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Around the AL West, Prospect Style

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on May 5, 2006

The American League West has as good a group of prospects as any division in baseball, starting with the loaded system in Los Angeles.

The Angels have already sent for 2B Howie Kendrick, who was hitting .386 at Triple-A Salt Lake, and exchanged catchers, – Jeff Mathis for Mike Napoli – on Thursday.

Mathis hit just .103 in 12 games in the majors, and Napoli, 24, homered in his first big-league AB. How about that for a farm system, eh? Napoli is a fringe 'spect in that organization.

Right-hander Jered Weaver may already be a better pitcher than his older brother, Jeff, who's sporting a 6.43 ERA in six starts this season. Jered, 23, is 2-1 in five games for Salt Lake, posting a 3.72 ERA – impressive for that ballpark – and a 38-5 K/BB ratio in 29 innings.

Weaver appears ready to take the mound in Anaheim with his 92-96 mph fastball, power slider and developing change.

He's 6-foot-7 and uses his size very well. Good thing Bill Stoneman isn't as smart he could be, because Weaver instantly makes LAA the best team in the division, especially with the offensively challenged A's suffering from the injury bug.

Shortstop Erick Aybar is one of the more exciting players in all of baseball and his speed and athleticism may be second to none in the minors.

Aybar, 22, is hitting .311 with eight extra-base hits and nine steals, and is solid defensively. Don't be surprised if Stoneman looks to make a deal that sends Orlando Cabrera to a contender at the deadline, because Aybar is very close to big-league ready.

LAA's top prospect is Brandon Wood – yeah the one who smacked 58 homers last season between the regular season and the Arizona Fall League.

Wood is having some issues making consistent contact right now, leading the league in strikeouts with 40, one ahead of Seattle's Wladimir's Balentien.

Wood does have eight homers and eight doubles for a .573 slugging percentage and is just 21 years of age. He remains at shortstop for the time being, but the plan is still to slide him over to third base, either later this summer or in the fall league this October.

Speaking of Oakland…

No, it's not time to demote 1B Dan Johnson and promote Daric Barton – both players need to remain where they are.

Johnson is hitting just .179 but is 10 for his last 30 with two homers and has a solid 11-9 K/BB ratio. He's fine, and will hit for the remainder of the year.

Barton is still hitting, but needs the time in Triple-A to polish his approach. He's not hitting a lot of extra-base hits right now as the league makes adjustments on him. By season-s end, he should have all of that figured out and Billy Beane will have Dan Johnson traded somewhere for a big-league catcher.

The A's pitching woes continue with Loaiza and Harden ailing, but there isn't much more help in the minors, with the possible exception of the kool-aid man.

Shane Komine, affectionately known as the Hawaiian Punch, is the lone capable arm left in Triple-A Sacramento after right-hander Chad Gaudin was recalled to help out in the bullpen.

Komine is Oakland's equivalent of Clint Nageotte or Bobby Livingston.

Oakland's Kurt Suzuki (left), one of the better backstops in the minors, has been impressive thus far in 2006, hitting .329/.448 thanks to 15 walks and just eight strikeouts. The 22-year-old is slugging .430 and has a solid handle on his defensive game, though he probably needs another year or two of seasoning.

Outfielder Travis Buck is on fire in the Cal League for the Stockton Ports, slugging over .600 with 19 extra-base hits. He's likely headed for Double-A Midland by the all-star break.

Shortstop Cliff Pennington, last June's first rounder, is not faring so well, however. The Texas A & M product is struggling to hit his left leg's weight, posting a .119 average through 23 games.

The 22-year-old does have five steals and has drawn 15 walks, but he's fanned 22 times and has one extra-base hit.

He won't be heading for the Texas League anytime soon.

Volquez began the season in Triple-A Oklahoma and may begetting a call sooner than later. The 22-year-old right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA in five starts for the RedHawks, who play in a hitter's park. Volquez has fanned 28 and walked 11 in 29 1/3 innings.

Diamond, 23, has fought control problems during the first month of the year, walking 16 in 18 innings of work, but has whiffed 23, showing off his stuff. The right-hander employs a 90-94 mph fastball and a power curve ball, but until he can command both pitches, he'll remain in Double-A Frisco.

Diamond's teammate John Danks, 21, has similar stuff, but has struggled, giving up 38 hits in 22 2/3 innings. He's struck out 28 and walked 10, but has yielded eight long balls.

Command is Danks' biggest hurdle – not control, he throws strikes for the most part. Danks often catches too much of the plate with his low 90s heater and curve ball.

Volquez will pitch in Texas this season, while Danks and Diamond are a few years away.

[Note: It is Edinson, with an "n", regardless of how Baseball America wishes to spell it.]

In the Emerald City, the big club is scuffling offensively and at the end of the bullpen, so we'll start the Mariners' discussion with the bats and in the bullpen.

