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American League Prospects Update

August 6, 2009 | By Matt Wilson | comment on this post
Brian Matusz is now up with the Baltimore Orioles.
Baltimore’s Brian Matusz looked very sharp in his MLB debut on Tuesday.

Let’s review how some of the big prospects around the Junior Circuit have fared this season and who might be coming up next month that’s worthy of monitoring.

Baltimore Orioles

Before the season started, many Fantasy pundits (including us) predicted that Matt Wieters would be the number one prospect to add to your team. As expected, he was called up in the beginning of June and has hit .269 since with three home runs and 14 RBI. These numbers do not live up to the ‘Joe Mauer with power’ description that some scouts projected, but it is important to remember that Wieters just turned 23. Catchers take a little extra time to develop and Baltimore will give him every chance to perform for the rest of the season. His value may never be lower than it is right now, so he is a nice candidate to buy low on.

The future is now in the Orioles’ rotation. In the past week, they have called upon their top two young pitchers, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman, to fill voids on their staff. Matusz seems to be getting better with each start he makes. After posting a 2.16 ERA in High-A, he actually looked more dominant in Double-A by putting together a 1.55 ERA to go with a 7-0 record. On Tuesday, he made his Major League debut against the Detroit Tigers and picked up a victory. After demonstrating his ability to get out of jams, he could stick around for the rest of this season. Matusz should already be owned in all keeper leagues and might provide some strikeout help down the stretch in redraft leagues. As a rule I do not trust Oriole pitchers, but Matusz appears to have truly elite stuff.

Tillman has already made two major league starts and has come up empty in both. The 6.75 ERA should drop as he settles into the rotation. Tillman’s groundball/flyball rate (0.33) in his first two starts does not remotely resemble the rate he produced in Triple-A (0.98). With some initial nerves out of the way, he should settle into the rotation nicely. In Triple-A, Tillman was able to strike out over a batter an inning, so he may have a little value in redraft leagues. Because he is an Oriole, it is worth steering clear until he puts a couple good starts together at the Major League level.

Boston Red Sox

The trade deadline has come and gone with Roy Halladay remaining in Toronto. A big reason that he was not moved was Boston’s reluctance to part with too much of its farm system. In our annual Top 40 Prospects, Lars Anderson rated as the 17th-best prospect. After a great season in 2008, he has been unable to hit Double-A pitching with any consistency. He’s striking out once every 3.6 at bats and has yet to reach double-digits in home runs. Many scouts still like Anderson, but he will not be ready to help this season.

The help for this season comes from the young arms. Michael Bowden (No. 40 on our list), Daniel Bard, and Clay Buchholz have all seen time on the big league club. Bard appears to be the most prized possession within the organization, as he has already elevated himself to a key role in the Red Sox bullpen. With a low ERA and a high K/9 rate, he can help teams in dire need of quality pitching. Bard was a starter in college, but the Red Sox seem content to use him as a dominant set-up man and avoid any Joba Chamberlain rotation/bullpen debates.

Buchholz was nothing short of fantastic in Triple-A. He’s only made four starts for the Sox this year and the numbers have not matched his talent, so the stay in Boston could be short lived. It’s hard to count on Buchholz as anything more than a reliever down the stretch, though he could be a nice starter long term.

Bowden has pitched in one Major League game this year, looking virtually unhittable in a relief effort against the AL East-leading New York Yankees. The wins in Triple-A have been almost non-existent, but the 2.96 ERA and 1.15 WHIP are better indicators of his talent. He could return to the Sox in September and provide some help in the bullpen. Bowden shouldn’t be of much use on your Fantasy team, though.

Chicago White Sox

Hopefully you were able to acquire Gordon Beckham when he started his Major League career in a 2-for-28 slump. Now, G-Beck is hitting .316 with six home runs, four stolen bases, and 38 RBI in just 187 at bats. If you are in a keeper league and are falling out of the race, do whatever it takes to acquire this kid. The American League rookie class has been dominated by pitchers, but Beckham has been a shining star on the offensive side. He’s my pick to win the AL Rookie of the Year. After Beckham, what you see is what you get with the White Sox current lineup. The Chicago farm system was already on the weaker side, but now that Clayton Richard, Aaron Poreda, and Brandon Allen have been dealt, the system is virtually barren.

The big name remaining in the minors is Dayan Viciedo. After a slow start in Double-A, this Cuban defector has started to hit well. If Alexei Ramirez needs to see time on the DL for his ankle injury, Beckham could slide over to shortstop and Viciedo might get the call up. If Viciedo does get promoted, he might be worth a flier, but Josh Fields would likely get the first shot at third base if they move Beckham to short.

Cleveland Indians

Mark DeRosa, Ben Francisco, Cliff Lee, and Victor Martinez are now gone and it is time for a new generation of Indians. Everyone assumed that trading Francisco would lead to Matt LaPorta being recalled, but apparently his .190 average in his first taste of the Show is reason enough for the Tribe to keep him in the minors. He will likely be up in September and has the bat to hit a handful of home runs in a short period of time. The move of Martinez also opened the door for Carlos Santana (prospect No. 39 on our pre-season list) at catcher, but the Indians seem content to use Kelly Shoppach and Chris Gimenez for now. Santana has been outstanding in Double-A, though, and there is a good chance he will see sometime in Cleveland this September. If you need a backstop next month, he could fill that void.

