The roster for the USA Olympic Team was announced earlier this week. The following minor leaguers will travel to Beijing to represent their country at the 2008 Olympic Games. The group is filled with an interesting mix of stud prospects and career minor leaguers, all of whom have one goal: to take home the gold.
To find out more on a certain prospect, click on the corresponding scouting reports from Scout.com. Each prospect is listed next to the organization that they play for.
Brett Anderson: LHP, Oakland Athletics—
Anderson, 20, came over to the Oakland Athletics in the deal that sent Dan Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason. The southpaw, one of two Oakland prospects headed to Beijing, threw a scoreless inning in the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium. He has been effective since joining the deep Oakland farm system, going 9-4 with a 4.14 ERA, 80-to-18 K/W ratio and opponents’ batting average of .238 in 13 starts in the California League before getting promoted to Double-A. He is now pitching for Midland in the Texas League, where he is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four starts.
Anderson, selected by the Diamondbacks in the second round of the 2006 First-Year Draft, has shown strong command over a fastball that sits in the low-90s, in addition to a slow curve ball, his strongest offering, and a changeup. He is the son of Oklahoma State head coach Frank Anderson, who has an excellent track record of developing college pitchers.
Click here for a full scouting report on Anderson, courtesy of Melissa Lockard, who ranked him the third-best prospect in the Athletics’ farm system in her pre-season rankings.
Jake Arrieta: RHP, Baltimore Orioles—
Arrieta, 21, was selected in the fifth round of the 2007 draft out of Texas Christian University, where he went 23-7 over his final two seasons and was twice named an All American. As a Scott Boras client, he scared off several organizations with his high asking price, dropping him several rounds. He has produced in the minors for Baltimore, though.
Arrieta, in fact, is enjoying a fine campaign in his first professional campaign, earning an invitation to the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium. In 20 starts for the Frederick Keys in the Carolina League, he is 6-5 with a 2.87 ERA and 120-to-51 K/W ratio. The right-hander, who has earned Carolina League Pitcher of the Week twice already this season, is leading the circuit in innings pitched (113.0) and WHIP (1.16). For his stellar first half, he was elected to the league All-Star team. He has a fastball in the 88-91 range, topping out at 93, which he can paint the corners with.
Arrieta is no stranger to international competition. While in college, he posted a 4-0 record and 0.27 ERA for the Gold-Medal winning national team in the ’06 World Championships in Cuba.
Click here for a Q&A with Arrieta, courtesy of Michael Hollman of InsideTheWarehouse.com.
Brian Barden: INF, St. Louis Cardinals—
Barden was one of two players selected from the St. Louis farm system, though top outfield prospect Colby Rasmus will miss the Olympics due to a knee injury. The 27-year-old shortstop has been a key offensive player for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, batting .292/.358/.436 with nine home runs and 35 RBIs in 95 games. He was acquired off of waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who selected him out of Oregon State in the 2002 draft, last August.
Barden is clearly too old to be considered a “prospect,” and actually made the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day roster out of spring training in 2007. The veteran minor leaguer, who has a career OPS of .804 in seven professional seasons, also has the versatility to play three infield positions. He had an excellent May, earning organizational player of the month after hitting .377 with a .460 on-base percentage in 27 games.
Click here for an old scouting report on Barden.
Matthew Brown: INF, Los Angeles Angels—
The Los Angeles Angels have struggled to score runs at times. Angels’ third base prospect Matthew Brown, though, has done nothing but hit this season, posting a line of .331/.381/.603 with 20 homers, 63 RBIs and a .985 OPS at Triple-A Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League. The 25-year-old infielder, who has played nearly every position on the field, is ranked by Scout.com as the seventh-best third base prospect in the minors.
Trevor Cahill: RHP, Oakland Athletics—
Cahill is a polarizing prospect. He has posted strong numbers since the Athletics selected him out of a California high school in the 2006 draft, but does not have an overpowering fastball. In fact, the young right-hander, who gave up an academic scholarship to Dartmouth to sign with Oakland, relies more on his pitching intelligence and excellent command.
Cahill was a force in his first full campaign in ’06, going 11-4 with a 2.73 ERA and 117-to-40 K/W ratio in 105.1 innings pitched in the Midwest League. He picked up where he left off this spring after beginning the season in the California League, where he went 5-4 with a 2.78 ERA, 103-to-31 K/W ratio and .174 opponents’ batting average in 87.1 innings pitched. Cahill, selected a CAL Mid-Season All-Star, was then promoted to the Texas League, where he has flourished alongside Anderson in the Midland starting rotation. The 20-year-old has continued to impress, posting a 5-1 record and 2.25 ERA in his first six starts.
Overall, Cahill, who also was added to the US roster for the Futures game, is 10-5 with a 2.64 ERA and .178 opponents’ batting average in 119.1 innings pitched.
