Thursday, August 6, 2009

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not Around the Minor Leagues: At 21yo Jays’ Snider Already a Pro

Snider hasn’t let an early season demotion derail him

When Travis Snider stumbled out of the gate this season, the Toronto Blue Jays were faced with a tough decision. They could let him try to work through his slump at the Major League level, or they could send Snider back down to the Minors to get things worked out and risk damaging the confidence of their best young hitter. The Jays chose the latter and, despite the early season struggles, Snider appears well on his way to establishing himself as one of the best young hitters in the game. For that, Snider heads this week’s list.

Hot Hitters –
1) Travis Snider, LF, TOR – Snider completed his rookie eligibility last season, but at 21yo, he is younger than all but three players on this list. After posting a .686 OPS for Toronto in the first month of the season, the Jays sent him down to Las Vegas. There he battled back problems and struggled to a .614 OPS in May before landing on the DL. Apparently recovered, Snider has handled himself like a true professional—never maligning his fate, and has posted a 1.244 OPS since returning. Over the last two weeks Snider has posted a .426/.500/.944 and appears ready to reclaim a spot in the Jays’ lineup any day now.

2) Josh Bell, 3B, LAD – The 22yo Bell has cut his strike out rate nearly in half this season and is putting together a breakout season. This made him one of the Dodgers’ most requested prospects at the deadline and lead to him being dealt to the Orioles in the Sherrill deal. Over the last two weeks Bell has put up a .469/.553/.813 and has a .880 OPS on the year.

3) Jason Heyward, OF, ATL – Last week Heyward topped this list and we discussed how amazing his Southern (SOL) League performance has been for a player his age. Still 4 days from his 20th birthday, Heyward hasn’t missed a beat since last week. Over the last two weeks he has posted a .467/.547/.778 and now has a 1.227 OPS through 27 SOL games. Heyward has clearly established himself as the Minor League’s best prospect and is looking like a future superstar. Expect him to see regular playing time in Atlanta by early 2010.

4) Allen Craig, 1B, STL – A former third basemen, the Cardinals thought enough of Craig’s defense that, despite being without Troy Glaus all season, they have left Craig and his 18 home runs in Memphis all year. I guess you could say that a prospect that is defensively limited to 1B in the Cardinal system is effectively ‘blocked’. At 25yo, Craig’s opportunities are fading, so he hopefully someone is taking notice of his noticed his .400/.466/.800 since the beginning of July.

5) Chris Carter, 1B, OAK – For being only 22yo, the Athletics first basemen has made the rounds in the Minor Leagues, currently playing with his third organization. Over the last two weeks, he has posted a .491/.563/.837, which only adds to what is turning out to be a ‘monster’ year. Through 106 Texas (TXL) League games, Carter has posted a .972 OPS with 34 doubles and 19 home runs.

6) Logan Morrison, 1B, FLA – In what has to be one of the weirder stat lines of the season, Morrison has walked 27 times over his last 18 games and now has a nearly 2:1 BB:K ratio on the year. Over the last two weeks Morrison has collected 17 of those walks on his way to a .263/.491/.473.

7) Carlos Santana, C, CLE – Victor Martinez is a top 5 catcher in the Major Leagues, but the Indians thought enough of Santana to deal Martinez to the Red Sox at the trade deadline. His plate discipline is among the best in the Minors, and he is slugging .531 in the Eastern (ESL) League. Over the last two week’s Santana has posted a .391/.451/.739 and now has a .934 OPS on the year.

8) Rymer Liriano, OF, SDP - This week’s ‘Who’s He? Award’ winner, the 18yo Liriano was signed by the Padres as a 16yo out of the Dominican Republic in 2007 for $300,000. He had an unspectacular debut season in the Dominican Summer (DSL) League in 2008, before the Padres brought him stateside. This year though, he has excelled, posting a .976 OPS through 32 Arizona (AZL) League games. Over the last two weeks, Liriano has posted a .333/.429/.778. Like many Latin American players, his future will be determined by his ability to learn to control the strike zone.

9) Zach Lutz, 3B, NYM – The Mets 5th round draft pick in 2007, has been limited by injuries to just 74 ABs in two seasons coming into 2009. The 23yo is trying to make up for lost time though, posting an .865 OPS through 285 Florida State (FSL) League ABs. Over the last two weeks he has gone .475/.523/.850.

10) Pedro Alvarez, 3B, PIT – The 2008 2nd overall pick certainly has his doubters, as they question whether the thickly built Alvarez will be able to turn through the zone quick enough to ever make significant contact or whether he possesses the mobility to play anywhere but first base. Over the first three months of the season, it looked like the detractors might be right, as he posted only an .827 OPS in the Carolina (CAR) League as a 22yo, while fanning in 29% of his Plate Appearances. But the Calendar turned to July and the Bucs promoted Alvarez to Altoona, and he has become a different player, reducing his strikeout rate to 23% and boosting his average from .235 to .353. A .347/.467/.633 over the last two weeks, gives him a .958 OPS in the Eastern (ESL) League.

