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July 17, 2008

Future Shock

NL East Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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Atlanta Braves

Meddling With Success: Coming off of a season in which he struck out 63 in 46 innings over three levels, right-hander Kris Medlen entered the year as a sleeper in the Braves system. He struggled early, cobbling together a 4.70 ERA in the Double-A Mississippi bullpen while coming off of a minor bout of elbow tendonitis. Upon moving to the rotation in early June, Medlen became a revelation, putting up a 2.30 ERA in eight starts for the Mississippi Braves with 43 strikeouts in 43 innings while allowing only 30 hits and nine walks. At five-foot-ten and 175 pounds, Medlen doesn't pass the scouting sniff test at first glance, but his stuff is impressive, as his fastball sits in the 89-92 mph range while touching 94, and both his curveball and changeup have the potential to be plus offerings. His size and the effort in his delivery may still make for a determination that he's better off in the bullpen in the long term, but for now, he's remaining a starter on the basis of the success he's found.


Florida Marlins

Better Than Expected: When the Marlins selected third baseman Matt Dominguez with the 12th overall pick in last year's draft, many argued that the level of talent was not worth the pick, and while that criticism may have been warranted, it resulted in an exaggerated drop in his ranking as a prospect. He was still a first-round talent, and after being held back in extended spring training the 18-year-old has had a very good full-season debut at Low-A Greensboro, batting .293/.358/.419 in 45 games while also showcasing the best defense at third base in the South Atlantic League. He's not showing a ton of power, and projects to hit no more than 15-18 home runs annually, so he'll have to keep hitting for average as he moves up.

Proving It's For Real: Last year, outfielder John Raynor won Sally League MVP honors with a .333/.429/.519 campaign, but he failed to show up on prospect lists due to his advanced age and his profile as a corner outfielder without power. Double-jumped to the Southern League this year, the 24-year-old Raynor is now a little more age-appropriate for his level, and he just keeps on hitting. Raynor is batting .311/.402/.492 at Double-A Carolina (and is 21-for-47 in his last 13 games) while continuing to draw walks, show solid gap power, and display skills on the basepaths by virtue of his 32 thefts in 38 attempts. For many scouts, he now projects as a solid everyday outfielder at this point, even in a corner.


New York Mets

Beyond The B-Town Bats: Where the Mets' Double-A affiliate at Binghamton is concerned, most of the focus has been on an offense that includes top prospect Fernando Martinez and breakout performances from Mike Carp and Nick Evans, so it's easy to overlook the presence of a pair the organization's best pitchers. Although left-hander Jon Niese and righty Eddie Kunz both lack a high ceiling, one scout who recently saw them projected both as productive big leaguers.

Niese has had a solid year as the team's ace, with a 3.09 ERA in 20 starts. What does that mean as far as the majors, though? "He's a back-end rotation guy for me, no doubt," said the scout. "He sits in the upper 80s and can touch 90 mph with the fastball, and there's deception with his delivery. He also pitches inside with the fastball and plays around with it a lot-adding and subtracting, sinking it, cutting it." Niese's best pitch remains an above-average curveball, but his changeup still needs work, and that is borne out in his splits, as right-handed batters have done much better against him. "It maybe projects as average, he really tips the pitch with his arm action," concluded the scout.

When he was the teams' top pick last year, Kunz was believed to be the heir apparent to the closer role with the big-league squad, and he's been solid though unspectacular in his full-season debut, with a 3.24 ERA in 39 games and a ground-ball ratio of over 3-to-1 thanks to one of the best sinkers in the game. "It's a really heavy power sinker," said the scout. "It has a tick above-average velocity, heavy downward movement, and also a little side-by-side to it as well." Beyond that pitch however, Kunz's stuff falls short. "He throws a below-average slider," continued the scout. "He has a low three-quarters arm angle, and it tends to flatten out. I just don't see him as a closer-more of a seventh-inning guy. I know that doesn't sound great, but that's still a good, solid guy."


Philadelphia Phillies

Better Than The Numbers: Two players currently at the Phillies' Low-A affiliate at Lakewood don't have very good numbers, but that doesn't mean the scouts aren't impressed with them nevertheless. Freddy Galvis, an 18-year-old Venezuelan shortstop, is batting just .225/.289/.257, but one scout who recent saw him couldn't help but be impressed. "Defensively, he's what I call an extreme defender-he's just a magician out there," said the scout. "Every day you see him, he'll make at least one play that a lot of big-league shortstops wouldn't have a chance at. And he's not just flash, all the routine plays are made as well." As for his non-existent offense, the scout did see enough room for improvement to tag him as an everyday player. "Look, he's definitely a bottom of the lineup guy, but he slaps the ball around and keeps his hands inside well. I think that small-ball situational hitting will be there for him in the end, as there are some offensive instincts there."

Another player not exactly lighting up the stat sheet for the Blue Claws is 19-year-old right-hander Julian Sampson. A 12th-round pick last year who got third-round money, Sampson has a 4.98 ERA in 16 starts with just 41 strikeouts in 81 1/3 innings, but a scout who saw him found him the most memorable arm on the staff. "There's just a lot to like there-he's athletic, powerful, and has really nice arm action," recalled the scout. "I saw effortless 91-93 mph velocity that touched 95, an above-average breaking ball, and an interesting kind of palmball as a change." So why the poor numbers with that kind of stuff? The scout offered a couple of theories. "His command is below average, so he's currently centering the ball, and there's no deception in his delivery, so batters get a good long look at it.


Washington Nationals

Not Going Well: Some interesting drafts and a commitment to rebuilding had the Nationals system looking like it was on the way up before the season began, but with the disappointing results they've been getting this year, they've hit a major bump in the road. Here's a look at how the organization's Top 11 Prospects are doing, and for the most part, the news is not good:

  • Chris Marrero, 1B: He's coming on strong of late, but that's only got him up to .250/.325/.453 at High-A, and scouts are concerned about his conditioning. Now out for the year after breaking his fibula on a slide.
  • Ross Detwiler, LHP: He's put up a massively disappointing 5.42 ERA at High-A, and there's a mystery as to why. On a stuff level, he's nowhere close to last year's showing in college.
  • Michael Burgess, OF: A .528 slugging percentage and 18 home runs is very impressive for a full-season debut, but 112 strikeouts in 324 at-bats is a huge red flag.
  • Josh Smoker, LHP: Held back in extended spring training, Smoker had an 11.50 ERA in five Sally League starts; he's been sent back to Rookie-ball to regroup.
  • Justin Maxwell, OF: He draws tons of walks and has great power, but poor overall hitting at Double-A has him at .233/.367/.459; he's currently out with a wrist injury.
  • Jake McGeary, LHP: Given $1.8 million despite the fact that he'll spend the next three springs at Stanford, he's been rusty in the Gulf Coast League, with a 5.18 ERA in five starts.
  • Collin Balester, RHP: His stock is neither up nor down; he still looks like a solid back-end starter, and has pitched like one in both the minors and majors.
  • Jordan Zimmerman, RHP: Last year's second-round pick lacked the profile of Detwiler, but he's already in Double-A (and succeeding), and has passed the first-rounder in many teams' rankings.
  • Josh Smolinski, OF: He's been surprisingly solid at second base, but his production at the plate in Low-A has been surprisingly unimpressive (.261/.338/.402).
  • Colton Willems, RHP: His excellent arm strength has delivered solid results at Low-A (3.59 ERA), but he has yet to figure out how to miss bats, with just 48 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings.
  • Adam Carr, RHP: This power reliever has simply failed to repeat last year's breakout by putting up a 4.71 mark across two levels; he has looked better since returning to Double-A.

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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