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September 12, 2008

Future Shock

NL Great Leaps Forward

by Kevin Goldstein

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Arizona Diamondbacks

Third baseman Jamie D'Antona regained some of his prospect luster with a .365/.405/.604 season at Triple-A Tucson. Previously written off as a Four-A type of player, scouts now think that he could develop a career as a backup corner infielder who provides power off the bench.

Runner-up: Center fielder Evan Frey showed 70 speed (on the 20-80 scouting scale) and a true leadoff man's approach while compiling a .314/.400/.411 line with 37 stolen bases between Arizona's two A-ball affiliates. He has very little in the way of power, but could end up as a fourth outfielder.

Atlanta Braves

A second-round pick last June, first baseman Freddie Freeman showed plus raw power and outstanding hitting ability in his full-season debut, compiling a .316/.378/.521 at Low-A Rome. A tighter approach and more translation of his raw power to in-game performance could move him to the elite level.

Runner-up: Gigantic catcher Tyler Flowers showed outstanding secondary offensive skills by producing 32 doubles, 17 home runs, and 98 walks in a .288/.427/.494 season at High-A Myrtle Beach. He's good enough to stay behind the plate despite being below average defensively, but the bat should more than make up for it.

Chicago Cubs

After career-long struggles, right-hander Jeff Samardzija found movement on his fastball and better command, and he's pitched well in the big-league bullpen to the point where many feel that his future lies there as opposed to starting.

Runner-up: Catcher Welington Castillo has yet to show any power, but he's just 21 years old, hit .298/.362/.414 during the second half of the season at Double-A Tennessee, and is an outstanding defender.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired in the Austin Kearns/Felipe Lopez trade two years ago, righty Daryl Thompson pitched across three levels and reached the big leagues before going down with a shoulder injury. Both the Nationals and the Reds had always been excited about his potential, while remaining concerned about his inability to stay to healthy. That hasn't changed.

Runner-up: A third-round pick in 2007, third baseman Neftali Soto began the year in extended spring training and hit .388/.423/.746 in 15 Pioneer League games before moving to Low-A Dayton, where he was one of the league's most impressive hitters during the final two months of the season with a .326/.343/.500 line in 52 games. A hacking approach is the only weakness in his game.

Colorado Rockies

Right-hander Jhoulys Chacin went 18-3 with a 2.03 ERA across the Rockies two A-ball affiliates-both in hitter's environments. He absolutely pounds the strike zone with five different pitches and gets both strikeouts and ground balls in bunches. He's not overpowering, but impressive in every other way, and he projects as a number two or three starter in the majors.

Runner-up: While he's always put up decent numbers, utility player Eric Young Jr. continues to garner more and more support from the scouting community following a .290/.391/.392 year at Double-A Tulsa. He draws walks, steals bases, and slaps the ball around-a combination that gave his father a 15-year career.

Florida Marlins

Outfielder Mike Stanton showed almost unprecedented power for an 18-year-old, slugging 39 home runs in 468 at-bats for Low-A Greensboro as part of a .293/.381/.611 campaign. That's such a good line that it's hard to find anyone who really cares that much about the 153 strikeouts.

Runner-up: First baseman Logan Morrison won the Florida State League batting title by 24 points with a .332/.402/.494 line at High-A Jupiter. His left-handed swing is about as pretty as they come, and he has excellent pitch recognition and contact skills for a player who just turned 21, but scouts would like to see more power out of his six-foot-two, 215-pound frame.

Houston Astros

After flaming out on the mound, 2005 first-round pick Brian Bogusevic converted to the outfield and showed no signs of rust from his stardom days at Tulane, hitting .371/.447/.556 in 42 games at Double-A Corpus Christi while showing gap power, above-average speed, and a solid arm. This isn't a fluke, folks; this is one of the better prospects in the system.

Runner-up: More of an organizational player who was repeating Double-A, second baseman Drew Sutton had a 20/20 season and a .317/.408/.523 line, leading the league in hits (165), runs (102), and doubles (39). Already 25 years old, he doesn't project as a star, but many think he'll reach the big leagues.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Shortstop Ivan DeJesus had a monster second half and led the Double-A Southern League in on-base percentage as part of a .324/.419/.423 line. He's also a plus-plus defender who some believe deserved a call to The Show this year when the Dodgers had to revert to Angel Berroa.

Runner-up: Left-hander Victor Garate struck out 150 in 116 innings despite rarely even touching 90 mph on the radar gun. He has a very good changeup and one of the most deceptive deliveries in the minors, and projects as a big-league situational reliever.

