Baltimore Orioles: 2B Mike Fontenot reaffirmed his status as a top-notch prospect with a good rebound year for AA Bowie of the Eastern league. Fontenot increased his OPS by almost 200 points after his rookie season with Frederick of the Carolina League. Drafted in 2001, the lefty posted an excellent .399 OBP, cut his K:BB ratio from 2.8 to 1.8 and showed a good mix of power and speed by stealing 16 bags and connecting on 12 dingers. Fontenot's turnaround could be due to the fact that he started using contact lenses on the field, which has helped his eye at the plate. Fontenot is 23 and will probably be in AAA next season.
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox farm system is rapidly approaching the 'empty' sign after Boston dealt for Schilling this past week. Within the last six months, the Sox have lost three of their Top 10 Prospects in 2003(according to Baseball America) via trades. 2B/SS Freddy Sanchez was dealt to the Pirates as part of the Jeff Suppan trade; LHP Phil Dumatrait was traded to the Reds as part of the deal for Scott Williamson; and now LHP Jorge de la Rosa (now the property of a stacked Milwaukee system) was included for Schilling. Boston had better hope for some success in the 2004 draft or their system will be barren for years to come.
Chicago White Sox: LHP Neal Cotts was hands down the Sox' top pitching prospect for all of 2003. But what about position prospects? The answer is without a doubt OF Jeremy Reed. Reed put together dazzling numbers at both AA Birmingham (.409 BA, 66 games) and High-A Winston Salem (.333, 65 games) to earn the Topps Minor League Hitter Of The Year for 2003. Joe Borchard should watch his back.
Kansas City Royals: The Royals are appealing to gain another minor league option on outfielder Alexis Gomez. Gomez, who was believed to be 24 last spring before visa information confirmed he was actually 27, is supposed to be out of options next spring, but if the appeal goes through, the Royals will be able to send him back to the minors. Gomez doesn't project as a regular or even a very good bench player especially after his true age was uncovered.
Minnesota Twins: Righthander Adam Johnson, the Twins' first-round draft choice in 2000, was sent home early from the Venezuelan League. The decision was based on his performance. He compiled a 4.91 ERA in four innings for Aragua.
New York Yankees: Starting pitching prospect Jorge De Paula has turned things around down in the Dominican League. The righty, who started the season with a 6.14 ERA in his first 7.1 innings hasn't allowed a run in his last five innings to bring his ERA back down to 3.65. He's still walking too many people (8 in just 12.1 innings), but his K rate is holding strong at 8 K/9.
Oakland A's: C Jeremy Brown received an automated vote of confidence with the trade of Ramon Hernandez last month. Brown is still probably a year away but has to see the trade as both a financial advantage for the club and as a boost toward the opinion of his future by the organization. The A's weakness in the system is high-level position players. OF Nick Swisher is a full year away as are infielders Freddy Bynum and Esteban German. This shortage is the main reason the A's are in the market for a long-term answer for two outfield positions and possible one of the middle infield spots. It's likely the A's will fill at least one of the positions via free agency and one of the others from within, leaving the possibility of a trade. GM Billy Beane has been active already this offseason and could have his hand in the running for several trade-available players. The untouchables in the farm system are limited to starting pitcher Joe Blanton and possibly SS Bobby Crosby.
Seattle Mariners: The M's are usually not in favor of dealing away prospects, especially those of the blue-chip variety, but new GM Bill Bavasi's philosophy has a slightly different edge to it. The winter could produce a deal or two that includes a prospect or two from the deep crop of starting pitching prospects the Mariners are hording in the minors. One possibility is the inclusion of a prospect in a deal with arbitration eligible pitcher Freddy Garcia if it means landing a power bat for the OF. It's also possible, though still unlikely at this point, to see a decent prospect attached to any Jeff Cirillo deal in attempts to rid the roster of payroll responsibilities that total $15 million. The "Usual Prospects" to remain untouchable include the likes of right-handers Clint Nageotte and Felix Hernandez, southpaw Travis Blackley, super shortstop Jose Lopez, and outfielder Shin-soo Choo. Seattle would require a long-term solution at a key position for any of the aforementioned to be freed.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: You do the math. The D'Rays have some quality young minor league players coming along, have money to spend and are looking to add another major league outfielder. The Cincinnati Reds need to restock their system, are looking to cut payroll and have Ken Griffey, Jr on the roster. The two teams have at least considered the possibilities and Griffey could be dealt if everything comes together. For the Reds, adding a Dewon Brazelton or Johnny Gomes wouldn't be out of the question. The Reds might also be interested in troubled young outfielder Josh Hamilton who may be looking for a change of scenery.
