Baltimore Orioles: 2004 is a make or break year for LHP prospect Matt Riley. Once not only considered a top prospect in the Orioles' organization but in all of baseball, Riley earned his first Major League victory on September 14th against the Blue Jays after making his Major League debut four years ago in 1999. Riley, who missed all of 2001 after Tommy John surgery and pitched just over 100 innings in 2002, went 5-2 with a 3.11 ERA for AA Bowie before going 4-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 13 starts for AAA Ottawa. Still just 24 years old, the time is now for this former third round pick.
Boston Red Sox: How committed are Theo Epstein and the Red Sox to player development? Boston became just the fourth Major League franchise to open up a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, John Henry, Epstein and others were on hand to unveil the Sox' new $3 million/30 acre baseball academy on Tuesday in El Toro, Dominican Republic. The academy, used to help teach potential players the fundamentals of baseball, could pay large dividends in the future of the franchise.
New York Yankees: The Yankees sure are spending a lot of money on their bullpen these days after signing free agents Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill. When are the Yankees going to give a shot to RHP Colter Bean? Or will they ever? He would be inexpensive and he has the track history in the minors that shows he could have success at the Major League level. In 2003, Bean went 4-2 with 4 saves and a 2.87 ERA in 50 relief appearances. In 165 total relief appearances in the minors since being drafted out of Auburn University in 2000, Beane's ERA is a tidy 2.78! Time is running out for this soon-to-be 27 year old reliever that has nothing else to prove in the minors.
Oakland Athletics: A's infield prospect Esteban German is putting together a solid Dominican Winter League season hitting .256 after a slow start. The 23-year-old has two homers and 11 RBI in his 24 games played. Should the A's come up empty in their attempts to retain closer Keith Foulke and/or SS Miguel Tejada, don't look for another miracle prospect driven trade by Billy Beane to fill the gaps. The farm system is getting bare of high-level prospects and needs to be protected for a few seasons.
Seattle Mariners: The M's plan on filling two or three of their roster spots with minor leaguers. Third base is one of the possible openings with Justin Leone and Greg Dobbs being options. The second lefty spot in the bullpen is also a spot where a prospect could fill in, saving the team payroll space in lieu of spending on a veteran. Bobby Madritsch, George Sherrill, and Matt Thornton are candidates. The bench will need a lefty stick and should the M's look to go cheaper here, Chris Snelling could be the guy. Jamal Strong could fill the role if the team decides to go with speed and defense over having a lefty bat.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The Devil Rays believe that they found a couple of quality players among the ranks of minor league free agents. Will Glen pitched at AA for the Phillies in 2003 and finished the season 3-6, 3.83. The Phillies tried to re-sign Glen, but the Devil Rays convinced him that his progression might be faster with them than in the pitching rich Phillies organization. The D'Rays also signed Anton French, an outfielder who played at AAA Pawtucket in the Red Sox organization in 2003. French hit .293 and swiped 40 bases and perfectly fits the mold of players that the Devil Rays seem to be stockpiling.
Texas Rangers: If and when the Alex Rodriguez deal goes down, the Rangers will likely begin a search for a shortstop. Hope they don't plan on looking in their minor league system, which has been minus middle infield prospects since Michael Young was called up in 2000. With plenty of outfield prospects and a need for starting pitching, Texas is likely to make trades from that position of strength in the minors, to add pitching and possibly an AROD replacement.
Toronto Blue Jays: Alexis Rios just keeps adding to his list of honors. Rios was named the best outfield prospect by Baseball America after being ranked 14th on last year's list. Rios has scouts buzzing about his athleticism and impressed a lot of people around baseball with his newfound plate discipline in 2003. The Blue Jays believe that Rios has major power potential and some scouts have drawn comparisons to Juan Gonzalez. Rios hit 11-82-.352 at AA New Haven in the Eastern League and is ticketed for AAA Syracuse in 2004.
Arizona Diamondbacks: With the trade of Curt Schilling, the Diamondbacks need a 4th and 5th starter. Minor league pitchers competing for those spots: John Patterson, Edgar Gonzalez, Andrew Good, Casey Daigle, and Phil Stockman... SP Adriano Rosario is continuing his success in the minors in the Dominican Winter League. After pitching well for South Bend in the Midwest League in 2003, going 9-5 with a 2.86 ERA, the 18 year old is currently 3-2 with a 3.12 ERA and 20 hits and 18 strikeouts with only 7 walks in 26 inning pitched, playing for Los Gigantes Del Cibao.
