Daric Barton, 1B, Triple-A Sacramento (Athletics)

Over the weekend, the Rivercats bounced back from a 2-0 defecit to take three straight games from Salt Lake and advance to the Pacific Coast League Championship against New Orleans. The offensive key to the comeback was Barton, who hit a home run on Friday, reached base four times on Saturday, and blasted a
three-run shot on Sunday for the go-ahead runs. If anything, Barton was almost
too good, reaching base 15 times and compiling 23 total bases in the five game
series by going 11-for-20 with four home runs, four walks, and zero strikeouts.
Good news for A’s fans: Barton was called up and will spend the final three
weeks of the big league season proving that he’s ready for the everyday job at first base next year. Bad news for Sacramento: The heart of your lineup is out
for the championship round.

Jeremy Blevins, LHP, Triple-A Sacramento (Athletics)

It was surprising enough that the A’s found someone to take Jason
off of their books. What’s more shocking is that they actually got a good prospect in return. Blevins took off this year when he stopped throwing sidearm and converted back to throwing over the top (actually more of a three-quarters delivery). Pitching for four different teams (two in the Cubs chain, and two more in Oakland’s), he compiled a 1.63 ERA in 56 appearances while compiling 102 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 77 1/3 innings. Blevins’ best pitch is a heavy, sinking fastball that sits in the 89-94 mph range and generates plenty of ground balls, when opposing hitters make contact at all. He’s saved his best for the postseason, making a pair of three-inning appearances in which he’s whiffed 13 in six shutout innings. Blevins has a good shot at a big league bullpen job next year, where he’ll be worth more than Kendall was, and at a fraction of the price.

Michael Burgess, OF, Short-Season Vermont (Nationals)

Burgess entered the spring as one of, if not the best high school bats around, but he struggled during the season, and scouts were worried about his ability to hit the breaking ball, as well as some makeup question that revolve more around the legacy of his high school, which has produced talented troublemakers like Elijah Dukes, Carl Everett, and Dwight
. As a result, the Nationals were able to nab him with the 49th overall pick, and it’s looking like a steal so far. After hitting .336/.442/.617 in the Gulf Coast League, Burgess had little trouble adjusting to the much more advanced New York-Penn League, batting .286/.383/.457 in 19 games. Always a walking machine in high school, teams wondered if it was just opponents pitching around him, but he’s shown a keen eye as a pro, drawing 35 walks in 198 at-bats to go along with some of the best pure power in the
draft. The Nationals’ minor league system has taken a huge step forward in the
last nine months, and Burgess is another reason for it.

Collin DeLome, OF, Short-Season Tri-City (Astros)

By any measurement, the Astros have had a disastrous year, and that trickles all the way down to the draft. With no picks in the first two rounds, and then an inability (or unwillingness) to pay for their third- or fourth-round picks, the top pick for Houston this year is DeLome, who went 171st overall and received a $135,000 bonus. One of those weird, rare talents who comes out of college with a reputation of being more toolsy than polished, DeLome nonetheless had an impressive pro debut, batting .300/.374/.494 in the New York-Penn league while showing gap power from the left side and above-average speed. Like most with his profile, he needs to tighten up his strike zone, and while the mantle of being the poster boy for Houston’s draft class is a heavy one for any fifth-round pick, DeLome might be one of the ones up to the challenge.

Byron Gettis, TE, Southern Illinois University

On Saturday night, I went to my first college football game, strolling over to the campus of Northern Illinois University to catch their home opener against Southern Illinois. It was a pretty remarkable game for a number of reasons, including a 20-point, fourth-quarter comeback by the visitors, but it was a 10-second stretch in the third quarter that struck me. After an incomplete pass, the stadium announcer came over the PA system – “… pass intended for number eighty-four, Byron Gettis.” I thought it was just a coincidence at first, but then I started wondering. Nearly ten years ago, when the Royals signed Gettis, he was a huge football star with Big Ten scholarship offers, and he was from… the southern part of Illinois. He struggled for years in the minors before suddenly coming alive in 2003 with a .302/.377/.473 season in the Texas League. The next season he spent 21 games in the big leagues, going 7-for-39, but by the end of 2005, he was coming off a .189/.265/.292 showing for the Tigers‘ Double-A affiliate, and was done. I wondered if it was really the Gettis that I saw play in the Midwest League some six years ago, and as number eighty-four came off the field, he was built just like the Gettis I knew–bowling ball-esque if you will–and once he took his helmet off, I was certain. Now a 26-year-old freshman with the nickname “Grandpa,” Gettis isn’t necessarily looking for a pro football career as much as he’s just going to school, and getting his life in the real world going. According to his SIU bio, he’s also writing a book about his baseball experience; I’m looking forward to reading it.

