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May 19, 2008

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Yonder Alonso, 1B, University of Miami
The Hurricanes' regular season ended with the series of the year, as top-ranking Miami played host over the weekend to No. 2 North Carolina. While the Tar Heels took two of three and are likely now the new No. 1, Alonso certainly did his part for the 'Canes in the series, going deep in all three games. The first baseman enters the ACC Tourney with averages of .380/.548/.797 in 50 games, having slugged 18 home runs in 158 at-bats and drawing 61 walks against just 22 strikeouts. He's been a bit of a creeper in this year's draft, moving up slowly but continuously, and rumors have him going as high as sixth overall to Florida. That seems to be based on more of Alonso's status as a Cuban immigrant and Miami native more than anything else, but he's firmly put himself into the mix for several teams drafting in the latter portions of the top ten.

Lars Anderson, 1B, High-A Lancaster (Red Sox)
Everything was in place this year for a massive breakout: big kid, good hitter, huge power potential, and the kind of home park that turns everyone into a beast. Yet for Anderson it just hasn't clicked much this year, not until this past weekend, when the 20-year-old slugger went 8-for-14 with a home run to raise his averages to .277/.383/.484. A good line, sure, but a closer look at the numbers finds that while he's mashing at home (like everyone else) at a .321/.411/.568 pace, on the road he's hitting a lowly .231/.355/.397 with just two home runs in 78 at-bats. First-base prospects can't afford to have holes in their offensive game--they have to hit everyone, everywhere, in every situation, because if you don't project as an everyday middle-of-the-order force, you're not much of a first-base prospect. Anderson could be one of those guys still, but he's not there yet.

Jay Bruce, OF, Triple-A Louisville (Reds)
Fantasy players email me a lot, often looking for inside knowledge on when a player is going to reach the big leagues. The player most have been asking about is Bruce, who remained on a tear over the weekend by going 5-for-12 with a pair of home runs. Now batting .363/.392/.669 overall and a ridiculous .435/.471/.839 in May, Bruce clearly has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues, but as far as when he'll come up... that's still an open question. It might require an injury or a trade, but at any moment the Reds could just decide to make a call down to Kentucky and summon him. We don't know when, we just know that the Reds will immediately become a better team once it happens.

Allan Craig, 3B/OF, Double-A Springfield (Cardinals)
An eighth-round pick in 2006, Craig hit .312/.370/.530 in the Florida State League last year. As impressive as that was, he didn't really show up very high in anyone's prospect rankings in the offseason. He's just not the kind of player that lights up scouts' eyes: he's almost 24, so he was a bit old for the league, he's not a tremendous athlete, and his defense is a bit suspect. All players like that can do is keep hitting, and after a very slow start, Craig is doing just that, going deep in four straight games to lift his averages up to .286/.339/.520. Over the last week, he's begun to see some time at first base and left field, which doesn't help his outlook as a prospect, but if he keeps on hitting...

Greg Halman, OF, High-A High Desert (Mariners)
The Marlins started Halman in the Midwest League last year, and the 19-year-old (at then time) Dutch import was totally overmatched, batting just .182/.234/.273 in 52 games with 77 strikeouts in 187 at-bats. Sent to extended spring training, Halman made some adjustments and came out mashing in the Northwest League for the second half of the year, cranking out 16 home runs at slugging .597. The Mariners took a bit of a risk by assigning Halman to High-A this year, hoping that the offensive environment would make up for the higher level, and so far, that risk has paid off, as the big outfielder hit home runs on Friday and Sunday to lift his average to .270/.320/.546. He also stole his 17th base of the year on Friday, and has yet to be caught. His approach is still a bit of a mess, as in 163 at-bats he has 11 walks and 50 strikeouts, but as the scouting cliché goes, tools play, and Halman is loaded with them.

Matt Harrison, LHP, Double-A Frisco (Rangers)
One of the top prospects in the Braves system but injured at the time, Harrison ended up almost being a bit of an afterthought in the bevy of prospects the Rangers got back from the Braves for Mark Teixeira. Healthy and in Double-A this year, he's also looking like one of the best prospects they received in the deal. On Sunday afternoon, Harrison got to put his name in the record book by firing a seven-inning no-hitter against San Antonio, lowering his ERA to 3.15 in seven starts for the RoughRiders. It certainly wasn't the prettiest thing in the world, as Harrison walked six, struck out five, and required 120 pitches to achieve the feat, but he's clearly projecting as a solid third or fourth rotation starter for the Rangers, and could be ready at some point in 2009.

Brad Lincoln, RHP, Low-A Hickory (Pirates)
Lincoln achieved the box score surprise over the weekend. It's not that the Pirates concealed the fact that he was returning to action, it's just that we hadn't seen a pitching line for him since August 6, 2006. The fourth overall pick that year, Lincoln continued in the tradition of Pirates draft picks suffering catastrophic injuries, in his case when his elbow went pop during last year's spring training, which caused him to miss the entire year recovering from Tommy John surgery. His first outing in nearly two years was an unmitigated success, as he allowed one run and four hits over five innings, didn't walk a batter, struck out three, and retired eight of the remaining 12 on ground outs. There's no timetable for Lincoln, just a hope that he can stay healthy and get his career going at this time and reclaim his status as the top pitching prospect in the system.

Colby Rasmus, CF, Triple-A Memphis (Cardinals)
Nobody really has a good answer for what's amiss. He's not hurt, his smooth swing and lightning-fast bat are on display every time out, and he is still a plus runner how covers a lot of ground in center. The fact remains that Rasmus is doing absolutely nothing offensively, as he's now 0-for-19 in his last five games, and batting just .182/.270/.309 in 44 contests. It could be a letdown, or pressing after not opening the year in the big leagues after a strong spring, but luckily the Cardinals keep getting plenty of production from their outfielders, so there's not any pressure on Rasmus. Then again, the Cards tried to relieve some pressure from Rasmus by dropping him from the leadoff spot to eighth in the lineup, and that didn't seem to help either. On the prospect landscape, he's easily one of the biggest disappointments of the year so far.

Angel Villalona, 1B, Low-A Augusta (Giants)
What's wrong with Villalona? Not a thing, really--he hit a pair of home runs over the weekend, and had a four-hit game on Sunday. Sure, he's hitting just .236/.289/.414, but take another look at his birthday: August 13, 1990. That means that he's younger than most of the high school players who will get drafted next month, yet here he is in a full-season league, more than holding his own. Yes, he's struck out too often, and yes, his approach needs a ton of work, but his hitting skills as a 17-year-old are quite remarkable, and his ceiling remains through the roof.

Blake Wood, RHP, High-A Wilmington (Royals)
Pretty quietly, Wood has been among the top pitchers in the minors, and on Saturday he had his best start of the year, allowing just one hit over six shutout innings, walking two and striking out 10. His ERA of 2.98 belies his fantastic peripherals, as in 51 1/3 innings he's allowed just 29 hits, walked 13, and struck out 57. In Saturday's start, the big power righty had his fastball parked at 93 mph, touched 95, and showed a slow curveball that projects as a plus pitch, as well as a solid changeup. He should finish the year at Double-A, and is on pace to hit Kansas City as a good mid-rotation workhorse by the end of 2009.

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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