On The Level: 13-Apr-10

Welcome back to On The Level. As stated in the 6th of April post, I’ll be looking at hitters this week since I only looked at pitchers last week. All are from teams I have yet to cover, and there are definitely some guys included that will have a major impact in fantasy circles at some point in the not so distant future.

LoA

Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg – 1B – Atlanta Braves

Born Feb 8th ‘88 in Petroia, South Africa – 6′2″ 235 lbs – Drafted in the 16th round of the ’09 draft

When you ask the majority of Braves and MLB fans who the 1B of the future is for the Braves, they usually say Freddie Freeman is, and who could blame them. The 6’5″ Freeman is expected to be a great power hitter and is within the top prospects in all of MLB. However, I don’t agree. I believe that Freeman may come up as a 1B/LF candidate and will settle in as a left fielder.

Why would they do this in Atlanta? Well, for a couple of reasons really. First, Freeman is mobile enough to handle the position and his power plays better in LF. While everyone “projects” him to be a power hitter, the truth of the matter is that he has yet to prove this projection. He also has real issues hitting for average in the upper minors thus far. Freeman will still be a great MLB player, I just believe it may not be as a first baseman. Interesting note here, Freeman did play some 3B in high school and in rookie leagues, so he could switch to the hot corner. The real power hitter who will take over 1B for the Braves in 2012 and beyond is South African born Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg. Say that name 5 times fast and you should be an announcer!

The reason I project this as stated above is because unlike Freeman, Riaan is not agile enough to make the move to any other position, and believe me, the Braves will want his bat in the lineup as soon as possible. Freeman, on the other hand, can handle LF and may even be able to handle 3B. We all know Chipper won’t be around forever, so 3B is appealing for the Braves as an option for Freeman, and a Freeman – McLouth – Heyward outfield sure sounds great to me! Add Melky Cabrera as a 4th outfielder and you’re pretty well set there for a long time to come. So just who is this Riaan from South Africa with prodigious power?

Riaan is a two sport athlete (Football and Baseball) who dabbled with pitching and playing various positions while playing for Coral Glades High School in Florida. He won the Florida Home Run Derby championship while in High School, hit a Grand Slam in his first College AB (first pitch) for Florida Atlantic University, and was named All-Sunshine State conference performer while playing for Nova Southeastern University.

The Braves took him in the 16th round of the 2009 draft, and he only increased their opinions of him from that point forward. He wound up exceeding all expectations anyone had because much of his time spent in College was playing for FAU, where he got limited playing time despite the fact that he continuously did well when he did play. That’s what had forced him to decide to move to Nova. The Braves scouts enjoyed what they saw there, obviously, but it’s unknown whether he would have played enough for FAU to get drafted when he did, so that move was critical for him. What did he do after the draft in Danville?

234 AB, 84 hits, 19 doubles, 8 HRs, 53 RBIs, 16 walks, 37 SO, .359 avg/.411 OBP/ .543 slg

Riaan is a monster, plain and simple. The guy tore up the league in all aspects of the game, was apparently very receptive to coaching, and improved his play at 1B tremendously. The Braves definitely liked what they saw because they sent the 22 year old right to Rome in the South Atlantic League for the 2010 season. No wonder after he was named the Topps Appy League player of the Year for his performance in 2009. Here’s a projection of what that would amount to over 500 AB (less the avg, obp, and slg which would stay the same, obviously).

500 AB, 174 hits, 40 doubles, 17 HRs, 113 RBI, 34 walks, 74 SO

A very fine line to say the least, and one that very few hitter put up after being drafted. I know Riaan was fairly old for his level, but his performance was outstanding, consistent with his performance at all levels before being drafted, and is something he should be able to build on in 2010.

How do I know Riaan will move up quickly and effectively? It’s his attitude towards the game. Nick Pierce had an article about him with the following quote that Nick describes as showing his humility:

“The biggest thing that I’ve learned here (in Danville) so far is how to handle failure, because this is probably the most that I’ve failed in my life,” Spanjer-Furstenburg said. “With the number of ground balls that we take; in the last month I can’t tell you the number of ground balls that I’ve missed and the bad swings that I’ve taken.”

