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September 11, 2006
Monday Morning Ten Pack, 9/11/06
To be perfectly honest, I wasn't sure a Ten-Pack would work anymore. With all of the leagues either done for the year, or into the post-season, the numbers of box scores to rifle through every day goes from somewhere around 100 to less than 20. However, there's always the cliché about stars stepping up in the playoffs, and that was certainly the case over the weekend.
Andy Baldwin, rhp, High Class A Inland Empire (Mariners)
When the Mariners traded veteran lefthander Jamie Moyer to the Phillies as part of Trade Deadline Part Deux, they received two marginal righthanders in return, Andrew Barb and Baldwin. While Baldwin had a 4.77 ERA for Low Class A Lakewood, the Mariners bumped him up to the California League after the trade and something clicked. In his system debut, he fired seven one-hit innings, and followed that up with eight shutout frames in his next start. While he gave up a pair of runs over seven innings in his final regular season outing of the season, he was back to his shutout ways Sunday in game two of the Cal League Division Finals, throwing a complete game three-hitter in the 66ers 1-0 win over Lake Elsinore. There are some issues here, though. Baldwin is almost 24, his stuff is no more than average, and his peripheral stats, including 17 strikeouts in 31 innings since the trade indicate that this is a nice run, but not any sort of breakout. As good as Baldwin has been, this is not suddenly a bigtime prospect; this is a minor step forward at best.
Brent Fisher, lhp, Short-Season Idaho Falls (Royals)
A seventh-round pick in 2005, Fisher pitched in the Arizona League for the second straight season and recorded 98 strikeouts in 68.1 innings to go along with a 2.11 ERA. In Friday night's Pioneer League round one opener, Fisher was brought into the game in the fifth-inning after starter Blake Wood walked consecutive batters. He struck out the first batter he faced, and proceeded to pick up the win by retiring all 13 batters he faced--eight by strikeout. The Royals organization is basically the 'stars and scrubs' version of a minor league system--with elite prospects at the top and little else to speak of. Fisher could be the much-needed sleeper.
Jesus Flores, c, High Class A St. Lucie (Mets)
The St. Lucie Mets cruised to the Florida State League championship over the weekend, completing a three-game sweep of Dunedin (Blue Jays) and going a perfect 5-0 in the post-season. In Sunday's 6-2 clincher, Flores went 4-for-4 with a double and a stolen base to complete a playoff run in which he reached base 11 times; he's coming off a regular season in which he hit .266/.335/.487, tied the league lead with 21 home runs, and finished fourth in slugging. While the Mets felt strongly about Flores' potential, this is still a massive breakout for the 21-year-old Venezuelan who hit a Bill Plummer-esque .216/.250/.339 last year at Low Class A Hagerstown.
Alex Gordon, 3b, Double-A Wichita (Royals)
After going 3-for-14 with seven strikeouts in his first three playoff games, Gordon slugged a pair of home runs in game four, but more about that game in a bit. With Mark Teahen out for the year after undergoing minor shoulder surgery, the Royals are playing the likes of Esteban German and Jeff Keppinger at third base. So once the Texas League finals are over--which will be no later than Saturday--Royals fans will get to see arguably the top prospect in baseball make his big league debut. As much as the organization likes to talk about wanting their talent to play at every level, there's no reason for Gordon to ever see the minor leagues again.
Luke Hochevar, rhp, Double-A Wichita (Royals)
The first round of the Texas League playoffs ended pretty quickly. After just three days, Corpus Christi (Astros), had completed a sweep of Midland (Athletics), and with Wichita leading Tulsa two games to one, they turned to their number one pick in June to start game four. He delivered. After issuing a two-out walk in the first inning, Hochevar proceeded to retire 14 straight batters, seven by strikeout, before losing his no-hit bid (and his shutout) by giving up back-to-back hits in the sixth as the Wranglers held on for a 7-6 victory to reach the finals. That likely means one more start for Hochevar before he heads to the Arizona Falls League, and one more test passed in his brief professional career.
Tim Lincecum, rhp, High Class A San Jose (Giants)
As the division finals began in the complicated California League playoffs, San Jose, who had a bye in the first round, put their 2006 first-round pick on the mound in the opener. Lincecum, fresh from racking up 58 strikeouts over 31.2 innings in his debut, led the Giants to a 3-2 win over Visalia with his longest outing since signing. In seven innings, Lincecum allowed one run on five hits and a walk, while striking out ten. One scout in attendance clocked the diminutive righty consistently in the mid-90s with plenty of 98s thrown in for good measure, and described his curveball as earning a 70 or better ranking on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. With the Giants in the mix of a very crowded National League wild card race, just one game could make all the difference. Will Lincecum be pitching in that game? Don't count on it, but don't bet against it either.
Francisco Liriano, lhp, Triple-A Rochester (Twins)
The roster rules for playoffs in the minor leagues are much different that the majors--pretty much everyone is fair game. So imagine how thrilled the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons were on Saturday. Already down 2-1 in the five game semifinal with Rochester, they woke up to the fact that they'd have to face a rehabbing Liriano with their season on the line. Liriano was limited to just 40 pitches, but looked to be all the way back with four strikeouts over three hitless innings in a 2-0 victory to put the Red Wings into the Governors's Cup finals. The performance overshadowed the relief effort by lefthander Glen Perkins, who fired six one-hit innings to preserve the win, but reinforced the real purpose of the minor leagues. Wins are nice, but getting talent ready for the big leagues always takes precedence.
Evan Longoria, 3b, Double-A Montgomery (Devil Rays)
Already up 2-0 in the Southern League semifinals against Jacksonville, the two teams locked up in a epic pitching duel on Friday night that went scoreless into the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, Longoria ended the drama by launching a two-run bomb to put the Biscuits into the Championship Series against Huntsville. It's really no more than an exclamation point on Longoria's remarkable debut, as the third overall pick hit .315/.360/.597 across three levels with 18 home runs in 248 at-bats. In 32 games since moving up to the major leagues, B.J. Upton is batting .252/.295/.278 and his made 11 errors. The pressure could be on by mid-2007.
Alexander Smit, lhp, Low Class A Beloit (Twins)
It seems like a long time ago when Smit had a 1.18 ERA in his GCL debut and allowed only 19 hits in 38 innings; in reality it is a long time in prospect land, as that was 2003. Since then, Smit's had a mix of bad moments and dominant moments, and did not spend a complete year in a full-season league until this season. While he began the year in a bullpen role, everything changed in a return to the rotation, as the native of the Netherlands had a 2.43 ERA in 13 starts while allowing just 44 hits in 74 innings and striking out 98. Unlike Baldwin, Smit has taken a major step forward this year, as what was once an upper-80s fastball is now 92-94 mph, to go along with a solid curveball and a developing change. While it seems like Smit has been around for ever, he's still only 20 years old, and next year's performance at High Class A Ft. Myers will be highly anticipated.
Mitch Talbot, rhp, Double-A Montgomery (Devil Rays)
While Longoria was playing short-term hero on Friday, Talbot was the real star of the game, striking out a team-record 14 batters in a complete game five-hitter. Acquired from the Astros--along with shortstop Ben Zobrist--at the trade deadline for Aubrey Huff, Talbot had a 1.90 ERA in ten starts after coming over from Houston, limiting Southern League hitters to a .214 average. Talbot is a 22-year-old righthander with solid stuff, including a low 90s fastball and plus-plus changeup, as well as excellent command of both pitches. While Zobrist is already the starting shortstop in the big leagues, Talbot could end up paying more dividends.