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National League Prospects Update, Part 3

August 18, 2009 | By Matt Wilson | comment on this post
The Philadelphia Phillies acquired 2008 AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee.
By bringing in Cliff Lee instead of Roy Halladay, the Phils didn’t have to empty their prospect cupboards.

We continue our prospect roundup with Part II of the NL today. Previous parts: American League; National League Part I and II

Philadelphia Phillies

The chase for Roy Halladay threatened to leave the Phillie farm system barren, but instead they were able to bring in Cliff Lee and keep their top three prospects — not a bad trade deadline for the Phillies. Domonic Brown and Kyle Drabek were the key pieces that J.P. Ricciardi wanted in a Halladay deal. Brown is a toolsy outfielder who has the potential to be a 20/20 guy. Raul Ibanez is not getting any younger, but the Phillies certainly hope that Brown is not playing a key role down the stretch. Drabek, the son of former Cy Young winner Doug Drabek, has looked good in Double-A, but not so good that he deserved the ‘untouchable’ label.

In terms of guys that can, and have, helped this season, J.A. Happ is at the top of the list. At 8-2 with a 2.74 ERA, he has been the team’s ace this year. The addition of Lee will help and it is hard to imagine Cole Hamels is as bad as his numbers have indicated, but Happ has been the anchor to this rotation. Lee should be able to help Happ be consistent with his pitching and avoid a return to Triple-A (like Lee had to do after being a 19-game winner).

The Phillies have another bright young outfielder who is quickly moving towards the majors. Michael Taylor, a fifth-round pick in 2007, soared through two levels of Class-A last season, batting .346 with 19 homers and 15 steals. This season, the 23-year-old was absolutely fantastic at Double-A (.333 with 15 homers, 65 RBI and 18 steals in 86 games) to force another promotion, this time to Triple-A. Since arriving at Lehigh Valley, Taylor has continued to impress, batting .290 with five homers in 29 games. If he doesn’t get a September call-up this season, by mid-season 2010 he’ll definitely be forcing the Phils’ hands with these kinds of performances. The dude is really starting to put up numbers in Triple-A, with a four-RBI game and a three-RBI game among his last three contests.

Pittsburgh Pirates

I checked and, yes, the Pirates do still have players on their roster. They actually have a couple very talented guys still kicking around. In case you missed his three home run game, Andrew McCutchen (No. 12 on our Top 40 Prospect List) is kind of good. Here at RotoRob, it was predicted that he would see the majors before midseason and that was 100 per cent correct. He’s been a very exciting player to watch with a .292 average, 28 extra-base hits, and nine stolen bases. He reminds me of Matt Kemp, though hopefully he will not get buried in the Pirate batting order the way Kemp has in LA. McCutchen should be patrolling centrefield in Pittsburgh for a long time…at least until the trade deadline the season before his free agency kicks in, at any rate.

Down on the farm, the second overall pick in the 2008 draft, Pedro Alvarez (No. 20), has been promoted to Double-A where he is finally showing the bat that made him a high draft choice. Alvarez struggled to hit for average in High-A, but now he is sporting a .320 average at Double-A Altoona. He still strikes out too much, but then again, so does Mark Reynolds. Alvarez is not that far removed from a wrist injury that limited him in his junior season at Vanderbilt, so expect the bat to continue to improve. The Pirates have nothing to lose, so we may see Alvarez this September.

Another big stick that’s knocking on the door is Jose Tabata, acquired from the Yanks in last season’s Xavier Nady deal. Tabata, who just turned 21 last week, is enjoying a superb season. He hit over .300 at Double-A, earning a promotion to Triple-A where, after 10 games, he’s smoking the ball even better. Tabata deserves a look in Pittsburgh in September.

St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis did not have the deepest farm system before the Matt Holliday trade, but after the deal, it is virtually empty. The extent of the Cardinal youth movement seems to be Colby Rasmus (No. 7 on our prospect list). The outfield is getting a bit crowded with the addition of Holliday, but Rasmus has seen time spelling both Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick. At times, Rasmus has looked like he is worth all the hype. Then there are other times where he looks like an overmatched 22-year-old in a pennant race. When I watch him play, I see the talent that could lead to him being a future star. The 11 home runs in 325 at bats is a total that will improve, but the lack of base stealing is a bit of a concern.

Allen Craig is not much of a prospect at 25 years old, but he is a hitter. With a .309 average and 18 home runs in Triple-A, Craig provides a nice right-handed bat that could be useful off the bench down the stretch. The addition of Mark DeRosa will limit Craig’s immediate value, while Troy Glaus is the Redbirds’ preferred third baseman down the stretch. Still, Craig has the best potential of a Cardinal minor leaguer in terms of making an impact soon.

Catcher Bryan Anderson shot up the Card prospect list last season when he hit well over .300 combined between Double-A and Triple-A, but this season the 22-year-old’s bat has regressed to a .245 mark at Triple-A. The fact that his season ended rather early thanks to a shoulder woe won’t help him stay high on any prospect lists next spring.

