Now that everyone’s Opening Day rosters have been finalized, we look around the American League for notes on each franchise’s four minor league clubs. Notes for 10 AL teams have been posted. The other four will be posted on Monday.
• Thanks to their offseason deals, the A’s Sacramento roster will be one of the more talented rosters in the Pacific Coast League. Lefthander Gio Gonzalez, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and catcher Landon Powell will be the top prospects, but there are also a number of former top prospects looking to turn things around, led by righthanders Joey Devine and Dan Meyer.
• With a number of the A’s top prospects headed to Triple-A, the Midland roster will be led by outfielder Javier Herrera. What’s striking about the Midland roster is how many of the Rockhounds will be returning to the Texas League. Only five members of the team did not play at Double-A or higher in 2007.
• The other key to the A’s-White Sox offseason deal will lead the Stockton rotation. Fautino de los Santos will lead a staff that also includes Brett Anderson, Henry Rodriguez and Trevor Cahill. While the California League has been known to swallow pitching staffs whole, the Ports’ staff might be the antidote to the 11-10 game.
• Brandon Wood and Kendry Morales were supposed to be cornerstones of the big league lineup by now. But thanks to the Angels depth, they’re back in Triple-A, still waiting for a spot in Anaheim to open up. The demotion has to be especially tough for Morales, as he hit .293/.333/.479 in 119 at-bats with the big league club last year. Their loss is the Salt Lake Bees’ fans gain, as they’re part of an interesting lineup that also includes Terry Evans and Sean Rodriguez. The pitching staff is highlighted by righthander Nick Adenhart and hard-throwing Jose Arredondo.
• While many teams have populated their low Class A clubs with guys returning to the level, the Angels are pushing their prospects. Only three players on the Cedar Rapids club had experience in full season ball last year. But that doesn’t mean the Kernels won’t be able to compete. A pitching staff led by prospects Jordan Walden (No. 3 prospect), Travis Reckling (16), Mason Tobin (21) and Robert Fish (27) should keep games close.
• Righthander Randy Wells, a Rule 5 pick, and outfielder Buck Coats, a December trade acquisition, made the major league team as a 12th pitcher and outfield reserve, respectively. Both made the Prospect Handbook, as did righthander Brian Wolfe, though his rookie eligibility expired last year. He made the book because he did not exceed 50 innings pitched.
• Lefthander David Purcey got the Opening Day nod for Triple-A Syracuse, as he made his first start at the level since June 2006. He pitched well, going six scoreless, and he’s throwing pain-free for the first time in years after offseason surgery to remove cysts from his forearm and triceps. Workhorse righthander Josh Banks returns to Syracuse for his third tour of duty. Toronto had previously kept catchers Curtis Thigpen and Robinzon Diaz a level apart, but since both are ready for the level, they’ll share time behind the plate, as they wait for a big league opening. The Syracuse infield is a sea of backups (Joe Inglett, Pedro Lopez, Hector Luna, Jorge Velandia), but the outfield features left fielder Adam Lind, who’s trying to re-establish himself after a down year, and converted middle infielder Russ Adams, who is trying to increase his versatility.
• New Zealand-born second baseman Scott Campbell makes the jump from low Class A to Double-A New Hampshire. A 10th-round pick from Gonzaga in 2006, he has an exceptional batting eye and puts together good at-bats, but he’s limited defensively and has little power. Catcher Brian Jeroloman has a similar offensive profile to Campbell, except he bats lefthanded and offers plus defensive tools behind the plate. Lefty Ricky Romero, the sixth overall pick in 2005, will get a chance to lower his career Double-A ERA of 4.98, while righthander Brandon Magee, a fourth-rounder that year, will continue working to keep the ball down. Fisher Cats corner outfielders Ryan Patterson and Jacob Bulter, both righthanded batters, offer solid middle-of-the-order production, while lefty-hitting third baseman Anthony Hatch will try to recapture the stroke that made him a sleeper prospect in 2006.
