There has already been some movement from the minor league ranks to the bright lights of the majors in 2011. The Dodgers were struggling to score runs, so they called up power prospect Jerry Sands to man left field. Sands has responded with a hit and an RBI in each of his first two games for LA. Sands is likely to see steady playing time, as the Dodgers did not call him up to ride the pine.
How about the ascension of career minor leaguer Sam Fuld? Manny Ramirez's loss has been Fuld's gain. Although you can hardly call him a prospect, the 29-year-old Fuld has been arguably the Rays' best hitter through 15 games this season, batting .358/.403/.561 with one home run, five RBI and seven stolen bases. Fuld had about 150 at-bats total at the big-league level before 2011.
Meanwhile, in Anaheim the surprising Angels have called up Tyler Chatwood and Hank Conger to be part of their newfound winning ways. The 21-year-old Chatwood tossed seven innings of one-run ball against the White Sox on Saturday, while Conger is hitting .333/.429/.625 with two home runs and seven RBI through eight games with the Halos, all while sharing catching duties.
Who will be the next minor-league stud to become a well-known commodity? Let's look at this week's Minor League Barometer.
1. Jemile Weeks, 2B, OAK - The younger brother of Milwaukee second baseman Rickie, Jemile has begun the season on a tear. The 23-year-old is batting .354/.436/.458 with four RBI and three stolen bases for Triple-A Sacramento. Although he has struck out 10 times in 11 games, Weeks has also drawn six walks . Veteran Mark Ellis has been the Athletics' second baseman for many years, but he is hitting .228 this season and has never been an All-Star caliber infielder. Weeks could be knocking on the door for a promotion sometime this summer.
2. Alex White, P, CLE - White has had two impressive starts for Triple-A Columbus thus far this season, posting a 1.64 ERA and 13:3 K:BB ratio in 11.0 innings for the Clippers. White is a groundball pitcher who has risen quickly through the Cleveland ranks due to his polish as a collegian at North Carolina. The 2009 first-round pick held opposing batters to a .220 BAA last season. Although the Indians have gotten off to a surprisingly fast start, it might be only a matter of time before starters like Josh Tomlin come back to earth. Jeanmar Gomez got knocked around in his first attempt as the No. 5 starter as well, meaning White could get his chance sooner rather than later for the Tribe.
3. J.D. Martinez, OF, HOU - A 20th round pick in 2009, Martinez has done nothing but hit in the minors throughout his brief career. Last season, the 23-year-old batted .341/.407/.531 with 18 home runs and 89 RBI between High-A and Double-A. Through 12 games with Double-A Corpus Christi this season, Martinez is hitting .341/.396/.591 with two home runs and 18 RBI. The knock on Martinez has been whether he will have enough power at the big-league level, as well as whether he can cut down on his strikeouts. However, it is hard to argue with his production thus far, and he is certainly a sleeper prospect to keep on your radar.
4. James Darnell, 3B, SD - After a disappointing 2010 campaign, Darnell has started 2011 with a vengeance. The 24-year-old third baseman is hitting a ridiculous .500/.596/.750 with one home run and eight RBI through 11 games. Adding to his insane start, Darnell has drawn 11 walks while striking out just once. Darnell was a chic prospect once upon a time, and his hot start should get him some notoriety. Much like the previously mentioned J.D. Martinez, the concern is whether he will have home-run power at the big-league level, but he has seven doubles to begin the season, with stunning plate discipline. Chase Headley is holding down the hot corner for the Padres, but he has also played outfield in the past. Darnell could be a September call-up if he continues to rake.
5. Shelby Miller, P, STL - Although he was beaten by fellow uber-prospect Matthew Harvey in his season debut, Miller has been dominant for High-A Palm Beach. Through 17.2 innings, Miller has a 2.55 ERA and an obscene 28:3 K:BB ratio. Miller has not fanned less than eight batters in any start this season. Just 20, Miller is clearly not only too talented for High-A hitters but is also giving Julio Teheran a run for his money as the best pitching prospect in the game. He could see Triple-A by the season's end, with a 2012 arrival for the Cards.
