Is Billy Hamilton the next Rickey Henderson? Hamilton is nowhere near as disciplined or powerful as Rickey was in the batter's box, so let's not get too carried away. However, he's just 21 and his approach at the dish has vastly improved from just a season ago. Hamilton is batting .322 with a .408 On-Base-Percentage through 66 games for High-A Bakersfield.
The real draw for Hamilton is his stolen base prowess, though, which has been amazing to watch. The speedster swiped five bags for the aptly named Blaze on Saturday, giving him a crisp 80 steals through 66 games. What's the minor-league record, you ask? - 145, by Vince Coleman in 1983. Hamilton is on pace to shatter that mark.
The Reds' phenom is still striking out a bit too much, and power will likely not be his forte. Nevertheless, when you can hit a single and turn it into a double or triple every time you get on base, who needs the long ball anyway? He'll need some seasoning at the higher levels, but we could be witnessing the birth of a historical career in baseball thievery.
Jose Cisnero, P, HOU – After an erratic 2011 season, Cisnero has righted the ship at Double-A Corpus Christi. The 23-year-old righty has posted a 3.68 ERA and 79:30 K:BB ratio in 71 innings for the Hooks. His last start was a gem, as the righty tossed a two-hitter Saturday, allowing two walks and striking out six. The strikeout potential has always been there, but questions surrounded Cisnero's lack of control. The improvement is evident, though, as Cisnero has compiled a 34:4 K:BB ratio over his past five starts. As long as wildness doesn't get the best of him, Cisnero has the chance to succeed at the higher levels.
Jesse Biddle, P, PHI – Don't be fooled by Biddle's last start, which happened to be a lackluster performance. The 20-year-old is legit. The 6-foot-4, 225, lefty still has a 2.98 ERA and 70:21 K:BB ratio in 60.1 innings for High-A Clearwater. In fact, before allowing four earned runs June 10, Biddle had allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven consecutive starts for the Threshers. This included seven scoreless innings June 3 in which he scattered four hits, walked one batter and punched out 12. Biddle is not quite the strikeout machine that fellow Phils prospect Trevor May is, but Biddle is two years younger, a southpaw and has a lower ERA in each of the past three seasons. The Phils should be extremely content with Biddle's progress thus far.
Chris Heston, P, SF – Heston's sensational 2012 campaign continues, as the 24-year-old righty has a minuscule 1.00 ERA and 70:18 K:BB ratio through 80.2 innings for Double-A Richmond. On top of the excellent control, Heston has shown excellent command, holding opposing hitters to a .202 BAA, while posting a 1.78 GO:AO. It sounds cliche, but Heston simply knows how to pitch. The 12th-round pick in 2009 has been successful at nearly every stop in the minors despite what was perceived to be lack of frontline caliber pitches.
Daniel Corcino, P, CIN – An electric righty, the 21-year-old pitched eight innings of no-hit ball Saturday for Double-A Pensacola. Corcino walked three batters while fanning nine for the game. Over his last 10 starts, Corcino has a 3.04 ERA and 59:24 K:BB ratio, a span of 56.1 innings. Although he's been a tad wild, Corcino has held opposing batters to a .229 BAA. All in all, Corcino is one of the better prospects in the Cincy organization. In fact, one could argue that he is tops among their young arms.
Mikie Mahtook, OF, TB – The concern with the scrappy Mahtook is that his tools will not translate into fantasy production. In 63 games for High-A Charlotte, he is slashing .277/.333/.374 with three home runs, 26 RBI and 14 steals. He has fanned 50 times over that span, while drawing 19 walks. He has above-average speed, below-average power and adequate plate discipline at best. Now, that's not to say he will not be a successful player at the highest level. In fact, he appears to be exactly the type of player Joe Maddon and the Rays covet. However, from a fantasy perspective, he may not be a stud.
