Prospect Hot Sheet

Mr. Consistency Jay Bruce takes this week's top spot





See also: Previous Prospect Hot Sheets

Jay Bruce was our 2007 Minor League Player of the Year, and our No. 1 prospect on this year's Top 100 Prospects list.

But those accolades don't guarantee him a spot on the Prospect Hot Sheet. And until last week, Bruce hadn't made an appearance on the 2008 version of the Sheet, even though he hit .316/.340/.561 in April. He had been nice, consistent and solid for the first month of the year, but nice and consistent don't always earn player Hot Sheet nods.

There's been nothing nice about Bruce's May. He's decided to destroy the International League, and climb onto the Hot Sheet in the process.

Remember as always, this is not a re-ranking of our Top 100 Prospects list. Instead, it's a snapshot of who are the hottest prospects in baseball right now, with stats form the past week (May 9-15) getting the most consideration. The Why He's Here line in the writeups refers to each player's stats during that time.

Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy, Jim Shonerd and Nathan Rode

No. 1 JAY BRUCE, CF
REDS
Team: Triple-A Louisville (International)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: .632/.682/1.421 (12-for-19), 4 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 9 RBIs, 7 R, 3 BB, 2 SO
The Scoop: Bruce was so good this week that superlatives alone cannot do him justice. (A 2.103 OPS—are you kidding?) In last week's Hot Sheet, we speculated that Bruce was just getting started, because he had reached base in 12 of his last 19 plate appearances. But even we could not have been prepared for this type of offensive onslaught.

Bruce is hitting as well now as he has at any point in his pro career. He finished a single shy of the cycle on Wednesday, though in an encouraging sign, he did draw two unintentional walks in the game. He's batting .366/.398/.662 overall and has hits in nine of his last 10. And for such a young lefty batter, he hangs in against his own side, batting .383/.380/.660 in 47 at-bats.

For a man who owns a .566 career slugging percentage at the Triple-A level (at ages 20 and 21, no less), Bruce needs only to refine his batting eye (seven unintentional walks in 39 games) to get that first call-up to Cincinnati.

