Baseball America Prospect Report (Sept. 1)
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2008 pick: Twins beat Braves in World Series
by Jim Callis
CHICAGO--Where else but Baseball America can you find a Major League Preview that not only breaks down the current season, but also looks three years down the road?
When I first attempted to do so, predicting what would happen in 2004 back in 2001, I tabbed the Athletics to beat the Cubs in the World Series. Both teams fell just short of the playoffs last season, but I did forecast three division winners (Braves, Dodgers, Yankees) and both wild cards (Astros, Red Sox) accurately.
As for 2005, I picked the Astros to sink the Mariners in the World Series. Other predicted division champs were the Braves, Padres, Twins and Yankees, with the Athletics and Cubs grabbing the wild cards.
Moving forward, I had the Cubs over the Twins in the 2006 World Series and the Dodgers over the Blue Jays in 2007.
Who's going to win in 2008? Read on.
Rays On The Rise
Years of neglecting their system and pursuing older veterans (Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield) over younger stars (Carlos Beltran, Vladimir Guerrero) leave the Yankees looking up at the Red Sox in the American League East. Boston blends big bucks (bringing in free agents such as A.J. Burnett and Derrek Lee) with just enough homegrown talent to keep its payroll from spiraling out of control. One of four farm-system products in the lineup, Hanley Ramirez has made a smooth transition from shortstop to center field, while Jon Papelbon, Jon Lester and Anibal Sanchez have bolstered the pitching staff.
The biggest surprise in baseball's only division with four winning teams is the Devil Rays, who finish in second place. A limited payroll still proves too much of a handicap to reach the playoffs, but a young nucleus of shortstop B.J. Upton, right fielder Delmon Young and pitchers Scott Kazmir, Jeff Niemann and Luke Hochevar (a 2005 first-rounder) is fun to watch.
The closest AL race is in the Central, where the Twins hold off the Indians by three games. Joe Mauer has stayed healthy and proven that it's not impossible for a tall catcher to succeed, and right fielder Jason Kubel also has recovered from knee surgery. Minnesota's banner 2004 draft makes a big difference, as second baseman Trevor Plouffe and pitchers Kyle Waldrop, Anthony Swarzak and Glen Perkins are key contributors.
Oakland's decision to trade Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder after the 2004 season has paid long-term dividends. The Athletics continue to win with their pitching, led by a new Big Three (Rich Harden, Dan Meyer, Danny Haren) and a new closer (Huston Street). They also have an entirely homegrown infield of Dan Johnson, Omar Quintanilla, Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby.
The Indians claim the wild card over the Angels. Cleveland's advantage is pitching, with a rotation fronted by former first-rounders C.C. Sabathia, Adam Miller and Jeremy Sowers. Their multitalented outfield of Brad Snyder, Grady Sizemore and Franklin Gutierrez also doesn't hurt.
NL Powers Grow Their Own
The Braves keep on rolling in the National League East. If they hadn't lost Andruw Jones to the Orioles via free agency, they'd have an entirely homegrown lineup, as catcher Brad McCann, third baseman Andy Marte and right fielder Jeff Francoeur have taken over. They've also developed most of their pitching staff, with Kyle Davies, Jake Stevens and Anthony Lerew slotting in behind Hudson.
The NL Central-winning Cubs' offense now revolves around first baseman Brian Dopirak, right fielder Ryan Harvey and center fielder Felix Pie. Chicago still is plenty strong on the mound as well, with Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano leading the way and Angel Guzman making up for the free-agent loss of Kerry Wood to the Rangers.
As much as Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta is associated with "Moneyball," his club takes the NL West on the strength of players signed as teenagers: righthanders Chad Billingsley and Edwin Jackson, third baseman Andy LaRoche, first baseman James Loney, catcher Russell Martin and shortstop turned right fielder Joel Guzman.
The wild card comes down to the Brewers and Marlins, with Milwaukee squeaking ahead by one game on the final day of the season. The Brewers' strength is their infield, made up of system products Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Ryan Zimmerman (a 2005 first-rounder) and J.J. Hardy. Mark Rogers and 2006 first-rounder Ian Kennedy help Sheets in the rotation, with Jose Capellan ably closing games.
In the AL playoffs, the Twins beat the Athletics in five games in the Division Series and the Red Sox in six in the Championship Series. The Braves emerge from the NL, taking out the Cubs in four games and the Dodgers in seven. That sets up a rematch of the 1991 World Series, a classic that Minnesota won in seven.
History repeats itself, as the Twins prevail in another seven-game thriller in 2008. Johan Santana wins two games, and Minnesota prevails in the finale behind homers from Mauer and Justin Morneau and a combined five-hitter from Waldrop, J.D Durbin and Jesse Crain.
You can reach Jim Callis by sending e-mail to email@example.com.