Minor Achievements: McCutchen, Rasmus and more
In most cases, you worry about kid pitchers and hitters taking a long time to get their feet wet. Phil Hughes has scuffled; Alex Gordon's rookie campaign has been mighty modest to date; Yovani Gallardo has been up and down; and Jeremy Hermida has needed nearly two-and-a-half seasons and 700 at-bats to find himself healthy and hitting.
So it's wonderful to see things come together quickly for Joba Chamberlain, who has emerged as the Yankees' most reliable reliever, and Clay Buchholz, who stymied the O's on Saturday with one of the season's most brilliant pitching performances. Buchholz's no-no will spur plenty of pickups in deep leagues, but I don't have a problem with that: This is a case where plenty of substance sits behind the sizzle of that one start. Buchholz is a stud in waiting. But you guys already know that because I wrote about him a few weeks ago.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates -- One of the finest tools packages in the minors, McCutchen has suffered a down season in 2007, but he's still a great young prospect. First off, he's only 20, and he is currently in Triple-A. He started off batting .258-.327-.383 in 446 at-bats at Double-A (with 17 steals in 18 attempts), so the Pirates decided to challenge him with a promotion to the International League. He hasn't set the world aflame, but he is batting .308-.339-.404. At the two levels combined, his season numbers include a .263 batting average with 22 doubles, three triples and 11 homers in 498 at-bats. His plate discipline is fine for his age (91 whiffs, 47 walks). McCutchen is a right-handed hitter who has a good swing and excellent bat speed. Although he has only 11 home runs this season, that's not too bad given his age and competition level, and he should develop more power as he matures physically. He has top-notch speed and could develop into a 60-steal threat if he works on reading pitchers and becomes more aggressive. He's a major sleeper, especially because he is having such a down season by his standards. Don't be surprised if he's in the majors and making an impact next season, and don't be surprised if he is not high on many prospect lists; he should be near the top.
Gio Gonzalez, LHP, White Sox -- Chicago's farm system isn't exactly teeming with greatness, so Gonzalez is a welcome spot of relief. He spent this season at Double-A Birmingham in the Southern League and did quite nicely, going 9-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 150 innings. He allowed 116 hits (10 home runs) and struck out 185 against only 57 walks. Gonzalez, 21, is repeating the level; he was with the Phillies in 2006 and was mediocre in the Eastern League, with a 4.66 ERA, 81 walks and 24 homers allowed in 155 innings. Gonzalez's stuff is very good for a lefty, including a low-90s fastball that hits 95-96 and an excellent curveball. A September call-up is possible, but I'd say that he's more likely to get a look in the spring and come up to help next May or June. I am a little biased against him because he's only 5-foot-11, but he has shown solid durability the last two seasons, and, realistically, the only question is: Will he pull a Buchholz and be ready to rock as soon as he hits the majors, or will he need to absorb a few poundings first?
Geovany Soto, C, Cubs -- Let's just say I have no clue what the Cubs were/are thinking. They trade for Jason Kendall when they have the 2007 Pacific Coast League MVP in their midst. All Soto did this season was bat .353-.424-.652. In 385 at-bats, he belted 31 doubles, three triples and 26 homers, and he displayed a solid batting eye (53 walks, 94 whiffs). He also drove in 109 runs in 110 games. Yeah, the PCL is the home of the slugfest, but Soto's season roughly translates to .300-.360-.540 in the majors roughly what Carlos Beltran is doing as I write this. Soto's defense isn't superb, but he'd be a solid starter based on his glove alone, and his bat makes him a potential fantasy stud. He's 24, and he's playing at his utter peak (I'm guessing). But still, if the guy can bat .260-.275 and belt 18-24 homers in 135 games, there's plenty of room for that in the majors (and on your roster), isn't there? Though it pains me to say this (as I've owned Kendall in my keeper league since his rookie year, 1996), what Soto can deliver is certainly better than what Mr. Kendall can offer.
Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals -- A 2005 first-round pick from an Alabama high school, Rasmus is 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, and has excellent athleticism. There are a lot of superb young outfielders in the high minors, and Rasmus is right there up with them. He spent the season at Double-A Springfield in the Texas League and hit .275-.381-.551. In 466 at-bats, Rasmus had 37 doubles, three triples and a league-leading 29 homers. His plate discipline is nice (70 walks and 108 strikeouts), and his baserunning judgment is sound (18-for-21 on steal attempts). Rasmus will be a mere 21 next season, and I easily could see him hitting the majors to stay if given a chance in spring training. More realistic would be a three-to-four month apprenticeship in Triple-A, and then a call-up when someone gets hurt. He has the speed to steal 20 bags and the power to hit 40-plus homers at his peak. He should be a superb replacement for Jim Edmonds.
Romulo Sanchez, RHP, Pirates -- Sanchez is an ox, a 6-5, 240-plus pounder who has a mid-90s fastball and a dramatically-improving slider. The 23-year-old came into the season as a giant question mark because he couldn't throw strikes well enough to demonstrate his stuff. Prior to 2007, he had allowed 57 walks and whiffed 75 in 133 pro innings. Well, things have come together this season, and Sanchez has made the leap from Double-A Altoona to the show. At Altoona, Sanchez had a 2.81 ERA in 57 2/3 innings, allowing 43 hits (including eight home runs). He walked 17 and whiffed 52. His strikeout rate isn't dominating despite his nice fastball (8.1 whiffs per nine), but his BB/9 has gone from a career mark of 3.9 to 2.7 this season. That's a pretty amazing step forward. If he can make an incremental improvement in his offspeed stuff and reduce the homers, we might be looking at a closer in a couple of years. Keep an eye on him in NL-only 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're interested in, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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