July 31, 2006
Monday Morning Ten-Pack 7/31/06
LHP Brent Fisher, AZL Royals
A seventh-round pick in 2005 out of an Arizona high school, Fisher has yet to leave his home state as a pro, pitching well last year in the Arizona heat of the complex league, and even more so this season. On Saturday, Fisher struck out ten over six innings just ten days after firing six hitless innings and striking out 11. On the season, his numbers look like he's still back at Tolleson Union High in Goodyear, as he's given up just 21 hits in 41.1 innings while walking 10 and striking out 54. Fisher doesn't have blow-you-away stuff, but he does have two things rarely seen in rookie-ball teenagers--three solid pitches that he mixes well, and plus command. He's young, has a good body and clean mechanics, he gets in the low 90s, and the curve and changeup are both solid--it's a pretty impressive package.
INF Yuliesky Gourriel, Cuba
For a very short time it looked like Gourriel was about to become available on the free agent market. A link from a small Dominican news site spread like wildfire on Friday afternoon and seemed to indicate that Gourriel had defected in Columbia, where his team was playing at the Central American and Caribbean Games. While three minor Cuban players did defect there last week, Gourriel's status remains unclear, but according to one source, the nation's top player is in Cuba right now and did not leave his team. Some continue to report that he has defected; others say it was only a rumor. I'm hoping it's the former, because based on the three games I saw him play during this March's World Baseball Classic, I want to see much more. One scout told me that if he was draft-eligible in June, he would have been the first position player selected. If he has defected, the suitors will be the usual big names, beginning with the Yankees, and the price should get into seven figures.
OF Ryan Harvey, High-A Daytona (Cubs)
When it's late July and you're playing in your 89th game of the season, it's very difficult to raise your OPS 47 points in one day, but Harvey did just that with a four-homer game on Friday night, lifting his season averages from .226/.261/.381 to .234/.268/.421 in three hours. The former first-round pick has had an awful season, and his reviews from scouts have been just as bad, but his numbers are starting to approach some level of respectability thanks to a July in which he's hit .319 with nine home runs in 94 at-bats. I'd love to say there's reason for optimism here, but all I see is two walks and 28 strikeouts during that same period, as well as 15 free passes and 100 whiffs on the season. There's little reason to see the hot streak as sustainable in any way.
RHP Philip Humber, High-A St. Lucie (Mets)
Now, if you're looking for a Florida State League comeback that's real, here you go. Humber has been receiving rave reviews of late, and he looks to be all the way back from Tommy John surgery, showing the same stuff that made him the third overall pick in 2004. On Saturday, the former Rice star struck out seven over five shutout innings, and in his last four starts, he's giving up just one earned run in 23 innings with twice as many strikeouts (22) as hits allowed (11). The Mets have no need to rush Humber; he'll likely finish the year with a handful of starts at Double-A Binghamton, where he was pitching last year when the elbow finally snapped. While mid-2007 as a date for a big league debut seemed far too optimistic a month ago, it sounds about right now.
1B Dan Johnson, Triple-A Sacramento (Athletics)
When the A's demoted Johnson back to Triple-A, it made sense, as he was batting .237/.326/.373, and it didn't make sense, as he was coming off a June in which he finally seemed to be finding his stroke (.321/.406/.543). At least we can say Johnson took it well. Well, maybe he didn't, we don't really know, but we do know he certainly hasn't allowed his feelings to affect his play. Johnson went 7-for-13 with a pair of home runs and 10 RBI over the weekend, and in 16 games with the Rivercats is batting .438/.513/.797 overall, with 20 runs scored and 25 driven in. With the American League West still very much a four-team race as we go into the final two months of the season, nearly every team has or will add players that they hope will have an impact on the final results. As the trade deadline looms and the Athletics looking as if they'll likely stand pat, Johnson might be their man.
INF Howie Kendrick, Angels
You didn't think that being in the majors would prevent me from listing Kendrick, did you? Since returning to the Angels two weeks ago, Kendrick has put together a nine-game hitting streak, going 18-for-37 with six doubles and a home run. People throw all sorts of comps on Kendrick, but the one I like is Kirby Puckett: he's a right-handed hitter capable of winning multiple batting titles and amassing 300+ total bases on an annual basis. The Angels need to find one way of another to get his bat into the lineup every day from here on out, and it looks like they've finally realized that themselves.
LHP Garrett Olson, Double-A Bowie (Orioles)
A first-round pick in 2005, Olson is moving quickly. Promoted to Bowie in mid-June, it looked like Olson was maybe moving up a little too quickly, as he gave up 16 runs over 23 innings in his first four starts for the BaySox. Then something clicked: Friday night, the former Cal Poly star whiffed seven in five shutout innings, and it was his third straight scoreless start--a span of 20 innings in which he's allowed 13 hits and struck out 20. In his nearly 180 innings as a pro, he's given up a grand total of three extra-base hits to left-handed batters (all doubles), but with a low-90s fastball than he can cut or sink and a hard biting curve, he's anything but a one-dimensional arm or a finesse pitcher. Along with Adam Loewen and Hayden Penn, Orioles fans have reasons to believe that a pitching rotation that helps them be more than just an afterthought in the American League East could be just around the corner.
RHP Jeff Samardzija, Low-A Peoria (Cubs)
On Friday night in Peoria, Samardzija made his final appearance of the year, allowing one earned run over six innings against Dayton. His 30-inning debut, 19 for Bosie in the Northwest League and 11 for the Chiefs, ended with a 2.70 ERA and 24 hits allowed, but just 17 strikeouts. He's now off to South Bend to prepare for the Notre Dame football season. That's not a whole lot of missed bats for a guy who touched 96 mph with his fastball and shows a plus slider. His command is spotty, and his fastball, while looking good on the radar gun, is straight as an arrow. If I'm a Cubs fan, I'm rooting for a big year out of him with the Fighting Irish. Most teams saw him purely on baseball talent as a mid-to-low first round pick, and he is worth that--but nowhere near the $7 million plus he'll get for committing solely to baseball if he does so after next April's NFL draft.
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Double-A Mississippi (Braves)
On June 28th, Saltalamacchia went 0-for-3 against Birmingham before going on the DL with a bruised hand. Whatever happened to him during the 17 days away from the game did wonders, because on Thursday, Saltalamacchia hit two home runs, on Friday he had a triple, and on Saturday he had a pair of doubles and two RBI. In 12 games since his return to action, he's 13-for-38 (.342) with five home runs and 13 walks and just five strikeouts. The player who entered the year as the top catching prospect in baseball is back, and I'm beginning to think that I underrated him in a dramatic way when I ranked backstops a few weeks back.
C Neil Walker, High-A Lynchburg (Pirates)
Like Saltalamacchia, Walker was another highly regarded catcher having a disappointing season. Like Salty again, Walker has caught fire in the summer heat. The 2004 first-round pick had a tremendous series at Myrtle Beach that finished up over the weekend, going 12-for-20 with three doubles and a pair of home runs (both on Sunday) that tripled his season total from one to three. Now at .284/.340/.409, his numbers suddenly look decent, and his rapidly developing secondary skills combined with just pure hitting ability give him elite-status possibilities.