Prospect Hot Sheet: July 30

See also: Previous Prospect Hot Sheet

Before we kick off this week’s Hot Sheet, we need to address why Yankees righthander Philip Hughes isn’t on it. After a long discussion, we declared Hughes ineligible. The 2004 first-rounder is on a major league rehab and wasn’t eligible for our Top 100 update last week and therefore no matter how good he’s been on his road back to the Bronx, we’ll have to keep him at arms length.

We’d like to throw out special props to two Eastern League righthanders, as New Britain’s Anthony Swarzak and Erie’s Jair Jurrjens both reached double-digit strikeout numbers last week.

Swarzak is doing the best he can to salvage a season that’s been marred by a 50-game suspension for testing positive for “a drug of abuse” by Major League Baseball back in April. Things were rocky when he initially returned in late June, but Swarzak went 2-1, 1.39 with a 26-8 strikeout-walk ratio in 32 innings in July.

So let’s get right down to the list. It’s been hard to argue with Yankees righthander Joba Chamberlain since he landed in Tampa in mid May, but then again, it’s hard to argue with anyone in the top five, really.

Remember, this is not a rewrite of our Top 100 prospects list. This is simply a snapshot of which prospects are currently riding the biggest hot streaks.

If you have any comments, feel free to e-mail Chris Kline with your kudos or complaints.

1. Joba Chamberlain, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees)

So what if 14 four-year college pitchers were taken ahead of him in the 2006 draft? Brandon Morrow, Andrew Miller and Tim Lincecum already are in the big leagues, but Chamberlain and fellow Yankee draftee Ian Kennedy have made it to Triple-A in their first pro seasons. That Chamberlain struck out 10–while yielding no runs on four hits in five innings–was icing on the cake.

The 21-year-old, who spent the first month of the season in extended spring training rehabbing a strained hamstring, has gone 9-2, 2.56 in 15 starts over three levels this season. More impressive is his minor league-leading 13.34 strikeouts per nine innings–against just 2.88 walks per nine.

With his dominance too difficult to ignore, the Yankees announced their tentative plans over the weekend to shift Chamberlain to the SWB Yanks’ bullpen, likely with an eye toward a big league callup in August.

2. Justin Upton, of, Double-A Mobile (Diamondbacks)

A great week for everyone else on the planet translates to a good week for Upton. The Diamondbacks phenom batted .391 with three homers, but also added nicely to his on-base with 10 walks last week. With Upton and Carlos Gonzalez leading the way, and now Aaron Cunningham in Mobile, it gives the BayBears arguably the best outfield in the minors.

3. Andy LaRoche, 3b, Triple-A Las Vegas (Dodgers)

After a pedestrian first half in the PCL (.273/.367/.441), LaRoche has turned it on in July, hitting .415/.490/.939 with all but three of his 14 home runs. The 22-year-old batted .384 (10-for-26) last week with two homers, three doubles and three RBIs.

4. Justin Masterson, rhp, Double-A Portland (Red Sox)

Probably the No. 1 from a statistical standpoint, Masterson has pitched his way into major prospect status this season. Since being promoted to Double-A, Masterson is 4-0, 1.04 with a 32-5 strikeout-walk ratio in 26 innings.

5. Ian Kennedy, rhp, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees)

As good as Chamberlain has been this season, Kennedy, who was taken 20 spots ahead of Joba in 2006, has performed just a little better. Well, OK, a lot better. Over the same three levels as Chamberlain, Kennedy, 22, has gone 11-2, 1.76 with 135-41 K-BB in 118 innings. Opponents are hitting a mere .171 off him. In his first Triple-A start, Kennedy pitched six scoreless innings, striking out six and walking two.

6. Matt Antonelli, 2b, Double-A San Antonio (Padres)

Antonelli’s been on fire since being promoted from high Class A Lake Elsinore in early July. In 55 Texas League at-bats, the 2006 first-rounder is hitting .418/.507/.655 with three homers and more walks than strikeouts.

7. Henry Sosa, rhp, high Class A San Jose (Giants)

Happy Birthday, Henry. The hard-throwing Dominican turned 22 on Saturday and celebrated a day later by tossing a six-inning two-hitter, yielding one run while striking out eight and walking two. Sosa has made a quick adjustment to the Cal League after striking out 61 South Atlantic League hitters in 62 innings. He’s 4-1, 3.99 with 43 strikeouts in 38 innings for the Giants, and has only once yielded more than two runs in eight starts.

