The Cardinals dip into their Triple-A rotation to reinforce their depleted big-league staff.
The Situation: After logging only 73 2/3 minor-league innings, Michael Wacha will make his major league debut for the Cardinals against Kansas City today. The club currently has four starters on the disabled list, leaving them with few other options. In fact, three-fifths of the Triple-A Memphis rotation from just two weeks ago is now in the majors. One of those arms, lefty John Gast, landed on the big-league DL this week, creating the need for Wacha.
Background: Regarded as a polished college arm when he was selected 19th overall in last year’s draft, Wacha has moved more quickly than anyone could’ve expected. The Texas A&M product made brief cameos at three levels last summer, striking out 40 batters in 21 innings and rising to Double-A. An impressive performance in spring training, where his fastball touched 98 miles per hour in short bursts, earned him an aggressive Triple-A assignment out of camp. Wacha has been equal to the challenge, posting a 2.05 ERA through nine starts. In 52 2/3 innings, he has yielded just 35 hits, walked 15, and struck out 34.
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With the Mariners rallying against Rangers starter Justin Grimm in the second inning on Friday night, catcher Jesus Sucre stepped into the box for his first major-league plate appearance. Sucre, a career .255/.292/.338 hitter over eight minor-league seasons, bounced into a 3-6-3 double play.
Jason Cole catches up with the Mariners' top pitching prospect.
There’s no doubting Mariners prospect Taijuan Walker’s immense raw talent. Ranked by Baseball Prospectus as Seattle’s no. 1 prospect (and no. 9 in baseball) entering this season, the right-hander has all the tools a scout wants to see in a potential big-league starter. Walker and his sky-high ceiling have been well-publicized in recent years; he isn’t exactly a pop-up prospect.
Updates on Byron Buxton, Francisco Lindor, and others around the minor leagues.
Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (Low-A Cedar Rapids)
After a scorching start to the season (1.194 OPS in April), Buxton has cooled (somewhat) in his second month in full-season ball, but thanks to game heroics and flashes of his future brilliance, Buxton’s stock has never been higher. Equipped with eye-splitting tools, including elite speed and easy plus raw power, the 19-year-old is well on his way to being the top prospect in the minors. Buxton recently hit a walk-off grand slam that one scout source in attendance said traveled an estimated 450 feet and was launched off a 98 mph fastball. Perfect Game’s Justin Hlubek captured the event on video, and if you have a change of pants handy, please click this link and drift into a euphoric state. --Jason Parks
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals (Double-A Northwest Arkansas)
If Ventura’s physical characteristics read 6’3’’ rather than 5’11’’, the combination of stuff and results would make him one of the premier pitching prospects in the game. Everybody knows about the fastball, as it can hit triple digits in bursts and routinely works in the plus-plus range, but the legitimacy is found in the developmental progression of the secondary arsenal, which includes a plus curveball and a changeup that some think could end up being very special. Because of questions about his ability to handle a starter’s workload, Ventura gets put into the bullpen box, where he profiles as an elite closer. While that’s quite the enticing alternative, the organization is adamant that they always have and will continue to view the 21-year-old righty as a starter, and a very special one at that. Not every slight Dominican righty is going to be the next Pedro, but most slight Dominican righties aren’t in Ventura’s class of talent, and if his body is up to the challenge, the Royals might have the top of the rotation arm they’ve been trying to develop since forever. –Jason Parks
Jason Cole catches up with the Angels' top prospect.
Angels prospect Kaleb Cowart opened this season as the fourth-youngest player in the Double-A Texas League, and he’s currently experiencing the growing pains that often come with being a youngster in the upper levels. However, although the 20-year-old third baseman is hitting just .204/.271/.317 through 38 games, he has the highest ceiling of any position player in the Angels’ system.
The Padres call up the Texas League's most dominant starter.
