Down on the Farm - 3/11

Take an in-depth look at your favorite farm system or all the farm systems in theInsiders "Down on the Farm." SFDugout Club Members will be able to keep tabs on all the baseball prospects each week.

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Arizona Diamondbacks: With only one spot on the bench open, assuming the D-backs do carry an extra pitcher, and it being an outfield reserve spot, prospects who play in the outfield will get consideration this spring training. Luis Terrero, Luis Garcia, and Julio Ramirez are the front runners among prospects right now, but Chad Tracey, Tim Olson, and Scott Hairston are infielders who can also play in the outfield.

Atlanta Braves: While Mark DeRosa figures on getting the third base job in Atlanta, he might not want to get too comfortable there. He might just be keeping it warm for Andy Marte. The Braves will likely have Marte at AA Greenville in 2004, but moving him along to AAA Richmond and possibly even giving him a September call-up isn't out of the question. There are a lot of scouts who compare Marte to Scott Rolen, although some doubt that he'll ever hit quite as many homeruns as the Cardinals' third baseman.

Chicago Cubs: When you are talking about prospects of the Cubs, chances are probably 100 to 1 that you are talking about pitching, however a young man from the Dominican Republic. No, its not Sammy Sosa, nor is it Aramis Ramirez, this kid just turned 19 years old. Felix Pie was signed by the Cubs out of the Dominican, and began playing in the Arizona Rookie League and with the Boise Hawks when he was only 17 years old. Despite his age, Pie earned the MVP of the Arizona League, and earned a quick promotion to Lansing for 2003. In Lansing, Pie showed that he is a 5 tool player, commanding the outfield in center, hitting for power, average, and running with great speed, while still having a very good arm. Pie can best be described as raw however, as he just turned 19 in February. He should start the year at high A Daytona, and expect good numbers from him again. Pie will put it all together, and start to turn some of those long triples into homers. The Cubs may have a jam at center in 2 or 3 years, with Pie and Corey Patterson playing the same position. The scary part is that Pie may be good enough to warrant moving Patterson to left field. Watch out for him in 2004, looking for him to be one of the best hitters in a good pitchers league.

Cincinnati Reds: Ty Howington made a trip up the list of top Reds prospects at an early age. Good thing for him he was so young, because injuries have set him back at least a couple years. There is little doubt that Howington would be in the majors by now if he were able to stay healthy. Even with the injuries, Howington is still on track to be a solid major league prospect. At 23, he will likely return to AA where he went 0-2, 6.91 in 4 starts last season. While his AA numbers weren't too encouraging, he was 7-7, 3.53 at High A Potomac for the Reds last season and appeared to be strong and healthy. It will be interesting to see if the comparisons to Andy Pettitte come back as Howington continues to climb toward the majors.

Colorado Rockies: Jeff Francis had a stretch in 2003 where he went 10-2 with a 1.83 ERA, allowing just 69 hits over his last 108.1 innings pitched. The Rockies' first-rounder in 2002 has a fastball that reaches 93-94 and has a solid repertoire of pitches that includes an above average curve and changeup. The 6-5 lefty is expected to be in Double-A Tulsa this year.

Florida Marlins: OF Abraham Nunez is making a strong case for the Marlins giving an opening day roster spot with his good play so far this spring. Nunez, who was acquired in the Matt Mantei trade in 1999, was considered a top prospect but injuries and inconsistency has slowed his progress. Heading into 2004 it is obvious that Nunez is ready to step forward and show the promise of his potential. He has put in extra effort in the weight room this off-season and has gained 15 pounds of muscle mass. Apparently, the effort has paid off. So far this exhibition season Nunez is 2-8 with 4 runs scored and 3 RBI. His two hits this off-season have both been homeruns. If he continues to show the propensity to drive in runs during Grapefruit League play, look for Nunez to grab a roster spot. Making an even stronger case for inclusion on the 24 man roster is former Tigers 2B Damion Easley. Easley, who was signed this off-season on a minor league contract, has been on fire so far this spring. In exhibition play Easley is 5-13 with 4 runs scored and 6 RBI. He has also hit 3 homeruns thus far. Easley could be a valuable addition has a right handed power bat off the bench. Defensively, he can adequately play the 2B, SS, and 3B positions.

