Next: The National League

What’s the price of instant gratification? The Arizona Diamondbacks were an expansion team in 1998, propelled on a fast track by relentless manager Buck Showalter and an aggressive front office, participating in postseason play by 1999, winning an epic World Series in 2001. It was a whirlwind, a winning tradition instilled within infancy, the antithesis of Tampa Bay. But nobody stays on top forever. The team’s foundation gradually cracked, and the Diamondbacks finally kissed abyss in 2004, collecting an abysmal 51 wins.

The how and why, scenery for history, paints a picture of dubious decisions, chiefly the ill-fated Curt Schilling trade to Boston, for which the Diamondbacks received an assortment of spare parts and fungible resources, annihilating any opportunity for contention in ’04.

There would be no blank checks for the Diamondbacks now, no mass migration of high priced veterans into their stable. They would need to build.

  The game’s current exhibits quiet violence, a pleasant riptide. Mark Prior is destined for greatness, before cruel waves cascade. The Diamondbacks may have appeared entrapped in an undertow, before the horizon became visible.

There’s Conor Jackson, and Mark Grace in a broadcaster’s booth. There’s Chris Young, and Steve Finley hanging by a thread in Colorado. There’s Stephen Drew, and Tony Womack nowhere to be found.

The ocean rolls on.

Arizona welcomes it with open arms.

Who else?

Who’s next?

N.L. East:

Marlins: Sean West

Bats: L Throws: L

Starting Pitcher

If the Marlins’ brilliance in the area of talent evaluation weren’t so well established, one would be tempted to believe them blessed, by a god of serendipitous fortune. Whenever the apathy entrenched within their “fan base” appears to infect performance, a Dontrelle Willis is acquired, or a Miguel Cabrera is developed, and the Fish solider on. Meanwhile, we all wait in wonderment, for the Marlins’ to unveil another untouchable.

Sean West could be next in line. His measurable attributes would make any scout salivate. West is 6’8, and 210 easy. His full maturation incomplete, an already impressive fastball stands to gain an extra degree of velocity, in due time. West was a bit one-dimensional in College, boasting a single consistently effective pitch, the heater, eschewing secondary offerings. That in mind, his growth could be glacial, especially at advanced levels. However, West has displayed a willingness to learn, and is twirling breaking balls with regularity in the bushes, attempting to redefine his style. And while the deuces remain wild, West’s potential remains sky high, just another prodigal Marlin.

Braves: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Bats: Switch Throws: R

Catcher

Jarrod, a supremely talented switch hitting catcher, is still tabbed by many as the Braves’ top hitting prospect, despite a disappointing 2006 campaign, marred by injuries. If his ascension proceeds as previously expected, master tactician John Schuerholz will gain an invaluable trading chip, considering the dearth of catching talent of Saltalamachhia’s caliber around the baseball landscape, and Brian McCann’s rightfully fortified presence on the Braves’ roster.

Phillies: Kyle Drabek

Bats: R Throws: R

Starting Pitcher

Questionable character issues have dampened Drabek’s stock in many baseball circles, viewed as the top right-handed pitcher available in the ‘06 draft. Kyle is the son of former top echelon starter Doug, the Pirates’ ace in their last hour of glory. He mixes an impressive fastball and curve, but his change needs solidification. 

Drabek’s erratic persona leaves a stain of gray with regard to his future. He could completely flame out or follow in his father’s footsteps, probability equal.

Mets: Lastings Milledge

Bats: R Throws: R

Outfielder

Milledge wasn’t exactly a popular man toward the tail end of his truncated tenure with the Mets in 2006, closer Billy Wagner bestowing a sign above his locker advising:

“ Know your place, rook!”

Crude as the sentiment may have been, it definitely possessed legitimacy. His questionable character left many dropping Milledge beneath Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez on the Mets’ organizational prospective depth chart.

Lastings’ ability, however, will grant him a multitude of second chances. He seemed in a seizing mood during Spring Training, impressing veterans with newfound maturity, and utilizing his lightening quick wrists at the dish to grant entry on the initial 25-man roster. Lastings couldn’t find at-bats in April, however, with the suddenly surging Shawn Green blocking his path, and was relocated to New Orleans. Instead of sulking after the demotion, Milledge has hit .330, and appears well on his way to establishing a permanent “place” on the Mets. 

Nationals: Kory Casto

Bats: R Throws: R

Outfielder [Left]

The baseball in Washington sure is dreary. In bleak situations such as these, team ownership wishes for a phenomenal youngster to arrive on a white horse, spiriting disenchanted fans away, to a better, yet realistic, place in the future. Unfortunately for Stan Kasten and company, the Nationals have one of those already, in Ryan Zimmerman, who won’t generate a ton of buzz, purely because of an already imbedded status with the club.

