Down On The Farm - 3/3

Take an in-depth look at your favorite farm system or all the farm systems in TheInsiders' "Down On The Farm". NYF Club members will be able to keep tabs on all the baseball prospects each week.

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

Atlanta Braves: Left-hander Dan Meyer went a combined 7-10, 2.87 in stops in the Carolina League and South Atlantic League last summer and is a quick riser in the Braves farm system. You had to know Meyer was something special because the Braves took him in the first round of the 2002 Draft out of James Madison University and the Braves don't usually go after college pitchers early in the draft. Meyer will likely start 2004 at AA, providing a bit of a challenge over the competition that he faced last season.

Arizona Diamondbacks: † The Diamondbacks signed 13 players last week:† pitchers Greg Aquino, Brian Bruney, Casey Daigle, Jerry Gil, Mike Gosling, Brandon Lyon, Brandon Medders, Phil Stockman, and Jose Valverde; infielders Scott Hairston and Tim Olson; and outfielders Josh Kroeger and Luis Terrero...† RHP Brian Bruney is hoping to make the big club in the bullpen, but, after two great seasons in the minors, even if he doesn't make it, he could be first in line to come up sometime if someone falters.† He had a 1.68 ERA and 10 saves in 37 relief appearances with South Bend, then 2.92 ERA in 10 games with El Paso in AA in 2002, then had a 2.59 ERA and 14 saves in 28 relief appearances with El Paso followed by a 2.81 ERA and 12 saves in 32 games with Tucson in AAA.† And all the while striking out around or over a batter per inning.† However, having only turned 22 year old, he could benefit from another year in the minors and be ready to take over the closer's role in 2005.†

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs are not looking to have any rookies break camp with them this year, however the prospects will have a chance to impress during Spring Training. Todd Wellemeyer and Juan Cruz are expected to battle for the sixth spot in the bullpen, with the job being Cruz's to lose right now. Jason Dubois, David Kelton, and Brenden Harris were expected to get a lot of playing time this spring. Dubois and Kelton should still get significant time, but Harris injured his knee when working out during the offseason. The injury is not serious, and Harris should be ready to play when the season opens in Iowa. He is expected to play mostly second base this year, as he tries to replace Bobby Hill as the Cubs future two bagger. Kelton and Dubois had hope of being on the major league squad until the team signed Todd Hollandsworth this winter. Kelton and Dubois will look to improve and impress this spring though, and fill in if an injury should occur. Both should receive a September callup in 2004, and both have potential to be good major leaguers.

Cincinnati Reds: Don't be surprised if by the end of the season the Reds rotation features two guys who are likely to start the season in the minors. Brandon Claussen and Dustin Moseley are both close to being ready for their promotion to the majors and with the lack of major league pitching, it's likely that they'll both be in Cincinnati before too long. The bullpen could have a young look as well with the likes of Ryan Wagner, Phil Norton and Joe Valentine coming along.

Colorado Rockies: RHP Chin-hui Tsao would force his way into the rotation, but he's going to have to dominate in the spring or will be sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs for development. Pitching coach Bob Apodaca has a challenge, creating innings for 10 pitchers who are supposed to be given shots to fill four spots in the rotation behind Jason Jennings. Apodaca will work extensively with Tsao, but expect him to head back to Triple-A.

Florida Marlins: The Florida Marlins made the following additions to their 40 man roster thus giving the signees the opportunity to compete for a spot on the 2004 roster. The following prospects were invited to participate in spring training; pitchers Justin Wayne, Blaine Neal, Lincoln Holdzkom, Franklyn Gracesqui, Michael Flannery, Kevin Cave, and Ronald Belisario; infielders Josh Wilson, Kevin Hooper, and Derek Wathan; outfielders Abraham Nunez, Chip Ambres, Chris Aguila, and catcher Josh Willingham.

Houston Astros: Jason Lane and John Buck are two big prospects getting some time this year at the Astros Spring camp. Lane is expected to make the team as a backup outfielder, but has been getting time lately as Jeff Bagwell's backup at first base. Lane is a right fielder by trade, and could be good enough to start this year, but Houston tried him at first base last spring, and would prefer that he would play both positions to give the aging Bagwell some time off. Buck however does not have a realistic shot at making the MLB team due to a hand injury sustained during the 2003 season. Buck should start at AAA, but will receive plenty of playing time this Spring to see what he can do. The Astros had been planning on Buck being their catcher by 2004, however injuries have slowed him down. He did play well in winter ball this year, but again injured his ankle during the last few weeks of winter ball. Buck will be the first one called up if Brad Ausmus or Raul Chavez is injured, but until then, he'll have to prove himself in a full season of AAA. The Astros are just hoping that the young catcher stays healthy in 2004, and can be a big factor in 2005.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Outfielder Jason Romano hit solo a home run in the first intrasquad game and drew praise from Dodger manager Jim Tracy. Romano, who is out of options this spring, hit the second pitch of the game off Jeff Weaver over the left-field fence. "He has tools," said Tracy. "He's a terrific outfielder, he runs very well, he throws very well. He showed today he has power and he's high energy. There's a lot of upside." The 24-year-old Romano, who missed time last spring with a sore arm after being tested in both the infield and outfield, said he will be used exclusively in the outfield this year.