• The organization’s two finest prospects are set to begin with high Class A Dunedin, but who knows how long they’ll stay there? Right fielder Travis Snider is a leading candidate to win Minor League Player of the Year, while lefty Brett Cecil, an ’07 supplemental first-round pick, begins in earnest his conversion from closing at Maryland to starting in the pros. Cuban signee Kenny Rodriguez makes his pro debut this year at Double-A; he’s got four pitches but doesn’t overpower. Righthander Zach Dials drew a Dunedin assignment, despite not yet having done much as a pro . . . as a starter. But now that he’s a reliever, his fastball and slider play up a grade. Catcher J.P. Arencibia and third baseman Brad Emaus, both members of short-season Auburn’s New York-Penn League title team last year, will hold down the middle of the order. And first baseman Brian Dopirak, drafted by the Cubs out of Dunedin High in 2002, enjoys a homecoming with the D-Jays. Toronto picked him up after the Cubs released him this spring.
• Low Class A Lansing is where the action is this season. Sporting an infield of four high ’07 picks—three of them switch-hitters—the Lugnuts may not be the most competitive team right out the gates, but they might be the youngest. Third baseman Kevin Ahrens (first round), shortstop Justin Jackson (first round supplemental), second baseman John Tolisano (second) and first baseman Mike McDade (sixth). In case you’re wondering: Jackson bats righthanded, only. Righthander Kyle Ginley struck out 129 Midwest League batters in 122 innings last year, but he’s back with the Lugnuts. Corner outfielders Yohermyn Chavez and Moises Sierra graduate together to full-season ball after spending 2007 in the Gulf Coast League. Supplemental first-rounder Trystan Magnuson, a righthander, makes his pro debut, while righthander Alan Farina and lefties Brad Mills and Luis Perez all contributed to Auburn’s NYP title team last year. The most interesting Lansing assignment is definitely that of Brian Pettway, who returns for his third go-round with the Lugnuts, this time as a righthander and not a left fielder. Pettway closed as an underclassman at Mississippi—and even caught a little—so the role isn’t foreign to him. And it’s a good thing, because he never had much of a knack for making contact with wood bats. He’s hit .243/.321/.436 in three pro seasons, with 312 strikeouts in 268 games.
• This isn’t how it was supposed to turn out for Josh Barfield. He was the Padres’ No. 3 prospect in 2006, but wore out his welcome in San Diego before being traded to Cleveland where he ultimately lost his job to Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s now back in Triple-A at the age of 25.
• The frequently injured Michael Aubrey is starting with Double-A Akron, again. The 2003 first-round pick has yet to play above Double-A.
• Righthander Mark Lowe and lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith, both Top 10 Prospects, made the Mariners bullpen, while outfielder Charlton Jimerson made the club as a reserve.
• Jeff Clement and Rob Johnson will again share catching duties with Triple-A Tacoma, as they did last year, and they’re joined by two other holdovers, right fielder Wladimir Balentien and first baseman Bryan LaHair. Second baseman Yung Chi Chen missed most of last year with a shoulder injury, but he’s back to redeem himself in 2008. Third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo, who was drafted as a shortstop, highlights the newcomers. In a typical performance, he hit .293/.396/.390 in the AFL last year. Ryan Feierabend and Robert Rohrbaugh, a pair of lefties, highlight a veteran pitching staff.
• The Mariners are starting righthander Brandon Morrow with Double-A West Tenn as he recovers from a bout of shoulder stiffness. As you probably know, Morrow spent all of last year in the big leagues. Lefty Justin Thomas repeats with the Diamond Jaxx, after a 4-9, 5.51 campaign there last year. Catcher Adam Moore seeks to build on a big power year (22 homers, .543 slugging) in the Cal League. West Tenn’s outfield features two of the system’s more athletic prospects in Michael Saunders and Mike Wilson.
