Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros (Double-A Corpus Christi)
It was easy to blow off any question as to how real Altuve was when he was hitting .400 at High-A. Sure it was awesome, as the five-foot-something (it was five, he claims six, but is now listed at seven) second baseman is hard not to love, but all anyone could really say was, “It's Lancaster, all we can do is wait and see what he does at Double-A.” That promotion came much faster than expected, and with a 5-for-14 weekend that included two doubles and two triples, he's now hitting .422/.435/.778 in his first 11 games for the Hooks. For now I get to say, “Hey, it's just 11 games…” but in the back of my mind, I'm starting to think this might be the real deal.
Manny Banuelos, LHP, Yankees (Double-A Trenton)
Banuelos struck out a season-high eight batters on Saturday, while also giving up three hits, two runs, and walking a pair over 5
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers (Low-A West Michigan)
The Tigers were thrilled to have Castellanos’ bonus demands drop him to the 44thoverall pick last June, and they were almost happy to give him a $3.45 million bonus to turn their first pick in the draft into an instant mid-first rounder. Kids from warm-weather climates often struggle in their first month of Midwest League play, and Castellanos was no different, sitting at .182 on May 7. Since then, one of the best-looking swings in the league has begun to produce; with a 6-for-12 weekend that included a home run, Castellanos is hitting .336 in his last 36 games and .274/.317/.402 overall. He's the best hitting prospect in a weak Detroit system, and it's not even close.
Kinston 3, Myrtle Beach 2 (23 innings)
The official listed attendance was 1,179, and one has to wonder how many were left at the six-hour, 27-minute mark when second baseman Casey Frawley, who had also struck out six times on the night, drove the winning run him. There were 179 trips to the plate that day, and a remarkable 48 of them struck out, with the 32 whiffs by the Myrtle Beach staff seemingly breaking some kind of record. The game also featured 17 walks, five sacrifice bunts, a combined 4-for-37 mark with runners in scoring position, and one ejection (Tyler Holt in the 17th inning). I have no point here other than to say on a day that including the NBA Finals, NCAA super-regional action, a big Gold Cup soccer match with Mexico and a full slate of Major League Baseball, this is the game I wish I saw.
Garrett Gould, RHP, Dodgers (Low-A Great Lakes)
A second-round pick in 2009, Gould had a so-so 4.09 ERA in the Pioneer League last year. When scouts saw him, all they could really talk about was projection, as while the skinny 6-foot-4 righty oozed it, his right-now stuff left plenty to be desired. That projection is starting to come through; what was once an upper-80s fastball is now in the lower 90s, and he is maintaining his good control and a very good curveball. He's looking like one of the best arms in the Midwest League after reeling off back-to-back starts without allowing an earned run. Consistency is a word rarely used in Low-A, but with a 1.55 ERA in 12 starts, in which he has never allowed more than two earned runs, Gould has been just that and maturing.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians (Triple-A Columbus)
The Indians, who were the best story in the first third of the season, are beginning to come down to earth, and there is plenty of talk about what can be done to boost a sagging offense. Kipnis is doing his best to be part of that conversation; with an 8-for-13 weekend that included a triple and two home runs, he's now hitting .295/.370/.496 over 60 games. One scout who has seen him multiple times over the past two years noted his improved defense and projects him to be average at the position. He's better than Orlando Cabrera right now, and it's time for Cleveland to make some moves to keep the magic going.
Jake Marisnick, OF, Blue Jays (Low-A Lansing)
It has been hard to really get a handle on Marisnick's 2011 campaign. With a lean, deceptively strong 6-foot-4 frame, he's the kind of player who grabs your attention the second he steps off the bus, but entering the season, there was far more talk about his tools and athleticism than his actual performance on the diamond. A .325/.422/.545 showing in April had all of the indications of a breakout, but pitchers made adjustments, and he failed to readjust, leading to a far less impressive .262/.329/.385 line in May. June has everything leaning in the right direction again; after a 9-for-13 weekend, Marisnick’s season line is back up to .323/.399/.495 in 49 games. If he hits, there are really no knocks against him in a tool level, as he's a plus runner with 17 stolen bases, he glides to balls in the gap while patrolling center field, and he has a well above-average arm. It still looks like a breakout, and with the aggressive drafts of the last two seasons, the Blue Jays suddenly have a wealth of high-upside prospects, and Marisnick is one of the gems.
Addison Reed, RHP, White Sox (Double-A Birmingham)
Very early in the season, I was at a game with a scout who had just returned from seeing the White Sox’ Low-A affiliate at Kannapolis. I mentioned something about there not being much to see there as far as pitching goes, and the scout gave me one of those 'you're missing someone…' looks, then said, “Addison Reed might get to the big leagues this year.” A third-round pick last June out of San Diego State, Reed jumped to High-A after just four games this year, then, after 15 appearances, was bumped to Double-A. In his debut on Sunday, he struck out three over a pair of hitless innings. With a fastball that has consistently gotten into the upper 90s, Reed now has 53 whiffs in 38
Clint Robinson, 1B/DH, Royals (Triple-A Omaha)
To pretty much nobody's surprise, Robinson keeps hitting. With a home run on Saturday, two more on Sunday, and five in his last five games, Robinson is now hitting .356/.436/.649 in 59 games. It's almost shocking that he's among the most blocked prospects in the game. The Royals will likely do some dumping in July, and there is plenty of reason to believe that we'll see second baseman Johnny Giavotella and outfielder David Lough at some point. If he can throw more strikes, left-hander Mike Montgomery will join the party soon. There is no opening with Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler playing the only two positions that Robinson can. But despite his numbers over the past two years, scouts still haven't warmed up to him. He's laughably slow, a downright bad defender, and according to many, a pure mistake-crusher who will struggle in the big leagues. In other words, he's just Kila Ka'aihue with a name that's easier to remember how to spell.
Trayvon Robinson, OF, Dodgers (Triple-A Albuquerque)
Over the past six weeks, we learned that hitting in Chavez Ravine is very different from hitting in Albuquerque. Just ask Jerry Sands. Still, is it time for Robinson to get the next chance? With a home run on Friday, a double and two walks on Saturday, and five hits on Sunday, he's now batting .299/.357/.543 in 58 games, and while he might not have Sands’ pure bat, he his speed and ability to play all three outfield slots offers more lineup flexibility. Robinson still struggles against lefties (which is all Sands could hit), so there would be a different dynamic in play, but when Tony Gwynn Jr. is on pace for nearly 300 plate appearances, there has to be a better way.