Athletics' Michael Choice takes over the top spot





Mike Trout, we wish you well.

Baseball's second-best prospect has been one of our regulars on the Hot Sheet for a year and a half now, ever since he started destroying the Midwest League last April. Now, even though he's still a teenager, he's heading to the big leagues, making tonight's Mariners-Angels game a must-watch.

Unfortunately, we couldn't find a spot for Trout on this week's Hot Sheet, as his .300/.323/.367 line this week was nice but not spectacular. But he won't be forgotten.

Remember that the Prospect Hot Sheet is not a re-ranking of the Top 100 Prospects. This is a snapshot of which top prospects are excelling and which ones are struggling right now. Stats cover the period from July 1-7.

Contributing: Ben Badler, J.J. Cooper, Kyle Dugan, Michael Kanen and Jim Shonerd.

No. 1 MICHAEL CHOICE, LF
ATHLETICS
Michael Choice
Team: High Class A Stockton (California)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: .448/.500/1.069 (13-for-29), 5 HR, 3 2B, 14 RBIs, 6 R, 3 BB, 6 SO, 1-for-2 SB
The Scoop: The A's have been waiting for a power bat to come along to help out their outstanding pitching staff. While we shouldn't give up on Chris Carter and Michael Taylor yet, neither has produced at the major league level, leaving Choice as the next hope for filling that void.

Choice has worked to cut down on the moving parts in his swing that he had in college. The results have been positive, as his average has climbed 36 points in the last month, from .237 on June 8 to .273. One thing that's always been there is Choice's plus power. If you go back to his pro debut last year, he has 29 homers in 110 professional games, including 22 this year. Choice took it to another level this week, homering in five consecutive games to move into a tie for the Cal League lead. Granted, the last three came at the launching pad that is High Desert, but it's clear by now that Choice's power is no fluke.

2011 Stats

No. 2 MATT MOORE, LHP
RAYS
Team: Double-A Montgomery (Southern)
Age: 22
Why He's Here: 2-0, 1.29, 14 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 18 Ks.
The Scoop: In other organizations, Moore would be bucking for a big league promotion. He has led the minors in strikeouts in each of the past two seasons, and has shown significant improvement in his command, and he shows three plus pitches. In other words, he's the best pitching prospect in baseball.

But the Rays aren't a team that looks at short-term gain as much as long-term success. And considering how they've developed David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and others, it's hard to argue with their approach. So Moore will likely continue to polish his craft in Double-A before a promotion to Triple-A.
2011 Stats

No. 3 BRETT JACKSON, CF
CUBS
Team: Double-A Tennessee (Southern)
Age: 22
Why He's Here: .440/.548/.840 (11-for-25), 4 R, 1 2B, 3 HR, 5 RBIs, 6 BB, 8 SO, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: There isn't a 70 grade anywhere on Jackson's scouting report, but he does so many things well and does it at a premium position that he has become one of the best prospects in the game. Even when Jackson is at his best, he'll do his share of swinging and missing, but he works deep counts and get on base at a high clip. He doesn't have plus power, but he should hit 15-20 home runs a year, which combined with his on-base potential and solid defensive abilities should have him banging down the door in Chicago by next season.

2011 Stats

No. 4 TAIJUAN WALKER, RHP
MARINERS
Team: Low Class A Clinton (Midwest)
Age:
18
Why He's Here:
1-0, 1.50, 2 GS, 12 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 6 BB, 19 SO
The Scoop:
Walker bounced back from his worst start of the season with two sterling starts this week. He gave up five earned runs in five innings on June 27, thanks primarily to handing out five walks. He still had good stuff that night, though, as he managed to strike out eight, and he fanned at least eight in four straight starts. He had his best outing of the year Thursday against Cedar Rapids, striking out 11 over six shutout innings. Being the youngest pitcher in the Midwest League hasn't fazed Walker, as he improved to 3-4, 2.76 in 62 innings.

2011 Stats

No. 5 WILL MIDDLEBROOKS, 3B
RED SOX
Team: Double-A Portland (Eastern)
Age: 22
Why He's Here: .469/.500/.656 (15-for-32), 8 R, 3 2B, 1 HR, 9 RBIs, 2 BB, 7 SO
The Scoop: Middlebrooks has shown flashes of dominance in the past, but he has never been able to put it all together over the course of a full season. We're still at the halfway point, but he has been outstanding so far, hitting .322/.366/.508 overall this season in Double-A. The Red Sox wouldn't mind if he drew more walks, but he has the potential to hit for average and power. And while most players with his size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) end up at first base or a corner outfield spot, Middlebrooks is athletic and one of the better defensive third basemen in the minors.

