Prospect Hot Sheet: April 17

We’re back. After a long winter slumber, the Prospect Hot Sheet returns for the 2009 season with a good problem—more good prospect performances than we can rank. And while you won’t find No. 1 prospect Matt Wieters or No. 2 prospect David Price on this list, it does have plenty of star power thanks to Buster Posey, Tommy Hanson, Mat Gamel and others.

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, as we take the stats from the first week and a half of the season with a dash of consideration of how good a prospect the player is, throw it in the pot and out comes the Prospect Hot Sheet.

Contributing: Ben Badler, Kary Booher,
J.J. Cooper, Matt Eddy and
Jim Shonerd.



Team: high Class A San Jose (California)

Age: 22

Why He’s Here:
.448/.556/.862 (13-for-29), 3 2B, 3 HR, 9 RBIs, 7 BBs, 3 Ks, 1 SB.

While Matt Wieters understandably takes up most of the focus when prospect watchers talk about catching prospects, Posey’s first week in his first full season compares pretty favorably to Wieters’ loud debut last year. Like Wieters last year, Posey is getting started in high Class A, although unlike Wieters he gets to play in the hitter’s heaven that is the California League.

In his first eight games, Posey has already cranked three home runs, added three more doubles and already has the Giants’ Triple-A Fresno club dreaming of when, or if, they’ll get to put him behind the plate.

If Posey had any hiccups this week, they were behind the plate where he allowed three passed balls and threw out only 2-of-6 basestealers.



Team: Double-A Portland (Eastern)

Age: 22

Why He’s Here: .345/.406/.862 (10-for-29), 4 HR, 3 2B, 4 RBIs, 3 BB, 8 SO

The Scoop: What a difference a year makes. Reddick struggled to a .214/.290/.436 line in a 34-game cameo with the Sea Dogs last summer, but he’s shaken off the offseason rust to get off to a fast start in the Eastern League the second time around. His four home runs are second most in the minors—and first among non Cal Leaguers—a testament to the hard contact he makes on a regular basis. While Reddick’s aggressive nature sometimes undercuts his productivity, his smooth lefty stroke, athleticism and unnaturally-strong hand-eye coordination are more than enough to compensate. If everything clicks, he’s a five-tool player in the making, with a cannon arm and passable range in center field.



Team: High Class A Kinston (Carolina)

Age: 20

Why He’s Here: 2-0, 1.50, 12 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 19 SO

The Scoop: After a 1.69 ERA and a strikeout per inning last year with low Class A Lake County, De La Cruz is at it again. The 6-foot-5 lefty with a low-90s fastball and a big-breaking curveball has been a strikeout machine so far, but perhaps even more promising for the Indians’ best starting pitching prospect is how he’s limited the number of free passes he’s allowed. As the long lefthander grows into his long frame, he’s still learning to repeat his release point, but the two walks in only 12 innings are an encouraging sign.



Team: Triple-A Nashville (Pacific Coast)

Age: 23

Why He’s Here: .500/.563/.923 (13-for-26), 9 R, 2 HR, 5 2B, 10 RBIs, 4 BB, 5 SO

The Scoop: Gamel has gotten off to another fast start after being one of the minors’ best hitters in the first half of last season. His production slowed in the second half as he was slowed by an elbow injury, but he hasn’t wasted any time getting back in a groove to start 2009. He’s opened the season on a seven-game hitting streak, with seven of his 13 hits having gone for extra bases. Gamel’s bat is what will carry him to the majors, as the early returns on his defense haven’t been any better than past years. He’s already committed four errors in seven games.



Triple-A Gwinnett (International)

Age: 22

Why He’s Here: 0-1, 0.90 ERA, 10 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 17 SO

The Scoop: The first Hot Sheet of 2009 might be the last Hot Sheet for Hanson, who has toyed with International League hitters. Hanson’s wide repertoire of above-average secondary offerings and a fastball in the low-90s leads to a handful of strikeouts each inning, and with injuries in Atlanta’s rotation he might soon make his major league debut. All that’s left for Hanson is to polish his command, though with the way his stuff moves, it’s not easy to have pinpoint control.



