Results tagged ‘ prospects ’

Playoff previews — MiLB style

Hey all. It’s playoff time in the Minors as most of the leagues get their postseason underway (or have in the last day or two). With that in mind, we’ve efforted to provide some features on key players who are getting the chance to play for a ring. And you can ask anyone, playing for a ring is huge, no matter what level it’s at.

Some of the stories have gone up already, others will arrive in the coming days. But here are links to each of the features currently up on MLB.com. Some were written by yours truly, some by MLB.com reporter Bailey Stephens. I’ve also linked to the playoff previews done by the fine MiLB.com staff.

Northwest League: First-rounder Michael Choice (A’s) gets taste of playoffs
(Sadly, Vancouver and Choice have already been eliminated

NY-Penn League: Cory Vaughn (Mets) hopes to power Brooklyn to title
(Vaughn doubled and tripled in Brooklyn’s 7-6 Game 1 loss).

South Atlantic League: Jonathan Singleton (Phillies) leads Lakewood in search of second straight

Florida State League: Former No. 1 pick Tim Beckham (Rays) continues climb
(Beckham went 1-for-4 in a Game 1 loss to Bradenton)

Eastern League: Yankees’ prospect Andrew Brackman continues comeback

Still to come:

Texas League: Royals lefty John Lamb joins elite staff in NW Arkansas

And hopefully a couple more when all is said and done.

Urban Youth Academy Draft Showcase

Yup, it’s that time of year again and I have to say, I’m loving it. Pitchers and catchers are heading to Spring Training facilities and the MLB Draft season is upon us. That means showcases, college seasons starting and, in the near future, the 2010 premier of our Draft Reports. The first set should run in about two weeks and the players in that first edition will be from the group that participated in this past Saturday’s showcase at the Urban Youth Academy. There were a ton of scouts on hand to watch SoCal’s finest among the high school ranks. Plenty of folks have already written about it:

  • There was our story on MLB.com, penned by Ben Platt, which gives a great overview of what the event is all about
  • Baseball America‘s man on the scene (as he tends to be in Southern California), was Dave Perkin. He filed this report on their Draft blog. (Their early Draft preview stuff is up, too.  You have to be a subscriber, but it’s worth it).
  • Keith Law filed a report as well on the ESPN Draft blog (You have to be an insider. Again, a worthy investment). He ran down some of the top performers at the event.

As for me, you’ll have to wait for the details when the first batch of Draft Reports come outWilson.JPG (complete with video et al, as always). For now, though, I’ve cobbled together this list of players scouts told me stood out at the event. This isn’t ranked, so I’m putting it in alphabetical order instead:

Cody Buckel, RHP — showed a really live arm.
Dylan Covey, RHP — top pitching prospect at event was solid.
Jake Hernandez, C — stood out defensively among the catchers there.
Lonni Kauppila, SS — good defense in infield; quality at-bats at plate.
Chad Lewis, 3B — a couple of base hits in game, good approach at plate
Griffin Murphy, LHP — put himself on map with strong outing
Aaron Sanchez, RHP — projectable righty starting to fill into frame
Vincent Velasquez, INF/RHP — two-way player who showed good velocity and sink on
Austin Wilson, OF (in picture) — toolsy outfielder showed off big power in BP, arm in field
Tony Wolters, INF — high energy infielder stood out
Christian Yelich, 1B — great frame, nice left-handed stroke, could be ready to bust out.
 mound.

A couple of things to note when reading this or any of the reports on the event. Pitching tends to do better at these things, since pitchers are only going an inning or four batters in one stint. Also, the old adage of pitchers being ahead of hitters at this time of year translates well to this kind of event. As one scout put it, “It’s a lot like Spring Training, but it gives you a snapshot of where kids are.” That scout wanted to be sure not to be too effusive with his praise,adding “You don’t want kids to think this event will make their season. You want them to continue to go out and play hard. You hope their parents, coaches and advisors help keep that in perspective.”

Prospect Impression for March 31

Hey folks —

Sorry I haven’t been able to be as diligent in filling you in about prospects I’ve been seeing. But between the Reds coverage, finishing up the last couple of organization previews last week, the draft reports… and my kids coming to visit over the weekend, time has been at a premium.

