Royals' Montgomery dominates season's first Sheet
The sun's out, baseball's back and the temperatures over much of the country have started to edge up towards the 70s. But if you're looking for a sure sign that spring is here, here it is—the first Prospect Hot Sheet of the season.
You may noticed that the Hot Sheet looks a little different this year. The content is the same, but we've partnered with Topps Baseball to present this year's Hot Sheet, so in addition to getting the skinny on which prospects are doing the most to help their stock, you can also get a glimpse at the baseball cards of some of baseball's best prospects.
As we have warned for years now, remember that this is not a re-ranking of the Top 100 Prospects. This is a snapshot of which top prospects are excelling and which ones are struggling right now. For this first Hot Sheet, stats cover from Opening Day (April 8) until last night (April 15).
No. 1 MIKE MONTGOMERY, LHP ROYALS
Team: high Class A Wilmington (Carolina)
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.75, 12 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 19 SO.
The Scoop: If he just had the fastball, Mike Mongtomery would be one of the best pitching prospects in the Royals' system.
There aren't a lot of 20-year-old lefties who can throw a lively fastball that sits at 92-93 mph and then run it up to 95 when they need it. There are even fewer who can control the pitch. But if you are looking for the biggest explanation why Montgomery's 1-0, 0.75 with an .098 opponent average this year, it's the development of his secondary stuff.
Montgomery has started to perfect the traditional downer curveball that was a work in progress last year. He's also become quite comfortable throwing his changeup early or late in the count. When all three pitches are working like they were in his most recent start, high Class A hitters might as well bring a Wiffle Ball bat to the plate.
In his most recent outing, Montgomery struck out five Kinston hitters on fastballs. Another five sat down after flailing at his curveball. Three were erased by his changeup. With the ability to throw all three pitches, Montgomery came very close to leaving with a perfect game. His first start against Myrtle Beach wasn't much worse (5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K).
Montgomery has already dominated the Carolina League in nine late-season starts last year. It's hard to believe he'll be around Wilmington for much longer considering the way he's pitching now. Kansas City can try to challenge him by promoting him to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, but Montgomery really hasn't yet been challenged by any assignment. In his career he's now 9-4, 1.96, having allowed just three home runs in 32 career starts.
No. 2 CARLOS SANTANA, C INDIANS
Carlos SantanaTeam: Triple-A Columbus (International)
Why He's Here: .423/.516/.962 (11-for-26), 2 2B, 4 HR, 8 RBIs, 8 R, 5 BB, 2 SO, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: Santana opened the season with a birthday bash, clubbing two home runs on Opening Day, also the day he turned 24. Since then, he's clubbed two more balls over the fence. Santana had surgery on a broken hamate bone his right hand, but it looks safe to say that the power is back. Santana is simply a dynamic force of controlled aggression at the plate, showing excellent plate discipline while taking a vicious hack when he does swing. And with just two strikeouts, he hasn't missed much when he has let the bat fly.
No. 3 MIKE STANTON, RF MARLINS
Mike StantonTeam: Double-A Jacksonville (Southern)
Why He's Here: .348/.545/.652 (8-for-23), 1 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBIs, 10 BB, 7 SO
The Scoop: There's only so many times we can gush about Stanton's 80 power on the 20-80 scouting scale. He'll probably hit 30 home runs or more this year, but he also has been getting on base at a high clip. Stanton's monster power has always come with the tradeoff of a high strikeout rate, but he's shown solid patience in his career. With the strides he's made at the plate, Stanton has been getting pitched around plenty, which is why he's tied for the minor league lead in walks.
No. 4 BRAD MILLS, LHP BLUE JAYS
Brad MillsTeam: Triple-A Las Vegas (Pacific Coast)
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.79, 11 1/3 IP, 9 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 18 SO
The Scoop: Life has been good lately for Blue Jays lefties. Ricky Romero nearly threw a no-hitter earlier in the week for Toronto, while Double-A New Hampshire's Luis Perez has been nearly unhittable as well (see below). Mills doesn't have plus velocity, but he's been able to get hitters out by locating and mixing his pitches, including a 70 changeup on the 20-80 scale and a sharp curveball.
No. 5 ANDREW CASHNER, RHP CUBS
Andrew CashnerTeam: Double-A Tennessee (Southern)
Why He's Here: 1-0, 4.35, 10 1/3 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 20 SO
The Scoop: Not long ago, Jeff Samardzija was a Cubs' pitching prospect with a power arm and a low strikeout rate. Cashner fit that description last year, when he struck out just 6.7 batters per nine innings between high Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. Well, the stats are starting to match the stuff. Now we'll wait to see if he can keep it up all season.
