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April 17, 2006

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Today, we're back with another Monday Morning report from the college circuit and the minor leagues.

OF-R Dexter Fowler, Rockies

I talked about Fowler on my Opening Day report when he went deep twice for Low-A Asheville, but Fowler has broken out of a subsequent 2-for-15 slump by going 10-for-19 in his last four games, raising his season averages to .368/.415/.737. While Phillies outfielder Greg Golson (.086/.111/.086) continues to struggle in his second stint in the Sally League, Fowler has become your much better candidate for translating plus-plus tools into performance.

2B-R Howie Kendrick, Angels

As if you didn't know he could hit, Kendrick has begun the season at Triple-A Salt Lake with an 11-game hitting streak. He was limited to one hit in just three of those contests. Batting .449/.471/.673 on the year, he's now a career .363 hitter in the minors, and a better hitter than most of those on the Angels' big league roster. Adam Kennedy is off to a nice start and all, but the Angels are going to be in a dogfight with the Athletics for most of the summer, and having Kendrick in the lineup would make them a better team right now.

RHP Tim Lincecum, University of Washington

I'm cheating a little bit here, as Lincecum pitched on Thursday, as the usual college schedule was pushed back a day to Thurdsay/Friday/Saturday for many teams so that players could spend Sunday eating candy and searching for hidden eggs. Lincecum delivered another gem against BYU, and he's officially on a roll--here are his last six starts:

DATE OPPONENT        IP  H  R ER BB  SO
3/12 vs Santa Clara 6.0  0  0  0  7  11
3/18 vs Cal Poly    8.0  3  5  1  5   9
3/26 at Cal         8.0  5  0  0  3   8
3/31 vs UCLA        9.0  2  0  0  1  18
4/7  at Arizona St. 9.0  2  0  0  4  12
4/13 vs BYU         6.0  1  0  0  1  14
TOTALS             48.0 13  5  1 21  72
H/9: 2.44  BB/9: 3.94  K/9: 13.50

If you look at just his last three starts, when he's been other-worldly, he's faced a total of 84 batters and struck out more than half of them. Now let's play the balancing game and add the kind of things scouts were saying at the time:

DATE OPPONENT        SCOUTS
3/12 vs Santa Clara  "Maybe someone will take him in the first round"
3/18 vs Cal Poly     "His size is the only thing that bothers me"
3/26 at Cal          "He's gotta be first round, no?"
3/31 vs UCLA         "I can't see him getting out of the first 15 picks"
4/7  at Arizona St.  "He could be top ten"
4/13 vs BYU          "I've seen big guns from teams picking in the top 5 watching him"

Lincecum has six starts remaining in the regular season, and the next four are against conference powers USC, Arizona, Oregon State, and Stanford. If he keeps it up, he'll easily get the $2 million he was asking for when he was a draft-eligible sophomore last year. It seemed ridiculous then, but not so much now.

LHP Jon Lester, Red Sox

Lester entered the season as Boston's top pitching prospect in the minors. He was completely awful in spring training, giving up 13 runs on 12 hits and six walks over six innings. Now at Triple-A Pawtucket, he's yet to pitch past the third inning in a pair of starts, including Saturday's outing against Charlotte, in which he gave up five runs in two-plus innings. It's certainly too early to be concerned, but at the same time, he didn't have an outing that short all of last year. Sox fans, that feeling in the pit of your stomach may have just cause.

RHP Mark Lowe, Mariners

Direct from the "Who Are You Again?" files, Lowe was a fifth-round pick by the Mariners who pitched poorly in both his debut and his first full year at Low-A Wisconsin last year, posting a 5.47 ERA in 103.2 innings. Placed in the bullpen this year at High-A Inland Empire, Lowe struck out ten while allowing just three hits over seven innings in three games. When a series of rainouts forced the need for some spot starters in doubleheaders, Lowe stepped up on Saturday and delivered five hitless, walkless innings (there was an error--welcome to the minors, kid), while also striking out eight. Long-armed and lanky, Lowe primarily works off of a low-90s sinking fastball and a pretty good changeup, but his curveball is often flat. One interesting point is his reverse platoon split: last year, left-handed batters hit just .203 against him, while righties bashed him average to the tune of a .300 average. While nobody is hitting him this year, the dominance against lefthanders (0-for-9) continues.

