WTNYSeptember 30, 2004
Stuck in the Middle
By Bryan Smith

While there are arguments over East Coast bias and West Coast bias all over the place, Id like to be known for Midwest bias. While the mid-90s were spent arguing over whether Tupac or Biggie represented their coast better, few recognized the rap industry spreading through cities such as St. Louis and Detroit. Maybe us Midwest baseball fans can do that, and let the Cubs (more bias) be our Eminem.

So, today is dedicated to the Midwestthe Midwest League that is. I dont want to call it a season recap, because under that circumstance Ill probably be guilted into doing season recaps for each league. Today is more of a look of what happened where I live this year, in places like Kane County or Burlington. And dont think were looking at the individual teams either, strictly the players underneath. This aint a prospect site for nothing.

Minor league fans know the name Brian Dopirak, because he was one of many home run sluggers making headlines in the farm leagues during 2004. There was Calvin Pickering, and Ryan Howard, Brandon Sing and Mitch Einerston. And there was Brian Dopirak, the best prospect of the bunch. Formerly a second-round choice out of Florida, the Cubs chose Dopirak for his raw power, hoping the rest of the package would develop in time.

Consider it developed. Not only did Dopirak turn raw power into real power this year, but he also hit a career-best (sample size!) .307 batting average. His 39 home runs were extremely close to the Midwest League record, which led to his MVP and Prospect of the Year trophies this September. But, Dopirak does not come without flaws. While Cubs brass should be recognized for their great work turning him into a contact hitter, the next job is lowering the strikeouts. Dopirak whiffed 123 times this season, almost once per game. To make matters worse, the first basemen only walked 48 times, another number that begs improvement.

Baseball America is convinced that Dopirak was far and away the best prospect of the Midwest League. While I would love this to be fact, Im not so sure that Dopirak is handily tops in the field. Why? I like OBP too much. And for young Daric Barton, on-base percentage just happens to be his specialty. A 2003 first-round choice out of high school, Barton has made the transition to full-season ball that few havea polished one. Despite starting the season injured, Barton bounced back to walk 69 times, good for a .445 OBP. And I still havent told you the best part? Hes a catcher.

Apparently though, according to BA, hes not a very good one. I dont have the first-hand experience to report on that, but apparently a position change may be in order. Luckily for Daric, he has the bat to with almost any position. He hits for contact (.313), power (.511 SLG), and as we established, can take a walk. Barton probably doesnt project to have a ceiling like some prospects, but hes as solid a bet as youll find in A-ball to make the bigs. Well, not including Delmon Young, of course.

Lets stay on the topic of polished, because the Midwest League had more of that. Over in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Angels saw an unheralded second basemen make a name for himself. Howie. While his physical attributes are apparently far from intimidating, Kendrick knows how to use a baseball bat. Howie showed that this season, hitting .367 in 313 AB, including forty extra-base hits. He neither walks nor strikes out much, but walks can be excused if the batting average stays that bloated. There arent high hopes for Kendrick to make the Majors as a game-changer, but hes got one fan right here.

For Eric Duncan, the worry is just making the Majors at all. He could deal with Aaron Boone as competition, but Alex Rodrigeuz? Not so much. Duncan, a former first round pick, has now established himself as the Yankees best prospect. His numbers, while not fantastic, sort of remind me of Andy Marte in his youth. Duncan has a solid ISO (.219), and walks a lot. But at the same time, we need to worry about average (.260), as well as strikeouts, which averaged more than once a game.

Yankees fans will plead for Duncan to make the Edgardo Alfonzo move to second base, but dont expect it. Duncan is probably the best trade bait the market will see this winter, and I doubt his jersey will contain pinstripes upon his Major League arrival. But unlike a lot of Yankees prospects, Duncan is worth trading for. But surprisingly, hes not even my favorite member of that team.

While Ill give my reader Fabian credit for introducing me to Melky Cabrera now, Ill probably take all the credit down the road. Ive compared Cabrera to Bernie Williams in the past, another switch-hitting Yankee outfielder that spent his minor league days posting ISOs right around .150. Williams struggled a bit in his first tour of the Eastern League, so I dont expect world-beating numbers from Melky next year, but I wont forget about him. Well see this winter how the Yankees deal with their outfield, but in my heart of hearts, I like to believe there will one day be a spot for Melky.

Melky was one of many prospects that started in the Midwest League, but quickly bolted for bigger and better things. The king behind this stigma was Tony Giarratano, a Tigers SS that left paltry Midwest League numbers for the FSL spot light. For some reason, Detroit promoted Tony to high-A, after the switch-hitter his .285/.383/.352 in the MWL. Giarratano went on to hit .376/.421/.505 in more than 200 FSL at-bats, cementing his spot on the prospect map.

