Ten Prospect Surprises of 2008
Here are some Prospect Surprises for 2008. Next week we will present an updated Top 100 Prospects List.
Mike Aviles, SS, Kansas City Royals
Aviles looked like a solid organization player/possible bench guy a year ago, but he is having a classic age 27 career season, hitting .336/.370/.631 for Triple-A Omaha and .352/.382/.634 in 19 games after his promotion to the offense-starved Royals. He's not really a .300+ hitter with that kind of power, and he will come to earth eventually. But based on his overall track record, Aviles can be a consistent .260-.280 guy with some pop and reasonable middle infield defense. He is timing his hot streak perfectly and should have a long career as a bench player and occasional starter, sort of a Tony Graffanino, Randy Velarde type.
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants
It may seem odd to call Bumgarner a surprise, given his status as a first-round pick in 2007. But he was supposed to be a bit raw when drafted, needing work on his breaking stuff. He has looked anything but raw this year, going 7-2, 1.77 with an 84/11 K/BB in 71 innings for Augusta in the Sally League. His fastball is consistently in the 90s, his command has been excellent, and while his secondary pitches still need some polish, it looks like he could advance much more rapidly than anticipated.
Vince Mazzaro, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Mazzaro has been one of the leading lights of the Double-A Texas League this year, going 7-3, 2.36 with a 65/25 K/BB in 91 innings. A year ago he was struggling in the California League, with a 5.33 ERA and a 115/71 K/BB in 154 innings. His command is much better this year, as he's improved the touch on his 90+ sinker, hard breaking ball, and changeup. Just 21 years old, Mazzaro also struggled in the Midwest League in 2006, so his performance this year is a big turnaround.
Charlie Morton, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Morton began the year 5-2, 2.05 with a 72/27 K/BB in 79 innings for Triple-A Richmond, with just 51 hits allowed and a 1.57 GO:AO ratio. He was promoted to Atlanta and is 1-1, 4.24 in his first three starts. Morton was used mostly in relief last year in Double-A, posting a 4.29 ERA and ok but not great peripherals. He's improved command of his power sinker this year and took well to the starting role. Overlooked in the preseason, Morton wasn't on Baseball America's Top 30 Braves prospect list, and I didn't put him in my Baseball Prospect Book, either. That looks like a big mistake right now.
Daryl Thompson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
A year ago, Thompson was pitching in the Florida State League, doing well but throwing just 86-89 MPH, on the tail end of labrum surgery back in 2005. Now he's throwing 90-95 MPH, showing sharp breaking stuff and fine command, demonstrating full health once again. He's done well at the Double-A and Triple-A levels this year, combining to go 6-2, 2.22 with a 78/18 K/BB in 89 innings, 67 hits allowed. Still just 22, he shut out the Yankees for five innings in his first major league start. He could probably use some additional minor league time, but projects as a number three starter.
Matt Antonelli, 2B, San Diego Padres
Antonelli had a great 2007 campaign in A-ball and Double-A, hitting a combined .307/.404/.491. But 2008 has been a disaster: .186/.308/.273 in 71 games for Triple-A Portland. He's still drawing plenty of walks and controlling the zone well (45 walks, 48 strikeouts in 264 at-bats), but the hits just aren't coming. He's hitting a dismal .070 against left-handed pitchers. He's been under .200 every month. The Padres are being patient, and based on his track record a recovery seems likely.
Franklin Morales, LHP, Colorado Rockies
He opened the season in the Rockies rotation, but a 1-2, 6.39 record with a horrid 9/17 K/BB in 25 innings sent Morales back to Triple-A. He is 5-2 there, but with a 5.67 ERA and a 29/35 K/BB in 46 innings. Morales still has the stuff, but his mechanics fell apart in April and crippled his command. He has thrown somewhat better in his last three outings, and at age 22 the Rockies won't give up on him quickly given his arm strength. He's not at the Steve Blass/Rick Ankiel level yet, but there is plenty of work to do.
Colby Rasmus, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Rasmus opened the season in a deep slump, hitting under .220 in April and May with adequate but not terrific production. His season line is still a mediocre .249/.350/.411, but he has been hot in June and has hit .344 in his last 10 games, .342 in the month overall. His plate discipline is still there, he's got 11 homers and 10 steals, and now that the hits are falling again the other numbers will come in line. Rasmus will be fine, and sooner rather than later. Some fantasy owners may have overreacted to his slow start, and if he maintains his June pace he could see the majors sooner than people anticipate.
J.R. Towles, C, Houston Astros
Towles opened the season as Houston's regular catcher, but a .145/.270/.282 debut is not what the Astros had in mind, and he was sent back to the minors after 42 games. He hasn't done well there either, hitting .209/.333/.395 for Triple-A Round Rock. He actually showed some pop for Houston, with eight of his 17 hits being for extra-bases, including four homers. But the batting average and OBP were unacceptably low. Given his track record he will get more chances, but it's interesting that the Astros drafted a college product, fast-track catcher in the first round this year in Stanford's Jason Castro.
Brandon Wood, 3B-SS, Los Angeles Angels
Wood's swing-from-the-heels approach has resulted in 12 homers and 10 doubles in just 42 games for Triple-A Salt Lake, but also a .278 average, low by PCL standards. His mark in the majors was a poor .125/.164/.188 in 29 games for the Angels, though erratic playing time has not helped him develop. He is still just 23 and his power is enormous, but he's got to get at least slight command of the strike zone to live up to his potential. His stock continues to slip, and a change of scenery is in order.
Article first appeared 6/25/08