This Week in Prospects (5/6/10)--Two Lefty Sleepers, NL East Stud Hitters, and More!

Welcome to the May 6 edition of This Week in Prospects!

Hot Shots

Michael Pineda, RHP, Mariners (AA)—Pineda is a gigantic righthander with an impressive feel for pitching who is tearing up Double-A ball at age 21. He’s sporting a 1.27 ERA in five starts with a 33/6 K/BB ratio in 28 1/3 innings.

Pineda is likely ready for Triple-A already. He throws a good low-90’s fastball that he can run in on righties or cut in to lefties; the cutter can also work well running away from righties. Pineda also tosses a plus changeup that is effective to both lefties and righties.

He has struggled to develop a slider, but Pineda’s current pitches are effective to both lefties and righties. I’ve talked about how cutters are effective to both lefties and righties, so it’s not like he necessarily needs a plus slider.

Pineda has the ability to get to Seattle by season’s end, and should wind up as a solid #2-#3 starter.

Domonic Brown, OF, Phillies (AA)—Everyone loves Brown’s athleticism and bat speed; the big question entering the season was whether he would be a premium power hitter or just a line drive guy. He’s improved his slugging percentage 245 points from last year’s Double-A stint, from .456 to .701, beginning to answer those questions. [...]

The Phillies certainly need to develop some players to take over the organization and keep it prominent upon the departure and/or decline of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, Roy Halladay, and Cole Hamels. Brown is leading the charge. A true five-tool talent, he could be a .310/.380/.540 player with plus speed and defense.

Wilmer Flores, SS, Mets (Low-A)—Flores hit just .264/.305/.332 in Low-A last year, but he was only 17, so the projections remained high. This year, he’s finally showing why he’s supposed to be such a gifted hitter.

Repeating Low-A, Flores is off to a .311/.360/.509 start, and he already has matched his 2009 total of three homers. His K/BB ratio (14/8) is also much better than his 2009 mark (72/22).

Currently a shortstop, Flores is expected to move somewhere else later in his minor league career, but nobody is quite sure where. Still, we’re talking about a very gifted hitter who is putting up excellent numbers in Low-A at age 18, and that merits very close attention. Like Brown, Flores is in a somewhat barren farm system, so his development is key to the Mets’ future success.

Slumping Stars

Zach Stewart, RHP, Blue Jays (AA)—Ranked as the #1 prospect in the Blue Jays organization entering 2010, Stewart hasn’t really picked up that momentum. He’s got a 5.75 ERA, 13/7 K/BB ratio in 20 1/3 innings, and has already allowed four homers.

He’s already 23, and Stewart is still struggling to find his Double-A form. He pitched well in Double-A and Triple-A last year, so this comes as a bit of a surprise. He’s already allowed more homers than he did all of last season.

There’s something clearly wrong here; Stewart needs to find his form or find himself back in the bullpen. It’s too early to worry, given his excellence last year, but at 23, he needs to find his form soon.

Juan Francisco, 3B/OF, Reds (AAA)—Even after going 9-for-14 in his last three games, Francisco is hitting just .205/.222/.385. His plate discipline continues to be lacking (22/2 K/BB ratio). He’s also 2-for-23 against lefties. Francisco has also been moved from third base to the outfield, further down the defensive spectrum. He’s not even very good there, as his thick body inhibits his range.

Given his utter lack of discipline, Francisco has to hit nearly .300 to be much of a contributor, and right now he’s nowhere near that level. He’s really a power-only player, and he needs to find another skill to complement the power in order to be a viable contributor in anything other than a pinch-hitting role.

Michael Saunders, OF, Mariners (AAA)—Like Francisco, Saunders is off to a horrible start despite picking up the pace recently. He’s at .200/.293/.213 despite riding a current five-game hitting streak. The lack of power is particularly alarming for a player who slugged .544 at the same level last year.

Saunders looks less like the .310/.378/.544 player he was last year in Triple-A than the .221/.258/.279 player he was in the majors late in the year. With Milton Bradley having issues and Ken Griffey/Mike Sweeney not getting it done, the Mariners could use Saunders picking up the pace.

