Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hots and Nots - June 10, 2009

Travis Wood's new found control over his five pitch repertoire is making the difference

While all eyes of the baseball world focused on the MLB draft this week, they were still playing baseball around the Minor Leagues. This week’s list has a lot of new names, but is topped by an old one…a true baseball comeback story starring Cincinnati Reds’ pitching prospect Travis Wood.

Hot Pitchers –

1) Travis Wood, LHP, CIN – The Reds drafted Wood with their second round pick in 2005, primarily based on his low- to mid-90’s Fastball and an outstanding Change. Shoulder problems forced mechanical adjustments to his delivery and his Fastball became a fringy high-80’s—reducing the disparity between it and his Change, and making the Change less effective. After struggling in 2007, Wood had regained some success at the beginning of last season, posting a 2.70 ERA in 9 Florida State (FSL) League starts. This earned him a promotion to the Southern (SOL)League—where the wheels promptly fell off, as he posted a 7.09 ERA in 70 IP. Over the winter, Wood worked hard on a cut fastball and also added a two-seamer, giving him three pitches to highlight against his outstanding change (he also has an average curveball, giving him a true 5-pitch repertoire). A return trip to the SOL this season has had dramatically different results. Over his last 3 starts, he has posted a 0.82 ERA, a 0.636 WHIP and a 19:1 K:BB ratio. Compare that to a SOL ratio of 58:48 in 2008. He now has allowed only 2 ERs in his last 29 IP and looks poised to move to Louisville very soon and could see Cincinnati by year-end. More importantly, at 22yo, he is younger than both Aaron Crow and Tanner Scheppers, who were drafted yesterday.

2) Mat Latos, RHP, SDP – Two words I never expected to use in the same sentence ‘Latos’ and ‘Brilliant’, but the pitching of Mat Latos this season has been nothing short of brilliant. A move up to AA hasn’t slowed him one bit, as in his last 14IP he has not allowed an ER, has a 0.659 WHIP, and a 15:3 K:BB ratio. On the year he has a 0.42 ERA.

3) Alexander Perez, RHP, CLE – This week’s ‘Who’s He Award’ winner, Perez was signed as a 17yo out of the Dominican Republic in 2007. He really isn’t that unkown, as we had him with a Top 10, age-adjusted season in the Dominican Summer (DSL) League in 2007 and a Top 15 age-adjusted season in the Gulf Coast (GCL) League last year. He has the standard mix of pitches, highlighted by a low 90’s fastball, but is an extremely lanky 6’2” 19yo that should add a couple of MPH to the fastball as he fills out. Consider him in the same mold as recent Tribe successes Hector Rondon and Jeanmar Gomez. We like him better than Gomez and, at least for now, slightly less than Rondon. Perez has posted a 1.50 ERA, a 0.667 WHIP and a 13:4 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

4) Daniel Duffy, LHP, KCR – Duffy is one of those young pitchers that doesn’t attract a lot of press, but just gets the job done. In his first two seasons he posted a 1.97 ERA and opposing hitters batted a paltry .188 against him. Not much has changed for the 20yo this season as Carolina (CAR) League hitters are hitting .214. Over his last three starts, Duffy has posted a 0.95 ERA, a 0.895 WHIP and a 17:6 K:BB ratio.

5) Ross Seaton, RHP, HOU – I think I mentioned this last week…I really like Ross Seaton. Seaton now has posted a 1.35 ERA, a 0.850 WHIP and a 14:2 K:BB ratio over his last three starts…All of this as a 19yo in the South Atlantic (SAL) League.

6) Matt Moore, LHP, TBD – It’s been quiet on the Matt Moore scene since he led all minor league pitchers with a 12.75 K/9IP and a .154 Avg Against in his debut season…not that he’s pitched badly, posting a 3.30 ERA with 69 Ks in 49 SAL IP. But it looks like things are taking a step up, as Moore has now posted a 1.93 ERA, with a 1.000 WHIP and a 23:7 K:BB ratio over his last three starts. Not bad for a guy that won’t turn 20yo for another week.

7) Kris Medlen, RHP, ATL – Medlen got knocked around a bit by Colorado in his Major League debut, but since then has settled down nicely, posting a 3.14 ERA, a 0.907 WHIP and a 15:4 K:BB ratio over his last 3 appearances.

