Well, it's the All-Star Break, and that means no major league baseball for the next week. But if you still need a fix, you can always head to the minor leagues and check them out.
A lot of us pay attention to our AAA Salt Lake Bees, but for those of you who don't have the time or inclination to keep track of our other Minor Leaguers, here's a quick trip through our minor league system, and the players whose names you may start hearing more of in the years to come. I'll start in AA, since as I noted, AAA guys get a lot of attention already.
Despite somehow winning their division in the first half of the Texas League season, the Travs don't have a whole lot of talent, which one can tell from the fact that they are currently 5-14 to begin the second half of the season. However, in any rough patch there are still a few gems, whom I will list for you along with my thoughts.
Anthony Ortega - RHSP Born 8/24/85 (22) - Easily the best pitching prospect for this level, Ortega ranks 8th in ERA among Texas League starters at 3.78, 7th in WHIP at 1.29 and 4th in innings pitched at 109. He doesn't strike a lot of people out at 5.86 K/9, but he's young for the league. Basically he's another Nick Green, except without the organization's best change-up.
Rafael Rodriguez - RHRP Born 9/24/84 (23) - Converted to a reliever from a SP, much like Jose Arredondo, he's currently putting up a 2.36 ERA in 24.1 innings with 24Ks and only 5 walks. He is more hittable than Arredondo was last year, but seems better at not walking people. He spent some time up with the Bees earlier and got smoked, but he's also still pretty young.
Chris Pettit - OF Born 8/15/84 (23) - Chris has been injured for most of the season, but I really liked him last year when he blistered his way through Cedar Rapids (1.008 OPS- note: this is really hard to do in Cedar Rapids) then moved up to Rancho Cucamonga and kept right on hitting (.896 OPS). He's only played 14 games in AA this season and didn't start really start hitting until a few days ago when he knocked in 7 RBI (you may have seen this mentioned in 101halo's post). He's got great strike-zone discipline and good defense, as well power, contact, and speed. This is a guy who could potentially be the total package. Look for him to have some better numbers by the end of August.
Also worth a look... The only other players worth mentioning are catcher Ben Johnson, who is really just too old for me to take seriously as a prospect (age 26 in AA), and Hainly Statia, SS, who is 22 and apparently a great defender but hasn't ever hit for beans at any level.
Amalio Diaz - RHSP Born 9/10/86 (21) - Pretty much the same story as Ortega. Not a lot of Ks, but he keeps the walks down, and is young for the league.
Sean O'Sullivan - RHSP Born 9/01/87 (20) - Sean's had a tough year in Rancho but I'm leaving him in for a number of reasons- first he still K's a lot of guys at 6.5 K/9; second, he's showing that good-at-home, really bad-away tendency which suggests that his problem is something mental rather than physical; third, the rest of his career has been awesome, with sub-3 ERA's at Cedar Rapids and in Rookie League; fourth he's really young, and California League is tough on pitchers.
Also worth a look... Trevor Bell (Our #1 pick in 2005, 21 years old) has struggled as a starter, but got changed into a reliever and has started showing some promise. Tommy Mendoza (20 years old) would have more space devoted to him if his K's weren't so low.
Peter Bourjos - OF Born 3/31/87 (21) - Rancho is a launch pad, but Bourjos is still putting up great numbers hitting .326 with an .822 OPS. He doesn't walk much but he's kept the Ks down this year. The most impressive thing about him though is his legs. Bourjos has 43 stolen bases in 71 games, and has only been caught 6 times. Bourjos was also rated by BaseballAmerica.com as the best defensive OF in the system. He hits a lot of doubles and triples which could translate into power later on.
Hank Conger - C Born 1/29/88 (20) - Hank, like Pettit, was injured for the first part of the season, and has struggled a bit since coming back. Right now the switch-hitter is batting .280 with a .754 OPS in 25 games. He's been injured for part of every season since we drafted him, and it remains to be seen whether he can stick around at Catcher.
Also worth a look... Mark Trumbo is having the kind of season you would expect a guy with a lot of power to have in Rancho, with 22 homers and 28 doubles. He's managed to cut down on his strike-outs over the years, but he still doesn't hit for a really high average (.293 at the moment) and he's 22. The biggest question may be his defense, as he's got 16 errors playing first base. Another interesting guy is Anthony Norman, who walks a LOT, and has decent power. He can also run, with 32 SB. Norman's biggest issue is that he's 23, which earns him the Matt Brown award AKA "Why can't you be two years younger?" Another guy who would be on this list if he hadn't been hurt all year is Matt Sweeney.
