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August 24, 2009

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Tim Beckham, SS, Rays (Low-A Bowling Green)
The first full season of last year's first overall pick has generated far more questions than answers, as Beckham has just never really had that one big hot streak that gets everyone excited. He's also struggling with an impatient approach and some sloppiness both in the field and on the basepaths. The Rays are hoping that what's been going on over the past week is that he's ending the year on a high note, as with an 8-for-13 weekend and 15-for-30 mark in his last seven games (with six doubles and a triple), his averages are up to a much more acceptable .281/.335/.408 in 112 contests. Regardless, based on scouts' reactions to him, Beckham will be one of the more difficult prospects for me to rank during the offseason.

Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs (Double-A Tennessee)
It was a big surprise to see Castro begin the year at High-A as a 19-year-old after only playing the complex league last year, so now it's an even bigger surprise to see him at Double-A. A contact machine who hit .302/.340/.391 in the Florida State League, Castro got off to a slow start with the Smokies, but after going 3-for-3 last Thursday and delivering two-hit games in all three weekend contests, he's now up to .297/.375/.344 with just three strikeouts in 64 at-bats. His lack of power and questionable range for the left side keep him from being an elite-level prospect, but a weak Cubs farm system will take anything they can get.

Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals (Triple-A Syracuse)
This just might be an example of a genuine late bloomer. A third-round pick in 2004, Desmond's tools and athleticism has had many projecting him as the Nationals' shortstop of the future for years, but there was one big problem with that: he didn't hit. Showing a much better approach this year in terms of both plate discipline and a focus on contact over power, Desmond hit .306/.372/.494 at Double-A this year. He's batting .406 in his last ten Triple-A games, raising his overall line to .328/.413/.400 in the International League. He should be up in September, and given that he doesn't turn 24 for another month, he's still a prospect.

Jason Kipnis, OF, Indians (Short-Season Mahoning Valley)
I'm not going to couch things here, I'm a big Kipnis fan, and I think the Indians got a great pick when he fell a bit later than expected to the 63rd overall pick in June. He's not a human toolshed as much as he's a solid-across-the-board type, and by going 5-for-12 over the weekend with three doubles and four RBI, he's now batting a healthy .345/.403/.586 in his first 15 professional games.

Aaron Miller, LHP, Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes)
A fast-riser this spring, Miller was more of an outfielder than a pitcher during his first two years at Baylor, but his stuff on the mound took a huge step forward this spring, earning him a nearly $900,000 bonus as the Dodgers' first pick of the 2009 draft in the supplemental phase of the first round. After making a few warmup appearances in the complex league, Miller has had no problems pitching in a full-season circuit, as with 5 1/3 scoreless innings on Saturday, he has a 2.11 ERA in five outings for the Loons with 29 strikeouts in 21 1/3 frames. An outstanding athlete with a good fastball and an excellent slider, Miller needs to work on his command and fly-ball tendencies, but he's already exceeding expectations in many ways.

Angel Morales, OF, Twins (Low-A Beloit)
As recently as six weeks ago, Morales was still struggling to stay above the Mendoza line, but Midwest League scouts would be the first to tell you that he was at least still intriguing with raw power and speed tools that rated well above average. Everything has been clicking since, as in his last 38 games, Morales has hit .367 with five home runs and 10 stolen bases. Even his seasonal line of .260/.320/.450 doesn't look too bad at this point, and he's still only 19.

Mark Rogers, RHP, Brewers (High-A Brevard County)
The fifth overall pick in 2004, Rogers has had more arm problems than space allows to document here. His comeback this year after not pitching at all in the last two seasons has gone from a nice story on a personal level to a nice story on a pure baseball level. His start on Saturday, when he fired four shutout innings, established a new season high with 21, despite the fact that his extremely strict pitch count has him averaging less than three innings per game. That said, he's been awfully effective in his 57 2/3 innings, striking out 59 while putting up a 1.72 ERA and getting his fastball into the mid-90s at times. There's something here, but we probably won't know what until next year.

Trent Stevenson, RHP, Pirates (Gulf Coast League Pirates)
The Pirates had a very interesting draft this year, as they spent much of the later rounds taking over-slot high school arms, and doling out seven-figure deals for sixth-round pick Zack Von Rosenberg and eighth-rounder Colton Cain, while spending over $600,000 on prep arms in the second and fourth rounds. Stevenson's $350,000 bonus in the seventh round almost falls into the shadows here, but he's had an impressive pro debut so far, as with four shutout innings on Saturday, his pro career now consists of 10 scoreless frames. Standing 6-foot-6 but almost disturbingly thin, Stevenson is loaded with projection, but he's also proving that he's pretty good right now as well.

Alex Wilson, RHP, Red Sox (Short-Season Lowell)
As a pitcher coming out of a major college program (Texas A&M) who is going to turn 23 in November, a guy like Wilson is supposed to dominate the New York-Penn League, but his performance still deserves notice. Pitching in short stints, Wilson went three hitless innings on Saturday, and it's the third time in his last five games that his done that, as in his first 11 games he's allowed a grand total of eight hits in 30 innings with a minuscule 0.60 ERA. A stocky type with nice fastball/slider combination, scouts are mixed as to whether his futures lies as a starter or reliever, but either way, he's off to a nice start.

Travis Wood, LHP, Reds (Triple-A Louisville)
As a sub-six-foot lefty who gets by with average velocity because of an outstanding changeup, Wood is hardly the sexiest pitching prospect out there, but his numbers stand up with anyone this year. After throwing seven one-hit innings on Saturday in his sixth Triple-A start, Wood's ERA now stands at 1.61 in 25 outings while allowing only 105 hits in 156 2/3 innings. Complain about his stuff, but you can't complain about his effectiveness and the truth probably lies somewhere in between as he eventually winds up as a solid back-end rotation piece.

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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