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