No. 6 AROLDIS CHAPMAN, LHP REDS
Aroldis ChapmanTeam: Triple-A Louisville (International)
Why He's Here: 0-0, 0.00, 4 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 SO
The Scoop: We knew he could throw hard. We knew he had as much upside as any lefthanded pitching prospect in the game. We knew he was a potential No. 1 starter in the future. What we didn't know was how good Chapman was right now, as he showed in his first minor league start by dominating Triple-A Toledo. Chapman hit triple digits with his fastball, but Reds' brass has to be just as impressed that he only walked one batter. He'll still have to refine his command, but it shouldn't be long before Chapman takes his prodigious arm to Cincinnati.
No. 7 JACOB TURNER, RHP TIGERS
Jacob TurnerTeam: low Class A West Michigan (Midwest)
Why He's Here: 0-0, 1.00, 9 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 11 SO
The Scoop: Not a bad way to start your career. Turner has come as advertised since the Tigers drafted him ninth overall a year ago and gave him a cool $4.7 million bonus as part of his major league contract. Turner showed why he's the organization's top prospects in his two starts, showing not just power stuff but advanced control for his age, as he's still yet to walk a professional hitter.
No. 8 TRAVIS D'ARNAUD, C BLUE JAYS
Travis D'ArnaudTeam: high Class A Dunedin (Florida State)
Why He's Here: .400/.406/.667 (12-for-30), 2 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBIs, 1 BB, 3 SO, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: When you're involved in a series of trades involving Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Brett Wallace, it's easy to get overlooked. Maybe that's the case with d'Arnaud, the former Phillies farmhand who went to the Blue Jays in the Halladay trade. His quick bat and hand-eye coordination make him difficult to strike out, and he's flashed power with two home run in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. With J.P. Arencibia's struggles in Triple-A, d'Arnaud is looking more and more like Toronto's catcher of the future.
No. 9 ETHAN MARTIN, RHP DODGERS
Jeremy HellicksonTeam: high Class A Inland Empire (California)
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.00, 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 SO
The Scoop: Coming off a strong first full professional season in low Class A in which he struck out 120 hitters in 100 innings, Martin has taken his mid-90s fastball with him to the more challenging environs of the high Class A California League. No problem. Making his debut on the road against Rancho Cucamonga on April 10, he overpowered the Quakes for five innings. Martin let the Rancho load the bases in the first inning, then allowed only one more baserunner the rest of the night and struck out the side twice.
No. 10 LOGAN MORRISON, 1B MARLINS
Luis PerezTeam: Triple-A New Orleans (Pacific Coast)
Why He's Here: .400/.483/.800 (10-for-25), 2 HR, 2 2B, 1 3B, 9 RBIs, 4 R, 4 BB, 2 SO
The Scoop: Maybe it was a case of an elite prospect hitting his early-season stride. Or maybe it was a case of Albuquerque. But whatever the reason, Morrison's bat came alive during a just-completed four-game series at Isotopes Park, one of the friendliest venues around for those wielding bats. In those four games at Albuquerque, Morrison went 6-for-11 with all five of those extra-base hits you see above. At home in pitcher-friendly Zephyr Field, he began the season by going 4-for-14 with four singles. Home or road, Morrison has shown a strong walk-to-strikeout ratio—and, hey, driving in nine runs in eight games is nothing to sneeze at.
No. 11 JUSTIN SMOAK, 1B RANGERS
Justin SmoakTeam: Triple-A Oklahoma (Pacific Coast)
Why He's Here: .333/.500/.630 (9-for-27), 2 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBIs, 9 BB, 3 SO
The Scoop: There's not much more you can ask for from a first base prospect. Smoak is a patient hitter (he's tied for third in the minors in walks) who makes frequent contact and hits for power from both sides of the plate. In the field, his glovework is smooth and he moves well around the bag. For a first base prospect, Smoak is about as well-rounded as they come.
No. 12 NICK FRANKLIN, SS MARINERS
Nick FranklinTeam: low Class A Clinton (Midwest)
Why He's Here: .333/.371/.697 (11-for-33), 2 HR, 2 2B, 2 3B, 5 RBIs, 5 R, 2 BB, 6 SO, 1-for-1 SB
The Scoop: Teenagers aren't supposed to get off to fast starts in the cold Midwest League climates, especially not those teenagers from warmer, Southern regions. But Franklin, the 27th overall pick last June from Altamonte Springs, Fla., did not take heed. The switch-hitter homered from both sides of the plate in an April 10 contest, and he's racked up three multi-hit games overall in a week-plus of games. And because of the presence of slick-fielding Gabriel Noriega on the LumberKings' roster, Franklin has gotten the opportunity to learn to play second base as well. That's just as well. The Mariners prefer to give their prospects exposure to as many positions as possible while they're in the minors.