The good news is, there is help in the system.

Catcher Jeff Clement is slugging .527 with nine extra-base hits in 15 games, and has a 7-8 K/BB ratio. If the M's miraculously find themselves in serious contention in September, the 22-year-old Clement would certainly get some big-league at-bats.

Center fielder Adam Jones continues to work on perfecting his defensive transition to the outfield, but his bat is what has been most impressive this season.

At 20 years of age, Jones has flashed more power than in his previous two full seasons as a pro. Jones has been very inconsistent with his power, however, smacking all five of his home runs in a seven-day span.

He's very young and fairly inexperienced for the level, so that is to be expected. Jones is trying to be aggressive early in the count to avoid falling into a pitcher's count too often. This philosophy has produced a 20-2 K/BB ratio, which will have to plateau before the kid gets a big-league call.

Jones is hitting .271 qith a .506 slugging percentage, so his season can be seen as nothing but a success after the first month.

LaHair is one of the most asked about prospects lately, and there is good reason for it.
He does, however, have some obstacles in his way, even after a .310/.373/.510, 22 HR, 113 RBI season last year at Inland Empire.

The Massachusetts native is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds and swings from the left side of the plate. By all accounts, he plays a strong defensive game at first, and is as coachable as hitters come.

LaHair mashes the belt high fastball and has from day one. He'll even crush a hanging curve ball 430 feet. But what happens when the pitcher makes a good pitch is where LaHair has a lot of work to do.

He'll begin seeing a steady diet of breaking balls and change ups, particularly away, and a lot of fastballs in on his hands. He'll need to lay off the soft stuff and avoid digging himself a hole int he process – not easy to do if the pitches are well located.

He does have the raw power to slug in the majors, but whether he can continue to develop his strike zone judgment and plate discipline enough to maximize evert at-bat, will dictate his future.

LaHair reminds me of Paul Sorrento, just taller and with more or a leverage kind of swing than one relying on bat speed.

As of May 4, LaHair is hitting .323/.409/.523 with five homers, 10 doubles, and 15 RBI.

In the bullpen, the future is bright, very bright, for the Seattle Mariners.

They'd trade the riches in the pen for the same in the rotation, but…

Right-handers Emiliano Fruto, Mark Lowe and Stephen Kahn are all potential dominant short relievers. Kahn has the ability to close while Lowe and Fruto can each cover as many as three innings per outing.

Fruto uses a 90-94 mph fastball, a plus change and a curve ball to dazzle hitters. It's not out of the question that Fruto is tried again as a starter, but for now he's a bullpen guy.

Fruto, 21, has no record in nine appearances, but does have three saves. In 16 2/3 innings, he's has allowed just eight hits and has fanned 17 batters. Since two bad outings early on, Fruto has displayed solid control.

He's likely to see the bigs pretty soon.

Lowe, 22, is probably the closest of all M's prospects to receiving a promotion. The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder is third in the league in strikeouts with 38, despite pitching just 23 1/3 innings, all but five in relief.

The Texas-Arlington product is 1-0 with a 0.77 ERA in eight games and has allowed just 14 base runners, thanks to a 91-96 mph fastball, a developing curve and a near-plus change up.

Kahn has been just as good, striking out 24 in 16 1/3 innings and giving up just five hits. Kahn has walked only five batters and is 2-0 with a 0.51 ERA and three saves.

Kahn has been sitting 93-97 with his fastball and uses a power curve ball as his strikeout pitch.

All three are legit big-league relief arms, and power arms at that.

Photo Credits –

Edinson Volquez: Texas Rangers

Kurt Suzuki: Scout.com

Thomas Diamond: MiLB.com

Bryan LaHair: Seattle Mariners


22 Responses to “Around the AL West, Prospect Style”

  1. Andren said

    Asdrubal Cabrera is one of our top prospects IMHO. I’m just wondering what we are going to do with him if he continues to progress at the rate he has been going.

  2. Willmore said

    I’m not as high on him. Defensively, he’s a stud, but offensively he has shown little power. With YuBet being the better defender at short and Lopez the better offensive player at 2nd, I don’t see a place for Cabrera in the majors with us.

  3. He certainly is one of the top prospects in the system. As far as what to do with him once he’s ready, well, they will cross that bridge when they come to it.

    He’s not ready, and won’t be until maybe mid-way through 2007. That’s not to say he couldn’t hold his own now, but he needs more time to fully develop at the plate.

  4. re: Willmore

    That’s pretty shortsighted, dude, since he’s slugging .500 with a .510 OBP in Triple-A Tacoma at 20 years of age.

