Down on the Farm: MLB Style

Padres fans: The offseason is about to begin in earnest and trade talk has already begun. Many prospects could be used as chips on the market. Take an in-depth look at your favorite farm system or all the farm systems in TheInsiders "Down on the Farm" report for the final week of October. Here you will find some gems who you may want on your team and may find it easier to trade someone off your Major League roster as you salivate considering the possibilities.

San Diego Padres: Little known Jon Knott, who went undrafted out of college, continually gets called a ‘surprise' by Padres management. He has been sent to the AFL to see if he can continue upon his impressive numbers in the minors. He is currently hitting just above .200, but has clobbered three home runs, tied for the lead with Peoria, continuing his trend of the long ball. He had 28 homers between Mobile and Portland this year. It is safe to say, he isn't surprising many people now. Mobile BayBears announcer, Tom Nichols, had this to say about Jon, "If you had a chance to have a guy up there with the game on the line, he would have been your guy."

National League

Arizona Diamondbacks: Scott Hairston, 2B, has built on a solid year at El Paso in AA, hitting .400/.450/.545 so far with the Scottsdale Scorpions, good for second in the AFL, with 2 homers, 14 runs scored, and 8 RBIs, good for second on the team. But he already has 7 errors (high on team) in only 14 games and 11 strikeouts in 55 at-bats. None of the other position players have been that great or bad. Josh Kroeger, OF, has been good and is hitting .280/.368/.360 with 0 homers, 6 BB, 14 SO in 50 ABs. His 10 runs scored are good for second on the team and 7 RBIs is good for third. Sergio Santos, SS, is hitting .242/.297/.394 with 1 homer, 6 BB and 16 SO (second highest on team) in 66 ABs and his 8 RBIs is good for a tie for second with Hairston. Not bad for a 20 year old. He is also second highest in errors with 5. Chris Synder, C, is hitting .257/.297/.371 with 1 homer, 2 BB and 9 SO in 35 ABs.

Feast or famine in the pitching department as well. Brandon Medders is 0-1 and has a 2.25 ERA in 7 relief appearances, 8 IP, 6 H, 0 HR, 3 BB, 11 SO, .214 BAA. Dustin Nippert and Pete Sikaras could not keep up their great performance in the minors. Nippert is 1-1 and has a 4.76 ERA in 5 starts, 17 IP, 16H, 0 HR, 10 BB, 13 SO, .250 BAA. Obviously the walks have killed him, as the control he showed at South Bend (A), with 32 BB in 95.2 IP, left him. Pete Sikaras is 1-0 and has a 9.45 ERA in 8 relief appearances, 6.2 IP, 10 H, 2 HR, 6 BB, 9 SO, and 1 SV, .333 BAA. He was a bit on the wild side at Lancaster (A) as well with 27 BB in 47.2 IP, but had a sterling 2.83 ERA there and 56 SO.

Atlanta Braves: "I've found my release point," according to Atlanta's 20th round draft choice. Kyle Bakker was a star pitcher in college at Georgia Tech in 2002, but the 2003 season was a bit different for the tall lefty starter. Bakker struggled (comparatively) with his control and was clearly not the same pitcher in his junior season. When you see Bakker, the first thing you have to notice is his size. He's huge. Bakker is 6'9" and 255 pounds. He pitched in relief against the Indians in Winter Haven last Thursday. Bakker's fastball is only in the 86-88 range, but his height makes it look faster. He has, as described by one of the Braves pitching coaches, a "heavy" fastball. It simply looks faster than a high-80's fastball. At times, he looks very solid, and then he'll turn around and look hittable. The great part is what he told us about the release point in his delivery. Now that he physically feels the way he did in his sophomore season at Georgia Tech, Bakker is on the road to being a very solid pitching prospect for the Atlanta Braves.

Chicago Cubs: OF Jason Dubois is tearing it up in Arizona, hitting .379 with five HRs and 17 RBI to go along with a 1.129 OPS. Dubois also has no errors while playing 11 games in the OF. 3B Brendan Harris is hitting .300 with 15 RBI and a .333 OBP. He also has no errors in 13 games at 3B. P John Webb is 3-0 with a 3.46 ERA and P Jason Szuminski has a 3.97 ERA. Cubs 1B Hee Seop Choi will be playing in a winter league somewhere this year to bring back the swing he had in Chicago in the early part of the season last year.

