By JAY LeBLANC
September 25, 2008
This is the greatest time of the year for baseball fans, with the pennant races in full swing and the postseason on the horizon. But while a new batch of big league teams and superstars are preparing for the intensity of October baseball, the leagues that each and every one of them played in en route to the show have crowned their champions and closed up shop for the year. Baseball is unique among the major professional sports in that even its most promising young players have to pay their dues and hone their skills in small cities and towns on their respective journeys to the big leagues, giving astute fans throughout the nation opportunities to see tomorrow’s superstars today. If you missed out on the joy of Minor League Baseball this season, don’t make the same mistake again next year.
Since National Pastime kicked off in late May, we’ve tried to identify some of tomorrow’s brightest stars, introduce them to our readers and allow them to discuss their developing talents in their own words in our twice-weekly Prospect Q&A columns. From a journalistic standpoint, the minors are great because they provide the kind of access to the game and its players that you just don’t get in the big-business world of Major League Baseball. We’ve taken advantage of that and gotten up close and personal with some of the best young players in baseball. Most of them don’t yet see the media as the enemy, as they’ve shown by talking candidly about their accomplishments to this point, their present skills and their hopes for the future. It’s been a pleasure, and we hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.
In this, our final Prospect Q&A column of the year, we’ll check in on the 35 players we profiled this season - two of whom reached the majors in September - and see what kinds of progress they’ve made since we had the pleasure of speaking with each of them. We’ll also single out some of our favorite quotes of the year and see what interesting categories our Q&A subjects fall into, and, by the way, you can read any of the original Q&A’s by clicking on the player’s name. Enjoy.
Matt Wieters, Orioles
Publication Date: May 27
Expectations for Wieters were understandably high after the Orioles signed him for a $6 million bonus after taking him fifth overall in the 2007 draft, and to say he exceeded them in his first pro season would be a massive understatement. The switch-hitting catcher terrorized Carolina League pitchers for the first two months of the season with the Frederick Keys and then gave the same treatment to Eastern League hurlers as a member of the Bowie Baysox after his mid-season promotion. Wieters finished the year with a .355 average, 27 home runs and 91 RBI, and walked more times (82) than he struck out (76) en route to Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year honors. He’ll play for the Arizona Fall League’s Surprise Rafters this fall and could open the 2009 season as Baltimore’s catcher.
Ross Detwiler, Nationals
Publication Date: May 29
Detwiler pitched a scoreless inning against the Braves in his major league debut just two months after the Nationals took him sixth overall in 2007, but he showed in 2008 that he still has some work to do in the minors before he joins the big-league rotation for good. The 6’ 5”, 185-pound lefty showed flashes of brilliance while pitching for the advanced Class A Potomac Nationals this season, but inconsistency and command issues plagued him throughout the year and he finished with an 8-8 record and a disappointing 4.86 ERA. On the bright side, Detwiler struck out an impressive 114 batters in 124 innings and pitched much better after the All-Star break (4.08 ERA) than before (5.70 ERA). Detwiler will pitch in the Arizona Fall League and will probably start the 2009 season in the rotation for the double-A Harrisburg Senators.
Adrian Alaniz, Nationals
Publication Date: June 2
The unheralded 24-year-old right-hander started the year on fire, going 9-0 with a 2.62 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings with the advanced Class A Potomac Nationals to earn Carolina League Mid-Season All-Star honors. Alaniz didn’t fare as well after a promotion to the double-A Harrisburg Senators, going 0-5 in 13 starts. However, he pitched better than his record would indicate, as he posted a 3.93 ERA in double-A and allowed three or fewer earned runs in his final nine starts. Alaniz will likely open the 2009 season back in Harrisburg, and as a smallish righty with below average velocity, the former University of Texas star is going to have to keep pitching smart to have a future in the big leagues. He’s certainly capable of doing so.
