This Week in Prospects (4/29/10): Pitching Studs, The Switch-Pitcher, and More!

Welcome to the April 29 edition of This Week in Prospects!

Hot Shots

Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals (AA)—How could I not put Strasburg in this installment?

My policy with prospects is to somewhat refrain from judgment until they show up in pro ball. So many guys have thrown 94-96 in college and then sat at 88-90 in the pros. Others do the exact opposite. You never know what you’re getting, and if you want proof of that, just look at any #1 overall drafted pitcher since 1990.

Thus, I was a bit more hesitant to jump on the Strasburg bandwagon than most. But yeah, he’s the real deal.

A 23/3 K/BB ratio with no homers allowed in 17 1/3 innings at Double-A, straight out of college and young for the level? Yeah, sign me up. And that doesn’t even account for his stuff—we all know about the triple-digit velocity and three solid offspeed pitches.

There’s not much else to say—given where he is in his career, Strasburg’s about as much of a sure thing as someone can be. I think he should get a couple of quick starts in Triple-A before his inevitable mid-May to early-June callup, just to make sure, but he’s just about ready.

Jordan Lyles, RHP, Astros (AA)—Lyles isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as Strasburg, but he’s also finding Double-A success…and he’s over two full years younger. Lyles won’t turn 20 until late October, but he’s already a very solid upper-minors pitcher.

The big righty was a supplemental first-rounder in 2008 despite being deemed more of a fourth to seventh round talent by most evaluators. Still, he stands as one of the few beacons of success in a barren Astros farm system. Lyles had an otherworldly year in Low-A last season, with 167 strikeouts in 144 2/3 innings. He only allowed five homers and 38 walks all season.

The Astros’ High-A affiliate is in Lancaster, the most hitter-friendly environment in baseball, so the Astros elected to skip Lyles over that mess and start him at Double-A at age 19 this year. He’s responded with a 25/4 K/BB ratio and just one homer allowed in 22 innings—on the same level as his 2009 numbers, but two levels higher.

Lyles has good mechanics and a durable body, so he should be a Roy Halladay-esque workhorse. Like Halladay, he has a moving low-90’s fastball that gets a good amount of grounders. Lyles also tosses a good changeup and an inconsistent curveball that is an out pitch when he stays on top of it. Obviously, at 19, he has some time to polish up the breaking ball.

I’m not going to call Lyles the next Halladay, but he’s on the short list of minor leaguers most likely to develop into that sort of pitcher.

Brett Wallace, 1B, Blue Jays (AAA)—I’m not a big Wallace fan. To be a great first baseman in this league, you have to have great plate discipline and power. It’s tough to be an elite-level hitter (like a first baseman should be) without having both of those skills. Last year, Wallace only walked 47 times and posted a .162 Isolated Power, far below those marks.

This year, however, Wallace has a whopping eight home runs, .671 slugging percentage, and .381 OBP with 11 walks. That’ll get it done at first.

Wallace is still just 23, so he’s okay age-wise, although he does play in Las Vegas, which is a ridiculous hitter’s park. His home OPS (1.105) is much higher than his road OPS (.968), although that’s not too much cause for concern, particularly in a small sample.

With the Jays scuffling, expect Wallace up within a month if this keeps up.

Slumping Stars

Hector Rondon, RHP, Indians (AAA)—Rondon allowed eight homers in 74 1/3 innings in Triple-A last year after a midseason callup. He’s allowed seven in 17 2/3 this year.

His signature command has slipped as well, from a 64/13 K/BB ratio to 17/7. For what it’s worth, his strikeout rate is up slightly.

Rondon’s first and third starts were disasters (6 2/3 IP, 5 HR, 14 ER, 3 BB, 6 K), but his second and fourth ones were okay (11 IP, 2 HR, 5 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 11 K).

With a good low-90’s fastball and two offspeed pitches that rate average at best, Rondon needs surgical command, Greg Maddux-style, to be successful. He doesn’t have enough stuff to be pitching up in the zone or out over the plate, so he has to hit the corners regularly with his fastball so he can go up and out of the zone with it or throw something offspeed as a chase pitch with two strikes. With his K/BB ratio slipping into average range, he’s lost that edge, so he’s giving up more homers.

Two horrific starts in four aren’t the end of the world, and Rondon is still just two months past his 22nd birthday. I still think he may be best off as a power setup man due to his questionable secondary pitches, but barring something unforeseen, he’s going to be a useful major leaguer.

Tim Beckham, SS, Rays (High-A)—The #1 pick in the 2008 draft had a mediocre full-season debut last year, hitting .275/.328/.389 in Low-A, but he’s off to a wretched start this season.

.156/.255/.333—that’s nearly a pitcher-esque line. Defensive concerns have people projecting Beckham to be a third baseman or right fielder down the line, and he hasn’t shown much aptitude with the bat. At 20, he’s young for his level, but not ridiculously young, and yes, the Florida State League is a pitcher’s league, and yes, it’s just 12 games, but Beckham is far from justifying his draft status.

Todd Frazier, 1B, Reds (AAA)—Frazier was named the Reds’ top prospect by Baseball America entering the season despite hitting a good-not-great .292/.351/.481 at age 23 and struggling to find a defensive home.

Now, he’s 24, likely a first baseman or corner outfielder, and is hitting .146/.288/.229.

