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July 10, 2006

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten-Pack, 7/10/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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Jay Bruce, of, Low Class A Dayton (Reds)

With the 10th, 11th and 12th picks of the 2005 draft, the Tigers, Pirates and Reds all took high school outfielders. Both Detroit's Cameron Maybin and Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen have been impressive in their full-season debuts, but Bruce has been the best of the trio. Bruce went 5-for-10 over the weekend with a double and his 13th home run of the season, raising his batting line to .320/.386/.575 (including a .416 batting average in his last 30 games). There's so much to like about Bruce: from his pro body to his pretty left-handed swing that has sent exactly half of his 104 hits for extra bases, to his plus arm and the requisite athleticism to hold his own in centerfield for now. The Reds system is still wading-pool shallow, but few organizations can match the elite-pitcher/elite-hitter combination of Homer Bailey and Bruce.

Scott Elbert, lhp, Double-A Jacksonville (Dodgers)

Quick rule of thumb: If somebody can get it done at Double-A before he is 21, watch out. In 17 Florida State League starts, Elbert had a 2.37 ERA with 97 strikeouts in 83.2 innings and just 57 hits allowed. Bumped up to the Southern League over the weekend, Elbert dominated in his Jacksonville debut, striking out nine over five innings while giving up one hit, a home run. While he turns 21 in August, his rise from Double-A to the majors might take a little longer than Chad Billingsley. His raw stuff is very good, but he's a little rough around the edges, struggling with control at times and still refining his changeup. Nonetheless, yet another young pitching stud in the Dodgers organization.

Sean Gallagher, rhp, Double-A West Tenn (Cubs)

Speaking of 20-year-olds in Double-A... Gallagher, like Elbert, cruised through the Florida State League to earn a mid-season promotion to Double-A. While he was solid in his first four starts there, he didn't dominate until Saturday, when he fired seven shutout innings while striking out 12 and allowing just two hits. Gallagher has transformed an average fastball/plus curve combination by adding significant velocity to his fastball, giving him two offerings that miss bats in bunches. Like Elbert, Gallagher needs to improve his control, but the dramatic step forward this year in his stuff have many now easily projecting him as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.

Carlos Gomez, of, Double-A Binghamton (Mets)

Gomez is an example of a 20-year-old in Double-A who, unlike Elbert and Gallagher, didn't necessarily deserve the assignment. The Mets inexplicably skipped Gomez to the Eastern League to begin the season despite the fact that he hit an unimpressive .275/.331/.376 at Low Class A Hagerstown in 2005. While his raw athleticism is arguably the best in the Mets system, he's still just that--extremely raw, and was clearly not ready for the double-jump, hitting just .211 in the season's first two months. Gomez's bat has come alive of late, as he's gone 16-for-35 (.457) in his last 10 games, but even that has only raised his season numbers to .249/.322/.373. Throw in the fact that he's drawn a grand total of one walk in his last 22 games, and it hardly seems sustainable. The tools are there, but they are still locked up in the cabinet for now.

Steve Kent, lhp, Rookie-level GCL Braves

Sometimes this beat can make you feel old, and looking up Steve Kent's bio information over the weekend after he fired five shutout innings down in Florida did the trick, as his birthdate is 5/8/89. Signed for $280,000 out of Australia last year, Kent is the age of most high school juniors, and getting it done in his stateside debut, allowing five hits and just one earned run in his first 12 professional innings. His fastball is in the upper-80s, and his slight frame does not leave room for a lot of projection when it comes to velocity. What makes Kent interesting is his remarkably mature feel for both a curveball and changeup. A Jeremy Sowers starter kit? We won't know for another three years, but he's certainly interesting.

Evan Longoria, 3b, High Class A Visalia (Devil Rays)

In case you were wondering why Longoria was the first position player taken in the draft, he's been showing you why since signing for a $3 million bonus as the third overall pick. Longoria homered on Friday and Sunday, which gives him eight dingers and 21 RBI in 17 pro games. He'll likely stick with Visalia for the remainder of the year, and make his full-season debut with Double-A Montgomery in 2007. He's on the fast track and, unlike a number of top prospects in the Tampa system, his road to the big leagues is completely unblocked.

Preston Mattingly, ss, Rookie-level GCL Dodgers

Eyebrows were raised when the Dodgers selected Mattingly with the 31st overall pick in June. As it turns out, Mattingly had a impressive late charge in the season, drawing more (and more important) scouts to his games in Indiana, with a number of teams that thought they had a chance to grab him in the fourth-to-sixth rounds suddenly considering him with their supplemental picks. Currently riding an eight-game hitting streak in which he's gone 19-for-50, Matting is batting .367/.400/.449 overall in 13 games. Preston has very little in common with his father--he swings from the right size, he's much larger (6-foot-3, 205 pounds), and a significantly better athlete, though few believe he can stay at shortstop. The one thing he does have in common so far, however, is the most important thing: he can hit.

Adam Ottavino, rhp, Short-season State College (Cardinals)

The final pick of last June's first round who was selected one pick before Mattingly, Ottavino had a losing record (4-5) at Northeastern this year, but with 120 strikeouts in 93.2 innings and just 71 hits allowed, it was more a result of bad luck and bad teammates than Ottavino's ability on the mound. Ottavino had made four starts as a pro, and has yet to give up more than two hits in any of them, including six one-hit innings with seven strikeouts on Sunday. In 19.2 innings, New York-Penn League batters are 5-for-67 (.075) against the 6-foot-5 righty, including a 1-for-24 (.042) mark for left-handed hitters. As the only first-round pick to sign for less than seven figures ($950,000), he looks like a bargain so far.

Travis Snider, of, Rookie-level Pulaski (Blue Jays)

Snider is similar to Bruce is that he began his final year of high school as a second or third-round pick but consistently moved up on draft boards throughout the spring, finally landing in Toronto as the 14th overall pick last month and signing for a $1.7 million bonus. On Saturday, Snider hit the second grand-slam of his early career, and went deep again on Sunday, giving him three home runs and 13 RBI in 12 games. He's still a bit raw, as evidenced by 14 strikeouts in 50 at-bats, including eight whiffs in 17 at-bats against left-handed pitching. However, there's plenty to like here, and he's instantly the top hitting prospect in the Blue Jays system, with only Adam Lind giving him a run for his money.

Justin Upton, of, Low Class A South Bend (Diamondbacks)

The first overall pick in the 2005 draft, Upton's pro debut has been good, but it hasn't been great. He had his first career two home run game on Sunday, and is batting .271/.344/.415 overall, but a quick look at his platoon splits finds something downright strange. A right-handed batter, Upton is hitting righthanded pitchers very well, with a .304 average and a near .500 slugging percentage. However, against left-handers, he's batting .179 (12-for-67) with just two extra-base hits. If that's not weird enough, Upton has drawn 16 walks in those 67 at-bats (one per 4.2 at-bats) and just 11 against righties (one per 17.4). The amateur psychologist in me says it's a matter of confidence--the numbers look like Upton's patience against lefties is more a result of him not seeing a lot of pitches that he thinks he can hit--or is recognizing them too late. It bears investigation, but I'm not sure if it matters much: in a conversation with a team official this weekend, we both rated Upton as the top center field prospect in baseball.

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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