Johermyn Chavez, OF, Mariners (VEN: Navegantes)
A big slugger who came from Toronto in the Brandon Morrow deal, Chavez hit .315/.387/.577 for High-A High Desert this year, including a 1039 OPS after the All-Star break, but at the same time, he's exactly the kind of player who should put up big numbers in that park. His job in 2011 will be to prove he's for real, and he's gotten off to a head start with a .333/.417/.524 line in his first 11 Venezuelan games. He has massive power and equally huge holes in his swing, but with some adjustments, he has the tools to be more than just another High Desert mirage.
Zack Cox, 3B, Cardinals (AFL: Rafters)
Thought to be a potential top-10 pick in this year's draft, Cox slipped to the latter part of the first round due to bonus demands, and the Cardinals paid him at the deadline with a $3.2 million big-league deal. Because of the late deal, he played just four games in the Gulf Coast League during the regular season, so he's getting more experience in the Arizona Fall League and looking overmatched so far, with a 2-for-19 line that includes nine strikeouts. While scouts believe he can hit, he's a bad-bodied third baseman with a single-plane swing that's not conducive to power, and right now he's the winner of toughest scout quote from the Arizona Fall League so far, with one observer telling me, “I have no idea how you give that guy a big-league deal.”
Charlie Culberson, 2B, Giants (AFL: Scorpions)
Culberson is the offensive talk of the AFL so far, going 17-for-31 with 28 total bases in his first seven games while leading the league in all three triple-slash categories. A supplemental first-round pick in 2007, who didn't hit at all until this year, Culberson has been showcasing bat speed, gap power, and impressive athleticism so far, and scouts are not only noticing, they're mostly emphatic in their belief that this year's regular season breakout is the real deal.
Steven Geltz, RHP, Angels (AFL: Solar Sox)
Undrafted after a college career at the University of Buffalo that included 130 strikeouts over 106 innings, Geltz has gone from a nice story to a real sleeper in the Angels' system. He's an undersized right-hander with a violent delivery that hampers his control, but with a 91-94 mph fastball that touches 96 and a hard-biting breaking ball, he has the stuff to miss bats as well, as he's whiffed nearly 15 per nine innings this year. With five scoreless innings in Arizona that includes no walks, the soon-to-be 23-year-old could be on the verge of a big-league look at some point in 2011.
Dee Gordon, SS, Dodgers (PR: Gigantes)
Instead of heading to the Arizona Fall League, Gordon will play at a sightly less competitive level in Puerto Rico, where he went 4-for-9 in his first two games. Entering the year as the top prospect in the system, Gordon's stock has slipped a bit after a full year at Double-A—not because he was bad, mind you, but more because there was simply little progress. He's still impatient at the plate, his base running and defense is a combination of spectacular and out of control, and questions about his lack of power are louder than they were 12 months ago. He remains a spectacular athlete, but is no more of a baseball player.
Derek Norris, C, Nationals (AFL: Scorpions)
The top offensive prospect in the Nationals' system before Bryce Harper came along, Norris struggled through an injury-riddled campaign that included playing with a hand injury that sapped his power. Limited to being a walk machine much of the year, Norris hit .235/.419/.419 at High-A Potomac with the hope that next year would be a healthy season with walks and power. Trying to get things going in Arizona, Norris has already slugged a pair of home runs in six games (while also drawing five more walks), and his status as one of the best offensive-oriented catchers around is quickly returning.
Bill Pulsipher, LHP (PR: Indios)
Scanning the box scores of Friday found a 4-0 win by Ponce over Mayaguez in Puerto Rico, but the story (OK, just for me) was Mayaguez starter Bill Pulsipher, who took the loss after allowing a pair of runs in two innings. At first, with just the last name in the box score, I thought, “It can't be that Pulsipher" … yet it was. Having not pitched in organized baseball since 2005, the former hot-Mets property has been a hired gun (or rather right arm) in the Atlantic, Mexican, and Northern Leagues, and now, after turning 37 earlier in the month, he's pitching on the Isle of Enchantment. With all the stories about spoiled athletes, here's a reminder that the overwhelming majority of them just love playing.
Trayvon Robinson, OF, Dodgers (AFL: Desert Dogs)
Robinson is a very big exhibit against the argument that plate discipline can't be learned. A 10th-round pick in 2005 who entered the game extremely raw, Robinson drew less than 35 walks in each of his first two pro seasons, and after nearly doubling that number to 60 in 2009, he finished third in the Southern League in on-base percentage during the 2010 season with a line of .300/.404/.438. With gap power, well above-average speed (that he needs to learn how to utilize better) and now true leadoff skills, Robinson has gone from a player projected as a good fourth outfielder to one that some are starting to wonder if he can play every day. With a .514 on-base percentage in his first eight Arizona Fall League games, he's only helping his cause.
Mark Trumbo, 1B, Angels (PR: Navagantes)
As if Chavez doesn't give Magallanes enough of a power threat, Trumbo is off to a good start of his own, with a .302/.400/.535 line in 12 games. With a career year of .301/.368/.577 at Triple-A Salt Lake, it was surprising to see Trumbo not get a legitimate big-league shot after Kendry Morales' unfortunate celebration. There is also no guarantee that there's room for him next year, unless the gimpy Morales take over at designated hitter to make room for him. Trumbo is not a guaranteed star, and many wonder about his ability to hit for average in the big leagues, but he at least deserves a shot.
Sebastian Valle, C, Phillies (MEX: Caneros)
After playing a full season at Low-A Lakewood, Valle will play a smaller role for his hometown of Mochis in the offseason, being designated as a backup catcher and pinch-hitter while going 6-for-16 with a home run in his first eight games. Coming off a huge showing in Mexico last year after an equally impressive showing in the New York-Penn League, Valle scuffled in the Sally League, batting .255/.298/.430 while showing impressive power (16 home runs) to go with a horrible approach at the plate. Just 20 years old, Valle's power is rare to find in a backstop, and scouts noted improved defense this year, so it's way too early to give up on him.
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