. He allowed 35 hits in 32 innings of work and posted rates of 6.19 BB/9 and 6.75 K/9. Teams that are comfortable with his medical report could grab him with the hopes of seeing a healthy Horne show up at spring training. In 2007 at Double-A, he struck out 165 batters in 153.1 innings. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball, slider, curveball and change-up.

    J. Brent Cox | New York (AL)
    Position: Right-Handed Reliever
    Born: May 1984
    2008 Level: Double-A

    The Yankees are putting a lot of faith in the hopes that teams will be scared away from intriguing prospects by medical reports. J. Brent Cox was a top college reliever when he was selected in the second round of the 2005 draft. He was on the cusp of a Major League call-up after a solid 2006 season at Double-A but those hopes were derailed by Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2008 and allowed 30 hits in 36 Triple-A innings. His rates were poor at 4.25 BB/9 and 4.00 K/9 but command and control are the last things to return after the surgery. Based on his past performances, Cox is worth a look.

    Erik Cordier | Atlanta
    Position: Right-Handed Starter
    Born: February 1986
    2008 Level: A-ball

    Of the players listed in this article, Erik Cordier is certainly the biggest reach, but he also has the most potential - if his stuff fully returns after Tommy John surgery after the 2006 season. Obtained from Kansas City for disappointing shortstop Tony Pena Jr. prior to the 2007 season, Cordier allowed 51 hits in 40 A-ball innings in 2008. He posted rates of 4.73 BB/9 and 6.98 K/9. Prior to the injury, the right-hander was touching 98 mph and sitting in the mid-90s. He was topping out in the low-90s in 2008, and needs to regain the feel for his plus change-up and average curveball.

    Chris Nicoll | Kansas City
    Position: Right-Handed Reliever
    Born: October 1983
    2008 Level: High-A/Double-A

    Chris Nicoll was originally selected by the Royals in the third round of the 2005 draft as a starter. After injury woes in 2007, he was converted to a reliever and thrived. Between the two minor league levels, Nicoll allowed 77 hits in 87 innings and struck out 104 batters. At Double-A, he posted rates of 1.65 BB/9 and 11.34 K/9. With an organization badly in need of pitching depth, it is a little surprising that Nicoll - even with just an average fastball and slider - was left unprotected.

    Left-Handed Pitchers

    Ryan Mullins | Minnesota
    Position: Left-Handed Starter
    Born: November 1983
    2008 Level: Double-A

    A third-round selection out of Vanderbilt University in 2005, Ryan Mullins is a 6'6'' lefty with a fringe fastball and a big-league curveball, which are just the right ingredients for a 2009 MLB LOOGY. His 2008 numbers at Double-A were nothing to write home about: 169 hits allowed in 148.1 innings, 3.58 BB/9, 6.01 K/9, but check out the splits:

    Left-Handed Batters: .204 AVG, 0.88 WHIP, 1.45 BB/9, 12.8 LD%
    Right-Handed Batters: .314 AVG, 1.72 WHIP, 4.24 BB/9, 17.9 LD%

    Donald Veal | Chicago (NL)
    Position: Left-Handed Starter
    Born: September 1984
    2008 Level: Double-A

    A former top prospect, Donnie Veal has stagnated at Double-A. In two seasons at that level, he has allowed 276 hits in 275.2 innings of work. His rates in 2008 were not so good at 5.02 BB/9 and 7.62 K/9. Obviously, his control is lacking but he is a lefty that can consistently throw in the low 90s and he has two solid secondary pitchers: a curveball and change-up. He faced 142 left-handed batters in 2008 and did not allow a home run. His splits suggest he could also have some success as a LOOGY: Left-handed batters hit .221, while right-handed batters hit .290.

    Chuck Lofgren | Cleveland
    Position: Left-Handed Starter
    Born: January 1986
    2008 Level: Double-A

    Yes, Chuck Lofgren's numbers, which included a 5.99 ERA and 93 hits allowed in 85.2 innings, were ugly in 2008. He carried those struggles over into the Arizona Fall League where he posted a 32.14 ERA in 10 games. But he is just 22 years old and two years removed from a breakout season in A-ball that saw him added to the Indians' top prospects list. A club that thinks it could fix his mechanical and/or mental woes could take a flyer on him.

    Brad Kilby | Oakland
    Position: Left-Handed Reliever
    Born: February 1983
    2008 Level: Triple-A

    Brad Kilby is not a former top prospect like the other southpaws listed above, but he has quietly put up some solid career numbers as a former 29th round draft pick. Career-wise, he has compiled a 2.64 ERA, allowed 178 hits in 232.1 innings and posted rates of 3.41 BB/9 and 10.16 K/9. In 2008 at Triple-A, Kilby allowed 51 hits in 70 innings with rates of 3.34 BB/9 and 8.49 K/9. On the downside, his stuff is a little short and he is a flyball pitcher (27.2 GB%).

    Pedro Viola | Cincinnati
    Position: Left-Handed Reliever
    Born: June 1983
    2008 Level: Double-A

    Signed as a pitcher by the Reds at the age of 22 in 2005, Pedro Viola rocketed through the minors in his North American debut in 2007 and reached Double-A. He spent the entire 2008 season at that level while struggling with his command and control. Viola can hit the mid-90s, a rarity for southpaws, and also has a slider and change-up. After dominating left-handed batters in 2007, he struggled against them in 2008 and allowed a .292 batting average.

    Robert Rohrbaugh | Seattle
    Position: Left-Handed Starter
    Born: December 1983
    2008 Level: Triple-A

    A former seventh-round selection out of Clemson University, Robert Rohrbaugh had three solid pro seasons prior to 2008. He even held his own in 13 Triple-A starts in 2007. This season though, thanks in part to injuries, Rohrbaugh allowed 109 hits in 96 innings and posted rates of 2.63 BB/9 and 7.13 K/9. He has actually been much more effective in his career against right-handed batters than lefties, so he doesn't make a very good LOOGY. That said, he has solid control and could provide multiple innings out of the bullpen.

    Kei Igawa | New York (AL)
    Position: Left-Handed Starter
    Born: July 1979
    2008 Level: Triple-A/Majors

    The Yankees paid $26 million to negotiate for Kei Igawa's rights prior to the 2007 season and he has been a disappointment, to say the least. Igawa has thrived at the Triple-A level but he has struggled to succeed in the Majors and under the intense scrutiny that comes with pitching in New York. At $4 million a year through 2010, he might be a worthwhile gamble for a National League club like the Padres. In 2008 at Triple-A, he allowed 141 hits in 156.1 innings, with rates of 2.59 BB/9 and 6.74 K/9.

    Be sure to check back next week for a look at some of the position players that could be on the move during the MLB Rule 5 draft on Dec. 11.

    Around the MinorsNovember 19, 2008
    How D'Ya Like Me Now?
    By Marc Hulet

    The 2007 draft had an interesting mix of college and prep players selected in the first round. The first-overall selection of David Price, who had a significant impact in the Rays' 2008 late-season success, was a no-brainer at the time and still looks like the overwhelming correct choice. That pick was followed up with a few prep bats, which included Mike Moustakas (Royals) and Josh Vitters (Cubs). All the draftees now have a full season of experience under their collective belts so it is a perfect time to look back and see how the prospects are progressing.

    The Top Five

    As mentioned above, Price had an excellent Major League debut and was even better in the playoffs. He has likely secured himself a spot in the Tampa Bay starting rotation in 2009 and is an early Rookie of the Year candidate. He allowed nine hits and four walks in 14 regular season innings in 2008. Moustakas was taken second overall and had a solid season in A-ball, where he hit .272/.330/.468 with 22 home runs in a league where long balls are hard to come by. Third overall pick Vitters has been slower to develop and battled some injuries but he still hit .328/.360/.498, although he scuffled in a brief A-ball trial. Fifth overall pick Matt Wieters (Orioles) has played like a first-overall talent with a line at Double-A of .365/.463/.625 and an ISO of 260. He could probably hold his own at the Major League level now, but should get a little bit of Triple-A seasoning in 2009. The universe always has to find a balance and as good as Wieters has been, fourth overall pick Daniel Moskos (Pirates) has been as equally bad. The lefty had a 5.95 ERA in High-A ball and allowed 124 hits in 110.1 innings. His rates were disappointing at 3.51 BB/9 and 6.36 K/9.

    The Next 10

    The Giants win the award for the best pick of the next 10 players, which was high school pitcher Madison Bumgarner. The left-hander spent the year in A-ball and had a 1.46 ERA with 111 hits allowed in 141.2 innings of work. He posted rates of 1.33 BB/9 and 10.42 K/9. Sixth and seventh overall picks Ross Detwiler (Nationals) and Matt LaPorta (Brewers) had impressive debuts but regressed in 2008. Casey Weathers (Rockies) will miss all of 2009 after having Tommy John surgery. Fourteenth overall pick Jason Heyward (Braves) has massive potential but spent the season in A-ball where he hit .323/.390/.483 with an ISO of .160 as a 6'4'', 220 lbs 18-year-old.

    The Last 15

    J.P. Arencibia (Jays) was called an overdraft by some, but he had a solid pro debut and reached Double-A, where he hit .282/.301/.496. He significantly improved his defence and slugged 27 homers and drove in 105 runs between two levels. Tim Alderson (Giants) was another excellent selection by the Giants and the high school pick spent the entire year pitching in High-A ball where he allowed 125 hits in 145.1 innings and posted rates of 2.11 BB/9 and 7.68 K/9. He'll be in Double-A in 2009 at the age of 20. The club had less success with the second last pick in the round, Wendell Fairley, who struggled to hit for average (.258) at Rookie Ball in 2008 at the age of 20. Pitcher Rick Porcello (Tigers) also spent his first season in High-A ball with success. He allowed 116 hits in 125 innings and posted rates of 2.38 BB/9 and 5.18 K/9. Ben Revere (Twins) was a surprise first-round selection but he flirted with .400 for the first half of the season in A-ball and showed talent in every aspect of the game (except power). Joe Savery (Phillies), who battled injuries in college, had a disappointing season in High-A ball after allowing 171 hits in 150 innings.

    The Supplemental First Round

    In essence, with 34 picks, the supplemental round was the second round of the draft. The best selections of the round, to this point, included Nick Noonan (Giants), Todd Frazier (Reds), Julio Borbon (Rangers), Brett Cecil (Jays), Sean Doolittle (A's), Tommy Hunter (Rangers), and Nick Hagadone (Red Sox), who missed most of 2008 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Borbon split the year between High-A and Double-A and hit .337/.372/.459 at his second stop. Overall, he stole 53 bases but needs to show more patience at the plate. Hunter, 22, blew through three minor league levels and made three big league starts (with a 16.36 ERA). Noonan showed advanced skills for a prep pick but spent the year in A-ball where he hit .279/.310/.415. In his brief career, Frazier has hit for power, average and has also shown good patience at the plate. Cecil began 2008 on the disabled list and came back with a strict pitch count, but he made it to Triple-A in his first full season. Overall, the southpaw allowed 100 hits in 118.2 innings. The most disappointing picks of the round included Jackson Williams (Giants), Nathan Vineyard (Mets), Charlie Culberson (Giants), Matt Mangini (Mariners), and Trystan Magnuson (Jays).

    The Second Round

    The Nationals scored with Jordan Zimmermann, who was the third pick of the second round. He reached Double-A where he allowed 89 hits in 106.2 innings. He could be in the big league rotation by the end of 2009. Prep pick Michael Stanton (Marlins) showed massive power in 2008 by slamming 39 home runs in 468 A-ball at-bats. He took a respectable number of walks but needs to trim the strikeouts (32.7 K%). Freddie Freeman (Braves) was another impressive young slugger who hit .316/.374/.521 with an ISO of .206 in 491 A-ball at-bats. Pitcher Jess Todd (Cardinals) was a solid college reliever who was thrown into the starting rotation in pro ball and has more than held his own. He spent the majority of the season in Double-A but made four Triple-A starts. Catcher Austin Romine (Yankees) split time behind the plate in A-ball with the highly-touted Jesus Montero. Romine showed solid defensive skills and hit .300/.340/.437 in 407 at-bats. Selections Josh Fields (Braves) and Hunter Morris (Red Sox) failed to come to terms. Morris headed off to Auburn University, while Fields returned to college for his senior year and was drafted by Seattle in the first round. He has failed to come terms yet again... The first selection in the second round Will Kline (Rays) missed the entire season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

    The Third Round

    The Rays organization may have lost its second round pick to injury, but the club scored with its first round pick (Price) and may have also grabbed a winner in the third round with prep pitcher Nick Barnese. In short season ball in 2008, he allowed 52 hits in 66 innings with rates of 3.28 BB/9 and 11.45 K/9. The 19-year-old should begin 2009 in full-season A-ball. The second pick of the round, Danny Duffy (Royals), had an excellent year in A-ball by allowing 56 hits in 81.2 innings and posting rates of 2.76 BB/9 and 11.24 K/9. He has impressive breaking pitches and can touch 95 mph with his fastball. Puerto Rican picks Reynaldo Navarro (Diamondbacks), Neftali Soto (Reds), and Angel Morales (Twins) have massive potentials. Soto had the best statistical season in 2008 with a line of .326/.347/.500 in 218 A-ball at-bats. Austin Gallagher was promoted aggressively to High-A ball as a 19-year-old third baseman but he held his own and hit .293/.354/.456 with a .163 ISO in 307 at-bats. Brandon Hicks (Braves) has shown surprising power at the shortstop position but may not hit for average at the Major League level. Alan Farina (Jays) has a plus fastball as a reliever but has had trouble staying healthy. Starter John Ely (White Sox) is now one of the system's best prospects after a solid season in High-A ball where he posted rates of 2.85 BB/9 and 8.30 K/9 in 145.1 innings.


    The teams with the largest number of early picks in 2007 - which include the Giants (6 picks), Rangers, Padres (9) and Jays (8) - definitely made the most of their selections in the first three rounds.

    The Giants had three first round picks (which included Bumgarner and Alderson) and three supplemental first round picks but lost the second and third round selections due to free agency compensation. The first two selections, though, should impact San Francisco for years to come.

    For Texas, the club's first selection, Blake Beavan has been a bit of a disappointment, but Borbon and Hunter have been awesome. Prep pitcher Michael Main (selected 24th overall) also has massive potential. Neil Ramirez (44th overall) is another intriguing former prep pitcher.

    For the Jays organization, which delved into drafting prep players for the first time in years, the young players who were selected held their own but did not take a huge step forward in 2008. First round pick Kevin Ahrens, supplemental pick Justin Jackson and second round selections John Tolisano and Eric Eiland all struggled during the second halves of their first full seasons in pro ball.

    The Padres lost first round pick Nick Schmidt to Tommy John surgery, but catcher Mitch Canham has performed well, as has outfielder Kellen Kulbacki and second round pick Eric Sogard.

    The biggest names to come out of the 2007 draft definitely include David Price, Matt Wieters, and Madison Bumgarner. There are also a ton of names that could be added to the list by the middle of the 2009 season.

    Around the MinorsNovember 13, 2008
    The Rookies of 2008... and Those Who Came Before Them
    By Marc Hulet

    The 2008 Rookie of the Year awards were handed out recently and the winners came as no surprise. Evan Longoria, of the Tampa Bay Rays, was the unanimous choice in the American League, while Geovany Soto, of the Chicago Cubs, received all but one first-place vote in the National League.

    In reality, there was not a ton of competition for the awards - both winners stood out head-and-shoulders above the rest of the candidates. That said, it was an interesting group that made up the top five vote-getters in each league. The lists include a Cuban import, a Japanese import, a player who was not on many top prospect lists when the season began, a few recently-traded pitchers, and a highly-touted prospect who had a modest debut.

    The American League:
    1. Evan Longoria, 140 votes
    2. Alexei Ramirez, 59 votes
    3. Jacoby Ellsbury, 26 votes
    4. Mike Aviles, nine votes
    5. Armando Galarraga, nine votes

    The National League
    1. Geovany Soto, 158 votes
    2. Joey Votto, 76 votes
    3. Jair Jurrjens, 34 votes
    Edinson Volquez, nine votes
    4. Jay Bruce, seven votes
    5. Kosuke Fukudome, four votes

    Let's take a closer look at each player's season.

  • Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay

    Evan Longoria produced a solid line of .272/.343/.531 and displayed massive power with a .259 ISO. He slugged 27 homers and 31 doubles in 448 at-bats. Bill James projects Longoria to hit 37 homers in 2009, which would be a very impressive number in this post-steroids age. The young third baseman still needs to work on making contact a little more often after striking out 127 times in 2008 (27.2 K%).

  • Alexei Ramirez, 2B, Chicago (AL)

    Alexei Ramirez had a very solid rookie season, but his numbers suggest that he may not have prolonged success unless he revamps his approach. His walk rate was just 3.6 BB%. Ramirez also swung at pitches outside the strike zone almost 50 percent more often (42.71%) than the league norm. On the plus side, he makes contact at a league-average rate, both on pitches inside and outside the strike zone. Overall, he batted .290/.317/.475 with 21 home runs in 280 at-bats for Chicago in 2008.

  • Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Boston

    The bar was set very high for Jacoby Ellsbury after he hit .353 in 116 regular season at-bats in 2007, and followed that up by hitting .360 in the playoffs. His 2008 season was solid, but he did not catapult into stardom as many in Boston had hoped. Ellsbury hit .280/.336/.394 with just 38 extra base hits in 554 at-bats. That said, the speedy outfielder swiped 50 stolen bases in 61 attempts. To take full advantage of that speed in 2009, Ellsbury should focus on improving his 6.9 BB%.

  • Mike Aviles, IF, Kansas City

    Mike Aviles deserves a lot of credit for making it onto this list. He played just 102 games at the Major League level in 2008, after spending his first 50 games in Triple-A. Aviles made up for lost time, though, and hit .325/.354/.480 with an ISO of .155 in 419 at-bats. Bill James projects Aviles' triple-slash numbers to take a .030-.040 point hit in each category for 2009. Like many young players, Aviles needs to be more patient (4.1 BB%).

  • Armando Galarraga, RHP, Detroit

    The Tigers organization can give itself a collective kick for tossing away Jair Jurrjens in the Edgar Renteria trade, but it made up for the gaff by stealing Armando Galarraga away from the Rangers - a club that also traded away another promising young pitcher prior to the 2008 season in Edinson Volquez. Galarraga likely will not rise above the fourth or fifth slot in a team's rotation, but he's solid. In 2008, he allowed 152 hits in 178.2 innings of work and posted rates of 3.07 BB/9 and 6.35 K/9.

  • Geovany Soto, C, Chicago (NL)

    Not only did Geovany Soto have an excellent offensive season for a catcher, but he also helped guide a pitching rotation to a playoff berth in his rookie season. Soto hit .285/.364/.504 with 23 home runs and an ISO of .219 in 494 at-bats. The Cubs may want to give the portly catcher a few more days off in 2009, if they want him to remain healthy and productive for a prolonged period of time.

  • Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati

    Canadian Joey Votto displayed the rare ability to hit for both average and power in 2008 with a line of .297/.368/.506 and an ISO of .209. Bill James was also impressed and his numbers project a significant increase in each category for Votto in 2009. The left-handed batter also took a healthy number of walks (10.1 BB%) and kept the strikeouts under control (19.4 K%).

  • Jair Jurrjens, RHP, Atlanta

    Jair Jurrjens had a promising debut season in the National League. He was hittable by allowing 188 hits in 188.1 innings, but he battled and posted respectable rates: 3.35 BB% and 6.64 K%. Of the batted balls Jurrjens allowed, 51.5 were hit on the ground. To improve upon his 2008 success in 2009, the right-hander may want to rely more on his slider, which he went to just 11.8 percent of the time.

  • Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati

    Jay Bruce was considered by many to be the top prospect in baseball coming into the 2008 season. He began the year in Triple-A but surfaced in the Majors before long and hit .254/.314/.453 in 413 at-bats. Bruce's season also included an ISO of .199 and rates of 7.4 BB% and 26.6 K%. Bruce will be only 22 years old in 2009 so he has lots of time to improve and reach the lofty expectations that have been heaped upon him.

  • Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Chicago (NL)

    Kosuke Fukudome exploded onto the Major League Baseball scene in April of 2008, only to fizzle in the second half of the year. Overall, the Japanese veteran hit .257/.359/.379 with 10 home runs and 12 stolen bases. His .122 ISO was well below average for a corner outfielder but he posted solid rates at 13.9 BB% and 20.8 K%. Fukudome needs a big 2009 season to help justify his contract - and playing time.

    * * *
    So, how promising is the future for both Longoria and Soto? Obviously, that is impossible to answer. But let's take a look back and see who won the Rookie of the Year awards in the past eight seasons and find out if they have been living up to the expectations.

    2007: Dustin Pedroia, Boston | Ryan Braun, Milwaukee

    Both Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Braun followed up their 2007 rookie campaigns by avoiding the dreaded sophomore jinx and built upon their impressive numbers. Both players were highly regarded when they were drafted, but they are both exceeding those expectations at the Major League level. The runners up to the award were Delmon Young and Troy Tulowitzki.

    2006: Justin Verlander, Detroit | Hanley Ramirez, Florida

    Justin Verlander took a step back in 2008, while Hanley Ramirez continues to be a dominating force, which means he is likely to be traded out of Florida any day now. Verlander has lost one mile-per-hour off his fastball in each of the last three seasons. The runners up to the award were Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Zimmerman.

    2005: Huston Street, Oakland | Ryan Howard, Philadelphia

    Huston Street has had a solid career as a second-tier closer, but he was traded to Colorado this week and is likely headed to a third team in the not-too-distant future. Ryan Howard continues to mash as a one-dimensional slugger, with a .311 career ISO and a 33.4 percent career K%. The runners up to the award were Robinson Cano and Willy Taveras.

    2004: Bobby Crosby, Oakland | Jason Bay, Pittsburgh

    Bobby Crosby's potential has been derailed by injury after injury, although he managed a career high in at-bats in 2008. Canadian Jason Bay has flourished - and a trade to Boston in 2008 will help get him the attention he deserves as one of the better offensive outfielders in baseball. The runners up to the award were Shingo Takatsu and Khalil Greene.

    2003: Angel Berroa, Kansas City | Dontrelle Willis, Florida

    What can we say about Angel Berroa? His rookie season was a fluke, with a capital 'F.' In fact, the remainder of his career also deserves an 'F.' Dontrelle Willis has completely imploded. The runners up to the award were Hideki Matsui and Scott Podsednik. Brandon Webb was third overall in the National League, followed by Miguel Cabrera and Brad Lidge tied at fifth overall.

    2002: Eric Hinske, Toronto | Jason Jennings, Colorado

    Like Berroa, Eric Hinske's rookie season was a fluke, but he has managed to carve out a career as a solid role player, and he had a significant impact on the Rays' magical 2008 season. Jason Jennings' career has been ruined by injuries. The runners up to the award were Rodrigo Lopez and Brad Wilkerson.

    2001: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle | Albert Pujols, St. Louis

    Japanese veterans received the American League Rookie of the Year awards for two straight seasons in 2000 and 2001, which was disappointing to say the least. That said, Ichiro has had an awesome Major League career. That Albert Pujols fellow has also been pretty good. The runners up to the award were C.C. Sabathia and Roy Oswalt.

    2000: Kazuhiro Sasaki, Seattle | Rafael Furcal, Atlanta

    Kazuhiro Sasaki was a solid closer for Seattle for three seasons before suffering through an injury-filled 2003 season. He then walked away from baseball in North America to spend more time with his family. It's hard to believe Rafael Furcal is still only 31 years old. It feels like he's been around forever... and he is still one of the best shortstops in the game. The runners up for the award were Terrence Long and Rick Ankiel - as a pitcher.

  • Around the MinorsNovember 05, 2008
    Even Small Trades Can Have Big Impacts: A Review of 2007-08
    By Marc Hulet

    The 2008-09 Major League Baseball off-season is in full swing with the General Managers Meeting underway and with MLB free agents busy declaring their freedom. Last week I took a look back at some of the larger trades that were made during the 2007-08 off-season. This week I am going to continue the theme and take a look at some of the smaller trades made during that same time frame, which had larger-than-expected impacts on one or more teams.

    The A's and White Sox make a Swisheroo

    To Chicago (AL):
    OF/1B Nick Swisher

    To Oakland:
    LHP Gio Gonzalez
    RHP Fautino de los Santos
    OF Ryan Sweeney

    Even with 1B/DH-types Jim Thome and Paul Konerko already on the roster, the White Sox management went out and nabbed 1B-OF Nick Swisher with a plan of having him spend the majority of the time in the outfield. Swisher, though, ended up playing 71 games at first base, while filling for an injured - and ineffective - Konerko. Carlos Quentin (see below) also made Swisher expendable from the outfield rotation. Swisher had his worst offensive season in 2008 by posting a line of .219/.332/.410 with a .191 ISO in 497 at-bats. On the plus side, his rates remained around his career-norm (14.2 BB%, 27.2 K%) so a return to his old ways is not out of the question for 2009.

    From the A's perspective, the trade went fairly well. Ryan Sweeney had a solid, albeit unspectacular, season in the outfield with a line of .286/.350/.383 and rates of 9.0 BB% and 17.4 K%. He is probably not a long-term regular in the outfield, but he should be solid-average in 2009. Gio Gonzalez had a respectable Triple-A season at the age of 22. He allowed 106 hits in 123 innings and posted rates of 4.46 BB/9 and 9.37 K/9. He was roughed up in 10 big league appearances and posted an ERA of 7.68. Fautino de los Santos, who had a breakout 2007 on the mound, was found to be injured after making five minor league starts and underwent undergoing Tommy John surgery.

    Winner before 2008: Draw
    Winner after 2008: Undecided

    Texas Gives Away Some Much-Needed Pitching

    To Detroit:
    RHP Armando Galarraga

    To Texas:
    OF Michael Hernandez

    This trade was an absolute steal for Detroit, as teams continue to steal pitching away from Texas - a club that needs quality pitching about as badly as any team in baseball. Armando Galarraga is not a superstar, but he proved to be a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter in 2008. He won 13 games for Detroit by allowing 152 hits in 178.2 innings and posting rates of 3.07 BB/9 and 6.35 K/9. On the downside, Galarraga allowed 28 homers (1.41 HR/9) while playing half his games in a spacious ballpark. In the future, the right-hander might want to try and vary his speeds a little more as his fastball averaged out at 90.2 mph, while his slider was at 84.8 mph, and his change-up was at 84 mph. Michael Hernandez did not even play for Texas in 2008 and spent just 16 games in pro ball - all with the New York Mets' A-ball affiliates.

    Winner before 2008: Detroit
    Winner after 2008: Detroit, in a landslide

    Detroit Deals Depth for Veteran Stability

    To Detroit:
    SS Edgar Renteria

    To Atlanta:
    RHP Jair Jurrjens
    OF Gorkys Hernandez

    It feels like Edgar Renteria has been around forever (and he has in fact played in 13 MLB seasons) but he was only 32 years old in 2008. Regardless, aspects of his game are beginning to slip and he has played with four teams in five seasons. Offensively, he hit .270/.317/.382 with just six stolen bases in 503 at-bats for Detroit. Renteria posted rates of 6.9 BB% and 12.7 K%. In Atlanta, Jair Jurrjens had a solid season and gives the rotation some much-needed hope for the future. He allowed 188 hits in 188 innings pitched and posted rates of 3.35 BB/9 and 6.64 K/9. He did a nice job of keeping the ball in the yard and allowed just 11 home runs all season. Jurrjens relied mainly on his fastball/change-up combo in 2008 and could stand to mix in his slider more often (11.8%) if he wants to continue to improve. Gorkys Hernandez took a step back in High-A ball with a line of .264/.348/.387, along with five homers and 20 stolen bases in 406 at-bats.

    Winner before 2008: Detroit
    Winner after 2008: Atlanta

    Texas Gives Away More Pitching... But Gets a Little Something in Return

    To Texas:
    OF Josh Hamilton

    To Cincinnati:
    RHP Edinson Volquez
    LHP Danny Ray Herrera

    You could say this trade worked out well for both teams... although Josh Hamilton deserves the nod for the best overall season - with an almost MVP-deserving year. But on the other hand, Texas yet again gave away some young, promising pitching to improve its already fairly-potent offence. Hamilton was a run-producing machine in the first half (60 runs, 95 RBI), before tailing off a bit in the second part of the season to finish at 98 runs scored and 130 RBI. He also had an excellent line of .304/.371/.530 with 35 doubles and 32 homers in 624 at-bats. Edinson Volquez had a solid first full season at the Major League level despite some inconsistencies. He won 17 games and allowed just 167 hits in 196 innings. He posted rates of 4.27 BB/9 and 9.46 K/9. Despite pitching in a homer-happy stadium much of the time, Volquez allowed just 14 home runs. Danny Herrera, who may be the shortest player in Major League Baseball at 5'6''-ish, made his MLB debut in 2008 at appears to have a future as a LOOGY.

    Winner before 2008: Texas
    Winner after 2008: Texas, but let's revisit this after 2009...

    A Salary Dump Pays a Surprising Dividend

    To Atlanta:
    OF Mark Kotsay

    To Oakland
    RHP Joey Devine RHP Jamie Richmond

    Rarely do salary dumps favor the team doing the expelling. This trade, though, is the exception to the rule. Veteran Mark Kotsay had a solid season for Atlanta (and later Boston) with a line of .276/.329/.403 with six homers in 402 at-bats, but Oakland picked up a player who could be the heir apparent to closer Huston Street. Joey Devine finally showed some of the promise that made him one of the top relievers in college baseball when Atlanta selected him 27th overall during the 2005 draft. Control issues kept him from realizing his potential until 2008 (He has a career 5.10 BB/9 rate). This past season, Devine posted an eye-catching 0.59 ERA while allowing just 23 hits in 45.2 innings. His walk rate was down to 2.96 BB/9, with a strikeout rate of 9.66 K/9. As well, he did not allow a home run all season. The third player in the deal, Canadian minor league pitcher Jamie Richmond, regressed in A-ball.

    Winner before 2008: Even
    Winner after 2008: Oakland

    Hey, Kenny Williams Made a Good Trade!

    To Chicago (AL)
    OF Carlos Quentin

    To Arizona:
    1B Chris Carter

    Carlos Quentin got a raw deal in Arizona and made the Diamondbacks pay for giving up on him too soon. The former first round pick (29th overall in 2003) - and star college player - has battled injuries throughout his career - and even missed a fair chunk of time in 2008 - but he was awesome when he was on the field for Chicago. He posted a line of .288/.394/.571 and slugged 36 homers and drove in 96 runs in 480 at-bats. Quentin's ISO was an impressive .283. For a power hitter, his rates were solid at 12.1 BB% and 16.7 K%. Chris Carter was not to be outdone. The 21-year-old first baseman slugged 39 homers and drove in 101 runs in High-A ball with rates of 13.2 BB% and 30.8 K%. Oh - and he did it for Oakland after being sent from Chicago to Arizona to Oakland (in the Danny Haren trade) during the off-season. The most impressive part about this whole trade, though, might be the fact that Kenny made the deal without having to trade even one already-injured pitcher...

    Winner before 2008: Chicago
    Winner after 2008: Chicago

    Phillies Make a Move for October... in November

    To Philadelphia:
    RHP Brad Lidge
    SS Eric Bruntlett

    To Houston:
    OF Michael Bourn
    3B Mike Costanzo
    Geoff Geary

    This is one of those trades that you can definitely look back on as a difference-maker in 2008. Brad Lidge, who had worn out his welcome in Houston, absolutely rejuvenated his career with the Phillies and won over a hardcore fan base, as well as city. The 31-year-old closer saved 41 games in the regular season and allowed 50 hits in 69.1 innings. He posted rates of 4.54 BB/9 and 11.94 K/9, while allowing just two homers. He saved another seven games in the post-season en route to a World Series title. Michael Bourn stole 41 bases for Houston, but posted a paltry line of .229/.288/.300 in 467 at-bats. Geoff Geary allowed just 45 hits in 64 innings, with rates of 3.94 BB/9 and 6.33 K/9. Mike Costanzo was shipped off to Baltimore in the Miguel Tejada trade.

    Winner before 2008: Philadelphia
    Winner after 2008: Uh yeah, Philadelphia

    Around the MinorsOctober 28, 2008
    The 2007-08 Winter Trading Season in Review
    By Marc Hulet

    With the World Series underway it means that the off-season is not far off. In baseball, though, the off-season is never a quiet one; there is always something going on. Last year, the stretch from November to February was a busy time with a number of big names changing jerseys, including Erik Bedard, Miguel Cabrera, Miguel Tejada, and Dan Haren. There were also a number of top prospects changing hands, such as Chris Tillman, Deolis Guerra, and Cameron Maybin.

    This week, I am going to review how those big trades (at least one star name, plus five or more players involved) worked out for both clubs. Next week, I am going to take a look at some of the smaller trades of the off-season that had larger-than-expected impacts on one or more club.

    The Twins, Rays exchange young, potential stars

    To Minnesota:
    OF Delmon Young
    IF Brendan Harris
    OF Jason Pridie

    To Tampa Bay:
    RHP Matt Garza
    SS Jason Bartlett
    RHP Eduardo Morlan

    This trade may have had more impact on the 2008 Major League season than any other trade made all of last year. Not only did the Rays receive a solid Major League starter and an excellent defensive shortstop, but the club also re-made the clubhouse atmosphere with the expulsion of Delmon Young. Matt Garza became a solid No. 3 starter for the Rays behind Scott Kazmir and James Shields. He won 11 games and pitched 184 innings with just 170 hits allowed. Jason Barlett was hurt for a while but he gave the pitchers confidence when he was on the field, which allowed them to pitch to contact. In Minnesota, Delmon Young had an OK season but he failed to hit for power (.115 ISO) and continued to struggle with his patience (5.7 BB%) and pitch selection. Brendan Harris appeared in 130 games with modest success, but is really a utility player. Both Jason Pridie and Eduardo Morlan spent the majority of the season in the minors.

    Winner before 2008: Even
    Winner after 2008: Tampa Bay

    Oakland improves depth with Dan Haren deal

    To Arizona
    RHP Dan Haren
    RHP Connor Robertson

    To Oakland
    OF Carlos Gonzalez
    LHP Brett Anderson
    OF Aaron Cunningham
    1B Chris Carter
    LHP Dana Eveland
    LHP Greg Smith

    The Arizona Diamondbacks secured a talented No. 2 starter - something a lot of teams lack - but they gave up a great deal of depth to obtain Dan Haren, who is signed through 2013. Haren had a stellar 2008 with 204 hits allowed in 216 innings. He posted rates of 1.67 BB/9 and 8.58 K/9 - with an eye-popping 5.15 K/BB. He also lowered his home runs allowed and batting average against for the third straight season. Connor Robertson spent the majority of the season working out of the Triple-A bullpen but he appeared in six big league games.

    In Oakland, Carlos Gonzalez appeared in 86 games for in the Majors at the age of 22 and showed his youth - but also his potential. The toolsy outfielder hit .242/.273/.361 with 22 doubles and four homers in 302 at-bats. The outfielder, who split time between center field and right field, obviously needs some more seasoning after posting rates of 4.1 BB% and 26.8 K%, with an ISO of .119. Both Dana Eveland and Greg Smith provided more than what was expected of them - although they both faded significantly in the season half of the season. Eveland made 29 starts and posted an ERA of 4.34. He struck out 118 batters and allowed 172 hits in 168 innings of work. His nemesis, though, was the walk. Eveland posted a walk rate of 4.13 (77 in total). Smith made his Major League debut in 2008 and started 32 games for Oakland. He allowed just 169 hits in 190.1 innings, but walked 87 batters (4.11 BB/9). Smith also posted a strikeout rate of 5.25 K/9. He will have to improve upon his GB% of 34.2 if he is going to have a long stay in the Majors, especially given that his fastball averages out at 87.6 mph. Brett Anderson had a solid minor league season and the 22-year-old lefty ended the season by pitching in the Triple-A playoffs. He could contribute at the Major League level in 2009. Aaron Cunningham was slowed by injuries early in the 2008 season, but he rebounded and ended the year in Oakland and should be a future MLB fourth outfielder - at the very least. Chris Carter, who began the winter as a White Sox prospect only to don three different jerseys, is an all-or-nothing slugger who dominated the California home run race with 39 bombs (13 more than the next closest hitter). That total was also second in all of Minor League Baseball, next to veteran Dallas McPherson, who hit 42 in Triple-A.

    Winner before 2008: A draw
    Winner after 2008: A draw, leaning Oakland's way

    Sometimes trades don't work out the way you think they will...

    To Detroit
    3B Miguel Cabrera
    LHP Dontrelle Willis

    To Florida
    OF Cameron Maybin
    LHP Andrew Miller
    C Mike Rabelo
    RHP Eulogio de la Cruz
    RHP Dallas Trahern
    RHP Burke Badenhop

    After this trade, just about everybody in baseball - yours truly included - handed Detroit the World Series title. But clubhouse chemistry went awry in The Motor City and players had disappointing seasons. Miguel Cabrera had a terribly slow start to the season and he was criticized for coasting on his new, fat contract. By the time the season ended, though, most of his stats were in line with his career norm - except perhaps his average (.292, the lowest since his rookie season) and on-base percentage (8.3 BB%, again the lowest since his debut year). All-in-all, though, he still managed to hit 37 homers (.245 ISO) and drive in a career-high 127 runs. Former young stud Dontrelle Willis was a mess on the mound with a 9.38 ERA and 35 walks allowed in 24 innings of Major League work. That was a far cry from his 22-win 2005 season at the age of 23. Detroit handed him a three-year deal after the trade for about $30 million so they are stuck with him for the next couple of seasons.

    For Florida, the trade netted some interesting names but they did not do much in 2008. The key to the trade was young outfielder Cameron Maybin, but he spent the majority of the season in Double-A. His line of .277/.373/.456 in 390 at-bats was good, but not great, especially when you look at the fact he struck out 31.8% of the time with just 13 home runs. On the plus side, he had a late-season promotion to Florida and hit .500 in 32 at-bats. Andrew Miller, the second key piece of the trade, probably should have spent the season in Triple-A rather than in the Majors where he posted a 5.87 ERA in 29 big league appearances - including 20 starts. He posted a walk rate of 4.70 BB/9, but a respectable strikeout rate of 7.46 K/9. He allowed 120 hits in 107.1 innings of work. Mike Rabelo was supposed to fill Florida's void behind the dish but he hit just .202/.256/.294 in 109 at-bats during an injury-filled season. Burke Badenhop appeared in 13 Major League games - including eight starts - but posted a 6.08 ERA with 55 hits and 21 walks allowed in 47.1 innings. Eulogio de la Cruz had a respectable season in the Triple-A starting rotation but he posted an 18.00 ERA in six Major League games with 15 hits and 11 walks allowed in nine innings. Dallas Trahern posted a 6.16 ERA in 21 Triple-A starts.

    Winner before 2008: Detroit
    Winner after 2008: Possibly a draw?

    Baltimore fleeces Seattle

    To Seattle:
    LHP Erik Bedard

    To Baltimore:
    OF Adam Jones
    LHP George Sherrill
    RHP Chris Tillman
    RHP Kam Mickolio
    LHP Tony Butler

    If you're a Seattle fan, this trade still makes you sick. Erik Bedard was OK when he was able to pitch but then he broke down - again. He posted a 3.67 ERA and allowed just 70 hits in 81 innings of work. But he also allowed a few too many big home runs (1.00 HR/9) and his command was lacking (4.11 BB/9). There is a chance that Bedard could get non-tendered this winter, which would really, really burn. In exchange for the frustrating Bedard, Seattle gave up a closer, a possible future star outfielder, and one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. George Sherrill saved 31 games, although he faltered in the second half of the season. Adam Jones' game showed some holes, including a 4.6 BB%, but he played with energy, continued to show improvements and oozed potential. Chris Tillman, 20, could be one of the Top 5 pitching prospects in baseball. In Double-A, he allowed just 115 hits and 65 walks in 135.2 innings. He also struck out 154 batters. Kam Mickolio does not have a huge ceiling but he made his MLB debut in 2008 and should be a serviceable reliever.

    Winner before 2008: Seattle, barely
    Winner after 2008: Baltimore

    Twins surprise everyone by sending Johan Santana to... the Mets?

    To New York (NL):
    LHP Johan Santana

    To Minnesota:
    OF Carlos Gomez
    RHP Deolis Guerra
    RHP Kevin Mulvey
    RHP Philip Humber

    Minnesota had a number of suitors for Johan Santana but the organization played its cards poorly and lost out on a number of potential suitors. When Santana started grumbling, the Twins acted hastily and took a deal from New York that never did look all that appetizing - and it looks even less so now. Santana's stuff was not quite as sharp as it used to be, but he still helped the Mets and led the club in almost every pitching category, including wins (16), innings pitched (234.1) and strikeouts (206).

    For the Twins, Carlos Gomez was the only player to establish himself in the Majors after the trade. He shows potential and is still young at the age of 22, but he really didn't hit for average, power or get on-base, with a line of .258/.296/.360. He does, though, currently offer speed (33 SB) and defence. Deolis Guerra has been disappointing since the trade and his stuff took a big step back this past season in High-A ball. He posted a 5.47 ERA and allowed 71 walks and struck out just 71 batters in 130 innings. Both Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey spent the majority of the season in Triple-A with modest results and will likely have to break into Minnesota as relievers.

    Winner before 2008: New York
    Winner after 2008: New York

    Baltimore learns about the risks of acquiring young pitching

    To Houston:
    SS Miguel Tejada

    To Baltimore
    RHP Matt Albers
    LHP Troy Patton
    OF Luke Scott
    3B Mike Costanzo
    RHP Dennis Sarfate

    Houston took a gamble on Miguel Tejada after his name had been dragged through the mud a bit, and then it got dragged through the muck again after the trade. Regardless, the offensive-minded shortstop had a solid season with a line of .283/.314/.415 in 632 at-bats. His power, though, continued to be MIA with an ISO of .131. Tejada scored 92 runs but his total of 66 RBI was the lowest in 10 seasons. He is no longer the impact hitter that he once was. Over in Baltimore, the club was thankful for receiving Luke Scott in the deal. The outfielder, who did not secure a role in the Majors until he was 28, posted a line of .257/.336/.472 with 23 homers and 65 RBI in 475 at-bats. Pitchers Matt Albers and Troy Patton were derailed by injuries. Albers is rehabbing a partially torn labrum, while Patton underwent surgery for a similar, but more severe, injury. Dennis Sarfate spent the season in the Baltimore bullpen and allowed 62 hits in 79.2 innings. He posted rates of 7.00 BB/9 (no that is not a typo) and 9.72 K/9. Continuing with out theme, he pitched with an injured shoulder all season and was going to have surgery at the end of the year. Mike Costanzo had a disappointing season at Triple-A.

    Winner before 2008: Baltimore
    Winner after 2008: Baltimore

    Be sure to check back next week when we take a look at some of the "smaller trades" from the winter of 2007-08, that still had big impacts on the 2008 season.

    Around the MinorsOctober 24, 2008
    Rising Stars Collide in Arizona
    By Marc Hulet

    Are you ready to catch a rising star? The Arizona Fall League will feature the third annual Rising Stars Showcase today, which will pit the brightest young prospects in baseball against each other for bragging rights. Players are selected to the teams by scouting and minor league directors from each Major League organization, in consultation with Arizona Fall League executive director Steve Cobb and his baseball personnel staff.

    The most impressive prospects on the American Division team include: Tommy Hanson (Atlanta), Aaron Poreda (Chicago AL), Sean West (Florida), Gordon Beckham (Chicago AL), Logan Morrison (Florida), Brett Wallace (St. Louis), Daniel Murphy (New York NL), and Josh Reddick (Boston).

    Daniel Murphy, who is in Arizona to work on his versatility, is currently hitting .412/.500/.588 in 34 at-bats. He was scored 12 runs, in part due to eight walks (and just three strikeouts). Gordon Beckham, a 2008 first round draft pick, has just five hits in 20 at-bats but three of those have been doubles. Another 2008 first rounder, Brett Wallace, who made it all the way to Double-A in his debut, has been struggling. He is currently hitting .133/.188/.267 in 30 at-bats. Josh Reddick has followed up a solid 2008 regular season with a slow start to the AFL. He is currently hitting .211/.225/.342 in 38 at-bats. Reddick has just one walk to go along with 16 strikeouts. Logan Morrison is currently hitting .423/.423/.654 in 26 at-bats, with one home run and five runs scored. He could very well be knocking on the door of the first base job in Florida next season.

    Fellow Marlins' prospect Sean West has a 3.38 ERA through three games. He has allowed 11 hits, three walks and nine strikeouts in 10.2 innings pitched. Tommy Hanson has been lights-out in Arizona and has yet to allow a run in three starts. He has allowed just one hit and three walks in 8.2 innings of work. He has also struck out 14. Aaron Poreda, working out of the bullpen, has dominated with no runs allowed in five games. He has allowed five hits, two walks and eight strikeouts.

    The key players for the National Division team include: Philip Hughes (New York AL), Jeremy Jeffress (Milwaukee), Brian Matusz (Baltimore), J.P. Arencibia (Toronto), Matt Wieters (Baltimore), Carlos Triunfel (Seattle), Julio Borbon (Texas), and Greg Halman (Seattle).

    Matt Wieters just keeps on hitting. The catcher, who made it to Double-A in his debut season, is currently hitting .345/.486/.483 in 29 at-bats. He is almost certain to make his MLB debut in 2009, if healthy. Julio Borbon is another player who had a breakout 2008 but he is finding the league to be a little bit tougher. He is currently hitting .229/.357/.286 in 35 at-bats. Borbon has just one extra base hit, seven walks and 10 strikeouts. Catcher J.P. Arencibia may be a little worn out after a long season. He is in the AFL specifically to work on his plate discipline after walking just 18 times in 510 at-bats between High-A and Double-A. In 35 at-bats in the fall league he has just three walks... so he's improving slowly. Carlos Triunfel, one of the youngest players in the league, is hitting .311/.347/.467 in 45 at-bats. He has struck out just five times and has scored 13 runs. Fellow Seattle prospect Greg Halman is hitting .282/.333/.538 in 39 at-bats. He has walked twice with 16 strikeouts.

    Brian Matusz, a 2008 first round pick, made his pro debut in the AFL after signing late in the year. He has a 1.29 ERA in two starts. He has allowed just three hits and two walks in seven innings. Matusz also has nine strikeouts. Philip Hughes has not been overly sharp in the fall league, with a 5.68 ERA. He has allowed 12 hits and eight walks in 12.2 innings. Hughes also has 11 strikeouts. One really bad outing has skewed Jeremy Jeffress' numbers. He currently has a 12.86 ERA in seven innings. He has allowed 10 hits and six walks to go along with seven strikeouts.

    Be sure to check back at the conclusion of the Arizona Fall League, in late November, for a more detailed look at some of the best, worst - and most surprising - performances by some of the Major League's future stars.

    Around the MinorsOctober 15, 2008
    A Review: The 2007/08 Rule 5 Draft
    By Marc Hulet

    It's safe to say last year's Rule 5 draft was not as profitable as it has been in other years. There were no Johan Santanas, Joakim Sorias, Josh Hamiltons or Dan Ugglas selected in the winter of 2007. Some rule changes by Major League Baseball have helped clubs hang on to their minor talent.

    One such rule alteration allows clubs one more year to appraise their players before exposing them to the Rule 5 draft. Clubs are now allowed to wait an extra year - four years for college players and five years for high school players - before either adding them to the 40-man roster (and beginning the count down of their three option years) or passing them under the noses of 29 other clubs in the Rule 5 draft.

    What this means is that fewer raw, but talented, players are making it to this draft - which was already hit or miss to begin with. The Rule 5 draft is becoming more and more about looking for a cheap 12th arm for the staff or an inexpensive 25th man - which could arguably be said for 15 of the 18 selections from one year ago (83 percent), than it is about finding a raw gem and/or future star.

    For a refresher on the rules of the Rule 5 draft, click HERE.

    The 2007/08 Rule 5 draft:

    1     Tim Lahey           RHP   Tampa Bay      Minnesota
    2     Evan Meek           RHP   Pittsburgh     Tampa Bay
    3     Randor Bierd        RHP   Baltimore      Detroit
    4     Jose Capellan       LHP   San Francisco  Boston
    5     Carlos Guevara      RHP   Florida        Cincinnati
    6     Sergio Valenzuela   RHP   Cincinnati     Atlanta
    7     Matt Whitney         3B   Washington     Cleveland
    8     Wesley Wright       LHP   Houston        Los Angeles (NL)
    9     Fernando Hernandez  RHP   Oakland        Chicago (AL)
    10     Brian Barton        OF   St. Louis      Cleveland
    11     Randy Wells        RHP   Toronto        Chicago (NL)
    12     R.A. Dickey        RHP   Seattle        Minnesota
    13     Steven Register    RHP   New York (NL)  Colorado
    14     Michael Gardner    RHP   San Diego      New York (AL)
    15     Travis Blackley    LHP   Philadelphia   San Francisco
    16     Garrett Guzman      OF   Washington     Minnesota
    17     Callix Crabbe       2B   San Diego      Milwaukee
    18     Lincoln Holdzkom   RHP   Philadelphia   Boston

    Those Who Stuck:

  • Randor Bierd
    Bierd, 24, was grabbed by the Orioles out of the Detroit organization after the 2007 season when he struck out 10.25 batters per nine innings at Double-A. The Orioles used him sparingly in 2008 and he appeared in just 29 games and pitched 36.2 innings. He allowed 48 hits and posted rates of 4.66 BB/9 and 6.14 K/9. He'll likely head back to the minors in 2009 for some more seasoning.

  • Carlos Guevara
    Guevara was attractive to the Padres because of his screwball, which he had had a fair bit of success with in the Reds organization. Guevara stuck with the Padres but he appeared in just 10 Major League games and 16 minor league games after struggling with injuries throughout the season. He was outrighted to Triple-A in July and the Reds worked out a deal to allow him to remain in the Padres' organization. He could show up in San Diego for some injury relief in 2009.

  • Wesley Wright
    Wright had one of the biggest impacts of any of the 2008 Rule 5 draft picks. He appeared in 71 games after being nabbed out of the Dodgers organization. In 55.2 innings, Wright posted rates of 5.50 BB/9 and 9.22 K/9. The Astros' minor league system is pretty barren at the upper levels so he is likely to get another chance at the big league bullpen in 2009, with a strong spring.

  • Brian Barton
    Barton was one of the "bigger names" available in the 2007 Rule 5 draft. The former Indians prospect flirted with top prospect status at one point but was always considered a bit of a tweener - not enough range for center field and not enough power for the corner outfield spots. After hitting .268/.354/.392 in 153 at-bats (82 games) with the Cardinals in 2008, that is still where his future appears to lie.

  • R.A. Dickey
    Technically, Dickey did not stick with the Mariners at the end of spring training but he was able to remain in the organization thanks to a minor trade with the Twins (with whom he had signed with as a minor league free agent earlier that winter). The most "experienced" Rule 5 selection, Dickey was 33 when he was drafted and had spent 11 seasons in the minors and had appeared in 77 big league games. So what was the big deal? After years of toying around with it, Dickey officially added the knuckleball to his arsenal. In 112.1 innings this season with Seattle, Dickey posted a 5.21 ERA and allowed 124 hits. He posted rates of 4.09 BB/9 and 4.65 K/9. Despite the lackluster numbers, he makes an interesting 12th pitcher on a staff.

  • Evan Meek
    Meek originally stuck with the Pirates but was designated for assignment in May and was allowed to remain with his new organization. He has always had solid stuff, but Meek has never been able to command it, having posted a career minor league walk rate of 5.66 in six seasons. He posted solid minor league numbers for the Pirates in 2008 (with the best control of his career), but struggled in nine Major League games where his control deserted him again when he walked 12 batters, with seven strikeouts, in 13 innings.

    Those Who Were Returned and Flourished:

  • Randy Wells
    Wells, 26, originally made the Blue Jays out of spring training but appeared in just one game before injuries struck the club and required the organization to seek more experienced help. Wells returned to Cubs organization and had a nice year in Triple-A. He was rewarded with a late-season call-up and in four Major League appearances overall he allowed no hits in 5.1 innings. Wells walked three and struck out one.

  • Stephen Register
    Register failed to make the Mets out of spring training and was returned to the Colorado organization, where he settled into the Triple-A bullpen. He allowed 57 hits in 59 innings and posted rates of 2.90 BB/9 and 7.93 K/9. Register received a brief call-up to the Majors where he posted a 9.00 ERA in 10 games, in part due to four home runs allowed.

    Those Who Returned and Took A Step Back:

  • Sergio Valenzuela
    The selection of Valenzuela by the Reds out of the Braves' organization was a head-scratcher from the start. His stuff was OK, but he posted ERAs above 6.00 in both 2006 and 2007 in A-ball. In his career, the reliever posted poor rates of 10.56 H/9 and 4.48 K/9. He did not stick with the Reds and, in fact, was not even good enough to pitch with the Braves' organization and he was sent to the Mexican League.

  • Tim Lahey
    The first overall pick in the draft, Lahey bounced around on waivers and through a couple of organizations without appearing in a Major League game before being sent back to the Minnesota Twins. He spent 2008 in Triple-A and allowed 69 hits in 63 innings. The former catcher posted rates of 3.29 BB/9 and 7.57 K/9.

  • Matt Whitney
    Whitney has had an up-and-down minor league career. After a solid debut season in professional baseball, he broke his leg in the off-season playing basketball and missed the subsequent season. A few seasons later, he slugged 32 homers in A-ball, which got him drafted in the Rule 5 draft by the Nationals. With too many infielders on the roster, Washington was unable to keep him so he was sent back to the Indians where he hit just .268/.356/.404 with 10 homers in 463 Double-A at-bats.

    * * *

    A few of the players listed above could still turn in a few good Major League seasons but there definitely are not many players that appear capable of having a major impact in the coming seasons. That said, one of the best things about Major League Baseball is that you never know when a player might surprise you.

    The 2008/09 Major League Rule 5 draft will be held on Dec. 11, 2008 at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas.

  • Around the MinorsOctober 08, 2008
    Seeing Red: The Minor League System of the Year
    By Marc Hulet

    Depth is an important thing to have in Major League Baseball. Numerous unexpected injuries occur each year. Players counted on to make important contributions are ineffective. As such, Major League Baseball teams count on their minor league systems to help fill those voids - both temporarily and permanently. The organizations also look to their systems for future stars.

    So which club benefited the most from its minor league system in 2008? The answer is fairly clear-cut when you analyze each organization's Major League Roster:

    The Cincinnati Reds

    The most impressive thing about the Cincinnati Reds' season is that the club developed a number of very promising young players despite having the organization's top two prospects fail to succeed as expected. While Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce (albeit to a lesser extent than Bailey) struggled, players such as Johnny Cueto and Joey Votto thrived. Although technically not a rookie due to having too many innings at the Major League level, Edinson Volquez - an import from the Texas organization - was arguably Cincinnati's best starting pitcher.

    The club also benefited from fill-in contributions from a large number of home-grown talents, including Adam Rosales, Paul Janish, and Daryl Thompson. Let's start off by taking a look at the biggest impacts from the minor league system in 2008.

    Joey Votto 1B
    Born: September 1983
    MiLB Seasons: Six
    How Acquired: 2002 second round pick (high school)
    2008 stats: .297/.368/.506 | 156 H | 24 HR | 84 RBI | 10.1 BB% 19/4 K%

    This former catcher burst upon the scene in 2008 and could have been a serious Rookie of the Year candidate in the National League, if it had not been for Geovany Soto's excellent season in Chicago. Votto, a Canadian, began the season with Scott Hatteberg acting as insurance, but the veteran was soon deemed expendable. Votto ended up appearing in 151 games for the Reds in 2008 - more than any other player on the club. He was also second in OPS-plus among the regulars at 124. Votto posted an ISO of .209 in 2008, as well as an impressive 25.2% line-drive rate. The left-handed hitter held his own against southpaws with a line of .289/.356/.477.

    Jay Bruce OF
    Born: April 1987
    MiLB Seasons: Three and a third
    How Acquired: 2005 first round pick (high school)
    2008 stats: .254/.314/.453 | 105 H | 21 HR | 52 RBI | 7.4% 26.6%

    So, is he Austin Kearns or Adam Dunn? Maybe he's somewhere in between? Both Kearns and Dunn were highly-regarded outfield prospects when they burst upon the scene, but Kearns (.315/.407/.500 at age 22) never fully translated his athletic skills to the diamond and has yet to fully reach his potential (and is now with Washington). Dunn (.262/.371/.578 at age 21) , has had much more success, but he has developed into a one-dimensional slugger (and is now in Arizona). The Reds are hoping for more from Bruce, who struggled in his first Major League season. Now, to be fair to Bruce, he had a pretty nice season for a 21-year-old. However, the expectations were astronomical for the budding superstar, especially after he burst onto the scene early in the season when he batted .579 and slugged 11 hits, while posting five walks and just one strikeout in his first five games. He struggled to hit for average the rest of the season, but Bruce slugged 14 homers in the final two months.

    Johnny Cueto RHP
    Born: February 1986
    MiLB Seasons: Three
    How Acquired: 2004 amateur free agent (Dominican Republic)
    2008 stats: 174 IP | 9.21 H/9 | 3.52 BB/9 | 8.17 K/9 | 1.50 HR/9 | 4.90 FIP

    Not even the Reds expected Cueto to be this good this fast. You can completely ignore the 9-14 record, and the ERA. Yes, Cueto was inconsistent but you cannot discount the raw numbers for the 22-year-old hurler. He showed solid control for a hard-throwing youngster and has excellent make-up. Cueto does a nice job of mixing his three-pitch repertoire, which includes a 93-95 mph fastball, a slider and a change-up (although he used this pitch just 6.7% of the time). He needs to work on avoiding the long ball and could stand to induce more ground balls (38.6 GB%), especially while pitching at home.

    Homer Bailey
    Born: May 1986
    MiLB Seasons: Four
    How Acquired: 2004 first round pick (high school)
    2008 stats: 36.1 IP | 14.61 H/9 | 4.21 BB/9 | 4.46 K/9 | 1.98 HR/9 | 6.41 FIP

    The numbers are ugly, especially for someone who was touted as an early favorite for the Rookie of the Year crown. Bailey allowed way too many hits and home runs. The hard-thrower also did not strike anybody out. The whispers about Bailey's lack of desire have been around since high school and, although he's only 22, it's time for him to show a little bit more at the upper levels of professional baseball. Bailey's fastball velocity was down in 2008, which is cause for concern, especially considering how much he leans on it (71.4% of the time in his MLB career). He obviously needs to rely on his secondary pitches more, including his curveball, which can be a plus pitch.

    Honorable Mention:
    Edinson Volquez RHP
    Born: July 1983
    MiLB Seasons: Five
    How Acquired: Traded for Josh Hamilton (Texas)
    2008 stats: 196 IP | 7.67 H/9 | 4.27 BB/9 | 9.46 K/9 | 0.64 HR/9 | 3.60 FIP

    As mentioned above, Volquez was not technically a rookie in 2008 nor was he a product of the Reds' system. However, he pitched just 80 Major League innings over three seasons with Texas with little or no success. Traded for Josh Hamilton - in a trade that worked out great for both clubs - Volquez blossomed in Cincinnati at the age of 25. One of the reasons for his success was that he relied more on his plus change-up to compliment his 92-95 mph fastball (and occasional breaking ball). He led the club in wins with 17 and strikeouts with 206, and was second in innings pitched with 196. The innings total can actually be seen as a negative as manager Dusty Baker overworked yet another young pitcher. Volquez also led the team in walks with 93, which resulted in a lot of pitches thrown (3,386 to be exact).

    Others: A collection of minor league players filled in admirably for injured Reds in 2008. Outfielder Chris Dickerson may have secured himself a roster spot for 2009 with a solid debut at .304/.413/.608. Catchers Ryan Hanigan and Wilkin Castillo (acquired in the Dunn trade with Arizona) could battled for the back-up catcher roll in 2009. Infielders Paul Janish and Adam Rosales both struggled with the bat but showed enough on defence to be considered for bench roles next season. Pitcher Daryl Thompson, a former top prospect in the Montreal/Washington system, finally overcame injury woes and made his much-anticipated debut and could be in line for more innings in 2009.

    The Runner Up: The Minnesota Twins

    The Minnesota Twins narrowly missed the American League playoffs despite relying on a young pitching staff, which included rookies Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins and near-rookie Kevin Slowey. Brian Bass and Craig Breslow, after being acquired from other organizations, were also counted on heavily out of the bullpen. Infielder Brian Buscher graduated from rookie status at the age of 27 by appearing in 70 games. Youngsters Carlos Gomez and Denard Span had significant roles in the outfield. What sets Cincinnati apart from Minnesota is that the Reds' players have higher ceilings and had more statistical success overall in 2008.

    The Oakland Athletics organization also received consideration for Top Minor League System of the Year, but that club was hurt by the fact most of the young players were acquired from other organizations, including Greg Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, Daric Barton, and Gio Gonzalez.

    Around the MinorsSeptember 17, 2008
    Rating the Prospects: The NL East
    By Marc Hulet

    Prospect rating season is upon us with the Minor League Baseball regular season now over. With your help, I have been narrowing down some of the better prospects in each team's system with the final goal of identifying the Top 15 prospects in each organization's stable. Feel free to continue to recommend players that I have overlooked or simply missed. The final division - the NL East - is being reviewed today.

    In the upcoming weeks, this column will be devoted to ranking those prospects that people helped choose in the comments section of the articles, as well as via e-mail. Things to consider when choosing the prospects are 1) tools, 2) statistics, 3) history, and 4) level of competition/age. The players also must still be rookie eligible, which means pitchers cannot have exceed 50 big league innings and hitters cannot have exceeded 130 at-bats at the MLB level.

    Feel free to also comment on who you think is the best prospect in the division, as well as which team has the best minor league system. The players listed below are in no particular order and these are just working/brainstorming lists.

    NL East

    New York Mets
    The Pitchers: Brad Holt (Short season, right-hander), Eddie Kunz (Triple-A, right-hander), Michael Antonini (Double-A, left-hander), Dillon Gee (Double-A, right-hander), Dylan Owen (Double-A, right-hander), Tobi Stoner Double-A, right-hander), Maikel Cleto (A-ball, right-hander), Scott Moviel (A-ball, right-hander), Jonathan Niese (Majors, left-hander), Bobby Parnell (Majors, right-hander), Jose Sanchez (Double-A, right-hander), Chris Schwinden (Short season, right-hander), Scott Shaw (Short season, right-hander), John Holdzkom (Rookie, right-hander), Kyle Allen (Rookie, right-hander), Nathan Vineyard (A-ball, left-hander), Brant Rustich (A-ball, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Reese Havens (Short season, IF/OF/C), Ike Davis (2008 first round pick, 1B/OF), Mike Carp (Double-A, first baseman), Jose Coronado (Double-A, infielder), Emmanuel Garcia (Double-A, infielder), Fernando Martinez (Double-A, outfielder), Josh Thole (High-A, catcher), Ruben Tejeda (High-A, shortstop), Greg Veloz (High-A, second baseman), Francisco Pena (A-ball, catcher), Daniel Murphy (Majors, outfielder), Nick Evans (Majors, outfielder), Lucas Duda (High-A, first baseman), Wilmer Flores (Short season, shortstop), Stefan Welch (Rookie, third baseman), Jefry Marte (Rookie, third baseman), Cesar Puello (Rookie, outfielder), Juan Lagares (Short season, shortstop)

    Comments: OK, so who did I overlook? The Mets have traded away a number of intriguing prospects in the chase for a World Series title, but the organization does an excellent job of mining for talent, especially on the international front. However, much of the front-line talent is at least three or four years away from making an impact.

    Atlanta Braves
    The Pitchers: James Parr (Majors, right-hander), Brett DeVall (2008 first round pick, left-hander), Tyler Stovall (Rookie, left-hander), Zeke Spruill (Rookie, right-hander), Tommy Hanson (Double-A, right-hander), Stephen Marek (Double-A, right-hander), Kris Medlen (Double-A, right-hander), Todd Redmond (Double-A, right-hander), Ryne Reynoso (High-A, right-hander), Scott Diamond (High-A, left-hander), Cole Rohrbough (High-A, left-hander), Jeff Locke (A-ball, left-hander), Edgar Osuna (A-ball, left-hander), Chad Rodgers (A-ball, right-hander), Erik Cordier (A-ball, right-hander), Cody Gearrin (High-A, right-hander), Steve Evarts (A-ball, left-hander), Randall Delgado (Short season, right-hander), David Francis (Short season, right-hander), Julio Teheran (Rookie, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Clint Sammons, (Majors, catcher), Brent Lillibridge (Majors, shortstop), Brandon Jones (Majors, outfielder), Jordan Schafer (Double-A, outfielder), Kala Ka'aihue (Double-A, first baseman), Tyler Flowers (High-A, catcher), Brandon Hicks (High-A, shortstop), Gorkys Hernandez (High-A, outfielder), Jon Owings (High-A, outfielder), Jason Heyward (High-A, outfielder), Concepcion Rodriguez (High-A, outfielder), Ernesto Mejia (High-A, first baseman), Eric Campbell (High-A, third baseman), Frederick Freeman (A-ball, first baseman), Cody Johnson (A-ball, outfielder), Jon Gilmore (Short season, third baseman), Robert Brooks (Rookie, infielder)

    Comments: OK, so who did I overlook? The Braves continue to be the Braves, and stockpile young, raw talent from high schools and Latin America. Like the Mets, though, much of the talent is at A-ball or below, which could suggest a few more rough years for the big league club.

    Florida Marlins
    The Pitchers: Dallas Trahern (Triple-A, right-hander), Rick VandenHurk (Triple-A, right-hander), Ryan Tucker (Majors, right-hander), Brett Sinkbeil (Double-A, right-hander), Aaron Thompson (Double-A, left-hander), Jeff Allison (High-A, right-hander), Sean West (High-A, left-hander), Jesus Delgado (Double-A, right-hander), Hector Correa (A-ball, right-hander), Brad Hand (Rookie, left-hander), Christopher Leroux (High-A, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Cameron Maybin (Double-A, outfielder), Kyle Skipworth (2008 first round pick, catcher), Jai Miller (Triple-A, outfielder), Gaby Sanchez (Triple-A, first baseman), Chris Coghlan (Double-A, second baseman), Scott Cousins (Double-A, outfielder), Logan Morrison (High-A, first baseman), Matt Dominguez (A-ball, third baseman), Michael Stanton (A-ball, outfielder), John Raynor (Double-A, outfielder), Bryan Peterson (Double-A, outfielder), Osvaldo Martinez (A-ball, infielder), Miguel Fermin (Short season, catcher), Isaac Galloway (Rookie, outfielder), Ernesto Manzanillo (Rookie, third baseman)

    Comments: OK, so who did I overlook? The Marlins have some interesting pitchers approaching the Majors, but the overall depth is not impressive. The hitting depth is not deep either with a lot of young, toolsy players having fizzled out in recent seasons. That said, Logan Morrison, Michael Stanton and Matt Dominguez offer huge upsides, but Stanton and Dominguez are probably three years away from helping Florida.

