Baltimore Orioles: Orioles AAA starter Rigo Beltran is following up his excellent 2003 regular season campaign by pitching well for the Culiacan Tomato Growers of the Mexican League. In four starts so far, Beltran is 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA. He has 23 strikeouts in 22 innings, but he has walked 13 batters. The good news is that while he may walk a few too many, he's holding batters to a measley .210 batting average.
Boston Red Sox: It has been a somewhat busy week for the Sox farm system this past week and could take a hit if Boston is able to finalize the trade for Curt Schilling. First, the Red Sox claimed pitchers Phil Seibel and Edwin Almonte off of waivers from the Mets. Seibel went 5-5 with a 3.59 ERA at AA Binghamton this year before being promoted to AAA. Boston might need the pitching help in their farm system as pitchers Brandon Lyon, Casey Fossum, and Jorge De La Rosa (along with OF prospect Michael Goss) could be sent to Arizona for Schilling. De La Rosa, who went 7-5 with a 3.00 ERA between AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket this past season, is one of the Red Sox top pitching prospects.
New York Yankees: Jorge De Paula is pitching for the Leones del Escogido of the Dominican League this winter, but isn't having much success yet. The young right-hander, regarded by some as the Yankees' top pitching prospect, has a 6.14 ERA in 7.1 innings so far this winter. He has struck out eight batters, but he has also walked four and allowed a whopping nine hits.
Oakland A's: OF Jason Grabowski continues a solid offseason, hitting .269 with power and patience. The right-handed slugger could vie for a reserve spot on the A's 25-man roster. With the recent trade of lefty Ted Lilly, Athletics prospect Justin Duchscherer is at the top of the list for the fifth spot in the rotation. The right-handed Duke, 26, saw some time in Oakland last September and impressed team officials with his performance. SS Bobby Crosby isn't winning over the fans approval this winter, at no fault of his own, and the A's may be leaning toward moving Mark Ellis back to SS and signing a 2B. Crosby was the PCL's top rookie in 2003. 2B Esteban German could get a look in spring training as well, depending on which direction the club goes at SS. German is currently hitting .270 in the Dominican Winter Leagues. The A's top prospect, SP Joe Blanton, is slated to start 2004 at Double-A Midland and have a shot to be 2004's version of Rich Harden.
Seattle Mariners: The further into the offseason we go, the more and more it seems the M's are going to go young in a few key positions. 3B is one, where Jeff Cirillo will not be back, Carlos Guillen will likely be non-tendered, and Justin Leone could be handed the job to lose. Freddy Garcia and his arbitration status could force a trade and open up a spot in the rotation. Rafael Soriano and Rett Johnson would be the top two candidates for that role. Soriano is currently pitching shutout ball in the Dominican League and was nasty in the bullpen for the M's in 2003. The right-hander could be the team's closer in 2004 if Sasaki is allowed to return to Japan. Johnson was lights out in 2003 at two levels and was slowed only by shoulder soreness late in the year. OF Chris Snelling has fully recovered from minor knee surgery and is expected to be ready for Spring Training. Teen hurler Felix Hernandez, 17, is proving his 2003 season was no fluke with a strong showing in the Venezuelan League. Hernandez's 3.57 ERA is the best among Venezuelan League starters under the age of 22.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: By acquiring Tino Martinez, the Devil Rays didn't really block any young players path to the majors. The D'Rays used 31 year old Ryan Jackson at first base at AAA Durham in 2003 and AA saw Dan Grummitt and Frank Moore get most of the time at first. Neither Grummitt (11-51-.248 at AA) or Moore (5-34-.277 at AA) are ready to make the jump to the majors although both got auditions at AAA late in the season. Martinez will give both players the chance to get a full season at AAA and prove that they're truly prospects worth watching.
