OpinionNovember 1, 2006

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Team Top 3 Prospects: NL East

By Adam Foster

This article is part five of a six-part series on the top three prospects in every Major League Baseball organization. Click the following links for the previously published articles in this series: NL West, AL West, NL Central, and AL Central. We will wrap up our series soon with the AL East prospects, with our top prospect from each division to follow.

Atlanta Braves

1. Elvis Andrus, SS: Losing Rafael Furcal in the off-season provided the franchise with a significant hole, but it was plugged up quickly by the acquisition of Edgar Renteria. The development of a teenager named Elvis Andrus gives Atlanta hope for the future. The Braves think Andrus, a shortstop out of Venezuela who turned 18 in late August, can be as good as the recently departed five-tool shortstop, if not better.

This season Andrus spent the year with Low-A Rome and struggled a bit, putting up .265/.324/.362 vitals and stealing just 23 bases out of 38 attempts (60.5%). But considering his age relative to his competition, “The King” continued to impress the Braves front office with his maturity – especially defensively. Andrus may repeat Low-A to start the season, but if he progresses well and develops the kind of power that the club sees in him, the 6-foot-0, 185-pound righty could be Atlanta’s next home-grown hero by 2009.

2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C: The one person in the Braves organization who likely wasn’t thrilled about Brian McCann’s meteoric ascension to stardom was Saltalamacchia. The twenty-one-year-old backstop seems unlikely to beat out his major league counterpart, but he’s certainly still making a name for himself in the minors.

Saltalamacchia dominated High-A Myrtle Beach in 2005 to the tune of a .912 OPS. Despite less-enamoring .230/.353/.380 vitals this year at Double-A Mississippi, he still managed to improve both his strikeout and walk ratios. Some critics point to a wrist problem that sidelined the 6-foot-4, 195-pound switch-hitter in early July as cause for his slight decline in numbers.

The Florida native seems to hit effectively from both sides of the plate, though his frame might be too big to handle the everyday grind of catching at the major league level. Even so, Saltalamacchia should be ready for the majors by 2008, whether he remains with the Braves or not.

3. Eric Campbell, 3B: After an unimpressive start to his professional career, Campbell, 21 and a second round draft pick in 2004, tore up the Rookie League with the Danville Braves and continued his success when he was promoted to Low-A Rome. He posted impressive .296/.335/.517 2006 vitals and stole 18 bases in 22 attempts (81.8%).

The 6-foot-0, 195-pound righty’s power has never been questioned and his 84.9% contact ratio looks impressive as well. Campbell’s defense is what seems likely to hold him back more than anything else. He’ll likely spend the next few years in the minors, so it’s tough to label him as Atlanta’s third base heir apparent.

Florida Marlins

1. Gaby Hernandez, RHP: Acquired from the Mets in the Paul LoDuca trade, Hernandez, 20 and a third round draft pick in 2004, quickly joined the mix for the right to be called the Marlins top prospect following the promotions of Jeremy Hermida, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Scott Olsen, Yusmeiro Petit, Josh Johnson, and Ricky Nolasco.

Hernandez made up for a rough April by pitching well in May, June, and July before he fell victim to a season-ending foot fracture. He finished the season with an 8.63 K/9 ratio, 1.30 WHIP, and 0.53 HR/9 ratio at High-A Jupiter. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty is in the mix to be one of the top 100 prospects in baseball, but he doesn’t appear dominant enough to be more than a No. 3 major league starter to us.

2. Chris Volstad, RHP: MiLB.com still lists Volstad, 20, as 6-foot-7, 190-pounds. He may have put on a bit more weight since their last update, but he has plenty of room to fill out and his velocity won’t be maxed out until he adds more muscle mass.

The 2005 first round draft pick put up pretty unimpressive numbers in his first full season at A-Greensboro: 5.86 K/9, 1.30 WHIP, and 0.71 HR/9. Volstad still has a ton of potential, but he only has jumped to the top of the Florida farm system in our minds because the organization called up just about every major league-ready prospect it had in 2006.

3. Sean West, LHP: The third twenty-year-old Marlins pitching prospect on our list, West is a 6-foot-8, 200-pound lefty who was one of five Marlins draft picks from the first 45 overall selections in 2005.

The Louisiana native is very close to passing Volstad in our minds, despite being selected 28 picks later. At Single-A Greensboro, West struck out 7.63 batters per nine innings and turned in a 1.29 WHIP, but he gave up 13 home runs in 120.1 innings (0.97 HR/9). West has No. 2-3 starter potential but appears at least two years away from reaching it.

New York Mets

1. Fernando Martinez, OF: You can imagine Mets scouts in the Dominican salivating watching this highly-touted prospect named “Jesus” spray line drives from gap to gap. After dropping Jesus in favor of Fernando and signing to a $1.4 million contract in 2005, the eighteen-year-old (born 10/10/88) tore up Low-A Hagerstown before he was awarded a late-season promotion to High-A St. Lucie. His production slowed after the promotion, but he put up .279/.336/.457 combined vitals.

Despite his comparative youth in both the leagues that Martinez played in, the 6-foot-0, 185-pound lefty was just as productive against left-handed pitchers as he was righties. His contact numbers were also extremely impressive, as he struck out just 61 times in 315 at bats (80.6% contact). It’s hard to project when players as young as Martinez will appear at the major league level, but if he lives up to his considerable promise, the Mets may soon have another offensive messiah.

