Iowa's Jake Fox is the hottest hitter in the minors. Through 11 games, Fox leads all minor leaguers in runs (14), hits (22), homers (seven), RBIs (22), extra-base hits (13), total bases (50) and slugging percentage (1.087), all while batting a cool .478.
Unfortunately for Fox, he's not going to get much opportunity with the Cubs, for whom he went 2-for-14 in 2007. A catcher when Chicago made him a third-round pick out of Michigan in 2003, he's defensively challenged at first base, third base and in the outfield. He'd be better off with an American League club that could DH him. He's also a righthanded hitter, which won't help him get platoon at-bats. Though some club officials believe Fox would have at least 25-homer power in the majors, the Cubs have no spot for him and haven't been able to find any takers for him.
Prep catchers, along with college pitchers, are the obvious strength of the 2009 draft. Let's add Wil Myers (Wesleyan Christian Academy, High Point, N.C.) to the discussion, and that will give us four high school backstops who could go off the board before the second round.
I'd rate them in this order: Bailey, Stassi, Myers and Maddox. Bailey and Stassi both look like first-rounders, while Myers and Maddox are more sandwich picks. Bailey could go as high as No. 13, but that seems a little high to me at this point. The A's haven't taken a high schooler in the first round since they took Jeremy Bonderman 26th overall in 2001, and they haven't popped a prep position player in the first round since selecting Eric Chavez at No. 10 in 1996.
All four of them have the defensive ability to stay behind the plate in pro ball. From a tools standpoint, Stassi has the best bat and most refined defensive ability, while Maddox owns the best pure power and arm strength. Stassi is also the most polished, and I was impressed watching him during the Under Armour All-American Game last August. Rather that try to jack pitches out of Wrigley Field, he focused on using the entire field during a very disciplined batting-practice session.
Bailey has the best all-around tools of the four catchers. He has the best chance to hit for power and average, and he also has a plus arm to go with solid receiving skills. He runs the best of these backstops, too. Myers is the most raw of this group, but he has plus power and arm strength.
It's easy to look at San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg and figure out how he dominates hitters. It's impossible to look at Spence and figure out he's able to do it.
The Australian maxes out at 86 mph and often pitches below that with his fastball. That's not fringe velocity. That's below-average velocity. But he hides his fastball among changeups and curveball delivered from a variety of arm angles and to a variety of locations. After going 27-7, 1.40 with 327 strikeouts in 270 innings in two juco seasons, he has posted similar numbers (8-0, 1.56, 89 strikeouts in 69 innings) for Arizona State.
Spence went undrafted after his freshman year, and lasted until the Diamondbacks took him in the 25th round last year. He's a pure finesse lefthander, and despite his success, that's not a profile that excites teams in the early rounds. Though he's a great college pitcher, he's unlikely to go in the first five rounds of the draft.
That said, I can't wait to see how he fares when he finally enters pro ball. I wouldn't expect continued dominance to this extent, but I wouldn't be stunned to see him reach the majors one day.
Weeks isn't a bust, but it's becoming apparent that he's not going to reach the projections of superstardom many had for him when the Brewers drafted him second overall in 2003 and gave him a $3.6 million bonus.
The all-time leading hitter in NCAA Division I history, Weeks batted .465 in three years at Southern. He reached Milwaukee for good in June 2005 but hasn't been able to translate his lightning bat speed into the expected production. Through Sunday's games, his career averages in the major leagues were just .245/.353/.408.
Weeks is a solid offensive regular by the standards of second base. He does a good job of getting on base and setting the table for a potent Brewers lineup. But he's also a below-average defender at second base and eventually may have to move to a position with greater offensive demands. He's a useful player, though a disappointment in the context of what he was supposed to become.