We're not even into June yet, and already prospects are making their mark on the bigs left and right. The Bryce is Right has stolen the headlines, and perhaps rightly so after swiping home following a Cole Hamels' intentional beaning. The latest phenom to start his career with a bang is Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. With Kevin Youkilis on the shelf, Middlebrooks got the call and ran with it, smashing a grand salami for his first big-league home run. In fact, the 23-year-old is 8-for-21 (.381) with three home runs and nine RBI through four games for the BoSox. It will be tough to send him back down if he keeps raking at this rate.
Who's got next? Let's look in this week's Minor League Barometer.
Justin Grimm, P, TEX – This season has been anything but grim for Justin, as the 2010 fifth-rounder has posted a 1.60 ERA and 37:7 K:BB ratio through 39.1 innings for Double-A Frisco. Grimm has gotten a decent amount of ground balls, compiling a 1.29 GO:AO ratio. In addition, opposing batters are hitting just .183 against him. Although Texas is chock full of pitching prospects - most notably Martin Perez, Cody Buckel and Barret Loux - Grimm is certainly making a name for himself.
Christian Friedrich, P, COL – Along with Alex White, Friedrich will get a crack at the Colorado rotation due to a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness from the Rockies starting pitchers this season. After scuffling at Double-A for two years, the 24-year-old lefty has found his groove at Triple-A. Friedrich has a 3.00 ERA and superior 27:4 K:BB ratio in 30 innings. Once considered one of the better prospects in the Rockies farm system, Friedrich could be back on the radar due to his impressive start to the 2012 season.
Matt Barnes, P, BOS – Barnes has met little resistance in his first season in the minors. The 21-year-old righty was already promoted from Low-A to High-A due to an obscene 0.34 ERA and 42:4 K:BB ratio in 26.2 innings. In his High-A debut, Barnes delivered more of the same theatrics. He allowed one run over six innings, scattering just four hits in the process. Barnes punched out 12 batters over that span; for those doing math at home, that means of the 18 outs recorded, only six came on balls actually put in play. A polished ground-ball pitcher out of UConn, a 2013 debut is not outside the realm of possibilities for Barnes should he continue to mow down opposing batters.
Tony Cingrani, P, CIN – A 22-year-old lefty, Cingrani was a third-round pick last year out of Rice. Cingrani possesses an excellent frame at 6-foot-4, 200, and has delivered so far at High-A Bakersfield. Cingrani has a 0.53 ERA and 45:9 K:BB ratio through 34.0 innings for the Blaze. Although most people talk about the speed demon Billy Hamilton on this squad, and rightly so, Cingrani has been a sight to see in his own right. He has held opposing hitters to a .158 BAA. A strikeout pitcher with outstanding control (80:6 K:BB ratio in 51.1 innings in the Pioneer league last season), Cingrani could emerge as one of the better pitching prospects in the Reds organization.
Nestor Molina, P, CHW – Obtained from the Blue Jays in the Sergio Santos deal, Molina has been promoted to Triple-A. One of the better prospects in the White Sox system had a 3.72 ERA and 25:5 K:BB ratio in 36.1 innings at Double-A. The 23-year-old's first start in Triple-A was rocky, though, as he surrendered six runs on nine hits, including two home runs. Command has always been Molina's forte, but perhaps he's been catching too much of the dish in 2012. At Double-A, opposing batters hit .302 against him despite his respectable line overall. Molina will have to adjust to the competition at the higher levels before ascending to the Majors.
Starling Marte, OF, PIT – Marte is day-to-day after being struck on the hand by a pitch Sunday. However, the real reason to be cautious is that the strikeouts continue to pile up for him. Marte has fanned 26 times in 29 games this season, after fanning 100 times in 129 games in 2011. However, he hit .332 in 2011, so there was less of a concern. Thus far in 2012, Marte is batting .263/.333/.446 with two home runs, 11 RBI and nine steals. The stolen base numbers look good, but the power will be average at best; thus, Marte must hit for a higher average to remain an upper-echelon prospect. After hitting over .300 in each of the past three seasons, Marte finally has his work cut out for him in 2012.
