Friday, March 05, 2010

MLB Preview #3
National League East

Atlanta Braves

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Nate McClouth CF
Melky Cabrera LF
Martin Prado 2B
Chipper Jones 3B
Troy Glaus 1B
Brian McCann C
Yunel Escobar SS
Matt Diaz RF

Derek Lowe
Jair Jurrjens
Tommy Hanson
Tim Hudson
Kenshin Kawakami

The Braves may not have any Mark Teixeira-level superstars anymore. But what they do have is a lineup with above-average players at every single position. That's certainly nothing to be ashamed of, and it's part of the reason why CHONE has Atlanta unseating Philadelphia in the NL East. Everyone on the infield can flat-out rake the ball, and Escobar is one of the game's most underrated defenders at shortstop. The outfield isn't too bad either.

Speaking of the outfield, that's where the true depth on this team lies. Looking to make the roster are veteran Eric Hinske and a youth movement in Gregor Blanco and Jordan Schafer. Of course, none of those outfielders' jobs are safe once top prospect Jayson Heyward is ready for the bigs.

Or perhaps Atlanta's depth lies in its starting rotation. Who else can trade away a Cy Young Candidate in Javier Vazquez and still march out a starting rotation that's expected to be 12.6 wins above replacement? Jurrjens, Hanson, Schafer, and Heyward are the youth movement that will start the Braves next run of playoff appearances.

The only question on this team is the bullpen. Do closer Billy Wagner and setup man Takashi Saito have anything left in the tank? Can former starters Kris Medlen and Jo-Jo Reyes and a group of no-names bridge the gap between those talented starters and the veteran finishers?

Philadelphia Phillies

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Jimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino CF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Jayson Werth RF
Raul Ibanez LF
Placido Polanco 3B
Carlos Ruiz C

Roy Halladay
Cole Hamels
Joe Blanton
JA Happ
Jamie Moyer
Antonio Bastardo
Kyle Kendrick

The Phillies lineup is in stark contrast with the Braves. Whereas Atlanta is a decent from top to bottom, Philadelphia features one superstar (Chase Utley), two stars (Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth), and a supporting cast of so-so players.

The Phillies bench features a number of National League veterans in Brian Schneider, Juan Castro, Greg Dobbs, and Ross Gload, as well as outfielders Ben Francisco and John Mayberry.

Of course, who needs a stacked batting lineup when you have Roy Halladay and a very good starting cast? The Phillies rotation may be a little top-heavy, but as soon as a fifth starter settles in, this team will be set.

Brad Lidge once again leads a bullpen that was disappointing at best in 2009. But all the regulars are back - Ryan Madson, JC Romero, Chad Durbin - with the addition of Danys Baez.

New York Mets

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Jose Reyes SS
Luis Castillo 2B
David Wright 3B
Carlos Beltran CF
Jason Bay LF
Daniel Murphy 1B
Jeff Francouer RF
Rod Barajas/Omir Santos C

Johan Santana
Mike Pelfrey
John Maine
Oliver Perez
Jon Niese
Fernando Nieve

The core of Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran is still intact. But the supporting players aren't quite as good as they once were. Sure, Jason Bay can hit, but can he hit - and field - in a larger outfield? Will Daniel Murphy and Jeff Francouer finally blossom, or continue to struggle? Who is waiting in the wings to help?

The Mets bench features a laundry list of backup catchers, including Henry Blanco and Chris Coste. On the infield there's Alex Cora, Anderson Hernandez, and the ageless Fernando Tatis. New to the outfield is Gary Matthews, whose ego has lived up to his big contract (he wants to start and bat leadoff), but whose talent hasn't.

The rotation is a bright spot for the Mets, with Pelfrey, Maine, and Niese all on the right side of 30, and Santana due for a bounceback season. Playing in a pitcher's park doesn't hurt, either.

In the bullpen, Francisco Rodriguez is back and will be supported by veterans Kelvim Escobar, Pedro Feliciano, and Nelson Figueroa.

Florida Marlins

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Chris Coghlan LF
Cameron Maybin CF
Hanley Ramirez SS
Jorge Cantu 3B
Dan Uggla 2B
Gaby Sanchez 1B
Cody Ross RF
John Baker C

Josh Johnson
Ricky Nolasco
Anibal Sanchez
Sean West
Chris Volstad
Rick VandenHurk
Andrew Miller

Hanlery Ramirez is still a star, and his glove is respectable enough to keep him at short. Dan Uggla is a proven commodity. Chris Coghlan is a rising start with the bat, and now he only needs to find a position. In Cameron Maybin, the Miguel Cabrera trade is finally starting to pay off. Maybin was always a plus defender, and now his bat is starting to come around as well.

Supersubs Emilio Bonifacio and Wes Helms highlight a bench that sees catcher Ronny Paulino settle into a backup role.

Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco broke out last year, but they'll need help this year. What the Florida rotation lacks in quality, it makes up for in quantity. It may be a case of riding the hot hands, as they did quite successfully last year.

Leo Nunez enters his second season as the Marlins closer. He'll be joined in the bullpen by Dan Meyer, Burke Badenhop, Hayden Penn, and Taylor Tankersly - four prospects whose careers plateaued after promising starts.

Washington Nationals

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Christian Guzman SS
Ivan Rodriguez C
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Adam Dunn 1B
Elijah Dukes RF
Josh Willingham LF
Adam Kennedy 2B
Nyjer Morgan CF

Jason Marquis
John Lannan
Scott Olsen
Garrett Mock
Craig Stammen
JD Martin

Slowly but surely, the Nats are improving. The main problem with their lineup is that they have a number of guys (Guzman, Rodriguez, Kennedy, and Morgan) who could bat in the one and two spots, but probably shouldn't. It will be interesting to see how that shakes down. Morgan's speed helps make him a great defensive player, but it doesn't make him a leadoff hitter. Guzman, Rodriguez, and Kennedy may be known for their contact skills, but don't undervalue the ability to actually get on base. The middle of the lineup shouldn't have any issues, though. Zimmerman and Dunn will continue to hit well. Dukes and Willingham have enjoyed the change of scenery so far, and they both should continue to improve.

The Washington bench features catchers Wil Nieves and Jesus Flores, former Seattle prospect Mike Morse, and ageless utilityman Willie Harris. Top position prospect Ian Desmon will try to break camp in a utility role after an impressive 2009 debut.

Like the Marlins, the Nationals rotation is one of quantity over quality. When Chien-Ming Wang, Jordann Zimmermann, and Stephen Strasburg are ready to join the discussion, that will certainly help Washington's case.

Matt Capps has made a career out of closing for bad teams. He'll be aided by the likes of former Yankees Brian Bruney and Tyler Clippard.