    Philadelphia Phillies
    The Pitchers: Colby Shreve (None, right-hander), Jason Knapp (Rookie, right-hander), Antonio Bastardo (Double-A, left-hander), Edgar Garcia (Double-A, right-hander), Carlos Carrasco (High-A, right-hander), Darren Byrd (High-A, right-hander), Joe Savery (High-A, left-hander), Carlos Monasterios (High-A, right-hander), Drew Naylor (High-A, right-hander), Andrew Carpenter (Double-A, right-hander), Vance Worley (A-ball, right-hander), Kyle Drabek (Short season, right-hander), J.A. Happ (Triple-A, left-hander), Heitor Correa (Injured, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Anthony Hewitt (2008 first round pick, shortstop), Zach Collier (Rookie, outfielder), Anthony Gose (Rookie, outfielder), Sebastian Valle (Rookie, catcher), Jason Donald (Double-A, shortstop), Quintin Berry (High-A, outfielder), Michael Taylor (High-A, outfielder), Travis D'Arnaud (A-ball, catcher), Travis Mattair (A-ball, third baseman), Michael Durant (A-ball, first baseman), Dominic Brown (A-ball, outfielder), Joel Naughton (A-ball, catcher), Freddy Galvis (A-ball, shortstop), Cody Overbeck (Short season, third baseman)

    Comments: OK, so who did I overlook? The Phillies organization does not have the depth that some clubs have, but it has some very high-ceiling players (who are extremely raw), including many of the players in Rookie ball and A-ball. From the hitting side of things, the cupboards are almost bare above A-ball.

    Washington Nationals
    The Pitchers: Jack McGeary (Rookie, left-hander), Adrian Alaniz (Double-A, right-hander), Cory VanAllen (Double-A, left-hander), Jordan Zimmermann (Double-A, right-hander), Luis Atilano (High-A, right-hander), Colton Willems (A-ball, right-hander), Ross Detwiler (High-A, left-hander), Shairon Martis (Triple-A, right-hander), Marco Estrada (Triple-A, right-hander), Craig Stammen (Triple-A, right-hander), Brad Peacock (Short season, right-hander), P.J. Dean (Short season, right-hander), Jack McGeary (Short season, left-hander), Josh Smoker (Rookie, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Destin Hood (Rookie, outfielder), Adrien Nieto (Rookie, catcher), Esmailyn Gonzalez (Rookie, shortstop), Leonard Davis (Triple-A, outfielder), Ian Desmond (Double-A, shortstop), Edgardo Baez (Double-A, outfielder), Marvin Lowrance (Double-A, outfielder), Stephen King (High-A, third baseman), Christopher Marrero (High-A, first baseman), Michael Burgess(A-ball, outfielder), Luke Montz (Triple-A, catcher), Sean Rooney (A-ball, catcher), Jake Smolinski (A-ball, infielder), Derek Norris (Short season, catcher)

    Comments: OK, so who did I overlook? The Nationals system is still not overflowing with prospects but it has come a long way since the days of being run by Major League Baseball and having a strict development budget. There are some interesting pitchers in the low minors and some toolsy hitters sprinkled throughout the system. Failing to sign first round pick Aaron Crow in 2008 really hurts the system.

    Around the MinorsSeptember 16, 2008
    Rating the Prospects: The AL West
    By Marc Hulet

    Prospect rating season is upon us with the Minor League Baseball regular season now over. With your help, I am going to narrow down some of the better prospects in each team's system with the final goal of identifying the Top 15 prospects in each organization's stable. Feel free to recommend players I have overlooked or simply missed. There are two divisions remaining: the AL West (which I'll look at today), the NL East, which I'll wrap up tomorrow.

    After that, the following weeks will be devoted to ranking those prospects that people helped choose in the comments section of the articles. Things to consider when choosing the prospects are 1) tools, 2) statistics, 3) history, and 4) level of competition/age. The players also must still be rookie eligible, which means pitchers cannot have exceed 50 big league innings and hitters cannot have exceeded 130 at-bats at the MLB level.

    Feel free to also comment on who you think is the best prospect in the division, as well as which team has the best minor league system. The players listed below are in no particular order and these are just working/brainstorming lists.

    AL West

    Texas Rangers
    The Pitchers: Eric Hurley (Triple-A, right-hander), Warner Madrigal (Majors, right-hander), Zach Phillips (High-A, left-hander), Neftali Feliz (Double-A, right-hander), Michael Main (A-ball, right-hander), Neil Ramirez (Short season, right-hander), Fabio Castillo (A-ball, right-hander), Tommy Hunter (Triple-A, right-hander), Wilmer Font (Rookie, right-hander), Kasey Kiker (High-A, left-hander), Blake Beavan (A-ball, right-hander), Omar Poveda (High-A, right-hander), Robbie Ross (Rookie, left-hander), Derek Holland (Double-A, left-hander), Beau Jones (Double-A, left-hander), Michael Schlact (Double-A, right-hander), Evan Reed (High-A, right-hander), Jared Hyatt (Double-A, right-hander), Kennil Gomez (A-ball, right-hander), Tim Murphy (A-ball, left-hander), Wilfredo Boscan (Short season, right-hander), Joseph Wieland (Rookie, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Elvis Andrus (Double-A, shortstop), Taylor Teagarden (Majors, catcher), Julio Borbon (Double-A, outfielder), Engle Beltre (A-ball, outfielder), German Duran (Majors, infielder), John Mayberry (Triple-A, outfielder), Carlos Santana (A-ball, outfielder), Johnny Whittleman (Double-A, third baseman), Max Ramirez (Triple-A, catcher), Joaquin Arias (Majors, infielder), Jose Vallejo (Double-A, infielder), Justin Smoak (2008 first round pick, first baseman), Manuel Pina (Double-A, catcher), Chad Tracy, (Double-A, first baseman), Ian Gac (High-A, first baseman), Marcus Lemon (High-A, outfielder), Renny Osuna (High-A, infielder), Clark Murphy (Rookie, first baseman)

    Comments: OK, which prospects did I forget? Texas certainly has one of the better systems in baseball. There is plenty of pitching depth, which is good considering it has been the organization's Achilles' heel in recent years. Interestingly, Texas has achieved an excellent system through a variety of methods including trades (with Boston, Atlanta), the draft (Beavan, Borbon), and the international market (Boscan, Vallejo).

    Seattle Mariners
    The Pitchers: Juan Ramirez (A-ball, right-hander), Edward Paredes (Double-A, left-hander), Justin Thomas (Double-A, left-hander), Robert Rohrbaugh (Triple-A, left-hander), Nick Hill (High-A, left-hander), Eric O'Flaherty (Triple-A, left-hander), Gaby Hernandez (Double-A, right-hander), Phillippe Aumont (A-ball, right-hander), Michael Pineda (A-ball, right-hander), Nathan Adcock (A-ball, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Carlos Triunfel (High-A, shortstop), Michael Saunders (Triple-A, outfielder), Matt Tuiasosopo (Triple-A, infielder), Carlos Peguero (High-A, outfielder), Adam Moore (Double-A, catcher), Greg Halman (Double-A, outfielder), Matt Mangini (Double-A, third baseman), Rob Johnson (Majors, catcher), Yung Chi Chen (Triple-A, infielder), Jharmidy De Jesus (Rookie, shortstop), Danny Carroll (A-ball, outfielder), Mario Martinez (Rookie, third baseman), Denny Almonte (A-ball, outfielder), Alex Liddi (A-ball, third baseman), Dennis Raben (Short season, outfielder), Oswaldo Navarro (Triple-A, infielder), James McOwen (High-A, outfielder), Luis Valbuena (Triple-A, infielder), Michael Wilson (Double-A, outfielder), Edilio Colina (A-ball, second baseman), Tyson Gillies (Short season, outfielder)

    Comments: OK, which prospects did I forget? The Major League club is in disarray and the minor league system is a little bit better off - but not much. The pitching depth is thin and it can be hard to get a good read on the hitting prospects because they have been rushed so much. Regardless, there are some intriguing toolsy players in the system, including Carlos Triunfel and Greg Halman.

    Oakland Athletics
    The Pitchers: Jamie Richmond (A-ball, right-hander), Josh Outman (Majors, left-hander), Trevor Cahill (Double-A, right-hander), James Simmons (Double-A, right-hander), Henry Rodriguez (Triple-A, right-hander), Gio Gonzalez (Majors, left-hander), Andrew Bailey (Double-A, right-hander), Jeremy Blevins (Majors, left-hander), Vince Mazzaro (Triple-A, left-hander), Sam Demel (High-A, right-hander), Andrew Carignan (Double-A, right-hander), Travis Banwart (High-A, right-hander), Craig Italiano (High-A, right-hander), Fautino de los Santos (Injured, right-hander), Brett Anderson (Triple-A, left-hander), Tyson Ross (A-ball, right-hander), Brett Hunter, Jared Lansford (Triple-A, right-hander), Michel Inoa (None, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Matt Spencer (High-A, outfielder), Adrian Cardenas (Double-A, second baseman), Corey Brown (High-A, outfielder), Jermaine Mitchell (High-A, outfielder), Landon Powell (Triple-A, catcher), Javier Herrera (Double-A, outfielder), Sean Doolittle (Double-A, first baseman), Gregorio Petit (Triple-A, shortstop), Justin Sellers (Double-A, shortstop), Matt Sulentic (High-A, outfielder), Jeff Baisley (Majors, third baseman), Josh Horton (High-A, infielder), Cliff Pennington (Majors, infielder), Anthony Recker (Double-A, catcher), Chris Carter (High-A, first baseman), Aaron Cunningham (Majors, outfielder), Eric Patterson (Majors, outfielder), Josh Donaldson (High-A, catcher), Jemile Weeks (2008 first round pick, second baseman), Rashun Dixon (Rookie, outfielder), Wes Bankston (Triple-A, first baseman)

    Comments: OK, which prospects did I forget? Oakland has another strong system in the AL West, thanks in part to a number of trades that netted key prospects. The Dan Haren trade could turn out to be extremely beneficial for the Athletics organization as all six players received in return have looked good, with many exceeding expectations. The organization has done a better job in recent years with drafting pitchers than it has with hitters. After having almost non-existent success on the international front in recent seasons, Oakland made a huge splash by signing top 16-year-old Latin talent Michel Inoa for more than $4 million and has recommitted itself to the market.

    Los Angeles Angels
    The Pitchers: Nick Adenhart (Triple-A, right-hander), Jordan Walden (High-A, right-hander), Sean O'Sullivan (High-A, right-hander), Nick Green (Triple-A, right-hander), Travis Reckling (A-ball, left-hander), Mason Tobin (A-ball, right-hander), Jon Bachanov (Rookie, right-hander), Tyler Chatwood (Rookie, right-hander), Manuarys Correa (Rookie, right-hander), Rich Thompson (Triple-A, right-hander), Kevin Jepsen (Majors, right-hander), Trevor Bell (High-A, right-hander), Bobby Cassevah (High-A, right-hander), Alexander Torres (High-A, left-hander), Robert Fish (A-ball, left-hander), Anthony Ortega (Triple-A, right-hander), William Smith (Short season, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Matt Brown (Majors, third baseman), Freddy Sandoval (Majors, infielder), Hank Conger (High-A, catcher), Pete Bourjos (High-A, outfielder), Hainley Statia (Double-A, infielder), Ryan Mount (High-A, infielder), Matt Sweeney (Injured, first baseman), Andrew Romine (A-ball, infielder), Mark Trumbo (Double-A, first baseman), Terrell Alliman (Rookie, outfielder), Bobby Wilson (Triple-A, catcher), Alexia Amarista (Rookie, infielder), P.J. Phillips (High-A, infielder), Hector Estrella (A-ball, infielder), Luis Jimenez (Short season, third baseman)

    Comments: OK, which prospects did I forget? A former minor league powerhouse, Los Angeles has seen its system slowly erode due to a combination of graduating players, injuries and trades. The system has helped the organization make a number of key trades, with the Mark Teixeira acquisition being the most recent example. Even though the system looks the worse for wear right now, the club always manages to turn sleeper prospects and toolsy players into effective Major League players.

    Up Next: The NL East

    Around the MinorsSeptember 10, 2008
    Rating the Prospects: The NL Central
    By Marc Hulet

    Prospect rating season is just about upon us with the Minor League Baseball season now over. Over the next few weeks, with your help, I am going to narrow down some of the better prospects in each team's system with the final goal of identifying the Top 15 prospects in each organization's stable. Feel free to recommend players I have overlooked or simply missed. There are three divisions remaining: the NL Central (which I'll look at today), the AL West and the NL East.

    After that, the next few weeks will be devoted to ranking those prospects that people helped choose in the comments section of the articles. Things to consider when choosing the prospects are 1) tools, 2) statistics, 3) history, and 4) level of competition/age. The players also must still be rookie eligible, which means pitchers cannot have exceed 50 big league innings and hitters cannot have exceeded 130 at-bats at the MLB level.

    Feel free to also comment on who you think is the best prospect in the division, as well as which team has the best minor league system. The players listed below are in no particular order and these are just working/brainstorming lists.

    NL Central

    Chicago Cubs
    The Pitchers: Jeff Samardzija (Majors, right-hander), Jose Ceda (Double-A, right-hander), Don Veal (Double-A, left-hander), Chris Huseby (Rookie, right-hander), Larry Suarez (Rookie, right-hander), James Russell (Double-A, left-hander), Alex Maestri (Double-A, right-hander), Andrew Cashner (2008 first round pick, right-hander), Mitch Atkins (Triple-A, right-hander), Marco Carrillo (Double-A, right-hander), Dae-Eun Rhee (A-ball, right-hander), Hung-Wen Chen, (High-A, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Josh Vitters (Short season, third baseman), Tyler Colvin (Double-A, outfielder), Tony Thomas (High-A, second baseman), Welington Castillo (Triple-A, catcher), Ryan Flaherty (Short season, shortstop), Steve Clevenger (High-A, catcher), James Adduci (High-A, outfielder)

    Comments: OK, so who did I overlook? The Cubs have a number of raw, young pitchers coming into the picture, but not a ton of depth in the upper minors. Mitch Atkins has been a nice surprise but his potential does not quite match up with his 2008 numbers. Tyler Colvin has been a bit of a disappointment after his lack of patience caught up with him at Double-A, as many thought it would.

    Cincinnati Reds
    The Pitchers: Josh Roenicke (Triple-A, right-hander), Matt Maloney (Triple-A, left-hander), Kyle Lotzkar (A-ball, right-hander), Pedro Viola (Double-A, left-hander), Sean Watson (Double-A, right-hander), Carlos Fisher (Triple-A, right-hander), Travis Wood (Double-A, left-hander), Daniel Herrera (Triple-A, left-hander), Ben Jukich (Triple-A, left-hander), Daryl Thompson (Triple-A, right-hander), Sam Leclure (Double-A, right-hander), Dallas Buck (High-A, right-hander), Scott Carroll (High-A, right-hander), Zach Stewart (High-A, right-hander), Alexander Smit (High-A, left-hander), Enerio Del Rosario (A-ball, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Drew Stubbs (Triple-A, outfielder), Devin Mesoraco (A-ball, catcher), Todd Frazier (High-A, shortstop), Juan Francisco (High-A, third baseman), Chris Valaika (Double-A, shortstop), Justin Turner (Double-A, second baseman), Neftali Soto (A-ball, third baseman), Craig Tatum (Triple-A, catcher), Zack Cozart (A-ball, shortstop), Paul Janish (Triple-A, shortstop), Adam Rosales (Triple-A, infielder), Brandon Waring (A-ball, third baseman), Daniel Dorn (Double-A, outfielder), Yonder Alonso (2008 first round pick, first baseman), Shaun Cumberland (Triple-A, outfielder), Chris Heisey (Double-A, outfielder), Wilkin Castillo (Majors, catcher)

    Comments: OK, so who did I overlook? The Reds organization has a lot of depth, even with the graduation of Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, etc. Right-hander Scott Carroll, though, was just nabbed for allegedly using illegal substances so he will sit out the first 50 games of next season. The organization is stacked with infield talent, with a wave of players being ready in mid to late 2009, including Chris Valaika, Justin Turner, Juan Francisco, Todd Frazier, and even 2008 first round pick Yonder Alonso.

    Houston Astros
    The Pitchers: Bud Norris (Double-A, right-hander), Felipe Paulino (Triple-A, right-hander), Brad James (Double-A, right-hander), Sergio Perez (Double-A, right-hander), Samuel Gervacio (Triple-A, right-hander), Polin Trinidad (Double-A, left-hander), Jordan Lyles (Short season, right-hander), Ross Seaton (Short season, right-hander), Leandro Cespedes (A-ball, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Eli Iorg (Double-A, outfielder), Josh Flores (High-A, outfielder), Mitch Einertson (Double-A, outfielder), Colin DeLome (High-A, outfielder), Chris Johnson (Triple-A, third baseman), Max Sapp (A-ball, catcher), Jordan Parraz (High-A, outfielder), Brian Bogusevic (Double-A, outfielder), Kolby Clemens (High-A, catcher), Wladimir Sutil (Double-A, infielder), Jason Castro (Short season, catcher)

    Comments: OK, so who did I overlook? Well, one of the game's worst systems still is not much better after a full calendar year. With that said, a few players have resurrected their careers, including Brian Bogusevic - who has switched from pitching to playing the outfield with excellent results - and Kolby Clemens - who is now catching and showing some improvements with the bat.

    Milwaukee Brewers
    The Pitchers: Jeremy Jeffress (Double-A, right-hander), Mark Rogers (High-A, right-hander), R.J. Seidel (A-ball, right-hander), Cody Scarpetta (Rookie, right-hander), Alexandre Periard (Double-A, right-hander), Jake Odorizzi (Rookie, right-hander), Seth Lintz (Rookie, right-hander), Evan Frederickson (A-ball, left-hander), Amaury Rivas (High-A, right-hander), Evan Anundsen (A-ball, right-hander), Efrain Nieves (Rookie, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Alcides Escobar (Majors, shortstop), Mat Gamel (Majors, third baseman), Cole Gillespie (Double-A, outfielder), Brent Brewer (High-A, shortstop), Angel Salome (Majors, catcher), Lorenzo Cain (Double-A, outfielder), Caleb Gindl (A-ball, outfielder), Jonathan Lucroy (High-A, catcher), Taylor Green (High-A, third baseman), Lee Haydel (A-ball, outfielder), Michael Brantley (Double-A, outfielder), Hernan Iribarren (Triple-A, outfielder), Brett Lawrie (2008 first round pick, catcher), Cutter Dykstra (Rookie, outfielder), Eric Farris (A-ball, second baseman), Eric Fryer (A-ball, outfielder), Shawn Zarraga (Rookie, catcher)

    Comments: OK, so who did I overlook? The pitching is a little thin on the farm for the Brewers and there are some intriguing hitters, although not a ton of superstars-in-the-making. Mat Gamel and Angel Salome could be special players, but Alcides Escobar is probably a solid regular. There is not much power amongst the outfield prospects so they'll have to stick in center field or they'll end up as platoon players or fourth outfielders. Brett Lawrie has a chance to be something specially if he can stick behind the dish.

    St. Louis Cardinals
    The Pitchers: Jamie Garcia (Triple-A, left-hander), Adam Ottavino (Double-A, right-hander), Clay Mortenson (Triple-A, right-hander), Mitch Boggs (Triple-A, right-hander), Tyler Herron (High-A, right-hander), Jess Todd (Triple-A, right-hander), Kenny Maiques (A-ball, right-hander), P.J. Walters (Triple-A, right-hander), Jose Martinez, Brad Furnish (Double-A, left-hander), Lance Lynn (A-ball, right-hander), Scott Gorgen (Short season, right-hander), Luis Perdomo (Double-A, right-hander), Fernando Salas (Double-A, right-hander), Nick Addition (A-ball, left-hander), Richard Castillo (A-ball, right-hander), Arquimedes Nieto (Short season, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Brett Wallace (Double-A, third baseman), Colby Rasmus (Triple-A, outfielder), Bryan Anderson (Triple-A, catcher), Peter Kozma (High-A, shortstop), Jon Jay (Triple-A, outfielder), Allen Craig (Double-A, third baseman), Tyler Greene (Triple-A, shortstop), Mark Hamilton (Double-A, first baseman), Shane Robinson (Triple-A, outfielder), Shane Peterson (Short season, outfielder), Daryl Jones (Double-A, outfielder), Jose Martinez (Double-A, second baseman), Jon Edwards (Short season, outfielder)

    Comments: OK, so who did I overlook? The Cardinals organization has some much-needed depth, which has been missing in recent years. There are a number of good pitching prospects and I have always been a fan of Jess Todd. Brett Wallace, Colby Rasmus and Bryan Anderson should all impact the Major League team next season. Shane Robinson and Jon Jay are similar players who could be valuable fourth or fifth outfielders, although the big league team is not hurting from a lack of outfield depth.

    Pittsburgh Pirates
    The Pitchers: Brad Lincoln (High-A, right-hander), Daniel Moskos (High-A, left-hander), Duke Welker (A-ball, right-hander), Mike Felix (A-ball, left-hander), Daniel McCutchen (Triple-A, right-hander), Bryan Morris (A-ball, right-hander), Anthony Watson (High-A, left-hander), Nelson Pereira (Rookie, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Robinzon Diaz (Majors, catcher), Andrew McCutchen (Triple-A, outfielder), Neil Walker (Triple-A, third baseman), Steve Pearce (Majors, outfielder), Shelby Ford (Double-A, second baseman), Jamie Romak (Double-A, first baseman), Brian Bixler (Majors, infielder), Brad Corley (Double-A, outfielder), Brian Friday (High-A, shortstop), Jim Negrych (Double-A, third baseman), Pedro Alvarez (2008 first round pick, third baseman), Jody Mercer (A-ball, shortstop), Robbie Grossman (Rookie, outfielder), Jose Tabata (Double-A, outfielder), Jarek Cunningham (Rookie, third baseman)

    Comments: OK, so who did I overlook? Some late season trades have helped the system a bit, although a number of the young players received are already in the Majors (Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss). There are no pitching prospects that scream "No. 1 starter!" but there are a couple guys who could settle into the middle of the Pirates rotation, including recently-acquired Bryan Morris. Robinzon Diaz was a nice under-the-radar pick-up from Toronto. Andrew McCutchen should have a big impact on Pittsburgh next season.

    Up Next: The AL West

    Around the MinorsSeptember 04, 2008
    Rating the Prospects: The AL Central
    By Marc Hulet

    Prospect rating season is just about upon us with the Minor League Baseball season all but over and we are now into playoffs in most leagues. Over the next five weeks (one division a week), with your help, I am going to pick the Top 15 prospects in each organization's stable.

    After that, the next six weeks will be devoted to ranking those prospects that people helped choose in the comments section of the articles. Things to consider when choosing the prospects are 1) tools, 2) statistics, 3) history, and 4) level of competition/age. The players also must still be rookie eligible, which means pitchers cannot have exceed 50 big league innings and hitters cannot have exceeded 130 at-bats at the MLB level.

    Feel free to also comment on who you think is the best prospect in the division, as well as which team has the best minor league system. The players listed below are in no particular order and these are just working/brainstorming lists.

    AL Central

    Minnesota Twins
    The Pitchers: Phillip Humber (Triple-A, right-hander), Tyler Robertson (High-A, left-hander), Anthony Swarzak (Triple-A, right-hander), Brian Duensing (Triple-A, right-hander), Jeff Manship (Double-A, right-hander), Jose Mijares (Double-A, left-hander), David Bromberg (A-ball, right-hander), Ryan Mullins (Double-A, left-hander), Mike McCardell (A-ball, right-hander), Loek Van Mil (A-ball, right-hander), Alex Burnett (High-A, right-hander), Anthony Slama (High-A, right-hander), Carlos Gutierrez (High-A, right-hander), Shooter Hunt (A-ball, right-hander), Kevin Mulvey (Triple-A, right-hander), Deolis Guerra (High-A, right-hander), Andrei Lobanov (Short season, right-hander), Bradley Tippett (Short season, right-hander), Daniel Osterbrock (Short season, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Wilson Ramos (High-A, catcher), Joe Benson (A-ball, outfielder), Ben Revere (A-ball, outfielder), Jason Pridie (Triple-Al, outfielder), Trevor Plouffe (Triple-A, outfielder), Chris Parmalee (A-ball, outfielder), Deibinson Romero (A-ball, outfielder), Aaron Hicks (Rookie, outfielder), Tyler Ladendorf (Rookie, shortstop), Luke Hughes (Triple-A, third baseman), Erik Lis (Double-A, first baseman), Steve Tollenson (Double-A, second baseman), Daniel Valencia (Double-A, infielder), David Winfree (Double-A, outfielder), Steve Singleton (High-A, second baseman), Juan Portes (High-A, outfielder), Rene Tosoni (High-A, outfielder), Angel Morales (Short season, outfielder), Jonathan Waltenbury (Short season, first baseman), Alexander Soto (Short season, catcher),

    Comments: So who did I miss? OK... Wow, there are a lot of intriguing (but VERY raw) players in this system. What a fun system. You do have to worry about how many of the high draft picks from four years or so ago have failed to pan out, such as Trevor Plouffe... who probably should have stuck to pitching. Regardless, it seems to be, at first glance, that Minnesota has the nicest system in the league.

    Chicago White Sox
    The Pitchers: Aaron Poreda (Double-A, left-hander), Lance Broadway (Triple-A, right-hander), Jack Egbert (Triple-A, left-hander), John Ely (High-A, right-hander), Adam Russell (Triple-A, right-hander), Kyle McCulloch (Double-A, right-hander), Nevin Griffith (Rookie, right-hander), Wes Whisler (Triple-A, left-hander), Kanekoa Texeira (Double-A, right-hander), Anthony Carter (High-A, right-hander), Jacob Rasner (High-A, right-hander), Levi Maxwell (A-ball, right-hander), Gregory Infante (Short season, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Chris Getz (Triple-A, second baseman), Jose Martinez (A-ball, outfielder), John Shelby Jr. (High-A, outfielder), Christian Marrero (A-ball, first baseman), Sergio Morales, Sergio Miranda (High-A, shortstop), Francisco Hernandez (High-A, catcher), Gordon Beckham (2008 first round pick, shortstop), Jordan Danks (A-ball, outfielder), Cole Armstrong (Triple-A, catcher), Brandon Allen (Double-A, first baseman), Dale Mollenhauer (High-A, second baseman), Jorge Castillo (A-ball, first baseman)

    Comments: So who did I miss? There aren't many, if any, impact players near the top of this system so Chicago is going to have to work the free agent market for the next few years. Aside from Beckham, there was nothing overly special about the 2008 draft unless your name is Williams.

    Cleveland Indians
    The Pitchers: Adam Miller (Triple-A, right-hander), Chuck Lofgren (Double-A, left-hander), David Huff (Triple-A, left-hander), Tony Sipp (Double-A, left-hander), Ryan Miller (A-ball, left-hander), Hector Rondon (High-A, right-hander), Scott Lewis (Double-A, left-hander), Rob Bryson (A-ball, right-hander), Christopher Archer (A-ball, right-hander), Joey Maholic (A-ball, right-hander), Ryan Morris (A-ball, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Wes Hodges (Double-A, third baseman), Beau Mills (High-A, third baseman), Nick Weglarz (High-A, outfielder), Jordan Brown (Triple-A, first baseman), Matt McBride (A-ball, catcher), Trevor Crowe (Triple-A, outfielder), Josh Rodriguez (Double-A, shortstop), Lonnie Chisenhall (Short season, shortstop), Chris Gimenez (Triple-A, catcher), Carlos Santana (Double-A, catcher), Matt LaPorta (Double-A, outfielder), Ron Rivas (A-ball, infielder), Jared Goedert (High-A, infielder), Matthew Brown (A-ball, outfielder)

    Comments: So who did I miss? Cleveland has traditionally been a team that favors college draft picks but the organization has some interesting young pitchers at A-ball but it's hard to pick exactly who the most promising is out of the group at this point. I personally think Nick Weglarz is a very interesting player and have liked him since he was drafted by Cleveland... His power will play in the majors, but I worry about the batting average.

    Kansas City Royals
    The Pitchers: Daniel Cortes (Double-A, right-hander), Blake Wood (Double-A, right-hander), Danny Duffy (A-ball, left-hander), Matt Mitchell (A-ball, right-hander), Sam Runion (Short season, right-hander), Blake Johnson (Double-A, right-hander), Brent Fisher (A-ball, left-hander), Rowdy Hardy (Double-A, left-hander), Mike Montgomery (Rookie, left-hander), Tyler Sample (Rookie, right-hander), Tim Melville (Rookie, right-hander), Chris Nicoll (Double-A, right-hander), Edward Cegarra (High-A, right-hander), Alexander Caldera (A-ball, right-hander), Daniel Gutierrez (A-ball, right-hander), Leondy Perez (Rookie, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Mike Moustakas (A-ball, third baseman), Derrick Robinson (High-A, outfielder), Jeff Bianchi (High-A, infielder), Kila Kaaihue (Triple-A, first baseman), Eric Hosmer (2008 first round pick, first baseman), Johnny Giavotella (A-ball, second baseman), Joe Dickerson (High-A, outfielder), Adrian Ortiz (High-A, outfielder), Jose Bonilla (Rookie, catcher)

    Comments: So who did I miss? The pitching is much, much deeper than the hitting but Mike Moustakas is a nice hitting prospect, despite his slow start to the 2008 season. Hopefully the Scott Boras contract dispute involving Pedro Alvarez and now Eric Hosmer can get worked out soon. It's not helping either player's career.

    Detroit Tigers
    The Pitchers: Rick Porcello (High-A, right-hander), Brandon Hamilton (A-ball, right-hander), Casey Crosby (Rookie, left-hander), Ryan Perry (High-A, right-hander), Cody Satterwhite (High-A, right-hander), Duane Below (High-A, left-hander), Alfredo Figaro (High-A, right-hander), Jonah Nickerson (High-A, right-hander), Brayan Villareal (A-ball, right-hander), Jon Kibler (A-ball, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Cale Iorg (High-A, shortstop), Scott Sizemore (High-A, second baseman), Mike Hollimon (Triple-A, second baseman), Jeff Larish (Triple-A, first baseman), Matt Joyce (Triple-A, outfielder), Danny Worth (Triple-A, shortstop), Clete Thomas (Triple-A, outfielder), Ryan Strieby (High-A, first baseman), Alex Avila (A-ball, catcher), Will Rhymes (Triple-A, infielder), James Skelton (Double-A, catcher), Wilkin Ramirez (Double-A, outfielder), Justin Henry (A-ball, second baseman), Mike Gosse (Short season, second baseman)

    Comments: So who did I miss? A few players have taken some big steps this season but not nearly large enough to off-set a very poor outlook for this system. There are some interesting young pitchers but they are a ways away, except perhaps for Porcello who could end up in Detroit in 2009. Offensively, though, no one really impresses me much. To make up for a lack of prospects in the system, Detroit has moved (rushed) some players through pretty quickly, such as 2007 draft pick Danny Worth.

    Up Next: The NL Central

    Around the MinorsSeptember 03, 2008
    Rating the Prospects: NL West
    By Marc Hulet

    Prospect rating season is just about upon us with the Minor League Baseball season all but over and we are now into playoffs in most leagues. Over the next five weeks (one division a week), with your help, I am going to pick the Top 15 prospects in each organization's stable.

    After that, the next six weeks will be devoted to ranking those prospects that people helped choose in the comments section of the articles. Things to consider when choosing the prospects are 1) tools, 2) statistics, 3) history, and 4) level of competition/age. The players also must still be rookie eligible, which means pitchers cannot have exceed 50 big league innings and hitters cannot have exceeded 130 at-bats at the MLB level.

    Feel free to also comment on who you think is the best prospect in the division, as well as which team has the best minor league system. The players listed below are in no particular order and these are just working/brainstorming lists.

    NL West

    Arizona Diamondbacks
    The Pitchers: Max Scherzer (Triple-A, right-hander), Jarrod Parker (A-ball, right-hander), Matt Torra (Triple-A, right-hander), Hector Ambriz (Double-A, right-hander), Brooks Brown (Double-A, right-hander), Cesar Valdez (Double-A, right-hander), Barry Enright (High-A, right-hander), Kyler Newby (High-A, right-hander), Wes Roemer, Leyson Septimo (High-A, left-hander), Daniel Stange (High-A, right-hander), Daniel Schlereth (A-ball, right-hander), Wade Miley (Short season, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Gerardo Parra (High-A, outfielder), Reynaldo Navarro (Short season, shortstop), Ed Easley (High-A, catcher), Pedro Ciriaco (High-A, shortstop), Mark Hallberg (High-A, infielder), Pete Clifford (High-A, outfielder), Evan Frey (High-A, outfielder), Collin Cowgill (A-ball, outfielder)

    Comments: I had forgotten how bad the Arizona system has gotten since the organization traded away most of its promising players, albeit to acquire some pretty good players like Adam Dunn and Danny Haren. The pitching certainly looks stronger than the offence, although there are a lot of pitchers that appear to be future No. 4 or 5 starters. There don't seem to be any impact bats anywhere near the top of the system (I still can't believe how badly Arizona gave Carlos Quentin away, but I guess that makes up for stealing Chris Young).

    Los Angeles Dodgers
    The Pitchers: Scott Elbert (Double-A, left-hander), Chris Withrow (High-A, right-hander), James McDonald (Triple-A, right-hander), Josh Wall (High-A, right-hander), James Adkins (Double-A, left-hander), Ethan Martin (Rookie, right-hander), Josh Lindblom (Double-A, right-hander), Travis Schlichting (Double-A, right-hander), Victor Garate (High-A, left-hander), Steve Johnson (High-A, right-hander), Geison Aguasviva (Rookie, left-hander), Cole St. Clair (Rookie, right-hander), Michael Watt (Rookie, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Pedro Baez (A-ball, third baseman), Josh Bell (High-A, third baseman), Ivan DeJesus(Double-A, shortstop), Andrew Lambo (Double-A, outfielder), Lucas May (Double-A, catcher), Xavier Paul (Triple-A, outfielder), Kyle Russell (Rookie, outfielder), Austin Gallagher (High-A, third baseman), Jamie Pedroza (High-A, shortstop), Trayvon Robinson (High-A, outfielder),

    Comments: The Dodgers continue to have a nice collection of raw, toolsy players, although the system is not as deep as it has been in recent years. The organization is not afraid to promote young, promising players, rather than having them sit around dominating inferior leagues all season (San Fran, can you hear me?). It seems that every time a LAD prospect falters, two more sleepers come to the forefront.

    Colorado Rockies
    The Pitchers: Casey Weathers (Double-A, right-hander), Brandon Hynick (Double-A, right-hander), Pedro Strop (Double-A, right-hander), Chaz Roe (Double-A, right-hander), Juan Morillo (Triple-A, right-hander), Jhoulys Chacin (High-A, right-hander), Christian Friedrich (A-ball, right-hander), Xavier Cedeno (Double-A, left-hander), Keith Weiser (Double-A, left-hander), Aneury Rodriguez (High-A, right-hander), Esmil Rogers (High-A, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Dexter Fowler (Double-A, outfielder), Hector Gomez (High-A, shortstop), Chris Nelson (Double-A, shortstop), Michael McKenry (High-A, catcher), Jonathan Herrera (Triple-A, shortstop), Corey Wimberly (Double-A, second baseman), Eric Young Jr. (Double-A, second base), Daniel Carte (Double-A, outfielder), Daniel Mayora (High-A, shortstop),

    Comments: The Rockies have a real glut of prospects at Double-A, both on the mound and in the field. There are some intriguing speedsters in the system but a lot of them appear to be headed to bench roles at the MLB level. Fowler, though, looks like a serious prospect and could be playing full-time in Colorado as soon as 2009. Keep an eye on Jhoulys Chacin and Aneury Rodriguez.

    San Francisco Giants
    The Pitchers: Tim Alderson (High-A, right-hander), Madison Bumgarner (A-ball, left-hander), Henry Sosa (A-ball, right-hander), Clayton Tanner (High-A, right-hander), Kelvin Pichardo (Double-A, right-hander), Ben Snyder (Double-A, left-hander), Jesse English (High-A, left-hander), Waldis Joaquin (High-A, right-hander), Kevin Pucetas (High-A, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Buster Posey (Short season, catcher), Conor Gillaspie (Short season, third baseman), Brandon Crawford (Short season, shortstop), Roger Kieschnick (NA, outfielder), Angel Villalona (High-A, first baseman), Nick Noonan (A-ball, second base), Wendell Fairley (Rookie, outfielder), Brian Horwitz (Triple-A, outfielder), Nate Schierholtz (Triple-A, outfielder),

    Comments: Knowing that they had stolen some amazing pitching prospects during the 2007 draft, the Giants concentrated on nabbing some interesting and advanced college hitters in 2008. The Giants' minor league system was horrible as recently as two years ago and has improved significantly in a short period of time. The depth is still lacking a bit, but there are some stars-in-the-making. I just wish the Giants promoted players a little more aggressively, rather than letting them dominate inferior competition for significant periods of time, which seemingly does nothing for a player's development.

    San Diego Padres
    The Pitchers: Matt Latos (Short season, right-hander), Wade LeBlanc (Triple-A, left-hander), Steve Garrison (Double-A, left-hander), Will Inman (Double-A, eight-hander), Nick Schmidt (Injured, left-hander), Matthew Buschmann (Double-A, right-hander), Ernesto Frieri (Double-A, right-hander), Jeremy Hefner (High-A, right-hander),

    The Hitters: Allan Dykstra (High-A, first baseman), Jaff Decker (Short season, outfielder), James Darnell (Short season, third baseman), Logan Forsythe (Rookie, infielder), Blake Tekotte (Short season, outfielder), Cole Figueroa (Short season, second baseman), Matt Antonelli (Triple-A, second base), Cedric Hunter (High-A, outfielder), Kyle Blanks (Double-A, first baseman), Yefri Carvajal (A-ball, outfielder), Kellen Kulbacki (High-A, outfielder), Will Venable, Drew Cumberland (A-ball, shortstop), Mitch Canham (High-A, catcher), Lance Zawadzki (Double-A, shortstop), Chad Huffman (Double-A, outfielder), Rayner Contreras (High-A, infielder), Eric Sogard (High-A, second baseman)

    Comments: It's been a disappointing season for the San Diego Padres organization from top to bottom. A number of interesting prospects disappointed throughout the season and the club continues to be snake-bitten when it comes to first round draft picks. The organization's impact depth has been hurt by years of drafting "safe" college picks with lower ceilings. The pitching depth is especially sorry, while the hitting is starting to show signs of life.

    Up Next: The AL Central

    Around the MinorsAugust 28, 2008
    Rating the Prospects: AL East
    By Marc Hulet

    Prospect rating season is just about upon us with the Minor League Baseball season in its last full week (Where did the time go?). Over the next six weeks (one division a week), with your help, I am going to pick the Top 15 prospects in each organization's stable.

    After that, the next six weeks will be devoted to ranking those prospects that people helped choose in the comments section of the articles. Things to consider when choosing the prospects are 1) tools, 2) statistics, 3) history, and 4) level of competition/age. The players also must still be rookie eligible, which means pitchers cannot have exceed 50 big league innings and hitters cannot have exceeded 130 at-bats at the MLB level.

    Feel free to also comment on who you think is the best prospect in the division, as well as which team has the best minor league system.

    The AL East

    The Baltimore Orioles
    The Pitchers: Jake Arrieta (Double-A, right-hander), Chorye Spoone (Double-A, right-hander), Pedro Beato (High-A, right-hander), Brandon Erbe (High-A, right-hander), David Hernandez (Double-A, right-hander), Brian Matusz (2008 No. 1 pick, left-hander), Brad Bergesen (Double-A, right-hander), Chris Tillman (Double-A, right-hander), Kam Mickolio (MLB, right-hander), Tim Bascom (High-A, right-hander), Zach Britton (left-hander, A-ball), Luis Noel (right-hander, A-ball), Tony Butler (A-ball, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Matt Wieters (Double-A, catcher), Nolan Reimold (Double-A, outfielder), Mike Costanza (Triple-A, third baseman), Billy Rowell (High-A third baseman), Brandon Snyder (High-A, first baseman), Miguel Abreu (High-A, second baseman), Chris Vinyard (High-A, designated hitter), Ryan Adams (A-ball, second baseman), Matt Angle (A-ball, outfielder), Tyler Kolodny (Short season, third baseman)

    Comments: OK, so who did I forget that should be in the Top 15? Is Wieters or Tillman worthy of the coveted No. 1 overall spot... or is there a dark horse candidate? The pitching certainly seems stronger in the system than the hitting, with the exception of Wieters. If you look at the pitching coming up the pipe in this system, it's not hard to envision Baltimore becoming pretty successful in a few years if Erbe, Tillman and Arrieta can stay healthy.

    The Toronto Blue Jays
    The Pitchers: David Purcey (MLB, left-hander), Brad Mills (Double-A, left-hander), Scott Richmond (Triple-A, right-hander), Brett Cecil (Triple-A, left-hander), Ricky Romero (Triple-A, left-hander), Luis Perez (A-ball, left-hander), Marc Rzepczynski (A-ball, left-hander), Robert Ray (Double-A, right-hander), Tim Collins (A-ball, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Travis Snider (Triple-A, outfielder), J.P. Arencibia (Double-A, catcher), Brian Jeroloman (Triple-A, catcher), David Cooper (2008 No. 1 pick, first baseman), Kevin Ahrens (A-ball, third baseman), Justin Jackson (A-ball, shortstop), John Tolisano (A-ball, second baseman), Eric Eiland (A-ball, outfielder), Brad Emaus (High-A, second baseman), Balbino Fuenmayor (Rookie, third baseman), Scott Campbell (Double-A, second baseman)

    Comments: OK, so who did I forget that should be in the Top 15? The Blue Jays are absolutely loaded in left-handed pitching, which is always an extremely valuable commodity. At first blush, I would say the hitting is stronger overall than the pitching but a lot of the really interesting hitters are raw and toolsy (wait, is this Toronto?)

    The Tampa Bay Rays
    The Pitchers: David Price (Triple-A, left-hander), Jacob McGee (Injured, left-hander), Wade Davis (Triple-A, right-hander), Jeff Neimann (Triple-A, right-hander), Jeremy Hellickson (Double-A, right-hander), James Houser (Double-A, left-hander), Heath Rollins (Double-A, right-hander), Kyle Lobstein (2008 2nd round pick, left-hander), Alex Cobb (A-ball, right-hander), Nick Barnese (Short season, right-hander)

    The Hitters: Reid Brignac (Triple-A, shortstop), Desmond Jennings (High-A, outfielder), Ryan Royster (High-A, outfielder), Tim Beckham (2008 First Overall Pick, shortstop), John Jaso (Triple-A, catcher), Rhyne Hughes (Double-A, first baseman)

    Comments: OK, so who did I forget that should be in the Top 15? The Rays have definitely focused harder on drafting pitching in recent years than hitting, or perhaps the organization has just been lucky? A lot of its top-ranked pitchers were not even first round draft picks and they definitely found good value in pitchers such as Davis, Hellickson and Rollins.

    The Boston Red Sox
    The Pitchers: Michael Bowden (Triple-A, right-hander), Charlie Zink (Triple-A, right-hander), Daniel Bard (Double-A, right-hander), Kris Johnson (Double-A, left-hander), Casey Kelly (2008 No.1 pick, right-hander), Bryan Price (2008 No. 1 supplemental, right-hander), Felix Doubront (High-A, left-hander), Brock Huntzinger (A-ball, right-hander)

    The Hitters: George Kottaras (Triple-A, catcher), Chris Carter (Triple-A, OF-1B), Lars Anderson (Double-A, first baseman), Aaron Bates (Double-A, first baseman), Argenis Diaz (Double-A, shortstop), Josh Reddick (Double-A, outfielder), Jon Still (High-A, catcher), Chih-Hsien Chiang (High-A, second baseman), Yamaico Navarro (High-A, shortstop), Ryan Kalish (High-A, outfielder), Jason Place (High-A, outfielder), Will Middlebrooks (Short season, third baseman), Ryan Dent (Short season, shortstop), Michael Almanzar (A-ball, third baseman), Oscar Tejeda (A-ball, shortstop)

    Comments: OK, so who did I forget that should be in the Top 15? Boston's draft spending spree has been well publicized as of late but I think it is a great thing. I like to see talented players get drafted and enter the pro ranks. I'll admit I think the draft system needs an overhaul - well, a salary cap of some sort for sure... But I don't blame Boston for throwing around the money; I'd do the same thing. The club also does really well in the foreign markets, doesn't it? There are at least six interesting foreign-signed players above... Boston is definitely covering all the bases.

    The New York Yankees
    The Pitchers: J.B. Cox (Triple-A, right-hander), Mark Melancon (Triple-A, right-hander), Alan Horne (Triple-A, right-hander), George Kontos (Double-A, right-hander), Christian Garcia (High-A, right-hander), Humberto Sanchez (High-A, right-hander), Andrew Brackman (Injured, right-hander), Dellin Betances (A-ball, right-hander), Jeremy Bleich (2008 supplemental first pick, left-hander)

    The Hitters: Austin Jackson (Double-A, outfielder), Frank Cervelli (Double-A, catcher), Matt Cusick (High-A, second baseman), Damon Sublett (High-A, second baseman), Eduardo Nunez (High-A, shortstop), Luis Nunez (High-A, infielder), Jesus Montero (A-ball, 1B/C), Austin Romine (A-ball, catcher), Brad Suttle (A-ball, third baseman)

    Comments: OK, so who did I forget that should be in the Top 15? With all the money New York has, the organization has kind of let the system fall into disrepair. There are some intriguing prospects, but none that really wow... although Jackson and Montero could be near wow. That said, New York has always had an uncanny ability to turn OK prospects into really good players, such as Robinson Cano. Overall, between the two powerhouses, Boston seems to have a better run minor league system and scouting department than New York.

    Next Week: The NL West

    Around the MinorsAugust 20, 2008
    Wrappin' Up the Draft
    By Marc Hulet

    The 2008 draft deadline has come and gone, and when the dust settled almost all the big-name amateur draft picks had signed on the dotted line - save for three. A trio of pitchers chose not to begin chasing their Major League Baseball dream right away, including Aaron Crow (Washington), Joshua Fields (Seattle) and Gerrit Cole (New York AL).

    Both Crow and Fields are considering playing for independent baseball leagues, while Cole - a prep right-hander - is headed off to pitch for UCLA. Crow will have to wait to sign with a new club until next year. Fields, though, as a senior without the option of returning to school, did not have to sign at the deadline like everyone else. He has until the week before the 2009 draft to sign with Seattle, but what is he waiting for? He turned 23 years old yesterday and needs significant work on his control before becoming an effective Major League reliever (He has averaged more than five walks per nine innings in his last two college seasons). The market seems pretty simple to me, as Fields was taken sandwiched between two other college relievers who signed for $1.54 million (Andrew Cashner) and $1.48 million (Ryan Perry).

    Cole will have to wait a full three years, which is a big risk considering the fragility of pitchers and the amount of money he turned down from the Yankees (more than $2 million). I can understand wanting to get a good education, but $2 million is a pretty good cushion if the Major League career does not turn out - and you are never too old to go back to school.

    It came down to the wire but the top eight picks in the draft all came to terms. Top pick Tim Beckham and sixth round Kyle Skipworth both signed more than a month ago and have been able to benefit from valuable development time in the minors. Negotiations between Pedro Alvarez, the second overall pick, and Pittsburgh came down to the wire but he signed for $6 million. The Pirates needs to make the move after last year's debacle (Daniel Moskos). Kansas City threw out another $6 million to high school slugger Eric Hosmer, who is considered a very advanced offensive player. The club also gave seven figures to fourth round selection Tim Melville, a talented right-handed pitcher whom many thought was headed to college (which is why he fell out of first-round consideration). Interestingly enough, the small-market Royals spent more on the draft ($10-plus million) than any other club, according to Baseball America.

    Baltimore signed top college pitcher Brian Matusz to a Major League contract with a signing bonus of $3.2 million, and with more than $6 million guaranteed over the life of his career. Catcher Buster Posey settled with San Francisco for a whopping $6.2 million, which might have been the biggest overpayment in the top eight. He's talented, but his bat may not be superstar quality, which is what I'd hope for from an amateur being handed that much money up front.

    Yonder Alonso, on the other hand, could be the biggest steal of the draft for "only" $2 million. That said, he did receive a Major League contract and a guarantee of $4.55 million. Although he doesn't really fit in with Cincinnati's current 25-man roster (thanks to the presence of top rookie Joey Votto), teams always find a way to make room for players with star power. Alonso has been a consistent performer for three college seasons, and he has excellent plate discipline to go along with his 30 home run power potential. Gordon Beckham agreed to terms with the White Sox for $2.2 million and could move quickly through the club's minor league system.

    The Rangers wrapped up Justin Smoak, the 11th overall selection in the draft, for $3.5 million. Smoak has 25-30 home run potential, as well as Gold Glove promise in the field. Despite concerns about his hip, San Diego gave Allan Dykstra $1.15 million to forgo his senior college season. Boston gave 30th pick and high school two-way player Casey Kelly $3 million to turn a blind eye to a college career. The organization also threw out seven-figure contracts to two other draft picks (Ryan Westmoreland and Pete Hissey).

    * * *

    Let's take a quick look now at the race for American League and National League Rookies of the Year, although I will go into more detail next week. On the offensive side of things, Geovany Soto (Chicago NL) and David Murphy (Texas) are tied for the lead in hits with 114. Evan Longoria is leading the pack with 22 homers (and slugging at .533), while Soto is just four behind. Murphy has driven in 74 runs for Texas, while Longoria is just three runs short. Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury's 38 steals are 27 more than his closest competition. Soto's .286 batting average is good for first overall, while Cincinnati's Joey Votto is second at .281. Atlanta's Gregor Blanco leads all rookies with a .371 on-base average.

    As for the pitchers, Nick Blackburn (Minnesota) and Jair Jurrjens (Atlanta) are leading the way with 152.2 and 151.1 innings, respectively. Blackburn has given up 170 hits (the most of any rookie pitcher) but he also has the lowest BB/9 ratio, having allowed just 26 free passes. Johnny Cueto (Cincinnati) leads the rookie hurlers with 136 strikeouts, which is 24 more than second-place Jurrjens. Armando Galarraga (Detroit) and Jurrjens are tied for the most rookie wins with 11. Galarraga also leads rookies with a 3.11 ERA. The most saves by a rookie goes to Cleveland's Masa Kobayashi.

    Around the MinorsAugust 14, 2008
    The Clock is Ticking
    By Marc Hulet

    Major League Baseball (MLB) teams, including scouts, scouting directors and general managers, are no doubt buzzing like a bee hive in a hurricane. The deadline for signing 2008 amateur draft picks expires on this Friday, Aug. 15.

    Because many of the remaining players are expected to sign above-slot deals, MLB has 'encouraged' teams to delay the announcements until right before the deadline in hopes of limiting the effect those would have on other negotiations. What is most surprising is the lack of whispers regarding pre-arranged deals that are just waiting for MLB's seal of approval to make them public; there is a lot we don't know this year as the time ticks down.

    Here is what we don't know (Unsigned Players):
    2. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh (college selection)
    3. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City (high school selection)
    4. Brian Matusz, LHP, Baltimore Orioles (college selection)
    5. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants (college selection)
    7. Yonder Alonso, 1B, Cincinnati Reds (college selection)
    9. Aaron Crow, RHP, Washington Nationals (college selection)

    Six of the Top 10 picks remain unsigned, which I personally hate to see as it doesn't help these players' developments. Hosmer, like fellow prepster Cole, is advised by the Scott Boras Corporation so they will likely sign as long as they get ridiculous amounts of money to play a game they 'love.' Hosmer offers an exciting future and could pair beautifully with 2007 first round draft pick and third baseman Mike Moustakas.

    The moment Alvarez signs with Pittsburgh he could become the organization's franchise player and will give fans a lot to talk about (finally - although the Manny Ramirez trade has helped too). Matusz and Crow, by far the top college arms in the draft, are expected to get Major League contracts, although Crow's discussions with Washington have not gone well and there is an outside shot he will not sign.

    Posey and Alonso will get done, with the backstop offering much-needed prospect polish to a system mostly void of impact bats. Alonso could be Major League ready in two years but is currently blocked at first base by youngster Joey Votto.

    11. Justin Smoak, 1B, Texas Rangers (college selection)
    20. Josh Fields, RHP, Seattle Mariners (college selection)
    23. Allan Dykstra, 1B, San Diego Padres (college selection)
    28. Gerrit Cole, RHP, New York Yankees (high school selection)

    Smoak is one of my favorite players in the draft so I would like to see him take the field before the end of the year, but that may not happen. And what is Fields waiting for? Already a senior, he does not have the option to return to college but he could theoretically threaten to hold out until the just before the 2009 draft if he isn't given a Major League contract. Dykstra is the most likely first rounder not to sign due to a questionable physical that unearthed some concerns about his hip, which was injured in high school. If the Yankees can't get Cole signed, nobody can.

    Here is what we know so far (Signed Players):

    1. Tim Beckham, IF, Tampa Bay Rays (high school selection)
    6. Kyle Skipworth, C, Florida Marlins (high school selection)
    8. Gordon Beckham, SS, Chicago White Sox (college selection)
    10. Jason Castro, C, Houston Astros (college selection)

    Tim Beckham shocked everyone by signing quickly but his adjustment to pro ball has been slow - which is not a concern at this point given his age. Skipworth is also struggling. Castro's .270/.365/.351 line in 74 at-bats is OK, but not great given that it is in Short Season ball. I am a little surprised Gordon Beckham did not sign until last night given that he had such a great season and surely would not repeat such a feat in his senior season. The White Sox could also use the middle infield depth.

    12. Jemile Weeks, 2B, Oakland Athletics (college selection)
    13. Brett Wallace, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals (college selection)
    14. Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins (high school selection)
    15. Ethan Martin, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (high school selection)
    16. Brett Lawrie, C, Milwaukee Brewers (high school selection)
    17. David Cooper, 1B, Toronto Blue Jays (college selection)
    18. Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets (college selection)
    19. Andrew Cashner, Chicago Cub (college selection)

    College hitters Weeks, Wallace, and Cooper are off to fast starts. Weeks is hitting .297/.422/.405 in 74 A-ball at-bats. Wallace is hitting .344/.427/.534 in 131 A-ball at-bats. Cooper has been the fastest mover, having played at three levels and topping out in High-A ball. Currently, he is hitting .343/.409/.531 overall in 207 at-bats and was the second first rounder to sign a pro contract. Martin has been sidelined for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

    New York fans have to be disappointed with Davis' start, which includes a line of .235/.289/.307 and zero homers in 153 Short Season at-bats. Hicks is doing his best Ben Revere impression and is trying to make the Twins look brilliant yet again. His line, albeit in Rookie Ball, is currently .312/.412/.478 in 138 at-bats with 11 stolen bases to go along with 25 walks and 27 strikeouts. Lawrie recently signed and is currently in China playing for Canada's Olympic squad. Cashner has been brutal for the Cubs while making three starts in four appearances. He has a 10.80 ERA with 12 walks and five strikeouts in 5.2 innings.

    21. Ryan Perry, RHP, Detroit Tigers (college selection)
    22. Reese Havens, IF, New York Mets (college selection)
    24. Anthony Hewitt, SS, Philadelphia Phillies (high school selection)
    25. Christian Friedrich, LHP, Colorado Rockies (college selection)
    26. Daniel Schlereth, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (college selection)
    27. Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, Minnesota Twins (college selection)
    29. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Cleveland Indians (college selection)
    30. Casey Kelly, RHP/SS, Boston Red Sox (high school selection)

    Havens is currently playing in Short Season ball and is hitting .263/.359/.500 with three homers in 80 at-bats. Hewitt is hitting .235/.298/.376 in 85 Rookie Ball at-bats. He also has just five walks and 39 strikeouts. Fellow high school pick Kelly is struggling in Rookie Ball with a line of .169/.200/.246 in 65 at-bats. Chisenhall is doing well in Short Season ball with a line of .272/.333/.426 and four homers in 195 at-bats.

    Perry has struggled with consistency so far in his pro career and has a 4.26 ERA in six High-A ball games as Detroit attempts to rush him through the system. He has allowed six hits and four walks in 6.1 innings. Friedrich has looked good for Colorado in the Northwest League with 27 hits and eight walks allowed in 31 innings. He has also struck out 42 batters. Surprise first round pick Gutierrez is doing just OK in High-A ball with 19 hits and six walks allowed in 16.2 innings. He has struck out just 11 batters but is inducing two groundball outs for each flyball out. Schlereth has yet to allow an earned run in three relief appearances.

    With time running out, what rumors are you hearing about unsigned selections?

    Around the MinorsAugust 06, 2008
    Where Did They Come From?
    By Marc Hulet

    Every season we bear witness to a bevy of surprise performances by professional baseball players. That is what makes Major and Minor League Baseball so much fun. Let's take a look at a surprise offensive performance from each of the three Double-A leagues:

    Eastern League

    Luis Montanez, OF
    Bowie Baysox, Baltimore Orioles
    Drafted: 2000 first round by Chicago Cubs
    Acquired: 2007 as a Minor League free agent
    Born: Dec. 15, 1981

    Luis Montanez is a familiar name to prospect watchers and Chicago Cub fans. He was the club's No.1 draft pick (third overall) in the 2000 draft out of a Miami high school as an infielder. Montanez started off his career on fire and hit .344/.438/.531 in 192 Rookie League at-bats that same season.

    Unfortunately he then spent the next five years in A-ball and did not sniff Triple-A until 2006 at the age of 24. Now 26 and an outfielder, Montanez has spent the season in Double-A Bowie in the Baltimore Orioles organization and was hitting .335/.385/.601 with 26 homers in 451 at-bats. What is most surprising is the power; Montanez has never hit more than 14 homers in a season and was never considered a double-digit home run threat having broken the .500 slugging percentage mark only once previously.

    The Orioles obviously liked what they saw from him as he was promoted to the Majors today for the first time in his career. He may have what it takes to be a valuable utility player at the Major League level with his versatility and athleticism.

    Texas League

    Kila Kaaihue, 1B
    Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Kansas City Royals
    Drafted: 2002 15th round
    Born: March 29, 1984

    Kila Kaaihue may be one of baseball's biggest teases. But he may also finally be for real after numerous seasons of one step forward and two steps back. The Hawaiian comes from a baseball family, as his father Kala Kaaihue played in the minors for 11 seasons and brother (also named) Kala Kaaihue plays for the Braves organization.

    Kila was selected in the 15th round of the 2002 amateur draft out of high school and spent the next three seasons putting up OK, but not great, numbers. That changed when he entered the hitters' haven of High Desert in 2005 and he slugged 20 homers and hit .304/.428/.497 in 493 at-bats. He headed up to Double-A, though, and struggled mightily hitting .202/.305/.303 in 327 at-bats. Kila then split the next year between High-A ball and Double-A with modest results.

    The 2008 season began with Kila repeating Double-A for the third time and things finally clicked for the 24-year-old. He hit .314/.463/.624 with 26 homers and 80 walks in 287 at-bats. Kila was recently promoted to Triple-A where he is hitting .375/.423/.750 in five games. He may have finally found the happy medium between selling out for power and waiting for his pitch. With Billy Butler disappointing to a degree, the door may be open for Kila.

    Southern League

    Manny Mayorson, IF
    Carolina Mudcats, Florida Marlins
    Signed: 1999 non-drafted free agent by the Blue Jays
    Acquired: 2008 as a Minor League free agent
    Born: March 10, 1983

    Manny Mayorson's profile is a little different than the first two players in this article given his extreme lack of power, as seen by his career .317 slugging average. No, Mayorson is not going to be a star at the Major League level but his bat has improved enough over the last couple of years that he is no longer simply a good-field-no-hit player. Mayorson has always flashed Gold Glove skills at shortstop but he can play second and third base as well.

    Early in his career, Mayorson bounced around the low minors and struggled to hit .230 in his first five seasons. That changed, though, in 2005 when he hit .268/.309/.363 in his third go-around with the Florida State League. He then improved offensively each of the next two seasons although he was stuck in Double-A for the Jays both years. Finally free of the organization after the 2008 season due to Minor League free agency, Mayorson has come into his own, although he has spent most of the season in Double-A yet again.

    He is currently hitting .313/.372/.407 with 20 stolen bases, 26 walks (16 strikeouts) and 26 doubles in 297 Double-A at-bats. His average is good for ninth in the league. Earlier in the season Mayorson finally received a brief promotion to Triple-A where he hit .275/.321/.412 in 12 games. Yes there are some flaws in the Dominican's offensive game, but his combination of defensive skills and the ability to make contact make him an intriguing (and cheap) bench or part-time player option at the Major League level.

    * * *

    Well, that is only three interesting stories in a Minor League system filled with players. I'd love to hear about some of the story lines that you find interesting as the 2008 Minor League season begins to wind down.

    Around the MinorsJuly 29, 2008
    All Aboard for Beijing
    By Marc Hulet

    The 2008 United States Olympic Baseball Team is, not surprisingly, loaded with prospects. The team, which also has its fair share of talented Triple-A veterans, will be one of the favorites to win gold when the Olympic Games get underway in August although the squad did not even qualify for the Athens Olympics in 2004.

    The winners of the 2004 Games were Cuba (Gold), Australia (Silver) and Japan (Bronze). The Cuban team featured Chicago White Sox infielder Alexei Ramirez. The Australian team included Seattle's Ryan Rowland-Smith. The Japanese team had a number of familiar names, including Kosuke Fukudome, Kenji Johjima, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Masa Kobayashi.

    Let's take a look at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Squad:

    The Pitchers:

    Brett Anderson, LHP     |  Oakland Athletics (Double-A)
    Jake Arrieta, RHP       |  Baltimore Orioles (High-A)
    Trevor Cahill, RHP      |  Oakland Athletics (Double-A)
    Brian Duensing, LHP     |  Minnesota Twins (Triple-A)
    Kevin Jepsen, RHP       |  Los Angeles Angels (Triple-A)
    Brandon Knight, RHP     |  New York Mets (Triple-A)
    Mike Koplove, RHP       |  Los Angeles Dodgers (Triple-A)
    Blaine Neal, RHP        |  Detroit Tigers (Triple-A)
    Jeremy Cummings, RHP    |  Tampa Bay Rays (Triple-A)
    Jeff Stevens, RHP       |  Cleveland Indians (Triple-A)
    Stephen Strasburg, RHP  |  San Diego State University (entering junior year)
    Casey Weathers, RHP     |  Colorado Rockies (Double-A)

    The Breakdown:
    The first three names on the list are the ones to really watch out for in terms of future big league potential. Brett Anderson, a former Arizona second round draft pick, was picked up by Oakland this past winter in the Dan Haren trade and has risen to Double-A in just his second season after being drafted out of high school. He doesn't have overpowering stuff but he knows how to pitch like a veteran. The 20-year-old currently has allowed 18 hits in 25 Double-A innings with eight walks and 29 strikeouts.

    Jake Arrieta, 22, has been dealing in his first pro season after sitting out the second half of last season due to contract negotiations after being drafted out of Texas Christian in fifth round. He currently has allowed 77 hits in 106 innings with 48 walks and 112 strikeouts.

    Oakland does not dip into the prep ranks as often as some other teams, but when it does the organization seems to make those picks count, with Trevor Cahill being a perfect example. The 20-year-old has been pitching at Double-A and has allowed 24 hits in 37 innings with 19 walks and 33 strikeouts. He also has a 3-1 ratio of ground ball outs to fly ball outs.

    Other interesting players on the pitching staff include Colorado's 2007 No. 1 draft pick Casey Weathers, who will help solidify the bullpen and soon-to-be college junior Stephen Strasburg, the only non-professional player on the squad, who is in the mix to go No. 1 overall in the 2009 amateur baseball draft.

    The Hitters:

    Lou Marson, C         |  Philadelphia Phillies (Double-A)
    Taylor Teagarden, C   |  Texas Rangers (Triple-A)
    Brian Barden, IF      |  St. Louis Cardinals (Triple-A)
    Matthew Brown, IF     |  Los Angeles Angels (Triple-A)
    Jason Donald, IF      |  Philadelphia Phillies (Double-A)
    Mike Hessman, IF      |  Detroit Tigers (Triple-A)
    Terry Tiffee, IF      |  Los Angeles Dodgers (Triple-A)
    Jayson Nix, IF        |  Colorado Rockies (Triple-A)
    Dexter Fowler, OF     |  Colorado Rockies (Double-A)
    John Gall, OF         |  Florida Marlins (Triple-A)
    Matt LaPorta, OF      |  Cleveland Indians (Double-A)
    Nate Schierholtz, OF  |  San Francisco (Triple-A)

    The Breakdown:
    There are not many prospects who have improved more in the last two years than Lou Marson. In 2006, he hit .243/.343/.351 in 350 A-ball at-bats. In 2008, Marson is currently hitting .319/.434/.423 in 317 Double-A at-bats. He also has 65 walks and 69 strikeouts. Battery mate Taylor Teagarden may have the slight edge defensively and with his home run stroke, but he will not hit for as high of an average or get on-base as often. At the very least Teagarden is headed for a long-term Major League career as a platoon player. If he can gain a little more consistency with the bat, he could be a regular not unlike Jason Varitek.

    The infield consists mostly of veteran players, including Mike Hessman, who currently leads the International League with 32 homers, four more than Brad Eldred. Terry Tiffee was a feel-good story in the first half as the vet batted more than .400 for much of the first two months of the season and currently sits at .375/.415/.559 and had a brief Major League cup of coffee with the Dodgers.

    Jason Donald is the biggest prospect name in the infield and he has been mentioned in numerous trade rumors as of late. He is currently hitting .308/.388/.509 in 338 Double-A at-bats.

    Matt LaPorta is probably the brightest star on the entire squad and many predict that he could hit 40 homers in the Majors one day. He was recently traded from Milwaukee to Cleveland in the C.C. Sabathia deal. LaPorta is really best-suited for first base or designated hitter but he won't embarrass himself too badly in the outfield for the U.S. squad. He has struggled since coming over in the trade with a .212 average and just one homer in 14 games, but he was hitting .288/.402/.576 with 20 homers in 302 at-bats for Huntsville (Milwaukee).

    When the Rockies drafted Dexter Fowler, the organization had to lure the raw athlete away from a basketball scholarship at Harvard and it's a good thing as the outfielder has come into his own this season. At Double-A, Fowler is currently hitting .337/.430/.514 with nine homers and 20 stolen bases in 395 Double-A at-bats. He also has 61 walks and 82 strikeouts.

