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To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure a Ten-Pack would work
anymore. With all of the leagues either done for the year, or into the
post-season, the numbers of box scores to rifle through every day goes from
somewhere around 100 to less than 20. However, there’s always the cliché about
stars stepping up in the playoffs, and that was certainly the case over the
weekend.

Andy Baldwin, rhp, High Class A Inland
Empire (Mariners)

When the Mariners traded veteran lefthander Jamie Moyer
to the Phillies as part of Trade Deadline Part Deux, they received two marginal
righthanders in return, Andrew Barb and Baldwin. While Baldwin had a 4.77 ERA for Low Class A Lakewood, the Mariners bumped him up to the California
League after the trade and something clicked. In his system debut, he fired
seven one-hit innings, and followed that up with eight shutout frames in his
next start. While he gave up a pair of runs over seven innings in his final
regular season outing of the season, he was back to his shutout ways Sunday in
game two of the Cal League Division Finals, throwing a complete game
three-hitter in the 66ers 1-0 win over Lake Elsinore. There are some issues
here, though. Baldwin is almost 24, his stuff is no more than average, and his
peripheral stats, including 17 strikeouts in 31 innings since the trade
indicate that this is a nice run, but not any sort of breakout. As good as Baldwin has been, this is not suddenly a bigtime prospect; this is a minor step forward at
best.

Brent Fisher, lhp, Short-Season Idaho
Falls (Royals)

A seventh-round pick in 2005, Fisher pitched in the Arizona
League for the second straight season and recorded 98 strikeouts in 68.1
innings to go along with a 2.11 ERA. In Friday night’s Pioneer League round
one opener, Fisher was brought into the game in the fifth-inning after starter
Blake Wood walked consecutive batters. He struck out the first batter he
faced, and proceeded to pick up the win by retiring all 13 batters he faced–eight by strikeout. The Royals organization is basically the ‘stars and
scrubs’ version of a minor league system–with elite prospects at the top and
little else to speak of. Fisher could be the much-needed sleeper.

Jesus Flores, c, High Class A St.
Lucie (Mets)

The St. Lucie Mets cruised to the Florida State League
championship over the weekend, completing a three-game sweep of Dunedin (Blue Jays) and going a perfect 5-0 in the post-season. In Sunday’s 6-2 clincher,
Flores went 4-for-4 with a double and a stolen base to complete a playoff run
in which he reached base 11 times; he’s coming off a regular season in which he
hit .266/.335/.487, tied the league lead with 21 home runs, and finished
fourth in slugging. While the Mets felt strongly about Flores’ potential, this
is still a massive breakout for the 21-year-old Venezuelan who hit a Bill
Plummer
-esque .216/.250/.339 last year at Low Class A Hagerstown.

Alex Gordon, 3b, Double-A Wichita
(Royals)

After going 3-for-14 with seven strikeouts in his first
three playoff games, Gordon slugged a pair of home runs in game four, but more
about that game in a bit. With Mark Teahen out for the year after
undergoing minor shoulder surgery, the Royals are playing the likes of Esteban
German
and Jeff Keppinger at third base. So once the Texas League
finals are over–which will be no later than Saturday–Royals fans will get to
see arguably the top prospect in baseball make his big league debut. As much
as the organization likes to talk about wanting their talent to play at every
level, there’s no reason for Gordon to ever see the minor leagues again.

Luke Hochevar, rhp, Double-A Wichita
(Royals)

The first round of the Texas League playoffs ended pretty
quickly. After just three days, Corpus Christi (Astros), had completed a sweep
of Midland (Athletics), and with Wichita leading Tulsa two games to one, they
turned to their number one pick in June to start game four. He delivered.
After issuing a two-out walk in the first inning, Hochevar proceeded to retire
14 straight batters, seven by strikeout, before losing his no-hit bid (and his
shutout) by giving up back-to-back hits in the sixth as the Wranglers held on
for a 7-6 victory to reach the finals. That likely means one more start for
Hochevar before he heads to the Arizona Falls League, and one more test passed
in his brief professional career.

