The Baby 'Backs Report: April 23

My cohort in minor-league crime, blue bulldog, began this series a week ago, with his report on the Triple-A Reno and Hi-A Visalia affiliates of the D-backs' farm system.  This week, I finally join the fray, with updates on the best prospects and surprise performances found at the Double-A Mobile and Low-A South Bend affiliates.  Additionally, specific circumstances have dictated that I continue a certain trend I had going a year ago while working on the D-Blog of having a particular section dedicated solely to a select player.  For those of you who follow the D-backs' minor league system at all, you have zero guesses to name that player, because the word "guess" implies that you are unsure and, based on the flood of praise directed towards him in recent weeks, you should be in no way unsure of who that player is.  ;-)  That one player, as well as rest of the report, is after the jump.

 

Paul Goldschmidt:

I'm really not sure what I can say that isn't glaringly obvious.  Goldschmidt has been arguably the best hitter in all of the minor leagues through the first two weeks of action, though any award based on that small of a sample certainly isn't one that should be worshiped as much as the superlative name might imply.  Still, 8 home runs in 45 games is an impressive pace for a big-leaguer (would be a 27-homer pace over 150 games), and Goldy has racked up 8 home runs in a third of that time - a mere 15 games - as a BayBear.  His line on the year is a godlike .333/.477/.837 - a 1.314 OPS.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is that he's been doing it while showing a much-improved approach at the plate, as at least one reputable source, John Sickels, confirmed.  The numbers back it up too, as he has just 10 strikeouts, with an impressive 15 walks, through 15 games, after racking up 161 whiffs in 138 games a year ago.  With the long-term big-league first base options average at best - particularly with the team's willingness to banish Brandon Allen to Triple-A again - Goldschmidt could step in as early as 2012 into a prominent role on the big-league squad, provided he beats out Allen and Juan Miranda for the gig.  His raw power is undeniably immense - plus-plus - and it appears that he worked hard over the off-season to improve his other offensive skills.

However, there are some reasons to withhold deeming him our All-Star first baseman of the future.  For one, it's only been 15 games, and an 0-for-4, 2-strikeout performance against  Florida left-handed pitching prospect Brad Hand - who was dominant against the BayBears - brought back haunting memories of the type of whiff-happy off-day Goldschmidt can have.  Additionally, with the team not likely to make a playoff push in 2011, giving Goldy a full year of at-bats at Double-A - just as they kept him at Visalia a year ago - will give him more time that he probably needs to continue to develop at the plate and polish his glovework at first base, where he his large frame has him permanently entrenched.

For D-backs fans, though, there's reason to be optimistic about what Paul Goldschmidt might be - and that's never a bad thing.

 

Double-A Mobile:

Even putting His Highness Sir Goldschmidt aside for a moment, Mobile has a pretty prospect-laden roster.  Although just one of the 2009 draft crop's first-round picks has made it to Double-A, there are numerous later-round picks who have already made it to the Southern League, and are worth keeping a close eye on.

Morgan Freeman [bi-weekly stud]:

Since that Goldschmidt guy already got a full section devoted to him, I'll go a different route here, with right-handed pitcher Ryan Cook.  Yes, he's a reliever, but I'm reluctant to choose BABIP-based wonders like Taylor Harbin, Jacob Elmore, or Mark Hallberg for the "award."  Cook was moved to the bullpen to begin the year, as he's always been primarily a power sinker pitcher with rough off-speed offerings, and I called him a potential Chad Qualls-like reliever in my prospect rankings this off-season.  So far this year the results have been nice, with nine strikeouts, just a pair of walks, and a homer allowed in 8.1 innings of work.  Two runs have crossed the plate on him, but only one was earned for a 1.08 ERA.  The sample will be small for most of the year due to his role, but the profile and stuff make him a legitimate relief prospect worth keeping an eye on.

Nic Cage [bi-weekly dud]:

Disclaimer: By no means whatsoever does the following imply that I am at all concerned about the future of Jarrod Parker based solely off of two bad starts.  However, giving this designation to anybody else would be, well, inappropriate.  We knew that there was a legitimate chance of Parker struggling in the early part of this season, as control and command are typically the last two things to return to a pitcher after Tommy John surgery.  Thankfully, those have been exactly the issues that we have seen with Parker, so it isn't as if something else went unexpectedly wrong.  He lasted just 7 innings combined in his first two starts, surrendering 13 hits six walks.  The end result was 15 men crossing the plate (14 earned) in those outings for an unsightly ERA of 18.00.

