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June 18, 2004

A Look at the California League

Part II, A's, Rockies and Devil Rays Prospects

by Michael Wolverton

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Today we wrap up the tour around the Northern Division of the California League that we began on Wednesday. We'll look at a few players from the Modesto A's, the Visalia Oaks, and the Bakersfield Blaze. (Numbers are through Wednesday's games.)

Modesto A's (Oakland affiliate)

  • Brad Sullivan, RHP, Age 22; A's 1st round pick in 2003 out of the University of Houston
    2004 Stats: 64 IP, 39 SO, 23 BB, 4.92 RA

    Sullivan was a strikeout machine in college, but he's been anything but in his brief pro career. His velocity is reportedly down from his days in Houston--he topped out at 91 the night I saw him--and he's striking out a mere 14% of California League batters this season, an abysmal percentage for any pitcher, let alone a power guy.

    The Matt Cain/Sullivan matchup I saw was an interesting contrast in pitching motions. As I wrote Wednesday, Cain's motion was smooth and easy, with lots of leg drive. Sullivan's delivery seemed much more effortful, with a lower arm slot and a very heavy whip of the arm as he throws. It's a similar delivery to fellow ex-Cougar Ryan Wagner (although not at Wagner's level on the painful-just-to-watch scale). It's too early to give up on Sullivan--he's in the perfect organization for developing minor league pitchers--but at the moment he looks like the latest casualty of college overuse.

  • Brant Colamarino, 1B, Age 23; A's 7th round pick in 2002 out of the University of Pittsburgh
    2004 Stats (in Modesto): .355/.450/.601, .361 EqA in 216 PAs

    Colamarino was promoted to Midland shortly after I saw him late last month, and for good reason: He was demolishing California League pitching. He's still second on league leader lists in both OBP and SLG, and first in EqA. You have to love the direction his power numbers are taking. Since 2002, his Isolated Slugging has gone from .123 to .167 to .246. Since he has little defensive value and isn't especially young for Class-A ball, Double-A is the big test for him. So far the results are mixed: .294/.327/.490 in 54 Texas League plate appearances.

  • Omar Quintanilla, SS, Age 22; A's supplemental 1st round pick in 2003 out of the University of Texas
    2004 Stats: .282/.343/.431, .270 EqA in 280 PAs

    One thing about going to a Modesto game--you're guaranteed to see some high draft picks. Of the first 50 picks in the draft every year, the A's typically have around 37, and all those guys have to play somewhere. Quintanilla was a sandwich pick last year, and looked like he'd move quickly through the system based on his standout play in the Northwest League in 2003. His first three months in High-A have been less spectacular. He's held his own there, but he isn't displaying major league readiness yet.

    I'm probably not doing Modesto justice by selecting two disappointments (albeit very mild in Quintanilla's case) out of three highlighted prospects. The Little A's are clearly the best team in the Northern Division, and have gotten good-to-great performances from a number of players, including outfielders Nelson Cruz and Brian Stavisky and catcher John Suomi.

    Visalia Oaks (Rockies)

    • Jeff Baker, 3B, Age 23; Rockies' 4th round pick in 2002 out of Clemson
      2004 Stats: .349/.453/.547, .347 EqA in 253 PAs

      California League pitching has posed no problems for Baker, who is first in the league in OBP and third in overall value by Clay Davenport's Runs Above Replacement at Position. And Baker is far more than just a masher, showing good reactions, great hands, and a strong arm at third in the games I've seen. In the 2004 book, we said that Baker's "reaching Double-A at some point in 2004 [is] the minimum expectation." Look for that expectation to be met soon--he's got nothing left to prove in A-ball.

    • Jeff Salazar, CF, Age 23; Rockies' 8th round pick in 2002 out of Oklahoma State
      2004 Stats: .340/.410/.585, .340 EqA in 298 PAs

      Salazar continues to dispel doubts about his power potential. I admit, when I look at his open stance and quick swing, I wonder how he generates the power too. But you can't argue with results: first in the Sally League with 29 homers last year, and tied for fourth in the California League with 13 so far this year. And if you're still tempted to write off those numbers to hitter's parks and leagues, consider where he's headed. His speed will be a great asset in Coors as well; he's 16-for-18 in stolen base attempts and is second in the league with seven triples.

    • Ben Crockett, RHP, Age 24; Rockies' 3rd round pick in 2002 out of Harvard
      2004 Stats: 75 1/3 IP, 45 SO, 16 BB, 6.69 RA

      He looked good the night I saw him, but most of Crockett's nights this year have been disasters. His stuff struck me as a little better than average for the California League because of a decent ability to change speeds, but decent stuff doesn't always translate into decent results. He's struck out only 13% of the batters he's faced--lower even than Sullivan's disappointing showing. Three bad months shouldn't and won't end his career, but that Harvard economics degree is starting to look like like an awfully nice backup plan right now.

    Bakersfield Blaze (Tampa Bay affiliate)

    • Joey Gomes, OF, Age 24; Rays' 8th round pick in 2002 out of Santa Clara University
      2004 Stats: .296/.366/.412, .282 EqA in 252 PAs

      Gomes is the older brother of fellow Rays' farmhand Jonny Gomes. While his brother is a legitimate prospect who is shining in the International League and has already seen some major league playing time, Joey is a much longer shot. He's shown little offensive improvement in his second year in the California League; his batting average has climbed, but his patience and power have both fallen off.

      The most remarkable thing about Gomes is not his play, but the fact that he is arguably the top prospect on the Bakersfield Blaze roster. There's plenty of room for argument about that--you could make a good case for Vince Harrison or Luis Mateo--but that's like arguing over the artistic merits of the Police Academy movies. The Devil Rays have some of the best prospects in baseball, but they're not on this team.

  • Related Content:  California League,  Harvard

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