RHP Marcus McBeth, Athletics

A fourth-round pick in 2001 out of South Carolina, McBeth was a raw five-tool talent. He was a graceful athlete with speed, power potential, a good glove and a cannon for an arm. There was only one problem--he couldn't hit. After batting .233/.311/.359 in three seasons with a strikeout every 3.7 at-bats, the A's finally convinced McBeth to take his golden arm to the mound. The 2004 results were encouraging, as he had a 3.34 ERA in 32.1 innings with 37 strikeouts. Working with Oakland minor league pitching instructor Ron Romanick, McBeth worked during the offseason on cleaning his mechanics, honing his control, and learning a changup that already looks like a plus pitch. Closing for High-A Stockton, McBeth already has four saves in four games, while allowing just one hit in 4.2 innings with seven strikeouts and one walk. Because of the late conversion, McBeth is certainly behind the standard growth curve. He turns 25 in August, but so far Oakland may have turned a bust into somebody to watch.

2B-L Kevin Melillo, Athletics

Mellilo was a fifth-round pick in 2004 out of South Carolina, and someone the team fell in love with while scouting their eventual first-round pick, catcher Landon Powell. While Powell missed all of 2005 recovering from knee surgery, Melillo worked his way up from Low-A to Double-A, batting .305/.399/.535 in the process, and leading the entire organization in home runs with 24. After a slow start back at Double-A Midland this year, Melillo is 13-for-20 in his last four games, including a 6-for-7 effort in last night's ridiculous 20-10 trouncing of Corpus Christi that included a cycle from outfielder Jason Perry. Starting second baseman Mark Ellis is signed through 2007 (and the club holds an option for '08), but Melillo is going to be ready before that.

1B/C-R Gaby Sanchez, Marlins

Despite being suspended by the University of Miami for his junior year, Sanchez was nevertheless made a fourth-round pick by Florida last year, receiving a $250,000 bonus. He won the New York-Penn League batting title in his pro debut, batting .355/.401/.487, and is currently your early minor-league home run leader, with seven for Low-A Greensboro. That includes his going deep in four straight games, while batting .465/.540/.977 in 11 games overall. He's primarily playing first base, but also trying to learn how to catch, which would greatly increase his value. At 22, it's not shocking to see him teeing off in a Low-A League, but it's still quite a start.

RHP Jonathan Sanchez, Giants

Sometimes it's a good idea to pay attention on the second day of the draft. A good example is Sanchez, who pitched at tiny Ohio Dominican and lasted until the 27th round in 2004. He had a ridiculous 166:39 K:BB ratio last year in just 125.2 innings, but considering that he was a former college pitcher in the Sally League, the jury was still out. The organization bumped him up to Double-A this year, and Sanchez has responded by spinning 11 shutout innings in two starts, including six innings of two-hit shutout baseball on Friday night that included his striking out ten batters. What separates Sanchez from the finesse/command lefties who put up big minor-league numbers without big-league stuff is that he gets outs with a 92-94 mph fastball, and that kind of velocity is hard to find in southpaws.

SS-R B.J. Upton, Devil Rays

Nobody is questioning his bat, because the guy can hit: on Friday night, he thwacked a game-winning grand slam for Triple-A Durham. The problem is that his defense--and particularly his erratic arm--has gone backwards. In 11 games, he has seven errors (good for half of all Bulls errors this season), almost all of them on throws. At this point, leaving him at short looks like a waste of time, or some sort of misguided service clock-time manipulation. It's sort of like if you left Prince Fielder in Triple-A for three years, just to try to get him to learn how to catch. Upton has been insistent about staying at shortstop, which only adds to the difficulty of the situation. I used to be the biggest supporter of leaving him there to let him figure things out, but eventually you have to give up and move on. The quicker you move him to a position he can handle, the quicker you can get that bat up to the majors without worrying about any defensive penalty.

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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