Thursday, May 7, 2009

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not around the Minor Leagues: Ranger Catcher Manny Pina Heads this Week's List

A Virtual unknown at the start of the season, Manny Pina is the Minor’s fastest rising prospect

It’s time for a look around the Minor Leagues to find out who’s performance over the last two weeks has turned heads and who just makes you want to turn away.

Hot Hitters:

1) Manny Pina, C, TEX - No player in baseball has boosted their stock more this season than Pina. He has hit safely in every game and his .469 AVG leads all of baseball. What makes this all the more remarkable is that the 21yo Pina has always been regarded as a ‘defense-first’ catching prospect and has never posted an OPS greater than .677 in four professional season. Over the last two weeks Pina has torched Texas League pitching to the tune of .526/.538/.842.

2) Dominic Brown, OF, PHI – Following up on his breakout 2008 season, the Phillies top hitting prospect has taken his act to the Florida State League (FSL). In his last 50 ABs, Brown has posted a .400/.492/.840 line, bringing his OPS to 1.024 on the season.

3) Brett Lawrie, 2B, MIL – The cold environs of Wisconsin and the Midwest League (MWL) are supposed to keep offensive numbers down—unless, I guess, you hail from Canada. After an eye-popping performance with the Canadian Junior team in the Dominican Republic a few weeks earlier, the 16th overall pick in last June was the fastest riser on the board going into draft day. Now we finally get to see why. The 19yo has opened his debut season by posting a .991 OPS for the season and is .431/.463/.745 over the last two weeks. No one is still quite sure where his glove will play, but there seems to be no questions about his bat.

4) Johermyn Chavez, RF, TOR – Finally filling the Jays expectations they had when they signed him as a 16yo out of Venezuela in 2005, Chavez looks to be on the verge of a breakout season. He has added 20lbs of what appears to be pure muscle on his 6’3” frame and is terrorizing MWL pitching with it. Over his last 40 ABs Chavez has posted a .375/.432/.925 line with 5 HRs and 4 SBs.

5) Gregory Halman, OF, SEA – Halman may be the most fun prospect to watch in all of baseball. 21yo and making his second go round in the Southern League, Halman has become the epitome of the all-or-nothing player. Over his last 50 PAs, Halman has gone .295/.354/.909, with 8 HRs and 20 K’s . One the season he has 10 HRs and only 7 Singles. Don’t get me wrong, I worry tremendously about his ability to perform at the next level while fanning every third AB—but I’d have fun watching it.

6) Chris Coghlan, 2B, FLA – Coghlan is just biding his time right now until the Marlins fall out of contention and deal Uggla. Make no mistake, he is sending notice that he is ready. .415/.520/.659 over the last two weeks. A .906 OPS on the season for the 2006 Supplemental First Round Pick.

7) Justin Smoak, 1B, TEX – Chris Davis may have entered 2009 as the Ranger ‘wunderkind’ after his 2008 performance, but he better not look behind him as the Satchel Paige-esque proverbial ‘someone’ is gaining on him. Smoak has been virtually automatic since the Rangers got him with the 11th pick last June in what was likely the biggest steal of the first round. On the season he is .352/.468/.557. .429/.517/.694 over the last two weeks. Look for him to be manning first base in Arlington for a long-time, starting sometime later this season.

8) Jaff Decker, OF, SDP – The Padres kept Decker back in extended Spring training for a couple of weeks, but that hasn’t slowed him down any as he has picked right up where he left off when he was last seen becoming the Arizona League MVP. Decker is .273/.520/.485 to open the season. Yes, that’s his real first name…Yes, that’s his real body…and Yes, he sure can rake.

9) Chris Pettit, OF, LAA – Pettit was named the Angels’ Minor League POY after posting a .949 OPS in 2007. But Pettit got off to a slow start last season after breaking his foot on Opening Day and never really recovered. Apparently he is serving notice that he is back as Pettit has gone .528/.575/.722 over the last two weeks and now has a 1.133 OPS on the season.

10) Nolan Reimold, OF, BAL – Oriole fans are clamoring for the end of the Felix Pie ‘experiment’ and are expecting Reimold to be called up to fill in the gap. While I think Reimold is proving ready to take the next step, going .364/.451/.773 over his last 44 ABs with a 1.218 OPS on the year, and I certainly think long-term he is a better answer than Luke Scott, Scott has gotten off to a solid start and Nick Markakis is ahead of him in RF. Until someone gets hurt, I don’t see any reason to bring up Reimold to ride the bench.

Hot Pitchers:

1) Daniel Hudson, RHP, CHA - Hudson lasted a little longer than he may have hoped in last June’s draft, going to the White Sox in the 5th round. But after a disappointing Jr. season at Old Dominion, he likely earned it. Hudson regrouped after signing and put up solid numbers in his Pioneer League debut and seems to be carrying that through to this season. A 1.42 ERA, 0.789 WHIP and a 24:1 K:BB ratio over his last two starts. At 22yo, he is a bit old for the South Atlantic League (SAL) and could use a bit more of a challenge.