    The U.S. team is certainly looking to put the disappoint of 2004 behind it and re-establish itself as one of the most talented countries in the world when it comes to stepping onto the baseball diamond.

    Around the MinorsJuly 23, 2008
    A Look at the Triple-A Leader Boards
    By Marc Hulet

    With the Minor League Baseball season about two-thirds of the way done (already!), there are some interesting names at the top of the leader boards. I thought it might be fun to take a look at the offensive players at the top of each league in Triple-A baseball, in terms of the triple-slash stats: average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

    International League

    Leaders for Average:
    1. Joe Thurston, 2B, Boston (.317)
    2. Mike Cervenak, 1B, Philadelphia (.311)
    3. Randy Ruiz, 1B, Minnesota (.309)

    As you probably know, the majority of players at the Triple-A level are fringe Major Leaguers and usually minor league veterans. Such is the case with the above three players, although Joe Thurston was once considered a pretty good prospect with the Los Angeles Dodgers, circa 2002 when he hit .334/.372/.506 as a 22-year-old at Triple-A. Well, it's six seasons later and Thurston has appeared in a total of 56 games. He is still talented and athletic enough to carve out a utility player role for a big league club. Thurston just needs a break.

    At the age of 30, Randy Ruiz has yet to have an official at-bat at the Major League level. Mike Cervenak, at the age of 31, made his Major League debut this season for the Phillies and had one at-bat before he was sent back down to the minors. In 360 minor league at-bats this season, Cervenak has walked just nine times. Neither player projects as anything beyond a possible pinch hitter at the Major League level.

    Leaders for On-base Percentage:
    1. Dan Johnson, 1B, Tampa Bay (.414)
    2. Brett Gardner, OF, New York (AL) (.412)
    3. Matt Watson, OF, Toronto (.404)

    Brett Gardner is easily the best prospect of the three, especially considering Dan Johnson has expired his rookie eligibility. Gardner has made good use of his patience by stealing 34 bases. He has, though, looked over-matched at the Major League level. Johnson and Matt Watson are both 'tweeners' with not quite enough power to play everyday at their positions but they also lack positional flexibility, which keeps them off a Major League bench.

    Leaders for Slugging Percentage:
    1. Brad Eldred, 1B, Chicago (AL) (.620)
    2. Mike Hessman, 1B, Detroit (.596)
    3. Jeff Bailey, 1B, Boston (.590)

    Brad Eldred was a nice little off-season pick-up for the White Sox out of the Pirates organization. Unfortunately, there are already two guys named Paul Konerko and Jim Thome clogging up the first base/designated hitter roles in the Windy City. He's 28, but Eldred hits well against both right-handers and southpaws and he has performed well with runners in scoring position (.280/.378/.598).

    With 75 or so more at-bats, Mike Hessman is ahead of Eldred in both homers (by four) and strikeouts (by 42). The 30-year old has now topped 20 homers in a minor league season nine times but he has a career .230 average in more than 1,400 games. Jeff Bailey briefly sniffed the Major Leagues earlier this season but he struggles with off-speed pitches and looks like a 4-A player.

    Pacific Coast League

    Leaders for Average:
    1. Terry Tiffee, 3B, Los Angeles (NL) (.384)
    2. Jamie D'Antona, 3B, Arizona (.367)
    3. Nick Stavinoha, OF, St. Louis (.346)

    You have to give Terry Tiffee credit for even being in Triple-A, as a former 26th round pick by Minnesota. As a career .296 hitter in the minor leagues, Tiffee certainly knows how to swing the bat but his Major League career has been stalled by his lack of power at the hot corner: 84 homers in 3,647 at-bats.

    Jamie D'Antona is a personal favorite of mine and has an advantage over Tiffee in the fact that he has a lot more raw power and is flexible in the field with the ability to play third, first, catcher and even the outfield corners if needed. It's a little surprising that he has yet to play at the Major League level - or even sit on a 40-man roster. Nick Stavinoha did not walk away from his college career until the age of 23, so he has been behind the eight ball a bit. Even so, he made it to the Majors in his third full season. He lacks the power and patience to be an everyday corner outfielder.

    Leaders for On-base Percentage:
    1. Brian Myrow, 1B, San Diego (.455)
    2. Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas (.439)
    3. Seth Smith, OF, Colorado (.426)

    It may not seem that impressive that Brian Myrow has just 33 Major League at-bats at the age of 31, but he was undrafted out of college and was signed out of independent baseball in 2001. Myrow could potential have a Mark Sweeney-type of career if given the chance, but he does not have enough usable power to play first base every day.

    Nelson Cruz has long teased organizations with his power potential but consistency has eluded him, much like his Major League career. With 31 homers, 21 stolen bases and an on-base average more than .400, though, Cruz is making a statement that he deserves another chance at the age of 28. Seth Smith lacks the power needed to play the corner outfield on a regular basis. He had a great fall in 2007 and showed talent off the bench by going 5-for-8 in seven games.

    Leaders for Slugging Percentage:
    1. Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas (.703)
    2. Dallas McPherson, 3B, Florida (.650)
    3. Jamie D'Antona, 3B, Arizona (.612)

    Cruz and D'Antona were both touched upon under the above two categories and it's obvious that they are both having excellent seasons. Both players have been hurt in the past by questions about their work ethics.

    Former top prospect Dallas McPherson has also breathed new life into his career with an excellent season that has seen him hit 32 homers in 314 at-bats. He has, though, also struck out 112 times. Finally healthy after struggling with a variety of injuries for the past three seasons, McPherson deserves another Major League shot at the age of 28. It will be interesting to see how much his numbers were inflated by his favorable minor league hitting environment.

    There are some interesting names at the top of the leader boards in Triple-A baseball, including some blasts from the past, which include Thurston, McPherson and Eldred. There are also a few names that bear watching in the next few months, including D'Antona and Gardner.

    Around the MinorsJuly 16, 2008
    The Future of Major League Baseball
    By Marc Hulet

    The World roster won 3-0 over the U.S. roster on Sunday during the Futures Game. The annual prospects showcase featured some of the most impressive and talented prospects in professional baseball. Many of the names were familiar to fans of minor league baseball but there were also some lesser-known players to make an appearance on the big stage, which is the group we are going to look at this week.

    World Roster

    Wilkin Ramirez, 3B
    Detroit Tigers | Double-A
    Age: 22

    The Tigers do not have an overly impressive minor league system but Ramirez is one bright spot. He is currently hitting .303/.372/.545 in 297 at-bats with 14 homers and 19 stolen bases. Ramirez briefly saw some Triple-A action earlier this season but hit just .083 in 36 at-bats. With a career .310 on-base average, Ramirez needs to continue to improve his patience at the plate.

    Gerardo Parra, OF
    Arizona Diamondbacks | Double-A
    Age: 21

    With the off-season trade of Carlos Gonzalez, Parra became the No. 1 outfield prospect in the system and has taken that status to heart. He doesn't offer as much power as Gonzalez, but Parra has a little more speed and may be a better defensive player. He is currently hitting .252/.314/.358 with two homers and six stolen bases in 123 Double-A at-bats, after beginning the season in High-A ball with a line of .301/.381/.413 with two homers and 12 stolen bases in 196 at-bats.

    Scott Campbell, 2B
    Toronto Blue Jays | Double-A
    Age: 23

    Campbell has the chance to become the first New Zealander to play in the Major Leagues. Currently at Double-A, he is hitting .332/.422/.451 with five homers and two stolen bases in 304 at-bats. Impressively, Campbell skipped over High-A ball at the beginning of the season. He currently has 46 walks and 47 stolen bases. The second baseman is just an OK fielder and cannot hit southpaws (.194), so he is likely a future bench or platoon player.

    Che-Hsuan Lin, OF
    Boston Red Sox | Low A-ball
    Age: 19

    Although just 19, Lin made the World roster based on his potential. The Taiwan outfielder, who was signed in early 2007, has hit below .250 in his two-year career so far. Currently at Low A-ball, Lin is hitting .248/.344/.368 with five homers and 27 stolen bases in 323 at-bats.

    Welington Castillo, C
    Chicago Cubs | Double-A
    Age: 21

    Castillo is no doubt looking to follow in Geovany Soto's footsteps. Split between High-A and Double-A ball in 2008, Castillo is hitting .291/.346/.422 overall with four homers in 199 at-bats. With the promotion of Soto to the Major Leagues and the recent trade of Josh Donaldson to Oakland, Castillo is now the No. 1 catching prospect in the system after beginning the season third on the depth chart. At the very least, his defensive abilities should ensure he will make the majors as a back-up catcher.

    Hector Rondon, RHP
    Cleveland Indians | High-A ball
    Age: 20

    Rondon was a little-known prospect last season, although he combined on a no-hitter with a teammate in Low A-ball. He has solid control for his age, to go along with a low-90s fastball, curveball and fringe change-up. So far this season the right-hander has had no issues with High-A ball and has allowed 88 hits in 93 innings. He has walked 32 batters and struck out 101.

    Shairon Martis, RHP
    Washington Nationals | Triple-A
    Age: 21

    Martis was originally signed by the San Francisco Giants and later traded to the Nationals for aging reliever Mike Stanton. Martis won 14 games in 2007 but struck out just 108 batters in 151 innings. His sinker and plus change-up induce grounders but he will need to improve his breaking balls to succeed at the Major League level, especially since he has been allowing more fly balls this season. After 14 Double-A starts in 2008, Martis was promoted to Triple-A where he has made four starts.

    U.S Roster

    Greg Golson, OF
    Philadelphia Phillies | Double-A
    Age: 22

    Golson, a former 2004 No. 1 draft pick, is having a career year even though he is still showing no patience at the plate. The athletic outfielder is currently hitting .299/.333/.455 with eight homers and 17 stolen bases in 264 at-bats. However, he has just 14 walks and 80 strikeouts, which suggest his success will not last.

    Cliff Pennington, SS
    Oakland Athletics | Triple-A
    Age: 24

    Pennington is another former No. 1 pick (2005, 21st overall) who is finally having some success. He fell off the prospect charts in 2006 and 2007 but started off 2008 by hitting .260/.379/.314 with 20 stolen bases in 204 Double-A at-bats. Promoted to Triple-A, Pennington is currently hitting .277/.408/.394 with two homers and five stolen bases in 155 at-bats. Impressively, he has walked 74 times and struck out 59 times. With his combination of patience and speed, Pennington should spend time in the Majors as a utility player.

    Chris Getz, 2B
    Chicago White Sox | Triple-A
    Age: 24

    Getz also projects as a big league utility player. The hard-nosed infielder has significantly improved his stock this season with a Triple-A line of .303/.361/.452 with eight homers and seven stolen bases in 310 at-bats. The former fourth round pick out of the University of Michigan has a strong arm but limited range, which hurts his utility player prospects a bit.

    Dexter Fowler, OF
    Colorado Rockies | Double-A
    Age: 22

    Fowler was originally drafted in the 14th round of the 2004 draft as a raw project. He has finally taken that next step on his way to a solid big league career. Fowler is currently hitting .325/.412/.510 with nine homers and 16 stolen bases in 351 Double-A at-bats. The switch hitter is currently batting .438/.500/.671 from the left side. His 73 strikeouts, though, are on the high side.

    Taylor Teagarden, C
    Texas Rangers | Triple-A
    Age: 24

    While playing at the University of Texas, Teagarden was considered by many to be the best defensive catcher in all of college baseball. His bat, though, was a question. Not long after signing his first pro contract, Teagarden underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow and spent much of the next season at designated hitter. His bat improved and in 2007, split between High-A ball and Double-A, Teagarden hit .310 and slugged 27 homers. He is struggling a bit offensively this season with a line of .220/.333/.381 in 164 at-bats split between Double-A and Triple-A but his glove will ensure that he sees time at the Major League level before long.

    Casey Weathers, RHP
    Colorado Rockies | Double-A
    Age: 23

    It may be a little surprising that you haven't heard more about the eighth overall selection of the 2007 draft, but Weathers' popularity is hurt by the fact he is a reliever and has pitched just 50 innings since signing his first pro contract. Regardless, he has put up solid numbers and so far this season has allowed just 23 hits in 35.1 innings. He has walked 19 batters, which is high, but he has also struck out 40 hitters. His ground ball outs to fly ball outs ratio is also about 2-1, which should help him in Colorado. Right-handed batters are hitting just .168 against him.

    The future is certainly bright in Major League baseball, especially considering the above group of players were not even considered the cream of the crop at the showcase. You can read more about this week's Futures Game here.

    Around the MinorsJuly 09, 2008
    2008 Draft First Round Update
    By Marc Hulet

    The August deadline to sign 2008 draft picks will be here before you know it. To date, only one-third of the first round selections have signed on the dotted line with their respective clubs. First overall pick and high school shortstop Tim Beckham (Tampa Bay) is the highest pick to have signed, followed by prep catcher Kyle Shipworth (Florida) sixth overall.

    Here is a breakdown of all the confirmed signees thus far:

    Tim Beckham, Tampa Bay, SS
    Drafted: First overall, Georgia high school
    Assignment: Princeton Devil Rays (Rookie Ball)

    Beckham is currently playing with his brother - and double play partner - Jeremy Beckham in Rookie Ball. The higher drafted Beckham is off to a slow start and is hitting .200/.293/.200 through 10 games and 35 at-bats. Jeremy, who was taken in the 17th round out of Georgia Southern University, is hitting .273/.368/.364 in 13 games and 33 at-bats. He has already played three positions - third base, second base and shortstop - and has yet to make an error. Tim, who has two errors in four games at shortstop, is ahead of recent first overall picks in the fact that he signed quickly and will have more experience under his belt than most after the inaugural pro season.

    Kyle Skipworth, Florida Marlins, C
    Drafted: Sixth overall, California high school
    Assignment: Gulf Coast League Marlins (Rookie Ball)

    Not surprisingly, Skipworth is also struggling early on with the bat. Through eight games, he is hitting .185/.214/.185 with one walk and 11 strikeouts in 27 at-bats. Interestingly, the left-handed hitting is 3-for-3 (1.000) against southpaws. He has caught two of five base runners who have tried to steal against him.

    Brett Wallace, St. Louis Cardinals, 3B/1B
    Drafted: 13th overall, Arizona State University
    Assignment:Quad Cities River Bandits (A Ball)

    The highest drafted college player to sign so far, Wallace was fast-tracked to the Midwest League where he is hitting .350/.480/.650 through six games and 20 at-bats. He has one homer and five RBI. Although he played third base in his junior season of college, Wallace is expected to be a Major League first baseman due to an exceptionally thick lower half. Regardless, he has been playing the hot corner so far this season.

    Aaron Hicks, Minnesota Twins, CF
    Drafted: 14th overall, California high school
    Assignment:Gulf Coast League Twins (Rookie Ball)

    In the grand tradition of raw Minnesota prep draft picks (ala Ben Revere), Hicks is off to a fast start in Rookie Ball. He is hitting .327/.407/.462 in 52 at-bats. The strikeouts are piling up, as he currently has 14. The switch hitter is batting just .111 against southpaws.

    David Cooper, Toronto Blue Jays, 1B
    Drafted: 17th overall, University of California
    Assignment: Auburn Double Days (Short Season A Ball)

    Cooper was the initial first round pick to sign a pro contract so he has the most at-bats so far in 2008. In 21 games (85 at-bats), Cooper is hitting .341/.411/.553 with two homers and 21 RBI. The left-handed hitter is batting .412 against southpaws and the Jays plan to promote Cooper to High-A Ball at the end of July.

    Ike Davis, New York Mets, OF/1B
    Drafted: 18th overall, Arizona State University
    Assignment: Brooklyn Cyclones (Short Season A-Ball)

    Davis is off to a modest start in the New York Penn League with a line of .283/.283/.396 through 12 games and 53 at-bats. He has yet to hit a homer, but six of his 15 hits have been doubles. Davis has struck out 10 times and has yet to take a walk. So far, he has played all his games at first base.

    Reese Havens, New York Mets, SS
    Drafted: 22nd overall, University of South Carolina
    Assignment: Brooklyn Cyclones (Short Season A-Ball)

    Havens is off to a faster start offensively than teammate Davis. The former college shortstop is currently hitting .281/.410/.531 in 32 at-bats. He also has two homers and has walked six times, while striking out in nine at-bats. Havens has spent his time at designated hitter and could be headed behind the plate towards the end of the year.

    Anthony Hewitt, Philadelphia Phillies, SS
    Drafted: 24th overall, Connecticut high school
    Assignment: Undetermined

    Hewitt has yet to appear in a minor league game since signing, but he is likely headed to the Gulf Coast League Phillies (Rookie Ball). Hewitt is expected to be a long-term project.

    Christian Friedrich, Colorado Rockies, RHP
    Drafted: 25th overall, Eastern Kentucky University
    Assignment: Undetermined

    Friedrich, who fell a bit in the draft, also has yet to appear in a minor league game and could be headed to A-ball with the Asheville Tourists.

    Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland Indians, 3B
    Drafted: 29th overall, Pitt Community College
    Assignment: Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Short Season A-ball)

    Chisenhall, 19, is holding his own in the New York Penn League and is currently hitting .282/.356/.462 with seven doubles, two triples and a homer in 78 at-bats. He has walked and struck out eight times each, and has three stolen bases in as many attempts.

    It was also reported shortly before this article went to print that the Oakland Athletics signed first round pick Jemile Weeks (12th overall) and the Cubs locked up Andrew Cashner (19th overall).

    Check back after the signing deadline on Aug. 15 for another update, after the dust has settled.

    Around the MinorsJuly 03, 2008
    Expansion Time: The Hitters
    By Marc Hulet

    Yesterday, beginning with the pitchers, I started compiling an expansion team consisting of the best, non top prospects at the Triple-A level. Finding hitters for a MLB expansion team is a lot easier than finding pitchers, given the lack of quality pitching depth at the Major League level. With that said, I present the offence and defence for my club:

    The Catchers:

    Brayan Pena, C
    Omaha Royals (Kansas City)
    Age: 26
    MiLB Seasons: Eight
    MLB Service: 71 games

    Brayan Pena was never given a fair shot in Atlanta and he was productive in the minors. He does a nice job handling pitchers and he is a switch hitter.

    Erik Kratz, C/1B
    Syracuse Chiefs (Toronto)
    MiLB Seasons: Eight
    MLB Service: None

    Perhaps the least recognizable player on the team, Erik Kratz is one of few (if any) Mennonites playing professional baseball. He also has a lot of raw power and is an excellent defensive catcher, whom pitchers love throwing to. His upside is Doug Mirabelli.

    The Infielders:

    Brad Eldred, 1B
    Charlotte Knights (Chicago AL)
    Age: 27
    MiLB Seasons: Seven
    MLB Service: 74 games

    Sure, he has more homers than walks, but Brad Eldred is leading the International League in that category. He may hit just .240 or .250 and strike out 130 times, but he brings much-needed power to this expansion team.

    Tug Hulett, 2B/3B
    Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle)
    Age: 25
    MiLB Seasons: Five
    MLB Service: None

    Yes we share the same last name (although the Canadian Hulets dropped a 'T' when they came over the border from Pennsylvania many moons ago). Tug Hulett can really hit and has been an on-base machine throughout his career. He had a terrible start to the season after being traded to the Mariners organization from Texas, but Hulett has turned things around. He has a career .394 OBP and just needs to curb the strikeouts.

    Dallas McPherson, 3B/1B
    Albuquerque Isotopes (Florida)
    Age: 27
    MiLB Seasons: Seven
    MLB Service: 117 games

    Dallas McPherson is a former top prospect from the Angels system, who is rebuilding his career with the Marlins. His power would combine nicely with Eldred's in the heart of the line-up, even though his 29 homers and .310 batting average are somewhat a product of his Triple-A hitting environment.

    James D'Antona, 3B, 1B, LF, RF, C
    Tucson Sidewinders (Arizona)
    Age: 26
    MiLB Seasons: Six
    MLB Service: None

    James D'Antona has shown over the past three years that he can really rake (2008: .383/.423/.596)... and he also has some intriguing raw power that has never really been tapped in to. Add in his versatility, including the ability to serve as a third-string catcher, and you have a valuable part-time player.

    Cody Ransom, SS, 3B, 2B
    Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (New York AL)
    Age: 32
    MiLB Seasons: 11
    MLB Service: 133 games

    Finding a competent shortstop at the Triple-A level is challenging to say the least. Cody Ransom is not going to hit for average, but he has a little bit of power, versatility and he has a reputation of being a very good defensive shortstop.

    Brian Barden, 3B, SS, 1B, 2B
    Memphis RedBirds (St. Louis)
    Age: 27
    MiLB Seasons: Seven
    MLB Service: 23 games

    Brian Barden has always hit well for average, but the knock on him was a lack of power. I have more than enough power on this team with Eldred, McPherson, etc. so Barden fits in nicely as a part-time infielder. Typically a third baseman, Barden has been holding his own at shortstop this season.

    The Outfielders:

    Brad Nelson, LF, 1B
    Nashville Sounds (Milwaukee)
    Age: 25
    MiLB Seasons: Eight
    MLB Service: None

    Still only 25, it seems like Brad Nelson has been around forever, and he was even considered to be among Milwaukee's top prospects at one point. After struggling the past few years, Nelson is back on track this year and provides power and a solid approach at the plate that has allowed him to rack up more walks than strikeouts. He is currently hitting .326/.436/.540.

    Mitch Maier, CF, LF, RF, C, 1B, 3B
    Omaha Royals (Kansas City)
    Age: 26
    MiLB Seasons: Six
    MLB Service: Five games

    I was a fan of Mitch Maier all the way back to his college career at the University of Toledo... when he has a full-time catcher. His relocation to the outfield has hurt his career and value, but his versatility could have a lot of value on my club. Maier also has just enough speed and just enough power to be interesting.

    Buck Coats, CF, RF, LF
    Syracuse Chiefs (Toronto)
    Age: 26
    MiLB Seasons: Nine
    MLB Service: 46 games

    Buck Coats has a left-handed swing, solid defence and some speed, which makes him a valuable platoon player on my club. He can also play the infield in a pinch. He has a gamer reputation.

    Wayne Lydon, CF, RF, LF
    Syracuse Chiefs (Toronto)
    Age: 27
    MiLB Seasons: 10
    MLB Service: None

    Wayne Lydon, a former prospect of the Mets, has always had a great set of wheels but he never embraced the 'small ball' approach and struck out too much, while not walking enough. A light bulb seems to have clicked on this season. His strikeout rate is down to 18.8 percent, compared to an average of about 22 percent over the previous three seasons. His walk rate is at 11.5 percent, compared to 9.2 percent last season. He is also second in the league with 34 stolen bases and has been caught just four times.

    Fernando Perez, CF, RF, LF
    Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay)
    Age: 25
    MiLB Seasons: Five
    MLB Service: None

    Like Lydon, Fernando Perez brings a stolen base threat to the line-up of the expansion team. The Columbia University grad also has a great head on his shoulders. He hits for a solid average and is good for 30-40 stolen bases over the course of a full season. Perez strikes out too much (a running theme on this team) at about 25 percent, but he will also walk 12-15 percent of the time.

    Others considered: Robby Hammock, Mark Johnson, Brooks Conrad, Vinny Rottino, Shane Costa, Cory Sullivan, Dan Johnson, and John-Ford Griffin.

    Around the MinorsJuly 02, 2008
    Expansion Time: The Pitchers
    By Marc Hulet

    One of my favorite activities as a kid was to create Major League "expansion teams" with my baseball cards. My teams would not have been confused with any All-Star squads. I was never a fan of the super stars in sports, and always found myself gravitating to the Bill Pecotas, Mark McLemores and Randy Readys of the world. This activity occurred before my love of minor league baseball developed (thanks to the Internet) and the only prospects I knew of were the ones in my 1989 Score factory box set, which was ordered out of the back of a magazine.

    When Junior Felix made his Major League debut with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1989 (taking everyone by surprise, including the baseball card manufacturers), I cut his picture out of a magazine and created my own baseball card, complete with biographical information and statistics on the back. Felix was one of the members of my first expansion team.

    Today, I have access to thousands of baseball players on my computer. But let's narrow things down to about 600 players or so and create an expansion team with the best Triple-A players who are not considered among each organization's top 20 prospects and still have something to contribute at the Major League level.

    The Starting Rotation:

    SP - Charlie Zink, RHP
    Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston)
    Age: 28
    MiLB Seasons: Seven
    MLB service: None

    Who doesn't love a knuckleballer? Charlie Zink's value is at its highest since 2003, thanks to improved "command" of his knuckler. He currently has a 2.63 ERA and has allowed 78 hits in 102.2 innings of work. He is durable and still has some upside, which makes him a perfect fit for this expansion club.

    SP - Tyler Clippard, RHP
    Columbus Clippers (Washington)
    Age: 23
    MiLB Seasons: Six
    MLB Service: Eight games

    Tyler Clippard has never been regarded as a top prospect because he has fringe-average stuff. The former Yankees prospect came over to the Nationals in a minor trade in the off-season and has continued to put up solid but unspectacular numbers. He currently sports a career 3.51 ERA and has struck out 699 batters in 670 innings. Clippard has also allowed just 7.83 H/9 in his career.

    SP - Kei Igawa, LHP
    Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees (New York AL)
    Age: 29
    MiLB Seasons: Two
    MLB Service: 16 games

    Kei Igawa is a veteran of seven seasons in Japan's top league and really needs to get out of New York. He is not an overly expensive player, either, considering the Yankees have already paid out the $26 million to negotiate a contract with him. The expansion team would be on the hook for $4 million a year through 2011 but the marketing possibilities should outweigh that cost. Igawa has consistently put up solid Triple-A numbers, including 8.56 K/9.

    SP - Billy Murphy, LHP
    Syracuse Chiefs (Toronto)
    Age: 27
    MiLB Seasons: Seven
    MLB Service: 10 games

    Bill Murphy has been around the block since being drafted in the third round of the 2002 draft by Oakland. He has always had pretty good stuff for a lefty but control issues have plagued him throughout his career. Regardless, Murphy is a smart pitcher, whom some have said will eventually make a very good pitching coach, which brings added value to my expansion team. If you take out three ugly starts in the last seven games (11 innings, 19 hits, 23 earned runs, 15 walks), Murphy is having a nice season: 81.2 innings, 71 hits, 38 walks, 72 strikeouts, and a 2.88 ERA.

    SP - Matt DeSalvo, RHP
    Richmond Braves (Atlanta)
    Age: 27
    MiLB Seasons: Six
    MLB Service: Seven games

    The former non-drafted pitcher has done well just to make the Major Leagues. Matt DeSalvo was a late addition to my team, as he takes the spot of John Parrish, who was just called up by the Toronto Blue Jays making him ineligible for this team. DeSalvo has put up OK minor league numbers despite fringy stuff but he needs to improve his control. He should serve as an OK fifth starter on this expansion team.

    The Bullpen:

    RP - Randy Wells, RHP
    Iowa Cubs (Chicago NL)
    Age: 25
    MiLB Seasons: Seven
    MLB Service: One game

    Randy Wells was originally drafted as a catcher but was converted to the mound after one minor league season. He was selected out of the Cubs' system in the winter of 2007 in the Rule 5 draft and actually made the Toronto Blue Jays' opening day roster. However, when the Jays faced a 40-man roster crunch, Wells was sent back to Chicago after making just one Major League appearance. He has OK stuff and gets his fair share of ground balls. Wells' ability to pitch as a starter or reliever is also of great value to an expansion team with some questionable starting pitching depth.

    RP - Wes Whisler, LHP
    Charlotte Knights (Chicago AL)
    Age: 25
    MiLB Seasons: Five
    MLB Service: None

    A former two-way player at UCLA, a number of teams considered drafting Wes Whisler as a hitter due to his plus raw power. The White Sox, though, liked his left-handed arm on the mound. My expansion team wants a little bit of both, in the mold of Brooks Kieschnick. Whisler is probably never going to be an impact arm on the mound, despite being drafted in the second round. He currently has a career rate of 4.88 K/9 and has averaged more than 10 hits per nine innings. While being allowed to DH in his first pro season, Whisler hit .289/.308/.421 in 38 Low-A ball at-bats.

    RP - Ron Flores, LHP
    Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis)
    Age: 28
    MiLB Seasons: Nine
    MLB Service: 53 games

    You can never have too much left-handed pitching, which is where Ron Flores comes in. Despite iffy control, Flores has always posted OK numbers and has a career rate of 8.36 H/9.

    RP - Mark Difelice, RHP
    Nashville Sounds (Milwaukee)
    Age: 31
    MiLB Seasons: 11 seasons
    MLB Service: 10 games

    Optioned to Triple-A just in time to make the team, Mark Difelice has been my radar for years, as a pitcher who can act a swing man and makes the most of his above-average command. In more than 1,200 minor league innings, Difelice has a rate of just 1.60 BB/9. In 13.2 Major League innings, he has yet to walk a batter and has 16 strikeouts.

    RP - R.J. Swindle, LHP
    LeHigh Valley Iron Pigs (Philadelphia)
    Age: 24
    MiLB Seasons: Five
    MLB Service:None

    R.J. Swindle is an interesting player who has been on my radar since his final college season at Charleston Southern University. The Canadian southpaw was drafted in the 14th round in 2004 by the Boston Red Sox. He is a soft tosser, but posted a 1.94 in his debut in the New-York Penn League and posted rates of 7.41 H/9, 0.71 BB/9 and 9.88 K/9 in 51 innings. Even so, he was released by Boston in the off-season and spent parts of the next two seasons in independent baseball before signing with the Yankees. He spent three-quarters of a season with the organization and posted an ERA below 1.00, as well as similar rates to those of his debut season. But again he began the next season in independent baseball before being signed by the Phillies organization in mid-2007. This season, he posted a 0.54 ERA in 11 Double-A games and was promoted to Triple-A where he currently has a 1.93 ERA in 18 games, along with just five walks and 32 strikeouts. Left-handers are hitting .129 against him.

    RP - Sergio Santos, RHP
    Rochester RedWings (Minnesota)
    Age: 25
    MiLB Seasons: Seven
    MLB Service: None

    You may recognize Sergio Santos as the former top prospect (and former No. 1 draft pick) of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and later the Toronto Blue Jays... as a shortstop. Santos has one of the strongest infielder arms in the minor leagues but has proven for three straight seasons that he cannot hit Triple-A pitching. It's time to cut bait and move his powerful arm to the mound, where he features a mid-90s fastball, cutter and curve ball. The Jays organization took a look at Santos on the mound during side sessions at the end of last season.

  • Others: John Parrish (Toronto) and Steven Shell (Washington) were both considered for this team before being called up to the Major Leagues. Lee Gronkiewicz (Boston), who has deserved a spot on a Major League team for about three years, would have been added to the bullpen as the closer but he recently underwent Tommy John surgery.

    Tomorrow, I'll take a look at the hitters on my expansion team.

  • Around the MinorsJune 24, 2008
    Giant Steps
    By Marc Hulet

    It is easy to knock the San Francisco Giants organization for being unable to produce a productive, everyday position player in... well, let's just say years. But a quick glance at the minor league system shows that there are some very impressive numbers being put up by some intriguing pitching prospects. And the scouting reports even back up some of those numbers, while also raising some question marks for others.

    Prospects or Suspects?

    Madison Bumgarner, Left-hander
    Augusts GreenJackets | Low-A ball
    Age: 18
    School: North Carolina high school
    Status: Prospect

    Only 18 years of age, Madison Bumgarner is arguably the Giants most promising pitching prospect. The 6-4 left-hander currently sports a 1.77 ERA in 71.1 innings and has allowed just 58 hits. Even more impressive is the walk total: 11, with 84 strikeouts. To find a flaw in this 2007 first round pick (10th overall) would be nitpicking, but it would likely be his almost 1.00 ground out to fly out ratio. Oh, and for those of you who might be thinking the Sally League hitters might catch up to Bumgarner, hitters have scored just four earned runs in his last 10 starts (including three of those in a two-game stretch). It might be time for him to visit San Jose.

    Tim Alderson, Right-hander
    San Jose Giants | High-A ball
    Age: 19
    School: Arizona high school
    Status: Prospect

    On the surface, Tim Alderson's numbers are not as impressive as Bumgarner's, but you have to keep in mind that the prospect is pitching in High-A ball, having skipped over Low A-ball entirely. Alderson was available to the Giants with the 22nd overall pick of the 2007 draft because there were enough teams worried about his mechanics to make him slide. But hey, people were somewhat critical of a guy named Tim Lincecum too. In 79.1 innings this year, Alderson has allowed just 75 hits, along with 25 walks. He has struck out 65 batters. Left-handers are hitting .293 against him, compared to righties at .203. Regardless, the Giants are ridiculously wealthy with young pitching.

    Adam Cowart, Right-hander
    Connecticut Defenders | Double-A
    Age: 24
    School: Kansas State University
    Status: Suspect

    You cannot argue with Adam Cowart's success, which includes a career 2.28 ERA in 324.1 innings. He also has allowed just 285 hits. Unfortunately, Cowart has struck out only 184 batters, which underlines concerns about his fringe stuff. The sidearmer has a mid-80s fastball but plus command and control. He could very well have a career in the majors, but it will likely come as a middle reliever. His ERA is reasonable, but Cowart has allowed 100 hits in 81.2 innings (a .306 batting average against).

    Joseph Martinez, Right-hander
    Connecticut Defenders | Double-A
    Age: 25
    School: Boston College
    Status: Suspect

    Joseph Martinez is another right-handed pitcher in the system who has outstanding numbers but average stuff. His high-80s fastball and OK secondary pitches have been good enough to strike out batters at a rate of 7.52 in his career. The 2005 12th round pick is passing the Double-A test with flying colors and could be a No.4 or 5 starter at the Major League level. He currently has an ERA below 2.00 and has allowed just 68 hits in 78 innings and has struck out 51 batters.

    Ben Snyder, Left-hander
    San Jose Giants | High-A ball
    Age: 22
    School: Ball State University
    Status: Undecided

    The 2006 fourth round pick is your classic lefty... Ben Snyder has a mid- to high-80s fastball with a good change-up and an OK breaking ball. He has done nothing but succeed in pro ball, unlike his brother (and former first round pick Brian Snyder). Snyder won 16 games last year in Low A-ball but should have been promoted mid-season because he was obviously better than the competition. He currently has a 2.00 ERA in 85.2 innings and has allowed just 79 hits. He has allowed 18 walks and 73 strikeouts. Snyder is probably due for another promotion.

    Henry Sosa, Right-hander
    San Jose Giants | High-A ball
    Age: 22
    School: Dominican Republic school
    Status: Prospect

    Henry Sosa dials his fastball up to the mid- to high-90s and has a power curve ball that has improved over time. He made a name for himself last season when he began the year in Low A-ball and posted an ERA of 0.73 in 13 games and 10 starts. He allowed only 30 hits in more than 60 innings. Sosa moved up to High-A ball for the second half of 2007 and was OK. He had off-season knee surgery and returned to High-A San Jose in 2008. Sosa appeared for the first time on May 25 and has made just six starts. So far, Sosa has a 1.55 ERA and has allowed just 22 hits in 29 innings. He has 32 strikeouts and has walked just seven batters.

    We have looked at six of the Giants' interesting pitching prospects and all of them could very well pitch in the Major Leagues with varying levels of success. Bumgarner, Alderson, and Sosa appear to be the most promising of the six. The future on the mound looks bright for the Giants organization.

    Around the MinorsJune 13, 2008
    Familiar Names at the College World Series
    By Marc Hulet

    With the College World Series beginning this weekend, 58 players will be on display for interested fans of Major League Baseball teams. Those 58 players were drafted in the recent Major League Baseball Amateur Draft (June 5-6) and can begin negotiating with their respective club as soon as their school is eliminated from the tournament or has been crowned champion of the College World Series. Rice University leads the clubs with 11 players selected during the 2008 draft.

    Stanford University
    Record: 39-22-2
    Coach: Mark Marquess
    Last Title: 1988

  • Jason Castro, C, Houston Astros
    First Round (10th overall)

    Many felt Castro was a bit of an over-draft, although if you believe Paul DePodesta there is no such thing. Regardless, Castro is among the best college catchers, and certainly Top Three amongst the draft-eligible college catchers. He should do a nice job of handling Stanford's pitchers and controlling opponents' running games.

  • Jeremy Bleich, LHP, New York Yankees
    First Round Supplemental (44th overall)

    A bit of a surprise first round supplemental pick by the Yankees, Bleich nonetheless has outstanding college statistics, even if his stuff is a little short by Major League standards.

    Other names to know:
    Cord Phelps, 2B, Cleveland Indians (Third Round); Sean Ratliff, CF, New York Mets (Fourth Round); Austin Yount, 3B/RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (12th Round); Erik Davis, RHP, San Diego Padres (13th Round); Randy Molina, DH, Seattle Mariners (42nd Round).

    Florida State University
    Record: 54-12
    Coach: Mike Martin
    Last Title: Never

  • Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
    First Round (fifth overall)

    Posey was in the running for the first overall pick in the draft but eventually fell to the Giants with the fifth overall pick. That goes to show just how valuable Posey is, especially to Florida State's title hopes. Despite his relative inexperience behind the plate, Posey is an above-average defender and a key offensive force.

    Other names to know:
    Tony Delmonico, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (Sixth Round); Ryan Strauss, OF/RHP, Chicago White Sox (Ninth Round); Jack Rye, RF, New York Yankees (13th Round); Dennis Guinn, 1B, Texas Rangers (17th Round); Elih Villanueva, RHP, Florida Marlins (27th Round); Matthew Fairel, LHP, Cincinnati Reds (35th Round).

    University of Georgia
    Record: 41-23-1
    Coach: David Perno
    Last Title: 1990

  • Gordon Beckham, SS, Chicago White Sox
    First Round (eighth overall)

    Beckham is the offensive leader for Georgia and possesses power to all fields. He has also improved his ability to make contact and is a solid guy to have up with runners in scoring position. Not bad for a kid who went undrafted out of high school.

  • Joshua Fields, RHP, Seattle Mariners
    First Round (20th overall)

    A college senior, Fields brings his experience to the back of Georgia's bullpen. He has above-average stuff but can struggle with his command. Fields could potentially go straight from the College World Series to Seattle.

    Other names to know:
    Trevor Holder RHP, Florida Marlins (10th Round); Stephen Dodson, RHP, Colorado Rockies, (10th Round); Nathan Moreau, LHP, Baltimore Orioles (11th Round); Ryan Peisel, 3B, Colorado Rockies (12th Round).

    University of Miami
    Record: 52-9
    Coach: Jim Morris
    Last Title: 2001

  • Yonder Alonso, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
    First Round (seventh overall)

    The first baseman is an offensive monster who should be the key cog in the Miami offence, with a patient approach. It will be interesting to see how Cincinnati eventually works him into a lineup that already has Joey Votto.

  • Jemile Weeks, 2B, Oakland Athletics
    First Round (12th overall)

    Weeks to Oakland was a bit of a surprise but he has good bloodlines and a solid bat. He should provide a spark for Miami. His plus speed should distract a pitcher or two.

  • Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, Minnesota Twins
    First Round (27th overall)

    The surprise of the first round has stuff that is a little short for starting at the major league level but he is a proven winner at the college level. When his sinker is on, he's hard to hit in the air.

    Other names to know:
    Dennis Raben, RF, Seattle Mariners (Second Round); Blake Tekotte, CF, San Diego Padres, Third Round; Mark Sobolewski, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays (Fourth Round); Enrique Garcia, RHP, Cincinnati Reds (24th Round); Adam Severino, OF, Minnesota Twins (26th Round).

    Rice University
    Record: 47-13
    Coach: Wayne Graham
    Last Title: 2003

  • Bryan Price, RHP, Boston Red Sox
    First Round Supplemental (45th overall)

    Price is a nice name to have at the end of the game for Rice, but he will likely head to the starting rotation when he begins his pro career.

    Other names to know:
    Cole St. Clair, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Seventh Round); Adam Zornes, C, San Diego Padres (Seventh Round); Aaron Luna, LF, St. Louis Cardinals (Ninth Round); Matthew Longwell, RHP, Cleveland Indians (11th Round), Jared Gayhart, CF, Detroit Tigers (13th Round); Bobby Bell, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (18th Round); Lucas Leutge, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers (21st Round); Chris Kelley, RHP, Washington Nationals (24th Round); Jonathan Runnels, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (29th Round); J.P. Padron, 1B, Washington Nationals (44th Round).

    Fresno State University
    Record: 42-29
    Coach: Mike Batesole
    Last Title: Never

  • Tanner Scheppers, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
    Second Round (48th overall)

    The Pirates shocked baseball by being the team that took a flyer on Scheppers, who is currently dealing with a stress fracture in his shoulder. The injury is a shame for both Scheppers and Fresno State's World Series hopes.

    Other names to know:
    Justin Wilson, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Fifth Round); Erik Wetzel, 2B,
    Colorado Rockies (13th Round); Justin Miller, RHP, Texas Rangers (16th Round); Steve Susdorf, LF, Philadelphia Phillies (19th Round); Clayton Allison, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (27th Round).

    University of North Carolina
    Record: 51-12
    Coach: Mike Fox
    Last Title: Never

  • Tim Federowicz, C, Boston Red Sox
    Seventh Round (232nd overall)

    Federowicz is the biggest draft name on the UNC roster and even he lasted until the seventh round. He's a clutch hitter and has a winning attitude so he's a great player to have behind the dish in an important series like this.

    Other names to know:
    Tim Fedroff, RF, Cleveland Indians (Seventh Round); Adam Warren, RHP, Cleveland Indians (36th Round); Rob Wooten, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers (13th Round); Tyler Trice, RHP, Colorado Rockies (21st Round); Seth Williams, CF, New York Mets (40th Round).

    Louisiana State University
    Record: 48-17-1
    Coach: Paul Mainieri
    Last Title: 2000

  • Ryan Verdugo, LHP, San Francisco Giants
    Ninth Round (267st overall)

    Verdugo's competitive nature is more powerful than his arsenal, but he knows how to change speeds and keep batters off balance.

    Other names to know:
    Matt Clark, 1B, San Diego Padres (12th Round); Harold Coleman, RHP, Washington Nationals (14th Round); Blake Martin, LHP, Minnesota Twins (17th Round); Jared Bradford, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals (18th Round); Mike Hollander, 3B, Texas Rangers (20th Round); Jordan Brown, RHP, Chicago Cubs (39th Round).

    Now that we know the players... Let the games begin!

  • Around the MinorsJune 11, 2008
    Shadowing the 2008 Draft
    By Marc Hulet

    Much like draft guru Jim Callis over at Baseball America, I conduct a shadow draft of the MLB Amateur Draft every season and have been doing so for more than five years now. This season’s draft was no different, so let’s take a look at how I did through eight rounds after allowing myself the 16th spot in the draft (Milwaukee’s actual spot), as well as a supplemental first round pick just for fun (the 38th overall selection, which belonged to Houston and, hey, we all know they weren’t going to use it correctly):

  • First Round (16th selection): Brett Lawrie, C/3B, British Columbia high school
    Actually selected by the Milwaukee Brewers (16th overall)

    I had the opportunity to interview Lawrie before the draft, as well as speak to his father and two coaches, so I had a pretty good feel for him. After hearing about his domination of professional pitchers in the Dominican Republic, I am not worried about his bat at all. As for his lack of position, I think the bat will play just about anywhere and will play him at third base. I would have seriously considered Justin Smoak, Yonder Alonso and Ethan Martin if they had fallen to me, but I am pretty happy.

    If you missed it, here is what we posted about Lawrie on draft day:

    Lawrie saw his value skyrocket as the draft approached, going from a second round or supplemental first round pick to a likely first rounder – possibly as high as 12th or 13th overall. The athletic Canadian’s stock was hurt by a lack of position but he convinced more and more scouts that he could stick behind the dish. Lawrie has a rocket for an arm as well as good hands and feet but his overall catching skills are raw. He is a little pull conscious right now but he has excellent bat speed, which helps created plus-plus raw power. Lawrie has international experience, having played for Team Canada, and is committed to Arizona State University. He recently played with Team Canada's junior team against MLB Dominican Summer League teams and dominated, hitting five homers in one day during a doubleheader.

    Others considered: Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Christian Friedrich

  • First Round Supplemental (38th selection): Logan Forsythe, 3B, University of Arkansas
    Actually selected by the San Diego Padres (46th overall)

    He is a ballplayer. You have to love that he played through a broken foot and his numbers have been quite good in college. I’m sure they would have been even better if he had been healthy and I consider him a first-round talent. The only worry I have is that he’ll hit for enough power at third base.

    Here is what we said about Forsythe on draft day:

    A stress fracture in his foot has slowed Forsythe this season and he may end up as one of the steals of the draft. He has good line-drive power and could develop more home run power as he matures. As evidenced by his BB/SO totals, he has tremendous control of the strike zone. Forsythe is known for his great intangibles and has been likened to Mike Lowell by Baseball America. He is a good athlete and has an above-average arm, so he could also play at second base or in the outfield.

    Others considered: Brett DeVall, Jaff Decker and Kyle Ladendorf

  • Second Round (62nd overall): Zeke Spruill, RHP, Georgia high school
    Actually selected by the Atlanta Braves (70th overall)

    I considered Spruill with my supplemental first round pick and was happy to get him in the second round. He’s a competitor with clean actions and good command for a high school pitcher. I am also big on pitchers with good fastball velocity that has sink (love those groundball outs).

    Here are our draft day thoughts on Spruill:

    Spruill can touch 93 mph but works more in the 88-92 mph range with his sinking fastball. He also has a breaking ball and a change-up. His command is good, as is his delivery. Spruill does, though, tend to lose velocity as the game wears on. An athlete with above average makeup and competitiveness, Spruill is committed to the University of Georgia.

    Others considered: Tim Melville, Tyle Stovall and Tyler Chatwood

  • Third Round (92nd overall): Ross Seaton, RHP, Houston high school
    Actually selected by the Houston Astros (109th overall)

    Why haven’t the Astros selected this kid already? Oh well, their loss is my gain. You don’t find many pitchers in the third round with a fastball that can touch 95 mph, with good control and two secondary pitches with plus potential.

    Here are our draft day thoughts on Seaton:

    Seaton can touch 94 mph with his fastball and has some good sink. His slider is plus at times and can hit 85 mph. Seaton commands both pitches well. He doesn’t use his change-up much. Seaton uses his smarts to succeed on the mound and he is athletic, which allows him to be a pretty good hitter as well. He may be tough to sign away from Tulane University where he could be a two-way player (Similar to Arizona’s Micah Owings).

    Others considered: Tim Melville and Chris Carpenter

  • Fourth Round (128th overall): Brett Jacobsen, RHP, Vanderbilt University
    Actually selected by the Detroit Tigers (133rd overall)

    OK, I am still looking for the best player available but I am feeling a little nervous about all these raw high school players so I am happy to see Jacobson available. He has a good, strong body and throws in the mid-90s when he pitches out of the pen. I am going to start him out in the rotation, though, and see how he does. I am hoping the extra work will help improve his curve ball and change-up.

    Others considered: Jason Christian and Ryan Westmoreland

  • Fifth Round (158th overall): Jeremy Hamilton, 1B, Wright State University
    Actually selected by the Philadelphia Phillies (166th overall)

    Hamilton may not have the greatest power but there is no doubt the kid can rake. I would be very happy to find Sean Casey or Mark Grace in the fifth round. Hamilton is one of the best pure hitters in the draft, has excellent gap power and is a potential Gold Glover.

    Others considered: Ryan Westmoreland, Joe Duran and Kenny Williams Jr. (Soooo just kidding)

  • Sixth Round (188th overall): Cole Figueroa, 2B, University of Florida
    Actually selected by the San Diego Padres (195th overall)

    I almost took Figueroa in my 2006 draft, but declined due to signability concerns and regretted it. He is a draft-eligible sophomore but I’ll do what is needed to get him to sign on the dotted line. When I interviewed Figueroa’s college teammate Matt LaPorta last year before the draft, the slugging first baseman said Figueroa was one of the most talented players on the club and would surprise a lot of people in the future (and he was a freshman at the time). His numbers are solid and he comes from a baseball family.

    Others considered: Colby Shreve, Kiel Roling, Cole St. Clair and Justin Parker

  • Seventh Round (218th overall): Eric Thames, LF, Pepperdine University
    Actually selected by the Toronto Blue Jays (219th overall)

    For some reason I just got a nasty phone call from the Toronto organization after making this pick… But Thames, like Forsythe, is another player with considerable talent who inexplicably dropped due to an injury that is not a long-term concern. He had an amazing offensive season this year at Pepperdine, although I always worry a little bit about players who improve significantly in their junior year over their previous two seasons. I feel a bit better knowing he has hit OK with wood bats in the past.

    Others considered: Tim Federowicz, Jeremy Farrell and Jeremy Barfield

  • Eighth Round (248th overall): Julio Rodriguez, RHP, Puerto Rico
    Actually selected by the Philadelphia Phillies (256th overall)

    I have secured four solid college players in a row so I feel comfortable taking another (very) raw high school player in Rodriguez. He had his fastball up to 92 mph as the spring wore on and I think there is more to be found in his 6-4, 200 pound frame. If the secondary pitches don’t come along, he could be a solid late-game reliever.

    Others considered: Antonio Jimenez and Ryan O’Sullivan

    So, how did I do? Post a comment below and let me know… and I am more than willing to field job offers from impressed Major League Baseball clubs.

  • Around the MinorsJune 02, 2008
    2008 Draft Day Spotlight: Brett Lawrie
    By Marc Hulet

    BrettLawrie%20Head%20and%20Shoulders.JPGCanadian high school hitter Brett Lawrie has been on fire as the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft approaches on June 5. He recently hit .486 (17-for-35) on Team Canada's national junior team's spring tour in the Dominican Republic, while playing against Major League Baseball Dominican Summer League teams. Lawrie had eight homers and 24 RBIs in total and was the talk of the baseball draft world after hitting five home runs in one day during a doubleheader last week. He sprayed the homers from foul pole to foul pole.

    Thanks to the timely hitting, Lawrie may be selected within the first 15 picks of the draft, and is easily considered the top draft-eligible amateur in Canada. According to Baseball America, Lawrie possesses one of the most pro-ready bats amongst the prep ranks in North America.

    Lawrie returned to North America from the Dominican Republic on Friday night. He took time out of his increasingly busy schedule to speak with Baseball Analysts from a hotel suite in Minnesota.

    MH: You just got back from the Dominican, where you were playing with Team Canada’s national junior team, didn’t you?

    Lawrie: Yes, we did. Yesterday.

    MH: And how long were you down there?

    Lawrie: We were down there for nine days.

    MH: Was that your first time in the Dominican?

    Lawrie: Nope, it was my third time, actually.

    MH: And you’ve done a similar thing each time with the club?

    Lawrie: Yeah, but I haven’t hit eight home runs like that before.

    MH: And how was the trip?

    Lawrie: It was fun. It was good to get some at-bats and get together with the guys again. We’re coming up to a world championship pretty quick… It was a fun trip and I think we bonded well as a team. We played unreal and we should have been 8-0 down there, but we were 7-1; so it was a good trip. We played real well as a team and we did what we needed to do for a win. No one was selfish - we just played hard.

    MH: Were you happy with your own personal results?

    Lawrie: I couldn’t be more happy. I was seeing the ball really well. I wasn’t going out there looking to hit home runs. I was just going up there trying to hit the ball squarely and the results happened. It worked out for the best.

    MH: Were you surprised by the success that you had?

    Lawrie: I wasn’t overly surprised, because I know I can do that. I do it in my batting practices and stuff. It was just a matter of doing it in a game situation. I was really just seeing the ball well; I didn’t have to adjust to anything. I just played and it worked out for the best. It was a fun time.

    MH: Did you notice a difference in the quality of pitching, compared to what you had been seeing? I mean, these were professional pitchers.

    Lawrie: Yeah, they’re professional pitchers… but I’ve seen them for a while now. They’re just other pitchers to me. I’m not overwhelmed by them. Maybe for some guys who are seeing them for the first time it’s like, “Oh God, I’ve never seen this before.” But I’ve seen it since I was 15, so while I was down in the DR it wasn’t overwhelming at all. It was just another day.

    MH: Have you been surprised by the increased interest from scouts? Your name is starting to come up a lot in the media now.

    Lawrie: A little bit, but I don’t really focus on that aspect, you know, hearing my name and seeing it in the papers, or on the computers or at Baseball America and stuff. I’m just working towards June 5 and I’m just going out and playing. I can’t control what people are saying and doing, so I’m just doing what I can; I’m on the field and playing my game.

    MH: What do you have planned for the rest of the week leading up to the draft?

    Lawrie: I have some workouts that I’m doing right now and hopefully I should be home [in British Columbia] on the fourth [of June].

    MH: What do you plan to do on Draft Day?

    Lawrie: If everything goes as planned I’ll be at home... with my family. But I’m not too sure yet.

    MH: So you think you’ll be watching the draft on TV or online?

    Lawrie: Yeah, I’ll be watching it on TV.

    MH: Now, you’re committed to Arizona State, right?

    Lawrie: Yup, Arizona State University.

    MH: What attracted you to that college program?

    Lawrie: Well, I’ve been to Arizona a number of times with my Langley Blaze team that I play with back home. I’ve had a chance to see the campus and I’ve gotten a tour. I’ve been all around and seen the campus, the field and the facilities. I’ve trained there in the off-season. It just felt right; you get that sort of feeling in your stomach that it’s right. In my mind, and in my family’s... we made a decision that it worked for me. So I signed the [letter of intent] and away we go.

    MH: Do you have a preference right now, whether to go pro or go to college?

    Lawrie: Yeah, my preference right now, obviously, is to go in the draft… but if something doesn’t go right college is a good back-up plan. But as of right now, I am 100 percent on the draft.

    MH: What is the most attractive reason, for you, to go pro now?

    Lawrie: I know I can hit over .400 against those guys when I’m 15, so who says I’m not going to do it when I’m 20, you know? I can play with those guys; I know I can. On almost every trip I’ve hit over .400 against them. Not much is going to change. I’m just playing and trying not to do too much… I’m just having fun.

    MH: Do you have a preference where you get drafted? Is that something you’re worrying about?

    Lawrie: It’s not a huge thing. Right now I’m not focusing on that sort of thing. I can’t control what people do. Whatever happens on the day, happens… I’m just ready to rock and roll. I’m ready to do what I want to do: I’m ready to play pro ball.

    MH: Do you have any specific teams that you hope to play for?

    Lawrie: Not really. I respect all the teams and I’m just looking forward to playing pro ball and I’m ready to go.

    MH: Are there specific teams that are showing a lot of interest in you?

    Lawrie: Yup, there have been. Obviously there have been a few, so hopefully they come forward and some other teams will probably come out of the hole at the end but we’ll just see on the day.

    MH: Did you have a team that you followed while growing up in B.C.?

    Lawrie: Not really. I’d rather play the sport than watch it, you know… If a game was on I’d just watch it. I wasn’t thinking about who was playing; I’d just watch the game.

    MH: I’ve read a lot of scouts' opinions about your ability. Everyone is enamored with your bat, obviously. But there are questions about your defensive abilities and lack of a position. Do you have a preference where you would like to play?

    Lawrie: Yeah, I can play the infield… I’ve played it with Team Canada. I can play second base, I can play the outfield; I can play anywhere and I’m really versatile. I can play third base real well. I’ve challenged myself in the last little bit with catching. As of right now I’m a catcher and I want to always have the ball in my hand. It’s been great. I’ve been able to control the pitchers and have a good relationship with them on Team Canada. I’m having fun and I want to catch.

    MH: Do you have any specific career goals at this point, aside from playing professional baseball?

    Lawrie: I really don’t. All I want to do is play in the big leagues and I want to get there as quick as I can. I don’t plan on staying in the minors for five years. I plan on doing it in a year-and-a-half.

    MH: Wow.

    Lawrie: Yeah.

    MH: You mentioned you really didn’t have any favorite teams, but did you have any favorite players while growing up?

    Lawrie: Everyone always has their favorite players. You have Alex Rodriguez… One of the guys I really like to watch is Russell Martin, a Canadian guy [with the Los Angeles Dodgers]. He’s a catcher. He played on the national team, the national junior team. I spent some time with him in the off-season and I trained with him. The national team coach loves him as well. He didn’t start catching until he came out of junior college, so I’m kind of doing the same thing that he did. I got a chance to see the way he lives and it’s a pretty cool life. I’m ready to go.

    MH: Did you learn anything specific from Russell?

    Lawrie: Yeah, we had lots of talks about stuff like conducting yourself on and off the field. From a catching standpoint we worked on blocking, and a whole bunch of stuff. I also hung out with Dustin Pedroia from the Boston Red Sox. I went over to his house for dinner and I saw how those guys conduct themselves. It’s a real treat and a pleasure to be in the presence of those guys. They took the time out of their lives to have an 18-year-old kid live with them. It was a fun time; it was cool. They’re just guys. They’re not people who are trying to be billionaires. They just like to have fun and do the things that guys do.

    MH: Have you had a chance to talk to people about what to expect with life in the minor leagues?

    Lawrie: Yeah, I’ve heard numerous things. Everyone says it’s a grind. There’s no doubt about it, but I’m ready to play. You have other guys battling for your position… and that’s where my competitiveness comes in. If I can do what I can do with Team Canada, there is no reason why I can’t do it with a minor league team.

    MH: Let’s write a scouting report on Brett Lawrie. What do you think are your strengths as a baseball player?

    Lawrie: I have the ability to be the spark on a team, whether it’s a line drive into the gap, a home run or something like that. I think I have a really good feel for the clubhouse and I like to mess around with the guys… I’m a good teammate and I can pick guys up when they’re down. I know when it’s time to get serious. My bat, though, is obviously going to carry me.

    MH: What part of your game needs the most work to get to that next level and to make it to the major leagues?

    Lawrie: I guess consistency. It’s important to have the right mind set and attitude day-in-and-day-out…

    MH: How long have you been playing baseball?

    Lawrie: I’ve played baseball all my life… I’ve played a number of different sports. I played basketball - I was a big basketball player from Grade 8 all the way up to Grade 11. I can also play golf. Baseball is the big thing, though, I’ve played since I was six or seven. But I’ve never played with my own age group. I’ve always played with guys that are older and I think it’s helped with playing against professional guys.

    MH: What made baseball win out over the other sports you’ve played, like basketball?

    Lawrie: Well, for basketball, you look at the guys in the NBA and then me and I’m only 6-0, 200 pounds. Those guys are 6-8. I guess, though, I just really didn’t have the same love for other sports and with baseball you have a guy like Dustin Pedroia who’s 5-8 and 160 pounds competing out there. There is no reason why this 6-0, 200 pound guy can’t get it done either.

    MH: Has your family been supportive in all this?

    Lawrie: Oh yeah, I could never have done it without them. My mom, my dad, my sister… Everyone is behind me and everyone is in my corner. We’ve had fun as a group and we’re all ready to go. My adviser has been there every step of the way as well.

    MH: When you’re not on a ball diamond, what do you like to do in your spare time?

    Lawrie: I’m just like any other kid and I’m still in high school. I’ve got my graduation coming up and I’m looking forward to that. I just like to hang out with friends and I like to watch TV and play a few video games here and there. I like to hang out with the family and just have fun.

    MH: Do your friends get on you about all this attention you’re getting?

    Lawrie: Oh yeah, sometimes they do. It’s fun for them as well because they get to hear all this stuff. It’s a fun time and you only go through it once in your life. It’s been a real treat, all this stuff that’s gone on. My friends have been behind me as well and we have fun talking about it and we joke around.

    MH: If you were not looking at a career as a baseball player, what profession do you think you’d go into?

    Lawrie: I haven’t really thought about that, because I’ve always wanted to be a baseball player. I haven’t looked into other fields.

    MH: I have one more question for you… and it might be a tough one so take your time. Why should a Major League Baseball club use its No. 1 pick on Brett Lawrie?

    Lawrie: A team should use its No. 1 pick on me because I think I have that spark. I look at Dustin Pedroia as an example. He is the clubhouse. From what I’ve heard from all the other big league guys, he’s the spark in that clubhouse. I can see myself being that guy too. I know I can get it done and I have the tools, the abilities and the right mindset. I have a good head on my shoulders and I think I can help a ball team win. In the end it is about winning and good team chemistry helps you win a ring.

    MH: Well, that’s all my questions. Is there anything else that you would like to add?

    Lawrie: Nope. I’d just like to thank you for taking the time.

    MH: No problem. It’s been a real pleasure to speak with you and I look forward to seeing how Draft Day plays out for you.

    BLawrie%20Hitting%20Canada%20vs%20Nicaragua.jpg Lawrie%20Swinging%20Canada%20vs%20Nicaragua.jpg

    Team Canada’s national junior head coach Greg Hamilton spoke briefly with Baseball Analysts:

    MH: What are Brett's strengths as a ballplayer?

    GH: He has tremendous athletic confidence and total belief in his ability to excel at the highest levels of the game. [He has] no fear in any situation, and plus bat speed, which produces power to all parts of the ballpark. [Brett has] excellent hands to hit and the ability to square the ball up at the point of contact.

    MH: What does he need to work on to take his game to that 'next level?'

    GH: Brett needs to define himself defensively. He has the potential to catch, play second, third or left in the professional game.

    MH: Do you think he can be a catcher at the pro level and what do you think his best defensive position would be?

    GH: Brett has caught for less than one year and at present catches the ball consistently and displays balance in receiving. He has enough arm strength to catch and once he polishes his footwork and blocking skills, he will be an average defender with an above-average bat. Having said this, I truly believe he can play professionally at any position… Again, he has no fear of a challenge and has plenty of athletic ability to develop necessary defensive skills at all listed positions.

    MH: What impressed you most about Brett's performance in the Dominican Republic?

    GH: He is a high school player hitting with a wood bat and dominating professional pitching. I have never seen a player hit five home runs in a doubleheader from foul pole to foul pole. He is an exceptional hitter with an athletic confidence that is rarely displayed at such a young age.

    * * *

    Another baseball man that has seen Lawrie play and develop is Doug Mathieson, the head coach of the Langley Blaze of British Columbia’s Premier Baseball League, which is one of the top 18-and-under premier baseball programs in all of Canada. The club has already produced a number of professional baseball players, including Cincinnati’s Kyle Lotzkar (a 2007 supplemental first round draft pick) and Philadelphia’s Scott Mathieson.

    He also was kind enough to speak with Baseball Analysts regarding Lawrie’s potential.

    MH: What are the biggest improvements that Brett has made in recent months?

    DM: Brett has always been a standout player. His biggest improvement is being more consistent and working hard in the off-season on his strength. Brett has an above-average arm, is an above average runner, has power and bat speed and is very athletic.

    MH: What improvements does he need to make?

    DM: Brett will need to hone his defensive skills at whatever position he is given. His biggest strength is that he can hit.

    MH: How does he compare talent-wise to some of the other former Blaze that you coached, who are now playing in pro ball or college?

    DM: Brett is the best hitter we have had on the Blaze in our history. His bat could play at a high level now.

    MH: Are you surprised that he is now being considered as an early to mid first round draft talent?

    DM: No, he has really risen since our spring training trip in March, where he hit .550 against nine college teams and three pro teams and he has continued to pick up the pace, hitting a double and a homer at our scout day in front of 80 scouts, including cross checkers and a few directors.

    Around the MinorsMay 29, 2008
    The Most Impressive Draft Haul of 2007
    By Marc Hulet

    A number of teams had the benefit of multiple draft picks in the first two rounds (plus the supplemental first round) of the 2007 draft, including the Texas Rangers (six picks), Toronto Blue Jays (seven picks), San Diego Padres (eight picks), and San Francisco Giants (six picks). With apologies to all the rest, the Blue Jays have had the greatest success (so far) with the extra picks:

    The club's college-centric approach is well known around baseball so it was a bit of a surprise (and a relief from fans’ perspectives) to see the club take a risk or two with some raw, but toolsy, players - as well as some prep position players.

    Hitters: AVG/OBP/SLG | AB | Hits | HRs | BB% | K% | BABIP
    Pitchers: ERA | IP | Hits | K/9 | BB/9 | HR/9 | AVG | FIP

  • Kevin Ahrens, 3B, Memorial high school (Houston)
    First round (16th overall)

    2007: .230/.332/.321 | 165 | 38 | 3 | 13.2% | 28.5% | .304 (Gulf Coast League)
    2008: .272/.349/.420 | 169 | 46 | 1 | 10.6% | 25.4% | .360 (Midwest League)

    Kevin Ahrens has not been flashy this season but he’s been consistent and his teammates say he has the “it” quality to be a star. The switch hitter has hit .262 against southpaws and .276 against right-handers. He has only one homer, but the Midwest League is perhaps the toughest full-season league to homer in. Ahrens does have 14 doubles and four triples. Defensively, he has made a smooth transition from shortstop to third base.

  • J.P. Arencibia, C, University of Tennessee
    First round (21st overall)

    2007: .254/.298/.377 | 228 | 58 | 3 | 5.8% | 24.6% | .325 (New York Penn League)
    2008: .312/.337/.527 | 186 | 58 | 8 | 3.6% | 18.8% | .350 (Florida State League)

    J.P. Arencibia has been the hottest hitter in the system and has batted .422 in his last 10 games with 19 hits, three homers and 18 RBI. The right-handed batter is hitting only .210 against left-handers. The catcher has also shown improved defensive skills, which should put to rest any talk of moving him off the position.

  • Brett Cecil, LHP, University of Maryland
    Supplemental first round (38th overall)

    2007: 1.27 | 49.2 | 36 | 10.15 | 1.99 | 0.18 | .204 | 2.05 (New York Penn League)
    2008: 1.74 | 10.1 |  6 |  9.58 | 1.74 | 0.87 | .171 | 2.91 (Florida State League)
    2008: 4.63 | 23.1 | 21 |  8.87 | 3.86 | 0.77 | .242 | 3.76 (Eastern League)

    The Jays organization has been aggressive with promotions this season for top picks, including 2006 first rounder Travis Snider (who is now at Double-A at the age of 20) and Brett Cecil. The left-hander was slowed this spring by a wonky shoulder and he still is on a restrictive pitch count. Regardless, he dominated High-A ball (after skipping a level to begin the year) and was going well at Double-A before back-to-back poor outings in late May. He should join Shaun Marcum, David Bush and Casey Janssen as college relievers that the Jays have successfully converted to starters.

  • Justin Jackson, SS, Roberson high school (North Carolina)
    Supplemental first round (45th overall)

    2007: .187/.274/.241 | 166 | 31 | 2 | 10.8% | 26.5% | .242 (Gulf Coast League)  
    2008: .248/.365/.383 | 141 | 35 | 2 | 15.6% | 34.0% | .363 (Midwest League)

    Justin Jackson was considered raw coming out of high school, but his father Chuck Jackson played in the majors, so he has been around the game all his life. He hit .323 in April but has slumped to .190 in May and also missed time with an injury, which may have contributed to his struggles. Jackson has shown the makings of a solid leadoff hitter, if he can tone down the strikeouts (34 percent), as he has scored 37 runs in 40 games and has stolen eight bases in nine tries. He has also played outstanding defence at shortstop.

