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August 11, 2008

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Blake Beavan, RHP, Low-A Clinton (Rangers)
On the surface, Beavan is having an outstanding full-season debut. On Friday, he struck out a career-high nine batters over six shutout innings to lower his ERA to 2.28 in 19 starts for the LumberKings, while limiting Midwest League hitters to a .230 batting average. Still, scouts are wondering what happened to last year's high school power pitcher who was consistently hitting the mid-90s with his fastball. On Friday, Beavan was at 88-92 mph, actually a step up from where's he's been in the recent past. He's now succeeding on sink, absolutely impeccable command and control, and much-improved secondary stuff, including a nice slider and changeup. Whether that makes him better or worse as a prospect is debatable, but it certainly makes him different, and we'll probably need another year before we consider adding him to the long list of players who hit their peak velocity while still in high school.

Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Low-A Augusta (Giants)
Saturday was really just another day at the office for Bumgarner: eight shutout innings, six hits, eight whiffs, and no walks. It was his third straight scoreless outing without issuing a walk, and he hasn't giving up an earned run in 11 of his last 18 starts. As strange as this might sound, Bumgarner's minor league-leading 1.59 ERA doesn't really do justice to how dominant he's been. The 2007 first-round pick got off to a slow start, allowing 10 runs over 11 2/3 frames in his first three starts, but since then his mark is 0.96 in 18 starts. That's Bob Gibson territory, and his 133/18 K/BB is in the stratosphere as well. He's not only the best prospect in the Giants system, but rates as one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball.

Chris Carter, 1B, High-A Stockton (Athletics)
Carter has been a Hot Sheet regular this year-when he gets hot, he really gets hot, and he's hot again, going deep Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; he's gone 14-for-34 with six home runs and 34 total bases in his last eight games. Now batting .273/.371/.592 for the Ports, Carter leads the California League in home runs (34), extra-base hits (65), runs (89), and RBI (97), while also holding the lead in the "most home runs by a prospect" race (only Dallas McPherson and Nelson Cruz have more in the minor leagues). Oakland continues to search for a defensive home for Carter, as he's been seeing significant time at third base and the outfield of late, and while he's not good at either position, with this kind of bat, it's just not going to matter much.

Aaron Cunningham, OF, Triple-A Sacramento (Athletics)
The A's shuffled around several players between affiliates over the past week, some involving top prospects. Newly-acquired infielder Adrian Cardenas advanced to Double-A (going 5-for-11 over the weekend), while Cunningham continued to move up, getting promoted to the Pacific Coast League after batting .317/.386/.507 for Double-A Midland. Making a strong first impression, he went 5-for-10 with three doubles, a home run, and five walks in his first three games for the RiverCats over the weekend. The best comp I've heard for him from a scout is that he's a right-handed version of Travis Buck. Here's hoping that comparison doesn't come with the same sophomore slump, as Cunningham is lining himself up to be a legitimate contender for a big-league job next spring.

Alcides Escobar, SS, Double-A Huntsville (Brewers)
Matt LaPorta is now in the Cleveland system, while Mat Gamel, arguably the most productive hitter during the first half of the season, has hit an extended, wretched slump, going 9-for-77 (.117) in his last 22 games. That doesn't mean that Milwaukee's Southern League affiliate isn't still prospect-laden, though, and Escobar has been the best of the bunch of late. Eight hits over the weekend and a 19-for-43 (.442) mark in his last 12 games have raised his averages to .343/.377/.452. In many ways, Escobar has to keep this up; while he's an excellent basestealer, that's really his only notable secondary skill, as he's lacking in both the power and patience departments. Already one of the best defensive players in the minors, Escobar easily projects as an everyday big-league shortstop, and this offensive breakout marks him now as a number-two hitter instead of a bottom-of-the-order type, exponentially enhancing his stock as a prospect.

Tommy Hanson, RHP, Double-A Mississippi (Braves)
Hanson got off to a ridiculous start at High-A Myrtle Beach this year, then hit a few bumps following a mid-May promotion to Double-A. Those bumps are now well behind him, and on Sunday Hanson struck out 10 over six shutout innings, his third straight double-digit strikeout performance. Since giving up six runs over five innings on June 18, he has a 1.52 ERA in seven starts, allowing just 22 hits in 41 1/3 frames and punching out 58. As if Hanson's three-pitch combination of a 90-95 mph fastball, a well above-average curve, and plus changeup wasn't terrifying enough, he's now added a slider under the tutelage of pitching coach Derek Botelho, and that is flashing as a plus pitch as well. He projects as a number-two starter at this point, and should see the big leagues sometime in 2009.

Wilkin Ramirez, OF, Double-A Erie (Tigers)
The Tigers have always seen Ramirez as one of the better high-ceiling players in their system. On paper he has above-average power, speed, and arm strength, but an inability to stay healthy or control the strike zone has prevented him from developing as expected. This year, the 22-year-old Dominican has stayed in the lineup and seems to be breaking out, currently batting .309/.374/.555 in the Eastern League and placing himself among the league leaders in batting, slugging, home runs, and stolen bases (23) after a monster weekend in which he went 8-for-13 with four home runs and eight driven in. Plate discipline is still an issue-in 93 games he's struck out 113 times while drawing 36 walks-but everything else about his game has him back on the prospect radar.

Ricky Romero, LHP, Triple-A Syracuse (Blue Jays)
Maybe this is going to work out after all. The sixth overall pick in 2005, Romero had done little since signing for a $2.4 million bonus, but he's suddenly showing some signs of life. While he had a 4.96 ERA at Double-A, Romero reeled off quality starts in five of his last six starts for New Hampshire to earn his first Triple-A look, and he's making the most of that opportunity. In his third start for the Chiefs on Friday, Romero struck out a season-high ten over seven innings while allowing two runs on five hits, and in 17 innings for Syracuse, he's striking out a batter per inning, limiting league hitters to a .226 mark, and compiling a ground-ball ratio of more than two-to-one. Romero is unique in that his fastball is no more than average at best, but his secondary stuff is outstanding, including a plus curveball and an even better change. He still doesn't project as more than a number three or four starter in the big leagues, but he's no longer looking like a completely wasted pick.

Pablo Sandoval, C, Double-A Connecticut (Giants)
Every once in a while, a squirrel finds a nut. Sandoval hit .287/.312/.476 last year at High-A, and as a switch-hitting catcher with power and good scouting reports, I ranked him as the ninth-best prospect in the Giants system. From what I can tell, I was pretty much the only one to see this coming. Sandoval continued to mash at San Jose this year, batting .359/.412/.597 and making the Futures Game roster, and he's quickly proving that it's no California League fluke. With an 8-for-11 weekend that included a pair of home runs, the 22-year-old Sandoval is now batting .339/.367/.556 in the more challenging Eastern League, and starting to make his case for Giants catcher of the future-not that there's much competition.

John Shelby Jr., OF, High-A Winston-Salem (White Sox)
Shelby isn't a great prospect, but at this point a good prospect is more than enough in a rather horrible White Sox system. Shelby went deep in all three of his games over the weekend, giving him 13 on the year to go with a .285/.327/.489 batting line and 28 stolen bases in 33 attempts. An infielder in college, Shelby was converted to the outfield last year, but has disappointed in center so far, leaving many to wonder if he'll become enough of a hitter for a corner. If he's similar to anyone, it's his father (without the switch-hitting skills), and that should be good for some kind of career. [Ed. note: Yeah, we know, that's the original John Shelby in the photo.]

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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