Triple-A Tucson (22-22; Pacific Coast League)
An upcoming episode of CSI might want to focus on trying to find first baseman Chris Carter‘s missing power. Currently at .325/.386/.444, the on-base skills remain intact, yet after hitting 31 home runs in 2005, his total dropped to 19 last year, and he has just three in 169 at-bats so far this season. Jamie D’Antona is having a nice bounceback year at the plate, batting .304/.389/.478 while splitting time at first base, third base, and catcher–and playing none of them very well. While righty Yusmeiro Petit‘s one big league start was a success, it’s been more of his same struggles back down here at Triple-A, with a 6.03 ERA in seven starts. A once highly-regarded left-hander whose career stalled due to injuries and control problem, Bill Murphy is finding a new lease on life as a reliever, with a 2.01 ERA in 21 games and 25 strikeouts in 22.1 innings.
Double-A Mobile (23-22; Southern League)
The big story over the last two weeks was the arrival of 2005 number one overall pick Justin Upton (.321/.406/.821), who hit four home runs in his first three Double-A games. He’s 4-for-18, since, but one scout who saw him shortly after his promotion said the 19-year-old center fielder could hold his own in the majors right now, and projected him as a .270-.290 hitter with 40+ home runs annually. Surprisingly, the scout also had good things to say about fellow outfielder Carlos Gonzalez despite a miserable .236/.256/.348 line. The tools are still there, but Gonzalez is clearly pressing. He’s made some progress of late, riding a six-game hitting streak in which he’s gone 10-for-25. Another converted starter, righty A.J. Shappi, got hammered last year for 205 hits and 118 runs in 151.2 innings. He’s found success in the bullpen, posting a 1.75 ERA in 13 games with plenty of strikeouts and ground balls. Sleeper alert for short, squat lefty reliever Mark Rosen; despite toiling away in relative anonymity, his stuff is surprisingly good, with above-average velocity and a sharp breaking ball that has allowed him to give up just three earned runs in 21.1 innings.
High-A Visalia (22-23; California League)
With Upton gone after a blistering (.341/.433/.540) 32 games, the Oaks don’t have much to get excited about in the lineup anymore. After a monster pro debut in which he put up a 1020 OPS, 2006 third-round pick Cyle Hankerd has come back to earth in a major way (.258/.376/.342). He still has plenty of chances in front of him, but patience is starting to run a little thin with shortstop Pedro Ciriaco, who despite a very nice package of tools, is hitting just .224/.275/.248 with 14 errors in 40 games. Brooks Brown, a 2006 first-round pick, is holding his own (3.12 ERA) in an aggressive first full-year assignment, while it’s looking bad for 2005 first-round pick Matt Torra: after missing nearly all of last year following labrum surgery, Torra’s stuff has taken a considerable dip, and he’s been lit up for 66 hits and 47 runs in just 40.2 innings.
Low-A South Bend (20-22; Midwest League)
The organization was hoping for a breakout campaign from toolsy Venezuelan outfielder Gerardo Parra this year, but it’s yet to happen, as the right fielder who some have compared to Carlos Gonzalez is out of the box at .274/.321/.363. Bolstering the Visalia lineup soon could be last year’s sixth-round pick, center fielder Joey Side. He’s raking to the tune of .349/.423/.477, but he’s also 23 years old and needs a test more in line with his experience. A second-round pick last year with first-round talent, lefty Brett Anderson has been a revelation so far, with a 2.06 ERA in nine starts, and a nifty 62/7 strikeout to walk ratio in 52.1 innings. His command and control is much better than his stuff, but he’s one of the safest high school pitching picks in years. Jason Neighborgall lasted just five appearances before getting sent back to extended spring training, as Arizona tries once again to harness his upper 90s fastball and explosive breaking ball. His career line borders on the inconceivable: 36.2 innings, 35 hits, 36 strikeouts, 103 walks, 12 hit batsmen, and 54 wild pitches.
Triple-A Colorado Springs (21-21; Pacific Coast League)
Doing his best Chris Carter impression is Joe Koshansky (.329/.405/.452), who although getting the job done overall has but four home runs this year, and after slugging 69 in the last two seasons. Meanwhile, the Ian Stewart disappointment tour reaches its third city in three years, as the third baseman is hitting .286/.347/.409 in the league’s best hitting park. On the road, he’s at .261/.327/.391. Running out of time at a more rapid rate are middle infielders Jayson Nix (.265/.362/.354) and Omar Quintanilla (.255/.295/.364). The pitching staff is loaded with veterans and retreads, as the one prospect, right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, has taken a major step backwards, with a 6.70 ERA in nine starts and nearly as many walks (31) as strikeouts (39) in 47 innings.
