If you were faced with the question of which team's hitting prospects has had the best April, you might want to answer the Padres.
Third baseman James Darnell (.482/.589/.804) is second in the minor leagues in batting. Coming off of an up and down and injury-plagued 2010 season, outfielder Jaff Decker (.359/.481/.859) has been on a three-week tear to start 2011. Fellow outfielder Blake Tekotte (.359/.461/.641) gives the Missions another outfielder who's mashing. Shortstop Beamer Weems has always impressed with his glove, but now he's hitting .377/.443/.585 for San Antonio. At high Class A Lake Elsinore, third baseman Jedd Gyorko (.391/.474/.594) has hit like he did in college.
Add to the homegrown prospects the fast start for first baseman Anthony Rizzo (.420/.487/.768), who was picked up in the offseason Adrian Gonzalez trade, and San Diego has a large number of intriguing prospects having fast starts at the plate. The pitching prospects haven't been as successful, but Keyvius Sampson (2-1, 1.69) has been a revelation for low Class A Fort Wayne.
It was more of the same for Padres' prospects this weekend. Tekotte (6-for-14), had three doubles and two home runs this weekend. Darnell had two home runs and two doubles as part of a five-hit weekend and Decker homered twice on Saturday night. He added another home run on Sunday to give him seven for the season (two off of minor league home run leader Paul Goldschmidt).
Decker's emergence has been especially impressive. Reports out of spring training said that he looked more athletic than he did last year. That's significant, as a big-bat left fielder, like Decker, is an easier sell than a big-bat, righthanded hitting first baseman, like Goldschmidt. He had his first awful day of the season on Friday (0-for-5 with five strikeouts), but bounced back with the two home run day on Saturday. It was the third two home run game of Decker's minor league career.
TORONTO TURN-AROUND?: Don't give up on Blue Jays' 2008 first-round pick David Cooper just yet. The first baseman had a solid 2008 debut, hitting .333/.399/.502 in three stops. But since then, he has stagnated at Double-A New Hampshire, hitting .258/.340/.389 in 2009 and .257/.327/.442 in 2010. The scouting reports coming out of California worried that his smooth stroke but slow bat may have trouble against improved velocity in pro ball, so there was reason to think that Cooper's bat just wouldn't be enough to get him to the big leagues.
This spring, his smooth stroke appears to have gotten on track. Cooper is getting the benefit of playing his home games in Las Vegas (one of the best hitting venues in minor league baseball), but it's still hard to ignore a .384/.430/.616 start. This weekend Cooper went 6-for-11 with four doubles–again, there is some noise in his stats when you consider that Cooper got two starts at Colorado Springs on Saturday and Sunday, but the hot start is following a solid spring with the big league club.
The most notable aspect of Cooper's start is how he's mashing lefthanders. A lefty hitter himself, Cooper is hitting .636 (7-for-11) when he gives up the platoon advantage.
SPEAKING OF BLUE JAYS: Cooper's Las Vegas teammate Brett Lawrie hit .500 this weekend, going 6-for-12 with two home runs. He's now hitting .425/.468/.712 over 73 at-bats. Big league third baseman Edwin Encarnacion is battling a sore wrist, but that doesn't meant that Lawrie should prepare for a quick call-up.
The former Brewers prospect has impressed the Blue Jays with his hitting ability, quick transition to third and his ability to fit in smoothly in the clubhouse, but he's not exactly a finished product at the hot corner. Lawrie has committed six errors in his first 17 games at third. Four of them have been fielding errors as he adjusts to how quickly the ball gets to you over at third.
Blue Jays manager John Farrell told the team's beat writers that he doesn't expect to see Lawrie up until at least later this year after he's had more time to make the transition to his new position.
"He can play it but we want to be sure we give him enough game awareness that when he comes up here it’s not just survival but that he has the background to make the proper decisions."
HR KING: Goldschmidt has been the minors' home run leader since he cracked a pair of home runs on Opening Day. He's maintained that pace all season, as he hit his ninth home run of the year on Saturday night. Goldschmidt's longest home run drought of the season is two games.
GETTING NOTICED: Last Sunday, Lexington catcher Chris Wallace (Astros) made headlines with a three home run, 9 RBI, 5-for-6 game against Asheville (teammate Telvin Nash added three home runs of his own on the same day). Wallace hasn't exactly cooled off since. The catcher went 7-for-9 this weekend with two triples and a home run to up his average to .419/.486/.903. Wallace, a 16th-round pick out of Houston last year, hit under .300 in each of his final two seasons with the Cougars, so there's still plenty of reasons to wait and see if this hot streak will continue, but the 22-year-old has earned the early season attention.
WHAT THEY TRADED FOR: In his first two starts, newly acquired Royals righthander Jake Odorizzi had been adequate, but he hadn't shown much of the dominance that the Royals expected to see when they acquired him in the Zack Greinke trade.
On Saturday night, Odorizzi was a different pitcher. The righthander struck out a career-high 10 batters while walking one and allowing two runs in six innings.
"It was definitely better. He had some trouble with footing on the mound but he battled through," Wilmington manager Brian Rupp told Blue Rocks' play-by-play announcer John Sadak. "He kept his emotions under control and made pitches when he had to. I was glad to see him be a little more aggressive."
Wilmington also got another solid outing from Noel Arguelles in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader. The lefthander finally gave up the first runs of his U.S. career with two runs allowed in 4 2/3 innings on Friday night, but his command was once again impressive. According to Sadak, Arguelles threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 18 batters he faced. He's walked one and struck out 10 in 12 1/3 innings.
"He was able to get his fastball to both sides of the plate and kept it down," Rupp said. "He's aggressive and for the most part when he's getting ahead, he's staying down to get ahead. He's aggressive with his fastball and giving them a chance to make early outs."
SLOW START: Grant Green's big league position is still up in the air. He's trying to prove he can stick at shortstop, although many scouts think he'll eventually have to move to second base. But wherever he plays, Green's bat is the key to his future.
Unfortunately for Green, April has not exactly gone his way. Green went 1-for-14 this weekend with seven strikeouts. He's now hitting .176/.250/.309 (12-for-68) with 17 strikeouts.
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