Colorado Rockies: Justin Huisman, of the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL, was one of four pitchers to combine on a one hitter against the Saguaros on October 27th. Huisman has been a dominant closer throughout the Rockies farm system going 20-20 with Salem in 2002. He added 26 saves for Tulsa in 2003, going 7-2 with a 1.75 ERA while walking only seven in 61.2 innings. He has hit his first bump in the road with Mesa having allowed 10 earned runs in 11.2 innings pitched while walking ten. Ten walks are more than he had all season with Tulsa. The Rockies are interested in how he responds as they are in need of a closer in 2004 having let Jose Jimenez explore free agency.

Florida Marlins: Going into 2003 the Marlins were considered to have one of the best and deepest talent pools in their farm system. While the top overall talent of the system has been gutted in order to make the Championship run; calling up Willis and Cabrera and trading away stud prospect 1B Adrian Gonzalez as well as OF Will Smith and LHP Ryan Snare, there are still some very highly regarded prospects in the Marlins system. Its not that the Marlins don't have top talent in their system its just that this talent is very young. Not one of their top prospects is anywhere near ready to compete for a roster spot in 2004, however, RHP Jeffrey Allison, 1B Jason Stokes, and OF Jeremy Hermida all figure prominently in the future plans of the organization.

Houston Astros: Pitcher Doug Sessions, a 13th round selection by the Astros in 1998, could be the next in a line of homegrown starters for Houston. Sessions, who prior to the 2003 season, had only ten career starts throughout his minor league career, started 25 of his 31 games for the AAA New Orleans Zephyrs this year. After a dismal 2002 out of the bullpen, including a 6.57 ERA after being promoted from AA Round Rock, Sessions had a very good year, posting a 9-5 record and a low 2.92 ERA to go along with his selection as a AAA All Star. With a bit more seasoning, Sessions could join Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, and Tim Redding as starters drafted by Houston who worked their way through the system onto the mound at Minute Maid Park.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Reggie Abercrombie, OF, is doing the best out of the position prospects, continuing his good, if free swinging, performance in Jacksonville. He is hitting .316/.350/.474 with 1 homer, 0 BB and 6 SO in 19 ABs. Despite his lack of games (most teammates have been in a teen amount of games while he has been in only 7 games), he leads the team with 3 SBs. No such performance from the other prospects. James Loney, 1B, is hitting .262/.392/.333 with 0 homers, 9 BB and 8 SO in 42 ABs. But how can you have 0 RBIs, like Loney, in so many ABs? Willy Aybar, 3B, is hitting .227/.261/.227 with 0 homers, 1 BB and 5 SO in 22 ABs. However, Loney is only 19 and Aybar only 20, so hopefully they can count this as a valuable learning experience to grow from.

Among the pitchers, some can dodge the bullets and some can't. Jason Frasor and T.J. Nall are among the AFL leaders in ERA, 8th and 10th, respectively. Frasor is 0-0 and has a 2.04 ERA in 5 starts, 17.2 IP, 14 H, 1 HR, 6 BB, 16 SO, .215 BAA. Jason is fourth in the league in strikeouts and is building on his great stats at Vero Beach (A) and Jacksonville (AA) but at 26 years of age is getting up there in age to be a high-impact, high-potential prospect. T.J. Nall is 1-0 and has a 2.38 ERA in 6 relief appearances, 11.1 IP, 12 H, 0 HR, 5 BB, 6 SO, .293 BAA. T.J. has been dodging bullets left and right to have such a low ERA and high BAA combined with low SO/IP. However, Brian Steffek and Tom Farmer have not been able prosper in the AFL. Steffek is 2-0 and has a 4.50 ERA in 7 relief appearances, 10 IP, 11 H, 2 HR, 4 BB, 8 SO, 0 SV, .275 BAA. Farmer is 0-4 and has a 12.41 ERA in 6 games, including 5 starts, 12.1 IP, 27 H, 5 HR, 5 BB, 9 SO, .435 BAA.

Milwaukee Brewers: 22-year-old Ben Hendrickson has always kept his ERA down. With a career ERA of 3.28 in the minors, he has a 28-25 record.
D. Henson
Ben Hendrickson: Opponents hit .278 off of him at AA this season.
Hendrickson has just not had any run support along the way. He was sent to the AFL to see if he could continue to impress against better competition. So far he is 0-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 17.2 innings of work. He admits it is hard to know who to listen to with managers from different teams all weighing in, "It's really hard who to listen to and who not to listen to," said Hendrickson. "So I just take in everything and do what in my mind is the best for my career."

