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May 11, 2009

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Dustin Ackley, OF, University of North Carolina
It wasn't a good week for the Tar Heels, as one of the top teams in the country dropped two of three to sub-.500 North Carolina State. Scouts got what they wanted, however, as Ackley spent the entire series in center field after playing the majority of the year at first base due to some arm troubles. The difference in the draft between a guy who can hit and play center field and the same guy playing first base and possibly a little bit of center is massive, and now that Ackley is proving he can handle center field, his draft stock is sitting firmly in the first five picks. As for the hitting, we know he can do that; after two hits on Friday, a triple and two walks on Saturday, and a double and a home run on Sunday, his batting line is a very healthy .401/.510/.746.

Tim Alderson, RHP, Giants (Double-A Connecticut)
If you put off taking a trip to San Jose in order to see the most talented team in the minors, it's already too late. It's still a hell of a team with Buster Posey, Angel Villalona, and others, but the one-two pitching punch of Alderson and Bumgarner have, as promised, moved to the East Coast now that the weather has warmed up. Alderson made his Eastern League debut on Sunday, and to say that it was a rousing success is the understatement of the year, as he fired 6 2/3 no-hit innings, walking one and striking out 10. Double-A success is the kind of thing that gets you to the big leagues, and Alderson's status remains what it was entering the year. His ceiling is nowhere close to that of teammate Madison Bumgarner, but he could be closer to the major league rotation.

Phillippe Aumont, RHP, Mariners (High-A High Desert)
Coming into the year, Aumount was the #2 prospect in the Seattle system, and his "glass half-empty" scenario had him ending up as a reliever. Seattle's new administration then made the rarely seen move of converting him to the bullpen this spring-a remarkably early change for such an inexperienced arm. That said, the decision looks like a stroke of genius so far this year. Aumount earned his fifth save of the season on Friday, retiring all four batters he faced, and in his last four games, he's retired 14 of 15 overall. On a scouting level, Aumount has also taken a step forward in shorter stints, as what was once a 92-94 mph power sinker is now sitting at 94-97 mph without losing any movement. His 0.61 ERA in 14 games speaks volumes; the fact that he's doing it at high-octane High Desert says that much more.

Brett Lorin, RHP, Mariners (Single-A Clinton)
This guy is creating an enormous amount of buzz in the Midwest League of late. Then again, when you're 6-foot-7 and roughly 250 pounds, it's hard to miss you. A fifth-round pick last June, Lorin's 89-93 mph fastball has been as high as 95 this year, and his slow, looping curve has been giving Midwest League hitters fits. He tossed seven shutout innings on Friday to lower his ERA to 1.00 in six starts for the LumberKings, and to date he's allowed only 18 hits in 36 innings while striking out 34 and walking six. He's far too good for Single-A, and that needs to be taken into account, but at the same time there are some scouts who still see plenty of room for improvement.

Brian Matusz, LHP, Orioles (High-A Frederick)
One of the biggest surprises of the year thus far may be the fact that Matusz has yet to make the Ten Pack. It's not that he's been bad, he just hasn't yet delivered that one dominating outing that makes you sit up and take notice. That all changed on Friday, as Matusz struck out a career-high 13 over seven innings. While his 3.18 ERA isn't eye-popping, his 45 whiffs in 34 innings show that there is absolutely nothing to worry about here.

Zeke Spruill, RHP, Braves (Single-A Rome)
With their second-round pick in last year's draft, the Braves took a kid out of the famed East Cobb program in Georgia. Big shocker there, huh? A tall, long, projectable right-hander, Spruill had the best outing of his young career on Friday, firing eight shutout innings while giving up only three hits, walking two, and striking out seven. Armed with an 88-93 mph fastball that has heavy sink as well as a solid slider, Spruill has a 1.83 ERA in six games for the R-Braves, striking out 30 over 34 1/3 innings while walking just seven. His changeup is an unrefined third pitch for now, but he's an intriguing arm in a system that's full of them.

Stephen Strasburg, RHP, San Diego State University
In some ways, the last home start of his career was an exclamation point on his season, as Strasburg went out in style with a 17-strikeout no-hitter against Air Force. It was the usual Strasburg, as his fastball sat at 95-98 while touching 101 mph, the curveball was a clear swing-and-miss pitch, and his command was outstanding. It really wasn't any different from any other start, and a horrible opponent played as much of a role in the no-no as anything else, but it helped make Strasburg's numbers that much more ridiculous: 1.24 ERA, 87 1/3 innings, 48 hits, 17 walks, and 164 strikeouts. The Nationals had several representatives at the game, but if anything, it was just to look at the player who will surely be their top pick in the draft. As one veteran baseball insider said on Saturday, "I really have no memory of any draft where the difference between the top pick and whoever you think is number two is this staggering."

Drew Stubbs, OF, Reds (Triple-A Louisville)
Stubbs was batting .176 just two weeks ago, but he's 21-for-48 since, including a 7-for-11, four-double weekend that upped his season stats to an impressive .329/.409/.451. That said, he's a little confusing as prospects go. He's not the Drew Stubbs that was a first-round pick in 2006, he's not an exciting power/speed package anymore (a huge contact problem has been corrected with a much shorter swing), but the power aspect of the equation is gone for Stubbs, who has yet to go deep in 23 games this year. Regardless, he's hitting, he's drawing walks, and he's still one of, if not the best defensive center fielder in the minors. He's not less valuable, he's just different.

Nick Weglarz, OF, Indians (Double-A Akron)
Weglarz would probably like to have a do-over on the first month of the season, as the big Canadian slugger had just about the worst April one could imagine, going 5-for-56 with one home run and 19 strikeouts. That's the kind of start that gets people worrying, but Weglarz has come on like a lion in May, smacking home runs in his first two games of the month, and adding four hits and seven RBI over the weekend. After going 9-for-21 with 18 total bases since the calendar flipped, no one is worrying about him now.

Matt Wieters, C, Orioles (Triple-A Norfolk)
Is the call-up coming soon? Maybe, and maybe not. The Orioles are still playing their cards very close to the vest on this one, but Wieters is definitely finding his groove, and while he's yet to hit a home run in May, he's nonetheless batting .364/.462/.515 in ten games this month. Big-leaguers Greg Zaun and Chad Moeller are combining for a below-700 OPS so far, which might make any call-up decision somewhat easier, no?

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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