Even though his prospect star has faded in the past few years, Andy Marte is a player to watch. There was a time when this guy was the top prospect in the Braves’ minor league system. It’s entirely possible that Marte was just a little slow to capitalize on his talent. In Triple-A, he was hitting .327 with 18 home runs in just 300 at bats. Believe it or not, Marte is still just 25 years old, and he could be a cheap source of power. He’s a must-add in AL-only leagues.

Detroit Tigers

Rick Porcello (No. 8 on our pre-season list) has flashed brilliance this season. At times, he’s also shown that he is just 20 years old. Porcello has got good stuff, but he has yet to put up big strikeout numbers at the Major League level. He’s struggled with the gopher ball and is a candidate to be shut down for the remainder of the season any day now. The Tigers know they have a talented arm in this kid, and they will be careful not to risk an injury. If you need a pitcher for the stretch run, Porcello is not a good fit, but he is a great guy to look at next season.

If the Tigers need another bat, they are likely to call on Wilkin Ramirez or Jeff Larish again. Neither are top end prospects and they seem to be earning the label of Quadruple-A player because of the constant shuttling between Detroit and Toledo. The two names to watch for are Scott Sizemore and Ryan Strieby; both are hitting very well at Double-A, but they should not see considerable time this season.

Kansas City Royals

The future is still, well, in the future for the Royals. Mike Moustakas (No. 10 on our pre-season list) and Eric Hosmer (No. 23) are not ready for the majors. They are both at least another year away; maybe next year at this time they will be getting their September call-ups. Luke Hochevar still sports a 5.40 ERA, but the top pick from the 2006 draft has flashed some of his talent recently. If you need a source of some strikeouts, Hochevar can help, but do not expect many wins on the lowly Royals.

Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles has had a highly-regarded farm system for a few years now, but the prospects that are highly regarded seem to have a way of coming up short once they make the Major Leagues. Dallas McPherson could flat out rake at Triple-A and Jeff Mathis was supposed to be very similar to Mauer; so much for that. Kendrys Morales is the only top prospect that has truly been able to break through, and not until this season. In 2009, no Angel farm system was able to make the Top 40.

Perhaps Sean Rodriguez was overlooked. He’s seen time in the Majors as well as Triple-A, but the numbers in Triple-A are awesome. While Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar, and Howie Kendrick are serviceable infielders, none of them have blossomed into superstars. Rodriguez has a .290 average with 23 home runs and deserves a chance to show what he can do. That type of power in the middle infielder is a rare commodity and something you might just want to add to your roster down the stretch.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins live off their farm system. This is an organization that does not spend a ton of money in free agency, so it has to replenish its team through the draft. Like the Angels, the Twinkies entered the season with no prospects in the Top 40. Most of this system’s talent is still playing in the lower levels, though the Major League team is very young so that is not a big deal. Scouts say Aaron Hicks is the jewel of the system, but a .230 average in Low-A Beloit indicates he won’t be ready for some time.

One player that is ready, and has already seen Major League time, is Anthony Swarzak. Kevin Slowey is out for the season and Swarzak is the guy that is going to fill in. He posted a 2.34 ERA in Triple-A and now his ERA sits at 4.25 in the Majors. Swarzak will not win you any strikeout crowns, but he will give you some quality starts and a chance for a few wins. He’s a great guy to stream in mixed leagues and a solid pitcher to own if you’re playing in an AL-only league.

New York Yankees

New York insisted that it was not interested in dealing for Halladay, but the reality is that it did not have the pieces to get the Jay ace. The luster of Phil Hughes has faded (even though he has proven to be a very capable set-up man) and there is just an overall lack of pitching in the system. Austin Jackson (No. 35 on our pre-season list) was the top guy in the system this spring and he has performed admirably since. He runs well and has hit for a high average, but he still strike outs too much for a player whose number one skill is speed. Still, he could see time in September and perhaps even sooner than that if Brett Gardner is going to be out for a long period of time. Jackson could be a cheap source of steals down the stretch.

The big gun in New York is catcher Jesus Montero. He was not in this year’s Top 40, but next spring he is going to be Wieters all over again. Jorge Posada is not being rushed out the door, but Montero is the heir apparent. If you have a league format that will allow you to add Montero and stash him away, he’s the guy to get. He may be the best prospect in the American League right now.

Oakland Athletics

Much like Minnesota, Oakland has to build from within. Youth is the name of the game and that is exactly what the Athletic roster is filled with right now. Brett Anderson (No. 14 on our list) and Trevor Cahill (No. 15) were highly rated this spring. When you consider that they are both just 21 years old, they’ve each pitched admirably this season. Anderson has been slightly better than Cahill, but Cahill has had some good moments as well. Anderson looks like a great guy to target as a keeper in AL-only leagues, while Cahill is nothing but a streaming option right now in mixed leagues.