Texas Rangers: OF Ramon Nivar is off to a slow stat in the Dominican League, hitting just .167 after tearing up the AFL at a .381 clip. 1B Adrian Gonzalez finished with a solid AFL season and could be part of the bait that lands the Rangers a much needed starting pitcher. The only untouchable in the system is probably right-hander Juan Dominguez. Catcher Gerard Laird will have a great shot at the starting spot and his emergence this past year paves the way for the Rangers to spend in other areas. The bullpen will likely see Francisco Cordero as the full-time closer with possibly one veteran free agent pickup surrounded by youngsters such as Edwin Moreno, Erasmo Ramirez, Rosman Garcia, and Spike Lundberg. Left-hander Ben Kozlowski is due back to full health by spring and could be the team's best prospect after Dominguez. Expect a lot of young pitching to go with the young lineup the Rangers toss out there day after day in 2004.
Toronto Blue Jays: The first two rounds of the 2002 Draft are looking pretty good for Toronto. Their first pick, Russ Adams (4-26-.277 at AA) figures to be a potential star shortstop at the major league level before too long and some scouts believe that second round pick, right-hander David Bush (7-3, 2.78 at AA) could pitch in the majors in 2004 if the Jays needed him to. Third round pick Justin Moreau (3-4, 4.84 at High A) has struggled with his control, which has slowed his progress a little. The Jays are still high on Moreau and believe that he will simply need a little more time to develop.
Arizona Diamondbacks: They are looking for ways to make their roster more flexible so they moved 3B Chad Tracy, their organization's player of the year, only 23, to the outfield and 1B in the Dominican Winter League... The Diamondbacks are hopeful that Luis Terrero, one of their top outfield prospects, will rebound from surgery for a blood clot in his left arm in time for the start of spring training. He has a chance to make the roster as a backup if healthy... AFL standouts pitcher Brandon Medders and 2B Scott Hairston were among nine players (including Chad Tracy and AFL OF Josh Kroeger) added to their 40 man roster.
Chicago Cubs: Outfielder Jason Dubois, infielders Ronny Cedeno and Brendan Harris, and pitchers Renyel Pinto and Carlos Vasquez were added to the Cubs' 40-man roster this week. Dubois recently won the Arizona Fall League MVP award for 2003, finishing the Championship game with four hits to end his AFL season with a .358 batting average. Harris also participated in the AFL. He hit to the tune of .302 with 7 doubles and 19 RBIs in 25 games.
Cincinnati Reds: Ray Olmedo wasn't necessarily supposed to be in the majors in 2003, but injuries forced the Reds to push him along quicker than they would have originally planned. You have to wonder if they're forced to do the same thing in 2004, who would the likely candidates be to push to the majors? 3B Edwin Encarnacion could be one of those candidates, especially since the Reds aren't exactly set at third. Encarnacion hit a combined 11-61-.294 at Class A Potomac and AA Chattanooga in 2003. The Reds think he's a player to watch and ideally will let him progress slowly, but might push. Billy Bergolla has plenty of speed - 52 SB at Potomac - and hit .272. He needs to develop some plate discipline, but the Reds may be tempted to move the young middle infielder along pretty quickly. Since both Encarnacion and Bergolla are just 20 years old, rushing them isn't a necessity.
Colorado Rockies: Former top prospect Garret Gentry could be had by any team in the Rule 5 draft. One scout told us he thought Gentry "was the best hitting catcher in the minors" a few short years ago. Then he tore a labium and everything changed. Now he is slowly climbing the ladder and could be a contributor at some point. The question for a team taking a flier on him is if it will be this season. He was in Class A Asheville where he hit .326 in 44 games.
Houston Astros: LHP Carlos Hernandez, who missed last season while recovering from rotator cuff surgery, is having a fine winter in the Venezuelan League and seems poised to compete for a spot on the 2004 big-league staff. "He's throwing more freely and easier, which is to be expected when you get further away from surgery," assistant GM Tim Purpura said. "His arm has a fluid nature to it. He's keeping the ball down in the zone, and that all goes back to mechanics."