Double-A Tulsa (24-20; Texas League)
A bad lineup, in both performance and potential. Players like outfielder Joe Gaetti (.245/.345/.420) have hit a bit of a wall, but at least shortstop Jonathan Herrera (.307/.353/.373) keeps on rolling. Already the best defensive player in the system, Herrera could have everyday big league potential if he can develop any kind of secondary skills. The Rockies’ scouting department got a significant amount of flak after selecting Greg Reynolds with the number three overall pick last year, but he’s silencing those critics with a 1.58 ERA in seven starts while limiting Texas league hitters to a .185 average. The organization had big hopes for Juan Morillo when they moved his 98+ mph fastball to the bullpen, but the pitch is still straight as an arrow, and his control is still well below average, as evidenced by 13 walks in 18.2 innings. The top pitcher in the system, lefty Franklin Morales (3.67 ERA) had an up and down April before landing on the Disabled List with a hamstring problem; he returns to the mound this week.
High-A Modesto (24-21; California League)
On paper, it looks like 2005 draftee Daniel Carte (.328/.365/.518) is rebounding well from a tough full-season debut. A closer look shows the ex-Winthrop star is doing everything at the plate but being patient, with 38 strikeouts and just two walks throwing up a huge red flag. Dexter Fowler has yet to get going (.250/.387/.358), but at least he’s showing a mature approach. Can 2004 first-round pick Chris Nelson ever live up to his pro debut? At .268/.339/.427, the jury is still out on him. On the mound, 2005 first-rounder Chaz Roe has looked much improved, with a 3.18 ERA in nine starts and just 33 hits allowed in 51 innings, but like many Rockies prospects, the control (28 walks) is a question mark. The breakout player on the staff remains right-hander Brandon Hynick (1.50 ERA), though scouts don’t see a put-away big league pitch, and with just 43 strikeouts in 60 innings, it’s not yet proven that he has one in the Cal League either.
Low-A Asheville (29-15; South Atlantic League)
Michael Paulk‘s .372/.437/.513 line is certainly an eye-grabber, but his resume is not. He’s 23, he’s repeating Low-A, he’s a first baseman, and he has no power. He’s basically this year’s Ole Sheldon. Teenage shortstop Hector Gomez (.251/.286/.436) has one of the highest ceilings in the system, and is already finding his power stroke, with 21 of his 45 hits going for extra bases. With 54 strikeouts and 15 errors in 41 games, there is still much work to be done, but he’s an exciting talent. A third-round pick last June, crafty left-hander Keith Weiser leads the rotation with a 2.57 ERA thanks in part to just seven walks in 56 innings. His other peripherals (59 hits, 41 strikeouts) aren’t as impressive, as his best tool is the ability to throw strikes.
Triple-A Las Vegas (21-23; Pacific Coast League)
James Loney (.260/.337/.361) is likely suffering from a bit of Triple-A-itis–he doesn’t want to be there anymore, and it shows. Unfortunately, his performance isn’t helping his case much, unless the Dodgers suddenly decide to sell low. The same might go for Matt Kemp (.265/.327/.480), as the Dodgers continue to work on refining his approach. The team’s best performer at the plate has been 1999 first-round pick Larry Bigbie, as the former Oriole and Cardinal is hitting .371/.450/.557. I’ve already documented Greg Miller‘s struggles in a veteran-laden rotation; instead, the best pitcher has been finesse right-hander D.J. Houlton (3.28 ERA). Plenty of relievers on the staff have already gotten the big call, with Yhency Brazoban the next one, as the righty has given up just six hits in 13.2 innings while striking out 14.
Double-A Jacksonville (25-20; Southern League)
Defensive whiz Chin-Lung Hu keeps on hitting (.348/.387/.491), but his performance baffled one scout who recently saw him. Noticing no difference in his approach or swing, and no reduction in a bad tendency to inside-out balls, the scout wondered if both last year (.254/.326/.334) and this year were a bit fluky, with the truth falling somewhere in between. The scout was less impressed with first baseman Cory Dunlap (.276/.375/.414), admitting that the first baseman has some nice hitting skills, but also wondering if he is the fattest player in the minors, and pointing out that the team seems to have given him an ill-fitting jersey to accentuate it. Left-hander Scott Elbert struck out 24 over 14 innings in his first three starts, but he’s been on the shelf since mid-April with shoulder tendonitis, and the usually conservative Dodgers have given no timetable for a return. Reliever Jonathan Meloan continues to impress, with 31 whiffs in 21.1 innings, but his stuff has definitely been down a tick or two from last year, when he pitched out of the bullpen, but always on four or five days’ rest.
