The Baby 'Backs Report: May 1

A month into the season, and we're finally starting to get into the 50-75 AB range for these prospects. Voros' Law says that basically anything can happen for any player in a 60 AB range, so again, it's not even close to the stage where we can look at stats and garner concrete conclusions. That being said, there's some encouraging news, some disappointing news, and as always, more question marks than available answers.

Join me after the jump, as we take a look at the travails of our top minor league prospects at High-A Visalia and Triple AAA Reno.

High-A Visalia:

And so probably my least favorite top prospect has joined High-A Visalia. Let's all give some polite applause to Keon Broxton, our new everyday CF.

Legolas:

Rossmel Perez - Honestly, I'd again rather have one of our top prospects here, instead of a guy who's more-or-less under the radar. However, none of them have been too stellar recently, and I believe Perez deserves a mention because he has improved his prospect stock more than just a little. The first problem with Perez is he has no power. Granted, he's not even 22 years old yet, so it's not as if the power couldn't develop. However, it never bodes well when you're in the Cal League and you have only 2 extra base hits in 68 at-bats. The best thing about Perez though, is that he's a catcher, and is projected to stick at the position. Scouts believe in his defense, and through 5 seasons in the minors, he's thrown out 39% of would-be base-stealers. His biggest area on defense used to be in the number of passed-balls he gave up, but he's showing signs of improving on that this year, as he gave up 19 passed balls last year and only 2 so far this year. But this is all old news. So why exactly is Rossmel Perez even better than he was last year? The key is that his strikeout to walk ratio has been incredible so far this year. So far this year, in around 70 plate appearances, he has 10 walks and only 4 strikeouts. Now, for a guy who has no power, it's very difficult for that walk rate to translate into the majors. But it means his plate discipline is fine, and he'll still be capable of walking around 10-12% in the majors (think, Stephen Drew-like walk rates). The strikeout rate is even more impressive, because those have a much more concrete ability to translate into the majors. Combined with what scouts describe as a line-drive swing, Perez is totally capable of putting up a line like .280/.360/.400 in the majors, and with plus defense and good game-calling skills, that's an incredibly useful catcher.

Gollum:

Matthew Davidson - The last time I posted this award, Bobby Borchering went nuts the next day. So come on down Matthew Davidson, and hopefully you go on such an amazing tear that I forget everything about this post a month from now. Some of you guys who follow my prospect comments, should realize how much it pains me to ever categorize Davidson in the suckitude column, as he's one of my favorite prospects in the minors. But he really deserves it right now. His BA is still at a reasonable .259. But that masks a disgusting 26 strikeouts in 81 at-bats (32%). In addition, his ISO is at a pathetic 0.087 with only one HR on the year. This was a guy that had some of the biggest power among teenagers in the Midwest League last year! It's extremely disappointing to see this start, as it just shows that he's currently outmatched against High-A pitching right now. It's important to remember though, that Davidson is definitely one of the youngest kids on the entire circuit, as he just turned 20 years old, so we can afford to take our time to develop him. If this continues on, and he needs a second year in High-A, I think that'd be the smart thing to do, instead of rapidly promoting him to AA.

The Elf and the Orcs:

I had half a mind to give Tyler Skaggs the Legolas award, but I just want to see a little bit more control from him before I hand it out. And this may be too early to give such a high evaluation, but I think this kid is going to be phenomenal. In 26 IP, he has 40 strikeouts and 16 walks, while getting a reasonable amount of groundballs (1.50 groundout:flyout ratio). That's in incredible 13.8 K/9 rate. His last outing was particularly encouraging, as he struck out 11 (7 on swinging strikeouts, which are much better than called strikeouts, particularly in the minors) in 5.2 innings while harnessing his control and only walking 2. Hopefully this is the beginning of his ability to command his newfound stuff with the same finesse he had last year. And the fact that he's able to generate so many swinging strikeouts while walking so few indicates that his stuff is incredible even when it's in the zone. I'm calling it right now. By the end of the year, BA will have Skaggs among the top 50 pitching prospects in baseball, maybe even higher.

