When we write about players in early May, we’re always sure to mention the small sample sizes that we’re dealing with, as everyone should be careful when analyzing only a month of games. And while most of the caveats apply to the minor leagues, there are some differences; prospects are more capable of making dramatic improvements in their base skill set, or else see their numbers plummet as their style of play no longer works against more advanced competition. Over the past couple of weeks, my inbox has been swamped by questions from readers about a number of players who have gotten off to quick starts, or vice-versa. “What’s with Player X, is something wrong with him?” “How about Player Y, has my favorite team suddenly found a new prospect?”

Keeping in mind some of those emails, and using a play on words from a popular television show that I’ve never seen a minute of, let’s spend some time playing a quick game of Real or Not Real. Statistics are through games as of May 3.

Good Starts

  • Danny Christensen, LHP, Royals

    Statistics for High Class A High Desert: 4.03 ERA, 29 IP, 26 H, 5 BB, 33 K; WHIP ranks 4th in the Cal League

    Hey Royals fans, looking for a sleeper? Here’s your guy. The ERA isn’t great, but those are some outstanding ratios and four of his five starts have come at High Desert, the official home of Playstation-style baseball. A 2002 fourth-round pick out of a Brooklyn High School, Christensen missed all but one game in 2004 because of Tommy John surgery, and while his 3-7, 3.54 record at Low Class A Burlington last year fails to impress on the surface, things get interesting when you delve a little deeper, as Christensen struck out over a batter per inning and allowed two or fewer earned runs in 15 of his last 17 starts. He can get his fastball up to 93 mph, has a solid curveball, and Christensen’s control is much better in year two after the TJ. Brooklyn in the house, indeed.

    Verdict On Good Start: Real

  • Reid Gorecki, OF, Cardinals

    Statistics for Double-A Springfield: .304/.355/.667; OPS ranks 5th in the Texas League

    Gorecki currently leads the minor leagues in extra-base hits (18) and total bases (68), is tied for the overall lead in home runs (9), and is without question one of the biggest surprises of the season so far. Don’t start buying those rookie cards just yet, folks. A 2002 13th-round pick out of the baseball powerhouse that is the University of Delaware (all right, they did give us Kevin Mench), Gorecki completely bottomed-out in his first attempt at hitting Texas League pitching in 2005, batting .182/.264/.277 in 46 games before returning to the Florida State League. He’s 25 years old, his career high OPS is .771 (and that was three years ago) and he’s never shown any physical abilities that would make you think he’s capable of hitting like this long-term. Gorecki is already slowing down a bit–going 5-for-27 with just one extra-base hit in his last seven games–and that trend is more likely to continue.

    Verdict On Good Start: Not Real

  • George Kottaras, C, Padres

    Statistics for Double-A Mobile: .292/.427/.653 for Double-A; Leads the Southern League in OPS

    The Padres have always believed very strongly in Kottaras, whose smallish frame and lack of power prevented many scouts from feeling the same way. After hitting a career-high 11 home runs in 2005, Kottaras already has five in 72 at-bats this year while playing his home games in Mobile–the place where home runs go to die. He’s already established the ability to hit for average along with very good plate discipline, so offensively the whole package is starting to come together very nicely. He’s still a little easy to run against, but that’s far less the liability than it was 20 years ago.

    Verdict On Good Start: Real

  • Fred Lewis, OF, Giants

    Statistics for Triple-A Fresno: .364/.462/.576; OPS ranks 6th in the PCL

    A second-round pick out of Southern in 2002, Lewis has been a little slow to develop, but the Giants assumed that would be the case, considering his football background. He had a breakout year in the California League in 2004 (.301/.424/.451), but struggled at Double-A last year, making this season pivotal. More of a left fielder than a center fielder at this point–Lewis has lost some of his speed and has a weak arm–he needs to pick it up with the bat and has done just that. He draws a decent number of walks, and with three home runs in 66 at-bats, his power projection may finally be entering the reality stage. He could become very similar to his cousin, Matt Lawton.