High-A Inland Empire (23-22; California League)
Former first-rounder Blake DeWitt (.220/.257/.335) has done nothing since a mid-season promotion to Double-A last year, and last year’s impressive start now looks very much like a Vero Beach-created anomaly. After a tough 2006, Travis Denker is back at second base and mashing at .355/.418/.533; his scouting reports draw the occasional comparison to Marcus Giles after initially being written off as too small in previous years. While the rotation offers little in the way of prospects, the back end of the staff is the best in the California League, with co-closers Brent Leach and Ramon Troncoso. Leach is a six-foot-five left-hander with a plus fastball/slider mix that has led to just one earned run in 20 innings while striking out 23, though with 11 walks he still struggles to find the strike zone at times. Troncoso is a bit of a late bloomer, but he’s a strike-throwing machine who touches 96 mph and has 30 strikeouts against just three walks in 26 innings, with a 1.04 ERA.
Low-A Great Lakes (19-24; Midwest League)
The first-year franchise is looking very much like a pitcher’s haven. Through 19 home games, the average contest featured a total of 7.2 runs. That’s been bad news for top prospects like third baseman Josh Bell (.246/.219/.392) and shortstop Preston Mattingly (.180/.221/.246). Bell has come alive of late with a May OPS of 920, but Mattingly has just nine hits on the month, with some speculating that his defensive struggles (including 15 errors in 18 games at shortstop) have started to hinder his work at the plate. Earlier this week, he crossed over to second base, with many scouts still believing that the outfield will be his final destination. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw has been touching 97 mph and striking out nearly 13 batters per nine, but other prospects in the rotation, including right-handers Steven Johnson (5.74) and Josh Wall (6.00), have rarely shined.
Triple-A Portland (20-24; Pacific Coast League)
When the team has a composite OPS of 800 and the team leader in home runs (Jack Cust) is now hitting cleanup in Oakland, you know things aren’t going very well. On a positive note, maybe something good is finally happening with Vince Sinisi. Given over $2 million by the Rangers in 2003, Sinisi missed significant time with a broken arm and a post-injury infection, and has rarely lived up to the Don Mattingly comparisons some threw out during his days at Rice. Healthy and hitting .327/.376/.503, Sinisi’s star as a prospect has long since faded, but he could be close to getting a look. The rotation is bad, with Tim Stauffer (7.76 ERA) a constant reminder of what could have been, and Jared Wells (6.44) continuing to look for anything to complement his solid fastball. At least they are pitching, which is more than we can say for 2005 first-rounder Cesar Carillo, who lasted five ineffective starts (8.62) before going down with Tommy John surgery. Better news comes out of the bullpen–while he’s nowhere near the talent of Trevor Hoffman, closer Leo Rosales is a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities, has a 1.80 ERA and gets it all done with an absolutely baffling changeup. Setting him up is Dodgers and Indians castoff Andrew Brown, who still has plus-plus velocity, and has whiffed 28 in 22.2 innings while limiting opposing batters to a .163 average.
Double-A San Antonio (24-21; Texas League)
The further we get into the year, the more and more it’s looking like a breakout campaign from third baseman Chase Headley (.340/.429/.583). Below-average power was always seen as his primary weakness, but with seven home runs in 43 games, he already has more than half of his previous year’s total. Catcher Nick Hundley (.237/.305/.424) remains an intriguing catcher because of his power and patience, but he needs to bring the average up. Because he got a late start to the game and entered the year at 24, the Padres decided to jump outfielder Will Venable up to Double-A, and it’s been a slow adjustment (.270/.316/.325). Left-hander Sean Thompson is among the league leaders with a 1.86 ERA, but it doesn’t seem sustainable with a 37/22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53.1 innings, and most scouts still project him to wind up a situational reliever. They’re not much more excited about Cesar Ramos (4.10 ERA), who like Thompson has a lot of trouble missing bats, with 54 hits allowed and 35 strikeouts in 52.2 innings.