Nothing about Kory Casto is particularly spectacular. He has the potential to become a solid starter, middle of the road. Casto’s professional technique plate wise sets him apart from other outfielders of his ilk, without one stand out strength. His power could blossom, festered by the aforementioned intelligent approach. He doesn’t have the speed for center or arm for right.

Somewhere, a poor soul in Washington yawns, through no fault of Kory Casto.

N.L. Central:

Reds: Homer Bailey

Bats: R Throws: R

Starting Pitcher

Pass on querying Homer Bailey regarding the finer points of his craft. He’ll never offer a pitching dissertation. Not the cerebral type.

Golden right arm in tow, Bailey equates simplicity with victory. Universally slotted as the number two pitching prospect in baseball, behind only King Philip of the Yankees, Homer has flat dominated at every level, and is currently lurking at the Reds’ Triple A affiliate, a step away from testing himself in the show.

His control isn’t impeccable, ability to make meaningful adjustments questionable. But Bailey’s credentials are undeniable, his day in Cincinnati soon dawning.    

Brewers: Yovani Gallardo

Bats: R Throws: R

Starting Pitcher

  While Homer Bailey may be the consensus number one pitching prospect in the National League, Yovani Gallardo is unanimously the most exciting. Gallardo is a strikeout machine, currently sporting a ridiculous 42-8 K/Walk ratio in Nashville. His repertoire is delightfully old school, an ebbing fastball topping out in the mid-nineties, paired with a hard breaking curve ball. There are concerns that Gallardo’s occasionally shaky mechanics could irrevocably damage his arm, which would be a terrible waste.

Cardinals: Colby Rasmus

Bats: L Throws: L

Outfielder

The heir apparent to Jim Edmonds, Colby Rasmus is the complete package, tagged with the five tool label, and deserving of every appliance.

Rasmus is the quintessential Cardinal jewel, in the vein of J.D. Drew, though his blazing speed and flowering power also harkens Grady Sizemore. The Cardinals’ outfield will be in definite flux following 2007, when Rasmus, all of 20 years old at the outset of this season, could be prepared to fill the void.

Pirates: Andrew McCutchen

Bats: R Throws: R

Outfielder

Jason Bay was becoming a nomad when he landed with the Pirates organization in 2003. He’d made his rounds in the under belly of the Expo, Met, and Padre organizations, traded for the likes of Lou Collier and Jason Middlebrook.

While Dave Littlefield made an excellent deal, acquiring Bay with Oliver Perez from San Diego for Brian Giles, the beleaguered Buccos could never really take credit for developing the star outfielder on their own accord.

And, upon recollection that Brian Giles was acquired from the Indians, in the mind numbingly stupid Ricardo Rincon disaster- [from the Cleveland perspective, of course. Rincon gave them one good year, Giles was an ELITE offensive player, and no, I don’t want to hear about the glut in Cleveland’s outfield, because the Indians gave a TON of playing time in the proceeding years to Wil Cordero and Russell Branyan, who Giles wipes the floor with. It was an awful trade, topped only by the SAME Indians trading Richie Sexson, for who, Bob freaking Wickman, are you kidding me? But… I digress. Somebody has to write a book about the mid-nineties Indians. It has to happen.]

-One realizes that the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t cultivated an elite outfielder since Barry Bonds, who, evidently, probably didn’t need much help.

The remedy: Andrew McCutchen. Different players invoke alternating adjectives within the minds behind the eyes watching them at work. Jose Reyes is kinetic. Jim Thome is powerful. Derek Jeter fights.

Andrew McCutchen is smooth. He never really endured a severe adjustment period upon introduction to the professional level, someone even of Jeter’s rank suffered.

He burst into Rookie League, swatting .297 and fleecing bases, playing his game unaffected. 2006 produced more eye popping output, McCutchen becoming the youngest player in Altoona Curve history. [Double A]  All Andrew did was trump his Single A output, where he simply may have felt insulted. 

It’s a matter of when, not if, with regards to McCutchen. And when his time comes, Andrew is a practical guarantee to be ready, and willing.

Astros: Hunter Pence

Bats: R Throws: R

Outfielder

Hunter Pence is electric, and could jolt the Astro offense, limp far too often. The multifaceted outfielder has made it nearly impossible for management to rein him from the ballpark formerly known as Enron, delivering a sterling Spring Training performance, following an outstanding Minor League season. At age 24, Pence belongs in the Major Leagues, and holding him back in Triple A could be best classified as tepid. With the big league club off to a slow start, Houston should explore a proactive course, one including Pence as a key ingredient. 

