Thursday, August 27, 2009

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not Around the Minor Leagues: Is Nasty Neftali the New K-Rod?

Feliz has fanned nearly 40% of the MLB batters that he has faced

Down the stretch in 2002, the Anaheim Angeles, in the midst of a playoff run, recalled a 20yo, right-handed, fireballer with filthy late movement and began turning over games to him in crucial situations. In 24 late season/post season innings, Francisco Rodriguez— K-Rod, compiled a 1.48 ERA, fanned 41 and held opposing hitters to a .143 Average Against, while playing a key role in the Angels’ World Series run. While the Angels had gone back and forth between whether or not Rodriguez was a starter, after 2002, his fate was sealed and he became one of the most dominant closers in the game. Fast forward 7 years, and take a look at the Texas Rangers, 21yo, right-handed, fireballer, Neftali Feliz. As the Rangers fight their way to a playoff spot, Feliz has become their ‘go-to guy’ in the pen. In 16 innings, Feliz has a 0.55 ERA, a 0.93 Average Against, and has fanned 21 of the 55 batters he has faced. The Rangers have predominantly used Feliz as a starter in the minors, but it appears that there is a great big case of déjà vu going on right now and with it, Feiliz has earned this week’s top spot.

Hot Pitchers –
1) Neftali Feliz, RHP, TEX – After walking nearly 4 batters per 9IP in 2008 and 3.5 at Oklahoma City this year, Feliz has allowed but 1 free pass in more than 16 Major League Innings. He is pitching fearlessly at the moment and is making even good hitters look silly. The K-Rod comparison is an accurate one, and expect Frankie Francisco to be with a new team in 2010.
2) Mauricio Robles, LHP, SEA – When the Mariners acquired Luke French in the Jarrod Washburn deal, it was assumed that it was a deal of getting a player with a similar upside, with a lot less years on him. Looking at the deal that way ignores the upside of the slight, 5’10, LHP. While not big, Robles does have a low-90s fastball with excellent late movement, and right now, pitching in one of the Minor League’s least friendly parks, Robles has amassed a 2.66 ERA, a 1.279 WHIP and fanned 21 in 20 IP, with the best performances coming at High Desert. Over his last three starts, Robles has a 0.47 ERA, a 0.947 WHIP and a 20:12 K:BB ratio.

3) Deolis Guerra, RHP, MIN – Now that Santana is out for the year, with an uncertain future for 2010, Twins management is trying to find something positive in what they got in return for him. While Guerra has had an up-and-down season, he just might be beginning to regain his 2007 form. Over his last three starts he has a 2.89 ERA, a 0.857 WHIP and a 16:4 K:BB ratio, giving the 20yo, a 4.88 ERA on the year.

4) Carlos Carrasco, RHP, CLE – Carrasco was in the midst of a relatively disappointing 2009 campaign when the Phillies made him the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee deal at the trade deadline. He seems to have turned things around though, as he has posted a 2.01 ERA, 0.761 WHIP, with a 22:3 K:BB ratio over his last three starts and International (INT) batters are hitting .205 against him since the deal.

5) Tyler Chatwood, RHP, LAA – Chatwood was the Angels top pick in the 2008 draft and opted to sign for $550,000 instead of attending UCLA. He has a fastball that hits the mid-90s, but still struggles with control at times. At 5’11, there isn’t a ton of projectability in him, but nonetheless, he has compiled a solid season as a 19yo in the Midwest (MWL) League. Over his last three starts, he has posted a 1.53 ERA, a 0.849 WHIP and a 18:7 K:BB ratio, giving him a 4.10 ERA on the year.

6) Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, TBR – With David Price in the majors, there is quite a battle in the Rays system for the title of best pitching prospect. Hellickson is trying to fend off Matt Moore, Wade Davis, Nick Barnese and Kyle Lobstein, and thus far is doing a pretty fair job of it. Over his last three starts, Hellickson has posted a 2.79 ERA, a 0.724 WHIP, with a 27:6 K:BB ratio, giving the 22yo a 2.82 ERA on the year.

7) Thomas Hanson, RHP, ATL – Sometimes we lose sight of how remarkable young players’ performances have been once they lose the designation of ‘propsect’. It is for that reason that we highlight Thomas Hanson this week. Hanson entered 2009 as arguably one of the top two pitching prospects in baseball. The Braves were relatively patient with him, given how dominating his performance was at Gwinnett (1.49 ERA with 90 Ks in 66IP). But his performance in Atlanta has been nothing short of spectacular. Over his last three starts, the 22yo has posted a 2.75 ERA, a 1.017 WHIP , with a 23:3 K:BB ratio. Through 14 Major League starts he has a 3.12 ERA and if you ignore his debut start, it is 2.69 over his last 13.

