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A couple of pieces of housekeeping before we get going;

Numero Uno. I will be taking an oh-so brief vacation this
week, but will return at the end of the week, so no crying. There’s no crying
in baseball (prospectus).

Numero Dos. When I return, I’ll be joining the great folks
at WGN Sports Central at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva, IL as the Kane County
Cougars host the Burlington Bees. We will be broadcasting from 7-9 p.m. on August 24th in the
right field patio area, so if you are in the greater Chicagoland area, be sure
to stop by and say hello.

And now, powered by … oh wait, that’s Will’s bit.

Ryan Braun, 3b, Double-A Huntsville (Brewers)

The fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, Braun was
considered one of the best pure hitters available and was put on the fast track
after hitting .352/.393/.632 in his pro debut. The Florida State League
proved to be a tough challenge for the former University of Miami star, though, as
Braun hit a relatively tame .274/.346/.438 for Brevard County. Bumped up to
the Southern League, things are coming together quite nicely. Before he was
shut down on Sunday by Cubs prospect Sean Gallagher, Braun went deep in
three straight games; and in 46 games since his promotion he’s batting
.306/.369/.589 with 16 doubles and 11 home runs in 180 at-bats. The Brewers
have drafted and added some big bats to the major league lineup over the last
few years, and Braun could be joining them by mid-2007.

Alex Gordon, 3b, Double-A Wichita (Royals)

In case you haven’t noticed, this guy is good. On Friday
night, Gordon went deep in his first at-bat. He was plunked in his next
appearance in what eventually became a beanball war between
Wichita and Corpus Christi. Expected to sit out Saturday’s game with a sore
shoulder from getting hit, Gordon was in the lineup and went deep again.
After a tough June in which he hit .247 with just one home run while dealing
with some minor injuries, Gordon has been one of the hottest minor league hitters,
reaching base 92 times in 46 games while hitting 16 home runs, scoring 52 and
driving in 51. He’s added himself to the very short list of those with the
potential to be ranked as the number one prospect in baseball.

Eric Hurley, rhp, Double-A Frisco (Rangers)

On Saturday night, Hurley pitched six innings against Springfield allowing three hits and an unearned run, to lower his Texas League ERA to
1.95. In 39 innings, he’s limited opposing batters to a .168 average,
including a 9-for-74 mark (.122) against fellow righties. Like organization-mate
John Danks, Hurley is a first-round pick out of high school who has
reached Double-A before his 21st birthday. Hurley has pitched
better than Danks did at this level, and with Edinson Volquez in the big
leagues, he’s passed Danks and Thomas Diamond as the top prospect in the
system.

Andrew McCutchen, of, Double-A Altoona (Pirates)

In what’s a common move in the minor leagues, the
Pirates promoted McCutchen–the team’s first-round draft pick in 2005–from Low
A to Double-A for the final month of the season, as the Curve is heading to the
Eastern League playoffs, while neither of the organization’s two A ball
affiliates are post-season bound. It seemed like a reach, but McCutchen was
having an excellent season at Hickory, batting .291/.356/.446 in 114 games with
power, speed and a solid BB/K ratio. After going 1-for-4 in each of his first
two games, the center fielder went 3-for-6 with a home run on Friday, and went
deep again on Saturday, before taking an 0-for on Sunday to drop his batting average to .333 in seven games. After hitting just two home runs in
210 at-bats during last year’s pro debut, McCutchen has 16 home runs this
season, as the power has come much faster than anyone expected. He’s evolved
from a possible leadoff man/number two hitter into a possible five-tool
monster, and is proving to the Pirates that he could be ready for a genuine
assignment to Double-A in 2007, and a big league job by the following year.

