Minor Achievements: New NL infielders
Let's lead off things with two nice-looking infielders from the National League West. If you can have just one, go with Andy LaRoche. His power and plate discipline are special. Still, Mark Reynolds could help out owners at multiple positions, and he has a very nice bat.
We have some other guys who could help out in AL- or NL-only leagues this season, but if you like to dig a bit deeper, I offer Clay Buchholz and Chris Lubanski for your consideration. Both look very special.
Andy LaRoche, 3B, LAD -- One look at LaRoche's major league K/BB ratio, and you'll know why I love him. He has 13 walks versus four strikeouts in his first 12 games. Overall, he's batting .233-.467-.300 after a .235-.309-.367 start in Triple-A, but check out his career numbers coming into this season: .292-.372-.513, including a .322 average with 10 homers and a 32-25 K/BB ratio in 202 at-bats at Triple-A last season. LaRoche is 23, and he has the potential to smack 30-40 homers a season once he matures. If he achieves his potential, he'll be similar to Scott Rolen. This season, however, don't be surprised if he yo-yos between Triple-A and the majors as he fights for playing time.
Mark Reynolds, IF, ARI -- Reynolds is another 23-year-old. He batted .337 with 23 homers and a 72-41 K/BB ratio at high-A Lancaster last season in the Callie League. That's a hitters' park in a hitters' league, so it was discounted somewhat. But this season, he moved to Double-A Mobile in the Southern League, and he batted .306-.394-.537 with a solid 32-20 K/BB ratio. He's not a superb fielder, but he can play all infield positions adequately, and Baseball America has compared him to a young Jeff Kent. The Diamondbacks brought Reynolds up because of an injury to Chad Tracy and the Alberto Callaspo imbroglio. Given some at-bats, Reynolds has done nothing but hit. Right now, the Kent comparison appears reasonable, but I must note that Kent ended up a waaaay better player than anyone expected. Still, anyone who can rake like Reynolds does at 23 has the potential to become a star.
Carlos Marmol, RHP, CHI -- I wrote about him in April, but he was promoted to the Cubs on May 18 and I thought it would be a wise idea to touch on him again. Most of what I said then still stands: He's a strikeout pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and solid breaking stuff, and he is doing OK pitching in relief. If you've got the bench space and are in a deep league, Marmol is a sleeper to eventually move into the Cubs' rotation and do quite nicely.
Travis Metcalf, 3B, TEX -- Metcalf, 24, has already come up, slurped down an iced mocha and headed back down to the minors. At Double-A Frisco in the Texas League, Metcalf is batting .294-.363-.507 with 11 doubles, six homers and a 31-16 K/BB ratio (his .870 OPS is 10th in the league). In an AL-only format, Metcalf definitely has enough bat to help you. Metcalf might be back in the bigs in the wake of Hank Blalock's injury, should the Matt Kata/Ramon Vazquez platoon fail to impress the Rangers.
Bryan Bullington and John Van Benschoten, RHPs, PIT -- Honestly, these guys were once top prospects, but I can recommend neither. The only reason I'm writing about them is because there is plenty of talk that one or both could get promotions and move into Pittsburgh's rotation.
At Triple-A Indianapolis in the International League, Bullington is 6-2 with a 2.96 ERA in 54 2/3 innings. He has allowed only two home runs, but his 30-23 K/BB ratio (4.94 K's per nine) scares me. Bullington, the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft (B.J. Upton was the No. 2 pick), had shoulder surgery and missed all of 2005. Two years later, he tops out at 91 mph and has a solid slider. It's not enough.
Van Benschoten was a first-rounder in 2001. He has had three shoulder surgeries, two on his pitching arm, one on his left arm. He still hits the low 90s, and he has good breaking stuff, but his deception is a problem, too. He is 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA for Indy, allowing 37 hits (only one homer) in 43 2/3 innings. His pedestrian K/BB ratio (31-17) undermines any faith I might have in him.
Yes, both of these guys might be coming to Pittsburgh. But if I were you, I'd ignore their potential to earn starting jobs. You don't want them unless their K rates rise dramatically.
Colby Lewis, RHP, OAK -- Lewis was once a heartthrob in my keeper league; he had a mid-90s fastball and plus breaking stuff. He's had arm surgery and is now 27. His best pitch is now his curveball, and he's lost a foot off his heater, but he still managed to go 5-1 with a 2.31 ERA at Triple-A Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League to start the season. In 50 2/3 innings, he has allowed 38 hits (five homers) and has a 47-14 K/BB ratio. Those are superb numbers in a tough league for pitchers. Lewis is getting an audition for Oakland versus the White Sox as I write this, and he is getting beaten like a bloody drum (10 runs on 12 hits -- two home runs -- in 3 1/3 innings). Still, I have some faith in him (I put in a waiver claim an hour before I started writing this column), and I'll be putting him on the bench to see if he has any utility. Some people were hanging Tim Lincecum in effigy after his mediocre major league debut, and the kid has done well since. I think Lewis might be a bit of all right.
Chris Lubanski, OF, KC -- Be still my beating heart! Lubanski, 22, is batting .301-.378-.516 for Double-A Wichita in the Texas League. He has nine doubles, three triples and six homers. More important, his K/BB ratio is an estimable 22-22. Lubanski has good speed, but horrid baserunning judgment (he's currently 2-for-7 on stolen-base attempts). In time, I think he'll be a threat to steal 15-20 bases. I could easily see Lubanski batting in the No. 2 or No. 5 hole in front of or behind Alex Gordon and Billy Butler in a year or two. This kid looks like a star.
Clay Buchholz, LHP, BOS -- A 6-foot-3, 190-pound lefty, Buchholz looks like the No. 1 prospect in the Eastern League with his monster start. He is only 1-1, but with a 1.82 ERA. In 39 2/3 innings, he has allowed a mere 25 hits (three homers) and has a stellar 53-7 K/BB ratio (that's 12.03 whiffs per nine innings). A 2005 sandwich pick (a "supplemental" pick between the first and second rounds), Bucky pitches in the low 90s and can touch 96-97 mph. He also sports a fine curveball, a hard slider and an excellent change. This season, it looks like everything is working, except Bucky's offensive support. He looks like a potential ace, and he could be dealin' alongside Dice-K & Co. by season's end.
David Srinivasan writes about statistics and the minors for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.COM. If you have questions or want David to write up a minor leaguer you're interested in, please e-mail him at Srini@TalentedMrRoto.com.
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