No. 2 CHRIS TILLMAN, RHP
ORIOLES
Team: Double-A Bowie (Eastern)
Age: 20
Why He's Here: 12 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0.00 ERA, 5 BB, 15 K
The Scoop: The second-youngest pitcher in Double-A right now is Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw. The youngest? That would be Tillman, who is now 4-0, 2.41 in eight starts. Sure, the walks were a bit high this week, and he has walked 20 batters in 37 1/3 innings, but he is also facing significantly older competition, as most of Tillman's peers are still in high Class A or even low Class A. Despite Tillman's youth, he still has 38 strikeouts—more than one per inning—and he's allowed just 22 hits. Sometimes minor league pitchers get away with marginal stuff with an advanced feel for pitching and the ability to locate pitches against inferior hitters. That's not the case with Tillman, who has a plus fastball and a plus curveball. Tillman mixed both of those pitches yesterday against Erie in his best start yet, when he had nine strikeouts, two walks and allowed three hits in six shutout innings, his best performance yet this year.
No. 3 MATT WIETERS, C
ORIOLES
Team: high Class A Frederick (Carolina)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: .318/.423/.864 (7-for-22), 4 HR, 5 R, 5 RBIs, 3 BB, 3 SO
The Scoop: Wieters has been consistent all season, collecting plenty of hits while drawing walks. He's also simply destroyed lefthanded pitching to the tune of .405/.436/.892 with five home runs in 37 at-bats. Pitchers seem more willing to pitch to him with no one on, and rightfully so, as seven of his nine home runs are of the solo variety. Three of those came in a span of just two games this week. But, he's also been flashing a strong throwing arm. Wieters leads the Carolina League in caught stealing percentage, nailing 46 percent of the runners who have tried to swipe a bag.
No. 4 TREVOR CAHILL, RHP
ATHLETICS
Team: high Class A Stockton (California)
Age: 20
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.66, 13 2/3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 14 K
The Scoop: It took Cahill a little while to get accustomed to full season ball, but once he did, he put the Cal League on notice. Cahill finished last year with a 0.97 ERA in his last nine starts at low Class A Kane County, and his approach is working just as well in the Cal League—strike guys out, and if that doesn't work, get them to ground out. His season groundout-to-fly out ratio now stands at 2.86, and he's amassed 62 whiffs in 50 innings. In eight starts he's yet to lose a game and is 5-0, 1.81 overall. He's also gone at least five innings in each start and five of them have been of the "quality" variety.
No. 5 JAKE ARRIETA, RHP
ORIOLES
Team: high Class A Frederick (Carolina)
Age: 22
Why He's Here: 2-0, 1.38, 13 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 14 K
The Scoop: Arrieta's pro debut has gone swimmingly so far, as he's looking like a fifth-round steal for the Orioles. Arrieta dropped in last year's draft because of a high price tag ($1.1 million) and a poor junior season. Now we know that Arrieta likes wood bats. After compiling a 3.01 ERA at Texas Christian as a junior, he's 4-0, 1.74 this year. He was able to the keep the walk count down this week, but has struggled in that department, issuing at least three free passes in five of his starts.
No. 6 JAIME GARCIA, LHP
CARDINALS
Team: Triple-A Memphis (Pacific Coast)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.00, 7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 SO,
The Scoop: If Garcia is finding life difficult in Triple-A at age 21, he's certainly not letting on. After dominating the Double-A Texas League (he still ranks fifth in strikeouts), the Mexican-born Garcia has stymied PCL batters with his trademark fastball and curveball, striking out 12 batters in 13 innings while allowing two runs (one earned) on 12 hits and a walk. And as he's done throughout his minor league career, he's kept the ball on the ground, registering more than twice as many groundouts as fly outs for Memphis.
No. 7 CHRIS DAVIS, 1B
RANGERS
Team: Double-A Frisco (Texas)
Age: 22
Why He's Here: .565/.593/.913 (13-for-23), 6 R, 5 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBIs, 3 BB, 1 SO
The Scoop: Davis has always had big-time power. The 2006 fifth-round pick is now up to .340/.384/.607 with 10 home runs and 10 doubles in 150 at-bats. With 61 home runs in 986 minor league plate appearances, Davis is averaging a whopping 37 home runs per 600 plate appearances. That figure has gotten a boost from some of the hitter-friendly environments that Davis has played in, but nobody questions his tremendous power. The biggest knock on Davis' offensive game has been his plate discipline; he had 58 walks and 215 strikeouts entering the season, and he has 12 walks and 37 strikeouts in 2008. So it was also impressive that Davis continued to hit for power despite striking out only once in the past seven days.
No. 8 SEAN DOOLITTLE, 1B
ATHLETICS
Team: high Class A Stockton (California)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: .407/.515/.815 (11-for-27), 2 2B, 3 HR, 5 R, 11 RBIs, 6 BB, 7 SO
The Scoop: Some things just defy explanation. In his final two college seasons at Virginia, Sean Doolittle hit 11 home runs in 442 at-bats with metal bats. In his first full pro season, he now has 11 home runs in 152 at-bats. Doolittle is making a case to be promoted from one hitter-friendly league to another. After another monster week, Doolittle has raised his season line to .355/.429/.671. He's tied for first in the league in home runs with teammate Chris Carter, stands alone atop the RBI board and is third in hitting. The strikeouts are piling up, however, as he's whiffed 44 times, nearly once every three at-bats.
No. 9 JASON HEYWARD, RF
BRAVES
Team: low Class A Rome (South Atlantic)
Age: 18
Why He's Here: .450/.500/.700 (9-for-20), 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 BB, 2 SO
The Scoop: It's been an interesting couple of weeks for Heyward. He made the Hot Sheet two weeks ago, fell all the way to the Not-Hot section of last week's edition, and now he's back on the good side of the Hot Sheet. Right now, Heyward is working on a seven-game hitting streak, beginning his week with a double and a home run last Friday against Greenville. He followed that up with five hits over the next two days. Plus, he's doing it in a lineup where he doesn't have much help, as the Braves are one of the SAL's weakest offenses and have only one other regular with an average higher than .270, which helps account for Heyward's low RBI totals.

