Article first appeared 7/6/08
This is our weekly look at the free agents in each league. We have two goals with this article:
One size doesn't fit all, and we could never hope to encompass all league structures, so we have to have a set of base assumptions. Those assumptions are:
Matt Harrison - We originally were going to list Harrison in the Prospects section of this article, but injuries to Vicente Padilla and Eric Hurley might have opened the door for a major league promotion this week. Harrison threw a seven-inning no-hitter at the Double-A level earlier this year, but his cumulative stats are not overwhelming. He has just 55 strikeouts in 84 combined innings, with a 20:14 K:BB in 38 Triple-A innings since a recent promotion there. Harrison had some shoulder problems last year, which almost negated his inclusion in the Mark Teixeira trade last year, but ultimately they accepted him as part of the package. Don't look for an immediate contribution. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Jeffrey Karstens - Consider this a speculative note. Darrell Rasner has scuffled in his most recent starts, and though he just got a vote of confidence from manager Joe Girardi, he's a threat to lose his spot in the rotation. Karstens is probably the leading candidate to take over in the short-term, posting a 3.71 ERA and 39:9 K:BB in 43.2 innings since returning from his groin injury. The pressure will be on Karstens to produce right away, however - he's going to have to be better than not only Rasner, but also Ian Kennedy and eventually Philip Hughes. We might be looking at the Yankees adding another pitcher via trade at some point. Kennedy is working on a rehab assignment, but is still probably a few weeks away, and arguably needs time in Triple-A still. Mixed: $0; AL: $1.
Grant Balfour - Balfour has two saves since Troy Percival went on the DL, while Dan Wheeler has just one. We talked about Wheeler last week, so we'll focus our attention on Balfour now. He once was a big-time relief prospect with the Twins, before a shoulder injury ruined his progress. He's since bounced through the Reds and Brewers before joining the Rays, who have reaped the benefits of his eventual recovery. Balfour has recovered his dominant stuff, striking out 27 batters in 17.2 innings since his callup in May. What's interesting is that even the Rays came close to missing out on him - he was designated for assignment at the end of spring training, but passed through waivers unclaimed. Mixed: $3; AL: $12.
Jerry Blevins - Blevins has 10 saves for Triple-A Sacramento, but he won't be used in that role in his time with the A's right now. He joined the organization as part of the Jason Kendall trade last year, and while he doesn't have dominant stuff, he's been able to successfully fool hitters often enough to average a strikeout per inning. If he can stick around for a while, watch his progress at his new level. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Masahide Kobayashi - Joe Borowski has been designated for assignment, leaving the closer's job wide-open. Kobayashi had previously taken over the primary set-up duties and got the save last week when Borowski had blown an opportunity in the ninth inning against the Dodgers. He'll get the bulk of the save opportunities for now, and he's pitching reasonably well, though with a lower strikeout rate (26 strikeouts in 41 innings) than we'd like. He'll get the call over Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez for now. Mixed: $7; AL: $19.
Jensen Lewis - Lewis was excellent for the Indians last season, striking out 34 in 29.1 innings with a 2.14 ERA. But he had no zip on his ball for some reason at the beginning of the current season, so he was sent down to the minors save for a brief major league stint in June. He appears to have regained what he lost, with a 1.20 WHIP in 20 innings and some improved velocity, plus 18 strikeouts over that period. He's not in the hunt for closer's job for now, but with Joe Borowski gone, he has one less impediment in his way. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Scott Linebrink - Linebrink filled in for the injured Bobby Jenks to get the save on Sunday and has generally had a pretty good season, leading a big turnaround for the White Sox bullpen. Though he has a 1.95 ERA and a 32:6 K:BB through 37 innings, be a little cautious with your bidding here. First, Jenks is due back on Tuesday, and though back injuries such as Jenks' can recur, by the time you grab Linebrink, he may no longer get those chances. He's also allowed a run in his last three outings, and a homer in two of those. The longball was a problem for Linebrink last year, too - he served up 12 between San Diego and Milwaukee. Mixed: $1; AL: $4.
David Robertson - Robertson struck out a combined 74 batters in 51.2 innings between Double and Triple-A before getting the call last week, but he's also been on the wild side, walking 16 in 33 innings at Triple-A before his promotion. Robertson might work his way into a valuable set-up role, but we're wary of that walk rate. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Brad Ziegler - Ziegler has been a ground ball machine since his promotion, posting a 3.11 G/F while not allowing an earned run yet this season in 16 major league innings. He's not necessarily a good closer candidate, but he's the type of pitcher that can be really useful in deeper 4x4 leagues for that last pitcher slot on your roster. Mixed: $0; AL: $1.
