WTNYMay 03, 2006
April Stock Offerings
By Bryan Smith

Oh, what a difference a month can make. And in the minor leagues, few months have a larger effect on perception than April. Just a year ago, we were wondering what exactly early season success stories like Billy Butler, Brandon Wood and Gio Gonzalez really meant. But, April can also have the opposite fact. While the first month did shed the light on a lot of prospects that would break out, we also saw big early season numbers from Hayden Penn, J.D. Martin and others who would not follow through.

Without question, I will at season's end denounce April statistics for numerous players, citing what they did from May 1 onward. Simply put, it's difficult to expect teenagers to come prepared for one of their first professional seasons. How you finish is always more important than how you start.

That said, we must give credit where credit is due. In past year's, I have revised my prospect rankings following April, an article I decided not to write this year. Instead, I wanted to look at a group of players that did not make it in my winter top 75 prospects, but likely would if I made the list today. Currently, there are nineteen players from my top 75 in the Major Leagues, so I have chosen nineteen early success stories that have boosted my impressions of the prospect.

Sample size caveats still apply in all of these cases, but pretty soon, we are going to have to accept breakouts from the below players to be real. Right now, I believe in the below nineteen players enough to call them top 75 prospects at this moment.

Nick Adenhart, 19, Los Angeles Angels (Low-A), SP
Numbers= 2.12 ERA, 22 H / 29.2 IP, 30 K / 8 BB, 1 HR

The poster boy of the Angels' newest draft strategy, Adenhart fell hard in the 2004 draft when it was discovered his elbow needed Tommy John surgery. Prepared to enroll in at the University of North Carolina, Adenhart was given a surprise when the Angels drafted him late with a high bonus proposal. After spending much of 2005 rehabbing his elbow, Adenhart gradually grew stronger as the short season went on. This year the power right-hander has come out strong, making the Angels gamble look good. I'm a bit worried how Adenhart's flyball tendencies will hold up when he is eventually promoted to Rancho Cucamonga, but he'll always have the ability to miss bats.

Ryan Braun, 22, Milwaukee Brewers (High-A), 3B
Numbers= .292/.353/.494, 8 BB / 20 K, 8/10 SB in 89 AB

The first three weeks of the season Ryan Braun was hitting, but mostly for singles. While Braun had a high batting average, many wondered where the power had gone for the former Hurricane slugger. Sure enough, Braun caught fire at the end of the month, and has three home runs in the past 10 days. The best number thus far is the eight steals that Braun has grabbed, he's been a good baserunner since college. Braun's peripheral statistics have me a bit worried, but I think there is power in the fourth overall pick's future.

Reid Brignac, 20, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (High-A), SS
Numbers= .358/.411/.537, 9 BB / 17 K, 3/5 SB in 95 AB

Many of the concerns that detracted from Brignac's resume in 2005 are being rectified this season. We have already seen Brignac become a more patient hitter at the plate, and he's also made better contact this season. While his numbers are, without question, boosted by the league, Brignac has been consistently getting on base. If anything, his only inconsistency has been power, as his slugging percentage has suffered a bit since an early season, three-HR game. My biggest worry is that Brignac now has 10 errors, with a posititon change likely in his future. At least he's proving to have the bat needed for the move down the defensive spectrum.

Jay Bruce, 19, Cincinnati Reds (Low-A), OF
Numbers= .286/.333/.516, 8 BB / 17 K, 3/6 SB in 91 AB

The Midwest League is now home to four prep outfield choices from the 2005 first round, and no player in the group had a more consistent April than Bruce. A toolsy player that made a late run up draft boards, I had thought the learning curve would be slow on a player like Bruce. However, Jay has taken to A-ball quite well, showing sound -- if unspectacular -- statistics across the board. His power profiles better than any other trait and this point, and his extra-base hit numbers is the number to watch this season.

