Thursday, July 23, 2009

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not Around the Minor Leagues: Nats’ Storen Making Pro Game Look Easy

Storen is the first player from the 2009 Draft to make an impact in the Pros

When the Washington Nationals selected Drew Storen with the 10th overall pick in June’s draft, many saw it as a pick designed to save money for their pursuit of Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals insisted that that wasn’t the case, and instead they saw Storen as the bullpen compliment for their future ace. Fast forward six weeks, and Storen appears to be everything the Nationals hoped for and more. After a Sherman-esque march through the South atlantic (SAL) League, Storen made his Carolina (CAR) League debut last night in spectacular fashion and he heads up this week’s list.

Hot Pitchers –

1) Drew Storen, RHP, WSN – After a standout career at Stanford, Storen entered June’s draft as the consensus top closer available. It was expected that he would go somewhere in the late first round/supplemental, but the Nationals caught a lot of people by surprise when they used their compensatory pick, for their failure to sign Aaron Crowe the year before, to select the 21yo right-hander. Storen pitches off of a low 90’s fastball that he uses to set up a plus power slider. His ‘stuff’ was too much for SAL hitters, which earned him a promotion to Potomac where he fanned three in 2 scoreless innings of work in his debut. Over the last two weeks he has tossed 8 2/3 scoreless innings, retiring 26 of the 27 men he has faced—18 of them on strikeouts. On the year, opposing hitters are batting .190 against him.

2) Clayton Kershaw, LHP, LAD – Occasionally we venture out of the Minor Leagues to highlight a noteworthy performance. This week we have a couple of them, but none perhaps more noteworthy than Kershaw. At 21yo, Kershaw is younger than all but three players on the ‘Hot Pitchers’ list this week. Winning 5 straight and holding a 2.95 ERA on the season is impressive enough, but Kershaw has been scored upon in only two of his last 7 starts and in the Month of July, Kershaw now has a 0.38 ERA, a 0.875 WHIP with 21 Ks in 24 IP. He still needs to work on his control so that his pitch counts allow him to get deeper into games, but the lefty is on the cusp of becoming one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues.

3) Brett Anderson, LHP, OAK – Only a few weeks older than Kershaw is the A’s lefty, Anderson, whose month of July may be even more impressive. Anderson is working on a 21-inning, 3 start, scoreless streak, that had him take a perfect game into the 7th inning in his last start. Over that period of time, Anderson has a 0.381 WHIP and a 18:3 K:BB ratio, that has allowed him to drop his ERA from 5.74 on June 20th to 4.25 today. Look for Anderson to be the A’s ace, as early as the start of next season.

4) Travis Wood, LHP, CIN – I have written much about Wood’s career resurrecting season and his Minor League’s best starter ERA of 1.29. I have explained how he worked on his mechanics over the winter and added a cut fastball and two-seamer to give him a true 5-pitch repertoire. And I have talked about how all of this has allowed him to take a nearly 5.0 walks per 9 innings down to a 2.8 this season. But what I haven’t spent enough time is discussing his consistent dominance of the Southern (SOL) League. Start with the fact that he has only been scored upon in just over half of his 19 starts. Add to that that he has allowed only 2 HRs on the year and has only allowed more hits than innings pitched twice. Then close it out with the fact that since May 19th, a period of over two months, Wood has a 0.97 ERA, a 0.77 WHIP, and a 68:10 K:BB ratio. Wood is currently in the midst of a 19 scoreless inning streak in which he has a 0.474 WHIP and a 21:1 K:BB ratio. Memo to Walt Jocketty…I think he is ready for a bigger challenge.

5) Craig Kimbrel, RHP, ATL – Quick…who has the best strikeout rate in the Minor Leagues? That’s right, it’s the Braves’ Kimbrel at 15.7 strikeouts per 9 IP. Kimbrel struggled a bit after his promotion to Myrtle Beach, but he seems to have gotten things figured out, as he has allowed only 1 run on two hits over his last seven outings. Over the last two weeks, he has a 1.17 ERA, a 0.783 WHIP and a 17:5 K:BB ratio.

