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October 20, 2008

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Jeremy Bleich, LHP, Waikiki BeachBoys (Yankees)

Bleich is a hard guy to get a real feel for. He held out until the signing deadline, but then signed for an under-slot bonus. Some saw him as a overdraft in the supplemental first round, and some scouts thought he would have been a legitimate first-round pick had he not missed a good chunk of the spring with an elbow strain. He got in just one appearance in the New York-Penn league after signing, and now even his winter performance is cause for confusion. In his first two Hawaii League starts, he allowed five runs in six innings while walking eight. In his last two, he's fired 12 2/3 innings without walking a batter or allowing an earned run. He models his game after Andy Pettite's, but he's kind of a smaller and less powerful version at best, using his average-at-best fastball to set up his plus secondary pitches (a curve and a very deceptive changeup). It's going to come down to his ability to throw strikes, and the right strikes, and we don't have enough to go on yet.

Tommy Hanson, RHP, Mesa Solar Sox (Braves)

I remain massively confused as to why Hanson doesn't get talked about when most discuss the top pitching prospects in the game. For some reason, he's relegated to Group B, on the fringes of the discussion. That's despite the fact that he had one of the most dominating seasons put up by any pitcher at any level this year, and he also proved himself at Double-A, and he now has the scouting reports to match the numbers. Now, he's proving he belongs in that group in Arizona as well. With nine strikeouts in four no-hit innings on Saturday, Hanson extended his scoreless streak to 8 2/3 innings in three games, during which he's allowed just one hit and struck out 14. Right-handers against him are 0-fo-20 with 12 strikeouts. Don't make the same mistake as other observers-this guy is one of the best out there.

Phil Hughes, RHP, Peoria Javelinas (Yankees)

At this point, Hughes is just massively confusing. His 2007 looked to be his breakout campaign, but then he severely pulled a hamstring while going for a no-hitter against Texas. This year, it was a strained oblique that hampered him, and since his return from it, he's been either awesome or awful, depending on the day, and we have no real reason why he's just one or the other. That trend has continued so far in the Arizona Fall League. In his first start for Peoria, he walked five in five innings, but also allowed just one hit while striking out seven and left scouts drooling. On Saturday, he allowed eight runs on seven hits while failing to get out of the third inning, and left scouts confused as to whether this was even the same pitcher they'd seen 11 days before. It's hard to find somebody with more varied reports on him at this point.

Ryan Kalish, OF, North Shore Honu (Red Sox)

Kalish entered the year as a stud prospect, but finished the year with a .273/.365/.363 line between Low- and High-A, as the wrist injury that prematurely ended his 2007 season bothered him throughout the year, sapping his power. Assigned to Hawaii to get in some more playing time, something kind of weird is happening. It might be nothing, it might be totally small sample size, it might be an aggressive manager, but Kalish has suddenly turned into Rickey Henderson, batting .275/.431/.375 in 12 games with 11 walks in 40 at-bats while stealing 10 bases without getting caught in 12 games. He certainly has the tools to do what he's doing, and if this is some kind of new indication of what he's becoming, that's a good thing.

Jose Lima, RHP, Aguilas Ciebaenas

Yup, he's still around. In case you're not in the Jose Lima fan club, here's the update: he did pitch this year, spending some time in Korea (where he got hammered), and then finishing the year with the independent Camden Riversharks, where he had a 4.98 ERA in 11 starts. It's not like he's going to get another shot in the big leagues or anything, but on the box scores from Friday night, there he was again, giving up three hits and three runs in five innings while striking out seven for the Aguilas. Say what you will about his antics or his awfulness during the last few years of his career, but you've got to appreciate his love of the game.

Brian Matusz, LHP, Surprise Rafters (Orioles)

We hand't seen Matusz pitch since the spring; like most top draft picks, he held out until the deadline, and that prevented him from getting his pro career started before minor league regular seasons had ended. While many such players get their starts in instructs or in a lower level of competition like Hawaii, the Orioles were more aggressive with the first pitcher selected in June, assigning him to Arizona. So far, so good: after firing three no-hit innings in his technical pro debut a week ago, he struck out eight over four innings on Friday. Despite the layoff, his stuff has looked a lot like his college days, although the control has been enough. His fastball sat at 90-92, and his curve was a true swing-and-miss offering. His success so far has the Orioles thinking of starting him in High-A this year, with the goal to get him to Double-A by midseason, and possibly ready for the big leagues within a little more than a year.

David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Bear with me here, as I understand that Price is no longer on my beat per se. What fans saw last night was no fluke, that was the real David Price, although his emotions were clearly red-lining throughout the last four outs of the game as his command was all over the place. What you need to take away is that, yes, he really does regularly throw 95-96, and yes, his slider really is that good. If I was running the team, Price would be my closer for the World Series, and in the rotation next year, giving the team one more piece of evidence (not that they need it at this point) that this year's performance is anything but a fluke.

Jose Tabata, OF, Caribes de Anzoategui (Pirates)

Sometimes guys just need a bit of a kick-start to get going. During the first half of the season, Tabata's year at Double-A Trenton was marked by both its ineffectiveness (.248/.320/.310) and his seeming indifference to the game both at the plate and in the field. The trade to the Pirates seemingly served as some kind of wake-up call to a player that everyone knew had the pure talent to succeed, because playing in the same league but in a different uniform Tabata suddenly hit .348/.402/.562 in the final 22 games of the year. Sent to his native Venezuela for winter work, at 20 he is once again one of the youngest players in the league. Tabata has nonetheless continued to rake, going 4-for-4 in his first game, and batting .400 in his first five games. The jury is still out, but the potential for the deal to look like a steal for the Pirates is absolutely there.

Mark Trumbo, 1B, Scottsdale Scorpions (Angels)

Trumbo's transformation from big-money bust to one of the best hitters in the system has already been well documented. The point here is that he keeps on hitting. With three straight multi-hit games in Arizona, Trumbo is now batting .390 in ten contests for the Scorpions with 11 RBI. The further we get, the more this is looking like the real thing, as opposed to just a California League mirage. Mark Teixeira is anything but a sure thing to return to the Angels, and while Trumbo isn't nearly ready to fill in at the big-league level, nor should be expected to be anything close to Teixeira production-wise, having him in their back pocket might help with the decision-making should the price get unreasonable due to multiple bids.

Matt Wieters, C, Surprise Rafters (Orioles)

Wieters can hit-shocking, huh? It's no surprise that Wieters is batting .385/.529/.538 in his first eight Arizona Fall League games, it's just more evidence that Wieters is ready for the big leagues. Keep in mind that Wieters did not sign a big-league deal after being drafted last year. Instead, he got a straight bonus of $6 million. That could lead to a Evan Longoria-type situation, where he doesn't open the year in the big leagues, but instead spends a week in Triple-A before moving in for the job. As an extra bonus for O's fans, he's already caught Matusz twice as well, giving Baltimore an early glimpse of what could turn out to be an All-Star level battery of the future. Too bad the team is in the American League East, because that's just not a fun place to be for a rebuilding project.

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:  Jose Tabata,  Year Of The Injury

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