• Shortstop Carlos Triunfel highlights the prospects at high Class A High Desert. He hit .288 there last year at age 17, but he has yet to hit his first pro home run. Third baseman Matt Mangini, a supplemental first-round pick last year, is a solid hitter attempting to refine his defensive technique. Advanced lefty Nick Hill, a seventh rounder last year, gets the bump to high Class A. If you can see only one Mariners minor league outfield, make it the Mavericks’. Center fielder Greg Halman has the tools, but he got off to such a lousy start in low Class A in 2007, that one wonders how he’ll fare. The rarified air of High Desert should help him, as it will right fielder Carlos Peguero, who has ridiculous raw power—so much that he slugged .465 in the tough Midwest League.
• Low Class A Wisconsin’s rotation boasts three of Seattle’s finest young arms: righthanders Phillippe Aumont, the 11th overall pick last year, and Juan Ramirez and lefty Edward Paredes. Italian third baseman Alex Liddi is repeating the league, but there’s no shame in that, seeing as he’s 19. The Timber Rattlers’ shortstop, Juan Diaz, is also 19 and may be the system’s best middle-infield defender. Speedy sparkplug Danny Carroll hit for average and got on base in the AZL last year, and he’ll try to repeat the act in low Class A to start 2008.
• The Rangers’ decision to start Jarrod Saltalamacchia at Triple-A Oklahoma has received plenty of attention already. He’ll be joined by righthander Eric Hurley, who went 4-7, 4.91 in 13 starts for the Redhawks last season and, like Saltalamacchia, might not be far from a big league callup. Also, keep an eye on versatile infielder German Duran, who makes his Triple-A debut after standing out last year at Double-A Frisco. He worked on his outfield play in the offseason and could be a valuable super-sub in Texas by midseason.
• The Roughriders might have the best catching platoon in the minors. Both Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez will start there, likely switching off between catching and DH. Teagarden figures to see more games behind the plate. Also starting at Frisco: top prospect Elvis Andrus, making his Double-A debut as a 19-year-old.
• The Rangers have enviable catching depth in the minors, so it’s not terribly surprising that they moved athletic 18-year-old Cristian Santana from behind the plate to the outfield and sent him to low Class A Clinton. It’s a bit surprising, though, to see Chad Tracy listed as a catcher at high Class A Bakersfield. Tracy was limited as a catcher two years ago and moved to left field last year, and there are two other catchers on the Blaze’s roster: Manuel Pina and Chris Gradoville.
• The three pitchers the Rangers drafted in the first round last year out of high school will not start 2008 in full-season ball. Michael Main, Blake Beavan and Neil Ramirez will all begin in extended spring training and seem likely to head to short-season Spokane in June.
• One name conspicuously absent from from full-season roster is that of lefthander Kasey Kiker, who will remain in extended spring training to nurse a sore shoulder. He’s scheduled to join Bakersfield when he gets healthy.
• Righthander Craig Hansen is back for more work in Triple-A. Jed Lowrie is also in Pawtucket to get more at-bats while Julio Lugo and Dustin Pedroia get regular playing time in Boston’s middle infield. Brandon Moss could probably make several major league teams as at least a reserve outfielder, but in the Red Sox organization there’s no room for him right now, despite his Opening Day home run in Japan.
• Righthander Michael Bowden found success in high Class A Lancaster, but he hit a bit of a wall in his promotion to Portland. He’s back there with the Sea Dogs again, but at 21 years old the Red Sox can afford to be patient with him. Bowden’s only the No. 2 on the staff though, as righthander Justin Masterson brings his sinker back to Portland. The sinker extraordinaire pitched 58 innings last year for Portland, so he shouldn’t need much time before heading to Pawtucket or potentially even Boston. Aaron Bates, Jeff Natale, Bubba Bell and Jeff Corsalleti are also here, but their stats won’t be inflated this year like they were last year behind the extreme winds of high Class A Lancaster.