Jake Arrieta, Orioles
Publication Date: June 5
Very few minor leaguers raised their stock as much as the 22-year-old Arrieta did this season. The 2007 fifth-rounder out of Texas Christian University followed up a dominant Arizona Fall League performance by going 6-5 with a 2.87 ERA and fanning 120 batters in 113 innings for the advanced Class A Frederick Keys en route to Carolina League Pitcher of the Year honors. The right-hander also had the distinction of being the only Class A player on the U.S. Olympic team, and he pitched six scoreless innings with seven K’s in a win over host China in Beijing. Arrieta will likely start next season with the double-A Bowie Baysox and has a very good shot of making his big league debut in 2009.
Greg Golson, Phillies
Publication Date: June 9
Golson, who entered 2008 ranked by Baseball America as the Phillies organization’s best power hitter, fastest baserunner, best athlete, best outfield defender and the owner of its best outfield arm, certainly had a season to remember. The 2004 first-round pick hit .282 with 13 home runs, 60 RBI and 23 stolen bases for the double-A Reading Phillies this season to earn Eastern League Mid-Season All-Star honors and a trip to the Futures Game, and was summoned to the big leagues on Sept. 1. Golson has played sparingly for the Philadelphia Phillies, who are in the midst of a heated pennant race; so far, he’s appeared in four games and is 0-for-2 with a stolen base and a run scored. Golson is nearly ready for a starting gig in the bigs, but needs to cut down on his strikeouts - he fanned 130 times in 426 at bats this season - and make more consistent contact before he sticks for good. He’ll likely start the 2009 season in triple-A.
John Shelby III, White Sox
Publication Date: June 12
Shelby followed up his breakout 2007 season in which he hit .301 with 16 home runs, 79 RBI and 19 stolen bases in Class A with a very similar 2008 campaign in advanced Class A. The 23-year-old hit .295 with 15 longballs and 80 RBI and stole an impressive 33 bases in 38 attempts for the Winston-Salem Warthogs to earn Carolina League Post-Season All-Star honors. The former University of Kentucky second baseman also made a successful transition to the outfield. He finished the season on fire, hitting .342 with five homers and 10 stolen bases in August to help the Warthogs secure a playoff berth. Shelby will start the 2009 season in double-A and has a good shot of making his big-league debut next summer if he continues to improve.
Brandon Erbe, Orioles
Publication Date: June 16
Erbe took his lumps as a 19-year-old in the advanced Class A Carolina League in 2007 but fared much better in his second go-around with the Frederick Keys in 2008. The right-hander showed why he’s so highly regarded by the organization by leading the league in strikeouts (151) and WHIP (1.13) and ranking second in innings pitched (150 2/3) and fifth in wins (10). He also pitched the first six innings of a combined no-hitter on Aug. 5. However, Erbe also gave up more home runs than any other Carolina League pitcher (21) and finished second in the circuit in losses (12), suggesting there’s still work to be done. Erbe will open the 2009 season in the double-A Bowie Baysox‘ rotation.
Chris Marrero, Nationals
Publication Date: June 19
Marrero - ranked by Baseball America as the Nationals’ No. 1 prospect entering 2008 - got off to a slow start with the advanced Class A Potomac Nationals, hitting just .200 with two home runs in April as he made the transition from the outfield to first base. As the weather began to heat up, so did Marrero, and he had raised his average to .250 to go along with 11 longballs by mid-June. Unfortunately, that’s when his season ended, as he suffered a broken fibula while sliding into home. The Nationals are optimistic that Marrero will be fine for the start of spring training next year and it seems likely that he’ll return to Potomac to begin the 2009 season, when he’ll still be just 20 years old.
Jason Donald, Phillies
Publication Date: June 23
Donald was well-regarded entering this season, but he raised his stock considerably in 2008. The 24-year-old shortstop followed up his outstanding 2007 campaign by hitting .307 with 14 home runs, 54 RBI and 11 stolen bases for the Reading Phillies, earning Eastern League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star honors and a trip to the Futures Game. Donald also led Team USA with a .381 batting average at the Beijing Olympics. The 2006 third-round pick out of the University of Arizona will play for the Arizona Fall League’s Mesa Solar Sox in the fall and will enter spring training with a shot at making the Phillies’ opening day roster, though he’s obviously blocked at the shortstop position by Jimmy Rollins.
