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April 27, 2008

Future Shock

Hot Starts

by Kevin Goldstein

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Christina Kahrl quoted from the film Repo Man in a recent article, but little does she know that she's really just the number two fan of the film here at BP. [Ed. Note: Pistols at dawn, there's just no way.] Early in the film, when agents are investigating the fried corpse of a highway patrolman who made the mistake of opening the trunk of a car filled with aliens, the head of the conspiracy brushes it off with the line, "People just explode." Well sometimes prospects just explode, and small sample sizes sometimes are damned, as here is one player from each of the full-season leagues who is exploding, but also has the scouting reports or existing potential to confidently up their stock. Some are already good prospects, some are working their way up to that status.

Triple-A International League: Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates
The 2005 first-round pick disappointed many with a .258/.327/.383 line at Double-A last year, but scouts still were completely in love with the tools and remained very high on McCutchen. Look out, because here comes the power, and here comes the patience. They often go hand in hand-good hitters only swing at good pitches, and good things happen-and with McCutchen that's evidenced by a .294/.375/.576 line so far in 21 games for Indianapolis, including 14 of his 25 hits going for extra bases, with five home runs. Last year, he might have been a bit rushed, but this year, he's well on his way to being a solid Rookie of the Year candidate in 2009.

Triple-A Pacific Coast League: Hernan Iribarren, OF, Brewers
Iribarren has always hit-he entered the season with a career minor league average of .324-but his defensive shortcomings always got him dinged him as a prospect... a little too much. A bat like this always plays, and while the Brewers moved the 23-year-old Venezuelan to the outfield this year, he's still hitting, to the tune of .348/.426/.413 in 12 Nashville games wrapped around a brief big league debut. He doesn't have much in the way of power, but his contact ability is big league-worthy as an occasional starter and high-end utility guy.

Double-A Eastern League: Greg Golson, OF, Phillies
Golson entered the year with a career batting line of .260/.304/.399, including 493 strikeouts and just 89 walks in 405 pro games. At the same time, he might possess the best package of tools in all of the minor leagues. Off to the best start of his career at .321/.367/.512 in 20 games for the Reading Phillies, Golson's 25 strikeouts and six walks in 84 at-bats is nothing to write home about, but it's also leaps and bounds above his previous ratios, and he still has plenty of power potential, tons of speed, and a cannon arm that might the best of any center fielder around. It's the first time in five years that he's shown tools and production, but his ceiling ranks with nearly anyone else around.

Double-A Southern League: Michael Saunders, OF, Mariners
Saunders broke out a bit last year, batting .299/.392/.473, but many worried that it was a California League-generated mirage. The big Canadian always had a lot of athleticism, but he was incredibly raw, which is understandable considering his cold-weather upbringing in hockey land. Now batting .316/.402/.513 in 21 games for San Antonio, his transformation from athlete to baseball player continues to make progress, and if he can tap into his power potential, there's really no weaknesses in his offensive game, as he's a plus runner with a patient approach.

Double-A Texas League: Dexter Fowler, CF, Rockies
Fowler's .273/.367/.397 line at High-A Modesto last year belied the fact that he was just getting into a groove before a broken hand cost him the final two-thirds of the season. Healthy and pushed up to Double-A, Fowler is off to a .304/.375/.519 in 21 games for Tulsa. If there's one lesson to be taken from this list, it is, in general, that big-time tools usually play... eventually. When it comes to tools, Fowler is loaded-tall, skinny, and still holding on to plenty of projection, Fowler could give the Rockies a very desirable power/speed option in center by 2009.

High-A California League: Sean Doolittle, 1B, Athletics
Doolittle was the 39th overall pick in the draft last year based on his gold glove-caliber defense and a swing so pretty he could probably hit .300 with his eyes closed. The reason he didn't go higher was that he lacked the power to profile well for his position. What a difference an offseason makes, as a winter workout regiment added some bulk to Doolittle's frame, and sessions with hitting instructor Greg Sparks added extension and lift to his swing. The results so far have been nothing short of a complete transformation, as the University of Virginia product is hitting .341/.408/.682 in 22 games for the Ports, including seven home runs in 85 at-bats. Being in the hitter-friendly Cal League helps, but this is still a legitimate leap forward, giving Oakland yet another prospect to watch closely.

High-A Carolina League: Gorkys Hernandez, CF, Braves
Acquired from Detroit in the Edgar Renteria trade, Hernandez was the MVP of the Midwest League last year, but scouts wanted to see him add power and/or patience to his offensive game, because until this spring, it consisted solely of slapping the ball around the field and running like the wind. He's responding to the call at Myrtle Beach, batting .309/.378/.568 in 19 games for the Pelicans before injuring his hamstring this week while pulling into third with his fifth triple of the year. He's going to miss a chunk of time, but his improved approach and a tendency to drive the ball more often had team officials thrilled with the early results.

High-A Florida State League: J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays
A first-round pick out of Tennessee last June, Arencibia hit just .254/.309/.377 in his pro debut after a disappointing showing in his final college season, but he's responded well to an aggressive full-season assignment to High-A, batting .260/.289/.479 in 18 games. He's showing plenty of power even as he adjusts to wood bats, as well as much improved defense, but clearly his approach still needs work. That said, it's hard to find catchers without some holes in their game, and Arencibia still projects as a potential starter, of which there aren't really even 30 in the big leagues in the first place.

Low-A Midwest League: Justin Jackson, SS, Blue Jays
To many observers, it was a bit of mystery as to how Jackson fell to the 45th overall pick last year. Some teams saw him as a bit of a project, but few denied his tremendous athleticism and upside. Jackson put on significant weight (in a good way) during the offseason, and he's recovered from a tough pro debut to get off to a .323/.425/.516 start in 16 games for Lansing, showing gap power, excellent plate discipline, and a knack for stealing bases while committing just one error at shortstop. So much progress over a single winter has many teams with a sinking suspicion that they're going to be sorry that they let him slide.

Low-A South Atlantic League: Jesus Montero, C, Yankees
His scouting reports as a teenager in Venezuela were the stuff of legend, and his pro debut last year in the Gulf Coast League was impressive. Still just 18, Montero is showing the kind of offense that generated a bidding war two years ago, hitting .368/.388/.547 in his first 22 games for Charleston, with eight doubles and three home runs. He's also made great strides defensively, in particular with cutting down the running game, but at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds and still growing, it seems like only the Yankees still believe he can stay at the position. Nonetheless, everyone is united in their belief that the bat is special, and will play anywhere.

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:  Big League Debut,  The Atlantic

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