The Situation: With Clayton Richard becoming the latest Padres starter to land on the DL, the club is calling up Smith from Double-A San Antonio. He’ll join the rotation and make his big-league debut against Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Background: San Diego’s 14th-round pick in the 2011 draft, Smith was selected out of the University of Oklahoma after beginning his collegiate career at Texas JUCO power Howard College. The right-hander’s velocity has jumped a tick since his college days, and his command continues to improve. Following a solid full-season debut at High-A Lake Elsinore last season, Smith has been the Texas League’s most dominant starter in the early going this year. Through six starts, he has yielded just four earned runs on 17 hits in 31.1 innings, walking six and striking out 37. The Texan did not rank in Baseball Prospectus’ top 10 Padres prospects over the offseason, though he certainly would if they were re-ranked today.
Jason offers notes from a recent trip to Mississippi, on which he saw J.R. Graham and Taijuan Walker, among other prospects.
Always in search of high-ceiling talent, I recently made the trek to Mississippi to watch two of the Double-A Southern League’s more loaded teams: the Mississippi Braves (Atlanta) and the Jackson Generals (Seattle). The three-game look provided a glimpse of some of the game’s top overall prospects. Without further ado, here are the scouting notes and videos...
The Padres summon a southpaw prospect to bring some relief to their overtaxed staff.
The Situation: With a piecemeal starting rotation and an overtaxed bullpen, the Padres are in desperate need of arms at the big-league level. Erlin, whom Baseball Prospectus ranked as San Diego’s sixth-best prospect in January, is likely slated for a long relief role in the short term, as long men Thad Weber and Anthony Bass were forced to throw a combined 7.2 innings over the previous two nights. Weber was optioned to Triple-A, clearing the roster space for Erlin’s call-up.
Background: Selected by Texas in the third round of the 2009 draft, the California high school product tore through the lower levels and reached Double-A in May 2011. Erlin was dealt to the Padres at the deadline later that summer, going to San Diego with RHP Joe Wieland in exchange for setup man RHP Mike Adams. Although Erlin pitched well in 11 starts for Double-A San Antonio last season, he was sidelined due to inflammation and tendonitis in his elbow. The injury didn’t require surgery, and he finished with a strong stint in the Arizona Fall League. Prior to Wednesday’s call-up, Erlin had made three starts for Triple-A Tucson, yielding seven runs in 13.1 innings.
Jason catches up with the Rangers' promising outfield prospect.
Few prospects have created more spring training and early-season buzz than the Texas Rangers’ Lewis Brinson. Selected 29th overall in last summer’s draft, Brinson entered pro ball with the dreaded “raw-athlete-who-lacks-instincts” tag. He quickly squashed that reputation with his debut performance in the rookie Arizona League, hitting .283/.345/.523 with 36 extra-base hits and 14 steals over 54 contests.
An in-depth look at what Darvish does well and what he's doing differently.
Yesterday on Effectively Wild, Sam Miller and I talked about Opening Day and the power of first impressions. By the beginning of April, we’ve been so long without baseball that the first performance by a player or team assumes a significance out of proportion to its actual import. If we’ve spent the offseason dreaming on a player doing well, or fearing that he’ll fail, we’re more liable to take it as confirmation of our hopes or fears if that player performs as we expect on Opening Day than we would be if he did the same thing on, say, August 13th.
Tuesday was Opening Day for Yu Darvish, and we had high hopes. The Rangers ace recorded the second-highest strikeout rate among AL starters last season, but he also had the third-highest walk rate and struggled with mechanical consistency throughout the season. As Doug Thorburndetailed last week, Darvish’s mechanics came together down the stretch, and he also stopped nibbling and started throwing more cutters. With an evolved approach, he ended the year on an eight-start run of 66 strikeouts and 10 walks over 57 1/3 innings. Darvish is hard enough to hit when he can’t throw strikes; with good command and control, he might be as close as pitchers come to unbeatable. Both PECOTAand the Baseball Prospectus staff picked him to be the AL’s second-best pitcher in 2013, and with a weak opponent in the Astros, we expected to see a dominant Darvish last night. He didn’t disappoint.