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March 11, 2008

Future Shock

The Tuesday Morning Monday Morning Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Yonder Alonso, 1B, University of Miami

With Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez on the shelf for the first few weeks of the season, scouts are troubled by the top of the college hitting class. It isn't that there's no talent there, but that most of the best involve some defensive limitations. Drafting a first baseman adds a bit of additional risk to any selection, because there is no backup plan: he has to project as a guy who can put up a ~900 OPS in the big leagues or he's not much of a prospect. However, Alonso just might be one of those guys. After a slow start, he got his bat going over the weekend by going 5-for-9 with three home runs and six RBI in a series with Boston College, and if he keeps hitting like that, he could end up getting selected with a pick in the single digits.

Carlos Gomez, OF, Twins

After the trade of ace Johan Santana, the Twins center field and leadoff job turned into a three-man race between Jason Pridie, Denard Span, and the newly-acquired Gomez. The former Met has been scintillating at times, like on Friday when he had a two hits, a triple, and a stolen base. He's also been frustrating, like on Sunday when he went 0-for-3 and didn't run out a pop out--the kind of move that doesn't sit well with an organization that places a heavy emphasis on fundamentals and hard play. In a rebuilding situation, however, the opportunity to figure out just what they have in Gomez is one that shouldn't be dismissed, and while the winner of the race is still undecided, Span and Pridie are no more than stopgaps, so why not just see if Gomez is the six-year future?

Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey, RHPs, Twins

Also acquired in the Santana deal, Humber and Mulvey both took the mound in Friday's game against Toronto. Humber allowed one hit in two shutout innings while striking out three, while Mulvey fired a pair of flawless frames, punching out two. With these two right-handers, ceiling isn't the story. Neither are future aces by any measurement, but both project--pretty easily--as solid third or fourth starters in big-league rotations. In others words, just what the Mets could use right now with a shaky Pedro Martinez and a seemingly regressing Mike Pelfrey (who got hammered over the weekend). The Mets arguably have the most talented roster in the National League, but at the same time, they have no backup plans, and no insurance policies for what to do if any of their players go down. By summer, they might really be missing solid but unspectacular arms like Humber and Mulvey.

Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers

These days the transaction wire is filled with players moving from major to minor league camp. What one doesn't see too often is a move in the opposite direction. That's just what has happened to Kershaw, who was summoned to major league camp and thrown into the fire with an inning against the Red Sox. Three up and three down later, and Joe Torre was forced to spend a significant chunk of his post-game press conference telling the writers that Kershaw would not be opening the season in the big leagues. After flashing 96 mph heat and freezing Sean Casey for a strikeout with one of his signature curveballs, it won't be long, though.

Brian Matusz, LHP, University of San Diego

Seen by some as the top pitcher in the college class, Matusz' first start of the year was a disappointment, as he struggled with his command and got hit around a bit. Since then, he's lived up to expectations, including a Friday start (against a good Oklahoma State team) that included 12 strikeouts over eight innings, while surrendering just four hits and an unearned run. Not everyone is buying that Matusz is the best college arm, but it's hard to find a more complete pitcher; the six-foot-five left-hander might not been as overpowering as some others, but he still has plus velocity, plus secondary stuff, and usually plus control, and will be one of the first pitchers taken in June.

Jeff Niemann, RHP, Rays

In his first start of the spring, Niemann needed more than 30 pitches to get out of the first inning. Over the weekend, it was just the opposite, as he pretty effortlessly fired three no-hit innings. And that's been the biggest issue with Niemann of late--consistency. He's either bad or good, and as he battles for a spot in the back of the Rays' rotation, he needs to show more of the good to avoid a return engagement at Durham. He already showed it in that start, pitching primarily off his fastball which broke a couple of bats. While his stock may be down from when he was generally seen as the best college pitcher in the game, he still has everything it takes to be a solid big league starter, and that's still something of value.

David Price, LHP, Rays

The top pick in last year's draft, Price--like fellow '07 first-rounder Rick Porcello of Detroit--is in big league camp because he signed a major league contract. Also like Porcello, he's being used cautiously, throwing his first inning of the spring against the Yankees over the weekend. And also like Porcello, oh what a debut it was. After plunking catcher Frank Cervelli, Price struck out three consecutive batters; his fastball was sitting at 93-95 mph (and touching 97), and he showcased a slider that rated as a plus-plus wipeout offering. He's not going to break camp in the big leagues, but if he's making starts for the Rays in September, nobody will be especially surprised.

Neil Walker, 3B, Pirates

The former first-round pick and former catcher has been one of the stories of Pittsburgh's camp, and for all the right reasons. On Friday he had a pair of doubles, and he added another hit and pair of runs scored during Sunday's contest. The bigger story has been his defense, as Walker made a number of impressive plays at the hot corner, on both plays to his far left and a slow-hit grounder that required a perfectly performed charge-and-throw to retire the batter. The Pirates were convinced that with time that Walker would develop into a good third baseman, and with the bat already there, he could be ready by midseason, if not sooner.

Brett Wallace, 1B, Arizona State

Wallace is another of the college first baseman drawing early-season interest. He's a hitting machine with a ton of on-base skills, but he doesn't fit into that standard first-base profile, and his power ceiling probably tops out as average--and he's not even there yet. Now, while a three-game series with the University of Massachusetts might not provide the strongest competition, Wallace kept up with his end of the bargain by going 7-for-11 with a double, home run, and six runs scored over the three-game sweep. He's more of a Daric Barton or John Olerud type than a true masher--but he's a first-round pick.

Chris Young, RHP, Padres

Young is hardly a prospect, but give me some latitude here. On Friday afternoon, I was able to see Young pitch in person, about four rows behind home plate, surrounded by a gaggle of scouts. His fastball was 83-86 mph, and generally well up in the zone, his breaking ball wasn't especially crisp, and yet, he was untouchable, firing three no-hit innings. As scouts shook their heads, the discussion began of how this can be possible, and frankly, nobody had an especially good answer. There are just some guys who don't fit into the scouting reports, where the mismatch between what should be happening and what is happening is so extreme as to simply be beyond understanding. That's kind of exciting, but also frustrating. Chris Young is a bit of a freak, as is a guy like Jamie Moyer, but remember, there are just two of them. That prospect on your favorite team with that kind of profile with good numbers and little in the way of stuff is not the next Jamie Moyer or Chris Young. There are one hundred guys with the same kind of stuff as Jamie Moyer or Chris Young, but there is only one Jamie Moyer or Chris Young.

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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