With the success he had up to that point, you wouldn’t expect him to be pointing to failure as his biggest learning point. He’s always looking to improve, and that’s something you can’t teach someone, they have to be wiling to seek that on their own.

Now, I’m not saying that Freeman won’t come up as a 1B in Atlanta and won’t stay there a while, but if Riaan keeps progressing as I expect him to and makes it up to AAA at some point in the near future, I fully expect the Braves to look to move one or the other to LF or 3B. Chances are that with his mobility, the one moving will be Freeman. That’s just a projection into the future, but one that I believe may be accurate. If Riaan performs well this season, he should be able to reach HiA and possibly begin 2011 in AA, so draft according to need in terms of projected impact in MLB in 2012 or beyond.

If you’re a Braves fan, you have to be thinking – first Heyward, then Freeman, and now Spanjer-Furstenburg? Wow, am I ever lucky to be a Braves fan. And if you’re a fantasy league team owner, you have to be thinking – I want this guy as a late pick to fill out my minors. Let everyone else take 1B prospects early, then nab this guy and enjoy the progression.

HiA

Drew Cumberland – SS – San Diego

Born Jan 13th ‘89 – 5′10″ 175 lbs – Drafted in the 1st rd Supplemental of ’06, 46th overall

Drew hails from Florida, is now 21 years old, and plays both SS and 2B, although he has more experience as a SS. If you read through Drew’s draft scouting report from 2007, you would come out of it with a thought that Drew is simply a diminutive speed utility guy that may or may not make an MLB roster in his career. Fast forward to 2010 and the MadFriars.com scouting report of Drew states:

“A healthy Drew Cumberland is one of the most exciting prospects in the San Diego Padres system. He is a sparkplug that has game-changing speed.”

So what changed? Well, not much if you ask me, it just seems like the people who write up draft reports tend to favor big guys and big hitters and under rate the smaller players. Drew’s always been a spark plug. BA tends to agree with me, as they have the guy ranked 11th in their 2010 prospect handbook edition book for SD. They call Drew “an electrifying talent” and do add that a healthy 2010 could spring him to AA this year. So why isn’t he drafted in half the leagues I am in for fantasy baseball? Chalk it up to a lack of small player appreciation, something that makes most of us miss out on guys like Dustin Pedroia.

In 2005-06, Drew hit .449, with 44 hits in 99 AB, 1 HR, 4 doubles, and 2 triples for Pace High School in Florida. As a Senior in 2006-07, he hit .494, with 41 hits in 29 games, 2 HRs, 9 doubles, and 1 triple. He was selected 46th overall in ’06, signed for $661,500, and played in the AZL and LoA that year as a 17 year old. In 84 AB in the AZL, Drew managed 84 AB, 26 hits, 2 doubles, 1 triple, 6 SB. Best of all, he only struck out 10 times while walking 7 times. His .310 average and .383 OBP that year for such a young player were outstanding.

In 2008 he was promoted after a short stint in the AZL to Fort Wayne of the Midwest League. He and Yefri Carvajal were the only 2 players under the age of 20 that season playing for Fort Wayne, and Drew once again proved he was up to the task. He hit .286 in 206 ABs with a .348 OBP, hit 8 doubles, 1 triple, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 16 SB (caught 4 times), and walked 17 times while striking out 24 times.

He did miss some time due to injuries, due to an oblique strain, a somewhat recurring trend for Drew – he plays hard and gets nicked up as a result. He’ll have to remain healthy at the higher levels in order to be given  fair chance in San Diego, so hopefully he can prove this aspect of his minors experience is not a factor in assessing him for an MLB job. Another weakness for him is that his throws from SS actually act an an unintentional cutter and result in many throwing errors for the guy. Some people think it’s his size or arm strength that is the issue – not the case at all. If Drew can fix this issue, and he should be able to, he should be able to remain at SS and play the position at an above average level.

For Fort Wayne in 2009, Drew was unable to provide us with a full season sample once again, but here’s to hoping he can in 2010! He ended the ’09 season with 290 ABs, .293 average, .386 OBP, 18 doubles, 5 triples, 2 HRs, 40 RBIs, 19 SB (caught only 3 times), and impressed with 40 walks and only 36 SO.

