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April 24, 2009

Future Shock

Minor League Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

I'm doing a lot of traveling this week, so here is a quick pop-in with some thoughts on the week in the minor leagues.

---

Relievers Blowing Up

There are a few highly regarded relievers who are already putting up some silly numbers in the minors. The first guy worth keeping an eye on is Boston's Daniel Bard, who continues to make a remarkable recovery from his bout with Steve Blass disease in 2007. Consistently approaching triple digits with his fastball, Bard has allowed just one hit over nine innings, with a remarkable 16 strikeouts and just two fly balls. For the record, the one hit was a home run by fringy Phillies outfield prospect Jeremy Slayden. Still, this is utter dominance, and he could play a huge role on the Red Sox in the second half.

After signing far too late to make his pro debut until this year, Mariners 2008 first-round pick Joshua Fields has been almost as dominant at Double-A West Tenn. After walking four of the six batters he faced in his pro debut, Fields hasn't allowed a hit in his last four outings, walking three and striking out eight of the 14 hitters he faced. With both his fastball and slider rating as well above-average, he could get a late-season look, that is unless his arm falls off, as one scout who saw him recently categorized his mechanics as "some of the most violent I've seen in recent memory."

I would be remiss not to mention the Blue Jays' 11th-ranked prospect, Tim Collins. He's still the size of a bat boy, but after utterly dominating the Midwest League last year with shocking velocity and a great deal of deception, the combination continues to do wonders in the Florida State League, as Collins has allowed just four hits over 11 innings while striking out 20. Scouts still aren't sure what to make of him, but the performance is hard to deny.

A Banner Day For Phillies Arms

Many team personnel begin their day with a look at the daily reports from the minors. These reports cover every aspect of their minor league games, showing who had good at-bats, who made errors, words from the managers on noteworthy performances, and internal scouting reports on pitchers, with velocity readings and more statistically oriented items like how often they get ahead in the count. Every once in a while I gain access to them, and I'd be the happiest man in the world if I got to see them every day. While I didn't see the Phillies' report on the games of April 21, I'm guessing that they were celebratory in tone, because from top to bottom the organization's pitching was nothing short of outstanding. It's very hard to find all four starters on the same day pitching this well, and even rarer to have three of them be big-time prospects.

  • Triple-A: Carlos Carrasco: 7 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 10 K
    The three runs were all scored in Carrasco's final inning, and overall, the top prospect in the system has held International League hitters to a .200 batting average while walking just one and striking out 20 in 19 innings. The Phillies' team ERA of six-plus is horrible news in Philadelphia, but it could be good news for Carrasco's hopes of ascending to the big leagues.

  • Double-A: Tyson Brummett: 7 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K
    Not much of a prospect, Brummett was a senior signed out of UCLA in the seventh round of the 2007 draft. He's your classic strike-thrower who hits his spots with three average offerings.

  • High-A: Kyle Drabek: 6 2/3 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 10 K
    A year removed from Tommy John surgery and with revamped, much cleaner mechanics, Drabek has been creating a buzz in Florida by showcasing a fastball that can get up to the 94-95 mph range and a curveball that might be the best in the league. In 18 2/3 innings, he's allowed 10 hits, walked five, and struck out 26, and if I could re-do my Top 100 today, I'd move him way up.

  • Low-A: Jason Knapp: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 14 K
    Speaking of moving up... I had Knapp at the 10th slot on my Phillies list, which almost seems like a joke after his three recent starts; the 2008 second-round pick now has a minor league-leading 30 strikeouts in just 18 1/3 innings while giving up just nine hits. With a 6-foot-5 power frame, and a fastball that sits at 92-95 mph and touches 97, his ceiling could be as high as that of anyone in the system.

Dribs And Drabs

  • A lot was made of the fact that Gordon Beckham was moved to second base this week, but it turned out to be much ado about nothing. He slid over to accommodate a rehabbing Jayson Nix, who was playing on the left side of the infield in anticipation of a future utility role for the journeyman. Now that Nix is gone, Beckham is back at shortstop, and nothing has been changed with his timetable.

  • The middle of the Braves' lineup at Myrtle Beach will be one to watch all year, with elite-level prospects Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman batting third and fourth, but outfielder Cody Johnson also continues to intrigue. The 2006 first-round pick had a notable full-season debut last year for his power (26 home runs) and his propensity to strike out (177), and both continue to show up in his Carolina League performance. The slugger hit home runs in each of his first three games and now has six overall, but he also has a 15-game streak with at least one whiff, and a total of 22 in 54 at-bats.

  • Triples are a difficult statistic to glean any sort of meaningful information from, but it's fun to note that the Pirates #2 prospect in their system, Andrew McCutchen, already has five in 13 games. More importantly, he's hitting .322/.375/.610 overall. He could be up by the second half of the season, and that would allow Nate McLouth to slide over to a corner, which is his more natural position.

  • The Twins have long had a system filled with control specialists, so it was interesting to see them spend a supplemental first-round pick last summer on Tulane's Shooter Hunt, a power arm with occasional control issues that are becoming a major concern. He's yet to get out of the fourth inning during any of his three starts for Low-A Beloit, and he's walked 17 while hitting three batters in just 9 2/3 innings. The Midwest League is hitting just .235 against him, but has on on-base percentage over .500, and his ERA sits at a lofty 9.31.

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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