Montreal Expos: If Vladimir Guerrero and Wil Cordero both exit Montreal via free agency, the Expos may have in-house candidates to replace both of them. Terrmel Sledge hit .324 with 22 homeruns for AAA Edmonton and will fight for a spot either at first base or in the Expos outfield. Val Pascucci (.281/ 15 homeruns at AAA) can also play first base and outfield. Matt Cepicky (.301 / 7 homeruns at AAA) is strictly an outfielder, but the Expos think he could either provide some help off the bench or perhaps fill an outfield spot. Cepicky and Sledge are both left-handed hitters and figure to fight for a spot regardless of the fate of Guerrero and Cordero.

New York Mets: LHP Lenny Dinardo had a strange season in 2003, going just 3-8 for high A-St. Lucie despite posting a strong 2.01 ERA in 19 games this season. Dinardo, who only walked 14 batters but struck out 93 in 85 innings for St. Lucie, has not allowed a walk in his first four appearances in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). 3B David Wright, the "NYF 2003 Hitter of the Year" who had 39 doubles for St. Lucie this season, is picking up right where he left off...clubbing four doubles in his first 17 AFL games. Worst Stat Line of the Day: 12.1 IP, 21 H, 13 ER, 9 BB ,12 SO. While Dinardo and Wright have enjoyed some success in the early going of the AFL, RHP David Mattox has not. Through his first seven appearances (all in relief), Mattox is sporting a horrific 2.43 WHIP ratio (walks + hits per innings pitched) so far.

Philadelphia Phillies: How badly do the Phillies want to trade for a starting pitcher? They're interested in Arizona's Curt Schilling and Montreal's Javier Vazquez, but both teams are likely to start the discussion with the names Gavin Floyd (7-8, 3.00 at A Clearwater) and Cole Hamels (6-1, 0.84 at A Lakewood). The Phillies are more likely to offer Brandon Duckworth (4-7, 4.94 in Philly) or Ryan Madson (12-8, 3.50 at AAA). The Phillies will likely face some decisions about including second baseman Chase Utley (.323 / 18 homeruns at AAA) in any trade package, although they're not enamored with the idea of giving up Utley, who they compare to Jeff Kent. If Madson and Duckworth are both with the Phillies in the spring, it's likely that they'll battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.

San Francisco Giants: Showing their advanced status in the Giants farm system, Lance Niekro and Todd Linden have been doing well for the Grand Canyon Rafters, building on each of their solid year at AAA Fresno. They are first and second in batting average and on-base percentage and Todd is second on the team in slugging percentage. Niekro, 1B, is hitting .319/.373/.404 with 1 homer, 4 BB and 7 SO in 47 ABs. Linden, OF, is hitting .311/.382/.574 with 3 homers (tied for team lead, tied for 6th in AFL), 7 BB and 15 SO (second on team) in 61 ABs. He also leads the team in runs scored with 14 and is tied for third in RBIs with 9. Jamie Athas, 2B, who spent the season at Norwich, has struggled, hitting .211/.352/.246 with 0 homers, 12 BB and 12 SO in 57 ABs. He is second on the team in runs scored with 12 and third in SB with 2. However, he is tied for the lead in caught stealing with 3 and leads the team in errors with 5.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the pitchers, where the better prospects didn't do so well. Luke Anderson, who was on the DL in the early season, did not pitch much or well in 2003, but has been doing very well for the Rafters. Luke is 0-0 with a 2.89 ERA in 7 relief appearances, 9.1 IP, 6 H, 0 HR, 4 BB, 5 SO, and .182 BAA, which is the 2nd lowest on the team. However, Boof Bonser and Noah Lowry have not done so well and they are two of our top prospects. Boof is 2-2 with a 5.68 ERA in 5 starts, 19 IP, 21 H, 4 HR (2nd on team), 13 BB (by far the most, next is 7 BB), and 14 SO (2nd on team) with .273 BAA. Noah is 0-0 with a 9.64 ERA in 3 relief appearances, 4.2 IP, 8 H, 1 HR, 1 BB, 1 SO, and .381 BAA. In addition, Merkin Valdez, whom Brian Sabean noted as someone in the minors who could contribute to the S.F. Giants in 2004, was recently added to the Rafters' roster and has had one appearance with 1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, and 1 SO with .333 BAA.

