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August 27, 2012

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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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.

Marcell Ozuna, LF, Marlins (High-A Jupiter)
Ozuna has been giving scouts fits all year. He leads the Florida State League in runs, home runs and RBI, but he's needed a .360/.412/.640 August, which included a 5-for-8 weekend, to bring his triple-slash line up to .263/.326/.466 in 122 games. He has plus-plus raw power, and is a good right fielder with a strong arm, but scouts just don't know if he's going to hit enough in the end, as much of the year his batting average has sat in the .230-.250 range; while he's not a total free swinger, he's hardly a walk machine. For now, he's still a guy with a lot of tools and considerable upside, but he doesn't seem any closer to it.

Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
After missing three games with a minor heel injury, Puig returned to action on Sunday and went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles. It's the tiniest of sample sizes, but the 21-year-old Cuban has hit .361 in his first ten games and he's shown plus raw power, plus speed and good defense in right field along with a physicality that one scout compared to Mike Tyson. This isn't about Puig, as much as it's about the year of the Cubans when it comes to baseball and prospects. There was a time when people were understandably tentative when it came to Cuban players, most of whom disappointed, so many thought the slew of recent outfielders earning high praise for their tools were over-hyped. Instead, Yoenis Cespedes has exceeded all expectations in the big leagues, Jorge Soler has looked outstanding so far the the Cubs, and so far so good for Puig. It's the best way to rid the world of a stereotype that shouldn't have existed in the first place, as players are players, regardless of where they are from.

Darin Ruf, OF, Phillies (Double-A Reading)
Ruf is the currently the leader in Twitter questions, as with home runs on Friday and Sunday, he's now hit 17 home runs in his last 24 games and is tied for the minor league lead with 35 home runs as part of a .316/.407/.617 overall line. Some are already calling him Babe Ruf. Get it? Reality check time folks. Yes, Ruf is having a tremendous season, but keep in mind that he's 26. That might not be fair, but go name all of the big leaguers with successful careers who turned 26 the year they got to Double-A. Not ones who were at Double-A at 26, but actually got to Double-A at 26. Yes, he might be something unique and historic, but do you want to bet on it? Do you want to bet on it when scouts call him a bad ball hitter who does the overwhelming amount of his damage against lefties? How about it when they compare him to Matt Rizzotti, the last too-old-for-the-level guy to put up huge numbers for Reading? Don't get me wrong, I root for guys like Ruf, and hope he gets some kind of platoon opening, but he's not suddenly replacing Ryan Howard or anything, and he doesn't deserve this much excitement.

Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates (Double-A Altoona)
This was the year that Taillon was supposed to break out, but that didn't happen during the first four-and-a-half months in the Florida State League, as the second overall pick put up a 3.82 ERA with 98 strikeouts in 125 innings. Those are not the kind of statistics one expects from one of the top pitching prospects in the game, but that's changed in the Eastern League, as Taillon had arguably the best start of his career on Sunday, striking out seven over six one-hit innings, and needing just 69 pitches in the process. That gives Taillon 11 shutout innings since moving up to Double-A, and the scouting reports have been stunning, but do two starts really move the needle that much? This is one of the things that prospect rankers struggle with. Right in front of me, I have a 20-year-old righty absolutely crushing it in the upper levels. In the not-so-distant past, I have 92% of his starts on the season—and at a lower level mind you—adding up to more than just a bit of a disappointment. The need for more data is obvious, but Taillon will make just one more start during the regular season, and Altoona is not bound for the post-season.

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

Related Content:  Prospects,  Scouting,  Minor League Baseball

26 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

SGreenwell

KG, any chance that Hultzen is just fatigued at this point...? I imagine that fatigue - whether physical or mental - might effect different prospects in different ways, so maybe he's losing command and control as he gets tired as opposed to MPH and bite on his pitches.

Aug 27, 2012 05:52 AM
rating: 1
 
marctacoma

It's possible, but they've very consciously stepped down his innings and pitches over the past month or so.
Obviously, he's pitched a lot more over frequently this year than he ever had before, but he's thrown just shy of 118 innings this year, and he threw 118 innings at UVA.

Then there's the issue that these command lapses started *immediately* upon his promotion to AAA. He walked the bases loaded/walked in a run in his 2nd AAA inning. That these really are lapses is what's so puzzling. In his previous start, he walked three in the first inning and then dominated, throwing 4 nearly perfect innings before tiring. This time, he didn't get the chance.

