Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hots and Nots – July 29, 2009

Heyward is putting up numbers that the SOL hasn't seen in over a decade

When Matt Wieters and David Price were called up within a week of each other, at the end of May, the question became ‘who is now the best prospect in the Minor Leagues?’ Regular readers will recall that I listed 10 players who were in contention for that title, stating that it was a real toss-up among the ten. In a coin flip, I gave the edge to Jarrod Parker over Jason Heyward and Madison Bumgarner. Two months later, a clear #1 has emerged from the group, as Jason Heyward is putting up nearly unimaginable numbers in the Southern (SOL) League. Through his first 20 SOL games, Heyward has posted a 1.295 OPS—as a 19yo. Over the last 20 years, only 17 players have had 100 or more ABs in the SOL as a 19yo or younger. Only three of those have posted an OPS higher than .900…only 4 have even posted an .800 OPS. In fact, no 19yo or 20yo has hit .900 since 19yo Delmon Young hit .968 in 2005. One has to go all the way back to 1996, when another 19yo, Braves OF prospect, Andruw Jones, put together a 1.107 OPS, to even come close to the start Heyward is putting together for the Mississippi Braves. For that, Jason Heyward tops this week’s Hot List.

Hot Hitters –

1) Jason Heyward, OF, ATL – Heyward has clearly established himself as the Minor League’s best prospect with his 1.295 OPS through his first 20 SOL games. Over the last two weeks, he is .500/.577/.864 and looking like a future superstar. Heyward should see regular playing time in Atlanta by early 2010.

2) Carlos Santana, C, CLE – Victor Martinez is a top 5 catcher in the Major Leagues, but the Indians think enough of Santana to be actively shopping Martinez. Santana’s defense has made huge strides this season. His plate discipline is among the best in the Minors. And he is slugging .536 in the Eastern (ESL) League. Santana homered in four straight games this past week and posting a .343/.410/.857 over the last two weeks leaves him with a .935 OPS on the year.

3) Josh Bell, 3B, LAD – The 22yo Bell has cut his strike out rate nearly in half this season and is putting together a breakout season in the SOL. Credit an improved attitude and approach to the game for the changes that may finally allow him to tap into all of that potential. A .452/.540/.810 over the last two weeks gives him a .893 OPS for the season.

4) Brandon Allen, 1B, ARZ – Allen seems extremely comfortable in his Reno surroundings, following his trade for RP, Tony Pena. The struggles of May and June appear to be behind him as he has posted a .319/.407/.809 over the last two weeks and a 1.252 since being dealt to the Diamondbacks.

5) Ike Davis, 1B, NYM – Davis’ 2009 season is a great illustration as to why one shouldn’t put too much stock in a player’s post-draft debut, as Davis posted a .652 in his 2008 New York-Penn (NYP) debut and didn’t hit a single home run in 215 ABs. After going .388/.444/.714 over his last 55 PA’s, Davis now has a .929 OPS, with 7 home runs in 127 Eastern (ESL) League ABs.

6) Gabriel Noriega, SS, SEA – Signed to one of the highest bonuses ($800,000) given to a player from Venezuela in 2007, Noriega is the best defensive SS in the Mariner’s system, and one of the better defensive shortstops in the minor leagues. His ceiling is limited only by his ability to hit. In a return trip to the Appalachian (APY) League that hasn’t seemed to be much of a problem. A .513/.558/.846 over the last two weeks gives him a .950 OPS for the year.

7) Jon Gaston, OF, HOU – When a player is as hot as Gaston has been for the last month, it is difficult to continue the mantra that he really isn’t a Major League prospect. Nonetheless, that is exactly where we find ourselves in describing Gaston. He has severe defensive limitations, has huge contact problems (26% strikeout rate), is a bit old for a prospect in the California (CAL) League, and has an OPS that is .270 points lower away from Lancaster. Yet, over the last two weeks, Gaston has posted a .277/424/.872 with 7HRs, including back-to-back 2 HR games, and certainly deserves a place on this list. While we don’t expect his ‘other-wordly’ numbers to continue once he leaves the CAL, the Jethawk fans are certainly enjoying them.

8) Allen Craig, 1B, STL – A former third basemen, the Cardinals thought enough of Craig’s defense that, despite being without Troy Glaus all season, they have left Craig and his 17 home runs in Memphis all year. I guess you could say that a prospect that is defensively limited to 1B in the Cardinal system is effectively ‘blocked’. At 25yo, Craig’s opportunities are fading, so he hopes someone has noticed his .453/.500/1.038, with 9 HRs, over his last 60 PA’s.

9) Tyson Gillies, CF, SEA – Gillies is on a list with Derek Norris and teammate Alex Liddi, of position players that have put themselves on the radar screen with huge 2009 seasons. He has all of the prototypical tools that one looks for in a top of the order CF. The last two weeks have seen Gillies post a 448/.492/.569, giving him a .922 OPS for the year, and giving the Mariners a good idea of who is there future CF.

