Antonio Bastardo, LHP, High-A Clearwater (Phillies)
Bastardo can be seen as one of those “is what he is” kind of players: a short lefty with average velocity. However, beyond his left-handedness, he’s also got fantastic command and a killer changeup. That’s enough to make him some kind of prospect, and he’s on a roll with the Threshers, striking out 13 over eight two-hit innings yesterday-his third double-digit strikeout game in five starts. Currently sitting with a 1.17 ERA and 47 Ks in 30 2/3 innings, Bastardo is starting to get some attention as something more than just a future lefty lefty specialist, though he still has that in his back pocket, as lefty batters are currently 3-for-37 with 23 strikeouts against the 22-year-old Dominican.
Trevor Cahill, RHP, High-A Stockton (A’s)
Cahill closed out his impressive full-season debut last year with a very strong finish, as he put up a 0.74 ERA in his last six starts with twice as many strikeouts (44) as hits allowed (20) in 36 2/3 innings. Picking up where he left off despite advancing to a much tougher league, Cahill whiffed a season-high 12 on Sunday while allowing just one unearned run over seven innings. Now with a 1.80 ERA in 30 innings, only 20 hits allowed, and a fantastic 39-to-5 K/BB ratio, Cahill is bucking for a promotion to Double-A by midseason (if not sooner), and Oakland’s rebuilding process continues to accelerate at a breakneck pace.
Josh Fields, RHP, University of Georgia
The highest unsigned pick from the 2007 draft (69th overall, Braves), Fields is looking more and more like he made the right decision. While the Bulldogs’ offensive struggles have meant that Fields made just one appearance over the weekend, the best college closer in the country made the most of it, getting a save in a 1 2/3 inning outing by striking out all five batters he faced. His season numbers look like something out of high school ball: 0.00 ERA, 22 1/3 innings, five hits, 42 strikeouts. His velocity is much improved from last year’s disappointing season, as he touched 98 mph on Friday night, and his slider remains a true big league-caliber weapon. Looking for that college closer drafted in the first round who moves quickly to the big leagues? This is your guy.
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, High-A Vero Beach (Rays)
Hellickson’s full-season debut last year produced outstanding numbers, but many classified him as a good-not-great prospect because of his smallish stature and the sense that his command and pitchability allowed his admittedly above-average stuff to play that much better against less advanced hitters. The command and pitchability remains, but the stuff has improved this year, as the Iowa native is consistently touching the mid-90s with his fastball these days, including on Sunday, when he whiffed 11 over six innings but allowed one run, which raised his ERA to 0.93 in five starts. In 29 innings for the affiliate that still has the guts to put the ‘Devil’ in front of Rays, Hellickson has 41 strikeouts and two, count ’em two walks, and just like that, the Rays organization has another great prospect.
David Hernandez, RHP, Double-A Bowie (Orioles)
Hernandez quietly had a very good year at High-A last season, but really didn’t hit the radar until he whiffed 18 in his final start. The strikeouts keep coming so far this year, though, as the 6-foot-3 power righty struck out a season-high 11 in five innings on Saturday, upping his season total to 37 in 25 innings and lowering his ERA to 2.52. Hernandez is a bit of a mixed bag, as both his fastball and slider are plus pitches, but he has occasional control problems, leading to 14 walks, and he has a tendency to pitch up in the zone, and that leads to a very low ground-ball rate. There’s definitely something here, but tread cautiously.
Craig Italiano, RHP, Low-A Kane County (Athletics)
If it wasn’t for bad luck, Italiano would have no luck at all. A second-round pick in 2005, Italiano had arguably the best velocity of any high school arm that year, but also a violent delivery that turned off many scouts. He made just four starts for Kane County before requiring labrum surgery, and he returned to make just six starts last year when a line drive to the head led to a skull fracture that cost him the remainder of the season. Back for a third time, Italiano has been nothing short of excellent, lowering his ERA to 1.50 in five starts with five shutout innings yesterday, and increasing his strikeout total to 37 in just 24 innings. His fastball has lost a bit of giddyup from his pre-injury days, but it’s still been clocked up to 95 mph, and he’s throwing more strikes than ever. Italiano should finally escape from the Midwest League soon.
Chuck Lofgren, LHP, Double-A Akron (Indians)
Lofgren was given a bit of a mulligan for a disappointing year at Double-A last year, and there was no real explanation as to why nearly every part of his game-from his command, to his velocity, to his breaking pitches-went slightly backwards. Reassigned to Akron this year with the hope that he’d find his legs, the slide continues. On Friday night, Lofgren got knocked around for seven runs in 4 2/3 innings, and he’s yet to deliver a quality start in four tries for the Aeros, sitting with an ERA of 8.66 while allowing 35 baserunners in 17 2/3 innings, including five home runs. The Indians tried some things during spring training to straighten him out, so this could be a matter of tinkering, but whatever it is, it’s not good.
Daniel McCutchen, RHP, Double-A Trenton (Yankees)
In a system that gets tons of hype for their young pitching talent (for good reason), McCutchen kind of gets lost in the shuffle, despite an outstanding season last year and an equally impressive start to his 2008 campaign. Friday night, McCutchen had one of the best starts of his young career, firing seven one-hit innings and striking out 12. After that outing, his overall numbers are a 1.42 ERA and just 18 hits allowed in 31 2/3 innings. Pitching in Trenton helps any pitcher, and McCutchen is already 25, but his reviews continue to be quite positive, as his above-average command of an average-velocity fastball and outstanding curve have some seeing him become a solid back-of-the-rotation option in short order.
Carlos Rosa, RHP, Double-A Northwest Arkansas (Royals)
Rosa got off to great start last year, but he got hit hard after he was moved up to Double-A. Returned to the level with the Royals’ new Texas League affiliate, Rosa is off to another great start, pitching eight one-hit innings on Friday to lower his ERA to 1.61 in 28 innings while allowing just 17 hits and five walks. Rosa’s fastball has slightly above-average velocity and movement, and he flashes a plus slider and solid changeup as well, giving him a solid three-pitch mix. The Royals system have produced some impressive big hitters of late, but with Rosa and a few others on the way up, it looks like the pitchers are starting to come as well.
Chuck Tiffany, LHP, High-A Vero Beach (Rays)
Tiffany had one of those ‘box score moments’ over the weekend, because just seeing his name in one was surprising enough for some. Once an impressive prospect in the Dodgers system, Tiffany came over in the same trade that netted the Rays Edwin Jackson, but shoulder problems have sidelined the lefty, at times seemingly forever; the last time he showed up in a box score was April 29, 2006. Always seen as a solid southpaw with no killer offering but good command of a solid three-pitch mix, it’s impossible to know what the future holds for the 23-year-old, but his one scoreless inning on Saturday was at least a start.