Team: high Class A Clearwater (Phillies)

Age: 21

Why he’s here: 2-0, 1.50, 12.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 16 Ks

The Scoop: Scouts took notice of Drabek in this past offseason in Hawaii Winter Baseball, where the son of former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek demonstrated that he was finally ready to break away from the monotonous grind of Tommy John injury rehab. A 2006 first-round pick out of The Woodlands, Texas, Drabek has made an impressive jump to the high Class A Florida State League, particularly since HWB and only 32 innings in the Gulf Coast League and short-season New York-Penn League were his 2008 season. On Wednesday, he struck out nine Lakeland Flying Tigers and kept putting up the zeroes, with seven scoreless innings.



Double-A Altoona (Eastern)

Age: 23

Why He’s Here: .500/.607/.864 (11-for-22), 6 R, 1 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 6 BB, 3 SO, 2/3 SB

The Scoop: Good things happen to those who control the strike zone. Friday has solid plate discipline, which helped him hit .287/.365/.387 in 85 games last year for high Class A Lynchburg. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, the righty-hitting Friday is never going to be a power threat, but he’s a solid defensive shortstop with a strong arm and some on-base ability. If he can punish pitchers when they challenge him over the plate—as he did this week with four extra-base his in six games—he’ll be a valuable big leaguer.



Team: high Class A Rancho Cucamonga (Angels)

Age: 19

Why he’s here: 1-1, 0.75, 12.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 13 Ks

The Scoop: An eighth-round pick in 2007 out of Newark, N.J., Reckling jumped to BA’s No. 4 Angels prospect after winning 10 games in the low Class A Midwest League and showing three pitches that graded better than average. It looks like he’s picked up where he left off, only now he’s dealing in the hitter friendly high Class A California League and doing so as he works on throwing arm-side away (he loves pitching inside). So far, he’s stretched both of his starts to six innings, taking the loss Tuesday despite allowing just one earned run—on Collin Cowgill’s first-inning homer for Visalia (Diamondbacks).



Team: high Class A Visalia

Age: 20

Why he’s here: 0-0, 0.00, 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 Ks

The Scoop: If Parker keeps this up, we might be asking why he’s even in the Cal League because BA’s top-rated Diamondbacks prospect has been cutting a swath through the season’s opening week. Granted, he was pulled after four innings in his season debut and after five in his second start on Thursday. But Parker’s pinpoint control suggests he could very well enjoy the same type of year as he did in 2008, when he finished 12-5, 3.44 with 117 strikeouts in 118 innings at low Class A South Bend.



low Class A Wisconsin (Midwest)

Age: 19

Why He’s Here: .300/.385/.750 (6-for-20), 4 R, 1 HR, 2 2B, 2 3B, 4 RBIs, 4 BB, 4 SO, 2-for-3 SB

The Scoop: The Midwest League usually suffocates young hitters, especially ones who hail from warm locales. That hasn’t been a problem for the Canadian native Lawrie. Neither the cold weather nor a position switch from catcher to second base has fazed him, as the Brewers’ first-round pick from last June has knocked five of his six hits for extra bases in his first week of pro ball.



Team: Double-A Mobile (Southern)

Age: 21

Why He’s Here: .409/.606/.682 (9-for-22), 7 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBIs, 11 BB, 2 SO, 3/5 SB

The Scoop: After an outstanding winter ball campaign in his native Venezuela, Parra saw a nominal amount of playing time for his country in the World Baseball Classic. Perhaps the year-round work has helped Parra get off to a start, and with 11 walks and just two strikeouts he’s taken a good approach to the plate. A disciplined hitter with a sweet lefthanded swing, Parra’s bat is the best in Arizona’s system.



