As we inch closer and closer to September and expanded rosters in Major League Baseball, rumblings about the call-up of prospects hit a fever pitch. Brett Lawrie got the nod from the Jays after making his way back from a hand injury, while Jesus Montero should finally make his much-anticipated debut for the Yankees shortly. Despite playing inspired ball lately, the Cubbies should still promote top prospect Brett Jackson to the bigs soon, as Jackson has been crushing the ball recently at Triple-A Iowa. Meanwhile, Trayvon Robinson wasted no time with his new team in Seattle, smacking a home run while taking one away in the field from Torii Hunter.
Despite all of these forays into the bigs, one of the great things about baseball is that there are always more phenoms on the horizon. Here is this week's sneak peak into the minors.
1. Travis d'Arnaud, C, TOR - A back injury hampered d'Arnaud in 2010, but the 22-year-old has once again emerged as one of the top catching prospects in baseball with a bounce-back 2011 campaign. Over his last 10 games, d'Arnaud is pounding the ball to the tune of .447/.512/.816 with three home runs, 16 RBI and even two stolen bases. Overall, d'Arnaud is slashing .328/.398/.556 with 15 home runs and 58 RBI. Though J.P. Arencibia is the current, young backstop for the Jays, d'Arnaud has more upside and could eventually displace him.
2. Joe Wieland, P, SD - Wieland was having a superior 2011 season with Texas when he was dealt to the Padres with Robbie Erlin for reliever Mike Adams at the trade deadline. In his first start for Double-A San Antonio, Wieland allowed one run on just three hits in six innings for the Missions. The 21-year-old righty did not walk a batter while fanning seven. Control is Wieland's best asset, as he has posted a ridiculous 139:15 K:BB ratio through 135.2 innings pitched in 2011. With fewer pitchers blocking his path to the bigs, along with the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco Park, Wieland could find his way into the San Diego rotation in 2012.
3. L.J. Hoes, OF, BAL - Despite continually high draft picks and the accompanying pomp and circumstance, the Orioles have been simply unable to develop much talent from their own system the last few seasons, particularly from a hitting standpoint. They're hoping Hoes changes that trend, as the 21-year-old outfielder is batting .321/.389/.444 with six home runs, 44 RBI and 14 steals through 67 games for Double-A Bowie. Hoes has been surging recently, hitting a robust .394/.535/.818 with four home runs, 13 RBI and two steals in his last 10 contests. The O's will likely be patient with one of their better hitting prospects, but a brief September call-up is certainly not out of the question for the struggling O's.
4. Brandon Jacobs, OF, BOS - Football name, baseball game. The 20-year-old former football player, who also shares his name with a certain New York Giants running back, has had an electric season for Low-A Greenville. Jacobs is hitting .319/.398/.520 with 14 home runs, 66 RBI and 26 steals through 92 games for the Drive. Jacobs has 10 RBI and four steals in his last 10 games, while batting .333/.409/.528 over that span. He has fanned 95 times in 92 games, but that is to be expected considering his limited time in the minors, and he has still drawn 39 walks this year. Although Jacobs is at least a couple of years away from making an impact, he has an intriguing combination of speed, power and patience at the dish that could vault him into the elite prospect conversation.
5. Cody Buckel, P, TEX - With the aforementioned Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin now in San Diego, Buckel moves up the prospect ranks for the Rangers. In his first full season in the minors, the 19-year-old righty has posted a 2.76 ERA and 84:19 K:BB ratio in 71.2 innings for Low-A Hickory. Opposing batters are hitting just .232 against Buckel, who has also posted a decent 1.14 GO:AO ratio. Although he does not have the upside of fellow Texas pitching prospects Martin Perez or Tanner Scheppers, it is tough to argue with the results thus far for Buckel
6. Rob Rasmussen, P, FLA - Rasmussen has been dominant over his past two starts for High-A Jupiter, tossing 14.0 innings without allowing an earned run, while giving up a measly four hits over that span. The 22-year-old lefty has walked three batters while punching out 14 during that timeframe. The newfound command is refreshing for Rasmussen, who has been wildly effective this season in walking 62 batters in 126.2 innings. Still, he has managed to limit the damage with a 3.69 ERA and has also fanned 94 batters. Other than Chad James, Rasmussen may be the best pitching prospect on the Marlins farm.