Wilmer Flores, SS, NYM - Once considered among the purest hitters in the minors, Flores struggled to hit for average and drew few walks the last season or two, dimming his prospect star. However, at age 20 he's back on the scene and may have finally tapped into his potential. In his third attempt at High-A, Flores is batting .314/.345/.505 with five home runs, 20 RBI and two steals through 29 games. The newfound power shows he is finally filling out, and he has fanned just seven times in 105 at-bats thus far. Questions remain about his ability to take pitches (just five walks over that span), and he has to also prove he can hit at the higher levels. Also, I happen to like the recently promoted Jordany Valdespin at short as well. But Flores may still be on his way back to the forefront of the New York organization.
Drew Gagnon, P, MIL – Low-A numbers here, so take them with a grain of salt. However, success is success at any level, and Gagnon has been dominant for the Wisconsin Rattlers. In 35.1 innings, Gagnon has a 1.02 ERA and 28:6 K:BB ratio. The sudden boom of pitching prospects in the Milwaukee system (Tyler Thornburg, Kyle Heckathorn, Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley) makes Gagnon simply someone to monitor at this point, but the 2011 third-round pick out of Long Beach State is a sleeper nevertheless.
Gary Brown, OF, SF – After having one of the better seasons for any minor-leaguer in 2011, Brown has been less-than-stellar for the Giants in 2012. For Double-A Richmond, Brown is batting just .242/.331/.283 through 31 games for the Flying Squirrels. His power has been non-existent, as Brown has not hit a home run thus far. In addition, he has just 13 RBI with only four extra-base hits. Likewise, since he has not gotten on base as much, his steals are down as well; Brown has swiped just eight bags this year after stealing 53 in 131 games in 2011. His plate discipline remains solid, and Brown has time to turn his season around. Nevertheless, he hasn't gotten off to an ideal start.
Jiovanni Mier, SS, HOU – Mier is expected to miss at least a few weeks due to a hamstring injury. Although the injury is not believed to be incredibly serious, hamstring injuries are fickle, and can linger if not handled appropriately. The injury could not have come at a worse time for the 21-year-old, who was slashing .309/.414/.447 with two home runs, 13 RBI and three steals in 26 games at High-A. Mier's patience at the dish was much improved as well; after fanning 112 times in 2011, he had fanned just 19 times while drawing 16 walks to begin the year. Let's hope Mier won't miss a beat upon his return from injury.
Hayden Simpson, P, CHC – Simpson's selection in the first round of the 2010 draft came as a complete surprise to most. He was drafted out of Division II's Southern Arkansas University, and many thought he was a third- or fourth-round talent at best. Maybe there was a reason for that, as Simpson has not had much success in his brief minor-league stint. A 2010 bout with mono prematurely ended his 2010 campaign, while he suffered a demotion from Low-A to the Rookie League in 2011. Now he has been moved to the bullpen after a horrific start to his 2012 season. Simpson possesses a 6.75 ERA and 11:15 K:BB ratio in 22.2 innings for High-A Daytona. These stats include his last relief appearance in which he allowed one hit and no runs over four innings. The smallish righty has an enormous amount of work to do to become relevant again.
Alex Wimmers, P, MIN – The professional career of Wimmers, the No. 21 overall selection in the 2010 draft, has been nothing short of a nightmare. Wimmers famously walked six batters without recording an out in his first start of 2011, causing an immediate trip to the DL with what was deemed an "illness." He came back later in the season and was adequate at best. In 2012, renewed hope existed for Wimmers, with a fresh start and perspective. However, he made one start before being diagnosed with a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. In other words, Tommy John surgery may be in his future. It's been a trying, short career for Wimmers, and he should not be on the prospect radar.
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