Thursday, April 17, 2008

Down on the Farm: Double-A Preview


Last week we took a look at a few Triple-A ball clubs and what impact players that would be on their way to the big leagues in the near future. This week we are going to continue are minor league preview by looking at a couple Double-A clubs that are loaded with major league talent.


Montgomery Biscuits (Tampa Bay Rays), Southern League:

The future is definitely bright in Tampa Bay as they have without a doubt the strongest minor league system in baseball. It is loaded top to bottom but with the strength of both the Durham Bulls and the Biscuits the Rays should be getting immediate help for their ball club over the next two years.

On the mound: If the Bulls strength is in their line-up the Biscuits balance them out by having a dominate pitching staff. The staff is led by two of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, in southpaw Jake McGee and right hander Wade Davis. Both were picked by the Rays out of high school in the 2004 draft and have dominated the minors every stop of the way. McGee last year went 8-6 with a 3.15 ERA but those numbers don't tell the whole story as he went on to record 175 K's to only 52 walks in just 140 innings pitched. Davis didn't have too bad of a season either as he went 10-3 with a 2.50 ERA, while striking out 169 in 158 innings of work. Both pitchers have the ability to be number one or two starters in the big leagues and should both advance to Triple-A at some point this season. McGee and Davis aren't the only major league quality arms on the Biscuits roster. Wade Townsend, who looks to move to the bullpen to harness his incredible potential, has the ability to be a quality MLB pitcher he just needs to regain his confidence that made him a first round pick in 2004 and 2005. Eduardo Morlan could be the closer of the future for the Rays, and was part of the Delmon Young trade with the Twins in the off-season. The 22 year old power pitcher had a breakout season last year, going 5-3 with a 3.10 ERA to go along with 18 saves and 99 strikeouts. James Houser is a 23 year old lefty that could fit into the back of a rotation or be a long man out of a bullpen either way he will be a solid addition to a Major League pitching staff.

In the line-up: The Biscuits don't have the hitters to match their talented pitching staff but they do have one special player in their line-up in catcher John Jaso. Jaso has hit at every stop in the minors and has good power for a catcher. Last season for the Biscuits, Jaso hit .316-12-71, he also walked 59 times to only 49 SO's in just 380 at bats. Jaso will repeat Double-A most likely so he can work with the Rays top pitching prospects that he will likely be catching in Tampa in a year or two. He will probably be in a Durham Bulls uniform before the year is out and is also a top candidate to be a September call-up for the Rays. Outside of Jaso there isn't much Major league talent in the line-up though OF Sergio Pedroza and 1B Chris Nowak will both likely be bench players in the big leagues someday.

Carolina Mudcats (Florida Marlins), Southern League:

The Mudcats are stacked there is no way around it, they have the best hitting and pitching in the Marlins system and they have alot of it. A good portion of the Mudcats roster should be in Florida with in the next two years.

On the mound: The Mudcats may have the deepest rotation in the minors, all five of their starters seem destined for a Major League rotation. The staff is full of 4 former first round picks led by 2005 pick Chris Volstad and 2006 pick Brett Sinkbiel. Volstad continues to improve every year and combined between two levels last year to go 12-11 with a 4.16 ERA and a 118 K's, he will look to be in the Marlins rotation by next season. Sinkbiel missed some time last season with an injury but still advances a level to Double-A. While he didn't dominate last year going only 6-4 with a 3.42 ERA and 49 strikeouts, Sinkbiel has a bright future ahead of him, if he stays healthy he could be a number 3 pitcher for years to come. Joining Volstad and Sinkbiel are 2005 first rounders Ryan Tucker and the only southpaw in the group Aaron Thompson. Tucker is a power pitcher with a great fastball that should be a big strikeout guy once he improves his other pitches. Thompson lacks the power of Tucker or the high potential of Volstad or Sinkbiel but he might be the closest to being in the majors. While he might not dominate you Thompson has four solid pitches that and has shown solid control for a 21 year old. Rick Vandenhurk, who actually ended last year in the majors and started of the season there rounds out the Mudcats rotation. While he's battling injuries now he should be back in Florida for next season. Also on the pitching staff are relievers Jacob Marceaux and Jesus Delgado who both have pro potential. While neither figure to be closers or set-up men, if they continue developing both should be solid additions to a bull-pen.

