Some of the biggest prospects in Minor League baseball are playing in the International League this year.
Check that: some of baseball's biggest prospects are tearing up the International League in the first few days of the 2010 season.
You don't have to scan very far down the leaderboards to find the prospects. For example, Columbus catcher Carlos Santana ranks among the IL home run leaders due in large part to a huge Opening Day performance.
Cleveland's top prospect celebrated his 24th birthday by going 4-for-5 with a pair of home runs and a double in his first Triple-A contest on Thursday, April 8.
There was a lesson in that game: visiting Indianapolis threw a pitch behind Santana to start the fourth, and shortly after that, the catcher deposited a pitch over the fence.
"They throw me that pitch," Santana told the Columbus Dispatch, "and the next pitch, I'm concentrating more."
Close behind Santana on the home run list is Indianapolis third baseman Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh's top prospect. Alvarez hit three home runs in his first eight games and had eight RBIs in that period.
Buffalo first baseman Ike Davis hit .346 in his first eight games with a pair of home runs. One of the Mets' top prospects, Davis hit .480 and hammered three home runs in Spring Training with the big league club but remained unimpressed with his preseason exploits.
"You have to take Spring Training with a grain of salt," Davis told the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader. "It really doesn't mean anything. It's good to get some confidence and get some at-bats and get your timing down and stuff, but we start over on Opening Day."
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre catcher Jesus Montero, the Yankees' top prospect, hit .273 in his first eight games, and, though still looking for his first Triple-A home run, he has collected five RBIs.
Some of baseball's top pitching prospects have made a big splash as well. Louisville left-hander Aroldis Chapman, who signed with the Reds this past winter after defecting from Cuba, was impressive in his first professional start at Toledo on April 11.
Chapman's final line -- five hits and one unearned run in 4 2/3 innings with nine strikeouts -- was eye-catching. But some other numbers the southpaw posted were eye-popping: he threw 57 of his 85 pitches at 90 miles per hour or more, including 32 pitches that surpassed 95 mph, and had five pitches -- five -- that were at least 100.
"Given time, he's going to be ready to pitch in the big leagues," Louisville manager Rick Sweet said of Chapman. "The stuff is there. He could go in the big leagues right now and have some success.
"But there are some things he needs to work on right now -- pitchers' fielding practice, bunting, a lot of things that go with the game that we need to catch him up on."
While some of these players may not stay in the IL long, more top prospects -- headliners such as outfielders Desmond Jennings of Tampa Bay and Domonic Brown of Philadelphia as well as Stephen Strasburg from Washington -- could be on the way to an IL ballpark to replace them.
Quote of the week: "[Santana] doesn't hit two home runs every game, but he just has a feel for hitting. He's a really smart hitter. He can go pull side. He can go opposite field. That's one thing he didn't really do much last year. I was really happy with that. He had a tendency last year to get into more of a pull mode. To see him do that, I think he's right where he needs to be. He had a great night." -- Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh to the Columbus Dispatch after Santana's Opening Day pyrotechnics.
Will the last be first? Lehigh Valley is in its third season in the IL, and the IronPigs are still searching for a franchise first: a winning record. In each of their first two seasons, the 'Pigs lost their season opener and never reached the .500 mark. This year, Lehigh Valley lost its first three games at Syracuse and was 3-5 after its first week of play.
These guys are teammates? Alvarez accused Indy right-hander Brad Lincoln of throwing at him in a Spring Training intra-squad game. "Oh, yeah. [I threw at him] purposely," Lincoln admitted to the Indianapolis Star. "He squared around to bunt on me. They pay this guy $6 million to hit and he wants to bunt?" Alvarez responded, "They put the shift on me."