Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who's Hot and Who's Not Around the Minor Leagues: MWL Pitchers Can't Slow Cubs' Vitters

Vitters has slugged 8 HRs over the last two weeks

Apparently being the bridesmaid is the place to be on the Hots and Nots list, as last week’s runners-up stole the show this week. On the hitter’s side of things, Josh Vitters continued his torrid pace and now heads this week’s list. On the pitching side of things, the Indians’ Jeanmar Gomez went from #2 to throwing the Minor League’s first perfect game in two years. We’ll see how things play out with this week’s list.

Hot Hitters –

1) Josh Vitters, 3B, CHN – Calling Vitters ‘Hot’ just doesn’t seem to be enough for last week’s runner up. As we put this list together a week ago he had just ended a 4-game streak where he had 3 Hits and a HR in every game. He popped 4 more HRs this past week, and is now batting .398/.412/.774 for the month of May…Those are aluminum bat type numbers. All is not perfect with Vitters though, as he still only has but 4 BB on the year, but even though just 19yo, it is beginning to look like the Midwest League (MWL) won’t hold him much longer.

2) Fernando Martinez, OF, NYM – One of my personal favorites, Martinez has been unfairly criticized over the last two seasons for not posting the superstar type numbers that might be expected from a player that gets that much ink. Instead, as the youngest player in AAA (make that now the second youngest player, behind Rick Porcello, in the Major Leagues), he has gotten off to a nearly .900 OPS start. Martinez has posted a .325/.386/.775 line over the last two weeks, which, in the short run, has earned him a call-up to replace the injured Ryan Church. He is likely to return to AAA when Church is healthy, but make no mistake, this is a future all-star.

3) Matt Wieters, C, BAL – Speaking of call-ups and future all-stars, the most anticipated call-up of the season is about to occur as Wieters is poised to make his Major League debut on Friday. He is expected to immediately become the Orioles everyday Catcher and instantly becomes the favorite for AL rookie of the year. .353/.400/.706 over the last two weeks.

4) Jason Heyward, OF, ATL – Heyward had a two week period of time at the end of April where he was slumping badly, with a .143 AVG and a .412 OPS. Since the middle of the month he has been on fire. Heyward has posted a .362/.434/.745 over the last two weeks and has a .935 OPS on the season as only a 19yo in the Carolina (CAR) League.

5) Pedro Baez, 3B, LAD – The Dodgers have been waiting on a breakout season from Baez since he signed out of the Dominican in early 2007. While the MWL proved more than he could handle last season, his late summer Pioneer (PIO) League showing convinced the Dodgers to move him up to the California (CAL) league this year. Baez has responded well, posting an .840 OPS to open the year. He still needs to learn more plate discipline if he is going to experience success further up the ladder, but that hasn’t stopped him from posting a .367/.424/.800 over the last two weeks.

6) Brandon Snyder, OF, BAL – While Snyder may have proven that he doesn’t possess the defensive skills to be a Catcher or an everyday OF, he’s also proven he can hit. The 22yo, former 1st round pick, is making the Eastern (ESL) League look easy, as he now has a 1.044 OPS on the year after going .357/.438/.738 over the last two weeks.

7) Jaff Decker, OF, SDP – Still named ‘Jaff’, still a bad-bodied OF, and still keeps raking. A .355/.474/.710 over the last two weeks puts him at a 1.076 OPS for the year and the first player ever with 4 straight ‘Hot’ appearances.

8) Juan Francisco, 3B, CIN – If there is one thing that is a given in minor league baseball it is that Juan Francisco will make an appearance, at least once, on both the ‘Hot’ and the ‘Not’ list. The free-swinging Francisco has been making contact lately, going .348/.375/.630 over his last 50 PAs.