10) Dayan Viciedo, 3B, CHA – Watching Cuban players adjust to American baseball over the last few years has caused me to believe in two important tenants: 1) They tend to be notoriously slow starters—especially until the weather warms and 2) They require one-half to one-full season to get acclimated. Viciedo’s OPS has gone from .518 in April, to .711 in May, to .724 in June, and .769 in July, with a .381/.395/.571 over the last two weeks. What’s more is that his defense at 3B has been surprisingly adequate. Maybe even more impressive is that his strikeout rate was over 22% for the first two months of the season and just a bit over 11% for the last two. Remember he is still just 19yo and is playing in AA. A strong finish to the season could lead to Gordon Beckham sliding over to 2B, making room for Viciedo at 3B to begin 2010.

Hot Pitchers –

1) Dan Hudson, RHP, CHA – When the White Sox’s 5th round pick from the 2008 draft fanned 90 Pioneer (PIO) League batters in 70 IP in his debut, we took notice, but chalked it up to a 21yo being in a Rookie League. When Hudson opened up the South Atlantic (SAL) League this year with a 1.23 ERA we were intrigued. After opposing hitters batted .195 against him in 8 Carolina (CAR) League starts, we felt he had potential, but after the 22yo has posted a 2.03 ERA in 7 SOL starts…we believe. Hudson has a low-90s fastball, with late movement, that befuddles left-handed hitters. His secondary offerings are improving, and he has a frame that should allow him to be a mid-rotation innings eater. Hudson is working on a 16-inning scoreless streak, in which he has posted a 0.571 WHIP and a 13:1 K:BB ratio, and now has a 2.43 ERA on the season.

2) Christian Friedrich, LHP – We felt Friedrich was the second best college pitcher available in the 2008 draft, but attending Eastern Kentucky kept him a bit under the radar screen entering the season. Friedrich dominated SAL hitters, fanning 66 in 45 IP. Going to the CAL, we thought he would face a stiffer challenge. So far, not so much. Friedrich is working on an 11 inning scoreless streak where he has posted a 0.750 WHIP and a 17:4 K:BB ratio. CAL hitters are batting only .177 against him and he now has a 1.98 ERA on the season.

3) Simon Castro, RHP, SDP – Castro is a huge 20yo, that is rapidly becoming one of the Midwest (MWL) League’s most intimidating pitchers. Working predominantly off of a mid-90s fastball, Castro is overpowering MWL hitters. Over the last two weeks, he has posted a 1.80 ERA, a 0.467 WHIP and a 24:2 K:BB ratio. It remains to be seen whether his secondary offerings will improve enough to make him a long-term rotation presence, but there is certainly Major League potential here.

4) Drew Storen, RHP, WSN – After a standout career at Stanford, Storen entered June’s draft as the consensus top closer available. It was expected that he would go somewhere in the late first round/supplemental, but the Nationals caught a lot of people by surprise when they used their compensatory pick, for their failure to sign Aaron Crowe the year before, to select the 21yo right-hander. Storen has not been scored upon in 8 straight appearances. During that stretch he has retired 34 of 35 batters he has faced—23 by strike out.

5) Casey Crosby, LHP, DET – Casey was named MWL pitcher of the week last week, and has clearly established himself as the Tigers top prospect. Over his last three starts, Crosby has posted a 2.08 ERA, a 0.692 WHIP, with a 17:4 K:BB ratio. The 21yo has now fanned 101 MWL batters in 86 innings. Opposing hitters are batting .203 against him, and he quite possibly may be the best pitching prospect in the league.

6) Aneury Rodriguez, RHP, TBR - Following his move to the Rays in the Jason Hammel deal, Rodriguez struggled mightily. At the end of June, Rodriguez’s ERA stood at 6.27. Working on a 13-inning scoreless streak, where he has posted a 0.474 WHIP and a 12:4 K:BB ratio, Rodriguez has lowered his season ERA to 5.23.

7) Craig Kimbrel, RHP, ATL – Quick…who has the best strikeout rate in the Minor Leagues? That’s right, it’s the Braves’ Kimbrel at 15.7 strikeouts per 9 IP. Kimbrel struggled a bit after his promotion to Myrtle Beach, but he seems to have gotten things figured out, as he has allowed only 1 run on two hits over his last nine outings. Over the last two weeks, he has a 1.29 ERA, a 0.857 WHIP and a 16:2 K:BB ratio.

8) Tyler Clippard, RHP, WSN – The 24yo Clippard may be one of the game’s least appreciated pitchers. Coming into the year, in six minor league seasons, predominantly as a starter, Clippard had a 3.73 ERA, with more strikeouts than IP, while generally being young for his level of competition at each stop. Yet, because he lacks a dominating fastball, he has never really been given a Big League shot. The Nationals have moved him to the bullpen this year where he has been absolutely lights out. A 0.92 ERA in 39 Minor League IP and a 1.93 ERA in 19 Major League IP. Over the last two weeks, Clippard has posted a 0.77 ERA, a 0.771 WHIP, with a 17:5 K:BB ratio.