Wes Bankston - The A's called up Bankston when they put Eric Chavez on the DL on Wednesday, and Bankston has played every day since. He's become a bit of a forgotten prospect after bouncing around between the Tampa Bay and Kansas City systems before being claimed by the A's. At Triple-A Sacramento, Bankston has hit 14 homers while driving in 51 runs through 70 games. The power makes him worth a look, but his plate discipline (13:56 BB:K) needs work and his .236 average against lefties suggests that he would be more productive in a platoon situation than as an everyday player. Bankston's playing time and maybe even his roster spot could last only as long as Frank Thomas is on the DL; Thomas is due back after the All-Star break. Mixed: $1; AL: $3.
Reid Brignac - Brignac's prospect star has dimmed after consecutive mediocre seasons between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, where he had a .743 OPS before he got the call when Jason Bartlett went on the DL with a sprained knee. Brignac is only 22, so be careful not to write him off too quickly. Still, he doesn't project to be a star or necessarily even the Rays' shortstop of the future, a point underscored by their selection of Tim Beckham as the first overall pick in this year's draft. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Donnie Murphy - Murphy gets maligned as a utility infielder, but given how he's been used first by the Royals and now the A's, it's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. Despite making his major league debut back in 2005, he's only managed 271 major league at-bats. There's a reasonable chance that if he ever got 300+ plate appearances in a season, he'd turn in at least league average on-base numbers with decent power from a middle infield position. That said, he's not likely to get that chance. He's starting now at shortstop for the A's with Bobby Crosby on the DL. Mixed: $0; AL: $4.
Gregorio Petit - Petit is up for his second tour of duty with the A's with Crosby on the DL. His lack of stolen base skills is rivaled only by his lack of power. Mixed and AL: No.
Ben Zobrist - At first glance, it looks like Zobrist will get more playing time than Reid Brignac at shortstop while Jason Bartlett is out. Zobrist might be able to provide some cheap steals, but that's really the extent of his offensive upside. Mixed: No; AL: $0.
Brett Gardner - Gardner is going to get a pretty good look in the outfield over the next few weeks, with Hideki Matsui on the DL, Justin Christian sent back down, and Johnny Damon hurting. He had a very nice walk rate in the minors and can fly on the basepaths, but he's so lacking in power that we wonder if he'll get repeatedly challenged by opposing starters. He seems like one of those good on-base prospects where the walk rate doesn't translate because of his utter lack of power. He projects long-term more as a fourth outfielder than a potential replacement for Melky Cabrera. Mixed: $2; AL: $7 (bid more for both if you're desperate for stolen bases).
Elvis Andrus - We're going to be talking a lot about age-to-level when reviewing these prospects, and so it goes with Andrus, who is only 19 years old while playing every day at Double-A Frisco. Andrus' offensive value derives from his speed - many of his doubles come from speed and not power, and already has 27 stolen bases in 65 games this year. It doesn't look like he's ever going to hit more than 10 homers in a given season, but if he can get on base at a .350 clip, his speed will still make him a pretty valuable fantasy commodity.
Michael Bowden - The Red Sox have done so well at the major league level that it's easy to overlook all their good work in building a farm system, despite picking late in the draft each year. Bowden is their latest high-profile pitching prospect to emerge at Double-A Portland. Still just 21, Bowden probably won't climb all the way to the majors like Clay Buchholz did last year, but he's pretty close to a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket. He's 8-4 with a 2.36 ERA and 93:22 K:BB over 99.1 innings.
Trevor Cahill - Cahill was the most dominant pitcher in the High-A California League this spring, and so far his transition to Double-A Midland has gone well. In three starts there, he has a 1.89 ERA and 18:8 K:BB over 19 innings, all while inducing a ton of ground balls. He's only 20 years old, so don't expect a rapid transition to the major leagues, but that's OK. Gio Gonzalez might be Cahill to the majors, but Cahill is the guy with the brighter future.
Josh Fields - After losing the playing time battle with Joe Crede in spring training, Fields hasn't been able to get it in gear for Triple-A Charlotte. He's hit poorly, and he's been dealing with patella tendinitis in his right knee. The White Sox have a pretty tough decision to make between Crede and Fields this offseason, and Fields' lack of production hasn't helped. He won't make for great trade bait for any potential deadline deals, and he's also not a threat to get called up and dislodge Crede down the stretch.
Gio Gonzalez - Gonzalez led the Double-A Southern League last year with 185 strikeouts, but many of those came courtesy of his big breaking curveball, rather than an overpowering fastball. He also did it while repeating the Double-A level. Both of those facts limit my belief in him as a big-time pitching prospect. Instead, I think he projects as a third or fourth starter, and one that will probably scuffle with his first exposure to major league hitters.