St. Louis Cardinals: Brad Thompson (RHP) continues to shine as a mid-season replacement for the injured Josh Kinney. In 6.1 IP, Thompson (0-0, 1 S) has allowed only 1 H & 2 BB, while recording 4 K's in his 4 appearances... After struggling at the plate in the early going of the AFL, Shaun Boyd has his average up to .266 and he is tied for third in RBI's (9) for the Rafters. Boyd is continuing to make the transition from 2B to the OF this offseason....The Cards announced this week that John "the Stanford Hitting Machine" Gall (1B), Chris Narveson (LHP) and Rhett Parrott (RHP) were being added to the Cards 40 man roster.

American League

Anaheim Angels: The Angels didn't waste any spots on the AFL roster, sending their top three hitting prospects to the desert for some extra work with for the Scottsdale Scorpions. 1B Casey Kotchman is hitting .261 with one homerun, five RBI, and a .370 on base percentage in 14 games. 3B Dallas McPherson isn't having much luck, struggling to hit .161 with 19 strikeouts in just 56 at-bats. But McPherson has been solid defensively, making just one error in 13 games defensively at 3rd base. Catcher Jeff Mathis, 20, is also scuffling a bit at the plate, hitting just .184 with two RBI in 11 games.

Baltimore Orioles: Aaron Rakers combined with three other pitchers to throw a one-hitter against the Peoria Saguaros on Monday for the Mesa Solar Sox. Rakers, who earned a save in the game, is 4-0 with a minuscule 0.73 ERA in 12.1 innings so far in the Arizona Fall League. His four wins are the most in the league, matched only by teammate Dewon Brazelton. Kris Wilken was a key contributor in a 10-5 win over the Javelinas on Saturday. Wilken is impressing in the AFL with a .340 BA, but he hasn't drawn a walk in 53 at bats.

Boston Red Sox: SP Charlie Zink had a decent season in the Boston farm system in 2003, going 7-9 with a 3.90 ERA for Sarasota before enjoying some mild success in his promotion to AA-Portland. Zink, who posted a 3.43 ERA for Portland, was rewarded with a trip to the AFL this year. He has not responded well, allowing 12 runs on 24 hits in his first 16 2/3 innings. OF Jeremy Owens was sent to the AFL to work on one thing...cutting down his strikeouts! Owens, who struck out 161 times for AA-Portland this season, has not show better results yet in his first 18 AFL games....striking out 18 times.

Chicago White Sox: Don't look for left-handed phenom Neal Cotts to break the Sox' starting rotation by opening day of next year. Cotts has struggled in the Arizona Fall League, making any chance of a '04 debut by April almost certainly impossible. The southpaw got into playing time on the big-league roster in '03 due to injuries, and struggled with his control. Since lefty Scott Schoeneweis is expected to be converted from a reliever to a starter, the Sox shouldn't push Cotts that hard.

Detroit Tigers: Apparently, the Erie SeaWolves are stacked with talent. At least that's the conclusion we can draw after five out of the six Tigers' Arizona Fall League prospects were directly from Erie. Among the five include 25-year old stud left-handed pitcher Rob Henkel, 23-year old shortstop Donald Kelly, 23-year old pitcher Preston Larrison, outfielder Nook Logan (23), catcher Max St. Pierre (23) and Lakeland (A) prospect Mark Woodyard (24). Each player demonstrated big league potential last season, especially Henkel.

Two pitchers that will be monitored closely, but weren't invited to the AFL, were 18-year old phenom pitcher Joel Zumaya and former 28th round draft choice Jon Connolly. Both members of the West Michigan Whitecaps last season, Zumaya who was named "Pitching Prospect of the Midwest League" by Baseball America. Connolly was the talk of Tigertown. He began the season by tossing 18 scoreless innings, and the Whitecaps ace entered the All-Star break 12-0 with a 0.78 ERA. Every strong MLB team is build around its pitching. For the Detroit Tigers, a bright future could be just around the corner.

Kansas City Royals: Outfielder David DeJesus is showing some unexpected pop while batting .351 in his first 10 games for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League. DeJesus has three doubles, one triple and two home runs among his 13 hits. He also has a .426 on-base percentage and 10 runs in 10 games. Right-hander Zach McClellan is 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings over six appearances. He was 8-8 last year with a 2.84 ERA at Class A Wilmington, Del.

