MLB Insider: Minor League Prospect Report

The Phillies have added A.J. Hinch as catching insurance. Elsewhere, the Yankees have another free swinging power hitter on the way. The Devil Rays are anxious to see what Delmon Young can do. The Cubs pitching prospects run pretty deep and, in Milwaukee has a young prospect with amazing control, but he's still a couple years away from helping at the major league level. This and more prospect news on our weekly <i>Minor League Prospect Report</i>.

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Anaheim Angels: With the Angels' recent acquisition of Vladimir Guerrero, the team's only hole appears to be at first base, a place that both Scott Spiezio and Brad Fullmer vacated this offseason to pursue the free agent market. Talk is that the club could move Darin Erstad to first, but they are also looking to trade the long-time Angel to cut their payroll. An alternative would be Robb Quinlan, who will be 27 by Opening Day but has shown the ability to consistently produce in the minors. Quinlan, who also plays outfield, hit .333 with 20 homers and 122 RBI at Double-A in 2002, and followed that with a .310, 9 HR, 68 RBI season in 393 at bats at Triple-A last year.

Baltimore Orioles: Many publications have been listing LHP Erik Bedard as a top Oriole' prospect. Bedard, who was once the top prospect in the Baltimore system, is back from Tommy John surgery and is still looked upon as a future #2 to #3 starter in the bigs. He can throw four pitches, including a low 90's fastball and big curve. If not for Matt Riley and Erick Dubose, he would be competing for the #4 or #5 job in Baltiore this spring, but he'll probably start at AAA. He's still young, only 25, and is a breathing lefty, and could put himself back on the radar screan of other teams this summer. Look for the Orioles to trade 2B Mike Fontenot, he had a great last year in AA after getting his eyes checked, and with the Orioles already having Brian Roberts and Jerry Harriston in Charm City, he's likely to go while his stock is high.

Boston Red Sox: Although there is no baseball being played at Fenway, the Red Sox farmhands are keeping busy in warmer places. This year's winter leagues produced mixed results for Sox prospects. In the Dominican League, Hanley Ramirez struggled in limited action, batting a lowly .182 in 22 at bats. Both Anastacio Martinez and Rene Miniel had problems getting people out in the limited action they saw out of the bullpen. On the bright side, however, is recently signed Edwin Almonte. Almonte went 2-1 with a 1.56 ERA in 18 relief appearances. He more than anyone else, with the exception of David Ortiz, looks like the only member of the Red Sox organization that is ready to help the big club.

Kansas City Royals: Andres Blanco didn't make the splash in his first full minor league season that a lot of scouts thought he would. Blanco hit just .244 and swiped just 13 bases in 20 attempts. Blanco does have a good eye at the plate and used 44 walks to push his OBP to the .330 mark. With Angel Berroa at the major league level, the Royals are under no pressure to push Blanco along too quickly and will give him time to develop.

New York Yankees: Jayson Drobiak led all Yankee minor-leaguers in homeruns in 2003 while playing for the Battle Creek Yankees in low-A ball. Drobiak's 30 dingers also led the Midwest League and were the fifth most throughout the minors. More exciting than the homeruns is his average, the lefty first baseman hit .293. Drobiak was originally drafted by the Tigers in 1999, but was released after he hit .224 in his second season. The Yankees found him in the Frontier League and signed him during the 2002 season. Drobiak's only drawback is his strikeouts. He whiffed 120 times in 128 games this season, but on the plus side, he stole a surprising 18 bases!

Seattle Mariners: At the age of 26, Willie Bloomquist may not be the youngest of prospects anymore, but he remains someone that the Mariners hope will one day become the team's top utility man. Given the opportunity to play in Puerto Rico this fall with the Mayaguez Indians, Bloomquist took advantage by having one of the highest batting averages on the team at .289. He also played at four different spots in the field and committed a mere two errors in the process.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The D'Rays are anxiously awaiting the 2004 minor league season when Delmon Young makes his professional debut. Young signed too late to play in 2003. Young, who has said he believes he can be in the majors this season, could start the season as high as AA and with a $5.8 million guaranteed contract, Tampa Bay likely wants him in the majors as soon as possible. If the Arizona Fall League, where Young hit .417, is any indication, the D'Rays will be making room for their 2003 1st round pick before long.

