Kernels second baseman Alexi Amarista will play in Tuesday’s Midwest League All-Star Game. He’s batting .310 and has 22 stolen bases.
The first half for most full-season minor leagues ends this weekend. I’ll wait until then to take a mid-season look at the players listed last November in my 2008 Top 10 Prospects report.
Let’s take a look at guys who might have made my list had I possessed a working crystal ball:
RHP Matt Palmer was a journeyman pitcher signed by the Angels over the winter as a six-year minor league free agent from the Giants’ system. Palmer found himself in the big leagues only because of a rash of injuries to the Angels’ starting rotation. The Angels lost John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Kelvim Escobar, Dustin Moseley and Shane Loux, and worst of all the death of Nick Adenhart. At age 30, Palmer is no one’s idea of a future Hall of Famer, but he provided quality innings at the back of the rotation when it was desperately needed. As of this writing, he has a 6-0 record and a 4.13 ERA in 56.2 innings.
LHP Trevor Reckling appeared on many Top 10 lists. He almost made mine — if there’d been a #11, it would have been him — but I wanted to see how his mechanics held up over another full season before I gave him Top 10 status. Trevor began 2009 at age 19 with High-A Rancho Cucamonga. He made only three starts before Nick Adenhart’s death rippled through the organization. Sean O’Sullivan moved up from Double-A Arkansas to Triple-A Salt Lake, and Reck moved up to fill Sully’s spot. He’s responded beyond all expectations, becoming one of six Travelers named to the Texas League All-Star Game. He turned 20 on May 22, one of the youngest pitchers in the league. Reckling has been shaky in his last three starts, walking 15 in 17.1 innings, which could be mechanical issues, fatigue or just the league catching up with him. It’s also important to note that Dickey-Stephens Park is very pitcher-friendly; it you look at his home/road splits, his home ERA is 1.72 (36.2 IP) but his road ERA is 4.57 (21.2 IP). The second half will be key, to see if fatigue catches up to him and if the extreme home/road split continues.
RHP Trevor Bell, a supplemental draft pick after the first round in June 2005, was generally considered to be a disappointment coming into 2009. Last season found him demoted from Rancho Cucamonga to Cedar Rapids as a disciplinary action, and when he returned to the Quakes he was in the bullpen. There was little reason to think he’d step it up in 2009, join Double-A Arkansas in the starting rotation, be named to the Texas League All-Star Game and be promoted to Triple-A Salt Lake before mid-season. Bell posted a 2.23 ERA in 11 starts (68.2 IP) with 51 strikeouts and 20 walks. But how’s about that home/away split we talked about? Good news. His home ERA was 2.25 (44.0 IP), his road ERA was 2.19 (24.2 IP). He gave up only one homer in the first half, and that was at home. In his first Triple-A start on June 16, Bell went the distance at home against Colorado Springs, pitching a two-hit shutout in hitter-friendly Spring Mobile Ballpark.
2B Alexi Amarista is charitably listed at 5’8″ 150 lbs., but the 20-year old Venezuelan has hit his way into the Midwest League All-Star Game for the Kernels. His glove got him named the Angels’ defensive player of the month for April, committing no errors in 77 chances (although he’s committed nine since then). Amarista has fallen back to earth in June, batting .261 to date. A left-handed batter, he generally lacks power with no homers and a .424 SLG, but he makes up for it with speed, notching 22 stolen bases to date in 32 attempts. His SO:BB ratio is nearly 1:1 (33:27 in 245 AB) and fits well into the Angels’ “Contactball” style of play, striking out once every 7.4 at-bats.