Team: high Class A San Jose (California)

Age: 18

Why he’s here: .478/.458/.783 (11-for-23), 1 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBIs.

The Scoop: How stacked is the San Jose lineup? Villalona bats seventh every day, following a slate of prospects that includes Posey, Nick Noonan, Roger Kieschnick and Conor Gillaspie. But while he is hitting low in the order, the 18-year-old is showing why he’s a better prospect than all but Posey. Villalona has only struck out four times in 23 at-bats, exceptional for an 18-year-old facing 21, 22 and 23-year-olds.



Triple-A Buffalo (International)

Age: 20

Why He’s Here: .286/.359/.600 (10-for-35), 6 2B, 1 HR, 1 3B, 3 RBIs, 5 R, 3 BB, 9 SO

The Scoop: Two years in Double-A, at ages 18 and 19, followed by a strong turn in the Dominican League last winter have Martinez on the cusp of the big leagues. He leads the minors with six doubles and ranks second with eight extra-base hits, no mean feat for 20-year-old in the Northern Division of the International League. A left elbow injury incurred in spring training has limited Martinez to DH duty, but the Mets expect him to get back on the field this weekend, where he’ll cycle through the three outfield posts.

“He’s a very talented kid,” Mets VP of player development Tony Bernazard said. “We have to remember that he’s only 20, and if it wasn’t for all the injuries, he might be in big leagues already. We expect great things from him, and Fernando expects the same things from himself.”


Triple-A Columbus OF Matt LaPorta is showing Indians fans his plus-plus power, batting .375/.423/.833 with six of his nine hits going for extra bases: three doubles, two homers and even a triple for the powerful slugger . . . Double-A Springfield (Cardinals) outfielder Daryl Jones is off to a nice start in the Texas League. A third-round pick in 2005 out of a Houston high school, Jones is hitting .471/.609/.765 with a home run, double, four RBIs and two stolen bases. Now if he can shed the apparent bullseye on his jersey he’ll be OK. You see, he was accidentally hit in the helmet by a pitch over the weekend and got hit again not once but twice on Thursday at Frisco . . . Here’s a tip of the hat to Triple-A Gwinnett (Braves) righthander Kris Medlen, who on Opening Day had to follow Braves top prospect Tommy Hanson and then on Wednesday held a pretty good lineup at Triple-A Durham scoreless through five innings. Medlen topped out at 92 mph and offered a variety of pitches, including an impressive changeup that he added last season. He’s 1-0, 0.23 in 8 2/3 innings, with 11 strikeouts and just one walk . . . A couple of International League relievers who figure prominently into their big league clubs’ plans were off to dominating starts. On the heels of a dominating spring training performance, Triple-A Pawtucket RHP Daniel Bard (Red Sox) has hurled six hitless, shutout innings in his first three games, all two-inning stints. Evaluators raved about his easy high-90s heat this spring, and IL batters concur. Bard, 23, has kept the ball on the ground (3.0 G/F) while racking up nine strikeouts, two walks and a hit batter in converting both of his save chances. While Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RHP Mark Melancon (Yankees) can’t boast of being unhittable, like Bard can, he has turned in a better season thus far. IL batters have gone 1-for-23 (.043) with 14 strikeouts against Melancon, 24, who has walked two batters in 7 2/3 innings. He’s even vultured two wins in his four appearances . . . High Class A Visalia OF Collin Cowgill (Diamondbacks) has taken to the hitter-friendly California League just fine. Arizona’s fifth-round pick last year from Kentucky, Cowgill, 22, opened his first full pro season on a six-game hitting streak and has already belted three home runs in eight games. Cowgill’s bat will have to continue to carry him going forward, but it’s been doing the job so far after a .407/.556/.852 (11-for-27) week to open the season . . . When the Yankees signed D.J. Mitchell for third-round money as a 10th-round pick last summer, this is what they were hoping to see. The former Clemson outfielder looks quite comfortable on the mound, striking out 14 and walkng no one in his first two starts, which span 12 innings.


