2014 Baseball America Top 100 Prospects: The 25th Edition
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Baseball America's Daily Dish
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Compiled by Kevin Goldstein and Matt Meyers
Fans of the Rangers and Athletics could take in two series between their minor league affiliates.
Low Class A Clinton (Rangers) leads the Midwest League with a 22-12 record, based mostly on its power pitching staff. The Lumber Kings lead the league with 296 strikeouts in 298 innings, and the 3.56 team ERA ranks fourth in the circuit. During this weekend’s visit to Kane County, power righthanders Eric Hurley and Michael Schlacht should be able to add to the league leading total against the Cougars, who rank second in the league as a team with 286 strikeouts in 1,110 at-bats. The Cougars, however, are an A’s affiliate, so they like to work counts. They are tied for second in on-base percentage (.340) and lead in walks (169). The wildcard in the series could be Clinton righthander Andy Walker, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound righty who signed as a nondrafted free agent out of Alabama last year.
The Rangers signed Walker last summer after his performance in the National Baseball Congrees World Series. He has an average fastball that tops out around 93 mph and solid slider he picked up in the offseason, working out with fellow Oklahoma natives Ryan Franklin and Kyle Denney, but his best asset thus far has been maturity and command. The 22-year-old son of an Air Force officer has just six walks in 42 innings, though he also has just 23 strikeouts. His 1.49 ERA is the best among Clinton’s starters.
The other matchup of A’s and Rangers farmhands will take place in Sacramento (19-16), as the Triple-A RiverCats (Oakland) take on Oklahoma (17-18). The RiverCats, who have won five straight games, rank fourth in the league in ERA at 4.24, but Oklahoma’s explosive offense should test Sacramento’s pitching staff, led by lefthander John Rheinecker (4-0, 1.77). A supplemental first-round pick in 2001 out of Southwest Missouri State, Rheinecker is figuring out Triple-A in his third stint there. After giving up 239 hits in his first 210 Triple-A innings, Rheinecker has improved his command and has allowed just 29 hits in 46 innings this season; opponents are batting just .181 against him.
Of course, Sacramento’s hot streak has been based more on its offense. The Cats have had 10 straight games with double-digit hits despite being short-handed due to food poisoning, which has sidelined Dan Johnson, Jack Cust and Matt Watson. Righthander Jairo Garcia also has joined Sacramento this week after being called up from Double-A Midland.
“When I saw him, he wasn’t commanding his breaking stuff,” said a scout who saw him in the Texas League, “but his stuff was electric. He’s got closer stuff.
--JOHN MANUELInjury Scare
Stephen Drew returned to action for the Camden Riversharks (independent Atlantic), a little over a week after spraining his left ankle rounding second while beating out a triple. Drew had a similar injury to his right foot during his freshman year at Florida State that developed into a stress fracture, so when this injury occurred, the team took every precaution. X-rays showed no fracture, and the ankle responded quickly to treatment. "We wanted to be very careful," Riversharks manager Wayne Krenchicki said.
Drew was among league leaders in hitting before the injury, but he's struggled a little more in his first two games back, going 2-for-13, including an 0-for-6 night against Long Island, as he got to see former big leaguer Donovan Osborne throw his third straight gem. For the season, Drew was hitting .323-0-3.
At shortstop, Krenchicki said that Drew had shown solid range.
"He has surprising first-step quickness. There are balls that look like no one should get to them, that he (does). He's shown some exceptional range and for sure he has the arm strength to play shortstop."
Drew was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the first round of last June's draft. He signed with the Riversharks after failing to reach a deal with Arizona, although he can still sign a deal with the club until May 31. At that point, Drew would re-enter the draft pool and be eligible to be drafted again in the draft which begins on June 7.
Drew's appearance in Camden has given the team plenty of publicity in addition to a top of the lineup hitter. But it's also given Drew's teammates another boost--normally scouts don't come around until after the draft, but with Drew in the lineup, three or four scouts a night are following the Riversharks.