Click here for a scouting report on Cahill, courtesy of Melissa Lockard.
Jeremy Cummings: RHP, Tampa Bay Rays—
Cummings, a career minor leaguer, has one goal left in his professional career—to reach the majors. Cummings, who began the 2008 season in Taiwan, is perhaps inching closer to that dream with every start. After signing with Durham as a minor league free agent in May, he has been one of the most effective starting pitchers in the International League over the past two months, going 7-3 with a 2.95 ERA and 63-to-20 K/W ratio in 76.1 innings pitched.
Cummings has come a long way since the St. Louis Cardinals selected him out of West Virginia University in the 1999 draft, but if he can continues to pitch effectively, his dream of the reaching the majors may just come true after all; if not with Tampa Bay, an organization stacked with pitching prospects, then perhaps another franchise in the future.
Jason Donald: INF, Philadelphia Phillies—
Jason Donald (AP)
After a solid but unspectacular collegiate career at the University of Arizona, Donald has shown some surprising power since the Phillies selected him in the third round of the 2006 draft. He has built off a nice performance in the Florida State League—.300/.386/.491—at the end of last season, proving that he is a legitimate prospect by performing in Double-A. He has perhaps exceeded expectations with Reading in ‘08, posting an .884 OPS with 14 homers and 53 RBIs through his first 84 games in the Eastern League.
It remains to be seen if Donald—who has a rocket arm—is athletic enough to remain at shortstop at the highest level, because his range is below-average. Nonetheless, he is an intriguing prospect who has made marked improvements to his game and may turn into more than just a utility player in the majors if he can continue to produce.
Click here for a scouting report on Donald, courtesy of Chuck Hixson, who named him the 11th-best prospect in the Phillies’ farm system.
Brian Duensing: LHP, Minnesota Twins—
Duensing is command specialist who does not blow scouts away with his stuff. He has effectively gotten hitters out, though, since the Twins selected him out of the University of Nebraska—where he missed two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery—in 2005. Although he has been consistent at nearly every stop along the way, he had his finest campaign in '07, going 15-6 with a 3.07 ERA and 124-to-37 K/W ratio combined between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester.
Duensing is 5-10 in 22 International League starts in ’08, as opposing hitters are batting .270 against him. The record is still a bit misleading, however. The crafty southpaw has registered a 4.18 ERA—while not spectacular, it would perhaps be good enough to put him among league leaders in wins in the IL if he was afforded Livan Hernandez’s run support—and has posted a high BABIP and a decent K/W ratio.
Duensing has battled through several up and downs already, at 25 years old. So, although he does not have a high ceiling and profiles more of a back-end starter in the majors, it would not be a surprise to see him make his debut in the near future.
Brad Weiss ranked him as the 33rd-best prospect in the Twins’ organization in his pre-season top prospect list this November. Here is an old scouting report on him, courtesy of Weiss.
Dexter Fowler: OF, Colorado Rockies—
Fowler broke his wrist last year, ending his campaign 65 games into his season in the California League. The speedy outfielder, who has plenty of tools but needs needs to cut down on his strikeouts, has made a full recovery and is enjoying a fine campaign in the Texas League. He is batting .331/.427/.505, for a .933 OPS for the Rockies’ Double-A affiliate, the Tulsa Drillers. The 22-year-old Atlanta native has even flashed some surprising power—he had combined to hit only 14 homers from ’05 through ’07—by hitting nine balls into the seats. He currently ranks second on the circuit in walks, third in on-base percentage, fifth in batting average, sixth in OPS and ninth in stolen bases.
Fowler, who was elected as Mid-Season All-Star by Baseball America, is a potential star who will benefit from playing in Coors Field when he reaches the show. Like many of his teammates on the US roster, he played in the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium.
John Gall: OF, Florida Marlins—
Gall is 30 years old, so the prospect label clearly does not apply to him. In fact, he was a College World Series hero at Stanford before the turn of the century. A Triple-A mainstay, he was elected to the Pacific Coast League All-Star team following an excellent first half at Albuquerque. He is currently batting .313/.370/.496 with 12 home runs. The journeyman has been clutch as well, posting a .384 batting average and .987 OPS in 112 at-bats with runners in scoring position. With his prolific production and the opportunity to hit with runners on, it is no surprise that he is among circuit leaders with 74 RBIs.
While Gall is a nice organizational bat, he is most likely not going to have an impact on the Marlins’ march towards the postseason.
Mike Hessman: INF, Detroit Tigers—
Mike Hessman (AP)
Hessman is a big, burly third baseman who is having a monster season for the Toledo Mud Hens. The 30-year-old infielder, in fact, is leading the International League with 30 homers, sitting fourth in the circuit with a .958 OPS as well. He is batting .264/.394/.567, was elected to the league All-Star team and is coming off an ’07 campaign in which he won the league’s Most Valuable Player. Regardless, it is unlikely that he will stick in the majors for good—he has eight career homers in the bigs in a brief cup of coffee with the Atlanta Braves and Tigers— in the future, though he will get a shot if he continues to mash.
