Arizona Diamondbacks: Dustin Glant is a hard throwing 22 year old right-hander who was selected in the 7th round by the Diamondbacks in 2003. The 6' 2" 200 pound reliever for the 2003 Purdue University Boilermakers went 2-0 with 4.38 ERA in 24 relief appearances with 5 saves. He was on the wild side, with 10 walks in 26.2 IP, but he also only allowed 26 hits and struck out 26. He improved greatly pitching for the Yakima Bears in the Northwest League, going 1-2 with 1.85 ERA in 34 relief appearances and 18 saves. In 34.0 IP, he gave up only 19 hits, 2 homers, 9 walks, and struck out 31. Given his penchant for wildness in his career, he'll probably start in lower Class A to build on his success but could move up fast with good performances.
Atlanta Braves: While there's still a long way for Jeff Francoeur to travel, many scouts believe that he may be the best outfielder to come through the Braves system since the '70s. That says a lot. Francoeur was the Braves first round pick in 2002. Last season, he hit .281 with 14 homeruns and also stole 14 bases at low-A Rome and the Braves believe those numbers are just starting points for the 20 year old. Francoeur gave up a football scholarship to play baseball, especially after the Braves were the ones to draft the Lilburn, Georgia native. He'll start at High-A, but will likely move along to AA before the end of the 2004 season.
Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have always held Juan Cruz in high regards when it comes to their prospects. He was given a chance to be a starter at the MLB level back in 2002, but a lack of run support, and an inability to win, despite a good ERA. Cruz has been shuffled between the starters' role and the reliever role for the Cubs over the years, but he seems to do better as a starter. The problem for Cruz is that the Cubs have plenty of very good starters, and need more help in the bullpen than anything. Cruz, however, has not been able to pitch well out of the bullpen on a consistent basis. His biggest problem has nothing to do with his mechanics, but is a problem with his head. Cruz has not seemed mentally tough enough to pitch in the big leagues, as he often gave up the big inning, especially after an error. Cruz was slated to start the season as the Cubs fifth starter, until the Cubs picked up free agent Greg Maddux. Cruz will still have a chance to stay with the big league club if he can prove himself as a reliever. If Cruz is unreliable in the bullpen again, look for the Cubs to trade the 23 year old right-hander to a team that needs a starter. The Cubs have always felt good about Cruz, and still remain high on the young pitcher, but he will have to prove himself in 2004 to remain on top of their prospect radar. The Cubs have a lot of young pitching in their farm system that will push Cruz to the side if he doesn't perform well.
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds are still scouring the list of unsigned players for any pitching help that they can find. Their latest addition is Sean Bergman. Cincinnati found Bergman on the list of minor league free agents that had not yet found a home. He's not going to appear on a list of top prospects, but the young right-hander did post a 4.69 ERA at AAA Albuquerque last season and struck out 101 hitters in 170 innings, while walking just 44. For an organization that is desperate for pitching, those numbers make Bergman well qualified for a shot at the major league roster this spring.
Colorado Rockies: You may have heard his name before in this segment, but this is a reminder about Aaron Miles. Miles is likely the only rookie the Rockies are counting on to be an integral part of the team. Two years ago, he was the MVP of the Double-A Southern League. He had a solid season at Triple-A in 2003. He's a hard-nosed player who has quality at-bats. He will face off in a battle for the second base job with Damian Jackson.
Florida Marlins: Venezuela has become a hot-bed for finding prospects and the Marlins did just that when they discovered Yorman Bazardo. Originally used as a reliever, the Marlins switched Bazardo to the rotation last season with great success. Bazardo ended his season the same way he began it, with a 17 inning scoreless streak and finished the season with a 3.12 ERA at low-A Greensboro. The Marlins believe that Bazardo will add a little more to his mid-90s fastball and hope that his curve ball develops, which would make him outright dangerous on the mound.
Houston Astros: The Astros tried to fill the left handed specialist role with three different players last year, and Mike Gallo preformed best for the Astros, as he was with the team for the last 2+ months of the seasons. Gallo will turn 27 in April, and he hopes to be able to secure a spot on the Houston roster this spring. Gallo had a 3.00ERA last year, winning one game and losing none. He spent the majority of the year in the minors, splitting his time between AA Round Rock and AAA New Orleans. Gallo is proof that a lefty with a pulse always gets a chance, but Gallo is a pitcher that may have deserved one. He went to the AFL this year to develop his changeup, and the Astros feel that it is improved from last year. He will compete for the last bullpen spot for the Astros, and as long as he continues to pitch well, he should make the team. He will have to get righties out better to become a sure thing though, as righties hit .305 off him last year. Gallo certainly will not replace Billy Wagner as a dominant left handed pitcher for the Astros, but he could make the team and contribute positively for the Astros in 2004.
Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers' 2003 4th round pick, OF Xavier Paul is only 18 years old (soon to be 19) but he got off to a great start as a pro. Starting the year in high school, he smoothly shifted to the pros by hitting .307/.384/.489/.873 for the Ogden Raptors with 15 doubles, 6 triples and 7 homers in 264 AB, scoring 60 runs and driving in 47. He also stole 11 base in 15 attempts. His only negative was 58 strikeouts. Since he's so young, he'll probably start out 2004 in low-A ball but would move up fast if performance warrants.
Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers farm system is filled with top position players, but they have a couple of good arms coming along too, namely RHP Mike Jones. Jones was shut down mid last season due to elbow troubles, but assuming he can resume his form from the beginning of last year (where he went 7-2 with a 2.40 ERA at AA), Jones could make his big league appearance sometime this season. Jones is mostly a 1-2 fastball-curveball pitcher, but both are very quality pitches that should allow him success at the big league level - assuming he doesn't need Tommy John surgery.
Montreal Expos: You have to love Randy Knorr. At age 35, the veteran catcher decided to play one more season, especially after the Expos traded catcher Michael Barrett. Knorr hasn't played in the majors since 1991 when he played in 34 games with the Expos. Since then, he's been an insurance policy for Montreal, playing at AAA, hitting as high as .304 last season. Knorr's shot at the majors took a hit when the Expos signed Gregg Zaun, but hey, who knows, right? If persistence counts for anything, Knorr will have a definite edge at a major league spot.
New York Mets: RHP Tyler Yates was one of the Mets' top prospects for years and seemed destined to be the Mets' closer of the future when he needed Tommy John surgery a little over a year ago. Yates came back from the injury last season and was thrown into the starting rotation in the minors to get his reps back up in a hurry to build up his arm strength. It remains to be seen whether or not Yates will be uses as a starter or a reliever by the Mets. He seems better suited for the relief role and could challenge for a roster spot in Spring Training.
Philadelphia Phillies: Technically, Bud Smith is not a minor leaguer. He's on the Phillies 40 man roster and since he's out of options, the Phillies would have to sneak him through waivers to send him back to AAA. The problem is that there are no starting jobs left for Phillies pitchers and since he is recovering from arm problems, the Phillies are slow to use him as a reliever. Smith came to the Phillies in the Scott Rolen deal, but has been damaged goods ever since he arrived. Word is that he's healthy now and the Phillies are optimistic that he'll at least give them a tough decision this spring.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pittsburgh Pirates are working on revamping their roster, and that includes trading one of the top Catchers in the game - Jason Kendall. Why? Because J.R. House, a very highly touted prospect for many years, appears to finally be healthy and ready to contribute soon, probably this season. House has been slowed by injuries the past couple years, but he tore apart pitching in the Arizona Fall League and have made the Pirates believers that he can be a full-time Catcher at the big league level - moreso because of his bat than his defense behind the plate. House could at some point see a move to another position due to his less-than-spectacular defense, but his bat is definitely major league caliber and will be finding itself in the Pirates' lineup sometime real soon.
San Diego Padres: The Friars figure to have only two rookies contributing on a regular basis in '04, Khalil Greene and little known Akinori Otsuka. Otsuka, a righty, was signed as a free agent from Japan. The 32-year-old was 1-3 with a 2.09 ERA and 17 saves with the Chunichi Dragons last year with an 11-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (five walks in 43 innings). Although he figures to be a setup man behind RHPs Trevor Hoffman and Rod Beck in the Padres bullpen, Akinori could become the closer if Hoffman doesn't rebound from two rounds of 2003 shoulder surgery and Beck can't recapture the lightning of last season's 20-for-20 save record. Jim Callis of Baseball America told us he slotted Otsuka at #3 overall on the prospect list.
San Francisco: The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes announced recently that a quartet of 2002 Volcanoes have been ranked among the Giants' Top 10 prospects by Baseball America. Daniel Ortmeier was ranked 4th, Kevin Correia was 6th, Travis Ishikawa was 7th, and Fred Lewis was 9th. According to the Volcanoes' press release, Baseball America said that Ortmeier has the organization's best combination of tools and skills, that Correia is only average but his aggressiveness and fearlessness makes up for that, that Ishikawa did not have a consistent approach at the plate, leading to hot and cold streaks, but he has a smooth left-handed swing, and that Lewis is very raw but very fast and needs more batting experience to translate his raw power into game power.