San Diego Padres

Mat Latos was stellar in the minor leagues and has looked equally impressive since reaching the majors. On a terrible Padre team, he is 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA. It certainly helps to play in Petco Park. But actually, he’s been fairly lucky, as he’s given up six home runs in 29 innings with the Padres. Those numbers do not extrapolate very well, so he is going to have to cut down the long balls if he wants to keep his ERA that low. Chris “Pitcher” Young has been spending time mentoring Latos and that combo could be a nice 1-2 punch for the Padres next season. Latos has the unenviable task of replacing Jake Peavy as the ace of this San Diego squad.

In the deal for Peavy, the Padres were able to get Clayton Richard back from the White Sox. Richard was one of the White Sox top prospects before he was dealt and the Padres will look for immediate returns on his arm. San Diego won the first two games that Richard started, and he pitched fairly well in both outings. As a pitcher in Petco Park, Richard could have a decent amount of value. He had a 4.65 ERA with the White Sox before being dealt, but that came in US Cellular Field against American League teams. He should be able to post a sub-4.00 ERA the rest of the way.

On the offensive side of the ball, Will Venable has been on a power binge of late. As much as Petco Park helps Latos and Richard, it will hold Venable’s power upside back. He’s 26 years old and this is his longest stint in the majors so far, so he probably is not a long-term offensive option in the Padre outfield. San Diego does lack alternatives though, so if you can handle a .260 average, Venable should be able to help down the stretch in NL-only leagues.

A younger outfielder worth watching is Kellen Kulbacki. He tore it up in the Cal League last season, batting .332 with 20 homers and 66 RBI in 84 games, but he’s essentially had a lost year this season. Injuries have limited the 23-year-old to just 36 games at Double-A, and he’s struggled to a .201 mark with no dingers and just 11 RBI. Once this kid gets healthy, he could be a starter at Petco within a couple of years.

San Francisco Giants

Madison Bumgarner (No. 4 on our pre-season list) is the prized possession of the Giant farm system. He was lights out last year and he continues to dominate this year against older competition in Double-A. He has an ERA of 1.97 between High-A and Double-A to complement his 10-2 record. Bumgarner’s stuff has not been quite as overpowering against older hitters but at 20 years old he is still just learning how to pitch. If the Giants are in the race for the wild card in September, Bumgarner could be called upon to push the team over the top.

This spring, Buster Posey (No. 18) took the Cactus League by storm. Since Bengie Molina is firmly entrenched at catcher in San Francisco, there has been no need to rush Posey. In spite of this fact, Posey has done his best to force his way on to the Giant roster. After being assigned to High-A San Jose, he proved to be a man among boys. The San Francisco brass was quick to pick up on this and jumped Posey to Triple-A where he has continued to hit. Molina is no spring chicken, so it would stand to reason that Posey could see time in San Francisco soon. If you’re in an NL-only league, it is imperative you keep an eye out for Posey.

The Giants dealt away pitching prospect Tim Alderson to acquire Freddy Sanchez, but Pablo Sandoval, one of the team’s top prospects heading into the season, has made a seamless and triumphant transition into a full-time major leaguer this season. He just turned 23 last week, but is already entrenched at the hot corner, showing nice power and a BA that only Hanley Ramirez tops among NLers. He’s obviously a must-own Fantasy asset.

Washington Nationals

One of the benefits of putting a weak team on the field is supposed to be that you draft high. Unfortunately for the Nationals, they were unable to sign first round pick Aaron Crow last season. This year the heat is on for the Nationals to sign Stephen Strasburg. If and when the Nationals sign Strasburg (they have until Monday and so far, a record offer hasn’t made it happen yet), he immediately becomes one of the top prospects in the minors. His name has been linked to some of the best college pitchers of all time, like Mark Prior and Ben McDonald, but that may also be a warning sign to the Nationals. In order for Washington to be taken seriously, it needs to sign Strasburg. If not, the Nats should be relegated like a European soccer team, and we can call up the Triple-A team with the best record. With the amount of money the Nationals are going to throw at Strasburg, look for him to be in the majors to begin next season.

The Nationals do have a few nice bats coming up through the system. Chris Marrero, Michael Burgess, and Derek Norris would all rank as top bats in any system. Marrero and Burgess are not ready to be promoted to Washington, but they are two of the premier power hitters in the High-A Carolina league. Marrero is a better all around hitter at this stage of his career, while Burgess needs to cut down on his strikeouts. Norris is even further away from the majors, playing catcher at Low-A Hagerstown. He does have a tendency to strike out, but he still has managed an OBP above .400 for the season. Norris has a good amount of power and seems to be the Washington catcher of the future.

Of course, the team’s top prospect heading into the season — starter Jordan Zimmermann — was called up early this year, and spent most of the season in the Nat rotation until getting hurt last month. Unfortunately, Tommy John surgery is going to force Zimmermann to the sidelines for at least a year, derailing what was shaping up as a promising start to his career. This injury makes it all the more important that Washington gets Strasburg’s signature on a deal.

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