Never on Break
My guess is by the time you have reached our site today, you have read dozens of articles on the boring All-Star Game and even worse Kenny Rogers saga. There will be none of that today, as I take a look at the place that never stops: the minor leagues. Today will be, again, primarily a notes column. Expect what's below to grow in size as the day wears on. Besides that, please enjoy the All-Star Break.
THE NEXT BATCH -- Unfortunately my midseason top 75 will not include some of my favorite prospects: the ones I predict to breakout. While I have written two articles in the past on the issue, one before the 2004 season and another before 2005, there are constantly players that catch my eye. I want to take some time out right now to look at two that are really in my head. They may, of course, be repeated as breakouts for my pre-2006 article, but in case they have huge second halves, I don't want you to think my eyes were completely closed.
- GARRETT MOCK (RHP, AZ): Last season, Jon Lester was one of my favorite prospects despite a relatively high ERA. I noticed that much of Lester's ERA derived from his first two starts, in which the big lefty allowed twelve runs in four innings. After that he calmed, and had a great rest of the season (3.23 ERA). Given that ideology, one of my breakout's next season will likely be Garrett Mock. The big right-hander was drafted in the third round from the University of Houston in 2003, where he had left after his sophomore season. Mock is a sinkerballer with stuff similar to Ben Petrick, a player on many breakout lists before 2005.
In his first four starts of the season, Mock was not a very good pitcher. In 23.1 innings, he allowed 19 earned runs, 33 hits and four homers. True to form, he still had a good K/BB of 20/4, but teamed with his other numbers, things were not looking good. But starting with his last April start -- his only double-digit strikeout performance of the season -- Mock has turned his season around. In 90.1 innings since those first four, Mock has a 3.39 ERA, just 8 homers allowed, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio over five (76/15).
Arizona was formerly a farm system set up for pitchers to fail, with hitter's stadiums in the Cal, Texas and PCL Leagues. The organization made a good decision moving to the Southern League this year, and while it might not be helping Zeringue (.258/.293/.355), it's sure to help the next decent pitching prospect this organization tries to develop. And in my mind, it's sure to help harness a big breakout in 2006 from Garret Mock.
Note: There is suddenly lots on the Internet that I've found about Mock. First, Chris Kline of Baseball America did an interview with the big right-hander as the site's Daily Dish. Also, I recently stumbled across a beautiful site in calleaguers.com, in which Garrett Mock is scouted in a very detailed fashion.
- ADAM LIND (LF/1B, TOR): For some reason, Lind has become one of my favorite prospects in minor league baseball. Lacking any trace of athleticism, Lind has been very respectable in the Florida State League this year, showing the potential for more. His .288/.351/.401 line wouldn't stop you on the street or drop your jaw, but when a few of those 25 doubles start going over the fence, he just might. With Aaron Hill graduating, Lind is the offensive player to be watched in this system, and I think the Eastern League is going to bring big things next season. Looking at Lind I see him becoming like two Rangers offensively: first David Dellucci, who hit 25 doubles and just 6 HR between A+ and AA at 22, but then twenty homers the next season. Also, Michael Young's .313/.392/.428 line from Dunedin in 1999 caught my eye, as it is so similar to Lind, who I could see hitting 60 extra-base hits in the Majors, like Young did last year.
The caveat with Lind is that he doesn't have the versatility like Dellucci or the forgiving position like Young, and since both of those players took about three years to develop, the Blue Jays are going to need to have patience. Rather, Lind has proven to be -- according to Batter's Box -- pretty inadequate in left field. He very well may shift to first base next year, certainly putting him two steps behind both aforementioned Rangers. But I do believe that Lind is worth notice, and that he can become something maybe even greater than those two Rangers...maybe someone Toronto fans remember more vividly: Paul Molitor.
DON'T FORGET QUITE YET -- Rick Ankiel is currently riding a seven game hitting streak that dates back to June. The Swing have been careful with their tender ace-turned-slugger of late, playing him in the DH spot and pinch running for him late in games. Once his recent injury is healed -- and it's nothing serious -- Ankiel will go back into learning the centerfield positon.
But what the Cardinals have seen from their troubled player has to be comforting. During this seven-game streak he's hit .417/.500/.708, with an extra-base hit in four of those games. He also has struck out just three times while walking four, a peripheral you would expect from his 2000 playoff performance, not as a hitter.
Sooner or later the Cardinals are going to have to challenge Ankiel seriously, rather than constantly babying him given a dark past. Ankiel's age cannot be overlooked, and a trip to the Florida State League might do him well. But, consider stage one of this experiment a success: somewhere, Michael Jordan is jealous.
THE SHORTER STARS -- Recently, I have received e-mails on the two early stars of short-season baseball: Sergio Pedroza (Pioneer) and Jeff Bianchi (AZL). In honor of Bianchi raising his average to .500 yesterday -- now 30/60 according to Kevin Goldstein -- I thought I would sum up my comments in this space.
Pedroza was the Dodgers third-round pick from Cal State Fullerton, a pick that likely satisfied both Logan White and Paul DePodesta. During his first two seasons as a Titan, Pedroza hit about .330/.405/.530, before having a big season with 16 home runs. He has now become the star of the Pioneer League with 23 hits, four home runs and six walks in 46 at-bats. But, what I told the person who e-mailed me is, Pedroza's PL sample-size is the wrong one to look at.
