Arizona Diamondbacks: 3B Jamie D'Antona had a good year in 2003. After hitting .360 with 21 homers and 82 RBIs for Wake Forest, setting the college's career home run record with 58, he was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 3rd round. He was placed with the Yakima Bears where he teamed up with fellow draft pick Conor Jackson to terrorize the Northwest League. D'Antona hit .277/.356/.517/.873 in 271 AB, tied for the league lead in homers with 15 and drove in 57 RBI. He was able to keep some of his strong plate discipline from college - more walks than strikeouts in college last year, .450 OBP - in the pros, posting a strong .356 OBP. He should be able to work on getting his strikeouts down to a more manageable level with experience. He'll probably start the year with the Lancaster JetHawks, the Diamondback's high-A affiliate.
Atlanta Braves: The Braves reached into the Korea to find right-hander Sung Jung and it was a good reach. In his first professional season, Jung turned in impressive numbers in Class A, going 1-4, 2.16 with 18 saves. The bad news is that Jung is already 24 years old. The Braves hope that he can jump to AA and move quickly through the upper levels of the minors.
Chicago Cubs: The best problem that a major league organization could imagine having would be for a player who has All Star stuff to be the 3rd best player on your team at their position. The Cubs are in that position with prospect Angel Guzman. Guzman has amazing stuff, and has never had an ERA of over 2.81 in the minor leagues. However, despite #1 stuff, Guzman will have problems displacing Mark Prior and Kerry Wood of the current Chicago Cubs for the #1 spot in the rotation. Not a bad problem for either side though. The only setback at this point for Guzman was an arm injury that he had precautionary surgery on last year in July. The surgery found no major problems, but made his arm much stronger and more durable. The Cubs will take it slow with Guzman in starting back in 2004, and he should start in either AA or if he is feeling good AAA. If healthy, Guzman could be competing for a spot in the rotation in spring training this year. He could still compete if the Cubs choose to go with Juan Cruz over acquiring Greg Maddux. If Cruz struggles, then the Cubs will either look to improve via a trade or could look in their own system as long as everyone remains healthy. The Cubs have one of the best systems in baseball, and Guzman is probably their number one prospect at this point. If he does not see big league time in 2004, then he should be a regular in the majors by 2005. Good news for the Cubs and Guzman, bad news for the NL.
Cincinnati Reds: The battle about which is more important for a catcher - good defense or good offense - is going to be a topic of discussion in Cincinnati before too long. Miguel Perez has great arm strength, good mechanics and a super fast release. Early on, Perez has struggled a lot at the plate, but the Reds are hoping that he develops enough offensive skills to at least hold his own. They moved him back a level to the Pioneer League in 2003 to get him some extra work and confidence at the plate. It helped since Perez his .339 in 60 games at Billings after hitting just .172 in 20 games at Dayton in the Midwest League earlier in the season.
Colorado Rockies: Jeff Francis, the top pick of the Rox in 2002, had a solid season in the Cal League. In a hitter's league, Francis kept his WHIP to an incredibly low 1.12, striking out 153 in 160.2 innings. He ended the year at 12-9 with a 3.49 ERA, tops among starters on the Visalia Oaks. Francis will likely make the jump to Tulsa in 2004 and could be in Colorado Springs by the end of the year.
Florida Marlins: The Marlins aren't exactly sure what they have in 22 year old right-hander Lincoln Holdzkom. He's got a fastball that sometimes reaches the upper 90s and a good, hard curveball that leaves hitters either frozen or bailing out of the box. He also has control problems. Holdzkom walked a total of 34 hitters in 71 innings and at times seemed to completely lose control of his pitches. It's likely that Holdzkom will advance to AA in 2004 and the Marlins will continue to watch his progress to determine whether he's just another setup man with good stuff or if he has enough stuff to be their closer of the future.
