Down On The Farm 11/12

Take an in-depth lok at your favorite farm system or all the farm systems in TheInsiders' "Down On The Farm" for the first week of November. Pinstripes Plus members will be able to keep tabs on all the baseball prospects each week.

Anaheim Angels: The Arizona Fall League wasn't kind to Anaheim this year. After six weeks of play the only notable success was that only one Angel prospect suffered an injury. 1B Casey Kotchman, widely considered baseball's top prospect at the position, was sent home with a hamstring injury after just 13 games. Fellow Scottsdale Scorpions Jeff Mathis, 20, and Dallas McPherson, 23, are healthy but not performing. Mathis, one of baseball's top catching prospects, is struggling along at .149/.245/.170 with two RBI and just one extra-base hit in 53 plate appearances. McPherson, the top 3B prospect on many prospect lists heading into the 2004 season, is scuffling through the fall with a showing of .203/.244/.311 and one HR. Right-hander Tim Bittner, 23, sports a 3.65 ERA in 6 games, including two starts.

Baltimore Orioles: RHP Tim Corocan continues to struggle in the Arizona Fall League. In eight appearances - seven of them starts - Corocan is 0-4 with a 8.87 ERA and a ghastly 1.97 WHIP ratio. Corocan's biggest problem is his K:BB ratio, which stands at 0.67. He's walking more people than striking them out, and that isn't good. On the complete opposite side of the leaderboard, RHP Aaron Rakers continues to show off his stuff. He leads the league in wins with five, has a sterling 2.08 ERA and 0.92 WHIP, and is holding batters to just a .203 batting average. Rakers' success could lead to a long look in spring training to join Baltimore's 2004 rotation.

Boston Red Sox: 3B Heriberto Guzman of the GCL Red Sox and his .510 slugging percentage should start 2004 in Augusta. There's an outside chance that Hanley Ramirez, who struggled mightily against lefties, may go back to Augusta to start the new season. He and Guzman give Red Sox fans a lot of hope on the left side of the infield. OF Jeremy Owens continues to struggle with the strikeouts in the AFL, striking out 26 times in just 22 games.

Chicago White Sox: LHP Neal Cotts, who came over from the Oakland Athletics a year ago, came out of nowhere in 2003 to take over the helm as the Sox' top pitching prospect. Despite a dazzling year in AA Birmingham (2.16 ERA, 21 starts), Cotts struggled heavily with his control when he was placed on the 40-man roster in September, walking 17 batters in only 13.1 IP, spanning four starts. In limited AFL action this fall with the Peoria Javelinas, Cotts was winless with an 0-2 record and 4.64 ERA in only six starts. Cotts managed to improve somewhat in the AFL, walking 8 in 21.1 IP.

New York Yankees: Ferdin Tejada isn't producing as the starting shortstop for the Grand Canyon Rafters. After posting decent numbers in single-A this season (.320 OBP, .295 BA), Tejada has just a .262 OBP in the AFL. He has struck out 14 times compared to just two walks in 66 at bats. Ramon Ramirez, meanwhile, is still dominating. He has a 1.44 ERA and 0.92 WHIP as well as nearly 13 strikeouts for every walk. His final start of the fall season will be on Wednesday against the Desert Dogs.

Oakland A's: SS Mike Rouse and 1B Graham Koonce did not disappoint A's fans in their representation of Oakland for Team USA. Koonce, 28, hit in the cleanup spot and had four hits in 11 at bats with a homerun, two doubles, and three RBI. Rouse, 23, the leadoff man, went 6-13 with three extra-base hits. Top OF prospect Nick Swisher, 23, is cruising along in the AFL, hitting .276/.404/.408, with one homerun and nine RBI. Oakland middle-infield prospect Freddy Bynum continues his solid showing in Arizona. The 23-year-old 2B/SS is hitting .319/.429/.553 with a homerun and seven RBI in 14 games.

Seattle Mariners: Right-hander Cha Seung Baek, 23, remains inconsistent and his 5.61 ERA is proof of such sporadic play. 3B prospect Hunter Brown's fall has been solid after a slow start. The 23-year-old is one of many mid-tier 3B prospects in the M's system and looks to make the jump to the top of that list with a strong showing in the AFL heading to AA in 2004. Brown is hitting .278/.418/.444 with seven extra-base hits in 20 games while playing a solid 3B for the Javelinas. 2004 bullpen candidate George Sherrill keeps rolling along with his 2.92 ERA in 12.1 innings. Taxi-squad member Jim Horner, the veteran catcher who is available on weekends only, cooled down a bit after a torrid start and is now hitting .250. Team USA 3B Justin Leone turned out to be the most productive hitter on the roster with three homeruns in four games before USA was eliminated early.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Dewon Brazleton pitched just five games at AAA in 2003, going 2-2, 4.21. The D-Rays were going to be patient and have him start 2004 at AAA, but they're rethinking that now. Brazleton has gone 3-0, 3.27 in the AFL, but those aren't the impressive parts of his numbers. In 33 innings, he has allowed 26 hits and has whiffed 36 hitters, while walking 9. If Brazleton doesn't start at the major league level in 2004, look for him to be there my mid-summer.