Houston Astros: The Astros may not have the deepest farm system in the major leagues, but one position that they are solid at is the catching spot. John Buck has been documented to be one of their best prospects, but one that may slip under the radar screen is another catcher in the Astros organization named Hector Gimenez. Gimenez only has 2 years of pro baseball experience, but he has come along nicely as one of the Astros top prospects. He may not be an offensive powerhouse catcher like Mike Piazza, but he is certainly capable of putting up decent catcher numbers with a little power. The 21 year old completed the year at high A Salem for the Astros, and will probably start next year at AA Round Rock. He does need to gain more patience at the plate to improve his stock in the system however, especially when the pitching is better. The Astros will have a nice problem in a few years when both Gimenez and Buck are ready for the majors, and they will be able to trade which ever one they like to shore up another position that they do not have in their minor leagues.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Dodger power lefty Greg Miller is throwing again after being shutdown because of tendonitis suffered late in the 2003 season. Miller, the Dodgers Minor League Pitcher of the Year, was 11-4 for Class A Vero Beach with a 2.49 earned run average and was 1-1, 1.01 with Double-A Jacksonville in four starts late in the year. Right-handers Joel Hanrahan, 10-4 with Jacksonville, and Brian Falkenborg, 4-2 with Triple-A Tacoma, threw their first bullpens.

Milwaukee Brewers: LHP Jorge De La Rosa has been traded twice, all without ever suiting up in different uniforms. De La Rosa ended the season with Boston, got shipped to Arizona for Curt Schilling, and then got moved to the Brewers in the Richie Sexson package. All those moves might indicate a game of hot potato, everyone trying to get rid of him before he explodes, but De La Rosa is far from exploding, at least in a bad way. De La Rosa can hit 94 on the radar gun, and had an excellent season last year splitting time between AA and AAA. De La Rosa will probably start the year in the minors, but a promotion to the big league club probably won't be far off.

Montreal Expos: The Expos are giving Shaun Hill some exposure in camp this spring even though there are no plans to keep him with the big league club. The Expos added Hill to the 40 man roster over the winter and are going to take a look at him in some early spring training games. Hill was drafted in the sixth round of the 2002 Draft and is just 22 years of age. The Expos continue to work on Hill's mechanics and are trying to add another mile or two per hour onto his low 90s fastball. His exposure this spring has gone well as far as the work that they've been able to do with Hill, but the game results weren't so great when he got hit for 4 earned runs in 1.2 innings of work. Neither the Expos or Hill were too upset with the results though, since they both know Hill has work to do and will be starting the season at AA Harrisburg.

New York Mets: RHP Kole Strayhorn came over to the Mets from the Dodgers as part of the Jeromy Burnitz trade last season and finished up his very strong 2003 campaign. Kole went 6-3 with 17 saves last season, sporting a 2.51 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP ratio in 61.1 innings of A-ball. Strayhorn should be joining the likes of Scott Kazmir and Matt Peterson in Binghamton in 2004 as the team's closer. He's one to keep an eye this season as he could make a giant leap into the upper echelon of Mets' prospects.

Philadelphia Phillies: Matt Squires doesn't get a lot of recognition in the pitching rich Phillies organization. Still, the 25 year old isn't too shabby and has gotten into 2 games with the Phillies this spring, doing well in both games. Squires, who hasn't pitched above High A Clearwater, hasn't allowed a base runner in 1.2 innings. The Phillies will start the 2001 19th round Draft Pick at AA Reading this season after he went 4-2, 1.86 in 41 relief appearances for Clearwater last season.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates owned the top overall pick in the 2002 draft, and used it to select RHP Bryan Bullington, a polished pitcher expected to move quickly out of Ball State. However, Bullington, in his first pro season, promptly lost velocity on his fastball and struggled the entire season, making many question whether or not he was deserving of his status as the number one overall pick. Bullington, despite the velocity drop, was still successful in A-ball, but probably won't have the same success at the higher levels if his fastball doesn't get back into the 90's. Despite the drop, the Pirates expect Bullington to rebound, get his velocity back, and start the 2005 season in the big leagues.