    Verdict On Good Start: Real

  • Pat Misch, LHP, Giants

    Statistics for Double-A Connecticut: 0.90 ERA, 30 IP, 17 H, 7 BB, 25 K; WHIP ranks 7th in the Eastern League

    This is Misch’s third go-around at Double-A, as he pitched there all year in 2004, and then got sent back in 2005 after putting up a 6.35 ERA at Triple-A Fresno as PCL hitters battered him around for a .325 average. Forget about these numbers, Misch is a fringe lefty who throws strikes and tried to keep hitters off balance, but he lacks any sort of dependable out pitch.

    Verdict On Good Start: Not Real

Bad Starts

  • Albert Callaspo, INF, Diamondbacks

    Statistics for Triple-A Tucson: .226/.266/.304

    Callaspo entered the season a career .315/.362/.424 hitter, but the incredible infield depth in the Angels system made him expendable and he went to Arizona for reliever Jason Bulger. A true anti-king of the three true outcomes who entered the year with a career TTO% of 12.8%, Callaspo has tremendous bat control and an uncanny feel for contact. What’s weird about his start is that the switch hitter has basically been himself against righthanded pitchers, yet is just 3-for-30 against lefties. Scouts who have seen him recently see no obvious sudden mechanical flaw in his game, and many think he’s pressing, trying to prove himself in a new organization. He’s not a future star, but his ability to make contact and hold his own at both second base and shortstop should make him a valuable utility player. I expect a rebound.

    Verdict On Bad Start: Not Real

  • John Danks, LHP, Rangers

    Statistics for Double-A Frisco: 7.15 ERA, 22.2 IP, 38 H, 10 BB, 28 K

    Obviously, I’m the last guy to worry only about the numbers, but at some point, you have to perform, right? Danks is getting his second chance at the Texas League this year, and it’s not going so well as he’s last in the league in WHIP and opposing batters have a slugging percentage of .663 against him. In 21 career starts for Frisco, Danks now has a 5.80 ERA while allowing 155 hits in 121 innings. That’s way too hittable for a pitcher with Danks’ raw abilities, so maybe we’ve misjudged what those abilities are. I don’t think we can use the excuse of him being rushed anymore–as a 2003 first-round pick he’s in his third full season, so Double-A is in line with the expected development curve.

    Verdict On Bad Start: Real, in the sense that Danks still has bankable stuff, but I don’t think he’s nearly the pitcher we’ve thought he is.

  • Grant Johnson, RHP, Cubs

    Statistics for High Class A Daytona: 4.85 ERA, 26 IP, 32 H, 10 BB, 16 K

    With no first-round pick in 2004, the Cubs took Johnson with the 66th overall pick, and gave him a $1.26 million bonus, the equivalent of a late-first round pick. Now nearly two years removed from that draft, the Cubs are still waiting for Johnson to have the stuff he had in college as he’s lost some of the fast on his fastball and some of the break on his breaking ball. He’s also still under 100 career innings despite being drafted two years ago–he signed too late in 2004 to make his debut, and then saw his 2005 debut both delayed and interrupted by a variety of (non-arm) injuries. So we’ve barely seen him, and we’ve barely seen him good for almost two years.

    Verdict On Bad Start: Real

  • Brandon Moss, OF, Red Sox

    Statistics for Double-A Portland: .170/.212/.319

    In 2004, Moss exploded–batting .353 with 111 RBIs in 132 games, including a .422/.462/.542 run in 23 games after getting promoted to the Florida State League. Instead of keeping him there, the Red Sox bumped Moss to Double-A in 2005, and he was mediocre (.268/.337/.441) while his strikeout rate jumped more than 50%. His return engagement isn’t going any better, as he’s continued to fall into the same bad habits–getting pull-happy, and lacking a solid two-strike approach. It’s often easy to figure out why some pitchers succeed in the lower levels but struggle as they move up. For hitters it’s much more difficult, but the further we get from Moss’ huge 2004, the more you have to worry about him being one of them.

    Verdict On Bad Start: Real

Thank you for reading

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