1. Fautino de los Santos, RHP
Acquired: NDFA, 2005, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: 2.40 ERA at Low-A (97.2-49-36-121); 3.65 ERA at High-A (24.2-20-7-32)
Year In Review: Beginning the year as an obscure Dominican arm in a weak system, de los Santos first blew away the coaching staff in spring training and then was almost literally unhittable in the Sally League, allowing one hit for every two innings pitched.
The Good: Built like a tree trunk, de los Santos gets tremendous drive. His fastball sits at 91-95 mph, touching 98 at times; it also has late movement, and he commands it very well. His breaking pitch is a power curve with hard late bite, and it's a true out pitch when he’s on. He understands the importance of developing an offspeed pitch, and he improved his changeup over the course of the year.
The Bad: De los Santos gets into bad habits at times, and can overthrow all of his pitches, costing him life on his fastball, break on his curve, and decreasing the velocity gap between the heat and his changeup. Some worry that his aggressiveness might work against him when facing more advanced hitters, and that he needs to learn how to set up batters and be more aware of the count, as opposed to challenging hitters with every pitch. If his changeup doesn’t continue to improve, some fear he’ll be limited to a relief role.
Fun Fact: In 18 fifth innings, de los Santos allowed just three hits while striking out 26.
Perfect World Projection: Star-level starter or closer.
Timetable: De los Santos has the highest ceiling of any player in the system, but he’s still at least two years away. He’ll likely begin 2008 at High-A, with an expectation than he could be ready for a look at some point in 2009.
2. Gio Gonzalez, LHP
Draft: 1st round, 2004, Monsignor Pace HS (FL)
2007 Stats: 3.18 ERA at Double-A (150-116-57-185)
Year In Review: After a one-year sojourn in Philadelphia, Gonzalez returned to the team that drafted him but then dealt in the Freddy Garcia trade. He pitched much better in his second Double-A season, leading the minor leagues in strikeouts.
The Good: Gonzalez has average velocity (89-91 mph) on his fastball, but he can reach back and touch 93 at times, and it features natural lefty movement, almost looking more like a cutter on occasion. He uses it effectively to get ahead in the count and set up his curveball, which is among the best in the minors. It’s a hard-breaking power pitch that comes in fast, then falls off the table. His changeup is improving, and his control made significant strides from the previous season.
The Bad: Gonzalez’ smallish frame is a concern for some, but he’s proven to be highly durable so far in his career. Some wonder if he’ll need to pitch backwards more in the majors, and worry that he depends too much on the curve at times. Despite the improvements, his control problems still flare up from time to time.
Fun Fact: Monsignor Pace’s most famous alum is actress Catherine Keener, although political commentator Bill O’Reilly taught history at the school for a brief time in the early 1970s.
Perfect World Projection: An above-average left-handed starter.
Timetable: Gonzalez will begin the year at Triple-A, and should see the big leagues at some point in 2008.
8. Ryan Sweeney, OF
Draft: 2nd round, 2003, Xavier HS (IA)
2007 Stats: .270/.348/.398 at Triple-A (105 G); .200/.268/.333 at MLB (15 G)
Year In Review: The former first-round pick spent his second year at Triple-A and went backwards. Many believe it’s time to stop talking about projection with him.
The Good: Sweeney is big, athletic, and not without some offensive skills. He has a quick, short stroke, gap power, and a nice feel for contact. He works the count well and doesn’t strikeout often. He’s an average runner who can play center field in a pinch, and his arm is among the best in the system.
The Bad: Always projected to develop power, Sweeney is now stuck as a tweener–-without true center field skills or the power to play everyday in a corner. He’s always struggled against good lefties, and failed to make adjustments in 2007 to address the problem. He played with little energy down the stretch, and did not get a September callup.
Fun Fact: While at Triple-A Charlotte, Sweeney hit .314 while playing center field, but just .234 when penciled into one of the outfield corners.
Perfect World Projection: At this point, it’s hard to see Sweeney as more than a fourth outfielder and occasional starter, though he still has some believers among scouts.
Timetable: While Sweeney has clearly stagnated, it’s hard to see him avoiding a third year at Triple-A without a monster spring training. This next year is absolutely pivotal for him.