Thursday, May 14, 2009

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not around the Minor Leagues: Coghlan Slugs His Way to a Marlin Call-Up

Coghlan and the Marlins hope this is just the first of many runs

The season is finally in full swing. Everyday Minor League hitters are passing the 100AB mark, starting pitchers are approaching 40IP, as the weather warms the players that have been held back in extended Spring training are starting to make their debuts and we are starting to see our first real promotions. Finally we can begin to get a read on actual player trends and not just streaks. This week’s list reflects that, as it is loaded with players who are establishing themselves as elite prospects.

Hot Hitters -

1) Chris Coghlan, 2B, FLA – You know you are hitting the ball well when the big league club is willing to call you up and play you out of position just to get your bat into the lineup. Such is the case this week for Coghlan who is replacing Cameron Maybin on the Marlins’ roster and is seeing time in the outfield. Coghlan has gone .486/.591/.857 over the last two weeks and had a 1.522 OPS in AAA. The 23yo has excellent strike-zone judgment and is targeted as the Marlins long-term answer at 2B.

2) Dominic Brown, OF, PHI – Brown remains the bridesmaid of this list, two weeks running, after posting a .426/.500/.833 over his last 54 ABs. He now has a .989 OPS on the season and has clearly established himself as the Phillies’ top prospect.

3) Justin Smoak, 1B, TEX – Every so often there are players that come into professional baseball that very early on leave absolutely no doubt about their future superstardom. Evan Longoria and Matt Wieters are the two most recent examples, and I think we can begin to put Smoak into that category. There isn’t a weakness to his game as he defensively plays his position first rate, hits for power from both sides of the plate, and has amazing strike-zone judgment, as is evidenced by his 26:19 BB:K ratio on the year. Over his last 61 PAs, Smoak is .404/.541/.617 and now has a 1.020 OPS for the season.

4) Derek Norris, C, WSN – Norris was somewhat overlooked entering the season as he made none of the ‘expert’ Top 100 lists. It is somewhat remarkable considering that as one of the New York-Penn (NYP) league’s youngest regulars, he posted a .907 OPS (5th best), while taking more walks than K’s. Add to that the fact that he possesses one of the minor’s best backstop arms (nailed 47% of basestealers in 2008) and you begin to wonder what it takes to get noticed. The barely 20yo Norris has been on a tear over his last 50 PAs (.350/.480/.725), bringing his OPS to .980 on the season. Don’t expect Norris to miss many of those lists next winter.

5) Michael Saunders, OF, SEA – With the Rangers and the Angels red hot in the AL West, the Mariners are fading fast. Their current OF/1B/DH situation consists of Ichiro, some players past their time, some players yet to discover their time and some players that just never had a time. I’m no GM, but it looks like the right time for the fans in Seattle to get their first look at guys like Mike Carp and Michael Saunders. The 22yo Saunders is the most complete OF, outside of Ichiro, in the Mariner system and has gone .333/.436/.879 over the last two weeks and now sports a 1.267 OPS on the year.

6) Jaff Decker, OF, SDP – Decker is still really named ‘Jaff’, still is in possession of John Kruk’s body, and still is beating up Midwest League (MWL) pitchers. A .344/.553/.688 line over the last two weeks leaves the 19yo Decker with a 1.175 OPS for the season.

7) Xavier Avery, OF, BAL – Drafted in the 2nd round last June, primarily for his speed and athleticism, Avery is beginning to turn heads with his production. After getting off to a dreadful start, the 19yo has pounded South Atlantic League (SAL) pitching to the tune of .439/.477/.732 over the last two weeks.

8) Hank Conger, C, LAA – When the Angels selected Conger in the first round in 2006, he was considered an offensive catcher with the possibility of sticking behind the plate because of his cannon-like arm. After a spectacular pro debut in 2006, two injury-plagued seasons left Conger, and the Angels, with more questions than answers. Well I think we are starting to get some answers. Conger is back behind the plate and showing that powerful arm that got him noticed. Add to that a .449/.491/.612 over the last two weeks, and you start to conjure up a picture that has Napoli as a full-time DH and Jeff Mathis as a full-time reserve sometime early next season.

9) Nolan Reimold, OF, BAL – With Luke Scott’s shoulder ailing it may be only a tad longer before Reimold finally gets his chance. Arguably no player in the minors has posted a more impressive offensive season thus far. A .381/.490/.810 over the last two weeks is just icing on the cake.

10) Jesus Guzman, IF, SFG – One of the most puzzling off-season moves to me was that of the A’s releasing Guzman. I don’t understand why an organization that starts Bobby Crosby at third and Adam Kennedy at second didn’t have room for a 24yo 2B/3B that just posted a .948 OPS at three different levels. Guzman, now a Giant prospect, is enjoying sticking it to his cross-bay rivals. His .444/.468/.800 over his last 50 PA’s brings his OPS to .973 on the year.

