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June 26, 2006

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten-Pack, 6/16/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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Wladimir Balentien, of, Double-A San Antonio (Mariners)

Balentien hit his 14th home run of the season on Sunday--his fourth in six days--upping his season averages to .258/.330/.504. On the surface, the native of Curacao looks like just another minor league all-or-nothing slugger, with 79 strikeouts in 236 at bats. However, Balentien has two things in his favor over most--youth and athleticism. Just 21 years old, Balentien's raw power is top of the line. Despite the strikeouts, he's clearly taken a significant step forward in his approach, drawing 25 walks, which is already just eight off of his career high. Throw in decent speed, a plus arm, and positive adjustments made in the big jump to Double-A and he's worth keeping an eye on.

Alberto Callaspo, 2b, Triple-A Tucson (Diamondbacks)

The Angels cast off some of their ridiculous infield depth before the season when they flipped Callaspo to Arizona for reliever Jason Bulger. After batting .222 in April, Callaspo was struggling in his new organization, but according to one American League scout who saw him during that time, "he's just too good a hitter for his average to stay there." The scout proved prophetic, as the 23-year-old Venezuelan hit .371 in May with one strikeout in 116 at-bats, and after going 12-for-23 in the Sidewinders' five-game series with Las Vegas that concluded this weekend, Callaspo is batting .386 in June and .330/.401/.442 overall. He's a gifted defender who has seen time at second, third and shortstop this year, and could be on the verge of adding himself to the long list of Arizona players at Triple-A who deserve a look.

Jason Hirsh, rhp, Triple-A Round Rock (Astros)

It was hard to not see potential in Hirsh, as 6-foot-8 power righthanders don't come along every day. But even Houston seemed surprised at Hirsch's 2005 campaign, when he won Texas League pitcher of the year honors one season after having a 4+ ERA in the Carolina League. While the scouts agreed with the stats, there was still a short track record to go on, and the fear that it was a fluke lingered--and looked justifiable when Hirsh had a 6.46 ERA after five starts for the Express. Since then, he's been the best pitcher in the Pacific Coast League, with a 1.33 ERA in eleven starts, including a season-high 12 strikeouts on Saturday night while allowing just three hits and an unearned run in eight innings. He's not Roger Clemens, so when he makes his big league debut he won't get an ESPN pregame show that credits him with everything but solving world hunger and curing cancer. However, his impact on the Astros' chances in the Central could be just as large.

Philip Hughes, rhp, Double-A Trenton (Yankees)

On Friday night, Hughes delivered his best start since getting promoted to the Eastern League, carrying a no-hitter into the eighth and finishing with eight shutout innings, allowing just two hits, one walk, and striking out ten. In his last three starts, the 2004 first-round pick has allowed eight hits in 22 innings with 29 punch outs, and despite the fact that he just turned 20, it's fairly apparent that Hughes has the ability to retire big league hitters right now. With 2006 looking like it might be the first year since 2002 that only one team from the American League East gets into the postseason, Hughes has impact potential this year, if the Yankees have the guts to put him in the rotation.

Shane Lindsay, rhp, Short-season Tri-City (Rockies)

I identified Lindsay last week as one of the names to watch in short-season leagues, as the 21 year-old returned from a shoulder injury that he opted to rehabilitate as opposed to undergoing surgery. So far, so good. Saturday against Vancouver, Lindsay whiffed 12 over five shutout innings, allowing just one hit, giving him 18 strikeouts over 10 innings in his first two outings while giving up just a pair of base knocks. His stuff seems all the way back, as he's already touched 97 mph this season; if all of his health reports are coming up rosy, Colorado could push him to finish up the year with Asheville in the Sally League.

Evan Longoria, 3b, Short-season Hudson Valley (Devil Rays)

In just his second professional game, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2006 draft had five hits. On Saturday he hit his first professional home run, and on Sunday he hit number two. In five games, the former Long Beach star is 10-for-24 with 19 total bases for the Renegades, looking like he was worth the $3 million bonus he received as the first position player selected. We'll know much more about just how good Longoria is when he moves up to the California League. This should happen after the California League finishes up its all-star break late this week.

Cory Patton, of, High Class A Dunedin (Blue Jays)

A sixth-round pick in 2004, and more of an organizational player, Patton earned a promotion to Dunedin last week after batting .290/.337/.510 at Low Class A Lansing. After going 0-for-12 in his first three Florida State League games, Patton had a game for the ages on Sunday afternoon in a 22-4 shellacking of Fort Myers. The former Texas A&M star went 4-for-6 with a double, two home runs and a ten RBI, tying the Florida State League record. Even if he's not a huge prospect, his name is now in the record book, and that has to be good for something.

B.J. Upton, ss, Triple-A Durham (Devil Rays)

On Sunday, Upton had a pretty good game, going 1-for-3 with a pair of walks and scoring twice in the Bulls' 5-0 win over Ottawa. Unfortunately, those types of performances are becoming the exception rather than the norm for Upton, who is batting .171 in his last 20 games and a disappointing .264/.371/.386 overall--a far cry from his .311/.411/.519 showing with Durham in half a season two years ago, or his .303/.392/.490 showing last year. With nearly 300 International League games under his belt as the Devil Rays try to figure out what to do with him, Upton is no longer stagnating, he's moving backwards--and combined with his recent DWI arrest, his value as a player has reached a nadir. The utter mess at Durham just gets, well, messier.

Anthony Varvaro, rhp, Rookie AZL (Mariners)

In 2005, as scouts flocked to New York to see one of the best arms in the draft, St. John's reliever Craig Hansen, the Red Storm's ace, Varvaro, took advantage of the eyeballs by having a breakout season, striking out 115 in 85.1 innings with a 2.32 ERA. Then disaster struck as Varvaro injured his elbow prior to the postseason and required Tommy John surgery. When the draft rolled around, Seattle took a chance on him in the 12th round, and paid him $500,000 for the opportunity to manage his rehabilitation and take the chance that he could return to his previous form. Sunday afternoon, the 21-year-old made his pro debut, pitching two hitless innings while striking out three. It's the smallest of samples, but certainly encouraging for a team that had no second or third round picks last year, and hopes they've made up for it by taking a risk on temporarily damaged goods.

Jered Weaver, rhp, Triple-A Salt Lake (Angels)

Hughes' performance on Friday was not the best of the day. That slot is reserved for Weaver, who gave his best statistical performance as a pro against Sacramento, striking out 14 in a complete game two hit shutout that required just 105 pitches. The 2004 first-round pick had a perfect game after five, and carried a no-hitter into the seventh. The Angels are in an incredibly uncomfortable situation here, as it's clear to anyone looking at it by any angle that Jered is one of the team's top five starters and belongs in the rotation. Getting him back to the majors looks like an even more obvious decision considering that the team is in the basement of the American League West, yet just seven games out in a division that is still anybody's to win. The problem, of course, is that the person who needs to be replaced in the rotation is Jered's older brother Jeff Weaver, which makes things a little more difficult on a personal level. Another reminder that players are much more than Strat-o-matic cards that can be flipped and exchanged.

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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