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American League Central Notebook

July 2, 2004


Chicago White Sox
by Phil Rogers

Best Player: In his first full season as a pro, outfielder Brian Anderson-the former two-way star at the University of Arizona-has shown why he was a first-round pick last year.

He has flashed his five-tool skills at high Class A Winston-Salem, showing power (eight homers and a Carolina League-leading 22 doubles) and speed (10 steals in 11 tries) while hitting .319. He has a strong throwing arm and has been steady in the field. His plate discipline has also been solid.

Anderson has not been as spectacular as Jeremy Reed was a year ago, but he has shown as much upside as any outfielder in the system and made it easier for the White Sox to part with Reed in the deal to obtain righthander Freddy Garcia from the Mariners.

Biggest Leap Forward: Speaking of the Garcia deal, Mike Morse made such progress this year that he emerged as an important element in the trade with the Mariners. He went to the Mariners with Reed and catcher Miguel Olivo in the trade for Garcia, catcher Ben Davis and cash.

Instead of growing out of the shortstop position, Morse grew into it. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder showed the power that had long been projected for him while also fielding his position well at Double-A Birmingham. He had a career-high 11 home runs while also hitting .287, up from .245 with Winston-Salem a year ago.

Biggest Disappointment: After leading Winston-Salem to a Carolina League championship last year, righthander Kris Honel appeared on the threshold of big league consideration. But he had to be shut down after an Opening Night start at Birmingham this year because of a tender elbow.

Doctors have not found any structural problems, but Honel has struggled to regain his velocity. He didn't get back on the mound until June 20, when he worked one inning of relief and didn't show the same fastball that helped him win 10 games in 2003. He had thrown in the low 90s but now parks in the low 80s. He went through a similar stretch in high school before the draft in 2001.

CHI-LITES

Third baseman Josh Fields, the Sox' first-round pick in June, agreed to a $1.55 million bonus and was assigned to Winston-Salem. He was joined there by lefthander Tyler Lumsden, a supplemental first-round pick.

The Sox could have two players named Josh Fields on their prospect list next year. The other Josh Fields is a 24-year-old righthander who saved all five games in the Carolina League championship series last year and had a 2.04 ERA in 25 appearances as a set-up man with Birmingham this season.


Cleveland Indians
by Jim Ingraham

Best Player: Some guys can just flat hit. First baseman Michael Aubrey is one of those guys. When the Indians selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 2003 draft, he was considered the most polished college hitter available.

Since then he has continued to hit. Last year at low Class A Lake County he hit .348-5-19 in 138 at bats. He was invited to major league spring training and opened eyes by hitting .333 and playing impeccable defense.

He started the season at high Class A Kinston, and the hits just kept on coming. At the time of his promotion to Double-A Akron he was hitting .339-10-60, leading the Carolina League in batting, RBIs, and on-base percentage (.438).

Biggest Leap Forward: He was the Johnny Bench Award winner as the top college catcher in the nation a year ago, but Ryan Garko was viewed as a hitter more than a catcher when the Indians selected him in the third round of last year's draft.

His .273-4-16 debut at short-season Mahoning Valley last year didn't generate much notice, but the 23-year-old Garko is having a breakout season at Kinston. He was hitting .323-12-46 and ranked second in the Carolina League in slugging (.581), fifth in batting and fifth in on base percentage (.413). He has split time between catcher, first base and DH.

Biggest Disappointment: The Indians' first-round pick in 2002, righthander Jeremy Guthrie, began his professional career at Double-A Akron in 2003 and dominated. He went 6-2, 1.44 in 63 innings to start the season and earned a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo.

At that point, Indians officials felt Guthrie might compete for a spot in the 2004 rotation in spring training. But since then his development has stalled. He went 4-9, 6.52 in 97 innings at Buffalo last year, and got off to an awful start there this year, with a 7.91 ERA in 19 innings.

Guthrie went back to Akron to get back his old form, and he was 6-3, 3.75 in 74 innings. Indians officials remain confident that he will get back on track.

SMOKE SIGNALS

Righthander Dan Denham, the Indians' first-round pick in 2001, earned a promotion from Kinston to Akron. In 71 innings at Kinston, Denham was 7-4, 4.18.

The Indians had two players selected for the Futures Game: Aubrey and righthander Fausto Carmona, who in a combined 14 starts at Kinston and Akron was 6-3, 2.58.


Detroit Tigers
by Pat Caputo

Best Player: When Double-A infielder Donald Kelly was injured, a trickle-down effect led to promotions. Shortstop Tony Giarratano has taken advantage of an opportunity to jump to high Class A Lakeland. At the time of his promotion from low Class A West Michigan, Giarratano was hitting just .285-1-13. Since the callup, the third-round pick in 2003 from Tulane batted .410 with 13 RBIs and seven doubles in 100 at-bats. An aggressive hitter, Giarratano, 21, hit .328-3-27 in 189 at-bats last summer at short-season Oneonta in his first taste of pro ball.

He has been as solid in the field as he has at the plate. Giarratano is a pure shortstop with above-average range, good mechanics and an accurate arm.

Biggest Leap Forward: After failing to meet high expectations by going 4-12, 5.61 at Double-A Erie in 2003, righthander Preston Larrison rebounded with a strong first half at Erie this year. He was 4-2, 3.12 in 84 innings, averaging six innings per start. The key to Larrison's turnaround has been a more mature approach. Larrison has stopped overthrowing, letting his 92 mph sinker induce ground balls. A second-round draft choice out of Evansville in 2001, Larrison, 23, is also doing a better job of getting ahead in the count.