San Diego Padres: Prized phenom Josh Barfield pulled a hamstring running out a grounder this past week and will be shut down for two weeks. As expected, he showed he could hit, but needs work on his defense at second. Many in the organization don't think he will end up at second in the bigs, but it is the position he will play in Mobile this year. Barfield will be fine, but missing out on his chance to shine this spring will ultimately slow his development. That isn't a bad thing as he has time and needs to mature on his recognition of pitches. But it was possible that he could have continued to hit and showed he belonged sooner than anticipated, which would have forced the Padres hand.

San Francisco Giants: The Giants have a number of career minor leaguers trying to show enough for the big show. Damon Minor was recently re-signed to a minor league contract and he joins other players still hoping to make the majors after 6, 7, 8 years in the minors, such as Brian Dallimore, who is competing with Cody Ransom (another one) for the final infield reserve spot, Nathan Haynes, a former A's first round draft pick hoping to be the 5th outfielder, and Rob Stratton, whose homers are legendary but so are his strikeouts and low anything else that is a good offensive stat, also trying to make the outfield.

St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals list of top prospects may be short, but one person that makes the list more impressive is Tyler Johnson. In his 3 years in the minor leagues, the 22 year old left hander out of California has a career 2.46 ERA. Not bad for a 34th round pick back in 2000. The Cardinals diamond in the rough was gold for them again last year, as he went from the high A Florida State League, to the AA Southern League. With the move to AA came a full time move to the bullpen, which suited him very well, as he went 1-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 20 appearances for the Tennessee Smokies. He had 39 strikeouts in his 27.1 innings pitched. Johnson will probably stay at AA and attempt to become the full time closer there before moving up to AAA to do the same job. If the Cardinals feel pressure though, they will rush the young star, which could hurt his potential. However, he has shown no signs that he would not be able to handle the move yet, as his numbers have improved with each year of pro ball. John may eventually be Jason Isringhausen's replacement as the last man in the pen for the Cards, but he needs to prove that he will be a solid closer first, and 2004 will be his chance.

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles have some of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball. Take RHP David Crouthers for instance. He struck out 111 batters in 137 innings last season in two stops (High A & AA) while holding opposing batters to a .237 average. At just 22 years old, Crouthers consistently brings his fastball in the 93-94 MPH range and has a great slider as his secondary pitch. He's one of the finer pitching prospects and yet he's only about fifth or sixth among O's pitching prospects.

Boston Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis knows he can hit and the organization knows he can hit, but what the young third basemen is working on extensively this spring is improving his defense down at the hot corner. It seems unlikely, barring an unforeseen injury to Bill Mueller, that he will be on the twenty-five man roster come the start of the season. He continues to work hard, certainly impressing first-year Boston manager Terry Francona. Mueller, however, can be a free agent following the season if his option is not picked up and therefore Kevin could contend for the job a year from now. "The Greek God Of Walks," as he has been recently identified by the baseball world, will most likely head for Triple-A Pawtucket to begin the 2004 campaign.

Detroit Tigers: When the Tigers shipped out their top starter (LHP Mark Redman) after the 2002 season, they received a trio of prospects, the most prominent being a harder throwing lefty coming up in AA at the time. That pitcher; Rob Henkel. Henkel has 4 major league quality pitches; a fastball in the low 90's (rare for a lefty), and a knuckle-curveball that absolutely eats hitters alive. His only issue? Injuries. Ever since being drafted by the Marlins in 2000, he has not been able to make it through an entire season without spending some time on the DL. He has the potential to make it to the top of a big league rotation, if he stays healthy.

Kansas City Royals: For outfielder Byron Gettis, patience has been the key. Gettis could have spent the past few seasons with a scholarship to play football at the University of Minnesota, but instead signed with Kansas City after signing with the Royals as a non-drafted free agent in 1998. The going has been slow for Gettis, but in 2003, he seemed to put it all together and hit 16 homeruns at AA Wichita while hitting .302 and posting a .377 OBP. With maturity came discipline at the plate and Gettis suddenly found that if he stayed away from curve balls, pitchers would eventually have to throw him something that he had a better chance of hitting. The Royals are a little concerned because Gettis is carrying 240 pounds on a six-foot frame, but they are letting Gettis go for now, since he doesn't seem to be hampered by his size.