9) Matt Sulentic, OF, OAK – Great things were expected for Sulentic after the, then 18yo, 3rd round pick turned heads by posting an .880 OPS in the predominantly college-player filled Northwest (NWL) League in his 2006 debut. Sulentic turned things around a little in the California (CAL) League last year, and he is posting a solid season thus far in the Texas (TXL) League. .341/.438/.535 over his last 50 PAs.

10) Peter Bourjos, CF, LAA – Bourjos has demonstrated classic lead-off hitter skills since he made his Pioneer League debut in 2006. His CF defense is first rate and the only question has been would he be able to develop the patience to hit at the top of a major league order. While the jury is still out, Bourjos, at 22yo, is posting a solid TXL season and looks to be about a year away from contributing in the Major Leagues. .400/.411/.600 over the last two weeks.

Hot Pitchers –

1) Vin Mazzaro, RHP, OAK – While Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill found themselves in the Athletics’ rotation this Spring, Mazzaro found himself back in Sacramento. He hasn’t let that get him down, as he has not allowed an earned run, and has allowed only two hits and one walk while fanning 11 over his last two starts. While he may not have the long-term upside of the aforementioned Anderson and Cahill, Mazzaro looks ready for his shot right now.

2) Mat Latos, RHP, SDP – There has never been any question about Latos’ arm—his pure ‘stuff’ compares favorably with any pitcher in the Minor Leagues, it’s his attitude and work ethic that have raised the biggest concerns. Nonetheless, Latos absolutely destroyed MWL hitters in 4 outings before earning a promotion to AA. The challenge there will be significant and should be quite telling about what the future may look like. In any case he’s one of the hottest pitchers going right now, as he’s posted a 1.02 ERA, 0.566 WHIP with a 19:3 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

3) Tyler Chatwood, RHP, LAA – There are a couple of things to understand about Chatwood. First of all, despite being under-sized, he is an excellent all-around athlete that probably could have been drafted as an OF. Second, he is only a 19yo and has both a fastball and a curve that already rate as plus pitches. In a somewhat surprising development he has used both of these to dominate MWL hitters in the early going, with opposing hitters batting only .171 against him. Over the past two weeks he’s put up a 0.75 ERA, and a 0.667 WHIP. The downside is he is walking 5 batters per 9IP and will have to fine tune his control if he is going to have success at higher levels.

4) David Hernandez, RHP, BAL – One of the most surprising stats I have come across in a while is this…only 4 pitchers have over 500 Minor League strikeouts since 2006: 4) Will Inman - 503, 3) Matt Maloney – 542, 2) Gio Gonzalez -546 and 1) David Hernandez – 548. That’s right, no one has fanned more Minor League hitters than David Hernandez, yet he hardly gets any ink. After racking up big K numbers once again this year, Hernandez has earned a trip to Baltimore to make his first start on Thursday. A 0.00 ERA, 0.711 WHIP with a 20:4 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

5) Tommy Hanson, RHP, ATL – Hanson has been the Minor’s best pitcher to date, with a 1.48 ERA and a 0.852 WHIP as a 22yo in the International (IL) League. While biding his time until he gets the call to Atlanta, Hanson posted a 0.64 ERA, 0.714 WHIP and a 16:3 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

6) Ben Hornbeck, LHP, OAK – This week’s ‘Who’s He?’ award winner, Hornbeck was the Athletics’ 32nd round pick out of Kansas State in last June’s draft. He is viewed as the consummate ‘Crafty Lefty’. Translated, he doesn’t have an out pitch but uses an array of pitches to take advantage of less experienced hitters. That was the story in the MWL, which quickly earned him a promotion to Stockton. Hornbeck has allowed no earned runs with a 0.545 WHIP and a 15:2 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

7) Brad Lincoln, RHP, PIT – Another Pirate 1st round pitching prospect that has seen his career derailed by injuries, the 24yo Lincoln is trying to get it back on track in the Eastern (ESL) League this year. A 0.56 ERA, 0.625 WHIP with a 11:3 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks leaves Lincoln with a 2.05 ERA on the season.