2. Mike Pelfrey, RHP: Drafted ninth overall in 2005 and given a $3.5 million signing bonus, Pelfrey, 22, has lived up to expectations. He started the season at High-A St. Lucie, before moving to Double-A Binghamton, then to the big league roster, back to Triple-A Norfolk, and up with the Mets again – that’s a mouthful. His combined 2006 minor league numbers include a 10.19 K/9 ratio, 1.18 WHIP, and 0.37 HR/9.

Pelfrey was disappointing in his 21.1 inning major league regular season innings (5.49 K/9 and 1.74 WHIP), but standing 6-foot-7 and owning a fastball that touches the high nineties as well as an above-average slider, quality curve, and changeup, he is almost a lock to start next season in New York, where he should make his way to the top of the rotation in the near future.

3. Phillip Humber, RHP: A 6-foot-4, 210-pound righty out of Rice University, Humber, 23, underwent Tommy John surgery in July of 2005 and suddenly looked like more of a risk than the Mets bargained for when they took him third overall in 2004.

But Humber regained his form beautifully upon his return to the mound in late June. The Texas native went on to combine for a 9.32 K/9 ratio, 1.00 WHIP, and 0.94 HR/9 ratio with the Golf Coast League Rookie Mets (4.0 innings), High-A St. Lucie (38.0 innings), and Double-A Binghamton (34.1 innings). He’ll become the fixture that he was supposed to be in the Mets rotation before long.

Philadelphia Phillies

1. Carlos Carrasco, RHP: Signed out of the Dominican Republic for $300,000 in 2003, Carrasco, 19, made huge strides in 2006. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound righty gets a nod from us as one of the top 20 pitching prospects in the minors, and he’s rising rapidly.

Carrasco, who works with a plus low-90s fastball and plus changeup, fanned 8.98 batters per nine innings, compiled a 1.05 WHIP, and gave up just 0.34 HR/9 in 159.1 innings at Single-A Lakewood. He reemerged big time from his horrific 2005 season, and again looks like a No. 2 major league starter in the making.

2. Gio Gonzalez, LHP: While Gonzalez, 21, managed to strike out 9.66 batters per nine innings in Double-A Reading, he also gave up 24 home runs in 154.1 innings – tied for third most of any Double-A pitcher.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pound lefty tailed off in the second half of the season and was inconsistent for most of the year. A 2004 first round supplemental draft pick, Gonzalez may open 2007 in Reading again, and could be shifted to the bullpen if he continues to struggle. We’re having trouble finding room for him on our top 100 prospect list.

3. Michael Bourn, OF: Realize that the drop in talent behind Carrasco and Gonzalez is steep for the Phillies, with Cole Hamels moving up to the majors, Greg Golson’s season-long struggles, and Scott Mathieson going under the knife for Tommy John surgery.

While Bourn, 23, didn’t show many signs of power in 2006, his speed (45 stolen bases in 50 attempts between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Scantron/Wilkes Barre) makes him a candidate to find major league playing time in 2007. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound centerfielder’s 2006 minor league vitals are unimpressive (.277/.356/.385) and the Phillies didn’t feel comfortable giving him playing time down the home stretch.

Washington Nationals

1. Chris Marrero, OF: Assistant General Manager Mike Rizzo has his work cut out for him, but Marrero, 18, is a nice building block for a farm system that has just about nowhere to go but up.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder was the fifteenth overall pick in the 2006 draft. Marrero put up promising .309/.374/.420 vitals in 81 Rookie Golf Coast League at bats and projects as a five-tool major league talent.

The Florida native will likely start 2007 in Single-A Savannah, where he’ll be attempting to hit his first professional home run. Another player in the hunt for our top 100, Marrero appears behind fellow 2006 high school draft picks Travis Snider and Billy Rowell in terms of potential, but he could really break out in 2007.

2. Kory Casto, 3B: Closer to the majors than Marrero but trailing him in terms of ceiling, Casto, 24, projects as a decent major league third baseman. At 6-foot-1 and 195-pounds, the left-handed hitter continued to move up one level at a time, facing Double-A pitchers for the first time in 2006.

Casto posted solid .272/.379/.468 vitals in 489 Double-A Harrisburg at-bats. He’ll begin 2007 in Triple-A New Orleans and will either be put on display as mid-season trade bait or be reconverted to the outfield.

3. Shairon Martis, RHP: Yes, we gave Collin Balester, Colton Willems, Matt Chico, and Garret Mock serious looks as the No. 3 prospect in the Nationals’ system, but in the end we were most sold on Martis’ 2006 season and potential.

The 19-year-old, who was acquired in July from the Giants in the Mike Stanton trade, impressed the Nationals so much that they not only promoted him from Single-A Savannah after just 21.1 innings to High-A Potomac but went on to send him to Double-A Harrisburg after just two starts at Potomac, where he joined Balester. Martis’ combined 6.89 K/9, 1.28 WHIP, and 0.70 HR/9 aren’t too impressive, but he has the potential to be an effective starter in the majors.

Adam Foster is a college sports writer who has teamed up with his friend Patrick Hennessey to launch a site called Project Prospect. Adam has also written for scout.com. You can view more of the Project Prospect team’s work at www.projectprospect.com.
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