Texas Rangers: If the Rangers are going to compete in 2004, they are going to need some of their young arms to step up and pitch well while eating up innings, guys like Juan Dominguez, Colby Lewis, Ricardo Rodriguez and Ryan Snare. Even after the free agent signings of Kenny Rogers and Jeff Nelson, the Rangers remain thin on the mound. In the outfield, expect Laynce Nix to build on a strong 2003 stint in the major. Only 23, the left-handed rightfielder has a terrific arm and smacked 8 homers and batted in 30 runs in just 184 plate at bats. He will need to cut down on his strikeouts, having fanned 53 times a season ago with the big league club.

Toronto Blue Jays: Bringing Justin Speier to Toronto was a good move for the Jays, but it was also costly. Toronto had to include Sandy Nin, who went 7-9, 2.87 in 24 starts at Charleston and New Haven in 2003. They also sent lefty Mark Hendrickson to Colorado as part of the deal and the Rockies sent Hendrickson on to Tampa Bay. The 23 year old Nin had progressed nicely through the organization after signing as an amateur free agent in 2001 and going 11-1, 1.12 in the Dominican Summer League for Toronto that year.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Edgar Gonzalez continues to make the case that he belongs in the Diamondback's rotation very soon. He is 2-1 for the Hermosillo Orange Growers in the Mexcan Pacific League, with a 2.50 ERA in 4 starts, 18.0 IP, 15 hits, 1 homers, 2 BB, 15 SO, and .227 BAA. Soon to turn 21 years old, however, he probably will end up on the AAA team to start in 2004 and get more seasoning, with a chance to move up if there are any injuries or slow starts. Edgar moved from AA to AAA to MLB in 2003 and was 8-7 with a 3.75 ERA in 19 starts for Tucson in 2003 in his stint in AAA, and 2-1 with a 4.91 ERA in 2 starts and 7 relief appearances for the Diamondbacks. With his excellent control reducing the number of walks he gives up, he looks to get a look at the MLB level sooner than later.

Chicago Cubs: Angel Guzman was on his way to a late season callup, and some big league playing time with the Chicago Cubs in 2003 before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. The torn labrum was better than many expected, and Guzman is coming along very well at the Cubs spring training facility. Bad news for NL opponents. Guzman has a minor league career ERA of 2.35, and has never struggled at any level, dominating opponents in A and AA ball. Last year in spring training, Guzman went 16 innings with a 1.13 ERA. He stuff baffled opponents, as it has at every level. He will be a solid producer for the Cubs in the future, but don't look for him to open the season in Chicago. Hendry does not want to rush Guzman back to pitching, and will let Juan Cruz (or possibly Greg Maddux) have the last spot in the Cubs rotation. However, Guzman will be in Wrigley Field soon, and has the potential to be an All-Star caliber pitcher.

Cincinnati Reds: Phil Dumatrait might be able to handle a major league relief role right now, but the Reds have bigger plans for the lefty. Instead of rushing Dumatrait, it's likely that he'll start at AA and pitch in Chattanooga's starting rotation. Dumatrait has a major league curveball, but needs to work on his changeup and his control. In other news, popular former Red Chris Sabo rejoined the organization and will work with minor league hitters at Class A Dayton and AAA Louisville before starting his "day job" as the hitting coach for Billings (Rookie) in the Pioneer League this summer.

Colorado Rockies: Jeff Francis, the ninth overall pick in 2002, put up great numbers in a hitter's league in '03. The lefty went 12-9, sporting a 3.47 ERA for Visalia. In 160 innings he struck out 153, while walking 45. At 22, he combines a 92 MPH fastball with solid off-speed pitches while still working on his breaking ball.

Florida Marlins: Even though the 2003 season was a bust for Justin Wayne, the Marlins haven't given up on the young right-hander. Wayne was a dismal 4-12 at AAA Albuquerque, but his 4.24 ERA wasn't too bad. Wayne also failed miserably at the major league level, going 0-2 for Florida. Part of the problem was a strained rotator cuff that the Marlins believe will be back to 100 percent for 2004.

