Down On The Farm - 3/17

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NATIONAL LEAGUE

Arizona Diamondbacks: Casey Daigle has pitched himself into contention for the 5th spot in the rotation with a good spring. After a disappointing season last season in AA, where the soon-to-be 23 year old went 11-11 with a 4.59 ERA in the pitching oriented Texas League, with 219 hits in 176.1 IP, Daigle has had a good spring, with a 3.52 ERA in 3 outings, 7.2 IP, 6 hits, 5 runs, 3 earned runs... Competition for that position lessened with the demotion of Edgar Gonzalez to the minors after a 5.14 ERA, 3 games, 7 IP, 8 hits, spring. Not much worse than Daigle has done, but apparently the 21 year old Gonzalez did not show enough professionalism. Remaining competitors include prospects Andrew Good and John Patterson, and vets, Jim Parque and Steven Sparks.

Atlanta Braves: At one time, Wilson Betemit was the top prospect in the Braves organization. In fact, Betemit got a quick September call up at the end of the 2001 season when he was just 21 years old. Since then, his numbers have sunk and there are reports that his attitude is not where the Braves would like it to be and Betemit hasn't been back to the majors in either of the last two seasons. This spring, Betemit has gotten 15 at bats and is hitting .267 for Atlanta in exhibition games. To make things worse, Betemit is coming off of a thumb injury that prevented him from playing winter ball this year. Even though he's just 24, this season stands to be an important one for Betemit.

Chicago Cubs: Cubs Pitcher Todd Wellemeyer was excellent in his major league debut last year, when he was called up to shore up some injuries in the Cubs bullpen. This spring, Wellemeyer hopes to earn a permanent role in the Cubs bullpen. Chicago has 5 of their 6 spots filled, and the last spot will be up for grabs among many players. The Cubs will also start the season without Mike Remlinger, which means another youngster will have to step up to start the season. Currently Wellemeyer has to be the favorite to be the last man in the bullpen. He has been nearly perfect in four outings this Spring, not giving up a single run in 7.1 total innings. He has been very impressive with his control, giving up only two walks, while striking out 10 batters already. Wellemeyer has been working on a slurve that will really help him out of the bullpen. The only other candidate for the spot that has preformed well this spring is Sergio Mitre, and the Cubs would prefer to keep Mitre as a starter for now, especially with Mark Prior's health uncertain. Wellemeyer faced the pressure well last year, and should get an extended look this spring, and well into the season.

Cincinnati Reds: A lot of the Reds top prospects were optioned out of camp this past Monday (March 15). Pitchers Matt Belisle and Joe Valentine and outfielder Steve Smitherman were sent to AAA Louisville. Smitherman was expected to start the year at AAA, but Valentine and Belisle were thought to have at least a shot at making the club. Belisle pitched at AAA for the Reds and A's last season and was originally in the mix for a setup job. Belisle was getting a look as either a starter or long reliever. Pitcher Phil Dumatrait and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion were sent to AA Chattanooga. Neither Dumatrait nor Encarnacion's options were surprises as both figured to start the season at AA. Encarnacion is the best position prospect in the Reds system and is just 21 years old.

Colorado Rockies: Matt Holliday, the same guy who tore up the Arizona Fall League, is now dicing up the Cactus League. Holliday has 12 hits in 23 at bats through Monday and is making a strong bid to make the team. The problem is Jeremy Burnitz, Larry Walker and Preston Wilson sit ahead of him on the depth chart. Holliday will likely head down to Triple-A to start the year but is the odds on favorite to make an impact some time this year.

Houston Astros: Jason Lane has begun Spring Training with a mission: to make the Astros ballclub. So far, he has really helped his already good chances, by hitting .318 in 8 games so far this spring. He has been impressive for the Astros in the Florida sun, managing to show a little power with a homer and 5 RBI's. Lane is expected to make the team as a 4th or 5th outfielder this year, and if he can continue to show his hitting skills, he may be able to work his way into the starting lineup more often than most think. Biggio is getting older in the Astros outfield, and Hidalgo ha been inconsistent for Houston over the years. Lane could give both men a day off here and there, and the Astros could consider shipping Hidalgo for some relief pitching if Lane proves he can handle a starting job in the majors. The Astros are going to give him every chance to do so, and it's up to the young man to prove himself this spring.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers 2003 Pitcher of the Year, Greg Miller, will undergo exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his ailing left shoulder. Despite strengthening programs, the 19-year-old still has pain. Miller was shut down for the third time this spring because of discomfort in his shoulder. After several MRIs failed to isolate a specific problem, management decided to OK the surgery to determine the exact cause. Miller was 12-5 in the minors and he struck out 151 while walking 48 in 142 innings and gave up just 118 hits last year before biceps tendinitis sidelined him in August.

