Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Minor League Survey - National League Central Division

Back on May 2, 2011, I took a look at some players to watch in the National League West minor league affiliates (Anthony Rizzo, Treyvan Robinson, Brandon Belt and Charlie Blackmon).  Today, I move the focus over to the National League Central.

Chicago Cubs
D.J. LeMahieu. Tennessee Smokies (AA). 2/24/3/.354
It is easy to talk about Brett Jackson as a potential call-up for the Cubs at some point this season; his slash line (4/17/13/.295) and his slugging percentage/on-base percentage suggest he is about ready for a move to AAA.  LeMahieu, however, is flying under the radar right now.  Unless you follow the minor leagues closely, you likely did not know that Baseball America named LeMahieu the best overall hitting prospect in the Cubs’ system (over Jackson and the since traded Brandon Guyer). The Cubs’ second round pick in 2009 is certainly holding his own, as he is 13th in on-base percentage, 16th in OPS and second in average in the Southern League.  He makes solid contact and has a fairly good eye at the plate.  There are still many adjustments to be made at the plate and in the field, so it is likely he will not see time until sometime next year.  Nonetheless, middle infield prospects are hard to find sometimes; this is one.

Cincinnati Reds
Zack Cozart. Louisville Bats (AAA). 2/12/4/.280
You were expecting Yonder Alonso? Devin Mesoraco? No, I think it is time to take a look at Cozart.  If you are the Reds, I believe you are now officially a little concerned about Cozart.  He is going to be 26 this summer and is repeating AAA without any significant uptick in slugging percentage, on-base percentage or OPS.  The speed he showed last year is a memory.  John Sickels graded him a C+, but liked his potential.  Unfortunately, Cozart seems to have taken, if not a step backwards, no step at all.  Janish and Renteria may not be the answer at shortstop, but it appears Cozart is not the answer right now either.

Houston Astros.
J.D. Martinez. Corpus Christi Hooks (AA). 3/30/0/.340
Martinez is certainly one of the surprises of the Astros’ system, and, for once, I mean that in a good way.  A 20th round pick, Martinez clobbered pitching in 2009 and, as a reward, took a double jump to AA in later 2010.  His OPS dropped to .765, but he still hit over .300.  This year, repeating AA, you see the progression you would like to see: the on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS are up significantly (though his .962 OPS still puts him only 10th in the Texas League).  His 15/13 K/BB is impressive as well over 100 at-bats.  He is going to be 24, so he is old for this level, but I suspect he is going to see some time in AAA once he is off the minor league disabled list.  He could still come up to the Astros at some point this season.

Milwaukee Brewers.
Mat Gamel.  Nashville Sounds (AAA). 5/21/2/.303
I looked for someone else to write about, but, well, back to Gamel we go.  His .875 OPS, without any other context, might not look too bad.  Let me try and ruin that for you: the.875 OPS is the best he can muster after almost 750 at-bats over 4 seasons in the PCL.  He ranks 36th in the PCL in OPS as of this morning; that does not inspire confidence.  At this point, Gamel could still have an okay career, but his status as a “help-now” prospect long ago tarnished.  The Brewers cannot have a lot of confidence in handing a job to Gamel any time in the near future.

Pittsburgh Pirates.
Tony SanchezAltoona Curve (AA). 1/14/1/.274
Sanchez turns 23 right before the end of the world this weekend…kind of a crappy birthday present.  He was putting together a nice year last year until the broken jaw put him out of action for the remainder of the season.  He is doing okay so far at AA; while his on-base percentage and OPS are not in the top echelon of the league, he ranks ahead of just about every other catcher at his level (Caleb Joseph scoring out ahead of him slightly).  The strikeout rate is down, which is good, and he is heating up over his last few games.  I am not sure that he makes it to the majors this year, but he should be a pretty solid starting catcher for the Pirates beginning as early as the start of 2012, and June 2012 at the latest.

St. Louis Cardinals.
Zack CoxPalm Beach Cardinals (A+). 3/18/2/.331
I normally do not go to A+ for my prospects, since the best ones are usually written about and since they are too far from the majors for purposes of even deep NL and AL-only leagues.  Cox, however, caught my attention.  Sickels had him as a B- prospect, but he is a college hitter out of Arkansas, and thoughts were that he could potentially displace David Freese quickly.  Sickels panned him a bit on May 3; since then, Cox is putting up an amazing 1.156 OPS.  Given Cox’ profile as a first round pick, and given Freese's inability to stay on the field this year, you could see Cox next year.  This year may be too early, even as a college hitter, given the few minor league at-bats under his belt.  Do not let him slip off your radar, however, as the season goes on.

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