Prospect Hot Sheet: Sept. 4


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Prospect
Hot Sheets


As the minor league season winds down, we pause to honor Rays Triple-A center fielder Desmond Jennings and his record-setting 7-for-7 night. We’ll be back next week with a comprehensive look at the season’s top performers.

Remember as always, this is not a
re-ranking of our Top 100 Prospects list. Instead, it’s a snapshot of
who are the hottest prospects in baseball right now, with stats taken
from the past week of games (Aug.
28-Sept. 3).

Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper,
Matt Eddy, Matt Forman, Conor Glassey and
Jim
Shonerd.

No. 1 DESMOND JENNINGS, CF

RAYS

Desmond JenningsTeam:
Triple-A Durham (International)

Age: 22

Why He’s Here: .600/.696/1.000 (9-for-15), 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 6 RBIs, 9 R, 6 BB, 2 SO, 3-for-3 SB,

The Scoop: After hitting .316/.395/.486 over 383 at-bats in Double-A, the Rays promoted Jennings to Durham, where he hasn’t slowed in the slightest. In fact, he’s been even better over his first month with the Bulls. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound center fielder was especially locked in on Sept. 3 when he went 7-for-7 with a double against Charlotte, tying an International League record for most hits in a game.

Between the two levels this season, Jennings is hitting .322/.406/.496 with 31 doubles, 10 triples and 11 home runs through 484 at-bats. He’s swiped 52 bases in 59 attempts, too, and as far as the Rays are concerned, that last number may be the most important. A 10th-round pick in 2006 out of Itawamba (Miss.) CC, Jennings missed time during his first two seasons with knee and back injuries. He’s shown this year that, when he’s healthy, the sky’s the limit.

2009
Stats
No. 2 JEREMY HELLICKSON, RHP

RAYS

Jeremy HellicksonTeam: Triple-A Durham (International)

Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.00, 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 12 SO

The Scoop: Rumor has it that Hellickson and Jennings knew they were competing for the top spot in this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. Before last night, Hellickson had the upper hand. And if it weren’t for Jennings’ 7-for-7 performance, there’s little doubt he would have earned this week’s top spot. After all, the Rays’ 2005 fourth-round pick turned in one of the best single-game performances of the season, throwing eight shutout innings of one-hit baseball. The Iowa native carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning against Gwinnett and struck out 12 Braves batters in the 4-0 Durham win. In his last three starts, Hellickson has struck out 32 batters in 20 innings while allowing just seven hits. His fastball sits in the low-90s, and touches 93-94. “Hellboy” works ahead in the count, and opposing hitters never seem to get a good look at his pitches.

2009
Stats
No. 3 MIKE MONTGOMERY, LHP

ROYALS

Mike MontgomeryTeam: high Class A Wilmington (Carolina)

Age: 20

Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.00, 6 2/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 12 SO

The Scoop: It’s been a great year for Royals lefthanders. Danny Duffy has been one of the better pitchers in the Carolina League and John Lamb has shown the Royals were justified in taking a chance on him in the fifth round in 2008. But the best of the group may be Montgomery. Last year’s supplemental first-round pick pairs a plus fastball with a solid change and a rapidly-improving curveball. Montgomery is working on junking the palmball grip he used to use for the curveball for a more conventional grip, though he still has the palmball in his back pocket. When all three pitches are on like they were this week, he’s unhittable. But even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he’s shown he can battle. He’s allowed more than two earned runs only three times in 20 starts this year.

