The Indians selected Aubrey with the 11th overall pick in the 2003 draft. He not only had one of the sweetest swings in the college class that year, but also the stats to back it up, batting .420/.505/.733 in his final year at Tulane. His ascension to the big leagues was expected to be quick, but a series of injuries got in the way. While his career batting line as a pro is an impressive .311/.391/.509, he’s also played in a grand total of 42 games over the past two years, with a back problem that some believe could be chronic limiting him to a total of 65 plate appearances all of last year. He showed up healthy this spring, and went 4-for-16 in eight games before getting reassigned to minor league camp for an expected Opening Day assignment to Double-A Akron. One problem–in his last big league game, he strained a hamstring and hasn’t played since. In less than a month, Aubrey turns 25, and after missing two years of development time, the clock is ticking on the depressing transition from ‘what could be’ to ‘what could have been.’
There are some people out there who believe that Bailey is the best pitching prospect in baseball, and very few who don’t believe he’s at least one of the top two. Given a major league invite and an outside shot at the final rotation slot in the big leagues, Bailey popped gloves with mid-90s heat while flashing his plus curveball, but he nevertheless struggled in games, allowing eight runs in 3 2/3 innings on six hits and three walks. Command is an occasional issue for Bailey, and it was his downfall over the past two weeks. A 19.64 ERA in three games is nothing to worry about really, Bailey’s just not ready…yet. He’ll anchor the rotation at Triple-A Louisville, one that should include veterans like Elizardo Ramirez, Bobby Livingston, and Mike Gosling. That means the Reds have no reason to immediately call his name when they need a sixth starter, though fans will certainly see him in big leagues at some point this season.
Mitch Canham, C, Oregon State
This year’s draft is fairly weak when it comes to college positional players, but one strength lies in catching, and Canham is one of the better backstops around. After going 4-for-11 with a pair of home runs during a weekend sweep of San Francisco, Canham is now batting .382/.517/.618, and leading the Beavers in numerous offensive categories, including four home runs and 16 walks in 68 at-bats. Converted to catching in college, Canham is still a little rough around the edges defensively, but he’s made significant improvements in every season, and projects as a average defender with a plus arm. Offensively, there is little to complain about, as Canham features an excellent approach, solid hitting skills and above-average power. Oh yeah–he can rap too. He’s at least a second round talent, but could go higher based on positional scarcity.
Matt LaPorta, 1B, University of Florida
A little more than a year ago, LaPorta was entering the 2006 season as the top power prospect in the draft. After leading the nation with 26 home runs as a sophomore, LaPorta was a sure-fire first round pick. Then his junior year turned into a nightmare, as a strained oblique limited his flexibility, and while he led a highly disappointing Gator squad with 14 home runs, he hit just .259. With Scott Boras representing him, LaPorta’s signability was a major issue, and he dropped to the 14th round, when Boston took a flyer on him. They made a run at signing him, but the two sides were never really close, and LaPorta returned to Florida for his senior year. While the Gators suffer through another tough year (currently holding an 11-12 record), LaPorta is anything but the problem. After going 6-for-12 over the weekend with a pair of doubles, four walks, and six runs scored, LaPorta is now batting .406/.573/.696 with five home runs in 69 at-bats, as well as 17 walks and just four strikeouts. As a prospect, LaPorta is back, and while there will be no senior discount because of his agent situation, the decision to go back to school looks like it will be a profitable one.
The 2005 draft is looking more and more like it will be remembered for its plethora of high school outfielders. While Cameron Maybin and Jay Bruce are universally seen as among the best prospects in the game, Andrew McCutchen is just a touch behind them, but he’s quickly closing the gap. McCutchen has yet to be reassigned to the minor leagues and has been the talk of camp, impressing the team with both his work at the plate (batting .333/.385/472 in 12 games) and in the field, with several highlight-worthy catches in the outfield. Manager Jim Tracy is talking about how the 20-year-old “belongs” in the major leagues, and while he’s slated to begin the year at Double-A Altoona, he’s officially on the fast track, and will likely be in the big leagues well before somebody can legally buy him a congratulatory drink.
Brian Matusz, LHP, University of San Diego
This year’s draft class is loaded with college lefthanders, but the 2008 draft is already lining up to have a top-notch southpaw of its own in Matusz. Friday night was just another day at the office for him, as he allowed one run on five hits over eight innings while striking out 11 in an 8-1 win over the University of Houston. In eight starts this year, Matusz has been dominant, striking out 83 over 50 2/3 innings while giving up just 34 hits and 17 walks. He’s not a pure power pitcher like last year’s Andrew Miller or this year’s David Price, but he might be the more complete package. With a 92-94 mph fastball, big-breaking curve, and a highly deceptive change, Matusz has three plus pitches that he throws for strikes, and he’s lining himself up for a single-digit selection next June.
Adam Miller, RHP, Indians
Cleveland is trying their best to curb their enthusiasm for Miller, who has been untouched in three spring appearances, firing nine shutout innings. While most pitchers would kill for Miller’s mid-90s heat, his slider is even better–a power two-plane breaker that has made established big league hitters look foolish so far. With Cliff Lee out, the Indians are making it clear that Fausto Carmona gets the first shot at filling the opening in the rotation, but Miller will be the No. 1 starter at Triple-A Buffalo, waiting in the wings. He could play a huge role in a Cleveland playoff run during the second half of the year.
The Twins seems to be coming to their senses, as the fifth slot in the rotation is no longer guaranteed to Sidney Ponson. With Matt Garza dealing with health issues and Scott Baker getting lit up like a pinball machine, Perkins has suddenly entered the picture. He fired a pair of scoreless innings on Thursday, striking out three to make his latest case for the job, and he’ll get at least two more starts in the coming week to state his case. PECOTA forsees a 5.14 ERA, and even if that’s pessimistic, that’s still a likely improvement over anything Ponson could provide at this point.
David Price, LHP, Vanderbilt
The top talent in the draft is on a roll of late. With 14 strikeouts on Friday against Ole Miss, Price now has 44 whiffs in his last three outings. Vanderbilt is in the midst of a historic season–they entered the weekend with an undefeated record, and arguably have both the top pitcher and the top hitter (third baseman Pedro Alvarez) in the country, so the pressure is on them to win. Nevertheless, scouts are as concerned with Price as they were impressed by him after that effort. In a game tied 2-2 after nine innings, Price was sent out for the 10th in what turned out to be the 3-2 victory for the Commodores. Ten innings, four hits and 14 strikeouts is awfully good, but at the same time, Price fired 137 pitches. College coaches are in a tough position–if they don’t win they don’t keep their jobs–but let’s be careful out there.
The perpetually injured Snelling finally worn out his welcome in Seattle, as constant injuries have prevented him from playing in over 100 games since 2001. Still just 25 and moving to Washington in the Jose Vidro trade, Snelling is changing some stories coming out of Nationals camp after hitting two home runs in a recent game. While manager Manny Acta made an early declaration of Ryan Church as the starting left fielder, general manager Jim Bowden’s recent comments to indicate that Snelling was still in the race. A career .312/.396/.476 hitter in the minor leagues, PECOTA sees Church and Snelling as nearly identical offensively, but instinct would say that if Snelling can stay healthy–and it’s hard to find a bigger ‘if’ on that score about any other player in the game–he has better breakout possibilities.