MLB Insider: Prospect Report

In the battle for the final spots in the Phillies bullpen, the combatants have been so good, that Josh Hancock's stumble against Pittsburgh might cost him. A young Cubs pitcher looks to fill big shoes - again. In Houston, a young shortstop may be missing his chance at the majors. The Cardinals have a bunch of kids looking for work. And, in Boston, Terry Francona gets a long look at the Red Sox loaded farm system.


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Arizona Diamondbacks: Feliz Jose's torn Achilles' tendon is a bad break for him but a good break for Baby-Back Chad Tracy, who is competing for the fifth and final spot on the bench with Julio Ramirez, a non-roster invitee but who has played 3 years of AAA already, and veteran utility player Donnie Sadler. Chad is doing his best to make the decision hard, hitting .340 and slugging .447 in 47 AB. Tracey, only soon to be 24 years old, hit .324/.372/.456/.828 in the PCL last season with 31 doubles, 4 triples, and 10 homers in 522 AB. He scored 91 runs and drove in 80. He also struck out only 52 times, which is a very low rate for a baseball player since the Babe came along.

Atlanta Braves: The Braves got some good news when Tampa Bay returned pitcher Alec Zumwalt, who they had taken in the Rule 5 Draft, to the Braves. The Braves assigned Zumwalt to AAA Richmond. The D'Rays hardly gave Zumwalt a chance, using him for just 2 innings, resulting in an 18.00 ERA. Last season, Zumwalt pitched at High A Myrtle Beach and AA Greenville and went a combined 6-3, 1.98 pitching 41 games in relief.

Chicago Cubs: Sergio Mitre had about the toughest task that a pitcher could ask for in 2003. Fill in for ace phenom Mark Prior against the stellar offense of the Atlanta Braves. Well, as could have been expected, Mitre struggled against the high-powered Braves, and suffered a bad loss. Mitre was just the second player that the Cubs drafted in 2001 to reach the major league levels, and the first was the man he filled in for in Mark Prior. Mitre may be called upon again this April to fill in once again for Prior who is supposed to start the season on the DL after suffering a strained Achilles tendon. Mitre has been excellent this Spring, which could catapult him past a struggling Juan Cruz to fill in for the Cubs. Mitre has appeared in 4 games this spring, starting 2 of them, while amassing a 2.45 ERA. He's thrown 11 total innings with 8 strikeouts and only 5 walks allowed. Mitre should move back down to AAA once Prior is healthy again, but the Cubs are hoping that he will help until then. He is expected to make his third start of the Spring this Wednesday, and if all goes well, Mitre will be making the trip to Cincinnati with the Cubs this April.

Cincinnati Reds: Forgive the Reds if they become a bit more wary about selecting pitchers in the Rule 5 draft. Recent history has been disastrous. First there was Keith Glauber. Then there was Luke Prokopec. Now it is D.J. Mattox. Mattox, a Rule 5 pick from the Mets organization last December, underwent Tommy John surgery Friday (March 19) in Cincinnati to repair a torn ligament in his elbow, making him another Rule 5 pitching catastrophe for the Reds. He will miss at least a year. The Reds drafted Prokopec from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2002 Rule 5 draft, and he has yet to yet to throw a pitch for Cincinnati because of shoulder problem. He was signed to a minor league contract this winter and is expected to begin his comeback at Triple-A Louisville. The champion, though, was Glauber, a 1998 pick whom the Reds drafted from St. Louis. He was around for three seasons and contributed zero before disappearing from the game.

Colorado Rockies: Rule V pickup Luis Gonzalez has played only six games above Class AA, but the Rockies love the kid and think he might have a chance to stick. He can play a variety of positions on the field and that versatility adds to his value. Gonzalez has ten hits in 13 games this spring and is playing superb defense. He saved a run in the Rockies 1-0 shutout of the Padres on Monday.

Florida Marlins: Last week the Marlins made several roster moves by re-assigning the following players back to the minors; RHPs Trevor Hutchinson, Delvin James, Marty McLeary, Mike Nannini, OF Eric Reed, LHP Cedrick Bowers RHP Byrce Florie and UTL Felipe Crespo. The Marlins also optioned OF Chip Ambres to Triple A Albuquerque and IF Josh Wilson to Double A Carolina.

