Gordon Beckham, SS, University of Georgia
Believe it or not, Beckham is actually a bit of a free swinger. That said, his walk total continues to grow, almost exponentially, because everyone is afraid to pitch to him. In Friday’s opener of a three-game set with Louisiana State, Beckham had a double in two at-bats while walking three times. On Saturday, he slugged two more home runs while being handed another pair of free passes, and in Sunday’s 10-10 tie (in college baseball, you gotta catch your plane), he trotted to first a couple more times. Now batting .435/.537/.903 in 39 games with 19 home runs and 29 walks against just 13 strikeouts, Beckham remains the most dangerous offensive player in college baseball, and his draft stock is creeping into the single-digit picks.
Corey Brown, OF, Low-A Kane County (Athletics)
Travel schedules in the minors can be a strange thing, so the Cougars were off on a Sunday for a bus ride in Michigan. Opponents hope the brief respite can slow down Brown, who is 9-for-17 in his last four games with two doubles, a triple, and three home runs. While he may be too advanced for the Midwest League as a college product from a big program, hitting .333/.421/.652 in 16 games, Brown is among the league leaders in several offensive categories, not all positive, because one of them is strikeouts, which he’s done 21 times in 66 at-bats. He might be the strangest whiff machine you’ll ever see, because while he’s struck out often throughout his career, he’s not the kind of hacker you would expect, often going the other way with pitches, not just for home runs, but simply to poke balls to left with two strikes. His tools made him an intriguing prospect as it stood, but his initial performance makes him even more so now.
Chris Carter, 1B, High-A Stockton (Athletics)
After going homerless in his first 13 games as an A’s farmhand, Carter is beginning to make up for lost time. He hit his first homer of the season on Thursday, then took advantage of a strong wind to left field on Saturday to slug three more during a game in which he scored five times and drove in six. He added his fifth home run of the year on Sunday, so in the course of 48 hours he raised his slugging percentage 221 points to a healthy .548. Consider this yet another reason to not take overly cold (or hot) starts too seriously; judge a player off of his larger body of work. Keeping that perspective in mind serves as a reminder that Carter remains one of the better pure power prospects around.
Chris Davis, 1B, Double-A Frisco (Rangers)
Some questioned the validity of Davis’ breakout 2007 performance because of a high strikeout rate and the offensive environment of the California League. Those concerns were tempered when he was even better following a late-season promotion to Double-A, and this year, he’s continued to mash. Following a 6-for-14 weekend that included a trio of home runs, Davis is now batting .352/.407/.722 in 14 games for the RoughRiders, and while he’s whiffed 16 times in 54 at-bats, that ratio is high but not especially out of line with today’s modern slugger. He’s not the next Mark Teixeira, but he should provide productivity with significant cost savings for the Rangers as early as next year. He’s just one player among the collection of young talent that should help turn the team around into the next decade.
Ivan DeJesus, SS, Double-A Jacksonville (Dodgers)
While he’s nothing close to Davis as a hitter, DeJesus’ line of .287/.371/.381 last year was also seen by many as a function of the Cal League, with the worry that he really wasn’t much more than an excellent glove man with limited offensive skills. The son of Ivan DeJesus is looking to change that reputation at Double-A. With two-hit games on Friday and Saturday and a grand slam on Sunday, DeJesus is batting a highly impressive .328/.446/.459 with more walks (12) than strikeouts (10) in 61 at-bats. More impressive still is that he doesn’t turn 21 for ten more days. It’s hard to figure out where he fits into the Dodgers’ plans at the big league level at this point, but he’s well on his way to giving the brass something to think about.
Collin DeLome, OF, Low-A Lexington (Astros)
Well, maybe the Astros did find something in their embarrassing 2007 draft after all. Although he was only a fifth-round pick, DeLome was Houston’s top selection from last June, and after a strong debut in the New York-Penn League last summer, DeLome continues to impress this year, going deep on Friday and Saturday; a hitless Sunday ended his streak of four straight games with a home run. At .254/.326/.619, obviously there are still some holes in his game, but with seven bombs on the year, he trails only the immortal Fernando Tatis among all minor leaguers. At this point, Astros fans will take anything they can get.
Tommy Hanson, RHP, High-A Myrtle Beach (Braves)
A little more than two weeks into the minor league season, Hanson has clearly been the best pitcher around. On Saturday, he fired six one-hit innings against Kinston, maintaining his ERA at a perfect 0.00 mark in 22 frames while allowing just five hits and six walks, and striking out 32. He’s throwing a bit harder than in the past, as his fastball was generally sitting at 92-95 mph over the weekend, and his size and delivery make the ball hard to track out his hand, adding to the pitch’s effectiveness. Throw in a plus curveball, and Hanson has put himself in the front rank of Atlanta’s plethora of young, talented arms.
Shooter Hunt, RHP, Tulane
As a scouting director told me earlier in the season, one of the best things going for Hunt is that he’s as good as advertised every time out. Friday night, Hunt hit the mark once again by giving up just two hits over seven innings against Southern Mississippi while striking out a season-high 12. Now boasting a 1.59 ERA in nine starts for the Green Wave, the right-hander with above-average stuff and command has allowed just 24 hits in 56 2/3 frames while punching out 78, leaving plenty of teams with mid first-round picks wondering if he’ll even be around for them to consider come June.
Peter Kozma, SS, Low-A Quad Cities (Cardinals)
Many saw Kozma as a bit of an overdraft last summer, but the pool of middle infield talent was anything but deep, and the Cardinals wanted to ensure that they get their guy. So far, he’s looking like a legitimate first-rounder after a 5-for-15 weekend that included his first two home runs of the season. That stretch upped his averages to .322/.420/.492 in 16 games for the River Bandits. The reason Kozma may be underrated is that he lacks that one plus-plus tool to get excited about, but at the same time, he’s one of those players whose greatest strength is a lack of weaknesses. He’s a good hitter, a good fielder, and he has a good arm and runs well. It’s hard to see superstar potential in him, but at the same time, if you’re starting a pool of current 2007 high school draftees who will turn into everyday big league starters, take Kozma early.
Jo-Jo Reyes, LHP, Triple-A Richmond (Braves)
The lack of anything resembling a back of the rotation cost the Braves dearly last year, and Reyes was one of the wrong answers. After an excellent minor league performance, Atlanta gave him an audition in the second half of the season, and he responded with a 6.22 ERA in 50 2/3 innings. This year, the opportunities are not as plentiful, but he’s gunning for a second chance, keeping his ERA at a perfect 0.00 in 14 innings after five more shutout innings on Friday. The Tommy John surgery survivor has slightly above-average velocity, a solid breaking ball, and a good changeup, and there’s no reason he can’t turn into a solid back-end rotation guy if given another chance.