Houston Astros: The Astros picked up Taylor Buchholz in their trade that sent Billy Wagner to the Phillies. While Buchholz may not be Billy Wagner, he may now be the best prospect in the Astros system. He is an excellent starter with potential to be a #2 or #3 starter in the major leagues. Buchholz has an excellent curveball with a very good fastball to supplement it. However, he will need to continue to develop and use his changeup at AAA in 2004 to be a major league pitcher. Two pitches simply won't work in the bigs, and Buchholz needs to further develop his change. He has averaged a 3.5 ERA throughout his minor league career, and is expected to do well at AAA next year. If the Astros have similar injuries to last year, where they used twelve different starters, then they could look at Buchholz to give them a spot start. However in reality, he is at least a year away from the show, mostly because he only has the two pitches. Once he develops the change, or even another pitch, Buchholz will be primed for a spot in the Astros rotation. Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Chad Billingsley was the Dodgers #1 draft pick last year, the 24th player picked in the draft. He had a very good start to his career, pitching for the Ogden Raptors in the rookie-level Pioneer League. The 6' 2" 195 pitcher was 5-4 for the Raptors with a 2.83 ERA in 11 starts, 54 IP, 49 hits, 0 homers, 15 walks, and 62 strikeouts. All great stats, especially the zero homers. Not bad for someone just out of High School!
Milwaukee Brewers: Weeks was the 2nd overall pick in last season's amateur draft, and thus far has given every indication that he was well worth the investment. Not only does Weeks potentially look to be a consistent .300+ hitter for the big league club, he also could possibly add 15-20 homeruns and 30-40 Stolen Bases. While the Brewers did just acquire All Star 2B Junior Spivey, don't be surprised if Spivey gets moved midseason to make way for Weeks.
Montreal Expos: The Expos are hoping to have a brotherly combination that will be productive. Endy Chavez was a disappointment in his rookie season with Montreal. Now, his brother Ender is a member of the Expos organization after he was drafted in the AAA portion of the Rule 5 Draft in December. While big brother Endy was struggling at the major league level, Ender was having his problems in A ball hitting a combined .232 with 0 homeruns and 31 RBI in the Mets organization.
New York Mets: A prospect to keep an eye in 2004 is RHP Yusemeiro Petit. The 18-year old exhibited extraordinary command in 2003, allowing just 1.2 walks per nine innings, allowing just two home runs in 74.3 innings, and throwing just one wild pitch. Throw in an outstanding K/BB ratio of 8.5, Petit has the peripheral stats of special prospect. Petit appears headed to the Capital City Bombers to start the 2004 season to build upon his successful 2003 breakout year.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jose Castillo had a solid season offensively at AA last year, but his defense wasn't as impressive as some hoped, so much so that the Pirates are no longer convinced Castillo can be their Shortstop of the future. He still looks like he'll be able to hit, but his value decreases if he can't stat at Shortstop and is forced to move to 2B or 3B. Castillo is still only 23 and will start the year in AAA, so one injury and he could see himself up with the big league club, but expect Castillo to spend the season in AAA before making his Pirates debut in 2005.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies have been high on Zach Segovia, but they'll have to wait to see if he can ever get back to his old form. Segovia will miss the entire 2004 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Phillies have other injury concerns in their minor league system. Pitchers Bud Smith and David Coggin are both rehabbing from injuries and both appear to be near ready for a spring return. Both would have a shot at making the major league club if they're healthy. Third base prospect Juan Richardson underwent offseason surgery for a torn labrum, which came on the heels of an ankle injury that ended Richardson's season last June.
San Diego Padres: Justin Germano seemed to take a bit of a dive in the eyes of the fans this past season. That is far from being true in regards to the front office. Germano's record may not have been pretty, but one high ranking Padres official says, "The kid deserved better. He should have been 15-5 instead of 11-10. Not only was the defense poor behind him, the offense seemed to sputter. In his first ten games in Elsinore, he had two bad outings and came away with four wins. We are talking about ‘quality' Major League games where he allowed two runs or fewer."
San Francisco Giants: 3B Nate Schierholtz was a surprise pick by the Giants in the 2nd round of the 2003 draft, surprise that is until the 6' 2" 215 lb. lefty-hitting third baseman started his pro career. He warmed up by tearing up the rookie-level Arizona League with the Arizona Giants, hitting .400/.449/.489/.938 in 45 ABs with 2 triples and 5 RBI. He then followed that up with the Salem-Kaizer Volcanoes in the short-season A-ball Northwest League, hitting .306/.382/.460/.842 in 124 AB with 6 doubles, 2 triples, and 3 homers, 23 runs, 29 RBI, 12 BB, 15 SO, 5 HBP, including a grand slam he hit August 3rd. Had he had enough plate appearances, he would have been sixth in the league in hitting. However, he had a bit of "oopsies", making 6 errors for a .930 fielding percentage. He will probably end up playing for the Giants high-A San Jose affiliate to get additional seasoning.