8) Kyle Lobstein, LHP, TBR – More polished than most high school pitchers, the Rays tabbed the left-hander with their second round pick in the 2008 draft. He signed late (for $1.5 million), so didn’t make his professional debut until the New York-Penn (NYP) League opened this summer. Through 12 starts he is everything that had been advertised, posting a 2.79 ERA. Over his last three starts, he has a 1.42 ERA, a 0.684 WHIP and a 22:3 K:BB ratio. The Rays have promoted a number of players to Tampa over the last couple of seasons, but with players like Lobstein, the cupboard is hardly bare yet.

9) Jake Arrieta, RHP, BAL – With Matusz, Tillman, Bergesen and Hernandez already rookies in the Orioles rotation, it has hard to believe that there is another rookie ready to go, but after a 1.35 ERA, 1.000 WHIP and a 17:6 K:BB ratio that appears to be the case with the 23yo, Arrieta. With Guthrie’s contract up at the end of the season, if they can find a suitor for Koji Uehara, it is possible the Orioles will open the 2010 season with a rotation made up entirely of players, under 25yo.

10) Nick Hagadone, LHP, CLE – One of the key pieces that Cleveland received in the Victor Martinez trade, Hagadone is putting together a remarkable post-Tommy John surgery recovery. Over his last three starts, Hagadone has posted a 2.08 ERA, a 0.577 WHIP, with a 13:3 K:BB ratio. Through 14 starts, South Atlantic (SAL) League hitters are batting .143 against him. At 23yo, he is ready for bigger challenges, and could move fast in 2010.

Hot Hitters –
1) Julio Borbon, CF, TEX – Sometimes players provide intangible value that isn’t easily captured by our traditional statistical view. Selected as a supplemental first round pick in 2007, Borbon made solid, if unspectacular, progress in 2008. A 23yo, Borbon put up good numbers in the PCL this year, albeit somewhat bereft of power. When Nelson Cruz went down, the Rangers seized the opportunity to get Borbon’s bat/speed in the lineup. Since his recall, the Rangers are 6-3 with Borbon in the starting lineup. In 41 Big League ABs, Borbon has posted a 1.015 OPS with 9 SBs. Over the last two weeks, Borbon has posted a .484/.556/.645. He has the ability to electrify an offense and should be the Rangers everyday CF in 2010.

2) Andrew Cumberland, SS, SDP – After being signed as a supplemental 1st round pick in 2007, Cumberland had been limited by a string on nagging injuries to 319 professional ABs, coming into the year. An athletically gifted player, Cumberland’s fate will be determined by his ability to stay at SS. As a SS, he can be a classic top of the order table setter, who will likely never have tremendous power. If he must shift to 2B or CF, he is likely a Major League reserve. Over the last two weeks, Cumberland has played his best baseball of the year, posting a .378/.521/.676, and now has an .818 OPS on the year.

3) Travis Snider, LF, TOR – Snider continues to be one of the hottest hitters in the game—at any level, as he has brought his remarkable INT performance with him to Toronto, with 3 HRs and a .400 OBP in 25 ABs since his return. Over the last two weeks he has posted a .386/.491/.682. At 21yo, look for Snider to establish himself as one of the games most feared hitters in 2010.

4) Chris Johnson, 3B, HOU – In a system bereft of position prospects, Johnson may get more attention than would otherwise be called for from a 24yo at AAA, with a sub-.800 OPS, but none the less, Johnson has put together a solid 2009 campaign. Peaking at the right time, over the last two weeks he has posted a .375/.400/.750. With only Jeff Keppinger and Geoff Blum ahead of him, don’t be surprised to see Johnson in Houston come September.