8) Hunter Strickland, RHP, BOS – The 20yo Strickland was an 18th round pick by the Red Sox in 2007. Prior to this year he had posted two non-descript seasons, but his SAL, full-season, debut has been a different story as Strickland has a 2.89 ERA through 12 games. Over his last three starts he has posted a 0.55 ERA, a 0.673 WHIP and a 12:0 K:BB ratio. At 6’5” and still filling out, Strickland could be one to watch.

9) Evan Anundsen, RHP, MIL – The Brewers 4th round pick from the 2006 draft makes his third straight appearance on this list, an indication of the breakout season he is putting together in the FSL. The 21yo has posted a 1.29 ERA, a 0.786 WHIP and a 17:4 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

10) Stephen Strasburg’s Accountant – Strasburg may have been drafted number #1 last night, but it’s today when the fun really begins. Mark Prior’s $10,500,000 contract in 2001 and Buster Posey’s $6,200,000 Bonus from last year are clearly numbers that are in his sights. Just ‘Baseball Bonus‘ inflation alone would make Prior’s contract nearly $14,000,000 in today’s dollars, and I think most knowledgeable baseball people feel Strasburg is a better draft prospect than Prior. If I were starting a ‘guess the contract’ pool, I’d peg the final deal at around $24,000,000 with about $9,000,000 in bonuses. The beauty as a fan, is that this will be a Major League contract with no motivation for the Nationals to hold him down in AAA to start the 2010 season.

Hot Hitters –

1) James Darnell, 3B, SDP – I’ve lost track as to how many times Darnell has appeared on this list so far this season, but I can tell you that it is enough for the Padres to promote him so that he can be challenged, because right now he is destroying Midwest (MWL) League pitching. Over his last 55 PA’s, Darnell has posted a .429/.556/.762 and now sports a .964 OPS for the season.

2) Zach Cozart, SS, CIN – Cozart was drafted by the Reds in the second round for his glove, and had serious questions surrounding his ability to hit. He’s beginning to put those concerns to rest as he has posted a .382/.469/.691 line over the last two weeks and now has a .828 OPS on the year. This is in the Southern (SOL) League, after the Reds chose to skip the 23yo over Hi-A.

3) Chris Heisey, OF, CIN – There are a lot of Reds on the list this week, and Heisey is the latest. With a 1.067 OPS on the year, Hesisey keeps making a case for himself to lose that ‘4th OF type’ label. .407/.439/.778 over the last two weeks.

4) Colby Rasmus, OF, STL – With 170 MLB ABs, Rasmus is no longer, technically, a prospect. But I just felt his play in the month of June was worth noting. Rasmus currently sports a 9-game hitting streak, and he has posted a .405/.405/.757 line over the last two weeks.

5) Chris Carter, 1B, OAK – You wouldn’t expect that a 22yo player in AA, with four .900+ OPS seasons under his belt, would be on his third Major League organization, but that is the case with Carter. Apparently he adjusts rather easily, as his .370/.491/.674 over the last two weeks, leaves his OPS at .916 in his 5th season.

6) Michael Baxter, OF, SDP – Whenever you have an OPS above 1.500 after 200ABs, you deserve to make the Hot list two weeks in a row. The Padres promoted him to AAA this past week and now we’ll see if he can keep it up. .442/.538/.767 over the last two weeks. I still don’t believe Baxter is much of a prospect, but it has been an unbelievable couple of months for him.

7) Todd Frazier, OF, CIN – I wasn’t high on Frazier when the Reds made him a supplemental 1st round pick in 2007. I didn’t believe his glove/mobility was adequate enough for a middle infield position and I didn’t think his arm was strong enough for third or his bat powerful enough for first. The Reds solved those problems by putting him in LF this year. I still don’t necessarily believe he was worthy of that draft position, but he’s doing a lot right at the moment. Over the last two weeks, Frazier has posted a .396/.458/.660.

8) Jesus Montero, C, NYY – Only when you frame his season by the fact that he is 5 months past his 19th birthday, can you truly appreciate how special of a bat we have here. A repeat performance this week by Montero, after going .405/.444/.667 over his last 45 PA’s. The Yankees have promoted him to AA after posting a .959 OPS in the FSL. He may struggle against the more advanced Eastern (ESL) pitchers, but be patient.

9) Alcides Escobar, SS, MIL – With Weeks out for the season, I am not sure what the Brewers are waiting for. Escobar has been the organization’s best defensive SS since the day he signed a contract with them in 2003 and he showed last year that his bat will at least play at the next level. Over the last two weeks, Escobar has posted a .413/.413/.652 and I continue to be pained by the thought of Craig Counsell blocking anyone’s way. Someone needs to introduce J.J. Hardy to a secondbaseman’s glove...pronto.

