Angels In The Infield

Howie Kendrick‘s first taste of the big leagues turned out to be one to forget, as arguably the best hitter in the minor leagues went just 3-for-26 before being sent back to Triple-A Salt Lake to make way for shortstop Erick Aybar. The Angels already have three players who can play second base, and just one who can play shortstop, and they couldn’t find a way to get Kendrick consistent at-bats. Kendrick’s struggles at the plate may have been related to his play in the field, as the Angels put Kendrick at third base and first base, positions he previously had a grand total of zero innings of experience at as a pro. Meanwhile, Aybar won’t get a ton of playing time either, but he’ll at least give the Angels a second option at shortstop until Maicer Izturis returns.

RHP Homer Bailey, High-A Sarasota (Reds)

When the Reds drafted Bailey with the seventh overall pick in 2004, scouts saw him as a Josh Beckett clone–a big Texas righthander with blistering heat and a knee-buckling curveball. He’s been dominating at times, and frustratingly inconsistent, but no more so than over the past four starts. In two of those outings, Bailey has fired six hitless innings, recording 11 strikeouts in one outing, and nine in the other. In the other two starts, Bailey gave up 11 runs in eight innings, including six over 2.2 on Saturday against St. Lucie. In the past, Bailey has gotten a reputation as someone who doesn’t necessarily love baseball as much as he is exceedingly good at it. Nobody can really know just how much Bailey wants it, but that kind of reputation could stick around if his game-to-game performance continues to fluctuate like a mid-90s tech stock.

3B Josh Fields, Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox)

Sometimes when a team rushes a prospect, they put themselves in a bit of a bind, and that’s where the White Sox may be finding themselves with Fields, their first-round pick in 2004. Instead of sending him to a short-season league after signing, he started his pro career in the High-A Carolina League, and his first full season was spent in Double-A. So now he’s in Triple-A, hitting the snot out of the ball, and he has nowhere to go. On a standard development path, Fields would be at Double-A this year, and Triple-A next, and the White Sox would have him lined up to replace Joe Crede in 2008, when the incumbent cornerman hits the free agent market. Fields was a quarterback at Oklahoma State, and is still considered a raw product when it comes to baseball, but he’s gone deep in four straight games, including a 5-for-5, two homer day on Sunday to raise his season averages to .357/.432/.670. When the White Sox hit the trade market at the deadline, Fields could be their biggest bargaining chip.

OF Matt Kemp, Double-A Jacksonville (Dodgers)

Kemp was awful in spring training this year, which made the warts on his otherwise impressive resume (bad approach, lopsided home/road splits) all the more visible. But Kemp is proving that he’s for real this year in the big Double-A test, batting .357/.434/.594, including a .398 mark in his last 26 games. In addition, with 16 walks, he’s already just nine free passes away from his season total from all of last year. Just what the rest of the National League West needs–another bigtime prospect in the Dodgers system.

RHP Jared Lansford, Low-A Kane County (Athletics)

Lansford was one of three high school righthanders taken early the Oakland draft last year, and while Craig Italiano and Vince Mazzaro began the year at Kane County, Lansford didn’t arrive there until May. He carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning in his season debut on May 1st, and almost two weeks later, on Sunday, he pitched a seven-inning no-no against Beloit. It was a weird line, as Lansford walked five and struck out just two, and in 17 innings overall, the son of Carney Lansford has just eight strikeouts. The three teenage arms will always be analyzed as a group, and while Italiano and Mazzaro have better pure stuff and higher ceilings, Lansford’s polish and understanding of how to pitch could get him there quicker.

RHP Bran Lincoln, University of Houston

Lincoln gums up the works in any current draft projection, as he’s easily a top ten pick with a good shot of going in the top five, yet there’s no team to attach him to. When I handicap the first round these days, Lincoln seems to be the backup selection for a number of teams who seem to be getting the player they want in front of Lincoln. Nevertheless, if anything, his stock is rising. He may have missed hitting double-digits in strikeouts for the first time in four starts on Friday, but that doesn’t matter much since he whiffed nine in a complete game five-hit shutout over Rice, the No. 1 team in the country.

RHP Radhames Liz, High-A Frederick (Orioles)

Liz is a bit of a late bloomer. He’s 22 years old but he entered the year with just ten starts above short-season ball; he pitched primarily in the New York-Penn League in 2005, where he struck out 82 in 56 innings. Bumped up two levels to the Carolina League this year, Liz whiffed 13 over five no-hit innings in his season debut. From there, he has yet to look back, most recently delivering six one-hit innings on Saturday to lower his ERA to 1.18 in seven starts. All told, he’s logged 56 strikeouts in 38 innings while limiting opposing hitters to a .135 average with zero home runs in 126 at-bats. He has nothing left to prove in A-Ball. Despite his lack of upper-level experience, he could be ready for the big leagues as early as next year if he can make more progress on his secondary pitches to complement his mid-90s fastball.

3B Andy Marte, Triple-A Buffalo (Indians)

Something happened on Friday night that hadn’t happened all season–Andy Marte went deep. The rest of the weekend he went 1-for-9, and his season averages are now down to .238/.327/.331. According to scouts, Marte is clearly pressing, and the stats back that assertion up, with Marte mired in a 5-for-42 slump. He also has only one walk against 20 strikeouts during that stretch after drawing 17 walks against 18 strikeouts in his first 24 games. The shine may be starting to come off Marte’s prospect status. Let’s face it, he’s been always good but rarely great throughout his minor league career, and with all the recent deals, you wonder if the Braves knew something we didn’t–and the Red Sox too.

OF Hunter Pence, Double-A Corpus Christi (Astros)

Pence had a great 2005 in his full-season debut, but he was a little old for the Sally League, and scouts were turned off by his unorthodox swing. Players like this generally follow one of two paths–either their strange way of doing things catches up to them, or they become successful anomalies. While the former is far more common, Pence is starting to fall into the latter category. Pushed to Double-A this year–a level he isn’t old for–Pence has been hot and getting hotter, with six home runs in his last eight games. He’s tied for the overall minor league lead with 11 home runs on the year, batting .331/.384/.683 overall, and the number of believers in his way of doing things is growing by the day.

RHP Josh Sharpless, Double-A Altoona (Pirates)

Relievers often come from strange places, and that’s the case with Sharpless, the 2003 24th-round pick from Division III Allegheny College. Sharpless pitched three scoreless innings over the weekend, striking out seven, and now has 30 strikeouts in 21 innings while allowing just two runs on eight hits. While he’s 25 years old, he does have a track record, as he entered the year with 213 career strikeouts in 142 innings. Six-foot-five and long-armed, Sharpless’ fastball only gets into the low 90s, but his slider is one of the best in the business, as righthanded hitters can attest to after going 2-for-43 with 22 strikeouts against him. His velocity will probably prevent him from ever being a closer, but he could be a nice addition to the Pittsburgh bullpen sooner than later.

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