John Ely, White Sox
Publication Date: June 26
Ely, a 22-year-old righty, showed flashes of brilliance this season with the advanced Class A Winston-Salem Warthogs but was wildly inconsistent. He went 0-3 but posted an impressive 2.61 ERA in April, but followed that with a 1-3, 6.12 showing in May. He righted the ship in June by going 2-1 with a 3.55 ERA but then went 2-4 with an ugly 9.67 ERA in July before ending the year by going 5-1 with a 3.44 ERA in August. His overall 10-12 mark and 4.71 ERA are mildly disappointing, but his 134 K’s and strong finish to the season are encouraging. He’ll likely move up to double-A to begin the 2009 season.
Nolan Reimold, Orioles
Publication Date: June 30
Eastern League pitchers will breathe a collective sigh of relief next spring when they realize they won’t have to deal with Reimold anymore. The Bowling Green product hit .306 with 11 home runs and 34 RBI in 50 games with the Bowie Baysox in 2007, but since he missed more than half the season due to injury, the Orioles chose to have him return to double-A in 2008. The 24-year-old responded by hitting .284 and finishing second in the circuit in home runs (25) and fifth in RBI (84) to earn Eastern League All-Star honors. He followed that up by hitting .412 with four home runs and 11 RBI during Bowie’s losing playoff effort against Akron. Reimold will play for Arizona Fall League’s Surprise Rafters and has a chance of winning a job on the big league club in the spring, though he’ll more likely start the year in triple-A.
Michael Burgess, Nationals
Publication Date: July 3
Burgess reached advanced Class A as a 19-year-old in his first full pro season and helped the Potomac Nationals capture the Carolina League title by blasting six home runs and knocking in 19 runs in as many regular-season games with the P-Nats. The 2007 supplemental first-round pick, who started the year with the Class A Hagerstown Suns, finished the season with an impressive 24 home runs and 79 RBI, but also hit just .246 and struck out a whopping 162 times in 472 at bats while drawing just 55 walks. Needless to say, the talented young outfielder needs to make more consistent contact and display more patience at the plate, but given his age, he’s got plenty of time to work on that. Burgess will likely return to Potomac to begin the 2009 season.
Wes Hodges, Indians
Publication Date: July 7
Hodges, who turned 24 on Sept. 14, turned in an impressive 2008 campaign with the double-A Akron Aeros. The Georgia Tech product hit .290 with 18 home runs and a league-leading 97 RBI this season to earn Eastern League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star honors, the circuit’s Rookie of the Year award and a trip to the Futures Game. Hodges’ defense at third base still needs some work, but he’ll have a chance to fine tune it with the Arizona Fall League’s Surprise Rafters. Hodges has an outside shot of making the Indians out of spring training, but will more likely iron out the final wrinkles in his game in triple-A for a few months and debut in the bigs sometime during the summer.
Colton Willems, Nationals
Publication Date: July 10
The 20-year-old Willems has kept a much lower profile than other recent Nats first-round picks like Ryan Zimmerman, Marrero and Detwiler, but the organization is surely fine with letting him develop at his own pace. Willems battled a dead arm this season but pitched well nonetheless, going 5-9 with a 3.70 ERA in 20 starts for the Class A Hagerstown Suns. However, the right-hander struck out just 60 batters in 109 1/3 innings and was shut down for the year in early August. The Nats were probably just being overly cautious in shutting Willems down and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be ready to go next spring. He’ll probably open the season with the advanced Class A Potomac Nationals.
Chris Tillman, Orioles
Publication Date: July 14
Tillman, who was acquired by the Orioles in the deal that sent former ace Erik Bedard to Seattle, went from a good pitching prospect to an elite one in 2008. The 20-year-old made great strides as a member of the double-A Bowie Baysox, ranking second in the Eastern League in strikeouts (154), fifth in ERA (3.18) and sixth in wins (11). Despite his tender age, he was repeatedly mentioned as a possible callup, but the organization has said it intends to be patient with Tillman. However, if he continues to make the kind of progress he made in 2008 next season, it will be tough to keep him in the minors much longer. He’ll probably start the year in triple-A.