The hitters are a lot more orc-like. Borchering's OPS is actually worse than Davidson's right now, due to an even higher strikeout rate. The plus on him though, is that he's starting to show some of that power that scouts still rave about (scouts think he has more raw power than Davidson). Chris Owings is in even more trouble, as he's mired in a slump. The last ten games have seen Owings hit just a paltry .154/.233/.256 triple slash, with 4 BB and 9 K in 39 AB. He's still striking out a rate much higher than what you'd like from a middle-infielder. But there is some optimism, as his plate discipline seems to be improving a lot from last year, as he's taking more walks. The numbers for our triumvirate of young prospects are ugly. Still, I believe the three of Davidson/Borchering/Owings have a chance to be above-average major leaguers, with Davidson and Borchering having star potential. It may just take longer than my original, extremely optimistic, timetable.

 

Triple A Reno:

Where art thou, Jarrod Parker?

Gandalf:

Collin Cowgill - It makes me incredibly happy to see a guy who was in the doghouse a couple of weeks ago just go insane. Two weeks ago, Cowgill had a line of .179/.233/.179. Now? He's sporting a .371/.450/.614 triple slash, good for 8th in the league right now. Again, what's most impressive here though, isn't the overall numbers (two of his Reno teammates are sporting better OPS actually, in Cole Gillespie and Cody Ransom). It's the overall measure of his plate discipline, as he's taken 10 BB and only has 10 K in 70 AB. The scouting reports have always been positive about his defense, because he has a good arm, and good outfield instincts. John Sickels said at the beginning of the year that his downside was as a 4th outfielder with upside as a David DeJesus type outfielder (who I'm a huge fan of) and it's looking like that's more and more likely as an outcome, given the plate discipline profile. Hat-tip to IHSB for calling at the beginning of the year that Cowgill was going to be awesome in AAA this year. Beat me on this one.

Saruman:

Brandon Allen - Matt Torra hasn't been horrendous enough yet for me to hand him this award, despite the fact that he's still not striking anybody out, so I guess it's up to Allen to shoulder it. Actually, Allen's overall line isn't terrible taken out of context. He's got an OPS of 810 after 83 at-bats. The problem is, everyone else on the team is going crazy. His strikeouts are still a problem (22 K in 83 at-bats) and his walk rate is no longer at the crazy level we saw last year. In addition, something seems to have happened with his power, as Collin Cowgill is sporting a higher ISO, which really shouldn't be happening. Just not the prospect a lot of us may have thought he was at the beginning of the year, and with Paul Goldschmidt continuing to tear it up in AA, it seems like the chance of Brandon Allen playing a role on our roster for the long-term is becoming lower and lower.

Dwarfs and Hobbits:

Triple A Reno is still a bit bereft of talent. On the position player side of things, the only other player really worth paying attention to is Konrad Schmidt, our backup catcher of the future. He's hitting pretty well still, with an OPS of 910. The problem, and why he's more likely to end up only as a backup catcher, as opposed to someone like Rossmel Perez, is that he's not taking any walks. So far this year, he has just 3 BB in around 60 plate appearances. He's never been really great at taking walks in the past either, which makes me worry that his overall numbers this year scream Reno mirage.

On the pitching side, I'd first like to give a shoutout to Josh Collmenter, who has performed quite well so far in the majors. In a touch over 10 innings, he's got 9 K and only 1 BB. Keep this up! Kam Mickolio, the man Collmenter replaced, has been decent in the minors. Through 11 innings, he's continued to demonstrate improved control by only issuing 3 BB. Not striking out as many hitters as you'd hope, with 9 K, but since that's never been a problem in the past, I'm not too worried. I still believe this guy will be a useful reliever in the future, possibly in the setup role. Jordan Norberto, on the other hand, hasn't quite seemed to figure out this whole "don't walk the batter" thing. He's still striking out hitters at a prodigious rate, but 10 BB in 12 IP is not going to cut it.

 

Conclusion:

It's still very early in the season, as we're only about a fifth of the way through. Our younger prospects still have plenty of time, both this season and seasons to come, to really turn it around and reach their potential. In particularly, Davidson and Borchering have shown some improvement the last ten games, Davidson by taking more walks, and Borchering by exhibiting more power. I have to say that at this point, I'm still optimistic in our farm system, and can't wait to see it get bolstered even more with the addition of four top 100 players in the upcoming draft.

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