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April 25, 2011

Future Shock

Monday Morning Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners (Triple-A Tacoma)

As the number two overall pick in the 2009 draft and the recipient of a $6 million bonus, there is plenty of hype around Ackley, but is it justified? Everyone talks about the elite-level hit tool, but while he was pushed, his .267/.368/.407 line last year didn't exactly bowl anyone over. There was much speculation that he'd be in the big leagues by the end of May this year in order to manage his service time, but he still needs to earn that promotion. A three-hit game on Friday, just three days after his first three-hit contest of the year, had it looking like he finally got going, but he went 0-for-8 for the remainder of the weekend and is now batting just .236/.345/.333 in 18 games. Other than excellent plate discipline and plus speed, we're all still waiting to see the player we thought Ackley would become, and after 152 professional games, it just might be time to adjust expectations.

Trevor Bauer, RHP, UCLA

Another weekend, another great start for Bauer and more time to debate his workload. He was incredible again in Friday, striking out 17 while tossing a four-hit complete game against Stanford, and once again, he threw a ton of pitches, finishing the night at 135. With more that three times as many whiffs (127) than hits allowed (41) over 82 2/3 innings, he's been the most dominant performer in a great year for college arms, and scouts adore his combination of stuff and pitchability to the point that he's moved into the top five picks in the draft, and maybe even the top three. That being said, the workload is still too high. There are plenty who want to write it off due to his unique routines and long tossing, but that's a dangerous act. Sure, he just might be that next guy like Sabathia, or Halladay, or Lincecum, where the pitch counts really don't matter than much, but baseball has never found a pattern for identifying them, and it's still a huge risk.

Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants (Triple-A Fresno)

Sent back to the minors after hitting just .192 in 17 big league games, Belt took a few days off, reported to Fresno, and started raking again, hitting a home run off Micah Owings in his first Triple-A at-bat of the year. He then added two hits, including a double, on Sunday. We were spoiled by 2010 rookies like Jason Heyward and Buster Posey in many ways, and it's easy to forget that they are the exceptions—most hitters, even future great ones, struggle in the first exposure to major league pitching. We didn't necessarily learn anything about Belt in those three major league weeks to change our opinion of him; it's just going to take a little longer for him to establish himself, just like it does for most.

Matt Carpenter, 3B, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)

Carpenter almost earned a big league job with a fantastic showing this spring, but for now, he's blocked, as David Freese is the Cardinals' third baseman, and he is hitting quite well. Five days ago, Carpenter was hitting .184 in his first taste of Triple-A, but April is the month when stats can change in a hurry, and a quick five-game hitting streak with home runs on Saturday and Sunday have his line up to a much more respectable .273/.388/.418. It's hard to nail down his future in St. Louis, other than as a fill-in during the inevitable Freese injury, but if he can prove last year's breakout was for real with big numbers at the highest minor league level, the question will become whether or not the club is interested in trading one of their top insurance policies.

James Darnell, 3B, Padres (Double-A San Antonio)

I'm going to throw a player at you:





























Now, you are probably asking yourself, “who is this beast and how do I get him on my fantasy team?” The answer: he doesn't exist, but rather “he” is the current team totals for San Antonio, who have played some wild games in some wild weather. These statistics need to be taken with a grain of salt, but it's still hard to ignore Darnell's early bounce back campaign, as after going 5-for-12 over the weekend with two doubles, two home runs and four walks, he's now hitting a ridiculous .482/.589/.804 in 15 games. The good news is that there are plenty of tools to back up good numbers for Darnell, and with 16 walks against just three strikeouts in 56 at-bats, there not some totally insane BABIP anomaly either. Just a good player taking advantage of a good situation, but again, he is a really good player.

Wilmer Flores, SS, Mets (High-A St. Lucie)

Flores has never put up big numbers in the minors, but he is also one of those prospects who has always had the excuse of being young for his level, as he is spending his second year at High-A and doesn't turn 20 until August. That being said, his scouting reports are beginning to be a concern. As a player without much patience or power, much of his value revolves around his ability to hit for average, and as his .284/.329/.328 line suggests, he is still not doing enough of it, especially for whatever position he ends up at. “He's the worst shortstop I've ever seen... he couldn't play shortstop on my son's 10-year-old team,” said one scout who recently saw him in the Florida State League. “He obviously has some ability with the bat, but I don't like the swing or the approach, and I'm not sure he'll ever have much power,” he continued. “It's a bad bat, a bad athlete, and after clocking him at 4.75 seconds to first base while running all-out on a double play, I think he probably has to play first base, so he better hit.”

Erik Komatsu, OF, Brewers (Double-A Huntsville)

While the Zack Greinke trade left the Brewers with the worst system in baseball, no organization is without prospects worth keeping an eye on, and Komatsu is just that. An eighth-round pick in 2008, Komatsu his .323/.413/.442 last year in the Florida State League, and he is adjusting just fine to the upper levels, gong 7-for-11 over the weekend to lift his early-season Southern League numbers to .412/.524/.559. More small and gritty than a big tools guy, Komatsu has a quick swing and excellent hands but will never hit for power, and while he is a tick above-average runner, scouts are not completely convinced he can stay in center field. The answer to that question will define his future as a second-division starter or good fourth outfielder.

Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays (Triple-A Las Vegas)

While Las Vegas is a great place to hit, Lawrie is still having nothing short of a great year with the bat so far, as a current 11-for-22 run with three bombs has his averages up to .425/.468/.712 in 17 games. He can hit, that was never in doubt, but what about the defense? With a .906 fielding percentage in his first year as a third baseman, his reviews there are so far no better than they were when he was a second baseman. While only 21 years old, he is either ready or awfully close to ready for a major league look, so maybe it's time to just throw him in right field and be done with it, as the infield career was maybe just never to be.

Trayvon Robinson, OF, Dodgers (Triple-A Albuquerque)

While the Dodgers called up Jerry Sands last week, one can't help but wonder if Robinson would have been the better option. Sands had a remarkable ten games for Albuquerque, but he is also limited to first base or a corner, while Robinson can play all three outfield slots and provide speed off the bench when he is not starting. He'd also provide a leadoff man to a team that is currently employing Aaron Miles in that spot, making him a better fit than Sands all-around. After a seven-hit weekend, Robinson is now hitting .357/.429/.661 in 15 games, and if he can consistently cut down on the strikeouts, he'll get his chance.

Kolten Wong, 2B, Hawaii

The 2011 draft is all about pitching, but that also means that the few hitters, especially on the college side could move up due to scarcity. Second base prospects almost never go high in the draft unless their name is Rickie Weeks, but Wong could be an exception who is now getting late first-round consideration. A five-foot-nine junior who was a 16th-round pick by the Twins in 2008 out of Kamehamaha High, Wong isn't going to blow anyone away with his overall tools, but he is a solid runner, fundamentally sound defender, has gap power, a good approach, and more importantly, consistently generates hard contact, as after a 7-for-12 showing during a weekend series with Valparaiso, he is now hitting a cool .400/.497/.600 in 37 games.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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