Waldis Joaquin, RHP, Short-Season Salem-Keizer (Giants)

Two years ago, Joaquin was one of the talks of the Arizona League, as the 18-year-old struck out 37 in 29 2/3 innings while showcasing an upper-90’s fastball. Then 2006 was lost to Tommy John surgery, but he made an
impressive return this year, posting a 2.84 ERA in 15 games with the Volcanoes,
limiting Northwest League hitters to a .176 batting average in the process. His fastball has been more in the low- to mid-90’s so far, which is plenty enough, and his slider also rates as a plus offering. On Saturday night, Joaquin fired six shutout innings in his final appearance of the year, allowing two hits and striking out seven to give Salem-Keizer a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five championship that his team would clinch on Sunday. Some feel he’s capable of taking a huge step forward next year in his full-season debut.

Matt LaPorta, OF, Low-A West Virginia (Brewers)

LaPorta is looking more and more like a player who won’t need much time in the minors at all. After slugging his way to a .304/.369/.696 line in his pro debut, the seventh overall pick’s dominance has continued in the postseason, as LaPorta led his team to the Sally League Championship by going 7-for-14 with three doubles and a home run as the Power took two of three from Hickory in the divisional series. He’s looked okay at best in left field, but that’s all that is really required at this point. He’ll most likely start next year in Double-A, and should be the first hitter from this June’s draft to reach the big leagues.

Brent Lillibridge, SS, Triple-A Richmond (Braves)

Early in the season, I received a number of emails asking me where I went wrong with my praise of Lillibridge. In the end, the answer is that I didn’t. After a slow start, Lillibridge heated up down the stretch, moving up to Triple-A prior to the midway point of the season, and batting .304/.349/.505 after the All-Star break with eight home runs and 16 stolen bases. Over the weekend, as the R-Braves took three of four from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to move into the International League Championship, Lillibridge was once again the sparkplug, leading the team with four runs and seven hits. He seems ready, but the question is where do we go from here? Edgar Renteria is having a wonderful year in Atlanta, and is signed through 2008, meaning that Lillibridge is likely stuck in the minors for another season, at least unless the Braves try something interesting, like moving Lillibridge to center field, a position he played well in college, should Andruw Jones walk. Whether he gets his shot in 2008 or has to wait, there’s still no change in Lillibridge’s prospect status from where it was going into the season–he’s still pretty damn good.

Evan Longoria, 3B, Triple-A Durham (Devil Rays)

While Lillibridge was leading Richmond to the International League finals, Longoria was doing the same for the Durham, as last year’s third overall pick went 6-for-13 with a double and a pair of home runs in the Bulls’ three-game sweep of Toledo. Spending the majority of the year at Double-A, with the final month at Durham, Longoria met lofty expectations this year with a .299/.402/.520 line that included 26 home runs and 73 walks in 136 games. He likely will not be getting a September look due to 40-man roster shenanigans, but he’ll be given every opportunity to win the third base job next spring, moving Akinori Iwamura over the second base or utility status.

Kevin Mulvey, RHP, Triple-A New Orleans (Mets)

A second-round pick and the Mets’ top selection in 2006, Mulvey had a good-not-great year in Double-A this season, putting up a 3.32 ERA in 151 2/3 innings, but striking out just 110 batters. He shined in his final start of the year, firing six shutout innings in his Triple-A debut, and he improved upon that performance in his first playoff start, requiring just 88 pitches to deliver seven scoreless frames, including eight strikeouts in the Zephyrs’ 6-0 win over Nashville to clinch their opening-round series. While Mulvey’s bread and butter is command and control, he’s not working solely with finesse stuff, as his average fastball and solid slider are both power pitches. He projects as solid middle-to-back rotation starter who should eat up plenty of innings, and that could start as early as mid-2008.

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