But I wanted to jump on quickly and talk about someone I saw at the Yankees-Reds game today. It’s not often we can talk about a Yankees prospect, right? OK, that’s an unfair shot, but still…

Starting for the Yankees in this game, as he will on Opening Day, was Brett Gardner, who was named recently as the starter in center field over Melky Cabrera, had three hits in the game, though he was doubled off of first following the first one (not his fault, it was  rocket line drive) and getting caught stealing after the second one. Overall, he’s had a terrific spring, hitting .390 in 59 at-bats. He’s stolen five bases and had a .446 OBP.

Those last two stats are what makes him interesting. His best tool is his speed, and it’s a plus. He’s stolen 153 bases in his Minor League career. Even better is that he seems to know what he’s doing as well, with just 31 caught stealing for an 83-percent success rate. Of course, having speed doesn’t help if you don’t get on base. Gardner seems to understand that. He’s hit a respectable .291 in the Minors, though batting average in the Minors for speed guys is always called into question (fair or not) because, especially at the lower levels, guys with Gardner’s kind of wheels can hit groundballs and leg them out consistently for hits.

But Gardner’s managed to continue hitting as he’s moved up the ladder, including a .296 mark last year in his first full season of Tripole-A last year. More importantly for his leadoff potential is his career .389 OBP. He may not hit for much, if any power, but he’ll use his speed on the bases and in center field whie trying to get on base as much as he can for the big boppers. He’s a fun guy to watch play because of his effort and his speed and you know he’s not going to get outworked.  It should be fun to watch him patrol that new center field when they get going up there in the Bronx.

Day 9: Sarasota

Hey kids. Back in Sarasota at good ‘ol Ed Smith Stadium. Don’t have a ton of time today, so I’m going to get straight to today’s Prospect Impression:

I must admit going in that I’ve always been a big fan of Ricky Romero. I can’t say it’s because I’ve seen him blow hitters away in the past or because I’ve heard amazing scouting reports on his abilties. No, it’s really because he wrote a player journal for us during the 2007 season. On the field, the 2005 first-round pick (No. 6 overall) has been a little up-and-down in his career, mostly because he’s had to deal with some injury issues along the way.

Here’s the good thing, though. The 24-year-old has climbed back into the race for a spot in the Blue Jays rotation. That wasn’t necessarily because of anything he had done, but because of the futility of the other candidates. In fact, Romero had a 7.50 ERA  and had walked nine in six previous Grapefruit League innings. He hadn’t pitched in a big-league game since March 7. But that’s neither here nor there. He’s back in the race and if Monday is any indication, he could snag the job.

Over the past few weeks, Romero’s been working on making some adjustments to his mechanics, working to not throw across his body. Those kinks were causing much of his command issues. It looked like all that work has paid off, at least for now. The southpaw walked two in his five innings and allowed two runs, but overall looked very sharp. He scattered seven hits and struck out five. It’s looking like he’s going to get at least one more start and definitely seems to be moving forward while the other veteran options are going in the opposite direction. It could come down to a choice between lefty prospects Romero or Brad Mills. Should be interesting to watch the rest of the way.

Day 8: Bradenton

Sorry I’ve been a little less than daily. Truthfully, the game yesterday was kind of devoid of prospects. I could’ve come up with something, but it was Saturday, I figured no one would mind.

In today’s (Sunday) action, I once again saw the Reds and Pirates for the second day in a row. I’m looking forward until tomorrow when I get to see the Blue Jays play the Reds. With all due respect, I see the Pirates all the time back home. I don’t need to see them here every day.

But I digress. The Prospect Impression… Since I won’t see the Pirates again for a while, I’ll go there.

I’m not 100 percent sure about his status (meaning is he a rookie or not), but Brian Bixler is a guy who was highly regarded, the possible future shortstop for the Pirates. And it’s not that he’s been bad in the Minors — he’s been an All-Star the past two years — but he’s been an All-Star two years in a row in the same league. His stints in the bigs last year weren’t particularly inspiring, with a .157 average in 108 at-bats. He didn’t seem ready to handle big-league pitching.

