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May 1, 2006

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten Pack, 5/1

by Kevin Goldstein

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Chad Billingsley, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Pitching for Triple-A Las Vegas, Billingsley took a no-hitter into the eighth inning on Friday night, lowering his ERA to 1.59 in 28.1 innings. In his last three starts he's allowed just seven hits in 18.1 innnings while striking out 20. Add in that he's pitching in the Pacific Coast League and his home park is a hitting paradise, and the degree of difficulty makes his accomplishments that much more impressive. A scout who recently saw Billingsley thinks that the righty might be the answer to the Dodgers' bullpen woes. He thinks Billingsley could handle the switch, that it would keep his arm fresh, and that he could learn on the job. Sounds like Pedro Martinez' entrance to the big leagues. Why don't more teams do that?

Philip Hughes, RHP, Yankees

On Friday, Hughes made his fifth start for High Class A Tampa, allowing two runs on four hits over seven innings. It also turned out to be his last start in the Florida State League, as the Yankees sent their top prospect to Double-A Trenton over the weekend. In 30 innings, Hughes has allowed 19 hits while striking out 30 and walking just two. So despite not turning 21 until the end of June, he certainly seems ready for the challenge. We have no recent track record for the Yankees moving an elite pitching prospect through their system, but Hughes' timetable just got accelerated in a big way.

Andy LaRoche, 3B, Dodgers

I'm starting to think we maybe got a little too excited about LaRoche's breakout campaign in 2005, when the million-dollar 39th-round pick blasted 30 home runs in 476 at-bats. Saturday night, LaRoche slugged just his second home run of the year for Double-A Jacksonville, and is batting just .226. Here's what LaRoche has done over the past two years at Vero Beach and away:

PLACE       AB   H HR  AVG AB/HR
Vero Beach 120  44 16 .367  7.5
Elsewhere  440 120 16 .273 27.5

Those are some unimpressive numbers away from the Florida State League's friendliest hitting park. I'm not writing LaRoche off, but I am concerned.

Chris Lubanski, OF, Royals

One of the things that makes Lubanski so difficult to evaluate--other than his strangely evolving skill set--is the fact that he's one of the streakiest hitters in baseball. Despite his .304/.349/.554 season last year at High Class A High Desert, Lubanski still had few supporters because his declining defensive skills could move him out of center field, and his raw numbers were assisted by the Coors Field of the minor leagues. His number of nay-sayers increased when Lubanski went 4-for-44 (.091) in his first 12 games for Double-A Wichita, but in true Lubanski form, he's fashioned an 11-game hitting streak, going 20-for-42 (.476) and raising his season averages to .279/.370/.430. No, I still don't know what to make of him.

The NFL Draft

For the record, I'm not a football fan. I have a passing interest in it at best, and it takes me a little while to even come up with last year's Super Bowl winner. I did tune in to about 45 minutes of ESPN's coverage of the draft on Saturday, however, which allowed me to see a grand total of three picks. Are you kidding me? Is that really how it works? It takes eight hours to get through three rounds? The first round of the baseball draft takes about 20 minutes, maybe. I realize that with football they're giving these guys 50-million dollar contracts, but teams had month after month to watch these guys play, and run them through drills and give them stupid personality and intelligence tests and basically find out more about these players then they know about their own family--and it still takes 15 minutes to make your pick? I really think this is pure manipulation on the part of the NFL and ESPN to (a) give ESPN an all-weekend telecast that they can hype endlessly and (b) perpetuate the myth that football is some sort of intellectual marvel that it takes a rocket scientist to understand. And people say baseball is slow.

Mike Pelfrey, RHP, Mets

Not to be overshadowed by the Yankees, even in the minors, the Mets sent their 2005 first-round pick and top pitching prospect to Double-A as well, and Pelfrey delivered 5.2 shutout innings in his debut for Binghamton on Saturday, allowing three hits and striking out eight. He's far more of a finished product than Hughes, and isn't on as restrictive a pitch count. He'll likely see the Big Apple first, probably as early as this year. However, both pitchers have true No. 1 potential, which is something you can say about less than 10 prospects in all of baseball, and even the most strident critic of interleague play has to be excited about a potential Hughes/Pelfrey matchup a couple of years down the road.

Wes Roemer, RHP, Cal State Fullerton

Roemer had one of his worst starts of the year on Friday, giving up six runs over seven innings in a 9-7 loss to UC-Riverside. What wasn't surprising about the outing is that Roemer didn't walk anyone. With an 8-1 record and 1.90 ERA as the Friday starter for one of the top teams in the nation, Roemer has struck out 96 batters in 99.2 innings, while walking three. For those who haven't had their coffee yet, that's a 32-to-1 ratio. To add to the control-mania, he's also delivered zero wild pitches. He's draft-eligible in 2007, but will get little attention towards the top as a barely 6-foot righty who sits in the mid-80s. Now here's the fun part: he's plunked 17 batters, putting him on pace to break the Fullerton record of 18, set by--who else?--Roemer in his freshman year. So either he suffers from some sort of seizure disorder that only strikes with the bases empty, or we found the most aggressive pitcher in college baseball.

Greg Reynolds, RHP, Stanford

For the most part, draftniks have focused on North Carolina's Adam Miller and a number of top college arms like California's Brandon Morrow, Washington's Tim Lincecum and Houston's Brad Lincoln. And while all of these pitchers are at times spectacular, and at times mentioned as possibilities to go to the Royals with the No. 1 pick, Reynolds' reputation has slowly grown, and rarely regressed. Solid nearly every time out, on Friday night Reynolds had one of those games that finally generates buzz, tossing a complete game three-hitter against a pretty good Arizona State team, throwing 117 pitches in the process and sitting at 93-95 mph in the 9th inning. He's not going to go number one, but his selection could end up being in the single digits for a team looking for anything safe in a draft that features little you can bank on.

Mark Rogers, RHP, Brewers

Last year Mark Rogers had a 5.11 ERA and walked 70 in 99 innings. This year he has a 7.23 ERA at High Class A Brevard County with 13 walks in 18.2 innings. Disappointing for the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft? Sure. But he's still a big time prospect, and Friday's start at Vero Beach--when he struck out nine over five shutout innings while allowing just two hits--proves why. There are plenty of pitchers with better numbers who are simply incapable of a dominant outing like that, and that's why Rogers is still a very good prospect. He obviously needs to do it far more consistently, and he's on the right track with just three walks in his last three starts, but the fact that he's simply capable of what he accomplished on Friday is why he's a better prospect than many players with much better overall statistics.

Jonathan Sanchez, LHP, Giants

Just two weeks ago, Sanchez made the Monday Morning Ten Pack because of his hot start at Double-A Connecticut. Things have gotten a little more interesting since then, as the Giants moved the 23-year-old lefty to the bullpen, and in three relief appearances, he's recorded eight strikeouts in three innings, including punchouts of each of the last six batters he's faced. With the Giants bullpen ranking somewhere between really bad and phenomenally awful, Sanchez could be up within 2-4 weeks. Sounds like Pedro Martinez' entrance to the big leagues. Why don't more teams do that? Oh wait, maybe they are.

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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