Drew, now 21, was promoted to HiA Lake Elsinore in 2010 and has done well thus far with a .333 average, 1 HR, and 2 SB already in 15 ABs. If he can put in a full season in HiA this year, or at least 80% of the season, he may very well take the biggest leap in prospect rankings within his own squad. Adys Portillo is also a favorite rankings jumper of mine for San Diego in 2010, but Drew has proven himself much more than Portillo. I can honesty see him hitting at the top of the SD lineup by mid-2011 if he stays healthy, or mid-2012 if he doesn’t. His speed and OBP combination are outstanding (and exactly what SD needs by the way), and he could still add a little strength to hit 5 to 10 Hrs at some point in his career. Playing in SD won’t help his power numbers, but he should be a spark plug and menace on the base paths that sets the table very nicely for Kyle Blanks, Adrian Gonzalez and other SD hitters.

Most of you have probably already heard Drew’s name before and know a little bit about him, but I doubt any of you had him in your top prospect rankings. I say add him there if you’re looking for speed and runs from a middle infielder. He will be one of the top 10 at the SS or 2B position in those categories before long, and you may want to grab him while you can, before he shows well at the higher levels.

You can catch Drew’s quick bat on video here

AA

Joe Benson – CF – Minnesota Twins

Born Mar 5th, ’88 – 6′2″ 211 lbs – Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft

The Twins signed Joe for $575,000 after drafting him in the ’06 draft and were thought by all scouts to have landed a gem. For some reason, some prospects go from being on top of the world – can’t miss prospects – all the way down to being backup possibilities at some point….if they make it at all. Joe Benson fits this description perfectly, as BA ranked him 2nd in Minnesota’s rankings in 2008, only to have him drop to 13th by the time the 2010 edition came out. This drop can be blamed on a broken vertebrae that kept Joe out of action for two months in 2008.

However, Joe came back from that very serious injury and still helped his squad out all the way to the playoffs, showing tenacity and an ability to overcome injuries. I still don’t get why the rankings came way down for this guy as I still view him as equal to Aaron Hicks in terms of potential – a scary proposition for anyone who looks at the current roster and see Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Dernard Span. Add these two 5-tool prospects to that list and you’ve got one potent lineup on your hands. I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, but I wanted to paint a picture.

Joe has always been thought of as a 5-tool potential. Like most young players, he needed seasoning to allow him to mature and to calm his tendency to swing at too many bad pitches. He finally did make it to HiA in 2009 and did very well for someone who missed a ton of playing time. He finished the year with 263 AB, a .285 average, 10 doubles, 3 triples, 5 HRs, 29 RBI, 46 walks and 74 strike outs. He had an outstanding .414 OBP, but did disappoint a little with only 14 SB.

That performance earned Joe a promotion to AA in 2010, and he should do very well if he makes it through a full season. He has the size, speed, and strength to make a real impact for the Twins, and your fantasy team, in the not so distant future. At 22 years old, he’s ready to show his real prospect status is too low for his talents and that all he needed was a little development time to show his true potential. The one aspect I’m looking to see more of from Benson is the use of his speed on the bases. Other than that, I fully expect he’ll provide great average, power, and OBP. I want to keep an eye on his speed because it changes his rankings tremendously in terms of fantasy rankings when comparing outfielders. I expect that he’ll be able to provide the Twins with Carlos Lee type numbers if his speed holds up, somewhere around 30 HRs and 15 to 20 SBs. You can follow his progress with the New Britain Rock Cats here. I still place Joe in my top 15 OF prospects in all of MLB and expect great things from him in 2010.