Mark Anderson of TigsTown.com decided to give Hessman another look in this article.
Kevin Jepsen: RHP, Los Angeles Angels—
Drafted out of a Nevada high school in the 2002 First-Year draft, Jepsen was one of the most effective closers in the Texas League before earning a recent promotion to Triple-A. The 24-year-old right-hander racked up 11 saves, striking out 35 while posting a 1.42 ERA in 25 appearances. For his performance, he was named to the league’s All-Star team.
With Salt Lake City, Jepsen has limited hitters to a .211 batting average, posting a 2.79 ERA in 12 appearances. However, he did not even crack the top 20 in nearly every Angels’ pre-season prospect list.
Brandon Knight: RHP, New York Mets—
Knight is another journeyman, hanging onto the dream at 32 years old. He nearly retired at the end of 2006, has spent three seasons in Japan and was drafted (’95) long before steroids were on the radar as a major issue in baseball. Through it all, though, he has remained effective at the minor league level, currently sitting with a 5-1 record and 1.60 ERA in 39.1 innings since he signed with Triple-A New Orleans on May 21. Still, his claim to fame is perhaps being included in a trade for former major leaguer Chad Curtis, making it unlikely that he will ever latch onto to a consistent role in the majors. However, a Gold Medal in the Olympics will make all of the struggles worth it, he says.
Knight can fill any role, writes Gillian Rich.
Mike Koplove: RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers—
Koplove is a reliever for the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s. The 31-year-old has posted a 3.26 ERA and 40-to-16 K/W ratio in 37 appearances so far, using his unique arm angle to fool keep hitters off balance. He had a few effective stints in a six-year tenure with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2001-’06, going 6-1 with a 3.36 ERA in 55 games as one of the strongest setup-men in the game back in his career-best campaign back in ’02. He spent most of last year at Triple-A Buffalo in the Cleveland organization, before signing with Los Angeles in December.
Matt Laporta: INF, Cleveland Indians—
LaPorta will forever be linked to CC Sabathia. The former University of Florida star was the key prospect involved in the deal that sent Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for three months, the blockbuster deal of the ’08 trade deadline season. LaPorta has the offensive skill set, though, to reach a point where that tidbit becomes just a site note on his player profile page on the Indians’ website.
The seventh overall pick of the 2007 draft after a standout career for the Gators, some scouts compare him to a right-hander version of Travis Hafner. At the time of the deal, he was among Double-A leaders with a .978 OPS, batting .288/.402/.576 with 20 home runs and 66 RBIs in the Southern League. Moving to Cleveland, he may have the opportunity to switch back to the infield, where is expected to play with Team USA. He has the skills to turn into a plus defensive first baseman. The 24-year-old also has strong enough arm strength—he was once clocked at 88 MPH in the Cape Cod League All-Star game a few summers ago—to remain in the outfield, but will hit enough to remain at first base.
In his first 10 games with the Indians’ Double-A affiliate in Akron, he is batting .237/.250/.342/ in a small sample size. Some scouts project him to hit for 30-plus homers in the majors. Although the Brewers were criticized for selecting him, as a college senior, so early back in the ’07 draft, he has truly emerged into a legitimate hitting prospect. Look for him to make his debut in Cleveland when rosters expand in September.
Click here for a scouting report on LaPorta and the rest of the prospects included in the Sabathia deal, courtesy of Chuck Murr.
Lou Marson: C, Philadelphia Phillies—
Marson, one of two catchers on the USA roster, is one of the premier young backstops in the minors. His name has surfaced in trade rumors, but do not expect Philadelphia to move him.
Marson, 22, has been a key cog in the Reading Phillies’ lineup, batting .322/.438./.431 with five home runs and 46 RBIs in 89 games. He is a solid defensive catcher with an above-average arm as well, making it likely that he will turn into a capable major league catcher by century’s end.
Click here for a scouting report on Marson, courtesy of Chuck Hixson.
Blaine Neal: RHP, Detroit Tigers—
Neal is the closer for the Toledo MudHens, for whom he has picked up 24 saves for while posting a 1.31 ERA in 34.1 innings pitched this season. The 30-year-old journeyman has posted a 5.08 ERA in 113 career appearances in the majors.
Neal and a teammate will be heading to Beijing, writes Paul Wenzer.