Small sample, of course, but Frazier’s getting old for a prospect, and guys who can’t figure out Triple-A at 24 tend to wind up wasting away in the minors. Frazier only has 15-20 HR power, and he isn’t a defensive savant. With Yonder Alonso, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce the likely 1B/LF/RF combination in the long run for the Reds, it’s tough to see where Frazier fits even if he does hit.

He’s still a guy with a decent shot at a solid career, but Frazier’s stock is slipping.

Sleeper Alert!

Pat Venditte, P, Yankees (High-A)—It’s hard to know what to make of the famous switch-pitcher.

On one hand, Venditte is something of a celebrity due to the novelty of what he does.

On another hand, he is not taken seriously as a prospect by anybody. Baseball America has never put him in the Yankees’ top 30.

On a third hand (apparently, I’m just growing hands today), Venditte has been absolutely dominant. He put up a 1.87 ERA and 87/11 K/BB ratio in 67 1/3 innings across two levels last year, and is putting up similarly silly numbers this year.

He’s 24 and stuck in A-ball, but the Yankees don’t know how to handle novelty pitchers—they kept Colter Bean locked in Triple-A forever and won’t let Josh Schmidt see Triple-A no matter how well he does at lower levels. It’s hard to blame Venditte, given that he was an old draftee and has been one of the top relievers in every league he’s pitched in as a pro.

Given the garbage that passes for situational relief these days, I find it hard to see Venditte being an utter failure in the majors. Maybe not in the high-pressure environment of New York against the Red Sox and Rays hitters all the time, but in a low-pressure environment that doesn’t have cameras in his face all the time (say, Kansas City), Venditte could be a nice bullpen asset as soon as this September.

Petey Paramore, C, Athletics (High-A)—Coming into the year, Paramore was seen as a switch-hitting catcher who draws walks, plays good defense, and does very little else. A third-round pick in 2008, the 23-year-old was a .236/.362/.311 hitter in 141 minor league games in ’08-’09, mostly in Low-A.

This year, Paramore is taking his offensive skillset to new heights, batting .240/.424/.380. He’s a plus defender behind the plate, and he switch-hits, so if he shows any aptitude for hitting, he should be a major leaguer. He’s walked 16 times in 16 games already, so he certainly has good patience.

Paramore could wind up as a switch-hitting Brian Schneider in the majors.

Brian Dinkelman, 2B, Twins (AAA)—I considered making Dinkelman this week’s Quadruple-A Special, but since this is the 26-year-old’s first season in Triple-A, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. An 8th round pick as a college senior in 2006, the second baseman has always been old for his levels, and spent a year and a half each at High-A and Double-A.

A small lefty hitter, Dinkelman is a solid defensive second baseman, the sort that doesn’t wow you with range but is fundamentally sound and gets good reads off the bat. He can play shortstop in a pinch, and has a good amount of experience in left and right field as well, making him a solid candidate for utility work in the majors.

Dinkelman is a doubles hitter with good discipline and occasional home run power in the Mark Ellis mold. He batted .296/.383/.440 in Double-A last season and is hitting .296/.405/.366 (with a sparkling 10/12 K/BB ratio) in Triple-A this year.

Dinkelman could have great value as a super-utility player at the major league level, putting up .270/.340/.400ish batting lines at any position besides pitcher, catcher, or center field. He’s ready for the majors.

The Quadruple-A Special

Chase Lambin, 2B, Nationals—You don’t see a lot of Quad-A guys with no obvious flaws. I mean, your general Quad-A stereotype is a strikeout-prone, defensively-challenged slugger in the Jack Cust mold. I think that sort of player has more use than most people inside the game do—hence me putting Quad-A guys in every post—but at least there’s an excuse there—lack of versatility, for one—to keep those guys out of the big leagues.

Chase Lambin, however, does not fall into that category.

A 34th-rounder out of Lousiana-Lafayette as a senior in 2002, Lambin was never touted and was always old for his levels. He exploded onto the scene, however, when he hit .331/.396/.657 at Double-A Binghamton (in the Mets system) in 2005, and kept hitting after a promotion to Triple-A later that year (.289/.350/.526). However, he was 25 at the time, tempering enthusiasm, and had to spend much of the next two years back in Double-A.

After batting .300/.378/.518 in 2008 in Triple-A for the Marlins, Lambin tried Japanese ball in 2009, but like many Americans, he could adapt to the different style of pitching there, and managed just a .612 OPS in 58 games.

So he returned stateside, signed with the Nationals, and is hitting .349/.397/.683 in a pitcher’s park at Triple-A Syracuse. Lambin also already has five home runs, and has an OPS over 1.000 from both sides of the plate.

Lambin is a switch-hitter who rates slightly above-average at second base and slightly below-average at shortstop, but he’s good enough to handle either position in the majors. He’s played all four corner positions as well.

So we have a switch-hitting middle infielder who’s a decent defender and could hit .270-.280 with 15-20 HR power? That’s a keeper. The Nationals would do well to find Lambin a role in the majors.

As always, if you have any questions about these or other players, don’t hesitate to ask!

Tags: Brett Wallace Brian Dinkelman Chase Lambin Hector Rondon Jordan Lyles Pat Venditte Petey Paramore Stephen Strasburg Tim Beckham Todd Frazier

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