You can catch a video of Joe Benson hitting here

AAA

David Lough – OF – Kansas City Royals

Born Jan 20th ‘86 – 5′11″ 180 lbs – Drafted in the 11th round of the ’07 draft

It’s tough being a Royals fan, or I’m guessing it must be since they’ve had such a hard time getting wins over the last decade or so. But, as with any team in baseball, there are always prospects to look forward to. In the Royals case, after the heartbreak of having a top pitching prospect like Danny Duffy retire suddenly, fans must look to others to keep their hopes for the team’s future alive. Well, after the grouping of SP Michael Montgomery (a favorite of mine), SP Aaron Crow, SP Tim Melville, C Wil Myers, 3B Mike Moustakas and 1B Eric Hosmer comes the best outfield prospect the Royals have in David Lough. Because many of the aforementioned prospects are so high profile in comparison, David seems to fall through the cracks when rankings are done. He’s a multi-sport athlete (soccer and football to go along with baseball) who takes advantage of most of his athletic abilities on the baseball field.

In my opinion, he’s the best OF prospect the Royals have had since Johnny Damon, and we all know how he turned out. Damon was much more advanced at Lough’s age, having already reached MLB, but both have similar tools and builds (both are 6’0″ 175-180 lbs and have speed as a top tool, with enough pop to get 15-25 HRs per season). Although I compare Lough to Damon, he has a much better arm than the veteran All Star. Like Damon, he does everything well (other than Damon’s horrid throws) and has enough speed to reach 30-40 SB when he reaches the majors if he learns to be more aggressive and to get a tad better at getting good jumps. He’s an on base machine (.370 in ’09), and uses a shorter stroke to ensure he gets good contact and thus hits for really great average (.331 in AA and .320 in HiA in ’09).

The knock on Lough has always been his inability to hit lefties and the fact that he’s always been a little older for his playing level. Neither should result in his being ignored as much as he is in most drafts, and Royals fans should definitely be excited about what they have in Lough. Here’s a guy who will step into a situation where he rises (I’m guessing here) simultaneously with the likes of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, and will set the table for both of them and Billy Butler. To me, he’s walking right into the perfect situation for a guy with speed. Not only does that alleviate some of the pressure he could face if he came up on his own, but it also places him in a position where he’s not the only guy counted on to produce power right away – a key to his sharpening of his speed skills on the base paths. He can concentrate on getting on base, stealing, and hitting the gaps with some of his power. The HRs should come thereafter as he gains confidence and makes better contact. Therefore, David Lough is not only already a great prospect with 5 tool skills, he’s also coming up in the best absolute place he could come up in. A low pressure situation in Kansas City where he won’t be the only prominent prospect and where he can get the playing time he’ll need to gain confidence.

Of course, it’s still possible that KC will bring him up too early, won’t play him enough to build his confidence, will put him at the bottom of the lineup, or will trade him before he gets there. I seriously doubt any of these things will happen, but you never know. While the Royals have added some questionable FA outfielders in the last few years, I fully believe that they have a long-term and big impact internal option for 2011 and beyond in Lough. He is currently the youngest hitter playing for AAA Omaha (mostly as a center fielder, with some right field) and has 1 HR, 1 double, and a .250 average over his 1st 24 ABs. He has little competition in the OF within the KC minors, and I expect he would be the first called upon if the Royals needed an injury replacement in 2010.

If you are a KC fan, enjoy watching his progression in AAA and know that you could have your very first effective power hitting center fielder in KC since Johnny Damon before long. As a fantasy fan, you should be investing in this guy just after guys like Joe Benson go off the board, because he’s being ignored in most leagues despite being a future 5-tool outfielder. If your league uses LF-CF-RF positions, his value shoots up even more and rivals some of the best OF prospects in the game. As far as I know, defensive capabilities are still not part of fantasy (one of the only average portions of Lough’s game) and therefore Lough has a ton of value in all leagues.

You can catch a video of David hitting a single in April here.

That does it for this week’s list of OTL prospects to watch in 2010. I hope you enjoyed it and that these players do well for you if you’re a fan of these teams or if you invest in them in fantasy circles.

You can catch my April 6th OTL edition here, where I looked at Dallas Keuchel LHP HOU, Heitor Correa RHP PHI, David Phelps RHP NYY, and Ricky Orta RHP SEA.

The Inaugural edition can be found here, and had Carlso Perez C TOR, Nick Ciolli OF CHW, Hector Gomez SS COL, and Lance Lynn SP STL within it.

Mat Germain – Call to The Pen: On The Level (OTL) – Jays Journal

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Tags: David Lough Drew Cumberland Joe Benson Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg

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