April 23, 2007
Monday Morning Ten Pack
I'll take "Things That Aren't Going Well" for $1,000, Alex. Bard had as much pure arm strength as any college pitcher in last year's draft--including Tim Lincecum. However, his lack of a consistent second offering and inconsistency dropped him to the end of the first round. Bard signed too late to make his pro debut, and he began this season in the California League, where he's been nothing short of awful. While the team is forcing him to work on his slider and changeup during each start, that doesn't take away from the fact that after not getting out of the third on Sunday, he has a 10.13 ERA in four starts, giving up 17 hits and an even more troubling 16 walks in just 10.2 innings. There's real reason to be concerned here, no matter what you think of the sample size.
Braddock was a fairly anonymous 18th-round pick in 2005. After undergoing Tommy John surgery following his junior year at a New Jersey high school, he wasn't all the way back during his senior season, and the Brewers used the no longer available draft-and-follow option to watch his progress at a local junior college. He pitched well enough to get signed, and at 6-foot-4 and pushing 230 poundd, his body offered plenty of projectability. Braddock struggled with his command during his debut at Helena in the Pioneer League, but his full-season debut has been a revelation so far. His fastball sits consistently in the lower 90s and has nice sinking action, and Braddock has been giving Sally League hitters fits with it this year, most recently striking out 12 in 5.2 innings of shutout work against Greensboro on Friday. In three outings, the 19-year-old has yet to allow a run in 13 innings, giving up just six hits and whiffing 20. If your ADD prevented you from reading this paragraph, then just read these two words: sleeper alert.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Double-A Portland (Red Sox)
If you think the major leagues have had their weather problems, just consider yourself lucky that Portland, Maine doesn't have a big league franchise. The home Boston's Eastern League franchise, April's last gasp of winter has limited the Sea Dogs to just ten games so far this year, but all the time off hasn't cooled off Ellsbury. The 2005 first-round pick had four hits (including a double and a pair of triples) on Friday, bringing his average up to an even .500, and he ended the weekend at .455/.505/.705, having reached base 24 times already. Just because the object in Coco Crisp's rear-view mirror is closer than it appears doesn't mean it isn't gaining on him.
The Braves signed a large number of draft-and-follows last June, the majority of which now comprise the rotation at their Low-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League. After giving up five runs over four innings in his season debut, Hanson has been the best of the bunch from both a scouting and a statistical perspective. Yesterday he struck out eight while giving up two hits over five innings, and in his last three starts he's gone 16 innings without allowing an earned run, striking out 24 and walking just one. At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, he has a nearly ideal pitcher's build, and he's already gained significant velocity from last year, touching 96 mph with his fastball and flashing a hammer curveball that's a plus offering. Tim Lincecum's start on Sunday was postponed, so Hanson is your current minor league strikeout leader, and it's not a fluke.
A second-round pick in 2005, Headley is the classic college pick. He's a solid hitter, has an excellent approach, and wonderful fundamentals, while at the same time possessing a limited ceiling because of below-average athleticism. That said, with two hits in each of this weekend's three games (including a home run on Sunday), Headley is up to .339/.418/.610 in 16 contests. If he can prove to even have consistent average power, Kevin Kouzmanoff might have something more to worry about that just his own slow start.
Hu's arguably the top defensive player in the minors, and the Dodgers simply hope he will develop enough offensive ability to be a guy who can play every day as opposed to serving a utility role. Those hopes are becoming reality, as Hu is locked-in with the Suns, going 14-for-25 in his last fivegames to up his season averages to .354/.373/.508. He doesn't have much power, he doesn't have an especially patient approach, but he has a good feel for contact, and if he can keep putting the bat on the ball, he could be a cheap replacement for Rafael Furcal after the '08 season.
Hynick was an eighth-round pick last June after a storied career at Birmingham-Southern in the Big South Conference, and he had an outstanding pro debut in the Pioneer League, with a 2.39 ERA in 12 starts with 70 strikeouts and just eight walks in 64 innings. Scouts were mixed on him initially, liking Hynick's size, velocity, and command, but questioning his breaking and off-speed stuff. With a seven-inning three-hit shutout on Friday, Hynick's ERA is a perfect 0.00 in three starts across 18 innings, an impressive feat in the California League, although with just 11 strikeouts, the jury is still out.
To say that this year's college hitting class is disappointing would be kind. There are few elite prospects, and even fewer with plus power. But there is Mills, whose exploits have already been covered in the Ten Pack from two weeks ago. On Saturday, the pitching staff of Albertson College employed a different strategy by pitching around him, understandable because in the other two games of the series he went 4-for-9 with a pair of home runs and six RBI. As if Mills' numbers weren't ridiculous in the past, he's been on another tear since the last mention, now sitting at .478/.565/1.012 in 40 games with 80 runs driven in. Yes, it's NAIA, but scouts think his bat is for real. Mills has firmly placed himself in the first half of the first round six weeks from now.
Despite a breakout 2006 season that put him among the minor league leaders in several categories, Rodriguez didn't get a ton of love from many prospect rankings; many thought his numbers were inflated by the California League, and felt that his defensive skills that weren't going to cut it on the left side of the infield. The defensive assessment is a fair one, but where his bat's concerned, don't believe the anti-hype--Rodriguez is the real deal. On Sunday afternoon, Rodriguez put an exclamation mark on his fast start in the Texas League with a pair of home runs off top overall 2006 pick Luke Hochevar, upping his season averages to .346/.452/.673 in 15 games. It's difficult to figure out where he fits in the future plans of the Angels, but that's doesn't mean he doesn't deserve to be in the conversation.
If things had worked out a little differently, Townsend would like be in the same position of his Rice teammates Philip Humber and Jeff Niemann--pitching in Triple-A and on the verge of a big league job. Instead, after not signing with Baltimore as the eighth overall pick in 2004, getting picked there again by Tampa Bay the following year, and missing all of 2006 recovering Tommy John surgery (hey, he did go to Rice), Townsend is still three levels below his former college rotation partners. The good news is that he's pitching well--striking out a career-high nine over six innings on Saturday to lower his ERA to 2.37 in four starts, with an impressive 25/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 19 innings. The velocity of Townsend's fastball continues to improve, as he's touched 93 in the early part of the season, but his best pitch remains a hard-breaking curve. As if the Devil Rays needed more prospects...