2011 Stats

No. 6 TRAVIS D'ARNAUD, C
BLUE JAYS
Team: Double-A New Hampshire (Eastern)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: .481/.500/.963 (13-for-27), 4 2B, 3 HR, 6 RBIs, 1 BB, 5 Ks.
The Scoop: It's hard to find catching; just take a look at the backstops the Giants have put in the lineup since Buster Posey went down. So while D'Arnaud's all-around game would make him a well-regarded prospect whatever position he played, as a catcher with bat skills and solid defense he's one of the top prospects in the minors.

His .313/.387/.541 line this season is excellent for a 21-year-old in Double-A, and he's thrown out 32.7 percent of opposing basestealers. He may not have the power of current Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, but his better overall hitting approach and better work behind the plate should push Arencibia aside eventually.
2011 Stats

No. 7 TYLER SKAGGS, LHP
DIAMONDBACKS
Team: High Class A Visalia (California)
Age: 19
Why He's Here: 1-0, 1.80, 2 GS, 10 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 14 Ks.
The Scoop: Making sense of California League performance always takes more work than just staring at the stats. Skaggs' 5-5, 3.22 line pitching in at Visalia is just a further sign that he's one of the most intriguing pitching prospects in the game. It has been a very good year for the Diamondbacks system, especially when it comes to pitchers, and Skaggs is the most desirable jewel in the crown.

2011 Stats

No. 8 MIKE MONTGOMERY, LHP
ROYALS
Team: Triple-A Omaha (Pacific Coast)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.77, 2 GS, 11 2/3 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 12 Ks
The Scoop: In 2010, Montgomery pretty much lived on the Hot Sheet. But Triple-A has proven much tougher for the young lefty. After taking a start off, Montgomery celebrated his 21st birthday by putting together his best back-to-back starts of his season. Montgomery's biggest problem this year has been his lack of command. When he has fallen behind hitters, he doesn't have the curveball he needs to keep hitters off his fastball.

Those are concerns, and reasons he's still in Triple-A, but overall, it's hard to not still like a lefty who has a plus changeup and a plus-plus fastball. Whether his last two starts are a sign he's figured things out, Montgomery's long-term future is still bright.
2011 Stats

No. 9 TREVOR PLOUFFE, SS
TWINS
Team: Triple-A Rochester (International)
Age: 25
Why He's Here: .357/.455/.821 (10-for-28), 1 2B, 4 HR, 7 RBIs, 5 BB, 4 Ks.
The Scoop: Called up in early May in the thick of Minnesota's injury bonanza, Plouffe got a chance to stick as the Twins' shortstop. After a hot start, the 2004 first-rounder endured a 1-for-22 stretch that drew a demotion back to Triple-A Rochester on June 3. Since then, Plouffe has done everything in his control to get back to Target Field, hitting .323 with nine home runs for the Red Wings. He went on a power surge this week, blasting four home runs, and has already eclipsed his career home run mark with 18 across two levels. Although he doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify for a batting title yet, he's third in the International League in homers and could be back in Minnesota before long.
2011 Stats

No. 10 ROBBIE ROSS, LHP
RANGERS
Team: High Class A Myrtle Beach (Carolina)
Age: 21
Why He's Here: 0-0, 0.00, 2 GS, 11 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 13 Ks.
The Scoop: Ross has to be thankful the Rangers moved their high Class A affiliation from the Cal League to the Carolina League in the offseason. His work for Bakersfield last year (5.36 ERA in 52 innings) was less than inspiring. Now with Myrtle Beach, Ross has been dominant, with a 2.36 ERA through 96 innings, a league-leading eight wins and strong peripherals (3.24 strikeout-to-walk ratio). A second-half promotion to Double-A Frisco isn't out of the question, but the Rangers might want to take it slow with Ross, who has had consistency problems with his secondary stuff in the past.
2011 Stats

No. 11 MIGUEL SANO, 3B/SS
TWINS
Team:  Rookie-league Elizabethton (Appalachian)
Age: 18
Why He's Here: .379/.419/.793 (11-for-29), 3 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 6 RBIs, 2 BB, 8 Ks, 1 SB, 1 CS
The Scoop: In general, it's tougher to make the Prospect Hot Sheet from a short-season league. The players are further from the big leagues, and it's easier to post gaudy stats, especially if you're a more advanced player facing off against younger opponents.

