Thursday, April 24, 2008

Down on the Farm: High Single-A Preview

The last couple of weeks we've looked at Major League talent at Double and Triple-A, this week we will look at teams in High Single-A ball. Talent in Single-A is a bit different than in the higher levels, in that the talent isn't as concentrated. This is mainly for two reasons, first there are both Low and High-A ball teams between which talent is split. Second, since Single-A is a bit of a jump away from the Majors its harder to determine who is a legit prospect and who is a career minor league ball player. Here's a look at two teams that still manage to be loaded with talent.

Fredrick Keys (Baltimore Orioles), Carolina League:

The Orioles who are in the midst of a rebuilding process have spent the past couple of years strengthening their minor league system through the draft and this past off season with a few key trades. With these moves the O's have made great strides on improving their system top to bottom, but the pride of the organization has to be the Fredrick Keys. The Keys are stacked with the many of the Orioles top hitting and pitching prospects.

On the mound: The Keys have three of the Orioles best pitching prospects in their rotation led by 2007 5th round pick Jake Arrieta. Arrieta fell to the 5th round due to his price tag but is truly a 1st round talent. The former TCU product signed late and didn't pitch for the organization last year, but made up for lost time with a brilliant performance in the Arizona Fall League in limited work. Arrieta has a long term future as a number 2 or 3 starter in the majors. Barring any injuries or hiccups look for Arrieta to be ready to compete for a rotation spot in 2010. Joining Arrieta in the rotation are fellow righties Pedro Beato and Brandon Erbe, of the two Beato is next in the pecking order and could soon join Arrieta on the fast track to the big leagues. He has the stuff to join Arrieta at the front of the Orioles rotation in a couple years. Look for him to overpower A-ball hitters and get a call up to AA before the year is out. Of the three Erbe dominates in two areas he has the biggest fastball and the most question marks. Erbe has lit up the radar gun since the Orioles drafted him out of high school in 2005, last year unfortunately it was Erbe who got lit up for the Keys going 6-8 with a 6.26 ERA in 119 innings pitched. The 20 year old Erbe is hoping his second time in the Keys rotation will go a bit better, if not he may be moved to a closer role where his fastball can be an effective weapon.

In the line-up: The line-up for the Keys boasts the Orioles past three first round draft picks led by 2007 pick catcher Matt Wieters. Wieters, who fell to the Orioles at the 5th pick due to the contract demands of his agent Scott Boras, was easily the most polished position player in the draft last year. Offensively and Defensively Weiters does it all and should be up in the majors within two years. When he gets there Weiters will likely be the best offensive catcher for a long time. The former Georgia Tech backstop has all the makings of becoming a middle of the order hitting catcher which is a pretty rare find. Wieters doesn't just beat you at the plate but behind it as well, he was the Yellow Jackets closer so he should be able to throw out his fair share of runners as well. Joining Wieters in the line-up are the Keys corner infielders; 3B (2006 pick) Bill Rowell and 1B (2005 pick) Brandon Snyder. Rowell struggled in his first full season in Low-A ball offensively and defensively, hitting .273-9-57 striking out 104 times in just 357 AB's while committing 21 errors. Even with his struggles Rowell has the best power in the system and if things get on track for him he could be a 30 home run a year player. Snyder who was drafted as a catcher was moved from behind the plate last year to first base due to injury. So far the move has seemed to pay off as Snyder got back on track last season hitting .283-11-58 in 448 at bats. While Snyder doesn't have the big time power as most first baseman his bat should carry him going forward as he is a very complete hitter and should consistently be a high on-base type of hitter. In addition to the three former first-round picks the Keys have a few other interesting hitting prospects in 1B Chris Vinyard and outfielder Brandon Tripp. While neither have the pedigree of their top prospect teammates, Vinyard and Tripp have displayed big time power in the minors so far and if they continue to keep driving in runs they will find a spot in the Majors sooner or later.

Stockton Ports (Oakland Athletics), California League:

The Athletics like the Orioles are in rebuilding mode and spent this off-season trading away their two best players for a stockpile of young prospects. These trades have bolstered the A's system to one of the best in baseball. The Stockton team is representative of that as it is loaded with prospects from trades as well as from their last two draft classes.

On the mound: The Stockton pitching staff is just nasty and this after one prospect Henry Rodriguez who started the year with the Ports was promoted to Double-A after just three starts. All the Ports have left are three other front line starters as well as two quality relievers. The rotation is anchored by 20 year old Trevor Cahill who enters his second full season after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2006. Last year in Low-A Cahill dominated his competition going 11-4 with a 2.73 ERA with 117 K's in just 105 innings pitched. Cahill has the makings of a front of the rotation starter and if he stays on track should be in Oakland by mid-season 2010. Joining Cahill in the Ports rotation is a pair of pitchers whom Oakland acquired through trades this off-season, Brett Anderson and Fautino De Los Santos. De Los Santos, was the centerpiece of the package the A's got back for Nick Swisher, could very well be joining Cahill atop the A's rotation in a few years. The power righty had a breakout year last season going 10-5 with a 2.65 ERA and 153 strikeouts in only 122 innings. There is some chance that he could still be moved to the bullpen given his power arm, regardless the 22 year old De Los Santos should have a bright future in Oakland. Anderson, who was part of the Dan Haren trade from the Diamondbacks, doesn't have the upside of Cahill or the dominating fastball of De Los Santos but still seems like a lock to be a part of the A's rotation in a few years. The 20 year old southpaw is a command and control specialist, he misses bats and won't walk many batters. Though he may never be an ace of a pitching staff he looks like a workhorse in the making, a pitcher who will give you 200 innings each season. The two top relievers on the Ports staff are a pair of 2007 draft picks 3rd rounder Sam Demel and 5th rounder Andrew Carignan. Both are power arms who will have a chance to be 9th inning guys going forward.

In the line-up: To go along with their loaded rotation the Ports have a stacked roster with 5 legitimate hitting prospects. They are led by 2007 first round pick first baseman Sean Doolittle. Doolittle is not a power first baseman though he could have 20+ home run power. He's a classic A's ball player a guy who will always be on base and almost never strikeout. Given his production in college and advanced batting eye Doolittle could be up in Oakland within two years. Another player acquired by the A's in the Haren deal is first baseman Chris Carter. Carter, who was actually with the White Sox last year before being traded to the D-backs, had a great year in Low-A ball hitting .291-25-93 in 467 at bats. Carter has big time power and could be a clean-up hitter going forward, and projects as a player who should hit around 40 home runs a year. While for now Carter is a first baseman he looks to be more of a full-time DH when he gets to the majors. In the outfield the Ports have two players who have a bright future in the organization Jermaine Mitchell and Matt Sulentic. Mitchell is the more advanced of the two and could be the center fielder of the the future for the A's. In his first full season Mitchell hit .288-8-58 to go along with 24 stolen bases. Mitchell is already 23 years old so he needs to have a big year for the Ports but given his speed and ability to take a walk, he should be called up to Double-A before the year is out. Sulentic on the other hand is a bit more raw than Mitchell as he struggled in his first full season in the minors. Sulentic is a line drive hitter with limited power he will never be an all star but can be a productive member of a major league outfield. The fifth and final prospect on the Port's roster is 2007 2nd round pick shortstop Josh Horton. Horton is solid defensively and while he doesn't have much power or speed he is a solid all around hitter. He profiles in the future as a two-hole hitter if all goes well.

Hope everyone has a great week and check back next week as we will begin to look at who is heating up in the minors!

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