Top Prospects Abound In BA Territory

BURLINGTON, N.C.—Durham, N.C. is a pretty sweet place to be to get a look at some of the best minor league prospects in the game. There are four levels of baseball within an hour’s drive, and more if you want to venture out a little further.

These past few days and the following few days will be no exception, as we will have the unusual opportunity to see back-to-back No. 1 overall picks play on consecutive days. Yesterday, Rays shortstop Tim Beckham, the top pick in this year’s draft, was in Burlington, N.C. with Princeton for a Rookie-level Appalachian League game. Beckham is in town again tomorrow and Wednesday, although on Wednesday BA will be watching 2007 No. 1 overall pick David Price make his Triple-A debut for Durham. We’ll have reports up on both players later this week.

On Saturday, low Class A Augusta lefthander Madison Bumgarner (Giants) struck out eight without issuing a walk in eight scoreless innings at Greensboro. Bumgarner worked with a 91-94 mph fastball that he commanded with precision to both sides of the plate, which wasn’t surprising given that he has walked just 18 batters in 124 1/3 innings (1.3 per nine) this season. Bumgarner, the 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft, just turned 19 on Aug. 1. He frequently (and wisely) attacked hitters inside, where the Greensboro hitters often lacked the bat speed to catch up to his inside heat, then mixed his location by painting the outside corner as well.

Bumgarner did struggle with his slider, a 79-82 mph pitch that showed occasionally average tilt that more often was soft and sweepy at best. He threw cleanly but from a low three-quarters arm slot, which could inhibit the quality and projection of his slider. Bumgarner, an athletic 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, did show a good pickoff move, nabbing two different runners with his move. He also flashed an 80-81 mph changeup, though he used the pitch sparingly and didn’t use it at all until the fifth inning.

The following day, Double-A Carolina lefthander Aaron Thompson (Marlins) tossed seven shutout innings and struck out eight against Mobile. Thompson has struggled this season, spending time on the disabled list and battling control problems when on the mound, leading to a 5.51 ERA in 67 innings. Thompson’s control problems this season (4.84 walks per nine) were a digression from Thompson’s career rate of 2.7 walks per nine innings through high Class A Jupiter.

While Thompson had struggled to throw strikes and hit his spots within the strike zone earlier in the season, that was not a problem for him on Sunday, his best outing so far this season. Thompson’s stuff was about the same it has always been: an 88-91 mph fastball with tailing life that touched 92, a good 80-83 mph slider that generates plenty of swinging strikes, and a nice changeup. But with much improved command, the 21-year-old Thompson was able to dominate. Thompson also has a clean delivery from the three-quarters arm slot and a strong ability to keep the ball on the ground (2.26-to-1 groundout-to-air out ratio).

The best prospect that Thompson faced on Mobile was Gerardo Parra, who went 0-for-3 against the lefty. During the course of the series Parra showed a pretty swing from the left side, an ability to work the count and lay off pitches out of the strike zone. Parra also showed a superb arm that managers say is the best in the Southern League. Parra played center field and looked comfortable, though he showed only fringe-average speed. Parra, who at 21 is 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, did not have great physical size, which helps account for his hitting just five home runs on the season despite spending the first half of the year in the high Class A California League.