College hitters are supposed to dominate short-season baseball, and if you'd like, I could give you a million hitters who have done so en route to flaming out. But, my interest was what had Pedroza done against college baseball's best in his final season -- against the top of the heap. What I found was that Pedroza had 91 at-bats against Boyd Nation's top 20 teams, and he had done very well. In those games, Pedroza hit .275/.405/.670 with 11 home runs, 15 walks and 30 strikeouts. And there, my friends, is a scouting report. Expect Pedroza's contact skills to decline at more advanced levels, and that -- not his power, which is RF worthy -- to hold him back.
As far as Bianchi goes, his breakout is more impressive, even given the context of an easier league. Bianchi was drafted out of high school, so at very worst, his .500/.558/.883 line is coming against people his old age or older. Bianchi is showing power, with 12 extra-base hits in 60 at-bats, and patience, with ten walks. He was considered by many to be an overdraft, and possibly would have fallen to Kansas City in the third round. But, something must be said that the Royals scouting staff fell in love with Bianchi, and that the organization was afraid to not draft him.
At this point, using John Sickels' scale, both are probably C+ prospects, with Bianchi currently a bit higher. Wait to judge Pedroza until he's playing in Vero Beach (Update: He's one level closer,as a reader reports Pedroza will try full season ball in the SAL), and simply enjoy that for the rest of this year, the Royals scouting staff will probably be patting themselves on the back.
MY FIRST DRAFT RECAP -- Now is also an appropriate time for an update on this June's first-round picks. I have created a spreadsheet of all the players in the first round that have signed, and how they are doing thus far. Let's get to the table first, and then we'll have some notes on it:
Name League AB/IP AVE/ERA
Zimmerman EL* 57 0.607
Braun SAL* 15 0.467
Romero ^NYPL NA NA
Tulowitzki CAL 34 0.594
Townsend NYPL 1.0 0.00
McCutchen GCL 42 0.916
Bruce GCL 38 0.643
Snyder APPY 17 1.076
Crowe SAL* 30 0.742
Broadway CAR 20.2 2.61
Volstad GCL 14.0 2.57
Henry GCL 53 0.858
Carillo CAL 7.1 1.23
Mayberry NWL 77 0.617
Pawelek AZL 8.2 0.00
Pennington MID 74 0.773
Thompson GCL 6.0 13.50
Ellsbury NA NA NA
Bogusevic NA NA NA
Garza APPY 19.2 3.66
Devine SOU* 4.0 0.00
Rasmus APPY 68 0.787
Marceaux NYPL 14.1 9.42
Greene NYPL 22 0.838
Note: A * after the league means that the player has already dominated a previous level, and has been promoted. In Ricky Romero's case, the carot indicates he has been assigned, but has not thrown.
A few notes:
*** Ryan Zimmerman might not look too impressive at the top, but he has been wonderful. Originally assigned to the South Atlantic League, Zimmerman took four games to prove it a mistake, going 8/17 with five extra-base hits before the Nats decided to promote him to AA. After starting his AA career 6/21 with two doubles, Zimmerman has gone into a 6/36 slump. OK, so playoff roster expectations were a bit lofty, but Zimmerman has a legit 2006 ETA, which is more than most offensive draftees can say.
*** The other dynamite pick has been Joey Devine, who cruised through the Carolina League in five innings before earning a promotion. With a bullpen in shreds, expect the Braves to try and get Ryan Wagner-like dividends with Devine this season. If his scoreless streak extends about 6-11 more innings, they will have to be thinking about another promotion.
*** It's really too early to be down, but early disappointments have included John Mayberry, Aaron Thompson and Jacob Marceaux. Mayberry should be doing a Pedroza or Stephen Head (10 XBH in 37 AB) impression, but instead has really struggled. Many considered the Texas selection a reach, and they could certainly end up disappointed. Both Marlins pitchers have ERAs over nine, with Marceaux especially disappointing considering he is out of college. I thought Thompson was a reach -- I liked HS pitchers Roe and Atilano better -- but Marceaux should be good value. Have patience.
*** First five of these players to make the Majors, in order: Devine, Cesar Carillo (read Ducksnorts' review!), Zimmerman, Lance Broadway, Trevor Crowe.
Any early impressions welcome on this draft class.
LUCK GOING WELLS -- Many of the names on Kevin Goldstein's recent Prospect Hot Sheet will be in my midseason top 75. Some of the few that aren't (Janssen, Lindsay) I don't know much about. But, the exception to that is Jared Wells. A big San Diego right-hander drafted out of Junior College, Wells has been solid if unspectacular in his short minor league career. His strikeout rate has never been what you hoped, and that was all that was holding him back from being a very good pitching prospect.
Currently, Wells is trying to become that big pitching prospect without the strikeout rate being there. In his last four starts, spanning a whopping 32.1 innings, Wells has allowed just one run. He's also only struck out 21 batters, which is just fair, no matter how impressive five walks allowed are. What has been best for Jared, who had a 10+ H/9 last year, is giving up just nineteen hits. And just like that, Wells' star is rising.
But in the words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend." During those four starts, Wells has had a BABIP of .200, almost reminiscent of Ryan Franklin in Seattle early this season. In fact, Franklin (with a 3.92 ERA and 6.62 K/9 for a career in the minors) works as a very good comparison to Wells. Both are innings-eaters (Wells has had just 2 starts this year under 6 IP) that are very dependent on their defense. Wells has a 1.41 GB/FB this year, but has been inconsistent on a start-by-start basis in getting the ball down.
Ryan Franklin did not pitch a full season in the Majors until he was 28 years old. He spent his time in the minors, collecting up the same solid-at-best numbers that Jared Wells has. These types of pitchers are almost entirely dependent on luck, and while Wells is in a good stretch now, expect that ERA to get back over 3.50 by the end of the season.
Personally, I'd take Sean Thompson in that system before Wells any day.