Down on the Farm 12/31

There' s no better place to stay up to date with the hottest minor league prospects in baseball than here at InsidethePark.com.

Anaheim Angels:  Third base prospect Dallas McPherson had an excellent season in 2003, splitting his time between Ranco Cucamonga and AA Arkansas.  The 23-year-old lefty hit a combined .310 with 23 homeruns and 16 stolen bases.  He boasts an extremely impressive .410 OBP but he committed 16 errors in 88 games this season.  With his bat however, he could be in the majors by late 2004 or 2005.

Baltimore Orioles
: The Orioles' 5th round pick in the 2003 amateur draft, Nate Spears had an impressive professional debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.  Spears, a shortstop, posted a .427 OBP in 180 at bats with the Sarasota Orioles, opening scout's eyes.  Spears also stole 18 bases in his 56 games and has an impressive 1.25 BB:K ratio.  At just 18 years old, this kid has a long way to go on his way to the majors, but he looks like a good talent right now.

Boston Red Sox
: With on-base percentage being preached by many general managers around the league, Red Sox third base prospect  Kevin Youkilis may be the poster child. In his first 100 at-bats in the Mexican Pacific League he managed a .424 OBP. That trademark of his has been recognized amongst the media, most notably in the book   "Moneyball." Shortstop Hanley Ramirez has struggled in the Dominican Winter League, but last Monday (December 22) he put together a three hit performance to raise his average to .214. He's still young, with comparisons to New York Yankees second basemen Alfonso Soriano being made.

Chicago White Sox: RHP Josh Fields led the Sox' minor league system in ERA and total games categories for 2002 with a 2.51 mark in 57 outings. The Montana native did not disappoint many in 2003, finishing with a respectable 3.10 ERA in 58 games at Class-A Winston-Salem. Fields, who turns 24 in January, could have a bright future ahead in a Sox bullpen that already has no long-term relievers.

Cleveland Indians:  Nicholas Pesco was drafted in the 25th round of the 2002 draft, but the young righty looked mighty impressive in 2003 at rookie-level Burlington.  There, Pesco compiled a 3-1 record with a 1.82 ERA in 13 starts (54.1 innings).  He struck out 55 batters and posted a WHIP ratio of 1.07, but there may be a problem.  Almost half of the baserunners Pesco allowed were via walks and ,while he only walked 22, he'll need to cut down on that number if he wants to continue this kind of success at the higher levels.

Detroit Tigers
:  Outfielder Cody Ross will likely be fighting for a roster spot on the Tigers come Spring Training 2004.  Ross hit 20 homeruns in 470 at bats at AAA Toledo in 2003, earning a promotion in September.  Ross didn't look particularly good in his first taste of the big leagues, but he did homer in his first 19 at bats.  The 23-year-old has a good combination of power and speed with 15 steals in 2003 to go with his .515 slugging percentage.

Kansas City Royals: Was there anyone in the Royals farm system that had a more disappointing season than RHP Ian Ferguson? Ferguson, 24, finished 2003 with a 5.15 ERA after boasting an organization high 18 wins a year ago in 2002. Ferguson is not overpowering, but does have excellent command, often spotting his sub-90 mph fastball and mixing speeds for throwing strikes. 

Minnesota Twins:  Joe Mauer may get all the attention, but the Twins' catching prospects don't stop there.  A 10th round pick from the 2002 draft, Kyle Phillips put on an impressive display at Rookie-level Elizabethton.  The southpaw hit .289 with a eight homers in 246 at bats.  He also boasts an impressive 0.76 BB:K ratio.  Phillips' play earned him a late promotion to single-A Fort Myers, but he only had two at bats there before the season ended.  Expect Phillips to start at Fort Myers in 2004.

New York Yankees: RHP Ramon Ramirez isn't experiencing the same kind of success that he had in the AFL while pitching in the Dominican League.  Ramirez, who led the AFL in ERA and strikeouts this past Fall, has a 1-3 record and a 5.19 ERA in hist first 17.1 innings for the Gigantes del Cibao.  The good news?  His  K:BB ratio is over four and he's hovering around 9 K/9, both excellent peripheral numbers.

