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July 24, 2006

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten-Pack, 7/24/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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

Callaspo is on another roll, with Sunday's five-hit performance as part of Tucson's 28-5 drubbing of Salt Lake representing his fifth consecutive multi-hit game. It's a streak in which he's gone 15-for-27 with a pair of doubles, three triples, a home run, seven runs scored, and nine RBI, upping his season averages to .338/.406/.465. On Friday he played shortstop, on Saturday he played second base, and on Sunday he played third. He probably will have to wait until 2007 to get a crack at a fulltime job, but he could be getting some big at-bats for the once-again contending Diamondbacks in September.

OF Chris Erracart, Rookie-level Helena (Brewers)

The University of California's baseball games were packed with scouts this year--not only to see No. 5 overall pick Brandon Morrow, but to see Errecart and Brennan Boesch in the outfield. Both entered the year with an outside chance of working their way into the first round because of their bats. Errecart is the better pure hitter, and Boesch the one with much more projected power. Both had disappointing junior years, however, which resulted in Boesch getting selected in the third round by the Tigers, and Errrecart going two rounds later to Milwaukee. While Boesch has had a respectable debut in the New York-Penn League, Errecart has caught fire with Helena of late, riding a eight-game hitting streak that has raised his batting average by 72 points to go along with four home runs in his last five games. At .290/.353/460, the switch-hitter isn't exactly setting the world on fire, but the season-long slump going back to February looks to be coming to an end.

RHP Jose Garcia, Double-A Carolina (Marlins)

Garcia may be only 5-foot-10, but he's standing tall this year in the Marlins system. He almost made the big league bullpen out of spring training, but the Marlins wanted to continue his development as a starter and sent him to the Florida State League, where he put up a 1.87 ERA in 12 starts. Moved to Double-A in June, the 21-year-old Dominican hasn't missed a beat, with a 2.23 mark in seven starts, including one of out best outings of the year on Friday, as he retired the first 18 batters he faced before struggling in the seventh and surrendering a pair of runs. Despite his size, he's no finesse pitcher. Armed with excellent command of a solid fastball and plus changeup, he could succeed today in a bullpen role, but the great strides made this year with his curveball has been all the difference in the organization's plans for him, cementing his spot in a rotation for now.

LHP J.A. Happ, Double-A Reading (Phillies)

In contrast to Garcia, we have Happ, a pure finesse pitcher having just as much, if not more, success since his own late-June promotion to Double-A. Sunday afternoon's seven innings of shutout baseball to go along with nine strikeouts lowered the 2004 third-round pick's ERA to 2.37 in five starts for the R-Phils, with a nifty 40/12 K/BB ratio in 30.1 innings. I normally don't like feel/command pitchers too much, and Happ is definitely that, changing speeds with an 84-88 mph fastball to go with a slider and changeup that both grade out as no more than average. However, Happ has one thing going for him that many finesse arms do not--size. At 6-foot-5, the former Northwestern star takes full advantage of his height with a high delivery that gives him a sharp downward plane on all of his offerings, which combined with his excellent command, ups all of his pitches by as much as a full grade on many scouting reports. As negative as I am when it comes to finesse guys, I also disdain absolutes--I like Happ as a future No. 4 starter.

LHP Rich Hill, Triple-A Iowa (Cubs)

I don't know what to do with him at this point either. With the Cubs often desperate for pitching in each of the last two years, Hill has been given ample opportunity to contribute, and failed at every turn. With 14 major league games and eight starts under his belt, he has a 9.21 ERA in 43 innings, while allowing 48 hits and 32 walks. The most frustrating thing is that in the minor leagues, he's down right Koufax-esque. In his last ten starts, Hill is undefeated with a 1.30 ERA in 69.1 innings while allowing just 39 hits and punching out 95, including 14 on Saturday as part of 7.1 innings of one-hit shutout dominance. I do believe in the 4-A pitcher, but I find it hard to explain this wide a gap in performance using just skill definitions. Something else is going on here, and maybe Hill just needs a change of scenery. If I were one of the many teams calling general manager Jim Hendry over the next week about players on the Cubs' big league roster, I'd see if I could sweeten the pot a little to get Hill as well; maybe something would click and he'd figure things out. Either that, or he's the next Scott Ruffcorn.

