Prospects or Suspects?
The links to organizational statistics in our sidebar on the left have been updated for the 2008 season. Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, you can access any player's major or minor league stats with one click. Go to the section labeled Reference, choose a team, then click on either "Bat" or "Pitch" and you will be taken to that club's complete list of major and minor league hitters or pitchers.
Using the above tool, I have identified four minor leaguers having outstanding seasons and will cover four more who are struggling in tomorrow's edition. Some of these players are clearly prospects, others suspects, and a few may elicit mixed opinions. In alphabetical order, I present a quartet putting up exceptional numbers through April and May.
YEAR G IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA K/9 2008 16 29 12 2 2 1 4 46 0.62 14.28
After a horrific professional debut as a starter in 2007 (7.08 ERA with 78 BB and 47 SO in 75 IP at Class-A and High-A), Bard was converted to a reliever and the first-round pick out of North Carolina in 2006 has dominated minor league hitters this year. A fastball/curveball pitcher, Bard's heater has been sitting at 96-98 all season long. If the 6-foot-4 righthander can maintain the command he has shown this year, his electric velocity and heavy life means he could be an effective set-up man for Jonathan Papelbon as early as this September and certainly by next year.
YEAR G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG 2007 50 187 57 12 2 11 15 48 .305 .358 .567 2008 42 156 56 9 5 9 11 38 .359 .390 .654
If Bruce has a weakness, it is his uninspiring BB/SO totals. His walk and strikeout rates are a little bit lower and higher, respectively, than desired. However, he is young and has played and excelled at a higher level for his age ever since he was promoted to AA and AAA last season. Cut him some slack here as this kid has top prospect written all over him. Look for him to become a permanent part of Cincinnati's outfield before the All-Star break.
YEAR G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG 2008 40 142 61 17 0 6 3 19 .430 .445 .676
Primarily a third baseman, D'Antona has also played first base and catcher this year. At worst, he profiles as a backup corner infielder and emergency catcher for a major league team. A second-round pick out of Wake Forest in 2003, D'Antona led the short-season Northwest League with 15 home runs that summer, then hit .315/.353/.531 in a half-season at high Class A Lancaster in 2004. Promoted to AA, he struggled (.211/.233/.282 in 73 plate appearances) for the first time, showed minimal progress (.249/.322/.385) at the same level in 2005, repeated at Tennessee as a 24-year-old in 2006 and rebounded to hit over .300 with 17 HR.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound free swinger moved up to AAA last season and put up an .861 OPS. Blocked by Mark Reynolds and Conor Jackson, he returned to Tucson and is drawing more attention than walks for his eye-opening batting average. However, D'Antona is hitting .470 on balls in play in a favorable ballpark and league environment. I think he is a tweener but, in light of the fact that journeymen Luis Maza and Terry Tiffee are also hitting over .400 in the PCL, I would discount D'Antona's batting average quite a bit and classify him more as a suspect than a prospect at this point.
YEAR G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG 2008 43 161 47 9 2 18 21 47 .292 .374 .708
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound minor league slugger went yard 55 times in 767 at-bats in 2006 and 2007. Over the course of his MiLB career, Hessman has ripped 272 HR in nearly 5000 AB and leads all active minor leaguers in four baggers. Unfortunately, he has struck out 1561 times against only 482 walks. His career rate lines in the minors (.229/.300/.452) and majors (.191/.253/.397) also leave a lot to be desired. He probably deserves another shot at the big leagues but is definitely more suspect than prospect.
We will cover four more players on Tuesday, all of whom have put up disappointing numbers in the early going of the 2008 season. Are they still prospects or have they become suspects? You can find out tomorrow.
Lastly, speaking of our sidebar, we have also updated the 2008 Draft Order. This information is courtesy of Baseball America. We will add to our draft coverage to date in late May and early June. Stay tuned.