St. Louis Cardinals: Bo Hart busted onto the scene for the Cardinals in 2003, and it seemed like he couldn't be stopped during his first month in the league. The 27 year old out of Gonzaga University was filling in for the injured Fernando Vina, and the Cardinal Nation fell in love with his hard play, and team first attitude. Unfortunately for Hart, after a hot first month in the league, he really began to struggle. He hit .277 with 4 homers and 28 RBI's for the Cardinals last year as he played half the season there, as well as half the season at AAA Memphis. The Cardinals signed Marlon Anderson to replace Vina at second base, and for now it looks like Hart will either be a utility man, or back in AAA for 2004. He could surprise again though, as expectations are not high for Anderson. Hart could be a good defensive replacement for the second baseman, as well as at shortstop. Hart would be better off either having a starting job at the MLB level or at the AAA level instead of being a utility backup. 2004 will be an important year for Hart, as this is the first year that he will come into Spring Training with the big league club, and high expectations. Hart can perform well, but do not expect him to be an all star at second base. He could perform admirably for the Cards, but he will not be anything extraordinary for them.
Anaheim Angels:RHP Bobby Jenks may not be a factor in '04, but he could be one of the top pitching prospects in the game very soon. His fastball is said to be consistently in the upper 90s. Jenks went 7-2 with a 2.17 ERA in '03. He also struck out 103 in just 83 innings of work.
Baltimore Orioles: OF Val Majewski quietly had one of the finer seasons for the O's farm system in 2003, hitting 33 doubles with 12 HRs and 68 RBI. Majewski has an excellent batting eye, good control of the strike zone, and emerging power. Also stealing 10 bases in '03, he is viewed as a "can't miss prospect" who plays a very good defensive outfield. He seems set to the start the 2004 season with AA Bowie.
Boston Red Sox: Outfielder David Murphy might not have had the best of numbers while at Sarasota, but the brass of the organization has high expectations set on the twenty-two-year-old. Drafted seventeenth overall in last June's amateur draft, scouts have begun to love his patience at the plate and his solid understanding of the strike zone. He currently has the best chance of anyone in the system to play centerfield at Fenway Park on a regular basis, something the club hopes he can do when Johnny Damon's four-year, $31 million deal is up following the 2005 season. He started his professional career at short season Lowell, finishing at .346 (27-for-78) with 4 doubles, 0 homers, 13 RBI, 16 BB, and 9 SO. At Hi-A, he hit at a .242 clip (37-for-153) with 5 doubles, 1 homer, 18 RBI, 20 BB, and 33 SO. Based on his struggles at Sarasota, anticipate him to start 2004 there with a mid-season promotion before the year is through.
Chicago White Sox:OF Jeremy Reed is considered one of the top outfield prospects in the game but is likely still at least a year away. All Reed did last season was lead the entire minor league circuit with a combined .373 batting average and .453 on-base percentage at Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, earning him Topps Minor League Player of the Year honors. Reed also hit 11 homers and grabbed 45 stolen bases.
Cleveland Indians:LHP Jason Stanford was 10-4, 3.43 in 20 starts at Triple-A Buffalo last year and was 1-3, 3.60 in 13 late season appearances with the Indians. He could start the 2004 season as the club's No. 4 or 5 starter. OF Grady Sizemore, the top prospect in the Indians' minor league system, will start the season at Triple-A Buffalo but is projected as a Kirk Gibson/Darin Erstad type gamer who could make his major league debut sometime in 2004. Former No. 1 pick RHP Jeremy Guthrie is a candidate for the rotation in the second half of the season, after he smoothes the wrinkles from a turbulent half-season at Buffalo last year in which he went 4-9, 6.52 after dominating (6-2, 1.44) Eastern League hitters at Double-A Akron before his promotion.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers top pitching prospect at low-A West Michigan last season was hurler Joel Zumaya. But it was another starter, LHP Jon Connolly, that dominated the competition. Unlike Zumaya, Connolly isn't a dominating pitcher. He doesn't have a great fastball, and he won't overpower anyone. But, that didn't stop Connolly from going an amazing 16-3 with a 1.41 ERA. Now, Connolly doesn't have incredible make-up, but it's hard to argue with that type of success. Connolly will make the move to high-A Lakeland this season, but don't expect a huge dropoff - Connolly showed the ability that make many believe he can be a middle-of-the rotation starter for any big league club.
