The Minor League season is now two weeks old, and while projecting stats for the season might be a fool's errand, it's certainly not too soon to pick out some outstanding performances. Typically, this will be a Prospect Watch Player of the Week. This time, though, it will be a Player of the Fortnight.
There's no question Billy Hamilton can run. He did, after all, steal 103 bases in 2011. The big question, though, was if the No. 34 overall prospect (No. 2 on the Reds' Top 20) would hit enough to be able to use his speed. His start to the 2012 season is helping answer those concerns, and it is the reason why he's the first hitter to be honored with this soon-to-be weekly "award."
Yes, he's in the hitter-friendly California League, but it's not like Hamilton's game is based on power that could be skewed by the parks in that circuit. Prior to Thursday's game, Hamilton was fifth in the California League with a .388 average (in 49 at-bats). Knowing it's his job to get on base, he's posted a .474 on-base percentage, good for second in the league.
In 2011, Hamilton struck out 133 times, or once every 4.14 at-bats. In the early going this season, he's improved that to once every 5.44 ABs. He's also shown some extra-base ability with five doubles, three triples and a home run for a gaudy .673 slugging percentage, good for eighth in the Cal League.
Other finalists for the honor were Tyler Austin of the Yankees (.450/.500/.975 in 40 at-bats) and Alen Hanson of the Pirates.
Barnes Prospect Watch Pitcher of the Week
The Minor League season is now two weeks old, and it's certainly not too soon to pick out some outstanding performances. Typically, this will be a Prospect Watch Pitcher of the Week. This time, though, it will be a Pitcher of the Fortnight.
There have been a number of outstanding pitching performances over the opening stanza of the season, making it difficult to single out just one. But it's hard to look past what the Red Sox prospect Matt Barnes has done during his pro debut.
The No. 19 overall pick in last June's Draft is currently No. 13 on Boston's Top 20 list, but if he keeps this up, he won't be there long. Nor will he be in the Class A South Atlantic League.
The right-hander from UConn has yet to give up a run in three starts. His 25 strikeouts are tied for the second most in all of Minor League Baseball, and he's yielded just two walks over his 16 innings of work. He leads the SAL in strikeouts as well.
Barnes has also only given up six hits for a .111 batting average against, the fourth-lowest BAA among pitchers who have thrown enough innings thus far to qualify. His 0.50 WHIP is the lowest mark in the SAL, and he has an impressive 3.60 groundout-to-airout ratio.
Barnes certainly wasn't a clear-cut choice. The Orioles' Dylan Bundy has yet to allow a hit and has had to deal with just one baserunner (one walk) in nine innings of work. Fellow 2011 first-rounder Jed Bradley has allowed just one unearned run in 19 innings. D-backs prospect Andrew Chafin leads the Minors with 27 strikeouts (in just 15 1/3 innings) and Yankees prospect Jose Campos has allowed just five hits for a .093 BAA.
Rendon's injury label still sticking
Coming into the 2011 Draft, Anthony Rendon had a reputation as a very gifted, yet injury prone, third baseman. The start to his professional career hasn't done anything to lift that label.
Over the course of his college career, Rendon had two serious ankle injuries that interrupted his summer plans two straight years, followed by a shoulder injury that kept him from playing much defense during his junior season. Now, just two games into his pro career with the Nationals, another ankle injury has shelved him.
Rendon, the Nationals' No. 2 prospect and No. 27 overall, hurt his ankle rounding third base and trying to score on a hit following his double. It was initially reported to be a severe sprain, but then was later described as a partial fracture, something Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said would heal faster than a severe sprain.
Rendon had surgery on both of his ankles during his days at Rice and he had a procedure done on Monday to repair his left ankle this time around. According to Nationals farm director Doug Harris, there is no set timetable yet for Rendon's return to action, let alone being able to work out or resume baseball activities.
"At this point, he's in post-op recover mode," Harris said. "Our goal is to get him healthy and get him going again. He's a talented young man and displayed that over the course of the spring. Our focus is recovery."
The Nationals, obviously, were well aware of Rendon's injury history when they made him the No. 6 overall pick in the Draft. But his abilities with the bat, as well as defensively at third (assuming his shoulder was OK), were too much to pass up. Rendon went through all of Spring Training without a hitch and was able to start the year in the Class A Advanced Carolina League. While there has to be some concern about Rendon's ankles, the injuries were not because of any lack of conditioning or preparation.
"This was a competitive injury," Harris said. "I don't think there was any way to control or predict anything that transpired. What's done is done. The procedure went very well. Over the next week to 10 days, we'll probably have a path with him, but at this juncture, it's premature to begin to go there."
Rendon isn't the only player high on the Top 100 to have injury issues. The Tigers' No. 1 prospect, Jacob Turner, was originally in the competition to be Detroit's No. 5 starter. But he's yet to make his 2012 debut as he remained in extended spring camp to work his way back from shoulder tendinitis.