But something’s looked different this spring. He looks, well, like he belongs. Playing both second and short to increase his flexibility, he’s hit .333 and slugged .513. Now, I wouldn’t expect that kind of production, obviously, but he’s working his way into the picture as a utilityman for the Pirates. Something to watch for anyway for the rest of Pirates camp.

Finally, that small world story I promised. I was at my hotel in Clearwater and I went to the front desk to make sure I had the best directions to head to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for the Pirates-Yankees game. The conversation went something like this:

Front desk lady: I don’t like the Yankees.
(We chatted a bit about the Evil Empire, etc.)
Front desk lady continued: I’m a Braves fan.
Me (figuring that people in Florida are often Braves fans back when there weren’t teans in Floriday): Oh, a Braves fan, huh?
(This basically was the pleasant ****-chat between hotel patron and nice front desk lady. Then she said…)
FDL: My brother is a manager in the Braves’ Minor League system.
Me: (After double-taking) Who’s your brother?
FDL: Rocket Wheeler
Me: (Flabbergasted) I know Rocket Wheeler!

I then went on to explain how I got to know Rocket a little during the Arizona Fall League. I mean, I knew he was the manager of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, but I knew him more, in some ways, as the skipper of the Mesa Solar Sox, who played in the AFL championship game. Don’t know if you remember this (or ever knew), but Rocket let his players vote on who should play and what the lineup should be. Don’t believe me? Read about it here.

OK, here’s hoping Travis Snider makes the trip to Sarasota in the a.m.       

Day 6: Fort Myers

What happened to Day 5, you ask? That was spent in my hotel room in Sarasota, catching up on work (Check out the fruits of that labor, my Dodgers organization preview). Sorry I didn’t get to the draft post I had mentioned, but you can read this week’s draft report. In fact, I insist. I’ll wait.

OK, today’s trip took me to Fort Myers and the Boston Red Sox. I had the pleasure of driving down with long-time Pirates beat writer John Perrotto. Not only did he do the driving, but the pleasant conversation made the time go by quickly. I was on Pirates coverage again today and watched an ugly 11-4 loss. Tomorrow, I become Reds beat writer until the end of Spring Training.

So, the Prospect Impression… there wasn’t much to choose from, really. So I’ll pick out two players, one of whom is not really a prospect. We’ll call it The Good and The Bad (no ugly today).

The Good: Clay Buchholz. Yes, I know. Technically, he’s not a prospect because he’s no longer a rookie. But he’s trying to re-establish himself after a rocky 2008 season. And let me tell you, he was sharp. he went five innings, allowing four hits, one unearned run while walking one and striking out three. That’s on par with what he’s done most of the spring. This was his fourth start and his ERA now stands at 0.66. That’s one earned run over 13 2/3 IP. In that time, he’s given up nine hits and three walks while striking out 12. I don’t know about his other outings, but it looked like his changeup was particularly sharp today and he kept Pirates hitters off-balance throughout his outing. Maybe if Brad Penny isn’t ready to go, Buchholz will get another shot in the bigs early.

The Bad: As you all know, I’m a fan of the Rule 5 Draft. I like it for a number of reasons, but the biggest is probably because it’s a great underdog story, watching guys get a chance to compete for a big-league job they didn’t think was possible before getting taken. So when Donnie Veal started out like gangbusters, I got excited for the lefty. It wasn’t just that he didn’t allow a run through his first five outings. It was that he had walked just one. You see, one of the biggest things that held his progression through the Cubs system was his command as a starter. Perhaps pitching shorter stints in relief was the answer. He certainly has the stuff, with a mid-90s heater from the left side. I didn’t worry too much when he walked four and gave up two runs in outing number six, because reports were that even though his command was shaky, he gathered himself and did well to get out of further trouble. Two more scoreless — and walkless — outings followed. Outing No. 9 (officially No. 8 because one of the earlier outings was an exhibition against the Netherlands) saw no runs score, but there were two walks.