Wes Hodges - With the Indians having to take a hard look at the future, some of their attention has to turn to Hodges. Casey Blake is already 34, Andy Marte doesn't seem like he's going to get much of an extended trial, so they have to decide if Hodges is their third baseman of the future, or whether they should turn from outside the organization to address the position. The big talk of the C.C. Sabathia trade rumors is for Matt LaPorta, but if they're not settled on Hodges, maybe Mat Gamel should be their primary focus. Hodges' batting eye is pretty well honed, but will he hit for enough power? He has 25 extra-base hits for Double-A Akron in 312 at-bats so far - acceptable, but not really dominant.
David Huff - Huff is a bit of a speculative pitcher to watch for the Indians, but it's not too hard to conjure a scenario where he gets a callup. Paul Byrd is giving up a ton of homers and has a career-low strikeout rate, Jeremy Sowers doesn't appear to be panning out, and Fausto Carmona has had a couple of false starts in his attempts to return from injury. Huff has pitched fairly well in six starts since his promotion to Triple-A Buffalo, posting a 3.38 ERA and an eye-popping 38:3 K:BB in 32 innings. But the Indians might want to exercise some caution before calling Huff up - he only had 11 starts at High-A Kinston before getting shut down with an elbow injury last year, returning in time to pitch a little at the Arizona Fall League. It might be better for his development to simply spend the rest of the season at Buffalo. The Tribe's signing of Jeff Weaver to a minor league deal might signal their intention to take it slowly with Huff.
Austin Jackson - Jackson hasn't torn it up this year for Double-A Trenton, but he probably projects better as the Yankees' future center fielder than either Brett Gardner or even Melky Cabrera. We'd like to see him hit for more power, but his walk rate is solid and he runs well. The question for the Yankees is how aggressive do they get with his ascent up the minor league ladder? Hideki Matsui's injury has the potential to create a lengthy absence, and Johnny Damon might be headed to the DL soon. Do they promote Jackson early, or do they add an outfielder in trade talks? And if they do that, is Jackson touchable? What they do with him might open a window on who is pulling the strings in the Yankees' front office.
Beau Mills - Seeing Matt LaPorta's name involved with the C.C. Sabathia trade rumors makes us wonder what the Indians ultimately see in Mills. Sure, LaPorta theoretically can play the outfield, and ultimately the Indians can still use one player at first base and the other at DH. But they are similar players in where they can play. Mills doesn't have LaPorta's upside right now, though he's homered four times in his last 10 games, giving some semblance of hope of a breakout. But don't look for Mills to be ready for the majors until 2010. Teammate Nick Weglarz might be the better prospect.
Mike Moustakas - Moustakas had an awful April at Low-A Burlington and hasn't yet had a big month as a pro, currently hitting .244/.304/.407, but a little bit of patience is in order here. Keep in mind that he's just 19 and one of the younger players in the league. Not to say that he has the same ceiling, but remember that Justin Upton had just a .756 OPS at the same level in his first year as a pro. Projections of him reaching Double-A this year were overly ambitious, as he'll probably have to master Low-A before getting any sort of promotion.
Rick Porcello - It's tempting to think that Porcello's 47:23 K:BB in 84 innings for High-A Lakeland is a disappointment, but it's important to remember that he was facing high school hitters last year, and he's made the direct leap to a tough track. He won't turn 20 until December. Besides his low ERA (2.79), Porcello also has induced a number of groundballs (2.31 G/F). He remains an elite pitching prospect. Don't expect him to be a quick help to the big league club, because of his age. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said earlier in the week that he doesn't intend to promote Porcello to Double-A this year.
Nolan Reimold - While there could be financial reasons not to call up Reimold this summer, he's proven that his bat is pretty close to being ready, perhaps needing a quick stint at Triple-A first. He's hitting .283/.361/.503 at Double-A Bowie with a 38:46 BB:K ratio at the plate. The O's are pretty close to setting their long-term outfield of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Reimold, and if/when they're sellers at the trade deadline, a spot should open up for him.
Travis Snider - Snider is one of the top hitting prospects still remaining in the minors. Like Cardinals prospect Colby Rasmus, Snider struggled early this season at his new level, but has come on strong recently. Use his slow start as a buying opportunity, and get him while you can. Snider isn't necessarily this year's Jay Bruce, because Bruce is such a better defensive player and baserunner, but like Bruce, he can flat-out rake and should rise quickly. Chances are we'll see him in the majors in 2009, but not in September this year.
Brandon Wood - Wood has stagnated in the Angels' system, and the cause remains the same - his poor contact rate. Strikeouts from a prospect can be acceptable if they come with both power and walks, but in Wood's case, he just hasn't gotten his walk rate up enough to counteract his prodigious strikeout rate (58 in 217 at-bats at Triple-A Salt Lake this year). Given that there's no place for him to play when the Angels' regular starting infielders are healthy, he may need a change in organizations.