How Will MLB Handle Big Changes With Cuba?
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When talking about Angels middle infield prospects, the conversation invariably turns toward the Latin combination of Erick Aybar and Albert Callaspo for the past three seasons. And both are having solid years at Double-A Arkansas.
However, this season, a second duo has grabbed the headlines at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga.
Shortstop Brandon Wood and second baseman Howie Kendrick have both enjoyed breakout seasons for the Quakes. Like Aybar and Callaspo, they’ve played together before, teaming last year at low Class A Cedar Rapids, and now they’re together again. One American League scout contacted about the pair had very few negative things to say.
Wood, a 2003 first-round pick out of Horizon High in Scottsdale, Ariz., hit a relatively pedestrian .251-11-64 last year at Cedar Rapids, but still ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the system based on his high ceiling. This year, Wood has exploded, particularly with his power, as he needed just 25 games to match last year’s home run total. He’s leading the California League with 23 homers to go along with a .310 average and 55 RBIs in 287 at-bats.
"He can hit, there's not doubt about it," the scout said. "He has a lot of bat speed and really powers it through the zone with power to all fields. I wish he had a little more plate discipline, but you can't argue with the results so far."
Wood’s biggest question throughout his career has been his defense. At 6-foot-3 and nearing 200 pounds, Wood profiles well as the new breed of offensive shortstop but may lack the speed to stay there.
"He has plenty of arm," the scout said. "But something about his lower half bothers me. He's very gangly from his hips down, and I just don't see major league range."
With a plus arm, most have projected a moved to third base, but this scout has a different idea in mind.
"I know everyone talks about moving him to the hot corner, but I'd like to see him stay in the middle of the infield. I think they should slide him over the second base, where I'd see him as an offensive-first player in the Jeff Kent mold."
Kendrick has always hit, as he entered this season ranked as the Angels No. 8 prospect, much of it based on a career .357 batting average in 180 games.
Despite missing nearly a month with a strained oblique muscle this year, the 2002 10th-round pick is batting .376-9-31 in 194 at-bats, and like Wood, showing unprecedented power.
"I just love his bat," the scout said. "He gets the barrel into the zone very quickly and it stays there for a very long time. He has such tremendous plate coverage. He can hit the ball anywhere in the strike zone to any field."
The scout added that Kendrick's power is not a result of playing in the hitter-friendly California League. "I saw him hit one to dead center that cleared the fence by a mile--when he gets a hold of one, it really flies."
Like Wood, Kendrick could use better plate discipline, and his defense is well behind his offense.
"He’s not a very good defender right now. But with his work ethic and athleticism, I have no problems in thinking he'll become at least average there,” he said. “The two most important things to me in a position player are bat and makeup, and he has both in a very big way."
• Justin Verlander stole the show in New Hampshire last night. The Double-A Erie righthander struck out 11 over seven shutout innings in his debut for the Sea Wolves. Verlander, a first-round pick out of Old Dominion last year, reportedly touched 99 mph with his fastball several times last night--something he hadn't done since his junior year in college.
• BA photographer Bill Mitchell called it, so we have to give him some props. A week ago, Mitchell said Athletics outfielder Andre Ethier would turn on the Sun Devils mojo and take home MVP honors in the Double-A Texas League all-star game in Frisco. And last night, the Arizona State product did just that. Ethier, who also won the home run hitting contest, drove in the first run of the game and robbed Arkansas second baseman Alberto Callaspo of a third-inning homer with a sensational catch at the left-field wall. The West won the game, 5-0. "Frisco put on a high quality event tonight," Ethier said. "There are a lot of the top guys in the minor leagues here. To play amongst them is an honor." On the season, Ethier is hitting .328/.389/.526 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs in 268 at-bats.
• Devil Rays righthander Dewon Brazelton made his first start since going AWOL three weeks ago. The first-round pick in 2001 out of Middle Tennessee State went three shutout innings, allowed two hits and struck out six for Double-A Montgomery.
• White Sox first-round pick Lance Broadway made his pro debut for high Class A Winston-Salem last night, and while he wasn't exceptional, he certainly was better than Frederick lefthander Adam Loewen. Broadway, the 15th overall pick this year out of Texas Christian, allowed two earned runs on four hits over 4 2/3 innings. He walked four and struck out six. Loewen, on the other hand, was hit hard for the second straight start against Winston-Salem. The 21-year-old lefty allowed seven earned runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. His command was better, however, as he struck out seven and walked one in the 7-6 Warthogs victory.
