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Elvis Andrus, SS, High-A Myrtle Beach (Braves)

Friday night, Andrus went 0-for-6 with five strikeouts. The Braves responded by giving him the rest of the weekend off leading into the Carolina League All-Star break in order to give him both a physical and a mental break. The much-hyped Andrus is batting just .225/.313/.317 in 65 games for the Pelicans, and there are concerns. Some bring up his age (Andrus is still just 18) and tools (which are undeniable), but at some point the results have to show up no mattter what the mitigating factors are. Last year, he hit .265/.324/.362 at Rome in the Low-A Sally League, so we’re basically going completely on projection with no performance at all–a frightening equation.

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

In 2001, when things first started to really go wrong with Ankiel on the mound, the Cardinals organization sent him all the way down to Johnson City in the Appalachian League. Not only did he dominate as a pitcher, striking out 158 in 87 innings, but the team let him hit as well, and he put up a .286/.364/.638 mark in 41 games with 10 home runs in 105 at-bats. The former seemed like a sign of things to come, while the latter seemed more of an interesting lark. These days, strike that, and reverse it. Friday night, Ankiel hit his 16th home run of the year, and then on Saturday, he smacked numbers 17, 18, and 19, upping his slugging percentage to .606. The Cardinals are six games under .500, but of course by virtue of being in the National League Central, they’re also tied for second place and a reasonable 6 ½ games out. If they want to make a run, Ankiel could help.

Daric Barton, 3B, Triple-A Sacramento (Athletics)

In 2006, Barton struggled at the plate for the first time in his career. In Triple-A as a 20-year-old, Barton his just .259/.389/.395 while limited to just 43 games because of a broken bone in his elbow. After hitting .221/.306/.314 in April of this year, concern started to grow, but Barton has found his stroke in a big way of late, going 8-for-12 over the weekend, and 25-for-53 (.472) during his current 13-game hitting streak to raise his averages to .293/.396/.442. Now comes the interesting part–he’s playing third base, at least in name. Barton began his career as a catcher, but he was pretty awful back there, and his move to first base when he joined the A’s organization certainly seemed like a permanent one, and now should look like at least like it should have been–in 17 games at the hot corner, Barton has committed nine errors. So he’s still a first baseman in reality, and if he can keep up the hot hitting, he’ll be in line to join the middle of the Oakland lineup next year–as a first baseman.

Kyle Blanks, 1B, High-A Lake Elsinore (Padres)

Blanks is listed at 6-foot-6 and 281 pounds, but was well over 300 pounds at times last year, not that the Padres were happy about it. Interestingly enough, when Blanks is actually in shape (which he is this year), he’s an incredible athlete for his frame, and even an average baserunner once he gets going (which admittedly takes a while). Blanks hit his 13th home run of the year on Friday, and added two-hit games on Saturday and Sunday, upping his season averages to .335/.405/.604 in 61 games. Yes, it’s the Southern half of the California League, but Blanks is nonetheless a skilled hitter with a decent approach, and plenty of power. Two years ago, before Blanks made his full-season debut, one team official dreamt on Blanks as a possible Dave Parker. He’ll probably never play the outfield, and it’s highly doubtful that he’ll amass 2700+ hits (as the Cobra did), but after taking
a hit on his prospect stock last year, he’s rebounded and improved upon it.

Chris Cates, SS, University of Louisville

For the first time in history, the University of Louisville baseball team is in the College World Series, and one of the team’s fan favorites is shortstop Chris Cates. A senior player who is the ultimate definition of non-toolsy grinder, Cates is hitting .298/.353/.371 for the Cardinals with 17 stolen bases and just 16 strikeouts in 248 at-bates. The Twins made him a 38th-round
pick, and he’ll start a pro career once his team is done in Omaha. Cates
helped the team stave off elimination on Sunday with a 3-for-5 performance in
a 12-4 win-or-go-home game against Mississippi State. Now comes the interesting
part–Cates is five-foot-three. In terms of shear physicality, Dustin
looks more like Wily Mo Pena standing next to him. The odds of his ever reaching the big leagues are long, as Harry Chappas and Yo-Yo Davalillo represent the only players with Cates’ size to have played in the majors (non-Gaedel division) in the postwar era, but lets root for him anyway.