Texas Rangers: The offensive-rich Rangers maintain the posture of recent ghosts by not having many top-drawer pitching prospects in their system. The AFL boasts three solid hitting prospects in Rangers uniforms, two being blue-chippers. OF Ramon Nivar, 23, is third in the Fall League in batting at .381 and is showing more than adequate power with a .540 slugging percentage. OF Jason Bourgeois, 23, has turned his off-season around and is now hitting over .300 with 11 RBI and an impressive K/BB ratio of 11 to 10. 1B Adrian Gonzalez, the main piece of the Ugueth Urbina trade, is showing the tools and patience of a veteran. The 21-year-old slugger is hitting .270/.402/.473 with a 7/16 K/BB ratio. The pitching continues to struggle as 23-year-old Justin Echols proves with his shiny 8.22 ERA in seven appearances. The Venezuelan Winter League, the Mexican Winter League, and the Puerto Rican League are also playing their seasons. Hopefully that is where the Rangers pitching prospects are. Team USA roster members Mike Lamb and Gerard Laird went a combined 0-4 in the qualifying tournament.

Toronto Blue Jays: Control (or the lack thereof) has been the story for Toronto pitchers in the AFL. Jordan DeJong has struggled to get the ball over the plate, walking 11 in 15 innings. It's no surprise that his ERA has ballooned to 8.40. Cameron Reimers has walked 3 in 24 innings and Pete Bauer has issued just 2 free passes in 19 innings. Reimers is 1-1, 4.44 and Bauer is 1-1, 5.59 in the AFL.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The one star a week pattern held again. This week Scott Hairston led the way with .357/.357/.500 in 14 AB, 2 doubles, 2 RBI, 0 BB, 2 SO and 2 errors. He is still 4th in the league in batting average. Sergio Santos was unable to continue his hot hitting, hitting .182/.250/.455 in 11 AB but he did hit his team high third homerun, tying a number of other players for high on the team. Josh Kroeger did OK, going 3 for 11 with a homer and 4 RBI but 6(!) SO. Chris Snyder only went 1 for 6 but had a homer. Jason Frasor is still 9th in the AFL in ERA and Dustin Nippert is still 5th in strikeouts.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have at least one prospect pitching well in the Arizona Fall League. AA West Tennessee's John Webb 3-0 in nine games, with three starts under his belt. Webb has a 2.57 ERA while striking out 16 and walking four in 21 innings pitched. This season at AA, Webb was 5-8 with a 4.50 ERA 30 appearances, including 22 starts.

Cincinnati Reds: Catcher Dane Sardinha and outfielder Stephen Smitherman have been enjoying their stay in the AFL. Smitherman is hitting .313 and leading the Scottsdale Scorpions with 20 RBI. Sardinha, one of the better catching prospects, is hitting .354 and is tied for the team lead with 3 homeruns. The news on the mound isn't quite so encouraging. Joe Valentine (1-0, 4.09 3 saves) and David Gil (1-0, 4.19 2 saves) have been pitching pretty well, but there isn't any other good news. Lefty Brian Shackelford has struggled with his control, walking 6 in just 8 2/3 innings, posting a 5.19 ERA. Kyle Edens (0-3, 7.43) has had all kinds of problems. His control has been suspect and when he does get the ball over the plate, everybody is hitting it and hitting it hard.

Colorado Rockies: Outfielder Casey Fuller hit .290 this past year in the Pioneer League for the Casper Rockies. He also slugged 12 homers to lead the team and smacked in 43 RBI's. The problem for the youngster is he walked just nine times on the season. A power hitter that doesn't walk? You heard it right. Instead he struck out 61 times in 49 games. The odd part about his game is he has speed, but his 12 homers were more than twice the amount of doubles he had on the season. Simply stated, if he hit it over your head, it was out of the ballpark.

Houston Astros: Outfielder Jason Lane will likely earn a spot on the Astros' roster next year out of Spring Training so long as he avoids the hernia problems that plagued him for three months at Triple-A New Orleans this year. Lane hit .298 in 71 games with the AAA New Orleans Zephyrs and was a good late-inning replacement on Jimy Williams' club late in the season.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Not many Dodger prospects played since the last report for games up to Nov. 8th. Showing his teenage youth, James Loney went from his great showing last week to .077/.143/.231 in 13 AB, 4 SO, 0 RBI. Brennan King got into one game, going 1 for 4 with an RBI and 2 SO. Brian Steffek pitching 1.1 innings with all zeros across except for 1 SO.