-- J.J. COOPER
• Two of the Reds' top pitching prospects, righthanders Chris Gruler and Thomas Pauley, had shoulder surgery. Gruler, a 2002 first-round pick, had a procedure to clean out and loosen the shoulder joint; he had surgery in 2003 to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff. Pauley, a second-rounder in 2003, also had a procedure to clean up the shoulder joint. Pauley went 8-7, 2.97 last year at high Class A Potomac and led the Carolina League with 135 strikeouts in 121 innings.
• Double-A Jacksonville first baseman James Loney recorded his first multiple-hit game since April 28, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a double in the Suns’ 8-7 win against Montgomery. The double was just the third extra-base hit in the last 50 at-bats for Loney, the Dodgers’ No. 4 prospect. He also drove in just three runs during that span. On the season, Loney is hitting .220-5-17.
• Diamondbacks righthander Enrique Gonzalez posted his second consecutive stellar outing at Double-A Tennesse, holding West Tenn to three hits in a complete-game shutout. Gonzalez, who began last season in the bullpen at high Class A Lancaster before moving into the rotation in June and going 10-2, 2.46 the rest of the way, has now thrown 16 straight shutout innings; he held Huntsville scoreless on three hits over seven innings in his previous start. He improved to 3-1, 3.59 with 40 strikeouts and 14 walks in 43 innings this season.
• Indians second baseman Brandon Phillips seems to have found his stroke as Triple-A Buffalo. After hitting .214 in his first 26 games, Phillips has 10 hits and four home runs in his last six, raising his season totals to .242-6-16.
• Brewers righty Ty Taubenheim entered last night’s game a perfect 6-0 in six starts, but failed to get win No. 7, despite going nine innings in high Class A Brevard County’s 3-2, eleven inning win over Clearwater. The 2003 19th-round pick allowed two runs on six hits, raising his ERA on the season to 1.56.
• Devil Rays righthander Andrew Sonnastine pitched his first complete-game shutout as a pro, firing a complete game two-hitter in low Class A Southwest Michigan’s 9-0 win over Fort Wayne and extending his scoreless streak to 17 innings. Sonnastine’s best pitch is a filthy slider that complements his average fastball. The 2004 13th-round pick out of Kent State, is 3-3, 2.74 in seven starts.
• After 1,267 minor league games and 4,448 minor league at-bats, Chris Prieto finally got his first callup to the major leagues. After 13 years in the minor, the outfielder in the Angels system was called up to replace Kelvim Escobar who was played on the 15-day disabled list with a sore right elbow. The 32-year-old was hitting .279 with Triple-A Salt Lake City.
• Signed out of Cuba in March of 2004, Raul Valdez was forced to pitch in the Dominican Summer League due to Visa restrictions and he struck out 152 in 88 innings. After getting his Visa situation straightened out, the 27-year-old is proving himself against stiffer competition. He made his first start at Triple-A Iowa last night and allowed only three hits and one run over seven innings with four strikeouts and three walks. Valdez’ season debut was delayed by a broken hand he injured in spring training fielding a comebacker.
• A first-round pick by the Reds out of perennial prep power Gulliver Prep in Miami in 2000, David Espinosa has never lived up to that billing with a career .261 average coming into this season. At 23 and in Double-A, he is finally raking. Now in the Tigers system, the outfielder is hitting .331/.468/.587 after going 2-for-4 last night for Erie.
• Two more innings, two more strikeouts and another save. Dave Haehnel still has not given up a run for Delmarva who beat West Virginia 5-4. The scoreless streak is now 16 1/3 innings. Righthander Mark Rogers was not so fortunate in that game as he started for West Virginia and gave up five earned runs in four innings, lowering his record to 0-3, 4.94. On the plus side, he has 30 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings, but also 18 walks.
• When it rains, it pours. Low Class A Hickory catcher Steve Lerud is in about as bad of a slump as one can be in. The Pirates prospect is now 2-for-33 in his last 10 games with 15 strikeouts. Here is hoping that he finds his swing soon. We wouldn't wish that line on our worst enemy.
Contributing: John Fay, Aaron Fitt.