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August 6, 2007

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Triple-A Buffalo (Indians)

Cabrera established himself as a pretty good prospect when he was coming up through the Mariners system. Seen as an excellent fielder with decent hitting skills, Cabrera was rushed through the system (like every other prospect in the Mariners organization), beginning the 2006 season as a 20-year-old in Triple-A before the Indians swiped him from Seattle for a rental of Eduardo Perez. The Indians also inherited his development path, and rather than demoting him, left him at Triple-A, where he limped home with a .263/.295/.337 line at Buffalo. Just 21, Cleveland had the Venezuelan begin 2007 down at Double-A, where he was still young for the league. Cabrera responded with a .310/.383/.454 line in 96 games for Akron before getting a deserved promotion back up to Buffalo at the end of July. With a 5-for-13 weekend, Cabrera is batting .353/.389/.441 in his second go-round for the Bisons, and might be one of the more underrated shortstop prospects around.

Joba Chamberlain, RHP, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees)

New York, meet Joba; Joba, meet New York. The Yankees moved Chamberlain to the bullpen just a week ago to prepare him for a big league job down the stretch, and after just three appearances in the bullpen, they've deemed him ready, designating Mike Myers for assignment to make room. The thing is, he probably really is ready. In those three games of relief, Chamberlain faced a total of 12 hitters; one got a hit, one grounded out, and the other 10 struck out. Two open questions remain as of now, but the good news is that neither has to do with whether or not Chamberlain can succeed; most, if not all, believe he can. First off, is this a permanent role? If Chamberlain is lights-out awesome, does he simply stay a reliever with Mariano Rivera's free agency looming in the not-so-distant future? Secondly, will Joe Torre trust him? After watching spider webs grow on the arm of Edwar Ramirez during his brief stay in the big leagues, it's pretty clear that Torre doesn't trust young arms. If the manager can change his ways, Chamberlain is the team's best bet for a true set-up man to Rivera. Stay tuned.

Glenn Gibson, LHP, Short-Season Vermont (Nationals)

A fourth-round pick last year, Gibson tossed six shutout innings on Friday night, which is really nothing new. He's failed to give up an earned run in five of his eight starts this year, and in the other three he's given up just one. Overall his ERA sits at 0.62 in 43 2/3 innings, giving up 27 hits and compiling an impressive 47 strikeouts against just eight walks. Gibson's stuff doesn't wow scouts-his curveball is good, his fastball no more than average, and he has no real big-league 'out' pitch-but what they all talk about with a guy like Gibson is pitchability. Despite being just 19, Gibson hits his spots and sets up hitters with the craftiness of a veteran, which isn't a huge surprise-his father bounced around the big leagues for eight years without great stuff himself. Gibson projects as a number four starter right now, almost a left-handed version of new Padre prospect Will Inman. However, he does have size and does have some projection, so there is a potential for an upgrade.

Caleb Gindl, OF, Rookie-level Helena (Brewers)

Gindl was a fifth-round pick this year out of a Florida high school. His hitting tool is power, and that plus a strong arm are things that normally would have ranked him higher on most draft boards, but with a 5'9 frame and a thick build, scouts worried about his projection. So far, he doesn't need any. Gindl went 4-for-12 over the weekend with a pair of doubles, which represents a rough time of late for the right fielder-his pro numbers dropped to .431/.463/.683 in his first 31 games since signing for a bonus of just under $150,000. Yes, the Pioneer league is a great place to hit, but .431 is still .431, 18 years old is still 18 years old, and impressive is still impressive.

Hernan Iribarren, 2B, Double-A Huntsville (Brewers)

Iribarren entered the year as the No. 9 prospect in the Brewers system based largely on his career minor league batting average of .330. His average has to stay up there, as Iribarren offers little in the way of power or walks, but many scouts believed the bat was good enough to do just that. Facing the big test of Double-A, Iribarren stumbled out of the gate and was sitting at a lowly .260/.339/.331 at the Southern League's All-Star break. Since then, he's been doing his best Hugh Duffy impression. Iribarran's 9-for-14 weekend is just a small part of a 14-game run in which the 23-year-old Venezuelan has gone 28-for-56, raising his OPS an even 100 points in an overall batting line of .296/.364/.406. The guy can hit, and he's finally showing it.

