Thursday, May 8, 2008

Down on the Farm: Prospect watch

We are going to take a look at how some of the top prospects in the minors are doing so far this season and what it might mean for them in the future. This isn't just going to be a look at career minor leaguers tearing it up, or a list of the guys most likely to be called up. Rather it will focus on legit MLB prospects regardless of their ETA to the big leagues.

Jay Bruce-OF Louisville Bats:

Now with Evan Longoria called up Jay Bruce is the best prospect in the all the Minor Leagues. We have mentioned Bruce before in talking about top outfield prospects looking to make their big league club out of Spring Training. Lacking a lead-off hitter and needing a center fielder the Reds signed Corey Patterson instead of keeping Bruce with the team, making their loss the Louisville Bats gain. Bruce has been tearing up AAA pitching so far hitting .325-5-24 while adding 7 steals in just 126 at bats. Bruce is a great outfield prospect and while he profiles more as a long-term corner outfielder, Bruce can handle center for a year adding both power and speed to the Reds line-up.

Outlook: When the season started Corey Patterson went on a hot streak and it seemed like the Reds made the right choice. Now one month later the Reds sit in the cellar of the NL-Central and Patterson's average has dropped to .200. It is the perfect time to shake things up with the team and inject some energy into the batting order. I think the Reds will call Bruce up before the end of the month, look for Bruce to put up some quality numbers and help the Reds in the standings.

Homer Bailey-SP Louisville Bats:

Homer Bailey is another Reds top prospect that we've talked about before. Bailey had mixed results in his two stints in Cincinnati last season but finished strong. He seemed like a lock for the Reds rotation heading into Spring Training, but mediocre results led to Bailey being passed on the depth chart by two fellow prospects, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez. Bailey went back to Louisville and has looked pretty sharp so far compiling a 4-3 record with a 2.72 ERA in 46 innings pitched. Due to his up and down performance last season and his inability to secure a spot in the rotation this year, some have began to question whether Bailey will ever be a top pitcher. I think those questions are a bit premature as Bailey just turned 22 last week and has been dominate at level in the minors.

Outlook: Bailey has front of the rotation talent and should be there for the Reds for a number of years. Aaron Harang and Volquez have their spots secure in the rotation, and Cueto should have another spot locked down even though he has had some recent struggles. Bronson Arroyo and Matt Belisle on the other hand haven't been getting the job done for the Reds. While Arroyo's large contract may prevent the Reds from pulling him from the rotation, Bailey seems like a perfect fit for Belisle's spot. While he might not make it to Cincinnati as quickly as Bruce, Bailey has nothing left to prove in the minors and could be exactly what the last place Reds need (see above). Look for Bailey to join fellow youngsters Volquez and Cueto in the Reds rotation by the All-star break and for him to remain there for the next few years.

Matt LaPorta-OF Huntsville Stars:

Matt LaPorta was the 7th overall pick in the 2007 Draft by the Brewers. A college senior at the time LaPorta seemed like an odd pick for the Brewers as he had only ever been a first-baseman in college for the Florida Gators. The Brewers already having Prince Fielder at first made the decision to move LaPorta to the outfield. So far the results have been pretty good, last year in just 115 at bats LaPorta hit .304-12-31. This season moving up to Double-A, LaPorta has continued his assault on opposing pitchers, batting .330-10-36 through 32 games. LaPorta has 40 home run power easily and though he won't win batting titles should hit consistently around .300.

Outlook: While LaPorta has crushed minor league pitchers so far, he's probably not ready for the big leagues yet as he is just 23 and has only 230 professional at bats under his belt. Unless the Brewers get desperate I wouldn't expect to see LaPorta in Milwaukee this season unless its as a September call-up. Look for him to continue his monster year in the minors and force the Brewers to free up a corner outfield spot next season by moving either Ryan Braun or Corey Hart to center. He is a classic middle of the order hitter that has 40 home run, 100 RBI potential every season.

Clayton Kershaw-SP Jacksonville Suns:

The Los Angeles Dodgers made Kershaw their 1st round pick in 2006, almost two years later he has done nothing to disappoint them in their decision. He is arguably the best left-handed pitcher in the minors if not the best pitcher overall. In his professional debut out of high school in 2006, Kershaw went 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA in 37 innings. In that span he struckout 54 batters while only surrendering 4 walks. He continued his success in '07 by going 8-7 with a 2.95 ERA between two levels. He held opposing batters to a .201 average, with striking out 163 in just 122 innings. This season the Dodgers promoted Kershaw to Double-A and while just looking at at his 0-3 record it would seem as though he has struggled but a look deeper in to his stat line shows that he is still overpowering hitters. Kershaw lost his first three decisions by giving up one, two and one run respectively. He hasn't given up a run since April 15th dropping his season ERA to 1.08. Through 33 innings he has walked 11 and struck out 37, while holding batters to a .192 average.

Outlook: Kershaw, though only 20 years old, is on the fast track to LA, and it wouldn't be shocking to see him as a September call-up. Outside of that though Kershaw should spend the entire year in the minors as he had only 159 professional innings pitched going into this season. Due to injury and ineffectiveness there are calls for the Dodgers to move Kershaw up as soon as mid season. This could be a risky move as moving him too fast could hinder Kershaw's development. If the Dodgers are smart they will give Kershaw the entire year in the minors and give him a shot to win a rotation spot next season. Once he's there though he has the talent to be among the most dominate lefties in the game.

Hope everyone has a good week! Check back next week for more updates on top prospects.

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Jeff said...

Kershaw should not be held in the minors any longer. His development will scale at the ML level and he's currently not being challenged by AA hitters. His time is now.

Brian said...

I don't see anyone in the Dodgers rotation that should be displaced at the expense of Kershaw. I say let him get some experience, he just turned 20. The last thing he needs is to have his confidence shot by coming up too early and struggling. Plus the Dodgers are limiting his innings anyway (he's in the bullpen for a little bit to limit his innings).

I'm still a little shocked LaPorta was drafted so early by the Brewers. But, I'm beginning to realize now that his iffy offensive summer I saw him have in the Cape League was apparently an anomaly, at least compared to his other college and minors numbers.

Kevin Fenstermacher said...

I agree with Brian on Kershaw. The Dodgers have a good rotation and they already have guys that can fill in when somebody goes down. I'm sure Kershaw will get some major league experience, but it would be best for the Dodgers if they waited. I feel like teams are more willing to wait on guys now because of what happened with guys like Prior.