There is good news, though, both from those first two starts and from his third outing of the year.  In the first two starts, Parker still struck out six batters - an indication that, in spite of his command and control struggles, he still has the same electric stuff that makes him such a highly-touted prospect.  Additionally, he's still getting the movement on his pitches we'd want, as partially indicated by his 2.71 GO/AO ratio.  From a pure stuff standpoint, it seems that all is well in the world of Jarrod Parker, so the only concerns appear to be ones we already knew about.  ESPN's Keith Law pretty much agreed with that assessment in his recent piece scouting Parker (behind the INsider wall), and mentions that Parker is repeating his delivery perfectly well, saying that Parker could potentially see his command and control return by midyear.

Parker's second start may have been the small shred of evidence that this is indeed occurring.  Parker threw five innings after not making it through four in either of his first two outings, and kept his earned run total below his innings total for the first time by allowing just two earned runners to cross the plate.  He still walked three batters - as he has in each of his three starts - but struck out four, kept the ball in the park, and only surrendered three hits.  Yes, it's just one start, and his peripherals were still not super-impressive, but I have a feeling that this will be a recovery of baby-steps and set-backs, not a recovery of leaps and bounds.  A little patience, and some faith in Parker's determination, arm, and makeup, and hopefully the top-of-the-rotation starter we all hoped for will come around.

Quinton Aaron(s) [other top prospects]:

- As great as Goldschmidt has been, it's easy to overlook Marc Krauss, who is also having a fine start to the season.  His batting average isn't particularly high at .240, but even though it would be nice if it picked up as the season progressed, I personally don't expect him to be a high-average type hitter due to his high-strikeout tendencies.  What's encouraging, therefore, is the fact that he's still found a way to be productive in spite of that batting average.  He has collected nine walks despite typically hitting right behind Goldschmidt, and has picked up four doubles, a triple, and a home run.  All in all, Krauss sports a .240/.356/.420 line - a .776 OPS - in the pitcher-friendly SL.  Not nearly as impressive as Goldy's four-digit OPS, but an acceptable mark for just being a couple weeks into the season.

If his batting average ticks up as the season progresses, which I'd imagine would be what most scouts expect based on the positive reports on Krauss, and his peripherals surrounding that average stay at the levels they're currently at, he could be in line for another season with an OPS above .800 and a Reno debut in 2012.

- A.J. Pollock could be described accurately by the ever-infamous Denny Green - he is who we think he is.  He makes contact at a high rate, and sprays line drives around the field and into the gaps.  This has held true through the first couple weeks of action, as Pollock as struck out just 8 times in 66 plate appearances (12%), while hitting line drives at a 28.3% rate, gathering 7 doubles amongst his 20 hits.  The result is a line of .339/.379/.458 through 15 contests in spite of an aggressive assignment to Double-A after missing a year of action.  We'll have to wait and see if he can keep the average up all year, or if he's able to tick up his peripherals as balls stop finding holes in the defense.

- A trio of the team's top young starting arms, righty Charles Brewer and lefties Wade Miley and Pat Corbin, have all run into issues of some sort early in the year.  Brewer made two starts for Mobile, with an 8:2 K:BB ratio over 11 innings and 4.09 ERA, before being skipped in the rotation due to concussion-like symptoms.  Miley didn't even make it to two starts, getting yanked just 2 1/3 innings into his first outing of the year due to a shoulder issue.  The diagnosis so far on Miley is simply a strain, so hopefully he'll be able to take the mound again after a week or two off.  Corbin, on the other hand, has been healthy through three outings, but has posted an ERA of 5.06 in 16 innings of work.  Corbin's peripherals look okay, though, with a 12:4 K:BB, and it simply looks like he may be the victim of a bit of excessive homer-happiness.

- In the 'pen, the BayBears have received some good results from right-hander Bryan Shaw, one of the better raw relief arms in the system with his mid-90's fastball.  However, his K:BB is at 5:3, which will have to improve as the season progresses if he hopes to continue his run of success.  D-backs fan favorite Clay Zavada has also begun his year with the BayBears, seeing time in two games so far, pitching scoreless innings in both outings while striking out three and walking nobody.  Ever-mercurial lefty Leyson Septimo has a 2.57 ERA in 7 innings (4 appearances) thus far, but that number masks his disappointing 4:7 K:BB ratio.

 

Low-A South Bend:

I've had the chance to watch South Bend three times this year, and have seen three of their starters take the mound while observing the often-disappointing performances scattered throughout the lineup.  The team is notorious for getting off to slow starts under Manager Mark Haley, and the D-backs haven't been afraid to aggressively assign players to full-season ball out of high school.  However, there are plenty of bright spots to hone in on, beginning with...

Morgan Freeman [bi-weekly stud]:

The best member of the Silver Hawks rotation (by ERA standards) currently sports an 8:8 K:BB ratio, so I'm going to go with a position player on this one, in spite of the fact that most of the prospect depth on this roster is in pitching.  However, first baseman Yazy Arbelo is no slouch himself, putting up a .320/.404/.520 line through 14 contests.  The ball flies off of his bat due to his quick swing and raw strength, and that .200 ISO - from four doubles and two homers in 50 at-bats - is the perfect indicator of his ability to crush the ball.