Oakland Athletics: Former Philadelphia Phillies star Von Hayes will manage at Class A Modesto in his first season in the A's organization next year. He will be joined by pitching coach Scott Emerson and hitting coach Eddie Williams. Hayes made his managerial debut last year at Class A South Bend in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, guiding the Silver Hawks to a 72-64 record. The A's did lose left-handed pitcher Bill Murphy to the Florida Marlins to complete the Mark Redman trade. Murphy was 7-4 with a 2.25 ERA for low Class A Kane County and went 3-3 with a 4.09 ERA for Double-A Midland last season.

Seattle Mariners: It was hard to find a more solid OF prospect in the M's organization for 2003 than Shin-Soo Choo. Choo, a 21-year-old Korean who made the move from pitcher after coming to the United States in 2001, has done nothing but impress at every level since the transition to the outfield. After hitting over .300 last year between Class-A Wisconsin and San Bernardino, he disappointed few and delighted many while at Class-A Inland Empire, where he batted .286 with 9 HR and 55 RBI in 110 games.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Everybody knows about the prospects at the upper levels, but what about at the lower levels? Chad Cooper has plenty of speed and used it to swipe 25 bases at Princeton in 2003. The D'Rays took Cooper in the 11th round of last summer's draft and were happy with his professional debut. The 22 year old second baseman hit .264 at Princeton and was moved along to Hudson Valley where ht hit just .214 in 8 games. The folks in the Devil Rays front office believe that Cooper can be taught a little more plate discipline, boosting his OBP and his stolen base numbers. They also believe that added plate discipline will lead to a higher average.

Texas Rangers:  The fourth round pick of the Rangers in this year's draft, Wes Littleton had an excellent pro debut.  The right-handed pitcher tossed 52 innings for Spokane of the Northwest League and put up a sparkling 1.56 ERA and 47 strikeouts.  He walked just eight batters and allowed just 36 hits.  Littleton came out of California State Fullerton University and he's 21 years old, so don't worry Rangers fans, pitching help is on the way.  It just may take a while.

Toronto Blue Jays: Simon Pond just keeps on hitting. After tearing up AA pitching (.338) in the early part of the 2003 season, Pond was moved to AAA where he hit .306. Now, this winter, Pond is pounding the ball in the Puerto Rican League, hitting .292 with 10 homeruns and 28 RBI. It took a while, but Pond has learned to be more patient at the plate and drew more walks than strikeouts at AA in 2003. If not for Alex Rios, Pond might be getting a lot more attention. Even though he's not a household name, the Blue Jays did add him to the 40 man roster so there wouldn't be any chance that they would lose him in the Rule 5 Draft. A hot spring could boost Pond to the majors next spring. 



Atlanta Braves: Chuck James was Atlanta's 20th pick in the 2002 amateur draft, and he made his first pro appearance in 2003 for the Danville Braves of the Appalachian League.  In 50.1 innings, James posted a brilliant 1.25 ERA and an even more impressive 68 strikeouts while walking just 19.  The lefty starter is 22 years old however, and is much older than the average Rookie baller.

Arizona Diamondbacks
: RHP Edgar Gonzalez has posted a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings for Hermosillo of the Mexican Pacific League, but more impressive is that he has issued only one walk. RHP Jose Valverde has been dominating in Mexican Pacific League play for Hermosillo. Valverde has struck out 17 in 19 innings to go with four saves and a 2.84 ERA, but has walked 10.

Chicago Cubs: Was there anybody in the Cubs' system that had a more silent season for a .300 hitter (well, ok -- .299, but who's counting?) than Adam Greenberg? Greenberg put up overwhelming numbers while at college at North Carolina, with batting averages of .386, .310 and .337 in three years with the Tar Heels. At the young age of 22, Greenberg may soon be considered one of the MLB's top outfield prospects.

Cincinnati Reds
: With pitching in such short supply in Cincinnati, the Reds might consider letting a starter jump from AA to the majors if things fall just right. One candidate would be right-hander Josh Hall. The 23 year old did get a short major league audition, pitching 24.2 innings in 5 starts in 2003. Things didn't go well, as Hall suffered an 0-2, 6.57 line of stats. Still, if Hall looks sharp in spring and the Reds need another arm, they might give Hall a longer tryout to start the season. You can rest assured that Hall will see the majors again sometime in the 2004 season.

Colorado Rockies
: Jason Young went 6-7 for the Rockies top affiliate and played with the big club in 2003, allowing 20 earned runs in 21 innings. At 6-5, Young kept his Colorado Springs ERA down at 3.95 mixing a 93 mile per hour fastball in with an improving changeup. Young will continue to refine his work this year at Triple-A but could be a midseason callup and get a few spot starts.