But in Sano's case, it's hard to say he's old for his league. He's just two years removed from signing his $3.15 million deal with the Twins out of the Dominican Republic. He has done nothing but live up to his scouting reports so far: great bat with the swing and bat speed to be a high-average hitter with power. This week was more of the same for Sano, as he piled up doubles and a surprising number of triples for a player with average speed.

2011 Stats

No. 12 WILY PERALTA, RHP
BREWERS
Team:  Double-A Huntsville (Southern)
Age: 22
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.00, 13.2 IP, 9 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 11 SO
The Scoop: Peralta has steadily improved each season since Tommy John surgery knocked him out for all of 2007. After posting a 3.61 ERA and a 29-24 K-BB mark in eight starts last year with Double-A Huntsville, Peralta's ERA (3.95) is up slightly this year, but scouts have been more impressed. He throws a low-90s fastball that reaches the mid-90s, and he has improved his strikeout-to-walk numbers, with 86 whiffs and 36 walks in 87 innings. He's also the rare pitcher who gets both strikeouts and groundballs. If he can stay healthy, Peralta has the potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter.
2011 Stats

No. 13 TIM WHEELER, LF
ROCKIES
Team: Double-A Tulsa (Texas)
Age: 23
Why He's Here: .345/.367/.793 (10-for-29), 5 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 6 RBIs, 1 BB, 9 SO, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: Wheeler's breakout season keeps rolling. The 2009 first-round pick out of Sacramento State hit .252/.338/.383 with 17 home runs in his first season and a half, and this year his power outburst has produced one of the best offensive seasons in the minors. Wheeler has 22 homers in 82 games, with a .316/.398/.602 line that gives him a pretty 1.000 OPS. He has always had plus raw power, but there were questions about how usable it would be. Wheeler is answering those questions with a home run total that ties him for fourth in the minors, just three behind minor league leader Paul Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks.

2011 Stats


IN THE TEAM PHOTO

Giants LHP Eric Surkamp doesn't blow hitters away with heat, but he can command his breaking pitches and Eastern League hitters haven't figured him out. Surkamp, 23, turned in his latest gem with Double-A Richmond on Monday, striking out a season-high 11 and allowing two hits over 5 2/3 shutout innings. He has won four straight starts and improved to 7-3, 1.61 on the year, giving him the third-best ERA in the minors . . . Astros OF J.D. Martinez has followed his breakout 2010 season with a .333/.402/.522 line so far with Double-A Corpus Christi, continuing to prove he can flat out hit. Martinez, 23, showed pop this week as well, homering three times to bring his season total to nine. He put together five straight multi-hit games while batting .458/.536/.958 (11-for-24) and mixing in a double, a triple and eight RBIs on the week . . . Cubs LHP Austin Kirk began his Independence Day by walking the first batter he faced. Then he set down 14 consecutive batters before another walk in the sixth, the only other baserunner he allowed in low Class A Peoria's 2-0 win over Clinton. Kirk, 21, completed his no-hitter with 10 strikeouts, breaking a three-game losing streak and evening his record at 5-5, 2.60. Kirk was a third-round pick out of high school in Oklahoma in 2009 . . . Yankees RHP D.J. Mitchell was in top form last Saturday, retiring the first eight hitters he faced en route to a seven-inning one-hitter as Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre defeated Pawtucket, 7-0. Mitchell, 24, was also missing bats, racking up five swinging strikeouts out of his seven total. Mitchell doesn't get as much attention as some of his teammates, but his feel for pitching and changeup mean he'll probably be a useful middle reliever someday . . . Because Nationals LHP Tom Milone does not have overpowering stuff, he has had to prove himself every step of the way through the Nationals farm system since he was plucked in the 10th round out of Southern California in 2008. After two seasons with 12 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA, Milone is now knocking on the door in Washington following a hot start to July at Triple-A Syracuse. In two starts this week, the 24-year-old threw 13 innings while surrendering one run, striking out 12 and walking two. On July 7 against Pawtucket, Milone allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings . . . A 2010 second-rounder out of a California high school, Rangers RHP Cody Buckel began the year in the bullpen for low Class A Hickory but has made a seamless transition to the rotation, posting a 2.16 ERA over five starts in June.  Listed at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds with a Tim Lincecum-esque delivery, Buckel did his best Lincecum impression this week, throwing 5 1/3 one-hit innings while striking out 10 and walking one. What's more impressive might be the 5-to-1 groundout-to-flyout ratio he posted . . . Rockies LHP Edwar Cabrera moved up from low Class A Asheville in late June as the minor league leader with 110 strikeouts in 86 innings. Now with high Class A Modesto, Cabrera was continuing to rack up strikeouts at a meteoric rate. An undersized lefty whose best pitch is his changeup, Cabrera, 23, struck out 17 in two starts covering 12 innings this week, allowing three earned runs. He has struck out 25 in 19 innings since his promotion.


