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July 26, 2010

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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As we approach the final month of the minor league season, plenty of top prospects have moved up a level; sometimes this is in preparation for a September look—although more often it's a precursor to a bigger role in 2011. For all of us that try to read minor league tea leaves, it's a source of information.

Here are 10 top names—in alphabetical order—who recently got promoted and what, if anything, we can learn from their promotions.

Dustin Ackley, 2B, Seattle Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma)

No highly-regarded prospect had a more brutal start to the season than Ackley, who began the year in an 11-for-79 (.137) slump at Double-A. He made up for it by batting .310 in his next 60 games before moving up, but there are still more questions than answers here. He can hit—there's no doubt about that part—but even scouts who saw last year's second overall pick in the Arizona Fall League last fall didn't see the power they were promised, and this year he's gone deep just three times in 327 at-bats. For now he's a high-average/high-on-base player who fits at the top of the lineup. He's good, but just not the run producer many expected, and he still might need another position switch as reports on his defense aren't exactly glowing.

Zach Britton, LHP, Baltimore Orioles (Triple-A Norfolk)

When one talked about young Orioles' pitchers entering the year, they talked about guys like Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arietta— while maybe mentioning Britton as another guy to watch. At this point, he might be up there with any of them. One of the best ground ball pitchers in the minors, Britton is unique because of his ability to also miss bats. With a 2.05 ERA in four Triple-A starts, he's even drawing some comparisons to a left-handed version of Brandon Webb.

Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (Triple-A Lehigh Valley)

After blowing away the Eastern League during the first half of the season, Brown hit .405/.435/.762 in his first 12 International League games—but then came his first slump of the year, bringing his statistics down to those of mere mortals. Brown snapped out of it over the weekend, going 5-for-11 with two doubles and a home run, and remains the right fielder of the future in Philly, with the start date for that future still to be determined.

Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals (Double-A Northwest Arkasnas)

During a discussion with a scout about Hosmer's breakout year at High-A Wilmington that included a .354/.429/.545 line, I asked if the talent evaluator thought the long-expected power would come, and he responded, "Yes, and as soon as he gets out of Wilmington." That has proved to be quite prophetic; with home runs on Saturday and Sunday, Hosmer now has five home runs in just 42 Texas League at-bats. His combination of contact skills and plus-plus raw power is nearly impossible to find, and he's just another piece of a Royals' puzzle that could be all coming together over the next few years.

Mike Minor, LHP, Atlanta Braves (Triple-A Gwinnett)

Minor's stuff this year has far exceeded all expectations: he's gone from a highly polished pitcher with average stuff to one with the velocity to blow it by hitters when necessary. The 2009 first-round pick has already reached Triple-A in his first full season, and he won't need much more seasoning, with a 2.55 ERA in his first four starts for the G-Braves. The Braves had too much pitching entering the 2010 season, leading to an organization-improving Javier Vazquez trade, and Minor could create a similar surplus next spring.

Will Myers, C, Kansas City Royals (High-A Wilmington)

With Angels outfielder Mike Trout stealing every headline in the Midwest League, Myers was left performing in the shadows, but he was arguably the second-best hitter in the league after the young Angel. He hit .306/.462/.569 in June before moving up while showing off a big league-level approach and plenty of power potential. The tough hitting confines of Wilmington have done little to slow him down; he's hitting .342/.446/.447 in 22 Carolina League games. The only bad news here is that the bat is so far ahead of the glove that a position move, likely to the corner outfield, is in his future—so he'll have to keep mashing.

Miguel Sano, 3B/SS, Minnesota Twins (Rookie-level GCL Twins)

It's not a traditional promotion, but still notable. Last year's top international talent began the year in the Dominican Summer League before moving operations stateside once the complex leagues began. His .288/.333/.500 line in 14 games is impressive enough—but scouts flat out love this guy. Already considerably bigger than the 6-foot-3, 195-pound player he was last year, Sano has already slid from shortstop to third base at times, and is probably a right fielder in the end, but his offensive upside is tremendous. Very few 17 year-olds mash like this kid.

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)

Few thought a move up to the California League would slow down Trout much. It hasn't as he has line of .292/.370/.479 in his first dozen games for the Quakes. The remarkable thing about Trout isn't necessarily the fantastic size, strength and speed as much as it is how actualized it already is. He works the count well, can go the other way with a pitch as easily as he can drive a ball, and his speed is already a weapon both in the field and on the basepaths. He's a fast track player who could be in the big leagues well before his 21st birthday in August, 2012.

Jacob Turner, RHP, Detroit Tigers (High-A Lakeland)

Turner pitched just 11 games and 54 innings at Low-A West Michigan, so it was a bit of a surprise to see Detroit move its prized 2009 first-round pick up to High-A as a 19-year-old. His combination of mid-90s velocity and well above-average control might have made it seem like the Florida State League would be an easy transition for him, but instead he's struggled, getting hit around for a .320 batting average in six starts with a 5.61 ERA. The Tigers are notoriously aggressive with their pitching, but sometimes, it's better to just let a player stay somewhere and dominate for a while.

Josh Vitters, 3B, Chicago Cubs (Double-A Tennessee)

It's tough to end this on a sour note, but alphabetical order can be cruel. Vitters has done little since his power explosion at Low-A last season, and the stock on the 2007 first-round pick is dropping along with his Southern League batting line of .223/.292/.383. He still has the bat speed and the downright pretty swing, but he commits himself to so many bad pitches that he's rarely finding anything he can drive. Unless an extreme change in his approach occurs, he could get caught in the tall weeds—and a reported broken hand suffered over the weekend won't help.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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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