Los Angeles Dodgers: AFL stars OF Reggie Abercrombie and RHP Jason Frasor were among the many players added to their 40 man roster. AFL teammate Willy Aybar and RHP Joel Hanrahan, who pitched well in 2003, were also added... Abercrombie, one of the Dodgers' top position prospects, just underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in his knee, which occurred while he was in the AFL. He is expected to be out until mid-season in 2004.
Milwaukee Brewers: Since Prince Fielder hit a grand slam in his debut for Ogden back in 2002, he has been on the fast track. After getting on base 102 times in 41 games he was promoted to Beloit. He had some troubles in Beloit in 2002, but plowed through the league in 2003 with 27 homers, 112 RBI's and a .313 average. He is the number one hitting prospect in Milwaukee and perhaps the league.
Montreal Expos: What to do with Josh McKinley? The Expos didn't protect the 24 year old infielder on their 40 man roster and you have to figure someone might swipe him in the Rule 5 Draft in December. McKinley had failed pretty badly in his first few professional seasons, but seemed to put it all together last season, hitting 15-75-.288 at AA Harrisburg. He also played at both second and third base and can also play short, making him pretty flexible. When McKinley was first drafted with the 11th overall pick in the '98 Draft, he was supposed to be on a quick road to the majors, but hitting just .251 coming into the 2003 season didn't allow him to move too quickly.
New York Mets: The Mets' 40-man roster went through some changes this past week. They lost pitchers Phil Seibel and Edwin Almonte (acquired from the White Sox in the Roberto Alomar deal) when the Boston Red Sox claimed them off waivers. The Mets also added SP Bob Keppel, 3B Aaron Baldiris, C Michael Jacobs, and OF Wayne Lydon to their 40-man roster. New York left a spot open on the roster so they can add a player during the Rule 5 Draft at next month's Winter Meetings.
Philadelphia Phillies: Refusing to give up a top prospect like Cole Hamels, Gavin Floyd or Brett Myers may have cost the Phillies a shot at getting Curt Schilling. In fact, Ed Wade had to be talked into giving up Taylor Buchholz to get Billy Wagner a few weeks ago. The Phillies have made a practice of hanging on to their prized prospects over the past couple years. They're also concerned about signing any top free agents, not because of the price tag of their salaries, but because of the cost of draft picks. The 2003 Draft wasn't a good one for the Phillies, since they lost their first two picks by signing Jim Thome and David Bell. If the Phillies are going to give up a top prospect, Javier Vazquez might be the only guy that they will give in on. As for losing a draft pick, it seems that they may only go that route if it means getting Bartolo Colon.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Frank Brooks has been exposed to the Rule V Draft. The left-handed reliever posted a 2.51 ERA, 43 H, 75/13 K/BB in 61 IP in two different Double-A organizations. He then went up to Triple-A with the Pirates and remained steady with a 2.54 ERA in 28 IP. He could be a steal if he is taken in the draft.
San Diego Padres: Interesting names dot the unprotected list for the Friars. Former first round pick Jake Gautreau heads the list of potential Rule V losses. Gautreau plays 2B, a position that now has Josh Barfield, the number one prospect in the organization, blocking his way. As one scout said to us, "Jeff Kent would not block Barfield's path to the Majors."
San Francisco Giants: Merkin Valdez, Justin Knoedler, Jamie Athas, and Angel Chavez were recently added to the Giants 40-man roster... Overlooked Giants prospect, Carlos Valderama has been doing well in the Dominican Winter League. He is second in the league in batting with .386 average, fourth in runs scored with 20, third in slugging percentage with .659, and has 5 home runs, 13 RBIs, and 4 stolen bases in 88 AB. Healthy for two consecutive seasons for the first time, his good outing in the Winter League puts him in the mix, along with Tony Torcato, Jason Ellison and Todd Linden, for a reserve outfielder position with the Giants in 2004.
St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals signed 1B Kevin Witt, who hit .263 with 10 HR and 26 RBI in 93 games with the Detroit Tigers in 2003, to a minor league contract. With the trading of first baseman Tino Martinez to the Devil Rays, Witt, 27, will no doubt be comepeting for the starting position on the right side of the diamond next season.