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May 10, 2010

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Tim Beckham, SS, Rays (High-A Charlotte)
The top pick in the 2008 draft, Beckham's full-season debut was solid but not quite up to expectations. However, spring training brought about some optimism, as scouts reported that a leaner Beckham looked far more likely to stay at shortstop than the thickly built player they saw at the end of 2009. Whatever advances he made in terms of conditioning, the bat didn't come with them, as Saturday's home run snapped a 5-for-46 slump. Even with the homer, he is hitting a miserable .139/.235/.292 in 19 games for the Stone Crabs. It's too early to start throwing out the bust label here, but for a team that has been built on near flawless drafts, one guesses that they wish they went with their second choice going into the draft, current Giants catcher Buster Posey.

Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants (High-A San Jose)
A fifth-round pick last June out of Texas, Belt presents a bit of a conundrum for scouts. When one sees Belt's 6-foot-5, 200-pound frame as a first-baseman, one expects power, but that's not really his game. He is a line-drive hitter who focuses on contact and using all fields, though his long arms alone lead to a few balls carrying over the fence. He hasn't gone deep for 13 games and has just three homers over 86 at-bats in the power-friendly California League, but his pure hitting ability has been the talk of the league so far, as with a 5-for-10 weekend, he's now at .407/.514/.628 in 27 games. He needs to keep his batting average way up there to keep his prospect status as a first baseman without big-time power, but the early results are impressive.

Chris Carter, 1B, Athletics (Triple-A Sacramento)
One of the streakiest hitters around started streaking again in a good way, as after a four-game run that saw him go 0-for-13, he had two hits and three RBI on Saturday, before launching a pair of three-run bombs on Sunday to give him 28 RBI in 29 games. At .259/.354/.518, his numbers aren't gaudy enough to force a call-up, but he could get there, and with the A's living at the top of the American League West standings while getting little production for the designated hitter spot, there could be some movement by the All-Star break. It all depends on how big the streaks are, and in which direction they go.

Drew Cumberland, SS, Padres (High-A Lake Elsinore)
The California League can certainly inflate numbers, especially for those in the Southern Division, but .400 is .400 and the remarkable thing is that with three straight 2-for-5 games over the weekend, Cumberland's batting average went down, be it just one point to .407. Arguably the best pure hitter in the Padres' system, with hand-eye coordination that is off the charts, Cumberland is exceptionally hard to strike out. That bodes well for his ability to hit down the road, while his plus-plus speed adds another element to his offensive offering. Add in solid defense and he's an up-the-middle leadoff prospect, one of the most valued commodities around.

Randall Delgado, RHP, Braves (High-A Myrtle Beach)
In a system absolutely loaded with elite young arms, Delgado is generally seen as a notch below fellow farmhands like Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino, but his performances of late have some scouts putting him in the same company. With nine strikeouts and just four hits and a run allowed over six innings on Sunday, Delgado's 2.88 ERA doesn't really represent how good he's been. With a 45/9 K/BB ratio and just 31 hits allowed in 40 2/3 innings, his peripherals are outstanding, and his scouting reports match the stats, with a low-to-mid 90s fastball that features a bit of natural sink, along with a curve and changeup that rate as average now with a chance for more down the road. There's star potential here, and the Braves' rotation of the future could be a nasty one.

Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals (High-A Willmington)
There's no minor-league award for comeback player of the year, but if there was, Hosmer would be your leading candidate so far. The third overall pick in the 2008 draft and the recipient of a $6-million bonus, Hosmer did all but nothing in his full-season debut last year, but some eye surgery was supposed to fix things, and huzzah, he's now hitting .415/.496/.585 after a 7-for-11 weekend. It's a remarkable turnaround, but a nitpicker might be forced to ask where the power is. Drafted primarily for his plus-plus raw power, Hosmer hit just six home runs last year, and in 30 games this season, he's hit just one. That's a quibble when he's hitting .415, but if that average goes back down, questions are going to come up again.

Kyle Skipworth, C, Marlins (Low-A Greensboro)
One of Hosmer's competitors for our mythical award might be Skipworth. A first-round pick in 2008, Skipworth hit just .208/.263/.348 last year for Greensboro as part of an injury-plagued season. So despite the expectations of a player given a $2.3-million signing bonus, the Marlins thought a return engagement to the Sally League was in order, and Skipworth is making the best of it, going 6-for-12 over the weekend with a double and a home run to raise his season averages to .262/.330/.505 in 30 games. As an offense-first catcher, this is what he needs to do, and in a system looking for some good news from a first-round pick, here it is.

Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals (Triple-A Syracuse)
This space was used last week to inform our readers that Strasburg's struggles in his last Double-A start where cause for zero concern, and he proved in on Friday with an utterly dominating outing that was unfortunately ended after six innings, although he had thrown just 65 pitches. Other than a ground-ball single up the middle, the Syracuse outfield got the equivalent of a six-inning nap, as of his 18 outs, six were strikeouts and the other 12 were came on ground balls. He remains a bit of a tease for Nationals fans, as he's ready to pitch, and pitch well in the big leagues, but he's still around three or four weeks away.

Chris Tillman, RHP, Orioles (Triple-A Norfolk)
In Tillman's first four starts of the year, he had a 6.11 ERA, but since a no-hitter in his fifth start, he's been on a roll, including Sunday's outing, in which he struck out a season-high 10. While he's been more good than bad, especially of late, the last-place Orioles don't have an urgency to re-rush him to the big leagues. They certainly need some help at the back of their rotation, but Baltimore fans might have to wait until somewhere around the All-Star break to see Tillman back in the majors.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels (Low-A Cedar Rapids)  
It's a great year for prospects in the Midwest League, but when it comes to those of the positional variety, nobody is generating more glowing reviews that Trout. A first-round pick in 2009, Trout spent the first month of the year living at the top of the league leaders in batting and stolen bases. With May has come the power, as with home runs on Saturday and Sunday to go with four in his last eight games, he's now batting .358/.437/.545 while leading the circuit in hits (44) and stolen bases (18). Only an average-at-best arm keeps him from being classified as a true five-tool talent. When you are this good at everything else, though, nobody gives a damn about the arm.  

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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