8. Eric Hurley, rhp, Triple-A Oklahoma (Rangers)

Who said the PCL was a tough place to pitch? Certainly not the 21-year-old Hurley, who has gone 2-3, 3.21 in six Triple-A starts since his promotion there in late June. As if that weren’t enough, Hurley, a first-round pick in 2004, has posted a 27-9 strikeouts-walks ratio in July to go with his 2-2, 2.51 record.

9. Radhames Liz, rhp, Double-A Bowie (Orioles)

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again–when Liz is on, he’s unhittable. Last week, Liz went 1-0, 1.38 with 16 strikeouts in 13 innings, lighting up radar guns everywhere with 98 mph fastballs in his last start.

10. Donald Veal, lhp, Double-A Tennessee (Cubs)

Enigma of the year. After getting shelled to the tune of an 8.86 ERA in April, Veal has turned it around. The 2005 second-rounder went 2-3, 3.00 with 28 strikeouts in 24 innings this month and is finally being more consistent.

11. Jeremy Hellickson, rhp, low Class A Columbus (Devil Rays)

Hellickson was 2-2 after his first two starts but has won four of his last five decisions and is 6-2, 2.38 in 79 innings. Last week, he tossed six innings, striking out four while giving up just one earned run. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 46-15.

12. Beau Mills, 3b, low Class A Lake County (Indians)

Mills seems to be getting comfortable in his promotion to the South Atlantic League. Last week he hit .400/.440/.800 with two home runs and 12 RBIs. In 124 SAL at-bats he is hitting .274/.313/.452 with four homers.

13. Fernando Perez, of, Double-A Montgomery (Devil Rays)

While he has to get better on the basepaths (he’s been caught 11 times in 35 attempts), Perez is setting the tone for the Biscuits lineup this season. A seventh-round pick out of Colombia in 2004, Perez is hitting .311 out of the leadoff spot and batted .414 last week.

14. Ivan De Jesus Jr., ss, high Class A Inland Empire (Dodgers)

De Jesus showed his age for the first half of 2007, as the 20-year-old’s batting average hovered around .250 in his second full pro season. However a scintillating July has left De Jesus hitting a season-high .297/.378/.385. He was second in the Cal League last week with a .524 average and has four straight multi-hit games. With just two days remaining, De Jesus was hitting .418/.455/.560 in July.

15. James McDonald, rhp, Double-A Jacksonville (Dodgers)

An 11th-round pick in 2002 out of Golden West (Calif.) Junior College, McDonald spent all of 2004 and the majority of 2005 playing in the outfield in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. The Dodgers moved him back to the mound late in the 2005 season at Rookie-level Ogden, and he spent all year in low Class A as a pitcher last season. After going a respectable 6-7, 3.95 in the Cal League this year, McDonald moved up to Double-A where he’s 3-1, 1.19 in 23 innings, including an 11-strikeout performance in his last start.

16. Evan Longoria, 3b, Double-A Montgomery (Devil Rays)

There should always be a spot on this list reserved for Longoria, whose consistency has been uncanny in Double-A this season. Last week, the third overall pick last year batted .423.

17. Cole Rohrbough, lhp, Rookie-level Danville (Braves)

Rohrbough has continued to gain steam as one of the fastest rising pitching prospects in the minor leagues. The lefthander struck out 10 in five innings in his latest outing without surrendering a walk or a hit. Rohrbough now has 15.4 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9, and has lowered his ERA to a paper-thin 0.59. Rohrbough was a high-profile draft-and-follow after being selected last year in the 22nd round from Western Nevada Community College.

18. Johnny Cueto, rhp, Double-A Chattanooga (Reds)

Another arm that just keeps humming along, Cueto is 3-1, 2.57 with 37 strikeouts in 31 innings since his promotion to Double-A.

19. Matt Joyce, of, Double-A Erie (Tigers)

Joyce started the year in a major funk, hitting .186 in April and .198 in May. But he’s turned it up four notches since then, and batted .362/.430/.681 with six homers in 94 at-bats this month.

20. Chris Nelson, ss, high Class A Modesto (Rockies)

The 2004 first-round pick is beginning to show some potential after two South Atlantic League stints that were marred by injuries and errors (he led the Sally League last season with 41). Nelson improved to .281/.360/.487 this season with 14 homers and 73 RBIs while hitting .359 in July. He led the Cal League with seven steals last week–including four in a game against Stockton on Thursday. Fielding remains a concern for Nelson–he has 22 errors this season, including three in his past seven games.