Hot Pitchers –
1) Dan Hudson, RHP, CHA – Hudson becomes only the third player all season to sit upon the top of one of these lists two weeks in a row. The 22yo Hudson has become one of the surprises of the 2009 season, and at the moment looks to be one of the steals of the 2008 draft, where the Whites Sox tabbed him in the 5th round after he had a disappointing Junior year. Hudson was solid in the Pioneer (PIO) League in his 2008 debut. He was phenomenal in the South Atlantic (SAL) League to open 2009. He limited CAR hitters to a .195 average against in 8 starts. And since his promotion to the SOL 9 starts ago, he has been unbelievable, limiting SOL hitters to a .188 average against while posting a 1.60 ERA. Working on a 29-inning scoreless streak, Hudson has posted a .550 WHIP with a 24:4 K:BB ratio.

2) Andrew Cashner, RHP, CHN – After posting a 5.85 ERA and a 23:19 BB:K ratio in 20 innings in 2008, many, this writer included, were questioning the Cubs first round selection. Few are questioning that pick anymore. Over the last 17 innings, Cashner has posted a 0.00 ERA, a 0.647 WHIP and a 17:5 K:BB ratio. His ERA through six SOL starts is 0.88.

3) Simon Castro, RHP, SDP – Castro is a huge 20yo, that is rapidly becoming one of the Midwest (MWL) League’s most intimidating pitchers. Working predominantly off of a mid-90s fastball, Castro is overpowering MWL hitters. Over the last two weeks, he has posted a 0.60 ERA, a 0.467 WHIP and a 23:1 K:BB ratio, giving him a 2.78 ERA since the beginning of June. It remains to be seen whether his secondary offerings will improve enough to make him a long-term rotation presence, but there is certainly Major League potential here.

4) Jose Ortegano, LHP, ATL – The lightly regarded left-hander entered the 2009 season with a 2.91 ERA…despite being young for his level of competition at each stop. Yet, because he too lacks a dominating fastball, you will have to search hard to find Ortegano on any prospect list. After posting a 3.49 ERA as a 21yo in the CAR, the Braves have moved him to the SOL. In his first two SOL starts, Ortegano has a 0.69 ERA, a 0.846 WHIP, with a 13:2 K:BB ratio.

5) Henderson Alvarez, RHP, TOR – Quickly becoming one of the Midwest (MWL) League’s most dominating pitchers, the 19yo Alvarez has a 2.18 ERA since the beginning of July. Over the last two weeks, Alvarez has a 1.20 ERA, a .933 WHIP, and a 14:1 K:BB ratio.

6) Christian Friedrich, LHP, COL – We felt Friedrich was the second best college pitcher available in the 2008 draft, but attending Eastern Kentucky kept him a bit under the radar screen entering the season. Friedrich dominated SAL hitters, fanning 66 in 45 IP. Going to the CAL, we thought he would face a stiffer challenge. So far, not so much. Friedrich hasn’t allowed more than 1 earned run in a game since June 10, and now has a 1.80 ERA in the hitter friendly California (CAL) League. Over the last two weeks he has put up a, 0.82 ERA, a 0.818 WHIP, with a 22:3 K:BB ratio. CAL hitters are batting .180 against him.

7) Wade Miley, LHP, ARZ – The 22yo Miley has been somewhat disappointing since the Diamondbacks made him a first round pick in the 2008 draft. After a 4.91 ERA in his 2008 debut, Miley posted a 4.33 ERA through June in the MWL. More is expected of a 22yo at that level, and Miley is showing signs of turning things around, allowing only 1 ER through his last three starts. Over that time Miley has a 0.417 WHIP, with a 11:2 K:BB ratio.

8) Wilmer Font, RHP, TEX – The Rangers were expecting big things from Font in 2008, but his season lasted all of 4 innings due to nagging injuries. The 19yo is healthy again and making MWL hitters pay for it. Over the last two weeks, Font has posted a 2.70 ERA, a 0.800 WHIP, with a 14:3 K:BB ratio. At 6’4”, 210 lbs, Font looks to add a couple of mph to his mid-90s fastball. There is significant upside here and his development of better command and refinement of his secondary offerings will determine his fate.

9) Casey Crosby, LHP, DET – The Tigers top prospect and arguably the top pitching prospect in the MWL, Crosby has been on a tremendous roll since the middle of June (1.46 ERA). Over the last two weeks, Crosby has posted a 0.96 ERA, a 0.750 ERA, and a 13:1 K:BB ratio. On the year MWL hitters are batting .204 against him and he has 107 strikeouts in 90 IP.

