Major League Insider: Down On The Farm

The tragic death of a Reds prospect is the sad news from our weekly farm report this week. It reminds us that baseball is after all, just a game. It also reminds us to treasure the talents and achievements of players everywhere. With that in mind, our MLB Insiders bring you news from the farm systems near and far.

American League


Anaheim Angels: The Angels prospects just haven't had much luck this fall even though the cream of the crop were present. 1B Casey Kotchman, 20, was sent home this past week with an injury to his hamstring, an injury the lefty slugger has dealt with before. Kotchman was hitting .261/.370 when the injury occurred as he rounded third base. 3B prospect Dallas McPherson, 23, has been a sizable disappointment thus far hitting just .197/.243/.288. Right-hand reliever Rich Fischer, 23, has been a solid bright spot with a 2.70 ERA, 10k's, and a single walk in his four appearances.

Baltimore Orioles: 1B Kris Wilken is raking for the Mesa Solar Sox. His .395 BA is the second-best in the AFL and he is 12 for his last 23 (.522 BA). The performance is a departure from his 2003 season, when he hit just .263 in 116 AA games. Something to watch is his OBP, which remains just a hair above his batting average at .402. Wilken isn't drawing walks and that's not a good sign. RHP Aaron Rakers is continuing his dominance as a reliever. He has struck out 17 batters in just 15.1 innings and hasn't allowed a homerun.

Boston Red Sox: CF Michael Goss, an 11th round draft pick in the 2002 draft, will need to rebound from a disappointing season in his first full year of pro baseball. After a huge success in limited at-bats in 2003, Goss struggled to find his stroke in 2003. His game is solely based on speed and he will need to improve on his .245 average last year at Augusta.

Chicago White Sox: Don't expect LHP Dan Wright in the Sox' starting rotation next spring. Wright went 0-6 last year as a starter and it is believed that his future with the team (if any) lies within middle relief. Instead, expect 26-year-old RHP Jon Adkins to be get a shot as the fifth starter next spring, or in occasional long-relief or mop-up duties.

New York Yankees: Ramon Ramirez was named Pitcher of the Week for the week of 10/27 to 11/1 in the Arizona Fall League. He pitched five one-hit, shutout innings while earning a win for the Grand Canyon Rafters. The right-hander is having an excellent fall season, posting a 3-2 record with a league-leading 1.44 ERA in 25 innings. He has 25 strikeouts and just two walks so far. OF Mike Vento has eight hits in his last 21 at-bats (.381 BA) with a homerun in his last four games. He is third in the league with 19 RBI.

Oakland A's: 1B Graham Koonce, 28, began his Team USA stint well with a two-hit effort that included a homerun and a double. USA teammate, SS Mike Rouse, 23, didn't fair so well going 0-3 out of the leadoff spot. Infielder Freddy Bynum, 23, is having a solid AFL campaign, hitting .286/.390/.543 and playing SS and 2B. OF prospect Nick Swisher, 23, is starting to turn it on somewhat raising his average to .267/.389. Right-hander Chris Mabeus continues to struggle, sporting a 5.54 ERA in 10 games.

Seattle Mariners: Justin Leone, 26, began the Team USA Qualifying Tournament with a bang. Make that two bangs. The 3B prospect launched two homeruns in a 7-0 USA win over Nicaragua. Catcher Jim Horner, 29, is providing an experienced mind behind the plate for the pitchers on the staff in Arizona but his bat is making a lot of noise. Horner is hitting .357 including two multi-hit games this past week. 3B prospect Hunter Brown, 23, continues to swing a hot bat and play superb defense as well. Brown hit his first homerun in the AFL over the weekend and is hitting .304/.418/.500.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The Devil Rays are working on cutting down on strikeouts from some of their young prospects. At Class A Charleston in 2003, both Elijah Dukes (130) and Jason Pridie (113) struck out over 100 times. That might be tolerable if they were showing true power, but the two only combined for 14 homeruns. Vince Harrison, who led Charleston with 19 homeruns, struck out 90 times. Even though they can tolerate Harrison's strikeout total, they plan on working with him to be more selective and believe that with patience will come even more power and a higher average than the .275 that he hit in 2003.

Texas Rangers: Top slugging prospect Adrian Gonzalez, 21, continues his hot hitting in the AFL and is now hitting .309/.435/.582 with three homeruns and 15 RBI. Right-hander Nick Regilio, 23, is using the AFL to add a pitch to his arsenal and is doing quite well sporting a 2.95 ERA in 21.1 innings including a 5 inning gem over the weekend. OF prospect Ramon Nivar, 23, is abusing AFL pitching and his numbers reflect so. Nivar is hitting .381/.400/.540 with seven steals.

