College Pitchers

The juice was out in a big way on Friday, as the talent evaluators spread themselves thin in order to check out a pair of matchups featuring potential first-round picks: Washington and Tim Lincecum visited Southern California and Ian Kennedy while Nebraska and Joba Chamberlain visited Texas and Kyle McCulloch. For those in NoCal, California’s Brandon Morrow took on Oregon State’s disappointing Dallas Buck, and on the East Coast, North Carolina’s Andrew Miller faced off against North Carolina State’s Andrew Brackman. While talent observers had been talking about this weekend for some time, in the end, it was a bit of a dud. Not in the sense that any of the pitchers disappointed, but in that it lacked that one performance that gets the buzz going. Basically, everyone held serve.

SS-L Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks

After going 5-for-32 in his first eight games for Triple-A Tucson, Drew has been on a tear, going 16-for-40 (.400) in his last 10 games with three home runs. At .306/.349/.569, he leads the Sidewinders in OPS, total bases and RBIs. The National League West looks like it is there for the taking for whichever team can make the right moves, and that doesn’t always mean trades. Craig Counsell is off to hot start himself at the big league level, but Drew could be a difference maker down the stretch.

RHP Matt Garza, Twins

The A’s aren’t as dogmatic as people think when it comes to selecting college players in the draft, and the Twins aren’t dead set on taking high school players, as they’ve spent first-round picks in the last two years on college arms Glen Perkins (2004) and Garza (2005). After striking out 89 over 76 innings in his pro debut, Garza was moved to Ft. Myers in the High Class A Florida State League for his full-season debut, and has been one of the top pitchers in the minor leagues, putting up a 27-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18.1 innings while limiting opposing batters to a .130 average. He had his longest and best outing of the year on Saturday against Lakeland, allowing one hit over 6.2 innings while striking out nine. Not bad, considering that Garza left his last start in the second inning when a throw intended to cut down a runner at the plate hit him in the head.

OF-R Matt Kemp, Dodgers

Kemp had a miserable spring training, going 4-for-39 (.103), and leaving many doubters believing that his 2005 breakout campaign, when he hit .306/.349/.569 at High Class A Vero Beach, was a function of a very friendly home park. After a slow start at Double-A Jacksonville, Kemp is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak that includes three home runs and 11 RBIs, lifting his season averages to .319/.395/.583. Just as encouraging are the seven walks–a number Kemp needed 26 games to reach last year.

LHP Greg Miller, Dodgers

In 2003, Miller had a 2.21 ERA in 142.1 innings, including a dominating four-start run at Double-A Jacksonville as an 18-year-old that included 40 strikeouts in 26.2 innings. He was generally considered one of, if not the best pitching prospects in baseball entering 2004, but he ended up missing the entire season recovering from a pair of procedures on his shoulder. The recovery time bled into 2005, and he pitched just 34.2 innings. He was dominant (41 strikeouts) and wild (26 walks), and fans awaited more bad news when his Arizona Fall League campaign was cut short by more shoulder soreness. Luckily, that news never came. He’s healthy, he’s back at Jacksonville, he’s in the bullpen, and he’s dominating. In five scoreless two-inning appearances, all with a minimum of three days rest, Miller has allowed just one hit and struck out 11, though the occasional command problems (six walks) crop up now and again. He’s not the pitcher he was three years ago, and probably never will be, but he still has two plus pitches (fastball and curve) and a big league future.

1B-L Mike Stodolka, Royals

Six years ago, Stodolka was the fourth overall pick in the draft … as a power lefthander. That never really worked out, as Stodolka had problems staying healthy and went 20-39 with a 4.93 ERA in 492.2 innings. It took him five seasons to get to Double-A, and at Wichita last year, he had a 5.92 ERA in 124.2 innings while allowing 153 hits and striking out just 66. With nowhere to go, the Royals remembered his high school days, where he hit a California state record 18 home runs as a senior and would have been a top-three round pick as a position player. They approached Stodolka about starting over as a hitter and he was open to the idea. He surprised everyone in Royals camp with his lack of rustiness in the instructional league, and was assigned to High Class A High Desert as their starting first baseman. He was 0-for-4 with three whiffs on opening day, but went deep in his next game and has yet to look back. He went 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles on Friday against Lancaster, followed that up with three doubles on Saturday, and at .419/.509/.791 is among the minor league top 10 in both on-base percentage and slugging. Yes, he’s 24, and yes, it’s High Desert, but it’s still one of the better stories just three weeks into the season.

OF-R Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

It was easily the biggest story of the weekend, as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft (with a record bonus of over $6 million) finally made his pro debut at Low Class A South Bend after missing the first couple of weeks of the season recovering from a minor shoulder surgery. Here are the results by plate appearance.

  • Friday: K (looking), 53, F7, 43 K
  • Saturday: BB, RBI Double, K, K, F4
  • Sunday: Single, BB, F9, Single

It’s interesting to note that as little as three years ago, I would not have had that information, and I would only have known that he was 3-for-12 with two walks, four strikeouts and a pair of stolen bases. When Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) took over the statistics collection for the minor leagues after the 2004 season, I had a mixed reaction. I was thrilled to see the Sports Network’s miserable one-year reign come to an end, but I was hesitant at MLBAM’s ability to make things work by giving minor league teams (always highly resistant to change) their third scoring system in three years. I was dead wrong, as minor league stats are better than they’ve ever been, and MLBAM is now also giving us a decent number of watchable games online as well through a minor league version of MLB.TV. A job well done, guys.

OF-L Will Venable, Padres

The son of 12-year big leaguer Max Venable, who doubles as Will’s hitting coach at Low Class A Fort Wayne, Venable focused more on basketball at Princeton, where he was an all-conference guard in his last two seasons. He was also the school’s top baseball player, and the Padres took him in the seventh-round last year. He’s a strange case because he’s 23 and still a raw talent because of the commitment to hoops, but some in the Padres organization have compared him to David Justice. He’s been the Wizards’ best hitter this season, going 5-for-9 with three doubles over the weekend, and batting .366/.449/.537 on the season.

2B-S Jemile Weeks, University of Miami

Older brother Rickie Weeks went undrafted out of high school and received almost no attention from Division I schools before becoming one of the best hitters in college baseball history at Southern. Despite being three inches shorter and around 40 pounds lighter, both pro and college recruiters decided to not make the same mistake with Jemile. The Brewers took him in the 8th round last year, hoping Rickie’s presence would help in getting him signed, but he decided to go to Miami, hoping that in three years he would grow both physically and skills-wise into a higher pick. So far it looks like the right decision, as while the Hurricanes have a been a disappointment this year, Weeks’ freshman year has not–as the starting second baseman, he’s batting .329/.419/.519 and leads the team in hits and total bases. He’s also batting .440 over the last two weekends, and had the game-winner on Sunday to salvage one victory in a series with Virginia.

2B-S Corey Wimberly, Rockies

While he came from the same conference as Rickie Weeks–and like Weeks, won a NCAA Division I batting title with a .462 average–Wimberly did not enter the 2005 draft as an elite pick, and with good reason. At 5-foot-8, Wimberly focuses on making contact and using his top-of-the-line speed to reach base, and that formula worked wonders in his pro debut, as he led the Pioneer League with a .381 average in 67 games while stealing 36 bases. Pressed to High Class A Modesto this year, Wimberly started the season 1-for-21 (.048) before beginning his current eight-game hitting streak, including three-hit games on Saturday and Sunday, in which he’s gone 18-for-35. Now at .339/.403/.411 for the season, he’s basically an Eric Young starter kit, and that’s not such a bad thing.

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