The Washington Times - June 21, 2008, 03:06AM

By JAY LeBLANC
June 21, 2008

Yesterday National Pastime honored the Outstanding Hitter and Pitcher from every double- and triple-A circuit. Today we’ll take another step down the ladder and hand out awards to the first-half standouts in Class A and advanced Class A:

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ADVANCED A CALIFORNIA LEAUGE

Outstanding Hitter:Pablo Sandoval, San Jose Giants (Giants)

It’s a tight race for top hitting honors in the California League between Sandoval and Stockton (A’s) first baseman Sean Doolittle. The two have very similar stats to this point, as Sandoval is hitting .361 with 11 home runs, 55 RBI and a 1.003 OPS, while Doolittle, Oakland’s No. 10 prospect, checks in at .326 with 16 jacks, 54 ribbies and a 1.000 OPS. Sandoval gets the nod because he plays the demanding catcher position and puts the ball in play more consistently than Doolittle, having struck out just 38 times while Doolittle has fanned 84 times. Josh Reddick (.352, 12 home runs, 43 RBI) of Lancaster (Red Sox) - who benefits from the best hitting environment in minor league baseball - takes the bronze.

Outstanding Pitcher:Trevor Cahill, Stockton Ports (A’s)

Few minor league hurlers have been as dominant this season as the 20-year-old Cahill, Oakland’s No. 2 prospect. The 2006 second-rounder has just five wins on the year but has struck out a whopping 103 batters in 87 1/3 innings while limiting opponents to a .174 batting average. You could make an argument for four others - Cesar Valdez of Visalia (Diamondbacks) and a trio of San Jose (Giants) prospects, Ben Snyder, Kevin Pucetas and Jesse English - but while all of them are enjoying outstanding seasons, none have overmatched opposing hitters to the extent Cahill has.


ADVANCED A CAROLINA LEAGUE

Outstanding Hitter:Matt Wieters, Frederick Keys (Orioles)

No contest here, as Wieters has been the circuit’s best player since opening day. The switch-hitting catcher, drafted fifth overall by Baltimore in the 2007 MLB draft, was recognized as Carolina League Player of the Month for May and has won the league’s weekly honor twice. Wieters is currently hitting .346 with 14 home runs, 38 RBI and a 1.023 OPS on the season. He’s showed great discipline by walking 43 times to go along with 44 strikeouts and has also been stellar behind the dish. He entered the season ranked by Baseball America as the 12th best prospect in all of baseball and has exceeded expectations nonetheless. It would surprise no one if Wieters made his big league debut this summer.

Outstanding Pitcher:Adrian Alaniz, Potomac Nationals (Nationals)

Alaniz is the best minor league hurler you’ve probably never heard of. A 2007 eighth-round pick out of Texas, he wasn’t ranked among the Nationals’ top 30 prospects entering this season despite going 8-2 with a 2.39 ERA last summer in the New York-Penn League. He followed that up by going 9-0 with a 2.62 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings with Potomac before being promoted to double-A Harrisburg, where he pitched six shutout innings but ended up with a no-decision in his debut. The knock on Alaniz is that he doesn’t throw particularly hard, but considering that he’s now 17-2 as a pro, he must be doing something right. He’s the clear-cut choice here, but Jake Arrieta of Frederick (Orioles) and Deunte Heath of Myrtle Beach (Braves) - just promoted to double-A Mississippi - are also having great seasons and deserve mention.


ADVANCED A FLORIDA STATE LEAGUE

Outstanding Hitter:J.P. Arencibia, Dunedin Blue Jays (Blue Jays)

Toronto’s 2007 first-round pick out of the University of Tennessee and No. 4 prospect had an average pro debut in the New York-Penn League last summer but has really turned it on in 2008. Recently promoted to double-A New Hampshire, the 22-year-old backstop hit .315 with 13 home runs in the Florida State League this season. His 62 RBI are 18 more than any other player in the league, and he has impressed with his receiving skills as well. Fort Myers (Twins) third baseman Daniel Valencia, who leads the league with a .336 average and is tied for second in RBI with 44, is the runner-up.