2009
Stats
No. 4 KIRK NIEUWENHUIS, CF

METS

Kirk NieuwenhuisTeam: high Class A St. Luice (Florida State)/Double-A Binghamton (Eastern)

Age: 22

Why He’s Here: .452/.514/.774 (14-for-31), 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBIs, 4 BB, 10 SO, 1-for-1 SB

The
Scoop:
Nieuwenhuis has to be upset that the season is ending, because at this rate of improvement, he’d be flirting with hitting .400 by mid-November. He was plugging along with a solid but unspectacular season until August arrived. Since then, he’s hit .363 with 15 doubles, three triples and eight home runs—he had 10 home runs heading into August. What’s the explanation? One possible reason for the hot streak is a new approach. Nieuwenhuis had showed opposite-field power early in the season, but he was vulnerable to being pitching inside. But the St. Lucie staff worked on cleaning up his swing. Not he’s able to turn on inside fastballs, taking a vulnerability and turning it into a strength.

2009
Stats
No. 5 WIL MYERS, C

ROYALS

Wil MyersTeam: Rookie-level Idaho Falls (Pioneer)

Age: 18

Why He’s Here: .370/.455/.667 (10-for-27), 2 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBIs, 4 BB, 7 SO, 1-for-1 SB

The Scoop: For the past couple of years, the Royals have been aggressively drafting high-priced players who slip in the draft because of their bonus demands. Myers, the team’s third-round pick this year, signed for first-round money ($2 million) and has quickly gone out to prove he’s worth the cash. In 10 games with Idaho Falls, he has seven extra-base hits and four multi-hit games. Myers’ defense behind the plate isn’t as advanced as his bat—he has three passed balls in 10 games—but the early returns are very promising.

2009
Stats
No. 6 HECTOR GOMEZ, SS

ROCKIES

Hector GomezTeam: high Class A Modesto (California)

Age: 21

Why He’s Here: .500/.536/.769 (13-for-26), 1 2B, 3 3B, 4 RBIs, 11 R, 2 BB, 4 SO, 2-for-2 SB

The Scoop: After both a broken leg and Tommy John surgery limited Gomez to only five plate appearances in 2008, he’s seen much more playing time this season. Gomez had a fine week for the Nuts, recording at least two hits in all but one game and extending his hitting streak to eight games and counting. He didn’t hit any home runs, but he legged out three triples. On the season, Gomez is hitting .274/.311/.418 with 21 doubles, four triples and six home runs over 328 at-bats.

2009
Stats
No. 7 JAFF DECKER, LF

PADRES

Jaff DeckerTeam:
low Class A Fort Wayne (Midwest)

Age: 19

Why He’s Here:.391/.481/.696 (9-for-23), 3 2B, 2 3B, 4 RBIs, 5 R, 4 BB, 3 SO

The
Scoop:
One of the most mature hitters for
his age you’ll find, Decker looks like he’s saved his best for last.
Decker hit .320/.434/.550 in 100 August at-bats while continuing to
show the superb plate discipline that’s led him to walk 82 times in 101
games. He’s also been the best hitter on the winningest team in the
minors, leading Fort Wayne to a 90-46 record entering the season’s
final weekend. Decker ranks sixth in the MWL’s batting race with a .303
average in 350 at-bats, while his .442 on-base percentage not only
leads the league, but is more than 30 points ahead of his nearest
competition. And if not for Kyle Russell, he’d lead the MWL in slugging, too, at .532.

2009
Stats
No. 8 CHRIS WITHROW, RHP

DODGERS

Chris WithrowTeam: Double-A Chattanooga (Southern)

Age: 20

Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.00, 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 SO

The Scoop: After missing almost all of 2008 with elbow problems, just getting through a full season healthy would’ve been a step in the right direction for Withrow. He’s done more than that, reaching Double-A at only 20 years old. He struck out 105 in 86 innings at high Class A Inland Empire before being promoted to Chattanooga at the end of July. He’s gone 2-2, 3.95 in 27 innings since. Tuesday’s start in Jacksonville was Withrow’s best since reaching Double-A. Other than giving up a double to the opposing pitcher, Elih Villanueva, Withrow was nearly flawless for five innings, and his eight strikeouts were the most of his six Double-A starts.

