Prospect Hot Sheet

Orioles arms Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman dominate ranking





See also: Previous Prospect Hot Sheets


It's unfortunate that only one player can rank No. 1 on the Hot Sheet, because this week two players are worthy of the honor. Choosing between Orioles Double-A lefty Brian Matusz and Nationals low Class A catcher Derek Norris was nearly impossible. But know that both are coming off of amazing weeks.

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 taken from the past week of games (July 3-9).


Contributing: Ben Badler, Dan Budreiika, Jesse Burkhart, J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy, Matt Forman and Jim Shonerd.

No. 1 BRIAN MATUSZ, LHP
ORIOLES
Brian MatuszTeam: Double-A Bowie (Eastern)
Age: 22
Why He's Here: 2-0, 1.76, 15 1/3 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 14 SO
The Scoop: Who are Jonel Pacheco and Kevin Mahar? They're the only two players who have scored against Matusz in his four Double-A starts. In fact, they're the only two players who have scored against Matusz in nearly two months, as Matusz tossed 20 shutout innings in his last three starts for high Class A Frederick prior to his promotion. The quibbles with his game right now are relatively minor.

"He doesn't pitch off the fastball enough, and that's about the only thing you can say negatively right now," said one scout. "He will because it's good enough, but he will have to pitch off it more in the majors. His fastball has a little late life, and it's solid-average, but that just make it his third- or fourth-best pitch."

So the question becomes, who would you take: Matusz or Tillman? Though Matusz is No. 1 on the Hot Sheet, we chose to give Tillman the slightest of edgesright now. Luckily for the Orioles, they don't have to choose.

2009 Stats
No. 2 DEREK NORRIS, C
NATIONALS
Derek NorrisTeam: low Class A Hagerstown (South Atlantic)
Age: 20
Why He's Here: .400/.545/1.160 (10-for-25), 1 2B, 6 HR, 11 RBIs, 8 BB, 5 SO
The Scoop: Coming into the season, Norris was a disciplined hitter, but the Nationals wanted him to be more aggressive with two strikes. Now Norris is unleashing an aggressive assault on the South Atlantic League, where in 81 games he is hitting .317/.417/.596. His recent stretch of six dingers in four games pushed his season total to 20, tops in the league. Norris also leads the league in OPS and ranks second in both on-base and slugging. There is plenty of young catching talent in the game right now, and it's time to include Norris among the top of the crop.
2009 Stats
No. 3 CHRIS TILLMAN, RHP
ORIOLES
Chris TillmanTeam: Triple-A Norfolk (International)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: 2-0, 0.00, 13 2/3 IP, 10 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 13 SO
The Scoop: Anything else you would like Tillman to do? The 6-foot-5 righthander didn't allow a run in his last two starts and has made strides in polishing his control this season. After walking three batters in four innings in his first two starts, he's walked three batters in only one of his last 14 starts, averaging just 2.3 walks per nine innings. His Triple-A numbers aren't quite as spectacular as Braves righthander Tommy Hanson's were this season, but a 2.45 ERA in 86 1/3 innings with 88 punchouts and 22 walks is pretty sharp for a 21-year-old.
2009 Stats
No. 4 JORDAN LYLES, RHP
ASTROS
Jordan LylesTeam: low Class A Lexington (South Atlantic)
Age: 18
Why He's Here: 0-0, 0.00, 7 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 SO
The Scoop: The Astros ponied up $930,000 to sign Lyles, a supplemental first-round pick in '08, away from potentially playing both baseball and football at South Carolina. It's looking like Lyles picked the right profession. He won't turn 19 until October, yet he's dominated Sally League hitters almost all season. Lyles' overpowering fastball has helped him rack up 118 strikeouts in 95 2/3 innings, good for second in the league, and he's allowed three or fewer runs in all but two of his 17 starts on the season.
2009 Stats
No. 5 TRAVIS WOOD, LHP
REDS
Travis WoodTeam: Double-A Carolina (Southern)
Age: 22
Why He's Here: 0-0, 0.69 ERA, 13 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 13 SO
The Scoop: Wood's season has become nearly indescribable. He's 8-3, 1.29 in 18 starts, having not allowed more than three earned runs in any start and having given up no runs in seven different outings. If he can keep up this ERA, he will finish the year with the best full-season ERA since Justin Verlander put together a 1.29 figure between high Class A and Double-A in 2005. And Wood has gotten better as the season has gone along: he has a 1.01 ERA since the start of June with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 52-to-8 in his past 53 innings. That ratio during the first two months of the season was a much more pedestrian 43-to-29 in 59 innings.

