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June 29, 2009

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Jeff Bianchi, SS, Royals (Double-A Northwest Arkansas)
You really can't get hotter than this, folks. After resurrecting his prospect status by hitting .300/.360/.427 at High-A Wilmington this spring, Bianchi has been absolutely torrid since his promotion to the Texas League, going 8-for-10 over the weekend, including a 5-for-5 effort on Saturday. His averages now sit at .556/.600/.778 in his first nine Double-A games, as he's gone 20-for-36 with five doubles and a home run. One scout who has been watching Bianchi play for years sees a much better approach, saying, "He used to be a guy who just went up there hacking-almost jumpy-but he has a much better plate presence now, he's slowing the game down, and is far more comfortable deep in the count."

Tim Federowicz, C, Red Sox (High-A Salem)
A seventh-round pick last year out of North Carolina, Federowicz came into pro ball with a reputation as a solid defensive player with just enough bat to profile as a big-league backup. While the first part of that equation remains true, it's time to upgrade the offensive reviews. Federowicz began the year by batting .345/.393/.562 at Low-A Greenville, and while the excitement that line creates needs to be tempered some for a player from a big-time school in Low-A, he's keeping up his end of the bargain since a promotion to the Carolina League, going 7-for-16 with four doubles over the weekend in his first three games for Salem. The jury is still out on how real this all is, but at least they're talking about it.

Tom Gorzelanny, LHP, and Ian Snell, RHP, Pirates (Triple-A Indianapolis)
After whiffing 12 in five innings on Saturday, Gorzelanny's dominant performance was quickly overshadowed when Snell, in his first minor league outing since August of 2005, struck out 17 in seven innings, including 13 in a row at one point (the major league record is 10, held by Tom Seaver), while sitting at 94 mph, touching 96, and showing outstanding command. There is a third player in this story, however, and that's Indy's opponent over the weekend. Not only do the Toledo Mud Hens lead all teams in the International League in strikeouts, but they do so at a remarkable pace, averaging 9.3 punchouts per game. So, while we got to see fantastic performances by two pitchers who could still be important pieces of the Pittsburgh pitching puzzle, there is some additional context here from the simple fact of who they were facing.

Gorkys Hernandez, CF, Pirates (Double-A Altoona)
While a good deal of attention from the Nate McLouth trade has centered on big-leaguer Charlie Morton, it's Hernandez who was the best prospect Pittsburgh received in the deal. After getting off to a slow start with his new organization, Hernandez has picked it up of late, going 9-for-18 in his last five games, while one scout who recently saw him said that he was among the best defensive center fielders he's seen all year. Where Hernandez fits in an outfield that already has Andrew McCutchen, a center fielder with his kind of profile-only better-is a big question, but for now Pittsburgh's job is to simply accumulate the talent, and they can figure out what to do with it further down the road.

Desmond Jennings, OF, Rays (Double-A Montgomery)
After flirting with .400 as late as May, it was clear that Jennings was going to come down to earth, but it happened more quickly than expected, as he entered the weekend in a 1-for-17 slump and was batting just .220 during June. Over the weekend, Jennings seems to have found his stroke, recording three straight multi-hit games for the first time since early May to bring his averages up to .325/.401/.497 with 28 stolen bases in 32 attempts. It's a far cry from the insane numbers that we saw earlier in the year, but it's still a significant breakout.

Casey Kelly, RHP/SS, Red Sox (High-A Salem)
Kelly lowered his Carolina League ERA to 2.02 on Saturday with seven one-hit innings, retiring the first 18 batters he faced for the second time this month. He's been nothing short of excellent on the mound this year, but the bad news is that he only has two starts left, as Red Sox officials have him lined up for two more before being scheduled to pitch one inning in next month's Future Game. After that, the Red Sox will stick to the plan they made with Kelly prior to the season, and he'll head to the Gulf Coast League to get his timing back and play full-time as a shortstop for the rest of the year, probably back at Single-A Greenville. The good news is that his right arm will stay fresh with less than 100 innings on the season, but it's still hard to wrap one's head around the conversion, other than for the fact that a deal is a deal and it's something Kelly still wants to prove. The belief is that he'll dedicate himself to one role or the other next year, but for now one is reminded of the musical career of Beck, where once in a while he'll make a country record, and while it's perfectly solid and comes with the occasional gem of a song, it's not what he's really good at.

Lake Elsinore (Padres) 33, High Desert (Mariners) 18
It was 100 degrees with the wind blowing out in the best hitter's park in professional baseball? This is what you get. The box score is just the gift that keeps on giving. The two teams went a combined 58-for-113 at the plate, with 18 doubles, three triples, and 10 home runs. High Desert's James McOwen went 2-for-6 to extend his hitting streak to a California League-record 36 games. High Desert catcher Jose Yepez went 3-for-4 with a home run, but he also took the mound for a spell, facing six batters, of whom four took him deep. Runs were scored in 13 of 18 frames, yet somehow neither team plated a run in the sixth or seventh innings. Nine players had four-hit games, and 11 drove in three or more runs. It's just a stupid, ridiculous game that teaches us nothing, but as far as the most entertaining box score of the year, it wins hands-down.

Josh Vitters, 3B, Cubs (Single-A Peoria)
Vitters earned nearly daily mention during the hottest streak of the year when he hit 10 home runs in 15 games in May, but that was followed by a slump, and he entered this weekend's games at Wisconsin hitting just .195 in June without a home run in 19 contests. Whatever was wrong, the 2007 first-round pick took a step forward in correcting it, going deep on Friday and Saturday, and 7-for-15 overall, to boost his averages to .316/.351/.535 in 70 games for the Chiefs. Whether slumping or hot, he remains the best prospect in the Cubs' system.

Jemile Weeks, 2B, Athletics (High-A Stockton)
Is anybody noticing this? I constantly hear from readers and people in the business about nearly every top prospect around, but nobody has brought up Weeks. Since making his debut at the end of May, it's hard to find a guy more locked in at the plate; the 2008 first-round pick has begun his year with a 22-game hitting streak during which he is hitting .400/.481/.711. His bat speed is outstanding, his power (seven home runs in 90 ABs) is even better than expected, and his defense at second base has been surprisingly solid, as he's committed just two errors. If you're keeping your own charts for either real or fantasy purposes, move this guy way up.

Travis Wood, LHP, Reds (Double-A Carolina)
A second-round pick in 2005, Wood is a short lefty with a good changeup, but after putting up an ERA north of seven last year, few saw him as any kind of prospect. That's all changed this year, and by allowing just two runs over seven innings on Sunday, Wood's ERA ballooned to 1.36 in 99 innings. Wood's velocity is average only on his best days, but his changeup is now among the best in the minor leagues, with improved command and a new cut fastball adding to the effectiveness. He's officially back on everyone's radar.

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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