The Rockies have been a player in baseball’s international arms race, spending big money on
When the White Sox traded Cunningham to Arizona for Danny Richar, they received a big league-ready second baseman who could fill in for the soon-to-be-traded Tadahito Iguchi. While Cunningham might take a little longer, he also might be a little better. With two-hit games on Friday and Saturday, Cunningham is now 9-for-23 with 20 total bases in his last five games, and sitting at .303/.343/.591 in his first 17 Double-A games since a late-July promotion. Currently splitting time between all three outfield positions, Cunningham’s tools great out at least average across the board, and while it’s hard to figure out exactly where he fits within Arizona’s crowded outfield situation, that’s no reason to downgrade him as a prospect.
Johnson’s really been one of the more surprising transformations this season. After being unexpectedly selected in the first round last June, and then having a miserable pro debut that included a .184 batting average and 49 whiffs in 114 at-bats, many wrote him off. That’s looking like a mistake, as Johnson is breaking out this year by tapping into his plus-plus power much sooner than expected. After spending the first half of the season in extended spring training straightening and shortening his swing, Johnson’s mashing, and hit his 13th and 14th home runs of the year on Friday, and added three more hits on Sunday to raise his season averages to .295/.360/.604. He leads the Appy League in home runs by five and in slugging percentage by 45 points, and while his 60 strikeouts in 207 at-bats is a source concern, unlike last year, he’s doing more than enough to make up for it.
With all the players going over to the Rangers in the Mark Teixeira trade, Beau Jones seems like almost an afterthought. While he struggled this year, Jones is still a week short of his 21st birthday, and had the talent to be a supplemental first-round pick two years ago, earning a $825,000 bonus. Used primarily as a reliever this year by Atlanta, the Rangers are stretching his arm back into a starting role, and on Sunday afternoon he had his best outing of the year, going six shutout innings while allowing four hits and striking out six. Since coming over to the Rangers, Jones has a 1.15 ERA in 15 2/3 innings while limiting hitters to a .196 average. Jones’ stuff has never been in question, as his low-90s fastball is more than enough for a lefty, while his curveball gives him a second plus pitch. If he can master control problems that have plagued him in the past, this is another high-ceiling player in a system that added plenty of them at the trading deadline.
Two years ago, Madrigal was playing for Cedar Rapids, and showing off some impressive raw power and an unrefined approach while batting .247/.288/.420 in 111 games. All along, his most impressive tool was his arm, and after a .235/.273/.348 start last year, the Angels moved him to the mound, where his game was highly similar-unrefined, but full of power. Madrigal started of the year in the bullpen, and since moving into the closer’s role, he’s come on strong, picking up a pair of saves over the weekend to give him 16 on the year. While his ERA on the season is an already-impressive 2.29, in his last 30 appearances stretching back to the beginning of June the 23-year-old Dominican has recorded 46 strikeouts 33 1/3 innings while giving up just 15 hits and 11 walks. With a mid-90s fastball and a slider than is devastating at times, yet inconsistent, Madrigal has the stuff. This is one of those conversions that might work out in the end.
McCutchen’s second half is beginning to look almost as good as his first half was bad. Jumped to Double-A in just his second full season, McCutchen hit just .240/.309/.351 in the first half of the season, but came on strong in the second half, hitting .307 since July 1 with six home runs in 150 at-bats to go with 18 walks and six stolen bases without getting caught. Pushed to Triple-A for the final weeks of the season, McCutchen’s first weekend with Indy included four hits in 12 at-bats and his first International League home run on Sunday. On a tools level, McCutchen is still head and shoulders above anyone in the Pittsburgh system, and when you consider his age and level, there are no other candidates for the No. 1 position when ranking the team’s prospects.
Like McCutchen, Rasmus was a 2005 first-round pick as a high school center fielder who was pushed to Double-A this year, and like McCutchen, he struggled at times, showing plenty of power and speed but also keeping his batting average hovering around .250 with plenty of strikeouts. The best prospect in the Cardinals system, Rasmus is finishing the year with a flourish, going 9-for-14 over the weekend with three doubles and pair of home runs. Now hitting .396/.522/.830 in 16 August games, Rasmus is hitting .267/.378/.520 in 114 games for the Texas League Cardinals, with 22 home runs and 16 stolen bases. While his hitting skills continue to improve, his power, speed, range, and arm are all above-average, and with the progress Rasmus has made, the post-Edmonds era in the middle of the Cardinals outfield could start as early as next year.
Saunders is another 20-year-old center fielder in the upper minors, and while he didn’t enter pro ball with as impressive a resume as McCutchen and Rasmus, he’s a fast-rising prospect who is drawing more and more attention from scouts. A big, athletic Canadian who entered the game with all sorts of tools and all sorts of rawness, Saunders hit just .240/.329/.345 at Low-A Wisconsin this year, but this started to click this year with a .299/.392/.473 line at High-A High Desert before getting moved up to Double-A 10 days ago. With a 5-for-9 weekend that included his first Southern League home run, Saunders his hitting .379/.455/.621 in his first nine games for the Diamond Jaxx. Saunders has plenty of power, a surprisingly patient approach, and his speed is a tick above average. His ability to transform these tools into production this year has him rocketing up prospect lists.
When Drew Stubbs was named a Midwest League All-Star, it was more on reputation that anything else. The eighth overall pick last June, Stubbs had mixed reviews from scouts following his junior year at the University of Texas. Universally lauded as the best athlete in the draft and the best amateur defensive center fielder in recent memory, Stubbs’ loopy swing and lofty strikeout totals left some wondering if he’d ever develop into an everyday hitter, no matter how high the ceiling was. Then he limped into the mid-season break with an uninspiring .253/.348/.369 batting line, but it’s been said many times that toolsy players just click sometimes, and Stubbs is definitely clicking now, going 9-for-14 over the weekend with a pair of doubles and a home run to raise his August averages to .368/.411/.647 in 17 August games, and his season averages to a suddenly not so bad .274/.369/.426. Yes, there are his 128 strikeouts in 115 games, but there is also 11 home runs, 62 walks, and 22 stolen bases. So there’s good, and there’s bad, and basically, his stock in unchanged.
While the Reds flounder at the bottom of the NL Central once again, at least Votto is giving fans a glimpse of the future at Triple-A. Playing more left field than first base of late, Votto hit two home runs on both Friday and Saturday, upping his averages at Louisville to .303/.391/.495 in 119 games. Despite being six-foot-three and somewhere in the neighborhood of 225 pounds, Votto is a pretty good athlete and hold his own pretty well in left, though replacing Scott Hatteberg at first base for 2008 seems to make a lot more sense, at least on a monetary level, as Votto should provide equal or greater production, and at a much lower price. Whether Cincinnati can use that extra money to improve the team enough to make them competitive for the first team since the Jack McKeon era remains to be seen.