Midseason Top 50 Prospects
Click above to listen the Midseason Top 50 Prospects Podcast This list bears little resemblance to the Top 100 Prospects ranking we published before the season, and thatβs because so […]
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Compiled by Kevin Goldstein and Chris Kline
It wasn't quite as impressive as North Carolina's scoreless-inning streak that began the college season, but Double-A Carolina's pitching staff has been nearly as hot to begin 2005.
In Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels rolled off 32 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run to start the season in February. Some 40 miles away in Zebulon in April, the Mudcats' staff is having similar results.
Carolina posted back-to-back shutouts over Huntsville, before Stars' outfielder Nelson Cruz took righthander Nic Ungs deep in the fourth inning of a game Saturday, snapping the scoreless streak at 21.
Still, the opening series against Huntsville has been remarkable for the Mudcats. After Saturday's lone run, righthander Logan Kensing came out Sunday, and with the help of a bullpen that still hasn't been scored upon, shut out the Stars again, 3-0.
As a staff, the Mudcats carry a 0.38 ERA, with one earned run in 36 innings. The rest of the numbers are just as impressive: 14 hits, nine walks and 34 strikeouts. Stars hitters batted just .132.
In addition to Ungs and Kensing, Carolina's rotation features lefthander Scott Olsen and righthanders Yorman Bazardo and Josh Johnson.
Johnson was hitting 92-94 mph consistently and topping out at 95 in the opener last Thursday. Olsen, the highest-profile prospect of the bunch, also topped out at 95 in his Double-A debut.
The Mudcats will be challenged by better bats tonight when they open a three-game set against Birmingham. White Sox first-round pick Josh Fields, first baseman Casey Rogowski and right fielder Ryan Sweeney highlight the Barons' lineup.
"Now that is some tough pitching," Barons manager Razor Shines said. "And we're a little younger than Huntsville. I'm going to have to throw BP at 100 miles an hour for our guys to get used to that."
International League (AAA)
It doesn't get much hotter than Indianapolis catcher Ryan Doumit. The 24-year-old has a history of injuries, was limited to DH last season with a sore elbow and didn't play at all after July 24. But the added rest seems to have done wonders. After gaining national attention for homering off Curt Schilling on Opening Day, Doumit has hit three more bombs, and is batting .583. "He looks like a different player," a National League scout said. "Like the kind of player the Pirates thought he could be before all the medical. Everyone knew this kid could hit; he's got excellent bat control. As a switch-hitter, he reminds me a little bit of a Victor Martinez-type catcher. But until he can prove he can get through an entire season healthy, there's always going to be that question about him."
Toledo first baseman Chris Shelton is also off to a fast start. Shelton, who took MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League last November, is hitting .571/.632/1.000 with two homers in his first 14 at-bats. A former teammate of Doumit--the two were with Class A Lynchburg in the Pirates system in 2003--Shelton appears to have found a permanent position after spending time behind the plate and at first in his four-year career. A 33rd-round pick out of Utah in 2001, Shelton's bat is what will carry him back to the big leagues after he got 46 at-bats with the Tigers last season.
The hottest team in the IL to open the season would be the Indianapolis Indians, who are undefeated at 4-0. Indy doesn't have much in terms of position prospects--Doumit and outfielder Nate McLouth being the only exceptions--but the pitching staff is intriguing. The rotation features three pitchers ranked among the Pirates' Top 10 Prospects: lefthander Zach Duke and righthanders Bryan Bullington and Ian Snell. Righthander Bobby Bradley and lefthander Cory Stewart round out the starting five.
Pacific Coast League (AAA)
It was a rough offseason for Diamondbacks outfielder Carlos Quentin. A back strain limited him to just three games in the AFL and he hit just .125 (3-for-24) in spring training before being sent to minor league camp. He opened the season strong, however, with a grand slam and five RBIs in Tucson's first win of the season Sunday. He is batting .538 (7-for-13) with two home runs in four games.
Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, who hit a disappointing .259-8-42 in his full-season debut at Double-A Huntsville last season, went 3-for-5, falling a single short of the cycle, in Nashville's 14-5 victory over New Orleans Friday night.
Dodgers third baseman Norihiro Nakamura, a longtime star in Japan who opted to play at Triple-A Las Vegas rather than return home, made a strong early impression for the 51s, going 5-for-10 with a pair of home runs.
Acquired from the Braves in the Tim Hudson deal, lefty Dan Meyer was expected to step right into the big league rotation for the Athletics, but found himself at Sacramento after a 7.78 spring ERA. His struggles continued Saturday night, when he lasted just three innings against Portland, surrendering five runs on eight hits. His velocity is still well below the low 90s that he showed last year.