Hot Pitchers –

1) Tim Alderson, RHP, SFG – Madison Bumgarner gets more attention and undeniably has the bigger upside, but I am still not sure that, when considering the potential vs. certainty equation, Alderson still isn’t the better value. After a promotion to AA this week, the 20yo turned in one of the season’s best games to date, allowing but a walk over 6 2/3IP while fanning 10. Over the last two weeks he has a 1.32 ERA, 0.439 WHIP, with a 16:1 K:BB ratio.

2) Kris Medlen, RHP, ATL – Tommy Hanson gets all the attention, and deservedly so, but the Gwinnett Braves have another starter that looks primed for a big league opportunity. Medlen is 5-0, with a 0.96 ERA on the year. Over his last three starts he has posted a 0.661 WHIP, a 24:6 K:BB ratio and has not allowed an earned run in 19 2/3 IP.

3) Brad Holt, RHP, NYM – After thoroughly dominating NYP hitters in his professional debut last fall, Holt seemed poised to put together a big season this year. So what did he do? He opened up the year by allowing 9ER and 11 baserunners, including 4 walks in 3 2/3 IP. Over his next five starts he has allowed 4 ERs and issued 4 walks. A 1.64 ERA, 0.818 WHIP and a 9:3 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

4) Vance Worley, RHP, PHI – With Anthony Hewitt, Zach Collier, Jason Knapp and Anthony Gose, the Phillies grabbed quite a talent haul in the first two rounds of last June’s draft. Apparently they didn’t do badly with their third round pick either. Worley has posted a 1.29 ERA, 0.667 WHIP with a 20:2 K:BB ratio over his last three starts against Eastern League (ESL) hitters and is now 3-0, with a 2.11 ERA on the season.

5) Bryan Augenstein, RHP, ARZ – By the time you read this, Augenstein will have made his major league debut. He earned that shot by opening the year 5-0 with a 0.78 ERA in 6 Southern League starts. The Diamondbacks drafted Augenstein in the 7th round of the 2007 draft and he has flown under the radar screen, despite posting two solid seasons. The reason for the lack of notoriety has to do with the lack of a true out pitch and a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter. Nonetheless, he has utilized a ‘heady’ mound approach to post a 1.15 ERA, 0.830 WHIP and a 14:4 K:BB ratio over his last 3 starts.

6) Ross Detwiler, LHP, WSN – The 6th overall selection in the 2007 draft put together a disappointing 2008 season--lackluster enough to begin to stir questions about the pick. Despite starting 2009 at 0-3, he looks like he’s beginning to turn things around. A 0.90 ERA, 0.800 WHIP, and a 16:1 K:BB ratio over his last three starts.

7) Manny Banuelos, LHP, NYY – The Yankees have some really solid, young, Latin American, talent ready to make a big time splash. Outfielders Kelvin DeLeon and Eduardo Sosa and RHP Arodys Vizcaino get more attention, but Manny Banuelos seems poised to grab the first headlines. Just two months past his 18th birthday, Banuelos is one of the youngest pitchers in the SAL. But that hasn’t deterred him from showing a tremendous feel for pitching and limiting opposing hitters to a .238 Average Against in five starts. Over the last two weeks he has posted a 1.00 ERA, a 1.00WHIP and has a 12:3 K:BB ratio.

8) Kyle Allen, RHP, NYM – This week’s ‘Who’s That? Award’ winner, Allen was a potential Top 5 round pick in last June’s draft but lasted until the 24th round where the Mets lured him out of a commitment to North Carolina State with a $150,000 signing bonus. He limited Gulf Coast League (GCL) hitters to a .194 Average Against in his debut last season by using a highly polished three pitch repertoire. He is barely 19yo but the Mets thought enough of him to start him in the SAL this season. Thus far it’s looking like a good decision as Allen has posted a 0.68 ERA, 0.825 WHIP with a 17:6 K:BB ratio over his last three starts. His fastball currently tops out at barely 90mph, but this is an incredibly polished 19yo pitcher.

9) Troy Patton, LHP, BAL – Two years ago Patton was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and he became the center piece in the deal that sent Miguel Tejada to the Astros. Unfortunately he had to have labrum surgery last March that ended his season and put his career in doubt. Making his return this season, expectations were low, but Patton is flashing his four-pitch repertoire and dominating ESL hitters. Patton has posted a 1.50 ERA, 0.833 WHIP and an 11:2 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks and appears ready to join Matt Wieters, Chris Tillman, David Hernandez and Nolan Reimold in providing the Orioles with a much needed talent infusion by mid-season.