Chris Valaika, ss, Reds. While it’s probably just a slow start, Valaika’s Triple-A debut hasn’t transpired the way he must have envisioned it. The 23-year-old has hits in just two of seven games and is batting .111/.172/.259 with a home run for Louisville. He’s racked up six strikeouts in the span, which may be the key culprit if his average and power don’t rebound.

Greg Halman, cf, Mariners: Not much has gone right for Halman since the end of the 2008 regular season. He struggled in the Arizona Fall League. He looked completely overmatched in the World Baseball Classic. And now he’s off to a 5-for-35 start, hitting .143/.167/.343 with only one walk and 17 strikeouts. Battles with plate discipline and breaking balls are nothing new for Halman, who walked 32 times and whiffed 142 times last year.

Engel Beltre, of, Rangers. Beltre handled the challenging Midwest
League just fine last year, hitting .283/.309/.403 despite being the
league’s youngest player. But so far the California League hasn’t
agreed with him. Beltre, 19, hit just .086/.086/.114 (3-for-35) for
high Class A Bakersfield in the season’s opening week. His
free-swinging approach didn’t hurt him too much in the MWL, but so far
this year he’s already whiffed 11 times in eight games and has yet to
draw a walk.

Jay Austin, OF, Astros. He’s here mostly by default and, given his athleticism, expect Austin, the Astros’ 2008 second-round pick, to appear more often among the baker’s dozen of the Hot Sheet as his career moves upward through the minors. After all, he was a high schooler in Atlanta this time last year and, according to Astros scouting director Bobby Heck, has added eight pounds to his 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame and demonstrated a lot of quality at-bats in spring training. Unfortunately, he’s off to a 2-for-23 start this season in the South Atlantic League.


Jake Fox, 1B-RF, Cubs. Drafted in the third round in 2003 out of Michigan, Fox made the transition from catcher to a power-hitting first baseman/right fielder this past winter in the Dominican League, where he hit .353/.412/.543 with three home runs, 13 doubles and 31 RBIs in 116 at-bats for Licey. He’s parlayed that success into this season, busting through the doors of opening day and proceeding to hit .516/.579/1.097 with four home runs, four doubles, a triple and 16 RBIs in his first 31 at-bats at Triple-A Iowa. He’ll turn 27 in July.


Brett Harper, 1b, Las Vegas (Blue Jays). The son of former Twins catcher Brian Harper has always shown that he can hit for power from the left side, but his lack of a comfortable position defensively and the misfortune of being blocked behind Carlos Delgado and, for a time, Mike Jacobs, in New York has turned him into a minor league lifer. Harper came into his ninth minor league season with career numbers of .299/.357/.497, and most of those stats have come in four seasons in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League. But that has never been enough for a big league cup of coffee. Now given a chance to hit in the Pacific Coast League for the second straight year, Harper is taking advantage to the tune of .350/.435/.850 with three home runs in his first 20 at-bats.




Team: low Class A Kannapolis (South Atlantic)

Age: 21

Why He’s Here: 1-0, 0.00, 2 GS, 12 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 13 SO

The Scoop: Infante is easy to overlook because his path to prospectdom has been an unusual one. He required three seasons to escape short-season ball, and he signed out of Venezuela at age 18, about two years later than most Latin Americans ink their first pro contracts. He drew the Opening Day start for the Intimidators, and he certainly has lived up to his team’s nickname. Infante hurled six hitless innings at Asheville to open the year, striking out 11. Though his strikeout total declined to two in start No. 2, he used low- to-mid-90s heat and a promising curveball to again shut out the opposition over six innings. Overall, Infante has limited Sally League batters to an .086 average (3-for-35) and has kept the ball on the ground (6.0 G/F).