Dominic Brown, Phillies
Publication Date: July 17
Brown, a former high school football star who turned down an offer to play wide receiver for the University of Miami, turned in a solid 2008 campaign with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws. The 6’ 5” outfielder hit .291 with nine home runs, 54 RBI and 22 stolen bases in 29 attempts, and ranked seventh in the South Atlantic League with a .382 on-base percentage. He displayed outstanding plate discipline for a young player by walking (64) nearly as many times as he struck out (72) and played outstanding defense in center field. The 21-year-old will play for the Hawaii Winter Baseball League’s Honolulu Sharks and will likely begin the 2009 season with the advanced Class A Clearwater Threshers.
Brandon Hicks, Braves
Publication Date: July 21
First, the good news: The 2007 third-round pick out of Texas A&M displayed outstanding pop for a shortstop this season by slugging 20 home runs. And now, the bad: Hicks also hit just .235 and struck out 139 times in 396 at bats. Hicks, who is a good defender, started and finished the year with the advanced Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans and had a 16-game stint with the double-A Mississippi Braves in between, during which he hit .241 with a home run and 7 RBI. Hicks obviously needs to make more consistent contact to make it in the big leagues, and he’ll work on that in Mississippi in 2009.
Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
Publication Date: July 24
Zimmermann emerged as the Nats’ top pitching prospect in 2008. The 2007 second-rounder out of Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point began the year with the advanced Class A Potomac Nationals but quickly proved too much for Carolina League hitters to handle as he went 3-1 with a 1.65 ERA in five appearances. Zimmermann didn’t skip a beat following his promotion to the double-A Harrisburg Senators, going 7-2 with a 3.21 ERA in 20 starts en route to Eastern League Mid-Season All-Star honors. For the season, the 22-year-old fanned 134 batters in as many innings while walking just 47. He may have earned a September callup if not for the fact that the Nats wanted to limit his innings total. He could snag a spot in the Nats rotation next spring but will more likely begin the year in triple-A and debut in the summer.
Nick Weglarz, Indians
Publication Date: July 28
Weglarz more than held his own in 2008 as a 20-year-old in the advanced Class A Carolina League, hitting .272 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI for the Kinston Indians and finishing fifth in the circuit with a .396 on-base percentage. He also showed uncanny plate discipline for a young hitter by walking nearly as many times (71) as he struck out (78). As well as Weglarz played in the minors this season, the highlight of his year was undoubtedly representing Canada at the Beijing Olympics. Weglarz will likely begin the 2009 season with the double-A Akron Aeros, where the former first baseman will continue to refine his skills in the outfield.
Gorkys Hernandez, Braves
Publication Date: July 31
Hernandez, who won the 2007 Midwest League MVP and came to the Braves from the Tigers in the Edgar Renteria trade, wasn’t quite as good in 2008 but turned in a solid season nonetheless, hitting .264 with five home runs and 42 RBI for the advanced Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The leadoff man was slowed by hamstring issues but still managed to steal 20 bases in 24 attempts while continuing to play outstanding outfield defense. He also made his second straight Futures Game appearance. Hernandez, who still be just 21 when the 2009 season starts, will begin the year with the double-A Mississippi Braves.
Beau Mills, Indians
Publication Date: August 4
Mills, the son of former Expos player and current Red Sox coach Brad Mills, was considered one of the top hitters available in the 2007 draft and showed why in his first full professional season. Playing for the advanced Class A Kinston Indians, the 22-year-old led the Carolina League in home runs (21) while ranking second in RBI (90) and eighth in batting average (.293) en route to MVP honors. The former college third baseman also made a relatively smooth transition to first base and impressed his coaches with his strong work ethic. Mills will play the the Arizona Fall League’s Surprise Rafters and will start the 2009 season with the double-A Akron Aeros. It probably won’t be long before he’s an impact hitter in the big leagues.
Stephen King, Nationals
Publication Date: August 7
King disappointed in his pro debut in 2007 but fared much better in 2008, finishing the year with the advanced Class A Potomac Nationals after playing well for the Class A Hagerstown Suns. The 20-year-old played several infield positions for the Suns and hit .284 with six home runs and 33 RBI, then hit .214 with seven RBI in 19 games with Potomac. He also cut his strikeouts down to 86 in 405 at bats after fanning an alarming 105 times in 313 at bats in 2007. The 2006 third-round pick made great progress this season and looks like a future big leaguer. He’ll likely start the 2009 season with Potomac.