5) Alex Liddi, 3B, SEA – No player has appeared on the ‘Hot’ list more times than Liddi has this season, and for good reason, as he hasn’t posted an OPS below .967 in any month this year. And despite a 1.049 OPS for the year, Liddi is saving his best for last, as he has gone .400/.481/.600 over the last two weeks and has a 1.167 OPS so far this month. It has taken way too long for the ‘experts’ to recognize Liddi. He is young for his league, is extremely athletic, has the defense to stay at 3B, and at 6’4, 180 lbs, he has one of the most projectable ‘power’ bodies in the Minors. The ‘expert’ community dings him for his ‘toe-tap’ swing initiator, yet he seems to get around just fine on the fastball. They ‘ding’ him for his home park being one of the Minors friendliest, yet his .888 OPS away from High Desert would rank 7th in the league—despite the removal of all games from his home park, and the 6 players that would have ranked higher than him are all either 22yo or 23yo, despite Liddi being only 11 days past turning 21yo. The point…for the season, Liddi trails only Buster Posey as position player prospects that have had at least 100 ABs in the California (CAL) League this year. Now let’s see how long it takes the ‘experts’ to figure it out.

6) Logan Watkins, 2B, CHN – The Cubs surprised the scouting community, not by taking Watkins in the 21st round in 2008, but by signing him to a $500,000 bonus. But the Cubs, under Tim Wilken, are trying to move to a more contact-oriented prospect approach and Watkins is an athletically gifted player that fits that mold. After going .464/.538/.571 over his last 65 PAs, Watkins now has a .838 OPS, as a 19yo in the Northwest (NWL) League.

7) Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF, NYM – It’s kind of like being the ‘tallest midget’, but Nieuwenhuis has quickly established himself as the best OF prospect in the Mets’ system after being selected in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft. At 22yo, in the Florida State (FSL) League, we would like to see how he does next year in AA, before getting too excited, but with a .373/.448/.881 over the last two weeks, he now has an .820 OPS for the year.

8) Thomas Hickman, OF/1B, FLA - Hickman has been somewhat of a disappointment since the Marlins selected him in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft. After posting a .767 in the SAL in 2008, the Marlins started Hickman in the FSL this season, where he was significantly over matched and eventually placed on the restricted list with ‘personal ‘ issues. When he returned in July, they returned him to the SAL and it has been a completely different story, as he has posted a .390/.528/.951 over the last two weeks and now has a 1.267 OPS since his return. At 21yo, there is still potential here, but it is time for Hickman to put it all together.

9) Cole Gillespie, OF, ARZ - Gillespie put together a solid debut, after the Brewers drafted him in the 3rd round in 2006, but it has been relatively downhill since then. In his fourth professional season, he has been solid, yet unspectacular. Limited defensively he appears now to have little more than 4th OF upside. For that reason, the Brewers felt comfortable in including him in the trade for Felipe Lopez in mid-July. Gillespie has taken quite favorably to his new surroundings, posting a .946 OPS in his first 99ABs since the trade, including a .450/.511/.750 over the last two weeks.

10) Kyler Burke, OF, CHN – Burke could well be this seasons’ reclamation success story, as entering the season, the 2006 first round pick had posted a .679 OPS in nearly 1000 professional ABs. Burke still had his supporters, and the Cubs decided to let him repeat the Midwest (MWL) League, where he could let his age catch up with the competition. This could be one of the best organizational decisions of the year, as Burke has broken through to the tune of a .901 OPS. The 21yo, has posted a .326/.425/.674 over his last 60 PAs, and has turned into a virtual walk machine, taking a free pass in nearly 21% of his PAs over the last month. For the season, his walk rate is nearly double what it was in 2008.

The Nots –
1) Zach Collier, OF, PHI – Another in the typical mold of ‘toolsy’, athletic, picks that the Phillies seem to love, Collier has had about as disappointing of season as any 2008 1st round pick not named Skipworth. After being thoroughly dominated in the SAL, the Phillies moved him to the NYP when the short season leagues began, but the results there have been only marginally better. After a .125/.125/.125 over the last two weeks, Collier now has a .643 OPS in the NYP, and a .604 OPS for the year. Still just 18yo, it isn’t time to bail on him, but there is certainly cause for concern.

2) Argenis Diaz, SS, PIT – We have followed Diaz closely, ever since he posted one of the best age-adjusted seasons in the 2005 Venezuelan Summer League. His bat, however, is not his Big League ticket, with a .702 OPS through 5 Minor League seasons. Only 22yo, Diaz was dealt to the Pirates in the Adam LaRoche deal. Typical of the prospects that the Pirates received in their numerous deadline deals, Diaz has plenty of question marks. The most prominent of which is whether or not he will ever hit well enough to receive regular playing time. It’s not looking good at the moment, as Diaz has a .470 OPS since the trade, and has gone only .167/.184/.167 over the last two weeks.