2009
Stats
No. 9 CASPER WELLS, CF

TIGERS

Casper WellsTeam:
Double-A Erie (Eastern)

Age: 23

Why He’s Here: .417/.533/.875 (10-for-24), 1 3B, 3 HR, 4 RBIs, 10 R, 3 SB, 5 BB, 7 SO

The Scoop: Wells has been red-hot lately. On Aug. 19 he was hitting .248. The next day he went 1-for-4 and kicked off what would become a 14-game hitting streak. Now, his batting average is up to .273. A 14th-round pick out of Towson in 2005, Wells has always been a little old for his level. Last year, he started the year with low Class A West Michigan before being promoted to Double-A and was one of just two minor leaguers (the Mariners’ Greg Halman being the other) to hit 25 home runs and steal 25 bases. This year, injuries have robbed him of the playing time needed to repeat that performance. Over 297 at-bats, Wells is hitting .273/.376/.512 with 18 doubles, 15 home runs and eight stolen bases.

2009
Stats
No. 10 CHAD HUFFMAN, LF

PADRES

Chad HuffmanTeam: Triple-A Portland (Pacific Coast)

Age: 24

Why He’s Here: .560/.645/.880 (14-for-25), 1 HR, 5 2B, 5 RBIs, 4 R, 6 BB, 2 SO, 1-for-1 SB

The Scoop: Playing in a righthanded-hitter’s graveyard of a park in San Antonio for a year and a half muted Huffman’s plus power. He homered 16 times in 714 plate appearances at Double-A in ’07 and ’08. But the new season found the ’06 second-round pick in the much more favorable PCL. With a two-run shot on Wednesday, Huffman clubbed his 20th homer of the year—and he’s taken just 524 PAs to get there. Fifteen of those round-trippers have come on the road, where the left fielder has been much more productive (1.009 OPS versus .632 at home). That’s not a great sign for a player destined to play in spacious Petco Park, but Huffman deserves recognition for his bounce-back season.

2009
Stats
No. 11 CHASE D’ARNAUD, SS/2B

PIRATES

Chase D'ArnaudTeam: high Class A Lynchburg (Carolina)

Age: 22

Why He’s Here: .500/.607/.773 (11-for-22), 1 HR, 3 2B, 3 RBIs, 9 R, 4 BB, 3 SO

The Scoop: D’Arnaud doesn’t have a plus-plus tool, but he’s a well-rounded player with a good approach at the plate. A good athlete with average speed and a strong arm, D’Arnaud has split time between shortstop and second base, earning the nod from low Class A South Atlantic League managers as the league’s best defensive shortstop for his first half with West Virginia. In 50 games with Lynchburg, D’Arnaud is hitting a stealth .303/.405/.492, showing surprising pop and good instincts on the bases with 30 steals in 38 tries.

2009
Stats
No. 12 STEVEN HENSLEY, RHP

MARINERS

Steven HensleyTeam: high Class A High Desert (California)

Age: 22

Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.00, 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 HBP, 1 BB, 7 SO

The Scoop: A fourth-round pick a year ago, Hensley’s pro debut was cut short by an elbow ligament strain that did not require surgery. The rest seems to have energized the Elon product, who has blazed through the Cal League (he ranks ninth with a 4.21 ERA) while pitching in an unforgiving home park. The Mavericks as a team have compiled a 5.49 ERA while pitching in High Desert, compared with a 4.52 mark on the road. Hensley has taken 11 of his 19 turns at home, and as the line above indicates, he’s pitched extremely well in that context, going 6-1, 4.41 with 64 strikeouts and 21 walks over 65 1/3 innings. It’s where he’s surrendered 11 of 16 home runs, suggesting that once he leaves the Cal League he could be even more formidable. After all, Hensley has gone 3-2, 3.94 and sported a nifty 44-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48 road innings this season.

