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The Baby 'Backs Report: June 11th... Late Again

It's been a while since I've had to write up one of these - I think the scheduling got a bit derailed when I posted my Top-20 Prospects Progress Report - but in spite of my forgetfulness, I figure better late than never.  Time to take another look at the happenings over the last couple weeks in the minor leagues, specifically between Double-A Mobile and Low-A South Bend.  This week's witty (not witty at all) titles come from the best and worst of television history. WARNING: I do indulge myself in a bit of statistical cherry-picking - the phrase "since [date]" is usually a good indicator of forthcoming cherry-picking.  Just to make y'all aware of this.

Paul Goldschmidt: Goldschmidt's line has actually been improving as of late, as he's hit .382/.523/.706 over his last time games to bring him up to .344/.465/.687 on the year.  He's leading the minor leagues in home runs with 21, has collected as many extra-bases as hits (78 each), boasts a stellar 44:51 K:BB ratio.  This guy's really good.


Double-A Mobile:

"How I Met Your Mother": This one's a no-brainer for me, as Patrick Corbin pitched well enough to not just claim the bi-weekly MVP award in this write-up, but well enough to claim the second spot on Baseball America's latest Prospect Hot Sheet (membership required) behind Atlanta right-hander Julio Teheran.  Since May 25, Corbin has posted a 30:6 K:BB ratio in 27.2 innings of work, allowing just sixteen hits and one earned run.  Even though his start prior to that stretch was a five-inning, nine-run mess, Corbin actually posted solid peripherals in that outing too, with a 3:0 K:BB ratio and 2.67 GO/AO, running into some really bad luck on balls in play.  Add in Corbin's dominant ten-strikeout, six-inning shutout performance on May 14, and you have a full month of work in which Corbin has posted a glistening 43:7 K:BB ratio in 38.2 innings on the mound.  Corbin's right up there alongside Micah Owings and Barry Enright as choices for Arizona should they need a starting pitcher sometime this year, and almost certainly will get an extended look at a rotation slot next spring at a mere 22 years old.

"Joanie Loves Chachi": I keep waiting for Marc Krauss to heat up in the Southern League, but it continuously fails to happen.  In his last ten games, Krauss is hitting a meager .242/.359/.364 with just two extra-base hits, a double and a home run.  The line gets even more discouraging when you note that three of his eight hits, including his sole home run, and a walk all came on one night - June 7th against Huntsville.  Krauss' total line of .239/.344/.450 actually gives him a higher OPS than teammate A.J. Pollock (.294/.355/.438), but Krauss is a bat-only prospect who needs to have spectacular minor-league numbers in order to keep rising through the system and have prospect luster.  Not to mention that, as noted in my last Baby 'Backs Report, then later again in my Prospect Progress Report (shameless self-plug complete), Krauss' OPS was boosted up to .864 from below the .800 OPS threshold in the span of one series in early May in which he went 9-16 with a pair of doubles, three home runs, and eight walks.  To see his OPS below .800 so shortly after that outburst is extremely discouraging.

"Scrubs", "Jeopardy", & other assorted delights: Yes, I'll admit that Jarrod Parker had a bit of a strange outing his last time on the mound, giving up three runs in 3.1 innings of work with a 7:4 K:BB ratio, but let's try to look at Parker's recent performance with a broader lens.  Since May 26th, Parker has thrown 18.1 innings with a 23:6 K:BB ratio and given up just four earned runs - that makes for a sparkling 1.96 ERA in those four starts.  There's still work to be done, but I fully expect Parker to be able to compete for a major-league rotation slot in 2012.  With Ian KennedyDaniel Hudson, and Josh Collmenter all looking like shoo-ins for the 2012 rotation and Parker, Corbin, Enright, and Trevor Bauer looking like candidates to compete for the final two spots, it's a very feasible possibility that Arizona decides to simply let both Joe Saunders and Zach Duke walk next off-season (perhaps bringing back Micah as insurance).  In spite of our current status as contenders, I could definitely see Saunders being put in a trade package before the deadline.