High-A Lake Elsinore (23-22; California League)
After scoring 63 runs in their last three weekend games, nearly everyone’s stats look good, so as a team in the Southern Division of the California League, numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. A first-rounder from last year’s draft, Matt Antonelli has been an on-base machine (.318/.431/.476), gigantic first baseman Kyle Blanks (.338/.394/.618) has mashed, and the team is hitting a combined .288/.373/.471. Despite the team’s offensive firepower, the number one overall pick of 2004, Matt Bush, is hitting a woeful .216/.317/.295, and with 12 errors in 26 games afield, more and more people are wondering how his fastball looks these days. Righty Manny Ayala (2.41 ERA) and southpaw Wade LeBlanc (2.47) are both among the league ERA leaders, but both are guys with below-average fastballs who succeed with above-average changeups.
Low-A Fort Wayne (22-20; Midwest League)
After a stunning pro debut, outfielder Cedric Hunter has hit a middling .275/.358/.340, with his lack of power being far more glaring now that he’s not hitting in last year’s .360 range. Unlike Hunter, fellow outfielder Kyler Burke struggled in his pro debut last year, and he’s yet to find a groove, batting just .207/.294/.259 with 47 strikeouts in 39 games. A sleeper alert goes out to left-hander Nate Culp, a fourth-round pick out of Missouri last June who has a 2.70 ERA in nine starts. He’s more about pitchability than power, but he does have his supporters, and some observers think he’ll fit nicely into the back of a big league rotation someday. Righty Ernesto Frieri is healthy and looking comfortable in a bullpen role, striking out 29 in his first 22.2 innings.
Triple-A Fresno (23-23; Pacific Coast League)
Just because Tim Lincecum is gone doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of excitement in Fresno… OK, it kind of does. There are some impressive seasons going on in the outfield however, even after Fred Lewis‘ promotion to the big leagues. Nate Schierholtz is hitting .348/.368/.543, though he remains an impatient hitter, and his power stroke has disappeared–he’s hit just one home run in his last 39 games after going deep in his first three contests. Equally impressive has been center fielder Clay Timpner (.364/.414/.488) who projects more as a solid fourth outfielder thanks to a line-drive bat and excellent range. The more interesting arms on the team can be found in the bullpen, as Pat Misch (2.16 ERA), Billy Sadler (3.57), and Brian Wilson (2.92) are all averaging well over a strikeout per inning, and could provide the parent club with some second-half options.
Double-A Connecticut (15-24; Eastern League)
One of the worst offenses in the minors is averaging 3.6 runs per game and has a team OBP of .298. While they should be slightly above that level, far more was expected from first baseman Travis Ishikawa (.231/.313/.316) and outfielder Eddy Martinez-Esteve (.239/.312/.301). Like the Triple-A squad, most of the interest from scouts is directed at towards the bullpen, specifically at hard-throwing Osiris Matos (2.29 ERA) and crafty Justin Hedrick (2.49). After reaching Triple-A in his full-season debut, righty Nick Pererira has found his own level at Double-A, and with a 4.54 ERA and a high walk rate, he’s still a ways away from seeing Fresno again anytime soon.
High-A San Jose (27-18; California League)
Almost as bad as the Double-A team offensively, the Giants of San Jose showcase shortstop Manny Burriss, a first-round pick last year skipped up to High-A for his full-season debut. Burriss clearly wasn’t ready, and after hitting a miserable .165/.237/.180 in 36 games, he was shipped to Augusta. Center fielder Antoan Richardson knows how to work the strike zone with his five-foot-eight frame, but his weird batting line of .268/.412/.336 shows that he’s not much of a hitter, and more of a minor league walk machine who will be exposed once better pitchers challenge him. While nobody can really explain how he’s doing it with just an average fastball and a decent curve, closer Taylor Wilding has allowed just 11 hits in 31.2 innings while striking out 39.
Low-A Augusta (32-13; South Atlantic League)
The GreenJackets’ everyday lineup includes three players that the organization had high hopes for coming into the season, but so far only one of them has delivered. Sharlon Schoop was moved to second base, and will remain there in order to accommodate Burriss, but such a remove requires a step forward at the plate, not a backwards one, and he’s hitting only .241/.295/.322. Outfielder Mike McBryde showed exciting tools in the Northwest League last year, but he’s hitting just .261/.293/.324, and his approach has gone south. The glimmer of hope comes from infielder Marcus Sanders (.272/.416/.383), who had a breakout year at Augusta two years ago, and nothing but shoulder problems ever since. He’s still just 21, still a burner on the basepaths, and still has an outstanding approach. The team’s .700-plus record can be mostly attributed to a team ERA of 2.36, even though it’s not a staff that excites scouts very much. Is it any surprise that submarine righty Adam Cowart has a 1.84 ERA and an obscene groundball ratio? No, not really–but does anyone project him as more than a ROOGY? No, not really.