Baltimore Orioles: The Mesa Solar Sox took home the AFL Championship on Saturday, ending the Fall season. Aaron Rakers actually had a poor outing for a change, allowing two runs and bringing his final ERA to 1.96, good for third-best in the league. Rakers 24 strikeouts tied for second-most in the AFL, look for him to be in Baltimore's bullpen in 2004. Kris Wilken hit an RBI single in the game, giving him 10 RBI in 25 games. He finished the season with a .330 batting average.
Boston Red Sox: C Kelly Shoppach finished off a successful Arizona Fall League showing with 6 doubles and 3 home runs in just 64 at-bats. The catching prospect slugged .514 in his 21 games and should begin 2004 at AAA Pawtucket. CF Jeremy Owens did not far as well in the AFL, striking out 29 times in 24 games and achieving the lowest on-base percentage of all the regulars in the Mesa Desert Dogs lineup (.316).
New York Yankees: Mike Vento finished third in the AFL in RBI (26) and eighth in batting average (.343) and Ramon Ramirez led the league in ERA (1.44) and strikeouts (25), but not all the Yankee prospects fared as well. A-ball SS Ferdin Tejada finished the season with a miserable .265 OBP and even more miserable .258 slugging percentage and AAA RHP Colter Bean had an ugly 6.89 ERA and 1.85 WHIP ratio.
Oakland A's: 1B Dan Johnson is feeding off AFL pitching and is hitting .382 with four homeruns and 30 RBI. OF Jason Grabowski is probably playing for a place in the organization and is making a statement. The right-handed hitting Grabowski, 28, is hitting .259 with seven homers for Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League. SS Bobby Crosby is the favorite to take over for Miguel Tejada in 2004, but there are rumblings that the A's may move Mark Ellis from second base to shortstop and sign a free agent 2B such as Luis Castillo or Robert Alomar. Expect PCL pitcher of the year Justin Duchscherer to make the club as a middle reliever, and possibly as the fifth starter if the A's trade Ted Lilly for a hitter.
Seattle Mariners: Mariner management, including newly hired GM and VP Bill Bavasi, have decisions to make that involve a few of the team's major league ready prospects. 3B Justin Leone, 1B/3B Greg Dobbs, and OF Chris Snelling, all have shots to make the 25-man roster. Leone could be handed the 3B job in Spring Training if the club decides to go with Carlos Guillen at SS, or sign Japanese All-Star Kazuo Matsui to play shortstop and either deal or non-tender Carlos Guillen who is arbitration eligible. Teen sensation Felix Hernandez rebounded from a few sub-par outings and put up five solid innings allowing just one earned run. "Kid K" lowered his ERA to 4.58 in 17.2 innings in the Venezuelan League. Utility man Willie Bloomquist, OF Mike Curry, and RP Tim Hamulack reported to Puerto Rico and have seen limited action of late due to heavy rains and flooding.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Pete Laforest has a legitimate shot at making the D-Rays next spring. The 25 year old catcher struggled in his first shot at the majors, hitting just .167 in 48 at bats, but the Rays think he has some talent and that he can challenge for a job next spring. Toby Hall grabbed the starting job behind the plate, but the Devil Rays might decide against bringing in a veteran to be Hall's backup and will look to Laforest instead. One other possibility is to find a backup catcher elsewhere and keep Laforest as an emergency catcher and occasional designated hitter. The fact that Laforest is a good defensive catcher and a left-handed hitter can't hurt his cause.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers and the divisional rival Mariners could make a series of trades involving young pitchers for young hitters and both teams could dominate the AL West for ten years. Texas is pitching hungry at every level and with the exception of Juan Dominguez they don't have much in the minors on the way to help. First-round choice John Danks is just 18, and several years away from being a factor. Dominguez, 20, could help in late 2004 and be in the rotation for 2005 and beyond. OF Jason Jones is vying for a spot on the roster next year and is hitting .429 in the Puerto Rican League.
