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Friday, April 30, 2010

Fantastic Thoughts: Super Twos, Super To Use?

It would seem fairly certain at this point that the Pirates will delay Pedro Alvarez's arrival until around midseason, rather than risk his getting "Super Two" status and being eligible for arbitration prior to the 2013 season.  The incumbent third-baseman, Andy LaRoche, has been one of Pittsburgh's best hitters (933 OPS) and Alvarez appears to be suffering through some growing pains in his first month at AAA, managing just a 695 OPS (although with four homers).

The same goes for Jason Castro of the Astros, Brett Wallace of the Blue Jays, and Carlos Santana of the Indians.  With their teams not likely to be headed anywhere this October, it behooves the franchise to delay their development slightly in order to get an additional full-season of cheap production in the future.

Teams which do appear to have legit playoff aspirations, however, now face a very tough decision.  Do they promote a rookie who could help the ballclub immediately, perhaps providing those extra one or two victories necessary to prolong the season, or do they hold off a month or two in order to protect their future payroll?  Here a look at some of the top minor-league hitters:

Mike Stanton - RF - Florida Marlins

Baseball America's #3 prospect, behind Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg, has been earning that billing in the early weeks of 2010.  Stanton has ten homers in only 75 at-bats at AA.  His OPS is 1316 and he is walking as much as he's striking out.

With preseason darlings like the Dodgers and Braves off to poor starts, Florida may have an opportunity to assert itself as a Wild Card contender, but not if they continue to get a combined OPS of under 600 from their outfielders, led by Cameron Maybin, Cody Ross, and 2009 Rookie of the Year, Chris Coghlan.  Stanton could bring much-needed power to a lineup that ranks eleventh in the NL in slugging.

However, the Marlins are notoriously stingy, so I don't see them rushing a guy with premier talent who could demand a big payday down the road.  Stanton will probably get to the majors in 2010, even though he's only 20-years-old, but I expect Florida to wait until they are absolutely sure he won't get "Super Two" status, even if that costs them a spot in this season's pennant race. 

Desmond Jennings - OF - Tampa Bay Rays

A spring training injury kept Jennings out of the Durham Bulls lineup until a week ago.  Even had he been healthy from the start of the season, the Rays likely would've been conservative with his promotion, as they were with Evan Longoria, David Price, and Wade Davis.

Jennings, the BA #6 prospect for 2010, could end up playing RF for Tampa during the playoffs, but Reid Brignac, Sean Rodriguez, and Matt Joyce will all get shots at holding down an everyday position in the interim.  Jennings only shot at making the bigs before August is probably a major injury to B. J. Upton, as Jennings is easily the best defensive outfielder among Rays prospects.

Buster Posey - C - San Francisco Giants

Bengie Molina's hot start assures that Posey wouldn't become the primary backstop for at least a few more months, but San Francisco's offensive woes at other positions have prompted speculation that the Giants might look to find at-bats for him as a kind of super utility-man, playing some outfield, some first base, and backing up Molina at catcher.

Posey (BA #7) is hitting .355 with a 918 OPS in the early going at AAA.  He has patience and moderate power, two qualities the Giants lineup is short on.  During the Brian Sabean era, San Francisco has generally erred on the side of caution when it comes to rookies.  Some would argue that they waited longer than was necessary to promote Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval, among others.

I may be imagining things, but there seems to be a sense of urgency in the Bay Area this spring.  The Giants hot start, built on resurgent seasons from Barry Zito, Edgar Renteria, and Molina, have Giants fans more optimistic than they've been since Bonds won his last MVP in 2004.  I could certainly see Sabean getting uncharacteristically aggressive considering the division looks wide open.

Justin Smoak - 1B - Texas Rangers

Smoak (BA #13) got the call this past week and hit his first home run on Thursday afternoon.  His early promotion (and the short leash on Chris Davis) suggests that the Rangers are "all-in" in 2010, with the AL West title well within their reach.  Max Ramirez joined Smoak in the majors just a couple days later; Tanner Scheppers (BA #42), Tommy Hunter, and Derek Holland probably aren't far behind.  Even the 19-year-old phenom, Martin Perez (BA #17), could be in Arlington in time to make the postseason roster.

Keep in mind, in each of these cases, that the "revolving door" approach goes both ways.  If Smoak doesn't adjust immediately and Davis gets things together at AAA, they could be flip-flopped again in a matter of weeks.  I certainly like Smoak's long-term prospects better than Davis's, but I would not be at all surprised if he requires a lengthy adjustment period.  He is by no means a sure-thing for 500+ AB before the end of the year.  

