Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hots and Nots - July 1, 2009

An invasion of European players may well depend on the likes of Alex Liddi

It is hard enough being a 20yo baseball prospect trying to claw your way to the big leagues. It is even harder when you carry the hopes of your nation along for the ride. But few players have the possibility of creating paradigm shifts along with their success. Yet that is exactly what the skinny kid from San Remo, Italy faces every time he steps on the field. Alex Liddi, you see, may represent the first wave of what could well turn into an invasion of European players to the Major League game.

When the Mariners signed Liddi, for $55,000, as a 17yo, in the fall of 2005, he was one of four players signed from the inaugural Major League Baseball European academy in Tirrenia, Italy. Only he and the Cubs’ Alessandro Maestri remain. As July 2nd approaches, and with it the start of the International signing period, players like Germany’s 16yo centerfielder, Max Keppler, are eagerly watching Liddi’s 2009 success. For with it may come a flood future European-born players to the Major Leagues. Thankfully, for the Europeans, they have a player of tremendous character and work ethic to pioneer their cause and it is Liddi that sits atop this week’s list.

Hot Hitters –
1) Alex Liddi, 3B, SEA – We have been leading the Liddi bandwagon since the beginning of the season. Rarely do you find a player with the tools, the projectable frame, the work ethic and the production on the field, all in the same package, but that is exactly what Liddi has brought to the table all season long. A .395/.435/.767 over his last 50 PA’s gives him a 1.043 OPS on the season. Liddi will still need to continue to improve upon his roughly 25% strikeout rate as he moves up the ladder, but he has come from off the radar to one of the top prospects in the game with his performance this season.

2) Lance Zawadzki, SS, SDP – Zawadzki is another of those players who is putting together a breakout season. He was a 4th round pick out of NAIA Lee University in Tennessee in 2007 and has put up respectable numbers in two previous seasons. His success in the Texas (TXL) League was crucial to his prospect status and he has certainly not disappointed. A .510/.590/.745 over his last 62 PAs, leaves him with a .950 OPS on the year.

3) Tyler Flowers, C, CHA – Flowers was the centerpiece in this past winter’s Javier Vazquez trade. With A.J. Pierzynski getting a bit long in the tooth, the White Sox are hoping that Flowers will be able to step into that roll by 2011. Flowers has posted a .361/.489/.806 over the last two weeks and now has his OPS at .965 on the year. We continue to caution against too much optimism in Flower’s ability to remain at Catcher over the long haul, but his bat should play most anywhere.

4) Derrik Gibson, 2B/SS, BOS – Gibson, perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Casey Kelly’s mound success, was the Red Sox second round choice in the 2008 draft. He has the glove, the speed and the bat to be an impact middle infielder at the next level, and has gotten off to a scorching (.471/.600/.735) start in his New York-Penn (NYP) debut.

5) Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL – After a somewhat slow start, Freeman is picking right up where he left off last season. A .378/.462/.622 over his last 55 PAs, leaves the 19yo with a .859 OPS on the season.

6) Jeff Bianachi, SS, KCR – After the Royals made him their 2nd round pick in 2005, Bianchi put up, what was arguably, the best debut by any high school player selected that year. Injuries limited him to a mere 42 ABs the following season, and he struggled in the two seasons following that. Now 22yo, he is once again playing the way he did after the Royals drafted him. A .477/.521/.659 over his last 50 PA’s, leaves him with an .857 OPS on the season.

7) Roger Kieschnick, OF, SFG – Selected by the Giants in the 3rd round last June, Kieschnick didn’t make his professional debut until this year. Making up for lost time, Kieschnick has been on fire in the California (CAL) League. A .357/.400/.786 over the last two weeks, gives the 22yo a .891 OPS on the year.

8) Kent Matthes, OF, COL – The 2009 NCAA home run champ, slipped to the Rockies in the 4th round of last month’s draft. Despite being a senior, we felt Matthes was one of the top 10 college position players available in the draft and Matthes, so far, is making us look good, with a .429/.490/.643 Northwest (NWL) League debut. At 22yo, he needs to be moved up to Ashville very soon.

