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Rick Ankiel, OF, Triple-A Memphis (Cardinals)

When Ankiel and the Cardinals announced that the former top prospect was abandoning pitching and trying to remake his career as a power-hitting outfielder, it seemed like a longshot. Today, as we approach the halfway point of the minor league season, his return to the majors seems imminent. Sunday afternoon, Ankiel went deep in his third straight game as part of a four-hit effort to lift his season averages to .289/.329/.589–including 15 home runs in 190 at-bats. This isn’t Low-A anymore, where Ankiel began his transformation last year–this is Triple-A, the real deal. Ankiel turns 28 in July, the Cardinals are six games under .500, and it’s time to figure out what we have here.

Andrew Bailey, RHP, Low-A Kane County

A sixth-round pick last year out of a small college in New York, Bailey pitched well in his pro debut last year, and joined the Kane County rotation in early May after being held back in extended spring training. Friday night he struck out a career-high 12, and it was his third double-digit strikeout total in his last four games, as Bailey currently sports a 3.60 ERA in 30 innings with just 21 hits allowed and 49 strikeouts. While he has a nice three-pitch mix–an 89-93 mph fastball to go with a rapidly improving curveball and change–keep in mind that Bailey is 23, and that needs to be taken into account when evaluating his performance. The A’s have a history of having older pitchers dominate at this level, and for every Joe Blanton, there are two guys like Brad Knox and Steven Bondurant who fall by the wayside.

Mitch Einertson, OF, High-A Salem (Astros)

Three summers ago, the Astros selected Einertson in the fifth round out of a California high school. He went out to tie the Appy League home run record in his pro debut, smacking 24 home runs in 227 at-bats, bu since then, little has gone right. He hit just .234/.353/.352 in his full-season debut while missing a good-sized chunk of the season to deal with “personal problems,” and took a further step backwards last year with a .211/.276/.359 campaign in his second year at Low-A. While it’s a little too early to call him a prospect again, Einertson is look to be finally back on track. By going 6-for-13 with four doubles and a home run over the weekend, the 21-year-old outfielder is hitting .315/.384/.536 in 49 games, though his power has been more of the doubles variety (21 in 168 at-bats) than over-the-fence type with just four bombs. In a system short on hitting prospects, Einertson could be giving the organization some home if he keeps it up for the season’s second half.

Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Double-A Mobile (Diamondbacks)

Sometimes scouts just have a feel for something and anticipate a turnaround; it’s inexplicable, but sometimes they’re simply right. On May 13th, Gonzalez was hitting a paltry .203/.234/.305, despite being in possession of some of the best tools in the system. The following day, the only player with more tools in the organization, Justin Upton, arrived from the California League, and has been putting on a show since. In a discussion with a scout about Upton’s performance, the scout added, “this could be just what Gonzalez needs to get a kick-start, because now he needs to shine.” And shine he has, going 34-for-101 (.336) since Upton’s arrival, including 17 extra-base hits and a .614 slugging mark during that time. C-Gon is back, and while it might be a coincidence, he also might have Justin Upton’s shadow to thank.

Jake Gautreau, 2B, Triple-A New Orleans (Mets)

Six years ago, Gautreau was the 14th overall pick in the 2001 draft after a fantastic college career at Tulane. Some scouts saw him as the second coming of Jeff Kent–an offensive-oriented second baseman with middle-of-the-order potential offensively. His career quickly went off-track thanks to a chronic case of ulcerative colitis, and after
stagnating in the Padres system, he moved on to the Indians, and early this
year, the Mets. Saturday night he had the kind of night that most players only
dream about, going 6-for-7 with four doubles, a home run, five runs scored, and
eight RBI. He’s 26 years old, and more of an organizational player at this
point, but you have to give props to a night like that.

Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, Low-A West Virginia (Brewers)

Jeffress is one of those forgotten-about first-round picks from last summer. Held back in extended spring training, and expected to be back in the limelight once the short-season league began, Jeffress instead impressed the organization enough to head to a full-season league two weeks ago. Based on his three starts, it’s easy to understand why. Saturday night, Jeffress delivered five shutout innings against Lexington, lowering his ERA to 1.98 in three outings. He touched 97 mph after popping some 98’s six days earlier, and while the 19-year-old still needs significant work on his secondary offerings, he’s one of the more interesting teen-age arms around.

Ian Kennedy, RHP, Double-A Trenton (Yankees)

A first-round pick out of Southern California a year ago, Kennedy was generally seen as one of the players who would require the least time in the minors, although his ceiling didn’t match many of the players selected ahead of him. The anticipated quick trip to the major began a High-A Tampa, where he put up a 1.29 ERA in 63 innings while allowing just 39 hits and striking out 72. Moved up to Double-A in June, Kennedy met up with minor adversity in his Trenton debut, giving up four runs in five innings, but he bounced back yesterday with six shutout innings, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out eight. Kennedy is the finesse pitcher’s finesse pitcher, a six-footer whose average stuff (88-90 mph fastball, decent curve, and OK change) all plays up because of his surgical precision with all three offerings. It’s hard to see him as a star, but if more things go wrong in the Yankees rotation, it’s not hard to envision his getting a look by the end of the year.

Brandon Moss, OF, Triple-A Pawtucket (Red Sox)

Three years ago, Moss burst onto the scene by earning Sally League MVP honors with a .339/.402/.515 year at Augusta, and then finishing the year with a quick .422/.462/.542 run in 23 Florida State League games. A pair of mediocre Double-A seasons tarnished him a bit, but he’s moving back up the prospect charts this year with a hot start at Triple-A. After going 7-for-12 with two doubles and two home runs over the weekend, Moss is batting .385/.455/.692 in ten June games, and .306/.403/.554 overall. It’s hard to find a job for him in the Red Sox outfield, especially since he’s limited to a corner, but he could give the BoSox a valuable trading commodity six weeks from now.

Zach Putnam, RHP, University of Michigan

Two years ago, Putnam was the best high school player in Michigan, though teams didn’t think he was worth the money he was indicating he’d need to sign. The Tigers took a flyer on him in the 38th round, hoping for a possible hometown discount, but that never materialized. Sunday afternoon, the best game of the day was a college match, as Putnam carried a no-hitter into the ninth before giving up a hit that would score the only run in a 1-0 loss to Oregon State; it was the first game in a best-of-three super-regional series. A two-way star with the Wolverines who led the team in wins and strikeouts while finishing second in home runs and RBI, Putnam lives off a low-90s sinker and an effective curveball, getting plenty of strikeouts and groundballs with both pitches. The game-losing single is likely his last pitch of the 2007 season, but his first pitch of 2008 will likely be the first pitch of a season that gets him into the first round of next year’s draft.

Billy Rowell, 3B, Low-A Delmarva (Orioles)

Like Jeffress, Rowell’s name was absent from box scores during the first two months of the year, as a strained oblique muscle in spring training encouraged the club to keep him out of game action until the injury fully healed. Making up for lost time, Rowell is batting .305/.392/.492 with 18 RBI in 17 games. The most surprising aspect of his performance so far has been with the glove. At six-foot-six and 220 or so pounds, Rowell was seen as a stiff defender who would require an almost immediate move across the diamond to first base. However, in 13 games at the hot corner, he’s made just one error. We all know errors are just one part of the equation, but at the very least it gives us questions to ask of scouts, as opposed to simply making the assumption that he won’t last long over there.

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