It seems like it's been weeks since we've had a farm report. And it's little wonder, because there's not a lot to crow about in the system that Baseball America calls the worst in the sport – it's a Ma & Pa Kettle brownfield next to the Monsanto superfarms of Texas, St Louis or Seattle. Since Jerry Dipoto traded six years (and what projects to be 20-25 WAR) of superstar-in-the-making Jean Segura for 13 games of good-but-not-great pitching from Zack Greinke in a regrettable mid-season panic move, things look just brutal. It's only too appropriate that two of our four non-rookie clubs take besieged buzzing bugs as their mascots, because we're full in the middle of colony collapse disorder at present.
Salt Lake, Arkansas and Burlington are all sub-.500 clubs. At AAA, we currently do not have a single position player on the active roster under age 26. It's been a long time since Romine, Navarro, Lopez and Long were considered even C+ prospects on any list, and now they are the nucleus of a Bees team that's a motley collection of human baseball salvageware that unbelievably had a 36-year-old Kip Wells (!!) starting a game earlier this week. At Arkansas, where the franchise's "top" prospects Cowart, Lindsey, Grichuk and Cron are hived, almost everyone is off to extremely slow starts. Cowart and Grichuk are hitting below the Mendoza line, with Lindsey close to it. CJ Cron has maintaind his signature high batting average, but has only two longballs in the first 34 games, and that's not going to cut it for a bat-first 1B/DH in a system with Pujols and Trumbo filling slots. Arkansas is a tough run environment, but we're looking for standouts, and there is literally none to speak of at either AA or AAA at the moment.
But peering through the smogbanks into the Lynchian outburbs of SoCal East, there's a bit of something stirring. What action there is to speak of in the Angels graveyard is happening at Inland Empire, where the 66ers are 5-above-.500 and only half a game out of first place in their division. We've seen a very solid start from Mark Sappington, who is 5-0 in his first eight outings, and is among the top five Cal League ERA leaders with a spiffy 1.93 mark, with a K-rate nearing one per inning. Up the middle, they've gotten decent offense from double-play duo Alex Yarbrough (.301 avg) and Eric Stamets (.374 OBP), who've typically been hitting two and three in the IE lineup this season. Stamets, Yarbrough and Sappington were each featured on most preseason top-20 lists for the Angels farm, so this isn't entirely unanticipated. What's unanticipated is the early season emergence of Borenstein the Bruiser.
Huh? Berenstein? What hokey Big Honey Hunt is this?
No, it's Borenstein, and yes indeed, there ain't a lot of Jewish lefty mashers on the junior circuit. I know because there are actually publications that track these things. In fact, Zach Borenstein's brother Josh runs a blog dedicated to subject (get your "Jews in Baseball" blogspot fix right here).
Raise your hand if you knew who Zach Borenstein was last year. If you did, your nose must be so deep in organizational humus you can smell the sweat pop on Abel Baker's neck when Kramer Sneed slaps an 89mph fastball into his mitt. He wasn't on a single Angels prospect list of note – not even in the footnotes. John Sickels had room for 38 names in his mop squad inventory, leaving room even for Brandon Sisk, but our man Zach was not among them. The anonymous dark is Cormac McCarthyesque for new dude.
Borenstein steps out of this background as a 23rd-round college pick from Eastern Illinois, whom the Angels drafted as an outfielder in 2011, despite spending his softmore year at third base. To hear him speak, he expected to go much higher, in the top ten rounds in fact, and in hearing his bat speak of late, he may have had a point.
With 10 HRs, Borenstein currently leads all qualified Cal League batters in home runs, slugging and OPS. He's second in batting average, and has 18 XBH in his first 32 games. He's hitting for average against both righties and lefties, but his power stroke shows a definite platoon split that favors RHP (1.135 OPS). As you might expect, he's hitting better on the road than at home at San Manuel Stadium, which is a pitcher's park in a hitter's league – though it may be the best available comp for Angels Stadium among our farm parks. If so, a slash line of .328/.358/.531 at home ain't anything to sneeze at.
Should we have expected this? Hard to say. His scouting reports basically said that he was pretty good at everything, had some power, though lacked any one tool that might distinguish him among a middling draft class. His 293 ABs at Cedar Rapids showed some power, with 25 doubles and 11 HRs yielding a .485 SLG which is reasonably impressive in a Midwest League that is more pitcher-friendly than not. In the Arizona League, he walked almost as much as he struck out, delivering a .397 OBP that bespoke some plate discipline and a more advanced eye. He's a reasonably good baserunner as well, swiping bags in the double digits at both preceding levels. In sum, in 585 professional plate appearances, he has a line of 284/.360/.522 with 23 HRs, 94 RBIs, and 29 SBs (with 8 CS) – and that stat line is completely unpolluted by the launching pad of Orem. Intriguing, no?
Will he keep on with this? Is this just another Brandon Wood mirage? Who knows. Maybe, probably, but. It's early, and he's stupid (and unsustainably) on fire (.474/.512/.868 in May). His swing can definitely get a little long at times, and his walk rate is lower than one would like. But with a roughly league average 20% K-rate, and at an age-appropriate-for-his-level 22 years, this is a kid worth watching. Strangely, the 66ers have him batting sixth, as if Bill Haselman doesn't believe what's happening himself, despite the fact that Zach is essentially driving the San Bernardino offense right now.
In any case, along with Sappington, he's someone to watch in a system that is downright unwatchable right now. And I'll pin some dumb hope on the mule end of that.