2009
Stats
No. 13 JULIO TEHERAN,
RHP

BRAVES

Julio TeheranTeam:
low Class A Rome (South Atlantic)

Why He’s Here: 0-0, 1.50, 12 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 5 BB, 11 SO

The Scoop: It took him a few starts, but it’s sufficient to say that Teheran has adjusted to the Sally League. On Wednesday, the 6-foot-2, 150-pound righty turned in his best outing since being promoted in early August. Teheran pitched seven no-hit innings, while striking out seven and walking one against Charleston. He gave up 11 runs in his first 17 innings at the level but has given up four in the 17 1/3 innings since. Teheran throws easy gas, sitting 93-95 mph and touching 96. The Colombian also throws a sharp curveball that he has tightened up this year, and a changeup with screwball-like movement. He creates deception, and concern for his long-term health, by having a long arm rotation in the back as part of a herky-jerky delivery. Teheran’s got the stuff to be a front-of-the-rotation starter, but he’s still learning how to pitch.

2009
Stats

IN THE TEAM
PHOTO

As a polished college junior pitching in the South Atlantic League, it’s not shocking that Braves’ first-round pick Mike Minor is having success. But the 21-year-old lefty’s dominance at Rome is noteworthy especially since he was coming off of a two-month layoff. Minor allowed one run in nine innings this week while striking out 13. He’s now struck out 17 batters, while walking no one in 14 innings . . . Orioles LHP Rick Zagone, 22, usually does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground. This week he traded some of those grounders for a few more missed bats, striking out 19 batters in 12 2/3 innings over the course of two starts for high Class A Frederick. Zagone allowed four runs (three earned, including two home runs), walking just two of the 49 batters he faced . . . Triple-A Charlotte RHP Carlos Torres (White Sox) didn’t exactly have an easy route to the big leagues, but once the 27-year-old got there, he made the most of the opportunity. After turning in five scoreless innings for the Knights last Friday, Torres earned another callup to the show. Pitching in an interleague make-up game against the Cubs, Torres pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing five hits while striking out six. The righty sits in the low 90s, throws a sharp, mid-80s cutter and mixes in a 76-78 mph curveball . . . No one in the Pacific Coast League has had a hotter stretch drive than Triple-A Memphis 3B Allen Craig (Cardinals), who’s hit .409/.453/.772 in 193 at-bats since the all-star break. Craig’s standout tool is easily his power to all fields, and he added another two home runs to his season total of 26 this week while hitting .429/.457/.714 (12-for-28) . . . Craig’s Memphis teammate CF Jon Jay had a pretty good week himself. A solid all-around player whose numbers have picked up markedly in the second half, Jay hit .355/.394/.742 (11-for-31) with two home runs and four doubles on the week . . . One of the youngest players in Double-A—he turned 20 this week—Binghamton’s Ruben Tejada (Mets) has recorded more putouts and participated in more double plays than any Eastern League shortstop this season. He started for Panama in the World Baseball Classic and didn’t hit a whole lot for the Mets until August, when he batted .319/.358/.416 over 27 games, collecting seven extra-base hits and compiling a 5-to-10 walk-to-strikeout mark. Tejada went 9-for-26 (.346) this week, chipping in a double, a triple, four walks and two steals in three attempts . . .  The Double-A Eastern League’s probable ERA champion, RHP Zach McAllister (Yankees) delivered two fine outings on the week, spreading six hits and one run allowed over 12 1/3 innings. The 21-year-old Trenton hurler missed most of July with a sore shoulder, but he’s been efficient in his return, striking our four, walking two and inducing three double plays in his two most recent starts. In his past six, McAllister boasts a 21-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .193 opponent average over 27 2/3 innings, all without allowing a single home run/

NOT-SO HOT
SHEET

Kevin Pucetas, rhp, Giants: Unfortunately for Pucetas, the Triple-A season didn’t end on July 31. At that point, the 24-year-old was sitting at 10-2, 3.30, which would have been an impressive Fresno debut for the ’06 17th-round pick who sports one of the minors’ best career won-loss records at 42-12. But Pucetas’ final seven starts were a recurring nightmare that ended especially poorly. Pucetas failed to get out of the second inning in either of his two starts this week, giving up 16 runs in 2 1/3 innings. His once pristine ERA ballooned by nearly a run to 5.04 in the final week of the season.