Wade Davis, 19, Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Low-A), SP
Numbers= 0.67 ERA, 13 H / 26.2 IP, 40 K / 13 BB, 0 HR

At this point, Davis is taking the Anibal Sanchez breakout path, showing validity in dominant short-season numbers. After pitching so well in limited action last year, Davis became a prominent breakout candidate touted by both Baseball America and John Sickels. Kudos to them, as Davis has been as impressive as any minor league starter. Control is the only problem that Davis currently has, as his hellacious stuff has produced otherwise great peripheral statistics. A promotion to the Cal League would do Davis well at this point, as he must be shown that at some point, walks will come back to hurt you.

Brandon Erbe, 18, Baltimore Orioles (Low-A), SP
Numbers= 2.25 ERA, 14 H / 20.0 IP, 26 K / 1 BB, 1 HR

Control is hardly a problem for Erbe, who brought that strength to the table when he was drafted last June. Shortly after being drafted, however, his stuff improved and Erbe has taken off. In fact, I believe that if the draft was re-held today, Erbe would be the first prep pitcher off the board. Erbe rarely hurts himself on the mound, and right now, there hasn't been a minor league hitter that could touch him.

Matt Garza, 22, Minnesota Twins (High-A), SP
Numbers= 0.74 ERA, 15 H / 24.1 IP, 34 K / 6 BB, 1 HR

After a very lackluster start to his collegiate career, Garza blossomed as a junior, earning a first round selection with a good spring at Fresno State. Garza has been great in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League so far, with no real glitches to speak of. As Glen Perkins found out a year ago, the move from Fort Myers to New Britain is a big one, and it will be hard to judge Garza as a prospect until his promotion. Given a few more sensational starts, and the Twins will have no choice but to challenge Garza in the Eastern League.

Matt Kemp, 21, Los Angeles Dodgers (AA), OF
Numbers= .337/.402/.604, 9 BB / 17 K, 4/5 SB in 101 AB

We wondered what role the hitter-friendly Vero Beach stadium had on Kemp's numbers, and if his poor Spring Training would continue into the season. Kemp has given strong answers to both questions this season, proving himself as a prospect. Kemp is just such an intriguing prospect right now, possessing every tool imaginable. He has shown great power so far this spring, to go with good baserunning, enough patience and his usual good defense. With all the Dodger talent in front of him, Kemp will likely stay in Jacksonville for some time.

Radhames Liz, 23, Baltimore Orioles (High-A), SP
Numbers= 1.35 ERA, 9 H / 20.0 IP, 39 K / 8 BB, 0 HR

When combining Liz' 2005 and current numbers, the Oriole right-hander has 176 strikeouts in 114.1 innings. He has allowed just 78 hits. While I'm not crazy about Liz' age relative to his competition, continued success speaks highly of his stuff. Like Garza, we are probably a few months from being about to properly evaluate Liz, but at this point, it's hard to criticize. Control is really the only number to complain about at this point.

Chuck Lofgren, 20, Cleveland Indians (High-A), SP
Numbers= 1.33 ERA, 17 H / 20.1 IP, 20 K / 5 BB, 0 HR

One of the final players to make this list, Lofgren is one that I really thought would take off in 2006. Extremely athletic with budding stuff, Lofgren has been solid this season, but his numbers are far less gaudy than other prospects. Chuck should be relatively consistent this whole season, and the Indians would be best to let him spend most of the season in the Carolina League. Lofgren has all the makings of a future stud, but we must remember that he is still relatively raw on the mound at this point.

Fernando Martinez, 17, New York Mets (Low-A), OF
Numbers= .338/.416/.519, 9 BB / 13 K, 3/4 SB in 77 AB

My favorite story of April. Martinez entered the year an afterthought compared to the other young teenage prospects in the South Atlantic League, Elvis Andrus and Jose Tabata. Martinez obviously entered the year with a chip on his shoulder, and has since exploded onto the Met prospect scene. The young phenom has shown good patience, plus speed, and fantastic power potential at this point. The Mets will be very conservative with Martinez' handling, as they should. Once Mike Pelfrey hits the Majors, he's one of the Mets only real prospects.

Cameron Maybin, 19, Detroit Tigers (Low-A), CF
Numbers= .317/.394/.524, 9 BB / 26 K, 4/5 SB in 82 AB

I was surprised last June when Maybin fell as far as he did, believing the North Carolina outfielder was worthy of a top five selection. And while Maybin's overall numbers look good this year, he has really proven to be quite raw in the earlygoing. Maybin's contact skills have proven to be entirely lacking, his average only high thanks to a .400+ BABIP. Furthermore, the majority of Maybin's power has been the result of four triples. His speed and power potential are still very intriguing, but Maybin must show a better propensity for contact as the year goes on.

