Prospect Pulse: Buck Keeps On Hitting

There has been no slowing down Travis Buck this season.

In fact, the 22-year-old hasn't slowed down since coming out of Arizona State last year.

Buck, a supplemental first-round pick of the Athletics a year ago, signed for $950,000 and hasn't stopped hitting as a pro.

In his debut season, Buck went 13-for-36 (.361) at short-season Vancouver and was quickly promoted to the Midwest League where he batted .341/.427/.472 in 123 at-bats at low Class A Kane County.

This season saw another quick promotion as well. After hitting .349/.400/.603 with three homers and 26 RBIs in 126 at-bats at high Class A Visalia, the A's pushed him up to Double-A Midland where it's been a little more of a challenge--even though he collected hits in his first five games.

Through 48 at-bats, Buck was hitting .271/.352/.417.

"He's obviously hit everywhere he's been," Athletics farm director Keith Lieppman said. "And everywhere he's been he's made a major impact. He's amazing in how quickly he adjusts to every level.

"He's a pure hitter with a good sense of the strike zone and he can turn on quality fastballs, wait on and square up breaking balls, and he's just going to continue to get better with more experience."

While he hasn't hit for much power over his first year and a half in the system, the A's believe Buck will drive balls more consistently when he better incorporates his lower half in his swing.

"He has such quick hands and strong wrists that he's able to hit all over the zone," Lieppman said. "And we think the power is in there. As he makes those adjustments in Double-A, I think you'll see some of that gap power translate into more power numbers."

Defensively, Buck is limited to left field. An average runner, he doesn't have the speed or range to play center, but the trade of Andre Ethier to the Dodgers in the offseason opened up a huge door for Buck to have an impact on the A's corner outfield situation.

"He's still got some work to do defensively, but he's shown the ability to adjust on the fly in all phases of his game," Lieppman said. "As he continues to pick out pitches he can drive, I think he'll hit enough to play that corner spot."

Walker Adjusting

Pirates catcher Neil Walker finally returned to high Class A Lynchburg, and the first two weeks were tough for the 20-year-old catcher.

Walker had a rough time adjusting to quality pitching in the Carolina League after missing all of spring training and the first month and a half of the season recovering from wrist surgery.

Walker injured his right wrist at the tail end of the Arizona Fall League, and only started hitting in the cage--one-handed--during the middle of March.

"You really have to consider when the last time was when he played a night game," Pirates field coordinator Jeff Bannister said. "There were very few night games in Arizona, obviously no night games in extended and all of the sudden he's playing nothing but night games.

"Then you take into account all the young pitching he was facing once he got into games in extended and the fact that he only had 50 at-bats there and that equals a big-time adjustment period."

The Pirates plan on breaking Walker in slowly behind the plate, splitting his time between catching and serving as the DH. Even though his wrist is completely healthy, they will be cautious as they bring him along.

"We want him to get as much experience as possible, but at the same time, we want to acclimate him slowly," Bannister said. "It's really about him getting his rhythm and his timing back and that's just a matter of time. He'll be fine. He's the best pure hitter in the system."

In his first 47 at-bats for Lynchburg, Walker was hitting .277/.292/.404.

De La Cruz Control

Phillies righthander Julio de la Cruz missed the last two seasons because of Tommy John surgery and shoulder surgery, so he could be excused for being a bit rusty early in the season.

But after giving up 14 earned runs in his first 13 innings at high Class A Clearwater, the 25-year-old Dominican has shaken off the rust in a big way. He struck out 11 while allowing just one run on two hits over 7 1/3 innings against Jupiter in a recent outing, giving him 29 strikeouts in 21 innings over his last three starts.

"He was a little overwhelmed early on, and I think he was more concerned that something injury-related was going to happen again," Clearwater pitching coach Scott Lovekamp said. "But over his last three starts, his command has gotten so much better. It's great to see him blossom, basically out of him just creating more of a comfort zone through getting more experience."

The Phillies decided in spring training that they needed to put de la Cruz on the fast track because he is 25 and had never pitched above short-season Batavia, where he went 1-6, 4.37 in 2003. His stuff has never looked better. His fastball was up to 96 mph two starts ago and he hit 94 several times in his last three starts, and his 83-84 mph slider is progressing.

"The only thing he's changed mechanically is that he changed his leg kick a little bit, which has freed him up more," Lovekamp said. "His fastball has been very good, though he left some up in the zone last night. His slider isn't all the way back from what it was, but it's getting better and better all the time."


• The good news for the Athletics is it appears Triple-A Sacramento first baseman Daric Barton likely won't need surgery on his elbow; the bad news: he's out for at least 6-to-8 weeks. Barton injured his elbow in a mid-May game against Iowa, after colliding with Tony Womack along the first-base line. MRI results showed no cartilage or ligament damage to the joint of his left elbow. Through 147 at-bats, the A's top prospect was hitting .259/.389/.395 with a pair of homers and 22 RBIs. "It's unfortunate, because things were really starting to work out for him in Triple-A," Lieppman said. "He was making some nice adjustments and now this obviously sets him back."

• Triple-A Indianapolis outfielder Adam Boeve put in a lot of extra work in the offseason, and as important as that was for the 25-year-old outfielder, so too was showing the maturity to understand and accept his assignment. While he has decent power--he hit 28 homers in 2004 at low Class A Hickory--Boeve tended to get long in his swing and pulled almost everything to left field. Boeve started the year in Double-A Altoona before being called up to Indy where he was hitting .286/.390/.400 in 35 at-bats. "He had some holes out away from him, there's no question," Bannister said. "He's a big guy with long arms and he got really vulnerable when he started hooking pitches.

"But now, he's going with those pitches away from him and using the whole field a lot more effectively. At the same time, he now knows how to pick his spots, go to his strength and has enough bat speed to pull balls to left. He's become a much more complete hitter."