Both right-hander Ryan Cook and left-hander Clay Zavada have yet to be scored upon in June.  Cook has worked just 4.2 innings, posting a 4:2 K:BB ratio and allowing just a single hit.  Zavada has worked six innings in four appearances, allowing four hits and sporting a pristine 6:0 K:BB ratio.  Cook has now pitched in 21 games for Mobile, working 30.2 innings with a stellar 33:9 K:BB ratio and 2.61 ERA in his first year since being converted from a starter.  I imagine that readers are very familiar with Zavada, who has been every bit as good as Cook for the BayBears.  Zavada has thrown 25.1 innings across 20 appearances, posting a 23:9 K:BB ratio and extremely impressive 2.13 ERA.  Both arms are candidates to see big-league time in 2011 if Arizona grows tired of either/both of Aaron Heilman and Juan Gutierrez, but doesn't have confidence in Kam Mickolio to fill in suitably.


Low-A South Bend:

"How I Met Your Mother": This was a two-horse race that truthfully wasn't even close between the two, as David Holmberg has clearly been the best player on the Silver Hawks this year.  In his two starts in June, Holmberg has thrown fifteen shutout innings, including a complete game, allowing just four hits with no walks and nine strikeouts.  He has, to put it simply, toyed with the Midwest League in his 12 starts this year, with a 2.87 ERA in 69 innings of work supported by a 64:13 K:BB ratio (nearly 5-to-1!) and 3 home runs allowed.  Holmberg has been named to the Midwest League All-Star Team, and I imagine he'll have his bags packed for his appearance in that exhibition, as the 19-year-old will be on the first place to California when that game ends to join the Visalia Rawhide's largely inconsistent rotation.


"Joanie Loves Chachi": Arizona has had some success in recent years with their decisions to aggressively promote their teenage bats to full-season levels.  Just a year ago, we saw Davidson, Owings, and Borchering more than hold their own in the Midwest League, and, of course, Justin Upton's first stop in the minor leagues was at South Bend as a teenager.  However, the team's decision to assign 19-year-old Dominican shortstop Raul Navarro to the Silver Hawks to begin the year has been far from a roaring success.  The 5'11" Navarro has all the tools to stick at the shortstop position long-term, but he's going to have to improve on his season line of .210/.276/.252.  And by "improve," I don't mean the .219/.342/.250 line he's posted over his last ten games.  You hate to dishearten the kid by demoting him to short-season ball once those leagues begin play, but you also don't want him to flounder to the tune of a sub-.600 OPS for the rest of the year and develop poor habits with the bat trying to get anything going for him.  I could see one of the many shortstops drafted by the D-backs in the early rounds heading to South Bend and Navarro moving back to Yakima in a week and a half.

"Scrubs", "Jeopardy", & other assorted delights: The second horse in the race mentioned above was left-hander Patrick Schuster, and although he didn't really come close to besting Holmberg, it wasn't for lack of success.  Schuster has a 3.14 ERA in 66 innings spread across his 11 starts this year, though he has a less-appealing 46:25 K:BB ratio and some quirky mechanics.  However, the peripherals have been coming around since early May, as he's sported a 35:12 K:BB ratio in his last six starts (39.1 IP), matching his quality stuff from the left side.  Schuster is still extremely thin and just 20-years-old, so there ought to be plenty of additional velocity to come as he fills out and even adds an inch or two to his 6'1" frame.

On the offensive side, Yazy Arbelo and Zach Walters continue to toy with Midwest League pitching.  Yes, both are prone to 0-fer nights with a pair of strikeouts, but both are also capable of single-handedly carrying an offensive charge at this level.  In their last ten games, Arbelo has hit a devastating .265/.409/.618, with Walters keeping up the pace with a line of .351/.467/.622.  Unfortunately, it's hard to get an indication of how good of prospects they are from their MWL numbers, since Arbelo is 23 years old and Walters, although just 21, is the product of a big college program.  Blocked from being moved up to Hi-A by the quartet of Matt Davidson, Chris OwingsBobby Borchering, and David Nick, Arbelo and Walters are stuck at Low-A unless the organization takes a bold step and promotes one or both straight to Double-A (this might be more prudent in Arbelo's case than for Walters, considering Arbelo's age).

South Bend has a pretty good bullpen going, as you'd hope to see from a bunch of college arms facing teenagers in short stints.  Probably the three best amongst the crowd have been Dan Taylor and Jeremy Erben.  Taylor is more suited to be in the Double-A bullpen than the Low-A bullpen, and his 42:7 K:BB ratio in 32.1 innings makes me wonder if there's some personal reason for keeping him at South Bend (he's from Grand Rapids, Michigan).  Then we have Erben, who went to Arizona in the 22nd round of the 2010 draft and has allowed just one earned run in 11 appearances (16.1 innings, 0.55 ERA) between May and June with a phenomenal 22:4 K:BB ratio.