Now that everyone’s Opening Day rosters have been finalized, we look around the National League for notes on each franchise’s four minor league clubs. Notes for 12 NL teams have been posted.
• Scott Speizio begins his road back to the majors with Triple-A Richmond. Speizio was released by the Cardinals in February after a troubled offseason that saw him faced with multiple criminal charges stemming from a drunken driving incident in California. Atlanta decided to give Speizio a fresh start after GM Frank Wren and Manager Bobby Cox had a long conversation with him before signing him to a minor-league deal. The Braves also begin their final season in Richmond with a pair of outfield prospects in Brandon Jones and former minor league steals champ Josh Anderson, who came over from the Astros organization in an offseason trade for righthander Oscar Villareal.
• Braves top prospect Jordan Schafer is making his Double-A debut with Mississippi, where he’ll lead a lineup that also includes prospects Van Pope, Diory Hernandez, and Kala Ka’aihue. Pope, a native of Jackson, Miss., struggled in 2007 with Mississippi, hitting .223/.298/.340. After hitting 15 home runs in High-A in 2006, Pope clearly pressed last year (he hit under .200 in the first two months of the season), and the Braves are hoping he’ll be to adjust and bounce back in 2008.
• Righthander Nick Fellman is making the jump straight from Rookie-level Danville to High-A Myrtle Beach. An unheralded 2007 12th round pick from Minnesota State-Mankato, Fellman anchored the Danville bullpen in 2007, converting 16 saves to lead the Appalachian League. Fellman allowed only seven earned runs in 22 appearances for Danville while accumulating a 46-7 K-BB ratio. The Pelicans also feature outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, the 2007 Midwest League MVP, who came over from the Tigers in the Edgar Renteria trade.
• Rome is probably the most prospect-loaded of Atlanta’s farm teams. The lineup will be lead by outfielders Jason Heyward and Cody Johnson, while the rotation will be loaded with talented lefthanders, including Cole Rohrbough, Jeff Locke, Steve Evarts, and Chad Rodgers. Rohrbough, the No. 1 prospect from the Appalachian League in 2007, will be starting the season on the DL.
• The Brewers showed how highly they thought of Matt LaPorta by drafting him seventh overall last year. LaPorta made a strong impression in his professional debut last year, and the Brewers jumped his advanced bat up to Double-A Huntsville. Mat Gamel, who like LaPorta is a strong hitter with plenty of defensive shortcomings, should provide a powerful three-four punch in the Stars lineup. Shortstop Alcides Escobar should help save some runs with his fielding prowess as well.
• Flamethrowing righthander Jeremy Jeffress is listed on high Class A Brevard County’s roster, but he won’t pitch for a while due to his suspension. Taylor Green and Lorenzo Cain should give Manatees fans something to watch though in the mean time.
• Caleb Gindl destroyed the Rooke-level Pioneer League last season as an 18-year-old, as managers gushed about his hitting ability and the way he carried himself. A stop at West Virginia will be a good first test to see if he can continue his hitting performances. Lee Haydel will join him in the outfield, and righthander Robert Bryson joins the Power after a nice year with Rookie-level Helena.
• Matt Murton is in Triple-A? He owns a .295/.365/.455 career line in nearly 300 major league games, despite his organization not giving him regular playing time. And it’s only 336 plate appearances, but Murton has crushed lefties—.326./.399/.510—in the majors. On the mound, righty Sean Gallagher and lefty Sean Marshall don’t have high ceilings but both could be solid major league starters one day.
• Righthander Jeff Samardzija is back after finishing in Double-A Tennessee last year. He’ll be joined in the rotation by lefthander Donald Veal, whose command completely fell apart last year, and outfielder Tyler Colvin.
• The Cubs picked second baseman Tony Thomas out of the third round last year out of Florida State. Thomas dominated the short-season Northwest League in his pro debut, and the Cubs rewarded his offensive performance by skipping him over low Class A and sending him straight to Daytona. His defense, however, gets mixed reviews. Righthander Jose Ceda should be a pitcher to watch for Daytona.
• Like Thomas, catcher Josh Donaldson mashed last year with Boise, but the Cubs sent Donaldson to low Class A Peoria for his first full season. Outfielder Kyler Burke and 19-year-old righthander Dae Eun Rhee are also worth following.