6) Evan Anundsen, RHP, MIL – The Brewers have spent a lot of high draft picks over the last decade on flamethrowers who have done more flaming out than anything else (see Jeremy Jeffress), because they can’t seem to consistently get the ball over the plate. Meet the ‘anti-Jefress’—Evan Anundsen. Over looked by many scouts, because his fringy high-80s fastball and relatively average change/curve, don’t really play well with the ‘tools’ community, the Brewers drafted Anundsen in the 4th round of the 2006 draft. After a solid, yet unspectacular 2008 in the SAL, the Brewers placed Anundsen in the Brevard County rotation this year where he has become the Manatees’ most reliable starter. Anundsen has kept the ball on the ground, and consistently around the plate this season to post a 1.93 ERA through 16 starts. Over the last two weeks he has a 1.20 ERA, a 0.733 WHIP and a 17:3 K:BB ratio.

7) Casey Crosby, LHP, DET – With Rick Porcello in the Majors, Crosby has become the Tigers’ best prospect. Over his last three starts, Crosby has posted a 1.50 ERA, a 0.917 WHIP and a 18:6 K:BB ratio. He now has four scoreless outings in his last six starts and Florida State (FSL) League hitters are batting a mere .205 against him on the year.

8) Andrew Cashner, RHP, CHN – I will admit that when Cashner walked 23 batters in 20 IP in his 2008 debut, I was beginning to feel that the Cubs had added to the first round legacy that yielded such notable selections as Ryan Harvey, Bryan Dopirak and Tyler Colvin. But unlike most teams that saw Cashner as one of the college game’s best closers, the Cubs had another plan. One that included converting Cashner to a 3-pitch starter. He isn’t popping the fastball in the upper 90s as he did before being drafted, but he is sitting in the low- to mid-90s and has found some control because of it, walking less than 3 batters per 9IP this season. Over his last three starts, Cashner has posted a 1.23 ERA and a 0.886 WHIP, leaving him with a 1.46 ERA on the season. Opposing hitters are batting a mere .190 against him.

9) Brad Holt, RHP, NYM – While a 3.88 ERA in 15 starts in his first go round with full–season ball is solid, it doesn’t begin to tell the story of Brad Holt’s season. You see in two starts, Holt has a 31.50 ERA. In the other 13 starts, Holt has a 2.25 ERA, a 0.941 WHIP and a 82:18 K:BB ratio. Over the last two weeks, Holt has posted a 2.41 ERA, a 0.911 WHIP and a 24:4 K:BB ratio. While 2010 is more likely, don’t be surprised if Holt gets a look in New York come September.

10) Ethan Martin, RHP, LAD – His debut season hasn’t quite gone according to plan, as the 20yo right-hander has had somewhat of a mixed bag. While his 88 Ks are impressive, his 1.480 WHIP and 5 walks per 9 IP are less so. Currently in the midst of a 12-inning scoreless streak, Martin has a 2.08 ERA, a 1.154 WHIP and a 20:5 K:BB rato over the last two weeks.

Hot Hitters –

1) Desmond Jennings, OF, TBR – Jennings looks poised to help the Rays to the most athletic outfield in baseball, as the 22yo has put up impressive, .327/.410/.507, numbers in the Southern (SOL) League this season and appears ready for a September jump to the Big Leagues. Over his last 50 PAs, Jennings has been raking to the tune of .382/.553/.794.

2) Chris Marrero, 1B, WSN – After a sensational full-season debut in 2007, the 2006 1st rounder was derailed by a nasty leg injury that cost him a large portion of the 2008 season. With nearly 500 CAR ABs under his belt entering 2009, one would expect Marrero to have success, and success it is, posting a .850 OPS to date. The last two weeks, have been Marrero’s best in nearly two years as he has gone .391/.451/.696. He still will need to show more consistent power with the bat, given his defensive limitations, but it is nice to see him get things back on track.

3) Brandon Allen, 1B, ARZ – It has been a season of ups and downs for Allen. After getting off to a hot start in April (.887 OPS), Allen struggled (.767 OPS) in May and (.715 OPS) June. The he was dealt to the Diamondbacks in the Tony Pena deal. Apparently Allen is finding Reno more to his liking, as over the last two weeks he has gone .364/.475/.879.