Cody Johnson, OF, Rookie-level Danville (Braves)

The Braves shocked some teams when they took Johnson with their first-round pick last year. Sure, he was a good athlete with incredible raw power, but 'raw' was the key word, as Johnson had holes in his swing that were large enough and numerous enough to be confused with a field full of land mines. Sent to the Gulf Coast League for his pro debut, Johnson hit .184 with just one home run in 114 at-bats and struck out 49 times. The Braves responded to that by keeping Johnson in extended spring training this year, focusing him on shortening his swing and hitting for contact instead of power. What we've seen so for in the Appy League is an entirely transformed player. With two home runs on Saturday and another on Sunday, Johnson leads the circuit with nine home runs in 145 at-bats while hitting .262/.327/.545 overall with a still-high but far more reasonable strikeout total of 39. Lesson learned? The Braves still know what they're doing.

Brent Lillibridge, SS, Triple-A Richmond (Braves)

Lillibridge entered the year as a big favorite here at Baseball Prospectus, both on scout-centric rankings and through PECOTA. With 13 home runs, 87 walks and 53 stolen bases in 2006, Lillibridge had a set of secondary skills that were rare for a shortstop, and he added the defensive chops to stay there. Coming over to Atlanta in the Adam LaRoche deal, Lillibridge was only so-so at Double-A Mississippi earlier this season, batting .275/.355/.387 before moving up to Triple-A when Yunel Escobar joined the big league squad. Since then, he's back to the Brent Lillibridge that we all know and love. With a 6-for-12 weekend that included a trio of doubles, Lillibridge is hitting .363 in his last 30 games, and .311/.363/.466 overall for the Richmond Braves. Much of the credit goes to a more aggressive approach-don't wince here statheads-as Lillibridge found himself too passive at the plate and often behind in the count earlier in the season. His stock has come back up to where it was entering the year. He might be a slightly different hitter, but he's made up for the lower walk total with more power, and the Braves suddenly have a bit of a logjam at the position.

Aaron Poreda, LHP, Rookie-level Great Falls (White Sox)

Prior to this June's draft, White Sox general manager Ken Williams was tired of the team using its first round selections on command and control guys like Lance Broadway and Kyle McCulloch, and mandated to the scouting staff that they had to take a power arm. Mission accomplished-while Poreda didn't put up eye-popping numbers at San Francisco, he was still a rare find, a 6'6 lefty who can get it into the 90s and do it while throwing strikes. He still needs to work on his secondary stuff, but his slider shows promise, and that package alone has allowed him to dominate the Pionner League. With 4 1/3 shutout innings on Saturday, Poreda has a 1.69 ERA in 21 1/3 innings with 22 strikeouts and just three walks. It's just the Pioneer Leauge, and he'll need to make some improvements to match this success next year, but as far as his upside, he outclasses any pitching prospect in the system.

Justin Masterson, RHP, Double-A Portland (Red Sox)

A second-round pick last year, Masterson's pro debut ranked with anyone's, as he put up a 0.85 ERA in 14 games for Short-season Lowell, while striking out 33 and walking just two in 32 innings of work. Assigned to High-A Lancaster this year, Masterson struggled at times in one of the minor leagues' top hitting parks, but he's been nothing short of a revelation since moving up to Double-A. On Sunday afternoon, Masterson matched his career high with 10 strikeouts in just six innings, lowering his ERA to 1.38; he's allowed just 19 hits in 39 innings while striking out 45. Masterson is armed with one of the best sinkers found anywhere in the minors, a 89-93 mph pitch that absolutely falls off the table. He complements it with an average slider and a changeup that has gone from below-average to a pitch he now uses with confidence at any point in the count to generate swings-and-misses. Despite last year's success, most saw Masterson as primarily a sinker pitcher who lacked the arsenal to start in the big leagues, but those sentiments are changing.

Edinson Volquez, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma (Rangers)

Nobody has ever questioned Volquez's stuff, which in the past drew Pedro Martinez comparisons. Both his mid-90s fastball and outstanding changeup are true big-league out pitches, but a pair of miserable showings with the Rangers sapped Volquez's confidence and turned him into a pitcher afraid to challenge hitters. The Rangers moved him all the way down to High-A Bakersfield this year in order to rebuild him in a way, and the results where less than spectacular, as he gave up 14 runs over eight innings in his first two starts. However, the Rangers' patience has paid off, as slowly but surely Volquez has come back, looking a little bit better with each start, and worked his way up to Triple-A, where he's been nothing short of outstanding. Friday night, the 24-year-old Dominican allowed just two hits over six innings while striking out nine, and in four starts for the RedHawks, he's given up just 13 hits in 24 innings while punching out 30. The Rangers have already given up on this season for future gains, and using the remaining two months to figure out just what they have in Volquez would be a useful exercise.

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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