1. Neftali Soto, 1B, CIN
2. Nathan Eovaldi, P, LAD
3. Wily Peralta, P, MIL
4. Gary Sanchez, C, NYY
5. Kyle McPherson, P, PIT
1. Delino DeShields Jr., 2B, HOU - DeShields had legal problems before he stepped on the field in 2011, getting arrested on DUI charges in January. Whether bothered by the off-field incident or not, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2010 draft has never really gotten going during his first professional season, hitting .227/.310/.318 with six home runs and 42 RBI through 97 games for Low-A Lexington. DeShields has stolen 26 bases, but he has also been caught 11 times. Although he is also learning a new position, it is clear DeShields is a long way away from making any sort of impact for the Astros.
2. Dellin Betances, P, NYY - A temporary downgrade for Betances, who has been lit up over his past four starts. Over that span, the 23-year-old has allowed 16 runs in 17.2 innings for Double-A Trenton. While rotation mate Manny Banuelos got promoted to Triple-A for a possible big-league debut in September, Betances has struggled with his command, walking 53 batters in 93.1 innings for the Thunder. The 6-foot-8, 230, righty has great peripheral stats still, as opposing batters are hitting just .215 against him, and he has posted a 1.32 GO:AO ratio in 2011 with 103 strikeouts. With the Yankees rotation also stocked for 2011, Betances will have to wait his turn in the minors for now.
3. Jedd Gyorko, 3B, SD - Double-A has been quite different for Gyorko than High-A, as the 22-year-old third-baseman has struggled since his promotion to San Antonio. After slashing an absurd .365/.430/.635 with 18 home runs and 74 RBI for High-A Lake Elsinore, Gyorko is batting just .246/.336/.357 with three home runs and 20 RBI for the Missions. Although he has a five-game hitting streak, Gyorko has gotten just one hit in each of those five contests for a .278 batting average in that span. Gyorko certainly has time to make the appropriate adjustments, but it doesn't appear that he's going to rake his way to the majors just yet.
4. Brett Eibner, OF, KC - With Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and even Johnny Giavotella now playing every day in the majors, and Christian Colon and Wil Myers having mediocre seasons in the minors, the Royals find themselves falling back to the middle of the pack regarding hitting prospects in comparison to other minor-league systems. Eibner has been decent, if unspectacular, in his first full season for Kansas City. He is batting .210/.335/.438 with 10 home runs and 23 RBI for Low-A Kane County. The 22-year-old has shown decent plate discipline and power, but has struggled to hit for average. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now, but a .210 batting average at Low-A for a 22-year-old certainly isn't ideal.
5. Jefry Marte, 3B, NYM - Marte has been ice cold recently, with a mere seven hits in his last 66 at-bats for a crisp .106 batting average. Over that span, he has just one extra-base hit. The 20-year-old has actually had a power outage overall, having failed to homer in each of his last 30 games for High-A St. Lucie. Likewise, in July he went 15 consecutive contests without drawing a walk. His overall line sits at .249/.312/.346 with five home runs, 48 RBI and 12 steals. Marte is still young for High-A, but has not made great strides this season overall.
6. Christian Bethancourt, C, ATL - It's easy to pick on young players about their plate discipline, and to a certain extent the struggles are to be expected. Take Bethancourt for example, a 19-year-old catching prospect for the Braves. Since being called up to High-A Lynchburg, Bethancourt has fanned 25 times while drawing just one walk. He also gets even more of a pass because of the dearth of catching prospects in baseball. However, since entering the minors in 2008, Bethancourt has drawn 51 walks. As a comparison, Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt drew 82 walks this season at Double-A before becoming the everyday first baseman for Arizona. While not all players have to be great in the on-base percentage category (see Robinson Cano), it takes a special breed of player to become a star, or even a serviceable player at the big-league level without the ability to draw walks. Also, Brian McCann is just 27, carried a robust .376 OBP before his injury and is not going anywhere anytime soon for Atlanta.
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