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Minor League Barometer: Moustakas Ready for the Bigs

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.

Tough break for Toronto uber-prospect Brett Lawrie, who seemed poised to make his major-league debut as early as last week until he got plunked on the left hand, requiring a DL stint. On the plus side, x-rays came back negative, and the wrist only appears bruised. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old's promotion will certainly be delayed, and the Jays may want to see how Lawrie handles Triple-A pitching for a bit once returning from the disabled list before calling him up to the big club.

There will be plenty more talk about the MLB Draft in the coming weeks. For now, let's look at the rest of those phenoms already playing in the minors in this week's Barometer.

UPGRADES

1. Mike Moustakas, 3B, KC -
For those patiently waiting for Moustakas to get called up, it appears only a matter of time. Over his last 10 contests for Triple-A Omaha, the 22-year-old third-baseman hit .378 with two home runs and six RBI. The only factors standing in his way are the combined production of Wilson Betemit and Mike Aviles at third for Kansas City, as well Moustaka' continued mediocre plate discipline. Moustakas has fanned 43 times in 53 games, while drawing just 18 walks. As a comparison, fellow Royals prospect Eric Hosmer had fanned 16 times in 26 games while drawing 19 walks at the time of his promotion to the big leagues. Nevertheless, once Wilson Betemit's hot bat inevitably slows, Moustakas likely will get the call for the Royals.

2. Ryan Lavarnway, C, BOS -
The problems for the BoSox at the big-league level behind the dish have been well documented, at least from an offensive perspective. Jason Varitek is past his prime, though was never much of a hitting catcher anyway. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been better lately, but still has not lived up to his potential and is sporting a .291 OBP. Meanwhile, Lavarnway has been sporting the power stroke for Double-A Portland, swatting 13 home runs and knocking in 34 RBI through 51 games for the Sea Dogs. In his last 10 games, the 23-year-old backstop hit .432/.512/.757. Perhaps most important for an eventual promotion, as of last week, Lavarnway had thrown out 13 of 30 base stealers. Although Lavarnway is likely a 2012 call-up, Boston certainly must be thrilled with his development this year.

3. Matt Harvey, P, NYM -
Perhaps this will change if the Mets trade Jose Reyes or Carlos Beltran, but for now Harvey remains one of the few bright spots on the Mets' farm. In his last two starts for High-A St. Lucie, comprising 12.0 innings pitched, Harvey fanned 19 batters while issuing just three walks and allowing just one earned run over that span. The 22-year-old phenom has a 2.44 ERA and 71:20 K:BB ratio through 59.0 innings in 2011. With a 1.08 WHIP and an opponents' batting average of .232, Harvey has been as good as advertised for the Metropolitans in his first full season in the minors.

4. Shelby Miller, P, STL -
Miller has made his way to Double-A Springfield after tormenting hitters at High-A for the better part of two months. At that level, the 20-year-old righty posted a 2.89 ERA and 81:20 K:BB ratio in 53.0 innings. Opposing batters hit a putrid .204 against him. In his first start for Double-A Springfield, Miller scattered seven hits over 6.0 innings, allowing just one earned run. The 6-foot-3, 195, righty walked two batters while striking out five. Miller's rapid ascension makes him a darkhorse candidate for a September call-up, but continued success could see him realistically in the bigs by the end of summer 2012.

5. Edwar Cabrera, P, COL -
Cabrera is 23 and at Low-A, but has been purposely handled with care by the Rockies after being signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. Cabrera has rewarded Colorado with an outstanding 2011 campaign for Low-A Asheville. He has fanned at least six batters in every start this season, compiling a 96:14 K:BB ratio in 71.0 innings for the Tourists. He has a 3.30 ERA, and opposing batters are hitting just .226 against him. While he's at least a year or two away from making an impact in the bigs, Cabrera is certainly a prospect to keep on your radar due to his combination of control and strikeout potential.

6. Kyle McPherson, P, PIT -
Although a bit old for High-A (23), McPherson has been dominant this season for Bradenton. He nearly threw a no-hitter on May 31 en route to a dazzling one-hit, complete game. McPherson's strength is his control; the 6-4, 215, righty has walked a mere six batters in 71.2 innings in 2011, while punching out 60 batters. Opposing batters are hitting .227 against him as well. Although it will be interesting to see if McPherson can continue his success at the higher levels, he has certainly been extremely effective this season for the Bucs.