Milwaukee Brewers:The Brewers were concerned that 1B Brad Nelson wouldn't have a position with Richie Sexson blocking him and Prince Fielder coming up behind him. So, the Brewers moved Nelson over to Left Field, and while he was an adequate in the field, his offensive numbers fell hard. However, some of that could probably be due to a broken hand that he suffered in April. Nelson isn't as good as Fielder or Rickie Weeks, but he's no slouch and can be a solid regular at the big league level with a couple more years of seasoning in the minors.

Montreal Expos: All of the position prospects in the organization seem to be either outfielders or first basemen. Terrmel Sledge, Val Pascucci and Matt Cepicky all are ready to play in the majors and will all get a good long look this spring. Brandon Watson is likely to be at least a year away, but he's another up and coming talent that the Expos are pretty high on. First baseman Larry Broadway has some power, but the question is whether he can do enough damage to find his way to the majors.

New York Mets: With all the Alfonso Soriano trade rumors swirling this week, Fred Wilpon and the Mets took a stand and said the top prospects (David Wright, Scott Kazmir, and Jose Reyes) were going nowhere! In Monday's intrasquad game, all three showed why the Mets' brass is so hell-bent on keeping them. Wright pounded out three hits including a home run, stole a base, scored 3 times, and made a couple of brilliant plays in the field. Jose Reyes also added a home run while Scott Kazmir broke two bats in his one inning of work.

Philadelphia Phillies: Good thing that the Phillies picked up A.J. Hinch during the off-season. With Todd Pratt coming up lame in camp and possibly headed for surgery, Hinch could make the squad. He's a definite step up from Jeremy Salazar, who would have stood in line to take over as the backup. Salazar is solid defensively, but in three partial seasons at AAA is hitting just .204 (106-520) and has a career minor league average of just .231. In most organizations, Salazar would have been dropped, but the Phillies have kept him around because of the complete lack of catching prospects in the organization. Kansas City - Zach Greinke is a man to watch this spring. Whether or not the Royals will keep him with the team when camp breaks is a question mark, but it's a safe bet that Greinke will be in the majors at some point this season. Some scouts have Greinke as the best pitching prospect in all of baseball and most also say that he has the best changeup in the minors. The Royals are working with Greinke to perfect his curve and when he does perfect it - which he will do - he will be lights out.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates have taken their time developing lefty Sean Burnett, and it appears their patience is paying off, as Burnett appears to be only a season away from the majors. Burnett's an interesting combination – he's a lefty, he pitches like a junk-baller, and he has excellent stuff. He's only 21 years of old, but he pitches well above his years and could very well get his call-up sometime this season after starting the year in AAA. With his 90-mph fastball and excellent change-up, Burnett could become a mainstay at the top of the Pirates rotation for many years to come.

San Diego Padres: Ben Howard will get the nod in the annual charity game against the Seattle Mariners as the Padres open up spring training Thursday. Don't look too much into it, however, as Howard will have to pitch lights out for a chance to get in the rotation as the fifth starter. Currently, the early word has Sterling Hitchcock winning the battle.

San Francisco Giants: † The Giants go into spring training with only three real spots open for competition from minor leaguers:† utility infielder, fifth starter, and reliever.† Cody Ransom is the odds on favorite to win the utility infielder position; reports have him taking practice at 2B to prepare since he's a shortstop.† Brian Dallimore, having won the PCL batting title will probably also get a look but his odds of winning a spot improbably rests on Pedro Feliz doing well enough to be the main backup at SS instead of Ransom.† Ransom is like Neifi only a worse hitter, though for a lot more power, so the Giants might look for power off the bench.† Kevin Correia, by dint of his great performance last year starting for the Giants, is the long shot to win the fifth spot, with Dustin Hermanson's $1M contract most likely to force Correia to start the year out in AAA Fresno;† however, that's probably best for his long term development.† Merkin Valdez is a dark horse candidate for the fifth spot.† For the reliever spot, Ryan Jensen, David Aardsma and Merkin Valdez are long shots to beat out Chad Zerbe.† However, Jensen, Ransom, and Zerbe are all†out of options so if they do not make the club, they could become a free agent.