Then came today. He did only give up one run in 1 2/3 innings (maybe that was the problem — it was the first time he’d pitched a second frame), but he gave up that run without yielding a hit. He walked four, hit a batter — J.D. Drew had to be taken for x-rays, which turned out to be negative — and nearly hit former Pirate Jason Bay. He also hit the Bull… whoops, sorry, couldn’t resist the Bull Durham reference. Listen, all in all, he’s still having a pretty solid spring, with a 2.79 ERA in nine official Grapefruit Leauge games spanning 9 2/3 innings. He’s only given up three hits. But he’s now walked 11 and struck out five in that span. For a guy that has had command issues, that’s a little troubling. I still think the Pirates need to stick it out and continue to work with him. Lefties with that kind of stuff don’t come around all the time and even if it means riding a roller coaster for a while, the payoff could be worth it.

Oh, and I know I completely forgot to tell that “small world Minor League story” I promised the other day. That’ll have to wait ’til tomorrow…

Day 4: Bradenton

I’m in Pirate City folks. And yet, the guy I’m going to focus on in a bit is a Twin. Go figure.

First, a couple of tidbits, one on-the-field related and one an off-the-field bizarre small world story I meant to share with you yesterday.

I’m beginning to fear that prospects — especially in the Pirates organization — are going to start avoiding me. I saw — and wrote about — Jose Tabata here yesterday. Then I find out when I arrive in Bradenton that Tabata, along with Tom Gorzelanny, had been sent to the Minor League side. Gorzo will be in the Indianapolis rotation and it’s looking like Tabata will start with Double-A Altoona.

Then, to add to it, I see the Pirates again today. Neil Walker makes a few nice plays at third, walks and scores a run. Then, after the game, he’s optioned to Triple-A as well. To be fair, both were eventually going to be sent down. Turns out that Walker’s was more a procedural move than anything else. If a player is on the 40-man roster and is still in big-league camp after March 20, if he gets hurt, he has to be put on the big-league disabled list. That might not sound like much, but that counts against his service time clock and he’d get a Major League salary. Since Walker was not going to make the club anyway, it’s not that big of a deal. Walker, as always, handled it with grace and said he understood the situation. Sounds like it was well communicated to him and the Pirates, for their part, would’ve loved to keep him around to let him learn in this atmosphere for a while longer. But rules are rules.

OK, on to our Prospect Impression:

luke_hughes.JPGI first met Twins prospect Luke Hughes at the 2008 Futures Game. The Aussie was on the World Team and we took him and New Zealander (Kiwi) Scott Campbell of the Blue Jays on a double-decker bus tour of New York City. A good time was had by all. You can watch the video feature we did by going here. The link is on the bottom right, where it says “Hughes, Campbell tour NYC.”

Now, Hughes isn’t just a good personality. He split the year between Double- and Triple-A in 2008, finishing with a .309 average and .524 slugging percentage. The 24-year-old then went to Venezuela and handled himself well, hitting .298 in 32 games. He’s on the 40-man roster and participated in the World Baseball Classic, where he went 3-for-12 with a homer and three RBIs in Australia’s three games.

He’s still in big-league camp and really opening some more eyes. He had two more hits today against hte Pirates to raise his average to .429 (6-for-14). He’s played second, third and the outfield over the past year. He’ll either settle into one position (an offensive-minded 2B perhaps?) or he can be a superutility guy who can really rake. Whatever the case, he’s bound for Triple-A eventually. He told me he was hoping he could stick around in big-league camp for another week, at least, maybe show more people what he can do. The bigger impression you can make up here, after all, the more likely the whole “phone call away” thing comes true.

I’ve got an “off day” tomorrow, but I’ll try to do a draft update of some sort just to mix it up.

Day 3: Tampa

Sorry I’m a little later with the entry today, but there was night baseball at George M. Steinbrenner Field between the Yankees and Pirates. Filling in for the esteemed Jen Langosch on the Pirates beat (I’ll see them tomorrow and Friday to boot. Go Buccos!), I wrote a story about Xavier Nady’s reunion with his old team on the Major League side of things. But lets move on to what we’re all here for, right? Today’s Prospect Impression.