No. 13 LUIS PEREZ, LHP BLUE JAYS
Luis PerezTeam: Double-A New Hampshire (Eastern)
Why He's Here: 1-0, 0.00, 10 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 SO
The Scoop: Sure, he's repeating Double-A, but Perez has thrown 10 innings of one-hit ball to start the season. Perez doesn't have the otherworldly strikeouts of some of the other pitchers on the Hot Sheet, but he gets his fastball up to 93-94 mph with heavy sink to keep the ball on the ground. He might fit in best as a reliever in the Blue Jays' bullpen down the road, but if he can continue to befuddle hitters he might get a chance as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
IN THE TEAM PHOTO
While he waits for an opening in the Rays' big league rotation, Triple-A Durham RHP Jeremy Hellickson has continued chewing up International League hitters. In two starts against Norfolk and Gwinett, the 23-year-old threw 11 1/3 innings and gave up just three runs (two earned) on eight hits with a 13-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio . . . Anthony Hewitt's bat is showing signs of life for the first time since the Phillies took the toolsy outfielder with the 24th overall pick in the 2008 draft. A career .214/.255/.363 hitter through two seasons of short-season ball, Hewitt is off to a .423/.500/.731 start through 26 at-bats for low Class A Lakewood. He's added two doubles and two homers to go with eight RBIs. His pitch recognition still isn't perfect, as he's struck out eight times, but his first week in full-season ball couldn't have been more encouraging ... High Class A Wilmington first baseman Eric Hosmer (Royals) was a frequent member of the Not Hot club during the second half of the 2009 season. But now that he's got his vision fixed (Lasik surgery late last season corrected an astigmatism) and a knuckle injury has healed, he's back to hitting as expected. Hosmer, 20, has had at least one hit in every game this season, including a pair of triples at Myrtle Beach. Maybe the most impressive part of a strong first week (.423/.400/.615) is his .400 (4-for-10) average against lefties which have included games against Kelvin de la Cruz and Nick Hagadone . . . You can wonder where the 5-foot-9 Caleb Gindl (Brewers) will play in the big leagues, but don't question his ability to hit. The 21-year-old Double-A Huntsville outfielder hit .333/.412/.633 this week with five extra base hits. That's not a big surprise when you remember that has has a .309 career average and an on-base percentage near .400 . . . Just wait until Christian Bethancourt gets stronger. The Braves' 18-year-old Panamanian catcher with low Class A Rome, Bethancourt already has a good feel for hitting. He's shown that thus far by striking out only one time in his first 22 plate appearances, posting a .455/.435/.591 line in the process . . . When Indians LFNick Weglarz is healthy, he's a dangerous hitter. After recovering from offseason surgery on a left shin that hampered him in the second half last year, Weglarz is off to a .321/.472/.679 start with three home runs in eight games for Double-A Akron . . . Opponents already have swiped three bases in three attempts against low Class A Cedar Rapids RHP Fabio Martinez (Angels), but his time to the plate is about the only thing slow about him. Expect to hear a lot more from the 20-year-old Dominican in the months to come. In Rookie ball last year, Martinez fanned 13.57 batters per nine innings with his mid- to high-90s heater and vicious slider. In a pair of five-inning starts this season, he has struck out 15, walked five and allowed only one run (0.90 ERA) on nine hits.
NOT SO HOT SHEET
• Madison Bumgarner, lhp, Giants: Every player eventually has to learn how to deal with failure, but until now Bumgarner has never come close to experiencing what it's like to get roughed up on the mound. He's getting a crash course in dealing with a slump. Coming into the year, the 20-year-old lefty had never had an ERA above 2.00 in any of his four pro stops, including a 1.80 ERA with the Giants last September. But Bumgarner's dimished velocity in spring training (he's sitting in the mid- to high-80s with his fastball) caused some concerns. Those concerns have reached a crisis level after his first two starts at Triple-A Fresno. Bumgarner had allowed double-digit hits in each of his first two starts and is now 0-1, 14.14 with 21 hits allowed in seven innings. He's given up 11 runs in his first two starts after giving up 29 all last year. Bumgarner has always pitched off his fastball with less than stellar off-speed stuff, but now the fastball doesn't appear to be enough to get hitters out.