He appears to be headed in the right direction. Turner threw live batting practice for the first time on April 13 under the watchful eye of Minor League pitching coordinator Al Nipper. He threw another BP session on Tuesday, throwing 83 total pitches, was up to 92 mph with his fastball and threw some good breaking balls as well. The plan is for him to take the mound for the Lakeland Flying Tigers in the Florida State League on Monday. If all goes well, he should start taking regular turns in a rotation as he moves back up the ladder.
"He's really in a good place," Tigers farm director Dave Owen said. "He said he feels good. He's just getting stuff worked out with his mechanics."
Trio of top prospects get experience in extended
Not every prospect is out and playing competitive baseball right now. A number of younger players stayed back in extended spring training to get further instruction before being sent out to a Minor League affiliate.
There are three members of MLB.com's Top 100, all of them high school picks in the first round of the 2011 Draft, who are currently toiling in relative anonymity in extended.
No. 17 Bubba Starling, No. 62 Javier Baez and No. 98 Taylor Guerrieri remained at their respective organizations' spring complexes. More than anything, the trio hung back to get further acclimated to life as a professional and all that entails. It means regular at-bats, consistent innings, all without the microscope of being in real game action "under the lights."
All will play somewhere in 2012, their official professional debuts. There's a chance Guerrieri could pitch to Starling in the Appalachian League this summer, but don't count out the possibility of the two hitters getting the chance to try out a slightly higher level once they get assigned.
"With Bubba coming into Spring Training, we were optimistic and open-minded, but knew with his background that being in Arizona and getting the repetitions [might be best]," said J.J. Picollo, the Royals' assistant general manager of scouting and player development, adding that Starling is working on his hitting mechanics, among many things, in Surprise. "He has the ingredients. There isn't one thing he needs to work on while he's in extended, to get out of extended. The goal isn't for him to get out of extended, it's to make sure he's a better baseball player at the end of the year."
Baez is working on his offensive approach with the Cubs. The No. 9 overall pick's bat was a big reason he went in the Top 10 last June, and now he's in the process of making sure he's ready to use it to his fullest ability once he gets assigned.
"Right now, I'm working on my offense," Baez said. "We are working to make my swing smoother and put me in a position that gives me more control. It's not just about swinging as hard as you can."
Guerrieri is also getting more work, albeit on the mound. The No. 24 pick in the Draft isn't really working on anything in terms of his pitches, but rather gaining an understanding of the work that goes in to being a professional pitcher. That means learning the nuances of a five-day schedule, throwing programs, PFPs (pitchers' fielding practices) and strength and conditioning. The Rays have a pretty good track record of developing young pitching at the right pace, which probably makes it easier for an eager arm to buy into the system.
"He's working on an overall program because of his inexperience," Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. "You can't say much more about his stuff. He certainly has the stuff to pitch at higher levels. There's more to it than just stuff.
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish. So why rush? That's where we're at with Taylor. This is the way we like to do it and we've had some success with it."
A scout's view: Shelby Miller
Periodically, MLB.com will reach out to scouts who are out and seeing the best prospects in baseball to get an informed opinion of how some are performing. For this first installment, we talked to a scout who saw Shelby Miller (No. 5 overall; No. 1 on Cardinals' Top 20) make his second Triple-A start, facing the Astros' Jordan Lyles, on April 13.
Miller allowed four runs on six hits over five innings in that outing, after yielding four runs on seven hits in three innings during his 2012 debut. The scout said there's no reason for concern and he appears to be right: Miller's third start on Wednesday was a one-run, nine-strikeout affair over five innings (albeit with four walks).
"You have to think with him, 'If he was in the Draft this year, where would he go?'" the scout said, pointing out Miller would be a college junior if he hadn't signed with the Cardinals. "He's going through the growing pains of being in Triple-A at a young age. His stuff is still good, his breaking ball is as good as I've seen it. He's still a top- to mid-rotation-type arm."
The scout came away impressed with Lyles, who clearly used his time in the big leagues last year to help him understand himself as a pitcher.
"The first time, I saw him in the South Atlantic League [in 2009]," the scout said. "He's settled in now. He's more mature on the mound than I've ever seen him. He can sink, he can cut. His breaking ball was average to plus. His mound presence and confidence, his ability to use his stuff, was the best I've seen him. On Friday, he was a little bit ahead of Shelby Miller."
The scout felt Miller would benefit from a full year in Triple-A and that perhaps Lyles' rushed path to the big leagues should serve as a cautionary tale for Miller and other young arms trying to knock on the big league door.
"The expectation level is so high that we rush them, then when they're not what we want, we don't know what to do with them," the scout said. "Maybe we need to slow the process down and let them go through the natural maturation process. They'll let us know when they're ready."
A couple of hitters the scout saw recently also received favorable reports:
Caleb Gindl, No. 15 on the Brewers' Top 20: "This kid is going to hit. He's more athletic than people give him credit for. He's a good outfielder with a plus arm."
Matt Adams, No. 8 on the Cardinals' Top 20: "This guy is going to be outstanding. Sort of a John Kruk body, but this guy is going to rake. He's going to be a middle-of-the-order bat and he's not a bad defensive first baseman from what I saw."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. Jesse Sanchez contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.