Toronto Blue Jays: Jason Arnold will be a name to know in 2003. The young right-hander went 4-8, 4.33 at AAA Syracuse in 2003. The numbers aren't overpowering, but the Blue Jays believe that Arnold may be able to contribute at the back end of their rotation. It's unlikely that they'll give him a bullpen job though, if he does fall short of making the team as a starter. Arnold is best suited to be a starter and he'll either be in Toronto's rotation or the Syracuse starting rotation to start the 2004 season. The Jays are making an effort to re-sign Brian Bowles, their own six year minor league free agent, who led Syracuse with 14 saves.


National League


Arizona Diamondbacks: It seems like the D-backs are allowed only one hitting star a week. Last week Scott Hairston starred. This week Sergio Santos hit .304 in 6 games, with a triple and 2 homeruns, 3 runs, 5 RBIs, and 4 walks. Sergio is now second on the team in home runs with the two he hit and third on the team in RBIs with 9. The rest had mediocre results, all hitting .250 since the last report. Scott Hairston couldn't keep up his player of the week performance, but did OK with a homer (two-run homer), 4 runs, 3 RBIs, 2 walks, and 2 SB in 4 games. At least he didn't make an error. He is now 7th in batting average in the league, and for his team, he is the leader in batting average with .366, in runs scored with 18, tied for the lead in homers with 3, and is second on the team in RBIs with 11. Josh Kroeger had 3 hits, but two for doubles, 2 runs, 0 RBI, 2 walks and 1 caught stealing in 4 games. Chris Snyder had 3 hits, one for a double, 2 runs, 1 RBI, 2 walks in 4 games.

The pitchers all did well. Brandon Medders continued his great pitching with 2 IP in 2 games, with 0 hits, 0 runs/ER, 2 BB, 4 SO, and a save. He struck out the side in the 9th for his second save in the game on 10/29, which is good for a multi-player tie for 2nd in the AFL in saves. He now has a 1.80 ERA, .182 batting average against, and 1.10 WHIP. Dustin Nippert and Pete Sikaras turned things around with good performances in the last week. Nippert started a game, pitched 5 innings, gave up 4 hits, 1 run/ER, and had 1 HBP and 1 BB with 6 SO. Dustin is tied for 5th in the league in strikeouts with 19 and is second on the team . Sikaras pitched 3.1 innings in 2 games, gave up 1 hit, 0 run/ER, 1 BB and had 2 strikeouts, a wild pitch and a save. Both were able to keep their walk total down, which has been their weak point in their career so far. Hopefully they can build on these results.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs purchased the contract of highly touted prospect Angel Guzman Monday, adding him to the team's 40-man roster and making him ineligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Guzman, 21, was 3-3 in 15 starts at AA-West Tenn this season with a 3.18 ERA before undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery in July.

Cincinnati Reds: Reds outfielder Dernell Stenson was found shot and killed early Wednesday in Chandler, Ariz. Stenson, 25, was playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League. Stenson was among the best in the AFL, ranking third in the league with a .394 batting average and fourth with a .453 on-base percentage through 18 games.

Stenson, who the Reds claimed off waivers from Boston on Feb. 25, made his Major League debut this year after spending seven years in the Red Sox minor-league system. He was a Southern League All-Star with the Reds' Double-A Chattanooga affiliate, batting .306 with 14 home runs and 76 RBIs. He also hit .237 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in 17 games with Triple-A Louisville before being promoted to the Reds on Aug. 13. Appearing in 37 games, including 20 starts, Stenson batted .247 with three home runs and 13 RBIs for the Reds.

The AFL canceled Thursday's games in Stenson's memory.

Colorado Rockies: Matt Holliday, an outfielder, was a late edition to Team USA. He joined the team in time for the team's final tune-up before heading to Panama -- a 5-1 U.S. win over Team Canada at Maryvale Ballpark. His right-handed bat paid immediate dividends when he tripled to right-centerfield to drive in a run. Holliday had been hitting .355 with three homers and 12 RBIs for the AFL's Mesa Solar Sox. He will start for the USA team. Holliday batted .253 with 28 doubles, five triples, 12 homers and 72 RBI's in Tulsa last season.

Houston Astros: 2001 first-round draft pick Chris Burke, 23, was selected to the USA Olympic qualifying team last week. Burke, the Astros' first-round pick in 2001 and the AA Round Rock player of the year, hit .301 with 3 HR and 41 RBI in 137 games this season.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Most Dodgers prospects did well since the last report. The position players who played did very well as Brennan King and James Loney were hot. King hit .389 in 6 games, with 4 doubles, a homer, 3 runs, 7 RBIs, slugging .778 for the week. He had a bases loaded double on Halloween. James Loney picked up his first RBIs, hitting .333 in 6 games, with a triple and a homer, 8 runs, 4 RBIs, 5 walks and a stolen base. His homer was a solo blast. Loney leads the team in walks with 13 and is second in runs with 12 and is hitting .279/.405/.410/.815 overall. Not bad for a 19 year old. Reggie Abercrombie and Willy Aybar didn't appear in any games.

