Mike Minor posted an absurd 0.08 ERA as a senior at Forrest High School in Chapel Hill, Tenn., and made the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team in 2007 after spurning the Rays - who had selected him in the 13th round of the 2006 draft - to honor his commitment to Vanderbilt. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound southpaw followed that up by leading the Commodores in wins and strikeouts as a sophomore in 2008 and established himself as a truly elite prospect that summer by going 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA and defeating vaunted Cuba twice as the ace of the undefeated 24-0 USA National Team that included eventual 2009 No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg.
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Most organizations take a cautious approach with their prized prospects and move them slowly up the minor league ladder while putting them in positions in which they're likely to succeed as they develop. The Royals, on the other hand, recently made 19-year-old first baseman Eric Hosmer the youngest player in the advanced Class A Carolina League in spite of the fact that he hadn't exactly been tearing it up in Class A. Hosmer - the third pick in the '08 draft - is off to a slow start for the Wilmington Blue Rocks, but team officials are confident he'll rise to the challenge and benefit from it in the long run.
Baltimore Orioles fans waited months for the much-hyped arrival of catcher Matt Wieters, and the back end of the rotation's struggles made the wait for right-hander Chris Tillman's debut seem a lot longer than it actually was. Brian Matusz's impending promotion, on the other hand, is an unexpected and much appreciated surprise. O's fans were well aware of the highly touted southpaw's dominance of Double-A hitters, but Andy MacPhail & Co. had stated all along that he would finish up his first full professional season in the minors and then be sent home. Instead, all indications are that Matusz will start in place of the injured Brad Bergesen on Tuesday night in Detroit.
The Baltimore Orioles' youth movement continued in July as 21-year-old right-hander Chris Tillman joined rookies Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Brad Bergesen, David Hernandez and Jason Berken on the big league roster. Down on the farm, lefty Brian Matusz continued to overwhelm Eastern League hitters and Brandon Erbe returned to the Bowie rotation after completing his rehabilitation from shoulder fatigue. The trade of closer George Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers brought two more promising young players into the fold in third baseman Josh Bell and righty Steven Johnson, son of broadcaster and former O's pitcher Dave Johnson.
No minor league pitcher in recent memory has overwhelmed the competition quite like Madison Bumgarner. After selecting Bumgarner with the 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft out of a small North Carolina high school, San Francisco Giants officials simply hoped he would hold his own, learn and make progress last year in his pro debut; instead, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound southpaw went 15-3 with a 1.46 ERA and 164-to-21 K-to-walk ratio in leading the Augusta GreenJackets to the Class A South Atlantic League title. In his encore performance, Bumgarner - who turns 20 on Aug. 1 - has continued his rapid climb up the Giants' organizational ladder while staking his claim as the top pitching prospect in baseball.
The Baltimore Orioles did everything they could to exercise extreme patience with top prospect Chris Tillman. They resisted the urge to promote him last year despite his 11-4 record, 3.18 ERA and 10.22 strikeouts per nine innings in Double-A. They declined to turn to the 21-year-old righty earlier this season even after he got off to a 5-0 start in Triple-A while the big league rotation scuffled, and held firm in recent weeks as Orioles fans clamored for a call-up. The wait - which seemed a lot longer than it actually was, thanks in part to Rich Hill and Jason Berken - is over.
Matt Moore used his low- to mid-90s fastball and sharp, late-breaking curve to earn Gatorade New Mexico Player of the Year honors as a senior at Moriarty High School but still managed to slide all the way to the eighth round of the 2007 draft. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound southpaw posted a 2.66 ERA and fanned 29 in 20 innings for the Rookie-level Princeton Rays in his pro debut that summer but somehow failed to crack Baseball America's list of the Tampa Bay Rays' top 30 prospects. A dominant 2008 season ended Moore's days of flying under the radar, however, and a great first couple months in 2009 has solidified his top prospect status.