Houston Astros: Eric Bruntlett saw a little bit of action for the Astros in 2003, getting in 54 at bats, but spent most of his time as the shortstop for the New Orleans Zephyrs. Bruntlett attended Stanford University before being drafted by the Astros in 2000. Bruntlett has a chance at making the Astros in 2004, and they are giving him every chance to prove that he can do it in Spring Training this year. Bruntlett has had 28 at bats this spring, but is only hitting .179, with no extra base hits. He has just one RBI so far, but does have a stolen base. Bruntlett had 35 stolen bases in 2002, and the Astros are hoping that he could provide them with some speed off the bench in 2004. His status as a prospect will be fading quickly though, as he will be 26 in May. The Astros are hoping to keep him on the team when they break camp, but it would be best for him to improve his numbers so far in Spring Training.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers began cutting down their roster last week. Among the players shipped across Dodgertown to the minor league camp were three of the Dodgers' top prospects --right-hander Joel Hanrahan, outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and first baseman James Loney. But Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said Loney will make the trip back to California with the team for the annual preseason Freeway Series, three exhibition games against the Anaheim Angels. Loney's spring performance earned him "the right and opportunity to do that," Tracy said. "It's a statement to the player as to his accomplishments and how far he's come in a short period of time," Tracy said. Loney, 19, has hit .500 (11 for 22) with five doubles, one home run and seven RBI in 13 exhibition games this spring and is likely ticketed for Double-A this season.

Montreal Expos: Suddenly, Peter Bergeron is back among the baseball living. The Expos had pretty much written Bergeron off and he came into camp basically as a last chance kind of player. He has been so impressive he could wind up not only making the team, but also stealing the center field job and leadoff spot from Endy Chavez. Bergeron is hitting .447 this spring and has stolen 3 bases for Montreal. Meanwhile, Chavez has been hampered by a sore neck and is hitting just .194 in Grapefruit League games.

New York Mets: Two of the better Mets' hitting prospects suffered injuries this past week. OF Bobby Malek suffered a sprained ankle in minor league camp while stealing second base in an intrasquad game last Friday. But the big news this past week was OF Lastings Milledge breaking a bone in his hand trying to bunt. Milledge's injury is expected to not only keep him out of camp the rest of spring, but it appears most likely that Milledge will make his 2004 debut with the short-season Brooklyn Cyclones and not the full-season Capital City Bombers.

Philadelphia Phillies: In the battle for the final bullpen job, Josh Hancock stumbled against the Pirates. Coming into the game with a 1.29 ERA, Hancock was touched for two earned runs in two innings, basically because of his wildness (he issued three walks). The outing pushed his ERA to 3.00, which isn't bad, but the competition is stiff. David Coggin hasn't allowed a run in 10 innings of work and Amaury Telemaco has a 1.93 ERA and a save to his credit. Bud Smith seems to have fallen well off the pace and has a 6.31 ERA. There are two openings and Coggin, Telemaco and Smith are all out of options.

San Diego Padres: Dennis Tankersley earned a ton of praise from the coaching staff for his work in spring training. Yes, he was sent down to Portland, but his renaissance could land him a call up sometime this season. Tank pitched very well and seems to be gaining his confidence back after working with Darren Balsley. He was once thought of as a better pitcher than Jake Peavy and is working towards reclaiming his status as a future Padre starter.

San Francisco Giants: Giants final position spot on the roster could depend on whether Pedro Feliz can play SS competently as a backup. Though Alou has said that he is not comfortable with Feliz as backup, if Feliz was made the backup SS, it would mean that the Giants would not have to use Cody Ransom to fill the final spot and instead could take someone who is a better hitter. If so, Francisco Santos and Brian Dallimore seem to be the front-runners for that position. Francisco, who was dropped off the roster last season after a cup of coffee with the big club, was a spring training non-roster invitee who has taken advantage of the extra at-bats that injuries to others have given him, hitting .344 and slugging .468 in 32 AB. Dallimore, who was the batting champ in AAA last season and a fellow non-roster invitee, is not far behind, hitting .323 and slugging .484 in 31 AB.

St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals have a slew of competition going on this Spring, and at least two of the spots being fought over have minor leaguers trying to take their spots. The Cardinals picked up Hector Luna in the rule V draft and he will need to stay on their 25-man roster for the whole season. If he does not remain on the roster, he will have to be returned to the Indians for $25,000. Luna has seen time at SS and 3B this spring. He and Bo Hart have had the most at bats so far this spring for the Cardinals, and the two men are probably competing for the last spot. Hart is hitting .220, and Luna is hitting .244, neither very impressive, so the Cardinals recently traded for Tony Womack to shore up their middle infield. Womack had offseason surgery and will not be back until early May, so at least one of the two men should break camp with the club. Hart is competing with Marlon Anderson for the starting second base spot, however neither man has emerged as a clear choice yet. Hart still has options, and would be the popular choice to return to AAA, however when Womack is ready to return to the roster, Luna may have to be returned to the Indians.


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. The problem this year is the Angels rotation is already stacked and they may be looking to get rid of one starter before the season opens.

Baltimore Orioles: Eric Dubose, a virtual lock to land the fourth starter's position for the O's, allowed three runs on six hits in five innings to pick up his team-leading third loss of the spring. Dubose was very committed over the winter, shedding 20 pounds in an effort to win a spot in the rotation after a good showing in his 10 starts for Baltimore last season. He has looked a lot better than his spring record indicates and could be a diamond in the rough in 2004.

