Opening Day is in the books.
For most teams, anyway. Rain in the southeast washed out some teams yesterday—including my trip with Jim Shonerd to see low Class A Augusta (Giants) at Greensboro (Marlins)—giving us just enough time to see Giants' second-rounder Tommy Joseph smoke two line drives that might not count in the official record books.
Around the rest of the minors, there were plenty of outstanding debuts (and if you're not subscribing to the Baseball America Prospect Report, boy are you missing out). Among the top 10 stars of minor league Opening Day were some familiar faces and some newer names to keep on your radar.
1. Carlos Santana, c, Triple-A Columbus (Indians)
Feliz cumpleaños to Mr. Santana, who celebrated his 24th birthday with two home runs and a double, going 4-for-5 in his Triple-A debut. Santana, the MVP of the Double-A Eastern League last year and the high Class A California League the year before that, probably won't get a chance to pick up the hardware again this year in the International League because his performance could drive him up to Cleveland by midseason. And that broken hamate bone in his right hand that Santana had surgery on just four months ago? It looks safe to say the power is already back.
2. Brad Mills, lhp, Triple-A Las Vegas (Blue Jays)
Opening Day was a good time for Blue Jays pitching prospects. Righthander Kyle Drabek made his organizational debut for Double-A New Hampshire, and while he did give up four runs (three earned) in five innings, he also struck out eight. Lefthander Luis Perez came on in relief and struck out five more in three perfect innings with his heavy sinker. The best night of any pitcher in the minors, however, belonged to Mills, who threw six shutout innings, striking out nine with no walks and just two hits allowed. Not bad for an outing in one of the minor leagues' most notorious bandbox parks. Mills' high-80s fastball won't blow anyone away like Drabek's, but his outstanding changeup, control and ability to mix his pitches are what keeps hitters guessing—mostly wrong guesses last night.
3. Tanner Bushue, rhp, low Class A Lexington (Astros)
Last year it was Jordan Lyles motoring his way through the South Atlantic League for Lexington. This year it could be Bushue's turn to do the same. Bushue, the Astros' second-round pick out of high school in 2009, surrendered only one hit in 4 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out six and walking one in his full-season debut. The Astros have ranked dead last in our organizational talent rankings the last two years, but between two first-round picks in this year's draft and Bushue potentially keeping up this type of performance up all year, don't expect to see the Astros there again next year.
4. Andrew Cashner, rhp, Double-A Tennessee (Cubs)
Forget the final line—Cashner gave up three runs in 4 1/3 innings thanks to a three-run homer from the Braves' Cody Johnson—because what Cashner did to open the season was simply electric. Cashner struck out the first seven hitters he faced and 10 of his first 12, finishing his night with 10 strikeouts and two walks. Sure, it's just one game, but that's an outstanding sign for Cashner, who has an terrific arm but averaged just 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings last year.
5. Mike Stanton, rf, Double-A Jacksonville (Marlins)
Stanton hit a home run yesterday. In other news, the sun is hot, water is wet and it can get a little chilly at the North Pole. Stanton, who also doubled, singled, walked (and struck out once) in his 3-for-4 night, had 80 power on the 20-80 scale as an 18-year-old, and he's just going to continue to get stronger and more refined as a hitter. Still just 20 years old, Stanton went deep 28 times in 2009, even while spending his first two months in the pitcher-friendly high Class A Florida State League and the last three months as a teenager in Double-A. Barring an injury, Stanton could crush that mark this year, and a possible promotion to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League probably wouldn't hurt his chances at a minor league home run crown, either.
6. Garrett Richards, rhp, low Class A Cedar Rapids (Angels)
Sending a college arm picked in the supplemental first round the previous year to the Midwest League on Opening Day is usually a pretty conservative assignment. Then again, Richards' 6.57 ERA in three years at Oklahoma didn't exactly scream, "fast track." Richards' full-season debut was a promising one, as he allowed just two hits in five shutout innings, striking out seven without issuing a walk. After cruising through the Rookie-level Pioneer League last year with a 1.53 ERA in eight starts, Richards' stuff—including a low-90s fastball that can hit 97 mph and two promising breaking balls—might finally match up with his performance.
7. Blake Smith, rf, low Class A Great Lakes (Dodgers)
You'll have to flip a few pages through the Dodgers' chapter of your 2010 Prospect Handbook to find Smith, the Dodgers' No. 22 prospect and a second-round pick out of California in 2009. More nights like last night will boost his stock plenty, as the 22-year-old went 5-for-6 with a home run and two doubles. Sure, Smith is a college product in low Class A, but he was also facing Mike Belfiore, a supplemental first-round pick last year out of Boston College and Arizona's No. 6 prospect. That it was just 38 degrees with some rain in South Bend yesterday makes it all the more impressive.
Braves righthander Randall Delgado struck out six, didn't issue a walk and allowed three hits and only one run in five innings against Wilmington, but Montgomery did him one better by allowing only one run (unearned) through five, striking out six with one walk and two hits allowed. After the way Montgomery, 20, carved up the Carolina League in nine starts last season, the Royals' top prospect might not be around the league much longer if he keeps this up.
9. Portland lineup, Double-A (Red Sox)
A thank you is in order to the entire Portland lineup for making us look good after naming them the second-best lineup in the minors for prospects yesterday. Center fielder Che-Hsuan Lin and left fielder Ryan Kalish were the biggest stars, with Lin going 2-for-5 with a home run and a pair of steals, while Kalish finished 2-for-4 with a homer, a double and a steal. Catcher Luis Exposito added two more hits and a home run for the Sea Dogs, while shortstop Jose Iglesias looked good in his minor league debut by going 2-for-4 with a double and a stolen base. Not bad for the No. 8 hitter in your lineup.
10. Ike Davis, 1b, Triple-A Buffalo (Mets)
The Yankees' Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitching staff was brilliant yesterday with 11 strikeouts and no walks through nine shutout innings. The Yankees allowed just six hits all night, and half of them belonged to the lefthanded-hitting Davis, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles, including one off lefthander Boone Logan. We would have to be clinically insane to draw any meaning from one plate appearance, but if Davis can improve his ability to hit lefthanded pitching after struggling to do so last year, he won't belong in the minor leagues any longer.
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