Starlin Castro - SS - Chicago Cubs

Jim Hendry confirmed flat-out that Castro would be the Cubs shortstop before the end of the season.  As the Cubs have appeared absolutely willing to try anything so far this season (i.e. Carlos Silva in the rotation, Carlos Zambrano in the bullpen), I don't see any reason they would delay Castro for financial reasons.  

Castro (BA #16) seems more than comfortable with AA (963 OPS), so his progress probably has as much to do with who's in front of him as his own performance.  Ryan Theriot (.340 AVG, .375 OBP) and Mike Fontenot (.309 AVG, .350 OBP) have both gotten off to strong starts this year.  Neither has shown any power, but Castro is unlikely to do a whole lot more in that department.  His power is only starting to develop.  He hit 3 HR and managed just .391 SLG in 358 AB at Advanced A in '09, but he has seven extra-base hits in only 38 AB in the Arizona Fall League and is slugging .565 this season at AA.

The likelihood of Mike Fontenot cooling off remains fairly high, so it's realistic to expect a Castro promotion before midseason.  However, even when he arrives, his contribution will be primarily defensive, much like Elvis Andrus in 2009.  He'll hit for a decent average, but with minimal power.  Castro has speed, but his base-stealing ability is a work in progress.  He's got only a 70% success rate in the minors. 

Ike Davis - 1B - New York Mets

Davis (BA #62) was the first notable "Super Two" call-up of the season and it seems unlikely that he'll return to the minors, even once Daniel Murphy comes off the D.L.  Not only is Davis hitting .355, but he's been a good luck charm, as the Mets have won nine of ten since his promotion.

The 23-year-old won't provide a ton of power and will undoubtedly suffer through some cold streaks, but he should hit for a fairly high average (.298 in '09) and provide some patience (.381 OBP in '09).   

Brennan Boesch - OF - Detroit Tigers

25-year-old Brennan Boesch has never been a hot prospect, but he has improved dramatically over the course of his minor-league career.  He hit 28 HR (.510 SLG) at AA in '09 and started out hot (1075 OPS) at AAA in 2010, prompting the Tigers to give him "the call" when Carlos Guillen went to the D.L.  

Boesch has looked fairly competent (5-for-18, 3 2B, 4 K) in his first week of games.  Magglio Ordonez is coping with a abdominal strain and Ryan Raburn has been mediocre at the plate (738 OPS) and bad in the field, so Boesch should see lots of playing time in the short term.  He is one of the sneaky players who, if he remains hot, could be a surprise contender for Rookie of the Year, as Chris Coghlan, Casey McGehee, and Garrett Jones were in 2009.

Cole Gillespie - OF - Arizona Diamondbacks

Gillespie joined the D-Backs earlier this week and has been splitting time with Gerardo Parra in left field while Conor Jackson is on the D.L.  Gillespie is hardly a top prospect, as a third-rounder who's almost 26, but he doesn't have the stiffest competition either.  Gillespie's got a good eye (68 BB/96 K@ AAA), a little power (.457 SLG), and a little speed (16 SB).  He'll have to work his way into at-bats, but if he does, he could be a very productive NL-only and deep-league player.

Rhyne Hughes - 1B - Baltimore Orioles

Looking for any way to jumpstart their sagging offense, the Orioles promoted Hughes earlier this week and immediately inserted him into their lineup.  Hughes has power (.534 SLG @ AAA), but strikes out at a Mark Reynolds-esque pace (104 K in 91 G @ AAA).  At 26, this is probably his best chance at regular at-bats.  Garrett Atkins has been a total bum (563 OPS), as has Nolan Reimold (614 OPS).  Given an everyday job, Hughes might be good for 20+ HR.

Eric Young Jr. - 2B/OF - Colorado Rockies

E.Y. Jr. got the call after Brad Hawpe went to the D.L.  It wouldn't take much to steal at-bats from Clint Barmes (611 OPS) and Ryan Spilborghs (713 OPS), but he'll also have to fight Melvin Mora and Seth Smith for those opportunities.  With 306 minor-league steals, Young is always a threat to run, and he's a contact hitter who works counts, much like his father.  Such tools fit very well in Colorado's plans, especially as they are looking for a leadoff hitter, so that Carlos Gonzalez can hit lower in the lineup.  E. Y. Jr. will probably be given a good long luck as that guy and if he wins the job permanently he could nab 40+ bases from here on out.  

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