10) Scott Mathieson, RHP, PHI – After 2 Tommy John surgeries, Mathieson’s career was all but written off. The Phillies released and then resigned him and are in the process of making a reliever out of him. Albeit brief, the results have been spectacular thus far, as Mathieson has not allowed an earned run through his first 11 appearances, while fanning 20 in 16 innings. If he can prove that he is healthy, Mathieson could find himself in the Phillies’ bullpen in September.

The Nots –
1) Andrew Brackman, RHP, NYY – Easily one of the most disappointing stories of 2009, Brackman has a 1-11 record with a 6.70 ERA—as a 23yo in the SAL. Those are ‘on your way out baseball’ numbers, not numbers befitting a former first round draft pick, who was at one time considered the second best arm available in the 2007 draft. Over the last two weeks, Brackman has posted a 15.19 ERA, a 3.000 WHIP, with a 9:7 K:BB ratio. That performance earns him a top of the ‘Nots’ repeat performance.

2) Chris Valaika, SS, CIN – There were many that thought that Valaika would end up as the Reds’ everyday SS by the end of this season. Now they are wondering if he has enough tools to be an everyday player in the Big Leagues. A .083/.083/.104 over the last two weeks has dropped the 23yo’s OPS to .536 on the year. He isn’t really a SS at the next level, and there are serious questions as to how much he will hit.

3) Joshua Fields, RHP, SEA – The unfortunate part of achieving Major League success for a Minor League prospect is that part of success is dependent on opportunity that is sometimes outside of one’s control. For Fields, there is significant near-term opportunity available for him that he just isn’t capitalizing on right now. A 15.88 ERA, 3.000 WHIP, with a 6:5 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks, leaves Fields with a 6.48 ERA on the year.

4) Mat Gamel, 3B, MIL – After a disappointing stint in Milwaukee, the 23yo Gamel found himself back in Nashville where he has put up solid, yet unspectacular numbers. A .109/.226/.130 over the last two weeks, leaves Gamel’s OPS at .743 on the year. With a suspect glove, if Gamel doesn’t have a spectacular bat, then his future is murky.

5) Adrian Cardenas, 2B, OAK – The 21yo Cardenas earned himself a promotion to AAA by posting a .838 OPS in the Texas (TXL) League. After 20 games and a .450 OPS, it is beginning to look like it is a little too much, too soon. Cardenas has posted a .106/.106/.170 over the last two weeks.

6) Barry Enright, RHP, ARZ – The 23yo Enright was the Diamondbacks’ second round pick in 2007. Entering the season, he looked like he could become a back-of-the rotation innings eater. Another season, another solid but unspectacular result (4.38 ERA, .295 average against) may leave more questions than answers. We worry about a lack of a dominant out pitch and the lack of remaining upside projection. Over the last two weeks, Enright has posted a 12.60 ERA, a 2.900 WHIP and a 7:3 K:BB ratio.

7) Lars Anderson, 1B, BOS – No other elite level prospect has been as disappointing this season as has Anderson. That being said, he is still just 21yo and is competing at AA where his .700 OPS is nearly .260 points lower than his 2008 performance. More disturbing is his seemingly AWOL power stroke. Anderson has always had a propensity to strikeout (roughly 25% K rate) and improving that will be required to be successful as he moves up. No one is writing him off at this point, but his season has to be categorized as disturbing. A .113/.190/.151 over the last two weeks.

8) Oscar Tejeda, SS, BOS – Signed out of the Dominican Republic as one of the highest bonused Latin American 16yos in 2006, Tejeda has yet, offensively, to live up to expectations, as he entered 2009 with a career OPS of .685. Making a return trip to the SAL, his .612 OPS is actually slightly worse than it was in his first go round. Over the last two weeks, Tejeda has posted a .094/.121/.125.

9) Nick Green, RHP, LAA – The Angels returned Green to the Pacific Coast (PCL) League this year, where the results didn’t change much from 2008. In over 200 PCL innings, opposing hitters are batting nearly .300 against him. Over the last two weeks, Green has posted a 11.25 ERA and a 1.875 WHIP, earning himself a demotion to the SOL. At 24yo, Green needs to get things figured out in a hurry, or his next stop may be out of the game.

10) Ryan Mount, 2B, LAA – The Angels’ second round pick in 2005, Mount entered the season coming off of his best season as a pro, where he posted an .849 OPS in the CAL. This season, TXL pitchers have not been as accommodating, as Mount’s .125/.222/.150 over his last 45 ABs leaves his OPS at .617 on the year. Nagging injuries have troubled Mount throughout his career, as he has never appeared in more than 85 games in any season, and won’t this year either. Still only 22yo, there is plenty of time to get things figured out, but 2009 has definitely been a step backward.

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