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Minor League Progress Report

[editor's note, by Jeff] battlekow snuck in here when I was moving yesterday, but I wanted to give him a proper introduction, or at least some kind of introduction. You may have seen him as "Eric" on Al's Ramblings or posting on Baseball Think Factory. He'll be contributing regularly (right, Eric?) and if this article is an indication of what we can expect, we'll all be much the better for it. Welcome aboard!

Hey, everybody.  I'm the new guy.  For my first post, I thought I'd write a bit about Wal Mart.

Just kidding.  I actually thought a minor league progress report might be in order; not on the actual teams, but on individual players that are notable for one reason or another.

A lot of players are off to good starts at Nashville, with the ERAs for Dana Eveland, Ben Hendrickson, Zach Jackson and Dennis Sarfate looking particularly shiny at 1.06, 2.70, 2.81 and 3.38, respectively. Let's go a bit deeper though, and look at the component ratios:

Eveland has simply been excellent, striking out 17 in 17 innings while allowing 12 hits and walking only 2.  Walks were his problem in the big leagues last year, 18 in 31.2 innings, so if he continues to show improved command and Doug Davis continues to struggle, you may see Eveland soon.

Hendrickson's K/9 ratio is relatively strong at 6.6.  However, his K/9 was 6.7 in his excellent 2004 season and 7.05 in his disastrous 2005 campaign, so perhaps another stat would give us more insight.  In 2004, Hendrickson walked 26 and allowed 114 hits in 125 innings.  Last year, both hits and walks increased dramatically, as he allowed 58 walks and 176 hits in 155.2 innings.  This year, he's been unhittable, allowing only 13 hits in 23.1 innings, but command has remained a problem, as he's issued 10 walks.  Since his H/9 ratio has never even approached the 0.56 he's at right now, I would predict that as the hits catch up with him, he's in for another bad year and perhaps the death of his prospect status.  Watch the walks closely.

Zach Jackson appears to be pitching to contact, which is definitely not the organization's M.O.  He's allowed 15 hits and 4 walks in 16 innings while striking out but 7.  He was never a big strikeout guy in the Blue Jays' system, but 7 in 16 innings is quite low.  Still, it's early yet, and he's not allowing many runners, so it's hard to be too disappointed.

Dennis Sarfate's start is a great example of why you have to look past the ERA sometimes.  Sure, his 3.38 is solid, but he's allowed 15 hits in 13.1 innings while walking 10, downright Davis-esque.  I think it's pretty clear that Sarfate's future is in the bullpen, especially with Eveland and Jackson outpitching him.

Moving onto some of the hitters, the "Free Mike Rivera" crowd will rejoice at his .410/.429/.667.  The fact that he's taken but one walk and is not going to hit .410 all year should give them some pause, as should his track record.

Tony Gwynn, Jr. is sitting at .333/.372/.486, which is excellent power for him.  His current 153 ISO blows away his career 63 and his previous high of 67. It could be noise, but Gwynn did say in Spring Training that he had adjusted his stance and that it was helping his power.  Definitely something to watch.

Nelson Cruz has continued his silent campaign to force the Brewers to trade Carlos Lee by killing AAA pitching to the tune of .319/.382/.652.  He's not getting any younger, though.

Dave Krynzel is off to a hot start at .371/.450/.657 and 6 steals in 7 tries.  Considering his track record and the four other centerfielders at AAA, he's looking like excellent trade bait at this point.

Two guys not off to good starts are utilitymen Vinny Rottino and Brad Nelson, .242/.288/.348 for the former and .208/.288/.340 for the latter.  Nelson's case is particularly worrisome, as another bad year might earn him his release.

At Huntsville, pretty much no one is hitting.  Steve Moss, at this point the tenth outfielder for the big club, is the club's best hitter so far at .274/.357/.419, but it's hard to get excited about those numbers.

John Sickels sleeper pick Drew Anderson is at .222/.310/.349.  The average will come up, but still no power, which he's going to need to stick as a corner outfielder.

Cap'n Lou Palmisano is at .205/.308/.295 and looks about ready for the fork.

Huntsville's pitching, though, is another story.  Corey Thurman, former Royals prospect, is lighting the world on fire with an 0.42 ERA in 21.2 innings.  He has walked 7 batters but has given up only 12 hits while striking out 16.  Nothing in his track record suggests he's anywhere near this good, of course, but you could be looking at the next great Doug Melvin Reclamation Project.  Apparently he has a great changeup.

Carlos Villanueva appears to be passing what John Sickels calls the Double-A Finesse Pitcher Acid Test, and passing it well: 22 K's and 5 walks in 20.2 innings.  He's allowed 22 hits, but I think that 3.92 ERA could come down a bit.  Hard to believe we got this guy for Leo Estrella and Home Run Franklin.

