With 1 week of minor league baseball complete so far, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the top performers thus far. Despite short DL stints by Gary Sanchez, Dellin Betances, and Manny Banuelos, there are still some exciting performances to track.
Jesus Montero (Scranton): After a disappointing spring training, in which his prospect stock dropped in the eyes of the impatient media, Jesus has come out absolutely raking so far in 2011. In his first 6 games, Montero is batting .448/.448/.655 with 3 doubles, a home run, and 4 strikeouts. He has not walked yet, but it is too early to be concerned about Montero’s plate discipline, as his track record in that department is pretty solid. When is a guy is as locked in as Montero is and hitting everything, you don’t really worry about walks, and the strikeout rate is not problematic. As for his defense, it’s hard to tell much from the small sample. Montero has thrown out just 1 of 7 attempted basestealers, but also has not allowed a passed ball. More or less, it looks like Montero is continuing where he left off at the end of the 2010 season. If he keeps this up, it will be tough to keep him down.
Jorge Vazquez (Scranton): Unlike his teammate Jesus Montero, Vazquez did have a strong spring training, and has continued his hot streak into the beginning of the AAA season. The 29 year-old 1b from Mexico is putting up a .344/.333/.813 line through 7 games, with 9 strikeouts and no walks. Vazquez leads the minors with 5 home runs so far, though his strikeout rate remains a potential cause for concern. Like Montero, it’s still a little early to worry about strikeouts and walks, but they should definitely be followed once Vazquez cools down a little. He will likely never be more than a bench player for the Yankees, but with an injury to Eric Chavez, Vazquez could see big league time as a backup 1b/bench bat. He’s too old to be a prospect, but could still be a useful major leaguer if given the chance.
Slade Heathcott (Charleston): EJ discussed Heathcott’s hot start earlier, but the 20 year-old centerfielder has continued to impress. Through 7 games, Heathcott has batted .382/.371/.842 with 5 doubles, 2 triples, and 2 home runs. While the extra-base hits are an excellent sign, 12 strikeouts in 9 games and no walks are not exactly what you would want to be seeing in terms of patience. However, Slade showed pretty good patience in 2010, so this could be a similar case to Montero of simply feeling dialed in at the plate. I would be interested to see if he has made changes in his approach/swing in an attempt to hit for more power, and perhaps this change is causing him to strike out more. Heathcott has also not stolen a base yet, but considering he has only singled 4 times, it is not to worrisome.
JR Murphy (Charleston): Like his teammate Slade Heathcott, Murphy has opened his 2011 season with a power surge. Through 7 games, Murphy is hitting .310/.323/.655 with 3 homers (he hit 7 in all of 2010) and a double. Murphy has also walked and struck out just one time apiece, indicating that his contact ability is looking pretty strong. Defensively, Murphy has played at 3rd base and at catcher, and has looked pretty solid so far in the early going. Behind the plate, Murphy has thrown out 2 of 5 attempted basestealers, and he handled both chances at 3rd base with success. Murphy’s versatility will certainly increase his potential value, though he can only really be a top-tier prospect with his bat if he sticks behind the plate.
Ramon Flores (Charleston): My favorite sleeper prospect for 2011, Flores has done well so far to justify my prediction. In 7 games, Flores has batted .407/.515/.556 with a double, a home run, 5 walks, and 3 strikeouts. While I love the overall production, the plate discipline is particularly noteworthy, continuing a trend from 2010 when he walked more than he struck out in rookie ball. He has played right field primarily, along with some first base and DH’ing (due to the roster crunch outlined by EJ). If Flores can continue to perform this way while maintaining this level of discipline, his prospect status should jump.
Sean Black (Tampa): The lone pitcher on this list, the 7th-round pick from 2009 is looking pretty strong so far in Tampa. Black has started twice, giving up 3 runs on 11 hits and 3 walks in 11 1/3 innings, with 9 strikeouts. Black doesn’t really have top of the rotation ability, but a strong stint in Tampa could lead him to be considered as a potential back-end starter prospect in a few years, or, more likely, a useful trade chip.
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