Gordon Beckham, SS, Low-A Kannapolis (White Sox)
The eighth overall pick in June, Beckham didn’t sign until last week, and he hadn’t played for nearly two months, so a slow start could easily be excused. No excuses are necessary though (so much for the rust factor), as in his first weekend as a pro he went 7-for-11 with a double, a home run, four walks, and no strikeouts. Beckham has all the tools and abilities to be a star-level player, combining contact skills with above-average power, and just enough in the way of both speed and arm strength to become at least an average shortstop. Just as importantly, all of his skills are advanced enough to project a quick rise to the majors, and Beckham should be up in Double-A by mid-2009, if not earlier.
Dellin Betances, RHP, Low-A Charleston (Yankees)
The Yankees shelled out $1 million in 2006 to sign Betances, but injury problems have slowed his progress significantly. He pitched just seven games last year before being shut down with a sore arm, and the first two months of this year were filled with what can only be described as dominating wildness, as the six-foot-eight righty struck out 64 in 55 innings, while also walking 40. Then came another shutdown for some vague reason which was never called anything more specific than “a tired shoulder.” The good news is that the off period lasted only a month, and Betances has put together his best run as a pro since returning, including a career-high 12 strikeouts on Saturday in just six innings. Since his return, he’s whiffed 62 in 49
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Low-A Augusta (Giants)
Sure, we just talked about Bumgarner last week, but what am I supposed to do when he strikes out a career-high 12 of the 21 hitters he faces on Friday in six shutout innings while giving up just two hits? What am I supposed to do when he has a 1.52 ERA and a K/BB ratio of more than seven to one? What am I supposed to do when in his last four starts he’s fired 28 scoreless innings while giving up 17 hits, two walks, and struck out 35? Could you ignore him? I sure couldn’t.
Michael Brantley, OF, Double-A Hunstville (Brewers)
Sleeper alert! Brantley has been buried all year on a Huntsville roster loaded with high-profile prospects, but all he does is keep hitting at the top of the Stars’ lineup, going 7-for-12 over the weekend and extending his streak of scoring at least one run to seven games. Brantley’s skills would have been valued highly twenty years ago, but in today’s game they can cause confusion. A 21-year-old outfielder batting .330/.409/.416 at Double-A should be some kind of prospect, and Brantley has one of the best combinations of approach and contact skills around, drawing 46 walks this year while striking out just 22 times in 361 at-bats. He’s also a well above-average runner, as evidenced by 25 stolen bases in 31 attempts. The only problem is his defense; he just doesn’t have a good feel in center field, and every time the Brewers play him there, he quickly ends up moving back to left, as both his range and his arm are disappointing. Still, those offense skills have to be worth something no matter where you end up putting him.
Corey Brown, CF, High-A Stockton (Athletics)
I received a question in a chat recently asking if Corey Brown was a flop. It was a silly question at the time, made even sillier by Brown’s weekend, as the 2007 supplemental first-round pick went 7-for-12, including a two-homer game on Sunday. That gives him 13 home runs in 142 at-bats since his promotion to the California League, and 27 overall as part of a combined line of .269/.345/.516. Yes, Brown has some gigantic holes in his swing, striking out a troubling 153 times in 442 at-bats this year, but at the same time he’s more than made up for it by drawing 50 walks, having 53 of his 119 hits go for extra bases, stealing 13 bases without being caught, and playing a solid center field. He’s basically Mike Cameron with average defense, and that’s still a damned fine prospect.
Travis D’Arnaud, C, Low-A Lakewood (Phillies)
During the first half of the season, I felt a little foolish for ranking D’Arnaud ahead of Lou Marson going into the season. While Marson has had a breakout year and is now catching for the Olympic squad, D’Arnaud has certainly kept up his end of the bargain. After batting .309/.371/.463 in the New York-Penn League, the 19-year-old spent his first weekend of full-season baseball over the last three days by going 6-for-13 with a pair of doubles. Athletic and projectable, D’Arnaud has plus defensive tools and above-average power potential. While plenty of teams don’t have a single decent catching prospect, the Phillies have two very good ones.
David Freese, 3B, Triple-A Memphis (Cardinals)
Acquired from San Diego for what turned out to be a month’s worth of Jim Edmonds, Freese was a ninth-round pick in 2006 who was coming off of a solid .302/.400/.489 line at High-A. Scouts had consistently high praise for his bat, but at the same time they wondered what a 24-year-old was doing in the California League, and what that kind of production really proved. The Cardinals moved him all the way up to Triple-A this year, and Freese has kept on slugging, only this time at an age-appropriate level. With four hits and a home run on Saturday, and another long ball on Sunday, Freese now has 23 bombs in 409 at-bats for the Redbirds as part of a .306/.359/.553 line. While Troy Glaus is signed through 2009, Freese provides a solid backup plan.
Angel Morales, OF, Rookie-level Elizabethton (Twins)
Morales made the “just missed” part of list of the organization’s Top 11 Prospects going into the year, and as it turns out, it was my mistake to rate him that low. A third-round pick last June, Morales entered the year as a raw but highly athletic outfielder with plus speed, a good arm, and the chance to end up hitting with some power. That said, nobody was expecting this. Still only 18, Morales slugged home runs on Friday and Saturday and then added two more on Sunday, giving him a remarkable 15 in 167 Appy League at-bats as part of an overall line of .329/.431/.683 in 49 games. He’s striking out quite a bit (64), but with this kind of production, who cares? He won’t ‘just miss’ the Twins prospect rankings coming this offseason; he’ll more accurately just miss being at the top.
Jordan Schafer, CF, Double-A Mississippi (Braves)
It hasn’t exactly been a year to remember for Schafer, who began his season with a 50-game suspension for his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. He did little upon his return, but in many ways those first weeks back were almost like his spring training, as he got his timing down while dealing with the distraction and embarrassment of his suspension. Lately, though, he’s been looking like the Schafer that burst onto the scene last year, going deep on Sunday to up his August line to a 15-game mark of .333/.387/.632, and assuring that his season line is no longer hard to look at, as it’s now a more than respectable .263/.367/.443. The tools are still there, the production is coming, and any attempt to write him off was highly premature.
Michael Taylor, OF, High-A Clearwater (Phillies)
Taylor began the year with a .361/.441/.554 line at Low-A Lakewood which created a mixed reaction. At six-foot-six and 250 pounds, Taylor looks like a potential monster, but at the same time he’s 22 years old and coming of of a highly disappointing three-year career at Stanford that left scouts scratching their heads. Moved up to the Florida State League in mid-June, Taylor continues to bump up his stock by mashing in a much tougher offensive environment, most recently by delivering multi-hit games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to raise his batting line for the Threshers to .342/.392/.546 in 53 contests. There are still questions about what it all means, since both his age and the three-year hole he dug himself in Palo Alto are a lot to make up for in some people’s minds, but the further this goes, the more his doubters fall by the wayside.