Sleeper Alert!

Juan Oramas, LHP, Padres (High-A)—I’ll leave it mostly at this as far as Oramas’ numbers this season.

The little Mexican lefty has a good low-90’s fastball with movement and a hammer curve as his out pitch. He needs to work on his changeup to be a starter long-term, but at the worst, he looks like a dynamite strikeout-oriented relief pitcher who can get both lefties and righties out, a valuable commodity. Any pitcher who can dominate in full-season ball, let alone the Cal League (although he’s only made one start there) before 20 deserves some real attention.

Mexican pitchers tend to be real sleepers; they aren’t met with the same fanfare as top Dominican signees and Cuban defectors, so they tend to just creep up to the majors.

Tim Collins, LHP, Blue Jays (AA)—Like Oramas, Collins is an unheralded lefty who will be 20 most of the season. However, he’s already dominating Double-A, and he actually reached Double-A at age 19 late last year.

You’d think that would make Collins a huge prospect, even as a reliever, especially since he struck out 99 batters in 64 2/3 innings of High-A pitching last year. He tacked on 17 in 12 2/3 in Double-A.

Nope, nobody notices Collins, mainly because he’s easy to look over his head. He’s just 5’6” or 5’7.”

Short jokes aside, a lack of height can be devastating to a guy’s reputation; nobody really did anything but laugh at Danny Ray Herrera as he climbed through the minors, but he wound up as an effective lefty.

Collins has more velocity and a more traditional repertoire than Herrera, however, as he throws his fastball in the 88-93 range and has a plus curve to go with it. He gets Lincecum-esque delivery extension, which allows him to pitch as if he’s closer to 6’2” than 5’7.” Athletic and durable for his size, he’s had no issue handling 2 or 3 inning stints in the minors.

Collins went undrafted because of his size, and still is thought of as just a C or C- grade prospect because of it. Still, he should end up as least as good as Herrera, and could even wind up with a Mike Stanton sort of career (perhaps minus the longevity).

Tyler Sample, RHP, Royals (Low-A)—Sample is an intriguing young righthanded behemoth with two plus pitches and some fairly severe control issues. He works in the mid 90’s with his fastball and has a knuckle-curve that could become a major league out pitch. He’s put a lot of work into his changeup (part of the reason for his elevated walk rate) and it should become playable enough for him to stay a starter.

Sample has walked 24 batters in 24 1/3 innings this season in Low-A, but he hasn’t turned 21 yet, so there’s no reason to write him off. He only walked 22 in 54 2/3 innings last year, so he’s demonstrated he can throw strikes in the past.

Sample may end up as a power reliever, which could lessen his long-term value, but guys with this combination of size and stuff don’t come around every day.

The Quadruple-A Special

Bryan Bullington, RHP, Royals—You may remember Bullington as the #1 pick in the 2002 draft. You’d think that sort of pedigree would mean teams would jump all over him as soon as he showed some good minor league performance, but you’d be mistaken.

In 39 major league innings, Bullington has a 4.45 xFIP, which isn’t half bad. Even his 5.08 ERA is short of “absolutely disgusting.”

Bullington has a career 4.00 ERA in Triple-A, but it’s his last two seasons that stand out. In 2009, working exclusively in relief for AAA Las Vegas, Bullington posted a 43/7 K/BB ratio in just 38 1/3 innings, allowing only two home runs. This season, in a swing role, he’s posted a 1.63 ERA with AAA Omaha.

With a standard four-pitch arsenal, Bullington could fit as a solid command-oriented back of the rotation starter, and he’s also shown the ability to get high strikeout rates in a relief role. The guy can fit somewhere on someone’s pitching staff, and he’s certainly better than the Bruce Chen/Brad Thompson/Josh Rupe, etc. pitchers the Royals call a bullpen.

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

Tags: Bryan Bullington Domonic Brown Juan Francisco Juan Oramas Michael Pineda Michael Saunders Tim Collins Tyler Sample Wilmer Flores Zach Stewart

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