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers have a number of top hitting prospects in their minor league system, so sometimes players get overlooked. One such player is 3B Corey Hart, who was the Southern League MVP in 2003. And even though he was the league MVP, it was actually considered a down year for 22-year old (.302 average, .807 OPS). Hart has an excellent bat and his power continues to develop. The only thing currently holding Hart back from combining with 1B Prince Fielder, 2B Rickie Weeks and SS JJ Hardy as the top young Infield in baseball in the next couple of years is his rather weak defense – he committed a whopping 32 errors last year. Hart can hit very well, but if he can't learn to play defense at the hot corner, he might be relegated to the Outfield, where's he just not the same prospect.

Montreal Expos: The Expos apparently weren't too impressed with catcher Brad Cresse. Montreal acquired the 25 year old catcher in a conditional trade with Arizona over the winter. The Expos had to decide by March 15 whether to keep Cresse and complete the trade or send him back to the D'backs. When the deadline approached, Montreal returned Cresse to Arizona after giving him just two at bats this spring. While his defense isn't stellar, Cresse has some power that scouts believe will continue to develop. The Expos thought Cresse was too much of a free swinger to fit in their organization, plus, they have Scott Sandusky and Paul Hoover, both of which they ranked above Cresse.

New York Mets: One of the most hotly contested position battles in the system is at firstbase. Craig Brazell who is still in Major League camp will likely get the nod at AAA-Norfolk. Josh Pressley, acquired for Rey Ordonez last year from Tampa Bay, reported his hand as being 100% after breaking it last fall in a St. Lucie Mets game. Pressley is the early favorite to man first in AA-Binghamton. That's where it starts to get interesting. The Mets are high on both Ian Bladergroen and Tyler Davidson. Davidson, who missed the 2002 season with an injury, won the Appalachian League MVP last season by hitting .337 with 29 XBH in just 172 ABs. Davidson, formerly primarily an outfielder has been working out at firstbase this spring and through both Fall Instructional League and January's mini camp. Bladergroen hit .285 in Brooklyn last year after signing as a draft-and-follow prior to the June Draft. Additionally, Andres Rodriguez, a product of the Mets Dominican Summer League where he started playing at age 19, had a solid early season in Cap City before tailing off at the end of the year.

Philadelphia Phillies: Another setback for Anderson Machado. The Phillies had decided to take a real look at Machado this spring, but he wound up having an emergency appendectomy after playing in just three games. The Phillies love Machado's speed - he stole 49 bases last season at AA - but have tired of his strikeouts (239 over the past two seasons) and are concerned about his attitude. With his latest health problems, it will be interesting to see if the Phillies promote Machado to AAA or return him to the AA Reading Phillies where he has played since two-thirds of the way through the 2001 season. After hitting just .196 last season, the Phillies are trying to impress on Machado that he needs to stop swinging for the fences and use his speed, much like the same sermons they've been preaching to Jimmy Rollins.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates first round draft pick last summer was LHP Paul Maholm. Maholm had an excellent first season as a pro, going 2-1 with a 1.83 ERA in limited time in short season A ball. Maholm is fairly advanced for a younger player, and is expected to move quickly through the Pirates system. However, don't expect them to rush the lefty. Expect him to hop one level at a time and make his Pirates debut sometime in 2007 assuming he makes the expected development.

San Diego Padres: The first casualties of war have hit. The Padres minor league affiliates are starting to take shape. One notable player sent down was Justin Germano. Germano will get opening day duties for the Mobile BayBears in 2004. Germano pitched in two games, allowing four earned runs, on two home runs, in 4.1 innings pitched. He also struck out four and walked two. The Friars are expecting big things from the right-hander. A big season in Mobile could prompt the team to promote him to Portland before the year is out.