Outstanding Pitcher:Jeremy Hellickson, Vero Beach Devil Rays (Rays)

The pitching prospects just keep on coming for Tampa Bay. After dominating the South Atlantic League as a 20-year-old last season by going 13-3 with a 2.67 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 111 1/3 innings, Hellickson hasn’t skipped a beat in advanced Class A this season. The 2005 fourth-rounder, ranked by Baseball America as Tampa Bay’s No. 8 prospect entering the season, is currently 6-1 with an 2.20 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 79 K’s in 69 2/3 innings. Incredibly, he’s walked just five batters all season. He gets the nod over a trio of pitchers who were promoted to double-A for their efforts - Jeff Manship of Fort Myers (Twins), Jordan Smith of Sarasota (Reds) and Donovan Hand of Brevard County (Brewers).


CLASS A MIDWEST LEAGUE

Outstanding Hitter:Ben Revere, Beloit Snappers (Twins)

Considering how he’s played so far this season, it’s pretty hard to believe that a) Revere wasn’t a consensus first-rounder entering last year’s MLB draft, in which he was selected 28th overall by the Twins, and b) he signed for the lowest amount of guaranteed money for a first-round hitter in a decade. Revere is looking like the steal of the draft so far, playing at a level not even the Twins could have expected. He’s hitting a remarkable .413 and is sporting a .565 slugging percentage and 1.028 OPS despite having hit just one home run. He’s also shown the ability to make contact consistently, striking out just 15 times in 184 at bats while drawing 14 walks. Revere has stolen 22 bases as well, though he’s been caught 11 times. Ian Gac of Clinton (Rangers), who has hit 17 home runs this year - four more than any other player in the league - is a distant second.

Outstanding Pitcher:Craig Italiano, Kane County Cougars (A’s)

7-0 record, 1.09 ERA, 76 strikeouts in 66 innings - these look like the kind of stats you’d see from a first-round pick-to-be in his senior year of high school, facing overmatched zit-faced teenagers, but they’re actually Italiano’s numbers so far in the Midwest League. Italiano, a 2005 second-rounder, was ranked by Baseball America as Oakland’s No. 30 prospect entering the season, but you’d have to think he’ll be ranked a bit higher in next year’s rankings. Believe it or not, Italiano just barely squeaks out the win in this category, as Alfredo Figaro of Western Michigan (Tigers) has nearly matched him by going 8-2 with a 1.22 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 81 innings.


CLASS A SOUTH ATLANTIC LEAGUE

Outstanding Hitter:Michael Taylor, Lakewood Blue Claws (Phillies)

Taylor, a 2007 fifth-round pick, showed good pop in his pro debut last summer by smacking six home runs in the New York-Penn League, but hit just .227 and struck out 53 times in 233 at bats. Taylor has really turned it on, however, in his first full season. The 6’ 6”, 250 pound outfielder leads the South Atlantic League with a .361 average to go along with 10 home runs, 50 RBI and a .995 OPS, and recently earned a promotion to advanced Class A Clearwater. Surprisingly for a player his size, he stole 10 bases in 13 attempts with Lakewood. He also showed much better plate discipline than he did last season, with 31 walks offsetting his 43 strikeouts. Despite his outstanding numbers, Taylor just barely gets the nod over Miles Durham of Hickory (Pirates) and teammates Michael Mitchell and Darin Holcomb of Asheville (Rockies).

Outstanding Pitcher:
Madison Bumgarner, Augusta GreenJackets (Giants)

Bumgarner, a 6’ 4” high school lefty taken 10th overall in the 2007 draft, was ranked as the Giants’ No. 3 prospect entering this season but no one could have expected him pitch nearly as well as he has in his first year as a pro. Bumgarner’s 6-2 record, 1.96 ERA and 0.98 WHIP are all very impressive, but most amazing is that the 18-year-old has struck out 74 batters while walking just 10 in 64 1/3 innings. As outstanding as Bumgarner has been, he barely gets the nod, as Jhoulys Chacin of Asheville (Rockies) is 10-1 with a 2.10 ERA, while Ryan Miller of Lake County (Indians) is 7-2 with a 2.03 ERA.


So there you have it - the best hitter and pitcher from each of the 10 full-season minor league circuits at the midway point. How did I do? Do you agree or disagree with my selections? Leave a comment in the field below and let me know.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.