This is an exciting time for prospect hounds because a lot of minor league studs start getting the call at this time of year. The studs have had enough time to put up serious numbers, and big league clubs have had enough time to seriously stink up the standings or suffer serious injuries that require major help from major young'uns.
The Brew Crew just called up Ryan Braun, and their top prospect, RHP Yovani Gallardo, could be up at any second because the big league club is in semi-freefall. But let's go away from the Brewers this week. Let's take a second look at a pitcher who has leapfrogged Matt Garza at Triple-A Rochester and appears in line to come up ASAP and get a slot in the Twins' starting rotation
THIS WEEK'S RECOMMENDED PICKUP
Kevin Slowey, RHP, Twins. I only wrote about Slowey a couple of weeks ago, but word is he'll be brought up soon to start for Minnesota. His stat line looks stoopit: He's 6-2 with an International League-leading 1.54 ERA in 64.1 innings. He has allowed 47 hits (three homers) and has a brilliant 57-5 K/BB ratio that yields an IL-leading WHIP of 0.81. He's the new Maddux, methinks. His fastball isn't superb, but it has good movement, and he has 80 command (on the scouts' 20-80 scale) of the pitch. He also changes speeds brilliantly. He might need some time to get his feet wet (he's a fly ball pitcher), but in keeper leagues, he might turn into the ace of aces in a year or three.
DEEP LEAGUE GRABS?
Felix Pie, OF, Cubs. Pie came up to the Cubs earlier this season, made an early splash, then was sent down when his big league numbers became more pedestrian. All he has done in the minors this season is bat .406-.467-.604. Pie (Pee-yay) has a sharp 16-13 K/BB ratio and four doubles, four triples and three homers in 104 at-bats. In addition, his 1.070 OPS would be second in the Pacific Coast League if he had enough at-bats to qualify. He has good speed, but he must improve his judgment on the bases -- he is 5-for-8 as a thief. Pie's offensive game has come a tremendous distance this season, and he has the look of a force in the making. He could make a significant second-half impact in deep leagues.
Homer Bailey, RHP, Reds. Homer has been in the news a lot because he came into this season as one of the five best pitching prospects in baseball. His fastball is regularly in the mid-90s (peaking at 98), he has a hammer curve, and a solid change of pace. Some prognosticators have been saying he'll come up at any moment. Unfortunately, he lacks Slowey's polish, and I think he'll have to improve his command dramatically before he gets a shot. Bailey is second in the IL in ERA with a 1.89 mark, and he has an excellent 1.01 WHIP. Bailey has allowed 32 hits in 52.1 innings (only two homers), but his command and power (K/BB ratio of 43-21) is mediocre this season, and he is coming off a short DL stint (groin strain). If Bailey starts whiffing more guys and allowing fewer walks, he might make the Reds' big league rotation. I expect it'll be after the All-Star break, however. GM Wayne Krivsky is on record as saying he will be conservative with Bailey. I'm not a Krivsky fan -- the guy would trade Ted Williams for a middle reliever -- but I do laud his careful handling of Bailey. The Reds have a horrid track record with young pitchers, and Krivsky is trying to show the Reds can develop pitching on their own. I think Bailey is going to be a great one, but he's only 21, so there's plenty of time for him to develop into a star.
Andy Sonnanstine, RHP, Devil Rays. Sorry, gang, here's another D-Rays prospect. Wait until a week or two from now, when I discuss Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac, the left side of the infield for the D-Rays' Double-A Montgomery Biscuits. Mmmmm, Southern League Biscuits. Sonnanstine, 24, is similar to Slowey. Sonny gets more strikeouts but isn't quite as good. Still, Sonny could be around for a long time despite a middling fastball-breaking ball combo. That's because he's a command-first guy with a fine ability to change speeds (really nice changeup). Currently, he is 6-3 with a 2.35 ERA in the IL. In 65 innings, he has allowed 50 hits (six homers) with a 65-13 K/BB ratio. If some of the Rays' top-tier guys don't pan out, Sonnanstine could be a fine No. 3 fantasy starter who'll be a fantasy ace in his best years. Expect him to get a shot in the rotation rather soon.
AROUND THE HIGH MINORS
Wladimir Balentien, OF, Mariners. Coming into this season, Balentien, 22, had a 542-200 K/BB ratio. But it has been improving in recent years (it was 140-70 last season), and this season, it's 36-21. That might explain why Balentien, a career .265 hitter before 2007, is batting .332-.398-.563 at Triple-A Tacoma. He has 11 doubles and 11 homers, and a fine 10-for-12 mark as a base stealer. If your league credits defense (as mine does), you'll also note that Balentien is a solid right fielder with a gun (a Texas League-leading 17 assists last season). This guy has an excellent ceiling, and it looks as if he is reaching it as I write this. Keep an eye out for him: He might be up and smoking long balls in the second half.
Josh Whitesell, 1B, Nationals. Whitesell, 25, isn't going to be a star, but he'll likely be a help in NL-only leagues for the next three to five years. He's currently batting .311-.446-.527 at Double-A Harrisburg in the Eastern League, leading the league with a .973 OPS. In 148 at-bats, he has belted 12 doubles, a triple and six homers, and he has a fine 39-32 K/BB ratio and six steals in seven tries. He is currently blocked by Dmitri Young, and (more importantly) Nick Johnson, but Whitesell's a name worth knowing.
Joey Votto, 1B, Reds. Votto is a 23-year-old playing at Triple-A Louisville. He's blocked by Scott Hatteberg. But Votto's a better hitter than Hatteberg right now, and Votto should be a monster by the middle of next season. Votto is currently batting .311-424-.491 with 15 extra-base hits and a 36-31 K/BB ratio and four steals in 167 at-bats. Votto must improve his stolen-base percentage (he has been nailed three times), but that's about it on the weakness front. Votto's power should come on big time in the next few weeks (he's a potential 35-homer guy in the show), and he looks like a future All-Star with the lumber. First is a deep position, but Votto is the real deal.
David Srinivasan writes about statistics and the minors for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.COM. If you have questions or want David to write up a minor leaguer you're interested in, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.