Honorable Mention

1. Erasmo Ramirez, P, SEA
2. Alex Presley, OF, PIT
3. Zack Wheeler, P, SF
4. Marcus Knecht, OF, TOR
5. Brad Hand, P, FLA

DOWNGRADES

1. Mike Montgomery, P, KC -
Besides Danny Duffy, it has not been a good past few weeks for Royals pitchers near the top of the farm system. John Lamb needs Tommy John surgery and will miss the requisite 12-18 months, while Montgomery has been wild and battered over his past three starts for Triple-A Omaha. Over his last 14.1 innings, the 21-year-old lefty has allowed 15 earned runs. Monty has walked 11 batters over that span. His control continues to be suspect, as he has a 51:38 K:BB ratio through 63.2 innings this season. With a 5.23 ERA to boot, Montgomery needs time to harness his command before getting the call from the big club.

2. Gary Sanchez, C, NYY -
The talent is there for Sanchez, but not the maturity. Although he hasn't had any Engel Beltre-type tirades, Sanchez was actually sent away from Low-A Charleston due to reported attitude problems. Separate incidents were alleged, including his refusal to enter the game off the bench, as well as refusing to catch a bullpen session. Sanchez is just 18 and has enormous upside, but is hitting just .233/.313/.388 through 34 games with the Mud Dogs, and clearly has been taking out his frustrations in all the wrong places. He's got plenty of time to grow up, but remain cautious at this time due to these new developments.

3. Joe Benson, OF, MIN -
Benson needs surgery due to a partial tear of the meniscus in his left knee and will miss about a month. A second-round pick in the 2006 draft, Benson was off to a torrid start for Double-A New Britain, hitting .379/.446/.638 with two home runs, 12 RBI and three steals through 15 games for the Rock Cats. However, he cooled considerably before that injury, as his line stood at .294/.380/.489 with five home runs overall. Still one of the better hitting prospects in the Minnesota system, the 2010 minor-league player of the year for the Twins will have to make his way back to health before coming into the picture for Minnesota at the big-league level.

4. Bobby Borchering, 3B, ARI -
Borchering continues to struggle with strikeouts, as the 20-year-old has fanned 75 times in 54 games for High-A Visalia. He has drawn just 13 walks over that span as well. In his last 10 games, Borchering hit just .220/.273/.390. Although his power numbers are decent (nine home runs, 46 RBI), Borchering's plate discipline clearly needs some work as he ascends to the higher levels. He has time to mature, but the failure to make contact remains a tad alarming.

5. Rudy Owens, P, PIT -
The Pirates are hoping to buck the recent trend of failing to develop frontline pitchers, drafting Jameson Taillon last year and Gerrit Cole with the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft. Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Owens was not a high pick but morphed into a top prospect for the Bucs last season with a 2.46 ERA and 132:23 K:BB ratio in 150.0 innings for Double-A Altoona. However, the 6-3, 225, left-hander has had a rough going in Triple-A this season, posting a bloated 5.07 ERA and 30:12 K:BB ratio through 62.0 innings for Indianapolis. Opposing batters are hitting .280 against him. Have the wheels finally fallen off for Owens, or will he be able to rebound and turn into a serviceable pitcher at the big-league level? Only time will tell, but for now, he's not ready for primetime just yet.

6. Jiovanni Mier, SS, HOU -
Here's the problem for Mier; though he is still just 20, he is in his second year at Low-A, and his only plus-skill from an offensive perspective appears to be plate discipline. Even then, he is only batting .254 with 44 strikeouts this season despite a .365 OBP. He has stolen just four bases in 2011, while hitting five home runs through 47 games. Although the AStros are hoping that as Mier matures he develops some pop, it is unclear that he will make for much of a fantasy producer at the big-league level, or even higher up in the minors. Not exactly what you're hoping for with the No. 21 pick overall of the 2009 draft.

Follow @JesseLSiegel on Twitter.

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