At the end of July each year, we survey minor league managers so that we can get a handle on which players are the most talented in all of the 10 full-season leagues. We publish the results in our annual Best Tools package, which we begin rolling out here tomorrow. (Results also can be found in issue 0918, the one with Troy Tulowitzki on the cover.)
While many of the selection in the Triple-A International League were fairly obvious, a few categories could have gone either way. So to illuminate those selections, and to give readers an idea of what goes on behind the scenes, we’ll examine a few of the closer calls in the IL in today’s Dish.
You’ll find a number of IL position players in our end-of-season league top 20 ranking, but in what will soon become evident, pitching is the name of the game in ’09. Let’s take a closer look at those position players.
Norfolk’s Matt Wieters, our No. 1 prospect in the game heading into the season, is top dog in the IL. As a plus defensive catcher who hits and hits for power from both sides of the plate, he’s the definition of a franchise player. But that doesn’t mean Wieters cleaned up in our Best Tools survey. He garnered a lot of attention, but whether it was because of limited exposure in the league (163 plate appearances) or because other players have louder individual tools, Wieters did not win any of the seven categories for which he was eligible.
Best Defensive Catcher was the category where he came closest. Wieters’ manager Gary Allenson argued on his behalf: "He’s a little more mobile than you would think. In fact, he’s really a strong catch-and-throw guy who handles pitchers well. From working with him from the dugout this year, I can tell you that he’s already got a good feel for calling a game."
And Allenson knows a thing or two about catching—he spent seven years in the big leagues with the Red Sox and Blue Jays and caught 399 games.
In many ways, Louisville center fielder Drew Stubbs was the opposite image of Wieters. He won three Best Tools categories in reasonably handy fashion, yet he somewhat ironically didn’t get any support when it came to Most Exciting Player. Stubbs reminded Allenson of Devon White, in terms of baserunning, because he runs with long strides and, despite his speed, doesn’t seem to exert much energy on the basepaths.
Two other key Best Tools battlegrounds—Best Batting and Best Power prospects—were decided by swing votes. Austin Jackson (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) and Andrew McCutchen (Indianapolis), two toolsy center fielders drafted in ’05, vied for Best Batting Prospect honors and also butted heads for the distinction of being the league’s Most Exciting Player.
Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage had the displeasure of seeing both players in action this season against his first-place Braves.
Regarding Jackson, who fared only modestly against Gwinnett this season, going 7-for-27 (.259) with two doubles, three walks and two steals, Brundage said: "He’s a tough out, and he still has room to grow. He’s a guy who just didn’t have a lot of holes in his game. I liked that he showed patience, and you just get the feeling that his ceiling is higher because of his athleticism."
For the second year in a row, McCutchen terrorized the Braves, driving in three runs in four games. The 22-year-old leadoff batter went 8-for-18 (.444), while hitting a homer, a double and scoring five runs. "The thing that sold me on his speed was when he scored from second on a routine groundball to the second baseman," Brundage said. "He stole third base on the play, then got up and kept running. His speed really opens your eyes."
The race for Best Power Prospect pitted a pair of righthanded-hitting left fielders against one another. Columbus’ Matt LaPorta and Norfolk’s Nolan Reimold terrorized IL pitchers form the outset, though as it stands now, Reimold sits 14 PAs short of qualifying for our postseason list. And a demotion to Triple-A seems unlikely for Reimold, barring injury, because he leads all AL rookies with 10 home runs while sporting a sturdy .808 OPS.
In his month and a half on the farm this season, Reimold homered nine times in 31 games. The fireworks began on Opening Day, when the 25-year-old slugger took Durham’s David Price deep. He homered in the next game, too, and then three more times when the Tides hosted Durham for four games at the end of April—so Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo has a unique perspective.
"He took everybody deep," Montoyo said. "The only times he didn’t was when (our pitchers) walked him."
Allenson said that he thought the Orioles’ offseason maneuvering may have motivated Reimold, who had spent most of two seasons in Double-A, batting .290/.366/.518 with 36 home runs over 189 games.
"I think (Reimold) felt that he had been placed on the back burner a little bit," Allenson said. "The Orioles had (Lou) Montanez ahead of him last year, and then they traded for (Felix) Pie in the offseason, so now it looks like they’ve got two guys ahead of him. And I think that motivated (Reimold) to prove that he was an everyday player."
The 24-year-old LaPorta, on the other hand, didn’t make the most of his brief callup to the Indians, batting .190 in a 13-game trial. He seems to be taking his frustration out on IL pitchers, as he’s batting .297/.379/.514 with 14 homers in 85 games.
LaPorta homered once in eight games against Gwinnett, and Brundage saw one potential area where the young slugger could improve. "We haven’t seen (his opposite-field power) play yet. But when he figures it out how to hit to all fields consistently, he’ll become a better hitter."
Check back next week, when we’ll have more on the IL’s most interesting pitchers.
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