6. Martin Perez, P, TEX - After battling control issues in 2010, the 20-year-old Perez has been extremely precise in 2011. Through three starts with Double-A Frisco, the 6-foot-0, 178, lefty has a 1.38 ERA and 15:4 K:BB ratio in 13.0 innings. Opposing hitters are batting an anemic .191 against Perez. It seems like Perez has been around forever, though he remains one of the younger pitchers in Double-A. With his strikeout potential and improved control, the neophyte has the ability to re-emerge as one of the better left-handed pitching phenoms in the game.
1. Carlos Peguero, OF, SEA
2. Jesus Montero, C, NYY
3. Michael Olt, 3B, ATL
4. Jaff Decker, OF, SD
5. Eric Thames, OF, TOR
1. Alex Wimmers, P, MIN - The 21st pick in the 2010 draft, Wimmers had arguably the worst debut for a pitcher in minor league history. He walked the first six batters he faced, failing to record an out and subsequently was pulled from the game for High-A Fort Myers. The 22-year-old ended up with four earned runs against him and thereafter was placed on the DL with an alleged mysterious, generic illness. The only illness Wimmers appears to have suffered from, though, is the inability to throw strikes. Strike-itis, perhaps? Maybe the Twins are just being cautious with the right-hander, but obviously downgrade Wimmers until he can right the ship.
2. Andrew Lambo, OF, PIT - Once a highly-touted prospect with the Dodgers, Lambo was suspended 50 games last season for violating the MLB's drug policy and then was subsequently traded with James McDonald to the Pirates for Octavio Dotel last July. He resurfaced with 23 RBI to lead the Arizona Fall League, but also allegedly threw a bat into the stands during a game. To begin the 2011 campaign, the 22-year-old is hitting .267/.298/.378 with three RBI. He has also fanned 13 times while drawing just two walks. His lack of patience at the dish mirrors his unpredictability off the field, and Lambo needs to show discipline both on and off the field to become a notable prospect once again.
3. Alex Liddi, 3B, SEA - Liddi has always been prone to strikeout, but his first 13 games have been simply off the charts. And not in a good way. The 22-year-old third baseman has fanned 21 times in 49 at-bats, while drawing just four walks over that span. His line of .163/.222/.286 is abysmal to say the least, and he only has one home run to show for his free-swinging efforts. Liddi has been productive at driving runs in, but he hit just 15 home runs last season while striking out an alarming 145 times. In other words, you need a lot more power from a guy who gets punched out so often.
4. David Phelps, P, NYY - Phelps had three straight minor league seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA entering the season but has struggled in his first three starts for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. The 24-year-old has a bloated 5.51 ERA and 12:5 K:BB ratio in 16.1 innings. His command has been slightly off, as he posted a 141:36 K:BB ratio in 158.2 innings last season between Double-A and Triple-A. With Andrew Brackman, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances more highly thought of than Phelps, the 6-2, 185, righty likely will need an impressive turnaround or a trade to see the big leagues anytime soon.
5. Michael Kirkman, P, TEX - The Rangers' minor-league pitcher of the year in 2010, Kirkman has not had the same magic to begin the 2011 campaign. Kirkman allowed 12 earned runs in just 6.2 innings in very short starts to begin the season due to a bruised triceps. Curiously, despite the struggles he was called up to the majors while Colby Lewis was on paternity leave, and he got waxed out of the bullpen on Tuesday to the tune of five earned runs in 1.2 innings. Once a darkhorse for the Texas rotation this spring, Kirkman likely will have to work his way back into the good graces of Texas management. Even if he does sniff the majors again soon, it could be as a reliever.
6. Kyle Skipworth, C, FLA - Once considered one of the better prospects in the Florida system, Skipworth has not proven that he can hit for average at any level thus far. Last season, the No. 6 overall selection of the 2008 draft posted a career-high line of just .245/.309/.418. Although he did smack 17 home runs and drive in 59 RBI, he fanned 135 times while drawing just 33 walks. This season has been no kinder to the 21-year-old backstop, as Skipworth is batting .171/.237/.343 through nine games with Double-A Jacksonville. Skipworth is still young and developing, but at this point it does not appear that he will live up to his lofty pre-draft expectations.
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