Minnesota Twins: Catcher Joe Mauer and right-handers J.D. Durbin and Jesse Crain have been named to Team USA for an Olympic qualifying tournament that begins Thursday in Panama City. OF Prospect Lew Ford dislocated a thumb while playing in Venezuela and will return to the U.S. He is expected to have fully recovered to compete for an outfield roster spot in Spring Training.

New York Yankees: Ramon Ramirez earned his first AFL victory in a 7-3 win over Peoria last Thursday. Ramirez allowed only one earned run over five innings, striking out four.
Mike Vento
Mike Vento: Vento hit 14 HRs between AAA Columbus and AA Trenton.
The right-hander has 16 strikeouts in 15 innings to go with his 2.40 ERA. Outfielder Mike Vento is mashing for the Grand Canyon Rafters, collecting seven doubles and three homers in just 60 at bats. Vento has only struck out five times so far while drawing three walks.

Oakland Athletics: Three A's have landed on Team USA for the qualifying trials. 1B Graham Koonce, 28, right-hander Justin Duchscherer, 25, and SS Mike Rouse, 23, have all successfully made it through tryouts. Koonce crushed AFL pitching and finished hitting .654 with two homeruns and 12 RBI in just nine games. Rouse surprised many by hitting .414 with a homer, seven RBI in 10 games. Team USA co-ace Justin Duchscherer finished with a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings pitched. 2B/SS Freddy Bynum, 23, is hitting .271 with a homerun and three RBI in eight games for the Mesa Desert Dogs. Uber-prospect Nick Swisher, 23, is roaming the outfield for the Dogs and carries a .280 average with a homerun, five RBI, and an impressive .419 on base percentage in 14 games.

Seattle Mariners: 3B Justin Leone, 26, is spending this offseason in a slightly different environment than 2002. Last fall and winter Leone went to the Outback in Australia with fellow M's prospect Travis Blackley to try a different workout regimen. It worked. The 2003 Texas League MVP continued his memorable year and was named the starting 3B for Team USA in the Qualifying Trials beginning October 31 after hitting .270 with three homeruns eight RBI, and .400 on base percentage in 11 games. Left-hand reliever George Sherrill, 26, has a solid 3.24 ERA in 8.1 innings for the Peoria Javelinas. 3B Hunter Brown, 23, has shaken off a slow start to hit .297 with four RBI in 14 games. OF Jamie Bubela, 25, continues his hot hitting (.357) and fellow OF Jamal Strong, 25, is finally starting to warm up, raising his average to .222.

Tampa Devil Rays: For an 18 year old with no minor league experience, Delmon Young is off to a nice start in the Arizona Fall League. Young, the first overall pick in the 2003 Draft, signed in September, missing the minor league season. In 9 at bats in the AFL, Young is hitting .444 (4-9). The confident Young now feels that he could potentially reach the majors in 2004. Johnny Gomes played most of the season at AA Orlando, hitting .249 with 17 homeruns. From there, Gomes went on to hit .316 in 19 at bats at AAA. Now, he's tearing apart the AFL, hitting .354 with 7 homeruns. It's possible that Tampa will have Young, Gomes and 19 year old B.J. Upton (.276 at AA Orlando) all in the majors by the end of the 2004 season.

Texas Rangers: Catcher Gerard Laird (.444avg, 4 RBI, 10 gms) and 3B Mike Lamb (.240avg, 2 RBI, 9 gms) officially made the Team USA Roster for the Olympic Qualifying Trials that begin Friday in Panama. Lamb, 28, a three-year Major League veteran, will be the backup 3B and Laird, 23, will share time with Twins prospect Joe Mauer behind the plate. Outfielder Ramon Nivar, 23, is lighting up the Arizona Fall League to the tune of a .345avg, one homerun, six RBI, and five steals in 14 games for the Peoria Saguaros. 1B prospect Adrian Gonzalez, 21, acquired from Florida in the Ugueth Urbina trade, is hitting .340 with three homeruns and 14 RBI in 13 games.

Toronto Blue Jays: The Arizona Fall League hasn't been especially kind to Blue Jays prospects this season. Their three pitchers in the AFL - Pete Bauer, Jordan De Jong and Cameron Reimers - have a combined ERA of 6.95, while their position players - Russ Adams, Tyrell Godwin and Dominic Rich - are hitting a combined .231. Godwin, who put up nice numbers at AA New Haven in 2003 is the only real standout, hitting .294 in the AFL.

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