  • Trystan Magnuson, RHP, University of Louisville
    Supplemental first round (56th overall)

    2007:                      Did Not Play
    2008: 8.69 | 29.0 | 36 | 4.66 | 5.90 | 0.93 | .306 | 5.79 (Midwest League)

    Trystan Magnuson, a college senior, was the biggest reach of the first few rounds for the Jays and the Canadian might have been a signability pick. He was a closer at Louisville and the Jays have been working him as a starter. He has allowed 16 runs in his last three appearances, spanning seven innings, because of poor control. For a college senior, he is still very raw.

  • John Tolisano, 2B, Estero high school (Florida)
    Second round (85th overall)

    2007: .246/.340/.437 | 183 | 45 | 10 | 12.4% | 21.9% | .263 (Gulf Coast League)
    2008: .250/.328/.378 | 164 | 41 |  1 | 10.4% | 23.2% | .320 (Midwest League) 

    John Tolisano was considered an advanced high school player and he led the Rookie League with 10 homers during his debut season. Homers are much harder to come by in the Midwest League but Tolisano has not let that phase him, as he has been consistent all season. His power can be seen in the five triples that he has so far. The switch hitter is batting .225 against lefties and .258 against righties.

  • Eric Eiland, CF, Lamar high school (Texas)
    Second round (88th overall)

    2007: .216/.303/.284 | 176 | 38 | 1 | 11.1% | 35.2% | .327 (Gulf Coast League)
    2008: .289/.373/.289 |  45 | 13 | 0 | 11.8% | 28.9% | .406 (Midwest League) 

    Eric Eiland was the rawest of the Jays top picks and he struggled in his debut. He was recently recalled from Extended Spring Training and has been busy showing that he belongs with the rest of the top 2007 draft picks. He has five extra base hits among his 13 hits and has gone four-for-four in stolen base attempts. The left-handed batter is hitting only .167 against southpaws.

    Toronto also received good value from some later picks in RHP Alan Farina (third round), LHP Brad Mills (fourth round), LHP Marc Rzepczynski (fifth round), RHP Randy Boone (seventh round). If not for depth issues, all four pitchers would be in High-A ball right now, rather than A-ball.

    In 2008, the Milwaukee Brewers possess the greatest number of draft picks in the early rounds of the draft - six picks in the first two rounds. The New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres and Minnesota Twins have four each. It will be interesting to see which organization makes the most of its extra selections.

    Be sure to check back all next week for our ongoing pre-draft coverage. Also, check us out on Draft Day, June 5, as we blog live during the draft. We’ll also provide post-draft coverage.

  • Around the MinorsMay 22, 2008
    The Good and Bad of A-Ball
    By Marc Hulet

    We read an awful lot about the Salt Lake Bees after the club's record-breaking month of April. Now two-thirds of the way through May, it is a good time to take a look at how some of the other affiliates around Minor League Baseball are doing. As such, let’s take a look at the good and the bad from A-ball.

    California League
    The Best: San Jose Giants (San Francisco) and Stockton Ports (Oakland) 29-16 (.644)
    The Worst: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Los Angeles AL) 19-26 (.422)

    The Giants organization certainly isn’t known for its prospects, but the club still has the best record in the California League. Catcher Pablo Sandoval is leading the team in hitting with a line of .409/.469/.708. He’s hitting right-handed pitching at a .455 clip. The 21-year-old switch hitting catcher looks a little bit like current Giants catcher Bengie Molina with a 5-11, 245 pound body. 2007 first round pick Tim Alderson is having a nice first full season in the minors. He is currently 6-1 with a 3.14 ERA. The 19-year-old hurler has allowed 46 hits in 48.2 innings and has walked 19 and struck out 36. Not bad for a 2007 draftee out of high school who skipped A-ball and went right to High-A ball.

    The Ports are led by two high 2007 college draft picks: first baseman Sean Doolittle and shortstop Joshua Horton. Doolittle is hitting .368/.454/.693 with 12 homers in 163 at-bats, which isn’t bad for a player who was supposed to be more Mark Grace and less Paul Konerko. Horton is hitting .308/.425/.390 and has 28 walks compared to 25 strikeouts in 146 at-bats. He does not have power (zero homers) or speed (zero stolen bases) so he needs to hit for a high average to have an impact. Right-handed pitcher Trevor Cahill, a 2006 first round pick out of high school, is currently 5-1 with a 2.96 ERA. He has allowed only 36 hits and 14 walks in 54.2 innings. He has struck out 68.

    Outfielder Peter Bourjos, 22, is doing his best to help the Quake turn its season around. He is hitting .335/.367/.468 in 158 at-bats. He has also stolen 24 bases in 26 attempts. He needs to walk a little more (he has only eight) given his style of play. Former 2005 second round pick P.J. Phillips has had trouble turning potential into reality but could be a late bloomer like brother Brandon Phillips of the Reds. The infielder is hitting only .238/.269/.369 in 168 at-bats and has only four walks to go along with 49 strikeouts.

    Carolina League
    The Best: Potomac Nationals (Washington) 27-15 (.643)
    The Worst: Lynchburg Hillcats (Pittsburgh) 17-27 (.386)

    Chris Marrero, a 2006 first round draft pick, has found Potomac to be a difficult place to hit. He is currently hitting only .236/.329/.419 in 148 at-bats. The Potomac pitching has been more successful. Ross Detwiler, a 2007 first round pick, is currently 3-2 with a 4.12 ERA. He has allowed 40 hits in 39.1 innings of work, along with 21 walks and 41 strikeouts. Jordan Zimmermann, taken in the second round in 2007, had a 3-1 record and a 1.65 ERA in 27.1 innings before a promotion to Double-A. Starter Cory Van Allen, a fifth round from 2006, was also promoted to Double-A after going 3-0 with a 1.65 ERA in 27.1 innings.

    Third baseman Jim Negrych is making the most of a bad season for Lynchburg. He currently has a line of .372/.444/.468 but lacks the power necessary to play the position long-term with only one homer in 156 at-bats. The 23-year-old University of Pittsburgh product was drafted as a second baseman in 2006. Daniel Moskos, the club’s 2007 first round pick, is holding his own. He has a 3-2 record and 4.89 ERA in 42.1 innings. He has allowed 41 hits and 10 walks. He has struck out 28 batters.

    Florida State League
    The Best: Fort Myers Miracle (Minnesota) 29-16 (.644)
    The Worst: St. Lucie Mets (New York NL) 9-36 (.200)

    Fort Myers has some interesting pitching prospects, although many are allowing a few too many hits to fall in. Tyler Robertson has an ERA of 3.04 in 50.1 innings. He has allowed 55 hits, although only two of those have left the yard. The 20-year-old lefty has walked 19 batters and struck out 49. Jeff Manship, 23, is a workhorse-type pitcher who won 15 games last season between Beloit and Fort Myers. Back in Fort Myers thanks to the Twins’ solid pitching depth, Manship is 5-1 with a 3.62 ERA in 49.2 innings. He has allowed 49 hits and 16 walks. He has struck out 51 and is probably due for a promotion. Alex Burnett, 20, has a 3.18 ERA in 45.1 innings but has allowed 52 hits. He has walked 13 batters and struck out 24, while allowing just one homer.

    St. Lucie has few true prospects playing on the squad this season. It has by far the worst record in A-ball and the club was pounded by Dunedin for 15 runs on Monday night. First baseman Lucas Duda, a seventh round pick from 2007, has been one of the more impressive bat for St. Lucie. The 22-year-old is currently hitting .288/.367/.407 in 177 at-bats but the left-handed batter has a .152 average against southpaws. Starters Nicholas Carr and Eric Niesen are a combined 1-10 on the season. Despite allowing 50 hits in 43.1 innings, Carr has also struck out 42 batters. Tobi Stoner is the only pitcher on the team (four appearances or more) that has averaged fewer than one hit per inning pitched and he has allowed 26 hits in 26.1 innings.

    South Atlantic League
    The Best: Asheville Tourists (Colorado) 31-15 (.674)
    The Worst: Lexington Legends (Houston) and Rome Braves (Atlanta) 13-31 (.295)

    Third baseman Darin Holcomb is a long way from the majors but he is raising some eyebrows. He currently sports a line of .329/.397/.532 with seven homers in 173 at-bats. He also has walked 18 times with just 16 strikeouts. The 22-year-old was drafted in the 12th round of 2007 out of Gonzaga University. Everth Cabrera is a 21-year-old Nicaraguan with his currently hitting .295/.388/.382 in 173 at-bats. The second baseman has walked 24 times to go along with 32 strikeouts. He has stolen 27 at-bats in 31 tries and looks like the next Corey Wimberly or Eric Young Jr. Right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, 20, has also been making people sit up and take notice. So far this season he is 6-1 with a 1.77 ERA in 61 innings. He has allowed 41 hits, 17 walks and has struck out 54 batters. He is also average more than 2.5 groundballs for every flyball.

    Houston is another organization that is not known for its prospects and Lexington is suffering as a result. Scrappy Matthew Cusick is leading the club with a line of .351/.436/.568 in 148 at-bats. He has walked 22 times with only nine strikeouts. Although he has a 1.004 OPS, he has little power and doesn’t run much, which limits his ceiling. Houston is slow at promoting prospects and the 2007 10th round pick out of USC should probably be in High-A ball. Sergio Severino is one of Houston’s few pitching prospects but he also turns 24 later this season. He has a 2.27 ERA in 47.2 innings and has allowed 30 hits and 21 walks. Severino, a southpaw, has struck out 50 batters.

    The Rome offence is being led by 18-year-old offensive monster Jason Heyward, who was also Atlanta’s first round pick out of high school in 2007. Heyward is hitting .320/.359/.469 in 175 at-bats. He has hit five homers and stolen eight bases, which has helped him score 33 runs. That’s not bad for a teenager who is 6-4 and 220 pounds. Despite a 1-6 record Chad Rodgers has had a nice season. The 20-year-old lefty has a 3.47 ERA in 46.2 innings. He has allowed 45 hits and 12 walks to go along with 43 strikeouts. Freddy Freeman, an 18-year-old first baseman is showing power potential with 16 doubles and four homers. He has a line of .278/.318/.456 but needs to improve his patience. He has walked only nine times in 169 at-bats this season. He walked only seven times in 224 at-bats during his pro debut last season.

    Midwest League
    The Best: Clinton LumberKings (Texas) 30-11 (.732)
    The Worst: Peoria Chiefs (Chicago NL) 15-30 (.333)

    The youngest team in the league also sports the best record. The offence is led by Ian Gac, a slugging first baseman. He has a line of .346/.459/.738 and has hit 14 homers in 130 at-bats. He has struck out 33 times with 22 walks. Gac also has 40 RBI. Pitcher Neftali Feliz, obtained in the Mark Teixeira deal, has a 2.53 ERA in 42.2 innings of work. The 20-year-old has allowed only 28 hits, along with 16 walks. He has struck out 49 batters. Blake Beavan, a 2007 first round pick out of high school, began the year in extended spring training. Since moving up to Clinton, the right-hander has posted a 4.50 ERA in 20 innings. He has allowed 21 hits, one walk and struck out eight.

    Peoria is a team suffering from a lack of prospects. The top hitter is Jovan Rosa, a first baseman who is hitting .305/.372/.482. The 20-year-old has just two homers in 142 at-bats. Catcher Josh Donaldson was a supplemental first round pick in 2007 who caught people’s attention by hitting .346 in short season ball last year. He has struggled mightily in 2008, though, and has a line of .196/.252/.318 and is hitting .176 against righties.

    Around the MinorsMay 14, 2008
    Looking to Avoid the Sophomore Jinx: NL
    By Marc Hulet

    The 2007 season saw a number of exciting players come into both the American and National leagues. The junior league received some intriguing young pitchers, while the senior circuit welcomed some promising offensive players.

    We are more than a month into the 2008 season so now is a good time to take a look at how the 2007 rookie class, now a collective group of sophomores, is doing. Are you as curious as I am to see how many of the promising 2007 rookies have been bitten by the dreaded sophomore jinx? Last time I looked at the American League, so let's have a look-see at the National League.

    2007 NL Rookie of the Year Voting (10 points or more):

    Milwaukee    3B Ryan Braun         128
    Colorado     SS Troy Tulowitzki    126
    Houston      OF Hunter Pence        15
    Arizona      OF Chris Young         10

    Others: Kyle Kendrick (Philadelphia, RHP), Yunel Escobar (Atlanta, SS), James Loney (Los Angeles, 1B)

    Let’s take a closer look at those players:

    Hitters: AB AVG OBP SLG OPS+
    Pitchers: IP AVG K/9 BB/9 ERA+

    Ryan Braun
    2007 451 .324 .370 .634 153
    2008 156 .288 .321 .545 122

    You had to know Braun wasn't going to maintain the torrid pace he set in 2007. He's improved his strikeout rate by five percent, but his walk rate has dropped to 4.9 percent, which just isn't acceptable. A move from third base to left field has improved his value to the team, even if his offensive numbers are a little off. A little more protection from teammate Prince Fielder might also help Braun's 2008 numbers.

    Troy Tulowitzki
    2007 609 .291 .359 .479 108
    2008 105 .152 .226 .238 019

    Before he went on the disabled list, Tulo was looking like the poster boy for the sophomore slump. A lot of it was probably bad luck, as he had a .172 BABIP and his 2008 walk rate was similar to 2007, while his strikeout rate was actually significantly lower.

    Hunter Pence
    2007 456 .322 .360 .539 130
    2008 136 .279 .320 .441 099

    Pence's 2008 numbers are a little close to what people expected of him, based on his minor league and college numbers. His on-base rate is disappointing and his strikeouts have risen a bit in 2008. He'll likely put up pretty good numbers for a while, and maybe even appear in an All-Star game or two, but he's not going to be a star.

    Chris Young
    2007 569 .237 .295 .467 089
    2008 151 .238 .335 .470 105

    With every passing day Young is looking more and more like the second coming of Mike Cameron. That's not a bad thing, but you get the feeling there is more ability just waiting to be tapped into. Young has intriguing power and plays nice defence but he just can't get that average above .250. Maintaining a .330-plus on-base average (his walk rate is up five percent) would also go a long way to increasing his effectiveness.

    Yunel Escobar
    2007 319 .326 .385 .451 119
    2008 135 .319 .399 .437 123

    A lot of people felt Escobar's rookie season was a fluke but he is maintaining his rates quite well and has made everyone forget about Edgar Renteria. Escobar is also showing some improvements with his patience at the plate and he has been driving in more runs. The list of successful major league Cubans is not a long one and Escobar could find his way to the head of the pack before long.

    James Loney
    2007 344 .331 .381 .538 131
    2008 140 .286 .340 .450 103

    He's not sexy and he's not loaded with power like some other first basemen but players like Will Clark, Mark Grace and Don Mattingly still had pretty nice careers at first base. Even though he doesn't hit the long ball, Loney has driven in 27 runners this season and could develop into a reliable RBI man.

    Kyle Kendrick
    2007 121.0 .274 3.64 1.86 119
    2008 038.1 .312 4.23 2.82 089

    Kendrick was surprisingly effective last year but a lot of his success was as smokescreen and his overall numbers were not that good. This season has been much of the same but with an uglier ERA. He's allowing more hits and more walks, but striking out a few more batters. However, his strikeout rates are still well below average and suggest he's a career No. 5 starter.

    Overall, Braun and Tulowitzki are still the most likely players to have Hall of Fame careers, or at the very least multiple All-Star game appearances. But you have to credit Escobar for proving a lot of people wrong, at least so far. Kendrick, unlike Toronto's Jesse Litsch who had similar 2007 numbers, just hasn't shown much improvement and is the most likely player to disappoint. Young remains the most frustrating because his approach lends itself to a low batting average.

    Around the MinorsMay 12, 2008
    Looking to Avoid the Sophomore Jinx: AL
    By Marc Hulet

    The 2007 season saw a number of exciting players come into both the American and National leagues. The junior league received some intriguing young pitchers, while the senior circuit welcomed some promising offensive players.

    We are more than a month into the 2008 so now is a good time to take a look at how the 2007 rookie class, now a collective group of sophomores, are doing. Are you as curious as I am to see how many of the promising 2007 rookies have been bitten by the dreaded sophomore jinx? Let's have a look at the American League today.

    2007 AL Rookie of the Year Voting (10 points or more):

    Boston        2B Dustin Pedroia      132 
    Tampa Bay     OF Delmon Young         56
    Kansas City   RHP Brian Bannister     36
    Boston        RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka   12
    Los Angeles   OF Reggie Willits       11

    Others: Hideki Okajima, Josh Fields, Joakim Soria

    Let’s take a closer look at those players:
    Hitters: AB AVG OBP SLG OPS+
    Pitchers: IP AVG K/9 BB/9 ERA+

    Dustin Pedroia
    2007 520 .317 .380 .442 112
    2008 163 .307 .343 .411 104

    Pedroia is the type of player that doesn’t have too many highs or too many lows; he’s just incredibly consistent and a great complimentary player to the big boppers in Boston. He should be good for quite some time and could be one of those players who gets better as he ages, in the Mark Loretta mold.

    Delmon Young
    2007 645 .288 .316 .408 91
    2008 133 .271 .312 .308 76

    The more I think about it, the less I like the idea of Young being a Minnesota Twin. The Twins, in general, aren't exactly known for being a patient team; they have always employed athletic, toolsy players that like to hack (Torii Hunter, Jacques Jones). Young might be better off on a club that forces him to be more selective. You can’t be a superstar with his type of approach (there is only one Vladimir Guerrero).

    Reggie Willits
    2007 430 .293 .391 .344 096
    2008 011 .455 .538 .545 201

    Willits has been hurt by the Angels’ position player depth and really hasn’t received a fair shot at following up on his solid rookie season. Regardless, he probably played over his head in 2007 and is a solid fourth outfielder, similar to the Cubs’ Reed Johnson.

    Josh Fields
    2007 373 .244 .308 .480 101
    2008 000 .000 .000 .000 000

    Already stuck at Triple-A (and hitting .240), Fields has been sidelined by patella tendonitis, which never a pleasant injury for baseball players (just ask Mark McGwire). Continued low averages and on-base percentages will likely continue to hinder his major league success.

    Brian Bannister
    2007 165.0 .251 4.20 2.40 121
    2008 042.3 .265 5.10 2.13 096

    Bannister is probably a little over-hyped right now, which is hard to imagine for a major league pitcher that throws in the upper 80s and plays for Kansas City. He should probably be a solid starting pitcher for the next few years, but the loss of even a couple of miles an hour on the ol’ fastball could spell doom, regardless of how smart or observant he is.

    Daisuke Matsuzaka
    2007 204.2 .249 8.84 3.52 108
    2008 047.2 .172 7.55 5.66 176

    With a repertoire like Matsuzaka’s it is hard to believe that he's been pitching away from contact, but that is exactly what he's been doing OR his command is really, really off. Ironically, as of the writing of this article he leads the majors in fewest hits allowed per nine innings… So what is he worried about? Someone needs to remind him that he is pretty darn good.

    Hideki Okajima
    2007 69.0 .204 8.22 2.22 214
    2008 18.0 .191 7.50 2.00 865

    Okajima was an almost invisible free agent signing out of Japan before the 2007, but he has been absolutely outstanding coming out of the bullpen for the Red Sox. But we also have him to thank for teams going wild by signing mediocre Japanese middle relievers prior to the 2008 season; some of those have worked out, but others haven't.

    Joakim Soria
    2007 69.0 .191 09.78 2.48 189
    2008 13.3 .096 10.13 0.68 INF

    There were quite a few scouts that felt Soria would be one of the more successful Rule 5 picks in 2007, but I don't think there were many that thought he’d be quite this good. Soria has helped to solidify a previously inconsistent (OK, terrible) Royals bullpen. He shows no signs of slowing down.

    Of the player above, we know Pedroia took home the actual award and he is as good a bet as any of the 2007 rookies to have a great 2008 and a very successful career. Soria is probably the best bet among the pitchers to have a long, productive career. As for over-hyped players, I'd pick Fields or Young.

    I’ll be back later this week to take a look at the sophomore seasons for the top National League rookies of 2007.

    Around the MinorsMay 07, 2008
    Are the Salt Lake Bees Worth All the Buzz?
    By Marc Hulet

    As just about every minor league fan knows by now, the Salt Lake Bees of the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) have been very, very good this season. The club was 23-2 in the month of April. The Bees have had a little tougher going in May with a 2-4 record and the club is now 25-6, but still eight games up on Tacoma in the Pacific North Division.

    In April, the Bees collectively were first overall in average (.320), on-base percentage (.395) and runs scored (190). It was also second in slugging percentage (.506) next to Albuquerque, and third in homers (34) behind Albuquerque and Omaha.

    We know what the team is doing, so let’s take a look at some of the individual players:

    SS/3B Brandon Wood (.273/.333/.614)
    Wood, 23, has been on the prospect landscape since 2003, when he was drafted in the first round out of high school. People really started to take notice after he slugged 43 homers in 536 at-bats a Rancho Cucamonga (a very good hitting stadium in a very good hitting A-ball league). That season may be the worst thing that every happened to him, as he has been unable to live up to that since. He hit “only” 25 and 23 homers the next two seasons, which were viewed as disappointments despite being solid totals, especially given his age at the time (21 and 22). One of the biggest knocks on Wood is his lack on contact, as he struck out 149 times in 453 at-bats in 2006 and 120 times in 437 at-bats in 2007. He needs the chance to play every day at the major league level.

    IF Sean Rodriguez (.250/.429/.531)
    Rodriguez has been overshadowed by Wood, but he was also taken in the 2003 draft as a high school shortstop (third round). Rodriguez’ career has been plagued by inconsistencies and ups-and-downs. In 2004, he hit .338/.486/.569 in 225 short season at-bats and then his offence all but disappeared the next season. He returned in 2006 and slugged 29 homers between High-A ball and Double-A. Then in 2007 he slumped again down to .254/.345/.423 at Double-A. Many scouts predict a utility player future for Rodriguez but if he can find a little more consistency he has enough power to make an intriguing regular at second base, even if it’s just for a few years.

    3B Matt Brown (.382/.424/.699)
    Brown, 25, is more suspect than prospect; don’t let the numbers fool you. He’s a former 10th round pick out of high school from the 2001 draft. He spent seven seasons in the minors prior to 2008 and batted a combined .264/.347/.449 in more than 2,500 at-bats. He has average power at best for a third baseman and he hit 19 homers in 391 at-bats last year for Salt Lake. He spent time in the outfield, as well as at third base, first base and second base in 2007 and Brown is likely best-suited to be a utility player at the major league level.

    C Bobby Wilson (.325/.391/.434)
    With a lot of other clubs, Wilson would be a major league back-up already. But thanks to the presence of Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis, two solid young catchers, Wilson, 25, is still biding his time riding the shuttle between Triple-A and the majors as the third-string catcher. He has a solid offensive ceiling for a back-up catcher and has a career line of .282/.335/.426. Wilson split 2007 between Double-A and Triple-A and was solid, albeit unspectacular. He also has some experience at both first base and third base so that versatility could serve him well down the road.

    1B Kendry Morales (.291/.320/.470)
    The former Cuban free agent signing has not solidified his role in the majors as quickly as the Angels originally thought he might. That said, he has spent 100 games in the majors over the course of the past two seasons and hit .256/.308/.411. Unfortunately, he is not great defensively at first base or in the outfield and he is inconsistent with the bat. He has hit above .300 at every stop in the minors but his lack of patience hurts him at the major league level (his OBP is .085 higher in the minors, in part due to his .334 career minor league average). He also needs to show more usable power at the major league level as he has hit only nine homers in 316 at-bats.

    IF Freddy Sandoval (.346/.390/.570)
    Sandoval has been the second-best hitter on the club so far this season. The former eighth round pick out of San Diego State in 2004 is a solid minor league hitter with a career line of .282/.366/.415 but he is miscast as a third baseman. He has only 20 career homers in 1,330 at-bats. His second-best position is first base, which is really no help to his prospect standing. If he were a shortstop or a second baseman, Sandoval, 25, would have a much brighter career outlook. That said, there is hope for a major league bench role, especially if he can make his way to the National League.

    Here is how those hitters are doing so far in May:

    Brandon Wood     0/0  |  ---
    Sean Rodriguez   0/4  | .000
    Matt Brown       2/17 | .118
    Bobby Wilson     6/21 | .286
    Kendry Morales   9/27 | .333
    Freddy Sandoval  4/24 | .167

    Pitching-wise in April, the club was first in ERA (3.34), shutouts (five), and runs allowed (97). The Bees organization was also third in saves (eight) and home runs allowed (20), fourth in fewest hits allowed (229).

    Let’s take a look at some of the individual pitchers:

    RHP Nick Adenhart (4-0, 0.87 ERA)
    The top pitching prospect on the club, Adenhart recently made his major league debut and struggled mightily against the Royals. It should be a shock considering his low strikeout totals this season (5.52 K/9) and high walk rate (4.35 BB/9). The most impressive number in the minors this season was that he had allowed only 18 hits in 31 innings, but he had an incredibly low BABIP (.208), which suggests that number is the result of luck. Adenhart has the stuff to be a very successful pitcher, but he’s only 21 and has just 31 games of experience above A-ball.

    RHP Nick Green (3-0, 3.38 ERA)
    Green has some promise but his chronically low strikeout totals (360 in 507.2 career innings) limit his ceiling. He does, though, have above-average control (1.88 BB/9 in his career). The 23-year-old pitcher has struggled against lefties this season (.293 average) and has allowed a lot of fly ball outs (GO/AO of 0.69). Green is probably a fourth starter at the major league level.

    RHP Shane Loux (4-2, 3.79 ERA)
    Loux, a former Tigers prospect, is your typical overachieving veteran minor league hurler. The 28-year-old is a former second round pick out of high school who posted ERAs of 5.29 and 5.75 the last two seasons at the Triple-A level. He also has a career rate of 5.42 K/9. He allowed eight earned runs over five innings in his first May outing.

    Jose Arredondo (8 saves, 2.40 ERA)
    Arredondo, 24, has had his share of ups and downs but may have finally settled into a comfortable role in the bullpen. The former non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic looked to be on the verge of a breakout as a starter in 2006, only to end up getting beaten up by Double-A batters. He has also butted head with coaches and others in the organization.

    The Angels do have some interesting players on the Salt Lake club, but it seems clear that the club significantly over-achieved in April and we are already beginning to see the players come back down to earth in May. Regardless, the future still looks bright for the likes of Adenhart and Wood.

    Around the MinorsApril 30, 2008
    Picking Apart the Draft: 2004
    By Marc Hulet

    There is a perception among baseball fans that the first round of the June Amateur Draft is foolproof – or that it should be foolproof. In a series of upcoming articles I am going to take a look at just how successful teams have been drafting with the first 10 picks of the draft in recent years, starting in 2000 and ending in 2004. Previously, I looked at the drafts from 2000 to 2003.

    As we get closer to 2008 while looking back at recent drafts, it gets harder to analyze the picks simply because they have not had as much time to develop. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still fun to try. As such, this will be the fifth and final part of the series. 2004, like 2002, resulted in a poor draft decision with the No. 1 overall pick. The choice to take Matt Bush first overall was a signability decision and an opportunity for good PR by grabbing a local player. But as we know by now, having looked back at four other recent drafts, signability choices rarely work out, and the same can be said for picking players based on public relations. When you have the rare opportunity to choose the best player in the nation, do it right.

    The first 10 picks of the 2004 draft broke down like this:

    1. San Diego   Matt Bush, SS           California high school
    2. Detroit     Justin Verlander, RHP   Old Dominion University
    3. NY Mets     Philip Humber, RHP      Rice University
    4. Tampa Bay   Jeff Niemann, RHP       Rice University
    5. Milwaukee   Mark Rogers, RHP        Maine high school
    6. Cleveland   Jeremy Sowers, LHP      Vanderbilt University
    7. Cincinnati  Homer Bailey, RHP       Texas high school
    8. Baltimore   Wade Townsend, RHP      Rice University
    9. Colorado    Chris Nelson, SS        Georgia high school
    10. Texas      Thomas Diamond, RHP     University of New Orleans

    Interestingly, only one player (Verlander) from the Top 10 of the 2004 draft has established himself in the majors. It’s still early, though, as I mentioned above. Bailey needs some more polish but he looks promising. Niemann finally earned a reprieve from his injury woes and had the opportunity to make a couple major league starts. Humber and Sowers look like they are going to top out as No. 4 starters, but that is more than can be said for Diamond, Townsend and Rogers.

    As for the rest of the first round, Los Angeles (AL) took Jered Weaver 12th overall, Kansas City nabbed Billy Butler at 14, Arizona took Stephen Drew at 15 and New York (AL) got Philip Hughes at 23.

    Let’s take another look at the Top 10:

    Matt Bush
    Above, I’ve already put my two cents in about the Padres’ decision to draft Bush. No matter how you slice it, a .219/.294/.276 line over four years is terrible. Luckily for the Padres, Bush had a killer arm and they had the option of moving him to mound. And things looked good in 2007 - in seven game he had a 1.25 ERA, 6.25 H/9, 2.45 BB/9 and 20.00 K/9 - and then he went and blew out his elbow throwing one of his high-90s fastballs. With any luck the Padres will have Bush back at full strength at the beginning of 2009, but he still faces a long road ahead when he’ll be 23 with 7.2 innings of pro experience on the mound.

    Justin Verlander
    By far and away the best pick of the draft. Verlander is an absolute stud with a power arm and durability. His biggest obstacle coming out of college was questionable command but that has not been a major issue in his pro career.

    Verlander might have the best pure stuff in the draft. He has a tall, upright delivery with a lighting-quick arm, and a fastball that tops out at 99 mph with hard run and sink. He complements it with a curveball that has good late depth and sharp bite, and a deceptive changeup that has fastball arm speed and late fade and sink. Verlander's biggest obstacle is his lack of command as he struggles to repeat his delivery.

    He made it to the majors in his first pro season and was a reliable starter by the end of his second. If signability was truly the only thing that kept the Padres from drafting him then they should be ashamed. Verlander even proved he wasn’t a difficult sign, and all about the money, as his family took over negotiations when it looked like his agent could, or would, not get a deal done. Imagine what he could do in Petco Park…

    Philip Humber
    There are three Rice University alums in the Top 10 and Humber was supposed to be the “safest bet” among the three. Well, all three have disappointed mightily, although Humber and Niemann finally both have had a taste of the majors. Humber has gone through surgery since signing and his stuff is not the same as it was in college. As a result, he is now a fourth starter. But the Mets got value out of this pick as he was used to obtain Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins.

    Jeff Niemann
    Unlike former Rice teammate Humber, Niemann has been able to avoid the knife but he has still battled through a litany of injuries that have slowed his career advancement to a crawl. He finally made his major league debut this season with Tampa Bay but he only has a short window to establish himself before the likes of Wade Davis, David Price and Jacob McGee begin appearing on the scene. Niemann could end up as a dominating, late-game reliever.

    Mark Rogers
    Rogers is yet another promising draft pick who has seen the knife since signing his first pro contract. He was an absolutely dominating prep hurler who has nasty stuff (a pro rate of 11.02 K/9) but he rarely knows where it’s going (career 6.25 BB/9). Rogers had shoulder surgery in 2007 and it remains to be seen how successful he’ll be when he comes back from it.

    Jeremy Sowers
    Sowers looked like he was going to be the steal of the draft. After turning down the Reds as a first rounder out of high school (20th overall), Sowers went sixth overall to Cleveland and make it to the majors in is second pro season after cruising through the minors and rarely facing adversity. In his first 14 pro starts, he posted a 3.57 ERA and allowed 8.66 H/9. The soft-tossing lefty, though, had only 3.57 K/9. The next season, he got tattooed and began to pitch away from contact – never a good sign for a guy like Sowers. His 6.42 ERA and 11.23 H/9 got him sent back to the minors after 13 starts and he has yet to re-surface in the majors on a permanent basis.

    Homer Bailey
    Bailey has been the recipient of a significant amount of hype… some of it is deserved, some of it not so much. There is no denying the fact that he has the stuff to be a monster at the major league level, but his control needs work and he is still learning the nuances of pitching. Being passed this spring by phenom Johnny Cueto was probably the best thing that could have happened to Bailey. It will allow the media spotlight to shy away from him a bit and give him some much-needed time at Triple-A to hone his game. So far this season in Triple-A things look very promising. The ERA is superficially nice, but the most impressive thing is the control: four walks in 26.1 innings. On the downside, he continues to be an extreme flyball pitcher (0.76 GO/AO) which can be very dangerous, especially in Cincinnati.

    Wade Townsend
    Baltimore failed to sign Townsend out of Rice University, which may have actually been a good thing in the long run… although you really have to hate it when a team throws away a first round pick. Townsend ended up signing with Tampa Bay in the 2005 draft, after again going in the first round, but he blew out his elbow and needed surgery. He’s back pitching but he spent all of last year in A-ball as a 24-year-old. This season, he was pushed to Double-A, skipping over High-A ball, despite posting a 5.08 ERA in 2007, along with 4.65 BB/9 rate. So far this season, Townsend, now a reliever, has a 6.55 ERA in nine games with eight walks in 11 innings. No trio has disappointed this much since the monster that was Wilson/Pulsipher/Isringhausen.

    Chris Nelson
    If you consider Bush as a pitcher even though he was a shortstop when drafted, Nelson was the only non-pitcher taken in the first 10 picks. Since signing, he has had two good years and two not-so-good years. It’s hard to know what exactly to expect from Nelson; is he a starter or a utility players? If you look at his line from High-A ball in 2007 - .289/.358/.503 - you would probably be inclined to say starter, but it was his third straight season in A-ball and Modesto is not the worst place to hit. So far this season, Nelson is hitting .250/.269/.361, which is less than inspiring but it has been only 17 games. The jury is still out on Nelson, but it’s safe to saw with Troy Tulowitzki in Colorado, Nelson won’t be the starting shortstop any time soon.

    Thomas Diamond
    For whatever reason, the Rangers are just snakebitten with pitchers… If you don’t believe me, check out Edinson Volquez in Cincinnati… He would never have done that in Texas. That’s just way to it is, the way it has been, and the way it will probably continue to be. Diamond and his mid-90s fastball started out very well in pro ball and dominated the lower minors. Then he hit a wall in Double-A… then he blew out his elbow. Considering his control issues coming out of college, Diamond’s pro rate of 4.43 BB/9 isn’t all that bad and he also had a nice rate of 10.57 K/9. It might be a good idea to throw Diamond into the back end of the bullpen when he resumes throwing about the time he turns 25.

    Thanks for reading our five-part series looking back at the Top 10 picks from the 2000-2004 amateur drafts.

    Around the MinorsApril 25, 2008
    Picking Apart the Draft: 2003
    By Marc Hulet

    There is a perception among baseball fans that the first round of the June Amateur Draft is foolproof – or that it should be foolproof. In a series of upcoming articles I am going to take a look at just how successful teams have been drafting with the first 10 picks of the draft in recent years, starting in 2000 and ending in 2004. Previously, I looked at the drafts from 2000 to 2002.

    I’m not sure exactly what to make of the first 10 picks of the 2003 draft, to be honest. Delmon Young is loaded with potential but his lack of plate discipline is really holding him back. Rickie Weeks, quite frankly, has been a disappointment. Nick Markakis is possibly the best pick from the Top 10, and he’s an All-Star, but not a superstar. There were still a lot of misses: Kyle Sleeth, Tim Stauffer, Ryan Harvey, and possibly Chris Lubanski.

    The first 10 picks broke down like this:

    1. Tampa Bay    Delmon Young, OF    California high school
    2. Milwaukee    Rickie Weeks, 2B    Southern University
    3. Detroit      Kyle Sleeth, RHP    Wake Forest University
    4. San Diego    Tim Stauffer, RHP   University of Richmond
    5. Kansas City  Chris Lubanski, OF  Pennsylvania high school
    6. Chicago (NL) Ryan Harvey, OF     Florida high school
    7. Baltimore    Nick Markakis, OF   Georgia high school
    8. Pittsburgh   Paul Maholm, LHP    Mississippi State University
    9. Texas        John Danks, LHP     Texas high school
    10. Colorado    Ian Stewart, 3B     California high school

    The first 10 picks don’t look too bad, but we still only have two potential All-Stars (Young and Markakis), maybe three if Weeks suddenly figures things out, and two solid, but unspectacular, major leaguers in Maholm and Danks. You still have four or five players that may never receive more than a cup of coffee in the majors.

    But how was the remainder of the first round? Well the Jays finally made a nice first round pick under J.P. Ricciardi and nabbed Aaron Hill, perhaps one of the top three second basemen in the American League. The Mets got Lastings Milledge (now with Washington), for good or bad. Arizona received Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin (now with the White Sox), Montreal drafted closer Chad Cordero, St. Louis found Daric Barton (now with Oakland) and the Dodgers stole Chad Billingsley with the 24th pick.

    The supplemental first round saw Cleveland take the oft-injured Adam Miller, Boston took the under-appreciated Matt Murton and Seattle found Adam Jones, who helped them secure the services of Erik Bedard.

    Let’s take another look at the Top 10:

    Delmon Young

    The Rays had the enviable task of picking the No. 1 player in the draft in 2003, and if the last five years have shown us anything, they made a pretty good decision as Young has out-performed everyone else in the Top 10 not named Markakis.

    Baseball America spoke with the Rays organization after it took Young first overall:

    “We thought he was one of the best players long before the draft,” Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said. “But we’re in a critical situation, having the No. 1 pick in the country and not winning as many games as we hoped. We made sure we asked all the questions to make sure we got the best player in the country. He was awfully high on our list for a while. We went through everything to see if anyone could unseat Delmon, and the answer was no.”

    “He is one of the finest power hitters our scouts have evaluated, not only this year but over the years,” Devil Rays scouting director Cam Bonifay said. “He’s the kind of guy that you don’t get out of your seat and go buy a hot dog when you know he’s coming to the plate. You want to stay there and watch him hit. He lights up your eyes.”

    The Rays also used Young to secure what the organization needed most – pitching talent. He was dispatched to Minnesota this past off-season for right-hander Matt Garza, and infielder Jason Bartlett, who adds stability to the infield.

    It is not set in stone that Young is going to become a superstar, but the tools are evident. He simply needs time to mature as a hitter and learn the value of patience and waiting for “his pitch.” It’s easy to forget that Young is still only 22 years old. Last season he batted “only” .288/.316/.419 but he drove in 93 batters in a year that he turned 21. He likely has a very bright future.

    Rickie Weeks
    Weeks was on a lot of teams’ draft boards as the No. 1 player in the nation, narrowly edging Young. In its scouting profile for Weeks before the draft, Baseball America stated:

    Weeks has the best tools and is the purest hitter in college baseball. His hands are so quick that he generates amazing bat speed and can turn around any inside fastball.

    Those quick wrists are still there but injuries to that very area slowed Weeks early in his pro career. Seemingly healthy now, though, Weeks has yet to turn his potential into reality. Weeks arrived in the majors in 2003, less than half a season after being drafted. However, he remained in the minors (Double-A) for all of 2004. He resurfaced halfway through the 2005 season but batted only .239/.333/.394, a far cry from his .400 college averages. Although he missed time with injuries in 2006, Weeks spent the entire season as Milwaukee’s second baseman and hit a respectable .279/.363/.404, but you expect more from the second overall pick. Weeks showed more patience at the plate in 2007 (.374 OBP), as well as more power (.433 SLG), but he continued to have issues with his batting average (.235 AVG). After playing in the majors for parts of four seasons, Weeks entered 2008 with a batting average a hair under .250. He’ll be playing this season at the age of 25 so there is still time for him to improve, but it’s probably safe to say the Brewers expected a lot more a lot sooner from the second overall pick.

    Kyle Sleeth
    If you read Baseball America’s pre-draft profile on Sleeth, there were warning signs:

    “Sleeth's pitching has dropped off slightly since his NCAA record-tying 26-game winning streak ended, but he still has a long track record of success with Wake Forest and Team USA. Not to mention three nasty pitches, a 93-94 mph fastball with life, a low-80s slider that has improved this year and a power curveball… His delivery can get out of whack, and he'll sometimes throw across his body or leave the ball up in the strike zone. Consistency is all that stands between him becoming a frontline starter in the major leagues."

    Well, Sleeth never found that consistency and he retired this spring. To be fair, he was beset by injuries from almost the moment he signed his pro contract with Detroit. He began his career in High-A ball in 2004 and pitched well: a 3.31 ERA, 7.94 H/9, 2.38 BB/9 and 8.60 K/9. Sleeth was promoted to Double-A Erie midway through the season and struggled mightily. He posted an ERA of 6.30 with 10.46 H/9, 3.83 BB/9 and 6.41 K/9. He then missed all of 2005 after Tommy John surgery.

    The surgery is a lot more successful than it used to be, but it’s not perfect and Sleeth was one of those players that never recovered his velocity. While rehabbing in 2006, he pitched OK in the Gulf Coast League but struggled when he was promoted to High-A ball. He walked 21 batters in 19.2 innings and posted an ERA of 11.90. The next year was more of the same as he walked 40 in 77.2 innings between A-ball and Double-A. His ERA was well over 8.00. After a tough spring in 2008, Sleeth hung up his spikes.

    Tim Stauffer
    Stauffer was another talented lefty whose career was derailed by injuries. Interestingly, though, he was injured in college. After the Padres selected him fourth overall, he came clean and told them about the injury before he signed his contract. As a result, San Diego signed him to a well-below market value deal. He tried to avoid shoulder surgery, but Stauffer’s stuff never rebounded to what it was in college. He made it to Triple-A in his first pro season, and has pitched in the majors in three separate seasons, but his stuff continues to dwindle. He may have been better off having surgery, missing a year, and hoping for the best. As it stands now, he looks like a Four-A player or major league mop-up reliever.

    Chris Lubanski
    It was always a little perplexing that the pitching-starved Royals kept drafting raw, toolsy position players with high draft picks. If any team could have benefited from drafting “safe” college pitchers, it would have been that franchise in the early- to mid-2000s. Lubanski was a bit of a surprise pick so early in the draft (although he was ranked by BA as the ninth best player available) but the Royals have been known for taking risks; sometimes it worked (Billy Butler), other times it didn’t (Colt Griffin, Lubanski). To be fair, though, Lubanski is not a lost cause. He’s still only 23, he’s a left-handed batter and he has Triple-A experience. But he was also left unprotected in December’s Rule 5 draft and no one took the risk of drafting him. The 2005 season, in which Lubanski hit .301/.349/.554 (with 28 homers), may have been the worst thing to happen to him in his career, as it set unfair expectations. That season was spent in High Desert, one of the top hitting parks in all of baseball. The problem is that Lubanski probably isn’t a 25-homer guy, nor is he a 20 stolen base guy. That makes him a tweener, and a fourth outfielder at the major league level.

    Ryan Harvey
    Harvey may have had the most raw power of any player in the 2003 draft. But he may also be the most frustrating. He started his career with two years in short season ball and posted OK, but not great, numbers. He then spent three years in A-ball… never a good sign for any prospect, let alone a top pick. In 2005 at Peoria, Harvey batted .257/.302/.484 and hit 24 homers in 467 at-bats. The Midwest League is not an easy place to hit homers, so the number is impressive. The 24 walks and 137 strikeouts, though, was not good. Regardless, he moved up a small step the next season to High-A ball in Daytona and slammed 20 homers in 475 at-bats but hit .248/.290/.432. Injuries took a chunk out of Harvey’s 2007 season and he repeated High-A ball with poor results as he hit .252/.298/.456 with 11 homers in 224 at-bats. He walked only seven times while striking out 53 times. Entering into 2008, Harvey is still only 23 but he was thrown to the wolves in Double-A despite not really earning the opportunity to move up the ladder. So far the results have not been pretty and he is hitting .216/.268/.395 through 17 games.

    Nick Markakis
    The majority of baseball teams that had their eyes on Markakis saw his left arm as being more valuable than his bat, as a two-way player. In fact, in the pre-draft rankings, Baseball America had him listed as a pitcher:

    He pitched at 92-94 mph for most of the season, though he sat at 88-90 in May. His slurvy breaking ball is a plus pitch and he has improved his changeup. There's some effort to his delivery, but he has a quick arm and few lefties can match his stuff. He's the second-best draft-and-follow on the market, trailing only Chipola (Fla.) JC's Adam Loewen, and like Loewen he could be an early pick if he were just a power-hitting right fielder.

    Chalk one up to Baltimore for making a very wise decision and going against the consensus. Markakis has been a revelation for an organization desperate for some star power. Not only did Markakis succeed as a hitter, he made the switch effortlessly and spent only three seasons in the minors before making his MLB debut. He also did not bat under .283 or have an on-base average under .371 in his career and continues to show improvement every year. Last year, at the age of 23, Markakis slugged 23 homers and drove in 112 runs.

    Paul Maholm
    Maholm was a safe college pick – a left-handed starter that didn’t throw hard but was polished and knew how to pitch. He entered pro ball and, for good or bad, nothing has changed. By the end of his second full pro season, Maholm was pitching for Pittsburgh and he posted an ERA of 2.18 in six starts. He struggled in his first full pro season, mainly due to a lack of control by allowing 4.14 BB/9. Maholm rectified that in 2007 as that number dropped to 2.48 BB/9, although his ERA rose from 4.76 to 5.02. Hits have been a problem in the last two years as he has averaged exactly 10.33 each season. At the age of 26, Maholm is what he is: a dependable, back-of-the-rotation starter.

    John Danks
    Danks was considered the top prep southpaw at the time of the draft, after passing Andrew Miller as the year wore on. He was hitting 93-94 mph fairly regularly and teams saw him as a potential No. 2 starter. Fast forward to 2008 and Danks looks more like a reliable No. 4 starter, maybe a No. 3 if he can cut down on those hits and walks. In 2007, for the White Sox, he allowed 10.33 H/9 and 3.50 BB/9. He throws more in the 90-92 mph range, albeit with a nice curveball. He has looked much more comfortable in 2008 and has a 3.04 ERA through four starts with much better numbers all around.

    Ian Stewart
    It’s funny how quickly we forget what big things were expected from some players, as we can see by this excerpt from Baseball America’s pre-draft scouting report on Stewart:

    [Stewart] has exceptional bat speed and more power even than Delmon Young, according to some scouts. Though his swing is flat and lacks tilt, he projects 35-40 homers a year in the big leagues… Stewart's bat compares favorably to two former Trojan left-handed-hitting third base recruits: the A's Eric Chavez and the Padres' Sean Burroughs, both former first-rounders.

    Stewart’s numbers looked good in the first two seasons of his pro career, but those numbers were inflated by playing in some very good hitter’s parks. He has never come close to duplicating the 30 homers and 101 RBI he produced in Asheville in 2004. In the last three seasons, he has hit 17, 10 and 15 homers. There also aren’t a lot of scouts that think he can stick at third base on an everyday basis and he lacks the power to be a top option at first base. There was even some talk of moving him to second base, but he lacks the athleticism to succeed at that position. Stewart could end up as a corner utility player or a starter at first base on a lesser MLB team.

    Check back next week when we take a look at the 2004 draft’s Top 10 picks

    Around the MinorsApril 17, 2008
    Midwest Madness
    By Marc Hulet

    You can’t get much further from the majors in full-season professional baseball than the Midwest League. For that reason, the league can sometimes get overlooked, although there are some fascinating players – and teams – to watch.

    The Midwest League is hurt by the fact most top college players skip A-ball and move directly to High-A ball in their first full professional seasons, mainly because there is not a huge difference in talent levels between the two levels (compared to the jump from High-A to Double-A or the Triple-A to the Majors). As well, some feel the Midwest League is on pare, or close to it, with the talent level of good NCAA Division 1 colleges.

    There seems to be a misconception that the league is populated by 19-20 year olds and that a 21 or 22 year old who dominates in the league is not that impressive because he is beating up on inferior competition… Let’s see if that is true this season.

    Standings (with average age):
    Eastern Division
    Lansing        8-5    (21.4)
    Dayton         8-5    (22.0)
    West Michigan  7-6    (22.4)
    Great Lakes    7-6    (21.2)
    Fort Wayne     4-10   (21.7)
    South Bend     2-12   (22.1)
    Western Division
    Kane County   12-1    (22.6)
    Clinton        8-3    (20.8)
    Quad Cities    7-6    (21.2)
    Cedar Rapids   6-7    (21.5)
    Burlington     6-7    (21.7)
    Peoria         6-8    (20.9)
    Wisconsin      4-6    (21.6)
    Beloit         5-9    (21.7)

    League Average Age = 21.6

    That pretty much shows that a player who does well in the Midwest League at the age of 21 or 22 is not beating up on younger competition, for the most part. It also means that impressive numbers by players, such as 19-year-old Gorkys Hernandez of the West Michigan Whitecaps or 19-year-old Travis Snider of the 2007 Lansing Lugnuts, is all the more impressive.

    Pitching Staffs by Age:
    1. Peoria (21.0)
    2. Cedar Rapids (21.1)
    3. Quad Cities (21.3)
    3. Great Lakes (21.3)
    5. Wisconsin (21.4)
    5. Clinton (21.4)
    7. Beloit (21.6)
    8. South Bend (21.9)
    9. Burlington (22.0)
    9. Fort Wayne (22.0)
    11. Lansing (22.4)
    11. Dayton (22.4)
    13. Kane County (22.5)
    14. West Michigan (22.6)

    Offences by Age:
    1. Clinton (20.3)
    2. Lansing (20.5)
    3. Peoria (20.8)
    4. Quad Cities (21.0)
    5. Great Lakes (21.2)
    6. Fort Wayne (21.3)
    7. Dayton (21.5)
    7. Burlington (21.5)
    9. Wisconsin (21.8)
    10. Beloit (21.8)
    11. Cedar Rapids (21.9)
    12. West Michigan (22.2)
    13. South Bend (22.4)
    14. Kane County (22.7)

    Now, let’s take a look at some of the team numbers:
    The two youngest offences in the league are currently leading in all three triple-slash categories with Clinton (Texas Rangers) at .288/.370/.449 and Lansing (Toronto) at .283/.362/.419. Average-wise, Quad Cities (St. Louis), Great Lakes (LA NL), Burlington (Kansas City) and Wisconsin (Seattle) are all batting below .210. Burlington, Great Lakes and Wisconsin are also all slugging below .300. Ouch. The worst on-base percentage in the league belongs to Great Lakes at .272.

    The entire Wisconsin team has one homer in nine games this season. The batters have also struck out 78 times in 263 at-bats. Clinton’s youngsters, on the other hand, have struck out only 68 times in 323 at-bats. The Fort Wayne club is leading the league in stolen bases with 20 in 24 attempts. Beloit (Minnesota) base runners have attempted 28 steals and have been caught 12 times. Dayton (Cincinnati) is leading the league – a league known for not allowing a lot of long balls – with 11 home runs in 12 games. Lansing has scored the most runs in the league at 72 in 12 games, while Wisconsin has scored only 18 in nine games.

    And how about some impressive (and not-so-impressive) individuals:
    In Clinton, Ian Gac, 22, is batting .378 with five homers and 11 RBI. Derek Holland, a 21-year-old southpaw, has struck out 14 batters over 9.2 innings.

    Lansing first baseman Manny Rodriguez is an interesting case. He spent 2006 in A-ball with the Braves, then was signed as a minor league free agent with Toronto before the 2007 season and spent that year in the New York Penn League). Now 23, Rodriguez has seven doubles and two homers in 36 at-bats. He is batting .444 and has a league-leading 14 RBI. He should probably be in the Florida State League. A pair of 19-year-olds and high draft picks from 2007, Kevin Ahrens and Justin Jackson, each have 10 walks in 11 games. Jackson has also stolen five bases in six attempts. Soft-tossing lefty reliever Cody Crowell, 22, has struck out 13 batters in 6.1 innings.

    In Kane County (Oakland), 21-year-old Craig Italiano, recovering from a line drive to the forehead last year, has struck out 24 batters (with only four walks) in 14 innings.

    Beloit’s Chris Parmelee, a former first round pick, had a nice seven RBI game to tie Rodriguez for the league lead in RBI with 14. He also has four homers.

    Keltavious Jones, 22, is as fast as his name is long and he has five steals for Dayton in as many attempts. Third baseman Brandon Waring, 22, continues to hit and is batting .348/.392/.565. The Reds’ 2007 supplemental first round pick Todd Frazier, 22, is batting .341 with five homers. He has also walked 11 times with only nine strikeouts in 41 at-bats.

    San Diego had five supplemental first round picks in 2007 and a couple of them are playing for Fort Wayne. Shortstop Drew Cumberland, 19, has seven steals in nine attempts but is hitting only .261. Outfielder Kellen Kulbacki, 22, known for his bat, is hitting only .154.

    Shortstop Andrew Romine, 22, is hitting only .171 for Cedar Rapids (LA AL) but he has stolen eight bases in as many attempts. Pitchers Jordan Walden, 20, and Mason Tobin, 20, have found the early goings quite easy. Walden has a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings with eight hits allowed and 10 strikeouts. Tobin has a 0.00 ERA and has allowed six hits and three walks.

    South Bend (Arizona), with the second oldest offence in the league, has four regulars batting under .200.

    Peoria (Chicago NL) outfielder Dylan Johnston, 21, has struck out 16 times in 32 at-bats. He’s batting .156.

    Great Lakes infielder Preston Mattingly is continuing to struggle in pro ball. He is batting only .167 in 48 at-bats with one walk and 14 strikeouts. He hit .210 at Great Lakes in 2007.

    Wisconsin’s raw Canadian hurler Phillippe Aumont, 19, Seattle’s No. 1 pick in 2007, has pitched 5.2 innings and has allowed no earned runs, but four unearned runs. He has walked two and struck out eight. Outfielder Eddy Hernandez, 23, has yet to get a hit in 17 at-bats and he has 10 strikeouts.

    In Burlington, 2007 second overall draft pick Mike Moustakas, 19, is batting .182 in 33 at-bats. Pitcher Daniel Gutierrez, 21, has a 1.13 ERA in three starts and 16 innings. He has allowed nine hits, seven walks and struck out 21.

    Around the MinorsApril 15, 2008
    Picking Apart the Draft: 2002
    By Marc Hulet

    There is a perception among baseball fans that the first round of the June Amateur Draft is foolproof – or that it should be foolproof. In a series of upcoming articles I am going to take a look at just how successful teams have been drafting with the first 10 picks of the draft in recent years, starting in 2000 and ending in 2004. Previously, I looked at the drafts in 2000 and 2001.

    The top 10 draft picks in the 2002 draft were not as bad as in 2000, nor were they quite as good as in 2001 in terms of star power. We have someone who has already hit 50 homers (Fielder) and someone who projects to be a superstar (Upton), but just hasn’t quite gotten there yet mainly due to his less-than-stellar defence. Both Francis and Greinke have established themselves in the starting rotation for their respective clubs but they look more like No. 3 starters than aces. Interestingly, seven of the Top 10 picks were nabbed out of high school as the prep crop looked a little more impressive than the college crowd.

    The first 10 picks broke down like this:

    1. Pittsburgh    Bryan Bullington, RHP   Ball State University
    2. Tampa Bay     B.J. Upton, SS          Virginia high school
    3. Cincinnati    Chris Gruler, RHP       California high school
    4. Baltimore     Adam Loewen, LHP        British Columbia high school
    5. Montreal      Clint Everts, RHP       Texas high school
    6. Kansas City   Zack Greinke, RHP       Florida high school
    7. Milwaukee     Prince Fielder, 1B      Florida high school
    8. Detroit       Scott Moore, SS         California high school
    9. Colorado      Jeff Francis, LHP       University of British Columbia
    10. Texas        Drew Meyer, SS          University of South Carolina

    The remainder of the first round, which was probably the deepest talent-wise of the three drafts we’ve looked at so far, also had some hits and misses. The best players drafted outside the top 10 in the first round were: Florida’s Jeremy Hermida (11th), Los Angeles (AL)’s Joe Saunders (12th), San Diego’s Khalil Greene (13th), New York’s Scott Kazmir (15th), Oakland’s Nick Swisher (16th), Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels (17th), Los Angeles (NL)’s James Loney (19th), Cleveland’s Jeremy Guthrie (22nd), Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur (23rd), Oakland’s Joe Blanton (24th), and San Francisco’s Matt Cain (25th). Yes, a lot of teams found value with the No. 1 picks in 2002. But that also makes the decision to draft players such as Gruler, Everts, Moore and Meyer look that much worse. And yes, I know this was the Moneyball draft, but I am so sick of hearing about it that I’m just going to gloss right over that fact.

    Let’s take another look at the Top 10:

    Bryan Bullington
    As I wrote last week, the Pirates seem to find a way to screw things up. The first overall pick in the draft is the opportunity to take the best overall available player in the nation. Bullington represents one of the worst first overall picks in quite some time… as in Matt Bush bad. Rumors persist that the Pirates scouting director wanted to take Upton, the consensus best player available, but was overruled by management, which was more concerned with the bottom line. A few days before the draft, Bullington told Baseball America he was pretty excited that he might get taken first overall:

    "I don't know anything for certain at this point other than I'm under consideration. I'm just flattered that are thinking about using the first pick on me. There are some great players who have gone in that No. 1 spot in the draft. To think I might be in that same company is really something."

    A number of the top pitchers chosen in the draft were derailed by injuries and Bullington was no different. Bullington also never showed the velocity on his fastball that he did in college and often worked in the mid- to high-80s. In 2004, he spent the entire year in Double-A and won 12 games in 145 innings. However, he struck out only 100 (6.21 K/9) and allowed 9.93 H/9. Bullington jumped to Triple-A the next season and disaster struck. He battled shoulder issues all season but managed to appear in one major league game that year. However, after the season he underwent surgery for a torn labrum. Bullington missed all of 2006 but reappeared for Triple-A Indianapolis in 2007. He stuff had not improved, though, and he struck out only 5.32 per nine innings. Regardless, the Pirates allowed him to pitch in five major league games. He allowed 24 hits in 17 innings.

    B.J. Upton
    In Upton’s pre-draft scouting report, Baseball America had this to say about Upton:

    Scouts compare Upton to a young Derek Jeter, right down to the swagger. Upton is further along in his development than Jeter at a comparable age. He's more physically mature than Jeter, who developed his physique in pro ball, and has better power. Upton is just 17 and will play at that age throughout his first professional season. Scouts are curious how he'll handle the pressure of experiencing failure for the first time, since he's rarely failed at any step of his baseball career.

    Interestingly, Upton never really struggled in the minors. He sat out the 2002 season while undergoing contract negotiations. As an 18-year-old, he started his career in A-ball and hit .302/.394/.445 and was promoted to High-A ball for the final 29 games of the season and he held his own. The next season he started 2004 in Double-A and batted .327/.407/.471. After only 29 games, he was headed to Triple-A for 69 games. He then got in 45 big league games at the age of 19 in only his second pro season. Upton did struggle a bit - .258/.324/.409 - but he certainly did not embarrass himself. Regardless, he spent most of the next two seasons in the minors to work on his defence as he spent time at third base and in the outfield, where he finally settled. Upton’s first full major league season in 2007 was a success as he hit .300/.386/.508 and he was still only 22 years old.

    Chris Gruler
    Gruler improved significantly in his senior season of high school and went from throwing in the high-80s to throwing to the mid- to high-90s. The Reds jumped all over Gruler who had solid mechanics. Regardless, Gruler broke down almost immediately. He made 11 starts in his pro debut in 2002 but pitched only 16 games over the next four years thanks to rotator cuff surgery. Gruler last appeared in professional baseball during the 2006 season.

    Adam Loewen
    A good ol’ Canadian boy, Loewen’s career has also been hampered by surgery – for a stress fracture in his left elbow. Unlike Gruler, though, Loewen made it to the majors before being shut down. He has a 4.98 career ERA in the majors and has struck out 7.57 batters per nine innings. Walks have been his nemesis, though, with a ratio of 5.55 BB/9. Loewen has returned from successful surgery and made the Orioles out of spring training in 2008. The southpaw is still loaded with potential and is only 24.

    Clint Everts
    Everts is yet another injury victim from the 2002 draft, which explains why many of you may never have heard of him. Everts was a two-way player in high school and considered possibly the second-best shortstop in the draft (next to Upton). He was also considered almost as promising as teammate Kazmir.

    With his switch-hitting ability, plus speed and stellar defensive play, Everts might be the second-best shortstop in the nation after Virginia high schooler B.J. Upton. Yet he'll almost certainly be taken as a pitcher, and one scouting director with an early pick says Everts could be the best arm to come out of the draft… Scouts dream about pitchers with his kind of quick arm action. "He's the sleeper of the whole draft," one scouting director said. "He's going to make someone very happy."

    Evert’s calling card on the mound was a killer curveball, which ended up killing his elbow, as he had Tommy John surgery after the 2004 season. It was unfortunate because Evert had adjusted very nicely to pro ball and reached High-A ball in his second season, at the age of 19. Fast forward three years to the end of 2007 and Everts was still in High-A ball and posted a 4.81 ERA. He also walked 56 in 97.1 innings (5.18 BB/9). Perhaps it’s time to try a conversion back to the field?

    Zack Greinke
    Greinke has had his ups and downs in his pro career but the talent has always been there. He is one of those players that always had things come easy to him in baseball, thanks in no small part to above-average stuff as well as solid command and control. As a 19-year-old pitcher in High-A ball, Greinke went 11-1 with a 1.14 ERA. He allowed 5.79 H/9 and walked only 1.34 batters per nine innings. Less than a year later, at the age of 20, Greinke was in Kansas City and he posted an ERA of 3.97, allowed fewer than one hit per inning and walked only 26 batters in 145 innings. One of the most impressive things was that Greinke “got it” at an early age; he constantly took 4-5 mph off his fastball to increase the movement and control of his pitches. Then 2005 came along and, along with the Royals’ continued struggles, Greinke posted a 5.80 ERA and lost 17 games. Greinke lost some of his passion for the game the following year and spent some time away from the game before returning but he pitched in only three major league games in 2006. The Greinke of old began to work himself back into shape in 2007 as he split time between the rotation and bullpen. He posted a 3.69 ERA and allowed 122 hits in 122 innings.

    Prince Fielder
    Teams knew Fielder could hit. It was apparent very early on in his prep career, if not sooner. But teams also knew Fielder’s body took after his father’s. And it’s never a good thing for a 16-year-old’s body to mimic that of a 40-year-old’s… even if that 40-year-old once hit 50 home runs in the majors. Regardless, the Brewers could not pass on the younger Fielder’s prodigious power and he rewarded them by becoming part of the only father-son combo to each hit 50 homers in the major leagues. Prince accomplished the goal at age 23, besting father Cecil by three years. Prince has done nothing but hit as a pro and there have been no signs that he will struggle any time soon. However, he has one of those sluggers’ bodies that likely won’t age well.

    Scott Moore
    After three minor league seasons in the Tigers’ system, Moore looked like a first round bust. He hit .223/.322/.384 as a 20-year-old third baseman in High-A ball. The next spring he was sent to the Chicago Cubs along with another disappointing youngster for reliever Kyle Farnsworth. Once he escaped Detroit’s minor league system, Moore flourished and hit .281/.358/.485 with 20 homers in a return engagement to High-A ball. He had an equally successful year in Double-A in 2006 and received his first brief taste of the majors. After spending most of 2007 in Triple-A, Moore was used to obtain Steve Trachsel from the Baltimore Orioles. He broke camp in 2008 as a back-up infielder for Baltimore but offers as much – or more – offensive potential as incumbent third baseman Melvin Mora.

    Jeff Francis
    The Toronto Blue Jays were salivating at the idea of choosing an advanced college pitcher, who just happened to be Canadian, with the 14th overall pick. It is rumored that they even had a pre-draft deal worked out with the southpaw. However, the Rockies came along, recognized his talent, and scooped him up. By the end of 2004 Francis was in the majors for good and the Jays organization is still waiting for its first round selection, Russ Adams (who has gone from SS to 2B to RF), to leave Triple-A behind him. Francis will likely never be a star, but he is a valuable No. 3 starter. He allows a lot of hits – 691 in 634.2 innings – but throws his fair share of innings (215.1 in 2007) and his walk totals have diminished over time (3.43 BB/9 in 2005 to 3.12 to 2.63). He also increased his strikeout total to 165 last season, not bad for a lefty that works in the upper 80s with his fastball.

    Drew Meyer
    Last week I wrote that I get nervous about talking middle infielders with a high pick unless they are “can’t miss” impact bats. Upton was obviously one of those, and Meyer was not. He always had talent, though, and was drafted in the second round out of high school by the Dodgers. In his junior year at South Carolina, Meyer hit an impressive .359/.411/.512 but slugged only six homers and walked 28 times while striking out 57 times in 334 at-bats. Perhaps prophetically, Meyer hit .214 and .192 during two summer seasons with wood bats in the Cape Cod League. He was also ranked 27th in Baseball America’s pre-draft talent rankings and was projected to go in the second half of the first round, not the Top 10. Meyer made it to Double-A in his first full pro season but didn’t hit for power, didn’t walk and struck out too much for a top-of-the-order hitter. To this point he has five big league games to his credit.

    Check back next week when we take a look at the 2003 draft’s Top 10 picks

    Around the MinorsApril 10, 2008
    Picking Apart the Draft: 2001
    By Marc Hulet

    There is a perception among baseball fans that the first round of the June Amateur Draft is foolproof – or that it should be foolproof. In this series of articles I am taking a look at just how successful teams have been drafting with the first 10 picks of the draft in recent years, starting in 2000 and ending in 2004. Last week I looked at the 2000 draft.

    Unlike the 2000 draft, the 2001 amateur talent smorgasbord was piled high with “can’t miss” talent. The Minnesota Twins held the first pick of the draft and knew they had to make a splash. The club had previously failed to sign first round picks including Travis Lee (1996) and Jason Varitek (1993), but it’s simply not acceptable with the first overall pick. As such, the organization decided against drafting the 2001 draft’s supposed ‘Superman’ Mark Prior and chose instead to ‘settle’ for Minnesota native Joe Mauer.

    Baseball America’s post-draft coverage stated:

    Besides Prior and Mauer, the Twins also considered Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira and Middle Tennessee State righthander Dewon Brazelton for the top choice. Minnesota contacted all four players on the day of the draft to see if a predraft agreement might be reached, but ultimately had to make its decision without a deal in place.

    "[Mauer]’s a legitimate No.1 pick," Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff said. "I know a number of teams thought he may be the best guy in the draft. We had four guys we thought were legitimate No. 1 picks. We were fortunate in that regard.