9) Justin Smoak, 1B, TEX – Recovering from a strained oblique, Smoak has wasted little time restarting the ‘Arlington express’. After a two game rehab in the Arizona (AZL) League where he murdered the younger pitchers, Smoak hasn’t been any more kind to the hurlers in the Texas League. Through 9 games in his return, Smoak has posted a .424/.486/.667 and now has a .986 OPS on the year. As the Rangers battle for a Western Division title, it is this author’ s opinion that Smoak would prove to be a more productive option than Chris ‘swing and miss’ Davis.

10) Rene Tosoni, OF, MIN – A draft-and-follow from the 2005 draft, Tosoni had compiled two solid, yet not spectacular, seasons prior to this year. Only turning 22yo on Thursday, and playing in the Eastern (ESL) League, Tosoni is producing similar results. A .354/.446/.604 over the last two weeks, leaves his OPS at .886 on the year.

Hot Pitchers –

1) Mike Montgomery, LHP, KCR – The Royals have a solid group of A-ball pitchers (Duffy, Melville, Montgomery, etc), and for our money, the 19yo Montgomery is the best of the bunch. Turning 20yo today, Montgomery has only allowed more than 1 earned run, in only one of his 8 starts this year. A 1.54 ERA, with a 0.429 WHIP and a 14:1 K:BB ratio over his last two starts, gives him a 1.93 ERA on the year.

2) Casey Crosby, LHP, DET – The Tiger fans had to wait a while to see the fruits of their 2007 5th round pick, because he blew out his elbow shortly after signing. But the wait has been worth it, as Crosby has posted a 0.00 ERA, a 0.533 WHIP and a 11:4 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks, and has a 3.39 ERA through 15 Midwest (MWL) starts. With 74 K’s in 63IP, Crosby has arguably been the MWL’s best pitcher this season.

3) Matt Moore, LHP, TBR – Moore has been one of our favorites since the Rays ‘stole’ him in the 8th round of the 2007 draft. All of his pitches have tremendous late action, and, once he learns to harness his control, he will become one of the best arms in a very talented system. A 0.77 ERA, 0.771 WHIP, with a 17:4 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks, gives him a 3.14 ERA on the year.

4) Trevor Bell, RHP, LAA – People forget that Bell was a first round pick by the Angels in 2005. After four solid, but unspectacular, seasons, he had somewhat disappeared from the radar screen. Still just 22yo, Bell put on a show in 11 Texas (TXL) League starts that earned him a promotion to the PCL, where he has been even better. Through three PCL starts, Bell has a 0.39 ERA, a 0.478 WHIP and a 12:2 K:BB ratio.

5) Hector Rondon, RHP, CLE – Rondon continues his steady climb up the prospect charts, as 14 1/3 scoreless innings leaves the 21yo with a 2.29 ERA through 12 Eastern League starts. Rondon placed #31 in our latest prospect rankings.

6) Kyle Drabek, RHP, PHI – Drabek has been dealing all year long and really seems to have put his career back on track, after 2007 Tommy John surgery. A 1.76 ERA, 0.717 WHIP and a 14:1 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks, leaves the 21yo with a 2.46 ERA on the year.

7) T.J. House, LHP, CLE – Taken in the 16th round, but signed for second round money, in the 2008 draft, House didn’t make his debut until this year. Only 19yo, House has posted a 0.69 ERA, 0.846 WHIP, with a 11:2 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks. He now has a 2.48 ERA through his first 15 professional starts.

8) Luke French, LHP, DET – An 8th round pick in 2004, prior to this year, French had posted 5 non-descript seasons. 2009, though, has been a breakout for French. A 1.80 ERA, 0.733 WHIP, with a 18:2 K:BB ratio over his last three starts, leaves French with a 2.98 ERA on the year and has earned him a Big League call-up.

9) Andrew Cashner, RHP, CHN - The Cubs first round pick in 2008, had a horrendous debut last summer. His start wasn’t a lot better this Spring, as Cashner struggled mightily with his control. However, since mid-May, Cashner has reduced his walk rate to 2.2 BB per 9IP. A 0.00 ERA, 0.833 WHIP and a 10:4 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks leaves his season ERA at 1.50.