Texas Rangers: Texas seems to be mulling over the idea that Alex Rodriguez and his contract could be traded away for Manny Ramirez, saving the team several million dollars. This move would open a hole at SS that the Rangers are not prepared to cover via their own farm system. The strengths remain in the OF, 1B, and behind the plate, and lack pitching and middle infielders in the upper levels of the minor leagues. While the club is still leaning toward adding one or two key players to the pitching staff, the rest of the winter changes look to be filled by the farm system. Gerard Laird, and a slew of 2003 rookies will make up much of the battery duos in 2004. Any trade scenarios including the Rangers minor leaguers would start with 1B prospect Adrian Gonzalez.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays are anxious to see catcher Kevin Cash in spring training. Cash wasn't much of an offensive presence in his major league audition in 2003, but he did some serious work defensively, throwing out thirty-percent of the opposing players who attempted to steal off of him. His offensive numbers in the minors were strong and Toronto believes that he may just need more time in the majors to adjust. With his strong defensive skills and cannon arm, the Blue Jays will be as patient as possible with Cash.
Arizona Diamondbacks: With the trade for Richie Sexson, it opens up opportunity for hot prospect 2B Scott Hairston against current incumbent Matt Kata, especially since Kata is out until spring training with a hip fracture. Hairston hit .276/.345/.469/.814 with 10 homers, 53 runs, and 47 RBIs and 30 walks in 337 AB in the pitching-rich AA Texas League for El Paso and outdid himself in the Arizona Fall League by hitting .360/.412/.539/.951 with 4 homers, 20 runs, 14 RBI and 7 walks in 89 AB. Strikeouts remain his one weakness, averaging about 1 every 4.5 AB.
Atlanta Braves: With the Braves waiver claim of OF Gary Matthews Jr, the chances of Richmond Brave Ryan Langerhans getting a second tour with Atlanta are slim to none. Langerhans, who has served 3 stints with Atlanta over the last three years, is batting .400 with two homers and nine RBI in 10 games in the Dominincan Winter League. However, he is currently suffering from a knee infection - which will knock him out of play for several weeks. The 1998 third-round pick hit .253 with 6 HR, 38 RBI, 85/46 K/BB and 10 SB in 336 AB for AA Greenville this season before being promoted to Richmond in late July.
Chicago Cubs: Remember the funny quote Manager Lou Brown applied to Willie "Mays" Hayes (Wesley Snipes) in the movie Major League many years ago? Something to the effect of, "Well you may run like Mays, but you hit like sh..." Eerily, the Cubs seem to have found a "Willie Mays Hayes" of their own in Daytona OF Dwaine Bacon. Last season in High-A, Bacon eclipsed stolen base records previously set by former Major Leaguer and current Cub roving infield instructor Vince Coleman, amassing 74 steals in 93 attempts this past season.
Cincinnati Reds: Bobby Basham got bashed in 2003. The Reds decided to push the young right-hander from the Midwest League all the way to AA Chattanooga. Not a good idea. Basham, who had been breezing through the minors went 5-10, 5.17 at Chattanooga before the Reds finally saw the error of their ways and demoted him to Potomac. Basham made one start for Potomac and was sidelined with an injury for the rest of the season. The Reds insist that the injury isn't serious, but they didn't put him on their 40 man roster, which means he could be swiped away in the Rule 5 Draft.
Colorado Rockies: The Rockies acquired Aaron Miles from the White Sox on Tuesday in exchange for Juan Uribe. Miles spent most of the season at Class AAA Charlotte, where he was chosen as the International League rookie of the year. The switch-hitter batted .304 and led the league with a club-record 166 hits. He also hit 11 homers and had 50 RBIs. "Aaron possesses a lot of the intangibles we want," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said.