Eastern League (AA)
Altoona first baseman Brad Eldred picked up where he left off last season, hitting three home runs over the weekend, with two bombs yesterday at Reading. The sixth-round pick out of Florida International in 2002 hit a combined 38 homers between high Class A Lynchburg and Altoona last year.
With the Red Sox loaded with premium shortstops, Dustin Pedroia has moved to second base at Portland, where he and shortstop Hanley Ramirez form one of the minors' best tandems in the middle of the diamond. Both are swinging it well to start the season, and both had two hits yesterday in an 8-0 win against Norwich. Pedroia is hitting .385/.500/.615 in 13 at-bats and Ramirez is .353/.353/.471 through 17 at-bats. On the flip side, outfielder Brandon Moss, who broke through in the South Atlantic League last season, has struggled in his first 11 at-bats, hitting just .182.
His first exposure to Double-A pitching hasn't slowed down West Tenn center fielder Felix Pie. Pie went 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles yesterday against Chattanooga and is hitting .294 in 17 at-bats. The No. 2 prospect in the Cubs system, Pie takes advantage of his speed but isn't one-dimensional, showing an ability to hit for average and a strong outfield arm.
Jeff Francoeur's second go-round in the Southern League has been worlds apart from last year, when he was recovering from a broken cheekbone and hit .197 in 76 at-bats. With AFL experience behind him, Francoeur hit two homers in his first four games at the Braves' new Mississippi affiliate and is hitting .471/.500/.941 with seven RBIs in 17 at-bats.
All Padres first baseman Paul McAnulty does is hit. The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder has been compared to former big leaguer John Kruk throughout his pro career, but McAnulty slimmed down last year, improving his agility as well as his bat speed. In his first four games for Mobile, McAnulty is hitting .571 (8-for-14) with a homer and five RBIs.
Texas League (AA)
In what is known as a hitter's league, the two undefeated teams are getting in done on the mound. Arkansas, which suffered through a miserable 59-80 season in 2004, is off to a 4-0 start thanks to a team ERA of 1.50. Joe Saunders tossed five shutout innings in a 4-1 win over Springfield Friday night, while righty Ervin Santana, who made just eight starts in 2003 while dealing with a strained elbow, allowed just two hits over seven shutout innings in a 2-0 win the following night.
Doing the Travelers one better are the San Antonio Missions, who are also 4-0 while allowing just four runs on the season. Lefthander Bobby Livingston allowed one run over six innings on Opening Night, while fellow southpaw Tom Oldham hurled six shutout innings on Saturday.
Rangers shortstop Joaquin Arias, one of the youngest position players in the league at 20, is off to a strong start at the plate for Frisco, going 8-for-18 (.444) with five runs and three stolen bases in four games. His struggles in the field (he made 40 errors in 2004) continued however, with a pair of miscues.
California League (High A)
Royals top prospect Billy Butler, who earned a surprising two-level jump to High Desert to start the season, is taking early advantage of one of the best hitting parks in baseball, going 6-for-14 with a pair of home runs in four games. Outfielder Chris Lubanski has struggled so far, however, going 3-for-17 (.176) with a league-high seven whiffs. On the mound for the Mavericks, 2004 supplemental first-round pick J.P. Howell had a strangely effective start Saturday night, walking seven over five innings, but also striking out seven while allowing just one hit and one run.
The Rangers' top two prospects, righty Thomas Diamond and lefty John Danks, both looked good in their debuts for Bakersfield. Diamond allowed four hits and one run over 5 2/3 innings on Friday, while Danks allowed one run on three hits over four innings the following day.
A's outfielder Richie Robnett, who received the highest bonus ($1.325 million) of any member of Oaklands 2004 draft class, has struggled early at Stockton, going 1-for-14.
Carolina League (High A)
Orioles outfielder Jeff Fiorentino fell a single shy of hitting for the cycle on Sunday at Lynchburg. Fiorentino, a third-round pick out of Florida Atlantic last year, upped his average to .333 in 12 at-bats. The Orioles' No. 5 prospect is athletic enough to play anywhere on the field, and some in the organization liked him behind the plate, but the plan is to play Fiorentino in the outfield. He best profiles as a left fielder in the future.
