Top 100 Prospects
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Even though they're currently a game under .500 in the South Division of the Southern League, Double-A Montgomery is brimming with prospects.
Led by right fielder Delmon Young, the Biscuits also boast outfielder Elijah Dukes, catcher Shawn Riggans and shortstop Fernando Cortez. And just when you thought they couldn't get any more prospect-laden, along comes first baseman Wes Bankston--fresh off a 17-game stretch at high Class A Visalia where he drove in 23 runs and batted .387 in 62-at-bats.
Bankston was held back in extended spring training recovering from offseason knee surgery, but will be reunited with his old teammates from last season tonight at Birmingham.
The Devil Rays' fourth-round pick in 2002 drove in 101 runs last season at low Class A Charleston, but was often overshadowed by the presence of Young, the club's No. 1 prospect and arguably the best position player in the minors.
He'll have much the same problem as a Biscuit--at least until the Rays decide to promote the first overall pick in 2003--as Young is tearing up Double-A pitching to the tune of .342/.409/.575 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs in 193 at-bats.
Young is also running like crazy. While he had 21 steals at Charleston last season, he already has 20 in 24 attempts.
"He's really just showing how complete a player he is now," a National League scout said. "He's hitting for average, power and getting on base. And when he gets on base, I think teams have been laying back a little bit, not thinking he's going to run--but those natural instincts are taking over. He's anticipating extremely well and has a lot of intangibles beyond the raw ability."
And it certainly doesn't hurt that Young is surrounded by better hitters than he was last year--Dukes, Riggans and Cortez are all hitting above or around the .300 mark. And Bankston is likely to make the lineup that much more lethal.
"He's got some guys around him now and is probably seeing better pitches than he did last year," the scout said.
Which is scary, considering Young batted .322/.388/.538 with 25 homers and 116 RBIs last season. And it's probably only going to get scarier after Rocco Baldelli completes his rehab on his knee in extended--Baldelli is slated to have a 20-day assignment in the minors; likely with the Biscuits.
Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar just can't figure it out. Yesterday, LaMar called the current system that gives the Red Sox five compensation picks before his club makes their second pick in the draft next week "asinine."
"For the world champion Boston Red Sox to have five or six picks between our eighth pick and 58th, something is not right," LaMar told the St. Petersburg Times. "And that's not blaming the Boston Red Sox, it has nothing to do with them. It has to do with the system that I think has needed to be changed for years. It's not just us; there are other teams like us that live and die on signing players. We can't beat them at the major league level financially, so we have to do it through scouting and player development. So for them to have five or six picks, it just sticks out this year because Boston, as the world champs, with their money, has those kind of picks. I have never figured it out."
In other D-Rays news, righthander Jeff Niemann is still about three weeks away from returning to the mound because of shoulder soreness. Niemann, a first-round pick last year out of Rice, went 0-1, 3.98 with 28 strikeouts in 20 innings at Visalia before landing on the disabled list.
Pirates righthander Ian Snell was at it again Tuesday, tossing five shutout innings and striking out seven in Triple-A Indianapolis' 15-1 win against Louisville. Snell, a 26th-round pick in 2000, improved to 8-0, 2.84 with 71 strikeouts in 69 innings. The Indians pounded out 22 hits, as center fielder Chris Duffy and catcher Ryan Doumit led the barrage going a combined 7-for-12.
Triple-A Rochester righthander Scott Baker threw eight shutout innings in yesterday's 1-0 win against Richmond. Baker, a second-round pick in 2003 out of Oklahoma State, lowered his International League-leading ERA to 1.97 in 50 innings.
Double-A Portland righthander Jon Papelbon allowed just one hit--a leadoff double in the fifth by New Hampshire catcher Erik Kratz--over eight solid innings, but didn't figure in the decision of the Sea Dogs' 3-1 win against the Fisher Cats. Papelbon gave up a run after he balked Kratz to third and later scored on Vito Chiaralavotti's sacrifice fly to center. On the season, Papelbon is 3-2, 2.10 in 56 innings. New Hampshire righthander Vince Perkins was nearly as impressive, allowing a run on three hits in 7 1/3 innings.
Twins lefthander Francisco Liriano picked up his second win of the season yesterday as Double-A New Britain defeated Norwich, 3-2. Liriano struck out nine and walked two over 6 2/3 innings. He allowed a run on five hits, lowering his ERA to 3.43. The 21-year-old Dominican is second in the Eastern League in strikeouts with 80--right behind Tigers righthander Joel Zumaya's 84.