Milwaukee Brewers

Scouts now have little trouble getting past catcher Angel Salome's downright strange five-foot-seven, 200-pound frame after he put together a .360/.415/.559 line at Double-A Hunstville. Beyond the outstanding offense, he also made defensive improvements behind the plate, showing more mobility, and improved accuracy on his throws.

Runner-up: Outfielder Michael Brantley continued to produce at the upper levels of the system, batting .319/.395/.398 at Huntsville while showing a good approach and plus speed out of the leadoff slot. His defense still needs work.

New York Mets

Daniel Murphy hit .308/.374/.496 at Double-A Binghamton and has been one of many pleasant surprises filling in for an injured Moises Alou in left field, batting .357/.444/.536 in 34 big-league games while being used only against righties. He's in over his head, but he's done enough to prove his doubters wrong.

Runner-up: After struggling in Double-A last year, first baseman Mike Carp repeated the level and upped his OPS by nearly 150 points with a .299/.403/.471 campaign. He still struggles against good left-handers, and scouts are hoping for even more power, as it's a tough road to come up as a first-baseman without it.

Philadelphia Phillies

Six-foot-six, 250-pound outfielder Michael Taylor got away from the line drive-oriented "Stanford Swing" and had a breakout season, hitting .346/.412/.557 between two A-ball stops, and he finally began showing some of the promise from his high school days thanks to his incredible size and athleticism which give him above-average power and speed.

Runner-up: In between some missed time due to the Olympics, shortstop Jason Donald put together an outstanding .307/.391/.497 line at Double-A Reading that included 14 home runs in 362 at-bats. He's borderline acceptable at shortstop, but should be a solid offensive second baseman at the very least.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Infielder Jim Negrych started to hit like he did during his college days at Pitt, winning the Carolina League batting title and finishing with an overall line of .359/.438/.482 after spending the final month of the year at Double-A Altoona. He can't play up the middle and he doesn't have much power, so he's kind of a misfit, but he sure can lace line drives all over the field and there has to be some value in that.

Runner-up: Lefty Tony Watson had a losing record and a merely good 3.56 ERA at High-A Lynchburg, but he was outstanding down the stretch-allowing one or zero runs in seven of his last eleven starts. He's a finesse pitcher who pounds the strike zone with an effective three-pitch mix, and his changeup is a swing-and-miss offering.

St. Louis Cardinals

After hitting just .217/.304/.296 last year at Low-A, ultra-athletic Daryl Jones suddenly blossomed into a real ballplayer, spending the final six weeks of the season in Double-A and hitting .316/.407/.483 with 13 home runs and 24 stolen bases in one of the more exciting transformations this year.

Runner-up: Undersized, thick righty Jess Todd utilized his excellent command of a plus sinker/slider combination to shoot through three levels in his full-season debut, finishing the year with a 2.88 ERA in 28 games and 136 strikeouts against just 42 walks in 153 innings, all while limiting opposing batters to a .213 average.

San Diego Padres

One of the biggest players in pro baseball, first baseman Kyle Blanks hit for average at Double-A San Antonio during the first half of the season, and then found his power stroke late, batting .336/.402/.591 with 14 home runs in 232 at-bats after the All-Star break. Now down to 270 pounds, he's in better shape than ever, and there's some thought to trying him in the outfield.

Runner-up: While a 4.28 ERA and 151 hits allowed in 136 2/3 innings hardly looks like a breakout, righty Jeremy McBride finished second in the Midwest League with 158 strikeouts while walking just 24. He occasionally reaches the mid-90s with his fastball, but can be accused at times of throwing too many strikes, and his off-speed pitch needs work.

San Francisco Giants

While he entered the year as a highly-regarded prospect, southpaw Madison Bumgarner stated his case as one of the top pitching prospects in the game with a minor league-leading 1.46 ERA in 24 starts at Low-A Augusta to go along with a remarkable 164/21 K/BB in 141 2/3 innings.

Runner-up: A 30th-round pick in 2006 after a nondescript career at Arkansas, right-hander Daryl Maday showed improved velocity and command while going from Low- to Double-A with an overall 2.48 ERA in 29 outings.

Washington Nationals

A second-round pick last June, righty Jordan Zimmerman began the year with five dominant outings at High-A Potomac and didn't lose much ground at Double-A, finishing the year with a 3.21 ERA in 20 starts and nearly a strikeout per inning. His fastball and curve are both above average, and scouts like his frame and mechanics, making it easy to project him as a mid-rotation starter.

Runner-up: While he went 9-0 at High-A Potomac and 0-5 at Double-A Harrisburg, finesse right-hander Adrian Alaniz was almost equally effective at both stops by mixing his pitches, hitting his spots, and changing speeds to keep hitters off balance.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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