Andrew McCutchen, 19, Pittsburgh Pirates (Low-A), CF
Numbers= .344/.402/.505, 9 BB / 13 K, 2/4 SB in 93 AB

The Pirates had locked themselves into drafting McCutchen very early last season, falling in love with his future potential atop a lineup. The idea still must have the Pittsburgh brass salivating, as McCutchen has shown great bat control and plus patience in the early going. So far, I'm most surprised with McCutchen's lack of activity on the bases, only four attempts, and only two successful steals. While he is proving to be very adept at the plate, McCutchen's leadoff credentials would be aided if he proved to be a more dangerous threat on the bases.

Mike Pelfrey, 22, New York Mets (A+/AA), SP
Numbers= 1.30 ERA, 20 H / 27.2 IP, 34 K / 4 BB, 1 HR

It didn't take long for the Mets to realize that starting Pelfrey in the Florida State League had been too conservative. Like Cole Hamels, Pelfrey cut through the FSL with ease, transitioning to pro baseball without missing a step. Pelfrey's great control in April was a very good surprise, and really means that Pelfrey's ceiling is higher than any other pitcher on this list. At this point I expect Pelfrey to make his debut (with Alay Soler) in September, providing Mets fans with a lot of excitement for 2007.

Hunter Pence, 23, Houston Astros (AA), OF
Numbers= .340/.395/.621, 10 BB / 18 K, 4/5 SB in 103 AB

At some point we need to just realize that certain contextual factors just aren't too important. Pence's age and his odd-looking swing have both been criticized in the past, but Pence continues to produce with fantastic results. Pence has done a bit of everything this year, but his power display in the Texas League should signal a lot to the Astros' brass. While both Jason Lane and Wily Taveras are likely locked into future spaces in the Astros outfield, Pence has shown the power necessary to make it in left field.

Colby Rasmus, 19, St. Louis Cardinals (Low-A), CF
Numbers= .298/.348/.481, 8 BB / 23 K, 7/8 SB in 104 AB

Again, because it bears repeating. In the first seven games of the season, Rasmus went 2-for-28 with zero extra base hits. We were worried he needed a demotion to short-season ball. But the results since then have been fantastic, including a .382 batting average and .632 slugging percentage. Colby could be showing better patience and contact skills, but everything else -- including baserunning -- has been sensational. Much better prospect than his numbers indicate at this point.

Nolan Reimold, 22, Baltimore Orioles (High-A), OF
Numbers= .304/.402/.544, 11 BB / 21 K, 5/8 SB in 79 AB

Recent changes in the Orioles scouting department are sure paying off, huh? While Brandon Snyder is slowly progressing in low-A, the Orioles had other huge draft successes in Reimold and Erbe. With Nick Markakis graduated to the Majors, Reimold becomes the best outfielder in a system that includes Val Majewski and Jeff Fiorentino. Reimold can do a bit of everything, with great patience, power and speed. Like many players on this list, his largest flaw has been an overadundance of strikeouts. He'll finish the year in AA.

Troy Tulowitzki, 21, Colorado Rockies (AA), SS
Numbers= .342/.404/.557, 5 BB / 18 K, 2/3 SB in 79 AB

It has been a very odd season for Tulo this year, I think. Overall, his numbers look great, Tulowitzki is hitting in an environment that very few of his draft-mates have even been assigned to. But when digging deeper, Tulowitzki's peripheral numbers look far worse than his .961 OPS. Besides the 18 strikeouts, Tulowitzki has drawn just 5 walks and hit only 2 non-2B extra-base hits. Now we know gap power turns to home run power in Coors Field, so it isn't too concerning. The Rockies should really begin giving Clint Barmes grounders at second base, because Tulowitzki is a matter of months, if that, away.