Will Inman, RHP, Double-A Huntsville (Brewers)

Inman had a breakout year in 2006, leading the South Atlantic League with a 1.71 ERA in 23 starts while striking out 134 in 110.2 innings. He showed no sign of slowing down this year, beginning the year with Brevard County in the Florida State League and putting up a 1.72 ERA in his first 13 starts with 98 more punchouts in 78.2 frames. All along, scouts have been nothing short of confused by Inman’s success. He’s smallish at just six-foot, his fastball and curve rate no more than average, but he has some deception in his delivery, and his location is impeccable. Reports generally had him as good, but some where comparing him to current Arizona righty Yusmeiro Petit, who put up ridiculous numbers in the low minors thanks to deception and command before finally hitting a wall at Triple-A (there, his lack of dominating stuff caught up with him). Inman made his Double-A debut on Friday, and he has his worst performance in two years, giving up six runs before getting pulled in the third. One bad start does not a trend make, but when that one bad start contains a performance that’s been predicted by some scouts, it’s something to keep an eye on.

Preston Mattingly, 2B, Low-A Great Lakes (Dodgers)

The Dodgers made what looked like a questionable pick at the time by taking Mattingly in the supplemental part of last year’s first round, but after an impressive showing in the Gulf Coast League last summer, as decisions go, it seemed sound. The spitting image of his father Don (plus three inches and 20 pounds), Mattingly got off to a horrible start in his pro debut, sitting at just
.192/.241/.273 in mid-May. Drafted as a shortstop, but given no shot by scouts to stay there, the organization felt that Mattingly’s defensive struggles–including an incredibly awful .773 fielding percentage–were affecting him at the plate. They moved him over to second base, and not only has Mattingly made just four errors since moving to the other side of the bag, but he’s hit .349/.379/.578 since the move, now sitting at a respectable .265/.300/.400 and rising. Even at second base he’s fringy with the glove, and most see him as a left fielder in the end, but the bat is back.

Chris Parmelee, 1B, Low-A Beloit (Twins)

Parmelee was singled out last week for his full-season debut struggles, but things are looking up suddenly, as he gained 80 points in his OPS over the weekend, the highlight being a 4-for-5 night on Friday that included a double, two home runs, and six RBI. Just 19, Parmelee has plus-plus raw power and decent plate discipline; if he can improve his hitting skills a bit, he just might turn out to be something special.

Max Scherzer, RHP, High-A Visalia (Diamondbacks)

Leading up to the draft a couple of weeks ago, scouting directors crammed as many trips as they could into the current crop of players while always trying to keep an eye on Scherzer, Arizona’s first-round pick from 2006 who remained unsigned. The former Missouri star was in the indy leagues and popping 98 mph, and while his secondary stuff needed work, no right-hander available could match his arm strength. The Diamondbacks signed him at the deadline for a $4.3 million dollar big league deal, and he reported to the team’s California League affiliate. Sunday night, Scherzer had his worst start as a pro, which means he gave up three base knocks in five innings while walking two and striking out nine. Five days earlier, he struck out 13 over seven perfect innings. In three pro starts, opposing batters are now 5-for-56 with two walks and 30 strikeouts against Scherzer, who is still pitching primarily off his fastball. He’ll be in Double-A soon, and in an unbalanced system loaded with hitters and light on arms, Scherzer could help tip the scales by adding to the already impressive talent level.

Brandon Watson, OF, Triple-A Columbus

Watson is spending his fourth season in Triple-A this year. He’s one of those contact guys who is kept out of the big leagues because he doesn’t have any power (.058 ISO this year) and he doesn’t walk (11 in 228 at-bats). What he can do is line singles all over the place however, and yesterday he did just that, extending his current hitting streak to an International League-record 43 games. There are worst fourth and fifth outfielders in the big leagues, but for now, Watson needs to keep it up for another month or so to catch Joe Wilhoit‘s minor league record of 69 games for Wichita in the 1919 Western League.

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