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August 14, 2006

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten Pack, 8/14/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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Carlos Carrasco, rhp, Low Class A Lakewood (Phillies)

The Phillies had high hopes for Carrasco when they signed him for $300,000 three years ago, but the Dominican righthander took a little longer than expected to blossom. Still, he's just 19, and he may have established himself as the top pitching prospect in the Phillies system with his recent performance. After carrying a perfect game into the eighth inning in his last start, Carrasco fired seven no-hit innings on Sunday, walking five and striking out nine. Carrasco's stuff has taken a dramatic step forward, he's gained velocity from last year--touching 96 mph last night--and his curve ball has gone from marginal to plus. The two recent starts are anything but an anomaly--on the season Carrasco has a 2.25 ERA in 23 starts and has given up just 88 hits in 140 innings. He's third in the Sally League in ERA and second in strikeouts with 143. He trails teammate Matt Maloney in both categories, but as he's more than three years younger, he's the better prospect by far.

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

Sunday afternoon was just another day at the office for Hughes--one of the most prized pitching prospects in the game--as he delivered five shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out nine. As his inning count pushes into the 130s, the Yankees are winding Hughes down from a tremendous year. Being especially cautious, Hughes has not gone more than five innings for six weeks, although his dominance continues; in his last four starts, he's given up eight hits in 19 innings while striking out 31. Including his five starts for Tampa, the 20-year-old righthander has a 2.34 ERA in 23 starts, with 88 hits allowed in 131 innings and a highly impressive 151/32 K/BB ratio. The Yankees will likely remain conservative with Hughes in 2007, putting him at Triple-A Columbus to start the year, but the race will be on to see if he makes the major leagues before his 21st birthday on June 24th.

Will Inman, rhp, Low Class A West Virginia (Brewers)

Inman is starting to lose his tag as one of the better kept secrets in baseball. A third-round pick out of a Virginia High School last June, Inman dealt with shoulder tendonitis throughout the first half of the season and has really only been cut loose over the last couple of weeks. When he tossed eight two-hit innings on August 7, it was his first time over five innings all year for Inman, and on Saturday, he followed it up with a season-high 11 strikeouts in 6.1 innings, while allowing just one hit. Combined with the early-season short stints of dominance, Inman has a miniscule 1.48 ERA in 85.1 innings to go with 101 strikeouts and just 21 walks. Short and stocky, the 19-year-old doesn't offer the some projection as a guy like Hughes or Carrasco, but after graduating Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder to the majors, Milwaukee suddenly has some impressive pitching coming with Inman, Yovani Gallardo, and Mark Rogers.

Kyle Hankerd, of, Short-Season Yakima (Diamondbacks)

A third-round pick out of Southern California, it's not uncommon to see college players from major programs put up big numbers in the Northwest League, but Hankerd's .387/.424/.519 line is still one that forces you to sit up and take notice. By going 7-for-12 over the weekend, Hankerd extended his hitting streak to 15 games, one that has featured 11 multi-hit efforts and a composite average of .516 (33-for-64). There are some issues here, though: Hankerd has just four home runs, and in 212 at-bats, he's whiffed 53 times, which means he's hitting .516 when he puts the ball in play, which seems like it will be hard to maintain. As a left fielder who offers little in the way of tools other than the bat, Hankerd will need to continue to hit at every level, but so far he looks like one of former scouting director Mike Rizzo's final gifts to the Diamonbacks.

Adam Lind, of, Triple-A Syracuse (Blue Jays)

When Lind was promoted to the International League in late July, he was in line for the Eastern League triple crown. 20 days later, we're left wondering if he could have made that same run at Triple-A. By going 5-for-9 over the weekend with two doubles and a home run (a walk-off shot on Sunday), the 23-year-old outfielder is batting .352/.479/.593 in 18 games for the SkyChiefs, putting himself in line for a September call-up. More important in the long term, the 2004 third-round pick is putting himself in strong contention for a big league starting job in 2007 if the Blue Jays can figure out what to do with what has become a crowded outfield situation.

