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Minor League Barometer: Future is Now in K.C.

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.

The future could be now for the Royals, as Eric Hosmer could be the first of many Kansas City prospects finally making their long-awaited major-league debuts this season. With Kila Kaaihue struggling, the Royals brought up Hosmer to be their everyday first baseman. The 21-year-old was batting a blistering .439/.525/.582 with three home runs and 15 RBI at Triple-A before getting the call. After third-baseman Mike Moustakas gets the call sometime later this season, the K.C. pitchers will be next in line, starting with Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery. Clearly the Royals are hoping that their stacked farm system will finally yield a championship-caliber ballclub for the first time in decades.

UPGRADES

1. Eric Surkamp, P, SF -
Although he was considered a bit old for High-A last season, Surkamp graduated to Double-A in 2011 and has dominated. The 23-year-old lefty has a 1.65 ERA and 51:15 K:BB ratio through 32.2 innings for Double-A Richmond. Opposing batters are hitting a paltry .205 against Surkamp, who has recorded three-straight 10-strikeout games. The only negative thus far for Surkamp has been the issuing of a few more walks than usual; his season-high at any level is 39 walks. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue with the results thus far, and the Giants could have yet another stud pitching prospect on their hands.

2. Desmond Jennings, OF, TB -
Sam Fuld made for a nice story, and he is still an above-average fielder. Nevertheless, Fuld has a mere three hits in his last 45 at-bats. Meanwhile Jennings has been surging for Triple-A Durham. He is batting a blistering .395/.467/.605 with a home run, four RBI and two steals over his last 10 contests. The overall line for the 24-year-old is not too shabby either; Jennings is hitting .304/.417/.461 with three home runs, 12 RBI and eight stolen bases. Even though the Rays have been playing extremely well lately, Jennings is the future in left field, and since Fuld has come back to Earth, Jennings appears primed for a June 1 call-up.

3. Rubby De La Rosa, P, LAD -
De La Rosa has been mowing down opposing hitters at Double-A Chattanooga, posting a 36:9 K:BB ratio through 27.1 innings for the Lookouts. His vastly improved control has been the biggest reason for his success early in 2011. De La Rosa has been even better over his last two starts, fanning 17 batters while walking just one. This has led to a 2.63 ERA. If he can maintain command of his blazing fastball and improved secondary pitches, L.A.'s 2010 minor-league pitcher of the year could become a frontline starter for the Dodgers.

4. Jeurys Familia, P, NYM -
The Mets could have a blossoming star in Familia, who was just recently promoted to Double-A Binghamton. With High-A St. Lucie in 2011, the 21-year-old had a 1.49 ERA and 36:8 K:BB ratio through 36.1 innings for Double-A Binghamton. As with De La Rosa above, Familias improved command has done wonders for his overall numbers. In 2010, he struggled at High-A with a 5.58 ERA and 137:74 K:BB ratio. As he has been able to harness his control while still striking out opposing batters, Familia got the bump to the next level. Opponents were hitting a putrid .171 against Familia before his promotion. With Jenrry Mejia out of commission for 12-18 months and the big-club struggling to tread water, Familia (along with Matthew Harvey) has been one of the few bright spots for the Metropolitans this season.

5. Juan Nicasio, P, COL -
Nicasio has racked up the strikeouts for Double-A Tulsa in 2011. The 24-year-old righty has a 47:6 K:BB ratio through 35.2 innings for the Drillers. Nicasios problem last season despite excellent command and strikeout totals was the home run ball; the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder allowed 14 dingers in 2010 while at High-A. By contrast, he has allowed just one home run through his first six starts in Double-A. Although he has been getting less ground balls than in previous seasons, Nicasio has still limited opposing baserunners and gotten the big strikeout when needed. He is certainly a sleeper prospect to keep on your radar.

6. D.J. LeMahieu, 2B, CHC -
Let me make this comparison for a certain purpose; LeMahieu, strictly by the numbers, reminds me of a less powerful Robinson Cano. Now, he has nowhere near the talent of Cano, and does not project to be a player of Canos caliber. That said, he is a player who does not draw a ton of walks, but does not strike out a lot either. He is hitting .324/.355/.428 with two home runs, 18 RBI and three steals through 30 games with Double-A Tennessee. He has never hit below .314 at any level. Although he does not have terrific power, his ability to make contact makes him an intriguing player to at least keep tabs on. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to progress at Triple-A and beyond with his current skill set.

