Thursday, May 13, 2010

Phenom Report Card

This has been the year of the phenom so far as several teams have their top prospects on the 25 man rosters. It's been exciting to watch in most cases and a bit disappointing in others. And Strasburg hasn't even arrived yet. He threw six no-hit innings yesterday so perhaps it's just a matter of time now. Mid-May seems a good time to get a report card of how these new hopes are doing. Hopefully, the Fan won't leave any out.

Jason Heyward: Heyward continues to impress and despite a muscle problem in his leg that kept him out a while, he is among the league leaders in Runs Batted In and Runs Scored. His .431 OBP, 1.044 OPS and 177 OPS+ are all big numbers. As a left-handed batter, he is holding his own against left-handed pitching with a .917 OPS and a .400 OBP. His fielding has been just south of league average in right field, but that should improve as he gets more comfortable. No assists yet in the outfield. Heyward was batting most of the year in the sixth position in the batting order. But the last two games has featured him batting third and he's responded really well to that with two great games. Heyward has certainly lived up to the hype. Grade A+

Starlin Castro: Hey, it's only been six games so far. Hardly fair to give a report card on such a small sample size. But the bottom line here is that he's been Sterling Starlin at the plate and Starvin' Starlin in the field. You can't ask for more at the dish as Castro has shown that he can hit major league pitching. He currently sports a nifty 167 OPS+ and most impressively, he's only struck out twice. He's got a triple, a homer and a double among his eight hits. Defensively, he's really struggled. His five errors in six games are alarming and already that total is the fifth highest error total in the league. He made 39 errors in the minors last year in only 119 games so his defense is a work in progress, to put it at its most kind. Grade B+

Mike Leake: Who needs the minor leagues? Last year, Leake was pitching college ball. This year, he's 3-0 with the Reds with a 3.10 ERA. He's pitched very well with a WHIP thus far of 1.205. He's given up only three homers which is the fewest among the Reds' starters plus he is batting over .300. Not a bad start for the young guy. There are a few areas of concern. He's been a bit lucky so far with a .257 BABIP and his walk rate is a bit high at 3.8 per 9. His K/BB ratio is at 1.65 and you'd like to see that over 2 in time. He's off to a great start, but those latter numbers bear watching. I has to be exciting though for Reds' fans with Leake, Bailey and Cueto all being 24 years of age or younger and Aroldis Chapman on the way. Grade B+

Cleveland's Young Pitching Rotation: Huff (25), Masterson (25), Carmona (26) and Talbot (26) are not really young enough to be phenoms but they are still all young. Carmona and Talbot have had success in the wins column and both have walked more than they have struck out. That's a bit worrisome. Talbot has thrown two stinkers in a row. Huff hasn't shown last year's success, but he's been better of late. He pitches to contact and how he does is totally dependent on his BABIP rate. The one mystery has been Masterson. He seems to have an uncanny ability to have his contacts falling in for hits. His strikeouts per nine and his K/BB ratio are out of this world though. So he still has a world of promise. He just needs to find a way for the balls put in play to find their way into somebody's mitt. Grade C

Jhoulys Chacin: Two starts don't make a career, but man is he off to a great start. No homers allowed, a 3.2 K/BB ratio, 16 Ks in 15.1 innings all add up to overpowering. When De La Rosa comes off the disabled list, there is no way in the world this guy should go back to the minors. He's not going to maintain a WHIP of 0.783 all year, but he's been awesome so far. Grade A+

Austin Jackson: Everybody keeps waiting for him to come back to earth, but it is mid-May and he's still batting .354 with an OPS+ of 137. His 27 runs scored and his 51 hits lead the American League but so does his 42 strikeouts. He's 2 for his last 12 at bats so he's having his first rough patch of the season. His BABIP is what most people cite as their problem with his performance thus far and they are right as it is an obscene .495. There is no way he can maintain that. Jackson's fielding stats are below league average so far. After watching a few of his games, he looks smooth enough out there and gets to balls quickly. But the numbers don't add up to what the eyes are seeing. Grade A