10) Stephen Strasburg, RHP, San Diego St – I could have gone with Jeanmar Gomez in this spot for the third straight week, as he has done nothing to diminish his ‘Hot’ start, but the future Washington National pitcher, Strasburg, nailed down the position with an unbelievable performance against Air Force on Friday night. He tossed a nine inning no-hitter, walking 2 and fanning 17. On the season, Strasburg is 11-0 with a 1.24ERA and a 164:17 K:BB ratio in 87 1/3 IP. He has established himself as the best college pitching prospect since Mark Prior and it isn’t hyperbole to suggest maybe of all-time.

The Nots –

1) Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, MIL – Jeffries looks like another in the long line of hard throwing first round Brewer draft busts in the mold of Mark Rogers, Mike Jones, J.M. Gold, Nick Neugebauer, etc. I understand you can’t teach an upper 90s fastball, but the number of ‘throwers’ who eventually get it and become ‘pitchers’ is a short list and walking more than 5 batters per 9IP, like Jeffress has done throughout his career, is a 100% recipe for disaster. He is walking more than he is striking out, he is walking more than a batter per IP on the season. 18.00 ERA, 3.857 WHIP with a 9:15 K:BB ratio over his last three starts.

2) Sean West, LHP, FLA – The Marlins are in desperate need for a rotation replacement for the injured Anibal Sanchez, but the cupboard appears to be rather bare as top candidates: West, Aaron Thompson and Bret Sinkbeil, all are struggling. West has a 12.96 ERA, 2.520 WHIP and an 8:9 BB:K ratio over the last two weeks and Southern League hitters are batting .281 against him on the season.

3) Wilmer Flores, SS, NYM – Flores opened eyes in a major way last year when he posted an .842 OPS in the Appalachian (APY) League last season—as a 16yo! So we will cut him some slack as he makes his full season debut in the SAL and won’t turn 18yo until August. Nonetheless Flores has a .573 OPS on the season and has posted a .156/.208/.178 over the last two weeks, while looking significantly overmatched.

Is Wilmer Flores stock tumbling?

4) Collin Balester, RHP, WSN – This week’s ‘Put a Fork in Him’ award goes to Balester, the Expos 2004 4th round pick. Balester’s lack of dominating stuff just hasn’t played well the further up the ladder he has climbed. An 8.76 ERA, 2.595 WHIP and a 8:6 K:BB ratio over his last three starts leaves him with a 6.35 ERA on the year. International League (IL) hitters are batting .347 against him on the season. While still just 22yo, and still plenty of time to evolve, there doesn’t seem to be enough projection in him to believe he can be successful at the big league level.

5) Sebastian Valle, C, PHI – The gap between the rookie leagues and the full season leagues are significant, hence the likes of Flores, Valle and Marte on this week’s ‘Not’ list. Players who have demonstrated a mastery of the rookie circuit just don’t have an easy way to make that jump and often end up overmatched in the first half of the full-season leagues. The 18yo Valle is victim of just that situation. A .132/.195/.158 over the last two weeks leaves Valle with a .536 OPS for the year.

6) Jefry Marte, 3B, NYM – As a 17yo in 2008, Marte lit up GCL pitchers to the tune of a .930 OPS. Unfortunately Marte is not finding SAL pitchers nearly as accommodating. I still like Marte and believe he was one of a handful of Rookie league players that served notice of their prospect legitimacy last season, so I expect this to be a short term problem, but a .173/.204/.269 over the last two weeks leaves Marte with .605 OPS for the season.

7) Bret Sinkbeil, RHP, FLA – Sinkbeil is the only ‘Not’ holdover from last week’s list. The Marlins would love to be giving him a shot at the rotation while Sanchez is out, but he is not missing nearly enough bats right now for that to be feasible. He’s posted a 7.82 ERA, 2.605 ERA and a 10:7 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks and PCL hitters are batting .390 against him on the year.

8) Greg Golson, OF, TEX – I’ve never been a big fan of the athletic, ‘toolsy’, production-deficient draft experiments that teams like the Phillies are so fond of. Greg Golson could be the poster child for these types of picks. In four season’s Golson, the Phillies first round pick from 2004, has never bettered his .755 OPS debut season. Finally tired of him, the Phillies unloaded him on the Rangers this off-season. The song remains the same….125/.192/.125 over the last two weeks.

9) Jeff Allison, RHP, FLA – Allison’s off-the-field troubles are well documented. It looked for a time last season like he might become another Josh Hamilton story. However, the feel good story faded as the season wore on and this season is beginning to look like a swan song for the 16th overall pick in 2003. Allision has a 11.00 ERA, 1.889 WHIP and a 2:2 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks in a Florida State League repeat performance.

10) Jason Knapp, RHP, PHI – Remember the old adage ‘what goes up, must come down?’ Meet Jason Knapp who, on April 21st, pitched arguably the minor’s best game this year and who gave up but 5ERs, 12 Hits and struck out 37 over his first four starts. Over his last two starts he has given up 10ERs, 13 Hits and struck out only 7. Knapp is still a very promising, very projectable, 18yo pitcher…but expect more ups and downs.

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