I really wanted to be able to write about Virgil Vasquez and his quest to be a serious contender for the No. 5 starter spot. While one start does not a competition end, he can’t really be the focus here after giving up six runs on seven hits over 2 1/3 IP. I saw VV pitch in the 2006 Arizona Fall League championship game and he’s always been a good dude to talk to, so here’s hoping he gets back on the horse — assuming he’s given the chance to — and shows the club how he can bounce back from a bad outing.

Since I was writing about Nady, though, I thought it only fitting to write about the guy here fortabata_curve.JPG the Pirates who came to Pittsburgh on the other end of that deal. I’m talking, of course, about Jose Tabata. The young outfielder’s had a real nice spring, hitting .391 through 23 at-bats. It’s a big reason why he’s still in big-league camp and made this trip. He didn’t seem fazed by  coming back to Yankee-land, though things didn’t go so well for him here, particularly at the end. Using his ever-improving English — he was apologetic at the end, but I always make a point of giving kudos to a guy for trying (I couldn’t conduct an interview in another language, could you?) — he talked about how happy he was to be a part of the Pirates organization and how he felt like it was a family. He also spoke of how he idolized Roberto Clemente, seeing a video of him when he was a kid (not that he’s so old now, mind you). He’s even got a tattoo of Clemente’s picture more or less over his heart. Only seems fitting he should become the Pirates’ right-fielder in the future, a cast-off of sorts from another team (the Pirates got Clemente, you may remember, from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 draft).

Anyway, as for tonight’s performance, Tabata showed a bit of everything. He singled off of C.C. Sabathia in his first at-bat, got balked to second, stole third and scored to make it (briefly) a close 2-1 game. He made a real nice catch up against the right-field wall to snare a Johnny Damon drive in the third. He picked up another hit against Alfredo Aceves in the seventh. He went 2-for-4 overall, making him 11-for-27 this spring, a .407 average for those of you scoring at home. I think Tabata was targeted for Double-A at the start of this spring. It wouldn’t shock me after this to see him go to Triple-A Indianapolis to play in the same outfield as Andrew McCutchen to begin the 2009 regular season. 

Day 2: Lakeland

Hey all, coming to you from Joker Marchant Stadium after a thrilling 7-6 Tigers victory over the Cardinals. There’s a lot of stuff I want to talk about, but let me start with my Day 2 Prospect Impression.

It was a good day to watch young relievers who can light up radar guns. Jason Motte, the converted catcher who’s competing to be the Cardinals’ closer this season, entered the game in the eighth and struck out the side, topping out at 98 mph and breaking Mike Hessman’s bat in the process. He’s now gone six innings this spring, allowing five hits while walking none and striking out 10. Works for me.

Not to be outdone, Tigers 2008 first-round pick Ryan Perry came into the game in the ninth. While he gave up a hit and struck out just one, he was just as overpowering, routinely hitting 97 and 98 on the stadium gun, which I’m told isn’t necessarily the most consistent machine you’ll ever see. Still, it seemed pretty legit. The fastball was working so well, he threw just one slider and that clocked in at 88. In a word, nasty. The right-hander out of Arizona has definitely made some noise this spring, going 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, one walks and striking out six. He’s yet to yield a run. If Joel Zumaya isn’t ready to answer the bell on Opening Day, don’t be shocked to see Perry head north with this club.

Two other things I wanted to touch on… I always enjoy when the more “mainstream” media, which don’t often write about prospects or the Rule 5 draft, do something on the subject. I was very pleased when I got my USA Today at the hotel this morning to find that Bob Nightengale had done a nice feature on several Rule 5 picks hoping to stick in the big leauges (once I made it through the 457 pages of NCAA tourney coverage). Good stuff.

Finally, and this is oddly related to the Rule 5 stuff, so much of the talk and stuff we write about Spring Training is about hope, optimism, you know, “up with people” kind of stuff. There is a down side, of course, when people get sent down. Sometimes it’s inevitable or known ahead of time. Jess Todd, the Cardinals prospect about whom I just filed a feature, knew he wasn’t going to make the team this spring and loved experiencing his first big-league camp (don’t be surprised to see him in St. Louis this season, though).