Brad Bergesen, Orioles
Publication Date: August 11
Bergesen was a Class A South Atlantic League All-Star in 2007, but he took his game to a whole new level as a member of the double-A Bowie Baysox in 2008. The right-hander - who turns 23 today - led the Eastern League with 15 wins and ranked sixth with a 3.22 ERA en route to Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star honors and the circuit’s Pitcher of the Year award. Scouts say Bergesen’s results have been better than his stuff - an assertion backed up by his mere 72 strikeouts in 148 double-A innings this season - but if he keeps winning games, the Orioles will give him a shot sooner rather than later. Bergesen has a shot at cracking Baltimore’s rotation next spring but is more likely ticketed for triple-A.
Fernando Martinez, Mets
Publication Date: August 14
Martinez’ numbers with the double-A Binghamton Mets - .287 with eight home runs and 43 RBI in 86 games - don’t jump out at you unless you’re aware that he won’t even turn 20 until next month, and then they look pretty impressive. The Mets’ No. 1 prospect was hampered by hamstring issues this season but played well enough when he was on the field to earn a trip to his second straight Futures Game. Martinez still needs some work in the outfield - he’s a center fielder now but projects as a corner outfielder in the long run - and on the base paths, where his above average speed has yet to translate to double-digit stolen base totals, but he’s not far from big league ready. The Mets have a history of challenging the precocious Dominican, so he’ll likely open next season in triple-A.
Derrick Robinson, Royals
Publication Date: August 18
Speed is the name of Robinson’s game, and the former high school football standout - who turned down a scholarship offer to play defensive back for the University of Florida to sign with the Royals - used it to steal 62 bases this season and play outstanding outfield defense as a member of the advanced Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks. His bat is lagging well behind the rest of his game, however, as he managed to hit just .245 this season after hitting .248 in 2007. Robinson turns 21 on Sunday, so he still has plenty of time to work on his hitting, and the Royals will likely be patient with their $800,000 investment. There’s a chance he’ll repeat advanced Class A in 2009, but he’s likely ticketed for double-A.
David Hernandez, Orioles
Publication Date: August 21
Like his Bowie Baysox rotation-mates Tillman and Bergesen, Hernandez really stepped up his game in 2008. The 23-year-old right-hander led the Eastern League in strikeouts (166) while ranking third in ERA (2.68) and ninth in both wins (10) and WHIP (1.30), and earned Mid-Season All-Star honors. Hernandez was remarkably consistent throughout the season, winning five games with a 2.63 ERA before the break and posting five victories and a 2.81 ERA thereafter. Hernandez’ command could get a little better - he walked 71 batters in 141 innings this season - but other than that, he looks like a pretty solid pitching prospect. With nothing left to prove in double-A and just an outside shot of making the O’s in spring training, he’s likely to start 2009 in triple-A.
Jason Castro, Astros
Publication Date: August 25
Castro, a left-handed hitting catcher, led Stanford to the College World Series this summer and then earned short-season Class A New York-Penn League Top Prospect honors after the Astros took him with the No. 10 overall pick. The 21-year-old was solid in his pro debut, hitting .275 with nine doubles, two home runs and 12 RBI in 39 games for the Tri-City ValleyCats. He also showed a good eye at the plate by drawing 22 walks - as opposed to 32 strikeotus - in 138 at bats. Castro will play for the Hawaii Winter Baseball League’s North Shore Honu and, if he performs well, he could skip Class A and begin the 2009 season in advanced Class A.
Bobby Parnell, Mets
Publication Date: August 28
If ever there were a single player who exemplified the need for good, old-fashioned scouting work in today’s stat-happy times, it’s Parnell. The 6’ 4” righty posted ERAs of 6.82 and 8.86 during his final two seasons at Charleston Southern, but Mets area scout Marlin McPhail liked the former prep shortstop’s plus-velocity and convinced the team to take him the the ninth round of the 2005 draft. Parnell has gone on to earn All-Star accolades at three minor league levels - including this year in the double-A Eastern League, when he went 10-6 with a 4.30 ERA for the Binghamton Mets - and was summoned to the big leagues on Sept. 1. The 24-year-old hasn’t seen much action with the New York Mets in the middle of a heated pennant race, but he’s made the best of the opportunities he’s been given. So far, he’s allowed one earned run on two hits in 3 2/3 innings - all in relief - while fanning three and walking no one. He has a good shot of making the big league club out of spring training as a reliever if not as a starter.