2009 Stats
No. 6 HECTOR RONDON, RHP
INDIANS
Hector RondonTeam: Triple-A Columbus (International)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.00, 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 SO
The Scoop: After sparkling in his first Triple-A start, Rondon makes an authoritative Hot Sheet debut. In six scoreless innings against Indianapolis, the 6-foot-3 righthander didn't allow a single hit, walking two and striking out eight. The immediate success at Columbus is just a continuation of an impressive Double-A stint in which he went 7-5, 2.75 with 16 walks and 73 strikeouts in 72 innings with Akron. A 2004 signee out of Venezuela, Rondon can credit a low-90s fastball with running life and an above-average changeup for his relatively quick ascent to the highest minor league level. Rondon was added to the 40-man roster in November after impressing Indians officials with a solid high Class A campaign last year, but at this rate of success, he'll find his name on the active roster sooner rather than later.
2009 Stats
No. 7 JASON HEYWARD, RF
BRAVES
Jason HeywardTeam: Double-A Mississippi (Southern)
Age: 19
Why He's Here: .333/.444/.619 (7-for-21), 2 2B, 2 3B, 6 RBIs, 1 R, 4 BB, 0 SO
The Scoop: Heyward flourished in his first week in Double-A and earned the No. 1 ranking on our Midseason Top 25 Prospects. The '07 first-round pick had an invitation to the Carolina League's all-star game but missed it with a hip injury. He'll make up for that absence by playing in the Futures Game this Sunday in St. Louis. Heyward finished out his time in the CL with a .296/.369/.519 line with 10 home runs for high Class A Myrtle Beach. Four of Heyward's first seven hits in Mississippi went for extra bases and he legged out two triples. He could force his way into Atlanta's outfield picture sometime next year. 
2009 Stats
No. 8 ZEKE SPRUILL, RHP
BRAVES
Zeke SpruilTeam: low Class A Rome (Braves)
Age: 19
Why He's Here: 0-0, 0.00, 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 10 SO
The Scoop: Spruill, a 2008 second-round pick out of a suburban Altanta high school, has had a solid but relatively unspectacular year. Though he's gone 7-4, 3.02, his success had been based much more on consistency
than dominance. For example, he has allowed more than three earned runs only once in 14 starts. But facing off against Lexington's Jordan Lyles (see above), Spruill showed that he can rise to the occasion. He carried a perfect game into the sixth inning and left with the score still tied at zero after eight innings.
2009 Stats
No. 9 MATT MOORE, LHP
RAYS
Matt MooreTeam: low Class A Bowling Green (South Atlantic)
Age: 20
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.66, 13 2/3 IP, 10 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 15 SO
The Scoop: Moore's fastball/curveball mix has baffled opposing hitters all year. But for much of the first half of the season, teams could still piece together rallies since he would hand out too many free passes. Not anymore. Moore has been ironing out the control problems that plagued the first two-plus years of his pro career, handing out two or fewer walks in seven straight starts. Not surprisingly, opponents have had a pretty hard time scoring against him over over those seven starts, as he's allowed only six earned runs in that span, covering 41 1/3 innings.
2009 Stats
No. 10 CODY SCARPETTA, RHP
BREWERS
Cody ScarpettaTeam: low Class A Wisconsin (Midwest)
Age: 20
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.00, 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 13 SO
The Scoop: Scarpetta is an unusual case as a low Class A pitcher who's already on his organization's 40-man roster. An 11th-round pick in 2007, his orgiginal contract was voided due to a finger injury, forcing the Brewers to re-sign him and add him to their 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. If all that put any pressure on Scarpetta, he hasn't pitched like it. His record is an underwhelming 2-6, but he has a solid 3.08 ERA and has racked up 77 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings. Scarpetta rarely pitches deep into games—the six innings he threw Wednesday matched his longest outing of the year—but he's big and strong at 6-foot-3, 242 pounds and features a sinking fastball that reaches the mid 90s. He backs it up with a tough curveball.
2009 Stats
No. 11 JAMIE McOWEN, RF
MARINERS
Jamie McOwenTeam: high Class A High Desert (California)
Age: 23
Why He's Here: .455/.538/.682 (10-for-22), 1 HR, 1 3B, 5 RBIs, 3 R, 4 BB, 6 SO, 0-for-1 SB
The Scoop: You may have heard: McOwen is in the midst of the longest hitting streak in the minors in half a century. Though he received a night off yesterday, McOwen's run remains intact at 45 games, a new Cal League record. A sixth-round pick from Florida International in '07, McOwen previously had been regarded as a potential big league reserve outfielder. And while that profile may not have deviated—he's got a sweet lefty swing and solid defensive chops, if not a ton of power—he's certainly secured his place in minor league history.
2009 Stats
No. 12 MAT LATOS, RHP
PADRES
Mat LatosTeam: Double-A San Antonio (Texas)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: 1-0, 2.00, 9 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 SO
The Scoop: The Texas League is proving to be just another speedbump for the hard-throwing righthander. Latos had allowed one hit in three of his first eight Double-A starts, but he did that one better on Thursday as he threw five perfect innings against Northwest Arkansas. Latos could have gone longer, but his outing was cut short after 58 pitches (42 of which were strikes) so that he could be ready for this weekend's Futures Game, where he'll showcase his 95 mph fastball that is one of the best in baseball.
2009 Stats
No. 13 ESMIL ROGERS, RHP
ROCKIES
Esmil RogersTeam: Double-A Tulsa (Texas) / Triple-A Colorado Springs (Pacific Coast)
Age: 23
Why He's Here: 2-0, 2.08, 13 IP, 13 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 2 BB, 13 SO
The Scoop: Rogers may be more machine than man. (As opposed to Homer Simpson, who's more stomach than man.) Pitching in the PCL is tough, Rogers learned, especially when one has to go about it on the road in Salt Lake. So while he took his lumps last night, giving up three runs on nine hits in six innings versus the Bees (and surrendering his first home run in a month), Rogers did pitch well enough to fan five batters and pick up the win. He remains the Texas League's leader in strikeouts (83), while ranking runner-up with eight wins and a 2.48 ERA.
2009 Stats