One of the more interesting pitching matchups yesterday came in the Carolina League, as continuing-to-rehab high Class A Potomac lefthander Mike Hinckley squared off against Lynchburg righthander Wardell Starling. It was Hinckley's longest outing since joining the club out of extended spring training, as he went six innings, allowed four runs on nine hits and was tagged with the loss. Starling, a fourth-round pick out of Odessa (Texas) Junior College, allowed two earned runs on three hits and struck out four in six innings of the Hillcats' 4-2 win. On the season, Hinckley is 0-3, 6.86 with a 13-11 strikeout-walk ratio in 20 innings; while Starling is 5-2, 4.20 in 56 innings. Nationals lefthander Bill Bray made his season debut in the second game of the doubleheader, tossing two perfect innings of relief.
The Lynchburg-Potomac game also featured the first documented case of an ejection because of the newly implemented batter's box rule. Both P-Nats manager Bob Henley and outfielder Doc Brooks were tossed after Brooks was issued an automatic strike during an at-bat for stepping out of the batter's box too long. Brooks had to be held back from home plate umpire Tim Daub by teammates and coaches, including Henley, who was ejected moments later, according to the Lynchburg News & Advance.
Oakland righthander Jason Windsor made his Double-A debut last night, allowing one run on seven hits over six innings in Midland's 3-2 loss to Springfield. Windsor, a 2004 third-round pick who led Cal State Fullerton to last years College World Series title, was 2-2, 3.74 in 10 games at high Class A Stockton with 64 strikeouts and just eight walks over 55 innings.
Rockies catcher Chris Ianetta has a hot streak going at low Class A Modesto. The 2004 fourth-round pick out of North Carolina is 11-for-22 with 13 RBIs in his last six games, and his hitting .294/.413/.483 in 40 games on the season.
"He's really been swinging the bat well as of late," Rockies farm director Bill Geivett said. "He's really adjusted to that level of pitching. There are some pretty good pitchers in that league this year, probably more so than I can remember. I think with Iannetta, it took him some time to settle in, learning some new pitchers. He focused on defense and now his bat is coming around now. We've been very, very impressed with him, how he's handled the staff. He has handled just about every challenge we've thrown at him."
Royals outfielder Mitch Maier has been moved into the leadoff spot and just keeps on doubling at high Class A High Desert, hitting a two-bagger for the third straight game last night to extend his minor league-leading total to 26, including 19 in 27 May games. On the season, the 2003 first-round pick out of Toledo is batting .335/.370/.570 in 49 games with a team-leading 39 runs.
It's unclear what was worse last night, Edwin Jackson, or his team's defense. The righthander lasted only 4 1/3 innings last night as he surrendered 10 hits and 11 runs; however, because of two costly errors, only five of those runs were earned. The Dodgers' No. 3 prospect is now 3-5, 6.94 at Triple-A Las Vegas. In 47 innings, he has 29 strikeouts and 26 walks while allowing ten homers. Opponents are hitting .318 against him.
Corey Hart has finally started to hit a little bit. After an atrocious April in which he hit .157, the Brewers outfielder hit .306 in May and is 9-for-22 in his last five games and has got the season line all the way up to .247/.318/.399 at Triple-A Nashville.
With a double and a homer last night, Padres outfielder Ben Johnson now has five homers in his last ten games and eight on the season. Johnson hit seven of the eight in May and is now hitting .266/.354/.459 at Triple-A Portland.
Columbus' Chris Malone retired the first 24 batters he faced last night and had his perfect game bid ended by a broken bat single to open the bottom of the ninth inning against Greenville. The righthander settled for his second straight complete-game victory as the Catfish downed the Greenville Bombers, 3-1 at Municipal Stadium. A non-drafted free-agent signing by the Dodgers last summer out of San Joaquin (Calif.) Delta Junior College in California, Malone is now 5-2, 2.36 with a 45-10 strikeout-walk ratio in 53 innings.
Although he missed about three weeks earlier this season, Kannapolis lefthander Gio Gonzalez is still eighth in the minors in strikeouts. The 19-year-old struck out nine in eight innings last night and now has 71 on the season in just 46 innings. He is 4-2, 1.77 and opponents are hitting .179 against him.
Contributing: Aaron Fitt