But dont let those power numbers confuse you, Giarratano doesnt have much of that. In a combined 367 at-bats this season, Tony hit only 24 extra-base hits, and only six home runs. He did steal 25 bases, and showed above average patience in the lower level. The key for Giarratano will be to keep making solid contact, taking his walks, and stealing his bases. The SLG will probably never hit .500 again, though its probably safe to say the average wont smell .376 as well.

After 59 games of being Clinton, Iowas largest draw, it was time for the Rangers to promote Ian Kinsler. A teen-round pick from University of Missouri, Kinsler wasnt though of highly from the Big 12. But Kinsler put himself on the map in 2003, as .400 batting averages will do. Kinsler hit an astounding Reed-like .402/.465/.692 in the MWL, with 42 extra-base hits in 59 games. He also stole 16 bases, truly making him worthy of the 2004 Jeremy Reed award.
Even a challenge to AA wasnt enough to stop Kinslers hot streak. The shortstop hit .300/.380/.480 in Frisco, hitting another 31 XBH, for a total of 73. More than three times what Giarratano hit in 2004. He did make 34 errors, contradicting what his strength was at Missouri. And while John Sickels vowed to give Kinsler at least a B+ in his next book, I wont be as high on him. Kinsler should struggle handily next year, but still make the Majors and move Michael Young back to second. Or John Hart will join me on the skeptic bus and trade him, probably for some real starting pitching.

Thats all the time I have for today, as Ill probably share my other Midwest notes for another piece. Keep checking this site for new developments in coming days, which are of course coming slower than I anticipated.

Comments

Eric Duncan is one of the top 5 power prospects in the minor league. There, I said it.

Melky Cabrera is every bit the prospect that Felix Pie is. There, I said it.

(Ducks)

Fabian--
I'll look more at your first comment later, but your second one is dead wrong. First of all, Cabrera spent half of his season in the Midwest League, during his age 20 season. Pie will spend his age 20 season in AA. Second of all, you're ignoring defense, where Pie profiles as one of the two or three best defensive outfielders in the minors. Cabrera has less speed as well.

I like Cabrerra a lot, and he's probably one of the top 15 outfielders in the minor leagues. Pie is in the top 6.

Really I was just being argumentative for the sake of it.

Also, this was actually Cabrera's age-19 season, which is the same as it was for Pie.

Also, as for evidence in my favor if I DID want to seriously make that argument, Cabrera's year projects to .290/.347/.478 according to BPro's system, while Pie's projects to .280/.346/.457.

The one thing I will grant without much argument is that Pie does have more speed, but that is somewhat negated by his awful baserunning judging by SB/CS numbers.

One other thing about Ian Kinsler: he had 15 HBP's in 277 at bats at AA Frisco. Talk about being able to take a pitch. Rumor has it that the Rangers did offer him to the Rockies before the trade deadline. I don't think we will see him in Arlington in the future.

Duncan top 5 power prospect? I wouldn't be so sure about that. I think all these prospects have more power then him:

Joel Guzman
Delmon Young
Ian Stewart
Andy Marte
Prince Fielder
Dallas McPherson (if you still want to count him)
Brian Dopirak
Ryan Howard

Other that probably have just as much power if not more:
Francouer, Milledge, Barton....

I didn't do any research before I made my comment. That said, I think Duncan has more power potential than Prince, Young, Dopirak, and Howard. I'll give you McPherson (though he still won't be an effective offensive player), Marte, maybe Stewart, and Guzman. He also definitely beats out Franceour, Milledge, and Barton. I'm basing this on his IsoP, of which he was about top 5 in both leagues played this year, plus his ridiculous XBH% and his body type as he has ample room to add weight and get stronger.

How does he defiantly beat out Milledge? If your basing it on XBH's they have the same amount of doubles/hr's at Low A level. Milledge also has the type of body to add more muscle. Francouer also has more room to grow into his body then Duncan, as he is 6'4".

More then Prince and Young? Basically 2 of the top power hitters that every scout would bring up. I see some of the reason why you would think he possibly could have more power, but I think a lot of it is also not giving other prospects their certain do as power prospects. Sure they might not be as good of prospects overall, but when it comes to power they are top notch.

Top 10? possibly..sure, but it's not enough reason to make a Top 5 arguement IMO. We will find out soon enough though.

I said definitely better than Milledge because I'm working under the assumption that some of his XBH were more speed based. In addition, the MWL is a tougher league to hit in than the SAL.

I say more than Prince because Prince does not have much room to get bigger/stronger, if any.

Franceour is 6'4'', Duncan is 6'3'', that was just a case where I chose to put my guy over the other guy I guess.