    "But let's be honest. We've had trouble signing players in our recent history. We are who we are. We have limited resources and we have to deal with it. Joe was the best fit."

    I’d say it worked out pretty well for the Twins, wouldn’t you?

    The first 10 picks broke down like this:

    1. Minnesota       Joe Mauer, C              Minnesota high school
    2. Chicago (NL)    Mark Prior, RHP           U of Southern California
    3. Tampa Bay       Dewon Brazelton, RHP      Middle Tennessee State U
    4. Philadelphia    Gavin Floyd, RHP          Maryland high school 
    5. Texas           Mark Teixeira, 3B         Georgia Tech U 
    6. Montreal        Josh Karp, RHP            UCLA
    7. Baltimore       Chris Smith, LHP          Cumberland University 
    8. Pittsburgh      John VanBenschoten, RHP   Kent State
    9. Kansas City     Colt Griffin, RHP         Texas high school
    10. Houston        Chris Burke, SS           U of Tennessee

    As you can see, there were much better results for teams drafting in the Top 10 of the draft in 2001 than 2000. However, it still wasn’t without its bombs. Three prospects in the Top 10 never made it to the majors. Two more have barely had more than cups of coffee. As well, Burke and Floyd have yet to establish themselves and Prior has been derailed by injuries. Only Teixeira and Mauer have come close to achieving what was projected for them and that means the Top 10 clubs batted a meager .200 with the coveted picks.

    If some of those picks did not look bad enough, let’s take a look at some of the players who were available to other clubs later in the round: Casey Kotchman went to the Angels with the 13th pick, Aaron Heilman was snatched by the Mets with the 18th pick, the Athletics took Bobby Crosby with No. 25 and Jeremy Bonderman with No. 26, and the Reds took, but failed to sign, Jeremy Sowers with the 20th pick. Oh, and the Mets grabbed some guy named David Wright in the supplemental first round after he was passed over 37 times.

    Let's take another look at the Top 10:

    Joe Mauer
    It usually does not bode well when a club takes a first round pick from its home state… Even fans can smell the stench of the public relations department a mile away. But Mauer was – and still is – a special case. There was no question that he was the best prep hitter in the draft and he played a premium position. Mauer, as a major leaguer, has done nothing to tarnish his reputation… He made it to the major leagues in his fourth pro season, and was established in the majors by the age of 22. If he can stay healthy and if he can remain behind the dish for a significant period, Mauer could be looking at a Hall of Fame career.

    Mark Prior
    Heading into the draft, Prior was considered the best college pitcher on the planet with his “free, easy, effortless delivery,” and knockout stuff. Some even called him the best college pitcher of all time. After signing a major league, five-year contract for a minimum of $10.5 million, Prior made his pro debut in 2002 and was in the majors after only nine minor league starts. By the end of 2003, when he went 18-6 and posted an ERA of 2.43 with 10.43 K/9, Prior looked headed for a Hall of Fame career. But injuries began piling up in subsequent seasons and his inning totals went from 211 in 2003 to 118 in 2004, 166 in 2005 to 43 in 2006. He did not pitch in the majors at all in 2007 thanks to injuries and could miss the first half of 2008. Prior is now in a San Diego uniform after signing as a free agent in the off-season leaving the Cubs with little to show for the investment.

    Dewon Brazelton
    Brazelton was supposed to be the answer to the Rays’ pitching woes. He was supposed to be that advanced college arm that could make it to the majors quickly. Well, he did get there quickly, but it turned out that he wasn’t very good. After not pitching in 2001 due to contract negotiations, Brazelton started 2002 in Double-A and pitched well (3.33 ERA in 26 starts, 7.95 H/9). However, he struck out only 6.72 batters per nine innings and allowed 4.13 walks per nine innings, both warning signs. The next season Brazelton was inconsistent and played at four levels. He posted a 6.89 ERA in 10 major league starts. He turned things around somewhat the next season and pitched 120 innings in the majors and posted a 4.77 ERA. However, he posted rates of 3.95 BB/9 and only 4.77 K/9. Not surprisingly the wheels came off entirely in 2005 and he went 1-8 with an ugly ERA of 7.61. Pitching in Petco Park the next season could not save Brazelton’s career and he posted an ERA of 12.00 in nine games. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The former third pick of the 2001 drafted pitched in the minors in 2007 for both the Royals and the Pirates and neither of the organizations wanted him to stick around.

    Gavin Floyd
    Floyd is interesting. He was a top high school pitcher who flew through the minors in three seasons and did not posted an ERA above 3.00. However, his K/9 rates dropped as he got closer to the majors, from 7.59 at A-ball to 7.50 at High-A to 7.11 at Double-A to 5.28 at Triple-A. His first taste of the big leagues with the Phillies was OK – a 3.49 ERA in six games but he showed that his control was lacking by walking 16 in 28.1 innings (5.08 BB/9). The next two seasons Floyd rode the shuttle between Philadelphia and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. During that time, he walked 48 batters in 80.1 major league innings. Frustrated with his inconsistencies and lack of control, Philadelphia shipped Floyd off to the White Sox in the Freddy Garcia trade of December 2006. Floyd split 2007 between Triple-A and the majors again, but was respectable in the majors despite a 1-5 record. In 16 games, including 10 starts, Floyd posted a 5.27 ERA and walked only 19 batters in 70 innings. The 10.93 H/9 and 6.30 K/9 rates are worrisome for the future, though.

    Mark Teixeira
    In 2000, no one would have been surprised to see Teixeira go first overall. But he had Scott Boras as a representative and everyone knew the Twins were tight-fisted. It also didn’t help that Teixeira missed three months of his junior season to a broken ankle. As a result, he slid to the Rangers at fifth overall and they snapped him up, even though they really, really needed pitching. He sat out the rest of the 2001 season after the draft and finally received a four-year major league contract for $9.5 million. One talent evaluator told Baseball America:

    "Those two guys [Teixeira and Prior] are awfully, awfully good, so if they don't make it, we've got to start over in how we evaluate talent. Those two were head and shoulders above everyone else.

    "I do think they are worth the most of the talent that was out there. But are they worth $10 million? I don't know about that."

    Well, Teixeira has held up his end of the bargain and has been a dominating player at times. He spent one season in the minors and has hit 30 or more homers in four of his five major league seasons. His career line was .286/.371/.539 heading into the 2008 season. Texas certainly received value for its $9.5 million and wisely traded Teixeira when he was deemed too expensive. The organization received five young, talented prospects in return.

    Josh Karp
    Karp was a scout’s dream with three solid pitches – a fastball in the 90-94 mph range, a plus change and a curveball that had the potential to be plus. But he never really dominated in college and tended to have a lot of minor injuries crop up. After signing, he made his debut in 2002 and ascended to Double-A after dominating in seven High-A ball starts. After posting OK numbers there, he repeated Double-A in 2003 and regressed. Regardless, he was promoted to Triple-A the next season and posted a 5.95 ERA. After the season, Montreal traded him to Florida and he spent time in both Double-A and Triple-A in 2005. Later that year, Karp underwent shoulder surgery and never pitched again.

    Chris Smith
    Smith is a perfect example of the difference between pitching in NCAA Division 1 and NAIA. He was a two-way player at Florida State and the team wanted him to focus on his hitting where they thought he had greater value. Smith, who could touch the mid-90s, felt his future was on the mound so he left his “dream school” for Cumberland University in Tennessee where he instantly became one of the top pitchers. His four-pitch mix and solid statistics against lesser talent was good enough to get him drafted in the first 10 picks of the 2001 draft but injuries ensured that he was out of baseball within four years. He never rose above A-ball.

    John VanBenschoten
    After leading the NCAA Division 1 with 31 bombs (in 225 at-bats), most teams expected VanBenschoten to get drafted as a slugging first baseman. But then the Pirates came along and did what the Pirates do best: They screwed up. Oh, sure, you can’t really blame the Pirates for the right-hander getting hurt and needing surgery, but it’s awful hard to turn your back on an offensive player with five tools that rate as average or better. And many scouts had VanBenschoten’s power as a 75 on the 20-80 scouting scale. That 8.78 ERA in 17 MLB games looks really, really bad. I guess the Pirates can take pride in the fact VanBenschoten has hit only .133/.235/.400 in 15 at-bats at the major league level. But it’s kind of funny to think he has as many MLB homers as wins (1).

    Colt Griffin
    If this was an episode of Jeopardy, the question to the above name would be: What is a great reason not to use your first round draft pick on prep right-handers based solely on arm strength? The hard-throwing Texan was, of course, the next Nolan Ryan. In his five-year minor league career, though, Griffin walked 278 batters in 373.2 innings. And interestingly enough, he struck out only 273 batters with that once-blazing fastball. The promise was there, as he allowed only 7.86 hits per nine innings in his career… possibly because it’s hard to hit a fastball around your ears.

    Chris Burke
    Personally, I get nervous when I see middle infielders get taken really high in the draft, unless they are so “can’t miss” that their names are Alex Rodriguez or Troy Tulowitzki. There are just too many Russ Adams and Chris Burkes in the world. In his college career, Burke showed the ability to get on base and run. In his junior year, though, he added power, which caused a few clubs to get a little too giddy (Houston being one of them). Not surprisingly, that aluminum bat power disappeared in pro ball and, after his first two pro seasons, Burke stopped running. That pretty much eliminated one of his main strengths, leaving him as a singles hitter who could take a walk. Once he hit Triple-A and the majors, though, Burke stopped walking leaving him as a guy who could hit singles. Welcome to the bench, Chris.

    Check back next week when we take a look at the 2002 draft’s Top 10 picks

    Around the MinorsApril 04, 2008
    Picking Apart the Draft 2000-2004
    By Marc Hulet

    There is a perception among baseball fans that the first round of the June Amateur Draft is foolproof – or that it should be foolproof. In a series of upcoming articles I am going to take a look at just how successful teams have been drafting with the first 10 picks of the draft in recent years, starting in 2000 and ending in 2004.

    The 2000 draft was not a great one – and everyone knew it at the time too. The following excerpt is from Baseball America’s pre-draft coverage prior to the 2000 draft:

    This year, the consensus is that there’s no consensus. Scouts say that the gap in talent between the eventual top pick and a mid-first-rounder will be as small as it has ever been.

    "It’s the most confusing top group in the 13 years I’ve been scouting," says Twins scouting director Mike Radcliff, who will make the second overall pick on June 5. "That’s not to say there won’t be a bounty of major leaguers down the line, but it’s a rather chaotic, confused mix of talent."

    As the draft neared more and more people thought high school catcher Scott Heard might go No. 1 overall to Florida. But in the end it was a high school first baseman by the name of Adrian Gonzalez - which is good since Heard (drafted by the Rangers) never made it to the major leagues. Many at the time considered Gonzalez to be a signability pick to save a little money when there was no clear cut favorite at No. 1 anyway. The Texas organization was also considering players Dane Sardinha and David Espinosa both of whom ended up going to Cincinnati later in the draft.

    The first 10 picks broke down like this:

    1. Florida         Adrian Gonzalez, 1B     California high school
    2. Minnesota       Adam Johnson, RHP       Cal State Fullerton
    3. Chicago (NL)    Luis Montanez, SS       Miami high school
    4. Kansas City     Mike Stodolka, LHP/1B   California high school 
    5. Montreal        Justin Wayne, RHP       Stanford University 
    6. Tampa Bay       Rocco Baldelli, OF      Rhode Island high school
    7. Colorado        Matt Harrington, RHP    California high school 
    8. Detroit         Matt Wheatland, RHP     San Diego high school
    9. San Diego       Mark Phillips, LHP      Pennsylvania high school
    10. Anaheim        Joe Torres, LHP         Florida highs school

    That is a pretty ugly list and it’s a little hard to believe all those players were considered (at least by some clubs) as some of the Top 10 talent in the nation.

    The most notable players taken in the first round, but outside the Top 10, were Philadelphia’s Chase Utley, San Francisco’s Boof Bonser, Anaheim’s Chris Bootcheck, Boston’s Phil Dumatrait, Atlanta’s Adam Wainwright, and Atlanta’s Scott Thorman. Utley, obviously, is a star and Wainwright has a chance to be very good, but beyond that most of the players are average to below-average major league players.

    Let's take another look at the Top 10:

    Adrian Gonzalez
    Ironically this so-called signability pick ended up being the best pick before Utley was chosen 15th overall. Despite his pedigree, Gonzalez was traded twice (from Florida to Texas to San Diego) and has established himself as an excellent offensive and defensive first baseman. A lack of prototypical power was the original concern with Gonzalez but he has laid that to rest with back-to-back seasons where he slugged more than .500 and hit 30 homers in 2007.

    Adam Johnson
    Expected to move quickly as a college pick, Johnson started his career in High-A ball and was in the majors by the end of his first full season in 2001. However, he posted an 8.28 ERA in his first taste of the majors (seven games), had a 5.47 ERA the following year in Triple-A and received his final major league appearance in 2003 after posting a 47.25 ERA in two games. Three years and a stint in independent baseball later, Johnson was out of pro baseball.

    Luis Montanez
    Montanez was born in Puerto Rico but played high school baseball in Miami. He started off his pro career very well, hitting .344/.438/.531 as an 18-year-old in Rookie Ball. However, he spent the next three years in A-ball and did not hit above .270. In 2004 Montanez was sent back down to Short Season ball, which pretty much ended any hope of a significant career in the majors. With eight years in professional baseball, Montanez has yet to play a full season in Triple-A. He is, however, still only 26 years old.

    Mike Stodolka
    Here is your poor man’s Rick Ankiel. Stodolka was a talented two-way player in high school and clubs were split on where he was best-suited. The Royals took a chance on his left-handed arm and made him a full-time pitcher. Oops. In six minor league seasons, Stodolka posted an ERA of 4.94 and spent five of those years below Double-A. When he finally did get a taste of Double-A in 2005, he posted a 5.92 ERA and a record of 4-11. The following year Stodolka stepped back into the batter’s box full-time and now sports a career line of .287/.402/.455. However, there is one caveat: his numbers in 2006 were inflated by playing in one of the best hitting parks in minor league baseball – High Desert. Even so, Stodolka, 26, has shown enough promise that he could eventually become a major league pinch hitter or platoon first baseman/designated hitter.

    Justin Wayne
    Wayne sported a nifty 15-4 record with 153 strikeouts in 143 innings in his final season at Stanford University and caught the eye of the Expos. Over the next two seasons, Wayne had impressive numbers and reached the majors at the age of 23. However, that was with the Marlins after he was involved in the Carl Pavano-Cliff Floyd swap of 2002. Once he joined the Fish, Wayne’s career fell apart thanks to injuries and control problems, and he ended his major league career with a 6.13 ERA in 26 games. By 2005 he was playing for Newark in the independent Atlantic League.

    Rocco Baldelli
    Three years ago Baldelli looked to be the steal of the draft. However, as we all know now, his story took a serious turn for the worse recently when he was diagnosed with a medical issue that could jeopardize his career. Baldelli began his career quietly and struggled with his batting average in his first two pro seasons but the Rays continued to move him up through the system. He exploded in 2002 and played at three minor league levels. The next year he was in the majors full-time and only saw the minors again on rehab assignments (during the plethora of injuries that plagued him).

    Matt Harrington
    If you haven’t heard the story of Harrington, you’ve probably been living under a rock. He had perhaps the most coveted arm in the draft with a 97 mph fastball and solid breaking ball but his contract demands scared away a lot of teams and made it impossible for Colorado to come do an agreement ($4 million was allegedly turned down along with a guaranteed MLB promotion by 2002). In an effort to gain leverage and avoid having to wait another three years to sign by going to college, Harrington headed to independent baseball which allowed him to be eligible for the 2001 draft. It didn’t work out like it did for other players, such as J.D. Drew. The next year, as Harrington’s stuff began to wane, San Diego took him in the second round but he still did not like the money being offered ($1.2 million) - or his agent didn’t. The next year it was Tampa Bay in the 13th round ($200,000 or less), then Cincinnati in the 24th round and finally the Yankees in the 36th round of 2004. Before the dust settled Harrington played six seasons in independent baseball, lost his mid-90s fastball and has yet to play in the minors for a Major League Baseball team. Because he was not drafted in 2005, Harrington became a free agent and signed with the Chicago Cubs in late 2006. However, he was released by the end of spring training in 2007 and returned to independent baseball.

    Matt Wheatland
    There isn’t much to say about Wheatland because he didn’t have much of a career, thanks to injuries. Things started off well for the right-hander when he was assigned to the Gulf Coast League shortly after the 2000 draft. He posted a 1.25 ERA in five games and struck out 21 batters, while walking only one, in 21.2 innings. Injuries struck in 2001 though, and he missed all of 2002 and 2003. He was released by Detroit in the spring of 2004 and caught on with Houston but appeared in only 18 games before heading to independent baseball.

    Mark Phillips
    Phillips’ first three minor league seasons held a lot of promise as he was a left-hander who could whiff a lot of batters. In 2002 at High-A ball, Phillips struck out 156 in 148.1 innings. But there was a huge red flag as he also walked 94 batters. He was then traded to the Yankees in the spring of 2003 along with Bubba Trammell for Rondell White. Phillips’ control problems continued and he ended up getting hurt. He was never seen again in minor league baseball.

    Joe Torres
    Torres was a talented left-hander who made his pro debut at the age of 17 in the Northwest League. Despite his age, Torres posted a 2.54 ERA in 11 games and struck out 52 in 46 innings. After that, though, injuries became a problem and his strikeouts dropped significantly while his control all but disappeared, including 92 walks in 56 A-ball innings in 2005. In 2006, he posted an 8.04 ERA in 43 A-ball games and his time in the Angels system was at an end. On the positive side, Torres found some success in the White Sox system in 2007 and posted a 3.58 ERA in 32.2 High-A ball innings and allowed 23 hits, 16 walks and 39 strikeouts. He is still only 25.

    Check back next week when we take a look at the 2001 draft’s Top 10 picks

    Around the MinorsMarch 20, 2008
    What are their options?
    By Marc Hulet

    As Major League Baseball’s 2008 Spring Training begins to (mercifully) wind down, we are faced with six interesting stories related to players who are out of options.

    To dumb down a complicated process: Clubs who have used up the three (and sometimes four) option years on players must pass said players through waivers in order to assign them to the minor leagues.

    The First Basemen

    With the emergence of Jack Cust at DH and Daric Barton at first base – as well as the signing of veteran Mike Sweeney to a minor league deal – Dan Johnson, who has the longest tenure with the A’s of the foursome, is on the bubble. Johnson has shown snippets of offensive outbursts, but consistency has eluded him. A reoccurring hand injury with Barton, though, may save Johnson’s roster spot in Oakland – at least temporarily.

    You could perhaps draw some comparisons from Jason Botts to former Ranger Travis Hafner. They are both hulking sluggers who were drafted by Texas and have shown flashes of potential in the minors. In fact, they were both low round picks (Hafner 31st round and Botts 46th round) who signed as draft-and-follows out of community colleges.

    They also both faced roadblocks for playing time at the Major League level and were allowed to languish in the minors: Hafner was 27 before he played his first full season in the majors and Botts will turn 28 in July. In his last two full minor league seasons, Hafner posted lines of .282/.396/.545 and .342/.463/.559 while Botts posted lines of .309/.398/.582 and .320/.436/.545. With news that Texas will no longer play Jarrod Saltalamacchia at first base (he’ll either catch full-time in the majors or at Triple-A), Botts biggest obstacles to a 2008 roster spot are Ben Broussard and non-roster spring invitee Chris Shelton.

    The Rangers also have a glut of outfielders that could cause a trickle down effect on the designated hitter spot. As well, power prospect Chris Davis isn’t far away, likely meaning it’s now or never for Botts to secure himself in Texas.

    Justin Huber is another in a long line of talented Australian players who just haven’t been able to put it all together at the major league level (see Chris Snelling, Glenn Williams, Luke Prokopec, Damian Moss). Moving from catcher to first base has not helped Huber, as he now faces roster competition from former No. 1 draft pick Billy Butler, former Rockies’ prospect Ryan Shealy and Ross Gload, an excellent bench player whom the Royals committed to with a two-year contract.

    The Detroit Bullpen

    The 2008 Detroit Tigers appear to have an offensive juggernaut. The starting rotation is solid… and possibly the deepest one-through-five in the American League Central. The bullpen, on the other hand, is a mess. Closer Todd Jones will turn 40 in April and is nowhere near overpowering or a sure thing. Set-up options Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are dealing with injuries. Matt Mantei aborted a brief comeback attempt after an injury. Zach Miner probably has a spot in the bullpen. So too does Jason Grilli, although both are also out of options.

    Beyond that, it is a crapshoot. Five players who are out of options are battling with a group of others who have minor league options remaining, including Jordan Tata (who broke a knuckle on his pitching hand last week after punching a wall) and Virgil Vasquez, who was just optioned out. But with Detroit gunning for the World Series this year, the club will no doubt take the seven best relievers north to begin the season.

    Hard-throwing Denny Bautista has always had promise but he also has a growing list of teams that have given up on him due to his lack of control. Yorman Bazardo has looked good – both in spring training and winter ball. Francisco Cruceta falls into the Bautista category but he was also very impressive in winter ball. However, he has been delayed this spring with visa issues in the Dominican Republic and should get left behind in extended spring training to begin the season.

    Non-roster Aquilino Lopez has continued his annual trend of looking amazing in spring training. Unfortunately he always follows that up with being pedestrian during the season. Lefties Bobby Seay and Tim Byrdak have an obvious advantage because southpaws are always in demand.

    The Fallen Prospects

    It is becoming harder and harder to remember when Cleveland’s Andy Marte was oozing with potential. He is very close to garnering the “bust” label. Teammate Shin-Soo Choo has been able to do nothing but watch as the Indians have brought in average veteran outfielder after average veteran outfielder (David Dellucci, Trot Nixon, non-roster Jason Tyner), trapping the former Mariner prospect in Triple-A. Choo also hasn’t been able to stay healthy and doesn’t have enough power to player everyday in right field.

    Athletic, speedy outfielder Reggie Abercrombie was unable to secure regular playing time in Florida so his chances this year in Houston are not great. He needs to make more contact, strikeout less and play to his strengths. His biggest competitions for a fourth or fifth outfielder role are Jose Cruz, Darin Erstad and maybe David Newhan.

    After Atlanta acquired slugger Mark Teixeira from Texas last year, former top prospect Scott Thorman was probably contemplating packing his bags. Consistency has eluded Thorman at the major league level and there may not be a roster spot for him this season. At least he no longer faces the threat of losing at-bats to a 48-year-old.

    The Dodgers’ Delwyn Young has done nothing but hit in the minor leagues… But he has also shown his ineptitude in the field time and time again. A fresh start in the DH-friendly American League may do wonders for his career.

    It seems like a lifetime ago that Merkin Valdez was a hard-throwing, top starting pitching prospect with the Atlanta Braves, but fast forward past a name change, Tommy John surgery and a trade to San Francisco and Valdez is hanging onto his 40-man roster spot for dear life. He still has better stuff than most of the pitchers he’s battling for a spot in the bullpen so he should break camp with the big club, if all goes well.

    The Mets’ Ruben Gotay can’t catch a break – which is good and bad news. He severely sprained his ankle and could miss a significant chunk of spring training – but at least early rumors that he had broken it were dispelled. Even after hitting .295/.351/.421 in 98 games in 2007, the Mets refused to guarantee Gotay a 2008 roster spot and the organization re-signed Jose Valentin to a minor league deal and re-signed three aging veterans to major league deals: former speedster Luis Castillo, Damion Easley and Marlon Anderson.

    St. Louis’ Outfield

    One thing is for sure: The St. Louis outfield will not strike fear in many opponents. Yes, Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan have power, but they have yet to show much else (aside from Ankiel’s cannon of an arm).

    Brian Barton is a Rule 5 pick out of Cleveland with no major league experience and Colby Rasmus is the Cardinals’ top offensive prospect, but he may not be ready for the majors before mid-season. That leaves a collection of minor league veterans battling for roles.

    Three players are out of options: Ankiel, Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick has some power but, during his previous MLB stints, he has never shown the ability to post a decent average or on-base percentage. Schumaker hits for a nice average but it’s an empty average with little power or patience at the plate. He also doesn’t steal bases very often anymore.

    San Francisco’s Outfield

    With the exit of Barry Bonds in San Francisco, there are some enormous holes in the outfield - even with the team (snicker) relying on Randy Winn and Dave Roberts to make an impact. Of the remaining MASH unit, Rajai Davis and Fred Lewis are players who are out of options.

    Davis and Lewis can play all three outfield spots and have speed. Both were also very raw when they were drafted, which is how they ran out of options but remain promising and unproven. Ideally, the Giants should purge Winn and Roberts because Davis and Lewis can likely at least match the offensive and defensive output from the veterans at a much smaller cost.

    Colorado’s Infield

    Four players battling for roster spots – and playing time at second base – in Colorado are out of options. Second baseman Jayson Nix has had one OK offensive season in four years. Clint Barmes lost his starting shortstop gig last season to Troy Tulowitzki and hasn’t done much to show that he deserves another shot at a starting role.

    Second baseman Marcus Giles is a non-roster player trying to prove he still has something to offer. Jeff Baker’s best role is probably as an outfielder, although he has experience at both first base and third base.

    Around the MinorsMarch 10, 2008
    Young Guns: NL West
    By Marc Hulet

    Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. We made it safely to the end of the six-part look at the rookies most likely to have a profound impact at the major league level in 2008. If you missed any of the previous articles, you can check them out here: AL East | AL Central | AL West | NL East | NL Central.

    National League West

    Arizona Diamondbacks

    Unlike recent years, the Diamondbacks do not appear to have any impact hitters coming up to the majors this season, after graduating players like Conor Jackson, Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds , Chris Young and Carlos Quentin, who is now with the White Sox. The D-Backs also did not do the minor league system a favor by purging a number of promising prospects for the talented Dan Haren. The club did, however, pick up a few interesting arms in the off-season trades of Jose Valverde and Alberto Callaspo. Juan Gutierrez and Billy Buckner are not All-Star arms, but they should be serviceable, middle-of-the-road arms.

    Juan Gutierrez
    Born: 7/84
    Signed: 2000 non-drafted free agent (Houston)
    2007 MLB: 5.91 ERA | 21.1 IP | 10.55 H/9 | 2.53 BB/9 | 6.75 K/9

    Gutierrez has a nice arm and a solid sinking fastball. But his secondary pitches still need work, although his change-up is plus at times. The lack of a consistent breaking ball keeps him from getting the most out of his stuff, though, as he could stand to change batters’ eye levels more often. Gutierrez did not have a great 2007 in Triple-A. He struck out only 6.75 batters per game and his walks were high at 3.63 BB/9. Regardless, the pitching-starved Astros gave him a look and, in 21.1 innings, he was just OK and showed there is work to be done. He allowed line drives at 26.1 percent and induced grounders only 33.3 percent of the time despite the good sink on his fastball. One thing to consider is that Gutierrez pitched in 2007 at a park that favors hitters. At home in Round Rock, Gutierrez allowed a line of .286/.346/.439 compared to .237/.320/.358 on the road.

    Billy Buckner
    Born: 8/83
    Drafted: 2004 2nd round (Kansas City)
    2007 MLB: 5.29 ERA | 34 IP | 9.79 H/9 | 4.24 BB/9 | 4.50 K/9

    Buckner has always allowed a lot of hits – more than one per inning (9.57 H/9) in his minor league career. But his biggest problem, until 2007, was walks. He allowed more than four walks per game while pitching in High-A ball and Double-A. Admittedly, both of those parks were hitters’ parks (especially High Desert). However, does that suggest he shied away from being aggressive against strong hitting? If so, that does not bode well for facing the likes of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. In his major league debut, Buckner did a solid job of keeping the ball on the ground (40.4 percent) but allowed line drives at a rate of 26.6 percent. He needs to improve against left-handed batters as they raked him to the tune of .310/.347/.503 at Triple-A and .314/.402/.600 at the Major League level.

    Colorado Rockies

    The Rockies have done as a good a job as any club at developing its own talent in recent years, including Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Troy Tulowitzki, Manny Corpas and Jeff Francis. 2008 should be no different as Franklin Morales could take a strangle hold on the role in the starting rotation and Jayson Nix could finally establish himself in the majors.

    Franklin Morales LHP
    Born: 1/86
    Signed: 2002 non-drafted free agent
    2007 MLB: 3.43 ERA | 39.1 IP | 7.78 H/9 | 3.20 BB/9 | 5.95 K/9

    The Rockies organization seemingly improved its pitching depth this past off-season, which means players like Morales and Juan Morillo will not be relied on quite so heavily. However, the likes of Josh Towers and Kip Wells will only see success for so long… meaning Morales is likely to secure a Major League position sooner rather than later. At Double-A in 2007, Morales was tough on both lefties (.670 OPS) and righties (.688 OPS). However, Morales had a .339 BABIP against lefties and a .247 BABIP versus against righties. The young left-hander induced groundballs in the majors almost 55 percent of the time, which is a great number… especially if you make your home in Colorado. His line drive rate was 16.6 percent. However, Morales struck out just over five batters per game in the majors after averaging between eight to 10 strikeouts per game in the minors the last two seasons. His control has always been a major issue and he posted 4.23 BB/9 at Double-A in 2007, 6.88 BB/9 at Triple-A and 3.20 BB/9 in the majors. With sharper control, Morales could be dominating.

    Jayson Nix
    Born: 8/82
    Drafted: 2001 1st round supplemental
    2007 MLB: Played at Triple-A

    A chance to play regularly in the majors has been a long time coming for Nix, a former supplemental first round pick way back in 2001. After an outstanding season in A-ball in 2003, which saw him slug more than 20 homers, Nix put too much pressure on himself and got away from his strengths. After averaging a strikeout rate of more than 20 percent earlier in his minor league career, Nix was down at 18 percent in 2007, which is acceptable… especially if playing in Colorado helps him hit 15-20 homers per year as an offensive-minded second baseman. Nix, a right-handed batter, hit both lefties and righties OK, but his OPS was slightly lower against right-handers (.812 versus .770). Average-wise, Nix is probably going to hit around .240-.250, at least early in his career, although he hit .288 in Triple-A last season. His average rebounded after he hit .230/.338/.279 in April and .242/.342/.348 in May. Nix stung the ball in both June and August and he hit 10 homers collectively in those two months suggesting he is prone to slumps and hot streaks.

    Los Angeles Dodgers

    Los Angeles has not been the most welcoming of places in recent years for rookies looking to establish themselves in the majors. And it’s not going to get any easier with Joe Torre, who favors veterans, now guiding the ship. That said, Los Angeles has some promising stars-in-the-making on the way in Andy LaRoche and Clayton Kershaw. Under Torre, though, it’s hard to know for sure just how good of a shot they’ll get. LaRoche faces stiff competition from veteran Nomar Garciaparra, but the odds of him staying healthy and on the field for even 120 games is pretty slim.

    Andy LaRoche
    Born: 8/83
    Drafted: 2003 39th round
    2007 MLB: 93 AB | .226/.365/.312

    LaRoche has more offensive potential than brother Adam, who is a solid regular for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In a brief Major League trial in 2007, though, the younger LaRoche showed that he still has some work to do. He controls the strike zone well for a power hitter and even walked more than he struck out in Double-A in 2006 (15.1 percent versus 13.9 percent in 230 at-bats). At the major league level in 2007, his strikeouts rose suddenly to 25.8 percent in 93 at-bats. LaRoche also hit almost as many groundballs as flyballs at the MLB level (41.4 percent versus 40 percent). As a power hitter, he probably wants to increase the flyball rate if he hopes to make a bigger impact in 2008. LaRoche hits both lefties and righties well and at Triple-A in 2007 he had a 1.194 OPS versus southpaws and .918 versus right-handers. Unfortunately, LaRoche's season will start late as he will be out eight to 10 weeks after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb.

    Clayton Kershaw LHP
    Born: 3/88
    Drafted: 2006 1st round
    2007 MLB: Played in minors

    Considered by many to be the best pitching prospect in the minors, Kershaw may not be there long. He is young – only 20 – but experts would not be surprised to see him in the majors in 2008, especially if an injury occurs to one or more of the Dodgers’ top five starters. At the A-ball level in 2007, Kershaw struck out 134 in 97.1 innings of work (12.39 K/9) and then skipped High-A and pitched more than 20 innings at Double-A. Kershaw’s control was a little iffy at Double-A but he otherwise dominated, allowing only 6.28 hits per game and struck out batters at a rate of 10.58 K/9. Batting averages against Kershaw have actually decreased with each promotion: from .212 at Rookie ball to .208 in A-ball to .196 in Double-A. With a little polish to his control, Kershaw should be good to go at the Major League level later this year.

    San Diego Padres

    The Padres are out to show they can do more than create outstanding bullpens; the organization has some exciting players ready to break through to the Major League level in 2008. The most notable rookies that could – and should – have an impact this year include Chase Headley and Matt Antonelli. Interestingly, both players entered pro ball as third basemen but both will be looking to play elsewhere at the Major League level – Headley in left field and Antonelli at second base.

    Chase Headley LF
    Born: 5/84
    Drafted: 2005 2nd round
    2007 MLB: 18 AB | .222/.333/.278

    Scouts always knew Headley was talented but he took his game to an all new level in 2007 and could make the jump straight from Double-A to the majors in 2008. Headley’s OPS increased significantly when he jumped from High-A ball to Double-A – from .819 to 1.008. Unfortunately, his strikeouts also rose from 19.8 percent to 26.3 percent – but with an increase in power, it’s not such a big deal (and it doesn’t hurt that he hit .330). As a switch-hitter, Headley was effective from both sides in 2007 and hit .36/.453/.679 right-handed and .308/.424/.542 from the left side. One huge caution about Headley’s high average in 2007 is that his BABIP was an astronomical .400. The power increase is probably for real – the high average is not.

    Matt Antonelli 2B
    Born: 4/85
    Drafted: 2006 1st round
    2007 MLB: Played in minors

    A lot of people had mixed reactions to Antonelli as a first round pick in 2006. Some thought he lacked the power to play third base… but that problem was quickly solved: the Padres moved him to second base. Antonelli is described as a grinder and he took to second base well, although he will probably never win a Gold Glove. The 2007 power output and high average both come with some warnings as Antonelli played in two home parks that favor hitters… so it will be interesting to see how he adapts to a much larger Major League park (although he did hit better on the road than at home in Double-A San Antonio). In his pro debut in 2006, Antonelli hit no home runs in more than 200 at-bats. In Double-A, he fared much better against right-handed pitchers (.900 versus .736 OPS in 184 AB) but it was the opposite in High-A ball (1.068 versus .859 OPS).

    San Francisco Giants

    The Giants have officially entered into the post-Bonds era and it’s not pretty. Instead of embracing a rebuilding effort, the Giants are continuing on with a roster full of position players looking for their old-age pensions. There are a few younger players filtering in - Eugenio Velez and Nate Schierholtz to name a couple – but none of them have perennial All-Star potential.

    Eugenio Velez INF
    Born: 5/82
    Signed: 2001 non-drafted free agent (Blue Jays)
    2007 MLB: 11 AB | .273/.385/.636

    Velez was stolen from the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 minor league draft (where, unlike the Rule 5 Major League draft, you don’t have to return players). No, he probably won’t be a star or perhaps not even a regular starter, but Velez could be a valuable bench player with blazing speed. Velez languished in the low minors with the Jays for a number of seasons, never getting the opportunity to play regularly as his skill set did not fit the organizational philosophy. Once he was allowed to play everyday in the Giants’ organization, though, Velez flourished and hit 20 triples and 14 homers in his first year. He was good the next year, although his power output dropped as his slugging percentage went from .557 at A-ball to .399 at High-A ball. One of the difficulties with projecting Velez is that, since coming over to the Giants, he has always been old for the league he was playing in. Although Velez only had 11 major league at-bats, his line drive rate was 50 percent and he only hit 12.2 percent of his balls on the fly – which is a great strategy for a guy with wheels.

    Nate Schierholtz OF
    Born: 2/84
    Drafted: 2003 2nd round
    2007 MLB: 112 AB | .304/.316/.402

    Schierholtz is probably the most intriguing and promising of all the young outfielders the Giants will sift through in 2008, but he still comes with some question marks. The first question is whether or not he’ll hit for enough power, after hitting only 14 and 16 homers the last two seasons in the minors. On the positive side, his slugging percentage did jump from .443 in Double-A in 2006 to .560 in Triple-A in 2007. The raw power is there, but it doesn’t show up consistently in games. The second question is whether or not Schierholtz will show enough patience in the majors after posting walk percentages of 5.4 in 2006 and 4.0 in 2007. That rate also dropped to 1.8 percent during his Major League trial. On the plus side, his strikeout totals have dropped each of the last three seasons and he is a career .305 minor league hitter. With the Giants, Schierholtz’ line drive rate was only 14.7 percent and he hit 44.2 percent of his balls on the ground.

    Thanks for reading the six-part series, which concludes with this article. Questions, comments and suggestions are always welcomed by e-mailing

    Around the MinorsMarch 05, 2008
    Young Guns: NL Central
    By Marc Hulet

    We are on the home stretch now with the fifth installment of the six-part series, which looks at the prospects most likely to make an impact in the Major Leagues in 2008. This week’s article is a breakdown of the National League Central.

    And before anyone asks, yes I did purposely omit Chicago’s Kosuke Fukudome because in my mind Japanese baseball players are not rookies and it is unfortunate that they are allowed to take the awards away from deserving first-year players. Rant over, and now back to your regularly scheduled program…

    National League Central

    Chicago Cubs

    Breaking in as a young pitcher in Chicago will not be easy this season. The Cubs have a starting rotation stacked with veterans, including Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Jon Lieber, and Ryan Dempster. Rich Hill is also guaranteed a spot. Should an injury occur to the previously mentioned players, Sean Marshall appears to be first-in-line among the younger players without a promised role. That leaves the promising Sean Gallagher waiting in the wings in Iowa but baseball is a funny game and he could be in Chicago before you know it. Geovany Soto faces a much less harrowing task when it comes to solidifying a role on the 2008 Cubs, as the catching options at the MLB level are slim.

    Geovanny Soto C
    Born: 1/83
    Drafted: 2001 11th round
    2007 MLB: 54 AB | .389/.433/.667

    After six nondescript years in the minors, Soto finally emerged as a top-flight catching prospect last season after shedding significant weight and taking the game more seriously. However, it was also his third shot at Triple-A, so some cautioned should be used before predicting multiple All-Star appearances. In his 2007 MLB trial, Soto hit well, including some solid line drives (22 percent of the time). He still doesn’t walk a lot (12.1 percent at Triple-A) but heck, who wants a catcher clogging up first base anyway? Given 400 major league at-bats in 2008, most projections (Bill James, CHONE) have Soto hitting 15-17 homers, which shouldn’t be too hard in cozy Wrigley… if Soto’s 2007 was for real. The Cubs had better hope it was for real, though, as Henry Blanco offers zip in the batter’s box and non-roster invitees J.D. Closser and Koyie Hill are not upgrades either. Jake Fox has an interesting bat, but has proven he cannot catch. Soto was impressively consistent in 2007, hitting above .300 in each month, other than May (.286). Concentration may be an issue with Soto, as he hit .268 with the bases empty and .420 with men on.

    Sean Gallagher RHP
    Born: 12/85
    Drafted: 2004 12th round
    2007 MLB: 14.2 IP | 8.59 ERA | 11.66 H/9 | 7.36 BB/9 | 3.07 K/9

    By the time April rolls around, Gallagher may be long gone from the Windy City, as his name has been linked to Brian Roberts trade rumors throughout the winter. Gallagher’s hope at landing a spot on the major league roster to begin the year is also no sure thing considering the depth of the Cubs’ starting rotation and bullpen. He’s posted some impressive minor league numbers but he probably won’t be hurt by spending some more time in Iowa. Gallagher could stand to pitch down in the zone a little more as he induced ground balls only 39.3 percent of the time. Left-handed batters performed a little bit better than righties against Gallagher at Double-A (.678 OPS versus .577). Gallagher also buckled down with runners on, holding batters to an average below .200.

    * * * * *

    Cincinnati Reds

    The Reds are absolutely stacked with rookies who could make huge impacts during the 2008 season, with Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce all close to being major league ready. I actually like Cueto a bit more than Bailey, because I have never been a huge fan of players who only view baseball as a job and were never fans of the sport – which is something Bailey stated in an interview prior to the 2004 draft. I have no statistical proof to back up my opinion, but it seems to me there would be less drive and motivation to reach one’s ceiling. I also really don’t like the idea of Dusty Baker managing a team loaded with talented youngsters… that’s a train wreck waiting to happen.

    Homer Bailey RHP
    Born: 5/86
    Drafted: 2004 1st round
    2007 MLB: 45.1 IP | 5.76 ERA | 8.54 H/9 | 5.56 BB/9 | 5.56 K/9

    Bailey failed to live up to the hype in his brief major league stay in 2007, but he wasn’t completely healthy. Reds fans should get a good look at Bailey’s impressive abilities in 2008. The right-handed flamethrower was death on lefties at Triple-A in 2007, limiting them to a line of .149/.289/.208. Like many young pitchers, Bailey is more comfortable with the bases empty and held batters to a line of .179/.266/.265 compared to .244/.343/.378 with men on. He buckled down again, though, with runners in scoring position: .175/.274/.270. While batters have never hit Bailey well at any level, including the majors (.252 AVG), he’ll need to improve his control (5.56 BB/9 in the majors, 4.28 BB/9 in Triple-A).

    Johnny Cueto RHP
    Born: 2/86
    Signed: 2004 non-drafted free agent
    2007 MLB: Played in minors

    Cueto is less heralded than teammate Bailey, but he may be just as talented when all is said and done. He currently displays better control than Bailey and Cueto’s walks actually dropped as he climbed the organizational ladder, posting ratios of 2.41 BB/9 at High-A ball (78.1 innings), 1.62 BB/9 at Double-A (61.0 innings) and 0.82 BB/9 at Triple-A (22.0 innings). In more than 160 innings pitched at three levels in 2007, Cueto managed to keep the ball in the park more often than not, allowing only 11 homers. He also kept his K/9 rate more than respectable at 8.27 K/9 in High-A ball, 11.36 in Double-A and 8.59 in Triple-A. After the season ended, Cueto continued his solid pitching in the Dominican Winter League, posting an ERA of 2.84 in 31.2 innings. He allowed 31 hits, seven walks and struck out 37. He also kept the ball on the ground and posted a 1.42 GO/AO (ground outs to air outs). Don’t be surprised, though, if Cueto has a slow start to the season in 2008 as collectively he threw 193 innings last season. It’s disappointing that Cincinnati did not do a better job of capping his innings. In the last three seasons, Cueto’s innings have climbed from 49 in 2005 to 137 to 193.

    Joey Votto 1B
    Born: 9/83
    Drafted: 2002 2nd round
    2007 MLB: 84 AB | .321/.360/.548

    With the resigning of Scott Hatteberg, the Reds have signaled that the organization will not simply hand the starting first base job to the talented Canadian rookie. To make matters even more muddled, the Reds also have non-roster invitee Andy Phillips in camp, who can play first base. The truth of the matter is, though, that even if Votto struggles a bit in his first full season, he should be able to out-produce both players. He won’t walk as consistently as Hatteberg, but Votto has recorded more than 70 walks each of the last two seasons with between 490 and 510 at-bats. He’ll need to be a little less aggressive in the majors, where he walked only 5.6 percent of the time. Votto, a former catcher, may be limited to a platoon situation early on given his Triple-A numbers in 2007: .240 versus lefties and .309 versus righties.

    Jay Bruce OF
    Born: 4/87
    Drafted: 2005 1st round
    2007 MLB: Played in minors

    An early favorite for Rookie of the Year, Bruce should be in the Reds’ opening day outfield despite his lack of experience. A monster 2007 saw the young outfielder rocket through the system, beginning the year in A-ball and ending in Triple-A. He hit more than .305 at each stop and clubbed 26 homers overall. Bruce likely won’t challenge Adam Dunn for the team lead in strikeouts, but he will collect his fair share after posting percentages of 25.0% in High-A ball, 30.3% in Double-A and 25.7% in Triple-A. His BABIP was over .400 in both his stops in High-A and Double-A. Bruce hit consistently well in Triple-A with both the bases empty (.292) and runners on base (.324). It took him a while to get warmed up in games at the Triple-A level, as he went only 5-for-56 in the first three innings.

    * * * * *

    Houston Astros

    Houston fans frustrated for years by the offensive void that is Brad Ausmus finally have hope: J.R. Towles. As well, the Astros desperately need some pitching help and there isn’t much hope in the barren minor league system… outside of flame-throwing Felipe Paulino.

    JR Towles C
    Born: 2/84
    Drafted: 2004 20th round
    2007 MLB: 40 AB | .375/.432/.575

    Towles is a solid offensive catcher who started the season in High-A ball and ended the year in the majors. He certainly did not look out of place with Houston, walking more than he struck out (only once), hitting for a high average and slugging .575 (and a line drive rate of 23.7 percent). His defence is solid, but he threw out just 28 percent of base runners on the year. Towles could stand to walk more (8.5 percent at Double-A) but he offsets that by not striking out either (16.2 percent). Towles hit left-handed pitching well at Double-A (.807 OPS) but killed right-handers (1.038 OPS).

    Felipe Paulino RHP
    Born: 10/83
    Signed: 2001 non-drafted free agent
    2007 MLB: 19.0 IP | 7.11 ERA | 10.42 H/9 | 3.32 BB/9 | 5.21 H/9

    For a guy who has reportedly hit 102 mph on the gun, Paulino does not strike out a ton (6.48 K/9 in High-A ball in 2006 and 8.84 K/9 in Double-A in 2007) and he also gives up a lot of homers (five in 19 big league innings), in part because he works up in the zone. Despite that, he induced ground balls on almost 50 percent of balls in play. Right-handed batters were all but hopeless against Paulino in Double, batting .189/.250/.254. That said, they had a .254 BABIP against him, compared to left-handers at .341, suggesting a certain amount of luck – or lack thereof.

    * * * * *

    St. Louis Cardinals

    Thanks to the recently-released Scott Spiezio, the Cardinals’ collective demons continue to haunt them in 2008. However, rookie phenom and former first round pick Colby Rasmus could give Cardinals’ fans something to get excited about in 2008. But other than that, the farm system likely will not produce any impact players this season.

    Colby Rasmus OF
    Born: 8/86
    Drafted: 2005 1st round
    2007 MLB: Played in minors

    Rasmus, like Bruce, was drafted in the first round out of high school in 2005. He also has a chance to seize a starting role in the majors out of spring training in 2008. Rasmus slugged 29 homers in Double-A in 2007 and improved his patience a bit (12.9 percent) compared to 2006 (8.7 percent in A ball, 12.3 percent in High-A ball). Unfortunately his strikeouts also rose (18.1 percent in 2006, 22.9 percent in 2007). Rasmus has an outside chance of becoming a 30-30 hitter in the future. As a left-handed batter, he needs to improve against southpaws (.246/.383/.465). Rasmus’ season numbers took a hit when he batted only .206 in June and July but he rebounded in August to hit .365/.455/.779 with 12 homers in 104 at-bats.

    * * * * *

    Milwaukee Brewers

    The one thing Milwaukee has going into 2008 is pitching depth. That depth could push major league ready Manny Parra and even Carlos Villanueva, who spent 2007 in the bullpen, to Triple-A. 2007 first round draft pick Matt LaPorta bat is almost major league ready, but he has no where to play – and left field remains a big stretch.

    Manny Parra LHP
    Born: 10/82
    Drafted: 2001 26th round
    2007 MLB: 26.1 IP | 3.76 ERA | 8.54 H/9 | 4.10 BB/9 | 8.89 K/9

    Parra has pretty much been a prospect forever but injuries have kept his promising arm in the minors until last season. He was dominating at times in 2007 and most clubs would have room for someone of with his talents, but depth issues could send Parra to Triple-A, although he will only be an injury away. In the last two seasons Parra has maintained solid K/9 rates from A-ball to Triple-A, averaging between 10.04 and 8.33 strikeouts per game. After an ugly 5.27 BB/9 in 14 A-ball starts in 2006 he has maintained reasonable walk rates between 2.30 and 2.90 in the minors. Parra’s BB/9 in the majors, though, was high at 4.10 but he balanced that out somewhat with a K/9 of 8.89. Of the balls put into play against Parra in the majors only 32.9 percent of them were on the ground so that is cause for mild concern.

    Matt LaPorta LF/1B
    Born: 1/85
    Drafted: 2007 1st round
    2007 MLB: Played in college and minors

    LaPorta, whom I interviewed for Baseball Analysts prior to the 2007 draft, is one of the nicest, well-mannered people you could ever meet. He is also one heck of a ballplayer and should open his first full pro season in 2008 in Double-A. The only thing that will keep LaPorta from making his Major League debut this season – outside of an injury - will likely be his defence. There aren’t many scouts sold on LaPorta’s work in the outfield, even though he has embraced it and worked hard to become an average left fielder - a goal that at this point is still eluding him. There aren’t a lot of pro numbers to analyze for LaPorta – he has played only 30 games in the minors. But during those 30 games, he hit 12 homers in 115 at-bats, along with a line of .318/.368/.750 in A-ball. He was a little impatient , walking only 7.4 percent of the time and striking out 25.0 percent of the time. But he is a power hitter and strikeouts will happen.

    * * * * *

    Pittsburgh Pirates

    Another year, another disappointment for the Pirates. Despite the club's mediocrity in recent years, the Pirates still haven’t graduated any significant homegrown hitting talents in recent years and 2008 may not be any different. The best hope is former first round pick Neil Walker but his prospect status took a hit when he had to move out from behind the dish. Steve Pearce, a former college senior draft pick, came out of nowhere last year and had a very encouraging season. The Pirates can only hope he doesn’t become the next Brad Eldred.

    Neil Walker 3B
    Born: 9/85
    Drafted: 2004 1st round
    2007 MLB: Played in minors

    The jury is still out on whether or not Walker will display enough usable power to be an above-average third baseman in the majors. In his last four minor league stops his slugging percentage has been: .409, .355, .462 and .250 (in 64 Triple-A at-bats). His patience has been wildly inconsistent, running as low as 3.1 percent and as high as 11.0 percent. In Double-A where he spent the majority of his time in 2007, the switch hitter hit both lefties and righties equally well, which bodes well for his future: .281/.383/.453 versus southpaws and .288/.350/.460 versus right-handers. Against better pitching in Triple-A, albeit in limited at-bats (45), Walker struggled against righties: .170/.260/.222.

    Steve Pearce 1B/LF
    Born: 4/83
    Drafted: 2005 8th round
    2007 MLB: 68 AB | .294/.342/.397

    Pearce has been fairly consistent with his walk rates the past two seasons, hovering around 9.5 percent. Encouragingly, his strikeout rates have dropped in each of his last two seasons from 20.0 percent in A-ball to about 18.0 in High A-ball to 15.5 in Double-A to 9.8 in Triple-A. But it did jump back up to 17.6 during 68 major league at-bats in 2007. Pearce is also very consistent at the plate and maintains similar numbers regardless of the situation: bases empty, runners on and runners in scoring position. He also hits both lefties and righties equally well. These numbers all bode well for Pearce’s continued success in the majors.

    Up Next: The National League West

    Around the MinorsFebruary 25, 2008
    Young Guns: NL East
    By Marc Hulet

    After breaking down the American League for the past three weeks, we now head into the National League to see what rookies may have significant impacts in the majors in 2008. Unfortunately, the NL East looks less than inspiring, although there are a few interesting names.

    National League East

    Washington Nationals

    If you are a pitcher in the Nationals’ system, you pretty much know you have a shot at pitching in the majors… as long as you have a little experience above A-Ball and a pulse. Last year’s club saw journeymen like Joel Hanrahan, Mike Bacsik and Jason Simontacchi get significant playing time. Even the most diehard Nationals’ fan probably had not heard of John Lannan before his call-up but he should be more successful in his second taste of major league life. He could be joined by fellow rookies Tyler Clippard and Collin Balester, which is good news for Washington fans because all three have higher upsides than the trio mentioned earlier.

    Collin Balester RHP
    Born: 6/86
    Drafted: 2004 4th round
    2007 MLB: Played in Double-A, Triple-A

    The surfer dude from California is primed to finally make a major league impact for the pitching-starved Nationals. Despite allowing fewer than nine hits per game in a half season of Triple-A in 2007, Balester still has some work to do. He needs to sharpen up his secondary pitches (curve and change) to go along with his fastball, which touches 95 mph, and he needs to cut down on walks. His control was excellent in Double-A (2.28 BB/9) but it jumped significantly in Triple-A (4.01 BB/9). Balester struggled a bit against lefties in Triple-A and Double-A, allowing batting averages of .291 and .282, compared to .239 and .244 against righties. To be successful at the major league level as a starter, he also needs to improve on his conditioning and stamina. At Triple-A in 2007, opponents hit just .038/.242/.077 against him in the first inning, followed by .258/.359/.387 in the second, and .281/.324/.344 in the third. The numbers then jump significantly to .342/.405/.553 in the fourth, .296/.345/.481 in the fifth and .353/.429/.529 in the sixth.

    Tyler Clippard RHP
    Born: 2/85
    Drafted: 2003 9th round
    2007 MLB: 27.0 IP | 6.33 ERA | 9.67 H/9 | 5.67 BB/9 | 6.00 K/9

    A trade from the New York Yankees to the Washington Nationals was probably the best thing that could have happened for Clippard’s career. Not only did he escape from behind the logjam of talented starting prospects including Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Philip Hughes and Alan Horne, but he also heads to a league where his average fastball will be less of a detriment (God bless pitchers batting). Unfortunately, Triple-A hitters also gave Clippard troubles last season and he was demoted to Double-A. Looking at his minor league career as a whole, though, you have to be encouraged by his 3.52 ERA, fewer than nine hits per game (7.91 H/9) and more than nine strikeouts per game (9.46 K/9). A high BABIP (.352) may have negatively and unfairly affected Clippard’s Triple-A numbers to a degree but 82 hits in 67.2 innings is not good no matter how you slice it. Even so, Clippard could be as good or better than some of the pitchers who made starts for the Nationals in 2007.

    John Lannan LHP
    Born: 9/84
    Drafted: 2005 11th round
    2007 MLB: 34.2 IP | 4.15 ERA | 9.35 H/9 | 4.41 BB/9 | 2.60 K/9

    Lannan was one of those few prospects who slipped by unnoticed by most prospect evaluators before the 2007 season. The 6-5 lefty from Siena College (where?), who was taken in the 11th round in 2005, rocketed through the minors in only his second full season and made six starts for Washington, holding his own although showing his command needs work. All in all, Nationals’ fans cannot complain, though, considering 2005 first round college pitcher picks Ricky Romero, Wade Townsend, Cesar Carrillo, Brian Bogusevic, and Jacob Marceaux have yet to make one major league appearance between them. At the major league level, Lannan managed to get batters to beat the ball into the ground more than 50 percent of the time. Unfortunately, during five stops over the past two years, Lannan’s K/9 ratio has dropped each time: 7.43 in A-Ball, 6.22 in High A-Ball, 5.00 in Double-A, 4.50 in Triple-A and only 2.60 in the majors. Lannan won’t win the Cy Young award in 2008, but he’s a big, tall lefty with average stuff and a respectable track record.

    * * * * *

    Florida Marlins

    An optimistic person would look at the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis trade and say, “Wow, we just turned two players we couldn’t afford to keep past free agency into six promising prospects.” A pessimist (or realist) would say, “Wow, we gave away one Superstar and another solid left-handed starter and received two good young players, who we can keep for three to four years before they become too expensive in arbitration.” Those two players are, of course, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, who is no longer rookie eligible. After debuting a number of young players the past two years, the Marlins will only give significant playing time to one rookie in 2008: Maybin.

    Cameron Maybin OF
    Born: 4/87
    Drafted: 2005 1st round
    2007 MLB: 49 AB | .143/.208/.265

    Maybin has the potential to make the blockbuster off-season trade with the Tigers hurt a little less. But as the Tigers learned, he’s probably not quite ready for the majors. Regardless, management has to show that the trade was not a complete loss, so he will likely be rushed to the majors in 2008 and should experience a number of growing pains. With only six games above A-Ball, the Tigers brought Maybin up to the majors last year and he struggled with 21 strikeouts in 49 at-bats. Strikeouts were also a problem in the minors as Maybin’s percentages were 30.1% in A-Ball, 28.0 in High A-Ball and 30.0 in his brief time at Double-A. He also hit line drives only 3.6 percent of the time during his time with the big club. On the positive side, the Marlins – with Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Jeremy Hermida in the line-up - should be able to survive Maybin’s offensive shortcomings. You just have to hope the struggles won’t affect his game long-term.

    * * * * *

    Atlanta Braves

    With the Mets favored to run away with the NL East title in 2008, many expect the remaining clubs to take aim at the wildcard spot. The Braves, still getting used to no longer being the favorites in the east, have the potential to welcome some young players onto the 25-man roster in 2008, including Jair Jurrjens into the starting rotation. With the reliability of left fielder Matt Diaz and the health of center fielder Mark Kotsay up in the air, Brandon Jones could see significant playing time.

    Jair Jurrjens RHP
    Born: 1/86
    Signed: 2003 non-drafted free agent
    2007 MLB: 30.2 IP | 4.70 ERA | 7.04 H/9 | 3.23 BB/9 | 3.82 K/9

    Acquired from Detroit in the Edgar Renteria deal, Jurrjens will battle the perennially injured Mike Hampton for a position in the starting rotation. Even if he doesn’t break camp with the club, Jurrjens should be the first pitcher recalled when Hampton does inevitably go down. During his last three stops dating back to 2006, Jurrjens posted consistent strikeout ratios of 7.21, 7.12 and 7.51 K/9. However, that number dropped to 3.82 during his major league trial last season. In the majors, Jurrjens was able to fool hitters and allowed only 24 hits in 30.2 innings, but he walked too many (11, or 3.23 BB/9) and struck out too far few (13, or 3.82). As a flyball pitcher (44.3 flyball percentage versus 38.1 groundball percentage), Jurrjens will need to get a few more swings and misses to make a solid impact.

    Brandon Jones LF
    Born: 12/83
    Signed: 2003 24th round
    2007 MLB: 19 AB | .158/.190/.211

    Jones appears to be ready to play everyday in the majors, but Diaz’ solid 2007 probably means that Jones will start the year on the bench or playing regularly in Triple-A. The good news for Jones is that Diaz might be better off as a bench player, which means the youngster could be playing left field for Atlanta sooner rather than later. The real knock on Jones is that he does everything well, but nothing really well. He doesn’t really possess enough power for an elite corner outfielder, but his defence is not strong enough for center field. He hits for a respectable average, but he doesn’t walk enough and he strikes out too much for his modest power production. During his brief MLB trial in 2007, Jones’ flyball ratio was remarkably low at only 25 percent.

    * * * * *

    Philadelphia Phillies

    With the recent addition of starting pitcher Kris Benson to a minor league contract, the Phillies have about six starters to choose from, assuming everyone is healthy by the end of spring training – a big if with Benson. However, if top prospect Carlos Carrasco can show some consistency at Double-A in the first few months, he could see significant time in the rotation during the remainder of the season. Catcher Jason Jaramillo could also be in position to wrestle playing time away from both incumbent catchers Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz, both of whom are really complimentary players.

    Carlos Carrasco RHP
    Born: 3/87
    Signed: 2003 non-drafted free agent
    2007 MLB: Played in High-A, Double-A

    As mentioned above, the need to hurry Carrasco has been lessened, but the likes of Benson and Adam Eaton won’t keep him down for long. Carrasco has been moved through the system aggressively and has responded well, although his numbers did dip noticeably in Double-A. The biggest warning sign was the increase in his walk ratio (5.89 BB/9). That obviously has to improve. Although Carrasco handles lefties almost as well as righties in terms of batting average allowed (.252 vs LH, .248 vs RH at Double-A), lefties are much more successful at getting on base and hitting the ball hard .855 OPS vs .690 OPS at Double-A), which is something the soon-to-be 21 year old will have to work on. If Carrasco can show improvements in the first half of 2008, don’t be surprise to see him recalled in July or August to add fuel to the Phillies’ playoff run.

    Jason Jaramillo C
    Born: 10/82
    Drafted: 2004 2nd round
    2007 MLB: Played in Triple-A

    Since both Ruiz and Coste bat right-handed, Jaramillo’s switch-hitting ways could come in handy, especially considering the youngster hit .295/.361/.374 against southpaws at Triple-A in 2007. Ruiz, who should receive more playing time behind the dish than the more versatile Coste, hit only .189/.265/.311 versus lefties in 2007. Aside from a terrible May (.143/.233/.198 in 91 at-bats), Jaramillo showed consistency throughout the season.

    * * * * *

    New York Mets

    The Mets are beginning to look a lot like the Yankees… by clubbing the rest of the organizations in their division with their checkbook. Mind you, the Mets are arguably more talented on the field at this point with the Yankees aging and a number of young players unproven. As a result of recent acquisitions, such as that minor trade that netted one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Mets do not appear as though they will entrust significant playing time to any rookies in 2008, barring a run on catastrophic injuries.

    Next Up: The National League Central

    Around the MinorsFebruary 21, 2008
    Young Guns: AL West
    By Marc Hulet

    We’re back with the third installment of Baseball Analysts’ look at the rookies most likely to have an impact in the majors in 2008. The American League West will continue to feature mostly veteran teams in 2008, with one notable exception – the Oakland Athletics organization, which has jumped feet-first into a rebuilding mode. Oakland could have as many as six rookie play key roles on the club for the majority of the season.

    American League West

    Los Angeles Angels

    The Angels club, in recent years, has been a veteran team that has always made room for talented youngsters, such as Casey Kotchman, Howie Kendrick and Jered Weaver. This year will be no different as the club needs to finally find room for slugging prospect Brandon Wood, who could play either shortstop or third base.

    Brandon Wood SS
    Born: 3/85
    Drafted: 2003 1st round
    2007 MLB: 33 AB | .152/.152/.273

    Worst case scenario, Wood could be the next Mark Bellhorn. Best case scenario, he could play adequate defence while providing 30 homers annually. First things first, though, as Wood will have to beat out fellow youngster Erick Aybar for the position vacated by Orlando Cabrera, who is now in the Windy City. Wood certainly offers more offensive potential than Aybar, who is more of a defensive-minded gap-hitter that relies on speed. Some caution is obviously due, as Wood struck out 32.9 percent of the time at Double-A in 2006 and 27.5 percent of the time in Triple-A in 2007. As well, during his 13-game MLB stint in 2007, he had a low line-drive rate at only 9.5 percent and hit groundballs 52.4 percent of the time, with neither number being impressive for a power hitter.

    * * * * *

    Oakland Athletics

    As mentioned above, the A's have a plethora of talent ready to solidify themselves as major league players. The club received an impressive haul of talent prospects this past off-season, at the expense of veterans Nick Swisher, Dan Haren and Mark Kotsay. The club also received a number of interesting prospects not mentioned below, who are a few years away from reaching their potential in the majors. The rookies most likely to impact the big league club in 2008 are: Dan Meyer, Joey Devine, Daric Barton, Ryan Sweeney, Carlos Gonzalez, and Gio Gonzalez.

    Dan Meyer LHP
    Born: 7/81
    Drafted: 2002 1st round
    2007 MLB: 16.1 IP | 8.82 ERA | 11.02 H/9 | 4.96 BB/9 | 6.06 K/9

    A significant drop in velocity plagued Meyer in 2006 during his debut with the Oakland organization after being a top prospect in the Braves’ system before coming over in the Tim Hudson trade. He rebounded somewhat in 2007, has learned to pitch without his peak velocity and has positioned himself to win one of the vacant rotation spots created by Oakland’s fire sale. Meyer’s high walk ratios and diminishing strikeout numbers suggest he won’t be an impact starter, but he could eat 170-180 innings as a fourth or fifth starter. Yes, there are more promising starters in the system, such as the hurlers obtained for Swisher, but Meyer is the closest to making an impact.

    Joey Devine RHP
    Born: 9/83
    Drafted: 2005 1st round
    2007 MLB: 8.1 IP | 1.08 ERA | 7.56 H/9 | 8.64 BB/9 | 7.56 K/9

    Devine was drafted in the first round by the Braves in 2005 with the thought he was almost major league ready. But like a number of other “advanced college relievers” such as Ryan Wagner, Bill Bray and Craig Hansen, Devine has found pro ball a little more challenging than expected. The big concern with Devine is his command. If Devine could face right-handed batters all the time, he would be a very dominating reliever, as they hit only .169/.235/.221 against him in 77 Double-A at-bats this year and .140/.159/.256 in 43 Triple-A at-bats. His BB/9 against left-handed batters in Double-A was 6.97 (compared to 1.66 against righties) and at Triple-A it was 5.9 (compared to 0.69 against righties).

    Daric Barton 1B
    Born: 8/85
    Drafted: 2003 1st round
    2007 MLB: 72 AB | .347/.429/.639

    Barton doesn’t have the air of a perennial All-Star (it’s too bad he couldn’t stick as a catcher), but he should be a solid, dependable regular - and perhaps a little better than some expect. The biggest knock on Barton is his lack of 30-homer power as a first baseman and he certainly isn’t going to slug .639 as he did in his 18-game MLB trial in 2007. Throughout his minor league career, Barton has shown that he will hit for a good average, drive in runs and get on base. The left-handed batter can also handle southpaws respectably so he should be able to take the field on an everyday basis.

    Ryan Sweeney CF
    Born: 2/85
    Drafted: 2003 2nd round
    2007 MLB: 45 AB | .200/.265/.333

    Sweeney, a former top prospect of the White Sox, has fallen on hard times and fell out of favor with his former club after stalling in Triple-A. His swing got messed up in 2007 and he was having difficulty making consistent, hard contact. A change of scenery may be just what the doctor ordered, though. Sweeney could also find himself as a platoon outfielder, having hit just .237/.322/.281 against Triple-A lefties last year. His line against righties - .281/.351/.449 – was respectable. On the positive side, he did handle lefties better earlier in his career. During his two brief MLB trials, Sweeney hit the ball on the ground 55.9 percent of the time, which is an encouraging sign given his lack of usable power.

    Carlos Gonzalez CF
    Born: 10/85
    Signed: 2002 non-drafted free agent
    2007 MLB: Played in Double-A/Triple-A

    The trade from Arizona to Oakland likely did wonders for Gonzalez, who goes from an organization with a glut of outfielders to a club with a wide-open battle for outfield playing time. In a perfect world, Gonzalez could use some more minor league seasoning since he has only 42 at-bats above Double-A. And his numbers at Double-A (.286/.333/.476) can be described as good, but not great. The All-Star potential is there, but he walked only 6.5 percent of the time at Double-A to go along with a strikeout rate of 22.5 percent. The left-handed batter also struggled against southpaws to the tune of .213/.247/.331. Gonzalez did make adjustments as the year progressed, though. After hitting .210/.250/.346 in April and .267/.273/.362 in May, he slugged .344/.410/.622 in July and .338/.395/.494 in August before a late-season promotion to Triple-A.

