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March 28, 2011

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Trevor Bauer, RHP, UCLA
While Gerrit Cole is getting all of the attention in the Bruins rotation, Bauer has actually outpitched him on a statistical level, including a one-hitter on Saturday in which he retired the first 19 batters he faced, took a no-hitter into the eighth, and finished with 14 strikeouts to become the school's all-time leader in that category. While his 1.13 ERA in six starts and 72 whiffs in 47 2/3 innings impress, his stuff isn't near that of Cole, but it's awfully good, with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and solid-average secondary stuff. Jason Parks detailed the funk in his delivery, but as one scout says, “It seems to work for him,” as he's now firmly in the mix to be a first-round pick.

Brandon Beachy, RHP, Braves
While it was an open competition, it was still a surprise to see Beachy beat out lefty Mike Minor for the final slot in the Atlanta rotation. Both pitched well this spring, but Beachy put an exclamation mark on his spring Friday by tossing six shutout innings to lower his ERA to 1.13 in 16 innings while allowing just seven hits. That said, it's 16 innings, and Minor threw just 10, and should we really be judging off such small samples? Minor is the better prospect, and it's doubtful that service time played a big role in the decision; the team opened last season with Jason Heyward, and without him in April for service-time issues, they wouldn't have been in the postseason. The point might be moot, with Minor in line to break camp with Atlanta should Jair Jurrjens be unable to go, but he's more likely to make an impact this year than Beachy.

Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants
While plenty of roster announcements throughout the majors have been announced, Belt remains in limbo. With two hits on Friday and Saturday offsetting a Sunday 0-fer, Belt has hit .292/.343/.508 this spring, leaving scouts more convinced than ever that last year's breakout campaign was the real deal. While he's still likely to start the year at Triple-A on a plan similar to what the club did last year with Buster Posey, outfielder Cody Ross' injury could end up giving Giants fans an earlier-than-expected glimpse of the future.

Andrew Chafin, LHP, Kent State
Chafin is suddenly becoming a pop-up guy in the draft, moving slowly but steadily up the ladder, and even more so after Friday, when he struck out 15 in a four-hit shutout against Toledo that required just 113 pitches, 88 of which were strikes. A draft-eligible sophomore after missing the 2010 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Chafin has a minuscule 0.53 ERA in 33 2/3 innings while allowing 18 hits and striking out 42, and on a stuff level, he's showing a 90-92 mph fastball with heavy movement, touching 94, and striking out hitters with a plus slider. He's not in the first round yet, and the red flag of the elbow injury could keep him just on the outside all spring, but he could end up a first-day pick.

Tim Collins, LHP and Aaron Crow, RHP, Royals
While prospect watchers salivate at the Kansas City lineup of the future, their bullpen suddenly got very young; it was reported that Collins made the big-league roster, with Crow likely to join him barring an unexpected roster move. While it's impossible to dislike a 5-foot-7 pitcher like Collins, he also validates a personal list, as I ranked him as the 11th-best prospect in the Toronto system two years ago when many still saw him as a sideshow. I noted that he'd have to prove it at every level, and he has done that with a career minor-league strikeout rate of 13.3 per nine. The bigger surprise is Crow, who has a 5.73 ERA last year to go along with a late-season demotion from Double- to Low-A. The good news was that his stuff was always there, and it has remained so, while even ramping up a bit in relief stints; his fastball has been consistently in the mid-90s and his slider remains plus. His big-league status is still tentative, but he could be one of many good stories to come from the Kansas City youth movement this year.

Brad Emaus, 2B, Mets
Emaus has seemingly won the second-base job in New York while also serving as a prime example of what small spring sample sizes we are dealing with. Four days ago he was hitting an ugly .216/.341/.270, but with four hits on Thursday and a double on Saturday... voila! He's at .289/.396/.444 and the second baseman of the future! Scouts that have seen Emaus this spring haven't been impressed. “He just has zero range, is throwing up home-to-first times in the upper 4s, and doesn't really have power,” said one scout who recently saw Emaus. “He works the count and can have a high OBP, but he's basically Scott Hatteberg at second base.” That assessment was surely the strangest comp of the spring.

Mikie Mahtook, OF, Louisiana State
Usually a national powerhouse, the Tigers are suddenly freefalling, losing six of their last seven games (including two of three over the weekend against a mediocre-at-best Georgia team). One of the lone bright spots on the team has been Mahtook, who went 5-for-11 with a pair of home runs during the series to raise his season averages to .365/.476/.741. His tools might leave him just outside the first round, as he's more of a player without a below-average tool than one loaded with plus ones, but in a pitching-heavy draft, he could move up due to the scarcity of bats.

Brent Morel, 3B, White Sox
Morel was expected to win the third-base job for the White Sox, and he has done everything to prove why. He's in the midst of a 17-for-43 hot streak that has brought his spring average up to .313. At the same time, his overall line of .313/.338/.375 shows the weaknesses in his game, as 16 of his 20 hits have been singles, and he has drawn just two walks in 64 at-bats. He's a big makeup guy who plays hard, he's a good defender, and he can put a bat on a ball, but his lack of secondary skills could leave him in the second division when it comes to starters at the hot corner.

Ivan Nova, RHP, New York Yankees
While there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the back of the Yankee rotation this spring, Nova has been strangely good, with a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings while allowing just 11 hits. However, he only has nine strikeouts. The lack of whiffs is a bit of a mystery that is continuing from last year, as while Nova can get up to the mid-90s, has a good breaking ball, and has added a cutter to the mix this spring, he's still not missing many bats. He's obviously not going to have a 1.80 ERA during the regular season, but the question remains of just how high it will go without the expected strikeouts.

Justin Smoak, 1B, Mariners
Smoak has entered that strange purgatory where he's no longer a prospect and far from a proven big-leaguer. His .218/.307/.371 line in nearly 400 big-league plate appearances last year was far under expectations, and while he has been handed the first-base job in Seattle, much of his spring has left more questions than answers. Despite going 4-for-8 with a pair of doubles in his last two games, he's still hitting just .244/.367/.390. Multiple scouts have wondered if he is, as one talent evaluator coined, “passively pressing,” by working the count too deep while waiting for the perfect pitch, and trying to hit the ball 500 feet when he gets something in the wheelhouse. There's still plenty of talent here, but trying to predict what he'll do this year is getting closer and closer to a dart throw.

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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