  5. Tom said

    If Cabrera’s bat is for real, and his defense as good as reported, YuBet should get moved eventually to make room for Cabrera, IMO. Even if YuBet is amazing defensively and Cabrera is merely very good, the difference in offense more than makes up for the difference in defense. This assumes that he continues to hit and draw walks, of course…

  6. I agree, Tom. When more than adequate defensively, the differences in offensive production should take over. And they will.

  7. J said

    Every time I see the name “Travis Buck”, I wince a little, considering he was drafted by us in the 23rd round three years prior. I guess we might not have had a real chance at him, considering when we picked him and his commitment to ASU, but the whole deal of the A’s signing our draft picks three years later and twenty or so rounds higher…

    I’ve been seeing a rumor floating around since last night that I’ve had no confirmation on, about Jeff Clement tweaking something (possibly his knee) and Brian Schwieger being called up to replace him. Schweiger’s listed on the Missions roster, I know that much, but have you heard anything about him possibly being injured?

  8. Dwight Schrute said

    Obviously this is incredibly optimistic, but Lahair sounds reminiscent of Travis Hafner. Big lefty 1B with power…although it sounds like Hafner had a little more plate discipline.
    Look at this comparison:
    Hafner, Class A Savannah, age 22: .292/.387/.546, 28 HRs, 111 RBIs.
    Lahair, Class A Inland Empire, age 22: .310/.373./.503, 22 HRs, 113 RBIs.

    Interesting, at least.
    -Dwight K. Schrute
    “What’s that on your face? Is that a disguise?”

  9. Willmore said

    “ID badges are long overdue. Security in this office park is a joke. Last year, I came to work with my spud gun in a duffel bag. I sat at my desk all day with a rifle that shoots potatoes at sixty pounds per square inch. Can you imagine if I was deranged?”

    Anyway, Jason. I see the stats, but with no home runs in 38 at bats, his .500 slugging average looks somewhat lucky. Then again, what do I know ? 🙂 I certainly do hope that he develops well.

  10. Home runs will come with physical maturity.

    HE’s never going to be a 20-homer guy but he can certainly smack 8-10 and rack up doubles.

    Lucky? No. It’s called extra-base hits. Home runs aren’t the only xbh.

  11. Willmore said

    Right. That’s all I meant. I just didn’t phrase it right. Lopez is a 20 homer guy. YuBet is a defensive whiz, neither of them are likely to move. And Asdrubal doesn’t have the offensive skills to be a 3rd baseman. Then again, he will easily be better than Beltre.

  12. WAB said

    Lets just say that, for the sake of discussion, that Seattle can find a trade partner for a Beltre deal. Could Lopez move to third, allowing Cabrera to play second?

  13. Yes, absolutely.

    Jose has played some third in the minors and has every skill necessary to make that transition.

  14. marc w. said

    I think you’re right that Asdrubal will develop into an 8-10 HR, with 30 2b or more sprinkled in, but the really intriguing thing has to be his plate discipline. His OBP is .500 fercryinoutloud. At 20. In the PCL. Let’s just assume he can be a .400 OBP guy in the majors in a few years (agreed, he’s not ready yet) – does anyone really CARE how many HRs he’s giving you on top of a .400 OBP with plus plus defense at SS? I don’t. There’s your leadoff guy in the post Ichiro era.
    I think the world of YuBet, but I think he’s going to be in the low .300s with his OBP most years, maybe at his peak. Great player, great value, and I like him in the 9 hole. But if Cabrera’s patience keeps developing, he’s extremely valuable.

  15. I really have to toot my own horn here because most scouting reports barked at Cabrera’s lack of on-base skills but that always seemed to be a load bull to me.

    I think BA and others just looked at his OBP and BB/K rates as a whole, not the skills that he actually possesses and went from there.

    He has always, from the first day I saw him in Everett in 2004, been patient, layed off bad pitches and gone deep into counts regularly.

    I have disputed the “lack of on-base skills” thing with many on many occasions.

    He has those skills. And now he’s showing them.

    I don’t think he’s a .400 OBP guys really, but there is no reason he can’t go .280/.350/.420, which is fine at short and even better at second.

  16. Willmore said

    I never though of Lopez moving to third. I love it, actually.

    That would be one killer defensive infield, and not bad offensively.

  17. 2quarters said

    So, umm, I’ve heard Clement out 4-6 weeks with a knee injury at SportSpot (a guy over there says he heard it on the radio). True?

    If so, hand me the nouse.

  18. JasonAChurchill said

    yeah, true.

  19. Goose said

    Clement out 4-6 weeks?

    Boy this day just keeps getting better and better.

  20. Willmore said

    Official of the Clement story.

  21. Willmore said

    Hey, Jason. I just noticed that Kevin Reynolds is playing for the 66ers. Did he just wait a year to be signed, or did he have an injury ? Should I keep an eye on him, or is he just your average 42nd round draft pick ?

  22. He signed last fall and yeah, he’s just yer average 42nd rounder.

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