OF Chris Pettit roared out of the gate with an AVG/OBP/SLG of .424/.451/.636 in April for the Salt Lake Bees. The 24-year old outfielder was an unknown when he was selected as a college senior in the 19th round of the 2006 draft, but he’s hit well at each level and was well on his way to establishing himself as a legit prospect when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand on June 4 and may be out for the year. Although he’s seen action at all three outfield positions in his career, he’s best suited for the corners and played mostly LF for the Bees. I’ve written many times here about the importance of splitting out the PCL’s five hitter-friendly parks (Salt Lake, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Reno) from the rest to get an accurate picture of a hitter’s performance; when we do that with Chris, his AVG/OBP/SLG in hitter-friendly parks were .393/.442/.580 (150 AB) and in the rest were .283/.306/.478 (46 AB). Those numbers suggest his offense was largely due to the parks, but we’ll have to wait and see after he returns from the injury if he can retain his prospect status.
OF Jeremy Moore is the quintessential “project,” a potential five-tool player if he can ever harness his raw talents. Last year at Cedar Rapids, his AVG/OBP/SLG were .240/.284/.478, the latter number reflecting an explosion of power (11 doubles, 12 triples, 17 homers). He stole 28 bases in 38 attempts, but his frightening 125:21 SO:BB (5.9:1) ratio suggested problems at higher levels. This year at Rancho Cucamonga, Moore has improved his AVG and OBP; his numbers are now .309/.352/.458. His SO:BB ratio of 70:14 (5.0:1) is better than 2008, but his strikeouts have increased with his walks. The Cal League is a notorious hitter’s league, so that should also be taken into consideration. His stolen bases are down too, with only seven in 18 attempts. The left-handed hitting Moore is batting .384 against southpaw pitchers (73 AB), .276 against righties (163 AB). He turns 22 on June 29 (Happy Birthday, J-Mo).
The Cedar Rapids Kernels bullpen deserves a lot of credit for the team qualifying for the post-season by finishing first or second in the first half (that’ll be decided this weekend). ERA isn’t always the best number to measure a relief pitcher’s success, so let’s go with WHIP (Walks + Hits)/(Innings Pitched). LHP Drew Taylor has a WHIP of 0.93 and AVG against of .132, RHP Michael Kohn has 0.89 and .165, RHP Jeremy Thorne has 1.12 and .226, and RHP Vladimir Veras has 0.96 and .163. Kohn and Veras close most of the time; Kohn has 11 saves and Veras has 10. Taylor is averaging 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings, Kohn 14.2 and Veras 10.5. Taylor, a 34th round pick, might move up fastest due to his age (23 in August) and the fact that he’s left-handed, but he struggled with Rancho in April when he had a 2.82 WHIP in five relief appearances before returning to C.R. Orem manager Tom Kotchman told me last year that Taylor was a great scouting job by Chris McAlpin, and may project as a situation lefty with 87-91 MPH velocity and a slider.
It’s no surprise that an organization that values pitching so highly should be so deep in pitching. Yes, there’s a lack of power hitters, but if the parent club ever sees the need to make a trade they certainly have a lot of pitching to offer in return, and baseball professionals will tell you that pitching is the coin of the realm.
UPDATE 2:30 PM PDT — I wanted to add a comment about Salt Lake outfielder Terry Evans. Terry made the 2007 FutureAngels.com Top 10 Prospects list after making his major league debut that year, but he missed most of 2008 after suffering a torn right labrum in a slide at home plate on May 6. Evans fell off the prospect radar but is trying to play his way back into the Angels’ plans. His overall AVG/OBP/SLG are .284/.330/.521, but as with Pettit we need to split his numbers into hitter-friendly and other parks. His hitter-friendly numbers are .292/.344/.536 (192 AB), and in other parks .261/.288/.478 (69 AB). This mirrored what I saw in 2007; Terry was never one to take many walks, but almost all of them were in hitter-friendly parks. Why he takes almost no walks in neutral/pitcher-friendly parks, I can’t explain. In any case, the “neutral” numbers along with his high strikeout rate (once every 3.4 AB) suggest he’s not quite ready for prime time prospect status just yet, and at age 27 he may be about out of time.