Justin Upton, 18, Arizona Diamondbacks (Low-A), CF
Numbers= .317/.404/.463, 5 BB / 6 K, 3/5 SB in 41 AB

I absolutely couldn't stand to miss Upton's recent swing through the heartland of the Midwest League. Unfortunately, I chose to grab his game against Cedar Rapids on Monday, missing his first professional home run by 24 hours. Upton's 1-for-4 performance wasn't anything to write home about, his lone hit a good piece of hitting, an opposite field bloop single. Upton proved raw on the basepaths and in the field, but also showed enough speed to have sensational potential in both. Upton's body is so developed at this point, he really could hit the Majors before turning 20. Without a doubt, a top ten prospect at this point.


"Besides the 18 strikeouts, Tulowitzki has drawn just 5 walks and hit only 2 non-2B extra-base hits."

This is kind of splitting hairs when you're talking about a guy who has hit 12 doubles in 94 at-bats. For comparison, Tulowitzki is leading the Texas League in doubles, and has more XBH than Alex Gordon or Brandon Wood.

Wow. No love for Action Jackson or Jose Tabata?

Reimold also projects to be an above average defensive OF, more than likely RF. He has very good arm, throwing out many opposing runners last season.

No Jeff Natale love? The Trinity College in Hartford, CT grad is old for the Sally League and doesn't really have a position but .352/.500/.625 is .352/.500/.625!

Jose Tabata was extremely close, but this was a pretty exclusive list. The lack of plate discipline at this point is holding Tabata back, but if he keeps hitting this well long into the season, he'll make my midseason list. Jackson wasn't as close, sort of a poor man's McCutchen.

Natale wasn't particularly close. The numbers have been fantastic, but for all the reasons you mention Sully, I can't consider him a premier prospect yet. As I talked about in an offseason interview at soxprospects.com, Natale can't be judged until he reaches AA.

Trust me, Bryan...I am dying for him to get a promotion.

Let's see what he's got!

Three prospects I've seen in person this season that have really impressed me (I'm no scout so this means nothing):

Sean Rodriguez - This guy has skills. It's almost sickening he's the third best shortstop in *anyone*'s system. Wow.

Chris Volstad - The numbers aren't jaw-dropping but wow, this guy can pitch. He's young and it's a low level but it's hard to imagine him not making it to the majors.

Kevin Slowey - The reports on him make it sound like he's got the world's most mediocre stuff. It doesn't look outstanding but it doesn't look mediocre. He comes off as so polished, like an artist on the mound, like Zack Greinke.

Two guys I haven't seen but are making a big-time case to be added to the top 75 - Yovani Gallardo and to a lesser extent Tom Mendoza.

Two guys that I have been watching that deserve to jump to the top 75 are Michael Bowden and Clay Bucholz.

Bowden had one bad start to make his ERA misleading. He is 19 and has a K/bb ratio of 28/3.

Will Startup? Even though he is only a reliever, it is clear that Startup has been the most impressive of all the Braves prospects in 2006.

Rodriguez might be making the jump in the California League, but I think it's too early to tell. He doesn't have the ceiling of the other Angel shortstops, but a continuation of his current performance would lend a top 100 ranking by season's end.

Volstad impressed me so much in his videos last June, and I really believed he was better than Mark Pawelek, the Cubs top draft pick. Volstad is so polished, and pitched like a college pitcher in short-season ball last year. He isn't far from being on this list, but until the results are a bit more sparkling, he isn't too close.

Slowey is good, but people are starting to think he's better than he is. Like Jeff Natale, these guys really cannot be analyzed properly until we add AA results to the mix. Paging Jeremy Guthrie...

Mike Bowden was one of the last 2 people to not make this list. Since his bad start, Bowden has been damn near unhittable. Buchholz isn't as close yet.

Startup has had a very good year, but his ceiling is nowhere near that of a top 75 prospect. We can applaud and project him to be in the future Braves bullpen, but it would be foolish to overstate his status as a prospect.

I don't think anyone has ever made the argument that Pawelek was the better prep pitcher than Volstad - Volstad was taken before Pawelek for a reason, and we're not just talking Scott Boras here...

As for Sean Rodriguez, it still floors me a team can have 3 shortstop prospects that good in their system.