Brandon Crawford, SS, Giants (High-A San Jose)
Crawford was my sleeper on this year’s Giants Top 11 list, and I’m including him here because he’s spent the first four games of the season making me look damn smart. A fourth-round pick last June, Crawford has all the tools in the world, but things never quite came together for him at UCLA, and what was expected by many to be a breakout junior year never materialized. His selection and $375,000 bonus is a pure upside wager, but as one scouting director put it when talking about players like Crawford, “if you don’t know who you want, always bet on the tools.” Those tools have started the year 7-for-12 with a pair of home runs, and while it’s too early to come to any conclusions, keep an eye on this one.
Austin Jackson, OF, Yankees (Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre)
The mantra of this Ten Pack is simply going to be “it’s early.” That said, the Yankees are 3-3, and Brett Gardner is 5-for-21 with one walk and zero extra-base hits. He only seemed like a temporary fix anyway until Austin Jackson is ready, and Jackson is doing his best to tell the Yankees that he just might be ready now by finishing up an opening four-game series with Lehigh Valley by going 8-for-17 with a triple and three walks. I’ve hit on this point before, but timetables be damned in the American League East this year, as one truly outstanding team is going to miss the postseason, so you have to go with your best-and Jackson could be the best center-field option the Yankees have.
Casey Kelly, RHP, Red Sox (Single-A Greenville)
The Red Sox’ top pick last June, Kelly’s pro debut was far from memorable, as he hit just .215/.255/.331. However, that was at shortstop, and now we’re talking about Kelly the right-hander, who was one of the top high-school arms on the board. Making his professional mound debut on Sunday, Kelly delivered five shutout innings while allowing four hits and striking out four in a 9-0 win over Greensboro, showing a plus fastball with late life and outstanding command, as well as an above-average breaking ball. The plan for now is to have him pitch in the first half and play shortstop in the second, but one wonders if the Red Sox are hoping that this kind of dominance on the mound can just move him there permanently, because while he’s a fine shortstop, most scouts agree that out on the mound is where the true upside is.
Mike Leake, RHP, Arizona State
Leake is one of those guys who just keeps rolling along; the righty tossed his second complete game of the year on Friday, striking out 12 in a 13-3 win over Washington. On a purely statistical level, it’s certainly all there, as Leake has a 1.53 ERA in 64
Ethan Martin, RHP, Dodgers (Single-A Great Lakes)
The Dodgers’ top pick in last year’s draft, Martin suffered a knee injury shortly after signing last summer, so his pro debut had to wait until this year. Taking the mound on Saturday, Martin fired five shutout innings, allowing just two hits, two walks, and striking out four in the Loons’ 2-0 shutout of Dayton. While he hadn’t pitched for 10 months, he showed few signs of rust, sitting in the low 90s and touching 95 mph with a sinking fastball that gave the Dragons fits as nine of their 11 in-play outs were of the ground-ball variety. An outstanding athlete with tons of upside, Martin already has a very good curveball, and his schedule this year has been designed to improve the completeness of his arsenal by adding a changeup, while also getting him acclimated to being a pitcher only, as he also had first-round potential as a third baseman in high school. So far, so good.
Jack McGeary, LHP, Nationals (Single-A Hagerstown)
McGeary’s $1.8 million bonus in 2007 was somewhat mystifying, but not on a talent level. It was because the other aspects of the deal turned McGeary into a part-time player; he wanted to attend Stanford, so he would only be available for baseball activities in the summer. Luckily for Washington, that plan only lasted for a year, as McGeary is now a full-time pitcher who is quickly making up for lost time by striking out seven in 5
Josh Reddick, OF, Red Sox (Double-A Portland)
Reddick had a monster season in 2008… well, at least in the California League, where he hit .343/.375/.593 in 76 games. Things didn’t go so well after a move up to Double-A, as his numbers slipped dramatically to .214/.290/.436. Scouts saw his overly aggressive approach finally catching up with him, as more advanced pitchers were able to exploit his tendency to expand his strike zone. He’s still swinging a lot in his return engagement to the Eastern League, drawing just one walk in his first four games, but everything else is clicking, as Reddick hit home runs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as part of a 7-for-14 weekend that also included a pair of doubles. If he can stay in center field, he could be a monster prospect, but even if he moves to right (and some scouts have put a pure 80 on his arm), he’s still a solid big-leaguer.
Mark Rogers, RHP, Brewers (High-A Brevard County)
It’s one of those lines in a box score that requires a double-take. No, not the three shutout innings, allowing two hits, walking one, and recording one strikeout-it’s the name that grabs your eye this time. That’s because the last time Rogers pitched in a game was on August 18, 2006. A first-round pick in 2004, Rogers was the best high school player in the history of Maine, and also a legitimate NHL product, for what that’s worth. He was a big, power righty with upper-90s velocity, plenty of control issues, and scary mechanics, the last of which caught up to him as he missed the past two seasons after back-to-back shoulder surgeries. No scouting report necessary really (at least for now), I just like blasts from the past, and find it really hard not to root for them.
Tony Thomas, 2B, Cubs (Double-A Tennessee)
Thomas had a monster year in 2007, putting up huge numbers at Florida State, and then hitting .308/.404/.544 in the Northwest League as part of his pro debut. That put him towards the back end of most Cubs’ prospect lists entering the 2008 season, but his light slowly dimmed in the Florida State League last year thanks to a nondescript .266/.320/.400 campaign that left most seeing his previous year as more the result of great hitting environments than anything else. An MVP award in the league championship series ended the season on a high note, and he’s begun 2009 looking to move back up the charts, as a four-hit, two-homer game on Friday was followed with three more hits on Sunday, putting him at 8-for-15 with 15 total bases and seven RBI in his first four Southern League contests. There are some abilities here, especially his bat speed, and we may have written him off too quickly. Or else we’re getting too excited over four games.
Tim Wheeler, OF, Sacramento State
If there’s one thing this year’s June draft desperately lacks, it’s college position players. That’s lured a good number of scouts to central California to see Wheeler; while playing at a small school, he at least has the tools, with above-average power and speed. The power side of that equation was on display Saturday, as Wheeler slugged four home runs in a doubleheader to raise his season averages to .400/.503/.724, with 12 home runs and 12 stolen bases in just 33 games. He’s already worked his way into this year’s first round, and he could go up from there, because for all of the teams that want a college position player and don’t really have a true favorite, it will be time once again to “always bet on the tools.”