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See also: Today's Baseball America Prospect Report
See also: Today's Stat Pack highlights the overall minor league batting leaders
After a mediocre performance in 2005, third baseman Ian Stewart is just happy to be healthy again.
A hamstring injury caused Stewart, the Rockies' first-round pick in 2003 and top prospect, to miss the first month of last season, and he wasn'™t the same player who hit 30 home runs, drove in 101 runs and stole 19 bases in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2004. Still, he finished with respectable .274/.353/.497 numbers with 17 homers and 86 RBIs at high Class A Modesto–despite missing a week in June with a wrist injury.
After he was finally coming around, however, Stewart re-injured his wrist sliding into second base in the Arizona Fall League.
"It was touch and go there for Stew last season," Rockies assistant GM Bill Geivett said. "Once he finally got healthy in his legs, something else happened. He worked as hard as he ever has to prepare for this season–to make sure he came into camp in great shape–so that he didn't have a repeat of last year."
So far, so good. Stewart, 21, was hitting .305/.389/.561 with a pair of homers and 16 RBIs in 82 at-bats for Double-A Tulsa. Scouts criticized his approach last year as he tried to go deep every time he stepped in the box, but this season Stewart is just taking what pitchers give him.
Last night against Frisco was a perfect illustration, as Stewart got on base in three of his four plate appearances: one single, one walk and one hit by pitch. He's also showing more opposite-field power, as evidenced by his 11 doubles.
"Most of them have been the other way," Tulsa manager Stu Cole said. "He used to get caught up in trying to hit home runs all the time, but he's really worked on his approach and going the other way. He's a lot more dangerous when he stays back, lets his hands work for him and uses the whole field."
It doesn'™t hurt that he'™s surrounded by big bats in the Drillers lineup, which features shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, first baseman Joe Koshansky, second baseman Matt Macri, catcher Chris Ianetta and center fielder Jordan Czarniecki.
"We've got some hitters in here," Cole said. "But you've got to remember how young these guys are. They still have a lot to learn and they're out there soaking it in and learning every day."
Drew Not Too Far Away
Many who saw shortstop Stephen Drew this spring suggested he was ready for the big leagues. The Diamondbacks opted for a more conservative path and farmed him out to Triple-A Tucson after his struggles at Double-A last season, when he hit .218 in the Southern League.
But with Drew's fast start, the Diamondbacks may not be able to keep their No. 2 prospect down much longer. His two doubles last night increased his hitting streak to 10 games (seven of which were multi-hit affairs) and raised his season line to .333/.374/.619. He was hitting .233 the day before the streak began.
Tucson hitting coach and interim manager Lorenzo Bundy has a talented stable of hitters–including top prospects Carlos Quentin and Chris Young–but considers Drew, 23, at the top of that list in terms of potential.
"Double-A is always a big jump for players," Bundy said. "Stephen is a very confident player, and I think going to major league spring training camp was huge for him because he proved he could hold his own with major leaguers.
"Sometimes, the key for hitters advancing to the majors is just opportunity. They see a lot more quality pitchers at this level, so they need to concentrate on getting a quality pitch to hit."
Bailey Cruises Through Tigers
People have been wondering when things are going to click for Reds pitching phenom Homer Bailey, and yesterday they did.
The high Class A Sarasota righthander threw six hitless innings and had nine strikeouts but got a no-decision as Sarasota defeated Lakeland 2-0.
"One of those days that we all lay in bed and think about where everything clicks," Sarasota pitching coach Ed Hodge said. "If not for the pitch count, who knows what he would have accomplished?"
After going 8-4, 4.43 with a 125-62 strikeout-walk ratio in 104 innings last season for low Class A Dayton, Bailey has focused on improving his changeup. He has a mid-90s fastball and a 12-to-6 curveball that could be considered a 70 on the 20-to-80 scale. Last night, he had a third weapon in his arsenal.
"Best changeup I have seen him have yet. When you are going 93-97 in A-ball, you don'™t need a heck of a lot more to dominate," Hodge said. "He commanded the changeup, and it is something he has worked extremely hard on. He has really bought into and knows it is something he has got to have."
Bailey was a first-round pick in 2004 out of LaGrange (Texas) High and was Baseball America'™s High School Player of the Year. He has been ranked as the Reds' No. 1 prospect the last two years, and has the stuff to be a front of the rotation in the big leagues.
"The biggest thing with a guy that throws that hard is to have the change near the plate," Hodge said. "A power pitcher becomes more of a power pitcher when he develops a change."
Cheng Battles For Win
Throughout his pro career, command has always been an issue for Blue Jays lefthander Chi-Hung Cheng. After leading the low Class A Midwest League in walks last season, he's repeating the level despite a 3.15 ERA.
Last night was another typical start, as he allowed two unearned runs over five innings on seven hits with three walks and three strikeouts. In the process, he outdueled Angels righthander Tommy Mendoza as Lansing defeated Cedar Rapids 5-2.
"Once again, it was nice to see Cheng perform without his best stuff and get through five innings for us," Lugnuts manager Ken Joyce told the Lansing State Journal.
Cheng's out pitch is a plus curveball, which he is able to command well. He also features a lively fastball that sits 86-88 mph. Unfortunately, the pitch is often his undoing as it has so much movement he is unable to command it. His changeup is a work in progress.
The 20-year-old has been on the prospect radar for close to a decade, as he pitched for Taiwan'™s Little League World Series title-winning club in 1996. The Blue Jays signed him for $400,000 following the 2003 World Cup. If he is unable to make it as a starter, his repertoire could get him to the majors as a lefty reliever, as long as he can improve his fastball command.
The Indians are expected to put lefthander Tony Sipp on the disabled list with a strained oblique. Sipp has been outstanding at Double-A Akron, going 2-0, 2.14 with a 31-6 strikeout-walk ratio in 21 innings . . . The Red Sox placed high Class A Wilmington outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury. The extent of the injury is unclear, but Ellsbury was scheduled to have X-rays done to make certain there is no damage to his left knee. Ellsbury was hitting .304/.368/.449 in 69 at-bats . . . The Yankees are expected to promote righthander Philip Hughes to Double-A Trenton this weekend. Hughes put up huge secondary numbers at high Class A Tampa, going 2-2, 1.57 with 24 strikeouts and only one walk in 23 innings . . . The Red Sox promoted righthander Craig Hansen from Double-A Portland to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he will be used in situations more like those he's expected to see in Boston. "We started him at Portland because of the nature we use relievers there in multiple-inning stints there–and he could work bullpens on the side," Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen said. "His fastball is obviously a big weapon for him, but we want him to be dominant again with his slider. He needs to refine his delivery to the point where he can master all three pitches."