This Week in Prospects (4/15/10)–Three 2009 First Rounders, Two Royals, and More!

Welcome to the third edition of This Week in Prospects!

Finally, we’ve got some early-season data to go on. However, it’s all small sample size stuff, so don’t take a whole lot from the numbers just yet!

Hot Shots

Carlos Santana, C, Indians (AAA)—The only knock on Santana entering the year was that at 24, he’s somewhat old for a guy just reaching Triple-A.

Thus far, he has a .423/.516/.962 line with four homers, the most in the minors.

A .300/.400/.500-caliber hitter from both sides of the plate, and an athletic if erratic defender behind it, Santana is eerily similar to former Cleveland catcher Victor Martinez.

Michael Montgomery, LHP, Royals (High-A)—12 innings. 4 hits. One earned run. One walk. 19 strikeouts.

Montgomery threw seven innings and struck out 13 in his second start of the season yesterday. After posting a 2.30 FIP in nine starts in High-A last year, he really doesn’t need to be at the level anymore, but he’s only 20, so it’s not like it’s hurting his development.

The lefty throws a mid-90’s fastball, two different effective curves, and an average changeup. He’s a Jon Lester sort of pitcher, with a bit more size and without Lester’s strong cut fastball. The Royals’ (arguably) top prospect could make his debut early in 2011.

Kyle Gibson, RHP, Twins (High-A)—The 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, Gibson didn’t pitch in pro ball after signing, but the 22-year-old was slotted into the High-A rotation to open 2010 despite his lack of pro experience.

With thirteen strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings, he’s making quick work of High-A hitters and putting himself on the fast track, which is essential given his somewhat advanced age.

Gibson has allowed two homers thus far, but his command and strikeout stuff have immediately shown up, so I’m not concerned about it.

With a low-to-mid-90’s heater, plus slider, and average-plus changeup, Gibson, like Montgomery, has a strong chance to pitch near the top of a big league rotation in a few years.

After having arm troubles late in his college career (which dropped his draft stock from top-10 pick to late 1st round), Gibson seems to be getting his pro career off to a rousing start.

Slumping Stars

Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners (AA)—The second overall pick is off to an .083/.214/.083 start.

Does it matter? Not really. We’re talking about a guy who was considered the best hitter in the draft (although it was a weak draft on hitters, but whatever), and one week isn’t going to change that. He’s been jerked around defensively quite a bit—from first base to center field back to first and then to second—so it could be that he’s put so much focus into his defense that he hasn’t gotten comfortable offensively yet.

Ackley has also been moved straight from college to Double-A, which is a difficult jump for anybody. I wouldn’t worry anytime soon.

Jiovanni Mier, SS, Astros (Low-A)—The Astros’ system has been an eyesore in recent years. The only two prospects (not counting big league reliever Sammy Gervacio, who still is technically a “prospect”) that I really believe in in the system are pitchers Jordan Lyles (who I love) and Daniel Meszaros.

That’s not to hate on Mier, who was picked directly before Gibson in the draft—I just don’t know much about him. I like to reserve judgment on players somewhat until their statistical profiles are built up—the amount of highly touted players who just never really show up in pro ball is high, so I’m hesitant to jump on bandwagons before there’s some evidence to support a player’s high ranking.

Mier’s off to a dismal .192/.300/.308 start. He’s only 19, so there’s no reason to worry just yet, but don’t assume he’s a top prospect until he starts excelling at the plate.

Tyson Gillies, OF, Phillies, (AA)—Part of Philadelphia’s haul in the Roy Halladay deal, Gillies, 21, hit .341/.430/.486 last year in High-A. Alas, the excellent line came in High Desert, the second-most-hitter-friendly park in the most hitter-friendly league in the minors.

Still, Gillies’ game is all about slapping and running, as evidenced by his 14 triples and 44 steals last season.

A .133/.161/.200 line with no walks and eight strikeouts isn’t going to get it done, however, and that’s what Gillies has done thus far in Double-A.

The 21-year-old has time to adjust, and we shouldn’t be taking one week of games seriously as any sort of projection for future performance. However, the High-A to Double-A jump is a notoriously difficult one, and Gillies is going from a hitter-friendly park in a hitter-friendly league to a pitcher-friendly park in a pitcher-friendly league, so his transition will be more difficult than most.

Sleeper Alert

Josh Schmidt, RHP, Yankees (AA)—Why would I write up a 27-year-old reliever in Double-A?

Well, Schmidt posted a 1.61 ERA last year, with 96 strikeouts and just 57 hits allowed in 83 2/3 innings. Yet, he’s back in Double-A this year.

Schmidt isn’t really noticed for two reasons: he’s a sidearmer (so nobody takes his ridiculous numbers seriously) and he’s always been old for his levels, mainly because he’s a college draftee that the Yankees don’t take seriously, so they haven’t promoted him aggressively at all.

Schmidt has a wipeout slider and a better fastball than some sidearmers. I’m just waiting for someone to discover him; he could be the next Brad Ziegler.

Kyle Russell, OF, Dodgers (High-A)—On numbers alone, Russell is a mega-prospect. He bashed 26 homers in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League last year, hitting .272/.371/.545. He’s off to a predictably sizzling start in the high-offense Cal League, with two homers and a .679 SLG.

Russell is a tremendous right fielder who can also handle center, and he even stole 20 bases last year.

Russell is going to be 24 in two months (he was a college draftee) and he struck out 180 times last year, so he’s not likely to hit anywhere near .300 in the majors. However, he has legitimate 40-HR power and his speed and defense make him more than an Adam Dunn/Jack Cust-style power-only masher.

Vince Belnome, 2B, Padres (High-A)—Belnome was drafted out of West Virginia in the 28th round last year, and he’s already worked his way onto the prospect radar.

He posted a .931 OPS in short-season ball and then went 18-for-36 in Low-A last year.

That led the Padres to put the lefty swinger in High-A to start his first full pro season.

Belnome is a line-drive hitter with incredible patience at the plate; he posted a .444 OBP last year. He should have 15-20 HR power in the majors.

He profiles as a Kelly Johnson-esque player, with solid power and patience from the left side while playing below-average but acceptable second base defense. He’s also a solid third baseman, and he might have enough bat to hold down that position as well.

The Quadruple-A Special

Kila Ka’aihue, 1B, Royals (AAA)—Ka’aihue got a brief big league look in 2008. He’s a career .263/.402/.479 hitter in Triple-A, and he hit .314/.456/.628 in 2008.

The big first baseman is off to a .231/.412/.615 start in his third crack at Triple-A, and has already launched three homers in seven games.

With 20-30 homer power and some of the best plate judgment in baseball, Ka’aihue could hit in the .260/.380/.470 range in the majors. He’s also got a solid glove at first base.

A team like the Giants would do well to grab Ka’aihue from the Royals. He likely wouldn’t cost much in a trade.

Topics: Carlos Santana, Dustin Ackley, Jiovanni Mier, Josh Schmidt, Kila Ka'aihue, Kyle Gibson, Kyle Russell, Michael Montgomery, Tyson Gillies, Vince Belnome

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