This Cedar Rapids teams has gone through a lot this year, what with Iowa flooding and their home stadium being under water. Their host city has sustained an estimated $1 billion in damage, and the team has set up a donation charity that you can learn more about at the FutureAngels.com Blog if you're interested. This team features plenty of pitching, but not much hitting.
Jordan Walden - RHSP Born 11/16/87 (20) - Walden is having a great season in Single A at 2.26 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP. According to BaseballAmerica.com he's got the organization's best fastball, and currently he's considered the next best thing to Nick Adenhart in the Angels system.
Trevor Reckling - LHSP Born 5/22/89 (19) - Trevor is the unheralded member of Cedar Rapids All-Star pitching duo, but he is practically matching Walden in production with a 2.36 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP, and practically the same K-Rate. Reckling walks a few more guys than Walden, but surprisingly he also pitches more innings per start despite being a year and a half younger.
Also worth a look... Eddie McKeirnon is a 19 year old reliever with nearly a strikeout per inning. Robert Fish is a 20 year old starter who also nearly gets a strikeout per inning. Mason Tobin is 20 year old starter who doesn't strike people out but keeps the ERA down anyway (also injured).
There's really not much here so I'm just going to summarize it. Tyler Johnson (OF) has ok power and walks a little but K's too often and is 22. Jeremy Moore (LF) is a year younger but otherwise pretty much the same. Julio Perez (OF) at 22 makes lots of contact and hits for power, but doesn't walk or hit for average. Apparently he also has a cannon-arm. Clay Fuller (CF) is 21, and is fast with 27 steals. He walks plenty but his BA is still middling and he K's a ton. Fuller may be your best bet to become something interesting out of this group.
Rookie ball! The obvious caveat with all these guys is that Rookie ball is Rookie ball, and that almost always means 4 years from the majors, at least. Also guys can occasionally come here out of college and totally dominate. Last thing is that we're only 25 games in, so small sample size applies, but there are still a number of interesting guys already.
The other cool thing about Orem is that they are coached by Tom Kotchman and they basically win every season no matter who happens to be on the team because of that. This year's team is especially good though, at 19-6 they are dominating the Pioneer League .
Jayson Miller - LHSP Born 11/24/85 (22) - This guy should probably move up a level. Maybe two. In 5 games he has totally dominated Rookie ball with a 0.34 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP in 26 innings, with 24 Ks and 3 BBs. Just like when you win 101-0 in Maddon, it's time to up the difficulty.
William Smith - LHSP Born 7/10/89 (19) - Besides having a potentially awesome name, Smith just turned 19 and has been very good, with a 2.70 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 23 innings with 25 Ks and 3 BBs. Unlike Miller, Smith is dominating despite being at the young end of the league.
Also worth a look... No other real standouts, but there's a lot of potential on this club, they all strike out a ton of people. Young-Il Jung, our much bally-hooed Korean prospect, might appear here if not for being injured this season.
Angel Castillo - OF Born 6/07/90 (19) - This guy has really good power for his age (tied for Pioneer league lead at 7), and though he strikes out quite a bit, he'll take a walk here and there as well. His average isn't bad either, at .302 on the season.
Darwin Perez - SS Born 07/27/90 (18) - He's hitting the cover off of the ball at .325, has good speed, decent power and walks a lot. His K-rate is a tad high though. He seems a lot like Kendrick when Kendrick was in Rookie ball, except he's a year younger than Howie was (to be fair, Howie hit .368 and didn't K near as much). Definitely a guy to keep your eye on.
Roberto Lopez - 1B Born 10/01/85 (22) - This is another guy playing Maddon who needs to be moved up. Through 25 games he's hitting .446, has 11 doubles, and 14 walks to 8 K's.
Also worth a look... Luis Jiminez is a 20 year old 3B who otherwise looks a lot like Castillo if he walked and struck out less. Really, though this whole team is hitting the tar out of the ball right now.
