TWiP (6/24/10)–Jedd Gyorko, Matt Hobgood, Kyle Heckathorn, and More!

Welcome to the June 24, 2010 edition of This Week in Prospects! In this edition, I’ll be taking a look at one 2010 draftee already, and also look at several players who have had notable Junes—some good, some bad.

Feel free to ask questions, and let’s get right down to it!

(Player profiles after the jump)

Hot Shots

Jedd Gyorko, 3B, Padres (Short-season-A)—The Padres’ second-round pick this year out of West Virginia, Gyorko arrived in pro ball with two reputations:

1.)    He can hit like crazy.

2.)    His lack of athleticism would limit him to the corners after playing shortstop in college.

Gyorko has indeed been moved to third base in pro ball, after there was some speculation he’d be tried at second base, but he hasn’t made an error in five games, which I find impressive for someone with little experience at the position.

Oh, yeah, and he definitely can hit. Gyorko went 0-for-4 in his first pro game, but then immediately went on a tear, going 9-for-16 with three doubles and two homers over his next four games—the fourth of which contained both homers.

It’s certainly a small sample size, but I view it more as a confirmation that Gyorko’s otherworldly college stats are for real and that he’s definitely ready for full-season ball. Since he signed early, Gyorko may have a shot to open his first full year in High-A Lake Elsinore if he keeps raking—fellow West Virginia alum Vince Belnome did that last year in the Padres system, and he was far less heralded than Gyorko.

This is why you sign early.

Engel Beltre, OF, Rangers (High-A)—Beltre serves as a great example of why you don’t give up on players young for their level just because of poor performance.

The athletic outfielder hit just .283/.308/.408 in Low-A in 2008 and .227/.281/.317 in High-A (in the Cal League, of all places!) last year.

That led to many dismissing Beltre as a Greg Golson sort of player: a speed demon who makes a passable fifth OF/pinch-runner, but whose lack of discipline and overall offensive production means he’ll never deserve a starting role.

But Beltre’s poor performances came at age 18 and 19, in full-season leagues! He opened the year repeating High-A at age 20. There are plenty of 21, 22 and 23-year-olds at that level who we consider prospects, so I thought it was only reasonable to give Beltre a couple more years to figure it out.

And figure it out he has. After a 2008/2009-esque April (.233/.317/.356), Beltre had a big May (.347/.380/.479), and has now followed that up with a Pujolsian June (.436/.465/.615).

Beltre is now at .326/.374/.464 on the season, an amazing .240 increase in OPS from last year. And, of course, he’s still young for the level.

With his now-solid hitting, Beltre becomes an extremely dangerous player. He’s already got plus speed, range, and arm, and is already a major-league caliber defensive outfielder. He has some work to do in reading pitchers (just 7-for-13 in steals), and his plate discipline continues to be poor, with just 11 walks in 61 games. However, Beltre has tightened up his zone some—his 29 K in those 61 games are far below his 77 K in 84 games last season, so his K/BB (29/11) is far better than 2009 (77/17), let alone 2008 (105/15).

Beltre’s still got plenty of work do do, but he’s a 20-year-old outfielder brimming with potential and more than holding his own against players often three or four years older.

Kyle Heckathorn, RHP, Brewers (Low-A)—If one were to list the pitchers in the minors most likely to become the next Roy Halladay, Heckathorn would have to make that list. Like Halladay, the former Kennesaw state righty has fantastic stuff—a mid-90’s moving fastball and a high-80’s wipeout slider—but focuses more on inducing bad contact than getting hitters to swing and miss.

In his first full pro season, Heckathorn has a Halladay-esque 55/13 K/BB ratio in 65 1/3 innings and a very good 2.34 ERA. He also has induced ground balls at a 60% rate, which is stellar.

Not to put huge expectations on Heckathorn with the Halladay comp (after all, predicting any minor leaguer to likely turn out that good would be hyperbole), but he does combine fantastic stuff with fantastic command and groundball ability, and you don’t see that very often. At 22, he does need to move fast, though.

Slumping Stars

Wynn Pelzer, RHP, Padres (AA)—The good news of Gyorko’s quick and successful debut somewhat offsets the news of Pelzer’s complete meltdown in June.

Sure, he’s 1-3 with a 3.60 ERA, and that seems good enough.

But here are his walk totals from each May start: 2, 1, 0, 4, 1, 0.

Now June: 7, 5, 4, 6.

Yeah…

After posting a 53/15 K/BB ratio in April and May, Pelzer has a horrific 15/22 ratio this month, and if you take out his 10/4 game on June 16, that slips to 5/18.

Pelzer turned 24 years old yesterday, so unlike someone like Beltre, he doesn’t have that much time to right his issues. These sudden control lapses are scary, as they are often indicative of mechanical, physical (or worse, psychological) issues that may or may not be easily fixed.

If Pelzer can’t right the ship soon, he’s probably looking at a bullpen career. And to think he was being looked at as a potential #2/#3 starter just four weeks ago…

Matt Hobgood, RHP, Orioles (Low-A)—The fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, Hobgood just hasn’t shown much in pro ball. Sure, he gets grounders (57% GB), but if that’s your only skill, you become Brian Bass, not Derek Lowe.

Hobgood walks too many hitters (30 in 64 2/3 innings) and strikes out too few (42) to have much success, as reflected by his 4.48 ERA and 4.94 FIP.

Yes, he’s just 19 in a full-season league, so like Beltre, he has plenty of time to figure things out, but it’s tough to take anything good out of his performance this season.

