August 27, 2012
Monday Morning Ten Pack
Bryce Brentz, OF, Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
Brentz began the year as the No. 6 prospect in the system after hitting .306/.365/.574 with 30 home runs during a season that could easily be described as "streaky." The streaks are back, as clearly shown in Brentz' OPS by month: 584, 1072, 873, 576, 1173. Much of the 1173 OPS has been created recently, as with a 7-for-11 weekend, the 23 year-old is now 15-for-28 in his last six games to push his season numbers to .300/.360/.488 in 119 contests. A supplemental first-round pick in 2010, Brentz is not super big or toolsy, but he has hitting ability, enough strength for 55-60 power scores and enough of an arm to profile in right. If they can figure out what causes the crazy hot streaks, or the disturbing cold ones, Brentz could turn into a good everyday corner outfielder down the road.
Wilmer Flores, 3B/2B/1B, Mets (Double-A Binghamton)
On the surface, at least on a statistical level, Flores has had an impressive rebound season. With seven hits and 12 total bases over the weekend, the 21-year-old Venezuelan is hitting .317/.368/.484 in his first 58 games at the upper levels of the Mets system, but his stock really hasn't risen that much as a result. Finally off of shortstop, Flores has split time between second base, where he just doesn't have the athleticism to play, and third base, where he's below average, but acceptable, yet just doesn't have the power to profile. He's certainly better, and certainly still very young, but he's turned into a bit of a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
J.R. Graham, RHP, Braves (Double-A Mississippi)
A fourth-round pick in 2011 who impressed enough to land at the No. 11 spot in the pre-season Braves prospect rankings, Graham will have no problem landing higher on that list this off-season. After putting up a 2.63 ERA in 17 Carolina League starts with 68 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 102 2/3 innings, Graham has been even more impressive in the Southern League: with six shutout innings on Sunday—while allowing three hits and striking out eight—his M-Brave ERA sits at 2.90 with 38 whiffs in 40 1/3 innings. Strikeouts are not the main part of Graham's game, as the undersized but athletic righty has one of the top sinkers in the game, sitting at 95 mph with movement to generate one of the best groundball rates in the minors. He's flashed an above-average slider and a decent changeup, and he's gone from nice sleeper to one of the better pitching prospects in the system.
Taylor Guerrieri, RHP, Rays (Short-season Hudson Valley)
The No. 3 prospect in the system entering the year, Guerrieri's season did not begin until late June for the notoriously conservative Rays, but he's done enough to actually move up their rankings. With five shutout innings on Friday, Guerrieri has a 1.07 ERA in ten starts for the Renegades, and in 42 innings he's allowed 32 hits, struck out 37, walked just two and has yet to allow a home run, all while owning an impressive 2.35 groundball ratio. Basically, there's nothing wrong with his statistical line, and the stuff impresses as well; his fastball, while off from his high school days in terms of velocity, has sat at 90-95 with sink and, more importantly, tremendous control. His power curveball is already plus, and while his changeup lags behind, that's common for a pitcher with his experience, and there's plenty of right now talent to be very excited about.
Danny Hultzen, LHP, Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma)
These are the most confusing prospects in baseball. The ones that turn out so much differently than expected. The ones that have me humming Naked Raygun's “Walk In Cold,” specifically the line, “I swear it's not the way I thought it would be.” Being a left-hander with above-average stuff was not the reason Hultzen was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft; it was his advanced command and control that allowed all his pitches to play up, which led to 165 strikeouts and just 23 walks over 118 innings in his junior year at Virginia. The stuff is still there, as he has plus velocity, a very good changeup and a slider that has actually improved since college, but his ability to throw strikes has gone south. This was no more in evidence than on Friday night when he faced just eight batters, walked four of them, and was outside the strike zone with 24 of his 40 pitches. He's struck out 51 in his 42 innings for Tacoma, a testament to the stuff, but with 33 walks, it's just, for lack of a better term, not that way I thought it would be. Or anyone else for that matter. The minor league season ends next week, and I have no idea what will happen with Hultzen come ranking time.
Michael Kickham, LHP, Giants (Double-A Richmond)
Kickham has been hanging around the Giants prospect rankings for a while now, as he ranked ninth coming into the year and 11th entering 2011, and he's poised to move up a bit next year. He's still the same pitcher: a big left-hander with plus velocity and a solid slider that keeps on working, as it did this year when the Giants skipped the 23-year-old to the upper levels after pitching in Low-A last year. With six hitless innings and seven strikeouts on Friday night, Kickham now has a 2.91 ERA, but with five more walks, there are still control issues, as he's now walked 73 in 142 1/3 innings. He still projects as a No. 4 starter, which is no different than what he projected as coming into the year, but he's suddenly a lot closer to actually being that.