Max Scherzer, rhp, Double-A Mobile (Diamondbacks)

After signing a four-year major league contract worth $4.3 million in guaranteed money as a 2006 first-rounder, Scherzer made just three starts in high Class A–striking out 30 in 17 innings–before the Diamondbacks promoted him to Double-A. “He’s sick,” Mobile outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said at the Futures Game. “Everything moves–he’s got a lot of life to all his pitches.” Well, Scherzer’s stuff might have been sick when he arrived, but as the season goes on, there has been a major dropoff. In July, Scherzer went 1-2, 6.04 with a 22-19 strikeout-walk ratio.

Cory Dunlap, 1b, Double-A Jacksonville (Dodgers)

Jacksonville might be cruising (again) in the Southern League, but Dunlap has had little to do with that success. This month, the 2004 third-rounder is hitting .217/.305/.253 with 17 strikeouts in 83 at-bats.

Francisco Pena, c, low Class A Savannah (Mets)

Pena started off hitting .278 in April but has seen a significant decline since. He has hit .158/.183/.231 in 76 July at-bats, punctuated by last week where he went 1 for 11 (.091). In May, he hit .240/.329/.373 in 75 at-bats and .220/.270/.268 in 82 at-bats in June.

Chris Lubanski, of, Triple-A Omaha (Royals)

The fifth overall pick in 2003, Lubanski has moved leisurly through the Royals system and has really struggled to adapt to Triple-A pitching. The 22-year-old has batted just .186/.268/.271 in 21 July games for Omaha.

Emiliano Fruto, rhp, Triple-A Columbus (Nationals)

While Jose Vidro has hit .300 and drawn walks for the Mariners, the Nationals’ return from last offseason’s trade has been meager. Fruto has a 5.23 ERA on the season, but has been particularly bad in July, going 0-3, 7.36 with 19-25 K-BB in 26 innings after being moved to the bullpen. Washington also got Chris Snelling in that trade, but traded him to the A’s for Ryan Langerhans, who’s hit all of .190/.296/.358 for D.C.


Mason Tobin, rhp, AZL Angels (Angels)

In contrast to Cole Rohrbough, Tobin didn’t sign with the Braves as a draft-and-follow. After two years in junior college (one at Rohrbough’s old school, Western Nevada, the other in Washington at Everett JC), Tobin signed as a 16th-round pick of the Angels. His sinking fastball sat at 90-92 mph at times in the spring, and he’s flashed a plus slider. He’s off to an outstanding pro start at 2-0, 1.11 with 29 strikeouts in 24 innings.

Jeff Kindel, 1b, high Class A Modesto (Rockies)

A 14th-round pick a year ago, Kindel has done little else than hit the last three years, first at Georgia Tech and now in pro ball. Kindel pitched as a lefty reliever for the Yellow Jackets for a year before moving to the outfield, hitting 22 homers his last two seasons. Now at first base, he has kept hitting in the California League. His 24-game-hitting streak makes no one here excited–get to 30 games, Jeff, if you want us to really pay attention this year–but he’s hitting .310/.373/.507 for the year and a league-best .435 for July.

Caleb Gindl, of, Rookie-level Helena (Brewers)

Projected to go in the seventh-to-ninth rounds as a pitcher, Gindl wound up going to the Brewers in the fifth round . . . as a hitter. And he’s held his own as a high schooler in the Pioneer League, batting .449/.477/.673 with a pair of home runs in 98 at-bats.


Jesse English, lhp, Short Season Salem-Keizer (Giants)

English, a sixth-round pick from a California high school had an outstanding debut with the Arizona League Giants, but that was back when he was overshadowing his AZL teammate Matt Cain. While Cain quickly went on to bigger and better things, English’s career has been short circuited by injuries. He missed the entire 2005 season with elbow surgery and has spent the past two seasons trying to get back to full season ball. Last year didn’t go so well (3-0, 6.35), but English has nearly been unhittable in the Northwest League this year. The 6-foot-2 lefthander is 4-0, 0.76 record in 24 relief innings for the Volcanoes. English has shown excellent command with a 10-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio while opponents are batting just a mere .157 off him. In his last appearance, English fanned nine of the ten batters he faced in three innings of work.