LHP Clayton Kershaw, GCL Dodgers

When the Dodgers took Kershaw in the first round of last month's draft, you just knew he had to be good. Scouting Director Logan White has a remarkable track record when it comes to taking high school arms, and with the seventh overall pick and no prep players off the board, he had his choice from the entire pool of talent. To his credit, Kershaw hasn't disappointed since being that pick, firing five shutout innings on Saturday in the longest stint of his short pro career. That game lowered his ERA to 1.13 in 16 innings, while striking out 21 and walking just one. That lone free pass was issued to the second batter he faced as a pro--he's faced 58 batters since without walking anyone. It's obviously very early, but it's hard to really define just how high the ceiling is of an 18-year-old lefty with a good body, clean mechanics and plus-plus command of a 91-93 mph fastball that can touch 95-96 already.

OF Warren McFadden, Falmouth Commodores (Tulane)

The fact that McFadden went undrafted in 2004 says far more about his commitment to Tulane than his baseball abilities. After getting redshirted as a freshman in 2005 because of a wrist injury, McFadden hit .385/.457/.513 for the Green Wave this year, finishing second in the C-USA in batting, and fourth in on-base percentage. He also hit just one home run in 238 at-bats. So imagine my surprise when checking out the stats in the Cape Cod League to find McFadden's name atop the home run leaders, with six in 111 at-bats, an impressive total in a wood-bat league where home runs are nearly as hard to find as they were in the pre-Ruthian days. McFadden is an impressive athlete with exciting tools, so if he carries this power surge into next year, when he'll be a draft-eligible sophomore, he could find himself amongst the top college hitters on the board in June.

CF Felix Pie, Triple-A Iowa (Cubs)

As if the big league nightmare hasn't been enough, the Cubs have gotten some rough seasons in the minors from many of their top prospects as well, including Pie. His struggles at Triple-A should not come as a huge surprise to anyone, however: he just turned 21 prior to the season, and along with his inexperience came a tendency to chase breaking balls, which hitters get a steady diet of in the Pacific Coast League. Pie may be finally coming around, going 7-for-15 over the weekend with two doubles and a home run, raising his averages to .268/.327/.408, including a .341 mark in his last 20 games. Pie's tools are easily the best in the system, but he's still far from a polished product, as evidenced by 93 strikeouts and a stolen base success rate of just 55% (11 for 20). Unless the hot streak can continue throughout the rest of the season, he'd probably be better served by a second season at Iowa, but I see little reason to change his long-term projection from where it stood in April.

C Lou Santangelo, High-A Salem (Astros)

While he's not a top prospect, Santangelo has a lot of things going for him. First off, he's a catcher, and while no more than an adequate receiver, he does have a plus arm and has nailed 45% of opposing base-stealers. At the plate, he's a pure-power hitter with an all-or-nothing approach, but it's been a lot for of the former than the latter of late. On Saturday, Santangelo blasted out three home runs against Frederick to tie him for the Carolina League lead at 15. At .252/.314/.508, you can clearly see that the power is the only positive part of his offensive game, but it's a nice skill to have. Combined with the arm strength, he becomes one of those guys that could end up hanging around the majors for a very, very long time.

OF Matt Sulentic, Short-season A-ball Vancouver (Athletics)

Oakland's third-round pick in June, Selentic was in many ways the high school version of a Moneyball pick. His statistics bordered on historic, with a .654 batting average and 20 home runs in 81 at-bats while playing in Dallas amongst some of the top talent in the nation. At the same time, he stands 5-foot-10, which limited his projection in the view of some scouts. So far, the performance is what matters, as Sulentic is batting .366/.419/.500 overall in 29 games after going 9-for-14 in his last four. All this to go with an aggressive assignment to the Northwest League, where the rosters are mostly stocked with college draftees, and playing in one of the league's most pitching-friendly parks. By all measurements, it's an impressive beginning to a career.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  The Streak,  A's,  Triple-A,  J.A. Happ,  Year Of The Injury

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