St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals selected Jimmy Journell with their fourth round pick back in 1999, but it took them until this year to fit him into the role they hope he will take in the major leagues. They finally moved Journell into the bullpen while at AAA Memphis this year, and he pitched very well out of the pen, proving to be one of the Cards better prospects in a shallow system. His stuff is good enough to where he could be an MLB closer one day, assuming that he will stay healthy. Journell is 26 now though, and is getting rather old to be considered a prospect. He was a September callup last year, and probably won't break with the team out of spring training, but he should be the first up with any injuries in the pen for St. Louis. He had a 3.92 ERA last year, and will have to prove that he can lower that before he will be a good ML reliever. Journell is the best Cardinals relief prospect though, and we may see him in St. Louis this year.
Baltimore Orioles: 2B Mike Fontenot finished his 2003 season strong, batting over .350 the year's final three months. Not known for his defense, Fontenot is a very good offensive player that is capable to eventually have 20-20 type seasons at the Major League level. The Orioles appear set at second base with Brian Roberts and Jerry Hairston Jr. currently blocking Fontenot's path. Fontenot's bat is too good to wallow in the minors for too much longer. Expect Fontento to start off at AAA Ottawa before the Orioles move one of their talented second basemen.
Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester sits as one of the team's top prospects, but it was thought that he would be heading to Texas in exchange for Alex Rodriguez. That, at least as of right now, won't occur. The young left-hander, is just that: extremely young. Selected in the second round (with the team's first pick during the 2002 draft) as a high school player, Lester had a solid season in Low-A Augusta during 2003. In twenty-four games -- twenty-one of which were starts -- he finished at 6-9 with a 3.65 ERA while working 106 innings. Durability has been questioned, but if he isn't rushed he has great potential.
Chicago White Sox:"I explained to him that I too am called Mr. Zero," GM Ken Williams said of Japanese RHP Shingo "Mr. Zero" Takatsu. "But for a whole bunch of different reasons." Takatsu had 260 career saves in 13 seasons for the Yakult Swallows. Takatsu led the Central League with 34 saves last year, going 2-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 44 games and at age 35 now faces a new challenge. He pitched in 10 Japanese Series games without surrendering a run, hence the moniker "Mr. Zero."
Cleveland Indians:It's easy to see why the Indians were willing to take a chance on RHP Kazuhito Tadano. Tadano, who held a news conference Jan. 27 to acknowledge and apologize for his appearance three years ago in a pornographic video that included homosexual acts, had a sensational season in 2003. He spent the bulk of it at Double-A Akron, where in 31 appearances he was 4-1, with a 1.24 ERA. At one point he pitched 28 consecutive scoreless innings. He also appeared in seven games at Class A Kinston and two at Triple-A Buffalo. Overall, in 40 appearances at three different levels, he was 6-2 with a 1.55 ERA, with 112 strikeouts, 22 walks, and 81 hits allowed in 98 2/3 innings.
Detroit Tigers: Two seasons ago, the Tigers selected Scott Moore as their first round draft pick. While Moore isn't progressing as nicely as the Tigers' second rounder of the same draft (OF Brett Clevlen), Moore still looks like he has the potential to become a solid major leaguer for the Tigers. His defense is adequate at best, so a move to the Outfield as he progresses through the system definitely isn't out of the question. If Moore can work on making better contact, expect him to move with Clevlen and make his debut with the big league club in 2006 or 2007.
Kansas City Royals: There were a lot of teams looking at Chris Lubanski in the 2003 Draft, but the Royals wasted no time taking him with their fifth overall pick. Lubanski has plenty of speed, but needs a little work in learning when and how to swipe bases. He also has some work to do on finding the right angle to balls hit to him in center field, but that will come with time. The other thing that the Royals think will come with time is some power. Not that they figure on Lubanski ever leading the league in homeruns, but they do think that he could develop enough power to hit 12-15 homeruns per year, which would add to his already formidable skills.