Toronto Blue Jays: With the arrival of Pat Hentgen back in Toronto and the trade for Ted Lilly from Oakland, the immediate future of Jason Arnold may be in some doubt. Arnold (4-8, 4.33 at AAA) will still be fighting for a job in the rotation this spring, but the arrival of Hentgen and Lilly makes things tougher for Arnold. Another young starter that will be affected is Vinny Chulk. Chulk does have one advantage in that he started his professional career as a reliever and could be switched back to the bullpen after two minor league seasons as a starter. Chulk went 8-10, 4.22 in 21 starts at AAA Syracuse. He also struck out 90 in 119 innings.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Scott Hairston ended up being the biggest star of the AFL for the Baby Backs. He finished 3rd in the league in batting average and 8th in homers. He had a beautiful stat-line: .360/.412/.539/.951, 20 runs, 4 doubles, 4 homers, 14 RBI, 3 SB in 22 games. The only flaws were his team leading 9 errors (3rd in league; the first two had 10) and his tendency to strike out, with 19 SO in 89 ABs. The other position players didn't follow suit. Josh Kroeger ended with .253/.349/.360/.709, 12 runs, 3 doubles, 1 homer, 11 RBI, 2 SB (4 attempts) and 2 errors in the outfield in 22 games. Josh also struck out a lot, with 23 SO in 75 AB. Sergio Santos had flashes but overall was mediocre, finishing with .250/.308/.427/.735, 11 runs, 4 doubles, 2 triples, 3 homers, 10 RBI and 7 errors at SS in 26 games. He also swung and miss a lot, with 22 SO in 96 AB. Chris Snyder ended with .235/.322/.373/.705, 6 runs, 1 double, 2 homers, 7 RBI, and 3 errors at C in 16 games. The pitchers had one big star as well, Brandon Medders, who ended with 12.1 IP, 7 H, 0 HR, 7 BB, 19 SO, .171 BAA, 1.14 WHIP, and 1.46 ERA in 11 relief outings. Dustin Nippert did pretty well too, finishing with 30 IP, 26 H, 1 HR, 12 BB, 30 SO, .234 BAA, 1.27 WHIP, but 3.60 ERA and 1-2 record, which did not reflect the good stats he otherwise showed. In addition, he was able to shake his earlier wildness by walkiing only one in his last 13 IP. That was one of his weaknesses in the minors this year, walking 32 batters in 95.2 IP. Pete Sikaras did not do well in the AFL but ended nicely but wildly (2 IP, 3 H, 3 BB but 0 runs!) in his last week there to end at 10.1 IP, 18 H, 2 HR, 11 BB, 11 SO, .391, 2.81 WHIP, and 8.71 ERA. Inconcruously, he ended with a 2-0 record, which only goes to prove that a good offense can cover a multitude of sins in the pitching staff.
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds didn't waste any time getting their 2003 first round pick, Ryan Wagner, to the majors. He debuted with the Reds and went 2-0, 1.66 in 17 games. Will Wagner stick with the major league team or will they send him back to Louisville for some more work? Odds are that Wagner is in the majors to stay and many around baseball believe that the 21 year old is ready for the majors. The future closer will likely learn at the heels of Danny Graves, but don't count out a trade that would send Graves elsewhere and give the closer's job to Wagner full-time in 2004. Meanwhile, second round pick Thomas Pauley figures on a slower track to the majors. The 22 year old right-hander went 2-5, 4.02 in 12 starts at Dayton in the Midwest League.
Colorado Rockies: 2001 first round draft pick Jayson Nix had a solid California League season, hitting .286 with 21 home runs and 86 RBI's. He was looking to follow that up with a solid AFL season and disappointed instead. In 13 games, Nix knocked in just two runners and hit a paltry .226 while striking out 16 times, a number he had hoped to bring down since he fanned 131 times in the regular season.
Los Angeles Dodgers: With the end of the AFL, there were a lot of highlights for the Dodger's prospects. Reggie Abercrombie ended with .316/.350/.474/.824, 1 homer and 3 SB in 7 games and 1 error in the outfield. Brennan King ended with .314/.415/.514/.929, 1 homer, 9 RBI in 12 games with 1 error at 3B. James Loney showed his potential again in the final week, 2 for 7, 1 homer, 3 RBI and ended on an upnote. He showed all of his 19 years of youth and potential by hitting .247/.371/.407/.778, 16 runs, 2 homers, 7 RBI, 16 BB, and 2 errors at 1B in 22 games. However, Willy Aybar hasn't played in a while and ended with .227/.261/.227/.488 and 1 error at 3B in 7 games, a very poor showing but he's still only 20 years old. The pitching prospects ended up mixed as well. Jason Frasor ended up 5th in ERA and 6th in strikeouts in the AFL. He ended with 26.2 IP, 21 H, 2 HR, 11 BB, 24 SO, .216 BAA, 1.20 WHIP and 2.03 ERA in 8 games, 7 starts, finishing at 1-1. Brian Steffek came back from early jitters to end at 15 IP, 15 H, 2 HR, 6 BB, 9 SO, .246 BAA, 1.37 WHIP, and 3.52 ERA in 11 relief appearances. He was 2-0. T.J. Nall finished on a high note with a shutout relief appearance in the final week but was poor overall despite his early low ERA. He ended with 12.2 IP, 17 H, 1 HR, 7 BB, 7 SO, .340 BAA, 1.89 WHIP, and 6.39 ERA in 8 games, 7 of them in relief. Tom Farmer dug a deep hole for himself and just kept it up. He ended with a poor week and his final AFL stats line read: 15.1 IP, 31(!)H, 5 HR, 6 BB, 11 SO, .419 BAA, 2.41 WHIP, 11.15 ERA and 0-4 record in 8 games, 5 of them starts.
Milwaukee Brewers: We mentioned Ben Hendrickson in a previous edition of the Farm Report and see fit to bring his name up again. Hendrickson dominated the AFL and despite starting seven games, got ZERO wins. When you look at his stats it is hard to fathom. His ERA in 26.2 innings worked was a slim 2.03. He walked just two batters and struck out 21. Hendrickson could be on the fast track to the Majors.