Evan Longoria, 3b, Double-A Montgomery (Devil Rays)

We knew he was good--clearly the best college hitter in this year's draft--but nobody thought Longoria would be this good this fast. Already in Double-A, Longoria went 7-for-12 over the weekend, blasting a home run on Friday and two more last night. It's hard to grasp just how great Longoria has been until you combine his statistics across the three levels he's played at. In 45 games, the number three overall pick is hitting .356/.410/.700 in 180 at-bats with 16 home runs. Only three Devil Rays farmhands have more home runs this year, and Longoria's season didn't start until late June. Upgrade Longoria from very good to elite, and get ready to figure out maybe a second position change for B.J. Upton, because Longoria is moving up the system ranks at the speed of light.

Franklin Morales, lhp, High Class A Modesto (Rockies)

Nobody collects raw-armed Latin American pitchers like Colorado, and they continually frustrate. Last year at Modesto it was righthander Juan Morillo who can touch 100 mph on a nightly basis, but has no movement, no second pitch and no command. This year it has been Morales, who had his best outing of the year on Saturday, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning and striking out nine. Just 20, Morales has one of the best left arms in the minors, sitting at 95 mph on Saturday and touching 98 several times, and it's no surprise that he ranks second in the California League with 144 strikeouts. However, there's still so much going wrong here, including a league-leading 76 walks, 20 wild pitches and, for what it's worth, a minor-league leading 10 balks. One of these days, one of these guys is going to click, and Morales has been fantastic of late, but the Rockies' record of turning throwers into pitchers is anything but impressive.

Jason Neighborgall, rhp, Rookie-Level Missoula (Diamondbacks)

When Arizona selected Neighborgall in the third round last June, it raised a lot of eyebrows, but there wasn't another pitcher in the draft who could match the Georgia Tech righthander's velocity or breaking ball. However, there was that command issue. Not spotty command. Not bad command. We're talking "no clue where it's going, hit the mascot" kind of command. If anything, Neighborgall has gone backwards this year. On Friday, he faced three batters and walked two, and in his last three games he faced a total of 15 hitters, walking 11 of them. So while in 10.2 innings he's allowed nine hits and struck out 12, it's taken him 79 batters to get through those 10.2 innings, as he's walked 35 (that's not a typo, THIRTY-FIVE), hit four and uncorked 17 wild pitches. There's really not much else to do here except let him pitch out the string, have him report to the instructional league and hope for the best. There's no quick fix here--his mechanics are completely broken from start to finish, and his mind is filled with four years of recommendations on how to fix them. When Arizona signed Neighborgall last summer, I called it the equivalent of a $500,000 lottery ticket. So far, the ping-pong balls are not coming up.

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

Prior to the draft, I was talking to a major league scouting director about Snider, and while he felt that Snider was the top prep hitter in the class, he also felt that the outfielder might struggle in his first exposure to professional pitching. So much for that. By going 6-for-12 over the weekend, the 14th overall pick in June is 22-for-51 (.431) in his last 12 games with five home runs and batting .335/.410/.585 overall. With three more hits, he'd be leading the Appy League in all three triple crown categories and his walk rate is climbing as rapidly as his strikeout rate is falling. If you are only going to have one tool, make it hitting, and Snider's bat tool falls into the 'wow' category.

Anthony Swarzak, rhp, High Class A Fort Myers (Twins)

Pitchers are much harder to evaluate than hitters, because sometimes they just finally get it for no clear reason and start to pitch well. While the rapid rise of a number of Minnesota pitchers left Swarzak toiling away in the shadows, the organization always believed that the performance would eventually catch up to the tools. With that classic power-pitcher body, a fastball that gets into the mid-90s, and solid command of both a curve and deceptive changeup, Swarzak's 4.62 ERA at the end of June made little sense. Something has certainly clicked since, as Swarzak has a 1.35 ERA in seven starts, allowing just 27 hits over 46.2 innings. On Friday, he whiffed a season-high 11 over 7.2 shutout innings, allowing just three hits. In what is becoming an almost weekly statement: the Twins have another good pitching prospect.

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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