Ike Davis: The Mets have been a different team since Davis arrived on the scene. The numbers he has put up thus far have been steady if not spectacular. His .405 OBP and his 136 OPS+ are certainly impressive enough. He has struck out 19 times in 21 games, but that is part of his MO, so as long as he produces, the K's are tolerated. His BABIP is a bit high at .354 suggesting he will come down a bit in average, but not alarmingly so. He's not hitting well in high leverage situations which needs to be improved upon. As far as his fielding, he's not elite, but he's made three great plays and he's a darn sight improvement over Tatis, Jacobs or Murphy. Grade B+

Kyle Blanks: Killer Kyle has not gotten untracked yet for the Padres. As well as they are playing, if he can get going, how good can they be? His OBP of .311 is fairly impressive for a guy batting .180, but it's hard to ignore that 180 after 106 at bats. He's struck out 41 times in 28 games and really needs to have some of his other counting stats justify that Mark Reynolds-like whiff total. His fielding in left has been okay which is all you can ask of a left fielder. Blanks needs to stop shooting blanks and soon. Grade D

Matt Latos: Matt Latos has pitched far better than his 2-3 record indicates. His K/BB ratio is great. His WHIP is 1.194 which leads all Padres' starters. His problem thus far has been homers as he has given up seven so far. But over all, you can't ask much more from a 22 year old starter. Grade A.

David Freese: Can you call Freese a phenom when he is 27 years old? Maybe. He was drafted only four years ago and is a solid part of the Cardinals' line up. All his numbers are above average including his .321 average and .400 OBP. He doesn't strike out at an alarming rate and his 22 RBIs are impressive indeed. As you could expect from all those runs driven in, he's batting really, really well in high leverage situations with a 1.081 OPS in those instances. That's terrific. As a right handed batter, he kills lefty pitching and is just okay against righties. His BABIP is slightly elevated at .386 so he could come down a bit in average over the long haul. His fielding has been solid at third. No problems there. Grade A.

Wade Davis: David came up last year so he might be a year beyond phenom-dom. But at 24 and a former top prospect, the Fan will include him in this list. It's hard to fault anything Davis has done in his six starts this year. His 3.12 ERA is solid. He's only given up three homers in 34 innings which is excellent. His 7.1 hits per nine innings is also excellent. The only thing holding Davis back is his control. His 4.8 walks per nine is too high and leads to an early high pitch count which gets him out of games far too soon. He's averaging just over five innings per start thus far as a result. But still, if this is the fifth guy in your rotation, that's pretty sweet stuff. Grade B.

Justin Smoak: Just a few weeks into his rookie campaign, it would be easy to dwell on Smoak's .194 batting average after 19 games. But the feeling here is that he's been on the unlucky side. His batting average on ground balls, for example is .000. That won't continue. He's shown great discipline at the plate with 12 walks in 19 games and only 11 strikeouts. He's already hit four homers and his OPS+ is over league average despite his average. His fielding at first has been excellent thus far too. Mr. Smoak will be just fine. Just give him some time and watch him fly. Grade B-

Travis Snider: Snider is only 22 and has already playing in his third season for the Blue Jays. This is the first time though where he is playing every day and his numbers are encouraging despite an early .232 batting average. His 112 OPS+ is already above league average and is simply going to go up as the year goes along. His strikeout rate (while a bit high) is lower than last year. His walk rate is higher and his .267 BABIP indicates he hasn't been lucky to this point. Snider had an awful April but his OPS has been 1.054 in May. Mark the Fan's words, Snider is going to be great. He'll never be great in the field. But there are worse right fielders... Grade B

Did the Fan leave anyone out? These guys above have been tremendously fun to watch and as the season progresses, it will be super interesting to see how these players develop.

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