10) Brandon Hynick, RHP , COL – A 14 inning scoreless streak and the PCL’s first perfect game since June of 2007, earned Hynick this spot, as his 2.37ERA, 0.789 WHIP with an 11:2 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks, leaves him with a 3.50 ERA on the year.

The Nots –

1) Michael Almanzar, 3B, BOS – The highest priced Latin American signing of 2007, has been significantly overmatched in his brief career. At 18yo, it’s still difficult to get a read on him due to the fact that he has been so much younger than his competition, but things are beginning to get scary. The Red Sox sent him to Lowell when the short-season leagues began, but the results continue to spiral. A .091/.118/.091 over the last two weeks gives Almanzar a .520 OPS for the year.

2) Bobby Parnell, RHP, NYM – After putting together a solid April and May that had his ERA at 2.11 entering June, the 24yo Parnell had the wheels fall off last month, allowing 12 ERs in 8 IP, leaving his season ERA at 5.22.

3) Duke Welker, RHP, PIT – Some organizations just continue to fail, regardless of who is at the helm. After Huntington came out last week and admitted that the Pirates may have made a mistake in signing Ian Snell to a 3-year, $8 million, deal last Spring, I am officially declaring their 2007 2nd round round pick a ‘bust’. In three years, the 23yo University of Arkansas alum can’t get out of Lo-A. A 19.29 ERA, 3.643 WHIP with a 4:10 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks, leaves Welker with an 0-8 record and a 5.59 ERA through 15 South Atlantic (SAL) League starts. Remember, Daniel Moskos was their 2007 first round pick.

4) Wilkin Ramirez, OF, DET – The 23yo Ramirez is looking more and more to me like AAA may be his ceiling. A .104/.189/.125 over the last two weeks, leaves his OPS at .683 on the year.

5) Angel Villalona, 1B, SFG – Don’t make any mistakes by thinking his appearance on the ‘Not’ list is some sort of condemnation, but there are beginning to be a number of concerns surrounding Villalona. Still just 18yo, and already in the California (CAL) League, is a positive sign, but at 6’3”, 205 lbs, his increasing immobility continues to raise the bar for his bat. A .182/.182/.182 over the last two weeks has dropped his OPS to .726 on the year. 65 Ks in 265 ABs doesn’t make one feel any better.

6) Alex Amarista, 2B, LAA – Amarista, at 5’8”, 150lbs, the 20yo Amarista isn’t going to be given a lot of margin for error. A .083/.083/.083 over the last two weeks and only 1 XBH in his last 64 ABs isn’t the kind of numbers he needs.

7) Brett Marshall, RHP, NYY – Marshall received a larger bonus than any Yankee 2008 draftee. Making his full season debut in the SAL, Marshall has walked too many and missed two few bats to make up for, what I consider to be, fringe average stuff. The Yankees lover his raw power, but I have severe reservations as to whether he will ever be able to harness it, given the effort involved in his delivery. A 12.54 ERA, 1.821 WHIP over the last two weeks, leaves Marshall with a 5.45 ERA on the year.

8) Drew Stubbs, OF, CIN – Sometimes I feel like the President of the ‘What is there to like about Drew Stubbs?’ club. As a former first round pick, the Reds will continue to give Stubbs chances, but in four seasons, he has never posted an OPS higher than .788. A .145/.203/.164 over the last two weeks puts his OPS this year at .728

9) Danny Carroll, OF, SEA – After the Mariners made him their 3rd round selection in 2007, Carroll offered glimpses of promise with his AZL debut. Unfortunately, it has been downhill for the 20yo since. A .130/.200/.174 over the last two weeks leaves him with a .419 OPS on the year.

10) Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, MIL – Regular readers already understand that I have never been a huge fan of Jeffress and his 100mph fastball that sails all over the park. 55 walks in 60 innings this year and a demotion back to the Florida State (FSL) League did little to further endear him. Now, after strike two in baseball’s drug program, Jeffress will miss 100 games that will take him into at least May of next year. If you choose not to write him off at this point, it’s your own fault.

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