George Kontos, Yankees
Publication Date: September 1
Kontos flew under the radar in 2008 because he managed just a 6-11 record, but the 23-year-old righty actually had a really good year for the double-A Trenton Thunder. The Northwestern product ranked third in the Eastern League in strikeouts (152), sixth in WHIP (1.26), seventh in innings pitched (151 2/3) and 11th in ERA (3.68). Kontos - who throws a low-90s fastball and a plus slider - also made significant progress with his changeup this season under the tutelage of Thunder pitching coach and former big league lefty Scott Aldred. He’ll likely begin the 2009 season in triple-A but could get a look with the Yankees sometime during the summer if he pitches well.
Brian Matusz, Orioles
Publication Date: September 4
Matusz - the No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 draft out of the University of San Diego - signed a major league deal that included a $3.2 million bonus just hours before signing deadline. With just a couple weeks left in the minor league season, the Orioles decided against having him make his pro debut this summer, though they did assign him to the short-season Class A Aberdeen IronBirds to work out with the team and begin a throwing program. The 6’ 4” lefty will pitch for the Arizona Fall League’s Surprise Rafters and will likely begin his pro career next spring with the advanced Class A Frederick Keys. With collegiate experience, a four-pitch arsenal and impeccable control, it likely won’t be long before Matusz is big-league ready.
Matt LaPorta, Indians
Publication Date: September 8
Very few pro ballplayers had as eventful a summer as LaPorta. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft started the year by smashing 20 home runs in 84 games for the Brewers’ double-A affiliate, the Huntsville Stars. In early July he was sent to the Indians as the key component in the CC Sabathia deal. After a brief cameo with the Akron Aeros, he headed off to China to play for Team USA at the Beijing Olympics, where he suffered a controversial beaning in a game against the hosts that sent him to the hospital with a concussion. After returning from China in late August, he led the Aeros to the Eastern League finals. All that was missing from LaPorta’s 2007 campaign was his big league debut, which will undoubtedly come next year. He might start the year at triple-A Buffalo, but he’ll surely force his way into the lineup before long.
Austin Jackson, Yankees
Publication Date: September 11
Jackson entered the 2008 season ranked by Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in the Yankees organization behind only Joba Chamberlain, and followed up his breakout 2007 campaign with another solid year. The 21-year-old - who passed up a basketball scholarship from Georgia Tech to sign with the Bronx Bombers - hit .285 with nine home runs, 69 RBI and 19 stolen bases for the double-A Trenton Thunder and continued to play outstanding defense in center field. He capped his season by leading the Thunder to the Eastern League title and capturing Playoffs Most Valuable Player honors. Jackson will play for the Arizona Fall League’s Peoria Javelinas and will likely start the 2009 season in triple-A before making his big league debut sometime during the summer.
Jeff Bianchi, Royals
Publication Date: September 15
Bianchi, a 2005 second-round pick, was one of the Royals top prospects before back and shoulder injuries forced him to miss most of 2006 and negatively affected his performance in 2007. Bianchi got off to a slow start in 2008, hitting just .136 in April, but rebounded to post solid, if unspectacular, numbers across the board for the advanced Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks. Despite playing his home games in Frawley Stadium - a notorious pitchers’ park - Bianchi hit .255 with 34 doubles and 10 home runs and made a smooth transition from shortstop to second base, which the Royals apparently see as his long-term defensive home. He’ll move up to double-A in 2009.
