Wladimir Balentien, OF, Triple-A Tacoma (Mariners)
When one gets sent down, all one can do is keep on hitting. That’s easier said than done, as there’s a mental aspect to overcome when going from chartered plane trips and giant per diems back to the bus leagues. After batting .196/.265/.346 in a 32-game audition with the Mariners this year, Balentien struggled upon his return to Triple-A, batting just .178 in his first 12 games at Tacoma. Since then, he’s been gunning for another chance. The Curacao native hit home runs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, giving him bombs in four straight games and six in his last seven-for a .339/.442/.726 line in July. With nothing left to play for this year, Seattle needs to figure out where he fits into their future.
Scott Campbell, 2B, Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays)
A tenth-round pick out of Gonzaga in 2006, Campbell entered the year as an off-the-radar guy with averages of .284/.393/.379. Jumped two levels to Double-A this year, he’s become a very real prospect, and the New Zealander was selected to the Futures Game roster as he guns to become the first New Zealander to reach the big leagues. Among the Eastern League leaders in batting and on-base percentage throughout the season, Campbell went on a surprising power surge over the weekend, blasting his sixth home run of the year on Saturday, and adding his seventh and eighth on Sunday, bringing his numbers on the season up to an even more impressive .333/.422/.474. Campbell’s athleticism doesn’t blow anyone away-he’s a fundamentally-sound second baseman, though not especially rangy, and his speed is average at best. His power-this weekend notwithstanding-is below average, but the most important tool is the hit tool, and scouts are grading that high, convinced that the Kiwi will make history at some point next year.
David Cooper, 1B, Low-A Lansing (Blue Jays)
With Travis Snider ranking as the entire organization’s only prospect who projects as a middle-of-the-order force, to compensate Toronto focused on advanced college bats with their first-round pick this June, and selected Cooper with the 17th overall pick. A first baseman whose only tool is the bat, Cooper has had zero issues in translating his skills to the pros, and after batting .341/.411/.553 in 21 New York-Penn League games, he’s now tearing apart the Midwest League. The former Cal star slugged his first two full-season home runs over the weekend, and is batting .386/.438/.614 in 11 games overall for the Lugnuts, looking very much like the kind of hitter who could rocket through the minors. Seeing him in Double-A at some point in 2009 could be a reasonable expectation.
Zach Cozart, SS, Low-A Dayton (Reds)
A second-round pick last year, Cozart entered pro ball as an outstanding defensive shortstop with little offense to offer. The first part of that equation hasn’t changed, but the offensive aspect of his game has taken a shocking turn. After hitting just two home runs over 184 at-bats in last year’s pro debut, Cozart just slugged his 11th and 12th home runs of the season over the weekend, and is now hitting a shocking .269/.330/.470 in 70 games for the Dragons. The on-base skills are still lacking, but the power development is downright shocking, and all he needed was some kind of offensive upside to project as an everyday player in the big leagues, because the defense really is that good.
Brian Dopirak, 1B, High-A Dunedin (Blue Jays)
Three years ago, Dopirak was one of the top power prospects in the game after slugging 39 home runs in the Midwest League in a .307/.367/.593 campaign for the Cubs‘ Low-A affiliate in Lansing. Then, the wheels just fell off, as he hit only .235/.289/.381 in the Florida State League the next year, and then the injury bug bit, limiting him to just two Double-A home runs in 257 at-bats last year. The Jays decided to give him one last shot, and sent him to their High-A affiliate in Dopirak’s hometown of Dunedin, and all of a sudden he’s hitting again. It’s difficult to call him a prospect again, but he’s still just 23 years old, and with four home runs over the weekend, he now leads the Florida State League in home runs (21), RBI (70), and runs scored (62), while batting .293/.368/.536. At the very least, he’s back in the picture.
Aaron Cunningham, OF, Double-A Midland (Athletics)
These days, it’s tough to be a prospect in the A’s system. With all of the trades, and now the occasional high-profile international signing, it’s easy to get lost in the organizational shuffle. After spending half a season in the Arizona system, the former White Sox prospect came to the A’s in the Dan Haren deal, but missed the first month of the season with a wrist injury. Since reporting to Double-A, he’s been one of the most consistent producers on the RockHounds roster, and slugged home runs on Friday and Sunday, and a pair of singles on Saturday. Batting .371/.440/.671 in July and .301/.376/.480 overall, Cunningham fits better as a corner outfielder, but he can play center in a pinch, and might compare more accurately to a right-handed version of a pre-injury Travis Buck.
Brock Huntzinger, RHP, Short-Season Lowell (Red Sox)
While Boston is known for big spending in the draft, they’ve also done well with their more ‘standard’ picks, for lack of a better term. They didn’t pay extra for Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, or Michael Bowden in 2005, or for Justin Masterson the following year. Last year’s third-round pick who signed for a slot-level $225,000 bonus, Huntzinger is a big, projectable right-hander from Indiana with excellent command of low-90s fastball, a slider that flashes plus, and a changeup still in the developmental stages. That combination has been one of the stories of the New York-Penn League this year, as Huntzinger went six one-hit innings on Sunday to lower his ERA to a minuscule 0.49 in seven starts for the Spinners. In all seven outings, Huntziner has gone five-plus innings, allowing one run only once, and has yet to give up more hits than innings pitched as the league is batting .154 against him. That kind of consistency is hard to find at this level, and he’s another name to know in a very good system.
Austin Jackson, OF, Double-A Trenton (Yankees)
After a year and a half of mediocre performance, Jackson exploded in the second half of last season, generating two different schools of thought about what that meant. One saw tools that were finally beginning to play, while another still wanted confirmation that the breakout was for real. Jackson went 8-for-10 over the weekend with three doubles and a home run, and is now 16-for-24 in his last eight contests-raising his averages to .296/.373/.458 for the Thunder. He continues to show gap power (26 doubles and nine home runs in 389 at-bats) with some potential for more, as well as good plate discipline, above-average speed, and solid center-field skills. He’s a better prospect than Brett Gardner, will be a better player than Melky Cabrera, and is the Yankees’ center fielder of the future, beginning at some point in 2009.
Justin Jackson, SS, Low-A Lansing (Blue Jays)
A toolsy shortstop who was seen as a still-raw talent offensively, last year’s supplemental first-round pick had been just that during much of the season until this past week. Going 7-for-14 over the weekend and 15-for-28 in his last six games has raised his averages from a July 9 low of .220/.337/.350 to a far more respectable .253/.358/.391 in the span of eleven days. Jackson is a superior defender, and offensively there are projectable indicators, including 17 doubles, seven home runs, 44 walks, and 13 stolen bases. There’s also the 104 strikeouts to address, and scouts point to an approach that is too patient at times, as Jackson backs himself into the pitcher’s counts too often. He remains a high-upside/high-risk proposition.
Jesus Montero, C, Low-A Charleston (Yankees)
Montero is one of the more impressive young hitters around, as the 18-year-old Venezuelan went 8-for-13 over the weekend to raise his averages to .306/.356/.451 in his full-season debut. The only problem is that he’s still not really a catcher. Yankees GM Brian Cashman recently said that Montero had “improved by 50 percent defensively,” but the starting point was so low that it hasn’t made much of a difference for scouts’ evaluations of his glove work. He remains sluggish behind the plate, and his arm is well below average, leaving many to wonder why the six-foot-four, 225 pound monster is being left behind the plate in the first place. That said, offensively he’s pretty special, already showing the ability to hit for average, and his raw power is well-above average, and most feel it will show itself in games soon enough. He’s a premium offensive prospect, but to accurately rank him, you need to see him as a first baseman down the road.