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April 19, 2010

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners (Double-A West Tenn)

So at what point does one get concerned? The second overall pick in last year's draft, Ackley was just as expected in last year's Arizona Fall League, spraying balls all over the field, drawing tons of walks, and leaving a debate as to whether or not he'd hit for much in the power department. This year, however, he's just not hitting at all, and we're left wondering as to when a slump becomes statistically significant. I could easily brush off a start that had Ackley hitting .200 or so, but we're talking .111 here, we're talking 4-for-36 with a double in nine games. Is it indicative of something yet? I don't know, but I'm certainly not brushing it off.

Yonder Alonso, 1B, Reds (Double-A Carolina)

Cincinnati's first-round pick in 2008, Alonso's full-season debut was a disappointment, especially on a power level, but a broken hamate bone was a definite mitigating factor, as hand injuries often sap the strength from a swing for months as they heal. Starting the year in a 4-for-25 slump, the University of Miami product began to turn things around over the weekend, going 6-for-12 with a pair of doubles and two home runs to raise his OPS 414 points in the span of three games. There are still concerns about his struggles against lefties, and it's hard to figure out where his future lies as long as the Reds have Joey Votto around, but things might finally be moving in the right direction.

Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs (Double-A Tennessee)

Castro is already a household name on the north side of Chicago. Last year's showing created plenty of hype, and he was arguably their top hitter this spring before getting reassigned to minor-league camp. Now, with the Cubs two games under .500 against an easy schedule and Ryan Theriot hitting just .235 as the team's shortstop and leadoff man, there are a lot of calls for Castro to get the call, despite the fact that he just turned 20 last month. Back at Double-A to begin the year, Castro is keeping the pressure on management with six multi-hit games in nine contests, and overall averages of .357/.378/.548 to begin the year. While the frustration of Cubs fans is certainly understandable, Castro still has some holes in his game, the biggest one being plate discipline. Castro has drawn just two walks this year, and since the beginning of last season, has worked just 31 walks in 136 games. He's a free swinger who needs to learn how to work the count against more advanced pitching. This was the problem with previous top prospects like Corey Patterson and the Cubs inability to control their excitement and avoid rushing their shiny new toy turned out to be that player's undoing. With or without Starlin Castro, the Cubs aren't in the playoffs this year, so there's no reason to harm the development of a top prospect in the process.

Christian Colon, SS, Cal State Fullerton

In many ways, Colon is this year's Grant Green. He's the best middle infielder in the college class, but that probably says more about the overall class than Colon himself, who, like Green, has not lived up to expectations in his junior year. Colon doesn't match Green on an overall tools level, but he might be a better defender at shortstop, and the bat showed up over the weekend, as he went 6-for-13 with a trio of home runs. He might be a single digit-pick in June based on positional scarcity, but more likely, he'll go somewhere in the early teens, just like Green.

Destin Hood, OF, Nationals (Low-A Hagerstown)

Since singing for a $1.1-million bonus in 2008, Hood has been one of the more up-and-down players in the system. At times, he's looked like one of the best hitting prospects in the system, and at other times he still looks like a football player (he had a scholarship to Alabama in the lesser sport) who is trying to figure out the game. Making his full-season debut in the Sally League, Hood looks more like a baseball player than ever, getting hits in 10 of 11 games, including an incredible weekend than included 10 hits to raise his early-season averages to .417/.429/.563. Despite his athletic pedigree, he's not the tools machine one would expect, as his speed is average, while his arm is below, but his bat speed is outstanding, and with some improvement in his plate discipline, he could really take off.

Cody Johnson, OF, Braves (Double-A Mississippi)

Johnson has more raw power than any prospect in baseball, period. More than Pedro Alvarez. More than Jesus Montero. More than Mike Stanton. The problem, of course, is that he can't make enough contact for it to matter and his first taste of the upper levels has exposed the holes in his swing at an alarming level. Given the day off on Sunday, Johnson has whiffed 12 times in his last four games, and on the season, he's 7-for-32 with 20 strikeouts. As if his .219 batting average isn't bad enough, his .583 BABIP shows that he's already way over his head. He is to power hitters what Joey Gathright is to speedsters, proving that one top-of-the-chart skill isn't always enough.

Miguel Rojas, SS, Reds (High-A Lynchburg)

The 11th-best prospect in the Reds' system, Rojas is one of the best defensive shortstops in all of the minor leagues, but he's a little guy without a lot of offensive potential, so for many, the best projection is as a plus-plus defender with just enough bat to play every day and hit eighth in the lineup. With that said, here we are a week-and-a-half into the season and the 21-year-old Venezuelan is hitting .435 after a weekend in which he went 7-for-11. While many teams don't have a single real shortstop in their minor-league organization, the Reds are suddenly swimming in defensive stalwarts like Rojas and the more advanced Zack Cozart at Triple-A Louisville, while toolsy, athletic talents like Dutch sensation Didi Gregorious and last year's second-round pick, Billy Hamilton, provide plenty of upside from the lower levels. Something will have to break here, but it's always better to have too much talent than not enough. 

Tony Sanchez, C, Pirates (High-A Bradenton)

Heavy rain knocked out most of the Florida State League schedule on Sunday, which temporarily put an end to Sanchez' brief hot streak, as on the first two days of the weekend, the 2009 first-round pick went 4-for-6 with a doubles, two home runs, two walks, five runs scored and five more driven in. Now batting .379/.500/.724, Sanchez has become a bit of a dichotomy this year. Seen as a good bat/great glove catcher coming into the year, Sanchez is bashing in a league where big numbers are hard to come by, but teams are suddenly running on him like their life depends on it, as in just 29 innings behind the plate, Sanchez has allowed 13 stolen bases without gunning a down a single runner. Again, these are early stats, but something just doesn't seem right here.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels (Low-A Cedar Rapids)

The Midwest League consistently rivals the Florida State League as the most offensively limited league, especially in April, when cold weather and swirling winds present additional challenges, especially for the teenagers from places like Texas, Florida, California, and Latin America who have never played where sweatshirts and sleeves are a part of the uniform. While it's been a mild April of late, there have been a number of slow starts nonetheless in the Midwest League, with Trout being one of the few exceptions. A first-round pick last June out of New Jersey, Trout was the talk of Angels' camp this spring, and he's been the talk of the league as well, going 12-for-23 in his last six games with a pair of triples and four stolen bases while looking comfortable beyond his years. As you can infer from the stats, Trout is awfully fast, but he's also a big athlete with power and patience, and the best prospect in the Angels' system.

Joe Wieland, RHP, Rangers (Low-A Hickory)

 The Rangers have one of the best minor-league systems and that's primarily because of a wealth of impressive young arms. Wieland might not be the best known of them, but he is one of the best. A fourth-round pick in 2008, Wieland came to the pros as a raw two-way talent who had never focused on pitching, and while he impressed scouts last season with his size, stuff and projectability, he still finished the year with a 5.31 ERA. Still just 20 years old, Wieland has been putting things together this year, giving up only one run in his first three starts, with Sunday's outing his best of the season as he whiffed nine over 5 2/3 shutout innings while giving up three hits and not issuing a walk. Wieland sits in the low 90s and can touch 93-94 mph with a heavy sinking fastball that's his bread-and-butter, although his hard curveball and changeup have also shown promise. He's still a work in progress, but the raw ingredients for this to be a breakthrough are there.  

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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