However, Arbelo is not without fault.  I've read reports that say that Arbelo struggles against anything that isn't a fastball, and I've never personally seen him hit something hard that wasn't straight, so the reports have some merit.  He's also riding a .412 BABIP, so that batting average is bound to go down, but if his other peripherals remain strong, he'll finish the year with a line that is well above Midwest League standards.

Nic Cage [bi-weekly dud]:

He is one of the team's top prospects, but Keon Broxton hasn't shown much improvement in his first two weeks repeating the Midwest League.  Strikeouts were a huge concern in 2010, and things haven't changed much in 2011.  Broxton has whiffed 20 times in 14 games, and also hasn't displayed the power or drawn as many walks as his 2010 showing.  It's 14 games, of course, but given that this is Broxton's second year at South Bend, it's safe to say that the team was expecting a bit hotter of a start than a .259/.306/.328 line.  Even in the pitcher-friendly MWL, that's a really bad line, though it's worth noting that his defense has remained stellar.  We'll have to wait and see if Broxton's bat begins to heat up along with the weather.

Quinton Aaron(s) [other top prospects]:

- Most of South Bend's other bats have been relatively quiet, as only two hitters other than Arbelo sport an OPS of .700 or above.  One of those hitters, Matt Helm, is riding high on a .538 BABIP (yes, .538) that is undoubtedly going to come down to earth.  Put in the context of the hollow .378 average he's carrying, Helm's .410 OBP (two walks in 39 PAs) and .432 SLG (two doubles, .054 ISO) look much less exciting.

- The remaining bat in South Bend's lineup with an OPS above .700, however, looks much more promising.  SS/DH (splitting time around the middle infield with Raul Navarro and Michael FreemanZach Walters is carrying a .333 BABIP, high but not absurd, while sporting a much more reasonable and sustainable .261/.358/.478 line for South Bend.  Walters is striking out at a fairly high rate of 28% (15 Ks in 54 PAs), but is making up for it with a combination of patience and power.

After walking just 16 times in 69 games with Yakima last year, Walters has drawn seven walks in 14 games for the Silver Hawks.  Additionally, he sports a .217 ISO driven by the two doubles, triple, and pair of home runs he's collected in 46 at-bats (to go with seven singles).  Walters has received good scouting reports in the past, having been named the 14th-best prospect in the Northwest League by Baseball America after the 2010 season.  If he can stick in the middle infield long-term - preferably at shortstop, of course - he could be a serious asset, as legitimate power-hitting middle infielders that aren't OBP liabilities aren't easy to come by.

- The best numbers amongst starting pitchers thus far belong to Patrick Schuster, who I profiled extensively recently after attending Thursday's Silver Hawks game.  However, there's a lot behind his 2.41 ERA that make it look like a smoke-and-mirrors act.  For one, his K/BB is 1 - he has 8 whiffs and 8 free passes allowed, and that isn't counting the two batters he's plunked.  Additionally, while he is generating a large number of ground balls - 57.1% - he isn't going to keep every ball in the park all year long.  Most concerning, perhaps, is his .218 BABIP, which is due for a ton of regression as the season progresses.  All told, Schuster has a 6.41 tRA according to StatCorner, and the league-average tRA right now is 29% higher than Schuster's (though it's worth noting that tRA, thus far, is far more unforgiving than FIP).  Needless to say, he has work to do, and needs to not let his success get to his head.

- Meanwhile, a couple of the other members of the Silver Hawks rotation are seeing their numbers artificially inflated by high BABIP totals.  Lefty David Holmberg (.404 BABIP) has a 6.00 ERA, 5.29 tRA, and 3.93 FIP - not great, but certainly better.  Right-hander J.R. Bradley (.452 BABIP), who I've profiled twice, has an unsightly 8.64 ERA, but that's backed up by impressive peripherals that have resulted in a 4.33 tRA (112 tRA+) and 2.48 FIP.

- The most valuable pitcher in the Silver Hawks' rotation thus far according to StatCorner is Tyler Green, the young Texas high school product.  Green is sporting a mildly low BABIP of .270, but has K'd 15 in 14 innings of work while walking seven, and sports a 3.41 tRA and 2.56 FIP.  I'm really looking forward to finding the time to watch this kid pitch at some point in the future, so I can see if his delivery is as high-effort and worrisome as reports have indicated.  Even if he is ultimately bullpen-bound, though, he has a great arm and could be a dominant reliever.

 

That's all for this biweekly report.  Next week, once again, bb will be back to look at the progress made by the Reno and the prospect-laden Visalia clubs, as we continue to get closer towards the middle of the season and legitimate sample sizes for the serious prospects in the system.  I'll be back sometime today or tomorrow with a report on the South Bend double-header today.  Happy Easter, everybody!

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