Houston Astros: Rosario filled in for Roy Oswalt in 2003 for two starts while Oswalt was on the DL. He pitched very well, but then Rosario himself ended up being hurt. He had shoulder surgery preformed, and is expected to be back with the team in time for Spring Training. The biggest problem for Rosario has been the injuries, and despite being injured twice in the last three years, he has pitched well enough to be considered as a spot starter for the Astros. He will have to prove in Spring Training that his arm is all healed to have any chance of opening the season with the big league club, although the acquisition of Roger Clemons would lead a person to believe he will be back at AAA. Another year of seasoning and getting healthy should help Rosario, and look for him to compete for a job in 2005, however if an injury were to occur, he could be called upon to spot start for the Astros in 2004.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Joel Guzman (SS) was given a record bonus when the Dodgers signed him out of the Dominican Republic. He is one of those dime a dozen prospects that has Hall of Fame potential but will more likely never reach it. He could be the next Arod, though he is likely to move to another position. The Dodgers aggressively promoted him to High A even though his numbers in Low A suggested that he did not warrant the promotion, which did not do him any good. The good news is that he is only 19 and still has plenty of time. He has big time power potential but has pretty bad strike-zone judgment, which he going to need to improve to be a regular in the MLB, let alone a superstar.

Milwaukee Brewers: Former JuCo player of the year, Manny Parra, walked just 24 in 2003 while striking out 117. The lefthander has a ceiling of a potential #2 starter in the Majors. He sports a 90+ fastball with a nice curveball and changeup. Parra showed his dominance by going 11-2, 2.73 as a 20 year old in Beloit.

Montreal Expos: Chad Cordero made his professional debut at High-A Brevard County in 2003 and jumped from there to the majors. He has excellent stuff and may stick with the Expos in 2004, getting work as a setup man out of the bullpen before he claims his rightful job as the team's closer. Cordero was taken with the Expos first pick (20th overall) in the 2003 Draft and was the second member of the draft to reach the majors, following Cincinnati's Ryan Wagner. With Rocky Biddle a little shaky in the closer's role, Cordero, who went 1-0, 1.64 with 1 save for Montreal in 2003, is an insurance policy.

New York Mets: Lastings Milledge, the Mets' first round draft pick last season, has shown a terrific attitude and a solid work ethic from the Instructional League last season to the mini-camp this winter. It's starting to pay off too as he routinely sprayed line drives around the outfield and made consistent solid contact in his workout sessions at mini-camp on Friday. He has demonstrated the impressive bat speed that led to his high rating prior to last season's draft. Milledge was consistently one of the last players off the field all week at Mini Camp and continued to impress onlookers with his brilliant athleticism, especially his speed.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Lefthander Sean Burnett entered 2003 as the number one pitching prospect and did nothing to hurt his stock during the season. Burnett went 14-6 with a 3.21 ERA for Altoona, a "normal" ERA after posting a 1.80 mark with Lynchburg the year before. Amazingly he only allowed two homers all season long. Burnett will continue through the chain and likely start the season in Triple-A.

Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies added some insurance behind the plate when they signed A.J. Hinch to a minor league deal. Hinch, who has some major league experience, will start the season at AAA Scranton giving the Phillies a major league ready backup should anything happen to Mike Lieberthal or Todd Pratt at the major league level. The Phillies organization is sorely lacking in catching prospects since Johnny Estrada was dealt to Atlanta in the Kevin Millwood deal in December 2002.

San Diego Padres: Keep an eye on Billy Hogan. He is a 20 year old JuCo transfer that has a chance to jump up the San Diego Padres prospect list. Currently an infielder, Hogan will likely be transformed into a left fielder where his defense will need to be monitored. His OBP was a cool .419 in Eugene and he will start the year with Fort Wayne. Don't be too surprised if he is promoted to Lake Elsinore.

San Francisco Giants: Jason Ellison is currently blocked at the MLB level by five outfielders, but he is making himself more valuable as a trading chip or first call up if there is an injury. Playing for Lara Cardinales in the Venezuelan Winter League, he is hitting .283/.338/.317 with 8 runs in 60 AB. Ellison, who wowed the team last spring training, needs to make another good impression in 2004 as he turns 26 this year and is getting on the downside of prospect potential as he hits the back end of his 20's.

St. Louis Cardinals: John Gall spent the majority of his 2003 season in AAA, but the Cardinals have strong hopes that he can open the season on the big league club. The team recently added Gall to their 40-man roster, however with the expected move of Albert Pujols to first base, Gall will probably not receive a significant amount of playing time in 2004. He has always hit well in the minors, after playing at Stanford, the 26 year old has a .303 average during his combined minor league years. The Cardinals played Gall at third base some during winter ball, so he would provide them some flexibility that their bench really needs. If Gall does not break Spring with the club, he will return to AAA, but expect a call up soon.

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