2) Jenrry Mejia, RHP, NYM – Entering the season the question on Mejia was whether or not he could find enough control with his off-speed pitches to remain a starter or if he was essentially going to be a two-pitch power reliever. After walking nearly 5 batters per 9IP in his first two professional seasons, Mejia is walking only 3 batters per 9IP to start this season and the change is creating a lot of positive results. As one of the youngest pitchers in the FSL, the 19yo hasn’t allowed an Earned Run in his last 13IP and has posted a 0.692 WHIP and a 11:2 K:BB ratio over the same period.

3) Jeffrey Locke, LHP, ATL – After a breakout season in 2007, Locke found the going in 2008 a little tougher as SAL hitters batted .269 against him en route to a 5-12 season. Nonetheless the Braves were satisfied enough to start Locke in the Carolina League this year. The lefthander seems to be rewarding the Braves’ faith, as hitters are only batting .202 against him through 5 starts. 0.66 ERA, 0.585 WHIP and a 13:4 K:BB ratio in his last two starts.

4) Ethan Martin, RHP, LAD – Due to a knee injury in a post-draft minicamp, the best high school arm in the 2008 draft never saw the mound last season. Fortunately, there are no signs of rust. Martin has posted a 1.64 ERA, 0.818 WHIP and a 16:2 K:BB ratio over his last 3 starts. MWL batters are hitting just .173 against him on the season.

5) Aaron Poreda, LHP, CHA – The White Sox are in desperate need of a 5th starter right now, and many of their fans, after watching Poreda start the season with a 1.65 ERA and 28 Ks in 27IP, are calling for Poreda to be given a shot. The problem is those 5 BB per 9IP that Poreda is still issuing. A perfect example is illustrated in this week’s 5 IP no hit performance where he threw 85 pitches, walked 5, hit a batter and through a wild pitch. Nonetheless, Poreda has a 0.98 ERA, 0.927 WHIP with a 22:8 K:BB ratio over his last 3 starts.

6) Ryan Searle, CHN – The ‘Who’s He?’ Award for this week goes to Searle. The Cubs signed the 19yo out of Australia before the 2007 season. He posted solid enough numbers in 34 short season innings in 2008 that the Cubs jumped him a level, making him one of the youngest pitchers in the FSL. Searle has responded in a big way, going his last 16 innings without allowing a run. The knock on Searle is that he lacks a dominant out pitch. He makes up for it by missing bats, as opposing hitters have a career .169 average against him.

7) Thomas Hanson, RHP, ATL – At this moment Hanson has to be wondering what it is going to take to get a crack at a big league rotation spot. After posting a 2.41 ERA, 0.999 WHIP and fanning 163 in 138 IP last year, Hanson looked sharp while fanning 18 in 17IP this Spring. But when the final rotation was assembled Hanson was on the outside looking in. The Braves gave Kawakami a $23 million contract this Winter, so he isn’t going anywhere. That means barring injury, Hanson is biding his time in AAA waiting for the Braves to move aside Jo Jo Reyes. So as he waits, Hanson has put up a 1.00 ERA, 0.889 WHIP with a 25:7 K:BB ratio over his last three starts. Still he waits…and waits…and waits.

8) Hector Rondon, RHP, CLE – Rondon may be baseball’s most underrated prospect. After putting up a 3.60 ERA, while using a mid-90s fastball with late life to fan 145 in 145 IP as a 20yo in the Carolina league last year, Rondon hasn’t missed a beat this season, winning his first four starts. As a 21yo in the Eastern League, Rondon has posted a 0.77 ERA, a 1.029 and a 11:2 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks. Look for him to see some time in Cleveland before the season is out.

9) Chris Carpenter, RHP, CHN – Had Carpenter played his college ball somewhere other than the Mid-American conference, chances are he wouldn’t have lasted long enough in June’s draft for the Cubs to grab him in the 3rd round. He has a fastball that runs up to 97mph and has possibly three major league caliber pitches—if he can tighten up his control. In his last 17IP he has not allowed an ER and only 4 hits, while fanning 17 batters. Unfortunately the control remains an issue, as he has walked 5 batters per 9IP on the season.

10) Jeanmar Gomez, RHP, CLE - Gomez has always been far too hittable, and not nearly dominant enough since signing as a 17yo out of Venezuela. The Indians decided this year to finally let him catch up to his competition a little by having him repeat Hi-A to start this season. Too much of a good thing, as Gomez is now at Akron. Gomez has posted a 0.75 ERA, a 0.667 WHIP with a 11:2 K:BB ratio over his last two starts. Opposing hitters are batting .190 against him on the year and he is still just barely 21yo.