Denny Almonte, OF, SEA – Almonte is a toolsy outfielder who has shown much better plate discipline in 2012. He has already drawn more walks (30) through 66 games for Double-A Jackson than he did in 100-plus games in any season since 2008. Almonte is hitting .284/.367/.444 with nine home runs, 30 RBI and 14 steals for the Generals. Although he has fanned 68 times this year, Almonte appears to be in a better place at the dish than when compared to 2011's brutal .298 OBP. If Almonte can prove this new-found comfort at the dish is no fluke, his combination of power and speed makes him a sleeper prospect to keep tabs on for the M's.
Joshua Prince, SS, MIL – Prince's power display his past seven games for Double-A Huntsville has been a pleasant surprise, as he has bashed three dingers and driven home seven runs over that span. Prince has already shown stellar speed for the Stars, swiping 23 bags in 68 games in 2012. His plate discipline has also been superior; the 24-year-old's overall line sits at .260/.369/.376. Make no mistake, though, it's going to be an uphill battle for Prince to end up as a starter in this league. However, if he can knock a few more balls out of the park while maintaining his plate discipline, there could be a place for a middle infielder with his skill set.
Rudy Owens, P, PIT – The 24-year-old lefty has been dealing this season for Triple-A Indianapolis. Owens has compiled a 2.34 ERA through 84.2 innings, as opposing batters are hitting just .237 against him. He has also shown standout control, walking just 13 hitters on the year. The knock on Owens is that he's not a strikeout pitcher, while also being prone to the long ball at times. Owens has 58 strikeouts, while surrendering 10 home runs already. It is certainly hard to argue with the results so far, but Owens looks like more of a back-of-the-rotation type hurler than anything else.
Andrew Chafin, P, AZ – After touting Chafin as a huge sleeper, his stats have gone in the tank. Over his last four starts, the 22-year-old lefty has allowed a staggering 25 earned runs for High-A Visalia. He's been a victim of the long ball, surrendering six home runs over that span. He's also lost his command, issuing 18 free passes over that time period. His ERA has ballooned to 5.35, and it's clear the No. 43 overall selection in last year's draft has some serious work to do to get back into the good graces of scouts everywhere.
Evan Gattis, C, ATL – Gattis hasn't seen the field for Double-A Mississippi since May 19 due to mild tendonitis in his wrist. He had been moved quickly from High-A to Double-A after pounding the ball at Lynchburg to the tune of .385/.468/.821 with nine home runs and 29 RBI in 21 games. However, he came back down to earth before the injury, slashing .274/.348/.581 with four home runs and 14 RBI in 16 games for Double-A Mississippi. Gattis has a bunch of things working against him, besides the fact that he's injured. He'll be 26 in August, while there has also been talk of moving him out from behind the plate and into the outfield. There's no place for him to play with perennial All-Star Brian McCann behind the dish, but this move would certainly hurt his value. As such, the jury is still out on Gattis.
Jed Bradley, P, MIL – Over his last 10 starts, opposing batters are hitting .318 against Bradley. Nor surprisingly, this has led to a 5.43 ERA over that span. Though it is still early in his career, 22-year-old has not shown the strikeout potential expected of the No. 15 overall selection in the draft. The 22-year-old has fanned just 44 batters in 66 innings for High-A Brevard County. He has also walked 23 batters on the year, including nine in his last three starts. Though Bradley is only at the beginning of his career, there could already be cause for concern for the Brewers.
Hayden Simpson, P, CHC – It appears safe to say that the Cubbies reached when they selected Simpson out of Southern Arkansas University with the No. 16 pick in the 2010 draft. After an abysmal 2011 campaign as a starter, the smallish righty started in the rotation again at High-A Daytona in 2012 and was subsequently pounded in four starts. He was sent to the bullpen, where he did not fare any better. In all, Simpson compiled a 6.98 ERA and absurd 16:29 K:BB ratio in 38.2 innings. Since that time Chicago has sent him to the Short-Season Boise Hawks to work on his command and refinement of his mechanics. Simpson is off the prospect map for now.