Minnesota Twins: Denard Span lost some time because he signed late in 2002 and didn't make his pro debut until last season. The first round pick out of Tampa Catholic High School has near amazing speed, which will be his main ticket to the majors. Unfortunately, Span was slowed by minor leg and ankle injuries in his first pro season and he only stole 14 bases while hitting .271 in Rookie league. The Twins worked with Span to get him to stop swinging for the fences and it helped. Now, they're trying to get him to develop more offensive skills to complement his speed. Defensively, Span is adequate, but having the speed that he does helps him overcome some of his shortcomings.

New York Yankees: It's tough to say that anyone's third year as a pro is "pivotal", but Rudy Guillen has to show some of that five-tool talent scouts have been touting for the last couple of seasons. Ranked is just about everyone's Top Five of Yankees' prospects, Guillen is slated to play this year at Tampa and he'll have to improve on his .311 on-base percentage in order to fight off the few detractors he's had thus far. He needs to improve on his pitch recognition and make that next step that superstars make.

Oakland Athletics: SS Bobby Crosby is making his push to make A's fans forget the name Miguel Ojeda. Crosby smacked two home runs on Tuesday against the Padres Adam Eaton and had six RBI's – all in the first inning. His first time up he hit a two run homer, shattering his bat on the hit, and he followed that with a grand slam to chase Eaton. Crosby is batting .467 so far this spring and leads the team in homers, RBI's, hits and total bases.

Seattle Mariners: After hitting .258 with 13 homers in Double-A in 2003, SS Jose Lopez is turning heads in Peoria this spring. Flashing the leather, displaying a strong arm, as well as hitting for power, the 20-year-old is looking to solidify his position as the heir apparent at short for the M's. Lopez will likely begin the 2004 season at Triple-A Tacoma. Highly-rated M's right-hander Rett Johnson has been granted permission by the club to leave camp and attend to a personal matter. The details of the situation remain private but fellow righties Clint Nageotte and Jeff Heaverlo offered their opinions that Johnson would return as soon as he could. The 24-year-old should begin the year in Triple-A Tacoma but could finish the year in the big leagues.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: So, who's the better prospect; B.J. Upton or Delmon Young? The two should be paired together in Tampa Bay for years to come once they both reach the majors, which should be pretty soon. Young boasts that he's ready for the majors now, even though he was only a high schooler a year ago. Upton has at least played at Low A and AA ball since being drafted out of high school in the first round of the 2002 Draft. Both are in camp with the D'Rays. Upton has gone 2-4 with a homerun this spring while Young has a single in his only spring at bat.

Texas Rangers: Recent reports out of Rangers' camp is that top prospect Adrian Gonzalez is expected to see some major time with the big club in 2004. The first overall selection in the 2000 draft by the Florida Marlins, Gonzalez has a solid all-around game at first as well as a bat to back up the traditional expectations of a first-sacker. Likely headed for Triple-A Oklahoma, the 21-year-old slugger could earn a promotion that could push Mark Teixeira to the DH/OF spots to make room for him. Fast-rising prospect Ramon Nivar is at the top of a short list of reserve outfield candidates. The speed and versatility of Nivar will likely land him a roster spot with a solid spring showing. The Rangers have several pitching openings that are likely to be filled by a mixture of veterans and youngsters. A healthy Ben Kozlowski and Juan Dominguez are longshots to make the club out of camp.

Toronto Blue Jays: Francisco Rosario is fighting to regain the form that made him one of the Blue Jays top prospects. Rosario blew out his elbow while pitching in the Arizona Fall League in 2002 and missed all of last season. He's healthy now, but still has a pretty long road back to where he was before the injury. The Jays have Rosario in major league camp, but he was hit pretty hard in his first outing of the spring, allowing 3 earned runs in 1 inning of work. Toronto won't rush Rosario and they're already figuring that it may take him most of this season just to get himself back to where he needs to be for him to be considered one of their top prospects. Rest assured though that the Blue Jays haven't given up on Rosario.


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