Tim Lincecum, rhp, High Class A San
Jose (Giants)

As the division finals began in the complicated California
League playoffs, San Jose, who had a bye in the first round, put their 2006
first-round pick on the mound in the opener. Lincecum, fresh from racking up
58 strikeouts over 31.2 innings in his debut, led the Giants to a 3-2 win over Visalia with his longest outing since signing. In seven innings, Lincecum allowed one run
on five hits and a walk, while striking out ten. One scout in attendance clocked
the diminutive righty consistently in the mid-90s with plenty of 98s thrown in
for good measure, and described his curveball as earning a 70 or better ranking
on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. With the Giants in the mix of a very crowded
National League wild card race, just one game could make all the difference.
Will Lincecum be pitching in that game? Don’t count on it, but don’t bet
against it either.

Francisco Liriano, lhp, Triple-A
Rochester (Twins)

The roster rules for playoffs in the minor leagues are much
different that the majors–pretty much everyone is fair game. So imagine how
thrilled the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons were on Saturday. Already down
2-1 in the five game semifinal with Rochester, they woke up to the fact that
they’d have to face a rehabbing Liriano with their season on the line. Liriano
was limited to just 40 pitches, but looked to be all the way back with four
strikeouts over three hitless innings in a 2-0 victory to put the Red Wings
into the Governors’s Cup finals. The performance overshadowed the relief
effort by lefthander Glen Perkins, who fired six one-hit innings to
preserve the win, but reinforced the real purpose of the minor leagues. Wins
are nice, but getting talent ready for the big leagues always takes precedence.

Evan Longoria, 3b, Double-A Montgomery
(Devil Rays)

Already up 2-0 in the Southern League semifinals against Jacksonville, the two teams locked up in a epic pitching duel on Friday night that went
scoreless into the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, Longoria ended the
drama by launching a two-run bomb to put the Biscuits into the Championship
Series against Huntsville. It’s really no more than an exclamation point on
Longoria’s remarkable debut, as the third overall pick hit .315/.360/.597
across three levels with 18 home runs in 248 at-bats. In 32 games since moving
up to the major leagues, B.J. Upton is batting .252/.295/.278 and his
made 11 errors. The pressure could be on by mid-2007.

Alexander Smit, lhp, Low Class A
Beloit (Twins)

It seems like a long time ago when Smit had a 1.18 ERA in
his GCL debut and allowed only 19 hits in 38 innings; in reality it is a
long time in prospect land, as that was 2003. Since then, Smit’s had a mix of
bad moments and dominant moments, and did not spend a complete year in a
full-season league until this season. While he began the year in a bullpen
role, everything changed in a return to the rotation, as the native of the Netherlands had a 2.43 ERA in 13 starts while allowing just 44 hits in 74 innings and
striking out 98. Unlike Baldwin, Smit has taken a major step forward
this year, as what was once an upper-80s fastball is now 92-94 mph, to go along
with a solid curveball and a developing change. While it seems like Smit has
been around for ever, he’s still only 20 years old, and next year’s performance
at High Class A Ft. Myers will be highly anticipated.

Mitch Talbot, rhp, Double-A Montgomery
(Devil Rays)

While Longoria was playing short-term hero on Friday, Talbot
was the real star of the game, striking out a team-record 14 batters in a
complete game five-hitter. Acquired from the Astros–along with shortstop Ben
Zobrist
–at the trade deadline for Aubrey Huff, Talbot had a 1.90 ERA in
ten starts after coming over from Houston, limiting Southern League hitters to
a .214 average. Talbot is a 22-year-old righthander with solid stuff,
including a low 90s fastball and plus-plus changeup, as well as excellent
command of both pitches. While Zobrist is already the starting shortstop in
the big leagues, Talbot could end up paying more dividends.