San Francisco Giants: Kevin Correia hurt his chances on Friday against the A's. After pitching well thus far, he pitched 2 IP in the A's game, gave up 4 hits and 3 walks (plus no strikeouts) for 3 runs, all earned, though no homers. Meanwhile, the pitcher who is his biggest competitor for the 5th spot is Dustin Hermanson who in the same game pitched 4 IP, gave up 3 hits, 1 walk, struck out 2, and gave up no runs. For the spring, Correia has a 4.69 ERA in 3 games, 7.2 IP, 7 hits, 4 runs, all earned, while Hermanson has yet to give up a run in 8 IP. In addition, Ryan Jensen, another competitor for the 5th spot has also been doing about as well as Correia, with a 4.50 ERA, and sporting a new pitch, a knuckle-ball... After cut-down day, only six non-roster invitees remain: RHP David Aardsma, RHP Lee Gardner, RHP Tyler Walker, IF Dallimore, IF Francisco Santos and OF Nathan Haynes. 39 roster players still remain as well, after Angel Chavez was optioned to AAA and dropped from the active roster. Perhaps the Giants want to open a spot for one of these non-roster players.

St. Louis Cardinals: Bo Hart is getting every chance available to prove he can be the starting second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, however he has not put up good numbers yet this Spring. Hart has the most at bats of any Cardinal this spring, but his average is only .200, and all of his six hits have been singles. Hart has only scored once, and only driven in 2 runs so far, leaving the fate of Bo Hart up in the air. The Cardinals signed Marlon Anderson believing that he and Hart would compete for the spot, but both are hitting very poorly, and neither has come out to take the job yet. Hart will continue to get opportunities to prove that he can do it, but if not, then Anderson will win the job by default of playing experience. This is the weakest position for the Cardinals, and they were hoping for better from their two coaches. The coaches will work hard with both men to get them to improve, but right now the Cardinals don't have a good option at second base. Hart and Anderson should both make the team, it's just a matter of if either of them can start at this point, and neither man has proven that he can.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Baltimore Orioles: LHP Erik Bedard could have made a strong case for the Baltimore rotation with an impressive spring (if health wasn't a concern), and that's just what he's doing thus far....albeit a small sample. In two outings, Bedard is 1-0 with a 3.85 ERA and has been one of the more effective O's pitchers so far. With a 26-12 career minor league record and a 2.62 ERA, Bedard has little to prove and merely needs to show he's healthy. He pitched in just six games last season after rehabbing his elbow and is likely to begin the season in the minors to start the 2004 campaign. If he can show he's healthy, it will not be long before he's called up to Camden Yards.

Boston Red Sox: General manager Theo Epstein has a ton of free agents to deal with this coming off-season and one of them is catcher Jason Varitek. His future with the organization could hinge on the progression on catcher Kelly Shoppach, who came back successfully in 2003 from rotator-cuff surgery to hit .282 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs for Double-A Portland. Not only can he hit, but he was rated the league's best defensive catcher. He did not play well in the Arizona Fall League, but scouts blamed exhaustion for his poor defensive showing behind the plate. Keep your eye on Kelly this upcoming season at Pawtucket. He could be behind the dish at Fenway a year from now.

Chicago White Sox: Aaron Rowand was terrible in his first stint with the White Sox last year hitting .133 in 60 games before being optioned to Triple-A. He was recalled in June and he spent rest of season with the Sox, hitting .387 (37-97) with a .629 slugging and .408 on-base percentage. This spring, Rowand is lighting it up. In just seven games, he leads the team in RBI's and hits, while sporting a .522 batting average.

Detroit Tigers:OF Nook Logan was recently added to the Tigers 40-man roster, but few expect him to make any impact with the Tigers until he can learn to do something besides run. Last year with AA Erie, he racked up 37 Stolen Bases, however, his average (.251) and on base percentage (.316) aren't quite leadoff hitter quality. Despite his struggles, Logan will be bumped up to AAA Toledo after impressing Tiger brass in his limited appearances at big league camp in Spring Training. While he could still become a legit prospect, he still has some serious work to do before he'll have a chance at pushing current youngster CF Alex Sanchez for the starting job in Detroit.

