Top 100 Prospects
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A prospect matchup highlights a weekend series between the Eastern League's Southern Division rivals. Erie (8-7), one back of division-leading Akron, plays host to Bowie (6-9, three back) in a four-game set that began Thursday with a 5-3 Baysox win. It's actually the sixth game of eight straight between the two teams in a home-and-home series.
It's the first time, though, that the Seawolves will see Penn, a fifth-round pick in 2002 out of Santata High in Santee, Calif. The 20-year-old has carried over the momentum of his breakthrough 2004 season into his second stint in Double-A. The 6-food-3, 195-pound righthander finished last season with four games with the Baysox, and he's made three stellar starts so far in 2005. His 26 strikeouts (in just 16 innings) rank second in the EL to J.D. Martin (who has pitched four more innings), and he’s posted a 1.13 ERA while walking just five so far.
"He's had three very, very impressive starts," Orioles farm director Dave Stockstill said. "He's throwing his fastball, curveball and changeup for strikes at any time in the count."
Penn's fastball has average velocity, as it usually sits in the 89-92 mph range, but it's an above-average pitch because of its exceptional life and his ability to command it. Penn's change has been solid this season, but his curveball has shown great improvement over last year's model, Stockstill said. That helped lead to his last outing, six hitless innings with nine strikeouts against Akron.
"The fastball's his best pitch, because he can throw it at any time and to all parts of the zone with command," Stockstill said. "But he had an awful good curveball the other day; it still needs to be tightened up a bit, but it's a much better pitch than it was last year."
Henkel didn't have much of a last year, not on the mound. The 26-year-old lefthander made just three starts for Erie before being shut down with shoulder surgery. The 2000 third-round pick out of UCLA already is a Tommy John surgery alumnus, and now he’s working back from a labrum tear. He's lost velocity on his fastball, but his curveball remains an effective pitch, and he’s throwing without pain this season. He earned Erie's Opening Day start and is off to a 2-1, 1.72 start, with 13 strikeouts and six walks in 16 innings.
• Off to a slow start at Triple-A Nashville, Rickie Weeks had a game last night the Brewers surely hope is a sign of things to come. Weeks went 3-for-5 with a homer and triple while driving in five and raising his average to .246. More encouraging than this game is that he has maintained an on-base percentage of .333 during this slump and is slugging .557.
• When in Montreal, the Nationals were at a huge disadvantage in regards to their player development budget, so it's nice to see some of their prospects making some noise. Last night third baseman Brendan Harris was 3-for-4 for Triple-A New Orleans and is now batting .302/.362/.396. He has hit over .300 for his entire minor league career; the question now is if his power will develop enough for him to hold down a corner.
• Another Nationals prospect making some noise is righthander Colin Balester. Drafted in the fourth-round last June out of Huntington Beach (Calif.) High, he is now 2-0, 1.17 after allowing no earned runs over six innings last night while fanning six and walking one against Augusta for low Class A Savannah.
• The Marlins’ Jonathan Fulton may finally be adjusting to his switch to third base. The former shortstop went 5-for-6 last night with a double for low Class A Greensboro to raise his average to .294. He showed flashes of power at Jamestown of the short-season New York-Penn League last season. Now that he is out of his funk, it is time to see some of his raw power.
• Yankees lefthander Sean Henn got his first win of the season Thursday, a 3-0 shutout against New Britain. Henn went seven innings, allowed three runs on seven hits, walked four and struck out five. Henn, a 26th-round pick of New York in 2000 out of McLennan (Texas) Junior College, is 1-1. 0.98 with seven walks and 15 strikeouts in 18 innings at Double-A Trenton.
• Double-A Norwich extended Reading's offensive woes, as righthanders David Aardsma, Billy Sadler and Jeremy Accardo tossed a one-hitter against the Phillies. With the 1-0 shutout, Reading hasn't scored a run in 29 innings--and their lone hit against the Navigators was by righthander Chris Rojas. Aardsma, the Giants' first-rounder in 2003 out of Rice, went six innings, gave up the Rojas single, walked one and struck out one. He is 3-0, 0.60 with 12 strikeouts in 15 innings overall. “The main idea is to just let him work on his secondary pitches and just throw more often than he has,” Giants roving pitching instructor Bert Bradley said. “Mainly, it’s for him to work on his breaking ball and changeup, and they’re coming along. We want him to be able to use all his pitches in any situation, not just his fastball.”
• Double-A Akron righthander J.D. Martin keeps rolling along. Though he didn't factor in the decision of a 3-2 win against Altoona, Martin again posted double-digit strikeout numbers--whiffing 11 in six innings. Martin, a first-round pick in 2001 out of Burroughs High in Ridgecrest, Calif., is 0-0, 0.45 with 28 strikeouts and four walks in 20 innings this season.
• Double-A Tennessee third baseman Jamie D'Antona has been on a romp in the Southern League. D'Antona, the Diamondbacks' second-round pick in 2003 out of Wake Forest, hit his second home run in a 10-6 loss to West Tenn last night. He is hitting .333/.448/.500 with two homers and seven RBIs in 48 at-bats.
• Dodgers first baseman James Loney is showing signs of life, and hitting behind shortstop Joel Guzman at Double-A Jacksonville certainly doesn't hurt. Loney and Guzman went a combined 9-for-10 with five RBIs in a 15-8 win against Birmingham. Both hit a pair of doubles and both went deep. Guzman is hitting .340/.421/.640 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 50 at-bats. Loney, who gone hitless in his last 10 at-bats before Thursday, is now hitting .235/.291/.412 with two homers and nine RBIs in 51 at-bats.
• Robert Valido is one of youngest players in the Carolina League, but the 18-year-old shortstop is holding his own at Class A Winston-Salem. Valido went 2-for-5 in an 11-7 win against Potomac yesterday. The White Sox’ fourth round pick out of Coral Park High in Miami in 2003 is hitting .344/.344/.484 in 64 at-bats.
• Padres first baseman Michael Johnson, whose entire professional career has been played at high Class A Elsinore, is finally looking ready for a move up. Johnson slugged a three-run home run and drove in four in the Storm’s 12-2 win over High Desert, giving him a whopping 23 RBIs in 12 games with averages of .298/.362/.702.
• Seen as one of more exciting young hitters in the Tigers system entering 2004, third baseman Kody Kirkland struggled in his full-season debut, batting .236-10-61 for low Class A West Michigan with a rough 149-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Bumped to Lakeland in the Florida State League, Kirkland recorded his fourth straight multi-hit game the Tigers 5-2 win over Ft. Myers, raising his season average to .408 (20-for-49).
• Matt Bush, the 2004 No. 1 overall pick, hit his first professional home run in Low Class A Fort Wayne’s 8-3 win over South Bend. On the season, the Padres shortstop is hitting just .211 with five errors. Speaking of struggling first-round shortstops, Minnesota’s Trevor Plouffe recorded his third straight 0-for-4 night in Low Class A Beloit’s 3-1 win over Clinton, dropping to .068 (3-for-44) on the season.
Contributing: Matthew Meyers.