No. 10 AARON CUNNINGHAM, CF
ATHLETICS
Team: Double-A Midland (Texas)
Age: 22
Why He's Here: .450/.538/.700 (9-for-20), 4 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBIs, 5 BB, 3 SO, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: Cunningham spent the beginning of the season in the disabled list after breaking his left wrist on a slide in a split-squad game in spring training. Cunningham, who joined the A's as part of the deal that sent Dan Haren to Arizona, joined Midland on May 2 and has hit .327/.390/.442 in 13 games. He has reached base in 11 of those games, had at least one hit in 10 games and had a multi-hit game in seven games. Now with his third organization (he was traded to the Diamondbacks by the White Sox in exchange for Danny Richar), Cunningham still has some length to his swing, but his hot start after returning from injury is an encouraging sign.
No. 11 DENARD SPAN, CF
TWINS
Team: Triple-A Rochester (International)
Age: 24
Why He's Here: .440/.548/.920 (11-for-25), 3 2B, 3 HR, 9 R, 5 RBIs, 6 BB, 5 SO, 2-for-3 SB
The Scoop: Span, the Twins' first-round pick in 2002, became the first Red Wing to homer in three consecutive games since Justin Morneau turned the trick in 2004. It's taken the 24-year-old speedster six seasons to reach this point, but he's played well in Triple-A all of this season (.369/.470/.536 in 84 at-bats) after losing a hard-fought battle with Carlos Gomez for the Twins' center-field job this spring. An April trial in Minnesota has given Span a taste of what big league life is like, and he'll resurface there if he keeps hitting like he did this week.
No. 12 PETER BOURJOS, CF
ANGELS
Team: high Class A Rancho Cucamonga (California)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: .467/.485/.600 (14-for-30), 2 2B, 1 3B, 8 R, 2 RBIs, 1 BB, 5 SO, 5-for-6 SB
The Scoop: After missing much of 2007 because of surgery on his left fingers, Bourjos has quietly impressed in a move to high Class A. He's raised his season line to .349/.382/.493. The biggest question has been his hit tool, and he seems to be answering that while displaying good speed with 24 steals in 26 attempts. A 10th-round pick in 2005, Bourjos is expected to show above-average power, but has just one home run so far in the Cal League. He is currently on a seven-game hitting streak and is hitting .419 in the month of May.
No. 13 MICHAEL HOLLIMON, 2B
TIGERS
Team: Triple-A Toledo (International)
Age: 25
Why He's Here: .292/.414/.833 (7-for-24), 1 2B, 4 HR, 6 RBIs, 6 R, 5 BB, 7 SO
The Scoop: Hollimon is not your typical second baseman. Offensively, the switch-hitter resembles a power-hitting corner outfielder who's unafraid to work deep counts. Defensively, he's fine at second base, but lacks the arm to regularly play on the left side of the infield. No matter. A middle-of-the-diamond player who's capable of reeling off weeks like Hollimon did this time around will find work at the next level. And then there's this, Hollimon's .354 isolated power would rank third in the International League, behind corner infielders Mike Hessman and Brad Eldred, if he hadn't missed two weeks at the outset of the season, thus disqualifying him for the batting title at the moment.

IN THE TEAM PHOTO

High Class A Sarasota's Juan Francisco (Reds) continues to light up opposing pitchers. The 20-year-old third baseman went 10-for-18 this week with two doubles and two home runs and six RBIs. In May he's batting .360/.373/.600 . . . High Class A Vero Beach RHP Jeremy Hellickson (Rays) gave up two runs in his only start this week on two solo home runs, but he struck out nine and walked none. The 21-year-old has a staggering 58-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 47 innings . . . Low Class A Burlington SS Mike Moustakas (Royals) didn't stop hitting this week. The 19-year-old Moustakas hit .375/.423/.583 in 24 at-bats, with three doubles and a triple . . . Triple-A Las Vegas 3B Andy LaRoche (Dodgers) is all dressed up with nowhere to go. Back from surgery to repair a thumb ligament, the 24-year-old is tolling in Triple-A while rookie Blake DeWitt continues to set the National League ablaze. LaRoche, taking advantage of hometown Cashman Field, batted .308/.591/.769 (4-for-13) this week with a pair of home runs, five RBIs, six runs, a strikeout and nine walks. You can't blame Pacific Coast League pitchers for their care in facing LaRoche, especially in his own park. He's batted .347/.437/.622 in Las Vegas in parts of the past three seasons . . . Like LaRoche, 23-year-old Ian Stewart (Rockies) is a top third-base prospect at Triple-A who could be in the big leagues right now under different circumstances. And like LaRoche, he took advantage of home cooking this week, playing five of six games in Colorado Springs, while batting .364/.462/.955 (8-for-22) with three doubles, two triples, two home runs, nine RBIs, seven runs, three walks and six strikeouts. Stewart currently ranks seventh among all minor leaguers in home runs (11), ninth in extra-base hits (23), fourth in runs scored (35) and sixth in RBIs (38) . . . Yes, Travis Snider is second in the minors with 58 strikeouts. But the Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays) DH hit .310/.412/.552 in the last seven days with two home runs and 12 RBIs, impressive numbers for a 20-year-old in the Eastern League . . . Is it real, or just an illusion? In his minor league career, Nationals OF Justin Maxwell had 85 walks and 206 strikeouts entering the year. Yet this season with Double-A Harrisburg, Maxwell has more walks (31) than strikeouts (27), leading to a .246/.389/.493 season line in 37 games. Interestingly enough, Maxwell didn't walk once in the last seven days, but the 24-year-old did hit .409/.409/.818 with two homers, a triple, a double and two steals in two attempts.

NOT HOT

Matt Antonelli, 2b, Padres. If it's any consolation to Padres fans, Chase Headley appeared in this same spot just two weeks ago. He, of course, rebounded to rank No. 1 in last week's Hot Sheet. The 23-year-old Antonelli has yet to get it going this year, batting .143/.368/.214 (2-for-14) this week with a double, a run and three strikeouts. He was dropped from Triple-A Portland's leadoff spot in early May and last week was given a couple games off to help clear his head. The silver lining: Antonelli has continued to show a patient approach at the plate. His five walks this week buoyed his on-base percentage, and he has collected 25 free passes on the year in 33 games. Unfortunately, he's hit .183, slugged .333 and stolen just two bases.