Houston Astros: Jason Lane seems to be the outfielder of the future for the Stros. There was even some talk of moving RF Richard Hidalgo to clear the way for Lane, although that talk appears to have settled down. After winning back to back MVP awards in 2000 and 2001 in High-A and AA, he followed it up by hitting a respectable .272 in AAA in 2002, and broke into the big leagues this past season with a spiffy .296 average in 18 games for the Astros.
Los Angeles Dodgers: LA - Four Dodgers prospects from the Class A South Atlantic League were named on the SportsTicker Top Prospects List: 2B Delwyn Young, SS Joel Guzman, C Mike Nixon, and RHP Jonathan Broxton.
Milwaukee Brewers: Jorge de la Rosa was just one of the players the Brew Crew acquired in a deal with the Diamondbacks that sent Richie Sexson packing. The 22 year old lefty went 7-5 with a 3.00 ERA between AA Portland and AAA Pawtucket this past season. He is armed with a fastball that reaches 99 MPH on the radar gun. De la Rosa struck out 8.71 batters per nine innings and his 1.32 WHIP ratio were just a couple of signs of the type of success he could have at the Major League level.
Montreal Expos: Seung Song could become a key part of the Expos 2004 rotation. All Song did in 2003 was throw a no-hitter at AA Harrisburg and then go 7-2 after being promoted to AAA Edmonton. His season stats put him second in the organization with 12 wins and fifth in ERA with a 3.08 ERA between Harrisburg and Edmonton. If there is a concern, it's Song's control which can be shaky at times. The Expos will take a good long look at the right-hander in spring training and decide where to go with him from there.
New York Mets: The Mets have a dilemma on their hands...what to do with 2B (?) Victor Diaz? Diaz, brought over from the Dodgers in the Jeromy Burnitz trade, is a man without a position. Constantly battling weight problems, some scouts say Diaz resembles Carlos Baerga because of his size and bat. Diaz has been tried at 1B, 3B, and left field. The guy can flat out hit and is currently tearing the cover off the ball (.346) in the Puerto Rican League in winter ball. Diaz hit .314-16-77 with 31 doubles and 15 stolen bases in AA this past season after winning two batting titles in his first two pro seasons. Even with a current opening at second base the Mets don't appear likely to hand over the reigns to Diaz in 2004.
Philadelphia Phillies: Could Carlos Ruiz be the catcher of the future? Not too likely. The Phillies love Ruiz' defensive skills and have gotten more offense out of him than they originally thought, but they're not completely convinced. Ruiz had his worst professional season in 2002 at Clearwater and returned to Clearwater to start 2003, before moving along to AA Reading before too long. His minor league numbers aren't overpowering, but since the Phillies don't have much in the way of catching prospects, odds are they'll continue to work with Ruiz and see if he can at least develop into a suitable backup.
Pittsburgh Pirates: JJ Davis has one chance left. He either makes the Pirates in spring training or heads through waivers. The right-handed power hitter showed promise after hitting 26 homers and 29 doubles for Nashville but he only drove in 68 runs. Through his career, which has included brief stints of failure in the Majors, he has struck out more times than he has had base hits. That can't continue. "J.J. is at a point in his career where the timeline is running out as far as being a prospect is concerned," GM David Littlefield said.
San Diego Padres: The Friars have never been one to draft high school kids as they view the heightened maturity of college players a plus for their farm system. One exception was David Pauley. Pauley, now 20, went 7-7 for Fort Wayne and the Padres think he has a bright future. "David takes this pretty seriously," one Padres scout said referring to his mentality. Pauley struck out 117 and walked 38 in 117 innings of work while compiling a 3.29 ERA.
San Francisco: With Derrek Lee and Richie Sexson no longer available at 1B, the Giants may have to go internally for a firstbaseman or backup. Lance Niekro is their top 1B prospect. He hit .302/.334/.383/.717 in 381 AB in his first year at AAA Fresno in 2003. He virtually mirrored that hitting with .299/.337/.377/.714 in 77 AB in the Arizona Fall League.
St. Louis Cardinals: Cardinals: 25-year-old RHP Jim Journell made his Major League debut with the Cardinals this past season in nine innings, surrendering six earned runs. Journell turns 26 on the 29th of this month, and is getting rather old for prospect status. Still, if he can weather the injury storms that have plagued him throughout his career, the door to the Cardinals rotation is wide open at this point. Otherwise, he may be better suited for a relief role.