• Lars Anderson is the headliner of the group at high Class A Lancaster, and despite still being just 20 years old, his emerging power could lead to some big-time numbers in Lancaster. The Red Sox promoted outfielder Jason Place to Lancaster after a rough season last year with low Class A Greenville. Switch-hitting outfielder Daniel Nava, Baseball America’s Independent League Player of the Year in 2007, is another player to keep tabs on.
• The on-field struggles last year of righthander Daniel Bard are well chronicled (78 walks in 75 innings), and the Red Sox are keeping the North Carolina product in low Class A to start the year and have converted him to a reliever to hone his command and maximize his high-90s fastball.
• Righthander Blaine Neal, a participant at the Tigers open tryout in March, will be closing the door for Triple-A Toledo this season.
• High Class A Lakeland is where Rick Porcello is making his professional debut as a 19-year-old righthander. Infielder Cale Iorg will also start at Lakeland after taking a couple of years off while on a Mormon mission.
• Minnesota’s top two outfielders drafted in 2006, first-rounder Chris Parmelee and second-rounder Joe Benson, both go back to low Class A Beloit, while 2007 first-rounder Ben Revere starts the year in extended spring training. Speaking of Twins outfielders, Jason Pridie and Denard Span will continue their competition that started in spring training at Triple-A Rochester. Both lost the center-field job to Mets import Carlos Gomez.
• Anthony Swarzak couldn’t crack the Triple-A rotation and instead joins Ryan Mullins and Jay Rainville in the New Britain rotation. Matt Moses also goes back to Double-A after starting 2007 at Triple-A. The 2003 first-round pick is expected to play outfield this season as well as seeing time in the infield.
• Hot catching prospect Wilson Ramos, who impressed with power displays this spring, reports to high Class A Fort Meyers along with two other intriguing Twins hitters, sweet-swinging Rene Tosoni and power-hitting Danny Valencia.
• Low Class A Beloit has some of the organization’s most interesting arms, with a rotation that should include Dan Berlind, David Bromberg, Mike McCardell and Michael Tarsi. Shortstop Estarlin de los Santos begins the season in extended spring training due to an elbow injury.
• The system may be pretty barren, but hard-throwing lefthander Aaron Poreda will start his first full season with high Class A Winston-Salem.
• Triple-A Charlotte will have Josh Fields manning the hot corner once again with Joe Crede returning from back surgery. Who knows how long that will last with Crede being mentioned in lots of trade rumors.
• No real surprises at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where the rotation includes Trenton graduates Alan Horne and Jeff Marquez plus hSteven White and Darrell Rasner.
• Trenton’s ’08 rotation will feature Steven Jackson, who spent most of last season in Triple-A. The team should field a prospecty outfield with Colin Curtis, Austin Jackson and Jose Tabata together. Righthander David Robertson, who spent most of ’07 at low Class A Charleston, jumps to Double-A, where he struck out nine in four innings last year.
• High Class A Tampa is home to Mark Melancon, the only active member of the Yankees’ high-powered quartet of Tommy John surgery alums. Chris Garcia is on the Tampa DL, while Humberto Sanchez is on the big league 15-day disabled list. J. Brent Cox is listed on the extended spring training roster, which includes million-dollar Dominican outfielder Kevin DeLeon and defensive whiz Jose Pirela, among others. Infielders and 2007 draftees Damon Sublett and Braden Pruitt, as well as righthander Ryan Pope, jump a level to Tampa after spending last year at short-season Staten Island.
• Dellin Betances makes his full-season debut at low Class A Charleston in a rotation with 2006 second-round pick Zach McAllister and righty Jairo Heredia. The minors’ best catching tandem should be Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, both Riverdogs, while the infield also looks loaded, with Bradley Suttle at third, Justin Snyder at second, Brandon Laird at first base and Carmen Angelini at shortstop. Abraham Almonte has moved full-time to the outfield, and Yankees fans should hope his listed weight is a typo. Listed at 170 last year, Almonte is listed at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds on this year’s Charleston roster.