Kansas City Royals: Mike Tonis is trying to play his way onto the Royals big league roster. The 25 year old catcher has been plagued by injuries, including a hand injury that sidelined him for much of the 2003 season. Defensively, Tonis has all the tools to play in the majors, but his offense is border line. On the upside, he does show some power potential and the Royals might consider trying to find a spot for him on the 25 man roster. This spring, Tonis is hitting .250 (4-16) with one homerun in nine games for Kansas City. On a side note, country singer Garth Brooks got his first hit of the spring. Actually, it was a hit only because of charitable scoring, because the play could have been ruled an error. Still, Brooks will take it. He is now hitting .049 (2-41) in his spring training jaunts with the Mets and Royals.

Minnesota Twins: The Twins just keep rolling out the prospects. Last season, Michael Ryan, Michael Cuddyer, Lew Ford, Justin Morneau, J.D. Durbin and Todd Sears all saw major league action. Ryan was even on the Twins post season roster. Now, they roll out Joe Mauer, who scouts are drooling over and will likely also keep Grant Balfour on their staff. Keep in mind that this is an organization that has also produced the likes of Brian Buchanan and A.J. Pierzynski who were both involved in trades that brought even more prospects into the fold. Another deal for more prospects could loom if the Twins decide to send Jacque Jones packing this spring.

New York Yankees: The Yankees signed their 2003 fourth round draft selection, Steve White. White is a tall, lanky right-handed pitcher that went 28-14 for the Baylor University Bears. Standing 6'6" tall, White has battled elbow problems throughout his high school and college career but is a pitcher with a very high upside. He consistently throws his fastball in the 91-93 MPH range and has a sharp curve ball. The one knock on White is his inconsistent breaking ball. After missing all of the 2003 season, White could be headed to Battle Creek to begin the 2004 season after a look at extended Spring Training.

Oakland Athletics: Bobby Crosby has been as advertised this spring, taking over for the popular and talented Miguel Tejada at shortstop. Basically handed the starting job before the spring begun, Crosby has not disappointed, going 9 for 27, with 5 runs, 7 RBI, 2 homers, and 17 total bases, for a .333 batting average and .630 slugging percentage this spring. The 24 year old looks like the real deal after hitting .308/.395/.544/.939 at AAA last season, in his first season at that level, with 22 homers and 32 doubles. In addition, showing speed, he had 6 triples and 24 steals in only 30 attempts. His only flaw was his penchant for whiffing, striking out 110 times. But given such offensive prowess, that is sure to be overlooked.

Seattle Mariners: M's southpaw Travis Blackley was sent to the minor league camp this week after tossing five near-perfect innings in Cactus League play. The 21-year-old didn't allow a hit, walked one and struck out seven. Right-hander Clint Nageotte was also sent to minor league camp following six solid innings of his own. The 23-year-old power pitcher showed flashes of what could be a future top of the rotation starter. Nageotte will work on his change-up in Tacoma. Lefty Matt Thornton's numbers do not reflect the way the M's brass thought of the way he pitched. A ballooned ERA over nine doesn't show the way the former first rounder threw this spring and Thornton will get his shot to earn a call-up while starting and/or relieving for the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. Thornton could be one of several left-handed relievers used in the M's pen this season.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Bobby Seay has pitched in 24 major league games over parts of two different seasons with Tampa Bay. This may be the year when Seay moves to the majors for good. In his outings last season, Seay seemed in control and posted a 3.00 ERA in 9 innings of work. The only concern is his control - he walked 6 and struck out 5 last year - which gets erratic at times. Generally, Seay has been able to keep his control just good enough to keep his prospect status in place and the D'Rays believe that his control problems at the major league level last season should be brought under control with more work.

Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays don't lack for outfield prospects so if you're going to impress them as an outfielder, you have to do everything well. John Ford-Griffin has lots of offensive potential, but the problem is finding a place for him to play. It's not his range or his simple ability to catch a ball that has Toronto worried; it's his arm. The guy simply can't throw at all. If Griffin has any shot at playing in the majors, it's as a DH or maybe as a first baseman. The odds of Griffin making the major league club are very slim, especially since he hasn't shown much offense this spring, hitting just .111 so far. The sad part is that he is falling down the list of Jays' prospects because they might simply run out of patience at trying to find a spot for him to play.


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