Cole Rohrbough, Braves
Publication Date: September 18
Rohrbough was lights-out in his pro debut in 2007, going 5-2 with a 1.17 ERA and 96 strikeouts and just 20 walks in 61 innings for the Rookie-level Danville Braves and the Class A Rome Braves. The 21-year-old lefty wasn’t quite as dominant in 2008 after entering the year ranked as the Braves’ No. 7 prospect, but he still had a pretty good year. Shoulder issues kept Rohrbough out until mid-May, and he went 3-4 with a 4.94 in 14 appearances for Rome once healthy. After a mid-season promotion to the advanced Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans, he went 2-2 with a 3.41 ERA to help the team advance to the Carolina League finals. Rohrbough will likely return to Myrtle Beach to begin the 2009 season.
Pat Venditte, Yankees
Publication Date: September 22
Not many 20th-round draft picks are able to watch highlights of their pro debut on SportsCenter, but then again, not many pitchers can get pro hitters out with either arm. By now everyone has heard of Venditte, but lost in all the hoopla about the ambidextrous pitcher’s unique ability is the fact that he’s actually really good. The 23-year-old was dominant in his first go-around in pro ball, saving 23 games while posting a microscopic 0.83 ERA for the advanced Class A Staten Island Yankees. Venditte still has a ways to go to prove he’s more than just a novelty act, but he’s certainly off to a good start. Given his age and the impressive nature of his pro debut, the Yankees might choose to have Venditte skip Class A and have him begin the 2009 season in advanced Class A.
“Chipper Jones was always my guy growing up because he’s a switch-hitter and the Braves games are on TV a lot, so I grew up watching him and I try to model my swing sort of like his.”
- Orioles prospect Matt Wieters, on the player he’s tried to model himself after. When you watch him swing from either side of the plate, you can’t miss the Chipper influence.
“I remember everything about it - just being out there on the mound, and after the inning there was a fan that ran on the field (Laughs).”
- Nationals prospect Ross Detwiler, on his memories from his big league debut last September against the Braves in Atlanta. Kind of a random answer, no?
“I think I’m ready now, to be honest with you. I really think I could help them right now, but I know that they’re going to take their time with me, which I understand. But yeah, I really think I could help them right now.”
- Orioles prospect Jake Arrieta, when asked when he’d be ready to help the Orioles. You’ve got to love the confidence of a single-A pitcher who responds this way two months into his pro career. He meant it, and he was probably right.
“I’d have to say defense, because you can really impact a game, where people will remember stuff. If you hit a double, someone might remember it for a couple days, but if you make a great catch that saves the game, people remember that for a long time. It’s something that’s kind of lost in the game now, I feel like - people don’t really appreciate defense as much as offense.”
- Phillies outfielder Greg Golson, on his favorite aspect of the game. Don’t be surprised if this speedy outfielder wins a Gold Glove someday - he’s unreal in center field.
“Earlier in the year I utilized video and watched how horrible my swing was (Laughs). I made some adjustments off of that, and that helped me out a lot, to see what I was doing.”
- Orioles prospect Nolan Reimold, when asked whether he utilizes video or scouting reports when preparing to face a certain pitcher. Self-depreciating humor is funny, especially from a pro athlete.
“I like Gary Sheffield, man, because he plays hard and he swings hard, like myself - I like to swing hard, too.”
- Nationals prospect Michael Burgess, when asked why he likes Sheffield, who he cited as his role model. Burgess attended the same high school as Sheffield, Hillsborough High in Tampa.
“How’d you know that? (Laughs) You know, baseball was my first love. Football, I was pretty good at so I was doing it in the offseason - that was about it. It wasn’t really a hard decision at all.”
- Phillies prospect Dominic Brown, when asked how difficult a decision it was for him to pass up a scholarship offer to play football for the University of Miami to sign with the Phillies.
“I don’t react to what’s thrown. I wait for my pitch, and if it’s not there, I’m not going to swing at it even if it is a strike until I’ve got two strikes on me. If I’m swinging at borderline pitches on the black with less than two strikes and I put it in play, I consider it a wasted at bat. I wait for my pitch - a pitch I can do something with - and put a good swing on it, and if it’s anything else, I won’t swing at it.”
- Indians prospect Nick Weglarz, on his hard-line approach at the plate. It’s certainly working for him so far.
“I feel like I’m learning a lot and of course, the thing about baseball is you’re always going to keep learning. I don’t care if you’re in your 10th year in the big leagues - I think guys are learning something every day, and the time they stop learning stuff, I think that’s the time to retire, which guys do, that want to.”
