Atlanta Braves

What, Even More Arms?: The Braves have one of the best systems in baseball when it comes to young pitching talent, but there hasn’t been much focus yet on a pair of lesser-known arms who have been putting up impressive numbers early on in the 2008 season. Signed as a six-year free agent out of the Pittsburgh system, 24-year-old Dominican right-hander Luis Valdez slid into the closer role at Double-A Mississippi, and has been impressive both statistically and on a scouting level. Valdez has a 3.15 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 20 innings, and has been even better since moving to the end-game role, having yet to allow an earned run in the ninth inning, and striking out 13 over eight frames. His command is spotty and his delivery takes a lot of effort, but with a 92-96 mph fastball and a plus slider, he has true big league potential.

A fifth-round pick in 2003, Chris Vines had done little in his pro career, and began this year as just an extra arm in the bullpen at High-A Myrtle Beach. Then he was moved into the rotation when Tommy Hanson got bumped up to Double-A, and after posting a 0.66 ERA in 27 1/3 IP, with 30 strikeouts and five walks, he’s back on the prospect radar. A 6’5″ righty who throws downhill, Vines fills the strike zone with an upper-80s fastball that can touch 92 while keeping hitters off balance with a decent curveball and plus changeup. “For a guy like Vines, his order of importance is command, movement and then velocity,” said one scout who recently saw Vines start. “There is not a lot of room for error with those guys and they have to show it every time out, but so far he’s doing just that.”

Florida Marlins

D-Mac Attack: Once one of the top power prospects in the game, third baseman Dallas McPherson missed all of last year recovering from the kind of surgery that one would expect to end a career–having two vertebrae in his spine fused. Signed by the Fish to a Triple-A deal in the offseason, McPherson is mashing once again, batting .297/.396/.659 in 40 games for the Isotopes following a three-homer game on Monday. His defense (poor) and strikeout rate (58 in 138 at-bats) remain Branyan-esque, but with Jorge Cantu struggling both at the plate and with the glove of late, McPherson could get a look and add yet another home run threat to the Marlins lineup.

Time To Move To The Mound?: A second-round pick out of Clemson in 2005, outfielder Kris Harvey has yet to tap into his significant power potential, and this year, he’s hit a wall at Double-A Carolina, putting up a measly .143/.217/.246 line in 41 games for the Mudcats. His father Bryan was one of baseball’s top shutdown closers for a six year period, and at 24, it might be time for junior to try developing into the same kind of player. While his college numbers on the mound were unimpressive and he was unquestionably raw, his fastball sat in the mid-90s and he flashed what was at times a wipeout slider. He’s clearly not going anywhere as an outfielder, so the Marlins have nothing to lose by converting him.

New York Mets

B-Mets Bats: While no Mets affiliate has a winning record, there has been some offensive firepower at Double-A Binghamton, and one scout who’s seen the team on several occasions chimed in on the future outlook of some of its top performers. After a solid showing in the Florida State League in 2006, first baseman Mike Carp slid to .251/.337/.387 last year at Double-A, and while he’s repeating the level, he won’t turn 22 until the end of June, and he’s having what looks like a breakthrough season by hitting .338/.389/.537. More importantly, the scout saw reasons to believe that the improvements are the results of positive adjustments. “He can still get a little long, but every time I’ve seen him this year, he’s shown me he can hit,” said the scout. “When there’s inside velocity, he’s shortening his arms and getting the barrel into the zone.” Like any minor league first baseman, Carp need to keep mashing in order to profile as any kind of prospect. “He’s kind of without a position right now,” noticed the scout. “He’s playing some left field right now, but you can forget about that. He has power, and big raw power, but he’s a streaky hitter and good, but not great. He’s a good prospect, but more of a second-division starter for me.”

The scout’s strongest praise was held for outfielder Fernando Martinez, who is also repeating Double-A, but is just 19 years old and batting .280/.314/.408. “I know he doesn’t have much of a number history, but I think when it’s all done, he’s the Mets’ No. 3 hitter, ” gushed the scout. “His body is filling out, his plate discipline is better, he’s showing more usable power in-game, his maturity instincts and awareness is highly advanced, his throwing and defense is better to where I think he’s a right fielder and not a left fielder–I see him as a future All-Star and I think it’s going to happen pretty fast. He’s friggin’ sick.”

Philadelphia Phillies

Nailing It On Naylor: Profiled in a recent Ten Pack, Australian righty Drew Naylor has a 2.59 ERA in nine starts for Low-A Lakewood, with even better peripheral numbers, including just 39 hits allowed in 59 innings to go with 65 strikeouts and 15 walks. One scout who recently watched Naylor liked what he saw on a scouting level as well. “He needs to tighten some things up, and there is still some real rawness to his stuff, and his command is average, but he has real strikeout pitchability,” said the scout. “He sat at 91-92 with good movement and has a really good put-away curve with a big bend–almost a 12-6 bend. I liked the arm quite a bit.”

Good Bat, Questionable Glove: Double-A Reading shortstop Jason Donald has rarely given anyone reason to question his hitting, and this year is no different, as he’s hitting .296/.409/.409 in 31 games for the R-Phils. A scout who recently saw Reading fell in with most who have evaluated Donald–loving the bat, but wondering where he fits in defensively. “I saw the bat really good; that bat will play and carry him to the big leagues and keep him there a while,” said the scout. But the defense? “He’s such a grinder at shortstop–he makes the plays, but nothing looks easy for him, and he sits back on too many balls while trying to make up for it with his plus arm. He could play second or third, but you wouldn’t want to over-expose him at shortstop.”

Washington Nationals

Senators In The Outfield: The Double-A club at Harrisburg has one of the most productive outfields in the league, and while one of its members is 29-year-old Jorge Padilla, the remaining pair are legitimate prospects who could force their way into Washington’s plans over the next two years. A tools monster who was beset by injuries throughout his college career, Justin Maxwell is a 6’5″, 245-pound beast who draws physical comparisons to Dave Winfield. While he’s hitting just .246 this year, he’s showing plenty of secondary skills, with a .386 on-base percentage, a .486 slugging mark, and 13 stolen bases–which was good enough for one scout to see him as an everyday outfielder in the big leagues. “He’s got power, speed and on-base skills,” commented the scout. “He has good hitting fundamentals, a feel for the strike zone and easy game power–I saw him hit a ball 430 feet to dead center. I think you could see him real soon–he’s very exciting.”

Another toolsy outfielder is Roger Bernadina. He’s seemingly been in the system for years, as the Nationals have been very patient in allowing his tools to develop, and the 23-year-old Curacao native might be finally paying their patience a dividend, with a .322/.377/.470 line in 38 games. “He’s got a very good collection of offensive and defensive tools, and now he’s playing within those tools,” said the scout, who’s been following Bernadina for years. “He has good bat speed, his bunting is a weapon, he’s a good aggressive base runner and a plus defender. He could end up a good fourth outfielder or second-division starter.”

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