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Minor League Barometer: It's Still Spring in the Minors

Jesse Siegel

Jesse Siegel

Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

With the minor league season not yet under way, this week's barometer gives us a unique opportunity to evaluate the extremely early results of some prospects who have made the jump to the majors. Let's see how these neophytes are performing in their first week in the bigs, again, understanding that the sample size is extraordinarily small. Likewise, as always we will take a gander at those prospects primed to make the quantum leap sooner rather than later.

UPGRADES

1. Brandon Belt, 1B, SF -
Yes, Belt made the team even though I thought the Giants would wait to start his arbitration clock. But that's water under the bridge now. Although he is 2-for-13 to start the year, the most impressive part of Belt's game thus far has been his patience at the plate. In fact, Belt is averaging more pitches seen per at-bat than any player in the majors, not just rookies. This has translated into four walks in four contests. Belt also mashed the first career home run Saturday against the Dodgers and even swiped a bag in Sunday's 10-0 win. Although the Giants are 1-3 to start the year, and Aubrey Huff has looked lost at times in the outfield since making the switch from first base, it is doubtful the Giants would take back their decision to keep Belt on the Opening Day roster.


2. Zach Britton, SP, BAL -
Britton parlayed an impeccable spring with a masterful debut for the O's, stepping in for the injured Brian Matusz. The Zach Attack scattered just three hits over six innings, allowing one run while striking out six hitters. The best part for the Orioles? Britton didn't even have his best night, as he waked three batters and allowed an inordinate number of fly balls. Once Britton gets the nerves out of his system and harnesses the command of his power sinker, the groundball pitcher could be one of the surprise stories of the 2011 campaign.

3. Kyle Drabek, P, TOR -
Drabek was simply dazzling in his first start this season for the Blue Jays, tossing 5.1 no-hit innings en route to a seven-inning, one-run, seven-strikeout performance against Minnesota. In fact, Drabek allowed just one hit his entire stint on the mound, a single off the bat of Denard Span. Although he walked three batters, Drabek solidified his spot as the No. 1 prospect for the Jays, inducing 11 groundball outs and effectively throwing his cutter. The fact that he threw just 54 strikes during his 101 pitches only furthers the notion that Drabek will actually get better as the season progresses. A truly scary thought for opposing hitters.

4. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, CLE -
Arguably the top prospect for the Indians, Chisenhall is not in the majors just yet, but it is only a matter of time before he makes his MLB debut. The Indians have limited options at third base, and journeyman Jack Hannahan likely will only hold up for so long at the hot corner. With the other option, Jason Donald, on the DL with a broken finger on his left hand, and the Indians likely heading nowhere this season, Chisenhall is a prospect to watch come June 1. Chisenhall batted .278/.351/.450 with 17 home runs and 84 RBI in 2010 at Double-A Akron.

5. Kila Ka'aihue, 1B, KC -
Perhaps one of the lesser known prospects in the Royals' pipeline, Ka'aihue is getting the chance to be the everyday first baseman for Kansas City. Ka'aihue has shown excellent plate discipline so far this season, drawing four walks in four games. The power-hitting prospect also launched a walk-off home run to catapult the Royals to a 2-1 victory over the Angels on Friday. With Eric Hosmer lurking in Triple-A and Billy Butler firmly entrenched as the team's DH, the 27-year-old Ka'aihue likely will have to be at the top of his game to keep his slot. So far, so good for Kila.

6. Brent Morel, 3B, CWS -
Morel has looked every bit the part of a starting third baseman for Chicago through the first couple of games this season, accumulating hits in 3-of-9 at-bats. He drove in two runs in his MLB debut on Opening Day and even stole a base in his second game. Known more for his defense than his offensive prowess, Morel could be a pleasant surprise with the bat in such a potent lineup. Surrounded by sluggers like Carlos Quentin and Adam Dunn, while sharing the infield with Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez, Morel will be in a low-pressure situation that could increase his chances of playing well early this season.

Honorable Mention

1. Brandon Beachy, P, ATL
2. Ivan Nova, P, NYY
3. Jordan Lyles, P, HOU
4. Danny Espinosa, 2B, WAS
5. Jacob Turner, P, DET

DOWNGRADES

1. Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL -
Freeman has looked a bit overmatched at the dish thus far this season, striking out four times in four games while posting a .143 batting average. He has just one extra base-hit over that span, while walking twice. Freeman's fielding has been pristine, a factor which should keep him in the starting lineup through slumps. However, the longer he struggles, and the longer he fails to provide some power at the first-base slot, the more difficult it may be for him to stick. Still, clearly the season is young.

2. Carlos Carrasco, P, CLE -
Carrasco got blown up in his first start of the 2011 campaign, surrendering seven earned runs in 6.2 innings for the Tribe. The 24-year-old walked two batters while fanning two, but gave up 10 hits and was batted around by the ChiSox. Carrasco likely won't get the hook from the rotation anytime soon, as the Indians are a young, inexperienced squad in the rebuilding phase. Still, it was certainly a disappointing start to the season for Carrasco, particularly coming off of such a strong spring training.

3. Matt Dominguez, 3B, FLA -
The hits just keep on coming for Dominguez. And not in a good way. One week after being downgraded solely due to his poor play to end spring training and subsequent demotion, Dominguez suffered a broken right elbow after being hit by a pitch. Although he could miss just one month, the third baseman will have to work his way back into form in the minors before having any shot of seeing the Marlins roster. It's a tough break as well, considering the Fish have a hurt Donnie Murphy starting at the hot corner, with utility man Emilio Bonifacio seeing time there as well. This is a startling turn of events for the neophyte Dominguez, who just one month earlier was considered the frontrunner for the starting job.

4. Reid Brignac, SS, TB -
Brignac is going to have to prove he can handle the bat if he is going to be a worthy fantasy producer. The sure-handed shortstop played largely as a backup last season, but had a mere .307 On-Base Percentage in 301 at-bats. Ironically, Brignac thought he was too picky at the dish in 2010. Given the starting job with the departure of Jason Bartlett, Brignac has failed to gather a hit yet this season and is batting in a much less potent lineup than that of a mere season ago. Although he's a shown a bit of home-run power in the past, it remains to be seen whether he can make enough contact, steal enough bags or bop enough home runs to make for a decent fantasy option.

5. Lucas Duda, 1B/OF, NYM -
When Jason Bay originally hit the DL, Duda was supposed to take his spot in the outfield. However, perennial forth outfielder Willie Harris has instead started two of the Mets' first three contests and is 4-for-10 with a home run, four RBI and a steal. Although there is no way Harris will keep this pace up, manager Terry Collins likely will ride the veteran's hot hand until it fizzles. Also bear in mind that Duda played a decent amount of first base in the minors, and is still learning how to navigate the outfield. Although Duda has plenty of upside (.304/.398/.569 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI in 115 games for Triple-A Buffalo last season), the 25-year-old may only serve as a backup even with Bay on the shelf for the time being.

6. Chris Heisey, OF, CIN -
Heisey is trying to prove to the Reds that he can be more than just organizational depth. However, it's going to be hard with Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce standing directly in his path. Heisey is also going to have to prove that his 2009 season of .314/.379/.521 with 22 home runs, 77 RBI and 21 steals was no fluke. Unfortunately, Heisey hit just .241/.307/.430 in Triple-A last season and wasn't much better in 201 at-bats in the majors. With Yonder Alonso also lurking in the background and biding his time for an opportunity, likely also in the outfield with Joey Votto installed at first, Heisey's impact on the Reds looks to be minimal.