Boston Red Sox: Terry Francona is beginning to realize the talent Boston is beginning to gain in their farm system. That was evident on Monday when he praised outfielders David Murphy and Matt Murton, who both went 1-for-2 in the contest. The two demonstrated their offensive abilities, but the main thing the skipper noticed was their defense. Murphy, selected 17th overall in last June's amateur draft, and Murton, chosen 17th, stand as top prospects in the organization. Keep your eye on these two, who are expected to move right through the system together over the next few seasons.

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.

Kansas City Royals: Although RHP Zack Greinke is only 20 and has just one full year of professional experience, he will be given a legitimate look in spring training to earn a job. Greinke, the Royals' top pick in the 2002 draft, went 15-4 in the minors last year and is touted as the best pitching prospect in all the minors. He is already earning respect in many fantasy leagues as a potential sleeper and keeper.

Minnesota Twins: The Twins' top pitching candidate, RHP J.D. Durbin (15-5 in two minor-league stops last year), has been paired with Joey Mauer on minor league promotion track and will have a chance this spring to earn a big-league job. Otherwise, he'll open his first year at Triple-A and prepare for a big-league debut later in the season.

New York Yankees: OF Bubba Crosby, acquired from the Dodgers in the Robin Ventura trade, is having one of the better springs among all Yankees' players this year. Crosby hit .361 for AAA Las Vegas before being traded to New York to finish his season at Columbus last year and has continued his hot hitting the spring, culminating in an inside-the-park grand slam on Monday. Through Monday's action, Crosby is hitting .412 with this spring, leading the club in doubles with six, and second on the team in RBI with 11 (Matsui leads the team with 15). As great as he's been, Crosby is either headed to AAA Columbus for 2004 or he's going to be used to land another starting pitcher.

Oakland Athletics: The A's cut a number of players Sunday. They were P Joe Blanton, C Jeremy Brown, P Justin Lehr, INF Adam Morrissey, and P Mike Wood. Joe Blanton, who is the Rich Harden of 2004, did OK in spring, going 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA in three games and 8 IP with 10 hits. Ken Macha said that he is real close... Graham Koonce got himself noticed last year by winning the PCL MVP Award in his first season in AAA, leading the league in homers and RBIs. He continues to get notice, though many players block his path to 1B. He is hitting .316 this spring (.474 SLG) in 19 AB in what may be his swan song with the A's. He is reportedly in demand, because of his high OBP ways, by other GMs who were formerly in the A's organization, especially LA because of their need for a 1B now that Shawn Green is moving back to RF.

Seattle Mariners: -RHP Freddy Garcia --LHP Jamie Moyer --RHP Joel Pineiro --RHP Ryan Franklin --RHP Gil Meche These five pitchers made every start for Seattle last year, the first time since 1966 Los Angeles that a team needed only five starting pitchers over the course of a full season. Because of that, the Mariners don't have much room for newcomers to the rotation. And that's too bad because the club has lots of good young starting pitching, including LHP Travis Blackley (17-3 at Double-A San Antonio), RHP Rett Johnson (11-4 split between Double-A and Triple-A) and RHP Rafael Soriano, who was a starter in the minors (and in winter ball) but who is in the Mariners' bullpen for now.

Texas Rangers: CF Ramon Nivar (.345 at Double-A and Triple-A last year) is an infield convert who is too aggressive at the plate, but he's got amazing speed and if he shows good outfield instincts, he could push Nix in center or force him to a corner spot. 1B Adrian Gonzalez, the top pick in the 2000 draft, was acquired from Florida last July for RHP Ugueth Urbina. Though he struggled with Florida's Triple-A club (.216 in 139 at-bats), he did bat .294 at Double-A. He's got to develop his power to make it in the majors, though. He had just five homers in 449 minor league at-bats last year. He's liable to start the season at Triple-A but will be monitored closely as a DH possibility or first baseman, perhaps pushing 1B Mark Teixeira to the outfield.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Doug Waechter showed some character in his bid to win a spot in the D'Rays starting rotation. Weak fielding behind him against Boston pushed his pitch count high early in the game, but Waechter kept his composure and battled back to help make up for two errors and other weak defensive plays by his teammates. Waechter wound up allowing five earned runs in 4.1 innings of work, but Lou Piniella continues to be impressed by Waechter's poise and ability. The outing pushed Waechter's ERA from 3.60 to 6.77 and was Waechter's only shaky outing this spring.

Toronto Blue Jays: Friday the 19th felt like Friday the 13th for a number of Blue Jays prospects. Pitchers Jason Arnold , Justin McGowan, Francisco Rosario and Jason Durocher along with catcher Guillermo Quiroz, infielder Jorge Sequea and outfielders Alex Rios and Gabe Gross were all optioned out of camp. Arnold was the only pitcher among the group having a good spring. Sequea, who played at both AA and AAA last season was hitting .429 and had hoped to stick with the club as a utility infielder or possibly steal a starting job.

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