Biggest Disappointment: After two impressive seasons at rookie and short-season levels, third baseman Kody Kirkland was poised to open the season at high Class A in 2004.

Placed at West Michigan instead, he has struggled. Seeing a steady diet of breaking balls for the first time in his professional career, Kirkland, 21, has not adjusted well. In 223 at-bats, he hit .220-4-25 while striking out 72 times with eight walks.

A draft-and-follow selection in the 30th round in 2001 by the Pirates, Kirkland was acquired by the Tigers in the Randall Simon trade last year. He has also had a difficult time defensively, with 20 errors in 57 games.

TIGER TALES

Kelly's injury lingered longer than anticipated. Initially, his ailing shoulder was expected to keep him out of the Erie lineup for two weeks, but he had missed more than a month, and his return date is still not imminent. He was batting .228-0-9 in 101 at-bats prior to the injury.

After hitting 24 home runs during the first half at Triple-A Toledo, veteran minor league outfielder Marcus Thames, 27, was called up to Tigers. He had 31 home runs at Double-A Norwich in the Yankees system in 2001.


Kansas City Royals
by Alan Eskew

Best Player: Zack Greinke didn't give minor league fans much time to appreciate him.

In only his second minor league season, the 2002 first-rounder earned a May callup and quickly became the Royals most effective starter.

Greinke went 1-1, 2.51 in 29 innings at Triple-A Omaha before being summoned to the majors as a 20-year-old, the youngest player in the majors. "I don't feel rushed," Greinke said.

The Royals concur. After just two starts, manager Tony Pena proclaimed Greinke the staff ace. "This kid is special," Pena said. "A pitcher like this comes along only every 15 years. He reminds me of Tom Seaver."

Biggest Leap Forward: Lefthander Dusty Hughes stands only 5-foot-9, but in the eyes of the organization he stands near the top of its list of prospects.

Hughes, an 11th-round pick in 2003 out of Delta State, opened the season at low Class A Burlington and in his first start combined for a no-hitter with six strikeouts and a walk over eight innings. He went 4-2, 1.56 with a .213 opponent average in 52 innings at Burlington, earning a promotion to high Class A Wilmington, where he was 1-3, 2.60 in 35 innings.

Hughes, 22, features a 90-94 mph fastball and a good late-breaking slider. His future in the majors could be in relief.

Biggest Disappointment: With a live arm, righthander Colt Griffin became the first high school player documented to throw 100 mph. While the Royals knew when they selected him with the ninth overall pick in 2001 it would take time for him to refine his raw tools, they hoped his development would be further along.

In his fourth professional season, Griffin is still having problems throwing strikes. In eight starts this season with Wilmington, the 21-year-old was 1-4, 8.23, with 72 base runners in 33 innings. He was promoted to Double-A Wichita in June and moved to the bullpen in an attempt to get him turned around.

ROYALTIES

The Royals fired Wilmington pitching coach Reggie Jackson and replaced him with Randy Smith. "I feel change was needed," director of player personnel Shaun McGinn said. "We've got some talented young pitchers at Wilmington, who we need to get back on track."

Mike Stodolka, the Royals' top pick in the 2000 draft who missed most of last season after having Tommy John surgery, returned to the mound at Wilmington. He was 0-0, 3.00 in 12 innings.


Minnesota Twins
by John Millea

Best Player: The general thinking about Jason Kubel going into 2004 was that the outfielder was destined to spend the entire season at Double-A New Britain, honing the skills that made him an all-star in his two full professional seasons.

But the 22-year-old right fielder spent just 37 games in the Eastern League before being promoted to Triple-A Rochester. He hit .377-6-29 for the Rock Cats and hasn't missed a tick at the upper level, hitting .346-2-19 in 130 at-bats.

Biggest Leap Forward: Scott Baker was drafted in the second round of the 2003 draft after a stellar career at Oklahoma State, but the jury was still out as the 6-foot-4 righthanded starter came to spring training. That's because he spent just half a season at Quad City last year, finishing 3-1, 2.49 in 51 innings.

Now, however, the verdict is in, marking Baker as one of the fast risers in the organization.

He started the season at Class A Fort Myers and went 4-2, 2.40 in 45 innings. That earned him a promotion to Double-A New Britain, where he was 3-2, 2.28 through 50 innings. Probably his most impressive number is the strikeout-to-walk ratio: 37/6 at Fort Myers and 34/7 at New Britain.

Biggest Disappointment: Righthanded starter Jim Abbott has been hit by injuries in the past. A torn ligament in his right arm ended his 2000 season at Rookie-level Elizabethton and he spent most of 2001 on the disabled list after elbow surgery. He made 29 appearances at Quad City in 2002, and last year he finally appeared to be putting things together, going 5-3, 2.31 at Fort Myers and 4-2, 2.60 at New Britain.

But 2004 has not been kind to the 24-year-old Michigan native. He has not had any injury problems, yet his numbers have sagged. Through 66 innings at New Britain, Abbott was 1-5, 5.58.

TWIN KILLINGS

Second baseman Luis Maza was sent back to New Britain after a short stint with Rochester. Maza, who was hitting .320-6-24 for New Britain, was bumped back down when Nick Punto came off the disabled list, creating a ripple effect through the organization.

Two third basemen are hurting: Matt Moses (back injury) is sidelined at low A Quad City and Terry Tiffee (hamstring) is on the shelf at Triple-A Rochester.


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