Aug 27, 2012 09:24 AM
rating: 1
 
nolansdad

The M's did tinker with Hultzen's delivery - particularly from the stretch - slightly late last season, but he is pitching with the same mechanics that he did in the AFL last year.

He lost the zone completely a few times in AA, but his AAA performance has just been ugly. As a Mariners fan, let's hope it is just fatigue - or something else easily remedied over the winter - that is leading to the command collapse.

Aug 27, 2012 11:56 AM
rating: 0
 
karp62

KG, regarding Kickham, is there a particular pitch that he's having trouble commanding? I've seen him pitch twice and the slider has looked much improved, showing much more consistent movement. If he could shave off 1- 1-1/2 walks per nine next season, do you see him any better than a #4?

Aug 27, 2012 07:01 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Wasn't Tallion being "forced" to throw only certain pitches for his low minors career?

Aug 27, 2012 07:39 AM
rating: 3
 
yournotunique

Regarding Ruf, I agree with your point about old-for-his-level, but if he's having this sort of success, why don't the Phillies move him up a level?

Aug 27, 2012 07:52 AM
rating: 1
 
hessshaun

Not to say I disagree with KG, but to put things into perspective. Juan Pierre, Michael Martinez, John Mayberry Jr., and Lance Nix all showcased in the outer part of the field yesterday. Really hard to not get excited about false pretenses.

Aug 27, 2012 09:31 AM
rating: 0
 
jfranco77

Indy is going to the playoffs, do you think the Pirates would move Taillon up there, even as a reliever?

Also, hooray for the return of #AAby26

Aug 27, 2012 08:16 AM
rating: -2
 
John Carter

Any chance Dylan Bundy is ready for a pennant race? If so, talent-wise, do you think his tender young arm handle it?

Aug 27, 2012 08:20 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Kevin wrote about this recently.

Aug 27, 2012 13:50 PM
 
buddaley

Jesse Hahn seems to be pitching very well for Hudson Valley. Do you have any scouting reports on him?

Aug 27, 2012 08:23 AM
rating: 0
 
psychdoc777
(317)

What does it mean when a baseball player is compared to Mike Tyson? I don't understand the comparison at all.

Aug 27, 2012 08:53 AM
rating: 0
 
edwardarthur

Maybe it means he's Puigilistic?

Aug 27, 2012 09:09 AM
rating: 4
 
Richard Bergstrom

Maybe it means he's hungry?

Aug 27, 2012 09:49 AM
rating: 2
 
Craig Goldstein

His physicality was compared to Tyson, not the player himself. His build, his muscle mass, etc. I'm no expert, so if someone else can expand on that, by all means...

Aug 27, 2012 09:14 AM
rating: 1
 
cooper7d7

I wonder if Front Office Types wonder the same thing - "wtf does Mike Tyson physicality mean"?

Aug 27, 2012 11:15 AM
rating: 0
 
gdragon1977

Well one thing's for sure... if there's a guy in my locker room that compares to Mike Tyson in any way (physically or tempermentally/emotionally), we can definitely just listen to whatever he wants to on the stereo.

Aug 27, 2012 11:50 AM
rating: 3
 
AWBenkert

Maybe it's the Mike Tyson who played second base for the Cardinals and Cubs.

Jan 21, 2013 16:07 PM
rating: 0
 
jonjacoby

Are he Mariners sending Hultzen to the AFL? I would think that they might want to rest him and not put him in such a strong hitting environment.

Aug 27, 2012 09:02 AM
rating: 0
 
jsdspud

Regarding Taillon, I read where he didn't have the feel for the curve early in the season, found it then lost the feel for the change. Coaches modified the grip on the change and now both pitches are working. I also agree that he might have been limited in pitch selection.

Aug 27, 2012 09:19 AM
rating: 0
 
johnburkland

Ozuna is a Marlin, not a Mariner

Aug 27, 2012 10:24 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Fixed.

Aug 27, 2012 13:48 PM
 
Deech

Flores' power this season is .170 ISO between High A and Double A at 20 years old. He's also 6'3 190lbs, isn't there natural power development coming? He's also walks more and struck out even less. Seems like his stock is definitely up to me.

Aug 27, 2012 12:55 PM
rating: 1
 
sportspopery

/clears throat

DREAMCRUSHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH

/drops mic

--KG after writing the Darin Ruf section of the Ten Pack

Aug 27, 2012 14:55 PM
rating: 0
 
faithdies

Did you include someone in the Monday Ten Pack just so you could chastise their fans? Haha.

Aug 27, 2012 15:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Tim Carvin

#AAby26

Aug 27, 2012 17:46 PM
rating: -2
 
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