    Gio Gonzalez LHP
    Born: 9/85
    Drafted: 2004 1st round
    2007 MLB: Played in Double-A

    Gonzalez’ head might still be spinning. Initially signed by the White Sox, he was then traded to Philadelphia, then back to Chicago and then most recently to Oakland. On the plus side, it shows he’s a wanted commodity, which isn’t surprising given he’s left-handed with above-average stuff. He repeated Double-A as a 21-year-old in 2007 and dominated, leading the minors in strikeouts with 185 in 150 innings. Gonzalez, like his outfielder namesake (although no relation), would likely be best suited by spending some time in Triple-A but the starting rotation cupboard is nearly bare in Oakland. His walk ratios have been too high in Double-A the last two seasons (4.71, 3.42 BB/9), which could create some growing pains in the majors. Gonzalez has performed well against both right-handed and left-handed batters in his career. In 2007, left-handed batters hit .217/.277/.309 and right-handed batters hit .213/.294/.316.

    * * * * *

    Seattle Mariners

    Like Los Angeles, the Mariners are traditionally a veteran club. The club traded away its top young player recently in Adam Jones. The club's top rookie, though, is still in the fold: Jeff Clement, and he could very well be in the running for Rookie of the Year in 2008.

    Jeff Clement C/DH
    Born: 8/83
    Drafted: 2005 1st round
    2007 MLB: 16 AB | .375/.474/.813

    The Mariners were somewhat criticized for paying through the nose recently for Canadian left-hander Erik Bedard but the club managed to hold on to its No. 1 prospect. The issue with Clement, though, is that he has nowhere to play with Kenji Johjima entrenched behind the dish in Seattle. As a result, Clement’s value could take a bit of a hit in 2008 as he seeks at-bats at first base and designated hitter. Although he has more than enough bat to play at either spot, there is some danger of his catching skills getting rusty. Clement showed improved plate discipline in 2007 at Triple-A, walking 15.8 percent of the time. Clement held his own against right-handed pitching, but he creamed lefties to the tune of .317/.427/.675 in 126 at-bats.

    * * * * *

    Texas Rangers

    Traditionally, Texas' starting pitching prospects burn brightly in the minors for a year or two and then quickly fade into obscurity. The organization can only hope the same cannot be said for top pitching prospect Eric Hurley, who is poised to make an impact in the starting rotation in 2008.

    Eric Hurley RHP
    Born: 9/85
    Drafted: 2004 1st round
    2007 MLB: Played in Double-A/Triple-A

    The Rangers’ biggest Achilles heel in recent years has been pitching. Hurley could be a homegrown solution to that problem, which is something the Rangers don’t currently have. While the Rangers have done a nice job developing relievers (C.J. Wilson, Joaquin Benoit, Wes Littleton, Kameron Loe), the projected rotation features three free agent signees (Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Jason Jennings) and two pitchers obtained via trades (Kason Gabbard, Brandon McCarthy). And worse yet, all five pitchers’ numbers dipped significantly after becoming Rangers. As a result, it won’t be a surprise to see Hurley in Texas sooner rather than later. He handled left-handed batters in Triple-A well: .176/.286/.380. It could be a bumpy first year in the majors, though, as he allowed a few too many homers in Triple-A in 2007 (13 in 73.1 innings) and his BB/9 was a little high (3.44). Batters also hit below .300 against Hurley in the first four innings of the game, but batted more than .350 from the fifth innings on. The talent, though, is there to weather the storm.

    Next up: National League East

    Around the MinorsFebruary 14, 2008
    Young Guns: AL Central
    By Marc Hulet

    Last week we took a look at the key rookies expected to make significant impacts at the major league level in 2008 in the American League East. This week, we continue with the AL Central where the young players are just as plentiful but, overall, lack the ceilings of their counterparts in the east.


    Minnesota Twins

    Despite losing a good chunk of major league talent from 2007, the Twins do not have a lot of impact rookies ready to help the club battle for a playoff position in 2008. However, both Philip Humber and Carlos Gomez figure to get long looks in spring training. There are some interesting players at lower rungs in the system and a good number of sleepers who could take big steps forward in 2008.

    Philip Humber RHP
    Born: 12/82
    Drafted: 2004 1st round
    2007 MLB: 7 IP | 7.71 ERA | 11.57 H/9 | 2.57 BB/9 | 2.57 K/9

    Yes the Twins lost perhaps the best pitcher in baseball this past off-season in Johan Santana but they did receive some talented rookies who should be poised to contribute at the beginning of 2008. Humber is a former top college starting pitcher who has lost some of his luster due to injuries. No longer a projected No. 1 starter, Humber falls more comfortable in the No. 3 or 4 starter mold. The flyball pitcher should be aided by his home ballpark and his minor league numbers have always been solid. At Triple-A in 2007 Humber posted 7.77 K/9 innings and 2.85 BB/9, both of which are respectable… and that is the exact type of performance fans should expect in 2008: Respectable, albeit unspectacular. Nick Blackburn has a shot to beat out Humber for the fifth spot in the rotation but Minnesota might feel the need to show fans that they did in fact receive some value for Santana, so Humber has the edge.

    Carlos Gomez CF
    Born: 12/85
    Drafted: 2002 undrafted free agent
    2007 MLB: 125 AB | .232/.288/.304

    Oddly the Twins traded away one of the best pitchers in baseball but did not get back a proven major league regular OR an organization’s top prospect, which would have been the Mets’ Fernando Martinez. But Gomez is a close second and is loaded with potential. The problem is that he is still rather raw – but probably advanced enough to win one of the Twins’ starting outfield roles. The biggest problem with Gomez right now is that as someone who needs to use his speed to succeed, he strikes out too much (22.6 percent in Double-A in 2006, and 21.6 percent in the majors in 2007) and fails to walk enough for a top-of-the-order player (5.9 percent, 6.0 percent). On the plus side, during his MLB debut in 2007, Gomez hit the ball on the ground 45.5 percent of the time, which is good to see for a player who does not rely on power.

    * * * * *

    Chicago White Sox

    According to numerous experts in minor league baseball, including Baseball America, the White Sox have one of the worst systems in baseball so it should come as no surprise that there is little help on the way from the farm system. General manager Kenny Williams certainly has his work cut out for him if and when injuries begin to crop up. Despite being a former first round pick, Lance Broadway is not a prospect you want to rely on too heavily.

    Lance Broadway RHP
    Born: 8/83
    Drafted: 2005 1st round pick
    2007 MLB: 10.1 IP | 0.87 ERA | 4.35 H/9 | 4.35 BB/9 | 12.19 K/9

    Labeled as a “safe first-round pick” in 2005, Broadway’s stuff has always been a little lacking to be an impact starter at the major league level, despite his gaudy major league numbers in September 2007. Regardless, he should comfortable slide in as the White Sox’ No. 5 starter in 2008 – or he could possibly be shifted to the role of long reliever. There are a number of warnings signs associated with Broadway though, which cloud his 2008 potential. Firstly, his minor league numbers are average and he has allowed more than a hit per inning in his career (9.44 H/9 to be exact). He has also averaged only 6.88 K/9 as a soft-tossing righty who rarely breaks 90 mph. That wouldn’t be so bad if he were a groundball pitcher, but that hasn’t been the case. During his September call-up, Broadway induced groundballs only 36.4 percent of the time, and gave up a disturbingly high number of line drives (27.3 percent) suggesting he wasn’t fooling a lot of batters. He also had a low BABIP at .248.

    * * * * *

    Cleveland Indians

    The Indians will see some youth among its pitching staff in 2008 as a number of youngsters look for a regular major league paycheck. The presence of pitchers such as C.C. Sabathia, Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook mean that the Indians can ease the rookies in without fear of overexposure. Pitching continues to be the Tribe's strength with Jensen Lewis, Adam Miller and Aaron Laffey likely playing large roles with the club in 2008.

    Jensen Lewis RHP
    Born: 5/84
    Drafted: 2005 3rd round
    2007 MLB: 29.1 | 2.15 ERA | 7.98 H/9 | 3.07 BB/9 | 10.43 K/9

    A starter prior to 2007, Lewis found his niche in the bullpen last year. As a starter, Lewis was far more hittable and averaged more than a hit per inning in two minor league seasons. Then in 2007, at three different levels including the majors, Lewis averaged 6.43 hits per nine innings. Even with his success at the major league level in 2007, Lewis still allowed a BABIP of .339, which suggests there is still room for improvement on his numbers. He could evolve into an excellent set-up man, especially if he can induce a few more groundball outs (32.5 percent in 2007).

    Adam Miller RHP
    Born: 11/84
    Drafted: 2003 1st round
    2007 MLB: Played in Triple-A

    The former first round pick and perennially No. 1 prospect has had his ascent to the majors slowed by a variety of injuries. However, if he is deemed healthy in 2008, he is expected to win a major league bullpen role. In his last two minor league seasons (at Double-A in 2006 and Triple-A in 2007), Miller has averaged more than nine strikeouts per nine innings and walked fewer than three batters per nine innings. Batters also beat the ball into the ground against Miller, as he induced grounders 53 percent of the time in 2007 at Triple-A and 55 percent at Double-A in 2006. Strikeout pitchers who keep the ball on the ground are always a good bet for success.

    Aaron Laffey LHP
    Born: 4/85
    Drafted: 2003 16th round
    2007 MLB: 49.1 | 4.56 ERA | 9.85 H/9 | 2.19 BB/9 | 4.56 K/9

    Laffey could be the player keeping the No. 5 starter role warm for Miller in 2008. Long term, Laffey does not look like an impact starter, as he has only once averaged more than seven strikeouts per nine innings in a full minor league season. One very encouraging sign for the soft-tossing lefty, though, is that he induced groundballs 62.4 percent of the time during his 2007 major league trial. If he can continue that trend, as well as keep the walks down as he did in 2007 (2.19 BB/9) then Laffey could be laughin’ in 2008.

    * * * * *

    Kansas City Royals

    No longer satisfied to save money and languish at the bottom of the division, the Royals have begun to infuse the roster with veteran talent such as Gil Meche, Ron Mahay and Jose Guillen. That is probably good for fans, although it means fewer opportunities for young players in the system, which has recently graduated studs such as Alex Gordon and Billy Butler.

    Luke Hochevar RHP
    Born: 9/83
    Drafted: 2006 1st overall pick
    2007 MLB: 12.2 IP | 2.13 ERA | 7.82 H/9 | 2.84 BB/9 | 3.55 K/9

    Hochevar’s minor league numbers have been good… but not quite what you’d expect from the No. 1 overall pick from 2006. It’s possible that he might be one of those rare players who plays better under constant scrutiny and glare of the spotlight (like Florida’s Hanley Ramirez) or perhaps he was just a little overrated. Hochevar’s Triple-A numbers in 2007 left a strange taste in many talent evaluators’ mouths. His K/9 ratio was only 6.83 and he allowed 11 homers in only 58 innings. His strikeout ratio continued to drop at the major league level and bottomed out at 3.55. However, his other numbers improved in The Show and he induced grounders at a rate of 63.4 percent. He also allowed line drives less than 10 percent of the time suggesting hitters were not squaring up the ball overly well. So basically, what does all this mean? Going into 2008, I’d suggest the nickname The Enigma. But Kansas City sorely needs Hochevar to rise to the occasion and seize a rotation spot.

    * * * * *

    Detroit Tigers

    One of the busiest teams this past off-season, the Tigers organization has transformed its roster into a veteran powerhouse club. No rookie projects to make a major impact on the team early on in the season, although there are ample opportunities in the bullpen.

    Next up: The American League West

    Around the MinorsFebruary 07, 2008
    Young Guns: AL East
    By Marc Hulet

    Every season Major League Baseball teams receive contributions from some likely and not-so-likely minor league sources. The 2008 season stands to be no different, although baseball fans are not likely to see as large an influx of immediate-impact talent as was seen last season with top prospects making their debuts, such as Ryan Braun, Dustin Pedroia, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Troy Tulowitzki and Hunter Pence.

    Regardless, according to an article by Dave Studenmund in The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2008 (If you haven't already ordered a copy, go do so), the average age of major league baseball players is taking a dip for the first time in about 40 years, which suggests teams are relying more heavily on younger players.

    The big question heading into 2008 is: Which rookies will have the biggest impacts this season?


    Baltimore Orioles

    With the winter winding down, the Orioles have already cast off some key 2007 contributors, including ace pitcher Erik Bedard who technically has not been traded yet, key offensive cog Miguel Tejada and sometime-sparkplug Corey Patterson. Waiting in the wings to replace those players are left-handed starter Troy Patton, shortstop Luis Hernandez and centerfielder Adam Jones, who is rumored to be on the way from Seattle.

    Troy Patton LHP
    Born: 9/85
    Drafted: 2004 9th round
    2007 MLB: 12.2 IP | 3.55 ERA | 7.11 H/9 | 2.84 BB/9 | 5.68 K/9

    Patton was obtained from the Houston Astros in the Tejada trade this past winter. He doesn’t project to be an ace like the man he is more or less replacing, but Patton has the ceiling of a No. 3 – possibly a No. 2 – starter. Although Patton faired well in 12.2 innings with Houston in 2007, some of his career numbers suggest that 2008 might be a bumpy time for the young hurler. In each of his last three promotions – from High-A ball to Triple-A – Patton’s strikeouts-per-nine-innings (K/9) ratio has dipped each time from 9.06 to 7.35 to 6.07 to 4.59. Over the span of a 200-inning season, using his Triple-A ratio, Patton would strike out only 111 batters. Add in the fact that he was a flyball pitcher in Triple-A (GB% = 39%) and the majors (GB% = 27%), and he had low BABIPs (Triple-A = .262, MLB = .194) and you have the potential for a combustible rookie season.

    Luis Hernandez SS
    Born: 6/84
    Signed: undrafted free agent
    2007 MLB: 69 AB | .290/.300/.362

    The slick-fielding Hernandez was claimed off waivers by the Orioles from the Atlanta Braves previous to the 2007 season. He certainly won’t resemble Tejada with the bat but he should improve upon Tejada’s dwindling defensive prowess. Unfortunately, Hernandez’ defence is unlikely to make up for his lack of offensive talent. With a career minor league line of .250/.299/.325, the shortstop has a long way to go to be league average. The switch hitter also struggles when batting left-handed, which he will do the majority of the time, and managed only a .218 average in 261 Double-A at-bats in 2007.

    Adam Jones CF
    Born: 8/85
    Drafted: 2003 1st round
    2007 MLB: 65 AB | .246/.300/.400

    Allegedly soon to be acquired as the centerpiece in the upcoming Erik Bedard deal, Jones (who is nine at-bats over technically being a rookie, but what the heck he's topical) will take over centerfield for departed free agent Patterson. A right-handed batter, Jones hit both right-handed (0.955 OPS) and left-handed pitchers (1.003 OPS) equally well in 2007 at the Triple-A level. His power is developing and the athletic Jones has taken well to the outfield after being drafted as a shortstop. The biggest weakness in his game, offensively, appears to be his plate discipline as he walked only 7.9 percent of the time, while striking out 25.2 percent of the time. He also had a high BABIP at .370. Jones should be able to duplicate or better Patterson’s 2007 line of .269/.304/.386 but he won’t be as explosive on the base paths.

    * * * * *

    Boston Red Sox

    The powerhouse Boston Red Sox chose to stand pat – for the most part – during the off-season, making minor alterations rather than retooling altogether. The reason for that partially comes from the fact the club has a nice wave of young talent bubbling to the major league surface. 2007 AL Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia should be joined by fellow youngsters Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz, as Boston commits regular playing time to a number of unproven , but talented, players.

    Jacoby Ellsbury CF
    Born: 9/83
    Drafted: 2005 1st round
    2007 MLB: 116 AB | .353/.394/.509

    If you didn’t know the former first-round pick’s name before the 2007 season, you do now. Not only was Ellsbury a force to be reckon with as the season wore down but his name surfaced in every Johan Santana trade article written this past off-season. Ellsbury received regular playing time late in 2007 and hit .353/.394/.509 in 116 at-bats. He then parlayed that success into a .360/.429/.520 line, including .438/.500/.688 in the World Series, showing he is one young player that will not wilt under pressure. Ellsbury is easily a Rookie of the Year favorite due in equally parts to his natural talent and the knowledge of his own strengths and weaknesses. He is not a power hitter and Ellsbury accepts that. In his 33 major league trial, 52.5 percent of Ellsbury’s batted balls were groundballs, while only 28.7 were flyballs. That allowed him to hit the ball on the ground and use his speed, something a lot of young players are reluctant to do. In the future, a top of the lineup featuring Ellsbury and Pedroia could be a nightmare for opposing managers and pitchers.

    Clay Buchholz RHP
    Born: 8/84
    Drafted: 2005 1st round
    2007 MLB: 22.2 IP | 1.59 ERA | 5.56 H/9 | 3.97 BB/9 | 8.74 K/9

    Buchholz obviously has a lot a talent. Not many young players throw a no-hitter in their second big league appearance, which is exactly what Buchholz did against Baltimore on Sept. 1, 2007. Buchholz has also posted stellar minor league numbers throughout his pro career since being drafted 42nd overall in 2005. He has averaged about 12 strikeouts per nine innings in his minor league career and walked fewer than three batters per nine innings, which is impressive for a power pitcher. In his brief major league trial, Buchholz also showed that he can induce both flyball and groundball outs with regularity, although he is traditionally more of a flyball pitcher. Of the rookie pitchers likely to be handed full-time gigs at the beginning of 2008, Buchholz appears set to have the most immediate success.

    * * * * *

    New York Yankees

    Even more shocking than Boston committing regular playing time to a number of rookies is the perennially veteran-laden Yankees relying heavily on young players. The 2008 Yankees will very likely have two key contributors to the pitching staff who are also Rookie of the Year eligible: Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. Second-year player Philip Hughes has only 72.2 big league innings under his belt and will join the duo as a regular contributor to the pitching staff.

    Joba Chamberlain
    Born: 9/85
    Drafted: 2006 1st round
    2007 MLB: 24.0 IP | 0.38 ERA | 4.50 H/9 | 2.25 BB/9 | 12.27 K/9

    Like Ellsbury in Boston, Chamberlain has already made a name for himself thanks to an impressive late-2007 performance, including a 0.38 ERA in 19 games. The 12 hits allowed and 34 strikeouts (12.75 K/9) in 24 innings are also impressive. The problem with projecting Chamberlain, though, is lack of a track record. The prospect was so impressive that he dominated at the major league level in his first pro season, which alone says something. And if you’ve watched him pitch, you know the ‘stuff’ is there. Two minor warning signs about Chamberlain: he was a flyball pitcher in the majors (at the rare times opponents managed to make contact against him) and the BABIP was very low at .246. That said, if Chamberlain remains in the bullpen this season, he could put up some ridiculous numbers similar to Brad Lidge in 2004 (minus the saves) and J.J. Putz in 2006 (again minus the saves thanks to the presence of Mariano Rivera).

    Ian Kennedy
    Born: 12/84
    Drafted: 2006 1st round
    2007 MLB: 19.0 IP | 1.89 ERA | 6.16 H/9 | 4.26 BB/9 | 7.11 K/9

    Kennedy does not come anywhere close to having the stuff of Hughes or Chamberlain but he has the pedigree of being a top prospect coming out of both high school and college, and he has amazing pitching instincts and abilities rarely seen in young players. With an offensive as potent as the Yankees’, young players like Kennedy can get away with a little less than on other teams where one mistake can sink you. One of the things that is most worrisome about Kennedy is that he is not likely to strike out a ton of batters at the major league level and he is also an extreme flyball pitcher. Albeit in only 19 major league innings, batted balls against Kennedy went into the air 50.9 percent of the time and another 22.6 percent were line drives. The BABIP against Kennedy have always been on the low end, including .265 at Triple-A and .237 in the majors.

    * * * * *

    Tampa Bay Rays

    With a plethora of young talent gushing through the pipelines in recent years the Rays appear set to hand a full-time job to only one rookie at the beginning of 2008: Evan Longoria. Don’t dismay though, others including shortstop Reid Brignac, outfielder Justin Ruggiano and starting pitcher Wade Davis could appear before the All-Star break.

    Evan Longoria
    Born: 10/85
    Drafted: 2006 1st round
    2007 MLB: Did not play

    The third overall pick in 2006 has a wide-open shot at the third base job for the Rays in 2008. However there are two warning signs for Longoria: He has only 104 at-bats above Double-A and he has always posted relatively high BABIP numbers, including .344 in 381 Double-A at-bats last year. Regardless, Longoria has done nothing but hit well since joining the ranks of professional baseball players and there is no reason why his success should not continue at the major league level. His debut season should fall somewhere in between those of fellow rookie third basemen Alex Gordon and Ryan Zimmerman.

    * * * * *

    Toronto Blue Jays

    The Toronto Blue Jays do not appear as though they will be relying on any rookies at the beginning of 2008 and there do not seem to be many young players waiting in the wings for full-time assignments. The club’s best prospect Travis Snider is about two years away from joining the big league outfield.

    Next up: American League Central

    Around the MinorsDecember 03, 2007
    Mining for Rule 5 Talent
    By Marc Hulet

    The Major League Baseball Rule 5 draft will soon be upon us and it continues to be one of the more popular Internet features of the off-season. Even so, the draft rarely has a profound effect on the majors, save for the occasional Dan Uggla, Josh Hamilton and Johan Santana picks.

    Major League Baseball has neutered the draft to a degree, with the new rules that came into effect before the 2006 Rule 5 draft, which allowed teams an extra year to develop their minor league players before having to make the decision to add them to the protected 40-man roster or risk losing them for a $50,000 fee (assuming the team ‘stealing’ the player keeps them in the major leagues for the entire season). Players chosen, though, can be stashed on the disabled list for a portion of the season or be sent on minor league rehab, as long as they are on the 25-man roster for a minimum of 90 days.

    If a team chooses not to retain the draft pick for the entire season, the club must pass that player through waivers and, if another club does not claim that player, he is then offered back to his original club for $25,000.

    The new regulations state that a player who was signed at the age of 19 or older must be added to the 40-man roster after four minor league seasons (formerly three) or they are subject to the draft. Those players who were signed while younger than 19 (mostly high school draft picks and Latin signees) must be added after five minor league seasons.

    In truth, most impact high school draft picks and Latin players are in the majors within four or five years of development so they are already on the 40-man roster, and the same can be said for college draft picks after four years. Regardless, there are still a few players who have fallen through the cracks and last year’s draft saw a whopping 19 players selected. There are also Triple-A and Double-A minor league versions of the Rule 5 draft but those are usually used to fill out holes in the minor league rosters, although Toronto lost a couple prospects in recent years who have some potential: pitcher Dewon Day who is now with the White Sox and second baseman Eugenio Velez who is now with the Giants. Velez is interesting in part because he was formerly known as Eugenio Vancamper but was found to be using a fake name and age during the crackdown on visas a few years go.

    Now, on to some interesting names available in the upcoming Rule 5 draft on Dec. 6:


    Justin Hedrick RHP
    San Francisco Giants
    DOB: 6/82
    Pro experience: 4 years
    2007 stats: 2.14 ERA | 71.1 IP | 55 Hits | 9.08 K/9 | 4.67 BB/9 (AA)

    Right-hander Justin Hedrick was a sixth round selection out of Northeastern University in 2004 by the Giants. He first made noise in the 2003 Cape Cod League and led the league with 68 strikeouts in 60 innings, while going 3-2, 1.96. Moved to the bullpen in pro ball, Hedrick has posted solid numbers along the way with an 88-92 mph fastball and a good slider that has two-plane depth.

    Stuart Pomeranz RHP
    St. Louis Cardinals
    DOB: 12/84
    Pro experience: 5 years
    2007 stats: 6.52 ERA | 9.2 IP | 12 Hits | 4.66 K/9 | 1.86 BB/9 (A )

    The Cardinals have taken a risk by leaving former second round draft pick Stuart Pomeranz unprotected. The former prep star missed a good portion of the 2007 season after surgery on his labrum, but he had a solid, albeit unspectacular, Arizona Fall League. In 14 innings, he walked five and struck out only three, showing his stuff is probably not all the way back. But, you have to be impressed, if that is the case, that he was able to post a 0.64 ERA and allow only nine hits. At 6-foot-7, Pomeranz has a great pitcher’s body and he can be safely stashed on the disabled list for the first part of the year, as long as he is active for the final 90 days.

    Dusty Hughes LHP
    Kansas City Royals
    DOB: 6/82
    Pro experience: 5
    2007 stats: 3.08 ERA | 108.0 IP | 98 Hits | 6.42 K/9 | 3.75 BB/9 (AA)

    Left-handers are always a popular commodity in the Rule 5 draft so expect Kansas City’s Dusty Hughes to get some consideration. On the negative side, the former Delta State University hurler is short at only 5-foot-9 and battled injuries the last two seasons. But he survived pitching in tough parks in his pro career and did very well in the lower minors. He has a 3.26 career minor league ERA and has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched despite spending time in Wichita and High Desert. After the regular season, Hughes started six games in the Arizona Fall League and allowed only 16 hits in 22 innings with a 2.47 ERA. For a team desperate for pitching, it wasn’t smart of Kansas City to risk losing Hughes. Oh, did I mention he took home the award as the top pitcher in the Arizona Fall League?

    Shane Lindsay RHP
    Colorado Rockies
    DOB: 1/85
    Pro experience: 4 years
    2007 stats: Injured

    Shane Lindsay, a former top pitching prospect of the Rockies before getting hurt, missed all of the regular season recovering from shoulder surgery. However, he pitched 18 innings in the Hawaiian baseball league and allowed only 11 hits and struck out 19. Unfortunately, he also had a 5.50 ERA, 16 walks allowed and his groundout-to-flyout ratio was 0.32. However, this may be the only opportunity teams will have to get their hands on Lindsay so they may take a flyer on him and see how he looks in spring training. In his career, Lindsay has struck out 13.72 batters per nine innings.


    Tug Hulett 2B/3B/SS
    Texas Rangers
    DOB: 2/83
    Pro experience: 4 years
    2007 stats: .275 AVG/.355 OBP/.406 SLG | 11.0 BB% | 22.1 K% (AAA)

    Former Auburn University player Tug Hulett is the son of former big leaguer Tim Hulett Sr., who spent most of his time with the White Sox and Orioles. A good bet as a utility player, Hulett has average speed and is an average athlete. However, he is an on-base machine who has always produced a solid average and could be attractive to a team like Toronto, Oakland or even St. Louis. He topped 90 walks in a minor league season in both 2005 and 2006 and spent all of 2007 playing respectable ball in Triple-A.

    James D’Antona 3B/1B/C
    Arizona Diamondbacks
    DOB: 5/82
    Pro experience: 5 years
    2007 stats: .308 AVG/.361 OBP/.499 SLG 7.6 | BB% 11.8 | K% (AAA)

    James D’Antona is a former second round pick of Arizona out of Wake Forest University. He had an OK year in Triple-A in 2007 and has always had intriguing power. D’Antona hit only 13 homers this season but added 43 doubles. He lacks a true position but he can play third base, first base and catcher. He has the potential to be a potent bench player. D’Antona doesn’t strike out as much as most power hitters and will also take a walk.

    The Blue Jays are taking a bit of a risk leaving two potential fourth outfielders available in the draft with Aaron Mathews and David Smith.

    Aaron Mathews OF
    Toronto Blue Jays
    DOB: 5/82
    Pro experience: 4 years
    2007 stats: .293 AVG/.331 OBP/.433 SLG | 5.4 BB% | 16.8 K% (AA)

    Mathews was drafted out of Oregon State and fell to the Jays in the 19th round in 2004 draft because of his size (5-9) and the fact many scouts saw him as a ‘tweener’ (not enough range to play centerfield regularly and not enough power for a regular corner spot). But Mathews, who is a high-energy player in the Aaron Rowand mold, showed this season that he can hit and batted more than .300 for much of the season before tiring late in the year and falling to .293.

    David Smith OF
    Toronto Blue Jays
    DOB: 1/81
    Pro experience: 6 years
    2007 stats: .276 AVG/.351 OBP/.512 SLG | 10.3 BB% | 22.7 K% (AA)

    Smith can also handle all three outfield spots on a regular basis although he has much more power than Mathews. Smith, who has hit 43 homers the past two seasons, made some adjustments to his approach this season at the behest of Toronto coaches and his game improved significantly, although caution must be taken as it was his second go-around in Double-A at the age of 26. His power potential just might be worth the $50,000 gamble, though.

    Chris Lubanski OF
    Kansas City Royals
    DOB: 3/85
    Pro experience: 5 years
    2007 stats: .295 AVG/.368 OBP/.490 SLG | 10.4 BB% | 17.8 K% (AA)

    Chris Lubanski was one of Kansas City’s top prospects just two years ago but has fallen out of favor and the club is gambling that he is too far away from being major league ready to stick on a MLB roster all year. The former fifth overall pick out high school hit only .208 in 168 Triple-A at-bats and it is hard to get a true read on his success at High A-Ball and Double-A because both those clubs play in extreme hitter’s parks. His tools might entice a club like Washington.

    Brian Barton OF
    Cleveland Indians
    DOB: 4/82
    Pro experience: 3 years
    2007 stats: .314 AVG/.416 OBP/.440 SLG | 9.5 BB% | 25.5 K% (AA)

    Brian Barton was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of college by Cleveland and has done nothing but hit as a pro, with a career line of .316/.416/.473. That said, he could develop into a ‘tweener,’ like Mathews but he could also serve as a very cheap and productive fourth outfield option for someone in 2008. Although he did not play for the Cleveland organization in 2004, he did sign his first pro contract then, which makes him eligible for the draft.

    Chances are that some players will be taken on Thursday that no one saw coming, as teams employ a bevy of scouts for just this type of occasion. One of the most interesting things about the Rule 5 draft is that it is so unpredictable and you never know when your club might find (or lose) the next Johan Santana.

    Around the MinorsAugust 07, 2007
    Draft Deadline Looms Large Pt. 2
    By Marc Hulet

    Major League Baseball teams have just over a week to get their remaining 2007 draft picks signed, or they will lose all rights to those players.

    Two weeks ago I took a look at the five teams who had, in my humble opinion, the best drafts. Those teams included Texas, Toronto, Arizona, Cincinnati and Washington.

    Last week I analyzed the remaining American League teams to see who remained unsigned with the impending Aug. 15 signing deadline. This week I am taking a look at the remaining National League teams.

    National League East

  • Atlanta Braves: Atlanta's first round pick Jason Heyward has yet to sign a pro contract but word is that a deal is waiting to be announced. The prep Georgia outfielder is a very talented player but is also considered raw. Heyward has plus-plus raw power. The other top pick yet to be signed is college reliever Joshua Fields, who will become the third Josh Fields in professional baseball when he signs. Once (and if) he signs, Fields is expected to move quickly.

  • Florida Marlins: Top pick Matt Dominguez has a commitment to Cal State Fullerton but he is expected to sign by the deadline. Although he played some shortstop in high school, Dominguez is expected to man the hot corner in pro ball. He is extremely talented but many believe his stance at the plate must be overhauled. The Marlins have also not signed their second (Mike Stanton, 1B, prep), third (Jameson Smith, C, Community College) and sixth (Taiwan Easterling, OF, prep) round picks.

  • New York Mets: The Mets have signed their first 11 picks. The lowest unsigned pick is ninth round junior college hurler Michael Olmstead.

  • Philadelphia Phillies: With the recent signing of college hurler Joe Savery, the Phillies have locked up their first three picks. Third round high school pitcher Brandon Workman is the highest unsigned pick.

  • Washington Nationals: The former Montreal Expos franchise is still trying to lock up two very talented, young prep pitchers: Josh Smoker (supplemental first round) and Jack McGeary (sixth round), who fell due to signability concerns. If the Nationals can get those two players signed, the future will look much brighter on the mound in Washington.

    National League Central

  • Chicago Cubs: Top pick Josh Vitters remains unsigned but he is expected in the fold by Aug. 15. The third overall pick should be an impact player in four to five years. The Cubs have signed all of their other picks through the 11th round.

  • Cincinnati Reds: College hitter Blake Stouffer (fourth round) and Canadian prep pitcher Evan Hildenbrandt (sixth round) are the top remaining picks who have yet to sign. Of the two, Stouffer is the most likely to sign by Aug. 15.

  • Houston Astros: This draft looks ugly. In recent years, the Astros have not put much emphasis on the draft, for whatever reason. This year they lacked first and second round selections. They also have yet to sign their third (Derek Dietrich, 3B, prep) and fourth (Brett Eibner, RHP, prep) round picks. It appears as though it will continue to be free agents or bust for Houston (although you have to give them credit for developing Hunter Pence).

  • Milwaukee Brewers: With no second round pick, the Brewers made a splash by taking college slugger Matt LaPorta with their first round selection. LaPorta and the remaining picks through the 10th round have all signed on the dotted line.

  • Pittsburgh Pirates: The hapless Pirates have signed all of their picks from the first 10 rounds, including first round pick Daniel Moskos, whom they have chosen to convert to a reliever (he started and relieved in college).

  • St. Louis Cardinals: The Cards have signed their first five selections. The one remaining pick, who may or may not sign by the deadline, is draft-eligible college sophomore Kyle Russell. The slugger is seen by many to be the next Russell Branyan.

    National League West

  • Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-Backs had one of the best drafts in baseball this past June and only first round pick Jarrod Parker remains unsigned among the top four rounds. Chances are good that he will get a deal done with Arizona before the deadline expires. Fifth round pick Tyrell Worthington is likely headed to college.

  • Colorado Rockies: The Rockies have signed their first 13 picks. 14th round choice and prep outfielder Kentrail Davis had an outside shot of being selected in the first round but fell due to signability concerns. He is potentially one of the most talented players in the draft, but he is very, very raw. He is likely headed to college.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers, experts at the draft process, have locked up their first five picks. Fifth rounder and prep pitcher Kyle Blair has yet to sign. If he is locked up before the Aug. 15 deadline, he could be one of the biggest steals in the draft. The 18-year-old is an exceptionally smart pitcher and has a slightly above-average repertoire. He may benefit greatly by spending three years in college but I'd love to see him in pro ball.

  • San Diego Padres: With six picks before the second round the Padres were destined for a solid draft. They went the "safe route" and took college players with five of those six picks. The Padres have already signed their first eight picks. Third rounder and prep pitcher Tommy Toledo is the highest unsigned pick and he is expected to head to college.

  • San Francisco Giants: The aging Giants desperately need some fresh blood. Despite lacking second, third and fourth round picks, the Giants were set up well to infuse their system with some talent due to six picks before the second round. Of their three first round picks, though, the Giants still have yet to sign high school pitcher Madison Bumgarner and prep outfielder Wendell Fairley. After that though, the Giants signed all of their picks through the 22nd round.

    In just over a week there should be a frenzy of signings, as players who have agreed to over-slot deals come to terms with their new organizations. Most of the players signed on or just before Aug. 15 will likely begin their careers in the fall instructional camps and make their official debuts on the field next April.

  • Around the MinorsJuly 31, 2007
    Draft Deadline Looms Large in August
    By Marc Hulet

    Today is the 31st of July. Why is that important? It means there are only 15 more days left for Major League Baseball teams to lock up their 2007 amateur draft picks.

    The deadline is new this year, so it will be interesting to see how teams - and agents - approach Aug. 15. I will also be curious to see if signing bonuses continue along the downward trend, or if teams cave at the last minute in an effort to lock up top amateur talent. Perhaps the most interesting storyline will be how super agent Scott Boras makes out with the new guidelines.

    Last week I took a look at the five teams who had, in my humble opinion, the best drafts. Those teams included Texas, Toronto, Arizona, Cincinnati and Washington. Over the next two weeks, I shall break down the remaining 25 teams - beginning with the American League - and take a look at who could be signed by the Aug. 15 deadline.

    Currently, 13 of the 30 first round picks remain unsigned, including 10 prep players who could use college or junior college commitments as leverage. Only four supplemental first round picks have yet to sign on the dotted line.

    American League East
  • Baltimore Orioles: With only one pick in the first three rounds, the Baltimore organization knew it had to make an impact with its first round pick and caution was thrown to the wind when Boras client Matt Wieters was selected. His contract will no doubt take until the last possible moment to complete, if it gets done at all. The Orioles organization has been known to walk away from amateur talent (Wade Townsend) when the price tag gets too steep. Fifth round pick Jack Arrieta, another Boras client, also has yet to sign after falling due to signability concerns. North Carolina State hurler Eryk McConnell is the only other unsigned pick in the club's top 10 rounds.

  • Boston Red Sox: With no first round pick, Boston quickly signed its first pick in the supplemental first round: Washington University lefty Nick Hagadone. The club also signed prep pitcher Brock Huntzinger (3rd round) and Southeastern Louisiana hurler Chris Province (4th round). However, five other top 10 picks remain unsigned, including high school hitters Ryan Dent and Hunter Morris. Dent is most likely signable, while Morris could be headed to Auburn University. Fifth round pick Will Middlebrooks is a player who has reportedly agreed to contract, but the club is waiting until the deadline to announce the over-slot deal.

  • New York Yankees: The Yankees organization has six of its top 10 picks unsigned, but rumours persist that four or five of the six - which includes Andrew Brackman, Austin Romine, Brad Suttle, Chase Weems, Taylor Grote and Carmen Angelini - may have agreed to over-slot deals. The rich continue to get richer.

  • Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Obviously the biggest unsigned name is first overall pick David Price. I don't think there is any doubt that he will sign, but it would benefit the Rays to get it done sooner rather than later, so he can acclimatize himself to pro ball before the minor league season ends in early September. Fourth round pick David Newmann, of Texas A&M, also remains unsigned in the top 10 rounds.

    American League Central
  • Chicago White Sox: The White Sox have locked up the key players, including first round pick Aaron Poreda. The only remaining pick in the top 10 rounds is prep shortstop Brian Guinn, who is likely headed to college in California. The White Sox have signed only four picks after the 20th round.

  • Cleveland Indians: The Indians locked up first round pick and slugger Beau Mills quite quickly, not surprisingly considering the club lacked second and third round picks. Fourth round pick T.J. McFarland, a prep lefty, could be headed to Missouri unless Cleveland 'shows him the money.' Seventh round pick, and oft-injured college pitcher, Cole St. Clair should be signed away from Rice University with an over-slot contract.

  • Detroit Tigers: Rick Porcello is perhaps the biggest unsigned name outside of Price, as a prep pitcher with a huge upside. Many though, expect him to follow through on his commitment to North Carolina. Casey Crosby (fifth round) and Cale Iorg (sixth) are unsigned high-ceiling players that fell due to signability concerns. If the Tigers could lock up all three, it would be a major boost to the club's minor league system - but it would be an expensive endeavor.

  • Kansas City Royals: The Royals seemingly love to take high school players, regardless of the desperate need for advanced pitching to help out at the major league level. As such, the club took prep players with its first four selections. Of those four, only first round pick Mike Moustakas remains unsigned. The Royals organization will do everything in its power to ensure Moustakas does not follow through on his commitment to USC.

  • Minnesota Twins: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who had the ugliest draft of all? Was it the Minnesota Twins? It may have been, especially after the club went cheap and signed first round pick and outfielder Ben Revere to a below-market contract. Also not promising is the fact the club has yet to sign fourth and fifth round picks Reggie Williams and Nate Stritz. Of its 50 picks, the club has currently signed 17 players.

    American League West
  • Los Angeles Angels: High school hurler, and supplemental first round pick, Jonathan Bachanov is an interesting prospect and has been signed by the organization, but this draft definitely hangs on unsigned Matt Harvey. The prep pitcher fell significantly due to signability concerns and would greatly make up for a lack of first and second round picks. But it will take a significant over-slot deal to steer him away from North Carolina.

  • Oakland Athletics: The A's have signed up all of the "key" draft picks. The only remaining picks in the first 10 rounds are Daniel Schlereth (eighth round) and Eric Berger (ninth round), both of whom were left-handed pitchers at the University of Arizona. The club made out well with three picks (James Simmons, Sean Doolittle, and Corey Brown) before the second round.

  • Seattle Mariners: No one looked more surprised than Phillippe Aumont when he was selected by the Mariners and the French Canadian has yet to sign with the organization. Regardless, he should sign on the dotted line by Aug. 15, as he had no strong college commitment. It would be in his best interest as well, due to his raw skills. Second round pick and high school outfielder Denny Almonte is also currently without a contract.

  • Texas Rangers: The Texas Rangers currently have more talent on the line than any other club in baseball with three unsigned picks before the second round, including first round pick Blake Beavan and supplemental picks college outfielder Julio Borbon and high school hurler Neil Ramirez. On the plus side, the club's second first rounder Michael Main is having a solid start to his career in the Arizona League. Fourth round pick Garrett Nash and fifth round pick (and injured) John Gast also remain unsigned among the picks in the first 10 rounds. Beavan recently committed to a junior college in case a deal does not get done, which will allow him to enter the draft again in 2008. He has made it clear that money is the No. 1 factor for him when it comes to signing a contract.

    Be sure to check back next week to see how the National League clubs are making out at signing their top draft picks.

  • Around the MinorsJuly 23, 2007
    The 2007 Draft: Filling in the Gaps
    By Marc Hulet

    Back in mid-June, or about a month ago, I took a look at the eight Major League teams that I felt helped themselves the most depth-wise during the June amateur baseball draft. Those teams were: Texas, Toronto, Arizona, Cincinnati, Washington, San Francisco, San Diego and Atlanta.

    Most of those teams mentioned above were in dire need of a shot-in-the-arm for their minor league systems. Only Cincinnati, Arizona and Atlanta had systems ranked among the top 16 in baseball, according to a pre-season ranking by Baseball America.

    One of the key ingredients to restocking the system, though, is to actually sign the top picks. Let's take a look at how the top five teams are doing at rounding up their picks and also take a quick peek to see how those signed players are adjusting to life in pro baseball.

    1. Texas Rangers
    The organization had five picks before the second round, but it has signed only four of its first nine picks. The Rangers are by far the slowest team at locking up their new prospects, for whatever reasons.

    Only pitchers Michael Main and Tommy Hunter have signed from the first and supplemental first rounds. Main, a two-way player in high school, was drafted as a pitcher but has made only one start so far this season in the rookie level Arizona League. However, he has received 30 at-bats as a designated hitter and has eight hits (.267/.324/.300), as well as three walks and six strikeouts. Main has also stolen three bases in four attempts.

    Hunter, a draft-eligible sophomore out of Alabama, has not appeared in a minor league game as of yet. Third round pick Matt West was taken out of high school and has been tearing up the Arizona League to the tune of .333/.448/.417 in 17 games.

    The Rangers have a long way to go before they can claim to have had a successful draft. With the talent they chose, it would be a shame to see them miss out of signing the likes of Blake Beavan, Julio Borbon and Neil Ramirez.

    2. Toronto Blue Jays
    The Blue Jays had a much different philosophy in 2007 than during other drafts under General Manager J.P. Ricciardi. For once, the club focused on raw, toolsy high school talent, rather than older college players (although the organization still took more than its fair share of college seniors in later rounds).

    With seven picks in the first, supplemental first and second rounds - Toronto took four high school players, two college juniors and one college senior. As always, the Blue Jays were one of the first clubs to sign up all of its key draft picks.

    High schoolers Kevin Ahrens, Justin Jackson, John Tolisano, and Eric Eiland were all assigned to the Jays' new rookie club in the Gulf Coast League. Not surprisingly, all four have struggled to adapt to life in professional baseball.

    Considered the most raw of the four players, Eiland has actually had the most success so far with a line of .253/.356/.333 in 23 games. He has also stolen 10 bases (second in the league) in 10 attempts. Hopefully the Jays will not stifle the young players' running games as they advanced through the majors, as the organization has in the past with other prospects.

    Tolisano's batting average sits at .207 and he has struck out 24 times in 87 at-bats, but there are a number of positives in his statistics. The offensive-minded second baseman has five homers and has also walked 18 times, both of which rank third in the league.

    Left-hander Brett Cecil is having a great start to his career in the short-season New York Penn League, after signing out of Maryland. Cecil has a 1.46 ERA in six games, including five starts. In 24.2 innings, he has allowed 22 hits, three walks and has 26 strikeouts. Cecil is also almost averaging three groundballs for every flyball.

    The Toronto Blue Jays' minor league system should leap up Baseball America's rankings this coming off-season, even with the struggles by the high school draft picks.

    3. Arizona Diamondbacks
    Unlike the Jays, the Diamondbacks organization stuck to a college-heavy approach with its draft, although a high school pitcher was selected with the first pick.

    Jarrod Parker, who has been likened to Scott Kazmir and Tim Lincecum, has yet to sign, though. Arizona's next pick, Wes Roemer, has also been tardy with signing his contract. He was selected 50th overall out of Cal State Fullerton.

    The next four picks, three of whom were drafted out of college, have signed. The fourth player to sign was Reynaldo Navarro and he was drafted out of Puerto Rico. In the rookie Pioneer League, Navarro has appeared in 24 games and is hitting .238/.261/.274. The 17-year-old switch hitter is batting only .054 against left handers so far this season.

    Catcher Ed Easley is batting .282/.356/.513 for short-season Yakima. Three of his 11 hits have been homers. Pitcher Sean Morgan has struggled for Yakima and has a 9.00 ERA in five relief appearances. In six innings of work, Morgan has allowed nine hits and seven walks, while striking out seven. Fellow college pitcher Barry Enright has yet to make an appearance for Yakima.

    It is far too early to rate Arizona's returns as the club's highly-drafted college players have appeared in very few games so far. Regardless, the advanced pitchers taken at the top of the draft should help fill the pitching void in the system.

    4. Cincinnati Reds
    The Reds organization made the most of its six picks in the first three rounds of the 2007 draft and it has already inked all of those players to contracts.

    Catcher Devin Mesoraco was one of the hottest commodities on draft day and zoomed up draft boards. He was nabbed with the 15th pick and signed for $1.4 million. So far in the Gulf Coast League, Mesoraco is holding his own with a line of .260/.373/.280. Obviously, he will need to get stronger as he has only one extra base hit (a double). However, he has shown a good eye for a teenager and has walked seven times in 50 at-bats, while striking out only six times.

    College shortstop Todd Frazier has two older brothers who have played pro baseball and he is considered the best of the three. Taken in the supplemental first round, Frazier is making a slow adjustment to pro ball and is batting .256/.275/.256 in nine games. He has yet to hit an extra base hit or take a walk.

    Despite being perhaps the most raw of the first six picks, Neftali Soto has thrived in pro ball so far. In 22 Gulf Coast League games, Soto is hitting .345/.389/.529. He has 30 hits, including 10 extra base hits (and two homers). He has walked six times and struck out 14.

    Kyle Lotzkar, a 17-year-old Canadian pitcher, has yet to make an appearance for the Gulf Coast League team. Missouri State right-hander Scott Carroll has also not appeared in a game.

    5. Washington Nationals
    Ranked as the worst minor league system in baseball (after a number of years of control by Major League Baseball) by Baseball America, the Nationals should improve this off-season after having five picks in the first, supplemental first and second rounds.

    According to General Manager Jim Bowden, the club was absolutely thrilled to have the option of selecting Missouri State hurler Ross Detwiler. They recently locked up the pitcher with a contract worth more than $2 million. In one rookie league appearance, Detwiler allowed two hits and no walks in two innings of work. He also struck out three batters.

    Prep outfielder Michael Burgess had "Bowden" written all over him as a raw, but toolsy, prospect. The Nationals snapped him up and signed him to a $630,000 contract. Burgess has made the Nationals look good so far, as he is hitting .333/.418/.583 in 14 Gulf Coast League games. He has offset his 15 strikeouts, somewhat, with seven walks. Burgess has slugged two homers and two triples.

    Prep shortstop Jason Smolinski was not ranked as highly by other teams, but the Nationals obviously saw something promising. So far, Smolinski has dominated the Gulf Coast League with a line of .337/.404/.427. He has 30 hits in 24 games, albeit with modest power (eight extra base hits, all doubles). In 89 at-bats, Smolinski has walked 10 times and struck out 19. He has six stolen bases in eight attempts.

    You may not have heard of the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, but the Nationals have and they drafted pitcher Jordan Zimmerman out of there during the second round. In five New York Penn League games, he has a 2.87 ERA. In 15.2 innings, Zimmerman has allowed only 10 hits and eight walks. He has struck out an impressive 25 batters.

    Prep pitcher Josh Smoker was taken 31st overall, but has yet to sign a pro contract.

    * * *
    I think I would stick with my June rankings of these five teams, assuming all of the top-ranked players sign pro contracts by the Aug. 15 deadline. However, currently the Jays stand as having the best draft simply due to the fact they have the most players under contract. Cincinnati would be ranked second for the same reason. Of all the clubs, Texas makes me the most nervous, especially given the garbage being spewed by top pick Beavan, which leads to questions about maturity. He appears more concerned with the dollar figure on his contract, than with actually getting to play ball.

    Regardless of what happens with contract negotiations, the final month of the minor league season should be a blast.

    Around the MinorsJuly 17, 2007
    Top 10 of the 2003 Draft: Where Are They Now?
    By Marc Hulet

    The 2003 amateur draft was responsible for bringing a great deal of talent into the professional ranks. Leading up to the draft, the biggest question was whether the Tampa Bay Devil Rays would take high school outfielder Delmon Young or college second baseman Rickie Weeks. Although Young has yet to truly breakout, all signs indicate they made the correct decision by taking the prep star and brother of MLB player Dmitri Young.

    A day before the draft, Baseball America had this to say:

    Tampa Bay's discussion on California high school outfielder Delmon Young and Southern second baseman Rickie Weeks continued well into Monday evening. Weeks gathered momentum when he performed well last Friday in an NCAA regional playoff game with Rays GM Chuck LaMar on hand, and his cause was helped further when Young turned down the club's $3.75 million offer. But Weeks also decided not to work out in Tampa on Monday, and that helped swing the decision back to Young. Florida outfielder Ryan Harvey, a product of nearby Dunedin High, is a long shot third choice.

    The 2003 draft had a number of solid players from both the high school and college ranks. It wasn't as deep as the 2001 draft (few have been) but the top 10 was considered rather solid at the time.

    Four years later (roughly the average time it takes a star prep player to navigate the minors), let's take a look and see how those first 10 players are doing. But first, a word of warning for those who believe players chosen in the first round of the MLB amateur draft should be "can't miss" super stars. They're not.

    1. Tampa Bay | Delmon Young | outfield | California high school | $3,700,000

    Young is currently in his first full season in the majors but he continues to be held back from stardom by two things: his lack of power and his impatience. The power will likely come, as he did hit 25 homers in his first full minor league season, but the patience is the biggest concern. This season in the majors, Young has walked only 15 times in 360 at-bats or four percent of the time. That is not going to get it done, regardless of who you are.

    Along with his play at the plate, there have been some concerns raised about Young's behavior. He was suspended for 50 games after an "incident" with an umpire last season in Triple-A and he previously criticized the Rays' organization when he felt he was not being promoted aggressively enough.

    We all know you don't have to be a nice person to be a star athlete, but maturity certainly does have its advantages. Once (if?) Young reaches that level, he should be a star because all the tools, that led him to be taken No.1 overall in the nation, are still there. But many thought he'd already be at that level, including himself.

    Baseball America - No. 1 overall draft pick Delmon Young took a long time to join the Devil Rays, as negotiations dragged for more than three months until he signed a five-year major league contract Tuesday worth at least $5.8 million and as much as $6.2 million.

    But Young doesn't expect it to take him very long to get to the major leagues.

    "Hopefully within two years," said Young, who turns 18 on Sunday. "Sometime during the 2005 season."

    Rays officials wouldn't put a timetable on Young, but it's clear they expect the power-hitting outfielder to move quickly.

    2. Milwaukee | Rickie Weeks | second base | Southern University | $3,600,000

    Weeks made a strong push to be taken No. 1 overall in the last week leading up to the draft, but the Rays decided on Young at the last moment. Milwaukee happily jumped on Weeks, who was considered an advanced hitter with suspect defence. Fast-forward to 2007 and Weeks is still considered a better hitter than defender. However, his bat has proven to be less advanced than expected, with a career MLB line of .248/.331/.388. Those are not the types of numbers you would expect from the second overall pick out of college.

    One has to look to Weeks' inability to stay healthy, especially his wrists, as the No. 1 reason for his struggles with consistency at the plate. At some point, though, Weeks has got to start producing. Although his offensive output is not indicative of his potential, his numbers are not what one would expect from the starter on a team bound for the playoffs.

    3. Detroit | Kyle Sleeth | right hander | Wake Forest | $3,350,000

    Why would I hesitate to take top-rated college pitchers in the first round of the amateur draft? Because they are often abused by college coaches who have no concern for the prospects' futures. Take Kyle Sleeth as a prime example of this opinion.

    Where is Sleeth today, you ask? Detroit, heck, maybe even Triple-A? Nope, the 25-year-old is in Advanced A-ball with an 8.63 ERA in eight games. He is currently trying to get back into game shape after surgery that caused him to miss all of 2005 and most of 2006. The Tigers knew Sleeth had a "scary" deliver when they drafted him, and it came back to haunt.

    4. San Diego | Tim Stauffer | right hander | U of Richmond | $750,000

    Welcome exhibit two of our series on top college relievers with health concerns. Tim Stauffer literally cost himself millions of dollars when he shocked the Padres by confessing to a pre-existing injury prior to signing his multi-million dollar pro contract.

    However, despite a shoulder injury, Stauffer has actually had more success than Sleeth. Stauffer has actually pitched in the majors, but you would certainly hope for a lot more than a 5.07 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 87 innings from the fourth overall pick. Having failed to secure a major league job after four years, Stauffer is currently in his fourth attempt to succeed at Triple-A and he has a 5.59 ERA in 83.2 innings. He has also allowed 110 hits, walked 23 and struck out only 60. Ouch. Now that hurts more than a bum shoulder.

    5. Kansas City | Chris Lubanski | outfielder | Pennsylvania high school | $2,100,000

    Despite an often barren system in recent years, the Royals had a tendency to take raw, but toolsy, high school players (Hello, Colt Griffin). Chris Lubanski is yet another one of those players chosen by the Royals but he may turn out to be the most successful one... but even that might be as a fourth outfielder.

    Lubanski is currently stuck as a "tweener." He has good range in the outfield, but all his other fielding skills are fringe average, which relegates him to left field. The problem is, scouts are split on whether or not he will have enough bat to play everyday for a good team. Lubanski had one very solid offensive season (.301/.349/.554) but it was in one of the best hitter's parks in minor league baseball. This season, split between Double-A and Triple-A, he has 10 homers in 288 at-bats, along with a .274 average.

    6. Chicago (NL) | Ryan Harvey | outfielder | Florida high school | $2,400,000

    It was thought that Ryan Harvey had more raw power than any other player taken in the first round. Four years later, that power is still raw, as are all aspects of his game. Harvey has been a huge disappointment to this point and is becoming a long shot to even sniff the major leagues.

    Although Harvey has yet to turn 23 yet, he has spent two years in Rookie Ball and three years in A-Ball. Injuries have caused his problems in 2007, after hitting 20 homers in each of the last two years (despite a .250-ish average), Harvey will be lucky to break 10 this season. In 25 games in 2007, Harvey is batting .208/.230/.354 with four homer. If he does manage to make the major leagues, his career could mimic that of Russell Branyan.

    7. Baltimore | Nick Markakis | outfielder | Georgia junior college | $1,850,000

    The Orioles shocked a good portion of baseball when they announced two-way player Nick Markakis as an outfielder, after they drafted him seventh overall.

    Baseball America - A lefthander/outfielder, Markakis ranked right behind Adam Loewen among draft-and-follows from 2002. Drafted twice by the Reds, most recently in the 23rd round last year, Markakis turned down $1.5 million from the Reds before this draft. He agreed to a $1.85 million bonus from the Orioles—$450,000 less than MLB’s recommendation.

    While Baltimore’s decision to take Markakis wasn’t surprising, its choice for his future was. Most teams preferred him as a pitcher and some clubs were split, but the Orioles liked his bat more and will make him a full-time outfielder.

    Maybe - just maybe - Baltimore actually got something right for a change, despite turning a blind eye to the lack of quality left-handed pitching in baseball. So far, Markakis has had the best major league career of any of the 2003 top 10 draft picks, with a career line of .290/.350/.450. That said, his career numbers do not scream superstar. Right now, he is looking like a solid major leaguer with modest power for a corner outfielder.

    8. Pittsburgh | Paul Maholm | left hander | Mississippi State | $2,200,000

    Paul Maholm shares some similarities with the Pirates' 2007 No. 1 draft pick Daniel Moskos. Both left-handers came out of a solid college program and both were advanced pitchers, albeit with modest upside for their draft positions.

    Maholm, having a four year advantage on Moskos, has established himself as a solid, but unspectacular, big league pitcher. His 4.41 career major league ERA is good but not great and the same can be said about his 16-23 record (remember, he is playing for the Pirates).

    Through 336 career big league innings, Maholm has allowed 359 hits, but he does have a solid 2-1 groundball-flyball ratio. With a few more years of experience under his belt, Maholm's could develop into the next Jamie Moyer.

    9. Texas | John Danks | left hander | Texas high school | $2,100,000

    John Danks was considered the top prep pitcher in the draft by many, including Baseball America.

    Danks has passed Florida's Andrew Miller as the top high school lefthander in the draft and could be the first southpaw drafted, unless a team prefers a college player and opts for Mississippi State's Paul Maholm.

    Danks threw in the mid-80s last summer, but created a lot of buzz early this year when he kept hitting 93-94 mph and showing a picture-perfect delivery. He hasn't quite maintained that combination of velocity and mechanics, but he has sat at 88-92 and showed a power curveball at times.

    Four years later, Danks is currently in his first season at the major league level, although he is now wearing a Chicago White Sox jersey, after being traded for fellow hurler Brandon McCarthy. In 16 starts, Danks has a solid start to his career with 4.62 ERA in 89.2 innings. He has allowed 97 hits, walked 36 batters and struck out 68. At the age of 22, the left-hander may have the most promising upside of any player in the 2003 top 10, depending on how Young develops.

    10. Colorado | Ian Stewart | third base | California high school | $1,950,000

    It's taken long than expected, but Ian Stewart is starting to show some signs of life. After his first two minor league seasons in Caspar (.317/.401/.558) and Asheville (.319/.398/.594), Stewart looked to be on the fast track. However, his next two seasons were modest and some began to wonder just how potent Stewart's bat really was.

    His numbers are intriguing in 2007, but must again be taken with a grain of salt, as he is playing in Colorado Springs, which is an excellent hitter's park. After hitting only .268 with 10 homers in 462 at-bats at Double-A in 2006, Stewart has rebounded to hit .299 with 11 homers in only 324 at-bats in 2007. On the plus side, he did have 41 doubles last season, which can be an indicator at the minor league level for dormant power.

    Whether Stewart develops into a corner infielder or becomes a solid role player remains to be seen. But he is not likely to become the star that he was predicted to become after the 2004 season.

    * * * *

    Overall, my predictions from the 2003 draft's top 10 list would be for one superstar, six solid regular Major League Baseball players and three busts. Is that acceptable? I'd certainly hope for more from my top 10 pick. There are a number of players, though, that show you don't have to be a top 10 pick to be a solid prospect of major league player.

    The following players were all drafted outside the top 10 in 2003 and all 10 would likely be top 10 picks in hindsight: Lastings Milledge, Aaron Hill, Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Chad Billingsley, Adam Miller, Tom Gorzelanny, Jason Hirsh and Shaun Marcum.

    Around the MinorsJuly 10, 2007
    Futures Game: Sleeper Prospects Wake Up
    By Marc Hulet

    I have to admit that I am not a fan of All-Star games. Rarely do you see all deserving players make it to the Major League All-Star game, usually because fans vote in undeserving players. The All-Star game is also flawed because of the voting system that allows larger market teams to flood the ballot boxes due to larger crowds. I haven't even watched an All-Star game in 10 years.

    The minor league Futures Game is a little different and technically not an All-Star game. Its goal is to showcase the stars of tomorrow. However, due to the set up of the game itself, you still don't get to see all the deserving players because of the way prospects are separated into teams consisting of U.S. players and World players.

    For example, Blue Jays' outfielder Travis Snider is 10 times the prospect that Jays' minor league catcher Robinzon Diaz is, but Diaz is on the World roster, and Snider was left sitting at home. Why? Because the World squad lacked options for catching prospects and U.S. team had a glut of deserving outfielders.

    I would also argue that none of the World infielders project to be more than solid regulars in the major leagues, with the possible exception of the Dodgers' Chin-Lung Hu. And should it really be the U.S. against the rest of the world? Why not at least make the U.S. team the North American squad and include the Canadian prospects?

    Regardless of my issues with the game itself, it is still an exciting opportunity to highlight the stars of tomorrow.

    Chances are good that you have heard of Elvis Andrus, Deolis Guerra, Clay Buchholz and Jay Bruce, so I am going to highlight five other players that you should become more familiar with as the minor league season heads into its second last month of the 2007 season.

    For complete coverage of the Futures Game, which took place on Sunday with the World roster winning 7-2, please check out Baseball America.

    The World Roster

    RHP Fautino de los Santos | 6-1 210 | 2/86 | Chicago White Sox | A-Ball
    It is very likely that you have never heard of Fautino de los Santos. And don't go running to your Baseball America 2007 Prospect Handbook because he was not one of the 900 minor league prospects profiled before the season began. The promising Dominican right-hander spent all of 2006 in the Dominican Summer League but impressed the White Sox enough that they challenged him with an assignment to a full-season club to begin his first season in North America. In 2006, de los Santos posted a 1.86 ERA in 48.1 innings and he struck out 61 while walking only 10. So far this season in Kannapolis, he has maintained his dominance by holding batters to a .160 average. Hapless hitters have managed only 44 hits in 80.2 innings. De los Santos' command is not as good this year, with 32 walks, but he has off-set that with 98 strikeouts. One negative is that he has allowed more flyball outs than groundball outs (GO/AO of 0.92), but I might be starting to nitpick. Regardless, this prospect - who features a mid-90s fastball, slider, and change-up combination - is deserving of a promotion.

    3B/SS German Duran | 5-10 185 | 8/84 | Texas Rangers | Double-A
    German Duran, who is of Mexican descent but was born in Fort Worth, is another prospect who was virtually unknown before the 2007 minor league season began. He was drafted out of Texas Christian University in the sixth round by Texas in 2005. Give credit to Texas' scouting department, as Duran has done nothing but hit in his short career. Last season in Advanced A-Ball, Duran hit .284/.331/.446, which was good but not great. A further look into the numbers, though, showed developing power (31 doubles, 13 homers), some speed (15 steals) and promising bat control (89 strikeouts in 457 at-bats). This season, Duran has clearly broken out at .311/.365/.542. In 299 at-bats, Duran has hit 19 doubles and 16 homers. He has also kept his strikeouts down to 48. Duran has smoked left-handed pitchers to the tune of .364/.429/.648 and he has driven in 31 runs in 92 at-bats with runners in scoring position. One weakness would be his patience, as Duran has walked only 24 times.

    OF Michael Saunders | 6-4 205 | 11/86 | Seattle Mariners | Advanced A-Ball
    I take great pride in seeing fellow Canadians making good in professional baseball and Michael Saunders is on pace to join the likes of Justin Morneau, Jason Bay and Russell Martin in the big leagues... just give him a couple years. It's hard to know, though, just how much the former third baseman has improved this season as he is playing in the hitter's haven of High Desert. This season, Saunders is hitting .302/.401/.492 with 12 homers in 325 at-bats. He has also stolen 22 bases, while walking an impressive 49 times and striking out an alarming 81 times. Last year, Saunders struggled to hit in A-Ball with a line of .240/.329/.345. So is 2007 a result of a young, toolsy player making adjustments or of a hitter taking advantage of his environment? His home/road splits are .313/.425/.467 and .291/.379/.514. My suggestion: Be optimistic with an undertone of cynicism until mid-2008.

    The U.S. Roster

    RHP Collin Balester | 6-5 190 | 6/86 | Washington Nationals | Double-A
    My two favorite athletes out of Huntington Beach, California are UFC fighter Tito Ortiz (despite his disappointing draw with Rashad Evans at UFC 73 on Saturday night) and surfer-turned-hurler Collin Balester. The 21-year-old is still raw as a pitcher and learning to control his pitches, but his potential is intriguing. The Nationals' development staff made some changes to Balester's delivery last year and he lost three to four miles per hour off his fastball and struggled. Late in the season, they allowed him to return to his old ways with success and he has carried that momentum into this season. After posting a 5.20 ERA in Advanced A-Ball last season, Balester has improved to a 3.74 mark this season against better competition. He has, though, allowed too many hits with 103 in 98.2 innings. After walking 53 in 117.2 innings in 2006, Balester has allowed only 25 free passes in 98.2 innings this season. He has also fanned 77 batters with a low-to-mid 90s fastball, plus curve and developing change-up. Given Washington's lack of pitching at the Major League level, Balester could be in the majors by the end of the season.

    2B Adrian Cardenas | 6-0 185 | 10/87 | Philadelphia Phillies | A-Ball
    Adrian Cardenas is certainly not an unknown. He was the 37th overall pick in the 2006 amateur draft and was also named Baseball America's High School Player of the Year that same season. But he also doesn't get the respect he deserves as perhaps the best minor league second basemen in the game. It's just too bad he has one of the best second basemen in the majors playing ahead of him in Chase Utley. Cardenas signed quickly after being drafted in 2006 and made his debut in the Gulf Coast League that same season. He hit .318/.384/.442 with two homers and 13 stolen bases. He also walked 17 times and struck out 28 times in 154 at-bats. This season in Lakewood, Cardenas has built upon those numbers and displayed more power. So far this season in 296 at-bats, he has hit .307/.366/.449. Cardenas has added 19 doubles, seven homers and 15 stolen bases. He has walked 26 times and struck out only 45 times. The left-handed batter has struggled to hit with power against lefties (.338 slugging) but he has maintained a solid batting average (.297).

    So, faithful readers, what players in your favorite organizations were left off of the Futures Game's rosters? Click the 'comment' button below and let us know why you think they are destined for future stardom.

    Around the MinorsJuly 03, 2007
    Future Stud or Future Dud?
    By Marc Hulet

    Four exciting, young outfielders broke out into the prospect spotlight in 2006: Fernando Martinez, Jose Tabata, Carlos Gonzalez and Andrew McCutchen. The 2007 season has been another matter entirely, though. Each member of that foursome has disappointed to some degree and failed to capitalize on their rising stocks.

    Before the 2007 minor league season began, McCutchen (13), Gonzalez (18), Martinez (22) and Tabata (27) were all ranked among the top 30 prospects in all of baseball by Baseball America. It is possible that all four, by the end of the season, will slip further down the chart while other prospects take their places among the elite.