- Indians prospect Beau Mills. This guy’s attitude about the game is awesome. Add that to his considerable hitting talent, and you’ve got a star in the making for sure.
“There were really a couple teams that were pretty seriously interested, so, as far as the Nationals picking me up, I didn’t really think much of the team. I thought it would be a good opportunity to move up quickly, because they didn’t have a strong farm system at that time.”
- Nationals prospect Stephen King, on his reaction when he learned he’d been drafted by Washington. This is the kind of honesty you just don’t get out of big leaguers.
“I just react to what’s thrown; that’s all I can do. If I get up there guessing, it’s gonna be a loooong night (Laughs).”
- Lightning-quick Royals prospect Derrick Robinson, on his simplistic approach to hitting.
“Growing up, I looked up to Roger Clemens quite a bit, and last year I was fortunate enough to get to hang out with him and talk to him a little bit when he was in Tampa rehabbing, so that was pretty cool. He’s a great guy and a great pitcher, obviously, so that was a really exciting experience for me.”
- Yankees pitching prospect George Kontos, on meeting his idol.
“When that type of money is flashed in front of an 18-year-old’s face, I mean, it’s real tough to turn down. But deep down inside I knew I wanted to go to college. I knew I wanted to have at least three years to have that experience, and it ended up being a great decision.”
- Brian Matusz, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 draft by the Orioles, on choosing to attend the University of San Diego instead of signing with the Angels out of high school after they made him their fourth-round pick.
“I was excited for the Brewers. They got a quality player in CC and I’ve been saying since the beginning that I wish the Brewers the best of luck. I hope they make the playoffs and do well in the playoffs, but I’m excited to be an Indian. The Indians are a great organization.”
- Indians prospect Matt LaPorta, on his reaction to being traded for reigning A.L. Cy Young award winner CC Sabathia.
“It was just hard for me because I’ve been playing both since I was young, since I was four or five years old. It was a hard decision because I wanted to play both professionally, but as I got older a little bit and talked to a couple dual-sport athletes, they said it was rough on their bodies and they thought their careers would have lasted longer if they’d have chosen just one sport. That had a lot to do with it, and to just try to keep up with my grades and play two sports in college I think would have been difficult, so I just chose one.”
- Yankees prospect Austin Jackson, on the difficulty of choosing pro baseball over college basketball.
“I don’t really have one guy that I say, ‘I want to be like this guy.’ I’m trying to be the guy that people, someday, will say, ‘I want to be like him.’ “
- Royals prospect Jeff Bianchi, when asked if there’s any player he either looks up to or tries to model himself after. He’s a good guy and a talented player, and maybe someday people will say that.
BY THE NUMBERS
PLAYERS WHO HAVE APPEARED IN THE BIG LEAGUES - 3
Detwiler (2007), Golson (2008), Parnell (2008)
2008 FUTURES GAME SELECTIONS - 7
Arrieta, Golson, Donald, Hodges, G. Hernandez, Martinez, LaPorta
FIRST-ROUND PICKS - 10
Wieters (2007), Detwiler (2007), Golson (2004), Marrero (2006), Burgess (2007), Willems (2006), Mills (2007), Castro (2008), Matusz (2008), LaPorta (2007)
2008 PRESEASON BASEBALL AMERICA ORGANIZATIONAL NO. 1 PROSPECTS - 4
Wieters, Marrero, Martinez, LaPorta
2008 PRESEASON BASEBALL AMERICA TOP 100 PROSPECTS - 10
Wieters (12), Martinez (20), LaPorta (23), Marrero (27), Jackson (41), Detwiler (51), Tillman (67), Mills (87), Reimold (91), G. Hernandez (92)
2008 MIDSEASON ROTOWORLD.COM TOP 150 PROSPECTS - 18
Wieters (4), LaPorta (5), Martinez (11), Jackson (13), Burgess (37), Marrero (39), G. Hernandez (40), Tillman (42), Hodges (48), Zimmermann (64), Weglarz (65), Arrieta (69), Erbe (75), Detwiler (88), Mills (94), D. Hernandez (95), Reimold (109), Donald (111)