• Aaron Hicks, of, Twins: It was surprising to see the Twins send Hicks, their 2008 first-round pick, back to low Class A to start the year. Maybe the bigger surprise is how bad Hicks' start has been. He's 1-for-25 with five walks (one intentional) and 10 strikeouts, and despite being on base so few times, he's still managed to get caught stealing twice.
• Zach Wheeler, rhp, Giants: In his pro debut for low Class A Augusta, Wheeler came out firing 92-95 mph fastballs. The problem was that few of those fastballs passed through the strike zone. Wheeler couldn't make it out of the first inning, recording just one out before leaving the game having allowed three runs. It wasn't so much that Greensboro was squaring up Wheeler's stuff—he allowed only one hit—but Wheeler walked three batters, constantly missing up and to his arm side with his fastball. He flashed a solid curveball with good depth, but he was behind in so many counts that he wasn't able to use it much or throw his changeup at all.
• Phillippe Aumont, rhp, Phillies: The Mariners put Aumont in the bullpen, but the Phillies have moved him back in to the rotation for Double-A Reading. So far, not so good. Eastern League hitters have tagged Aumont for seven runs in 10 2/3 innings, with Aumont recording more walks (7) than strikeouts (5). Given his medical track record, his less-than-fluid delivery and difficulties throwing strikes, it's hard to project Aumont to stick in a starting role.
MAN AMONG BOYS
• Kila Ka'aihue, 1b, Royals: At this point, Ka'aihue knows the best place to eat after a game in Omaha. He knows the quickest route to the ballpark, and he's used to the lengthy mid-summer road trip that coincides with the College World Series' arrival in Omaha. He enters his third season with the club. The 26-year-old first baseman's approach remains the same—take a lot of walks, slug some home runs and hope that it eventually pays off with a spot in Kansas City. A .231/.412/.615 first week of the season is par for the course. Ka'aihue now has 31 home runs since joining the O-Royals in 2008. He likely never will hit for average, and he's not much defensively, so Jose Guillen's hot start as the Royals' DH pretty much assures Ka'aihue of a longer stay in Omaha. But hey, at least it's a home away from home.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Minor league veteran Mike Hessman seems as if he's contractually obligated to appear at least once per season in our Blast From The Past section. And why not? The man takes pride in his defense at third base—at the age of 32, when most sluggers like him have retired to first base/DH roles—and he keeps bashing home runs. Those two traits have kept him employed for 15 seasons, the past nine at the Triple-A level. Now playing for Buffalo after extended stays with Toledo and Richmond, Hessman has clubbed four home runs in his first seven games of this season. His career total in the minors has swelled to 315, which leads all active players by a healthy margin. Bonus points to Hessman for hitting every single one of his Triple-A round-trippers in the International League, where cheap home runs are scarcer than in the Pacific Coast League.
"This guy is our new (Kyle) Blanks," a Padres official told us last fall. "He has unreal raw power." The season may be young, but hulking first baseman Nate Freiman is off to a torrid 13-for-31 (.419) start for low Class A Fort Wayne. With two home runs and three doubles, he leads all Midwest Leaguers with a .710 slugging percentage. All Freiman did in his pro debut last year was lead the short-season Northwest League in extra-base hits, total bases and RBIs—and for good measure he paced all NWL first basemen in fielding percentage, assists and double plays. The Padres rave about Freiman's strength and work ethic, lodging their only complaint about the stiffness in the 6-foot-7 righthanded batter's swing. He ought to have plenty of time to work through his swing mechanics as he works his way up an organizational depth chart that also includes, from bottom to top, Allan Dykstra, Matt Clark and Craig Cooper. But Freiman's no spring chicken. He's already 23 years old by virtue of being an eighth-round, senior pick from Duke last year.
What's more impressive: Righthander Joe Gardner's 18 strikeouts in nine innings, or that all of the other nine outs he's recorded have been ground balls? Low Class A Lake County is looking like a conservative assignment for Gardner, the Indians' 2009 third-rounder out of UC Santa Barbara. As you might have already guessed, Gardner's best pitch is his fastball, which sits in the low-90s with heavy sink. If he keeps dominating the South Atlantic League this way, it shouldn't be long before he's promoted to high Class A Kinston, as if that club needs any more pitching with Nick Hagadone, Alex White, T.J. House and Kelvin de la Cruz already the rotation.
BaseballAmerica.com: Prospects: Prospect Hot Sheet: Prospect Hot Sheet: April 16