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June 1, 2009

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Dustin Ackley, 1B/OF, University of North Carolina
This draft has been very slow to see much separation between the best of the non-Strasburg talent, but Ackley has slowly put himself on the top of the college hitting class. If anything, he put an exclamation point on that crown with a huge weekend in the Tar Heel's sweep in their regional, going 10-for-14 with three doubles and a home run. Now batting .417/.520/.781 in 61 games with 72 runs, 66 RBI, and 49 walks, it's making more sense than ever to see him getting taken with the second overall pick in the draft by Seattle.

Jeremy Barfield, OF, Athletics (Single-A Kane County)
It's strange to see Barfield step up to bat. Physically, he's very different from his brother Josh, being five inches taller and 50 pounds heavier, and thus striking a much more imposing figure at the plate. An eighth-round pick last year out of a Texas junior college, Barfield came into the year with a reputation of being toolsy yet raw, but those tools are really beginning to click, as he went 9-for-13 over the weekend to raise his season line to an impressive .343/.403/.528. He's not your classic A's prospect, but he's damn interesting.

Gordon Beckham, 3B/SS, White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte)
Just when you think you have it all figured out and Beckham moves up to Triple-A and starts playing third base every day, he goes back to shortstop on Sunday. The organization's plans for the 2008 first-round pick remain open to speculation, but at least Beckham continues to do his part by remaining an offensive force, going 7-for-15 with a pair of doubles in his first four International League games. It's hard to figure just when he's going to be in the big leagues, but with each passing day it seems the answer's more on the side of sooner rather than later.

James Darnell, 3B, Padres (Single-A Fort Wayne)
Last year's second-round pick started the year hot, cooled off a bit, and now he's steaming again, having about as good a weekend as one can have by going 9-for-11 with three doubles, a triple, a home run, and three walks. Now batting exactly .300 with precisely a .500 slugging percentage, the one skill that puts Darnell over the top is plate discipline, as his 46 walks in just 160 at-bats ties him for the overall minor league lead and puts his on-base percentage at a robust .457 mark. While that might look like the numbers of a one-dimensional bat-only type, Darnell is actually an excellent athlete with a lot of upside, but at the same time, he doesn't really belong in the Midwest League, so it's hard to figure out just how good he is.

Mat Latos, RHP, Padres (Double-A San Antonio)
The top prospect in the Padres system missed the first month of the year with an ankle issue, and then needed just four starts to prove that a return to A-ball was not needed. What was surprising then was a two-level promotion to the Texas League, but the far more advanced hitters have done nothing to slow Latos down, as he delivered his best start of the year on Friday, allowing just one hit over seven shutout innings against Springfield while walking two and striking out seven. When you balance velocity, movement, and location to make a judgment on him, Latos has the best fastball in the system, and he's made big strides forward with his slider. His timetable seems to be accelerating quickly.

Mike Leake, RHP, Arizona State
Another game meant another dominating performance from Leake, who one day after being named the Pac-10 pitcher of the year for the second straight year began his postseason by tying his season high with 15 strikeouts in a complete-game five-hitter against Oral Roberts. In a non-Strasburg year, Leake's numbers would really stand out, as his ERA sits at a lowly 1.23 (0.09 better than Mr. Strasburg) while he's allowed just 71 hits over 124 2/3 innings while striking out 143 with 20 walks. He's not a huge guy with a ton of projection, but he's hardly a soft-tosser, and while he's not Mr. Helium or anything draft-wise, he's one of those players where it seems as if every week he's up one or two slots, and he could end up going in the first 15 picks next week.

Austin Romine, C, Yankees (High-A Tampa)
While Jesus Montero continued his monster season over the weekend by going 7-for-12 with a home run to raise his averages to .355/.404/.593, his partner in crime at Tampa is having another solid season. Once again sharing catching duties (with Montero DHing when he's not behind the plate), Romine went 5-for-12 with a pair of doubles and a home run during the weekend, and while his .289/.306/.462 line pales in comparison to Montero, it's still very good for a 20-year-old in the Florida State League. More importantly, Romine (unlike Montero) actually projects to stay at catcher down the road, and be a damn good one in the end. Montero has a far better chance of turning into a star, but Romine is the guy who should be considered the Yankees' catcher of the future.

Travis Schlichting, RHP, Dodgers
It's quite possible that Schlichting is just up for 48 hours or so, getting the big call over the weekend and possibly going back down when Hiroki Kuroda returns to the roster to pitch against Arizona. Still, it's a remarkable story that he's even here; a high school teammate of John Danks, Schlicting was a fourth-round pick by the Devil Rays in 2003 as a third baseman, but he just didn't hit enough and ended up moving on to the Angels, who briefly tried to convert him to the mound before releasing him. He pitched in the indie leagues in 2007 with a 5.29 ERA, but Dodgers scouts saw something in his sinker/slider combination to warrant another shot, and he's done nothing but improve since, limiting Double-A hitters to just seven hits in 13 2/3 innings while getting up to 95 mph with his fastball. He might not get into a game this time around, but chances are he'll be back.

Stephen Strasburg, RHP, San Diego State
And so, in the end, Strasburg proved to be mortal, giving up a home run in the first inning, another run in the second due to some sloppy play, and taking his first loss of the season despite striking out 15 in San Diego State's first post-season game in 18 years, and in what ultimately turned out to be the last game of his college career. His final numbers are of course ridiculous, with 195 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 109 innings, and in some ways we're almost sad it's over after tracking every Friday start. A much more prosperous adventure should begin in the next two months.

Angel Villalona, 1B, Giants (High-A San Jose)
While what had been one of the best single-team collections of prospects in recent memory has been broken up for some time, that doesn't mean that San Jose still isn't giving us a box score worth checking out every night. That's because, beyond catcher Buster Posey, 18-year-old first baseman Angel Villalona is still there, and he's still raking. With a 7-for-14 weekend that included two doubles and a home run, Villalona is now hitting .308/.342/.470 in 47 Cal League games, and while he may have been passed by Jesus Montero in the debate over teenage Latin American sluggers, it's certainly not through any fault of his own.

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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