Brandon Erbe, RHP, Orioles (AAA)—I hate to pile on the Orioles this week, because it’s not like there’s much good news on the big league side of things, but Erbe has been poor this season in his first look at Triple-A.

Erbe certainly hasn’t been 0-10, 5.73 ERA bad. His 4.91 FIP is actually slightly better than Hobgood’s. But still, Erbe just hasn’t been the dominant pitcher that I thought he could be. He pitches up in the zone too much, leading to 11 homers in 70 innings this year. That’s especially bad news for a player who will be pitching in a division with powerful New York, Boston, and Tampa Bay offenses, as well as a Toronto team that hits a bunch of homers.

Erbe has made strides with his mechanics and control, and he’s walked just 22 batters this year, which somewhat makes up for his mediocre 6.43 K/9. But ultimately, he entered the year with an outside shot at becoming an ace, but it now looks like he’s more of a mid-to-back-of-the-rotation starter or power reliever long-term. A big blow to a top-heavy Orioles system that’s counting on its stars to develop into…well, stars.

Sleeper Alert!

Blake Tekotte, OF, Padres (High-A)—Tekotte’s got some real five-tool skills. He hit 13 homers and stole 30 bases last year, and he’s at .312/.419/.528 with eight dingers and 21 steals this season.

Tekotte’s power is probably inflated by the Cal League, but his decent display of pop in the Midwest League in 2009 shows he may have enough pop to hit 20 homers in the bigs someday. Tekotte works the count well (68 walks last year, 46/35 K/BB this year), allowing him to get on base a ton and put his plus speed to use.

Defensively, Tekotte helps out as well. He’s got plus range in center field, and while his arm isn’t plus, it’s not Johnny Damon/Juan Pierre-level bad either. He could also be an all-world defender in left a la Carl Crawford.

Tekotte could ultimately become a Brian Giles type with slightly more speed/defense and slightly less power.

Stephen Parker, 3B, Athletics (High-A)—The Athletics’ fifth-rounder in 2009, Parker didn’t do much in Low-A last year (.242/.315/.355), but the BYU alum has come to life in the Cal League this year, hitting .299/.410/.508.

Of course, this is the Cal League, but Parker has a few things in his statistical profile that bode well.

First, he controls the strike zone. He’s walked 45 times in 69 games, and only struck out 51 times. A hitter’s batting eye isn’t really affected by the hitting environment around him, so that’s a skill Parker’s likely to retain as he moves up the ladder.

Secondly, Parker’s slugging is largely comprised of 22 doubles. Doubles are another statistic that isn’t likely to vary by park as much—a ball in the gap is a ball in the gap, unless you’re playing at Fenway or something. Parker’s profile is more that of a solid all-around hitter with good-not-great power who rips liners all around the park, so this doesn’t project to be a Jonathan Gaston situation.

Given that his home run output (nine this year) will possibly come down as he advances, however, it’s important for Parker to stick at third base and not have to move across the diamond. He and fellow slugging 2009 draftee Michael Spina have been splitting the 1B/3B duties in Stockton, and it’s unclear where Parker and Spina (.254/.337/.449 with 12 homers this year) will end up defensively as they advance.

Eric Sogard, 2B, Athletics (AAA)—Acquired along with Kevin Kouzmanoff from the Padres in the offseason, Sogard arrived with a reputation as a selective hitter after walking more than he struck out in 2008 and 2009.

He’s kept that up (28/36 K/BB) in Triple-A this year while spraying line drives all over the park, hitting .306/.391/.376.

Sogard’s power is fringy, although he’s got enough gap pop to get by, and he excels at making contact and waiting for a pitch to rip.

Defensively, he rates as a solid defender at second base with good instincts.

With Adrian Cardenas taking a step back this season and moving to third base, Sogard looks like Oakland’s replacement for Mark Ellis in 2011.

The Quadruple-A Special

Mike Benacka, RHP, Athletics (AAA)—What the hell, let’s make it three straight A’s.

Benacka, 27, was possibly the most dominating independent league pitcher in 2008, striking out 51 batters in 26 innings and allowing just one run on 10 hits for River City of the Frontier League.

What was a good pitcher doing in indie ball at 25? Well, Benacka’s velocity doesn’t really impress, as he only throws in the 85-90 mph range with his fastball, and his breaking ball is fringy as well.

It’s Benacka’s plus-plus changeup that gave indie leaguers fits, so scouts weren’t sure that he would succeed against pro hitters.

The A’s finally gave him a look in late 2008, and Benacka responded by K’ing 37 batters in 26 1/3 innings in High-A.

He spent 2009 between Double-A and Triple-A, striking out 90 batters in 79 1/3 innings and not allowing a homer all season.

Now, he’s got 23 K in 17 2/3 innings this season in the AAA bullpen.

Benacka’s arsenal isn’t flashy, but it’s essentially the same stuff Trevor Hoffman used the last decade, so it’s not like it can’t work. He’s had some sporadic command issues, including 14 walks this year, although this year’s lapse was likely due to a bout with vertigo (hey, that’s what his injury was listed as) that kept him out for most of May: 10 of his walks came in the four outings preceding his DL stint.

Since coming off the DL, Benacka’s thrown four no-hit innings with six strikeouts. He’s work a look in a bullpen somewhere.

Topics: Blake Tekotte, Brandon Erbe, Engel Beltre, Eric Sogard, Jedd Gyorko, Kyle Heckathorn, Matt Hobgood, Mike Benacka, Stephen Parker, Wynn Pelzer

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