• In terms of prospects, there’s not much to see in Las Vegas. Twenty-three year old outfielder Xavier Paul has made the jump to Triple-A. A 2003 fourth-rounder, Paul’s hitting has been slow to develop, although he did manage a .291 average at Double-A in 2007. In the bullpen will be 2002 supplemental first rounder Greg Miller. After dominating the lower levels of the minors early in his pro career, Miller hasn’t been the same since shoulder injuries caused him to miss all of 2004 and part of 2005. He struggled in his first two stints at Triple-A in 2006 and 2007. He’ll get his third crack at the PCL in 2008.
• Returning to Jacksonville to start 2008 is lefthander Clayton Kershaw, the best prospect in the Dodgers’ system and one of the best in all of baseball. Kershaw reached Double-A last season at only age 19, and 2008 could be his last year in the minors. Joining Kershaw in the Suns’ rotation is righthander James McDonald. After failing as an outfielder, the Dodgers moved McDonald, a two-way player in high school, back to the mound in 2005. With a deceptive delivery and ability to change speeds, McDonald impressed in his first go-around with the Suns in 2007, winning seven times in 10 starts with a 1.71 ERA.
• Inland Empire’s roster is relatively light on prospects. Switch-hitting catcher Carlos Santana makes the jump to High-A despite hitting just .223 for Low-A Great Lakes in 2007. Third baseman Josh Bell returns to Inland Empire, where he finished 2007 after hitting 15 home runs for Great Lakes.
• Great Lakes should feature a solid lineup, lead by Pedro Baez, Andrew Lambo, and Preston Mattingly. Making his full season debut on the mound will be righthander Justin Miller. A two-way player in college, the Dodgers took a shot at Miller, drafting him in the sixth round last year. Despite sometimes looking too much like a position player trying to pitch last year in the GCL, Miller has shown enough promise to earn the trip to Great Lakes.
• The Mets kept most of their upper-level prospects together at Double-A Binghamton, leaving a more veteran-oriented roster at Triple-A New Orleans. Leading the way at Binghamton are No. 1 prospect Fernando Martinez, a 19-year-old already repeating Double-A; righthander Robert Parnell and lefty John Niese, who could see big league time this season due to the Mets’ pitching depth problems; 2007 first-round pick Eddie Kunz; and third baseman Donnie Murphy, the organization’s most advanced hitter.
• The Mets jumped 2007 seventh-rounder Lucas Duda, who had a strong pro debut, to high Class A St. Lucie and list him at first base. Outfielder Ezequiel Carrera also jumped to St. Lucie from Brooklyn, as did pitchers Nick Carr, Stephen Clyne, Dillon Gee, William Morgan, Dylan Owen and Brant Rustich.
• Making the biggest jump this spring, though, is 18-year-old Ruben Tejada, penciled in to play shortstop at St. Lucie after playing just 35 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year. Tejada has more offensive polish than other Mets teenage prospects, leading to his aggressive promotion.
• A good sign for the Mets: righthander Scott Moviel and lefty Nathan Vinyard both were ready for full-season ball, making the low Class A Savannah rotation.
• A couple of the Marlins better pitching prospects are starting the year with Albuquerque. Righthanders Gaby Hernandez, only 21 years old, and Dallas Trahern, the best of the secondary prospects Florida received from Detroit in the Miguel Cabrera-Dontrelle Willis trade, will be part of the Isotopes’ rotation. Albuquerque will also be home to former Angels top prospect Dallas McPherson. Once considered the Angels’ third baseman of the future, McPherson missed 2007 due to injury before coming over to Florida as a free agent.
• Florida’s top two prospects are both in Carolina to start the 2008 season. Outfielder Cameron Maybin, the centerpiece of the return for Cabrera and Willis, and righthander Chris Volstad, Florida’s first pick in the 2005 Draft. Maybin dominated in the minors in 2007 but struggled when called up the majors, though he did hit his first big league home run off Roger Clemens. Volstad returns to Double-A, where he finished 2007 going 4-2, 3.16 in seven starts for the Mudcats after a midseason call up from High-A Jupiter.
