RHP Homer Bailey, Double-A Chattanooga (Reds)

Commence breakout. The seventh overall pick in the 2004 draft, Bailey had a fantastic but frustrating first half at High-A Sarasota in the Florida State League, alternating between being literally unhittable (with a pair of six-inning, no-hit outings) and pretty bad (allowing four or more runs in six of 13 starts). Pushed to Double-A for the second half despite just turning 20 in May, Bailey has reeled off his best three-start run of the season. Coming off his third six-inning no-hit game of the year last week, Bailey struck out nine over five shutout innings on Sunday, extending his scoreless streak in the Southern League to 17 innings while allowing just seven hits and striking out 22. As we approach the All-Star break, the Reds are not just still in it, they’re only one game behind the Cardinals, and their weakness is pitching. I’m just saying…

RHP Yovani Gallardo, Double-A Huntsville

What? You didn’t think I’d get through a Monday without him or Howie Kendrick, did you? Like Bailey, Gallardo started the season in
the Florida State League and got bumped up to the Southern League at the
season’s midpoint. Like Bailey, Gallardo has shown no signs of needing
to have to make any major adjustments to competition at the higher level. On Saturday, the 2004 second-round pick fired seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out ten, giving him 14 scoreless innings since the promotion. In three months, Gallardo has gone from a solid prospect to a candidate for the short list of top pitching prospects in the game, with that rarely found perfect combination of stuff and stats.

OF Carlos Gonzalez, High-A Lancaster (Diamondbacks)

After winning Midwest League MVP honors last year as a 19-year-old, it was easy to predict a breakout season for the tools-laden Venezuelan as he moved to the California League this year. Let’s give him credit for not disappointing. Gonzalez hit his 11th home run of the year on Saturday, and then smacked No. 12 yesterday. In his last 20 games, Gonzalez is hitting .439 with 26 RBI, and at .324/.377/.570 overall, he’s among the league leaders in multiple offensive categories, including a circuit-best 30 doubles. With the Arizona system already loaded with position players, there’s no need to rush Gonzalez up through the system, but with the game coming as easy as it does to him, you have to be careful not to bore him as well.

SS Esmailyn Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

When Stan Kasten joined the organization this year, he made specific comments about a commitment to scouting and player development, as the team was reduced to nearly a skeleton crew in that department during the years that MLB seemingly tried to run the franchise into the ground. Turns out Kasten wasn’t just blowing smoke, as Washington made the first major splash in the just-opened international signing period, signing the 16-year-old Dominican shortstop for $1.4 million on Sunday. The Nationals’ farm system still has a long way to go, but with an excellent draft this June and this pleasant surprise over the weekend, things are looking up in D.C. for those with the proper patience.

OF Josh Hamilton, Short-Season Hudson Valley (Devil Rays)

One of the biggest stories in the minors occurred before Friday night’s games, when the Devil Rays announced that Hamilton had been reinstated and would play Monday night in the New York-Penn League. Now 25 years old, it will be his first organized game since 2002. Hamilton was the first overall pick in the 1999 draft, and was considered by some as a once-in-a-generation kind of talent: he had top of the line power, a fantastic athlete and an above-average runner, and he could touch the mid-90s off the mound. Then injuries struck; Hamilton seemed almost cursed at times with constant breaks and bruises–and suddenly the organizational golden child was young, rich, and without the daily regime of professional baseball, in trouble. Not just the occasional pot-smoking or a rich-kid style cocaine problem; Hamilton actually became a crack addict and was all but living on the streets at one point. This is yet another difficult lesson on how makeup is a funny thing. When he was drafted and early on in his career, many raved about Hamilton’s makeup and his always-present parents (even as a pro, Josh gave his mom a kiss before every game)–it made for good stories about what a great All-American kid he was. In the end, those around Hamilton were more than just a bit too protective, leaving him completely unprepared for life in the real world–which therefore ate him alive.

RHP Jeremy Hellickson, Short-Season Hudson Valley (Devil Rays)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece entitled “Don’t You Forget About Me” about some of the top 2005 draftees who were returning to short-season ball. Well, go figure, I forget someone. Hellickson was one of the top high school pitchers in Iowa history, and while he fell to the fourth round based on signability concerns, his $500,000 bonus was more indicative of his talent. On Saturday he fired five shutout innings for Hudson Valley, and in his very brief pro career, he’s allowed 12 hits in 20 innings while punching out 25. He’s not especially big, and his stuff is good-but-not-great across the board, leaving him to project as a No. 3 starter in the end. That may not sound like much, but think of how many teams have a No. 3 starter as their ace right now, and it doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

1B James Loney, Triple-A Las Vegas (Dodgers)

How much does a first baseman have to hit if he doesn’t have a lot of power? Obviously one has to take into account a number of factors to answer the question accurately, but I’m guessing Loney’s .380/.421/.558 line is more than adequate. After going 8-for-12 with five doubles and a pair of home runs over the weekend, Loney is now hitting .438 since May 10, though he still trails some guy named Kendrick in the Pacific Coast League batting race. Because he’s 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, he just looks like he should mash balls over the fence, but he doesn’t with any sort of regularity. And because that doesn’t fit in with what we expect from a first baseman, Loney gets unfairly criticized, when he’s doing so many other things so well.

LHP Jeremy Papelbon and RHP Josh Papelbon, Short-Season Boise (Cubs) and Short-Season Lowell (Red Sox)

Jeremy is the younger brother of Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, and was a 19th-round pick last month. Josh is Jeremy’s twin brother, and was drafted by the Red Sox in the 48th round. Neither has their older brother’s talent or velocity, but both are off to good starts. Jeremy fired four hitless innings on Saturday to run his scoreless streak to nine innings as a pro, while Josh has gone four scoreless innings for the Spinners. Meanwhile, those whose lot in life is to manage baseball databases curse the thought of future major league box scores with three J.Papelbon listings.

OF Kieron Pope, Rookie-level Bluefield (Orioles)

I may have forgotten about Hellickson, but I didn’t forget about Pope. A fourth-round pick last June, Pope hit .228/.297/.362 last year at Bluefield with a horrific 62/8 K/BB ratio in 149 at-bats. However, as one of the best athletes in the Baltimore system, hopes for him in-house remained high. After spending the first half of the year in extended spring training, Pope’s return to Bluefield has consisted of an eight-game hitting streak in which he’s gone 14-for-29, leading the Appy League with a .483 batting average. After
putting together just seven multi-hit games in 41 contests last year, Pope
already has five. Small sample size? Certainly, but everything about it
indicates real improvement.

OF Delmon Young, Triple-A Durham (Devil Rays)

It took over 100 at-bats, but Young hit his first home run of the year on Friday, as part of a monster weekend in which he went 9-for-12 with eight RBI. With all the attention for the 50-game suspension and the bat-throwing incident, we may have forgotten that Young can really rake. He’s 21-for-47 (.447) since his return, and .378/.400/.480 overall, remarkable numbers for a 20-year-old in Triple-A. So we return to the Devil Rays, and we
return to a discussion on makeup. It could be true that the better one can
play, the less important certain aspects of makeup seem to be. Young might be
an insolent jerk, but he’s also the best hitting prospect in the game, and there’s not a single team that wouldn’t love to have him in their organization.

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