Cincinnati Reds: Is Brandon Claussen healthy or not? Claussen came to the Reds in the Aaron Boone trade with the Yankees after recovering from Tommy John surgery ahead of schedule. Shortly after he joined the Reds organization though they mysteriously shut him down while insisting that he just had a tired arm. If Claussen is healthy, he will battle for a spot in the Reds rotation. If not, then the Reds are left without the guy that they figured on to be an important part of their future.
Colorado Rockies: Choo Freeman regressed in 2003 after breaking onto the scene a year earlier. After hitting .291 in a full season in the Southern League, Freeman hit just .254 in Triple A and saw his walk total 64 to 23 and every other statistical category took a hit as well. At 24, his prospect days are being numbered.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 20 year old OF Franklin Gutierrez is hitting only .244 for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League but has 18 RBI in 39 games... 1B Seung Yeop Lee is expected to be offered a minor league contract by the Dodgers. Lee would be given a shot to make the team in spring training... Dodgers recently signed OF Luis A. Garcia to a minor league contract. He is currently hitting .264/.368/.481/.849 in 129 AB with 18 runs scored, 7 doubles, 7 home runs, and 29 RBI. He caught the Dodger's eyes when he eliminated the U.S. from the Olympics with a home run.
Milwaukee Brewers: Anthony Gwynn, a second round pick in 2003 and son of former Padre legend Tony Gwynn, hit the scene running, and we mean that literally. Gwynn does not posses much power, but after two successive seasons at SDSU where he had 25 stolen bases, he stole 13 in 2003 playing for Beloit. He added seven triples and 15 doubles batting .280 in 66 games. He had an OBP of .364 and that should only get better as he gets comfortable with full season baseball.
Montreal Expos: In the Javier Vazquez deal, the only pitching that the Expos got in return was situational lefty reliever Randy Choate. Who will eat up Vazquez' 200 innings in the rotation? The return of a healthy El Duque and/or Tony Armas will help, but there still figures to be an open spot. Seung Song is one possibility. After that, the Expos would have to look at AA pitchers Josh Karp or Shawn Hill. Karp had a below average 2003 season and Hill started just four games at AA, meaning that neither of them are likely candidates.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies have added both Billy Wagner and Eric Milton through trades without having to give up any of their top of the line pitching prospects. They've also added Tim Worrell and won't have to lose any draft picks as compensation since the Giants didn't offer Worrell arbitration. Bottom line is that the Phillies feel they accomplished exactly what they wanted to during the offseason. In fact, if Kevin Millwood signs elsewhere, the Phillies will add two draft picks as compensation and will still have young Ryan Madson to put into the fifth spot in the rotation.
Pittsburgh Pirates: As the Pirates keep retooling, they will look to the farm once again and feel they have a stud in Sean Burnett. At 21, Burnett battled his way to a 14-6 record with Double A, posting a 3.21 ERA with just 29 walks in 159 2/3 innings. Burnett has a fastball that hits the high 80's, but he knows how to hit his corners. He could be in the big leagues come September, if not straight out of camp.
New York Mets: The Kaz Matsui signing this week has lasting effects on the Mets' top two second base prospects, Victor Diaz and Danny Garcia. Diaz, who is noted more for his hitting than his below average defense, is either going to have to switch positions or he has become a major trading chip heading in the Winter Meetings. The Mets other second base prospect, Danny Garcia, is surely going to spend the year at AAA in 20004 for some more seasoning. Garcia's future with the Mets, at least in the short term, will most likely be that of a utility/bench player.
San Diego Padres: JJ Furmaniak is ready for his ascension to Mobile. Last season he spent the majority of the season in Lake Elsinore where he hit .314 with nine homers and 54 RBI's. He then moved on to Mobile, struggled and fractured his hand. When he returned he hit close to .300 to raise his average to .262 on the season. He attributes his success to getting hurt! "When I got hurt in Double A I was able to sit back and watch the game and see how it is played at the Double A level," Furmaniak said.
San Francisco Giants: OF Carlos Valderrama, whose star had faded in recent years, is shining brightly playing for Occidente Pastora in the Venezuelan Winter League. He is currently hitting .358/.397/.596/.993 in 109 AB and 36 games with 24 runs scored, 11 doubles, 5 home runs, and 13 RBI.