Wladimir Balentien, OF, Cardenales de Lara (Venezuelan Winter League, Mariners)
Balentien’s hot start in South America merited a mention in last week’s Ten Pack, and he’s kept it up. The 22-year-old Venezuelan had his second two-homer game in a week on Friday night, and homered again on Sunday, giving him 17 RBI in 16 games, and overall averages of .373/.456/.864 in 59 at-bats. He’s hit six home runs overall, and 14 of his 22 hits went for extra bases. After a disappointing showing at Double-A San Antonio this year, Balentien will begin 2007 at Triple-A Tacoma with what looks like a significant amount of momentum behind him. With Shin-Soo Choo dealt to Cleveland at the deadline, he’s Seattle’s top corner outfield prospect at the upper levels.
Daric Barton, 1B, Azucareros Del Este (Dominican Winter League, Athletics)
This past year was a bit of a lost season for Oakland’s top prospect. Starting off in Triple-A as a 20-year-old, Barton hit .329 in April, but then fell into a 13-for-73 (.183) homerless slump in May that he was unable to get out of–breaking his elbow in a freakish fielding play cost him the remainder of the year. Needing more at-bats, Barton proved himself to be healthy in the instructional league, and joined the Azucareros over the weekend, going 0-for-4 on Saturday before getting three hits in Sunday. If anybody can afford a lost season, it’s Barton, who will still be well ahead of the curve when he returns to the Pacific Coast League to begin 2007. If his power remains marginal, he’s John Olerud. If it does come around, as Oakland officials believe it will, look out.
Gregor Blanco, OF, Tiburones De La Guaira (Venezuelan Winter League, Braves)
Always highly regarded for his tools, Blanco had seen his prospect stardom dim by seeing his batting average dip at every level, while needing to repeat High-A and Double-A along the way. This year was a bit of a bounce back, as Blanco hit a combined .290/.403/.360 between Double- and Triple-A. Despite the hiccups in his progress, Blanco doesn’t turn 23 until Christmas Eve, and with center field skills, 95 walks, and 31 stolen bases, Blanco is a player who could pay some dividends in Atlanta as a bench player as early as next year.
Jason Botts, 1B/OF, Criollos de Caguas (Puerto Rican Winter League, Rangers)
The grand ol’ league just ain’t what she used to be, as the Puerto Rico winter circuit has come upon hard times in recent years. Some major financial woes have led to fewer big name players participating. Playing against weak competition, Botts has been raking, going 10-for-20 so far. The last two seasons have been quite similar for the giant sluggers–he rakes at Triple-A and then does the opposite (gathers leaves?) in the majors, batting a combined .247/.333/.338 in 77 big league at-bats with one home run and 31 strikeouts. At 26, Botts is rapidly running out of chances, and 2007 could be his last shot.
Fausto Carmona, RHP, Aguilas Cibaenas (Dominican Winter League, Indians)
By any measurement, Carmona was a disappointment in 2006. Called up to the big leagues in April, Carmona got ripped in three starts, and then never found any consistency coming out of the bullpen, finishing the season with a 5.42 ERA in 38 appearances. The good news is that scouts still have faith in him. As a tall righthander with a good slider who also gets plus velocity on a sinking fastball that generates plenty of ground balls, Carmona should be better than he’s been in The Show so far, and might be figuring things out in his home country, having struck out 24 in 19 innings. He earned his first win on Friday night by striking out seven over five innings while allowing one run. It’s not a world I have any sort of expertise in, but Carmona could be an interesting late pickup in your fantasy draft next spring.
Joba Chamberlain, RHP, West Oahu CaneFires (Hawaiian Winter League, Yankees)
Apparently he’s intent on becoming a winter Ten Pack regular–Joba The Hut continues to roll in the Pacific, firing five shutout innings on Friday (and striking out seven) to lower his ERA to 2.14 in eight appearances. The one thing that grabs you about Chamberlain’s numbers are the control. He’s walked exactly one batter in his last 31.2 innings, and he’s struck out 41 over that same period. While his $1.1 million dollar bonus was less that half that of first-rounder Ian Kennedy, he’s the far better prospect.
Danny Christensen, LHP, Grand Canyon Rafters (Arizona Fall League, Royals)
Royals fans have plenty of optimism thanks to a system that features elite prospects like Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and Luke Hochevar, but overall the organization has very little depth. Desperate for one of those sleepers, Christensen might be their man. A fourth-round pick in 2002, Christensen missed nearly all of 2004 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and while his stuff returned is 2005, his command came back this year. While it’s hard to get excited about a 4.89 ERA, he was pitching at the pitcher’s nightmare that is High-A High Desert, and his 153/58 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 162 innings is far more indicative of his skills. A late addition to the Rafters, Christensen struck out three over three hitless innings on Friday, and has limited opposing Arizona Fall League batters to a 4-for-25 (.160) mark overall. With a low 90s fastball and a very good breaking pitch, Christensen will begin 2007 in Double-A as the best lefthander in the system at the upper levels.
Brooks Conrad, 2B/3B/OF, Mesa Solar Sox (Arizona Fall League, Astros)
All Conrad does is hit, and the world continues to yawn. An eighth-round pick in 2001 out of Arizona State, Conrad was third in the Midwest League in total bases in 2002, third in the Carolina League in slugging in 2003, finished among the Texas League top 10 in doubles, RBI, and batting average in 2004, and recovered from a slightly down 2005 to lead the Pacific Coast League in total bases, runs and extra-base hits this year. Conrad doesn’t really have a defensive home, and he’s spending some time in Arizona patrolling the outfield for the first time in his career, but the hits just keep on coming. With hits in all seven games he’s played, Conrad is now 11-for-23 for Mesa with nine walks, good for a nifty .625 on-base percentage. He’ll go into spring training with a good shot at making the big league team as a switch-hitting bench player who can get 200-300 at-bats filling in all over the place.
J.C. Holt, 2B, Peoria Javelinas (Arizona Fall League, Braves)
Holt has come along slowly since being drafted in the third round out of LSU in 2004, and while he hit just .266/.329/.326 at High-A Myrtle Beach this year, he got up to that because of a strong second half–a hot streak that he’s brought with him to Arizona. Beginning the fall season on the taxi squad–which limited him to just two games a week–Holt is now a full-timer batting .421 in 13 games after going 9-for-17 in his last four appearances. While speed and a line-drive bat are his best assets, his inability to play on the left side of the infield means that 2007 could be his make or break campaign.
Eric Patterson, 2B, Mesa Solar Sox (Arizona Fall League, Cubs)
After leading the Midwest League in batting last year, Patterson’s Double-A showing was a significant dropoff to .263/.330/.438, but a late-season surge at Triple-A brought some of the buzz back. That buzz is only growing in Arizona, as Patterson has smacked 12 hits in his last six games to raise his AFL average to .358 to go with 25 runs scored in 24 games, thanks in part to a .425 on-base percentage and a league-leading 12 stolen bases. Scouts have been impressed with Patterson’s speed, approach, and gap power, leaving many to wonder if he’s got a shot at the big league second base job in early 2007, if not Opening Day.