Mitch Canham, c, Padres: Canham’s defense has always been suspect at best, but his offensive game hasn’t progressed much either with Double-A San Antonio. In 99 games behind the plate, he’s thrown out just 23 percent of 124 attempted basestealers. This week Canham went 3-for-25 without an extra-base hit and just one walk, going .125/.160/.125 with seven strikeouts. On the season, Canham’s averages sit at .266/.343/.378.

Billy Rowell, 3b, Frederick: The Orioles’ first-round pick (ninth overall) in 2006, Rowell immediately ranked as the organization’s No. 1 prospect after the season. But he’s been about as bad as it gets this year for high Class A Frederick, where he wouldn’t even rank among the top five prospects to have played for the Keys this season. Rowell, 20, is hitting .222/.284/.335 in 116 games, a regression from even the meager .248/.315/.368 he hit in 111 games a year ago for Frederick. A shortstop in high school, Rowell began his career at third base but this season moved to right field, where his defense has been erratic with below-average range and 15 errors, a whopping total for an outfielder.

MEN AMONG
BOYS

Paul Smyth, rhp, Athletics: The beginning of Smyth’s professional career hasn’t just been good, it’s made history. Smyth, the Athletics’ 35th-round pick out of Kansas, set a Vancouver Canadians team record by throwing 29 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Smyth has since been promoted to low Class A Kane County, and the dominance has continued. Smyth posted pretty pedestrian numbers during his four years at Kansas, but has been phenomenal thus far as a pro and Vancouver manager Rick Magnante said he’s the most polished pitcher he’s had in four years. Smyth, a side-armer, throws a fastball, changeup and slider and locates all three pitches to either side of the plate, keeping everything down in the zone. Over 23 appearances and 33 innings this season, Smyth is 2-0, 0.00 with 41 strikeouts, four walks and 13 hits allowed.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

Chris George, lhp, Orioles. When our first prospect handbook came out in 2001, George ranked as one of the top prospects in the Royals system. Things didn’t turn out as either George or the organization had planned. He spent the 2001 through 2004 seasons on the Omaha-Kansas City shuttle, but never really settled in at the big league level. Since then, he’s been sitting in Triple-A showing how a once-promising lefty arm will get many, many chances. George has a 6.48 big league ERA, and he came into this season having put up an ERA above 5.00 at Triple-A in each of the past four seasons. But the 29-year-old keeps getting chances, Pawtucket gave him a 12-game stint early this season before he headed to Mexico. After a rough stay with the Mexico City Diablos (1-1, 8.22) he landed in Norfolk, where for the first time in a long time, he’s dominated. George allowed one run in seven innings in his lone start this week and is now 1-1, 2.35 in 23 innings with the Tides. It’s not enough to get him back to the big leagues, but it is likely enough to ensure he gets another Triple-A job next year.

HELIUM
WATCH

WILKING RODRIGUEZ,
RHP

RAYS

Team: Rookie-level Princeton (Appalachian)

Age: 19

Why He’s Here: 1-6, 3.21, 56 IP, 44 H, 5 HR, 2 HBP, 12 BB, 52 SO

The Scoop: Rodriguez struck out nine Johnson City batters in his final start on Saturday, capping a sensational U.S. debut season. (He signed in February ’07 and spent two years in the VSL.) He gave up three runs in five innings in that final turn, but the Rays’ latest Venezuelan find showed consistently dominating stuff all season—including a 92-93 mph fastball that reached 96 and a power curveball with late, sharp break. Rodriguez’s changeup is a bit firm at this stage, but when you consider the raw stuff and the impressive command, you realize that Tampa Bay has another legitimate pitching prospect on its hands. 

2009
Stats

Minors | #2009 #Prospect Hot Sheet

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