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September 22, 2009

Future Shock

Playoff Stars Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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The minor league playoffs are a fleeting thing. People don't tend to remember who wins, the statistics aren't easy to find, and they're just quickly forgotten as we move onto the Arizona Fall League and next year. Before we totally wipe the slate clean, here are the ten performances from the minor leagues' postseasons worth noting.

Bobby Borchering, 3B, Diamondbacks (Short-Season Missoula)
Seen by many as the top pure high school hitter in this year's draft, Borchering's .241 batting average in 22 regular-season games for the Ospreys could be written off as a small-sample size, rustiness due to the long time off due to his contract negotiations, or any number of factors. The impressive thing is that, of his 21 hits, 11 went for extra bases, and that power continued to show up in the Pioneer League playoffs, as the 18-year-old went 9-for-28, but with just two singles, as he belted four doubles, a triple, a pair of home runs to drive in 10 runs in just six games. His swing-at-everything approach needs to get tightened up, but the bat is pretty special.

Chris Carter, 1B, Athletics (Triple-A Sacramento)
Carter certainly finished the season with a bang. Your minor league leader in total bases for each of the past two years, Carter hit .424/.525/.800 during the month of August for Double-A Midland, and then slugged four home runs in 13 Triple-A games to finish the regular season. He was even better in the playoffs, adding four more bombs in seven games. His sudden ability to hit for average definitely seems to have some basis in reality, as scouts saw a better approach, fewer bad swings, and a sharp decline in him swinging on top of pitches. Is he the 2010 Opening Day first baseman in Oakland? It just might happen.

Travis D'Arnaud, C, Phillies (Low-A Lakewood)
Entering the year as the fourth-best prospect in the system, I certainly was higher on D'Arnaud than most observers, and that high ranking looked foolish as he barely kept his average above the Mendoza line for much of the first half of the year. I was buoyed somewhat this summer by a conversation with a scout who said, "I have no idea how a guy that good is hitting only .200." Happily for all concerned, everything turned around after the All-Star break, as D'Arnaud hit .302/.366/.473 during the second half of the year, and that continued through the playoffs, as the 20-year-old backstop went 9-for-23 (.391) with four doubles. My point is that, despite a final season line of .255/.319/.419, I don't think his stock is down much, if at all.

Jaime Garcia, LHP, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
After years of elbow issues, Garcia finally had a Tommy John procedure at the end of the 2008 season, but he's seemingly back, and now better than ever. While it seems like he's been around forever, he's only 23, and after returning late in the year and making nine regular-season starts across three levels, Garcia was downright dominant in the Pacific Coast League playoffs, firing 12 innings without allowing an earned run while giving up only four hits. He struck out 13, had a ground-ball ratio of nearly 3-to-1, and his unique sinker/curve combination looks as sharp as ever. He'll get a legitimate look next spring, and he could be a big contributor at the big-league level by the time next summer arrives.

Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays (Triple-A Durham)
Hellickson finished the year as one of the hottest pitchers in the game, striking out 41 over 27 innings in his last four starts while limiting batters to just ten hits. That success continued in the playoffs; while Hellickson made only two starts for the eventual International League champs, he struck out 18 more in 12 1/3 innings. Three of the eight hits he gave up were home runs, and he does have a tendency to elevate his pitches at times, but everything else in his scouting reports say he's nearly big-league ready.

Austin Jackson, OF, Yankees (Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre)
Jackson had a good postseason, reaching base 14 times in seven games, and while that might not be exactly worthy of this list, I just wanted to make a point here. For some reason, 2009 became the year to start dismissing Jackson as a prospect, and I just don't understand why. His power dipped to just four home runs, but while moving up to Triple-A he raised his batting average 15 points as part of a .300/.354/.405 overall line, while all of his other ratios remained solid and his scouting report look pretty much like last year's version. Maybe it was the expectation that he'd be in the big leagues this year, but the emergence of Brett Gardner had more to do with Jackson staying in the minors than how well Jackson has played.

David Lough, OF, Royals (Double-A Northwest Arkansas)
Lough is such a mixed bag as a prospect. Clearly the breakout hitter in the Royals' system this year, he hit .325/.370/.496 across two levels with 14 home runs and 19 stolen bases; he's also arguably the best athlete in the organization. At the same time, his small-college background leaves him as a player who turns 24 in January with only 61 games of experience in the upper levels, and an impatient approach (24 walks in 458 at-bats this year) that concerns onlookers. The total package is eerily similar to that of David DeJesus, and while that's hardly a world beater, it's not a bad thing either.

Logan Morrison, 1B, Marlins (Double-A Jacksonville)
Morrison was reduced to half of a season by a wrist injury, but he remained an on-base machine upon his return, including a .277/.411/.442 line for the Suns. In seven playoffs games, he had a .515 on-base percentage by going 9-for-25 with eight walks, but there's still an open question about his power potential. The wrist injury certainly didn't help, and he hit plenty of home runs in last year's Arizona Fall League, but at the same time, he has just 21 home runs in his last 212 minor league games. Are the crazy-good on-base skills enough to compensate for it? Not if he's a first base-only type (which he is), and that's why I have a hard time putting him in that elite-level category.

Tyson Ross, RHP, Athletics (Double-A Midland)
Can I start picking guys for 2010 breakouts? If so, let me throw a few chips down on Ross. A second-round pick in 2008 out of the University of California, Ross is a bit of a conundrum on a scouting level, as he's a long-bodied, powerful righty with a very good sinker/slider combination, but he's also a guy with questionable mechanics, and thus questionable command and control. The A's made some changes with him following a promotion to Double-A late in the season, and he responded by delivering shutout performances in three of his last four starts with a huge ground-ball ratio of nearly 3 to 1. That ratio shot up to 3.5-to-1 in a pair of playoff stars, while he began to miss bats as well, recording 19 whiffs in 12 1/3 innings. All systems could be go for a 2010 takeoff.

Carlos Santana, C, Indians (Double-A Akron)
Santana was the easy choice for Eastern League MVP this year, as he hit .290/.413/.530 in 130 games, and he followed that by pacing the eventual league champs with three home runs in seven post-season games while reaching base 14 times. The only question at this point is when he arrives in the big leagues. Lou Marson is Cleveland's likely big-league starter to begin the 2010 season, but one way or another that doesn't seem like it will last long.

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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