In the bigs
In a week that can only be described as "one-and-done," few of the prospects chronicled in this week's Movin' On Up actually stayed "up."
This is not a reflection on their prospect status -- certainly Boston right-hander Justin Masterson is still considered the team's most promising Minor League starter, and Toronto southpaw David Purcey did little to hurt his place in the organization. In most cases, it was more a matter of immediate needs and roster shuffling.
So let's take a look at one of the survivors: Giants shortstop Emmanuel Burriss.
The Giants continued to reduce the average age/experience level of their infield by purchasing the contract of the speedy Burriss from Triple-A Fresno on April 20, adding him to a roster that already included fellow rookies and Eugenio Velez.
Burriss was a first-round pick in 2006 out of Kent State and hit .307 that summer at short-season Salem-Keizer. But he struggled to open 2007 when the Giants skipped him a level to Advanced A San Jose, hitting just .165 in a little more than a month there. When shifted back down to Class A Augusta, he raked again to the tune of a .321 average. At the two stops combined, he racked up a whopping 68 steals.
But the scuffle with adjusting didn't stop the team from doing it again this year. Though early speculation was that Burriss would start the year back at San Jose, this time, the Giants moved him all the way up to Fresno, where he was hitting .258 prior to his callup. Although he's batted just .231 in his first seven games, the switch-hitter unquestionably has a live bat and can hit for contact. He also is blessed with both great speed and baserunning smarts, though the two don't always go hand in hand. Hopefully the club has not done him a disservice by rushing him. Again.
Now that we've covered the kids who are already up, let's label the rest of this edition of Futures Exchange, because as they say, you can never have too much pitching.
A phone call away
Speaking of players who have been rushed once already, it's officially time for the Homer Bailey watch to begin again.
After the Reds hastened his arrival in 2007 and saw him initially struggle, Bailey pitched well down the September stretch but was dispatched to Triple-A Louisville this spring to continue to refine his dominant stuff. The 21-year-old Texan has been doing just that, ringing up a 1.95 ERA and 22 strikeouts while walking just seven in 32 1/3 innings. The league is hitting .216 against him, he held the opposition scoreless in two of his five starts, and he's no longer trying to strike everyone out. The Reds have a young staff that get that much younger quickly.
Don't let the Florida Marlins' assignment of stud right-hander Chris Volstad to Double-A Carolina rather than Triple-A Albuquerque fool you. There is a tendency for clubs that have an affiliate in the Pacific Coast League to keep some pitching prospects at a lower level, where it's easier for them to focus on performance without the distraction of ballpark effects. The Marlins would not hesitate to call up a starter from Carolina, as they proved when Burke Badenhop was summoned from the Mudcats rotation to replace Rick VandenHurk. Volstad, a 2005 first-round Draft pick, could be next. And soon. The 6-foot-7 21-year-old with the low-90s fastball and changeup has gone 2-0 with a 2.90 ERA in five starts, including an impressive seven-inning outing of two-hit ball on April 24.
A year away
The temptation is to put right-hander Daryl Thompson in the "Phone Call Away" category, but the Reds will likely be a little more cautious with the 23-year-old, who's tearing it up at Double-A Chattanooga. While he might be a huge surprise to those who have only looked at preseason top-prospect lists, the Maryland native has been regarded as one to watch since the Montreal Expos took him in the eighth round of the 2003 Draft. Shoulder trouble sidelined him for the second half of 2005 and virtually all of '06, and with his velocity still not all the way back in '07, he managed to go 14-5 with a 3.18 ERA. This year, the gun is lighting up in the low to mid-90s, and his 0.57 ERA over his first five starts ranks him third in the Minors. He's struck out 36 batters and walked four while limiting hitters to a .185 average.
The Tampa Bay Rays have as big a potential logjam with young pitchers as any team in the game, a nice problem to have, with David Price, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis and Jacob McGee down on the farm. Also keep an eye out for right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who deserves a spot in that prospect pantheon. In the early going for the Class A Advanced Vero Beach Rays, the 21-year-old is 2-0 with an 0.93 ERA and 41 Ks against just two walks, and he's limiting Florida State League batters to a meager .170 average. He's struck out 10 or more in two of his last three trips to the hill and has yet to allow more than a run in any of his five starts. In his first full season at Class A Columbus last year, he went 13-3 with a 2.67 ERA.
Down the road
Since Jonathan set a precedent by singling out 80 percent of the Stockton rotation a few weeks ago, I'm going to give my love to their biggest rivals, the San Jose Giants' starting five. With a combined 2.73 staff ERA, it's hard to believe these guys are pitching in the California League.
Left-hander Ben Snyder, whose older brother, Brad, will be making his Major League debut for the Cleveland Indians this week, is currently leading the league with a 1.23 ERA after going 16-5 with a 2.05 ERA at Class A Augusta last year. A fourth-round pick in 2006, he has command of four pitches.
Right-hander Kevin Pucetas is right behind Snyder on the league-leader list, checking in at 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA. The unheralded 17th-rounder from 2006 won the Minors' Most Spectacular Pitcher Award in 2007, going 15-4 with a 1.86 ERA for Augusta. He's not a power pitcher, but he continues to get the job done.
The third member of that vaunted '07 GreenJackets rotation to move up was southpaw Clayton Tanner, who posted a 3.59 ERA at Augusta but is pitching a full run lower in the early going here with a 2.55 ERA that ranks him sixth in the league. The 20-year-old was a third-round pick in 2006.
The best pure prospect in the rotation is right-hander Tim Alderon, a first-rounder in 2007 out of high school. He was given the unusual honor of skipping past Augusta as a teen to see how he could handle San Jose and the Cal League. The answer is evident by his 2.67 ERA, good for eighth in the league.
The sleeper is left-hander Jesse English. A sixth-round pick in 2002, the 23-year-old has been slowed by a variety of injuries that cost him all of 2005 and have prevented him from pitching more than 47 innings in a season, virtually all in relief. Last year at short-season Salem-Keizer, though, he showed flashes of what he could do, striking out 46 while walking five in 26 innings with a 0.69 ERA in 26 games. This year he's healthy, in the rotation and boasting a 3-0 record with a 3.05 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings.
Beat the Streak
Jonathan's been giving me a hard time for not "officially" participating in MiLB.com Beat the Streak, so as long as I'm pinch-hitting for him while he's on vacation, I may as well start now. Basically, these are all players on my own fantasy league Minor League roster with the exception of Fernando Perez (we're an NL-only league):
Monday: Fernando Perez, Durham (Tampa Bay)
Tuesday: Emilio Bonifacio, Tucson (Arizona)
Wednesday: Wilkin Castillo, Tucson (Arizona)
Thursday: Andrew McCutchen, Indianapolis (Pittsburgh)
Friday: Angel Salome, Huntsville (Milwaukee)
Saturday: Kyle Blanks, San Antonio (San Diego)
Sunday: Eric Young Jr., Tulsa (Colorado)