Florida Marlins:
The Marlins addressed some needed left-handed minor league pitching depth by acquiring Bill Murphy as the player to be named in the deal that sent Mark Redman to Oakland. Murphy, 22, was Oakland's third-round pick in the 2002 free agent draft. The left-hander was 7-4 (2.25) in 14 games with Class A Kane County. In 92 innings pitched, he struck out 87 while walking 32. At Double-A, he was 3-3 with a 4.09 ERA. In 11 games, he pitched 55 innings, striking out 34 and walking 26.

Houston Astros:
LHP Carlos Hernandez, who missed the 2003 season after undergoing rotator cuff surgery, appears set to compete for a job in the Astros' starting rotation. In eight appearances in the Venezuelan league, he had little shoulder discomfort and decent velocity. He was 3-1 with a 4.21 ERA, pitching 36 1/3 innings and allowing 29 hits. He walked 13 and struck out 39.

Milwaukee Brewers
:
Mike Jones was setting the minors on fire in 2003. At the tender age of 20, Jones made the all-star team at Double-A, posting a 7-2 record for Huntsville with an ERA of 2.40. An elbow injury shelved Jones for the remainder of the season and he has avoided Tommy John surgery so far. The Brewers will monitor his progress closely as they see his future as being bright. RHP Adrian Hernandez was signed to a minor league contract and invited him to camp as a non-roster player. The younger brother of Expos pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, Adrian, 28, went 8-5 with a 3.21 ERA in 32 games and nine starts for Triple-A Columbus in 2003. He has made eight major league appearances, all with the Yankees.

Montreal Expos:
What if the Expos can't find a third baseman? Scott Hodges is waiting in the wings, as he has been seemingly every season for years now. Hodges turns 25 the day after Christmas and has a full season of AAA ball under his belt. He hit .288 with 12 homeruns at Edmonton in 2003 and the Expos were happy but would like to see a little more power out of the third base spot. Their other option, Jamey Carroll also lacks power and the Expos like his ability to play a number of infield position, so he's not a likely candidate.

New York Mets:
When you begin talking about the Dominican Winter League with scouts, the name of Victor Diaz is bound to pop up. The second baseman, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the Roberto Alomar trade, is putting on a hitting display of late. On Sunday he went 2-for-4 with 2 runs scored, a walk, a stolen base, and raised his average to .322. With the shifting of Jose Reyes to second, Diaz may be a very nice trading chip whether it be in the next few months or during the season. There's never been a question of his offensive ability, but many feel he is a defensive liability and question his work ethic to improve his glove.

Philadelphia Phillies:
The Phillies have a lot of expectations for third baseman Juan Richardson. To clear his road to the majors, the Phillies declined to offer a contract for 2004 to Travis Chapman, making him a free agent. Chapman could have wound up back at AAA Scranton and would have been blocking Richardson's path. Now, Richardson will start at AAA Scranton in 2004 and is the likely successor to David Bell at the major league level. Richardson hit .270 with 15 homeruns at AA Reading, but the Phillies believe he'll continue to develop power along the way.

Pittsburgh Pirates
:
Eastern league Pitcher of the Year Sean Burnett is a hop away from Pittsburgh after completing his third successful minor league season. Playing for Altoona of Double-A, the 21 year old lefty went 14-6 with a 3.21 ERA. In 159.2 IP he walked just 29. Burnett doesn't overpower hitters but keeps the ball down and in play to be successful. The former first round pick is slated to begin the year in Triple-A. Three of the Pirates' top 10 picks in the 2003 draft were from scout of the year Everett Russell's area, including first-round Paul Maholm, a left-hander from Mississippi State. Russell also signed right-handers Kyle Pearson, the fourth-round pick from Mosley High School in Panama City, Fla., and Russell Johnson, the seventh-round pick from Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City, Ala.

San Diego Padres
:
Padres prospect Steve Watkins has quietly compiled a 6-3 record playing in the Mexican League. Two of his starts he has gone the distance and he has compiled a 3.53 ERA in 71 innings pitched. In 12 starts, Watkins has walked 25 and struck out 63.

St. Louis Cardinals:
LHP Rick Ankiel, still a prospect, will begin throwing in January after having had Tommy John elbow surgery last summer. He is way ahead of schedule and should be ready to pitch in the minors sometime this season and to contend for a Cardinals rotation spot again by 2005.

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