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minor leaguers on the rise

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minor leaguers on the rise

Postby pkarr5000 » Sat Aug 09, 2003 9:49 pm

With major league baseball's trading deadline behind us, the flood of new talent into each league is likely to slow to that of a leaky faucet. Yes, teams can still make trades with players that clear waivers. But let's face it, no fewer than 18 teams still have legitimate playoff hopes, and most of those teams can't afford to take on additional payroll. That severely reduces the likelihood that an impact player will switch leagues again this season, especially when guys like Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro seem to have no interest in waiving no-trade clauses.

Absent of a surprise deal, fantasy players have only one place left to look for fresh talent: the minor leagues. We're going to see more and more callups in the next several weeks, and the real windfall will come with roster expansion in September. For the beginners out there, after September 1 major league teams are allowed to add to their active squad any member of the 40-man roster, which includes a number of top prospects in the minors.

So whether in September or before, a number of interesting prospects are on their way to the majors. There isn't another Rich Harden or Jose Reyes among this group, but there will be plenty of attractive players, especially for those in keeper leagues.

The Indians have already announced plans to call up lefty Cliff Lee after he makes one or two more starts at Triple-A Buffalo. Lee is 6-0 with a 3.51 ERA in 10 starts there, and was impressive in a spot-start for Cleveland on June 30. The Tribe plans to go with a six-man rotation, which seems like a terrific idea given the youth of their staff. Reducing the stress on C.C. Sabathia and Jason Davis in particular is a wise move with an eye towards the future. The Indians also seem likely to stick to their plan of leaving 2002 first-round pick Jeremy Guthrie in the minors, and his 6.75 ERA in 14 starts for Buffalo makes that decision a bit easier.

Speaking of the Indians, they've also announced plans to call up outfielder Alex Escobar. Once considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, Escobar's star has faded because of an assortment of injuries and a general lack of delopment. He's shown tremendous power at Triple-A Buffalo, hitting 22 homers and driving in 74 in 418 at-bats. Unfortunately, he also has 125 strikeouts, more than five times his walk total. Despite his shortcomings, Escobar will cut into the playing time of the slumping Jody Gerut.

If the A's are unable to re-sign shortstop Miguel Tejada this offseason, the in-house replacement is Bobby Crosby. At Triple-A Sacramento, the 23-year-old Crosby is hitting .293 with 16 homers, 18 steals, and a .385 on-base percentage. Fellow Rivercats infielder Esteban German should also get a recall to - at the very least - serve as a pinch-runner. German, or Crosby for that matter, could also get some starts at second base if Mark Ellis continues to struggle.

Tike Redman probably has until the end of the month to establish himself as the Pirates' center fielder for the remainder of the season. Otherwise, the club will want to take a look at J.J. Davis. The 24-year-old Davis is hitting .275 with 22 homers and 21 steals in 109 games with Triple-A Nashville, and has clearly passed fellow prospect Tony Alvarez.

The Pittsburgh rotation is in shambles right now, and the team has a number of options if it chooses to call in reinforcements. Nelson Figueroa is having a banner season with Nashville, going 12-5 with a 2.97 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and a 3.3 K/BB. While Figueroa has been impressive, the gems of the system are down at Double-A Altoona: Sean Burnett and John VanBenschoten. Burnett, who doesn't turn 21 until mid-September, is 11-5 with a 3.28 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 2.7 K/BB. VanBenSchoten is 23 years old but actually has less minor league experience than Burnett. After dominating the Class A Carolina League for nine starts, he's been solid in 12 outings with Altoona, posting a 3.58 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and 3.0 K/BB. It's probably safe to say that neither Burnett nor VanBenSchoten is quite ready for the big leagues, but that doesn't mean we won't see them.

What's the opposite of a vote of confidence? Whatever it is, it's what the Diamondbacks gave Chad Tracy when they traded Byung-Hyung Kim for Shea Hillenbrand earlier this season. That said, the D'Backs will no doubt call on Tracy to give them an extra bat off the bench for the stretch drive. Tracy has a .316 batting average and .452 slugging percentage with Tucson in the Pacific Coast League.

If the Padres had been able to deal Mark Loretta, we might already be seeing shortstop Khalil Greene in big league boxscores, with Ramon Vazquez moving to second base. The 23-year-old Greene, a 2002 first-round draft pick, had no experience above Class A ball before this season, but has been terrific since a midseason promotion to Triple-A Portland. In 52 games there, Greene is hitting .297 with seven homers and a .355 OBP. He's no lock for playing time this year, but will compete for a big league job in spring training.

The Twins recently recalled Mike Restovich, and Michael Cuddyer will join him in September. There probably won't be major playing time for either one, and they'll mostly be used as pinch-hitters unless one catches fire. Cuddyer has hit a healthy .317 with a .426 OBP since being demoted to Triple-A Rochester, but has only one home run in 31 games, having missed some time with a strained hamstring. Justin Morneau will also rejoin the mix, and this trio will compete with Matt LeCroy for time at the DH spot for the Septembeer stretch drive.

As dominant as the Blue Jays have been on offense, the cupboard is far from bare. Outfielder Alexis Rios is hitting .340 with a .496 slugging percentage at Double-A New Haven. He may get a look in September, further cutting into the playing time of Frank Catalanotto and the coming-back-to-earth Reed Johnson. Catcher Guillermo Quiroz, a current teammate of Rios, may join the party as well. The Jays have gotten terrific production out of Greg Myers and Tom Wilson this season, but Quiroz - not Kevin Cash, by the way - is the future. He's hitting .287 with 17 homers and an organization-pleasing .371 OBP in 95 games.
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