    But the question is: Just how far have these four players fallen? Are their seasons really as bad as some think, or is it just a matter of unreasonable expectations by impatient fans and media? I'm going to outline the players and give a few of my thoughts and then I would like to hear from as many members of the Baseball Analysts' community as possible; let us know which of these players, if any, are going to be superstars and why.

    Andrew McCutchen | Pittsburgh Pirates
    Bat/Throw: R/R
    HT/WT: 5-11/175
    Born: 10/10/1986
    Birth Place: Fort Meade, Florida
    Acquired: 1st round, 2005 (11th overall)

           AVG   OBA   SLG   AB  HR  SB  BB%    K%
    2006  .291  .356  .446  453  14  22  8.5  20.1
          .308  .372  .474   78   3   1  9.3  25.6
    2007  .235  .296  .349  289   4  11  8.0  19.4

    It has been a long time since the Pirates had a hitting prospect with the potential of McCutchen. As a result, Pirates fans are eager to see McCutchen take to the big stage, but it will happen a little slower than expected. After a hot start last season, McCutchen made the rare leap past Advanced A-Ball and acquitted himself well with a late-season promotion to Double-A, albeit in only 20 games.

    This year, however, McCutchen has struggled to hit for average and his slugging percentage is down about .100 points. He has struggled this season against right-handed pitchers and is batting only .214/.278/.282 against them. McCutchen is also batting only .200 on the road. On the plus side, he is not striking out more frequently than he did last year and he has been walking just about as often.

    Another encouraging sign is that McCutchen's average has risen with each month, from .189 in April to .230 in May to .266 in June. Baseball America lauded McCutchen's attitude, maturity and passion for the game in a pre-season scouting report, so chances are good that 2007 is simply a growing pain, and/or a byproduct of being rushed by an organization desperate for a home-grown superstar.

    Truth be told, McCutchen should probably just be reaching Double-A right about now... And hopefully no damage has been done. I expect McCutchen to be close to a five-tool player, and have the potential to be a Curtis Granderson type of player.

    Carlos Gonzalez | Arizona Diamondbacks
    Bat/Throw: L/L
    HT/WT: 6-1/170
    Born: 10/17/1985
    Birth Place: Maracaibo, Venezuela
    Acquired: Undrafted free agent 2002

           AVG   OBA   SLG   AB  HR  SB  BB%    K%
    2006  .300  .349  .563  403  21  15  6.9  25.8  
          .213  .294  .410   61   2   1 10.3  19.7 
    2007  .253  .283  .428  285   9   5  4.0  22.1

    Gonzalez was voted as Baseball America's third best prospect coming in to 2007, right behind fellow outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young. Young is establishing himself in the majors, albeit with some growing pains of his own, and Upton has recently joined Gonzalez in Double-A, after having torn up Advanced A-Ball.

    Not surprisingly, Gonzalez' performance has improved with the arrival of Upton. It is tough to get a really good read on D-Backs' hitting prospects because they play in some very good hitting parks. Gonzalez' breakout 2006 took place in Lancaster, which is one of the best hitting parks in minor league baseball and it has distorted many a stat line. Mobile is a fairly good hitting park too (Gonzalez is hitting .241/.272/.399 on the road), although it is not quite as prolific.

    One of the biggest problems with Gonzalez' season - beyond the .135 drop in slugging percentage - is his reduced patience at the plate. His walks are down almost three percent, from 6.9 in Lancaster in 2006 to 4.0 this season. He is also in danger of being labeled a platoon player if he cannot improve upon his .165/.184/.239 line against left-handers.

    Other knocks against him are his size (he is projected to be a below-average runner in a couple years), his propensity to swing for the long ball and his occasional lack of hustle, which led to a benching last season. His biggest value is his plus arm in right field. Based on his hitting environments, I believe the ceiling for Gonzalez' future has been set too high and he will top out around 25 home runs in his prime.

    Fernando Martinez | New York Mets
    Bat/Throw: L/R
    HT/WT: 6-1/190
    Born: 10/10/1988
    Birth Place: Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic
    Acquired: Undrafted free agent 2005

           AVG   OBA   SLG   AB  HR  SB  BB%    K%
    2006  .333  .382  .505  192   5   7  7.2   18.8
          .193  .232  .387  119   5   1  4.8   20.2
    2007  .271  .328  .377  236   4   3  7.8   21.6

    At 18 years of age, you have to be really, really impressed that Martinez is holding his own in Double-A, even if some people feel he hasn't truly impressed. Personally, for me, there not a lot to dislike, although his walks are a little low and his strikeouts are a little high - especially for the modest power displayed in 2007.

    But you have to keep going back to the age. You also have to look at the park factors for his home park in Binghamton and realize that it significantly retarded power numbers (0.54) between 2004-2006, according to Baseball Think Factory.

    With a line against left-handers of .259/.306/.362, the left-handed batter has done OK in that regard. Martinez has only had one really good month this season and May .324/.387/.426) was sandwiched between two lackluster performances. Martinez, like McCutchen, may be suffering from a little bit of over-anxiousness by his parent club. He was promoted to Double-A in 2007 - due to a strong spring showing - despite hitting only .193/.254/.387 in 119 Advanced A-Ball games.

    I like to look to Toronto Blue Jays' outfielder Alex Rios, who was recently named to his second straight All-Star game, as a perfect example of why there is no point in getting up-in-arms over young players' power numbers. Rios did not slug over .354 in his first three pro seasons (ages 18-20). He topped out in the minors at Double-A at age 22 with a .521 slugging percentage but then regressed to slug below .400 in his first two MLB seasons.

    During Rios' first four MLB seasons, his homer totals were: 1 (in 426 at-bats), 10 (in 481), 17 (in 450) and 17 (in 328 at-bats so far this season). Rios is on pace to hit more than 30 homers in 2007, a far cry from 2004 and 2005 when fans were screaming for the Jays to trade him. Those same fans now call Rios untouchable.

    If young prospects show the ability to hit for average with some semblance of patience and a good batting eye - be ecstatic, even if some scouts are less than enthralled with Martinez' season and expect him to be move out of centerfield. Reports say he has a willingness to hit to all fields and has solid strike-zone awareness for his age. Keep in mind this kid is also just learning to speak English and is adjusting to life in North America on the fly.

    Jose Tabata | New York Yankees
    Bat/Throw: R/R
    HT/WT: 5-11/160
    Born: 8/12/1988
    Birth Place: Anzoategui, Venezuela
    Acquired: Undrafted free agent 2005

           AVG   OBA   SLG   AB  HR  SB  BB%    K%
    2006  .298  .358  .420  319   5  15  8.6  20.7 
    2007  .305  .368  .378  262   2  11  9.0  17.6

    Tabata is the only player of the four who has yet to exit A-Ball and that is probably a good thing in the long run. He has only two homers on the season, but the 18-year-old prospect is hitting more than .300, while also lowering his strikeouts and raising (slightly) his walk percentage.

    Tabata has hit both left- and right-handed pitchers well this season. Truth be told, he has been scorching lefties with a line of .347/.410/.453. He is also hitting equally well on the road and at home, in a league that is often considered a pitcher's league. Tabata has shown improvements each month, with his average going from .294 in April to .299 in May to .346 in June.

    Another encouraging sign is that his strikeout totals have improved each month. He began the season by striking out 21 times in 85 at-bats. In May, he lowered his strikeouts to only 15 in 105 at-bats. Then in June, he kept it up with 11 strikeouts in 78 at-bats. A positive sign for his future career as a run producer, Tabata's batting average has risen significantly this season with men on base (.312), as well as with men in scoring position (.357).

    Applying the Rios factor to Tabata, I see absolutely no reason for anyone to sour on his season, or his future career. The power should develop, and even is it doesn't, I see enough positive signs to believe he will be a productive major league baseball player, especially if he can keep in shape and stay motivated.

    * * *

    OK, you've heard my thoughts and now it's time time to express yours: Which one of these four outfielders will be the most productive MLB player? Do you smell a bust with any of these guys? Post a comment or e-mail me.

    Around the MinorsJune 26, 2007
    A-OK in Advanced A-Ball
    By Marc Hulet

    The recent Advanced A-Ball All-Star games signaled the half-way point of the minor league season. In A-Ball, the season is cut into two halves with teams being declared winners of the first and second halves. Those winners then face off in the year-end playoffs. If the same team wins both halves, a club with the next best record also makes the playoffs.

    The funny thing about the minor leagues is that the teams with the best records do not always have the best prospects. The San Jose Giants are a good example of this, which comes as no surprise given the parent club's lack of emphasis on the draft process (save perhaps for this year) and preference for drafting college players.

    Other teams, like the Frederick Keys, just get lucky. The club finished in first place in the Carolina League's Northern Division, despite a losing record of 32-37 (.464). The club also featured a trio of 27-year-olds in a league that typically features prospects aged 20-22.

    So just how good are the clubs that finished the first half in first place? Let's take a look:

    Florida State League

    East Division | Brevard County Manatees | 41-28 (.594) | Milwaukee
    Best Player: Before a recent promotion to Double-A Huntsville, infielder Alcides Escobar was the Manatees' best player and prospect. Now the distinction of best player and prospect goes to catcher Angel Salome. Salome, 21, has solid offensive numbers for a catcher at .314/.350/.491 but you have to wonder how well a player listed at 5'7'' will weather the rigors of catching every day.

    Best Pitcher: Again, a promotion robbed Brevard County of its best pitcher - Will Inman. Left-hander Derek Miller is left to lead the pitching staff in Inman's wake. Miller, 25, is no spring chicken but the University of Vermont alum has a 3.50 career ERA and he struck out 210 batters in 211 innings coming into 2007, which is not bad at all for a 47th round draft pick.

    Best Prospect: As mentioned above, Salome takes the award, but the club also has some other intriguing prospects, such as pitchers Michael McClendon and Mark Rogers (will he ever get healthy?), as well as hitters Mat Gamel, Chris Errecart and Lorenzo Cain.

    West Division | Sarasota Reds | 43-27 (.614) | Cincinnati
    Best Player: Again, a promotion has robbed an Advanced A-Ball club of its best prospect and player. This time it was outfielder Jay Bruce, who displayed the ability to hit for average (.327) and power (27 2B, 11 HR in 268 AB). The best remaining hitter would likely be a toss up between catcher Craig Tatum and third baseman Michael Griffin. I'll give it to Griffin though, because he is a better all-around player.

              AVG   OBA   SLG   R  HR RBI  BB-K  SB
    Griffin  .310  .340  .436  53   6  36 16-33  11  
    Tatum    .311  .341  .512  26   9  37  9-38   0

    Best Pitcher: The Reds have some good pitching in Sarasota. The best of the bunch, Johnny Cueto has been promoted but he was replaced by Sean Watson, who had a 1.88 ERA at Dayton. Ramon Ramirez, a soon-to-be 25-years-old, is a lesser prospect because of his age but his numbers were similar to Cueto's and he was also promoted to Double-A recently. Travis Wood and Daryl Thompson both have been inconsistent but are extremely talented.

    Best Prospect: Of the players actually in Sarasota at the writing of this column (June 25), it would probably be Watson if you are considering both upside and current performance. Outfielder B.J. Szymanski, 24, is an outstanding athlete but he was one of those raw, toolsy guys that never figured it out (17 BB, 80 K in 235 AB).

    Carolina League

    Northern Division | Frederick Keys | 32-37 (.464) | Baltimore
    Best Player: Frederick is painfully void of anything resembling a solid hitting prospect so third basemanRyan Finan wins by default. The 25-year-old leads the team with six homers and is second with a .284 average. On the positive side, Finan has shown some reasonable patience at the plate with 33 walks (along with 40 strikeouts) in 218 at-bats.

    Best Pitcher: The best pitcher award is a toss up between David Hernandez and Jason Berken. Many of the statistics are similar, but Hernandez had a better strikeout ratio with 81 in 75.2 innings (compared to 62 in 72.1) and Berken had a better ERA at 4.11 (compared to 4.88). Both pitchers had losing records. Closer Bob McCrory saved 14 games in 22 appearance and posted a 1.23 ERA, but he was recently promoted to Double-A.

    Best Prospect: At only 19 years of age, Brandon Erbe is by far the brightest star on the Frederick Keys' roster. Last season at A-Ball (and at the age of 18), Erbe threw 114.2 innings and allowed only 88 hits, while walking 47 and striking out 133. His numbers have not been as good this year but the teenager has allowed only 62 hits in 69 innings and struck out 58. The only real negative on the season is the base-on-balls column at 38, but it is of no major concern at this point.

    Southern Division | Kinston Indians | 45-24 (.652) | Cleveland
    Best Player: It comes as no surprise that the Indians have some solid A-Ball performers given their love of drafting advanced college players. This season, though, there have been some disappointments in the batter's box including Joshua Rodriguez and Stephen Head (again). The best performer in Kinston right now is a personal favorite: Wes Hodges. Hodges would likely have been drafted higher last year, if it hadn't been for an ill-timed injury. This season he has been healthy and has hit .326/.389/.505 though the first half. There is still work to be done, though, and Hodges could stand to show some more power are a third baseman and could improve his eye at the plate (17 walks in 184 at-bats).

    Best Pitcher: Pick your poison: unproven, enigmatic Taiwanese starter Sung-Wei Tseng or low-ceiling, polished college hurler David Huff. Tseng, 22, was signed this past off-season and challenged with an assignment to Advanced A-Ball. Despite a 1-6 record, he has held his own and sports a 3.84 ERA and has allowed 74 hits in 77.1 innings of work. He has also walked 25 and struck out 59. Huff, 22, is in his first full season after being taken in the first round last year out of UCLA. The lefty has a nifty 2.27 ERA and he has allowed 57 hits in 59.2 innings. His 15 walks are offset by 46 strikeouts.

    Best Prospect: Both Hodges and Huff are solid prospects, albeit with modest ceilings. I think Hodges will ultimately be the better player, but some kudos should also be given to Jared Goedert, who was recently promoted to Kinston after absolutely tearing up (.364 AVG, 16 HR in 165 AB) A-Ball. He, like Hodges, plays third base and was taken seven rounds after his position-mate in 2006. To make room for both players Goedert has been playing some second base. Don't read too much into the A-Ball numbers, but Goedert is definitely a sleeper, much like former Indians' third base prospect and current Padre Kevin Kouzmanoff.

    California League

    North Division | San Jose | 39-31 (.557) | San Francisco
    Best Player: Do prefer speed or power? Outfielder Antoan Richardson is a speed demon with 33 stolen bases in 70 games (and 41 attempts). He has also done an excellent job of getting on base this year with a .285 batting average and 50 walks. However, he has struck out too much for a top-of-the-order guy: 53 times. First baseman Tyler Von Schell has displayed the best power on the club with 10 homers in 141 at-bats. At the age of 27, though, you'd hope for more than 14 walks.

    Best Pitcher: The San Jose pitching staff has been torn up by recent promotions. In the first half, the two best pitchers were Dave McKae (1.93 ERA, 49 hits in 65.1 innings) and Taylor Wilding (1.52 ERA, 11 saves in 41.1 innings), but both have been promoted to Connecticut. The best pitcher - and prospect - would be Henry Sosa but he has pitched only two game for San Jose since his promotion from Augusta and has a 9.00 ERA. The winner by default, then, is Joseph Martinez, who has been durable (89 innings), is tied for the team lead with six wins and has a respectable 1.15 WHIP.

    Best Prospect: As mentioned above, it would be Sosa if not for his lack of appearances. In Augusta, the 21-year-old posted a 0.73 ERA in 10 starts (62 innings) and held hitters to a .144 average. Brian Bocock has a chance to be a big league utility player and has hit .280/.340/.372 combined for both San Jose and Augusta. He has also stolen 30 bases in 41 attempts. Frankly, there aren't many true prospects to choose from.

    South Division | Inland Empire | 39-31 (.557) | Los Angeles (NL)
    Best Player: Second baseman Travis Denker has had a solid season so far. He is currently hitting .337/.415/.470 and even more power in the past (he hit 23 homers in 2005). After two previous failed attempts to succeed at Advanced A-Ball, Denker has finally done it - with an exclamation mark with the fourth highest batting average in the league. Only 21, Denker could be an above-average offensive MLB second baseman after beginning his career at the hot corner.

    Best Pitcher: Right-hander James McDonald has the size (6'5'' 195 lbs) to succeed in pro ball and his numbers are starting to get him noticed. The 22-year-old former 11th round pick out of junior college has been Inland Empire's best pitcher this year - as well as one of the Dodgers' best minor league pitchers. In 74 innings, he has allowed only 66 hits and 18 walks. McDonald's 97 strikeouts have helped him to post a 3.77 ERA. Javy Guerra is also starting to get noticed after moving slowly in his first three seasons in pro ball. The 21-year-old has struck out 71 batters in 67.1 innings and has an ERA of 4.28.

    Best Prospect: The Dodgers are traditionally great developers of talent, but Advanced A-Ball is a little barren this season, especially for this organization. Only 21, third baseman Blake DeWitt is repeating Advanced A-Ball and offers less average than Denker but more power potential at the plate, although he hasn't really shown that this year with a line of .294/.334/.455. He was a first round draft pick in 2004 out of high school. With a little more polish, McDonald has a chance of overtaking DeWitt.

    There are some solid prospects in Advanced A-Ball but many of the can't miss players have already been promoted to Double-A. The second half of the season will be an interesting time to see which sleepers will step up and make a late-season climb up their clubs' prospect lists.

    Around the MinorsJune 19, 2007
    Restocking the Cupboard
    By Marc Hulet

    It is far too early to even begin to guestimate what teams made out the best in the 2007 Major League Baseball amateur draft. However, there are some teams that had impressive hauls and will immediately inject some life into the farm systems and provide hope for the future.

    Not surprisingly, the teams with multiple picks in the early rounds made the most noise. For simplicity's sakes I am going to focus in, for the most part, on the first five rounds since that is where the majority of the future MLB players will come from and the further down in the draft you go, the less likely it is that the players will actually sign.

    The eight minor systems that will likely get the biggest shot-in-the-arm include:

              Club                   Scouting Director     General Manager   Pre-2007 BA system rank
    1. Texas Rangers               |    Ron Hopkins    |    Jon Daniels         |    28th
    2. Toronto Blue Jays           |    Jon Lalonde    |    J.P. Ricciardi      |    25th
    3. Arizona Diamondbacks        |    Tom Allison    |    Josh Byrnes         |     3rd
    4. Cincinnati Reds             |    Chris Buckley  |    Wayne Krivsky       |    12th
    5. Washington Nationals        |    Dana Brown     |    Jim Bowden          |    30th
    6. San Francisco Giants        |    Matt Nerland   |    Brian Sabean        |    20th
    7. San Diego Padres            |    Bill Gayton    |    Kevin Towers        |    29th
    8. Atlanta Braves              |    Roy Clark      |    John Schuerholz     |    16th

    As shown by the numbers above, a number of mediocre minor league systems should really benefit from the 2007, if all goes according to plan.

    Washington is arguably the worst system in the minors, but is beginning to show signs of life after years of control by Major League Baseball. But the question remains: Is Jim Bowden really the right man for the job? My personal opinion is no, but it's nothing personal against the general manager. He tends to prefer very raw, very toolsy players and with a system so seriously lacking in talent, I think you need to take some safer picks, along with some high-upside players (which he did nicely with the first three picks this year). That philosophy should go for trades and free agent signings as well. The only really great move Bowden has made as general manager was fleecing the Reds for Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns, although both have seriously under-performed in Washington.

    But you have to like what Washington did with its first three picks in the 2007 draft by taking an excellent college left, a promising prep lefty and a raw, but toolsy high school outfielder. If the Nationals are able to sign the sixth round pick, Jack McGeary, to an over-slot deal, the club's draft will get significantly more impressive.

    The Blue Jays have been significantly damaged by J.P. Ricciardi's insistence on taking college players and avoidance of prep prospects like the plague. Ricciardi, who ironically came to Toronto with an outstanding reputation for evaluating talent, has finally allowed scouting director Jon Lalonde the freedom to take some high school players. That said, Toronto did still take a plethora of college seniors this season to help off-set the expected costs associated with signing a large number of pre-third round picks. If Toronto can get its first seven picks signed, the club should have an excellent offensive base for the new Gulf Coast League team and the short-season squad in Auburn should have a formidable pitching staff.

    With the first seven picks of the draft, the Rangers organization addressed its No. 1 weakness: pitching. On the downside, top picks Blake Beavan and Michael Main are four to five years away. Four other pitchers taken early - Neil Ramirez, Tommy Hunter, Evan Reed and Jon Gast - are intriguing. Reed could move quickly and be helping the club by mid-2008, if he can sharpen his command.

    Of the eight teams that had the best draft, Arizona had the highest rated minor league system, according to Baseball America, and is a perfect example of the rich getting richer. However, a number of Arizona's top prospects from the pre-2007 have graduated to the major leagues including Chris Young, Carlos Quentin and Micah Owings. The Diamondbacks do as good a job as any club of drafting a solid mix of prep and college players.

    The San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants both had more pre-second round picks than other clubs. But neither took full advantage of the opportunity as the Padres relied too heavily on low-ceiling college players and the Giants took two "signability" picks in the supplemental round, despite lacking second, third and fourth round picks due to free agent signings this past winter. Prep pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson have huge ceilings for San Francisco, along with infielder Nick Noonan, but you would still hope for more from a club with six picks before the second round.

    The Padres took only one prep player with the first eight selections, and Drew Cumberland does not have a huge ceiling because he lacks power potential and scouts are split on where he should play in the field. None of the pitchers taken in the early rounds have more potential than that of a No. 3 starter, which not good value. The Padres' second pick was an outfielder, Kellen Kulbacki, whose value lies in his bat, but A) he played in an extreme hitter's park in college and B) San Diego's home park dampens power numbers (Brian Giles is Exhibit A).

    The Atlanta Braves' draft philosophy changed slightly this year, as they relied more heavily on college players than they have in years. However, three of the first four picks were prep players. Outfielder Jason Heyward, a Georgia native, was coveted by a number of teams and the Braves organization was reportedly thrilled to get their No. 1 choice with its first pick. The Braves also took two college relievers who could move quite quickly: Josh Fields and Cory Gearrin.

    Let's break down the first five rounds for the Top 5 drafts even further:

    Texas Rangers (16th pick overall)
    1. Blake Beavan, RHP, high school, first round
    2. Michael Main, RHP/OF, high school, first round
    3. Julio Borbon, OF, college, supplemental round
    4. Neil Ramirez, RHP, high school, supplemental round
    5. Tommy Hunter, RHP, college, supplemental round
    6. Matt West, 3B, high school, second round
    7. Evan Reed, RHP, college, third round
    8. Garrett Nash, SS/OF, high school, fourth round
    9. Jon Gast, LHP, high school, fifth round

    Beavan, Main and Ramirez immediately fit right in with last year's No. 1 draft pick and former prep star hurler Kasey Kiker, who has been outstanding in limited appearances this year after beginning the season in extended spring training.

    Beavan has a plus-plus fastball that tops out around 96 mph and has proven himself on the international stage with Team USA. Main is a little rawer because he was a two-way player in high school, but he will take to the mound full-time in pro ball and could improve quickly as a result.

    Gast is another promising prep pitching, but he had Tommy John surgery in May, which is why he fell out of the first two rounds. If Gast shows he is recovering nicely from the surgery before the Aug. 15 deadline to sign draft picks, expect the Rangers to pony up the over-slot cash to get a deal done.

    College outfielder Borbon was linked to the Rangers before the draft because he is the perfect solution, according to some analysts, for the club's impending hole in centerfield, once Kenny Lofton moves on or retires. Borbon won't be ready immediately but he should move fairly quickly.

    Hunter was a draft-eligible college sophomore, who was a bit of an over-draft to help the club save a little money with big paydays expected for the first three or four draft picks. Reed is a college reliever who could move quickly.

    West is another high school shortstop that will have to find a new position due to his size (6'2''). He is likely headed to third base but does not have the traditional power most teams look for from that position. Nash is a fleet-of-foot, raw prep player with a questionable bat.

    The Rangers did a solid job of mixing high-ceiling prep players with some experienced college players, who could move quickly. The minor league depth receives a much-needed boost with this impressive haul.

    Toronto Blue Jays (21st pick)
    1. Kevin Ahrens, SS/3B, high school, first round
    2. J.P. Arencibia, C, college, first round
    3. Brett Cecil, LHP, college, supplemental round
    4. Justin Jackson, SS, high school, supplemental round
    5. Trystan Magnuson, RHP, college, supplemental round
    6. John Tolisano, 2B/SS, high school, second round
    7. Eric Eiland, OF, high school, second round
    8. Alan Farina, RHP, college, third round
    9. Brad Mills, LHP, college, fourth round
    10. Marc Rzepczynski, LHP, college, fifth round

    Initially, I was less than impressed with the Jays' first five rounds given the club's propensity for taking low-ceiling college seniors in the early rounds. And though Magnuson, Mills and Rzepczynski are in fact seniors, all three have shown significant improvements this year from a scouting perspective, which has helped to sway my early cynicism.

    Magnuson was one of the top two senior options according to Baseball America and he has dominated this season for Louisville, who is playing in the College World Series. Mills was drafted last year as a junior by the Jays but wanted to finish his civil engineering degree. Rzepczynski has improved his repertoire and with the incredible sink he creates on all his pitches, he has the potential to top out as a No. 3 starter and could get to the majors fairly quickly, as could his fellow senior picks.

    The Jays also nabbed a number of impressive high school athletes with high ceilings, including No. 1 pick Ahrens, as well as Jackson, Eiland and Tolisano. Everyone, save for Eiland, played shortstop in high school, so there will be some position changes and/or sharing in the Gulf Coast League this summer.

    Jackson and Eiland, who committed to Texas A&M as a football player, are the rawest of the four players, especially in terms of offence, so they will likely move slowly through the system.

    Both Cecil, from the left side, and Farina, from the right side, are hard-throwing college relievers who have improved their repertoires enough that they should receive starting assignments, although that might wait until 2008 due to college workloads this season.

    If Arencibia's back problems are a thing of the past, he has the potential to be a Javy Lopez-type of offensive catcher.

    Arizona Diamondbacks (9th pick)
    1. Jarrod Parker, RHP, high school, first round
    2. Wes Roemer, RHP, college, supplemental round
    3. Ed Easley, C, college, supplemental round
    4. Barry Enright, RHP, college, second round
    5. Reynaldo Navarro, SS, Puerto Rico, third round
    6. Sean Morgan, RHP, college, fourth round
    7. Tyrell Worthington, OF, high school, fifth round

    There is nothing quite like starting an amateur draft off with a high-ceiling prospect that makes you drool at the thought of his eventual potential. That, ladies and gentleman, sums up Parker in a nutshell. With the prep player in the can, the Diamondbacks organization went back to its old (successful) was of taking potentially lower-ceiling, but promising, college players and nabbed three dandies with Roemer, Enright and Morgan.

    All three have ceilings of a No. 3 or 4 starter, but all three are well-rounded and should move quickly. Of the three, Enright is most likely to end up in the bullpen. Although the club did not necessary draft for need, these three pitchers will fill a gapping hole in the organization, which has had much better success developing hitters.

    Speaking of hitters, Easley should be a solid, albeit unspectacular, offensive-minded catcher. Navarro is a Puerto Rican, slick-fielding shortstop. His bat is raw but there is some dormant pop just waiting to awaken. Worthington is another young and extremely raw player, who had more success in high school on the football field.

    Cincinnati Reds (15th pick)
    1. Devin Mesoraco, C, high school, first round
    2. Todd Frazier, 3B, college, supplemental round
    3. Kyle Lotzkar, RHP, high school, supplemental round
    4. Zack Cozart, SS, college, second round
    5. Scott Carroll, RHP, college, third round
    6. Neftali Soto, 3B, Puerto Rico, third round
    7. Brad Stouffer, 3B/OF, college, fourth round
    8. Andrew Bowman, LHP, college, fifth round

    The Reds addressed an obvious lack of hitting prospects with a number of excellent selections in the first five rounds. Mesoraco was being eyed by a lot of teams before he was snatched up with the 15th overall pick. He climbed the draft charts more than any other prospect this spring and is a well-rounded player with solid defence and a promising bat. He is also an excellent leader on the field.

    Frazier is a solid college baseball player with two brothers who have played professional ball, and he is the most talented of the three. There are some questions about his power potential with wood bats but he also mixes in some intriguing speed.

    Lotzkar, the most promising Canadian player this side of Phillippe Aumont, gives the Reds a high-ceiling prospect but his secondary pitches and control are lacking. He will need a significant amount of development time. He joins a number of other promising Canadian players in the organization, including Joey Votto and James Avery.

    Soto, like Reynaldo Navarro who was taken by Arizona, is one of the most promising players to come out of Puerto Rico in the last few years. Along with Frazier, the Reds added a few college bats that will hopefully move fairly quick to allow the 2007 prep picks time to develop.

    Cozart is a defensive-minded shortstop in the mold of Astros' shortstop Adam Everett. Cozart has a questionable bat at this point but should develop - at worst - into a fine utility player. Carroll has a promising fastball but his secondary stuff is lagging behind, mainly due to the fact he focused on football for much of his first three college seasons.

    Stouffer is an athletic player who lacks a position. He doesn't have enough power for a corner spot in the outfield or infield so he could end up at second base or centerfield, if he has enough range. Bowman was a highly-regarded prep pitcher with signability concerns. He went to college and got hurt so scouts were unable to see as much of him as they had hoped over the last three years.

    Washington Nationals (6th pick)
    1. Ross Detwiler, LHP, college, first round
    2. Josh Smoker, LHP, high school, supplemental round
    3. Michael Burgess, OF, high school, supplemental round
    4. Jordan Zimmerman, RHP, college, second round
    5. Jason Smolinski, 3B, high school, second round
    6. Steven Souza, 3B, high school, third round
    7. Derek Norris, C, high school, fourth round
    8. Brad Meyers, RHP, college, fifth round
    **Jack McGeary, LHP, high school, sixth round

    Many felt Detwiler was a better option for Pittsburgh at No. 4 than Daniel Moskos but Washington would not agree simply because they were thrilled to nab him with the sixth overall pick. Detwiler could move quickly through the National's system and he likely becomes the club's best overall prospect, with Ryan Zimmerman firmly entrenched as a major leaguer.

    Smoker was thought by many to be a first round pick, but Washington was lucky to get him with the first pick of the supplemental round. The left-handed prep pitcher is fairly advanced for his age and has six pitches in his repertoire. He instantly becomes one of the Nationals top five prospects, if he signs.

    Prep outfielder Burgess is extremely raw but is exactly the type of player that General Manager Jim Bowden loves to acquire. He comes from the same high school that produced Gary Sheffield, Doc Gooden and Elijah Dukes. Smolinski, Souza and Norris are other raw high school position players with solid potential, although all three may have been slightly over-drafted.

    Zimmerman and Meyers are two college pitchers with average stuff, who could move quickly through Washington's barren system. Zimmerman has touched 95 mph and has good stuff but he pitched against Division III competition during his college career. Meyers has less pitchability than Diamondbacks' supplemental round pick Wes Roemer, but he has better stuff.

    * * *

    Despite the weaker crop of college prospects this season, a number of teams made out very well by mixing the post-secondary athletes with prep prospects. The Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals will no doubt climb up Baseball America's minor league system rankings this coming off-season, if they manage to sign their top 2007 draft picks... and those players perform as expected.

    Around the MinorsJune 12, 2007
    Memories... of Former Draft Darlings
    By Marc Hulet

    The 2007 MLB Amateur Draft has come and gone and more than 1,400 baseball players from all over the globe have the potential to become professional athletes.

    As we all know, amateur drafts - especially in Major League Baseball - are unpredictable and even the most highly-sought-after prospect on draft day is not guaranteed anything in this game. A quick glance at the top three players in the homer run leader board in the Double-A Eastern League quickly brings back memories of drafts past and the faint whiff of unfulfilled potential.

    * * *

    As of June 11, Toronto Blue Jays' shortstop prospect Sergio Santos lead the Eastern League, which is the most pitcher-friendly of the three Double-A divisions, with 12 homers. Unfortunately, he also has a .233 batting average and has walked only 22 times in 202 at-bats, good for a .313 on-base average. Santos began the year in Double-A after spending the last two seasons in Triple-A.

    He bottomed out in 2006 when he hit .216/.254/.299 (shudder) in Triple-A Syracuse. However, Santos was only 23 when the 2007 began and he hit more than .300 for a good portion of April before ending the month at .277/.333/.692 (which incidentally had fans screaming for a promotion to Toronto, believe it or not). Since that time though, the batting average has plummeted and the homers have been harder to come by (he hit six in April, five in May and has only one so far this month).

    The average is a definite concern, especially given his two years of experience in Triple-A, but one can maintain some hope that Santos has rediscovered the power stroke, which made him an intriguing option going into the 2002 draft, according to our good friends at Baseball America.

    Santos has prodigious power, which he displayed by driving balls to all parts of the park in a private workout at Bank One Ballpark prior to the 2002 draft... Santos has enough power for any position and will be a middle-of-the-order hitter in the majors, perhaps as early as 2005.

    The Arizona Diamondbacks took Santos 27th overall after he struggled down the homestretch before the draft. Some called Santos' first-round selection a signability pick, while others called it the ultimate boom-or-bust risk. Undeterred by the critics, Santos signed and began his career in Rookie Ball and hit .272/.367/.520.

    He then followed that up by being jumped over A-Ball and was placed in hitters' heaven, also known as Lancaster. Over 93 games, Santos hit .287/.368/.408, which are good but not great numbers for the environment. Regardless, the Arizona organization had a bee in its bonnet and promoted Santos to Double-A, at the age of 20, to finish out his first full year of pro ball. He hit .255/.293/.365 in 37 games.

    In 2004, Santos returned to Double-A El Paso (not a bad hitter's park in its own right) and he spent an injury-interrupted year there and hit .282/.332/.461 in 89 games. He then spent 2005 in Triple-A Tucson and really struggled, hitting .239/.288/.367. By the end of the season Santos' prospect status had dimmed significantly and he was a throw-in to the Troy Glaus deal with Toronto, where his offensive contributions continue to belie his tools.

    Does this story have a happy ending? Only time - and continued patience - will tell.

    * * *

    The Los Angeles Dodgers 2004 draft had the potential to be an awesome draft - with hindsight. Not only did the organization, which is one of the top clubs at recognizing amateur talent, actually sign prep lefty Scott Elbert, shortstop Blake DeWitt, and college right-hander Justin Orenduff before the second round, but it also took - and failed to sign - two prep right-handers by the name of David Price and Joe Savery. Both those picks went on to be 2007 first round picks.

    The third talented player the Dodgers took that year, but failed to sign, was a first baseman out of Arizona State University named Jeff Larish. Fast-forward three years to 2007 and Larish is currently best known for A) being second in the Eastern League in homers (11) and B) being Boston's Rookie of the Year candidate Dustin Pedroia's former college teammate.

    But in 2004 - and certainly at the beginning of his junior season of college, Larish was by far the the superior prospect to Pedroia and very well possibly all five of the names above. In fact, when the year began, Baseball America called him the best college prospect in all of baseball. So why did he fall to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 13th round?

    Larish's slide began after he hit under .300 for a good portion of his junior season, before he finally settled at .308/.396/.468, which was a far cry from the .372/.528/.697 he managed during his sophomore season. Oh, and Larish was also represented by Scott Boras.

    Turning down a reported $660,000 - which still far exceeded slot money for the 13th round - Larish returned for his senior year of college. Things improved somewhat for him and he was drafted in the fifth round by the Detroit Tigers after hitting .324/.457/.680 in his final year of school. However, he received a signing bonus of "only" $220,000.

    Baseball America wrote this in a scouting report before the 2005 draft:

    Scouts have scrutinized his swing as much as any player in the draft, and among the theories regarding his problems are a suspect trigger and the way he blocks off his swing. Some now question whether he'll ever hit with wood. A third baseman as a freshman, a first baseman as a sophomore and a left fielder as a junior, Larish returned to first base this year. But he may not have enough raw power to play there as a pro. Scouts either love or hate Larish, and having Scott Boras as his adviser only adds to the mystery about where he'll be picked.

    Not surprisingly for a Boras client, Larish held out after the draft but managed two eek out 24 games in the 2005 minor league season. He began with a quick six-game refresher in the Gulf Coast League where he hit .222/.375/.278 and then jumped up to the New York Penn League to finish the year and managed a line of .297/.430/.625.

    The Tigers were no doubt impressed by his patience and power output at Oneonta, so he began the 2006 season in the Advanced A-Ball Florida State League. He spent the entire season there and struggled to hit for average with wood: .258/.379/.460. He walked 81 times but also struck out 101 times against younger competition, as he was old for the league at 23.

    In 2007, Larish began the year at Double-A Erie. The batting average continues to be an issue and he had a line of .231/.349/.462 through 59 games. He has walked 39 times with 56 strikeouts. Detroit currently lacks a long-term solution at first base, but it's hard to envision the former No. 1 college prospect in the nation taking a strangle hold on the position with the kind of numbers he has produced in professional baseball.

    * * *

    Perhaps I'm being too harsh on former Phillies' No. 1 draft pick Mike Costanzo. After all, it is only his second full season in professional baseball and he was a two-way player at Coastal Carolina, so he was naturally rawer than most college juniors. According to Baseball America, some teams were split on whether Costanzo would make a better hitter or pitcher.

    Costanzo's two-way prowess was a major reason why Coastal Carolina worked its way into Baseball America's Top 25 for the first time in the program's history... Because he has left-handed power and enough arm to profile for third base, most clubs like Costanzo better at the plate. If he's drafted as a pitcher, it will be because of his closer's demeanor, durable arm, fastball in the low 90s and power slider in the 80-83 mph range that can be a plus pitch. At the plate, Costanzo has shown raw and usable power.

    Regardless of what could have been, the Phillies made the popular decision and Constanzo had a solid, albeit unspectacular, beginning to his pro career in the New York Penn League in 2005. In 73 games, he hit .274/.356/.473. The 89 strikeouts in 281 at-bats were probably the biggest red flag.

    In his first full season, strikeouts were Costanzo's nemesis once again, this time in Advanced A-Ball in the Florida State League. He managed a line of only .258/.364/.411 and struck out 133 times in 504 at-bats, but he did off-set that somewhat with 74 walks.

    This season, despite the pedestrian High A-Ball numbers, the Phillies promoted Costanzo to Double-A and he, like Larish, has struggled. The former No. 1 pick has a line of .247/.319/.449 in 227 at-bats. He has also struck out 81 times, which is second in the league to New Hampshire's Chip Cannon, who is the embodiment of the all-or-nothing slugger.

    At the age of only 23, Costanzo is hardly washed up, but it would likely be in his best interest to begin making some adjustments to his approach at the plate.

    * * *

    With the 2007 MLB Amateur draft less than a week old, it may be in poor taste to already begin discussing potential busts, but it is inevitable. What former draft darlings have tired your patience in the last few years? What 2007 picks are you most disappointed in when it comes to your favorite club? Let us know by posting a comment or e-mail me at

    Around the MinorsJune 05, 2007
    2007 Draft Spotlight: Phillippe Aumont
    By Marc Hulet

    orlando%20apr%2007%202.JPG Canada's top junior pitcher, Phillippe Aumont, sat down with Baseball Analysts three days before traveling to the Dominican Republic with Baseball Canada's Junior National Team for the annual Dominican Summer League tour. The junior team will play eight games on its tour against major league Dominican Summer League teams. Included in the schedule are games against affiliates of the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Seattle Mariners.

    Upon returning to North America, the French Canadian from the City of Gatineau, Quebec has the potential to be one of the top 10 picks in the 2007 Major League Baseball amateur draft on June 7. According to Baseball America, Aumont really began to make a name for himself when he appeared in a high school all-star game in Cape Cod and in the East Coast Showcase last summer.

    Aumont said his career highlight to this point was winning a bronze medal with Team Canada at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Cuba, with a 6-2 win over Mexico.

    Baseball Analysts: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me; I know you're really busy.

    Phillippe Aumont: That's all right.

    Baseball Analysts: So, what are some of the things you have been doing in preparation of the upcoming draft?

    Phillippe Aumont: I went to Florida in March and then I went to Florida again in April with the [Canadian] Junior National Team... I also threw at the [Triple-A] Ottawa Lynx' stadium. And I'm going to the Dominican Republic this Wednesday with the national team... We'll be playing against the Dominicans down there.

    Baseball Analysts: What has been the most challenging competition you've faced recently?

    Phillippe Aumont: In April, I faced players in [Major League Baseball] extended spring training.

    Baseball Analysts: Which club's extended spring training did you attend?

    Phillippe Aumont: Me, I faced the [Atlanta] Braves and Detroit Tigers.

    Baseball Analysts: Do you remember any particularly difficult batters that you faced?

    Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, I don't remember the names but there was one Detroit Tiger - the lead-off hitter. He was so comfortable at the plate and for a pitcher, when you throw hard, most batters are not comfortable and you can see that. But he went to the plate and was really comfortable. He wasn't swinging at the two-seamer outside or the pitch inside. He was patient and looking for a specific pitch.

    Baseball Analysts: And what was the outcome of the at-bat?

    Phillippe Aumont: He got a hit against me - the only hit of the game.

    Baseball Analysts: How many innings did you throw?

    Phillippe Aumont: Three.

    Baseball Analysts: Of this past month, what was your favorite part?

    Phillippe Aumont: My favorite part was in Florida. That was a nice trip and there were a lot of people there. You know if you can dominate there, you can be one of the best players.

    Baseball Analysts: How has your life changed in the last year? Your draft stock has improved significantly and you're pretty much guaranteed to go in the first 10 picks of the draft.

    Phillippe Aumont: I don't know, really. I just continue to work hard and never give up... But I try not to do too much.

    Baseball Analysts: Are surprised at how much you've improved in the last year?

    Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, I am very surprised. I didn't expect that, but I learn quick so I think that's helped me to improve myself.

    Baseball Analysts: What do you think is the thing you've improved upon the most in the last year?

    Phillippe Aumont: I think it's controlling everything: my emotions, controlling the game and controlling my pitches and being able to throw my curveball for strikes. I've been working on my change-up. When you get to the higher levels, you need one. You can't win, really, with just a fastball and a curveball. You need three pitches, maybe four and good fastball movement. That's what I've been working on.

    Baseball Analysts: So, what pitches do you have in your repertoire right now?

    Phillippe Aumont: I have a fastball - two kinds of fastballs: a four-seamer and a two-seamer. The two-seamer is 92-93 [mph] with movement. The four-seamer goes up to 98 [mph]... I have a slider, that's kind of a slurve and goes up to 80-81 [mph]. And a change-up, 82-83 [mph].

    Baseball Analysts: Are you working on any other pitches or are you just looking to improve the ones you have?

    Phillippe Aumont: The priority is to work on these pitches. But I am working on an off-speed pitch. It's a splitter that I used as my change-up before. But I stopped that because I have a normal change-up now, a circle change-up. But I'm still working on the split-finger.

    Baseball Analysts: How does the level of competition compare between Canada and the U.S.? Have you seen enough competition in the U.S. to tell the difference?

    Phillippe Aumont: In Canada we have a... how do I say in English... different view of baseball. We have a lot of training on routine plays and stuff like that. And when you see American guys, they have all this stuff and they're all so cool. They want to look like [Derek] Jeter and all that. They're not the same guys, you know. I went to [amateur] showcases and it's a different world.

    Baseball Analysts: They have more confidence or they're more cocky?

    Phillippe Aumont: Well, I don't want to say cocky. Some of the guys are, but most are not. They're really, like, uh...

    Baseball Analysts: Flashy?

    Phillippe Aumont: Yeah.

    Baseball Analysts: And in Canada it's more laid back?

    Phillippe Aumont: Yeah... We don't have big stars... no big star shortstops or big star third basemen. It's just normal guys who can play baseball and compete against everybody.

    Baseball Analysts: Have you played baseball your whole life, or did you grow up playing hockey or other sports?

    Phillippe Aumont: I started to play [baseball] at the age of 11. And I was not a pitcher at that time. I started to throw the ball on the mound at 14.

    Baseball Analysts: You've only been doing it for four years, then?

    Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, it's just my fourth year as a pitcher. Before that I was a center-fielder.

    Baseball Analysts: Really? Do you still enjoying going up to the plate to hit?

    Phillippe Aumont: Not now, you know, because the draft is coming. People don't want me getting injured, especially my adviser and my coach on the national team.

    Baseball Analysts: Did you have a favorite team growing up?

    Phillippe Aumont: No, not really.

    Baseball Analysts: Did you have a favorite player or a pitcher that you modeled yourself after?

    Phillippe Aumont: Randy Johnson, a little bit. Because he's tall and at that point I was a little bit wild.

    Baseball Analysts: Did you ever get a chance to see him pitch in person?

    Phillippe Aumont: No, never.

    Baseball Analysts: Do you think you have the ability to throw harder some day or are you comfortable with the level you're at right now?

    Phillippe Aumont: I know I need to work on a lot of things and for sure it's one of my goals. Once in my life I would like to top 100 [mph]. I'm comfortable with where I am; hitters don't hit me.

    Baseball Analysts: So it's not about throwing harder for you?

    Phillippe Aumont: No. In the major leagues, not everybody can throw 96-97 [mph] and they still get guys out.

    Baseball Analysts: Right now, what do you think is your best pitch? Is it your two-seamer?

    Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, my two-seamer.

    Baseball Analysts: And that's because you command it the best?

    Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, and there is a lot of movement on it.

    Baseball Analysts: Do you think you still have room to grow or fill out? You're about 6'7'' right now?

    Phillippe Aumont: I don't think I'll get taller, but I'm 228 lbs right now, or something like that, and I want to get up to 240, 245.

    Baseball Analysts: You seem to have a lot of intelligence from a pitching standpoint for your age. A lot of young pitchers think they just have to throw really hard all the time to succeed. Where does that pitching philosophy come from?

    Phillippe Aumont: In my first year with the national team I was just trying to throw the ball really hard and I wanted to make the team. [Head coach] Greg Hamilton took me aside and said, "Phillippe, just throw the ball. You're 6'7'' and you don't need to throw that hard. You have good movement on the fastball. When you're on the mound, be aggressive, don't be intimidated and try to intimidate the batters and you will be a success." That's when I started to think like that. And day after day, I just try to focus on that.

    Baseball Analysts: When you're standing on the mound, what's the most challenging part of pitching?

    Phillippe Aumont: That's a good question. The hardest thing to do is to not think. You need to be clear in your head. You need to stay focused and not think about your mechanics or think about getting your fastball over and stuff like that. You want to have nothing, nothing, nothing in your head. The second you have something and you start to think about other things you'll start throwing balls, balls in the dirt, wild pitches, then they get a hit and you'll start to be mad. That's a hard thing to do - not think - but if you can do it, you can be successful.

    Baseball Analysts: Do you have a preference where you would like to be drafted? Do you want to go in the top five or the top 10, or does that matter?

    Phillippe Aumont: For me, it doesn't matter where I go. Baseball is baseball for me. Every team plays baseball, every team has coaches. The biggest difference, I think, is the uniform. But I would like to go to Washington.

    Baseball Analysts: You'd like to be picked by the Washington Nationals?

    Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, I'd like to go there. I don't know why.

    Baseball Analysts: Are they one of the teams that have shown a lot of interest in you?

    Phillippe Aumont: I don't know, really... Some teams do their jobs behind the scenes and you don't see them. They don't talk to you or to anybody and you don't know they're there. And some of the teams are right in front of you.

    Baseball Analysts: Have you had any private workouts with teams?

    Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, I did twice. One with Cleveland and one with the New York Yankees.

    Baseball Analysts: Was that exciting?

    Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, it was nice. You can visit and see how everything works. You see the fields and there are players everywhere.

    Baseball Analysts: Do you have any plans for draft day?

    Phillippe Aumont: We have two options. We could go to Orlando or we can stay in Gatineau [Quebec, Canada] and have a big party and celebrate with friends and family.

    Baseball Analysts: Are you leaning towards one in particular?

    Phillippe Aumont: For now, I haven't been invited to Florida. Nobody has yet, not even David Price. I don't know why it's late like that... I'm waiting but I expect to be here. It's more fun when you're with your family. But if I go to Florida, I'll be with my adviser [Dan Lawson], my girlfriend and my tutor.

    Baseball Analysts: Have you had a chance to see any of the other high school pitchers expected to go early in the draft?

    Phillippe Aumont: Yeah, I played with Rick Porcello, Matt Harvey; I played with - well he's not a pitcher - Josh Vitters. All those high schools guys are in the top 10 or 15. Jarrod Parker was another one. I saw them in the East Coast Showcase, in the Cape Cod [High School Classic] and the World Junior Championship.

    Baseball Analysts: How do you feel you compare with some of those other high school pitchers?

    Phillippe Aumont: Well, now I don't know. Last year I was comfortable to be there. I wasn't embarrassed because I was performing and they were performing well too. We were all on the same level. It's been a year and things change.

    Baseball Analysts: What goals do you have long-term in professional baseball?

    Phillippe Aumont: It's not something I'm really thinking about now. For sure I want to be drafted as high as possible and I want to play in the big leagues, for sure. But I want to go step by step and be ready for the next level. I don't want to go places when I'm not ready. For me, there is no rush.

    Baseball Analysts: What do you think is going to be the most challenging part about playing professional baseball full-time?

    Phillippe Aumont: Just the routine. It's hard taking the bus, being away from home and staying at the hotel. I'm tall and I don't fit in the bus very comfortably.

    Baseball Analysts: Thank you very much for your time.

    Phillippe Aumont: No problem.

    Baseball Analysts: Best of luck with the draft.

    Phillippe Aumont: Thank you.

    A special thank you to Dan Lawson, Bob Elliott and Jim Callis for their assistance in arranging this interview.

    Around the MinorsMay 31, 2007
    2007 Draft Spotlight: Matt LaPorta
    By Marc Hulet

    LaPortaHeadShot.jpg University of Florida senior first baseman Matt LaPorta took some time out before a crucial weekend series with LSU during the weekend of May 11-13 to speak exclusively with about his college career and the upcoming Major League Baseball draft. LaPorta has been ranked as one of the top three college bats in the upcoming draft and has a good chance of being taken in the first round.

    In his sophomore season, LaPorta slugged a school record 26 homers and hit .328/.438/.698. After an injury-marred 2006 junior season, in which he hit .259/.410/.538, LaPorta fell in the draft to the 14th round where he was picked by the Boston Red Sox. Unable to come to an agreement, LaPorta - who is advised by Scott Boras - returned to Florida for this senior year.

    LaPorta has been nothing short of brilliant during his senior season at Florida with a line of .402/.582/.817 and 20 home runs in 52 games. The biggest knock on LaPorta is his defence, which is not that surprising considering he came to university as a catcher and moved to first base to accommodate slick-fielding Brian Jeroloman.

    According to Baseball America, LaPorta has improved his approach and kept his hands inside the ball better this year. His plus-plus raw power remains a game-changing tool.

    Not just a one-dimensional athlete, LaPorta was recognized during the 2006 Cape Cod Summer League season with the Daniel Silva Sportsmanship Award, which honors outstanding sportsmanship on and off the field. On May 22 of this year, LaPorta was announced as the SEC Baseball Player of the Year for the second time in his college career. LaPorta also won the award after his sophomore season.

    BaseballAnalysts: Are you guys ready for a good series this weekend with LSU?

    Matt LaPorta: Yeah, it's going to be a big series.

    BaseballAnalysts: What goals do you have for the remainder of the college season?

    Matt LaPorta: Just to help my team get to the SEC tournament and hopefully the regionals.

    BaseballAnalysts: What do you think Florida has to do to be successful?

    Matt LaPorta: We probably have to win three or four games out of the next two weekends to meet those goals. LSU and Tennessee are two very high-quality teams and we just have to go out and play our game and hopefully we'll come out on top.

    BaseballAnalysts: Have you achieved all the goals you set out for yourself in college?

    Matt LaPorta: Yeah, I think I've done a lot of things - more than I ever thought imaginable, really, going into college.

    BaseballAnalysts: Were you happy about your decision to go to college? (LaPorta was drafted in the 14th round out of high school by the Chicago Cubs, which was his favorite team growing up).

    Matt LaPorta: Oh yeah, definitely.

    BaseballAnalysts: Do you have any specific highlights or key moments from your college career?

    Matt LaPorta: Yeah, I mean there have definitely been some highs and lows but it's hard to say because every year there have been new experiences that have just brought new light to how I see things on and off the field. Obviously going to the College World Series (The University of Texas edged Florida in 2005) is pretty high and getting to play for the USA National team (in 2005 with teammates Adam Davis and Brian Jeroloman) was another high point.

    BaseballAnalysts: What would it mean to you to win the College Player of the Year award?

    Matt LaPorta: That would be, you know, a tremendous honor. I couldn't even explain... It would be a miracle. It would truly be a gift from God. That's all I can say.

    BaseballAnalysts: Do you think you have a good shot at it... You're up against some very good competition.

    Matt LaPorta: Oh yeah, there is great competition out there. Honestly, I couldn't tell you. We'll see what happens. It's a big honor; I'm sure whoever gets it is well deserving of it.

    BaseballAnalysts: Who would have your vote?

    Matt LaPorta: I'm probably going to have to go with my buddy (Vanderbilt pitcher and project first overall draft pick) David Price.

    BaseballAnalysts: You've had some really outstanding numbers in your senior year. Has the strained oblique muscle that you had last year bothered you at all this season?

    Matt LaPorta: No, not at all.

    BaseballAnalysts: Have you had any injuries that have bothered you this year?

    Matt LaPorta: I injured my quad a little bit and I missed the last couple of weekends, but nothing too big.

    BaseballAnalysts: Would you attribute the strained oblique muscle to why your numbers were down during your junior year, or were there other factors?

    Matt LaPorta: A lot of it had to do with that. But I tried to do way too much when I came back and tried to put up numbers like I would have through an entire season and it just wasn't possible. It hurt me.

    BaseballAnalysts: Were you also trying to help pick up the slack for some of the other players who were having off-years offensively? I know both second baseman Adam Davis (drafted by Cleveland) and catcher Brian Jeroloman (drafted by Toronto) also struggled.

    Matt LaPorta: Yeah, when I came up to the plate, I felt like I had a lot of pressure to get the runs in and, you know, I came out of my element and didn't stay within myself. I tried to do way too much.

    BaseballAnalysts: What have been the biggest changes in your game this season?

    Matt LaPorta: Just putting more of my faith in God and letting him lead the way, as well as playing baseball and having fun. Everything else will just take care of itself.

    BaseballAnalysts: Are there any highlights from this specific year that you've really enjoyed?

    Matt LaPorta: I've enjoyed all of it. I'm taking it all in because it's the last time I'll get to play college baseball. I'm enjoying every last minute of it.

    BaseballAnalysts: So it's bittersweet?

    Matt LaPorta: Yeah.

    BaseballAnalysts: Are you looking forward to the opportunity to pursue a pro career?

    Matt LaPorta: Oh definitely. It's my time to move on to the next step in my life after this college season.

    BaseballAnalysts: You hit .250 last year in the Cape Cod League, along with solid on-base and slugging numbers... Do you think you have adequately proven to scouts that you can make the necessary adjustments from aluminum bats to wood?

    Matt LaPorta: Yeah... but the oblique was still in the back of my mind [during the summer] and I don't think I played anywhere near where I could have if I hadn't had that injury. [Scouts] had seen me play up at the Cape and with Team USA and stuff.

    BaseballAnalysts: What's the biggest difference between using the aluminum and the wood bats for you?

    Matt LaPorta: You just have to trust your hands more. You can't try to hit a home run or get long because you won't hit the ball well.

    BaseballAnalysts: What do you think are your personal strengths as a hitter?

    Matt LaPorta: My ability to take pitches that are balls. And when I do get a pitch, I can capitalize on it and use my power.

    BaseballAnalysts: What are some of the parts of your game that you think you need to continue to work on to get better?

    Matt LaPorta: I think all aspects of my game. Baseball is a sport where you never really reach your full potential. Guys are always looking for ways to improve and get better every day. So, with that said, every aspect of my game has got to get better.

    BaseballAnalysts: Let's switch focuses here for a bit and fast-forward to the draft. Do you have a preference as to which team selects you on draft day?

    Matt LaPorta: No, not at all. I'd just be fortunate enough to get drafted and open that door to a new world and see what happens.

    BaseballAnalysts: Would you like to go in the first round of the draft or is that even on your mind?

    Matt LaPorta: None of that is really on my mind right now. I don't want to focus on anything I can't control. I just want to go out and play baseball, hit and do well. We'll see what happens with that other stuff.

    BaseballAnalysts: Have there been any specific teams that have shown a lot of interest in you?

    Matt LaPorta: Yeah, I've had quite a few teams that have shown some interest in me but, you know, it's still early. We'll see who really wants me closer to draft day.

    BaseballAnalysts: Who did you follow growing up? Were you a baseball fan?

    Matt LaPorta: Yeah, I was always watching the power hitting guys like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. I was in Port Charlotte [Florida] so the Rangers always had spring training down there and I would go watch [Rafael] Palmeiro and those kinds of guys.

    BaseballAnalysts: Did you follow the Rangers throughout the season too, or just in spring training?

    Matt LaPorta: Yeah, I followed the Rangers but mostly I was a Cubs fan. My father was from Chicago and his dad is too. He would pick me up from school and we would go watch Cubs games.

    BaseballAnalysts: Do you have any specific plans for draft day? Have you thought about that yet?

    Matt LaPorta: Nah, I'm probably just going to hang out at my house and just relax and see what happens.

    BaseballAnalysts: You're being advised by one of the most powerful agents in baseball. How did that end up happening? Did you approach him or did he approach you?

    Matt LaPorta: They came up to me. It's funny, I remember when Alex Rodriguez got that $252 million deal with the Rangers and I was, at the time, thinking: 'Scott Boras, this guy's amazing.' I was only wishing and hoping that one day I could be good enough to have him as an adviser and so far it's coming to fruition.

    BaseballAnalysts: Have you enjoyed working with him?

    Matt LaPorta: I really enjoy the Boras Corporation. They're a great group of guys and they love baseball. That's the main thing: they're baseball guys.

    BaseballAnalysts: Are you concerned at all about sliding in the draft because of your representation?

    Matt LaPorta: No, because before I made the decision I put it in God's hands and it wasn't just a quick decision like I'm going to go with their group. You know, I prayed about it and asked God what I should do and he led me in that direction.

    BaseballAnalysts: Are you disappointed that a deal did not get done with Boston last year after your junior season?

    Matt LaPorta: No, not at all. When one door closes, another one opens and I got a chance to come back to college for another year and got to see two national championships, one in football and one in basketball. The people I've met this year, if I had gone to play pro ball I would never have met them. I'm going to make it to the majors whether I signed last year or this year.

    BaseballAnalysts: Do you keep in touch with any of your former teammates who are in pro ball?

    Matt LaPorta: Not so much because they're so busy and I'm very busy. It's just hard to find time to stay in touch with them.

    BaseballAnalysts: Who is the toughest college pitcher that you've ever face?

    Matt LaPorta: That would be my buddy Ian Kennedy. I only faced him once when we were at the USA tryouts. He struck me out with a fastball right down the middle of the plate. So basically he out-smarted me and I just tipped my hat and went back to the dugout. Just the way he pitches is so crafty and he's very smart.

    BaseballAnalysts: What professional baseball goals have you set for yourself, if any?

    Matt LaPorta: Making it to professional baseball, obviously, but that's about as far as it goes right now. I haven't been there so I don't have a base to set any goals. I don't know what it's like.

    BaseballAnalysts: Are there any players on your team who have really impressed you that you think could be poised for a big breakout in the next year or two?

    Matt LaPorta: Yeah, our shortstop Cole Figueroa. He's a freshman and he's going to be a phenomenal player and someone to watch out for in the next couple of years.

    BaseballAnalysts: So the Blue Jays are going to regret not signing him after drafting him out of high school last year?

    Matt LaPorta: Is that who drafted him?

    BaseballAnalysts: Yes, it was.

    Matt LaPorta: Oh yeah. He's a quality person and a great ballplayer.

    BaseballAnalysts: If you weren't pursuing a career as a baseball player, what other career would you pursue?

    Matt LaPorta: Entrepreneurialship. I'd like to buy and sell businesses. Things of that nature. And do a lot of investing... Kind of like Donald Trump. The guys on my team always give me crap for it.

    BaseballAnalysts: Well, thank you very much for your time, Matt, and hopefully we'll get to talk again sometime.

    Matt LaPorta: All right, sounds good. Take care.

    BaseballAnalysts: You too.

    A special thank you to John Hines of the University of Florida for helping to arrange the interview with the Gators' Matt LaPorta.

    Around the MinorsMay 26, 2007
    Pitching Drought in Tampa... It's About to End
    By Marc Hulet
    Tampa Bay Rays
    1. Scott Kazmir     1st round, 2002 (Mets)     1/84  
    2. James Shields   16th round, 2000           12/81  
    3. _____________     _____________            ______
    4. _____________     _____________            ______
    5. _____________     _____________            ______

    With three members of the Tampa Bay Ray's starting rotation with ERAs above 7.50 as recently as this past Wednesday, you can imagine General Manager (Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, actually) Andrew Friedman has had a few restless nights. Fear not, young Friedman, Scott Kazmir, 23, and James Shields, 25, will soon have competent company in the starting rotation. And the likes of Casey Fossum, Edwin Jackson and Jae Seo will be distant memories.

    2004: The Draft of the Decade

    As perennial losers, the Rays have had more than a couple of shots at injecting life into the organization through the amateur baseball draft. And while they have had some great early round picks (Delmon Young, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli), 2004 was by far the best all-around draft for the club.

    In the first 13 rounds, the club picked up Jeff Niemann, Reid Brignac, Wade Davis, Jacob McGee, Matt Walker, Fernando Perez and Andy Sonnanstine. Was this the best single draft by one team in the history of baseball? No, certainly not. But what this draft did was inject one top shortstop prospect and five pitching prospects, three of whom could one day become No. 2 starters if they reach their ceiling.

    Thanks to that 2004 draft, and others, Tampa has some solid studs advancing through the system, as well as enviable depth.

    Triple-A Durham
           Name                  Draft                   Age
    1. Jeff Niemann            1st, 2004                 2/83
    2. Andy Sonnanstine       13th, 2004                 3/83 
    3. Jason Hammel           10th, 2002                 9/82
    4. Mitch Talbot            2nd, 2002 (Astros)       10/83 

    Friday night's pitching prospect match-up between Niemann and Kevin Slowey was a perfect example of stuff vs smarts. Slowey came out on top by allowing no runs over eight innings, while Niemann allowed three runs over six to take the loss. This outing showed that Niemann still has some work to do before succeeding at the Major League level, but he's not far away. In 10 Triple-A starts this season, Niemann has posted a 4.02 ERA. In 53.2 innings of work, the 6'9'' 280-pound right-hander has allowed 54 hits and 20 walks. He has struck out 57 batters. Health is the big key for Niemann, as he has pitched a total of 25 games in his first two full pro seasons since signing out of Rice University. If his shoulder holds up, he could see the Tampa rotation by September. With a four-pitch repertoire - including a 96-mph fastball - Niemann could become a top starter in the American League.

    Sonnanstine is one of those pitchers who doesn't impress you with his stuff (87-91 mph fastball) but he just keeps putting up respectable numbers and deserves a shot. Drafted in the 13th round out of Kent State University in 2004, Sonnanstine had a career ERA of 2.55 in 424 innings coming into the 2007 season. In Triple-A this year, he has pitched excellent and has posted a 2.30 ERA in nine starts (58.2 innings). Sonnanstine has allowed only 42 hits and 12 walks, for a WHIP below 1.00. He has also struck out 60 batters, which is impressive given his average stuff. Scouts say Sonnanstine has to be "on" to win but he has struggled in only one outing this season, which came on April 13 in Toledo when he allowed five runs in six innings. He has struck out more than 10 batters in a game on two occasions this season. His lone plus pitch is a change-up that Shields taught to him.

    Jason Hammel, 24, is often the overlooked prospect because he's not flashy and wasn't a high draft pick, but he has the ceiling of a No. 4 starter or a solid middle reliever. At 6'6'' and 220 pounds, Hammel has a great pitcher's body and has done well so far this season in Triple-A. He has allowed only 42 hits in 57.1 innings of work. He has struck out 55 and walked only 22. He has also induced almost 1.5 ground balls for every flyball. Hammels is due for a shot at the major leagues again and should greatly improve upon his career ERA of 7.77 from 44 innings of work in the majors last year. Hammel has a low-90s fastball and a plus curve. The consistency of his change-up will likely determine his Major League future.

    Mitch Talbot came to Tampa Bay last year in the Aubrey Huff deal, which also netted recently-demoted shortstop Ben Zobrist. Prior to the 2006 season, Talbot's ceiling was estimated to be a No. 5 starter or reliever. However, last season the 23-year-old had a 3.39 ERA in Double-A for Houston (90.1 innings) and then a 1.90 ERA in Double-A for Tampa (66.1 innings). This season has been a different story for Talbot, though, as he has struggled in Triple-A and has a 7.20 ERA in 40 innings. He has allowed too many hits (50) as well as too many walks (20). On the plus side, he has induced two ground balls for every one fly ball. Talbot's worst outing of the year came on May 5 against Richmond, when he recorded no outs and was charged with 10 earned runs. Without the one terrible outing, his ERA would be 4.95. Since that time, Talbot has allowed only four earned runs in three starts (15 innings). His biggest downside is the lack of a consistent breaking ball to go with his low-90s fastball and change-up.

    Double-A Montgomery
            Name                Draft              Age
    1. Chris Mason           2nd, 2005            7/84
    2. James Houser          2nd, 2003           12/84
    3. Jonathan Barratt      5th, 2003            3/85
    4. Chuck Tiffany         2nd, 2003 (Dodgers)  1/85

    Less than three years after being drafted in the second round out of UNC-Greensboro, Chris Mason is having a solid season at Double-A Montgomery. He has a 2.68 ERA through 10 starts and has allowed 52 hits in 57 innings. Mason has walked only 14 and struck out 52. The right-hander was promoted aggressively by Tampa Bay even after he struggled in Advanced A-Ball last year and posted a 5.02 ERA in 152.1 innings of work. He struck out only 111 and walked 44. Mason was extremely hittable and allowed 177 hits. He possesses a low 90s fastball, slurve and change. The latter two pitches need work. Mason, who was a two-way player in college, now projects as a solid No. 4 starter and could realize that potential as early as 2008.