The breakout star from the Athletic farm system this season has been All Star Andrew Bailey. As of right now, he seems to be Beckham’s chief competition in the Rookie of the Year battle. Personally, I do not trust Bailey to hang on to the closer’s role. Just last year, Brad Ziegler took the league by storm and was expected to become Oakland’s closer of the future. Ride Bailey while he is hot, but do not expect him to become the next Dennis Eckersley in Oakland (keep in mind that Joey Devine will be back next year).

Right now, Bobby Crosby and Adam Kennedy are seeing time at the hot corner in Oakland. Though Kennedy is playing well, September seems like a good time for the A’s to see what the centrepiece of the Matt Holliday trade — Brett Wallace — can do. Wallace’s bat is supposed to be big league ready, so he could be helpful if, and when, he does get the call. The knock on Wallace is his defense and whether or not he’ll be able to field well enough to stay at the hot corner.

Seattle Mariners

No Mariners graced the Top 40 at the beginning of this season, but it is safe to say that Michael Saunders just missed that list. Instead of allowing Ryan Langerhans to roam left field, the Mariners have called upon the talented Saunders. He’s yet to take the league by storm at the plate, but he is 7-for-32 which is a better start than Beckham got off to when he was called up. Saunders has also played strong defense for the Mariners, so he should stick with the team.

Down on the farm, Greg Halman is the number two talent behind Saunders. He is not ready for the Majors at this point, though. A guy that is worth monitoring is Mike Carp. Russell Branyan has had a great season, but it is hard to believe that the Mariners see him as the future at first base. Carp is not an elite talent, but he has shown good pop at Triple-A Tacoma. He had a brief trial with Seattle earlier this season, but he was never given a true chance to play. Carp could be a nice addition for AL-only teams starved for power at the corner.

Tampa Bay Rays

Tim Beckham (No. 16 on our pre-season list) and Wade Davis (No. 28) were supposed to be the big names in the Ray farm system this season. They are both still very talented, but neither player should be that relevant this season. Davis has the best shot at offering some value as he could be added to the Tampa Bay bullpen down the stretch. He does not have pinpoint control, but he has a live arm which every bullpen can use. If you can pick Davis up and store him for next year, you could very well be rewarded.

Another name that fans should get familiar with is Desmond Jennings. The Rays do not have a limitless budget like their rivals in Boston and New York, so there are strong indications that they will be looking to move Carl Crawford in the offseason. When a team loses a lead-off hitter with a ton of speed, the easiest way to replace them is with one that has a similar skill set. That is exactly what Jennings has going for him. Look for him to be called up in September as an extra outfielder and possibly even make the post-season roster over a guy like Gabe Gross (assuming the Rays make the playoffs). Jennings could very well be the left fielder for the Rays as soon as next season.

Texas Rangers

One word: Neftali Feliz. He throws absolute smoke and was very impressive in his Major League debut. With questions at the back end of the Ranger bullpen, it would not stun me if Feliz took over the closer job in Texas. C.J. Wilson is left-handed, which means he is generally better suited to be a set-up guy. Frank Francisco cannot seem to stay healthy and he does have a history of getting a little violent. While I would not say Feliz taking over as the closer is likely, it is something to be aware of. If nothing else, he’s going to strike out his share of batters.

Derek Holland was called up in April and never given a real role on the staff. Now that there have been some injuries and episodes of swine flu, he has gotten a chance to be part of the rotation. The 5.60 ERA is unimpressive, but this kid showed what he’s capable of with his 10-strikeout performance against the Seattle Mariners. He’s a good guy to have in AL-only leagues and a nice match-up guy for people that stream.

The real big name to monitor in the Ranger system is Justin Smoak. After Chris Davis was generating hurricane force winds in Texas with his swings and misses, the race to become first baseman of the future opened up. Smoak has earned comparisons to Mark Teixeira, mostly because they are both switch-hitting college first basemen that were drafted by the Rangers. The similarities with the bat are there, too. After hitting .328 in Double-A, Smoak has yet to perform in Triple-A, but he should be ready by next year.

Toronto Blue Jays

Everyone and their cousin were excited about Travis Snider this season. He made a strong Major League debut last season after an excellent stint at Triple-A. Unfortunately, he did not live up to those expectations over the first month of the season and earned a trip back to Triple-A Las Vegas. Now that he’s back in a comfortable atmosphere, he’s hitting .305 with a decent amount of power. Snider is a candidate to return to Toronto in September and could be a nice source of power.

Another interesting power bat is Brian Dopirak. He’s already 25 years old, but a dude who can go yard tends to find his way to the Major Leagues. It was just a few years ago that Dopirak was the top prospect in the Chicago Cubs organization after smacking 39 home runs in 2004. After a few off years, he got back up to 29 dingers in 2008 and has already launched 25 this season. Dopirak is even hitting for a decent average to go with the power, so he may be the first baseman of the future.

Watch for our NL Prospect Update, coming soon.

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