IN THE TEAM PHOTO

Since returning from his callup to the Rays in late May, Durham SS Reid Brignac has been on a tear. In the 20 games since his 21-game stint with Tampa Bay, Brignac, 23, has hit .319 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. The '04 second-round pick has hit safely in six straight games, including three multi-hit games and one in which he launched two long balls. It's a good sign for the Rays, because after getting the call last year, Brignac hit .188 down the stretch for the Bulls . . . Low Class A Rome RHP J.J. Hoover (Braves) may have been winless this week, but the 22-year old turned in two solid outings, striking out 17 batters in 12 innings. Hoover, a 10th-round pick in 2008 out of Calhoun (Ala.) CC, the same school that produced Jorge Posada, is 3-4, 3.16 with 92 strikeouts in 79 2/3 innings. Hoover, who helped lead Harwich to the Cape Cod League title last year, opened his first full professional season in the bullpen, but has settled into the rotation nicely . . . It's taken some time, but high Class A Jupiter 3B Matt Dominguez (Marlins) is catching up to the Florida State League. Dominguez, 19, already has hit almost as many home runs in July (four) as he did in the first three months of the season combined (five). He batted .421/.538/.842 (8-for-19) for the week, upping his average for the year to a more respectable .258, after it had sunk as low as .211 in late May . . . Double-A Jacksonville 1B Logan Morrison (Marlins) looks like he's all the way back from the wrist fracture that cost him two months. The 21-year-old hit .385/.467/.731 (10-for-26) on the week, highlighted by Sunday's game in Mississippi when he went 5-for-6 with two doubles and a home run . . . When historians recount the story of the 2009 Southern League season, an entire chapter could be devoted to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Halman. No minor leaguer experiences the high and lows—the good and the bad—quite like 21-year-old Mariners CF Greg Halman. While he's batting just .216 for Double-A West Tenn, he's also connected for a league-leading 20 home runs and has slugged .482. While he has struck out 118 times in 282 at-bats—or roughly 42 percent of the time—he's also driven in 52 runs in 72 games, homering eight times with runners on base. Halman was quite productive this week, collecting a hit in every game he played and batting .414/.433/.931 (12-for-29) with four home runs (doubling up in consecutive games at Huntsville), three doubles, 10 RBIs and eight runs scored. He struck out 10 times and walked once, though, suggesting that Mr. Hyde could re-emerge at any time . . . You can call him Jon. Or you can call him Jonathon. Either way, Triple-A Buffalo LHP Jon Niese (Mets) has come up aces since an ugly start to his season. (That would be 0-5, 8.05 through start No. 8.) So how did he go about transforming from one of the International League's worst starters to one of its best (1.99 ERA, 45 strikeouts over past seven starts)? We caught up with the 22-year-old Niese recently (a full report is forthcoming), and he attributes the improvement to a re-dedication to the three C's: his curveball, changeup and cutter. He started once this week and turned in one of his finest minor league efforts, a five-hit, 10-whiff shutout at Rochester. He walked two and hit another batter, which helps account for the 126 pitches he threw . . . As expected, low Class A Hickory LHP Martin Perez (Rangers) turned in another gem on Sunday, but achieved it in an unexpected fashion. His advanced command and tendency to pitch down in the zone have resulted in a solid 1.66 groundout/airout ratio on the season, but of the 15 outs he got against Hagerstown, only two of them came via groundballs. Perez, 18, struck out eight more in five total innings, allowing just three hits to earn his third win of the year.