The pitching prospects continued where they left off for the most part. Jason Frasor continued his great pitching, going 7.2 IP in 2 games, 7 hits, 2 runs, 1 ER, 4 BB, 5 SO. He is second in ERA (1.66) and third in strikeouts (20) in the league and has a 1.15 WHIP. Tom Farmer and T.J. Nall continued their poor outings. Farmer had 1.2 IP in 2 games, 3 hits, 5 runs, 0 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 2 SO. Nall could no longer dodge his bullets as the runners he has been letting on in abundance all season long finally made their way home. He had 2.2 IP in 2 games, 4 hits, 7 runs, 6 ER, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 1 BB, 1 SO. However, encouragingly, Brian Steffek had a confidence boosting week, with 3.1 IP in 2 games, 1 hit, 0 runs/ER, 1 BB, 2 SO. That brought his ERA down to 3.75 with a batting average against of .261 and WHIP of 1.42.

Milwaukee Brewers: Shortstop JJ Hardy was added to the Team USA squad, likely as a backup to Mike Rouse. Hardy played in eleven games for the USA team in the Arizona Fall League and hit .219, going 7-32 with a home run and six RBI's. Hardy batted .279 for Huntsville in 2003 and he provided some pop, belting 12 homers, 26 doubles and driving in 62 runs.

Montreal Expos: The Expos finally got Josh McKinley's bat to come around in 2003, but his defense at second base is still way below where it needs to be. With that in mind, the Expos have McKinley learning how to catch in the Arizona Fall League. After hitting .288 at AA Harrisburg, McKinley is hitting .273 in Arizona. In addition to catching, he has played in the outfield, at third base and at second base.

New York Mets: RHP Matthew Peterson figures to eventually find a home in the front end of the Mets' rotation someday. However, Peterson's AFL stint thus far has shown that he's still a prospect with a ways to go before he is ready for the Majors. Peterson, armed with a 92-97 mph fastball, is 2-1 with a 6.98 ERA in seven appearances. After baffling Florida State hitters this past season with a 1.06 WHIP ratio, Peterson's AFL ratio has risen all the way to 1.60!

Philadelphia Phillies: The trade for Billy Wagner did deliver somewhat of a hit to the Phillies minor league farm system, but not a knockout punch. The Phillies didn't have to touch either of their top two pitching prospects and also didn't have to part with either Chase Utley or Ryan Howard, their two big offensive prospects. After playing for AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre the past couple seasons, P.J. Forbes will give up his dream of returning to play in the majors to be the manager at the Phillies Lakewood team in the South Atlantic League.

San Diego Padres: Todd Donovan, once a member of the 40 man roster in San Diego has seen his stock fall when a rash of injuries haunted him. 2003 was his first "healthy" season, although his left hand still gave him trouble from two separate broken bones. He admits the mental challenges of being so close to the Majors took its toll and he struggled. "I never had to deal with that," Donovan told us. "This is the first year I haven't been in a sling. I can now dedicate myself to the game." With a new training facility in his hometown, Donovan is working on batting left-handed to use his speed better and hoping for big things in 2004.

San Francisco Giants: The Giants position prospects had a great week since the last report. Jamie Athas hit .304 for the week, with a double, 2 runs and 3 RBIs, but 2 errors, in 6 games. Lance Niekro hit .400, with a double, homer, 3 runs, and 5 RBIs in 4 games. Todd Linden topped them all by hitting .481, with 2 homers, 10 runs, and 7 RBIs in 6 games. He had a three-run homer in the game on 11/1 with a total of three hits in the game, his second game in a roll with three hits. He is now 9th in the AFL in batting average, hitting .338, and is in a tie for 4th in home runs with 4 homers overall. He is tied for the lead in homers for the team, is second on the team in doubles, and leads the regulars in batting average. Lance is close behind with a .323 batting average.

Pitching was hill and valley. Boof Bonser had a bad week, 2 games, 8.2 IP, 12 hits, 7 BB, 9 SO, 8 runs, 6 ER, 2 HR, 1 wild pitch, and 6.23 ERA for the week. His career wildness has returned, after a brief disappearance in his brief stay at AAA this past season, but Boof is still near the leaders in the AFL in strikeouts with 18. Luke Anderson got into 2 games himself, 3 IP, 4 hits, 0 BB, 2 SO, 0 runs or ER. Luke has a 2.61 ERA, .211 batting average against, and WHIP of 1.19 overall. Lowry and Valdez did appear in any games.

St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Kiki Calero could finally get his chance to shine in the Cardinals' rotation next year, especially if young right-hander Danny Haren struggles in Spring Training. Calero, who spent seven years in the minor leagues, finally saw big-league action with the Redbirds last year, going 1-1 with a 2.82 ERA in 26 games. Calero made 144 starts in his minor-league career, winning 65 of them.


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