4) Thomas Neal, OF/1B, SFG – The 2005 Draft and Follow is making a lot of believers this season after 2007 shoulder surgery and 2008 rehab are now in the past. A .353/.411/.804 over his last 51 ABs, gives Neal a 1.052 OPS on the year. I still have questions about where he will end up defensively, but the 21yos bat looks like it will play anywhere.

5) Hank Conger, C, LAA – The Angels felt that Conger was that rare find of a high school catcher that had high-level offensive skills and enough defense to stay behind the plate, when the made thim their 2006 first round selection. After a sensational 2006 debut, a string of injuries had put his future in doubt when the 2009 season started. Conger, at 21yo, has put up solid Texas (TXL) League numbers going posting a .772 OPS through 81 games. More importantly, after not catching in a professional game for over a year, Conger has been behind the plate in 70 games this season. Over the last two weeks, Conger has stepped up his game, going .386/.481/.596. If he can stay healthy, Conger has all-star potential.

6) Gabriel Noriega, SS, SEA – Signed to one of the highest bonuses ($800,000) given to a player from Venezuela in 2007, Noriega is the best defensive SS in the Mariner’s system, and one of the better defensive shortstops in the minor leagues. So, how far he goes will depend solely on his ability to hit. After posting an .840 OPS in a short stint in the Arizona (AZL) League as a 17yo in 2008, the Mariners…as is their want…rushed him to the Appalachian (APY) League, where he struggled (.557 OPS) as one of the circuits youngest players. A return trip to Pulaski this year has produced much better results. A .423/.464/.769 over the last two weeks, gives him a .957 OPS on the year.

7) Pedro Alvarez, 3B, PIT – Pirate fans are rejoicing “it’s about time”, as Alvarez makes his ‘Hot List’ debut. Well-publicized, protracted, contract issues prevented Alvarez from making his debut in 2008, after the Pirates selected him #2 overall. While his power stroke has been present from the beginning, he hasn’t made the contact that was expected, striking out in 25% of his plate appearances. Don’t get me wrong, the 22yo’s .845 OPS on the year is solid…just hasn’t matched the expectations. Over the last two weeks though, Alvarez has heated up, going .317/.364/.659 against Eastern (ESL) League pitching. There is all-star potential here, but he will only reach it if he can cut down on the whiffs. Today’s trade of Adam LaRoche to the Red Sox, clears 1B, which appears to be his eventual destination, for Alvarez. Expect him to take over that spot at the beginning of the 2010 season.

8) Jon Gaston, OF, HOU – Repeat after me…Jon Gaston is not a real prospect. Now that that is out of the way, let’s enjoy his eye-popping numbers. Over the last two weeks, Gaston has posted a .296/.387/.815 with 7HRs, including back-to-back 2 HR games. This leaves Gaston with a 1.073 OPS on the year and the Minor League Home Run (27) lead. Between his age (22y0), his poor contact rate (100 Ks in 96 games), his Home/Away OPS split (1.223/.919) and defensive limitations (LF/1B), there isn’t a lot of upside here, but you have to be enjoying him if you are a Jethawk fan.

9) Ryan Westmoreland, OF, BOS - In order to persuade him away from a commitment to Vanderbilt, the Red Sox signed Westmoreland to a record 5th round bonus ($2 million) following the 2008 draft. A shoulder injury prevented him from playing in 2008 and he has still yet to play the field this season, but he has the ‘tools’ scouts love. Over the last two weeks, Westmoreland has posted a .234/.345/.735 with 6 HRs, giving him a .883 OPS through 100ABs on the year. He will need to make more contact, but he is giving Red Sox fans something to anticipate once he gets healthy.

10) Derek Norris, C, WSN – The Hot list wouldn’t be complete without an appearance by Norris, who has made the list for the 5th time this year. Over the last two weeks, Norris has posted a .244/.370/.711, giving him a .995 OPS on the year. His solid season has vaulted him to behind only Posey and Santana among backstop prospects.