But sometimes it’s a little surprising. 2007 Rule 5er Brian Barton was optioned today. He’s a great underdog story, a smart guy who was a non-drafted free agent. He moved up the Indians’ ladder until the Cards plucked him in the Rule 5 when Cleveland didn’t protect him. He had a big spring last year, made the team and though he had two stints on the DL, looked like he was ready for a career as a backup outfielder at the very least.

But he hadn’t played well this spring and it was tougher to find him enough playing time, so the Cards sent him down so he could play every day. Barton’s a classy guy and handled the ensuing questions with aplomb, saying that he’s always been the type of player to have a positive attitude. So don’t look for him to sulk. Here’s hoping he puts up monster numbers and forces his way back into the St. Louis outfielder picture soon. They could use a right-handed bat and I’d like nothing more than to see him get another shot.

I’ll be in Tampa for the night tilt between the Pirates and Yankees. Till then… 

Looking back at the Rule 5ers, Part 3

I love a good series, don’t you? Here’s the next installment of what we’ve had to say about those taken in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 draft.

darren_oday.jpg15. Darren O’Day (Taken by Mets from Angels)
2007 review (Climbed the Ladder):

The University of Florida product split the season between Rancho Cucamonga and Arkansas and was strong at both stops. He finished 7-4 with an organization-best 21 saves and held opponents to a .195 average. He went on to post a 2.38 ERA and two saves over 11 1/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League. O’Day has some size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) but isn’t overwhelming, striking out 48 over 53 1/3 innings during the regular season.

2008 preview (Under the Radar):

A non-drafted free agent signed in 2006 after his senior year at the University of Florida, O’Day has in many ways already exceeded expectations. The submariner reached Double-A in his first full season and led the Angels organization with 21 saves. He complements a 90-mph fastball with an excellent slider that moves down in the zone. He has excellent command and has proven to be unflappable in tough situations. He’s working to improve on getting lefties out by sinking his breaking ball away from them or back-dooring his slider. He may not close at the next level, but it’s looking more and more likely that he’ll be able to help a big-league ‘pen soon.

eduardo_morlan.jpg16. Eduardo Morlan (Taken by Brewers from Rays)
2007 preview (Climbing the Ladder/Others to Watch):

RHP Eduardo Morlan, a 2004 third-rounder out of high school in Miami, has seen time both starting and relieving. Just 21 years old, he has a fine fastball and good breaking stuff. At Beloit last year he posted a 2.29 ERA in 28 games, 18 starts, striking out 125 in 106 innings.

2007 review (Climbed the Ladder):
Note: Morlan was traded from the Twins to the Rays following the 2007 season in the Matt Garza-for-Delmon Young swap.

The club’s third-round pick in 2004 out of high school, the Cuban-born Morlan had seen time starting and relieving, but was moved to the back of the bullpen in 2007. He combined for 18 saves between Fort Myers and New Britain, striking out 92 and walking just 17 in 65 2/3 innings while posting a 3.15 ERA. Morlan added 12 2/3 scoreless innings of relief in the Arizona Fall League.

robert_mosebach.jpg17. Robert Mosebach (Taken by Phillies from Angels)
2006 preview (2005 Draft Recap/Best of the rest):

RHP Bobby Mosebach (9) was 3-3 with 4.57 ERA at Orem, striking out 52 batters in 65 innings.
(I know, not exactly insightful, but wanted to let you know he had been mentioned the spring following his draft)

derek_rodriguez.jpg18. Derek Rodriguez (Taken by Rays from White Sox)
2006 preview (2005 Draft Recap/Best of the rest):

RHP Derek Rodriguez (13) had a 3.82 ERA, 36 K’s and just seven walks in 35 1/3 IP for Bristol.
(Rodriguez was actually a 14th round pick. Hey, we all make mistakes sometimes)

That’s it for the Major League phase. I’ll do some digging on those Minor League phasers (set the phasers to stun?) and report  back tomorrow.

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