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September 18, 2006

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten Pack, 9/18/06

by Kevin Goldstein

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Ten Playoff Performances

Adam Cowart, RHP, Short-Season Salem-Keizer (Giants)

A 35th-round pick by the Giants this year, Cowart served as the ace for a Volcanos team that had a league-best record of 55-21 that then took three of four games from Boise to win the Northwest League title. In 15 regular season starts, the former Kansas State star went 10-1 with a 1.08 ERA, holding the opponents scoreless 10 times. In Game Two of the finals, he fired a three-hit shutout. Before anybody gets too excited here, let's talk about what Cowart really is: a sidearmer with a deceptive delivery who sits in the low-to-mid 80s and gets a tremendous amount of sink on his pitches, leading to plenty of ground balls. What he does not do is miss bats, as he had 55 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings. At 23, he's not going to get any better, and experienced college pitchers with marginal stuff pitching well in the Northwest League is nothing new:

YEAR ERA CHAMP           ERA   2006 LEVEL  2006 ERA
2005 Michael Madsen,OAK  1.69    A+/AA       7.34
2004 Clint Brannon, TEX  0.59      A+        6.14
2003 Jesse Floyd,SF      1.73      AA        4.00
2002 Greg Bruso,SF       1.99    out of baseball

At best, Cowart's future is as a middle reliever, and even that is going to take some further adjustments. It was an incredible debut by any measure, but pitching statistics in short-season leagues mean very little.

Brent Fisher, LHP, Short-Season Idaho Falls (Royals)

Fisher became a bit of a ten-pack staple during the second half of the year, his first playoff appearance got another mention, and he remains one of my favorite short-season sleepers from this season. Fisher faced a total of 22 batters in the Pioneer League playoffs this year, and he struck out 13 of them while giving up just one hit and one walk. His stuff is good, his stats are better; the Royals have a nice pitching prospect here.

Jesus Flores, C, High-A St. Lucie (Mets)

As St. Lucie went a perfect 5-0 to sweep their way to the Florida State League title, Flores reached base 13 times, going 8-for-17 with three walks and two HBPs. All this on the heels of a remarkable turnaround season in which the 21-year-old hit .266/.335/.487 and tied for the league lead with 21 home runs. His approach needs refinement, as does his work behind the plate, but catching prospects are hard to find, and Flores has clearly established himself as the Mets backstop of the future.

Hector Gimenez, C, Triple-A Round Rock (Astros)

Three years ago, Gimenez looked like a pretty good catching prospect. He was an outstanding defender, a switch-hitter and he had occasional pop. All of those things are still true, but Gimenez just never developed. The power never really blossomed, and he never hit for much of an average. He's moved up the Astros' ladder slowly but surely, and dealt with some injuries this year while batting .273/.331/.389 for the Express. Although Round Rock got swept in the Pacific Coast League championship series, it was hardly Gimenez's fault: in eight post-season games, the 23-year-old Venezuelan went 13-for-28 (.464) with five doubles and two home runs, slugging .857 with nine RBI. He's in line for a solid career as a backup, but could get more playing time as the Astros come to grips with the fact that you can't play Brad Ausmus every day, no matter how smart or how great a guy he is.

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

What? Did you think he was going to suddenly stop hitting? As the Biscuits cruised to the Southern League title, Longoria's stunning debut continued, as the third overall pick went 10-for-29 with three home runs in seven games. Adding everything up, the former Dirtbag's first pro season ends with a .318 batting average and 21 home runs in 72 games. Longoria will likely begin next year back at Montgomery, but at this rate, the Devil Rays are very close to being forced into a second difficult decision regarding B.J. Upton.

Mark Melancon, RHP, Short-Season Staten Island (Yankees)

In March, Melancon was arguably the top college reliever in the draft, but some ugly usage patters at Arizona took their toll, and he was shut down in April with a strained elbow. The joint did not require surgery, but it hurt his draft status, and he fell into the Yankees lap with the 284th pick in the ninth round. Once assured of his health, the Yankees gave Melancon a $600,000 bonus, or roughly mid-second round money. While he pitched just seven games during the regular season, he saved his best for the playoffs, earning saves in three of the Yankees' four wins as they won the New York-Penn League title. Though he retired all ten batters he faced and struck out six, Melancon's stuff is still not all the way back, as his fastball is off a few ticks at 90-93 mph, and his curve is plus but not the big hammer it was in college. If fully healthy in the spring, Melancon could move quickly into a big-league bullpen that could use some fresh arms.

Cameron Maybin, OF, Low-A West Michigan (Tigers)

West Michigan won the Midwest League title, and it was Maybin leading the way offensively by going 12-for-35 with six extra-base hits and five walks in nine games. While Maybin hit an impressive .304/.387/.457 in his pro debut this year, some mitigating factors make the performance even more impressive. First off, consider that the Midwest League is an extremely low-scoring environment, lower this year than even the Florida State League. In addition, Maybin's home park is a nightmare for hitters, and Maybin hit a whopping .333/.416/.517 on the road as the team averaged nearly a run more per game away from their home park. Things get no easier for the remainder of Maybin's minor-league career, as the next stop is Lakeland in the Florida State League, and both Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo aren't exactly hitting paradises. We might not really know how good Maybin is until he gets to Detroit, but scouts are unanimous in thinking that he's a potential impact player.

Brandon Moss, OF, Double-A Portland (Red Sox)

After batting .353 in a season spent mostly at Low-A in 2004, Moss was jumped up to Double-A in 2005 and hit a disappointing .268/.337/.441. While on the surface his .285/.357/.439 showing in a return engagement this year offers little in the way of improvement, a closer look yields up some reasons for optimism. On June 1, his batting average sat at .221--in 85 games afterwards, he hit .324 and drew 46 walks in 318 at-bats. His new, more patient approach continued to work for him in the playoffs, as Moss hit .361 with five home runs in nine games, helping propel Portland to their first-ever Eastern League title. He'll begin 2007 at Triple-A Pawtucket, and he'll need to keep it up to enter Boston's muddled outfield picture.

Glen Perkins, LHP, Triple-A Rochester (Twins)

It's not easy being a pitching prospect in the Twins system. With so many quality arms in the organization, it's easy to get buried, and that's what happened to Perkins. A first-round pick in 2004, Perkins has been almost forgotten about in the wake of the breakout seasons of Francisco Liriano, Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey, Alexander Smit and others, but he had a solid season in his own right, reaching Triple-A and striking out 134 in 121 2/3 innings. In two playoff games, Perkins added 15 more strikeouts in 13 frames while allowing just seven hits. A hometown star at the University of Minnesota, Perkins isn't an overpowering presence on the mound, but he's anything but a finesse lefty either, with a fastball that can touch 94 mph, a solid curve, and a plus change-up. His ceiling isn't as high as others in the system, but he could be producing in the back of the Twins rotation by the end of next year.

Mitch Talbot, RHP, Double-A Montgomery (Devil Rays)

While Longoria was hitting the Biscuits to the Southern League title, Talbot took care of the pitching side of things with back-to-back complete game shutouts that featured 24 strikeouts and just two walks in 18 innings. He's not a monster prospect, but he could be a back of the rotation option by late next year as the Devil Rays really are on the verge of respectability. I mean it this time. I promise.

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:  Mark Melancon,  Triple-A,  Glen Perkins

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