Montreal Expos: The Expos face a decision at third base. They like Jamey Carroll, who played most of the games at third in 2003, but he lacks power. Scott Hodges is waiting in the wings, but he comes with question marks, too. First of all, he's a liability defensively. He led AAA Edmonton with 18 errors in 2003 and he hasn't shown any progress in strengthening his defense. Second, his power numbers aren't quite where the Expos originally thought they would be. Hodges hit his minor league career high of 14 in 2000 and the Expos thought the numbers would go up from there. They haven't. He hit just 12 in 2003.
New York Mets: While LHP Lenny Dinardo (27 K's in 18 innings of relief) and RHP Matthew Peterson (11 BB in 22.2 innings) made impressions on the mound in the Arizona Fall League, scouts left Arizona talking about the impression 3B David Wright made at the plate. Wright finished his AFL stint hitting .341 with 7 doubles & 2 HRs in 26 games. He drew more walks (13) than he struck out (10)...a sign of Wright's mature approach to hitting. Expect Wright to begin 2004 at AA-Binghamton.
Philadelphia Phillies: The debate over Ryan Howard continues. Is he untouchable or tradable? With Jim Thome locked up long-term, a left-handed power hitting first baseman not named Thome, doesn't figure to have a place in Philadelphia's immediate future. Still, the Phillies love Howard's potential. Move him to another position? Not likely since Howard isn't exactly the most athletic of players. Look for the Phillies to talk up Howard's value - 23 homeruns, 82 RBI, .304 average at high-A Clearwater - and package him in a trade for pitching help. Arizona might be interested in a deal for Curt Schilling, but the other trade focus for the Phillies, Montreal, already has Larry Broadway coming along to play first base. The Phils are pursuing Schilling and Montreal's Javier Vazquez in deals.
Pittsburgh Pirates: JR House led the Desert Dogs of Mesa in home runs with five and was second in double with 10 and RBI's with 20. In fact, an amazing 17 of his 25 hits went for extra bases!
San Diego Padres: Gabe Ribas won Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the Friars this offseason and he was more than willing to discuss his spitter. Don't worry, he has not ever thrown it in a game, but admits, "Everyone knows how to throw one of those and you do some experimenting to keep things fun. It is a long season." Ribas' stuff is good enough without it – imagine taking batting practice against the Greg Maddux clone and out comes the spitter…
San Francisco Giants: The big news was that Boof Bonser pitched his last game for the Giants in the AFL before being shipped off to the Twins as a key part of a package of players headed by Joe Nathan for All-Star catcher A.J. Pierzynski. He had one last start which showed the ying and yang that was Boof for Giants fans: 4 IP, 5 H, 3 R/ER, 1 HBP, 2 BB, 6 K. Dominating stuff when he is on, but wild most of the time. He ended the AFL season with a 6.07 ERA in 7 games, 26.2 IP, 32 H, 4 HR, 18 BB, 24 SO, .294 BAA, 1.94 WHIP. His 24 strikeouts was good for 6th in the AFL. Good luck Boof! Despite Boof's boners in Arizona, there were plenty of good stories among the Giants prospects. The biggest surprise for the Giants in the AFL was the knock-out pitching of Luke Anderson, who is an unheralded prospect. In 10 relief outings, he had 14 IP, 12 H, 0 HR, 4 BB, 13 SO, .226 BAA, and 1.19 WHIP with a 1.93 ERA. At 25, he is still young enough to be considered a good prospect and he appears to be fine after starting out the season on the disabled list. He will probably start 2004 in AA. Merkin "El Mago" Valdez, who has zoomed up the Giants prospect list this season, ended with 5.1 IP, 6 H, 0 HR, 0 BB, 4 SO, .300 BAA, and 1.00 WHIP with a 3.38 ERA in 4 relief outings. Sabean named Valdez as a minor leaguer expected to contribute to the major league club at some point next year. Noah Lowry hasn't pitched in a while but that was OK as he wasn't doing well before: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 1 HR, 1 BB, 1 SO, .381 BAA, 2.14 WHIP, 9.64 ERA in 3 relief appearances. He will probably start out in AAA in 2004 and perhaps will be ready by mid-year to come up. Also, as a lefty, that makes him valuable trade bait as well. The position players had their stars and dogs as well. Todd Linden ended with .316/.380/.531/.911 (2nd on team), 21 runs (1st on team), 4 homers (8th in league, 2nd on team), 15 RBI (3rd on team), and he had 0 errors in the outfield. Lance Niekro ended with .299/.337/.377/.714 (6th on team), 9 runs, 1 homer, 9 RBI, and 3 errors at 1B. Jamie Athas finished strong with a 2 for 5 week with 2 BB. Jamie ended with .241/.365/.304/.669, 14 runs, 0 homer, 6 RBI, and 7 errors at 2B. The high error rate could be related to his position change as he played at SS during the regular season.