Jayson Nix: INF, Colorado Rockies—
Nix batted .125 in a brief stint with the Rockies earlier this season. The former sandwich pick has spent the majority of the year at Colorado Springs, though, where he has posted a line of .300/.371/.583 with 15 homers and 46 RBIs. He was a key producer for Team USA at the World Baseball Cup in November, helping the US end their 33-year championship drought at the event. The 24-year-old second baseman was awarded with the Richard W. “Dick” Case Award given to the USA Baseball Athlete of the Year.
Nate Schierholtz: OF, San Francisco Giants—
Schierholtz is enjoying a nice season in the Pacific Coast League, where he has posted a line of .309/.355/.552 with 13 home runs and 62 RBIs. The former second-round pick also is among league leaders with a .908 OPS. Schierholtz took the roster spot belonging to Rasmus, who is expected to be out for at least a month with a knee injury. He batted .304/.316/.402 in 39 games in two stints in the majors in 2007. While he has flashed excellent power, he needs to cut down on his strikeouts and improve his plate discipline.
Click here for a scouting report on the San Francisco prospect.
Jeff Stevens: RHP, Cleveland Indians—
Stevens went 5-1 with 2.51 ERA with one save in 17 appearances with Double-A Akron before earning a promotion Triple-A. In 25.0 innings in the International League, he is 0-2 with a 4.32 ERA, 36-to-13 K/W ratio and .182 opponents’ batting average. The 24-year-old was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, who sent him to Cleveland as the player-to-be-named later in the Brandon Phillips trade. The organization thinks that he can make an impact in the bullpen at the major league level, making it likely that he will make his debut in the majors sometime in the near future.
Stephen Strasburg: RHP, San Diego State—
Strasburg was the only amateur player selected to the US team. He is coming off a dominant season in which he captivated the nation with a 23-strikeout performance against Utah on April 11. The sophomore right-hander was dominant on the mound all spring for the Aztecs, going 8-3 with a 1.57 ERA, 133-to-16 K/W ratio and opponents’ batting average of .181 in 13 starts. The local San Diego product, who turned 20 this week, is a lock to go in the first round in 2009, thanks to a devastating four-seam fastball that has hit 100 MPH on the radar gun.
Taylor Teagarden: C, Texas Rangers—
Teagarden is an excellent defensive catcher with plus arm strength, which will allow him to stick in the majors even if he does not turn into even a league-average hitter. He was drafted out of the University of Texas in 2005, falling to the third round. He then missed a large chunk ’06 season following Tommy John surgery, which hindered his development offensively. He had solid bounce back year in ’07, finishing the season with a line of .294/.357.529 in 115 plate appearances at Double-A. He was tearing up the California League before his promotion, making the jump after posting a 1.054 OPS with 20 homers in 81 games.
In 2008, Teagarden has spent most of the year at Triple-A Oklahoma, where he has struggled at the plate. He is batting only .235/.349/.404 with six homers. While he needs to cut down on his strikeouts—241 strikeouts in 214 career minor league games—the local product is still one of the premier defensive catchers in the minors. In what he referred to as a “whirlwind of a week,” he went from the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium to playing in the Metrodome, where he made his major league debut. In his brief stint with Texas—which also has rookie catcher Max Ramirez—he went 1-for-6, breaking up Minnesota starter Scott Baker's bid for a no-hitter with his first career home run, before getting shipped back down to Triple-A on Monday. The demotion allowed him to be included on the USA roster.
Click here for a report on all of the catching prospects in the Texas organization, including Teagarden.
Terry Tiffee: INF, Los Angeles Dodgers—
Tiffee made his major league debut four years ago with the Minnesota Twins. He has bounced around the minors since then, as he has does not hit for any power and has struggled to get on base consistently enough in the past. The 29-year-old has been a force for Las Vegas this year, though, hitting a league-leading .378 with a .415 OBP and .567 slugging percentage. For his performance, he earned an invitation to represent the Pacific Coast League at the Triple-A All-Star Game in Louisville last week. With Blake DeWitt blocking Andy LaRoche until recently—despite DeWitt’s .688 OPS—Tiffee will most likely not make an impact at the majors in the Dodgers’ organization.
Casey Weathers: RHP, Colorado Rockies—
Weathers is perhaps the highest-profile prospect making the trip to Beijing. The Rockies selected him with the eighth pick of last June's draft out of Vanderbilt University, which produced two first-round pitchers, including number one overall pick David Price. As a senior and a relief prospect, many predicted him to make a fast track to the majors, but he is still pitching in Double-A Tulsa. In 39 appearances with the Drillers, the 23-year-old converted outfielder is 2-1 with a 2.82 ERA and 45-to-24 K/W ratio.
Weathers consistently sits in the 95-97 range with his fastball, even reaching triple digit on occasion. If he can continue to miss bats and improve his command, look for him in the next few years to turn into a high-impact closer for the Rockies, who are currently dangling soon-to-be free agent Brian Fuentes on the trade market.
To contact Tyler Hissey, send an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.