The Boston Red Sox thought they had a steal on their hands when they snagged University of Washington left-hander Nick Hagadone with the 55th pick in the 2007 draft, and the early returns suggested they were right. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder got lit up for five runs in his pro debut that summer for the short-season Class A Lowell Spinners, then settled in and kept his opponents off the board in his final nine appearances. Promoted to the Class A Greenville Drive to begin the 2008 season, Hagadone opened the year with 10 more scoreless frames. But in his third start he blew out his elbow, necessitating Tommy John surgery and ending his season.
There's a lot of blame to be spread around for the Washington Nationals' 26-61 first-half showing, and the team's relief pitchers certainly deserve a good chunk of it. The Nats rank dead last in Major League Baseball in bullpen ERA (5.71) and their relievers have combined to blow more than half the save opportunities their young rotation has provided (a big league-worst 18 of 32). Given that backdrop, it comes as no surprise that the club used its second first-round pick in the 2009 draft, No. 10 overall, to select college baseball's top reliever, Drew Storen of Stanford.
Three of the Baltimore Orioles' elite prospects moved a step closer to the big leagues in June as right-hander Jake Arrieta and first baseman Brandon Snyder were promoted to Triple-A Norfolk and lefty Brian Matusz joined Double-A Bowie. Meanwhile, righty Brandon Erbe - who missed about two months with shoulder fatigue - began a rehab assignment with short-season Class A Aberdeen, and right-handed pitcher Matt Hobgood, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2009 draft, agreed to a deal that included a $2.42 million bonus and was assigned to Rookie-level Bluefield.
Fan voting, the requirement that every team gets a representative and the fact that some positions are stacked and some are weak always ensures that the 32 best players in each league aren't the same ones that end up on their respective All-Star rosters. If it were up to me, the following players would be representing the Junior and Senior circuits at this year's Midsummer Classic, to be held July 14 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
It appears that the Tommy John surgery that limited Philadelphia Phillies prospect Kyle Drabek to just 18 total starts in 2007 and 2008 will prove to be nothing more than minor speedbump on his road to the big leagues. Drabek - the son of 1990 National League Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek - quickly rediscovered his pre-surgery stuff after returning to action last summer and has been nothing short of dominant so far in 2009. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander forced his way to Double-A by going 4-1 with 2.48 ERA and 74 K's in 61 2/3 advanced Class A innings and is 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in four starts since his promotion.
It's supposed to get harder to put up numbers as you move up the minor league ladder, but somebody apparently forgot to tell Baltimore Orioles prospect Brandon Snyder. After struggling with injuries in his first full pro season in 2006, Snyder hit .283 with 11 homers and 58 RBI in Class A in 2007. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound first baseman followed that up by finishing second in the advanced Class A Carolina League in average (.315) last season. It took only 58 games for the Orioles to realize that Double-A Eastern League pitchers were no match for Snyder. The 22-year-old was promoted to the Norfolk Tides on Thursday after hitting .343 with 10 homers and 45 RBI for the Bowie Baysox, and he'll make his Triple-A debut Friday night.
The defending World Champion Phillies lead the National League in runs, home runs, RBI, slugging percentage and total bases, so it almost seems unfair that Michael Taylor appears nearly ready to join their already stacked lineup. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound outfielder hit .346 with 19 home runs while splitting time between Class A and advanced Class A in 2008 and has continued mashing this season for Double-A Reading. The 23-year-old ranks in the Eastern League's top seven in all three Triple Crown categories with a .333 average (fifth), 10 home runs (fifth) and 42 RBI (seventh). The linebacker-sized slugger also ranks eighth in the circuit with 10 stolen bases in 14 attempts.
Kansas City Royals top prospect Mike Moustakas is off to a so-so start this season for the advanced Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks, but if recent history is any indication, he's primed for big things in the second half. The 2007 No. 2 overall pick hit just .228 with nine home runs in the first half last year for the Class A Burlington Bees, then heated up along with the weather. By season's end the 6-foot, 195-pound third baseman had raised his average to .272 to go along with a Midwest League-best 22 homers.