AL ml Report (pt. 2)
As a Cubs fan, things are on the up and up. Mark Prior has a date set, so the Sergio Mitre AAA countdown can officially begin. It’s not that I don’t like the guy, I just can’t help wondering what things would be like if #22 was on the mound every time he pitches.
But luckily, everyone else in the rotation is pitching magnificently. And even with an ERA over 5.00, Greg Maddux has been very good lately. In fact, in his last four starts: 27IP 27H 22K 3BB 3.00ERA. That is exactly why the Cubs signed Maddux, but unfortunately, the offense has not been generous enough, and I worry about Greg’s chances at yet another 15-win season.
A friend recently asked me if I thought Carlos Zambrano was better than Kerry Wood. I laughed at this notion immediately, but later noticed that Z is pitching fantastically this year. Save a bad performance at Arizona and Carlos has been untouchable, especially his last sixteen innings: five hits, three walks, seventeen strikeouts and ZERO runs. The Cubs have so many aces it's insane, and their ability to stay within three games of the Astros by the Pirates series (June 4-6) will have a huge bearing on this race. It’s great to see Derrek Lee doing well, isn’t it?
Last week I started on an AL minor league report, but never finished it. I promised to get it up during the week, but other obligations made that impossible. So today I’ll finish it, and I hope that every week I’ll tackle half of the league, completing a full cycle every month. Enjoy...
Before the 2003 season, Royals fans would have predicted a 2004 with Alexis Gomez in right field and Mike Tonis behind the plate. Plans have drastically changed in Kansas City, and now those two are seeing their chances of reaching Kauffman Stadium decrease. Gomez is hitting a paltry .161/.223/.276 at AAA, while Tonis is hitting .177/.230/.253 at AA. Last season’s first-round choice, Chris Lubanski, is hitting .202/.311/.303 in the Midwest League, rounding out the bad hitters in the system.
But the worst of all comes on the mound, where former first-rounder Colt Griffin looks like a complete bust. The first high schooler to hit triple digits on a radar gun, Griffin is 1-2 in the Carolina League, with an 8.78ERA, thirty hits and 21 walks in only 27.2 innings. It’s unknown Dusty Hughes that is capturing headlines by allowing only one run in his first thirty-two innings, good for a 0.28ERA in the Midwest League.
And yes, there are more good things. Mitch Maier, a supplemental pick last June, is hitting .306/.364/.490 while moving from behind the plate to the hot corner in low-A. David Murphy, a second basemen in the Carolina League, is hitting .337/385/.471 for Wilmington. Finally, outfielder Byron Gettis has been hot the last two weeks, raising his overall AAA line to .287/.427/.483, and will make a case to up-end the ridiculously hot Ken Harvey at some point.
Zack Greinke watch: 0-1 3.38 17/18.2 15/4
Calvin Pickering watch: .299/.441/.770
While things are once again looking good at the Major League level, the Twins have reinforcements if needed in the minor leagues. Aaron Gleeman would love for Jason Bartlett to replace one of the Twins terrible middle infielders, as Bartlett is hitting .339/.412/.504 at Rochester. Top unhurt prospect Justin Morneau is destroying the International League, hitting .386/.433/.711, making every Twin fan on Earth wondering why the Hell he’s not in the Major Leagues yet. Jesse Crain, the final piece of the AAA puzzle, is doing OK, allowing seventeen hits in 15.2 innings, but also striking out twenty in that time. We’ll see him once Joe Nathan cools off a bit.
Jason Kubel, an unheard prospect with a career .310 average, is doing magnificent in the Eastern League, hitting .388/.453/.660, mainly thanks to double-digit doubles. There is no spot on the Twins roster for Kubel, making me think the Twins could be like the Braves of the 1990s, but trading outfielders rather than pitchers. J.D. Durbin is the other New Britainer looking great, with a 2.08ERA through 34.2 innings.
In the Florida State League, the Fort Myers Miracle have managed a winning record (15-14), despite only THREE home runs. It’s been all pitching, with acquired hurlers Francisco Liriano (A.J. Pierzynski) and Matt Yeatman (Matt Kinney) leading the way.
Things look the most bleak at low-A, where prospects Denard Span, Matt Moses, and Evan Meek are all struggling terribly. Both former first-rounders, Span (.228/.333/.267) and Moses (.239/.341/.451) can’t make consistent contact. Moses is a little more intriguing thanks to the ISO over .200, but time will tell with him. Meek has been terrible on the mound, walking fifteen men while striking out only three in just over five innings. Yikes.
A hoard of hitting prospects shot the Angels up organizational rankings in the past year, and that group should start to arrive in the O.C. in the next few years. In fact, Darin Erstad’s injury has opened the path for Casey Kotchman, who was hitting .368/.438/.544 in the Texas League. Kotchman has had injury issues his entire career, but if he stays healthy, Erstad might be moving back to the outfield upon his return. The team also has potential replacements for Ben Molina, Adam Kennedy and Troy Glaus in Jeff Mathis (.312/.350/.462), Alberto Callaspo (.312/.353/.368) and Dallas McPherson (.300/.376/.473).
After that, things haven’t been great in the Anaheim system. Top pitching prospect Ervin Santana has yet to take the mound, while Bobby Jenks has an ERA over 8 in his first twelve innings. Intriguing right-hander Rafael Rodriguez has gotten off to an equally bad start in the Midwest League, allowing sixteen hits and ten walks in his first thirteen innings. Only one-time Padre prospect Eric Cyr has been good on the mound, going 4-0, 1.70ERA in the Texas League.