    At 5'10'' and 155 pounds, Jonathan Barratt doesn't look like a professional baseball player, but don't let that fool you; he has talent. After signing late out of high school in 2003, Barratt made his pro debut the next season in the short-season New York Penn League and posted a 2.74 ERA in 10 starts. The next season, Tampa Bay inexplicably rushed Barratt to Advanced A-Ball in Visalia. They also threw him into the bullpen, as they were concerned about his long-term health due to his size. Barratt posted a miserable 6.59 ERA in 71 innings. He was returned to the rotation the next season while repeating the level and posted a respectable 2.93 ERA in 21 games. This season, Barratt has struggled with injuries and did not pitch in April. In May, though, Barratt has started four Double-A games and has allowed 20 hits and 13 walks in 19.1 innings. The right-hander has struggled against righties, who are hitting .304 against him, compared to lefties at .158. If his health holds up, Barratt could be a solid No. 4 or 5 starter. His best pitch right now is his curveball, which he uses along with a low-90s fastball and developing change-up.

    James Houser is only 22 but has advanced to Double-A in his fifth minor league season. His ascent was slowed by some injuries problems in 2004. Three years later, Houser appears to have left his serious injury woes behind him. The 6'4'' lefty is having a nice season so far with a 2.48 ERA in 32.2 innings. Batters are hitting only .168 against Houser and he has allowed 19 hits in total. Lefty batters have only one hit against him this year. He has also issued only eight walks, along with 22 strikeouts. Between his two starts on May 15 and 20, Houser did not allow an earned run and allowed only four hits in 11.1 innings. One negative is his GO/AO ration (ground outs to air outs), which is at 0.95.

    Chuck Tiffany is probably one of the most frustrating pitchers in the system right now. He is extremely talented but he cannot seem to stay healthy. Drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2003 draft by the Dodgers, Tiffany was obtained with the disappointing Edwin Jackson for Danys Baez and Lance Carter in January of 2006. Since that time, Tiffany has appeared in only four regular season games due to injuries. When healthy, the 22-year-old lefty spins a plus curveball and has the potential to be a No. 3 starter.

    Advanced Single-A Vero Beach
            Name              Draft             Age
    1. Wade Davis           3rd, 2004          9/85
    2. Jacob McGee          5th, 2004          8/86
    3. Matt Walker         10th, 2004          8/86

    Davis has shown significant progress since posting a 6.09 ERA in his debut season in Rookie Ball in 2004. Last season, he posted a 3.02 ERA in A-Ball while striking out 165 in 146 innings. This season, in Advanced A-Ball, Davis is also sending batters back to the dugout shaking their heads. His best game of the year came on May 4 against Jupiter when he threw a seven inning no-hitter. For the season, he has struck out 50 in 52.2 innings and has posted only 37 hits and 15 walks. Davis has allowed only four earned runs in his last six starts (37.1 innings). Like many Rays' pitching prospects, Davis has good size at 6'5'' 220 pounds. He needs to learn to combat lefties a little better as they have hit .285 against him this year, compared to righties at .122. Davis, who has a four-pitch repertoire and can touch 98 mph with his fastball, has taken a huge step forward and now projects as a solid No. 3 starter. Not bad for a kid who did not start pitching until his sophomore season in high school.

    McGee is something special. The 20-year-old left-hander currently has a 1.84 ERA in 10 starts in the Florida State League. In 53.2 innings, McGee has allowed only 23 hits (.178 average) and has walked 21. He has also struck out 61. One of the knocks on McGee right now is that he is too much of a flyball pitcher, having posted a 0.85 GO/AO ratio. Despite that, he has yet to allow a home run this season. McGee is extremely tough on lefties, who have hit only .049 against him this year. Last season, managers voted McGee's fastball the best in the Midwest League. He throws it around 90-94 mph with good movement and can touch 96. He also has a curveball and change-up.

    Walker, 20, has struggled more this year than other top pitchers in the system, aside from Talbot. The 20-year-old has had his best run of the year in his last three starts by allowing only six runs in 15 innings. His worst outing came on April 26 when he was charged with eight earned runs in 1.1 innings of work against Palm Beach (Cardinals). Walker's biggest problem this season has been walks. In 38.2 innings, he has allowed 30 walks, while striking out 32. Throw in another 42 base runners via hits and that has been far too many players reaching base. His last outing on March 23 was encouraging as Walker limited Lakeland to two hits over five innings, although he walked three. He has the best breaking ball in the Rays' system, along with a solid change-up and a fastball that can touch 96 mph.

    Single-A Columbus
            Name                  Draft             Age
    1. Josh Butler              2nd, 2006          12/84
    2. Wade Townsend            1st, 2005           2/83
    3. Jeremy Hellickson,       4th, 2005           4/87
    4. Lewis (Heath) Rollins   11th, 2006           5/85

    Although Tampa has had a lot success with high school pitchers (McGee, Walker, Hellickson, Davis, and so on), they have not shied away from taking the odd college pitcher early in the draft. The acquisition of Josh Butler in the second round last year out of the University of San Diego has looked smart so far, as he has had a solid season for Columbus. However, the Rays have not challenged him, as many college pitchers taken early in the 2006 draft are already in Advanced A-Ball. In 49 innings this season, Butler, 22, has allowed only 40 hits, while walking 15. He has struck out 36. Opponents have had troubles getting the ball in the air against Butler, who has held opponents to one fly ball for every 2.2 ground balls. Both his curveball and slider are plus pitches. His fastball is between 90-95 mph and his change-up is a work-in-progress.

    The tale of Wade Townsend is a long and complicated one despite the fact the former college standout has failed to rise above A-Ball after being drafted in the first round (for the second time) by Tampa Bay in 2005. He was originally taken eighth overall in 2004 by the Baltimore organization, which allegedly tried to low-ball him with its contract offer. Townsend returned to Rice University for his senior year, although he was ineligible to play baseball. After Tampa Bay drafted and signed him, Townsend posted a 5.49 ERA in 39.1 innings in the New York Penn League. He then missed all of 2006 due to Tommy John surgery. Townsend, 24, has already spent time on the disabled list this season, but he has also posted a 2.59 ERA in seven starts (31.1 innings). He has allowed 21 hits and walked 10, while striking out 40. Some believe Townsend is better suited for the pen because of his mentality on the mound. His fastball has been inconsistent, but when he's at his best he has a spike curve and change-up, both of which are plus pitches.

    Jeremy Hellickson has had a solid start to his first year of full-season ball. Despite not making his first start of the year until April 24, Hellickson has an impressive 1.80 ERA in 25 innings. In 2007, he has allowed 17 hits and 10 walks. Hellickson has held batters to a .191 average overall. Lefties have hit only .150 against the 6'1'' right-hander. His best game of the year came against Rome on May 15 when he allowed only one hit in five innings and struck out 10 baby Braves. He needs to improve his secondary pitches (curve and change) to take his game to the next level.

    One of the lesser known Rays' pitching prospects, Heath Rollins was a two-way player at Winthrop and scouts were split on whether he should play the outfield or toe the rubber as a pro. So far Tampa Bay appears to have made the correct decision, as Rollins has a 1.12 ERA, albeit in A-Ball. He has struck out more than one batter per inning, but the most impressive thing is that he has induced 2.31 ground balls for every one flyball. Rollins works most comfortably around 87-90 mph but can touch 93 mph and has a slider, curve and change-up in his repertoire.

    Overall, the minor league system is in excellent shape after four years of work by the Tampa Bay organization - specifically the scouting department. Just imagine how good the system would be if the Rays had been able to sign picks such as Andrew Miller, Wade LeBlanc, Adam Ottavino, David Bush, Bryan Morris and Mike Pelfrey.

    Around the MinorsMay 22, 2007
    Colorado Has Nothing on These Guys
    By Marc Hulet

    30-0, 12-14, 21-6

    No, those aren't football scores. Those are the results from this past weekend as the Lancaster JetHawks (Boston) and Lake Elsinore Storm (San Diego) faced off in California League action. Interestingly, just this past week, I highlighted the Lancaster team as being the most offensive-minded club in A-Ball. However, they were on the short end of two of those three mammoth games as Lake Elsinore absolutely exploded against the hapless home team.

    Lake Elsinore, a team heavy with former college draft picks, scored 63 runs in only three games. And if that was not mind-blowing enough, the club scored 30 runs in the first game of the series.

    You can read about the teams' thrilling series at Baseball America and Minor League Baseball, so let's concentrate on breaking down the numbers:

    Lake Elsinore's Five Offensive Musketeers:
                     Friday  Saturday   Sunday    Three Day Total
    Chad Huffman    5 for 5 | 2 for 5 | 2 for 4 |  9 for 14 (.643)
    Kyle Blanks     6 for 7 | 2 for 5 | 3 for 6 | 11 for 18 (.611)
    Matt Antonelli  6 for 8 | 2 for 5 | 2 for 7 | 10 for 20 (.500)
    Yordany Ramirez 2 for 7 | 1 for 5 | 4 for 6 |  7 for 18 (.389)
    Craig Cooper    2 for 7 | 0 for 2 | 3 for 5 |  5 for 14 (.357)
    The Before and After:
                   Before         After      Difference
    Huffman   38/133 (.286) | 47/147 (.320) |  +.034
    Blanks    41/135 (.304) | 52/153 (.340) |  +.036
    Antonelli 44/146 (.301) | 54/166 (.325) |  +.024
    Ramirez   36/130 (.277) | 43/148 (.291) |  +.014
    Cooper    38/116 (.328) | 43/130 (.331) |  +.003

    What a difference a series can make. Hulking first base prospect Kyle Blanks (6'6'' 270 lbs) raised his average a stunning 36 points in three games. Not bad for a 42nd round draft pick. Chad Huffman, a 2006 second round draft pick out of Texas Christian University, also benefited from the series and raised his average by 34 points.

    Three Game Production Totals:
                R   RBI  HR
    Huffman    10 |  7 | 4 
    Blanks      9 | 11 | 3
    Antonelli   9 |  4 | 1
    Ramirez     4 | 15 | 2
    Cooper      7 | 10 | 3

    Along with the 15 RBIs, Yordany Ramirez also hit for the cycle on Sunday. The non-drafted free agent - who was born in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic - had spent six nondescript seasons in the Padres' organization prior to this year. Some caution should be used before getting too excited about his season, as Ramirez had a career .277 on-base average before 2007, as well as a line of .252/.285/.378 at Lake Elsinore in 2006.

    So, what effect did this offensive outburst have on Lancaster's pitching?

                     IP    HITS  RUNS
    Kris Johnson    1.1  |  5  |  8
    Mario Pena      1.2  |  8  | 11
    T.J. Large      3.1  |  5  |  3 
    Jason Blackley  2.0  |  6  |  5
    Blake Maxwell   0.2  |  4  |  3
                     IP    HITS  RUNS
    Matt Goodson    4.0  | 11  | 10
    Chad Rhoades    3.0  |  2  |  2
    Hunter Jones    2.0  |  1  |  0
                     IP    HITS  RUNS
    Mike Rozier     4.2  | 11  | 10
    Ismael Casillas 2.1  |  2  |  1
    J.T. Zink       0.1  |  6  |  8
    Blake Maxwell   1.2  |  4  |  4
    The Before and After [IP/ER (ERA)]:
                  Before           After        Difference
    Johnson    36.2/30 (7.46) | 38.0/37  (8.76) |  +1.30
    Pena       12.1/8  (5.95) | 14.0/19 (12.21) |  +6.26   
    Large           ----      |  3.1/5   (8.10) |  +8.10
    Blackley   21.2/13 (5.52) | 23.2/18  (6.85) |  +1.33
    Maxwell    24.1/8  (2.99) | 26.2/15  (5.06) |  +2.07
    Goodson     6.0/1  (1.50) | 10.0/10  (9.00) |  +7.50
    Rhoades    20.2/11 (4.90) | 23.2/13  (4.94) |  +0.04
    Jones      26.1/8  (2.76) | 28.1/8   (2.54) |  -0.22
    Rozier     35.1/24 (6.15) | 40.0/32  (7.20) |  +1.05
    Casillas   20.0/15 (6.75) | 22.1/16  (6.45) |  -0.30
    Zink            ----      |  0.1/8 (216.00) |  +216.00

    The only top pitching prospect affected by the onslaught was Kris Johnson, who has had a terrible time in the California League after a remarkable debut in the New York Penn League last season - 0.88 ERA in 30.2 innings, with seven walks and 27 strikeouts. Johnson was drafted 40th overall out of Wichita State University in 2006.

    Relievers T.J. Large and J.T. Zink made their California League debuts at the worst possible time. As a 46th round pick in 2005, though, Large is probably just happy to be collecting a paycheck as a professional baseball player. Zink was an eighth round pick in 2005.

    After seeing all this, you have to be even more impressed with pitcher Hunter Jones' 2.54 ERA. The 6'4'' 235 lbs lefty was signed out of Florida State University in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. Despite being passed over by 30 teams for 50 rounds each, Jones, 23, has out-performed all of Boston's top pitching prospects, save for Michael Bowden who was promoted to Portland last week. Last season in Greenville, Jones struck out 100 batters in 94.1 innings and walked only 20.

    I wonder if other pitchers will be hesitant to sign with Boston after seeing the effects Lancaster has had on some talented pitchers?

    Around the MinorsMay 15, 2007
    The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of A-Ball
    By Marc Hulet

    This week I thought I would take a look at the top hitting and top pitching teams in Advanced A-Ball. Interestingly, if you had looked at these two teams' rosters before the season began - and before you knew what city they were playing in - you might have thought the rankings would be exactly the opposite.

    As of right now, the Kinston Indians (Cleveland Indians) club is the best team in A-Ball in terms of team pitching, with the Wilmington Blue Rocks (Kansas City Royals) club not far behind. The Lancaster JetHawks (Boston Red Sox) club is the best team in terms of hitting. However, if you look at things from a purely prospect standpoint, Kinston has a better offensive team, while Lancaster theoretically has more pitching prospects.

    That, however, is where park factors come into play. Lancaster is known as an extreme hitter's park, while Kinston is more of a pitcher's park, which can be witnessed through these Weighted Park Factors, obtained via

    2004-2006 Weighted Park Factors:

               Runs  Hits   2B    HR    BB    SO
    Kinston    0.95  0.94  0.96  1.01  1.05  1.02
    Lancaster  1.22  1.15  1.02  1.60  1.11  1.00

    The numbers above bear out the fact that hitters have an advantage over pitchers in Lancaster. The club is leading all of A-Ball in homers and by a rather large margin. Kinston, on the other hand, is truthfully not exactly a pitcher's park; it's actually about as close to neutral as you can get.

    As a major fan of prospect watching and the minor leagues in general, I dislike the fact that ballparks are so different. You cannot accurately gauge a player's success without looking at his home park's factor. In a perfect world, every park would be neutral.

    Lancaster Offence (out of 30 Advanced A-Ball clubs):

    HR:    45 (1st)
    AVG: .291 (1st)
    OBA: .386 (1st)
    SLG: .486 (1st)

    Lancaster's offence is led by outfielder Bubba Bell. The 24-year-old is not considered a prospect due to his age and lackluster numbers before reaching the launching pad known as Lancaster. He was drafted in the 39th round out of Nicholls State University by the Red Sox in 2005 and hit only .298/.373/.430 before this season. Bell's average has been similar at home and on the road but his slugging percentage is 100 points higher in Lancaster.

    First baseman Aaron Bates is arguably the top hitting prospect on the club. He was a third round pick of the Red Sox in the 2006 draft out of North Carolina State University. Interestingly, Bates is hitting better on the road (an OPS of 1.082 vs 1.029). He has, however, hit with more power at home. Bates has struggled somewhat with men on base and is hitting .422 when the bases are empty.

    Infielders Iggy Suarez and Tony Granadillo are having surprising success in Lancaster. Suarez, 26, is a former 24th round pick in 2003 out of Southwest Texas State University and has a career .246 average. This season, he was hitting .379/.475/.530 before a promotion to Portland where he is struggling at .154/.267/.231.

    Granadillo, 22, is a former minor league Rule 5 draftee out of the Cardinals' system. He has picked up where Suarez left off and is hitting .373/.522/.612 as a part-time player who has earned a starting gig. The Venezuelan shortstop is hitting .500 against lefties and has more walks than strikeouts (16/11).

    Other hitting prospects in Lancaster include Christian Lara and Luis Soto, although their stars are fading as both are hitting under .250.

    Lancaster Pitching:

    ERA:  5.01 (28th)
    Hits:  379 (29th)
    HR:     30 (27th)
    BB:    145 (26th) 
    K:     246 (15th)

    This is truly where the team's strength lies, whether the stats bear that out or not. Four of the Red Sox' top eight pitching prospects are currently toeing the rubber in Lancaster, including Michael Bowden, Justin Masterson, Kris Johnson and Daniel Bard, who is currently injured.

    Bowden arguably has the highest ceiling of the quartet, although Bard has slightly better stuff. Bowden was taken in the supplemental first round (47th overall) by Boston out of an Illinois high school. His fastball is in the low 90s but he has solid secondary pitches, plus command and he knows how to pitch, which has helped him survive Lancaster so far this season.

    Impressively, Bowden - a right-hander - has held lefties to a .173/.230/.210 line. His home line against all batters is also impressive at .257/.295/.333 but his road line is even better at .133/.161/.150. On Saturday, Bowden lowered his ERA to a shocking 1.37 with seven innings of one-hit ball against San Jose. He hasn't allowed an earned run in his last three starts and could see Double-A very shortly, especially if Boston decides to promote Clay Buchholz (1.85 in six starts for Portland) to Triple-A.

    Bard has been awful at Lancaster. For a college player, Bard's pitching skills are extremely rough and it was a bit of a shock to see Boston promote him so aggressively to begin the season - and his pro career after signing late in 2006. Whether it was the triceps tendinitis that landed him on the disabled list or Lancaster's reputation as a tough park for pitchers, Bard walked 22 batters in 13 innings.

    Righties hit a respectable .259/.444/.296 against him, but lefties pasted him at .412/.571/.706. Bard's wildness has made him ineffective at home and on the road (OPS 1.198 vs .846) but the real difference can be seen in batters' slugging numbers against him at home (.676) versus on the road (.333).

    Both Johnson and Masterson have struggled mightily in the California League and, more specifically, in their home park. Masterson has allowed 27 hits in 13.1 home innings, while Johnson has allowed 15 hits and 11 walks in 12.2 home innings.

    I certainly wouldn't give up on the pitchers just yet. Considering the team is last in nearly every pitching category and the numbers show Lancaster is an extreme hitters' park, Masterson, Johnson and even Bard should be given some slack. Bowden, on the other hand, looks like an absolute stud.

    I would not trust any of the hitters to repeat their Lancaster performances in Portland, although Bates has some potential.

    Kinston Offence:

    HR:    33 (5th)
    AVG: .244 (27th)
    OBA: .328 (16th)
    SLG: .404 (7th)

    On a team with three highly-drafted college bats and one promising player from high school, you would probably expect to have a solid offensive attack. However, all four players - Wes Hodges, Josh Rodriguez, Stephen Head and John Drennen - have struggled.

    Hodges, a second round pick in 2006, is currently hitting .242/.290/.473 and the right-handed batter out of Georgia Tech has struggled against minor league southpaws to the tune of a .150 average in 20 at-bats. He is also hitting .125 on the road.

    Rodriguez was another one of Cleveland's four second round picks (including the supplemental round) in 2006. His line currently sits at .200/.290/.374, although he has shown slightly better command of the strike zone than Hodges (15 walks compared to five). Rodriguez is also struggling on the road with a .176 average.

    Head set the world on fire in his first pro season after signing out of Mississippi as a second round pick. In his debut season, he advanced as far as Kinston but has hit a wall. Head is now in Kinston for a third straight season and has yet to figure out Advanced A-Ball pitchers. In a continuing theme, Head has struggled on the road with a .176 average and only one RBI.

    Drennen has moved fairly quickly for a high school hitter but Kinston continues to give him trouble in his second attempt at Advanced A-Ball. He has the "best" line of the four hitters at .233/.313/.408 and is possibly heating up with the weather with a .279 average in the month of May. Drennen is also the only one of the four hitting above .200 on the road (.228).

    Kinston Pitching:

    ERA:  2.68 (2nd)
    Hits:  264 (2nd)
    HR:     18 (7th)
    BB:     81 (1st)
    K:     211 (29th)

    David Huff is a recognizable name in the Kinston rotation mainly because he was Cleveland's first pick in the 2006 draft. However, put up your hand if you had heard of Kevin Dixon, Frank Herrmann, Sung-Wei Tseng or Ryan Edell before the season began. No one? Or is that a hand up in the back? All four have excelled in Kinston's rotation with ERAs under 4.00.

    Huff doesn't have great stuff but he was considered a "safe pick" out of UCLA. The left-hander currently has a 1.89 ERA in 38 innings. Left-handed batters are only hitting .182/.182/.182 against him. Huff has also kept the ball in the yard with just one homer allowed, and he has walked only seven batters.

    Dixon was taken in the fifth round of the 2005 draft out of Minnesota State University and, again, possesses average stuff. He has kept the ball on the ground in Kinston (1.67 GO/AO) despite giving up three homers. Ten of the 16 earned runs that he has allowed came in two games. Right-handed batters are hitting .310 against the 6'3", 225lbs right-handed pitcher.

    Herrmann, soon to be 23, has yet to lose a game in six starts this season, although he has only two wins. The former Harvard University hurler does not strike out many batters (20 in 31.2 innings) but he does not beat himself and has allowed only three walks this season. Herrmann's future probably lies in the bullpen. The right-hander has struggled against left-handed batters and they are hitting .319/.347/.532 against him, compared to right-handers at .227/.275/.427.

    Tseng is a Taiwanese pitcher who made his pro debut in April and skipped the lower rungs of the minor leagues. He was given a $300,000 contract by Cleveland and was considered the best amateur pitcher in Taiwan. He has appeared in a number of International tournaments, including the World Baseball Classic. He has had little trouble adapting to baseball in North America and currently sports a 3.22 ERA. However, he has struck out only 25 batters in 36.1 innings so there is work to be done.

    Another lefty, Edell was an unheralded eighth round pick in 2005 out of the College of Charleston, yet he has done nothing but succeed in pro ball. He currently has a 3.26 ERA and has allowed only 21 hits in 30.1 innings of work in Kinston. Opposing batters are hitting only .198 against him and left-handed batters have a .077 average.

    It is hard to know exactly what to make of Cleveland's college hitters and pitchers in Kinston. If I were a betting man, I would predict that the pitchers have a much better chance of succeeding at higher levels, while the batters probably won't amount to much unless they improve significantly in the near future.

    Around the MinorsMay 08, 2007
    No Ordinary Joe Smith
    By Marc Hulet

    Every time I look at a New York Mets' box score, rookie reliever Joe Smith's name seems to be present. The 2006 third round draft pick - and 94th overall - out of Wright State appeared in 17 games during the Mets' first 29 games of the 2007 season.

    That means Smith has appeared in just under 60 percent of the club's games. If he were to continue on this pace, Smith would finish the year with about 94 appearances. Rubber-armed Mike Marshall he's not, but it's enough to make me nervous.

    When you look back at the list of most appearances in a rookie season by a reliever, you see a lot of names of players who burnt out very quickly - and often due to arm or shoulder problems. Keep in mind it's not just the innings pitched and pitches thrown in the game; the constant warming up in the bullpen can also wear on a pitcher's body.

    Rookie relief pitchers (post 1980) with 75 or more games pitched in rookie season:

  • Sean Runyan, Detroit
    Debut Season: 88 games
    Last MLB Game: 26-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 103/3
    Major Injuries: shoulder surgery

  • Oscar Villarreal, Arizona
    Debut Appearances: 86
    Last MLB Game: still active
    Total Games/Seasons: incomplete
    Major Injuries: elbow - nerve transposition

  • Kelly Wunsch, Chicago
    Debut Appearances: 83 games
    Last MLB Game: 32-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 258/6
    Major Injuries: shoulder/hip

  • Mitch Williams, Texas
    Debut Appearances: 80 games
    Last MLB Game: 32-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 619/11
    Major Injuries: healthy

  • Tim Burke, Montreal
    Debut Appearances: 78 games
    Last MLB Game: 33-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 498/8
    Major Injuries: healthy

  • Ed Vande Berg, Seattle
    Debut Appearances: 78 games
    Last MLB Game: 29-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 413/7
    Major Injuries: healthy

  • Javier Lopez, Colorado
    Debut Appearances: 75
    Last MLB Game: still active
    Total Games/Seasons: incomplete
    Major Injuries: healthy

  • Greg McMichael, Atlanta
    Debut Appearances: 74 games
    Last MLB Game: 33-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 453/8
    Major Injuries: rotator cuff

  • Kenny Rogers, Texas
    Debut Appearances: 73
    Last MLB Game: still active
    Total Games/Seasons: incomplete
    Major Injuries: blood clot (shoulder)

  • Doug Corbett, Minnesota
    Debut Appearances: 73
    Last MLB Game: 34-years-old
    Total Games/Seasons: 313/8
    Major Injuries: healthy

  • Aquilino Lopez, Toronto
    Debut Appearances: 72
    Last MLB Game: still active
    Total Games/Seasons: incomplete
    Major Injuries: None

  • Kevin Walker, San Diego
    Debut Appearances: 70
    Last MLB Game: 28
    Total Games/Seasons: 122/6
    Major Injuries: Tommy John surgery

    Both left-hander Sean Runyan, a Rule 5 draft pick by Detroit from Houston, and Arizona right-hander Oscar Villarreal, now with Atlanta, are the poster children for abused pitchers. Luckily for Villarreal he is still pitching, whereas Runyan never recovered from surgery and threw his last major league pitch at the age of 26. Throw in the White Sox' Kelly Wunsch and the top three rookie pitchers in terms of games pitched all suffered significant injuries to their elbows or shoulders. And Smith is on a pace to surpass all three in terms of appearances, should he continue on his current pace.

    But are the Mets really doing a disservice to Smith and the longevity of his career due to a dogged determination to win the World Series? If they are, then a lot of teams are guilty of abusing relievers early on in 2007. As of May 6, five relievers had appeared in 18 MLB games and nine more - including Smith - had pitched in 17 games. Another 12 had pitched in 16 games.

                         IP    H  BB-K  Pitches-Ks
    NYY Brian Bruney    16.0   9  7-16   248-152
    NYY Luis Vizcaino   17.0  16  11-8   247-133
    NYY Scott Proctor   16.0  13   8-6   243-146
    CIN Todd Coffey     15.2  19  6-17   230/149
    WSH Jon Rauch       15.1  15   1-9   220-151
    PIT Jonah Bayliss   14.2  20  7-11   207/128
    OAK Huston Street   17.0   9  7-18   195-123
    WSH Micah Bowie     14.0  11  1-10   193-117
    OAK Alan Embree     14.0  19  4-11   187-124
    PIT Matt Capps      16.0  13   2-9   181/129
    DET Todd Jones      16.0  11   5-7   175-114
    NYM Joe Smith       15.1   8  7-18   173-108
    BAL Chad Bradford   12.1  14   5-6   170-110
     TB Shawn Camp      10.1  20   3-8   132-82

    As you can see above, of the 14 pitchers who have appeared in 17 or more games, Smith has thrown the fewest number of pitches, save for Tampa Bay's Shawn Camp. If you really want to look at abuse, take a look at the Yankees, who have the three relievers with the highest number of pitches thrown.

    Another positive sign for Smith is that he has only thrown more than 20 pitches in a single game once (37 pitches on May 2 against the Marlins). I can't say that I'm thrilled with the number of games Smith has appeared in early this season but things don't look as bleak as they did when I began researching this column. And really, how much can you complain about a pitcher who had an ERA of 0.00 through his first 17 major league appearances?

  • Around the MinorsMay 02, 2007
    April's Powerhouse Teams
    By Marc Hulet

    The month of April has come to a close and there are a number of minor league clubs that are absolutely dominating their leagues. The New York Yankees' Double-A affiliate, the Trenton Thunder, had the best record in minor league baseball in April at 17-2. The Thunder club was not alone in its dominance and was joined by the Triple-A Richmond Braves (15-5) and the Augusta Greenjackets (20-4) as the top teams at each level.

    Richmond Braves, Atlanta Braves

    Record | Win% |At Home |On Road | Streak 
    15-5 | .750 | 6-2 | 9-3 | W5

    As a team, the Richmond Braves are hitting OK in the International League. They are third in the league in average, on-base percentage and slugging, as well as fifth in runs scored and 10th in hits. It is the pitching, though, that has the team at the top of the league. Overall the team is first in ERA and allowed only nine homers during the month of April.

    Top Prospects:

                        AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
     IF Yunel Escobar  .313 .341 .410   1   4
     OF Gregor Blanco  .338 .427 .415   1   3
                        ERA   IP    H  BB-K
    RHP Anthony Lerew  1.82  19.2  18  8-10

    Cuban Yunel Escobar is a solid player but many are projecting him as a future utility player. He lacks power and has limited speed. His range is average at shortstop and second base is probably his best position.

    After stalling briefly in 2004 and 2005 Gregor Blanco is beginning to reward the Braves for their patience. He possesses little, if any, power but Blanco has plus speed and walked 95 times last season while playing at both Double-A and Triple-A. He does, however, strikeout too much for a lead-off hitter. Defensively, he has solid range and an average arm.

    Anthony Lerew has survived two luke warm cups of coffee with the Braves during the past two seasons. He currently has an ERA below 2.00 in four starts for Richmond. He will likely top out as a third or fourth starter or as a set-up man at the major league level. He has an 89-94 mph fastball but his slider and change-up were very inconsistent in 2006.

    Top Performers:

                       AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
    IF Willie Harris  .362 .457 .603   1   7
    OF Bill McCarthy  .304 .391 .518   2   1
                       ERA   IP    H   BB-K
    RHP Manny Acosta  0.66  13.2   9   6-17
    RHP Trey Hodges   1.17  15.1  10  10-10

    Manny Acosta is in his 10th pro season and was unable to get out of A-Ball after six seasons in the Yankee's system. He has shown promise but his control is below average. Trey Hodges continues to struggle with his control, which is something that has plagued him throughout his career. Regardless, he has found success in the Pacific Coast League with his original club after spending some time with Minnesota's Triple-A club and in Japan. Willie Harris is a former major league utility player with Boston, Baltimore and Chicago (AL) who adds some veteran stability to the Richmond club. He was just called up to Atlanta on Sunday. Bill McCarthy can hit but is a 'tweener' as he lacks the range for center field and the power for left or right.

    Trenton Thunder, New York Yankees
    17-2 | .895 | 11-2 | 6-0 | W9

    Hitting-wise the Thunder are average. They are sixth overall in the Eastern League in average, runs, hits and slugging percentage. They are second in walks and stolen bases. The pitching has been outstanding and leads the league with an overall ERA of 1.85. The pitchers are also first in fewest homers allowed (only three!) and in strikeouts. Trenton's pitching staff has allowed the fewest number of walks in the league with 45.

    Top Prospects:

                       AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
    OF Brett Gardner  .228 .322 .367   0   9
                       ERA   IP    H  BB-K
    RHP Kevin Whelan  2.53  10.2   9  6-13
    RHP Jeff Marquez  1.24  29.0  24  5-22

    Brett Gardner probably won't play everyday for a perennial playoff contender but he could be a solid fourth outfielder. He needs to stay healthy as he has never played more than 73 games in any one season. Gardner has no power but his speed rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

    Kevin Whelan was obtained by the Yankees in the Gary Sheffield trade with Detroit. Whelan was originally a catcher in college before his strong arm prompted a move to the bullpen. He has everything needed to be a successful set-up man for a top tiered club.

    Jeff Marquez can touch the mid-90s but works more comfortably with a low 90s fastball that has a lot of sink to it. The 2004 supplemental first round draft pick lacks solid secondary pitches, which could relegate him to the bullpen if they do not improve.

    Top Performers:

                      AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
     2B Gabe Lopez   .400 .479 .575   1   0
     OF Matt Carson  .319 .356 .507   3   2
                        ERA   IP    H  BB-K
    RHP Edwar Ramirez  0.84  10.2   3  6-18
    RHP Brett Smith    1.56  17.1   9  8-20

    Gabe Lopez is a scrappy second baseman who works hard to get on base by any means necessary and has spent parts of three seasons in Trenton. Matt Carson was drafted in the fifth round in 2002 and has spent the last few seasons bouncing between A-Ball and Double-A due to a lack of consistency. Edwar Ramirez has been dominate in both 2006 and 2007 after struggling in the Angels' system early in his career. Brett Smith has had difficulties missing bats since being drafted in the second round out of college in 2004.

    Augusta GreenJackets, San Francisco Giants
    20-4 | .833 | 14-2 | 6-2 | W2

    The GreenJackets club is looking anything but green with its start to the season. Offensively the club is third in average, runs and walks. It is first overall in stolen bases with 56 and has struck out the fewest number of times of any team in the South Atlantic League. The pitching has been dominant with a 1.73 ERA. The staff has allowed the fewest number of hits, homers (three) and walks.

    Top Prospects:

                         AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
     2B Marcus Sanders  .294 .478 .412   0   7
     OF Mike McBryde    .280 .314 .366   0   6
                          ERA   IP    H  BB-K
     LHP Clayton Tanner  1.35  20.0  17  6-14

    Marcus Sanders was signed as a draft-and-follow after a solid junior college season in 2004. He struggled last season in High A-Ball in 2006 before moving back down to Augusta this season. A college shoulder injury has limited him both defensively and offensively. Sanders has plus speed and is an extreme ground ball batter, which allows him to beat out infield hits.

    Like a lot of the Giants' minor league hitters, Mike McBryde does not possess a lot of power. However, he could be the fastest player in the system. He was a two-way player in college and could still improve significantly as a hitter now that he is concentrating on one role.

    Clayton Tanner is a young lefty that was drafted out of high school by the Giants in the third round in 2006. He started out his career in the bullpen but jumped into the rotation for a couple of starts in 2007. Tanner can touch 91 mph with his fastball and also possesses a curve, slider and developing change. His slider is his best pitch.

    Top Performers:

                       AVG  OBA  SLG  HR  SB
     OF Tyler Graham  .311 .382 .361   0  12
     SS Brian Bocock  .313 .380 .385   0  19
                          ERA   IP    H  BB-K
    RHP Adam Cowart      0.60  30.0  22  2-18
    LHP Benjamin Snyder  0.39  23.0  15  5-30

    The Giants have a number of players drafted out of college playing on the Augusta team. Tyler Graham has little or no power and has struggled to get on base enough to utilize his speed. He was a 19th round pick out of Oregon State University in 2006. Shortstop Brian Bocock was drafted in the ninth round in 2006 out of Stetson University. Adam Cowart, who was the pitcher of the year in the Northwest League in 2006 after being drafted in the 35th round, is the perfect example of a player who is obviously too good for the league he's playing in. That said, Cowart has a fairly low ceiling as a right-handed sidearmer who possesses an 81-86 mph sinker, as well as a slider and change-up. Benjamin Snyder was drafted in the fourth round last season out of Ball State as a sophomore and is the brother of Cleveland Indians' prospect Brad Snyder. A lefty, Snyder has solid command of his fastball, slider, curve and change.

    Not surprisingly the name of the game in April was pitching. It will be interesting to see how things change as the weather warms up along with the sluggers. Promotions could also begin to have an affect on teams' results as top performers begin to be rewarded towards the end of May.

    Around the MinorsApril 24, 2007
    Rule 5 Revisited
    By Marc Hulet

    We are about 20 games into the season for most teams so it is time to take a quick look back at last winter's Rule 5 draft. The story of the draft class so far has been the unbelievable play of Josh Hamilton, which is just about as unbelievable as Alex Rodriguez being on pace for 112 homers and 272 RBI.

    Aside from Hamilton, though, there are some other Rule 5 picks playing key roles on their clubs. For the most part, teams are throwing their picks into the fire and challenging them early in the season.

    In a column about a month ago, I took a look at the player who were taken in the winter draft and made some predictions. Based on the analysis from the previous eight Rule 5 drafts, I found that 35% of picks chosen will last the year on average. Currently 13 of the 19 picks from the most recent draft are still with the teams that chose them, which works out to a whopping 68%.

    However, four of those have been stashed away on the disabled list without playing a game for their new team. Even so, those players must spend 90 days on the active roster or be sent back to their original team. For more on the rules, visit here.

    The Success Stories:

                              AB   AVG   OBP   SLG  HR  SB   BB%   K% 
    NYM to WAS Jesus Flores    9  .222  .462  .444   0   0  30.8  22.2
     TB to CIN Josh Hamilton  38  .289  .413  .737   5   1  17.4  26.3
    BAL to NYY Josh Phelps    18  .278  .381  .444   1   0  14.3  22.2
    CHC to TOR Jason Smith    32  .250  .314  .344   0   0   5.9  37.5
                               GP   IP    ERA   K/9  BB/9  AVG  WHIP  
    MIN to  SD Kevin Cameron    6  10.0  0.00   9.0  4.5  .151  1.00  
    CWS to OAK Jay Marshall    10   9.0  6.00   3.0  3.0  .240  1.22  
     SD to  KC Joakim Soria     8   9.1  2.89  12.5  3.9  .160  0.96
    MIN to WAS Levale Speigner  7   9.1  3.86   1.9  5.8  .255  1.61
    ATL to SEA Sean White       3   8.1  6.48   2.2  4.3  .299  1.68   

    I don't think anyone expected Hamilton to have the kind of start to the season that he did. He has pretty much played himself into a starting job with the Reds, which was unfathomable at the beginning of the spring considering he missed almost four full seasons due to suspensions and injuries.

    Josh Phelps appears to be resurrecting his career in the most stressful city to play in, especially for such a soft-spoken person. Platooning with defensive specialist Doug Mientkiewicz, Phelps is thriving in New York and could be earning himself even more playing time in the coming days.

    Jason Smith, like Phelps, is not your typical Rule 5 pick because of the amount of MLB experience he has. Even so, he has never really had the opportunity to play regularly in the majors but he is now thanks to the injury to Toronto's starting third baseman Troy Glaus. Smith will probably be overexposed as a starting player (He has a line of .230/.270/.385 in 166 career MLB games), but time will tell.

    Of the four hitters who made their clubs, raw Jesus Flores figures to see the least amount of time on the field. As the back-up catcher to Brian Schneider, Flores will have to be content with late-game appearances and the odd start. Robert Fick is also on the Nationals' 25-man roster as the third catcher. Flores received his first two major league hits on Sunday against the Marlins. Oddly, he has shown much better patience in the majors than he did in the minors.

    Does anybody else think the Twins would like to have Kevin Cameron back right about now? He was a bit of an under-the-radar pick as a right-handed reliever who has put up modest minor league numbers. Credit the Padres' scouting department, which found Cameron and persuaded management to take a flyer on him. He is playing himself into a key role on a team in the playoff hunt.

    Every team is baseball needs reliable left-handed relievers and the A's seem to have found one in Jay Marshall. The career reliever is thriving in his role. In games where he appears strictly as a LOOGY, he has yet to allow a hit. Unfortunately, the long-term future of successful Rule 5 left-handed relievers is not encouraging, regardless of first-year success. His ERA is misleading as he was roughed up on Saturday and allowed five runs (four earned).

    Joakim Soria has been a godsend to the Royals' bullpen, which is currently ranked 13th out of 14 American League teams in ERA and worst overall in walks allowed. The three runs Soria has allowed so far this season came in one game against Detroit. He saved his second game on Sunday against, while allowing one hit and striking out two.

    The beginning of Levale Speigner's MLB journey was a rocky one. Or, perhaps more appropriately, a wild ride. Speigner walked six batters in his first three appearances (4.2 innings) but has walked only one in the last four games. He also allowed seven hits in those first three games and just two since then. The Nationals desperately need some success out of the bullpen and Speigner could be turning things around.

    Meet your prototypical Rule 5 pick: Sean White. White has made only three appearances this season and all three came in blowout games after Seattle's "big" off-season signings Miguel Batista and Jeff Weaver (twice) were knocked out of the game early.

    The Injured (Decision Pending):

    LAA to PHI Ryan Budde (strained oblique)
    WAS to MIN Alejandro Machado (torn right labrum)
    OAK to CIN Jared Burton (hamstring - on rehab assignment)
    CHC to DET Edward Campusano (Tommy John surgery)

    Neither shortstop Alejandro Machado nor left-handed reliever Edward Campusano are expected back this season, meaning their Rule 5 status will carry over until 2008, when they will have to spend at least 90 days on the active roster each. Catcher Ryan Budde is a future back-up catcher in the majors, at best, and with Carlos Ruiz and Rod Barajas entrenched in Philly, he'll probably be offered back to the Angels by mid-season unless a trade can be worked out. Jared Burton's rehab in Triple-A is going OK (2.25 ERA in four innings) but he will have a difficult time finding a spot on the Reds' roster.

    The Returnees:

                                       AVG   OBP   SLG  AB  HR  BB-K
     KC to BAL Adam Donachie    (AA)  .067  .176  .067  30   0  3-12
    CLE to OAK Ryan Goleski     (AA)  .250  .388  .250  40   0  8-8
                                       ERA    IP   H  BB-K   AVG
     TB to BOS Nick DeBarr      (AA)  5.19   8.2  13   7-5  .351
    CHC to HOU Lincoln Holdzkom (AA)  0.00   2.0   0   1-2  .000  
    TEX to PHI Alfredo Simon   (AAA)  3.10  20.1  10  8-14  .145
    CLE to PHI Jim Ed Warden   (AAA)  2.35   7.2   7   0-6  .241   

    None of the returned players are setting the world on fire, aside from Alfredo Simon, who will no doubt get a shot in Texas if he continues to pitch successfully. Jim Ed Warden is pitching OK, but Cleveland has a number of other pitchers ahead of him on the depth chart and he is hurt by the fact he's not on the 40-man roster.

    Here is a question for the readers: Do you think Hamilton's success will last? And if so, how good will he be?

    Around the MinorsApril 17, 2007
    Driving in Runs Through the Rain and Snow
    By Marc Hulet

    It has been a miserable few weeks weather-wise for Minor League Baseball. I'd hate to actually add up exactly how many games have been postponed, but needless to say it wouldn't be pretty - nor will it be pretty later this year when the plethora of double-headers strike.

    Despite the cold, miserable weather there are some hot minor league players and this week I would like to take a look at those who are having a particularly successful time driving in runs in Triple-A and Double-A baseball.

    International League

                               Team      RBI   AVG   OBA   SLG Games
    1. Shelley Duncan     Scranton (NYY)  11  .375  .464  .917   7
    2. John-Ford Griffin  Syracuse (TOR)  10  .361  .425  .778  10
    3. J.R. House         Norfolk  (BAL)  10  .367  .394  .633   8

    OF/1B Shelley Duncan was a second round pick out of the University of Arizona by the Yankees in 2001 but has yet to live up to that lofty draft position as a career .251 hitter with an OPS of .786. Duncan did hit 34 homers and 92 RBI in 2005 in Double-A so the 27-year-old does have a history of driving in runs. Yesterday, he was named the Offensive Player of the Week for the league. Scranton is currently 6-4 and in second place in the North Division.

    OF John-Ford Griffin is another former Yankee draft pick and he was taken in the first round before Duncan in 2001. The former Florida State University standout looked poised to break into the majors in 2006 with the Jays - after a brief cup of coffee in 2005 - but injuries derailed his career. He looks healthy this season but his poor defense and age (27) are two big strikes against him. Syracuse is 4-6 on the young season and is in fifth place in the North Division.

    Another former top prospect and fifth round pick out of high school, J.R. House was destined for stardom with the Pirates but injuries took their toll. Now 27, he showed some promise in 2006 in the Houston system by hitting .412/.445/.675 in 31 Triple-A games but continued his MLB struggles (.105/.105/.158 in 19 career at-bats). He is a former catcher who spends more time at first base now. Norfolk is 3-4 and in last place in the South Division.

    Pacific Coast League

                              Team      RBI   AVG   OBA   SLG Games
    1. Micah Hoffpauir  Iowa      (CHC)  18  .425  .455  .650  11
    2. Mitch Jones      Las Vegas (LAD)  12  .364  .417  .818   9
    3. James Loney      Las Vegas (LAD)  11  .261  .265  .391  10
       Dan Ortmeier     Fresno    (SF)   11  .455  .525  .636   8 

    Micah Hoffpauir is a former 13th round pick by the Cubs. At the age of 27, the first baseman is no longer considered a prospect. He has below-average power for his position but that hasn't stopped him from leading all of Triple-A and Double-A in RBI. Teammate Felix Pie leads the Pacific Coast League in runs scored with 16. Iowa is 6-5 and half a game behind Nashville in the American North Division.

    Mitch Jones is a former slugging Yankee farmhand. The .245/.334/.478 career hitter drilled 110 home runs in the last four seasons (two Double-A, two Triple-A seasons). Jones was a seventh round pick in 2000 out of Arizona State University, having previously been drafted three times (including twice by Baltimore).

    James Loney is a fairly well-known prospect and a former first round draft pick out of high school. As a first baseman, Loney has below-average power at this point in his career, although he is a threat to hit .300. However, this season he is struggling to maintain his usual average despite driving in 11 runs in 10 games. Las Vegas is second in the Pacific South Division, half a game behind Sacramento.

    Dan Ortmeier was a third round pick out of Texas-Arlington by San Francisco in 2002. The 25-year-old outfielder has an interesting mix of power and speed but has never been a true run producer. Fresno is 7-5, also in the Pacific South Division, and half a game out.

    Eastern League

                              Team        RBI   AVG   OBA   SLG Games
    1. Rodney Choy Foo  Akron      (CLE)   9   .524  .583  .952   6
    2. Wayne Lydon      Manchester (TOR)   8   .333  .429  .625   6
    3. Jeff Larish      Erie       (DET)   8   .320  .414  .640   6
       Nolan Reimold    Bowie      (BAL)   8   .367  .387  .767   8 

    Utility player Rodney Choy Foo is a former 26th round pick by Cleveland out of Hawaii. He is not a player you expect to see at the top of the run producing categories at the end of the season. Regardless, Choy Foo was named the Offensive Player of the Week for the league yesterday. Akron is 3-3 on the season and third in the Southern Division.

    Similarly, Wayne Lydon is playing above his head early this season. The slap-hitting speedster, a former ninth round pick out of high school by the Mets, hit a career high nine homers last year. His 46 RBI were also a career high during his first season in the Jays' system. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Manchester are 4-2 on the season and in second place in the Northern Division.

    Both 1B Jeff Larish and OF Nolan Reimold are considered prospects, unlike Choy Foo and Lydon. Larish was a top college player who fell in the draft due to injures but the Tigers are happy with what they have after signing him as a senior in 2005. He drove in 65 runs last season in A-Ball and also showed good patience with 81 walks. Reimold was a second round pick by Baltimore in 2005. He had a similar season to Larish last year by hitting 19 homers and walking 77 times in A-Ball. Erie is 3-3 and tied for third place. Bowie is 5-4 and in second place. Both teams play in the Southern Division.

    Southern League

                              Team      RBI   AVG   OBA   SLG Games
    1. Matt Esquivel  Mississippi (ATL)  10  .308  .341  .538  10
    2. Cody Strait    Chattanooga (CIN)   9  .282  .349  .538  10
    3. Thomas Collaro Birmingham  (CWS)   9  .300  .333  .625  10 

    Matt Esquivel, 24, is leading the Southern League in RBI. The former fifth round pick is also playing in his second Double-A season after missing a portion of 2006 due to injuries. He had a career high 81 RBI in 2005 in A-Ball. Mississippi is 7-3 and in second place behind Birmingham in the South Division.

    Cody Strait, 23, was drafted out of the University of Evansville in 2004 as a 12th round pick. His homers increased from 14 to 17 the last two years and his RBI increased from 60 to 75. Baseball America rated Strait as the Reds 11th best prospect coming into 2007, but stated his speed and outfield defense were ahead of his bat. Chattanooga leads the North Division despite a 5-5 record.

    1B/OF Thomas Collaro is your typical swing-from-the-heels slugger who prays for contact. If he does connect with the ball, it's going to go a long way. However, Collaro has 15 strikeouts and only two walks this season in 40 at-bats. He drove in 100 runs in 2005 in A-Ball. Can you say Russell Branyan? Collaro's runs have helped to place Birmingham at the top of the South Division with an 8-2 record.

    Texas League

                               Team          RBI   AVG   OBA   SLG  Games
    1. Tim Olson       Tulsa          (COL)   8   .318  .318  .545    7
    2. Ray Sadler      Corpus Christi (HOU)   8   .258  .351  .516   10
    3. Kevin Mahar     Frisco         (TEX)   8   .265  .405  .500   10
       Travis Metcalf  Frisco         (TEX)   8   .267  .342  .400    9 

    Tim Olson, 28, is a former utility player with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies who has found employment at the Double-A level. He is not a prototypical run producer. Tulsa is struggling on the season with a 4-6 record but are hanging onto second place in the South Division.

    Ray Sadler is the brother of former Red Sox player Donnie Sadler. Ray has had trouble deciding if he is a power hitter (he's hit 20 homers) or a table setter (he's stolen 32 bases). Corpus Christi is in last place in the South Division with a 4-6 record.

    Both OF Kevin Mahar and 3B Travis Metcalf are organizational players. Mahar was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Rangers out of Indiana University in 2004. The 25-year-old slugger hit a career high 20 homers and 82 RBI in Frisco in 2006. Metcalf was an 11th round pick by the Rangers in 2004. He struggled mightily last season in his first attempt in Double-A and hit .221/.298/.325. Teammate Steven Murphy leads the league in runs scored. Frisco is one game out of first in the South Division with a 6-4 record.

    Overall, there are not a lot of top prospects driving in runs early in the season in either Triple-A or Double-A. Perhaps the grizzled veterans adapt to the weather easier than the younger players. But as the weather warms up, so too should the prospects' bats. Out of all the players discussed above, Reimold should have the best chance to duplicate his run producing abilities at the major league level, if he can make consistent contact.

    Around the MinorsApril 10, 2007
    The Brighter Side of Elijah Dukes
    By Marc Hulet

    Just what does Tampa Bay have in prospect Elijah Dukes? That is a question that the Rays' management is likely asking. The club is blessed with outfield depth, including Dukes (3rd round pick 2002), Rocco Baldelli (6th overall pick 2000), Carl Crawford (2nd round 1999), and Delmon Young (1st overall 2003).

    Both Baldelli and Crawford have secured themselves as mainstays in the Tampa Bay outfield. Young's future as an elite player is often a foregone conclusion by many, as the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft. So again I ask the question: What does Tampa Bay have in Dukes?

    Dukes started off his major league career with fireworks - fitting considering the troubled outfielder has a history of on and off-field eruptions. This season, Dukes began the year by hitting homers in both of his first two games - and in Yankee Stadium no less. The dingers came against Carl Pavano and Scott Proctor.

    Obviously he has talent but Dukes' lack of discipline has been well-documented since he was signed out of a Florida high school in 2002. According to prospect expert Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus, Dukes attended the same high school as Dwight Gooden, Carl Everett and Gary Sheffield. His personality certainly fits in with those three players (as well as Milton Bradley, who attended high school in California), all of whom have had run-ins with the law, umpires, teammates and/or Major League Baseball. But, in my opinion, the media has spent enough time dwelling on Dukes' failures or shortcomings.

    Dukes could very well have just as much talent as Sheffield. However, whereas Sheffield dominated immediately in pro ball as a 17-year-old, Dukes had to work at translating his raw athletic ability (he was a top high school football player) into baseball skills.

    After signing late in 2002, he made his debut as a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League (A-Ball), and struggled by hitting .245/.338/.366. Dukes also walked 45 times and struck out 130 times. On the positive side, he swiped 33 bases in 44 attempts.

    Dukes began the next season back in the South Atlantic League and improved significantly. In his return engagement, he hit .288/.368/.423 in half a season before a promotion to High A-Ball in the California League. Dukes showed that he was indeed a superior athlete and dedicated to his craft as he improved to .332/.416/.540.

    The following year, in 2005, Dukes made what many consider to be the toughest jump in baseball as he went from A-ball to Double-A ball in the Southern League. Dukes did not struggle, though, and hit .287/.355/.478. It was good enough to earn him the 5th best prospect ranking in the Rays' system by Baseball America.

    The supposedly cantankerous Dukes landed in the International League (Triple-A) in 2006, one step away from realizing his dream of playing in the Major Leagues. In 80 games, he hit .293/.401/.488 and walked 44 times while striking out only 47 times.

    Someone forgot to tell Dukes that baseball was supposed to get harder - not easier - the further he advanced through the ranks. In all, Dukes has shown remarkable improvements since beginning his pro baseball career as a promising, but raw, prep athlete.

    One part of Dukes' game that has not improved is his base stealing, which has regressed in each of his four minor league seasons from 33 to 30 to 19 to nine. His weight also increased from 220 in 2004 to a reported 240 in 2007 and he was noticeably thick around the middle in the Rays' second series of 2007 against the Toronto Blue Jays.

    Despite that, Dukes has had a solid beginning to his major league career, although he is not guaranteed a starting role with Crawford, Baldelli and Young ahead of him. Slugger Jonny Gomes is also in the crowded outfield mix.

    Game breakdown (through April 8):
    April 2  1-for-3  w/ HR, BB, SO
    April 5  1-for-3  w/ HR, BB, SO
    April 6  2-for-4  
    April 7  0-for-1  
    April 8  0-for-2  w/ 2 BB and a SO

    Dukes' two homers came to left field and right-center at Yankee stadium. As a right-handed hitter, Dukes showed good pull power against Pavano but he shown the ability to hit for power the other way against Proctor. He hit a third flyball in the series to the edge of the warning track in right field. In his second series against Toronto at home in The Trop, Dukes hit his two singles to left field.

    In a very small sample it appears Dukes has more power against right-handers but his Triple-A numbers do not bear that out. In fact, based on his 2006 numbers he is equally talented from both sides of the plate:

    Vs Left  - .295/.433/.487
    Vs Right - .293/.388/.488

    The issue that sets Dukes aside from his talented Rays teammates is his patience and knowledge of the strike zone. Although he has no problems with swinging at the first pitch, Dukes appears comfortable working the count and waiting for "his pitch."

    In a game against Toronto on April 8, Dukes faced former CY Young award winner Roy Halladay and did not look out of place facing one of the elite pitchers in the game.

    In his first at-bat, Dukes coaxed a walk out of a pitcher who walked 1.39 batter per game in 2006.

    Pitch 1 - Foul, center of zone
    Pitch 2 - Ball, low
    Pitch 3 - Called strike
    Pitch 4 - Ball, outside
    Pitch 5 - Ball, outside
    Pitch 6 - Ball, outside

    All four balls were just barely out of the strike zone, according to the MLB Gameday Tracker. Usually those types of calls go to the veteran pitcher but umpire Derryl Cousins did not see it that way. I think it is fair to say most young hitters (in their fifth MLB game) would not have had the confidence to lay off those pitches.

    In his second at-bat, Dukes saw another four pitches from Halladay but grounded into a double-play.

    Pitch 1 - Ball, high
    Pitch 2 - Foul, center of zone
    Pitch 3 - Swinging strike, center of zone
    Pitch 4 - Ground ball, center of zone

    In the sixth inning, Dukes saw another six pitches from Halladay (after Ty Wigginton, Young and Akinori Iwamura each swung and connected with the first pitch thrown), which resulted in another free pass:

    Pitch 1 - Ball, inside
    Pitch 2 - Ball, inside
    Pitch 3 - Called strike, away
    Pitch 4 - Ball, down and away
    Pitch 5 - Called strike, at the knees
    Pitch 6 - Ball, down and away

    In the ninth inning, Dukes faced reliever Casey Janssen, who was in his second inning of work. Janssen has yet to allow a run in 5.2 innings this season (and has allowed only one hit and zero walks):

    Pitch 1 - Swinging strike, center of zone
    Pitch 2 - Ball low
    Pitch 3 - Ball low
    Pitch 4 - Called strike, high center
    Pitch 5 - Swinging strike, far center

    In total, Dukes saw 21 pitches in the game and swung at the first pitch twice but failed to put it in play. The two Jays' pitchers threw a total of 139 pitches, which means Dukes saw 15 percent of the total pitches thrown, while his other eight teammates saw the other 85 percent (or an average of 14.8 pitches each). Therefore Dukes saw about 6.2 more pitches than his teammates averaged in the game. In his first five games, including four starts, Dukes saw an average of just over three pitches per at-bat.

    On thing that struck me while watching the game was that it felt like I was watching the New York Yankees bat when the Rays' heart of the lineup was at the plate. It was the same feeling that these guys were going to get a hit each time up to the plate and that it was going to take a miracle to get them out. Dukes played a big part in that with his more patient approach. They aren't there yet but Baldelli, Crawford, Young, Dukes and even B.J. Upton and Iwamura could one day strike fear in pitchers like Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and Bobby Abreu.

    Another big question surrounding the talent group of young players in Tampa Bay is whether or not the team can afford to keep them all together AND find some pitching. The Rays have done a solid job of locking their young players up so far:

    2009:$6.00M club option ($4M buyout)
    2010:$8.00M club option,
    2011:$9.00M club option ($2M buyout)

    2009:$8.25M club option ($2.5M buyout)
    2010:$10.0M club option ($1.25M buyout)

    2010:$4.25M club option ($0.25M buyout)

    The Rays have both Crawford and Baldelli locked up long-term for below market value and Iwamura could also turn out to be a smart investment. If Tampa Bay can lock up Young, Dukes and Upton to similar contracts (assuming they prove worthy in the next year or two), the club should have the money needed to secure some much-needed veteran pitching - assuming the ownership group is willing to invest in a winning ball club.

    Although you cannot tell much from a five-game sample, if Dukes can avoid self-destructing on and/or off the field due to his volatile nature, he could be a very special player and a key cog in a talented young lineup. And Rays fans could see a winning season or two before 2010.

    A special thanks to: Cot's Baseball Contracts for salary information as well as The Baseball Cube and for statistical information.

    Around the MinorsApril 03, 2007
    The Rise of the Non-Roster Players
    By Marc Hulet

    Opening day has come and gone. Each season 30 major league clubs set a roster of 25 of the best players in the world that will hopefully lead to a World Series championship.

    Due to injuries and poor spring performances, each club always has at least one surprise addition to their roster, be it a raw rookie - such as Boone Logan last year with the Chicago White Sox - or a non-roster player who entered camp on the low rung of the organizational ladder.

    This column takes a look at some of the more interesting non-roster players who made their clubs out of spring training. Some will be with their clubs this September, but others may not. Who do you think will have the greatest impact on the post-season race in 2007? Let us know your thoughts.

  • Joe Smith, New York Mets

    When it comes to surprise 25-man roster inclusions, it does not get any more surprising than Smith's. The Mets added the 2006 third round draft pick to their major league roster despite his inexperience (only 12.2 innings above A-ball). Not only that, but Smith posted a 5.69 ERA and walked 11 batters. But the Mets saw enough of him this spring to feel he will be more effective than any of the other pitchers they had in camp who were healthy. This spring, Smith had a 1.26 ERA in 14.1 innings and allowed nine hits, three walks and struck out 17. He beat out other more experienced pitchers such as Chan Ho Park, Jon Adkins and Jorge Sosa, who will collect more than $1 million while pitching in Triple-A New Orleans. Injuries to Duaner Sanchez and Dave Williams as well as a 50-game suspension to Guillermo Mota also helped to create the spot for Smith. It will be interesting to see which Smith appears early on this season for New York and whether or not this quick promotion will have the same negative effect similar promotions had on top college pitchers Craig Hansen (Boston), Joey Devine (Atlanta) and Ryan Wagner (Washington).

  • Josh Phelps, New York Yankees

    Rule 5 draft pick Phelps is a former top prospect of the Toronto Blue Jays and is expected to platoon with defensive whiz Doug Mientkiewicz. Phelps, a former catcher, has spent the past two seasons banished to the minors due to numerous holes in his powerful swing. The big question is whether or not he has improved enough to play on a contending team. The quiet natured Phelps may also have trouble adjusting to the New York lifestyle. He is a career .268/.336/.473 hitter in parts of six major league seasons. The 29-year-old has also spent time with Cleveland, Tampa Bay and in Detroit's minor league system where he hit .308/.370/.532 in 2006 at Toledo. Last season, Phelps walked 7.3 percent of the time, while striking out at a rate of 23.8 percent. He batted .377 when he put the ball in play. The right-handed batter hit .322 versus left-handers and .297 against right-handers. Former Yankees first baseman Andy Phillips will likely be hovering in Triple-A Scranton in case Phelps struggles.

  • Sammy Sosa, Texas Rangers

    I had the pleasure of watching Sosa play live this spring and came away with two thoughts: 1) Sosa can still play at the major league level and 2) Everyone still loves Sammy. He was greeted with an eruption of cheers from all fans before each and every at-bat. And almost every at-bat resulted in a hard-hit ball. You can't read too much into spring training statistics but the line of .408/.444/.816 is impressive for a 38-year-old player who did not play at all in 2006. Don't expect miracles in 2007 - Sosa is still in his declining years, but he could be a valuable platoon player in the outfield. If Sosa struggles early, it could be hard to find at-bats with Texas carrying six players who can play the outfield: Sosa, Brad Wilkerson, Kenny Lofton, Nelson Cruz, Jerry Hairston and Frank Catalanotto. That said, Sosa possesses more power than of the other five players, followed by Wilkerson and Cruz.

  • Mark Redman, Atlanta Braves

    Mike Hampton's continual bad luck is Redman's gain. Still searching for a job as of early March, Redman quickly signed with Atlanta after Hampton - who was returning from Tommy John surgery - pulled an oblique muscle. Redman it really nothing more than a stopgap and has a career ERA of 4.65. The 33-year-old left-hander should be good for about 180 innings and an ERA around 5.00 if he remains with the Braves for the entire season. Currently, Atlanta's roster consists of Redman, John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Chuck James and Lance Cormier. Atlanta's pitching dynasty is definitely over.

  • Victor Zambrano, Toronto Blue Jays

    Nobody - not even the Blue Jays - expected to see Zambrano on their opening day roster. The now infamous Zambrano - thanks to the 2004 Scott Kazmir heist - had Tommy John surgery (his second such surgery in his career) in 2006 - about 10 months ago. The normal recovery timeline for the surgery is about 14 months. This spring, Zambrano posted a 2.29 ERA in 19.1 innings for a Toronto team desperate for pitching. The always wild and inconsistent Zambrano (382 career walks in 683.1 innings) did allow 10 walks and 16 hits but struck out 14. He was narrowly defeated by Josh Towers (who had a dismal 2006) in a battle for the fifth starter's spot. Zambrano will pitch in relief until A) he fully rebuilds his arm strength and fastball, B) Towers falters again, C) he pitches himself off the team or D) Toronto flips him to the Yankees for Philip Hughes.

  • Sidney Ponson, Minnesota Twins

    It's not a good year to be a Twins' fan, at least based on the appearance of the starting rotation. After perennial Cy Young Award candidate Johan Santana, the rotation quickly drops off with the likes of Carlos Silva (5.94 ERA in 2006), Boof Bonser (4.22), Ramon Ortiz (5.57) and Ponson (6.25). Sir Sidney (Ponson, an Aruba native, was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 2003) has battled his conditioning and engaged in questionable off-field behavior since he first appeared in the major leagues with Baltimore in 1998. Ponson will have to produce quickly if he is going to hold off the Twins' promising young arms, including Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins. Despite a respectable 4.29 spring ERA, all the statistical signs are there for an early season collapse including 32 hits allowed in 21 innings and only nine strikeouts.

  • Russ Ortiz, San Francisco Giants

    Ortiz' conditioning has taken after Sidney Ponson's in recent years. However, Ortiz has rededicated himself to the game and is back with his original team, the Giants, after two dismal seasons (ERAs of 6.89 in 2005 and 8.14 in 2006). The 32-year-old is a former 20-game winner and rotation workhorse, including four straight seasons of 204 or more innings. He has looked good in spring training (a 3.00 ERA with only 13 hits and five walks in 18 innings) but can he really turn things around? The Giants certainly hope so and will be counting on Ortiz to help stabilize a rotation that also includes Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Noah Lowry and Matt Morris. If Ortiz can manage 150 innings and an ERA around 4.50, the Giants could have a very successful starting rotation.

  • Busiest Bee: The Washington Nationals and General Manager Jim Bowden added five non-roster players to their 25-man roster this spring, including: Jesus Colome, Dmitri Young, Ray King, Ronnie Belliard, Robert Fick. All five players have a good deal of experience and should help add experience to this motley crew in the nation's capital. Of the five, Belliard is probably the most likely to perform above replacement level, although he is miscast as a utility player given that he has deteriorating range at second base and an inability to play any other position with any deftness. Fick adds versatility and can act as the third catcher, with the Nationals carrying Rule 5 draft pick Jesus Flores as their backup catcher to veteran Brian Schneider. Young has serious makeup questions and Colome has never developed consistency despite having hit 100 mph with his fastball. King has had solid career as a LOOGY but lefties hit .300 against him last season. The question isn't: Will the Nationals lose 100 games? It is: Will the Nationals lose 120 games?

  • Honorable Mention: Former Blue Jays and Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez came out of retirement this spring to try out for the Kansas City Royals. I had the opportunity of seeing Gonzalez play in person this spring during my six-game tour of Arizona. I can also remember watching Gonzalez play his first major league game back in 1994. He never reached his offensive potential - mainly due to his inability to make consistent contact and maintain a decent on-base percentage - but he was an above-average defender with a cannon for an arm. This spring, Gonzalez failed to make the Royals as a utility player despite hitting .444/.531/.593 (12-for-27). He also walked five times and struck out only six times. However, the Royals felt his range at shortstop was no longer adequate (it looked OK to me the one day I saw him play shortstop) which limited him defensively to third base and second base. Gonzalez appeared to be in excellent shape and the year away from baseball actually seemed to have helped his approach at the plate (albeit in a small sample size). I have no doubt that Gonzalez - now a free agent - could help a major league ball club as a bench player.

  • Around the MinorsMarch 27, 2007
    Florida's Rookie Hitters: Can They Avoid the Sophomore Slump?
    By Marc Hulet

    Although the Marlins' young pitching received the bulk of the attention in 2006, they received some solid (and not-so-solid) performances from a collection of rookie players, led by Rule 5 pick Dan Uggla, who was stolen from Arizona, and Rookie of the Year Hanley Ramirez. Other players to see significant playing time in Florida in 2006 included Reggie Abercrombie, Mike Jacobs, Josh Willingham and Jeremy Hermida.

    If the Marlins hope to contend again in 2007, they will need repeat performances from Ramirez, Uggla and Willingham. They will also need Abercrombie, Jacobs and Hermida - arguably the most talented of all the young hitters - to improve significantly.

                         AVG   OBA   SLG  BB%   K%   GB%   BABIP  HR/AB
    Dan Uggla           .282  .339  .480  7.3  20.1  41.0  .315  27/611
    Hanley Ramirez      .292  .353  .480  8.1  20.2  43.8  .344  17/633
    Mike Jacobs         .262  .325  .473  8.8  22.4  39.6  .2