<
>

Minor Achievements: Proof in numbers

5/3/2007

A friend of mine said to me last week: "Dude, I had no clue B.J. Upton and Kelly Johnson were going to be that good."

Well first, there's an excellent chance they'll slip somewhat. Second, of course you had clues; 601 of them in Johnson's case, 473 in Upton's. If you don't check out a guy's minor league track record, then you deserve to miss the boat.

I doubt Mr. Upton will be fifth in the majors in OPS come September. His 27-6 K/BB ratio walks scares me. But let's revisit that minor league track record: .302/.394/.445 (BA/OBP/slugging) with 38 steals in 101 games in low Class A at age 19. Then there's his .311/.411/.519 performance with 17 steals in 69 games at age 20 at Triple-A. There were questions about Upton's defense (they still remain; he's fielding 0.949, the league average is 0.979 at second base), but not his bat.

So is it a shock that he's topping .300 and hitting for power and speed at age 22? Not bloody likely (according to Baseball-Reference.com, Upton is the ninth-youngest player in the league this year). And is it likely he'll raise his walks and cut his whiffs? Based on his minor league performance, yes sir. If he bats .298-16-60 with 40 steals, you should be happy. He could be Ryne Sandberg II.

Then there's Johnson. At age 19, he batted .289/.404/.513 with 25 steals in 124 games in low A ball. He scuffled for a couple of years but then batted .282-.350-.468 as a 22-year-old at Double-A. The following year, he hit the majors. He batted a mediocre .241-9-40. But more astute observers would have noted his solid 75-40 K/BB ratio with Atlanta.

He was hurt for most of last year, but again, if you had been paying attention, you would have noted that in 2004-05, Johnson batted .314 with nine homers and a scintillating 28-40 K/BB ratio in 194 at-bats at Triple-A. Johnson's OBP in Triple-A was .431, his slugging, .567. What are his current percentages in the bigs? .326/.473/.593. The guy is two years older and wiser, and I wouldn't be surprised if he bats over .300 with 25 homers and 100 walks this season. Think Chipper Jones, but with peak power of 30-35 homers.

Alert! Alert! Billy Butler, Kansas City's stud Triple-A outfielder, is now a stud major league rookie. He was batting .337/.445/.584 for Omaha (four doubles, six homers, awesome 12-18 K/BB ratio). Butler's glove is brutal, but he might be a better offensive prospect than Alex Gordon (he's two years younger). I'd grab him for the bench right now. If he gets serious playing time, he could be a healthy Mike Sweeney this year.


Who's hot in the low minors?


Let's go on a fishing expedition to see if there are any future Johnsons or Uptons down in Class A.

• Speaking of Uptons, kid brother Justin Upton is at high-A Visalia in the Callie League, batting .365-5-13 with a 22-13 K/BB ratio and six steals in 85 at-bats (.451 OBP, .612 slugging). Justin is 19, and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft. Like big bro, Justin has five-tool potential. Unlike big bro, Justin is being made into an outfielder.


• Indians catcher Matt McBride is raking at Lake County in the low-A Sally League (.338/.442/.477, 9-12 K/BB ratio in 65 at-bats). McBride is 22 and has a reputation for working like a dog. His defense is raw, and he has only one homer, but his bat could be special and his power is supposed to be a strong suit. He's a fine long-term grab.


• Fellow Sally Leaguer Tommy Hanson, a 20-year-old Braves right-hander, is doing fabulous for Rome. Hanson is 6-foot-6, 210 pounds and has a low-90s fastball and a solid curve and changeup. In 24 innings, he has allowed 15 hits (zero homers) with a 40-7 K/BB ratio. With his size and youth, I'd expect better stuff within the next season or two.


• Former Rice right-hander Wade Townsend (Devil Rays) is also tearing up the Sally. A 6-foot-4, 230-pounder, Townsend has a low-90s fastball and a sharp curve. Tommy John surgery felled him in 2006, but he appears to be back and is combining excellent power with ground-ball tendencies. He has a 2.33 ground out-fly out ratio, and he has 32 strikeouts (versus eight walks) in 24 innings for Columbus. He has allowed 16 hits (one home run), giving him a WHIP of 1.00.


• Rangers third base prospect Johnny Whittleman, 20, has bounced back with his return to low-A, batting .343/.447/.586 for Clinton of the Midwest League. Whittleman has eight doubles, three homers and a sharp 15-14 K/BB ratio. Last season, Whittleman batted .227/.313/.343 for Clinton. He has an excellent swing, fine discipline, good power potential, and he's considered a leader. His only current weakness is questionable defense at third.


• Darryl Thompson is a 6-foot-1 right-hander with the Reds. Thompson, 21, shredded his labrum last season, but you wouldn't know it from his performance for Dayton in the MWL: He's 4-0 with a 0.39 ERA in 23 innings, allowing 11 hits (one homer) with a 19.0 K/BB ratio. Thompson has a fastball that hits 94 mph, a plus curveball, and his changeup shows potential. He'll likely be one of the Reds' top five prospects by the end of the season.


Rawnsley's Prep Picks


Here is another prep prospect from David Rawnsley of ESPN partner Perfect Game. David is the scout's scout and has seen just about every pro prospect worth a glance over the past few years.


Rick Porcello, RHP Seton Hall (N.J.) Prep
Comparable to: Justin Verlander.
Says Mr. Rawnsley: "Porcello is 6-foot-5, 195 pounds. He combines ideal size, top-of-the-draft arm strength and underrated athleticism. The sum equals perhaps the top high school pitching prospect in the 2007 class. He maintains his fastball in the 94-96 mph range and has touched 98. His power curveball in the upper-70s is a potential plus pitch, as is his changeup. Porcello also plays shortstop when not pitching for the No. 1-ranked high school team in the country. He has signed with the University of North Carolina."


This year, I decided to go very heavy on high school players in my minors because the 2007 draft is supposed to be packed with special players. Porcello was one of the first players I grabbed. Porcello struck out 16 in his first start, and 15 in a seven-inning game, his second appearance of the season. This year, he has been hitting 96 in the late innings, too. His four-seamer is just dominant, and since teams love plus-plus fastballs, I'd expect Porcello to go in the first five to seven picks of the amateur draft. If I'm lucky, I might have a top-of-the-rotation-type prospect on my hands in a couple of years. Oh, almost forgot, he has a fine two-seamer, so he has the potential for four plus pitches. You can count the number of major leaguers with four plus pitches on four or five fingers.


David Srinivasan writes about statistics and the minors for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.COM. If you have questions, suggestions or spare roster slots for rent, please e-mail him at srini@talentedmrroto.com.