The line doesn't really do it justice, as for the first four innings of Thursday's game in Mississippi, Cashner was the story of the night. He struck out the first seven batters he faced, and nine of the first 10, before ruining his night in the fifth by starting off with two walks and a home run by Braves slugger Cody Johnson. Cashner, a 2008 first-round pick, had a wild spring, walking eight over five innings, and it was the same story last night; when he's throwing strikes, he's dominant and nearly big-league ready with a fastball/slider combination that allows for plenty of dreaming. When he starts missing the zone, however, he still struggles big-time, even in the minors.
Chacin's value as a prospect was always as a guy with above-average stuff that played up due to above-average command and control. The second half of that equation went away in the second half of last year, leaving him as a pitcher with above-average stuff and below-average location, which isn't that much of a prospect. The ability to not only throw strikes, but to throw good ones returned on Opening Day, and if he keeps it up, he won't be in the Top 101 next year because he spent too much time in the big leagues.
Escobar is a special defender, and easily the best glove man in the White Sox's organization. The problem is, he just can't hit, rarely showing power, or anything resembling a patient approach, with his only plus offensive tool so far being above-average speed. With all warnings about small sample sizes put aside for a moment, this one could be worth watching, as he rifled a pair of balls for doubles and according to one in attendance, "just looked more physical." One side note though: With a career stolen base rate of just 63 percent and two more caught stealing last night, he might want to work on the baserunning a bit.
Kyle Gibson, RHP, Twins (High-A Fort Myers)
Gibson was a sure-fire single-digit pick in last year's draft before a stress fracture in his right forearm was discovered, which plummeted him to 22nd overall. An impressive spring showing had some wondering if the Twins got away from grand larceny last June, but his pro debut showed there is still some work to be done. The good news is that Gibson missed bats, and his defense certainly didn't do him any favors, but he also had location problems and gave up a pair of home runs while allowing five runs and seemed to scuffle in every inning but the first. It's just one start, and too early to panic, but it shows that this spring was also too early to heap too much praise.
Vince Mazzaro, RHP, Athletics (Triple-A Sacramento)
While he pitched too much in the big leagues last year to maintain his prospect status, once Cashner crashed and burned in the fifth last night, Mazzaro's performance ended up being the pitching showcase of the night. While he wasn't the most efficient pitcher ever, needing 72 pitches to complete his 4 1/3 shutout innings, he didn't have a ball leave the infield, with seven whiffs and six ground balls thanks to a low-90s fastball with heavy sink. Too many starters is a nice problem to have, but Mazzaro should be back in Oakland at some point during the year.
A fourth-round pick in 2007 as a cost-effective senior sign, Mills is the definition of a fringy, command-and-control lefty, but he sure is good at it. After pitching exceedingly well at three levels in 2008, Mills reached the big leagues last year, only to miss the second half of the season with a rib injury. He rarely gets out of the 80s with his fastball, but he hits every spot at will, and his changeup can give hitters fits. The Blue Jays' rotation is hardly set in stone, and Mills could find his way back, although there is still plenty of debate as to how well his stuff will play in the majors.
The Peoria Chiefs Bus
Thursday's stats: 205 minutes, SIPL (Stuck In Parking Lot)
The Chiefs had a successful opening night, holding off Clinton for a 5-4 win on the road. Things took a different turn after the game however, as the team's bus wouldn't start, stranding the club at Clinton well into the evening. According to Chiefs broadcaster Nathan Baliva, the team made the best of things by watching baseball in the clubhouse, ordering some food, and moving onto UFC once the games were over, finally getting a repair just short of 1 a.m. The minor leagues: It's a glamorous life.
Thursday's stats: 3-for-5, HBP
It's been the most common subject in my inbox, and was the most common question in my recent chat. What's this guy still doing in the minors? And why did the Giants re-sign Bengie Molina? Sorry folks, I just don't have an answer for you. Sure, he's a little rough around the edges defensively, but all of the tools and athleticism for considerable improvement are there, and there are plenty of big-league catchers who are worse receivers. Posey makes the Giants a better team right now, period, and I have no idea what they're thinking here.
Garrett Richards, RHP, Low-A Cedar Rapids
Richard's low-to-mid-90s fastball and plus curve intrigued scouts for years, despite lackluster performances in college. The raw tools were enough to make him a supplemental first-round pick last June, and he's been putting it all together since signing, compiling a 1.53 ERA in eight Pioneer League starts last year and retiring 15 of the 17 batters he faced on Thursday night, with 13 of his outs coming via whiff or ground ball. If he keeps it up, he could move quickly through the Angels' system, and his ceiling is higher than any of their starters.
Look, we all know that Santana can hit, especially after last year's .290/.413/.530 showing that earned Eastern League MVP honors. Those hitting ways continued on Thursday night, as Santana took a pair of fringy relievers yard in a 17-4 thrashing of Indianapolis. In the end, as with so many catchers, it's going to come down to defense. All of the tools are there; he just needs to master some of the intricacies of the position such as working with a pitching staff, calling a game and taking on that field-general role. Once the Indians are comfortable with those aspects of his game, he'll be in the big leagues, as it's rare to find a catcher who can hit in the middle of the order, and Santana is just that.
A second-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley last spring, many teams liked Smith far better as a power reliever, but the Dodgers couldn't get past hit tools as an outfielder, no matter how much he struggled at the plate. While he hit just .214/.317/.302 in his pro debut, he still showed well above-average raw power, a tick above-average speed, and an outstanding arm. He had touched 95 mph with the Bears last spring. Of course, 22-year-old college players are supposed to put up big numbers at Low-A, but Smith kept up his end of the bargain on opening night, and then some.
Thursday's stats: 3-for-4, 2B, HR (1), K, 2 R, RBI
When pushed to Double-A last year as a 19-year-old, Stanton struggled, batting .231/.311/.455 in 79 games. He remained the most impressive power prospect in baseball, but his contact issues caught up to him in the end as he whiffed 99 times in 299 at-bats. Back at Double-A this year, he got off to a good start, going deep in his first at-bat of the year and later adding a single, double, walk, and ultimately, a strikeout. I was asked in a recent chat who my choice was for Minor League Player of the Year honors. It's a difficult question because to win it one has to actually stay in the minors and rack up numbers as opposed to getting promoted to the big leagues. While Stanton has a shot to bash his way into the big leagues, a September call up is the most likely scenario, making him the top choice.