9) Jose Ortegano, LHP, ATL – Speaking of pitchers that get no respect, in 5 Minor League seasons, Ortegano has posted a 2.91 ERA…despite being young for his level of competition at each stop. Yet, because he too lacks a dominating fastball, you will have to search hard to find Ortegano on any prospect list. After posting a 3.49 ERA as a 21yo in the CAR, the Braves have moved him to the SOL where he tossed 7 innings of 1-run ball in his debut on Tuesday night. Opposing hitters are batting .219 against him on the year and once he continues to shut down AA hitters, the ‘experts’ will have to take notice.

10) Junichi Tazawa, RHP, BOS - Perhaps the most significant International signing of 2008, Tazawa has been everything that the Red Sox had hoped for when they gave him a $1.8 million bonus. After posting a 1.06 ERA, a 0.706 WHIP with a 12:1 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks, Tazawa has a 2.51 ERA on the year. The 23yo should figure prominently into Boston’s plans in 2010.

The Nots –
1) Andrew Brackman, RHP, NYY – Easily one of the most disappointing stories of 2009, Brackman has a 1-11 record with a 6.72 ERA—as a 23yo in the SAL. Those are ‘on your way out baseball’ numbers, not numbers befitting a former first round draft pick, who was at one time considered the second best arm available in the 2007 draft. Over the last two weeks, Brackman has posted a 14.73 ERA, a 2.727 WHIP, with a 3:8 K:BB ratio.

2) Kevin Mulvey, RHP, MIN – That Johan Santana trade keeps looking worse and worse for the Twins. Guerra hasn’t been anything close to what the Twins believed they were getting. At 26yo, Phil Humber looks like a 4A player, and Mulvey looks like a back of the rotation guy at best. Over the last two weeks, Mulvey has posted a 16.20 ERA, a 2.550 WHIP, with a 7:3 K:BB ratio…leaving his ERA at 4.40 on the season.

3) Carmen Angelini, SS, NYY – Signed for a record $1 million bonus, as a 10th round pick, in 2007. It seemed like a strange move, given they were signing a player with a questionable bat, whose best tool was his grit. Angelini hasn’t changed any opinions in two years. A .048/.091/.048 over his last two weeks leaves him with a .470 OPS on the year.

4) Colby Rasmus, OF, STL - Though technically not a prospect, Rasmus is demonstrating that it isn’t just talented young pitchers that experience their ups and downs as they get acclimated to the Major Leagues. Over the last two weeks, Rasmus has gone .067/.125/.067 and now has gone 52 ABs since hitting an extra base hit. With Holliday on board, if Ankiel gets hot Rasmus could find himself back in Memphis.

5) Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, MIN – After breezing through the FSL with a 1.32 ERA and an astonishing 4.48 GO/AO ratio, Gutierrez has found ESL hitters less susceptible to his often ‘fringy’ offerings. Over the last two weeks, Gutierrez has a 12.71 ERA, a 2.471 WHIP and a 4:5 K:BB ratio, leaving his ESL ERA at 7.51 through 14 appearances.

6) Billy Rowell, OF, BAL – It has been all downhill for Rowell since his stellar debut in 2006. The former first round pick has gone 0.074/.107/.111 over the last two weeks and now is sitting at a .632 OPS for the year. He is still only 20yo, so there is still plenty of time to get things back on track, but the Orioles need to return him to Frederick for a repeat performance in 2010.

7) Joshua Fields, RHP, SEA – The unfortunate part of achieving Major League success for a Minor League prospect is that part of success is dependent on opportunity that is sometimes outside of one’s control. For Fields, there is significant near-term opportunity available for him that he just isn’t capitalizing on right now. A 12.60 ERA, 3.000 WHIP, with a 4:5 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks, leaves Fields with a 5.90 ERA on the year.

8) Pete Kozma, SS, STL – The Cardinals 1st round pick in 2007, Kozma has yet to post playable offensive numbers in three professional seasons. A .114/.170/.114 over the last two weeks and 70 ABs without an extra base hit, leaves Kozma with a .640 OPS for 2009.

9) Vance Worley, RHP, PHI – Worley got off to a fast start this season, that left him with a 3.12 ERA at the end of May. Things haven’t gone so well since then. A 19.96 ERA, with a 2.609 WHIP over the last two weeks has his ERA up to 5.38 on the year.

10) Chris Valaika, SS, CIN – There were many that thought that Valaika would end up as the Reds’ everyday SS by the end of this season. Now they are wondering if he has enough tools to be an everyday player in the Big Leagues. A .100/.151/.200 over the last two weeks has dropped the 23yo’s OPS to .559 on the year. He isn’t really a SS at the next level, and there are serious questions as to how much he will hit.

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