There are a few more lower-level hitting prospects, but they have mixed results so far. The best has been from California League shortstop Erick Aybar, who is hitting .364/.430/.503 with eleven stolen bases thus far. Last year’s first rounder, Brandon Wood has struggled, hitting .238 in his first 100 or so at-bats. His double-play partner, Howie Kendrick, is hitting .309, but bad plate discipline has his on-base percentage at only .327.
Things are not going well for what will forever be labeled as the Moneyball draft. Two of the more talked about players in the book, Nick Swisher and Jeremy Brown are struggling terribly after their first month. Swisher has been unspectacular in the Pacific Coast League, hitting .228/.374/.443 so far. Swisher is proving to be a very hot and cold hitter, and I am beginning to think the team has rushed it with him. Jeremy Brown, the catcher that doesn’t wear jeans, has been the worst of the group hitting .167/.257/.267 at AA. Brown should never have been in the Texas League last year, first establishing success in one of the A’s A-ball factions.
Others from the Moneyball draft are struggling as well. Steve Stanley, an outfielder from Notre Dame, is hitting .237/.345/.289 alongside Swisher at AAA. At AA, both Mark Kiger (.250/.363/.313) and John McCurdy (.247/.286/.424) are hitting below expectations, while Ben Fritz (5.29 36/32.1 23/17) has been awful.
Only Joe Blanton and Mark Teahen are making Billy Beane look respectable, saving millions of readers from lighting Micheal Lewis’ book on fire. Blanton has a 2.39ERA so far at AAA, and it won’t be long before he and Rich Harden switch places, or Harden moves to the set-up role in the bullpen a la Rafael Soriano. Teahen has been the Texas League’s best third basemen, hitting .347/.437/.535 through the first month.
But yes, I will talk about non-Moneyball draft players as well. Dan Johnson (.283/.382/.566) should be taking the Oakland first base job before too long, and Mark Ellis’ injury has opened the other right-side slot for former Cub Adam Morissey (.318/.395/.500). Moving to high-A, a few first-round picks from last year have not been great for Mr. Beane thus far. Houston right-hander Brad Sullivan has been awful, boasting a 13/16 K/BB with an ERA over 5.00 in the California League. Highly touted players Marcus McBeth (.177/.235/.242) and Omar Quintanilla (.259/.315/.431) are struggling as well.
Finally, there are the low-A players that you’ve never heard of. David Castillo hit .398/.475/.686 at Oral Roberts University in his final year, and now is hitting .323/.467/.531 behind the plate at low-A this year. The catch? He’s 23. Behind Teahen and Eric Chavez on the Oakland 3B chart is Eric Snyder, currently hitting .296/.415/.408 for the Kane County Cougars. Finally, the organization’s second-best pitcher has been Brad Knox, a former Central Arizona College right-hander with 52 strikeouts in only 37.1 innings.
Honestly, when going through the different teams for the Mariners, I found very few players to actually report things on. This surprised me as I had believed the Mariners to have a good system, but this practice has made me believe they lack any depth in the system.
Three of the team’s better prospects are currently at AAA. Jose Lopez, still young at shortstop and looking to take the job next year, is hitting .293/.340/.535 at his first go-around the PCL. Travis Blackley is not faring so well, with an ERA at 4.71 and having allowed 38 hits in 28.2 innings with only sixteen strikeouts. Even top prospect Clint Nageotte isn’t doing too well, his ERA is 4.15, and his WHIP is nearing the dangerous 1.40 range.
At AA, only Shin-Soo Choo (.286/.369/.551) was worthy of note. Choo will have a chance at the centerfield job next year, possibly getting Randy Winn traded this coming offseason. In the California League, 18-year-old Felix Hernandez is grabbing all the headlines. Hernandez has an ERA of 2.56 and 41 strikeouts in his first 31.2 innings, all against 25 hits and nine walks. Fellow Inland Empirer Bobby Livingston has been better, allowing only 25 hits in his first 41.1 innings, with an ERA of 1.31. In the Midwest League, only first-round pick Adam Jones (.238/.319/.295) bad season is worthy of note.
Rather than focus on the usual bunch, I’m going to go straight to A-ball, and detail some players that few have heard of so far. Vince Sinisi would have been a top-15 pick from Rice last season, right in Michael Aubrey’s range, if not for his signing demands. The Rangers had to bite, and Sinisi is repaying, hitting .317/.383/.483 thus far. Anthony Webster, a centerfielder in last year’s Carl Everett deal, is also doing well at Stockton, hitting .282/.373/.427. Stanford right-hander John Hudgins, who didn’t do well with the Cardinal until his Senior year, is continuing his success, going 1-0, 2.76ERA, with 25H in 29.1IP against 33 strikeouts and nine walks.
At low-A Clinton, there are more never-before-heard names. The one big name, last year’s first-rounder, John Danks is trying to become this year’s Scott Kazmir. Danks is doing a good job, having struck out 32 in his first 21.1 pro innings, during which his ERA is only 2.11. Another pitcher, Matt Lorenzo, is doing well (1.93ERA, 14H/28IP, 42K/5BB), justifying his fifth-round selection. And late-round pick Ian Kinsler has been great, hitting 20 doubles in his first 110AB.
That’s all for now...