The Nots –

1) Shooter Hunt, RHP, MIN – Hunt was drafted with questions regarding his control. It only got worse through his first 70 Professional IP. Over the last two weeks, Hunt has posted a 15.00 ERA, a 3.667 WHIP and a 6:8 K:BB ratio. On the season he has allowed 54 walks in 31 2/3 IP and now finds himself toiling in the Gulf Coast (GCL) League. How soon can you declare a first round pick a bust?

2) Jamie Romak, 1B, PIT – This week’s ‘Put a Fork in Him Award’ winner, Romak is having a disastrous 2009. A .103/.103/.103 over the last two weeks, Romak hasn’t had an extrabase hit since July 2nd. On the year, Romak has a .589 OPS and finds himself a 23yo in Hi-A.

3) Tim Murphy, LHP, TEX – Murphy was the Rangers’ 3rd round selection in 2008, out of UCLA. There isn’t a tremendous upside in Murphy and his fringy hi-80s, low-90s fastball doesn’t exactly blow batters away. The result has been a 7.67 ERA for the 22yo in the CAL. Over the last two weeks Murphy has a 18.62 ERA and a 3.103 WHIP and really doesn’t look like a future big leaguer.

4) Carlos Gutierrez, RHP, MIN – After breezing through the FSL with a 1.32 ERA and an astonishing 4.48 GO/AO ratio, Gutierrez has found ESL hitters less susceptible to his often ‘fringy’ offerings. Over the last two weeks, Gutierrez has a 16.20 ERA, a 3.120 WHIP and a 3:4 K:BB ratio, leaving his ESL ERA at 7.93 through 12 appearances.

5) Carlos Peguero, OF, SEA – Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, Peguero had posted 4 solid seasons entering 2009. Now a 22yo, Peguero looked like he was ready for a breakout year in the CAL, and has been solid for most of the season, posting a .865 OPS. The last couple of weeks though have been troublesome, as Peguero has gone .100/.163/.100, and now has 42 ABs without an extrabase hit.

6) Cyle Hankerd, OF, ARZ – After a fantastic 2006 debut, it has been progressively downhill for the former 3rd rounder. Last year in the SOL, Hankered struggled to a .624 OPS. Now a 24yo, Henkerd is repeating the circuit with only marginally better results. Over the last two weeks Hankerd is .125/.125/.156.

7) Shairon Martis, RHP, WSN – I’ll preface this by saying that technically Martis is no longer a prospect, and only 22yo he already has 100 innings of Big League experience. It is a short list (approximately 6% of all pitchers) of predominantly successful pitchers with 100 innings at that age. That being said, the wheels have seemingly fallen off for Martis. After starting the season with 5 straight wins, Martis has found himself demoted to AAA and has posted a 7.00 ERA since May 19th. Over the last two weeks Martis has a 15.00 ERA, a 3.333 WHIP and a 3:5 K:BB ratio.
8) Kyle Skipworth, C, FLA – When the Marlins made Skipworth the 6th overall pick in 2008 they thought they were getting an offensive-minded catcher that had enough defense to potentially stick at the position. After a .602 OPS in his 2008 debut, Skipworth has a .561 OPS in the SAL this year. Over the last two weeks, he has a .162/.184/.184 and is posting his lowest OPS month of the season in July. Although only 19yo, if things don’t turn around quickly we will begin to hear the ‘bust’ label whispered.

9) Jeff Marquez, RHP, CHA – After the Nick Swisher trade, Marquez entered the 2009 season as the favorite to nail down the White Sox 5th starter spot. While Swisher is having a resurgent season (.816 OPS) for the Yankees, Marquez has been abysmal (9.85 ERA). Over the last two weeks, Marquez has a 12.00 ERA, a 2.417 WHIP and a 7:5 K:BB ratio.

10) Pete Kozma, SS, STL – The Cardinals 1st round pick in 2007, Kozma has yet to post playable offensive numbers in three professional seasons. A .143/.163/.143 over the last two weeks and 46 ABs without an extra base hit leaves Kozma with a .634 OPS for 2009.

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