Eric Arnett, RHP, Indiana University; Mike Leake, RHP, Arizona State University
Just a quick note to college coaches: Stop it! In the never-ending debate over pitch counts, I’m actually more than a bit liberal, feeling that most are far too cautious when it comes to pitcher usage, and gleefully welcoming Nolan Ryan taking the Rangers a step back to work their pitchers more than has become the norm. That said, the world of college baseball continues to be one where winning takes precedence over anything else. Arnett and Leake could both go in the first round of this June’s draft, and both aces took the mound this Friday for their respective teams. They did their jobs well, delivering complete games, but a closer look at the box scores show 138 pitches for Leake and 141 for Arnett. The NCAA needs to establish some rules here, say a 120-pitch limit for starters, in order to prevent careers from being ruined by coaches who are only focused on wins, instead of also accepting some responsibility for these kids’ futures. But then, has the NCAA done anything smart… ever?
Homer Bailey, RHP, Reds (Triple-A Louisville)
After striking out a career-high 15 in his last start, Bailey was more efficient on Saturday night, delivering a seven-inning five-hit shutout against Buffalo. Much of his success can be attributed to mechanical changes, or, more accurately, his reverting to his former delivery, which puts more downward bite on both his fastball and breaking ball. There’s no immediate, obvious opening in the Reds’ rotation right now, but when one does arise, Bailey could finally be ready to step in and live up to his once mighty promise.
Devaris Gordon, SS, Dodgers (Single-A Great Lakes)
Tom’s kid arguably has the best set of tools in the system, but he is also among the most raw talents in the organization, so it wasn’t a big surprise to see him hitting just .259 a week ago. Heck, that was almost an encouraging number for a player in the Midwest League, the lowest-scoring league in the minors, and even more so during this April’s brutal weather. The thing about tools-oriented prospects is that sometimes they just begin to click, and Gordon is doing just that lately. A three-hit game on Sunday was his second with as many safeties in a row, and his fourth of the past week, giving him 10 runs and 16 hits over that span, and thereby raising his triple-slash numbers to .326/.363/.463, with his plus-plus speed adding four triples and nine stolen bases. The rawness is still there, as evidenced by 10 errors and just five walks in 95 at-bats, but at the same time, his ceiling is extraordinarily high.
Cyle Hankerd, OF, Diamondbacks (Double-A Mobile)
A third-round pick in 2006, Hankerd made a massive splash after signing that summer, hitting .384 in the Northwest League and then slugging eight home runs in just 18 California League games. Since then, he’s all but fallen off the map, hitting just 13 home runs over 228 games in the past two seasons-not nearly enough for a player whose bat is his only ticket to the big leagues. Suddenly, he’s now the hottest hitter in the minors, slugging a pair of home runs on Friday, adding three doubles on Sunday, and going a ridiculous 14-for-20 over his last five games to raise his averages to .388/.450/.627 in 21 games. The 24-year-old has not quite transformed himself into a massive prospect, but he’s at least made his blip on the radar visible once again.
Luke Hochevar, RHP, Royals (Triple-A Omaha)
For the Royals to not begin the year with Hochevar in the rotation was a bit baffling. His 5.51 ERA in the big leagues was obviously nothing to write home about, but it did serve as a valuable lesson for the former first overall pick. The team thinks that he needs to learn something at Triple-A, and that makes sense, but to do it so that you can keep Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez in the rotation? That’s just confusing. Now, a month into the season, the American League Central looks even more wide open than initially predicted, and the Royals are right in the middle of it. With a seven-inning, two-hit shutout on Sunday, Hochevar has a 1.13 ERA in five starts for the O-Royals, with a ground-ball ratio of three grounders to every fly-ball out. If the Royals want to stay in first place, they might be best served by getting Hochevar back in the big leagues.
Mat Latos, RHP, Padres (Single-A Fort Wayne)
After missing the first month of the year recovering from an ankle injury, the Padres’ top prospect returned to action on Saturday with six shutout innings, allowing just two hits and a walk to the 19 batters he faced while striking out six. Latos’ fastball was as good as ever, featuring above-average velocity and location, and while he threw few breaking balls, that’s not uncommon for a pitcher in his first game back. The only bad news was the roster move related to Latos’ activation, as 2007 first-round pick Nick Schmidt headed to the DL with elbow soreness, this after missing all of 2008 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Jeff Locke, LHP, Braves (High-A Myrtle Beach)
Locke is one of those players who some scouts tend to like and some tend to love, but his performance has usually fallen firmly in the good-not-great zone. His performance may finally be catching up with the reports, as Locke has taken no-hitters deep into each of his last two starts, including seven shutout innings on Friday while allowing two hits, two walks, and striking out six. He has solid velocity for a lefty, touching as high as 93 mph with a fastball that features outstanding late life, and his curveball and changeup both project as plus pitches down the road. He’s generating a lot of buzz in the Carolina League so far this year, and this could be the beginning of a breakout.
Andy Marte, 3B, Indians (Triple-A Columbus)
Once one of the top prospects in the game, Marte has spent the past three years disappointing both at Triple-A and in the majors, and when the Indians took him off of the 40-man and passed him through waivers before the season, nobody bit. This is hardly the long-awaited “he’s back” entry, but it is notable that after going 0-for-4 in his first game of the season, he’s gone on an eight-game hitting streak, including his first home run of the year on Friday followed by two more on Saturday, for an overall batting line of .344/.389/.719. He’s still just a relatively reasonably young 25 years old, so color me slightly interested.
Fernando Martinez, OF, Mets (Triple-A Buffalo)
During last week’s daily reports, I took a shot at Martinez during a 1-for-18 slump, saying simply that at some point the guy has to start performing as opposed to living off of his reputation. It’s great that this early in the season it only takes a few games’ worth of production to turn around your numbers, and Martinez has done just that, delivering a double and a home run on both Friday and Sunday; in the last four days his OPS has risen 161 points, with a line of .287/.330/.529. It’s hard to argue with the upside his tools represent, and he still may be lined up for a real look in 2010.
Pat Venditte, RHP and LHP, Yankees (Low-A Charleston)
On the surface, he appears to be more of an entertaining distraction than anything else. A 20th-round pick last June out of Creighton, Venditte is truly ambidextrous, attacking hitters from the right with his right arm, and lefties with his left, where he utilizes a different motion that is very low three-quarters and almost sidearm. He’ll never light up a radar gun, rarely touching 90 mph from the right or even the upper 80s from the left side, but his control is immaculate, and his breaking stuff is solid enough. So far he’s been untouchable, delivering perfect saves on Friday and Saturday to keep his ERA at zero. In 10