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July 23, 2008

Future Shock

NL West Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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Arizona Diamondbacks

Torra Torra Torra?: A first-round pick in 2005 whose career was all but derailed by labrum surgery, Matt Torra had a 6.01 ERA at High-A Visalia in his first year back in '07. This season, however, Torra had a 2.85 ERA in 13 Double-A starts before moving up to Triple-A, and one scout who has been following him feels that, while he's a completely different pitcher from his pre-injury days, he still only projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter. "When you first see him, you just don't believe in him at all," said the scout. "His velocity is maybe average, the body isn't very athletic, but he really just gets it. He's 87-89 mph, touches 91, he's got good command, and the changeup is pretty good. He pitches with no fear and he's aggressive, and he just grows on you."

More Than Just A Four-A Guy: Jamie D'Antona, a 26-year-old corner infielder, has had an explosive .367/.407/.612 season at Triple-A Tucson, but he's been written off by many as just a minor league performer, although at least one scout is convinced that D'Antona has big-league value as a bench player. "You know, I always thought he was overrated back when he was grouped with [Carlos] Quentin and [Conor] Jackson back in the day, but now I'm convinced that guy could help somebody off the bench," explained the scout. "He's developed some feel for hitting, and somehow his swing plane is much shorter this year. There's no doubt in my mind that he'd torch left-handers in the big leagues right now-maybe he could be a Wes Helms kind of guy who will always hit southpaws but come up short everyday against righties-that might be a career." [Editor's Note: No sooner had this been filed than the Snakes called up D'Antona last night.]


Colorado Rockies

It's Pronounced JEWEL-eez: One of the top pitchers in the minors this year has been 20-year-old Venezuelan right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who went 10-1 with a 1.86 ERA in 16 starts for Low-A Asheville before moving up to High-A Modesto, where he's picked up wins in each of his first four starts, striking out 28 in 27 innings and walking just four. One scout who caught a recent California League start walked away very impressed. "He's almost a poor man's Felix Hernandez for me-emphasis on poor man's," explained the scout. "It's a Felix kinda body-but he's a little shorter and not as imposing, and it's not Felix's stuff-everything is a grade or two below." While the scout was impressed with Chacin's broad arsenal and thought he could pitch in Double-A right now, he didn't see him as truly elite. "He throws with some effort, but he's athletic and I think he'll be fine," said the scout. "The fastball is a tick above average, but he throws three or four other pitches, and he throws them all for strikes-he cuts the fastball, has a changeup and two breaking balls, and while they're all good, I'm not sure which is a knockout pitch." He also had one more trait that the scout likened to King Felix, and it's not a good one. "He pitches away from contact far too much, just like Felix does," said the scout. "Basically, you hit his fastball and you won't see it again, and he'll start dinking and ducking with the secondary stuff."


Los Angeles Dodgers

E-I, E-I-O: After a breakout campaign in 2007, 23-year-old righty James McDonald continues to produce at Double-A Jacksonville, putting up a 3.01 ERA in 20 starts while striking out 106 batters in 107 2/3 innings and limiting opponents to a .226 batting average. One scout who recently saw him thinks he'll be a part of the Dodgers' rotation in good time. "I think he's going to be a big-league starter," said the scout. "His fastball is a little short and it's a little straight, but he commands it very well, and has a very good curveball and changeup-and he throws strikes." However, that kind of combination can lead to various big-league projections. "Sometimes I think he's kind of like Brad Radke, but when pitchers like that don't work out, they're Justin Germano."

Don't Write Him Off: Although 19-year-old Dominican third baseman Pedro Baez has among the best tools in the system, he proved to be overmatched in his full-season debut, hitting just .178/.244/.259 in 59 games for Low-A Great Lakes. Sent back to extended spring training to wait for the short-season leagues to begin, Baez is starting to show signs of life in the Pioneer League, batting .315/.344/.532 in 29 contests for Ogden, and flashing the plus-plus power that was his calling card going into the year.


San Diego Padres

Power Outage: After a big year in the California League last season, gigantic 21-year-old first baseman Kyle Blanks continues to hit at Double-A, but at the same time, a .315/.398/.482 line with just 10 home runs in 340 at-bats seems like a bit of a mismatch for a hulk listed at 6'6" and 270 pounds. One scout who saw Banks at San Antonio recently was as mystified as anyone. "I just don't get him at all," explained the exasperated evaluator. "He's a huge guy with power, but it's just not used. He has legitimate contact skills, and that's great, but he just doesn't hit the ball hard enough." The scout went on to explain why Blanks' swing mechanics are the primary culprit. "He's doesn't load up, so there's not much transfer in his swing-he's got dead hands, dead feet, and he just kind of turns his body and makes contact. I don't see game power in the future with that kind of swing."

Saves That Count: Looking at save leaders at the lower levels is just about the worst way to identify future prospects, but this year's Midwest League-leader is actually generating some scouting buzz to go along with his numbers. Jackson Quezada, a 21-year-old Dominican righty, has a 2.31 ERA in 43 games at Low-A Fort Wayne (and 18 saves), while striking out 52 in 46 2/3 innings, and limiting opposing batters to a .193 average. Pitching primarily off a 90-95 mph fastball, Jackson is a long-armed maximum-effort pitcher with only one quality offering, but his youth and physical attributes have most projecting him to reach the majors. "He's not a late-innings type," said one scout, "But he's a big-league reliever."


San Francisco Giants

As Good As The Numbers: Madison Bumgarner, a 2007 first-round pick, has been among the best pitchers in the game this year, with a 1.79 ERA in 17 starts at Low-A Augusta to go with a remarkable 104-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 95 1/3 innings. One veteran scout who saw Bumgarner this year walked away with nothing bad to say, noting that his breaking ball, which was his main weakness coming in, has progressed by leaps and bounds. "Right now, his curve flashes OK, but for me it projects as a real power-type curveball and a plus pitch," said the scout, who followed with a laundry list of other positive characteristics. "He's young for the year, he has above-average velocity, his control is outstanding, and his command is getting there-he has a repeatable delivery, clean arm action, he's very competitive and an excellent makeup guy. I like him a lot and think he'll move fast."

Better Than The Numbers: While highly-publicized international-signee Angel Villalona has yet to light up the stat sheet with his .248/.298/.412 line at Low-A Augusta, the scout who was so impressed with Bumgarner was also impressed with the 17-year-old Dominican, albeit with some reservations. "His raw power is just off the charts," said the scout. "It's massive raw power-he'll mis-hit balls in [batting practice] and they go 390 feet, but right now he's very restless at the plate." The scout explained that with such pedestrian numbers, the amount of projection currently required is a bit discomforting, but his age provides some promise. "You have to take a leap with him and use your imagination, but no matter how you look at it, his performance and projection are seriously gapped," he continued. "At the same time, he could theoretically be in this same league for four more years and still be age-appropriate for the level."

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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