Are the Salt Lake Bees Worth All the Buzz?
As just about every minor league fan knows by now, the Salt Lake Bees of the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) have been very, very good this season. The club was 23-2 in the month of April. The Bees have had a little tougher going in May with a 2-4 record and the club is now 25-6, but still eight games up on Tacoma in the Pacific North Division.
In April, the Bees collectively were first overall in average (.320), on-base percentage (.395) and runs scored (190). It was also second in slugging percentage (.506) next to Albuquerque, and third in homers (34) behind Albuquerque and Omaha.
We know what the team is doing, so let’s take a look at some of the individual players:
SS/3B Brandon Wood (.273/.333/.614)
Wood, 23, has been on the prospect landscape since 2003, when he was drafted in the first round out of high school. People really started to take notice after he slugged 43 homers in 536 at-bats a Rancho Cucamonga (a very good hitting stadium in a very good hitting A-ball league). That season may be the worst thing that every happened to him, as he has been unable to live up to that since. He hit “only” 25 and 23 homers the next two seasons, which were viewed as disappointments despite being solid totals, especially given his age at the time (21 and 22). One of the biggest knocks on Wood is his lack on contact, as he struck out 149 times in 453 at-bats in 2006 and 120 times in 437 at-bats in 2007. He needs the chance to play every day at the major league level.
IF Sean Rodriguez (.250/.429/.531)
Rodriguez has been overshadowed by Wood, but he was also taken in the 2003 draft as a high school shortstop (third round). Rodriguez’ career has been plagued by inconsistencies and ups-and-downs. In 2004, he hit .338/.486/.569 in 225 short season at-bats and then his offence all but disappeared the next season. He returned in 2006 and slugged 29 homers between High-A ball and Double-A. Then in 2007 he slumped again down to .254/.345/.423 at Double-A. Many scouts predict a utility player future for Rodriguez but if he can find a little more consistency he has enough power to make an intriguing regular at second base, even if it’s just for a few years.
3B Matt Brown (.382/.424/.699)
Brown, 25, is more suspect than prospect; don’t let the numbers fool you. He’s a former 10th round pick out of high school from the 2001 draft. He spent seven seasons in the minors prior to 2008 and batted a combined .264/.347/.449 in more than 2,500 at-bats. He has average power at best for a third baseman and he hit 19 homers in 391 at-bats last year for Salt Lake. He spent time in the outfield, as well as at third base, first base and second base in 2007 and Brown is likely best-suited to be a utility player at the major league level.
C Bobby Wilson (.325/.391/.434)
With a lot of other clubs, Wilson would be a major league back-up already. But thanks to the presence of Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis, two solid young catchers, Wilson, 25, is still biding his time riding the shuttle between Triple-A and the majors as the third-string catcher. He has a solid offensive ceiling for a back-up catcher and has a career line of .282/.335/.426. Wilson split 2007 between Double-A and Triple-A and was solid, albeit unspectacular. He also has some experience at both first base and third base so that versatility could serve him well down the road.
1B Kendry Morales (.291/.320/.470)
The former Cuban free agent signing has not solidified his role in the majors as quickly as the Angels originally thought he might. That said, he has spent 100 games in the majors over the course of the past two seasons and hit .256/.308/.411. Unfortunately, he is not great defensively at first base or in the outfield and he is inconsistent with the bat. He has hit above .300 at every stop in the minors but his lack of patience hurts him at the major league level (his OBP is .085 higher in the minors, in part due to his .334 career minor league average). He also needs to show more usable power at the major league level as he has hit only nine homers in 316 at-bats.
IF Freddy Sandoval (.346/.390/.570)
Sandoval has been the second-best hitter on the club so far this season. The former eighth round pick out of San Diego State in 2004 is a solid minor league hitter with a career line of .282/.366/.415 but he is miscast as a third baseman. He has only 20 career homers in 1,330 at-bats. His second-best position is first base, which is really no help to his prospect standing. If he were a shortstop or a second baseman, Sandoval, 25, would have a much brighter career outlook. That said, there is hope for a major league bench role, especially if he can make his way to the National League.
Here is how those hitters are doing so far in May:
Brandon Wood 0/0 | ---
Sean Rodriguez 0/4 | .000
Matt Brown 2/17 | .118
Bobby Wilson 6/21 | .286
Kendry Morales 9/27 | .333
Freddy Sandoval 4/24 | .167
Pitching-wise in April, the club was first in ERA (3.34), shutouts (five), and runs allowed (97). The Bees organization was also third in saves (eight) and home runs allowed (20), fourth in fewest hits allowed (229).
Let’s take a look at some of the individual pitchers:
RHP Nick Adenhart (4-0, 0.87 ERA)
The top pitching prospect on the club, Adenhart recently made his major league debut and struggled mightily against the Royals. It should be a shock considering his low strikeout totals this season (5.52 K/9) and high walk rate (4.35 BB/9). The most impressive number in the minors this season was that he had allowed only 18 hits in 31 innings, but he had an incredibly low BABIP (.208), which suggests that number is the result of luck. Adenhart has the stuff to be a very successful pitcher, but he’s only 21 and has just 31 games of experience above A-ball.
RHP Nick Green (3-0, 3.38 ERA)
Green has some promise but his chronically low strikeout totals (360 in 507.2 career innings) limit his ceiling. He does, though, have above-average control (1.88 BB/9 in his career). The 23-year-old pitcher has struggled against lefties this season (.293 average) and has allowed a lot of fly ball outs (GO/AO of 0.69). Green is probably a fourth starter at the major league level.
RHP Shane Loux (4-2, 3.79 ERA)
Loux, a former Tigers prospect, is your typical overachieving veteran minor league hurler. The 28-year-old is a former second round pick out of high school who posted ERAs of 5.29 and 5.75 the last two seasons at the Triple-A level. He also has a career rate of 5.42 K/9. He allowed eight earned runs over five innings in his first May outing.
Jose Arredondo (8 saves, 2.40 ERA)
Arredondo, 24, has had his share of ups and downs but may have finally settled into a comfortable role in the bullpen. The former non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic looked to be on the verge of a breakout as a starter in 2006, only to end up getting beaten up by Double-A batters. He has also butted head with coaches and others in the organization.
The Angels do have some interesting players on the Salt Lake club, but it seems clear that the club significantly over-achieved in April and we are already beginning to see the players come back down to earth in May. Regardless, the future still looks bright for the likes of Adenhart and Wood.