• The A's Freddie Bynum has seen his batting average go up almost 100 points in each month this season. Playing at Triple-A Sacramento, he hit .191 in April, .283 in May and with 16 hits in his last 32 at-bats he is now hitting .385 for June. On the season, the 25-year-old outfielder is hitting .291/.344/.427.
• It was an inauspicious pro debut for the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman. The fourth overall pick went 0-for-4 last night for low Class A Savannah. In his defense, none of his teammates were hitting as Charleston's Eric Hacker continued his fine season. The righthander allowed one run over seven innings while fanning six to improve his record to 3-2, 1.91. The 22-year-old did not pitch at all last season with an elbow injury.
• Yuniel Escobar might have questions about his age (he’s either 22 or 23), but in his Appalachian League debut, he showed he why he was the Braves’ second-round pick. The Cuban defector went 2-for-5 with a homer for Rookie-level Danville.
• Alexander Smit struggled in the Midwest League, but the Dutch 19-year-old looks like he might be a little too good for the Appy League. The Twins lefthander struck out nine over 4 2/3 innings to earn the win for Elizabethton.
• Phillies lefthander Cole Hamels made his first appearance in more than a year last night, and the results were staggering. After being limited to just four games last year because of elbow problems, and missing the first half of this season after breaking his hand in an offseason bar fight, Hamels fired five no-hit innings, walking two and striking out eight in high Class A Clearwater’s 12-2 win over Sarasota.
• In the other all-star game of the night, Diamondbacks outfielder Jerome Milons with 2-for-2 with a double, stolen base and three RBIs, earning MVP honors at the East topped the West 4-2 in the 41st Midwest League all-star game, held in Peoria. Cubs outfielder Ryan Harvey hit eight home runs in the first round on his way to the home run derby crown earlier in the day.
• Indians No. 1 prospect Adam Miller made his season debut last night, allowing two runs on five hits over three innings in short-season Mahoning Valley’s 6-4 Opening Day win over Jamestown. Miller, who saw his season delayed by an elbow strain, walked two and struck out two.
• While a number of players made their pro debut during the New York-Penn League’s openers, the most impressive line belonged to Cardinals righthander Nick Webber. A second-round pick out of Central Missouri State, Webber was a closer in college but got the opening day start for New Jersey, firing four perfect innings and striking out four in a 4-3 win over Williamsport.
• John Mayberry Jr. hit eight home runs in 238 at-bats at Stanford this spring, playing primarily first base. The Rangers made him their first-round pick (19th overall) two weeks ago as an outfielder, a position most scouts consider his better spot because of his athleticism and arm strength. In his pro debut with short-season Spokane, Mayberry opened the Northwest League season as a right fielder and belted a two-run home run in a 3-2 loss to Eugene.
• Rookie-level Ogden opened the season with a 7-0 shutout over Orem. Dodgers righthander Mario Alvarez went five innings with eight strikeouts, a walk and two hits to pick up the win in the Pioneer League's best pitching performance of the night. Alvarez is a converted third baseman from the Dominican Republic who pitched last summer in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. Angels rookie Mark Trumbo went 0-for-4 in his professional debut and played first base. Trumbo received a $1.425 million bonus as an 18th-round pick from Villa Park (Calif.) High last year.
• Nine different Chukars had at least a hit as Idaho Falls pounded out 21 hits in an 18-4 route of Casper. Centenary product Blake Adkinson, 24, homered twice and second baseman Gary Perez went 4-for-5. Casper center fielder Dexter Fowler doubled, drove in a run and scored in his debut. Like Trumbo, Fowler was a late-round pick (14th) who slipped in the 2004 draft based on signability concerns but possesses significant upside.
• A pair of Brewers prospects shined in Helena's 16-3 whitewashing of Missoula. Catcher Angel Salome, the Brewers' fifth-round selection from George Washington High in Bronx, N.Y., in 2004, homered in his first plate appearance and went 3-for-5. Speedster Darren Ford, an 18th-round draft-and-follow pick who signed following a strong season at Chipola (Fla.) JC this spring, had a pair of hits and scored three runs.
Contributing: John Manuel, Alan Matthews.