Minnesota Twins: The Twins may be facing a nice problem. Do they want two rookies hitting the major leagues at the same time? That could very well happen with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau both looking like they're ready for prime time. Mauer is the quintessential catcher with near amazing offensive skills and defensive skills that figure to be among the best in the majors. Then, there's Morneau, who played 40 games in the majors in 2003 and would have probably been there full-time if not for injuries earlier in his career. Morneau will look to push Doug Mientkiewicz out of a job or may split his time between first base and DH at the major league level for Minnesota.
New York Yankees: Now that Drew Henson has officially called it quits on his baseball career, let's take a look back at his troubled time in the minors. Henson's main two problems were always strikeouts and fielding. While fielding is generally something that can be overlooked if you can hit, Henson simply couldn't hit. In 501 minor-league games, Henson whiffed 556 times! Billed as a power hitter, the third baseman did show signs of being able to hit the long ball. He averaged 21 homeruns per 162 games, a number that suggests very good power. The problem, of course, is that if you can't make contact, you can't hit homeruns. Farewell Drew Henson, we hardly knew ye.
Seattle Mariners: The Mariners will head into Spring Training with two or three spots open on the 25-man roster. Two relief spots and possibly a bench spot. Having moved Eddie Guardado into Sasaki's departed closer role, the club will seek two left-handers to fill out the bullpen. Prospects such as Bobby Madritsch, George Sherrill, and Matt Thornton will get every opportunity to earn a job in the pen. Sherrill and Madritsch were Independent League signings last season and Thornton is a former first-round draft pick. Sherrill was picked up at mid-season last year and posted a 0.33 ERA in 27.1 innings for Double-A San Antonio. The 27-year-old then made a name for himself in the winter leagues and seems primed for a strong spring. Madritsch, 27, started 27 games for San Antonio in 2003, and will make the transition to a relief role this spring. Thornton, 28, is coming off an injury filled 2003 seasons and will also make the switch into relieving. The M's hope veteran free agent pickup Mike Myers or perhaps another veteran yet to be signed, will join one of the minor leaguers in the bullpen to start 2004.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: D'Rays outfield prospect Wes Bankston saw his numbers tail off sharply late in 2003 after an impressive start to the season. Bankston's minor league career started in impressive fashion in 2002 when he led the Appalachian League in homeruns (18) and RBI (57). The D'Rays are working with Bankston to cut down his oversized swing, which has left him open to slumps, like the one that saw him hit just .192 with 3 homeruns in the last two months of the 2003 season. Another reason for Bankston's slump was a wrist injury that should be completely healed for spring training.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers will open camp this month with several battles to settle within their pitching staff. With the lineup pretty much set, the bench, starting rotation, and the bullpen will have to fill open spots at Spring Training. SP's Juan Dominguez and Ben Kozlowski could earn the final spot in the rotation while OF Ramon Nivar and 1B Adrian Gonzalez could earn bench spots following impressive winter performances. Catcher Gerard Laird and OF Laynce Nix have sewn up jobs after strong showings last August and September. Nix is slated to start in either RF or CF. The club's lack of quality pitching depth at the upper levels can vastly be due to the over drafting and signing of offensive players the past three years. Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, Michael Young, Laird, Nix, and Kevin Mench, have all been developed within the organization since 2000. The only pitcher to come up through the system in the past few years and have any long–term effect is…
Toronto Blue Jays: Guillermo Quiroz is the latest catching prospect to emerge from the Blue Jays organization. Quiroz put up huge numbers at AA New Haven in 2003 and figures to be the starting catcher North of the Border by 2005. At New Haven, Quiroz hit 20 homeruns with 79 RBI and a .282 average. One of the keys to Quiroz' success in 2003 was that he refined his swing and developed more bat speed. The Blue Jays believe he can duplicate his AA numbers in the majors on a yearly basis before too long. Quiroz also has a strong arm and good mechanics with a quick release meaning trouble for runners attempting to steal off him.