8) Jeanmar Gomez, RHP, CLE - The book on Gomez entering the season was that he doesn’t have the raw ‘stuff’ to be a successful big league starter. All that I know is that as a 21yo, he has enough stuff to throw a ‘perfect’ game in the ESL. The guy without enough ‘stuff’ just keeps on rolling, posting a 1.57 ERA, 0.609 WHIP with a 20:2 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

9) Wily Peralta, RHP, MIL – As a 16yo, the Brewers gave Peralta one of the highest bonuses awarded to a Latin American player in 2005. After making his debut in 2006, Peralta lost the entire 2007 season to Tommy John surgery. Last year he got back in time to throw about 30 Pioneer League innings in which he turned quite a few heads. Right now he still gets by primarily on a mid-90s fastball, causing many to see him as a future Closer. Only 20yo, I’d give him some time to develop a couple of more offerings and see if he can stay in the rotation. In either case, he is dominating MWL hitters. A 1.23 ERA, 0.750 WHIP with a 23:3 K:BB ratio over his last three starts.

10) Jordan Lyles, RHP, HOU – I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the Astros pick of Lyles was the most surprising pick in the first round of last June’s draft. At the moment it appears that Houston may get the last laugh. Just 18yo, Lyles has posted a 1.50 ERA, a 0.917 WHIP and a 17:4 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

The Nots –

1) Brett Sinkbeil, RHP, FLA – Sinkbeil seems to be a fixture on this list as he is having an awful season. Over his last three starts he has a 12.15 ERA, a 2.850 WHIP, and a 1:7 BB:K ratio.

2) Jefry Marte, 3B, NYM – Although I am not sure why I should, I still believe in Marte. He’s not making it easy, going .093/.152/.093 over the last two weeks. He’s now gone 54 ABs without an extra base hit.

3) Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, MIL – Jeffress on the hand, I have never believed in. Despite now only pitching in Hi-A, the last two weeks have yielded a 14.00 ERA, 2.778 WHIP with a 10:15 K:BB ratio.

4) Bret Clevlen, OF, DET – Never really projected to be much more than a 4th OF type, Clevlen has been unable to make anything out a couple of auditions with the Tigers. After his start this season, he may never get another chance. A .054/.103/.081 over the last two weeks.

5) Jermaine Curtis, 3B, STL – The Cardinals 5th round choice last June posted a solid debut in the New York-Penn (NYP) League after signing. Full season ball is apparently another story. A .116/.136/.163 over the last two weeks, leaves him with a .536 OPS on the year.

6) Jack McGeary, LHP, WSN – McGeary is another player finding the transition from the NYP to full season ball rather difficult. Over the last two weeks he has a 10.80 ERA, a 2.40 WHIP and a 5:6 K:BB ratio.

7) Nico Vasquez, SS, STL – No one ever expected Vasquez to hit a ton, but a .538 OPS for the year isn’t what they had in mind either. The 20yo Vasquez has a .170/.200/.226 over the last two weeks.

8) Brett Cecil, LHP, TOR – The Jays gave Cecil 4 starts in Toronto to prove that he wasn’t ready for the Major Leagues just yet. The funny thing is that those were the good starts. Back in AAA, Cecil has posted a 9.28 ERA, a 2.156 WHIP with a 5:6 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks.

9) Matt Dominguez, 3B, FLA – After being considered at one time the best prep hitter from California in the 2007 draft (remember Vitters and Moustakas?), Dominguez hasn’t translated that to production professionally. He’s still just 19yo and playing in the Florida State (FSL) League, but a .103/.103/.103 over the last two weeks leaves his OPS at .564 on the season.

10) Manny Pina, C, TEX – Pina becomes the second player (after Jason Knapp) to appear on both the ‘Hot’ and ‘Not’ lists this season. He was scorching early on, so his recent .111/.111/.194 still puts his OPS at .866 on the season, but remember Pina had only a .628 OPS for his career when the season started.

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