This is another team that seems to win year in and year out for despite yearly roster switches. They've only played 17 games and the way Rosters are managed in these leagues, emerging position players are tough to spot, though obviously the 18 and 19 year olds are the ones to watch. Pitchers are usually the same story though there's one guy I do want to mention-
Manuarys Correa - RHSP Born 1/05/89 (19) - Through 24 innings (in four games, impressive endurance at this level), he has a 1.50 ERA, a .79 WHIP, and 29 K's to 1 BB. Sweet Monkey Jesus!
So ends our tour. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I did making it. As a final note, this trip may have impressed upon you just HOW young Nick Adenhart (21), Nick Green (23), Brandon Wood (23), and Sean Rodriquez (23) are to be playing in AAA. Anyone who claims any of these guys is no longer a good prospect is kidding themselves.
UPDATE: DOMINICAN SUMMER LEAGUE
It was pointed earlier in the comments that I had left the DSL Angels off the list. This happened because I wasn't really familliar with the DSL, and organizationally it's ranked even lower than the Arizona League. However, I've decided to go ahead and list it now, because having looked over the players in the 2006 and 2007 seasons, seeing who moved on and who didn't, and what numbers they put up, I feel like I have a better idea of what to expect. Keep in mind that for this league, 20 is ancient, 19 is a veteran, 18 is league-average-ish, 17 is pretty young, and 16 is REALLY young. One year makes a MAJOR difference talent-wise. A 19-year old guy better be flat-out dominating people if he wants to move up, while a 16-year old who can hang around with sub-par numbers is probably very good. Puberty is funny that way.
To give you a baseline, allow me to present two players from the 2007 squad-
Manuarys Correa (AZL), and Luis Jiminez (ORM). At 19, Jiminez put up approximately the same line in the DSL that he is this year in ORM, except with more walks and less K's. Correa is even more interesting, as while he was dominant last year in the DSL at 18, it wasn't NEARLY to the same extent as the AZL this year (2.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 27 BBs to 68 Ks in 87.2 IP)
Based on these examples and others, it seems like AZL and DSL are close to even in terms of difficulty, with AZL being a little higher, and Orem being a step above both (though guys who rock the AZL will occasionally jump straight to A-ball the next season). Anyway, just keep that in mind as you look at these numbers. There appear to be no less than 5 guys to watch on this DSL team, and 4 of them are starting pitchers.
Orangel Arena - RHSP Born 3/31/1989 (19) - 0.88 ERA over 8 starts, 51.1 IP, 16 BB to 43 K, 0.82 WHIP. He's allowing approximately one hit every two innings, and... yeah. WOW.
Fabio Martinez Mesa - RHSP 10/29/1989 (18) - 1.42 ERA , 50.2 IP, 1.09 WHIP, 21 BB, 60 K's. Mesa is REALLY good for an 18 year old, that K-rate is nuts.
Ariel Pena - RHSP 5/20/1989 (19) - 2.14 ERA, 46.1 IP, 1.12 WHIP, 13 BBs, 51Ks. To tell you the truth, I was close to not putting Pena on here. He's old, and his ERA isn't really that special for this league. But his K/9 and K/BB rates are just too good to leave off.
Baudilio Lopez - RHSP 11/20/1990 (17) - 2.53 ERA, 46.1 IP, 1.12 WHIP, 11 BBs, 64 Ks. So... yeah. ERA? Eh, nothing special. WHIP? Meh. K/9 and K/BB... SWEET CHRISTMAS. He's HOW old? Seriously though, this guy looks really good. There's a head-scratcher present in that his unearned runs are spectacularly high, with 25 total runs vs 13 earned, which suggests one of two things to me: either he's getting spectacularly lucky with the scorers, and is giving up more hits than it says he is, OR, Lopez has some kind of freakishly nasty stuff that the local catchers can't handle, resulting in quite a few people who struck out that made it to first anyway. I'm inclined to suspect the second one, based on his total picture, in which case it is possible that he's even BETTER than his line suggests.
I should note here that while ERAs that hover above 2 seem to be normal in this league, the K-rates these guys possess are not normal. How not normal are they? The previous two seasons, there were 0 starting pitchers on the DSL Angels with a K/9 over 9.00. This year there are THREE.
Bats can be harder to spot due to the overall pitching-dominated nature of the league, but one guy stands out to me.
Eduardo Soto - IF Born 4/25/1991 (17) - Leads the team in batting average (.303), OPS (.802), doubles, has good BB and K rates plus 15 SB to 3 CS. Congratulations kid, keep it up and you'll have hit your way off the island. See you in the AZL next year.