Freddie Freeman can't legally drink, but he sure can rake.
The Braves' top position-player prospect has had an absurd August for Triple-A Gwinnett and has pushed his average for the month to .402 with four straight multi-hit games. Still just 20, Freeman now leads the International League in hits (139) and total bases (229), ranks second in doubles (35), and ranks third in batting (.317), slugging (.522) and RBIs (83).
Freeman's only rival for the title of "Best Season By A First Baseman" this season might be Brandon Belt, but the Giants have continued to challenge their breakout prospect by moving him up the ladder. Wednesday, Belt made his debut at Triple-A Fresno in the Pacific Coast League, and he shifted to left field. (Belt played seven games in the outfield at Double-A Richmond, two in left, five in right.)
Last night was another ho-hum game for Belt, as he went 1-for-3 with two walks and a solo home run. It was his 20th homer of the season overall; he's batting .363/.463/.628 overall with 82 walks and 85 strikeouts. It's a performance as good or better as anyone in the minors this season.
• The Indians have to be encouraged by the two starts righthander Jason Knapp has made for low Class A Lake County. Coming off shoulder surgery last fall, Knapp made his second start for the Captains on Wednesday night at Bowling Green and dominated again, tossing five scoreless innings while allowing one hit. He struck out six and has 13 K's in nine innings over those two starts, yielding only the one hit. When Knapp joined the Captains last week after a rehab stint in the Rookie-level Arizona League, farm director Ross Atkins told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Knapp "overwhelmed that league" with a fastball reaching 98 mph (his pre-surgery velocity) and threw his power curveball and changeup.
"This has been great news for us," Atkins told longtime beat writer Paul Hoynes. "He's throwing better now than he was before the surgery. His commitment and work ethic during his rehab blew us away. He showed the discipline of a big leaguer, far beyond his chronological years. Emotionally and physically, during the rehab, he showed great maturity."
• The Yankees have had strong campaigns out of many of their better prospects this season. Most of the attention has focused on the upper levels, particularly now at Double-A Trenton, with lefthander Manny Banuelos and righthander Dellin Betances promoted for the stretch drive to a rotation that already includes righties Andrew Brackman and Adam Warren.
Among the bright spots in A-ball, however, righty Brett Marshall ranks among the brightest. The 2008 sixth-round pick received an $850,000 bonus, largest of any Yanks draftee that year, and then had elbow surgery last season. He's made a strong return at low Class A Charleston and pitched a six-inning, rain-shortened complete game Wednesday night, beating Savannah 8-0.
Marshall (4-2) allowed only one hit and no walks while striking out four to earn his third straight victory and has allowed one run in his last 29 innings, spanning five starts. Overall in August, he's 3-0, 0.31 with just six walks and 19 strikeouts in those 29 frames, and he has a 2.53 groundout/airout ratio.
• Low Class A Great Lakes is in a tug-of-war with Triple-A Durham for the minors' best record, and Great Lakes has the lead at 83-44; the Bulls have the same number of wins but 48 losses. Great Lakes obviously has plenty of reasons for success, including a roster with several prominent college draftees who have stayed all year, such as catcher J.T. Wise and outfielder Brett Smith.
Former New Mexico star Brian Cavazos-Galvez, though, has turned in the best season. An aggressive hitter with a strong college track record, he's drawn just 11 walks, but he makes consistent hard contact as well, as he's the third-toughest regular to strike out in the Midwest League. He had two more hits Wednesday night with his 40th double, tying for the league lead, and 14th homer. He's stuck on 42 stolen bases, fifth in the MWL, and he's an average runner. His bat and average power potential give him a chance to reach the majors, likely as a second-division regular.
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