• Another of Florida’s quartet of arms drafted in the first two rounds of 2005, lefthander Sean West, a supplemental first rounder, will start the season with Jupiter. While the rest of his draft class has moved on to Double-A, West will be back in high Class A after missing 2007 with a torn labrum. Although he’s still a prospect, West will have to prove he can stay healthy in 2008. The Hammerheads’ lineup should feature prospects Logan Morrison, Scott Cousins, and Greg Burns.
• The Marlins’ first and second round picks from last June will both be making their full-season debuts as 18-year-olds with low Class A Greensboro. One is Matt Dominguez, Florida’s first round pick (12th overall) in last June’s draft. The best third baseman in the Florida system, Dominguez struggled in his professional debut, going just 9-for-57 (.158) in the Gulf Coast League and with short-season Jamestown. Joining him will be outfielder Mike Stanton, Florida’s 2007 second rounder. Like fellow teenager Dominguez, Stanton had a rude introduction to pro ball, going 9-for-56 (.161), but could have the most upside in the system.
• Triple-A Columbus should have one of the most intriguing starting rotations in the minors. The Clippers will feature Washington’s No. 3 (Collin Balester), No. 10 (John Lannan), No. 12 (Tyler Clippard) and No. 15 (Garrett Mock) prospects, plus lefthander Mike O’Connor. The Columbus hitter to keep an eye on his Kory Casto, who dropped from No. 4 to No. 20 on Washington’s top 30 prospects list after a rough 2007 campaign. He’s listed as an outfielder, and the Nationals now have a glut of outfielders blocking his path to the big leagues. A return to third base seems unlikely, given the presence of that Zimmerman guy. Casto could be playing to create a trade market for his services.
• A pair of Nationals will get a chance to prove they can handle the Eastern League after struggling at Double-A Harrisburg in the past. One-time top prospect Mike Hinckley is back in the EL for another year after going 9-10, 5.83 in 2007. Shortstop Ian Desmond, who hit just .182/.231/.214 in 37 games at Harrisburg as a 20-year-old in 2006, will get another crack at the level at a more appropriate stage in his development.
• Washington’s top two prospects will start the year at high Class A Potomac. First baseman Chris Marrero, who hit nine homers in 255 Carolina League at-bats a year ago, figures to earn a quick promotion to Harrisburg if he can get off to a solid start. Lefthander Ross Detwiler, the team’s top draft pick last year out of Missouri State, could move quickly as well, so P-Nats fans better see as much of the duo as they can before it’s too late. Another potential quick mover who opens in Potomac is righthander Jordan Zimmermann, the Nats’ No. 7 prospect.
• Low Class A Hagerstown is rich with young, raw talents. Nineteen-year-olds Michael Burgess, Stephen Englund and Jake Smolinski have loud tools and will get their first taste of full-season ball. Second baseman Stephen King, 20, will get another shot at the South Atlantic League after hitting .180/.258/.261 in 35 games before being sent back to extended spring training.
• Two members of the Padres Top 30 Prospects made the big club’s Opening Day roster: Joe Thatcher and Carlos Guevara. Encouragingly, Thatcher has not been used as a lefty specialist thus far in 2008. He’s better than that. Guevara is on the disabled list, which buys the Padres time to evaluate him, seeing as he was an on-the-bubble Rule 5 pick.
• Triple-A Portland is home to many of the Padres’ brightest prospects, including second baseman Matt Antonelli and third baseman Chase Headley, who is listed as an outfielder as he adjusts to left field in preparation for a big league gig. The pitching staff is fronted by the three workhorses from last year’s Texas League-winning San Antonio club: lefties Wade LeBlanc and Cesar Ramos and righthander Josh Geer. Catcher Nick Hundley and outfielder Will Venable also make the jump from Double-A.