10) Julio Borbon, OF, TEX – I’m not the hugest Borbon fan, as I still see him as an OF that carries a Shortstop’s bat. Nonetheless that hasn’t prevented Borbon from putting himself in a position to make the Big League club no later than 2010. Truth be told, maybe I have been too hard on him, as Dave Roberts put together a 10-year major league career with less. .370/.443/.519 over the last two weeks.

The Nots –

1) Greg Halman, OF, SEA – When you have a swing like Halman does, you are going to go through periods like this. Halman has 13 HRs on the season, but he has struckout basically every second trip to the plate on the year. A .075/.140/.100 line over the last two weeks, has led to .681 OPS in a SOL repeat performance.

2) Brett Hunter, RHP, OAK – After getting lit up on May 29th (5ERs and 6BBs in 2 2/3IP), the A’s have tried to right Hunter with a couple of outings out of the pen. So far no luck, as Hunter has posted a 18.00 ERA, 3.500 WHIP and a 4:10 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks and now has a 7.91 ERA on the year.

3) Alan Horne, RHP, NYY – Speaking of pitchers in need of ‘righting’, Horne has been putrid this season. Another DL stint at the end of May apparently wasn’t the answer, as Horne has posted a 22.09 ERA, a 3.818 WHIP and a 3:5 K:BB ratio since his return, leaving his ERA at 11.15 for the season. His breakout 2007 campaign is merely a distant memory at this point.

4) Shelby Ford, 2B, PIT – The Pirates had high hopes for Ford entering the season…Time to make a new plan. A .087/.106/.087 line over the last two weeks has his OPS falling to .418 on the year. That’s worth repeating…FALLING TO .418 on the year. 3 Walks in 159 ABs aren’t helping his cause.

5) Aneury Rodriguez, RHP, TBR – Rodriguez has been pressing ever since being dealt to the Rays in the Jason Hammel deal. A 13.94 ERA, 2.419 WHIP, and a 10:9 K:BB ratio over his last three starts leaves his ERA at 7.05 through 12 starts.

6) Devaris Gordon, SS, LAD – I made it fairly clear earlier this year that I haven’t bought into the Dee Gordon-hype. A 21yo that has speed as his main attribute, a lot of very raw skills, and a build that was smaller than mine as a Sophmore in High School, dosen’t get me excited. A .159/.196/.159 in the MWL over the last two weeks excites me even less. His .705 OPS through 230 ABs on the season really kills it for me.

7) Zach Collier, OF, PHI – Let me preface this by saying that, at 18yo, in a full-season league, we can draw little, in the way of conclusion, about the long-term prospects of Collier by his .589 OPS on the year. That being said, a .116/.136/.140 line for the last two weeks is unquestionably awful.

8) Jeffrey Locke, LHP, PIT – As I mentioned when Locke was included in the McLouth deal, I have significant concerns about his control issues and his long-term prospect outlook that will be impacted by them. Thus far in his career, his control issues have worsened at every step of the ladder. On the season he is walking 5 batters per 9IP. Over the last two weeks, he has posted a 17.36 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, with a 5:5 K:BB ratio. The Pirates better find a different way to justify that deal.

9) Steven Johnson, RHP, LAD – Last week I cautioned you to not worry too much about Johnson’s inclusion on the list, one that was mainly reflective of a single bad start. Well now it’s two bad starts. Over the last two weeks his numbers are really ugly—10.80 ERA, 2.400 WHIP and a 5:6 K:BB ratio. I still think this is a pitcher with a lot of upside, but something isn’t right with him at the moment.

10) Engle Beltre, OF, TEX - There is a strong case to be made for pushing young players into full-season A-ball and/or keeping them there even when they struggle mightily (i.e. Jefry Marte this season). Extended Spring training just doesn’t provide a comparable game environment so as not to impede player development. If a player has the make up to handle the struggles, they are far better off struggling in Lo-A. The same argument cannot be made about Hi-A ball, and the Rangers are doing Beltre a disservice by keeping him at Bakersfield despite a .591 OPS through 229 ABs. He only posted a .711 OPS in Clinton last season, so it is not like he had mastered it. A .100/.122/.150 line over the last two weeks is a clear call for a change.

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