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June 28, 2010

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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In the spirit of the Future Game rosters being announced last week, here's a special edition Ten Pack featuring five names from each roster that made some noise over the weekend.

Henderson Alvarez, RHP, Blue Jays (High-A Dunedin)

Alvarez's stuff has taken a step forward this year, as his fastball has been consistently sitting in the low 90s and sometimes touching 96 mph, but the results haven't come along with the increase. Undersized for a right-hander and without much deception in his delivery, Alvarez's seven strikeouts on Friday represented a season-high for the Venezuelan, as he's whiffed 47 in 65 1/3 innings. At times, he can be guilty of throwing too many strikes, as he's yet to learn how to take advantage of hitters when ahead in the count. Scouts like the stuff, and almost universally project for enough improvement down the road for him to become a solid big-league starter.

Simon Castro, RHP, Padres (Double-A San Antonio)
When the Padres skipped Castro all the way up to Double-A to begin the year, it showed a lot of confidence in the 22-year-old Dominican, but even San Diego has to be pleasantly surprised at this point. On Friday, Castro had arguably his best outing of the year, striking out eight over five one-hit innings to lower his ERA to 2.69 while the Texas League is batting a paltry .202 against him. At 6-foot-5 and far bulkier than his listed weight of 210 pounds, Castro is a pure power pitcher with two plus pitches in his fastball/slider combination, but what makes him potentially special is that he's one of the rare prospects of his ilk who also features well above-average command and control. He could be a permanent fixture in the big leagues as early as next year, and has the potential to attend plenty of All-Star festivities as a big leaguer.

Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays (Triple-A Durham)
As it stands, there's just still no room for him in the big leagues. With nearly any other team he'd be up, as Hellickson is one of the hottest pitchers in the minors. After allowing four hits and an unearned run on Friday, Hellickson's ERA in his last seven starts sits at 1.01. He's not mind-blowing on a stuff level, but unlike most pitchers, he simply has no real weakness, as his fastball, curve and changeup all rate as above average, while his command grades out much higher than that. He might be the most polished pitcher in the minors, and he's close to all but forcing his way into the Rays’ rotation.

Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals (High-A Wilmington)
Hosmer had a double on Friday, two hits (including a double) on Saturday, and a single on Sunday, giving him hits in all but one game this month, with his triple-slash line remaining among the best in the minors at .357/.424/.538. Considered the top power prospect in the 2008 draft, Hosmer has just four home runs in 277 at-bats, but scouts haven't downgraded his power potential yet, pointing at a brutal home park and 26 doubles, many of which should turn into home runs down the road. The minor leagues don't have a comeback player award, but if they did, Hosmer would be a top candidate after last year's nightmare of a full-season debut.

Brett Jackson, OF, Cubs (Double-A Tennesee)
After getting plunked in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday, Jackson needed a day off on Sunday, but he got the day off for all the right reasons, as it was time to pack his stuff for a move to Double-A. Jackson had clearly become too good for the Florida State League, batting .410 in his last 20 games while slugging .783, and scouts who have seen him of late are absolutely baffled as to how he lasted 31 picks in last year's draft. He strikes out more than one would like, but that might be the only hole in his game, as he's a patient hitter with at least average raw power, well above-average speed, good center field skills, and a strong arm. Right now, it's a nearly perfect combination of tools and production, and if he can keep producing in the Southern League, next year's spring training could be interesting.

Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Cubs (Low-A Peoria)
While Lee's .276/.344/.346 batting line with 23 errors might not seem Futures Game worthy, he's been generating a ton of buzz. Only 19 years old, the South Korea native doesn't have the experience of most his age, but he'll show you something almost every night to get excited about. Sure, that's a lot of errors, but he likely leads all Midwest League shortstops in web gem-worthy plays, is a plus-plus runner with a rocket for an arm, and has an idea at the plate to go with a quick line-drive swing. He's clearly getting better as the season wears on, and after a pair of multi-hit games over the weekend, he's hitting .333/.398/.360 in June.

Andy Oliver, LHP, Tigers
Oliver was selected to the Futures Game in his first full season, but he'll almost certainly need to be replaced, as he made his big-league debut on Friday, and while he took the loss, impressed everyone in attendance. “My first question is how the heck did this guy last to the second round and 58th pick of last year's draft?” asked one scout behind home plate on Friday, although to be fair, the Tigers gave Oliver a first round-worthy bonus of nearly $1.5 million. The knock against Oliver coming into the year was that he had special arm strength for a left-hander and little else, but the scout saw something rarely seen in Oliver during his college days—a real breaking ball. “His first pitch was 95 mph and he sat at 93-97 the whole game with an above-average and occasionally plus hard curveball,” said the scout. “The bottom line is that he's facing a first-place team in their home park in his first ever big-league start and he showed special stuff with the ability to compete. He has a chance to be a middle-to-top of the rotation guy for a long time.”

Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies (Double-A Tulsa)
Between a day off on Friday and rain on Sunday, Rosario played in just one game over the weekend, but he made it count, as he blasted a pair of home runs in a 12-9 loss to Springfield. The 21-year-old Dominican remains arguably the best catching prospect nobody seems to talk about, as he's hitting .282/.337/.505 and using his plus arm to gun down 42.6 percent of opposing base stealers. One could argue that he could use a more patient approach, but he's a catcher, and finding one without something to nitpick is nearly impossible. As it is, his combination of offensive and defensive skills is a rarity.

Eduardo Sanchez, RHP, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
It was a good week for Sanchez, who not only was selected to the Futures Game, but got moved up to Triple-A and struck out two during a perfect inning of relief in his Pacific Coast League debut. Less than 6-feet tall and slightly built, Sanchez almost defies physics by getting into the mid 90s nearly every time out while adding a plus slider and having both pitches play up due to an ability to throw strikes. Don't be surprised to see him pitching some important big-league innings come September.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels (Low-A Cedar Rapids)
Trout went 6-for-14 with a pair of doubles and three stolen bases over the weekend, but that's nothing new, as the 2009 first-round pick is now batting .373/.450/.554 with 37 stolen bases in 69 games. Nobody in the Midwest League is generating scouting reports anywhere close to Trout's, and in the span of fewer than three months, he's gone from an intriguing, toolsy outfielder to one of the best prospects still in the minors.  

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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