Kansas City Royals: Mitch Maier grew up in the shadow of the University of Michigan and was invited to be a walk-on with their football team, but turned it down. Instead, Maier went to Toledo, where they wanted him to play baseball. When Royals scouts watched Maier, he reminded them of Twins prospect Joe Mauer and quickly pushed him up on their list of players that they were interested in getting. In fact, they pushed him so far that he became their first round pick in 2003. In his professional debut season, all Maier did was hit .350 and drive in 45 runs in Rookie ball. His defense at both third base and the outfield is average, but the Royals believe it's at least good enough to stay high on Maier's future.
Minnesota Twins: Minnesota's minor league system has some great prospects, but then again, it has some holes. Actually, most teams would tell you that they could always use more shortstop prospects and the Twins did something about it by trading Brian Buchanan to San Diego for Jason Bartlett. The move gave Minnesota a solid shortstop prospect, who has gotten better and better. Bartlett will move to AAA this season and his timing is perfect, since major league shortstop Christian Guzman is signed only through this season. Another impressive season for Bartlett and he could take over the major league job in 2005.
New York Yankees: There has been so much talk about the trade of Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. What everyone is seemingly forgetting about is the great talent the Rangers got in exchange in Alfonso Soriano and the ever-famous "Player to be Named Later". Word has come out of Yankees camp with the name of four of the five prospects the Rangers will get to choose from: SS Joaquin Arias, P Ramon Ramirez, 2B Robinson Cano, and OF Rudy Guillen....all four are in the top 10 among Yankees prospects. The educated guess at this moment is that the Rangers will select 19-year old SS Joaquin Arias. Arias has five-tool talent, is excellent defensively, and possesses raw power that projects quite well.
Oakland Athletics: Rookie Bobby Crosby is under the gun this year. Crosby is one of the reasons the A's did not actively pursue their own free agent, Miguel Tejada. Crosby will be thrown into the deep end, and the A's will find out quickly if he sinks or swims. GM Billy Beane hasn't showed patience with rookies in the past -- see Jose Ortiz and Carlos Pena -- so it will be interesting to see the reaction if Crosby continues a career pattern of slow starts. Still he hit .308 last year in the Pacific League with 22 homers and 90 RBI's.
Seattle Mariners: February brings up many questions of an organization's minor league system. How can they help the big club? Will any break camp and go north? Can they adequately fill holes during the year if need be? The answers to these questions for the M's are as follows: By staying healthy, probably not and yes, in a limited role. The biggest question on top prospects is how will they perform after being challenged at a higher level. The Mariners have several high profile prospects slated for promotions to start 2004 and many will be seeing time in Triple-A. Starting pitchers Clint Nageotte, Rett Johnson and Travis Blackley, outfielders Chris Snelling and Jamal Strong, and blue-chip shortstop Jose Lopez are all expected to begin their seasons at Tacoma. The Rainiers lineup could also boast of bashers such as 3B Justin Leone, 1B A.J. Zapp, 3B Greg Dobbs, and OF Greg Jacobs.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Tampa Bay finally came to terms with two of their minor league players in Jorge Sosa and Antonio Perez. Sosa - a young, right-hander - struggled at AAA Durham last season, but Perez - a second baseman - had decent AAA numbers for the Durham Bulls. Perez hit .284 and played near dazzling defense at times. It's likely that both will be back at AAA, but especially in the case of Perez, he could be a mid-season addition if there are any injuries or slumps at the major league level.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers have an opportunity to get better really fast if they make a few good decisions this spring. The acquisition of Alfonso Soriano and a prospect yet to be named, puts the Rangers in a position they haven't been in for three seasons. They now have trade bait that could land them a high-quality starting pitcher. Soriano packaged with expendable prospects such as Adrian Gonzalez could return the Rangers a solid starter and a SS to fill the hole A-Rod left wide open. It's time for the Rangers to use the system full of offense to land proven pitching.
Toronto Blue Jays: While baseball lost Drew Henson to his love of playing football, Gabe Gross has no plans to return to his football heritage. Gross was the starting quarterback for Auburn in his freshman year, but decided to pursue baseball. Good move. The 2001 first-round pick split his time between AA and AAA last season, hitting a combined .299 with 12 homeruns. Toronto needs Gross to cut down on his strikeouts (109 in 2003) or develop more power to at least make the strikeouts worth while. Odds are that he's not going to develop too much more power, but Toronto believes Gross can be a solid major league player before too long.