• Righthanded power won’t be a problem for the Double-A San Antonio, who feature burly first baseman Kyle Blanks and left fielder Chad Huffman. But keep an eye on Craig Cooper as he makes the switch from more-or-less full-time first baseman to the outfield. Not only was he behind Blanks at first, but the Padres are stacked at the position as an organization, with Adrian Gonzalez, one of the best in the business, Tony Clark and Justin Huber in San Diego, and 2007 minor league batting champ Brian Myrow at Triple-A. Cooper played center field at Notre Dame before turning pro, and he has the kind of underappreciated skill set that could portend bigger things. On the pitching side of things, two members of the Scott Linebrink trade head up the San Antonio staff. Lefty Steve Garrison is new to the level, while righty Will Inman’s time there in 2007 was a mixed bag. Righthander Matt Buschman is among the organization’s better second-tier arms, and righthander Wilton Lopez, a castoff from the Yankees system, has an intriguing fastball-slider combo well suited to relief work. He was added to the 40-man last winter.
• The Padres’ system has come a long way, baby, in the last three years. Five members of the club’s 2007 draft get their careers underway with high Class A Lake Elsinore—though outfielder Kellen Kulbacki will begin on the disabled list. Lefty Cory Luebke (first round supplemental) and righty Corey Kluber (fourth) made the jump, and Luebke pitched in the Cal League playoffs last year, three months after signing. Catcher Mitch Canham (first round supplemental) and second baseman Eric Sogard (second) also start with Lake Elsinore. Center fielder Cedric Hunter could challenge for the league batting title with his contact approach and good speed, while righthander Drew Miller seeks to build on his breakthrough 2007 campaign.
• Left fielder Yefri Carvajal, 19, made low Class A Fort Wayne, his first full-season assignment after stints in the AZL and Northwest League. His bat is legit, but then it has to be because he’s already maxed out defensively as a corner outfielder, and his physically mature body leaves little room for projection. The two college center fielders drafted last year break camp with Fort Wayne, Brad Chalk on active duty and Danny Payne on the DL. The Wizards’ double-play combo also consists of ’07 picks in shortstop Drew Cumberland and second baseman Lance Zawadzki. Keep an eye on righthander Jeremy McBryde, a 2006 draft-and-follow with a heavy fastball that clocks in as high as 94 mph. The slider is solid-average, so he could rack up the strikeouts in the Midwest League. Righthander Jeremy Hefner has a good slider, but he was erratic last year coming off a season at Oral Roberts. A 31st-round pick last year from Texas Tech, lefty Colt Hynes doesn’t throw hard, but with his plus command and deception, he should coast through A-ball.
• The Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate has made the move from Ottawa, Ontario to Allentown, Pa., where the franchise is getting a fresh start as the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The inaugural edition of the IronPigs is highlighted by veteran minor league sluggers Valentino Pascucci and Brandon Watson. In terms of prospects, the IronPigs feature a couple of interesting arms in lefthander J.A. Happ, who could see time as a spot starter for Philadelphia, and righthander Joe Bisenius, both of whom were plagued by injuries in 2007.
• Two of the Phillies top three pitching prospects will be starting the year with Double-A Reading. Righthander Carlos Carrasco, only 21 years old, returns to Reading after finishing 2007 there, going 6-4, 4.86 in 13 starts, after dominating at High-A Clearwater. Joining Carrasco in the R-Phils’ rotation is lefthander Josh Outman. After posting 10 wins in 18 starts, with 117 strikeouts in 117 innings for Clearwater, Outman followed Carrasco to Reading to finish 2007. The Reading lineup will be lead by catcher Lou Marson, shortstop Jason Donald, and speedy centerfielder Greg Golson.
• High Class A Clearwater, which won the 2007 Florida State League title, start the year with two of Philadelphia’s top four picks from last June. The top lefthander in the system, Joe Savery, begins his first full professional season after getting off to a strong start for short-season Williamsport in 2007. Savery will try to buck the trend of former Rice pitchers who have been plagued by arm problems, although he had already had issues while still in college. Also in Clearwater is outfielder Matt Spencer, the Phillies’ 2007 third rounder. Spencer hit 9 home runs in 51 games for Short-season Williamsport in 2007.
• The left side of the infield for low Class A Lakewood could be interesting to watch, with shortstop Freddy Galvis and third baseman Travis Mattair. Galvis will be one of the South Atlantic League’s youngest regulars at age 18. Both struggled offensively in their pro debuts in 2007 and are noted for their gloves. The BlueClaws rotation will feature righthanded prospects Julian Sampson and Drew Naylor.
