Minor Achievements: Votto, Morales and more
Radhames Liz, RHP, Orioles: A 6-foot-2, 170-pounder, Liz was considered a two-pitch guy (high-90s fastball, hard curveball) with control trouble coming into this season. Cut to spring training, and the O's were talking bullpen. But Liz took a step forward in Double-A, honing his breaking ball and his changeup, and the reliever talk has ended. Understand, Liz is not close to being perfect. He is 24, which is a trifle old for the kind of pitching prospect he is. At Double-A Bowie, he was 11-4 with a 3.22 ERA in 137 innings. He allowed 101 hits (13 homers) and a strong .204 batting average against, and he had an excellent 161 whiffs (10.58 per nine innings). The flies in Radhames' ointment were 70 walks (4.60 per nine) and the 13 homers (the AL is a lot tougher on pitchers than Bowie). A reasonable fantasy comp would be fellow Oriole Daniel Cabrera, a power guy with iffy control. In time, Liz could be a very nice middle-of-the-rotation option for fantasy leaguers, but right now, he belongs on the bench of AL-only owners.
Franklin Morales, LHP, Rockies: Morales, 21, has made the jump from Double-A Tulsa to the majors. Should you hop aboard? Let's look at the pluses and minuses. A 6-foot-3, 180-pounder who still is filling out, Morales has some of the best stuff around. He has a mid-90s fastball that can hit the upper-90s and a curveball with excellent break. His command and mechanics waver because he still is a baby. At Tulsa, Morales had a 3.48 ERA in 95.2 innings, allowing 77 hits (eight homers), striking out 77 and walking 45. At Triple-A Colorado Springs, he had a 3.71 ERA in 17 innings, allowing 20 hits (one homer) with 16 whiffs and 13 walks. Overall, he had a 3.51 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP and 93 strikeouts versus 58 walks. I don't know about you, but to me, that's patently unimpressive. But looking at ESPN's park factors chart (jump to it here), you can see that Coors Field is once again the worst pitchers' park (or the best hitters' park) in the game, increasing runs scored by 17.5 percent. Understanding that half a pitcher's games should come on the road, a pitcher who has a 4.00 ERA elsewhere would be expected to have a 4.35 ERA at Coors Field. If you are an NL-only keeper leaguer, and you can keep him on your taxi squad, I'd go for it. He could polish himself up and develop into something nice in a year or three. Otherwise, avoid him; there is a great chance he'll be rotten because of his command issues and his ballpark.
Joey Votto, 1B, Reds: Cincy's first baseman of the future, Votto, 23, is in line for a big-league promotion at any moment. In April, he batted .183-.333.-.329, but since then, he has batted .327-.403-.521, with 14 doubles, a triple and 18 homers in 361 at-bats. The plate discipline is on time, too, as Votto has 63 walks and 95 whiffs in his 443 at-bats. Votto has surprising speed for a first baseman: He stole 24 bases in 2006, and he has 16 steals (eight times caught) this season. I think he will be a solid fantasy starter who bats .280-.310 with 25-35 homers a season, and in leagues that value speed, he'll go up a tier.
Jed Lowrie, SS, Red Sox: The Double-A Eastern League is a very tough hitting environment, but Lowrie, 23, conquered it before leaping to the Triple-A International League. Lowrie batted .297-.410-.501 at Double-A, before jumping to Pawtucket and batting .303-.351-.546. Overall, he is hitting .298 with 43 doubles, eight triples and 13 homers in 456 at-bats. His plate discipline is superb: 72 walks and 82 whiffs. But take heed: He has 24 whiffs and seven walks in his 119 Triple-A at-bats. In other words, he still is adjusting to that level of play. Lowrie does have solid range, a decent arm and good defensive fundamentals. With The $36 Million Joke (Julio Lugo) scuffling along with an OPS around .650, Lowrie should come up and get some playing time this September. The question is, will the Sox deal Lugo or Lowrie so that both guys can get some PT? I wouldn't worry, as these situations usually resolve themselves sooner rather than later.
Fernando Perez, OF, Devil Rays: If it wasn't for one detail, this guy would be fringy to me, at best. Perez is 24 and playing at Double-A Montgomery. Currently, he is batting .300-.413-.470 with 23 doubles, eight triples and seven homers. He has excellent plate discipline (66 walks, 94 whiffs). His speed rates an 80 on the scouting scale (20-to-80), so theoretically, he should have 40-plus steals, considering how often he gets on base. Bzzt. He has 27 steals, and a horrendous 18 caught stealing. OK, so he's old (my rule of thumb is a guy's a top prospect if he hits the majors by age 23 and is a regular by age 25), and he doesn't use his speed tool, so why do I like him? Perez is a Columbia grad. It's hard enough to juggle baseball and a college career. Throw in an academic environment such as the Ivy League, and I figure Perez is almost a lock to get his tools in gear. Perez isn't likely to make the show until September at the earliest (and next year is more likely). But I'm expecting him to polish his speed, keep working on that plate discipline and develop into a poor man's Carl Crawford.
Billy Buckner, RHP, Royals: Buckner, 24, is a sinker-baller who has excellent command but mediocre power. He had a 3.78 ERA at Triple-A Omaha, allowing 108 hits (11 homers) in 104.2 innings with 83 whiffs and 26 walks. A sturdy 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Buckner throws a sharp knuckle-curve and a low-90s sinker that induces a lot of grounders (and a lot of seeing-eye hits). I just don't like his package with the Royals in their current state. He might develop into a helpful fantasy starter, but I'd pass on this action for now.
Jack Hannahan, 2B, Athletics: Need some help in your infield? This 27-year-old second baseman could provide some OBP help and a little pop. Hannahan batted .295-.422-.476 for Triple-A Toledo, with 20 doubles, a triple and 13 homers. He had 76 walks and 92 whiffs in 336 at-bats, too. He has gotten plenty of playing time with Oakland of late, and if he keeps getting plate appearances, he should score some runs because of his ability to reach base. He won't be a star, but he'll certainly help in deep leagues.
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 are interested in, please e-mail him at Srini@TalentedMrRoto.com.