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July 9, 2008

Future Shock

NL Central Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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Chicago Cubs

Asian Influences: Always one of the biggest players in the Korean talent market, the Cubs already made a big splash this summer by paying a bonus of nearly seven-figures for toolsy shortstop Hak-Ju Lee. While Lee has yet to make his pro debut, last year's big sign out of Korea has made an impression on scouts with his brief showing at Low-A Peoria, before being sidetracked by some minor shoulder issues. Signed for more than half a million last summer, 19-year-old lefty Dae-Eun Rhee has a 1.80 ERA in 10 starts for Peoria, while allowing just 28 hits in 40 innings and striking out 33. In addition, he has a groundball ratio of nearly two to one, and has yet to allow a home run. "His stuff is very real," said one pro scout who recently saw Rhee in action. "His fastball was 89-91 mph with good life, good sink, and he works down in the zone. His slider is OK, but his changeup is another well above-average pitch that gets a lot of groundballs." The scout went on to further explain that Rhee has plenty of projection as well. "He has that body you look for when you are looking for guys to develop more velocity. It's a big frame and a narrow top."


Cincinnati Reds

Reverse Groundhog Day: 2007 first-round pick Devin Meseraco is hardly lighting up the stat sheet in his first full season, batting just .258/.313/.362 at Low-A Dayton. Of greater concern is that the scouts who have seen him this year see a far different player than last year's amateur star in Pennsylvania. "It's just remarkable how different he looks since last year as an amateur," said one scout. "He's got a soft middle and this puffy, stiff lower half and that's pretty worrisome for me-he's listed at 200 pounds, and I would say he's a little more than that." The extra weight has also led to some problems at the plate. "He had some of the best bat speed in the country last year and it's just gone now-it's slider bat speed," continued the scout. "I did see some skills-a good pop time to second, some decent opposite fields power and quiet hands-but I just don't see an everyday major league catcher in that body. It's just not at all what I expected to see."


Houston Astros

Hooking Up With The Hooks: It's hard to find prospects to talk about in a poor Houston system, and while the roster at Double-A Corpus Christi is littered with struggling semi-prospects like outfielders Eli Iorg (.252/.295/.406) and Mitch Einertson (.221/.259/.374), one scout who recently followed the team did find something to like in third baseman Chris Johnson, who is batting a healthy .316/.361/.509. While the big corner man has 22 doubles and ten home runs in 269 at-bats, the scout saw even more coming down the road. "Right now his power isn't transferring to games like he shows in batting practice, but I think it's going to come," said the scout. "He does show an ability to stay behind the ball and lift the ball," he continued, while also noting Johnson's plus-plus arm, calling it, "an absolute hose."

Weird, But It Works: Also garnering some attention on the Hooks' roster is Dominican reliever Samuel Gervacio, who has struck out 54 in 46 innings. Gervacio's unique mechanics almost have to be seen to be believed. He starts out with what looks like a very standard over-the-top delivery, before dropping his arm slot at the last possible moment to throw at a true sidearm angle with his arm parallel to the ground. Beyond the deception that this creates, the stuff itself is above average, with a fastball that ranges from 90-92 mph, and a tight low-80s slider with two-plane break.


Milwaukee Brewers

Still A Lot Of Stars: While Milwaukee dealt top prospect Matt LaPorta to Cleveland in the CC Sabathia deal, the Double-A Huntsville squad remains one of the more impressive in the minor leagues. Despite the loss of last year's number one pick, one scout who recently scouted the Stars still saw plenty of prospects on the team, and commented on a trio that in particular caught his eye:

  • Third baseman Mat Gamel (.371/.432/.615): "Obviously he can really hit, but he absolutely can't play third base and I'm not convinced he is going to hit for big power. I just don't feel confident about what to do with him, really."
  • Shortstop Alcides Escobar (.325/.356/.439): "There's a big factor with his poor plate discipline, but the ball jumps off the barrel of his bat. Defensively, he's just a playmaker-a web-gem worthy shortstop. Both his arm and his range allow him to make plays out there that others have no chance of making. He's an everyday shortstop in the big leagues."
  • Catcher Angel Salome (.337/.396/.514): "That guy just grew on me every day. He's unique, but he knows it. He understands his swing, sets pitchers up and shows really good instincts as a hitter. It's a muscular, compact, athletic body, and I saw an above-average arm."

Pittsburgh Pirates

Lynchburg--The Good And The Bad: Pittsburgh's High-A affiliate has a number of names to note, but the breakout player in the system this year has easily been outfielder Jamie Romak, who is hitting .303/.385/.619 with 17 home runs in 218 at-bats. Beyond the power, Romak draws a fair amount of walks and has the best outfield arm in the organization. On the downside, Romak is a hulk who is very slow, and his swing is solely designed for power, leaving him prone to strikeouts (74 so far).

Doing poorly for Lynchburg is 2007 first-round pick Daniel Moskos, who has a 5.08 ERA in 17 games while giving up 80 hits in 78 innings and striking out 56-not exactly the kind of numbers one looks for from the fourth overall pick. Scouts who have watched Moskos see stuff that is well off from his days at Clemson, while also questioning his conditioning.

One sleeper on the team has been infielder Jim Negrych. A hitting machine when he played his college ball at Pitt, Negrych had a mediocre full-season debut last year but has raked to the tune of .365/.439/.481 in 85 games this year. He offers nearly nothing in the power or speed department, but he's an on-base machine who could have future utility possibilities.


St. Louis Cardinals

Readers Like Lists: Last week's notebook had an update on the Angels' Top 11 Prospects, mostly because I had trouble finding a scout who had recently seen an Angels affiliate. That said, reader response was overwhelmingly positive, so in lieu of reviews, here's the Cardinals:

  • Colby Rasmus, CF: Looked to be overcoming a miserable start with a .333/.441/.535 June; now sidelined for a bit with a groin injury.
  • Chris Perez, RHP: Still needs to throw more strikes, but looking more and more like next year's closer.
  • Bryan Anderson, C: Now at Triple-A and batting .353 overall; Anderson doesn't hit for power and probably never will, but with that kind of average, who cares?
  • Adam Ottavino, RHP: Pitching much better of late than his 5.79 overall ERA shows; early control problems look to be a thing of the past.
  • Jaime Garcia, LHP: Now at Triple-A and getting a ton of groundballs, scouts want to see a better changeup because lefties are pounding him.
  • Tyler Herron, RHP: Got off to a great start at Palm Beach, but Double-A has proven to be too quick a move as his ERA sits at 5.19 after 11 starts for Springfield.
  • Jose Martinez, SS: Has simply stopped hitting (.239/.282/.322), making last year's breakout look more like a fluke.
  • Peter Kozma, SS: Everybody likes the defense of last year's first-round pick, but bat gets wildly varying reviews.
  • Clayton Mortensen, RHP: His numbers aren't eye-popping, but he's holding his own at Triple-A in his full-season debut, and that's impressive on its own.
  • Joe Mather, OF: Continued to mash at Triple-A with 16 home runs in 195 at-bats; has yet to duplicate success in the majors.
  • Jarrett Hoffpauir, 2B: Keeps waiting for a chance, and keeps hitting (.305/.380/.412) at Memphis.

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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