Indians lefthander Billy Traber made his first start in more than a year Sunday, allowing a run over six innings against Winston-Salem. Traber, who finished the 2003 season in the big leagues, had Tommy John surgery that October and rehabbed all last year. He experienced several setbacks in his rehabilitation and is far from being 100 percent, but is slated to make three more starts at Class A Kinston before moving to Double-A Akron. "It feels fine now," Traber said. "I guess it's come along pretty slow. Hey, it is what it is. That's about it. The hardest part about baseball--I don't care what anyone says--is rehab. Anyone who tells you differently is full of crap. Mentally, there have been tough days, but you know what? This is a man's game and you've got to toughen up. I'm not going to let an injury take me out of this game. There's no way. I'm tougher than that. If you can toughen out rehab, you can toughen out anything in this game."
Florida State League (High A)
Always seen as a pitcher's league, the FSL reinforced the reputation this weekend. It began on Opening Night when Dodgers lefthander Chuck Tiffany, who reached double-digits in strikeouts in each of his last four starts in the South Atlantic League last year, extended his streak to five, punching out 11 (including six of the last seven batters he faced) over five shutout innings while allowing just one hit for Vero Beach. Cardinals 2004 first-round pick Chris Lambert delivered six innings without allowing a hit or walk (he did hit one batter), while Cubs righty Carlos Marmol delivered six no-hit innings of his own in a 2-0 win over Brevard County.
Two of the first three selections in the 2004 draft also made their professional debuts. Mets righty Philip Humber (No. 3 overall) took the tough loss against Tiffany, allowing four hits and one run over five innings in St. Lucie's 1-0 loss to Vero Beach. Humber struck out six without issuing a walk, throwing 47 of his 65 pitches for strikes. Tigers righty Justin Verlander (No. 2 overall) pitched just three innings and took the loss in Lakeland's 8-5 loss to Tampa, giving up three hits and two runs (one earned), while walking one and striking out four. Yankees righthander Tyler Clippard got the win for the Yankees with six shutout innings.
Believe it or not, there was some hitting in the league, with Fort Myers off to a 4-0 start, thanks in part to a team average of .328. Third baseman Matt Moses, the Twins' first-round pick in 2003 who was limited to just 29 games last year due to a stress fracture in his lower back, got off to a quick start by going deep in each of the team's first two games.
Midwest League (Low A)
A trio of high-profile Twins pitchers made their full-season debuts for Beloit, with mixed results. Righthander Anthony Swarzak, a second-round pick last year, pitched six no-hit innings on Opening Night, striking out eight and walking one in a 2-1 win over Quad Cities. First-rounder Kyle Waldrop allowed just two unearned runs in a 6-2 win the next night. Things didn't go so well for Dutch lefty Alexander Smit on Sunday. The 19-year-old failed to get out of the first inning, allowing five runs, but the team rallied for a 7-5 win to improve to 3-1. Third baseman David Winfree has been leading the way offensively, going 8-for-15 (.533), with four doubles and a home run in four games.
Lansing, the new low Class A affiliate of the Blue Jays, got off to a 4-0 start, highlighted by righty Casey Janssen's seven no-hit innings on Opening Night. Danny Hill, a 2004 third-round pick out of Missouri, picked up saves in three of the team's four victories. The victim of Lansing's hot start, the 0-4 Fort Wayne Wizards, have managed to score just 12 runs, but have not been without strong pitching performances of their own. Righthander Michael Eckstrom allowed just one hit over six shutout innings, but pitched against Janssen, while fellow righty Joel Santo allowed just three hits and one run over six innings on Saturday.
South Atlantic League (Low A)
Kannapolis' duo of lefthanders drafted in 2004, Gio Gonzalez and Ray Liotta, shut down Asheville this weekend. Gonzalez threw five shutout innings on Opening Night, striking out nine and walking two while giving up three hits in a victory. Liotta didn't figure in the decision but gave up one run in five innings, fanning seven and walking two.
Giants prospect Marcus Sanders got off to a strong start at Augusta with seven hits in his first 18 at-bats and two steals Sunday night in 4-2 win at Charleston. Sanders is the fastest runner in the organization, rating an 80 non the 20-80 scouting scale. In other Giants news, Greenjackets righthander Brian Wilson earned his first save of the season. Wilson, a 24th-rounder in 2003 out of Louisiana State, is coming back from Tommy John surgery in a closer role this year.
The Marlins added righthander Jeff Allison to the low Class A Greensboro roster. Allison, a first-round pick in 2003 who didn't play in 2004 because of substance-abuse problems, was placed on the temporarily inactive list. The team said there's no timetable for returning him to an active roster spot.
Rockies third baseman Ian Stewart will be held back in extended spring training at least two weeks with a hamstring strain. Stewart, 20, tore up the Sally League at Asheville last season, hitting .319/.398/.594 with 30 homers and 101 RBIs last season.
Contributing: John Manuel.