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September 5, 2006

Future Shock

Tuesday Morning Ten Pack, 9/05/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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The regular season came to an end over the extended weekend for all full-season minor leagues, but we do have one game left. Indianapolis and Toledo will face off tonight in a one-game playoff for the Triple-A International League's West Division title. Minor league playoffs are a little strange, in that while the minors continue to see record attendance, the game is still a planned event for many, and the playoffs generally draw crowds well under those of regular season games, as the advance sales window for tickets is only days or weeks instead of months. So if you're in Toledo tonight, you really got something better to do?

And I hope to see all of you this afternoon for an always entertaining chat.

Jeff Baker, of, Triple-A Colorado Springs (Rockies)

A fourth-round pick in 2002 out of Clemson, Baker was a first-round talent but slipped because of perceived bonus demands from his agent, Scott Boras. He eventually agreed to a four-year major league contract worth $2 million, of which he is in the last year. Drafted originally as a third baseman, a series of nagging thumb injuries limited him to just 239 professional games going into the season, and with Garrett Atkins at the big league level and Ian Stewart coming quickly, he was moved to right field this year. Baker's final season line of .305/.370/.504 is good but not great--especially for playing in Colorado Springs--but he finished with a flourish, going 6-for-15 with four home runs in four September games, and batted .345 with 26 runs and 25 RBI in his last 30 contests. Already 25, it's hard to see future stardom, but he's certainly re-established his prospect status and should be in the mix for a big league job next year.

Reid Brignac, ss, Double-A Montgomery (Devil Rays)

Brignac was named the California League MVP despite being promoted to Double-A a month ago, and one wonders if he could have made a run at the same honors in the Southern League had he been given enough time. Brignac went 7-for-17 over the weekend, including a home run in the season finale, finishing with a .300/.355/.473 line in 28 games for the Biscuits, and season totals of .321/.376/.539 with 24 home runs and 99 RBI in 128 games. The question for now is what the Devil Rays do with him. Brignac made 32 errors on the season, and he's not especially rangy at shortstop, but the outfield situation in Tampa is crowded enough, and they already have B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria at third base. Then again, many teams would kill for these kinds of problems.

Tyler Clippard, rhp, Double-A Trenton (Yankees)

How's this for a tale of two halves?

MONTHS         G  ERA   IP    H  HR  BB  SO
Apr/May/June  16 4.69  86.1  70  10  30  83
Jul/Aug/Sept  12 1.91  80.0  48   4  25  92

Clippard is still more of a strike-throwing finesse pitcher than a classic power type. His fastball is usually in the 89-91 mph range, but both his changeup and curveball are quality offerings, and pitchers with two good offspeed options can often wreak havoc in the minor leagues. No matter how one cuts it, however, these are outstanding numbers for a 21-year-old in Double-A, and Clippard projects as a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.

Alex Gordon, 3b, Double-A Wichita (Royals)

Speaking of second halves: Gordon had himself a doozy. With seven hits and five RBI over the weekend, Gordon finished the year at .325/.427/.588, finishing among the Texas League top five in nearly every offensive category while leading the circuit in runs scored and slugging (.588). In 59 games from July 1 on, Gordon hit .357 with 19 doubles and 19 home runs in 230 at-bats (.687 slugging) with 60 runs and 66 RBI, and he should be the leading candidate for the various minor league player of the year awards. The Royals have indicated that Gordon will not join the big league team after the Texas League playoffs, which means they have about six months to figure out what to do with their top hitter, Mark Teahen, as to leave Gordon in the minor leagues for one more day would be a waste of everybody's time.

Cyle Hankerd, of, High Class A Lancaster (Diamondbacks)

A third-round pick out of Southern California in June, consider Hankerd former scouting director Mike Rizzo's final gift to the Diamondbacks organization. After batting .384/.424/.519 in 54 games for short-season Yakima, Hankerd joined Lancaster in mid-August and then he actually got hot. Over the weekend, he went 9-for-14 with three home runs, and finished his 18-game stint with the JetHawks at .369/474/.800. There is plenty to be excited about here, but there are two words of warning. One: the bat is the only tool. Two: remember the lesson of Jon Zeringue, who hit .335/.374/.552 for Lancaster after being a second round pick in 2004 but now finds himself back there after two years of Double-A struggles.

Jermaine Mitchell, of, Short-season Vancouver (Athletics)

A fifth-round pick in June, Mitchell got off to a great start but missed over a month after getting hit by a pitch in the foot. He returned for the final week of the season and picked up where he left off, going 8-for-14 with three home runs over the weekend to bring his season averages up to .362/.460/.507. A plus athlete and a solid center fielder, Mitchell has hitting skills and an advanced approach, and could be officially considered Oakland's sleeper at this point.

Eric Patterson, 2b, Triple-A Iowa (Cubs)

Patterson led the Midwest League in batting last year, but as a 22-year-old, he was a little old for the league, and scouts remained a bit skeptical. Beginning the year at Double-A West Tenn, Patterson hit a pedestrian .263/.330/.408, but everything has clicked since a promotion to the Pacific Coast League two weeks ago. In 17 games with the I-Cubs, usually batting second, Patterson has hit .358/.395/.493 while scoring 14 runs and going a perfect 8-for-8 in stolen bases. The Cubs went through something like 300 second baseman this year, and Patterson could be ready for his shot by mid-season.

Sean Rodriguez, ss, Triple-A Salt Lake (Angels)

When it comes to Rodriguez, one hears a lot of negatives. He's not a true shortstop, his swing is a little stiff and mechanical, he's in hitter's leagues, etc. However, the facts are overwhelming. Taking over the shortstop job at Double-A Arkansas when Brandon Wood joined Team USA, Rodriguez hit .354/.462/.662 in 18 games and finished the season at .307/.387/.557 overall while leading the minor leagues with 291 total bases. The 21-year-old is now at Triple-A Salt Lake for the Pacific Coast League playoffs, and I define him with one word: underrated.

Billy Rowell, 3b, Short-season Aberdeen (Orioles)

As the first two high school hitters selected in June, Rowell and Toronto's Travis Snider will be linked for a while, and while Snider owned the first part of the Appy League season, the second half belonged to Rowell--and when Snider's season ended prematurely with a wrist injury, Rowell kept on rolling. When Bluefield's season came to an end, Rowell took his game to the college-heavy New York Penn League, where he's gone 12-for-32 (.375) in seven games. A strong debut in Bluefield and Aberdeen is exactly what Baltimore got from 2005 first-round pick Brandon Snyder, and 2006 was a nightmare for him; tread carefully, but so far, so good.

Donald Veal, lhp, High Class A Daytona (Cubs)

Veal ended the regular season with an exclamation point, striking out a season-high 12 over 6.1 shutout innings on Friday night to finish the season with a 2.16 ERA in 28 starts to go with 174 strikeouts in 154.1 innings and just 91 hits allowed. He's established himself as the top prospect in the Cubs system, and if he can pitch at Double-A next year at anywhere near the level he did this year, he could be up by mid-season, and have far more success than the infinite number of marginal rookie arms Cubs fans have had to watch this season.

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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