Milwaukee Brewers: In Huntsville, Luis Martinez emerged as one of the league's biggest surprises. The 23-year-old, who owned a 5.97 ERA through his first six pro seasons, opened with a 0.31 ERA in April and strung together 29 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings towards the end of the season. The lefthander dominated Class AAA competition following a promotion in August and ended the season as a starter in Milwaukee.

Montreal Expos: John Labandeira may be one of the better surprises of the AFL. The young shortstop hit .239 at AA Harrisburg in 2003 and nearly didn't get a trip to Arizona. He's rewarded the Expos by playing at short, third and second and is third on the Peoria Javelinas in hitting at .309 this fall. Labandeira has made three errors (all as either a second baseman or third baseman), but overall, he seems to be progressing defensively. The Expos are also happy with pitcher Chris Young. The right-hander started in A ball last season and moved up to AA, going 4-4, 4.01 for Harrisburg in 15 starts. He's 0-4, but has a 3.68 ERA in the AFL. The Expos will face a decision whether to start him at AA or move him along to AAA for 2004.

New York Mets: LHP Lenny Dinardo continues to have tremendous success in the AFL, striking out 25 batters in his first 15 innings this fall. He has walked only two batters so far. There might just be a preview of the future of the Mets' rotation in Binghamton next season as Scott Kazmir, Matthew Peterson, Lenny Dinardo, and Bob Keppel are sure to pitch for the BMets in 2004.

Philadelphia Phillies: Third baseman Travis Chapman's injured hand is worse than originally thought. Chapman injured the hand when he was hit by a pitch in an Arizona Fall League game, which has likely ended his playing time in Arizona for this season. Chapman got just 25 at bats in 7 games. Perhaps more importantly, he didn't get a lot of work in at first base, which was the main reason for Chapman to go to the AFL. Chapman will compete for a bench job with the Phillies this spring. Keith Bucktrot is back in Clearwater after suffering tendonitis in his pitching elbow after just one start in the AFL. Bucktrot is throwing without pain. The Phillies are giving Bucktrot some work in the Florida Instructional League and he should be back on track by spring training.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Outfielder Rich Thompson is a burner. In 35 games with Nashville, Thompson had 22 stolen bases. He has the ability to hit leadoff and is not afraid to take a walk, getting on base any way possible. He is also a plus defender at the centerfield position. In the AFL he is getting on base at a clip of .409 and has 12 thefts in 24 games and leads the team in runs scored with 25, six more than the next best. He has limited power but finds the gaps and stretches doubles into triples. In fact in the AFL, he has more triples (5) than doubles (4).

San Diego Padres: Jake Gautreau is attempting to comeback from a poor season in Mobile where he went through a number of changes, including some in his stance at the plate. "I think that was part of the problem," admits Gautreau. He is now in the Arizona Fall League and is trying to "find something comfortable in the batter's box and stick with it." He hit .242 in Mobile this year and after an 0-3 night on Monday is hitting .258 in Arizona.

San Francisco Giants: Todd Linden and Lance Niekro cooled off and hit .273/.333/.364 each since the last report for games up to Nov. 8th. Their batting line looked almost identical except that Niekro had an RBI and Linden had none, and Linden struck out three times to Niekro's once. Niekro also had a caught stealing. Luke Anderson continued to do well, pitching in two games, 3.2 innings, 4 hits, 0 runs, 0 HR, 0 BB, 7 SO, WHIP 1.09, 0.00 ERA. He also won his first game too and is third in the league in ERA now. Luke has opened some eyes here in the AFL with his superb pitching. Merkin "the Magician" Valdez got into more games but, despite fine numbers overall, was struck with some bad luck leading to runs scored. In 3 games, he pitched 4.1 innings, gave up 5 hits, 3 runs, 2 ER, 0 HR, 0 BB, 3 SO, WHIP 1.16, 4.16 ERA. So, despite no walks and no home runs, his five hits led to three runs. At least his pitching line looks good otherwise as he continues to show his good control as well as his strikeout pitch.

St. Louis Cardinals: Bo Hart started off a .400-plus hitter with the Cardinals in June before finally slowing down and finishing the year with a .277 batting average in 77 games total, as well as batting .297 in 67 games with the AAA Memphis Redbirds. Hart showed more range and defensive prowess than expected and will likely be the Cardinals' opening day starter at second base now that the team has declined their option for 2004 on Fernando Vina.

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