NOT-SO HOT SHEET

Jeff Marquez, rhp, White Sox: The White Sox have had a lot of success in turning around the careers of seemingly failed pitching prospects. But Marquez looks to be one prospect who is on the wrong track. Picked up in the Nick Swisher trade, Marquez is 1-7, 10.35 in nine starts. He's allowed 15 runs in his past seven innings and opponents are hitting .363 against him. Marquez's last outing on Tuesday was especially bad—2 IP, 9 H, 7 ER—and he's made it out of the fifth only once in nine tries.

Dan Cortes, rhp, Royals: On the field, Cortes had a solid week as he allowed two runs in six innings in his only outing. But off the field, it was a rough one for Cortes as he was arrested and was facing charges of public drunkeness and disorderly conduct. On the field, Cortes' overall numbers (6-6, 3.92) are solid, but he has to improve his command—he's walked 50 batters in 80 innings, ninth most in the minors.

Derrick Robinson, cf, Royals: Robinson is one of the best athletes in baseball, but that doesn't mean much if you can't get on base. Sent back to high Class A Wilmington for a second season, Robinson's numbers are actually significantly worse than they were a year ago. Robinson took up switch-hitting late, and his lefthanded swing has never looked particularly natural, but now his righthanded swing isn't much better—he has a sub .600 OPS from both sides of the plate. He's 2-for-28 (.071) in July, but he's yet to post an on-base or slugging percentage above .320 in any month this season.

Xavier Avery, cf, Orioles. One of the best pure athletes in last year's draft, Avery passed on a Georgia football scholarship to sign with the Orioles for $900,000. His rawness as a baseball player now is readily apparent. Not surprisingly, Avery, 19, has had his ups and downs with low Class A Delmarva, hitting .255/.309/.336 for the year. This week was one of the downs, as he hit just .050/.050/.100 (1-for-20) with six strikeouts..

MEN AMONG BOYS

Dexter Carter, rhp, White Sox: Carter dominated low Class A competition in his past two starts, posting a 23-2 K-BB mark in 15 innings. While he allowed four runs yesterday against Lakewood, he walked only one and struck out a season-high 14 batters. Whiffing batters in bunches is nothing new for the 22-year-old Carter, who on the season has a minor league-leading 120 strikeouts with 28 walks and a 3.62 ERA in 97 innings. But while righthander Dan Hudson (his college roommate and Pioneer League teammate last year) has already rocketed up to Double-A Birmingham, Carter has yet to budge from Kannapolis. It's a bit of mystery as to why not, given how rapidly other prospects are advancing up the White Sox' organizational ladder.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

Indianapolis-based freelancer Pete Cava brings us the following:

Wes Whisler, lhp, White Sox. Triple-A Charlotte lefthander Wes Whisler has played his way into the organization's periphery (or on to the 40-man, at least) by going 5-6, 3.45 through 15 starts in the International League.
 
But he's lucky just to be up and walking. Whisler narrowly avoided a devastating injury as a high school senior. Playing for the Noblesville (Ind.) High basketball team in the spring of 2000, he was undercut while going up for a shot. He landed awkwardly, hit head smacking sharply against the hardwood floor.

Whisler couldn't move and for a moment and he thought he was paralyzed. He'd suffered a concussion of the spinal cord and head and was hospitalized for four days, including a day and a half in intensive care. For the next two weeks he wore a neck brace.
 
The injury ended Whisler's basketball days and sidelined him for the opening day of the baseball season. Back in the lineup, he clubbed a home run that traveled an estimated 420 feet. He finished the year as Indiana's Mr. Baseball and played for Team USA's junior national team at the Pan American Junior Championships in Hermosillo, Mexico.
 
Drafted by the Cubs, Whisler opted to enter UCLA that fall. In 2002 he ranked among the Pacific-10 Conference's top pitchers and power hitters. His 18 homers were a school freshman record.
 
When the White Sox took Wes in the second round of the 2004 draft, they asked if he wanted to pitch or play first base. "Whatever gets me to the big leagues faster," he replied.
 
The White Sox recommended pitching, but Whisler took occasional turns as a DH in the minor leagues. Eventually, Chicago's front office issued instructions to use him only on the mound. As of today, Whisler's major league experience consists of only 1 1/3 innings.
 
"I'd like to see him traded to a National League team," says Mike Whisler, Wes' father. "He can still whack the ball."

HELIUM WATCH

Michael Kirkman, lhp, Rangers: In seven starts with high Class A Bakersfield, Kirkman did what many of the game's top pitching prospects are unable to do—conquer the California League. Kirkman escaped the Cal League with a 2.06 ERA, and since moving to Double-A Frisco he has continued his success. It's easy to get lost in the wave of Rangers pitching prospects, but the 22-year-old Kirkman looks like a future big leaguer with a low-90s fastball and an above-average breaking ball.