St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals have hope that their Rule 5 draft selection, Hector Luna, will good enough in Spring Training to make the big league club. Luna had been with the Cleveland organization since 1999, and if the Cardinals ever move him from their 25 man roster, he will be returned to Cleveland for $25,000. The young shortstop has always put up good numbers, however Cleveland felt that he was not MLB ready, and was confident that he would not be taken back in December. Luna will have to impress Tony LaRussa, because the Cardinals are not planning on a rebuilding year where they can carry a player that does not produce. The Cardinals would be better off keeping Brett Butler, Bo Hart, and Marlon Anderson than they would be keeping Luna on their roster all year. Look for him to return to Cleveland by the end of Spring Training.

AMERICAN LEAGUE:

Baltimore Orioles: All eyes with be on RHP John Maine in 2004. After a dominating performance that saw Maine strike out 185 batters in '03, he should begin the 2004 season at AA-Bowie. Maine went 12-4 with a 2.27 ERA between two stops at A-ball last year and allowed just 38 walks in 146 2/3 innings. Maine's fastballs are consistently clocked at 92-94 MPH, but it's the incredible movement he gets on them, combined with his unique delivery, that baffles hitters. It should not be long before Maine is playing at Camden Yards.

Boston Red Sox: Matt Murton, depending on who you talk to, may be on the top of the list when it comes to power potential in the organization. A teammate with fellow prospect David Murphy since their days in the Cape Cod League, that trend will continue in 2004 when they both report to high Class A. Last season, while with Lowell, Murton finished at a .286 clip (54-for-189) with 2 homers, 11 doubles, 27 walks, and 39 strikeouts. His defense, as he fills out, is not expected to improve, rather get worse, but his offense could blossom. A prolonged offensive slump while at Georgia Tech during his junior year is the main reason for his slide in June's amateur draft.

Detroit Tigers: OF Cody Ross has been a model of consistency ever since he entered professional baseball, providing consistent production at each stop. Then last fall, he finally got his chance, debuting with the Tigers in a September call-up. In his second game with the Tigers, disaster struck, as Ross tore his ACL running out a grounder. However, Ross has made a remarkable recovery and is close to 100% as training camp begins. Ross comes in the Bobby Higginson mold of a solid hitter and fielder with a hard-nosed attitude – will probably start the season with AAA Toledo fine-tuning, but once the Tigers can find regular at-bats for him, he'll be in Detroit.

Minnesota Twins: All of the attention is on catcher Joe Mauer. The good news for Minnesota though is that they also have catcher Rob Bowen coming along in the minors. Bowen is a strong defensive catcher with a good enough arm to disable the opponents running game. He also handles pitchers well knows how to call a game. Offensively, Bowen is adequate and hit a combined .285 at AA and AAA in 2003, although he doesn't project quite that high as a major leaguer. It's likely that with Mauer moving to the majors, Bowen will get another season behind the plate at AAA.

New York Yankees: The New York Yankees acquired infielder JT Stotts along with relief pitcher Edwardo Sierra in a deal that involved pitcher Chris Hammond being sent to Oakland in return. Many felt that the Yankees got a steal when they picked up this talented young infielder and it also enraged many Oakland fans that they would give up a such good prospect for an only marginal, lefty relief pitcher. Stotts is known more for his glove & speed than his power. Hitting only 4 home runs in his minor league career thus far, Stotts is more of a contact hitter with gap power and should begin the season at AA Trenton.

Oakland Athletics: Billy Beane hopes other teams don't follow his lead and draft more high school pitchers. "When we spend a million and a half dollars on a first-round pick, we want to get some return on the investment," Beane said. "One of the things about high school players is by the time they are ready to be as good as they are going to be, a small market can't afford them. They will be 25, 26 (years old) and ready for free agency. Usually with college pitchers, you will get some immediate return when you are paying them three hundred grand," Beane continued. "Young players are only good because they are cheap, not because they are young. A 25-year-old player making seven million bucks is no good for us. I'll take a 31-year-old who is 0-3 (years experience) and is productive, a la Matt Stairs or (Geronimo) Berroa."

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The Devil Rays needed a lot of help from their minor league system last season. If they need some pitching help this year, there are a couple options in Doug Waechter, Chad Guadin and Jose Veras. Waechter spent some time with the major league club late last season and will likely win a spot in the rotation this spring. Guadin and Veras will get consideration as middle relievers, but will likely have to wait for something to open up during the season and will start the year at AAA Durham.

Toronto Blue Jays: Last summer, the Blue Jays were very happy with the progress that a lot of their young players made. The major league club benefited from Reed Johnson, Kevin Cash and Jayson Werth. In the minors, Alexis Rios showed himself to be one of the best prospects in baseball, Gabe Gross won an Eastern League batting title and Guillermo Quiroz showed why he's one of the best catching prospects in the minors. On the mound, Dustin McGowan, Jason Arnold, Brandon League and Vince Perkins all took major steps forward. The depth on both the list of position players and pitching has helped to make Toronto's organization one of the strongest in baseball.


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