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July 5, 2011

Future Shock

Tuesday-Morning Ten-Pack for 7/5/11

by Kevin Goldstein

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Kyle Blanks, 1B/OF, Padres (Triple-A Tucson)
He just can't stay here much longer. Anthony Rizzo had many people all but forgetting about Blanks during the first part of the season, but Blanks has, for lack of a better phrase, gone completely nuts at Triple-A. He went 9-for-18 with four home runs over the weekend, is batting .411/.477/.884 in 24 games since arriving in Tucson, and Rizzo is batting .174 in 23 big-leagues games. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what the right move is on an immediate basis, but finding out what to do with both players could prove to be a bit more challenging down the road.

Cody Buckel, RHP, Rangers (Low-A Hickory)
You ever sit around wondering if it's even possible for the Rangers to have even more talented young arms to talk about? The answer, of course, is yes. A second-round pick last year out of a Southern California High School, Buckel began the year pitching out of the Hickory bullpen, but he joined the rotation in May and has seen his stock skyrocket. He has a 1.98 ERA in eight starts, including Friday night's outing that included a career-high 10 strikeouts in 5 1/3 one-hit innings. While hardly a monster on a scouting level, Buckel does have above-average velocity and command, as well as a good breaking ball and advanced changeup for his age. He just turned 19 in mid-June, and in a system loaded with young, talented pitchers, he's now more than just another name in the crowd.

Michael Choice, OF, Athletics (High-A Stockton)
Choice hit home runs on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, which gives him 20 on the year in 305 at-bats as part of an overall line of .256/.359/.518 in 77 games. If you are a fan of Three True Outcome types, Choice is your man: With 44 walks and a whopping 91 strikeouts, he's going yard, whiffing, or trotting down to first in nearly 45 percent of his plate appearances, and his long-term value might depend on his ability to play center field. Right now, he's a bit like Mike Cameron without the speed or crazy defense, and those two aspects are a big part of what made Cameron so damn good in the first place.

Cito Culver, SS, Yankees (Short-season Staten Island)
Sometimes it seems like Culver was written off before he had a chance to prove anyone wrong. Sure, nobody saw him as a first-round talent last year except for the Yankees, but that was more because of his baseball skills than his tools. He's a smooth shortstop with a rocket arm, and at least an average runner, so now we have to figure out if he can hit. Last year's GCL debut was a mixed bag, but Culver has made clear progress this summer, recovering from an ugly start to go 9-for-18 over the weekend and lift his season averages to .288/.346/.356 in 17 games. I'm not saying he's the next big thing as much as I'm saying it's very easy to make quick reactions, and that's fine as long as you are willing to keep an open mind.

Khris Davis, OF, Brewers (High-A Brevard County)
A seventh-round pick in 2009 out of Cal State Fullerton, Davis hit an impressive .280/.398/.499 for Low-A Wisconsin last year. He entered the year as the 13th-best prospect in a bad Brewers system, as college players from major programs are supposed to hit in the Midwest League. As a 23-year-old in the Florida State League, Davis is still old for the level, but he doesn't control where he plays; all he can do is hit, and he's doing just that. With three home runs in his last five games, Davis is hitting .331/.429/.568 in 75 games, and at some point it's going to be time to take the league leader in both on-base percentage and slugging seriously. He's not especially big or toolsy, but he keeps proving he really can hit, and a promotion to Double-A with continued production could finally put him on the map.

Juan Duran, OF, Reds (Low-A Dayton)
Duran was one of the biggest international signings in 2008 when he received a $2 million bonus, but his career has been defined by his size more than anything else. A 6-foot-3 classic toolsy outfielder when he first signed, he's now 6-foot-7, and the new height led to serious problems both in the field and at the plate, as he went from lanky to gangly and awkward. Still just 19, Duran seems to slowly be finding himself comfortable in his own skin. After hitting .214 in April, he's been among the most dangerous hitters in the league, going 6-for-15 with three home runs over the weekend to lift his season line to .269/.359/.489. Billy Hamilton and Yorman Rodriguez were supposed to be the big stories this year at Dayton, but Duran has been stealing the show lately.

Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals (Double-A Harrisburg)
The first overall pick in the 2010 draft and top prospect in the game, Harper had been hampered with a bruised thumb of late, but with two hits on Saturday and Sunday, he lifted his season averages to .318/.423/.554. That wasn't really the story, though; on Sunday night he was told he'd been promoted to Double-A. He’s the youngest player in the league by far, and went 2-for-3 with a walk in his Harrisburg debut. While there were some understandable thoughts that the Nationals skipped Harper past High-A Potomac due to issues with the home facilities, make no mistake, Harper is more than talented enough to handle Double-A. That might be a pessimistic assessment; nobody should be surprised if he continues to post a 900+ OPS. He's still on pace for a late 2012 big-league debut, and nothing about Harper’s game says he won't be a superstar.

L.J. Hoes, OF, Orioles (Double-A Bowie)
A third-round pick in 2008, Hoes was expected to build on a semi-breakout 2010 season, but he never got on track at High-A Frederick, hitting a miserable .241/.297/.342 in 41 games. The Orioles mysteriously promoted the 21-year-old to the Eastern League despite the lack of performance, and after hitting .185 in his first 16 games for the Baysox, he's been amongst the top hitters in the league, batting .419 since that low-water mark, including a 10-for-16 weekend to lift his Bowie line to .320/.378/.367 in 35 games. That would be a lovely line for a second-base prospect, which Hoes was entering the year, but his infield struggles have led him to more playing time in the outfield, and now the lack of power in his game becomes a major factor in his projection. It's hard to find a more mixed bag with Hoes in terms of both position switches and streakiness, but for now, all we can say is that he's hitting.

Austin Kirk, LHP, Cubs (Low-A Peoria)
A third-round pick in 2009, Kirk played his high school ball at Owasso High in Oklahoma, which also produced the Cardinals’ first-rounder from 2007, Peter Kozma, and more famously, this year's top high school pitcher in the draft, the Orioles’ Dylan Bundy. While Kirk has been good all year, he made headlines on Monday by firing Peoria’s first nine-inning no-hitter since 1988 while walking two and striking out 10. Though his fastball is just an average pitch, he has the ability to spin a breaking ball and combine it with above-average command and control, which has led to his 2.60 ERA in 17 games while limiting the league to a .189 batting average. His ceiling is a fourth or fifth starter, but on Monday, Kirk was the best pitcher in the minors.

Hayden Simpson, RHP, Cubs (AZL Cubs)
Not all news was good over the holiday; Simpson was torched for six runs on Friday—he didn’t escape the second inning—to raise his ERA to 5.72. The surprise pick of the first round last year, Simpson has been nothing close to the pitcher he was last spring; his fastball, which consistently sat in the mid-90s in college, now falls in the 83-88 mph range. He had an ugly bout with mononucleosis last summer, but one year later and 12 mph less on the heater leaves reason to believe there might be something else going on here. Simpson was shipped to the Cubs’ spring training complex over the weekend, where they’ll attempt to figure things out, but he's suddenly in the tall, tall weeds.  

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Cody Buckel

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