LHP Bill Bray, Nationals

Having done so well with their first-round pick in 2003 by taking Cal State Fullerton closer Chad Cordero, the Nationals continued down the college reliever route in 2004 by taking Bray, the closer at William & Mary. While Bray hasn’t paid the instant dividends that Cordero did, he should be able to help at some point this year. Limited to just 40 innings last year because of persistent back pain, Bray is enjoying his first fully-healthy season in the system. He’s already logged 29 strikeouts in 19.2 innings for Triple-A New Orleans, including six over three shutout innings in the Zephyrs’ 5-4 victory over Nashville. Not only were the three innings unique for Bray because of the distance, they came in the 19th, 20th and 21st innings of a 24-inning game that started Friday and ended on Saturday, the longest Pacific Coast League game in nearly a hundred years.

RHP Travis Chick, Reds

For the briefest of moments in 2004, Chick was flavor of the month in prospect land, putting together seven monster starts (2.13 ERA, 55 strikeouts in 42 innings) for Low-A Fort Wayne after being traded from the Marlins to the Padres in a deal for Ismael Valdez. The Padres jumped the then 20-year-old Chick to Double-A to begin 2005, and it proved to be an overly-aggressive move, as Chick struggled with his command and began to press, which led to issues with his delivery, which led to lower velocity, which led to more problems. After putting up a 5.27 ERA in 19 starts for Double-A Mobile, Chick was included in another trade, going to the Reds as part of the Joe Randa deal. So now he’s 21, in his third organization, and back in Double-A, and Chick has reeled off four straight starts allowing two or fewer earned runs, something he never accomplished last year. If you were a young pitcher looking for a chance, Cincinnati could be the ideal organization. He’s not coming up anytime soon, but a major league debut sometime this season is within reach.

RHP Yovani Gallardo, Brewers

After taking Mark Rogers with their first-round pick in 2004, the Brewers took Gallardo out of a Texas high school with their second-round pick, and while they paid him one-third of Rogers’ bonus, he’s been twice as good. Pitching for High-A Brevard County on Saturday, Gallardo struck out ten Tampa Yankees over 6.1 innings. It was his third double-digit strikeout game in his last four starts, in which he’s recorded 38 whiffs in just 22.1 frames. There’s really nothing wrong with his profile: he has decent size, can push his fastball into the mid-90s, and he complements it with good control and a decent array of secondary pitches. He’s one of the better non-hyped pitching prospects around.

1B-L Mark Hamilton, Tulane

Hamilton began the season as one of the few highly-rated power options in what looks to be a very weak class for hitters. He had first-round potential, but a slow start with plenty of strikeouts saw him all but forgotten with just a month to go before the draft. But the Green Wave has lost just once since April 15th, and it’s been Hamilton’s bat that has carried them. In his last 12 games, the 6’4″ lefty has eight home runs, 20 RBI, and has whiffed just five times in 45 at-bats–and scouts are now heading back to New Orleans to get a second look.

LHP Cole Hamels, Phillies

At this point, I’m surprised CNN didn’t break in to their regular coverage on Sunday afternoon to let us know that Hamels gave up a run. It was just one, and in three starts for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Hamels has a 0.39 ERA in 23 innings, with just ten hits allowed, 36 strikeouts, and just one walk. The Phillies are in second place right now, but three of their starting pitchers have ERAs over six. You do the math.

C-R Angel Salome, Brewers

A 2004 fifth-round pick out of New York City, Salome hit .415/.469/.673 last year in the Pioneer league, but at 5’7″ and nearly 200 pounds, he doesn’t exactly look like a big leaguer. That’s beginning to matter less and less, though. Salome won’t turn 20 until June, but is batting .330/.372/.527 overall for Low-A West Virginia, with 24 RBI in 29 games, and three home runs in his last five. His defense still needs some work, but scouts like his arm strength, and he has plenty of time to figure things out.

RHP Alay Soler, Mets

What to do when you’re looking for that all-important fifth starter? Brian Bannister didn’t pitch nearly as well as his 2.89 ERA indicated before landing on the DL. John Maine was the obvious replacement, and he pitched well before injuring a finger on his pitching hand. Yet, as many smart moves as the Mets have made recently, they still inexplicably gave Jose Lima the start yesterday, even when there was another Triple-A veteran option in Jeremi Gonzalez, who was also pitching much better than Lima for the Tides. With Mike Pelfrey hitting a bit of a bump in the road at Double-A, Soler has entered the picture. The 26-year-old Cuban was unhittable in the Florida State League, and allowed just one run over 6.2 innings in his Double-A debut in Saturday, striking out nine. What looked like a total bust six months ago could become a viable second-half option.

RHP Kerry Wood, Cubs

Most of the Cubs’ recent problems are more attributable to an anemic offense, but the Wrigley faithful are desperate for any good news lately–so here it is. Your oft-injured ace pitched extremely well last night. Unfortunately, it was in the Midwest League. Wood was facing kids in their first full season, but no matter how you try to mitigate what he did, he was still completely dominant, touching 97 mph with his fastball, snapping off knee-buckling curves, and striking out 12 over five one-hit innings.

Pitch Counts Get High: Even with some college teams off for the weekend to attend to exams, Friday night is still the night to watch as the aces take the mound. As soon as I saw the ridiculous line from Washington’s Tim Lincecum (8 5 4 4 5 16), my first question was how many pitches. One unofficial count was a disturbing 146. Meanwhile in front of a ton of heat–including Tampa Bay’s Andrew Friedman, Pittsburgh’s Dave Littlefield and the Dodgers’ Logan White–Stanford’s Greg Reynolds outdueled California’s Brandon Morrow. Reynolds went the distance in the 3-2 win, but he also threw 140 pitches. We’re getting late in the college season, and these were close, must-win games for their teams, but if football can make rules to protect the quarterback, can’t baseball do something to protect pitchers from their own coaching staffs?

San Diego State Goes Off: While head coach Tony Gwynn‘s presence at San Diego State has not led to an instant turnaround for the program, the team certainly had a good time on Friday. Playing against Air Force, the basement club in the Mountain West Conference, the Aztecs led 5-4 after three innings, but then scored 25 runs over the next three frames in a what finished up as a 36-11 drubbing. The game featured some box score lines that are rarely seen, including a 7-6-7-5 line from shortstop Lance Zawaszki, and an incredible 1.2-12-16-14-5-0 from Air Force reliever Price Parramore, who can at least say he also had a seven-RBI day.

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