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April 30, 2009

Future Shock

AL Central Notebook

by Kevin Goldstein

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Chicago White Sox

Jordan Danks never lived up to expectations during his three years at the University of Texas, and when he plummeted in last year's draft, the White Sox, hoping that the potential of playing with his brother might help in negotiations, drafted him in the seventh round. The gamble worked; they signed him to a $525,000 bonus. After an impressive run in the Arizona Fall League in 2008, Danks has continued to roll hitting leadoff for High-A Winston-Salem, batting .329/.414/.518 while scoring 20 runs in 21 games.

One scout who recently saw Danks walked away impressed, but not without concerns. "Well, you have to start with the body, you have to love that frame and the tools," he began, referring to Danks' 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame. "I know he had a reputation for not showing much power in college, but he's hitting the ball hard here," he added, as Danks entered Wednesday's action with eight doubles, a triple, and two home runs in 85 at-bats. If there is one red flag on Danks' stat line, it's a contact issue, as he has struck out 26 times so far this year, and the scout discussed the way that it's a function of the center fielder's swing. "It's definitely long-ish," said the scout, "and it could spell some trouble for him down the road. It takes him some time to unload."

It's hard to talk about Danks without comparing him to former White Sox prospect and current Oakland outfielder Ryan Sweeney, another tall, athletic outfielder who didn't hit for the power people expected... and who still hasn't. "It's a good comp," said the scout. "We'll just have to wait and see."

Cleveland Indians

The Indians surprised many when they selected junior college infielder Lonnie Chisenhall in the first round last June, as he was seen more as a sandwich-round type, but he's making the club look smart during the first month of the season at High-A Kinston, batting .282/.356/.462 in 19 games, and receiving national attention after hitting grand slams in back-to-back games last week.

One scout who recently saw the K-Tribe came away especially impressed. "I'm normally not a huge fan of guys with line-drive swings," said the talent assessor, "but when a player puts the barrel of the bat [on the ball] as consistently as Chisenhall does, you have to love it. Is he going to hit for a lot of power? Probably not. Is he going to hit? Absolutely."

Drafted as a shortstop, Chisenhall's defensive reputation was merely so-so, but the scout says that his transition to third base has so far been a successful one. "People automatically assume that fringy shortstops with good arms can just play third, but that's not the case-it's such a different position," he said. "But Chisenhall has been really good there. He's got good instincts, a very good arm, and the thing I really like is that you can see before games that he's really working on the defensive side of things."

Detroit Tigers

When the Diamondbacks decided to keep Rule 5 pick Jamie Skelton, they agreed to send right-hander Brooks Brown to Detroit so that they wouldn't be forced to keep Skelton in the big leagues. A supplemental first-round pick in 2006, Brown hit a wall at Double-A in 2008, putting up a 4.18 ERA in 26 starts. Seen as a potential back-of-the-rotation type before last year's struggles, those kinds of reviews are coming back; he's begun the year at Double-A Erie with a perfect 0.00 ERA, giving up just 10 hits in 17 2/3 innings over three starts. He's still not missing bats, only striking out seven, but his stamina and ability to keep hitters off balance with a solid three-pitch mix has scouts taking notice.

Brown isn't the only member of the Erie rotation putting up some big numbers. Dominican righty Alberto Figaro opened a lot of eyes with a 2.05 ERA in the Midwest League last year while flashing mid-90s heat, but he also had a reputation as a one-pitch hurler who was dominating much younger players. Now, with a little more of an age-appropriate assignment to Double-A and the Eastern League as a 24-year-old, Figaro is still dominating, allowing just two runs and eight hits over 18 2/3 innings in his first three starts while striking out 17. Most scouts see him as a reliever in the end, but they also think he has big-league potential.

Kansas City Royals

Attending a doubleheader at Kane County in A-ball two weeks ago, I got to see 2008 first-round pick Eric Hosmer have just about as bad a day as one can have for Burlington, as the first baseman failed to put a ball in play, going 0-for-5 with a walk and five strikeouts. His 5-for-12 run over the last three games has finally raised his average above the Mendoza line at .207/.299/.241, but he's struck out 21 times in 58 at-bats and has yet to register an extra-base hit in almost three weeks of play. Scouts attending the game were puzzled, but not overly concerned, since many of them remember 2007 first-round pick Mike Moustakas' introduction to the Midwest League last season; in April 2008, Moustakas hit just .190/.253/.226 in 21 games with just one extra-base hit, but he was the league's best hitter during the second half of the season, batting .321/.392/.557 after the All-Star break. Patience, folks.

As a whole, the Burlington team has been a wreck offensively, averaging just 3.7 runs per game, which actually seems high when one sees that the Bees are hitting .205/.271/.300 as a team. Take out outfielder Nick Francis, who by himself has nearly 20 percent of his team's hits, and the rest of the squad is hitting just .187 with 127 strikeouts in 477 at-bats.

Minnesota Twins Top 11 Update:

A quick rundown on how my pre-season ranked 11 are doing...

  1. Ben Revere, CF, .312/.398/.377 at High-A.
    He's making excellent progress on developing his leadoff skills, already drawing 10 walks in 77 at-bats with 11 stolen bases.

  2. Aaron Hicks, CF, extended spring training.
    He's expected to report to Low-A Beloit soon.

  3. Danny Valencia, 3B, .305/.431/.525 at Double-A.
    Valencia just keeps on hitting, and he could be lined up for a look following the one-year Joe Crede experiment.

  4. Angel Morales, CF, .148/.179/.259 at Single-A.
    Though striking out in one-third of his at-bats, he still has the best tools on a fairly weak roster at Beloit.

  5. Wilson Ramos, C, .242/.262/.323 at Double-A.
    He's not breaking out the way that some had expected, but scouts still see him as a solid but unspectacular backstop in the making.

  6. Shooter Hunt, RHP, 10.80 ERA at Single-A.
    Last year's control issues have become downright disturbing, with 23 walks in 11 2/3 innings.

  7. Kevin Mulvey, RHP, 3.26 ERA at Triple-A.
    His five shutout innings yesterday make his numbers look good. He's still getting ground balls too, and still projects as a fifth starter.

  8. David Bromberg, RHP, 2.70 ERA at High-A.
    The big, beefy southpaw isn't striking out hitters like he did last year, and there are questions about how well his stuff will work at the upper levels.

  9. Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, 0.50 ERA at High-A.
    Though he only has nine strikeout in 18 innings, he's allowed just eight hits, and has one of the best sinkers in the minors, with 36 ground-ball outs against just seven fly outs.

  10. Deolis Guerra, RHP, 4.26 ERA at High-A.
    He's getting ground balls and throwing strikes, but will the velocity ever return?

  11. Jeff Manship, RHP, 6.63 ERA at Double-A.
    Eastern League hitters are battering him for a .308 average, and some feel his stuff may have hit a wall.

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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