Tim Dillard, last year's organizational Pitcher of the Year, isn't faring quite as well on Sickels' test. He's struck out 13, walked 6, and allowed 24 hits in 20.1 innings. Certainly not damning numbers, but not exactly success either. He's certainly got some pitching know-how, so we'll see if he figures it out.

Rule V pick Stephen Bray is off to a nice start with 12 K's and no walks in 12.1 innings, albeit with 17 hits allowed.  Gotta like that walk total.  As an aside, Bray was chosen in the AAA portion of the Rule V draft, which I thought meant that he had to stay at AAA or above or be returned to the Royals. Can anyone explain how he came to be at AA?

Over at Brevard County, former Rookie ball sensation Steve Sollmann is hitting well again after a terrible '05, at .382/.493/.509.  Hard to argue with those numbers, especially from a middle infielder.

Hurricane Hernan Iribarren is also hitting for a high average, but with less patience at power at .368/.375/.441.  He walked 51 times last year in 486 at-bats, so I'd like to see the OBP get a bit higher above the average, which is not going to stay at .368 all year.

Inexplicably rated the #7 prospect in the system by Baseball America, shortstop Alcides Escobar has set out to prove me wrong with his .333/.441/.481 line.  Nice patience and power. I'd be interested in reading a scouting report on how his defense is coming along.

Ryan Braun, the source of the footsteps Bill Hall hears behind him at third base, is off to a relatively slow start at .296/.354/.394.  The lack of power is the biggest concern here, though given his ability I have to think he's in for a big surge at some point in that department.

Andruw Jones comp and top "projectability" prospect Charlie Fermaint appears to be "getting it" a bit, as he's hitting .295/.377/.410.  The OBP is especially heartening.

Ryan Braun's college buddy, outfielder Brendan Katin is hitting .288/.361/.466, again showing good power after destroying Rookie ball last year.

As for the pitchers, Jeff's favorite prospect Yovani Gallardo is off to a blistering start with 32 K's in 20.2 innings, allowing 16 hits and 6 walks.  Despite a 2.18 ERA, he's got a 1-2 record.  You have to love a 13.95 K/9.  Simply fantastic.

The guy picked the round after Yo, Josh Wahpepah, is off to a fair start with 10 K's, 6 walks, and 10 hits allowed in 16 innings.  His best attribute last year was his control, only 25 walks in 116.1 innings, so 6 in 16 is a little worrisome.

Upwardly mobile Steve Hammond, who played at three different levels after being drafted last year, is also pitching well, with 18 K's and 19 hits allowed in 20 innings.  10 walks, though, is cause for concern.  If he harnesses his command a bit, the Brewers appear willing to be aggressive with him, perhaps seeing him as a future reliever.

Former top prospect Mike Jones, he of the two shoulder surgeries, has understandably been on a short leash, logging only 7.2 innings in 3 games.  It's silly to worry about his command at this point, given how long it's been since he's pitched, but the 8 K's indicate that he's still got some stuff.

And now, at long last, we've reached the Golden Boy, Mark Rogers.  Rogers has really been getting knocked around this year, allowing 23 hits and 12 walks in only 13.2 innings.  He's struck out 20, but he's always had high K numbers to go with his high ERAs.  He still has plenty of time, but this year has to been seen as a big disappointment thus far; hopefully, it doesn't affect his confidence.

At Low-A West Virginia, catcher Angel Salome is rapidly turning into a legitimate prospect, hitting .348/.395/.493.  He's flashing power and patience and reportedly has superior defensive tools, if not the skills to match at this point.  If he keeps this up all year, you will hear his name in several major publications this offseason.

Kenny Holmberg, another guy who really tore up Rookie ball last year, is again hitting for monstrous power from a second baseman, .333/.431/.593.  He and Salome are two guys to really keep an eye on.

Nepotista Ned Yost IV is struggling, hitting .204/.245/.367.  At least he's showing good power as a first baseman.

The fastest guy in the system, outfielder Darren Ford is hitting an anemic .265/.286/.324.  He's stolen 5 bases in 6 tries. I think there's a reason that people only ever talk about his speed.

Another of Sickels' sleeper picks and the son of former Major Leaguer Mickey Brantley, outfielder Michael Brantley, is also struggling mightily, hitting only .171/.277/.195.

The brightest pitching light at this level is Will Inman, who's struck out 19 in 16.2 innings while walking only 2.  He and Gallardo are really putting a smile on my face.  Inman is another guy who's going to get famous pretty soon if he keeps it up.

Two guys not mentioned thus far because of injury are Manny Parra and Vince Perkins, who was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays.  You all know about Parra, but Perkins is very interesting. Baseball America, in rating him the #10 prospect in the Blue Jays' system, had this to say: "Perkins' power arm rivals any in the system. The action on Perkins' heavy 93-96 mph sinking fastball has been likened to a bowling ball."  Sounds intriguing, though they might be conflating his two-seamer and four-seamer, as I've never heard of a sinker thrown that hard.  Perkins is on the DL for now and, along with Parra, will open the year at Huntsville when healthy.

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