NOT-SO HOT SHEET

• Jonathan Schoop, 3b, Orioles: Schoop, 19, has been on the rise since signing out of Curacao in 2008, and he mashed at low Class A Delmarva to earn a promotion to high Class A Frederick, but he was off to a slow start there. Schoop is hitting .216/.252/.275 in 26 games for the Keys, including a stretch this week when he went 1-for-18.

Rafael Rodriguez, of, Giants: It was a head-scratcher when the Giants' signed Rodriguez for a $2.55 million bonus in 2008, and he has never answered questions about his bat. Rodriguez, 18, went 1-for-21 this week, dropping his line with low Class A Augusta down to .230/.276/.296 through 64 games. He still has a big, projectable frame, but has never shown a feel for hitting, and with three home runs in 143 career games, his power hasn't shown up either.

Hayden Simpson, lhp, Cubs: The Cubs' bucked conventional wisdom when they picked Simpson in the first round of the 2010 draft, after seeing him pitch well late in the season during the Division II playoffs. Up to now, you have to score one for conventional wisdom. Simpson has not come close to showing the 94-97 mph velocity he showed the Cubs last year, and his fastball has failed to bump 90 in some starts. He scuffled in the low Class A Midwest League in the first half of the season, going 1-6, 5.72, so the Cubs sent him back to the Rookie-level Arizona League. Facing significantly younger and less experienced players hasn't gotten him going either. He allowed five runs, five hits and walked two while striking out no one in 2 1/3 innings in his first start.

Robinson Yambati, rhp, Royals: At this time last year, you could have debated whether Yambati or Yordano Ventura was the best pitching prospect on the Royals' Rookie-level AZL club. Ventura's stuff was a little better, but Yambati was more conventional, as he's a 6-foot-3 power pitcher, not a 5-foot-11 righthander. While Ventura is showing flashes of dominance (and flashes of being overmatched) in the low Class A Midwest League this season, Yambati has struggled through four awful outings at Rookie-level Burlington. In his first two starts, he gave up 16 hits, 17 runs and 15 earned runs in three innings, and in none of his outings has he allowed fewer earned runs than innings pitched. His overall record stood at 0-3, 24.84.

MAN AMONG BOYS

Jason McEachern, rhp, Rays: The Rays like to take it slow with their pitchers. They'd rather see a pitcher refine his craft fully at one level before moving him on. But in the case of McEachern, the Rays' approach may be going a little too far.

McEachern, who went 2-3, 2.75 for short-season Hudson Valley in 2009, spent the entire 2010 season in the low Class A Midwest League. Now he's back in Hudson Valley again, with predictable results. He has allowed one run and nine baserunners in four starts, striking out 24 in 23 innings. He has shown he's ready at least for a return trip to the Midwest League, and New York-Penn League hitters would likely pitch in to pay for his flight.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

Lastings Milledge, of, White Sox: Milledge is still just 26, so we could still see the former Mets prospect back in the big leagues with a shot to rebuild his career. But for now, he's having to prove himself again at Triple-A Charlotte. He did his share this week, hitting .367/.387/.800. If nothing else, Milledge illustrates how tough it is to be a righthanded corner outfielder in the big leagues. He has hit .287/.361/.432 against lefties in his career, which likely would have been enough to keep him in the majors. But his .261/.314/.378 career numbers against righthanders (in more than twice as many plate appearances) have been the difference between a long big league career and plenty of trips on the Triple-A-major league shuttle.

HELIUM

Lisalberto Bonilla, rhp, Phillies. Bonilla, signed in 2008 out of the Dominican Republic, spent the first two months of the season in the low Class A Lakewood bullpen. He moved to the rotation in early June and looks comfortable in his new role. In his second start of the week, Bonilla, 21, pitched nine scoreless innings, walking none while striking out 12. He didn't get a decision because the game went to extra innings tied 0-0, but his performance was plenty impressive, as is his 0-2, 1.49 overall line. Bonilla has learned to trust his fastball, a lively pitch that usually sits in the low 90s and can touch 95 mph. His changeup is a plus pitch, and he's got a usable slider to go with it. Add it up and the Phillies have another intriguing arm in a system full of pitching prospects.