Franklin Morales, lhp, High Class A Modesto (Rockies)

Morales’ name has been coming up quite
a bit
lately, and with good reason. On Friday
night, Morales was at his best, striking out 16 over seven innings while giving
up two hits and three walks. While Morales has a losing record at 8-9, a so-so
ERA of 3.81, and is tied for the league lead with 79 walks, his arm is beyond
special, as it doesn’t take very long to count the number of lefthanders who
can throw 98 mph. In his last three starts, Morales has struck out 35 in 20.1
innings while allowing just six hits, and he’s still just 20 years old. This
is a potentially special pitcher if he can get past the control issues which
complicate so many lefty power arms in the minors.

Billy Rowell, 3b, Rookie-Level Bluefield (Orioles)

The first high school hitter taken in this June’s draft,
Rowell’s performance as been overshadowed in the Appalachian League by Toronto’s Travis Snider, the second high school hitter taken in the draft who is
batting .325/.412/.567 and contending for the league Triple Crown. But Rowell
has recovered from a slow start to put together a impressive debut of his own.
On Sunday evening, Rowell had career-highs with four hits and five RBI, and
is now batting .356 in his last 20 games and .308/.397/.474 overall. Defensively,
he’s been shaky, with 13 errors in 33 games at third base, but the bat is
looking like it will play anywhere if a move to first base or left field is
necessitated in the future.

Troy Tulowitzki, ss, Double-A Tulsa (Rockies)

Like Alex Gordon, Tulowitzki is an elite prospect from
the 2005 draft. Like Gordon, Tulowitzki
had a woeful June, batting just .217. Like Gordon, Tulowitzki is very hot
since, ending a 24-game homeless streak with long balls on Friday and Sunday,
batting .354 since July 1 and .303/.378/.497 overall. Like Gordon, Tulowitzki
will likely be playing in the big leagues next year, and is a strong Rookie of
the Year candidate.

Will Venable, of, Low Class A Fort Wayne (Padres)

The son of former major leaguer and current Fort Wayne
hitting coach Max Venable, Will was better knows for his exploits on the
basketball court as an amateur, as he was a two-time all-Ivy League point guard
playing in Princeton’s patented slow-it-down offense. In many ways, he’s
similar to Reds outfield prospect B.J. Syzmanski. Both were two-sport
stars at Princeton who dedicated themselves fulltime to baseball for the
first time as pros, both are very good athletes, and both are 23 years old,
which is very high for the Midwest League. While Syzmanski’s full-season debut
has been a struggle, Venable has flourished. 5-for-11 with six RBI over the
weekend, and 14-for-31 (.452) in his last eight games, Venable’s averages now
sit at a very healthy .319/.399/.481. The age is a big issue, but there are
tools and performance here, so at the very least he’s worth noting.

Angel Villalona, 3b, San Francisco Giants

Over the weekend, it was announced that the Giants signed
the 16-year-old Dominican to a $2.1 million dollar bonus, a club record and
slightly more than the team paid first-round pick Tim Lincecum. In a
discussion last week with a scout in the Dominican Republic, the 6-foot-2, 200
pound Villalona was referred to as a “16-year-old manchild with light
tower power.” What impressed the scout even more was his approach, which
the scout classified as “shockingly mature.” While Villalona is
probably 20 months away from his full-season debut, all indications seem to be
that the Giants are once again interested in spending money on amateur talent–good news for a pretty bad system.

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

Last year, Young was the MVP of the Southern League despite
playing just 84 games there, and when he didn’t get a well-deserved September
call up, he complained more than a little too loudly. This year, he’s more
likely to get called up to the big leagues, but does he deserve it? After
going 1-for-12 over the weekend and 7-for-43 (.162) in his last 12 games, Young
is hitting .315/.340/.481 overall–impressive numbers indeed for a 20-year-old
in the International League. At the same time, there are certainly some holes
in his game. In 131 career contests with Durham, Young has a surprisingly low
14 home runs, as well as an 18/93 BB/K ratio in 542 at-bats that is bordering on
unacceptable. Then again, maybe a month of major league pitchers taking
advantage of Young’s inability to lay off pitches outside the zone could be
just what Young needs–a rare taste of failure on the field.

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