• Pittsburgh’s top three prospects are all at Triple-A Indianapolis. Perhaps the most surprising is right fielder Steve Pearce, who began last season in the Carolina League and finished in Pittsburgh. He hit .320/.366/.557 in 122 at-bats with Indianapolis last season and the soon-to-be 25-year-old does not seem to have much else to prove in the minors. He joins the system’s top-rated prospect, center fielder Andrew McCutchen, and the organization’s No. 2 prospect, third baseman Neil Walker (who surprisingly is batting sixth in the lineup).
• The Double-A Altoona Curve are a little thin on prospects to start the season. Second baseman Shelby Ford (No. 6 in the system) is coming off a solid 2007 season after hitting .281/.360/.433 in a full season with high Class A Lynchburg. Outfielder Brad Corley continues his level-to-level rise in his fourth pro season while righthander Jimmy Barthmaier (No. 17) anchors the rotation after being acquired by the Pirates off waivers from the Astros.
• Pirates No. 5 prospect Daniel Moskos, the 2007 fourth-overall pick who marked the end of the Dave Littlefield era in Pittsburgh, makes his full season debut with the high Class A Lynchburg Hillcats. Drafted as a closer to expedite his ascent to the big leagues, Moskos moves back into the rotation (a change he welcomed). Lefthander Tony Watson, the No. 11-rated prospect in the system, jumps to the Carolina League after a brief stint in the South Atlantic League and looks to continue his comeback from shoulder surgery. Other notables include shortstop Brian Friday, who skips low Class A after hitting .295/.371/.410 for short-season State College last year in his pro debut.
• Righthander Duke Welker, the organization’s No. 9 prospect and a second-round pick out of Arkansas last year, headlines the low Class A Hickory Crawdads’ rotation after going 2-2, 2.35 in 30 innings with State College in his pro debut last year. Catcher Andrew Walker, a fifth-round pick out of Texas Christian last year, looks to build on an impressive debut after hitting .317/.390/.441 with Spikes.
• Homer Bailey’s return to Triple-A to sharpen his command gives the Bats an impressive rotation. The Reds No. 2 prospect is joined by lefthander Matt Maloney in the rotation. The brief stopover of center fielder Jay Bruce, the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, gives the Reds arguably the best 1-2 punch of prospects in the minors.
• The Lookouts also boast a prospect-laden pitching staff, although the best talent on the Lookouts is based in the pen. Closer Josh Roenicke and setup men Carlos Fisher and Pedro Viola will give Chattanooga one of the hardest-throwing bullpens in the Southern League. Catcher Craig Tatum raised his prospect stock with a strong Arizona Fall League performance–he returns to Chattanooga trying to build on that success.
• Did Drew Stubbs fix his strikeout problem by choking up on the bat? Early signs in the Midwest League late last year say yes, but we’ll find out much more as he battles more experienced pitchers in the Florida State League. Juan Francisco will bring his prodigious power to Sarasota as well.
• Coming into the spring, the Reds were facing a glut of shortstops with Paul Janish (AAA), Jose Castro (AA), Chris Valaika (high A) backed up by Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart. But Cozart stayed back in extended spring with an injury, which cleared up the logjam. Frazier, who will likely move off of shortstop later in his career, is the everyday shortstop in Dayton, where he’ll be joined by Pioneer League star third baseman Brandon Waring.
• Ian Stewart hit .304/.379/.478 in virtually a full season with Colorado Springs last year but managed just a .204/.261/.372 in a brief big league callup and returns to the start the season with the Triple-A Sky Sox. Righthander Steven Register, a Rule 5 selection returned to the Rockies from the Mets, begins in Colorado Springs’ rotation alongside 6-foot-7 righthander Greg Reynolds, who makes the leap after going 4-1, 1.42 in just 50 Double-A innings last year. Joe Koshansky certainly proved he deserves big league consideration after hitting .295/.380./.490 with 21 homers for Colorado Springs last year, but remains blocked at first by all-star Todd Helton, and thus begins the season again with the Sky Sox. Outfielder Seth Smith also returns to Colorado Springs after tremendous late-season stint with the Rockies (4-for-8 in a pinch-hitting role).