3) P.J. Walters, RHP, STL – Walters has had some eye-opening performance as he has bounced between St. Louis and Memphis this year. Unfortunately, for him, not enough of them. Over the last two weeks, Walters has a 25.07 ERA, a 3.643 WHIP, with a 2:4 K:BB ratio.

4) Ty Worthington, OF, ARZ – Worthington is a prime example of why we don’t prefer ‘toolsy’, athletic, players with little history of performance. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, away from a football scholarship, Worthington has posted a .435 OPS in two professional seasons. After not being able to handle the Pioneer (PIO) League for two years, the Diamondbacks moved him to their NWL affiliate…but the results have been similar. A .100/.122/.125 over the last two weeks, leaves him with a .560 OPS on the year, and leaves me scratching my head as to why Worthington isn’t playing football.

5) Nick Schmidt, LHP, SDP – In what seems like a decade ago, Schmidt actually opened this season by destroying MWL hitters in his return from surgery. A promotion to the California (CAL) League, hasn’t proved so well. After posting a 12.71 ERA, 2.824 WHIP and a 2:5 K:BB ratio over the last two weeks, Schmidt finds himself on the disable list--to heal his 7.88 CAL ERA.

6) Josh Reddick, OF, BOS – I like Josh Reddick, and I give tremendous props to the Red Sox organization for forging their own path to player development and coming out on the right side more often than most. But can anyone explain to me what the 22yo Reddick was doing in a Red Sox uniform at any point this year? He was good—not great in the ESL this season, and that seemed to be the right developmental level for him, but someone was dreaming if they really believed he was ready for the ‘show’. Hopefully the experience won’t come back to bite everyone as Reddick is now in AAA and has posted a .127/.186/.182 over the last two weeks.

7) Henry Rodriguez, RHP, OAK – After a disappointing 2008 season, the Athletics decided to convert Rodriguez to a reliever. It doesn’t appear to be going so well. After a two week period where he has gone 20.77 ERA, 3.923 WHIP, with a 6:7 K:BB ratio, Rodriguez now has a 6.28 ERA on the year. He’s still only 22yo and his raw ‘stuff’ is better than the results, so it isn’t time to write him off yet, but his star has dimmed considerably over the last two seasons.

8) Juan Duran, OF, CIN – Signing 16yos out of Latin America is an extremely risky business. As a matter of fact, of the thirteen players that have ever been signed for $1 million or more, prior to 2007, only Miguel Cabrera and Wily Aybar have seen regular playing time at the Big League level (Angel Villalona and Fernando Martinez could still join that list). Duran signed for $2,000,000 in 2007, posted a .659 OPS in the Dominican Summer (DSL) League in 2008, and is struggling mightily in 2009. After posting a .167/.167/.250 over the last two weeks, Duran now has a .491 OPS in the Gulf Coast (GCL) League. Duran doesn’t turn 18 until next week, so there is still plenty of time, but there are also plenty of holes in his swing that need fixing.

9) Adys Portillo, RHP, SDP – With Michel Ynoa yet to make his professional debut, Portillo becomes the most expensive 16yo Latin American pitcher signed in 2008. Portillo will still be a 17yo when he finishes the season, so there isn’t a whole lot to read into his performance, and he has whiffed 44 batters in 52 Arizona (AZL) League innings, but with a 1-9 record and a 5.13 ERA, things haven’t been impressive. Over his last three starts, things haven’t been any better—9.72 ERA, 2.880 WHIP, with a 7:8 K:BB ratio.

10) Eric Hosmer, 1B, KCR – With Alex Gordon back in AAA, Mike Moustakas posting a .719 OPS in the Carolina (CAR) League, Hochevar still not seemingly able to put it together at the Major League level and Hosmer with a .685 OPS in two stops, one begins to wonder if the common thread isn’t the Royals player development process. Gordon was about as sure a “can’t miss” prospect as they get, Hochevar was the #1 overall pick and while Moustakas had questions surrounding his eventual defensive position, few questioned his ability to hit. Now Hosmer is looking like the 4th straight ‘high’ first round pick that is failing to meet expectations. He’s clearly in over his head in the CAR (.532 OPS), and a .160/.222/.200 over the last two weeks, leaves his OPS at .685 for the year.

Related Posts by Subject


Myblogspan said...

Good one ....thanks for sharing..