Jeff Samardzija, rhp, Cubs. Was Samardzija worth the major league contract worth $10 million that the Cubs gave him after drafting him in the fifth round out of Notre Dame in 2006? It's too early to tell, but the early returns haven't been great. After racking up just 65 strikeouts in 141 2/3 innings last season between high Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, Samardzija has struggled mightily this year: 43 1/3 IP, 47 H, 27 R, 27 ER, 29 BB, 24 SO and a 5.61 ERA. Those numbers include the results of his two outings this week, in which Samardzija lasted a combined six innings, allowing 16 hits and 13 runs (all earned) for an 18.87 ERA with three strikeouts and an alarming nine walks.

Brandon Erbe, rhp, Orioles. It wasn't all gravy for the Orioles system this week. They landed three players in the top five of the Hot Sheet, but Erbe had a rough outing for high Class A Frederick. Against Salem he went five innings, allowing six runs on eight hits. He also walked one and hit two batters while striking out just three. He is now 3-3, 5.53 on the year.

Cody Johnson, lf, Braves. Johnson is on this list not just because of his week (2-for-15), but also because he's been the minors' most prolific strikeout victim in 2008. Johnson uses an aggressive approach that lends itself to a lot of strikeouts, but he's been fanning at an alarming rate so far. Through Thursday's games, Johnson leads all minor leaguers in strikeouts with 65 in 39 games and he's gone down on strikes at least once in an astounding 29 consecutive games, a streak that dates back to April 11. To top it off, he committed a costly error when a fly ball went off his glove on Wednesday in extra innings against Augusta, allowing the winning run to score.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

ACTIVE HR LEADERS
Mike Hessman 272
Scott McClain 270
Andy Tracy 216
Kevin Barker 210
Russ Branyan 206
Jack Cust 200
Jason Wood 179
Justin Leone 162
Josh Phelps 160
Dee Brown 153
Joe Dillon 152
Randy Ruiz 152
Val Pascucci 152
Sal Fasano 150
To qualify, a player must have had an at-bat in an affiliated major or minor league this season. Stats are updated through May 14.
Mike Hessman, 3b, Tigers. Every year, Triple-A will spit out a longtime minor leaguer who puts together an amazing season. Craig Brazell was last year's winner, as he parlayed 39 minor league home runs into a brief Kansas City callup and a big contract in Japan. This year, Hessman has already wrapped up that title, and it's only mid-May. His 18 home runs are four more than anyone else in the minors, thanks in large part to his six home runs in the past week.

Hitting home runs is nothing new for the 30-year-old Californian. He took over the active minor league lead with his 17th home run of the season, leaping past Scott McClain.
Hessman has earned the title of 'the mayor of Toledo.' He arrived in Toledo in 2005, and has settled in to hit 101 home runs for the Mud Hens since then. Considering his age, Hessman has a chance to finish his career with more than 400 minor league home runs—he has hit at least 18 home runs in each of the past 12 seasons. But then at 30, he's still young enough to have a chance at a big league career. He's had brief callups with Atlanta and Detroit in the past, but his low batting average (.227 minor league career average heading into 2008) and strikeouts have always stood in the way.  It's unlikely he'll continue to hit .300 like he is now (.305/.382/.740), but if the improved average is a sign of more than just a hot streak, Hessman could earn at least one more shot at a big league job.

HELIUM WATCH

CORY VANALLEN, LHP
NATIONALS
Team: Double-A  Harrisburg (Eastern)
Age: 23
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K
The Scoop: VanAllen's Double-A performance merits at least a mention. Since joining Harrisburg, VanAllen has allowed one run in 12 2/3 innings (0.71 ERA) with three walks and 11 strikeouts. Let's not get carried away, though—he's 88-92, touched 94 mph with a changeup and a slurvy slider. But he's also lefthanded, so he'll be given more opportunities than righthanders of equal ability.
EDWARD CEGARRA, RHP
ROYALS
Team: low Class A Burlington (Midwest)
Age: 19
Why He's Here: 0-2, 3.21, 14 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 12 SO
The Scoop: To say that Cegarra was under the radar entering the season would be quite an understatement. Although Cegarra's numbers this week aren't really eye-popping, his body of work over the course of the season deserves notice. Cegarra, who features a fastball that can touch 93 mph and an above-average curveball, is in his first season as a full-time starter. Through his first six appearances (5 starts and one relief appearance) of 2008, Cegarra piled up a stunning 37-1 K-BB ratio. Although that ratio took a hit this week, he still owns a 49-4 total for the season. He's not just a control freak either—he hadn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his first six starts before Wisconsin got to him for four on Thursday night.