Ryan Braun, 3B, Brewers
Going into the season, there were whispers of Milwaukee fans possibly getting an early preview of their future at third base. Corey Koskie continued to struggle following a late-2006 concussion, and Ryan Braun was coming on strong. Less than one week into the exhibition season, those whispers are becoming full-throated screams. With Koskie still unable to take place in any baseball related drills, Braun is taking advantage of the opportunity by going 6-for-10 with three home runs in his first two games, although some minor elbow soreness has benched him since. Provided his defense at the hot corner is even borderline acceptable, Braun is looking more and more like the Opening Day option at the hot corner, and it’s likely he won’t be giving the job back anytime soon.
Ross Detwiler, LHP, Missouri State
In last week’s draft notebook, I noted Detwiler’s early heat based on just one start. Taking advantage of pitching on a Thursday with more the 20 scouting directors in attendance, Detwiler whiffed a career-high 13. Take two on Friday was nearly as impressive, as the beanpole righty went seven shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out seven. With three pitches that grade out at least as average and a projectable frame, Detwiler went into the season projected as a mid-first round pick. Just two weeks into his team’s season, he’s looking like he might go in the single digits.
Paul Estrada, RHP, Astros
Estrada made his spring debut on Saturday, striking out three over two scoreless innings in what one team official called, “the most impressive spring performance I’ve seen so far.” In 2006, Estrada finished second in the Texas League in strikeouts, and he did it while serving as Double-A Corpus Christi’s closer–whiffing 134 in 88.2 innings and leading organized baseball with 13.6 punchouts per nine innings. One of the coolest things about Estrada is that nobody seems to be on the same page as to what exactly Estrada throws. Everybody at least agrees that he has a low 90s fastball, but after that, the identify his out pitch as either a changeup or a splitter, depending on who you talk to, and the breaking ball is either a hard curve or a slider. No matter what the pitches are, they’re certainly effective, and Estrada could play an important role in setting up Brad Lidge at some point this year, and maybe even replacing him at some point down the road.
Todd Frazier, SS, Rutgers
Frazier has been an early-season favorite of scouts looking for any kind of interesting college hitters after Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters. After hitting four home runs over the first two series of the year, Frazier was stating his case to move up, and over the weekend talent evaluators finally got a chance to see him against top competition during a three-game set against, of all teams, Wieters’ Yellow Jackets. Frazier went 4-for-6 on Friday with two doubles and his fifth home run of the year, and followed by going 3-for-10 with three runs scored in the next two days. His set-up and swing mechanics are a little unorthodox, he’s not really a shortstop in the end, and nobody understands why he’s batting leadoff, but he’s definitely got a knack for squaring up a ball, and his stock is rising.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Reds
Hamilton’s long, sad, frustrating story is well-documented, and there’s no need to repeat it here. However, it’s been years since we’ve been able to discuss he on-the-field performance, so let’s do that. On Thursday, Hamilton hit a home run in the Reds’ first exhibition game of the year, clearing the center field batting eye in a blast some estimated at more than 500 feet. Since then, he’s kept on hitting, going 8-for-15 overall with just one strikeout. The Reds are committed to getting Hamilton as many at-bats as they can in an attempt to see if he can stick as a Rule Five pick, and so far, so good. It’s the Reds, and the Reds need outfielders, so his chances are looking better every day in what could be one of the biggest stories of the year.
Edwin Jackson, RHP, Devil Rays
In 2003, Jackson was generally considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. Hitting the majors on his 20th birthday and out-dueling Randy Johnson in his big league debut, the sky looked like the limit. Then it all went backwards, as Jackson struggled with his command and struggled to get batters out, despite a fastball that remained in the low-90s and a wipeout slider. Acquired by Tampa Bay in January 2006 as part of the Danys Baez trade, the Devil Rays have flipped him back and forth between starting and bullpen jobs, with no sustained success. Jackson tossed a scoreless inning in his spring debut over the weekend, with his fastball sitting at 92-97 mph and his command looking much improved. It’s just one outing, but Jackson is still 23, and there’s some upside there, and he could be one to watch.
Casey Kotchman, 1B, Angels
After being selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2001 draft, Kotchman was constantly sidelined by a seemingly never-ending series of injuries, but when he was healthy, he hit, batting .325/.407/.493 in 330 games. He played well enough in 2005 to earn the Opening Day job in 2006, but he hit just .152 in 29 games as a nasty bout with mononucleosis took its toll. Healthy by the end of the year, Kotchman got a head start on the 2007 season with a strong showing in the Puerto Rican Winter League, and he’s looked strong so far in spring training, blasting a home run off of Milwaukee’s Chris Capuano over the weekend. The Angels don’t really have an incumbent first baseman, and a healthy, productive Kotchman could make the Angels even more of a favorite in the American League West.
Cameron Maybin, OF, Tigers
Maybin made his first big splash on the spring on Friday when he took Astros closer Brad Lidge deep for his first home run of the spring. There is early talk that the Tigers might push Maybin to Double-A to begin 2007, which is understandable considering his incredible tools and impressive .304/.387/.457 line at Low-A West Michigan last year in his pro debut. At the same time, if it happens, statistical success might be hard to come by. Erie is a tough place to hit (not that High-A Lakeland, where Maybin would otherwise play, is any great shakes), and Maybin was hardly perfect last year, with 116 strikeouts in 385 at-bats providing as the primary red flag. Maybin’s upside ranks with that of any prospect around, but the Tigers have a pretty good center fielder already with Curtis Granderson, so rushing him right now seems a little questionable.
Greg Miller, LHP, Dodgers
Like Jackson, Miller was also once considered among the top pitching prospects in the game, but while Jackson’s ineffectiveness has been a bit of a mystery, Miller’s has been directly related to a pair of shoulder surgeries. Moved the the bullpen after the procedures, Miller has been one of the talks of Dodgers camp this year, showing an above-average fastball/slider combination, as well as a decent changeup. Because he had so much success so early, it’s easy to forget that Miller is still just 22 years old, and the Dodgers seem likely to move him back into the rotation this year at Triple-A Las Vegas. Another arm where it’s too early to give up on him.
Joe Savery, LHP, Rice
The crop of college lefthanders in this year’s draft is incredibly deep, and Savery might be getting lost in the shuffle early on. Savery took the loss on Sunday, giving up three runs and lasting just 3.1 innings in a loss to Cal State Fullerton, as 260-pound freshman Sean Urena delivered a one-hitter for the Titans. Still recovering from minor shoulder surgery in the offseason (I know, Rice pitcher with arm problems, totally shocking), Savery’s velocity is significantly off from last year, when he sat at 91-94 mph, and he needs to regain it to move back into the upper-half of the first round, where he was projected at the start of the season. He’s ultra-athletic, serving as Rice’s top hitter as well, and he has three pitches that grade out as average or better when he’s on, but scouts will need to see it before filling out that $2 million check with his name on it.