In the line-up: The Mudcats line-up also boasts four of the Marlins top hitting prospects to go along with all of that top pitching. Cameron Maybin who headlined the players the Marlins received in the Miguel Cabrera deal. The Marlins ignored the pressure to rush Maybin to the majors instead sending him to the Mudcats, it will pay off in the short term for the Mudcats but will benefit the Marlins in the long run. Maybin is one of the most talented and exciting players in all the minors and should be an all-star center-fielder for the Marlins for years to come. There is no need to rush him as the Marlins look to rebuild, he has the ability to be a 30/30 player and needs a bit more time to refine his skills. Look for Maybin to get a second half call up if he continues to dominate the minors. Joining Maybin in the line-up is second baseman Chris Coghlan, who doesn't have the five-tool talent of Maybin but still should be joining him in the Marlins line-up come next season. Last year Coghlan hit .287-12-82 while adding 24 stolen bases. Look at Coghlan as a poor man's Brian Roberts, as he continues to develop each year. The Mudcats line-up also features 1B Gaby Sanchez and catcher Brett Hayes who both could be starting for the Marlins in the near future. Hayes is a top defensive catcher but doesn't have a great bat, but still should be in competition for a starting role come next season. Sanchez lacks the prototypical first baseman power but is a high contact hitter and a good defender that will be given a shot at the first base job next year if Mike Jacobs doesn't improve.

Frisco RoughRiders (Texas Rangers), Texas League:

With sound trades and smart drafting the Rangers rebuilding process is heading in the right direction. The RoughRiders are a prime example of the Rangers depth of talent; they feature not only the Rangers top two prospects but also a host of others who will be on the roster in the next couple of years.

On the mound: For all the talent on the RoughRiders not too much of it lies in the pitching staff. Only two of their pitchers right now look like guys who will be pitching for the Rangers Matt Harrison and Warner Madrigal. Of these left handed starter Matt Harrison has the higher upside, acquired as part of the trade for Mark Teixeira, he has the ability to be a legitimate number three starter. Harrison isn't going to be an all-star but he should be a valuable member of the Rangers rotation. He is joined on the staff with future closing candidate Warner Madrigal. Madrigal who was signed as an outfielder was switched two years ago to the mound by the Angels and has been on the fast track to the majors ever since. The Rangers signed him as a minor league free agent after the Angels didn't protect him and will continue the process of converting him into a closer. In another year or two if Madrigal keeps improving in the minors he will be finishing games for the Rangers.

In the line-up: The real talent for the RoughRiders is their impressive line-up, led by the Rangers top two prospects SS Elvis Andrus and 3B Chris Davis. With Andrus and Davis the Rangers have the left side of the infield set for the next decade, as both look to be the real deal. Andrus was another piece of the Teixeira trade and is among the top shortstop prospects in baseball. While some look at him as an "all-glove" ball player it should be noted that Andrus will be playing in Double-A at only 19 years of age. He's always been extremely young for his level and while he struggles at the plate he has good speed and continues to make improvements. He could be a 40-50 stolen base player down the road if he continues to work on his timing and jumps. His glove will continue to be his biggest strength but Andrus looks like a special ball player. Unlike Andrus, Davis's bat and not his glove is what keeps him advancing through the Rangers system. Last year was a breakout year for Davis as he hit .297-36-118 between two levels last year. Davis could be a 40 home run hitter in the big leagues as he has continued to improve at every stop in the minors. Look for the Rangers to give him a starting role in 2009. Joining Andrus and Davis are a pair of top catching prospects Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez. Most teams wouldn't have two top catching prospects at the same level but the Rangers are stacked with catchers and didn't have much of a choice. Teagarden is one of the better catching prospects he has power, can hit for average and is considered to be very good defensively. Ramirez on the other hand is more of the offensive catcher and is still working on his defensive skills. Either way both Ramirez and Teagarden should force the issue and one will likely be traded at some point before next season.






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