Chicago Cubs: Felix Pie

Bats: L Throws: L

Outfielder

Felix Pie is devilishly skilled, a hint of unintentional arrogance dripping from his game. After all, when Pie summons his dynamic elasticity, on the whim of pure instinct, it nearly stings to see the suffocating difficulty of baseball battled with such unassuming ease.

For the diehard citizen of Wrigley-Ville, such as the visitors and contributors to Gonfalon Cubs on Baseball Think Factory, Pie is a household name, a beacon of hope amid the searing misery that was Dusty Baker: The Final Chapter. Pie debuted after a hamstring injury claimed Alfonso Soriano in mid-April. The Cubs surprised in summoning Pie, anything but a stop gap solution. Felix has managed to stick, impressing with his fielding prowess. Despite being the only truly qualified center fielder on the roster, Felix finds himself within a flawed glut of Jim Hendry’s twisted design, costing him at-bats, and presumably, making Andere Richtingen extremely unhappy. 

N.L. West:

Los Angeles Dodgers: Andy LaRoche

Bats: R Throws: R

Third Baseman

There isn’t much damning evidence against Andy LaRoche. He has the bloodlines, his father a former Major League pitcher, his brother, potential contemporary, a slugging first baseman. The only negatives attached to LaRoche link to his athleticism, average at best.

But at the plate, Andy’s superb discipline should translate well at the professional level.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Chris Young

Bats: R Throws: R

Outfielder

It was always a personal opinion, before 2005 anyway, that White Sox General Manager Ken Williams received a bit of a raw deal in Michael Lewis’ groundbreaking book “Money Ball”. Williams was portrayed in an unsuspecting manner, essentially getting held up by master trader Billy Beane, trapped in his web. Kenny would remove any lingering blemish from his image after guiding the White Sox to a World Series crown in ’05, largely on the strength of his trades for Jose Contreras and Freddy Garcia.

Sure, Kenny was on fire, in the winter thaw following his ultimate triumph. And it was here, precisely, where he may have made his biggest mistake.

Seeking to further bolster an already loaded pitching staff, Williams sacrificed a top outfield prospect named Chris Young, among others, in exchange for Javier Vazquez, who had struggled for the second consecutive season.

In 2006, as Young surged through the Diamondback system, and Vazquez searched for the consistency eluding him since 2003, it grew increasingly that Kenny Williams hadn’t made a particularly good trade.

And this time, he hadn’t carelessly dealt Chad Bradford.

Chris Young’s haughty perch extends beyond the Diamondback organization. He routinely places in the top five of prospect lists encompassing the talent of every franchise. He is an outstanding defensive center fielder, capable of breathtaking stabs and gravity teasing leaps, a plus arm to boot.      

At the dish, Young is imminently capable of compiling superlative averages. He has flashed power early in 2007, and should heat up in the summer months. 

Rockies: Jason Hirsh

Bats: R Throws: R

Starting Pitcher

The Rockies classify themselves as a Christian organization, steeped in belief, of charity and good will. This sentiment, however, went only so far, when one of their homegrown, Jason Jennings, requested a due payment of cold hard cash. Embattled Dan O’Dowd, citing Beane 14:56 [“What it profit a G.M., to lose a starter, without getting prospects back in return?”] promptly dealt Jason for a package of players including Hirsh, the Astros’ top gun on the farm. 

Hirsh had a superlative ’06 season in the Minor Leagues, but one particularly rough patch at the Show slaughtered his earned run average, and apparently lowered his stock with Houston’s hierarchy, as they willingly included him in their bid to acquire Jennings.

Jason throws a heavy fastball, which alleviates mistakes in location. All told, he’s off to very good start with the Rockies, Humidor help him, sporting a nifty 3.41 ERA in 31 innings.   

San Francisco Giants: Tim Linecum

Bats: R Throws: R

Starting Pitcher

A Roy Oswalt clone, Linecum’s approach to the plate is stunning in abject violence. Witness Linecum, practically unfurl himself at the hitter, legs ferociously kicking, hips recklessly twirling.

A vague first round curiosity in last year’s draft, Tim has exploded onto the Minor League scene, many forecasting a quick debut with the Giants 

There, he could join Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Noah Lowry, and a revived Matt Morris in the Giants’ rotation.   

Linecum’s Fresno stats are almost as scary as his wind up: 4-0, 0.29 ERA.

      

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One comment

  1. jennifer.park82@googlemail.com

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