Honorable Mention

1. Tyler Skaggs, P, ARI
2. Joe Wieland, P, TEX
3. Mike Moustakas, 3B, KC
4. Tim Wheeler, OF, COL
5. Barret Loux, P, TEX

DOWNGRADES

1. Rudy Owens, P, PIT -
The Pirates have failed to develop a stud frontline pitching prospect in recent history, despite having high draft picks over the past decade or so. Although they hope to break the trend with the 2010 No. 2 overall pick, Jameson Taillon, Owens is the closest Pirate pitching phenom to the big leagues. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old lefty has a 5.81 ERA in 26.1 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis. Although his 17:6 K:BB ratio is respectable, opposing batters are hitting .290 against Owens, who has surrendered five long balls in six starts this season. His most recent start on May 3 was arguably his worst, as Owens allowed five runs on five hits in just 2.1 innings. He failed to record a strikeout, while walking a batter. After posting consecutive sub-2.50 ERA seasons, Owens appears to have a hit a wall on his quest to reach the majors.

2. Brad Hand, P, FLA -
One of the better pitching prospects in the Florida system, Hand has been battered of late at Double-A Jacksonville, allowing five earned runs in each of his last two contests. The 21-year-old lefty has been plagued by the free pass, issuing nine walks over that span. He's also given up five home runs in his last three games, after allowing 10 home runs last season. With a 4.67 ERA and 20:14 K:BB ratio through 34.2 innings thus far in 2011, Hand needs some seasoning before getting a realistic shot at the show.

3. Casey Crosby, P, DET -
At one time, Crosby was considered among the better pitching prospects in the game. However, he missed most of 2010 with a left elbow injury and has been only average thus far in 2011. With Double-A Erie, the 22-year-old lefty has a 4.94 ERA and 24:12 K:BB ratio through 23.2 innings. Perhaps Crosby just needs time to regain his command and reacquaint himself with live baseball. That said, he was never known for having standout control to begin with, and that could be something to watch as Crosby's 2011 season moves on.

4. Chris Marrero, 1B, WAS -
Marrero continues to battle issues with strikezone judgment and strikeouts. The 22-year-old first baseman is hitting .243/.292/.378 with three home runs and 11 RBI. He has fanned 28 times through 29 games, while drawing just eight walks over that span. Marrero has been punched out at least 102 times in each of the past two seasons between High-A and Double-A. He hasn't displayed massive power to warrant his high strikeout totals either. Overall, though his path to the majors is not really blocked long-term, he does not appear to be a future superstar, as had previously been hoped for by his No. 15 overall selection in 2006 draft.

5. Deolis Guerra, P, MIN -
Guerra hasn't really panned out for the Twins since coming over as part of the Johan Santana deal. He's had an ERA of 4.89 and higher in three full seasons in the Minnesota organization. In 2011, he has been flat-out awful, posting an 11.57 ERA and 16:8 K:BB ratio through 23.1 innings with Double-A New Britain. His last start on May 7 was atrocious, as he lasted just 1.2 innings, allowing 10 runs on eight innings. The 22-year-old righty gave up three home runs, issued three walks and did not record a single strikeout. Opposing batters are hitting an astounding .390 against him. Guerra's star has clearly faded the last few seasons, and he's bordering on forgotten-prospect territory.

6. Jared Mitchell, OF, CHW -
The No. 23 overall pick of the 2009 draft, Mitchell missed all of 2010 after tearing a ligament in his right ankle. He's struggled to start off 2011, hitting just .205/.250/.385 with three home runs, 17 RBI and three stolen bases for High-A Winstom-Salem. Scouts are worried that the surgery could have sapped some of his speed. Likewise, he has fanned 46 times in 29 games while drawing just six walks. With an extremely limited minor-league resume coming into the season, yet already turning 23 in October, Mitchell needs to turn things around rather quickly to avoid becoming lost in the prospect shuffle.

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