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Eight Prospects to Watch

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Most people who follow baseball closely have heard of the next group of top prospects. Such names as Travis Snider, Matt LaPorta, and Jason Heyward will be atop many prospect lists for next season. Here I present eight lesser-known prospects who have had excellent seasons and could be primed to make an impact in 2009.

 

Here are seven prospects to keep an eye on for 2009. These guys are not the top-tier of prospects and didn’t enter the season on many top-100 prospect lists, but have all compiled very nice seasons and could make an impact in the majors as soon as next year.

David Hernandez, pitcher, Baltimore Orioles. Hernandez leads the Eastern League in strikeouts and is only 23 years old; that combination by itself makes him a pretty good prospect. This season, in 114 innings, Hernandez has compiled a 137/56 K/BB ratio. The amount of walks is high but not terribly alarming, especially given the high number of strikeouts. Hernandez has surrendered only ten homers but is a fly ball pitcher – 50% of his balls in play have been fly balls, compared with 35% grounders. Because Hernandez will likely struggle with the long ball throughout his career, he needs to improve his walk rate going forward.

Brett Cecil, pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays. Cecil was a closer in college, but after the Blue Jays drafted him with the 38th pick in the 2007 draft, they put Cecil into the rotation, and he has transitioned seamlessly. Cecil threw 49 innings in the New York-Penn league last year, allowing only one homer and compiling a 56/11 K/BB ratio. This year, he began the season in double-A and dominated: in 77 innings, Cecil struck out 83 while walking only 23 and allowing only four homers. He has since been promoted to triple-A, where he has struggled in two starts. However, in addition to his excellent K/IP and K/BB ratio, Cecil is an extreme ground ball pitcher: 62% of his balls in play have been grounders this season. Lots of strikeouts, few walks, and tons of grounders is a recipe for success.

Angel Salome, catcher, Milwaukee Brewers. Salome plays on a Huntsville Stars team that is loaded with…well, stars. Even after the recent trade of Matt LaPorta, Salome is still overshadowed by such prospects as Mat Gamel, Alcides Escobar, Cole Gillespie, Michael Brantley (and, of course, the recently-signed Jay Gibbons). Salome’s eye-popping batting line of .339/.394/.521 is partly fueled by an unsustainably high BABIP of .388. He also hits twice as many ground balls as fly balls, which limits his power. However, Salome is 22 years old and has a chance to stick behind the plate, making him a solid prospect – and is particularly valuable in an organization currently relying on Jason Kendall behind the plate.

Adam Moore, catcher, Seattle Mariners. Although he is 24 years old, Moore receives very high praise for his defensive ability behind the plate and has had an excellent season offensively in double-A, posting a line of .316/.390/.495 with 11 homers. He’s a bit old and his .360 BABIP is rather high, but Moore is a rare catcher who combines above-average defense with a solid bat, and thus could prove to be very valuable.

Kris Medlen, pitcher, Atlanta Braves. Listed at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, Medlen is hardly a scout’s dream. He began his career as a reliever, but the Braves transitioned him into the starting rotation this season, and Medlen has been very successful. As a starter this year in double-A, Medlen has posted a 64/15 K/BB ratio in 68 innings, while allowing only three homers. Medlen has a solid ground ball ratio as well, having gotten 45% of his balls in play to be put on the ground, and only 28% in the air. Furthermore, Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein notes that Medlen’s fastball sits at 89-92 MPH and touches 94, suggesting that he is not a smoke and mirrors act. Medlen is for real.

Kila Kaaihue, first baseman, Kansas City Royals. Should Kaaihue make it to the big leagues, he could very well develop a nickname such as the Hulkin Hawaiin. Six-foot-three and 230 pounds, Kaaihue is an imposing figure at the plate, and has had an excellent season. He’s played most of the season in double-A, amassing a .314/.463/.624 line and blasting 26 homers. Perhaps even more impressively, Kaaihue walked 80 times while striking out only 41. On the downside, Kaaihue is already 24 years old and is limited to first base; furthermore, although his numbers were solid last year (and he walked more than he struck out), Kaaihue had never topped a .500 slugging percentage before this year. It remains to be seen whether the power surge is for real.

 

Vincent Mazzaro, pitcher, Oakland Athletics. Mazzaro has been overshadowed by the tremendous amount of pitching talent in the Athletics organization, such as Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Henry Rodriguez. However, Mazzaro has had an excellent season. In 144 innings in double-A, Mazzaro has struck out only 104, but he has also walked only 36 and given up three (!) homers. While his home run rate is due to rise, Mazzaro is a ground ball pitcher, having induced twice as many grounders as fly balls this year. Although he may not have the velocity of Rodriguez or the ceiling of Cahill or Anderson, Mazzaro’s ability to limit walks and induce grounders suggests that he could be a very useful middle-of-the-rotation starter.

David Huff, pitcher, Cleveland Indians. Drafted 39th overall in 2006, Huff has experienced nothing but success at every stop in the Indians organization. This season, Huff has split time between double-A and triple-A and has dominated: in 128 cumulative innings, Huff has compiled a nifty 121/23 K/BB ratio, allowing ten homers and inducing ground balls on 50% of his balls in play. Huff throws in the low 90s and possesses an excellent changeup, which allows him to get righties out as well as lefties. Huff will almost certainly be in the running for a rotation spot with the Indians in 2009.