The Nots:

1) Abraham Almonte, OF, NYY – He’s just 19yo, so there is no need to get overly concerned at this point, but a repeat trip to Charleston this year is producing the same results. .086/.111/.114 over the last two weeks leaves him with a .540 OPS on the season.

2) Jamie Romak, 1B, PIT – If you take a look at Romak’s six year minor league career, Romak has often needed to repeat a level in order to find success. Hoping to see a similar result the Pirates returned Romak to Altoona this season. Unfortunately the results aren’t what everyone hoped for. .106/.125/.213 over the last two weeks and a .431 OPS on the year.

3) Brett Sinkbeil, RHP, FLA – Sometimes you just get it wrong. I’m there with Sinkbeil after being very high on him before the Marlins grabbed him in the first round of the 2006 draft. Entering the year, opposing hitters had tagged Sinkbeil at a .285 Average Against during his professional career. That number is .397 so far this season. In his last 3 starts, Sinkbeil has a 10.029 ERA and a 2.657 WHIP.

4) Cesar Ramos, LHP, SDP – As long as we’re discussing likely first round pitching busts…Ramos was the Padres supplemental first round choice in 2005. In four professional seasons, hitters have touched him at a rate of .283 Average Against. Over the last two weeks, Ramos has posted a 9.00 ERA, a 2.667 WHIP and a 4:9 K:BB ratio. Oh yeah…hitters are batting .305 against him on the year.

5) Eric Cambell, 3B, ATL – After a monster Appalachian League (APY) season in 2005, Cambell has spent the last four years trying to duplicate the magic. After repeating the Carolina League in 2008, the Braves moved him up a level this year. A .139/.184/.167 over the last two weeks leaves him with a .617 OPS on the year.

6) Shooter Hunt, RHP, MIN – It strikes me as odd when I hear that people are surprised that Hunt is having control issues. Afterall, this is a guy that walked nearly 5 batters per 9IP in college and 6 batters per 9IP in his debut last year. Hunt has posted a 12.91 ERA, a 3.000 WHIP and a 8:18 K:BB ratio on the season. He now has issued 29 walks in 14 2/3 IP on the season. All that I can say is ‘yuck!’

7) Nick Evans, 1B, NYM - At least I can say I told you so on this one. After having three similarly talented, similarly defensively limited corner infielders at Binghamton last year, the Mets had to make some choices. They moved Danny Murphy to left and decided to keep Nick Evans over Mike Carp. While Murphy has had his defensive struggles, his bat is playing just fine in New York. Mike Carp appears to be the Mariners future firstbasemen, as he has gotten off to a 1.043 OPS start with Tacoma…and then there is Evans. A .074/.167/.074 over the last two weeks leaves him with a .488 OPS on the year.

8) Jonathan Arencibia, C, TOR – The book on the ‘Jays 2007 first round pick has always been that of a solid defensive receiver with enormous power and he’s never met a first pitch he couldn’t take a swing at. Apparently AAA pitchers have read the book. A .138/.138/.207 over the last two weeks. Arencibia has some really unbelievable stats though—1 HR and 2 Walks in his first 85 ABs.

9) Brad Hand, LHP, FLA – Hand’s prospect status was on the rise after being the Marlin’s second round pick last June. He had a solid debut season in 2008, worked on some mechanical problems and really seemed positioned for a breakout 2009. Unfortunately, so far the 19yo isn’t finding Lo-A hitters very accommodating. A 12.91 ERA, a 2.609 WHIP and a 5:7 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

10) Kyle Skipworth, C, FLA - When is it too early to get worried about a top six draft pick? Is 267 ABs too soon? A .584 OPS start to his professional career sure would make me nervous. If that doesn’t do it, how about a .154/.214/.154 over the last two weeks?

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Brian Doyle said...

I like the list. What are your thoughts on Christian Friedrich? He's hanging out in A ball right now and while doesn't have an overpowering fastball, his off speed stuff is great, and he manages to rack up tons of strikeouts wherever he goes. He's also toned down his walks quite a bit (I once saw him have 10 Ks through 3 IP just because his control used to be so Daniel Cabrera-like).

baseballnumbers said...

Friedrich has actually put together an attention getting season thus far after fannning more than 12 batters per 9IP over 48IP in the NWL & SAL last season. I actually thought he was one of the better arms available last June and thought he was an excellent pick by the Rockies at #25. There are a couple of things to keep in mind though 1) this is a return visit to the SAL for him and 2) He is a tad old for the level of competition. While not impossible, it will be difficult to maintain the same level of dominance against Hi-A and AA hitters. I think he has the upside of a mid-rotation starter and could get there rather quickly.