Minor Matters: Midwest League
There was a familiar face taking the mound Friday for the Peoria Chiefs, the Cubbies’ Class-A Midwest League affiliate. Reliever Scott Eyre, rehabbing a groin injury he suffered last month, was touched up for two hits and an earned run in one inning in his first rehab appearance. Sunday, he got ripped for four hits and two earned runs in an inning and a third of work, so while the Cubs expect him to return after the All-Star break, it doesn’t look like we’ll see a new and improved Eyre. In fact, he’s been getting progressively worse since arriving at Wrigley three years ago, and is a complete non-fantasy factor at this point. Interestingly, however, Eyre became just the fourth Cub to make a rehab appearance at Peoria’s Elfstrom Stadium since 2005. Scott Williamson, Wade Miller and Juan Mateo are the others, and we’ve seen how well their careers have gone since then, so let’s hope that’s not some foreshadowing for the 36-year-old lefty, who has never really been the same since leaving the Giants.
Lefty Scott Mitchinson, selected as a Midwest League All-Star, got some good news this week when an MRI on his injured elbow showed no structural damage. He’s been cleared to start rehab, and that’s great news considering the breakout season he was enjoying for Kane County. Originally signed by the Phillies in 2003 from Australia, the 23-year-old was taken by the A’s in the Minor League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft last year, and after a strong 2007 at three levels, he really has put himself on the map this season. Through 71 innings, Mitchinson has given up just 54 hits, one homer and 11 walks, while fanning 70. Overall, he’s 5-3, 1.90, and if he can regain his health soon, could be in line for a promotion to High-A before season’s end.
Tyson Ross, the A’s second round pick in last month’s draft, is also dealing with injury issues. He was put on the DL July 1 because of his shoulder, but also was given the go-ahead for rehab after a clean MRI. The 21-year-old righty had only made two professional appearances so far, but was impressive, giving up just two hits and one earned run, walking none and striking out five in five innings. Ross was a Pac 10 All-Star at California last year when he went 6-6, 2.49 with 120 strikeouts and just 39 walks in 115 2/3 IP.
The A’s look like they have another solid bat on their hands in Corey Brown, a first round supplemental pick (59th overall) in last year’s draft. The 22-year-old outfielder was leading Kane County in homers (14), RBI (48), was second in steals (12) and was batting .270 with 40 walks in 84 games before getting promoted to High-A Stockton last week. In four games in the Cal League, Brown is not looking overmatched at all, batting .333 with six runs, a homer and four RBI. Keep an eye on this kid, keeper league owners.
Talk about the fast track, have you seen what Ben Revere, the Twins’ first rounder from last season, has done? The 20-year-old outfielder is batting .401 through 59 games with 20 walks and 28 steals. Talk about top-of-the-order skills. This is definitely Minnesota’s centrefielder of the future, and keeper league owners would be wise to jump on him soon. A kid with a batting eye like that doesn’t come around very often.
The Tigers prospect cupboard has been accused of being fairly barren, but they’ve hit a home run this year with 24-year-old righty Alfredo Figaro. He struggled at High-A after a mid-season promotion in 2007, but he’s dominating at Class-A this year, going 11-2, 1.76 with 86 strikeouts against just 29 walks. Opponents are batting a mere .200 against Figaro. Still, because he took a step backward this year, I’ll be more excited when I see him doing this in High-A ball or higher.
Another speedster who has consistently put up high averages is Adrian Ortiz, a 21-year-old outfielder taken in the fifth round last year by the Royals. He’s batting .316 through 91 games with 27 steals, but unlike Revere, Ortiz’s command of the strike zone isn’t advanced, so I worry that he’ll struggle as he moves up. He’s young enough to adjust, so at least bears watching over the long term.
Another young Tiger hurler who’s taken a big step up this year is 21-year-old southpaw Jonathan Kibler. Just a 30th round pick in 2007, Kibler has already proved to be a bit of a diamond in the rough, enjoying a strong pro debut last year, split between the GCL and NYPL. This season he’s been even more impressive, going 8-3, 1.99 through 15 starts. In 99 2/3 IP, Kibler has been virtually unhittable (62 hits allowed), while showing tremendous command (81 Ks to 21 BBs).
Another Midwest League kid I’m keeping my eye on is outfielder Engel Beltre. Originally signed by the BoSox out of the Dominican Republic, Beltre was dealt to Texas in last season’s Eric Gagne deal. This 18-year-old is having no problem in Class-A, an impressive feat. Through 87 games, he’s batting .287 with 19 doubles, eight triples and seven homers. He’s shown some speed, but like many youngsters, needs to learn to take a walk. Still, Beltre is heating up, with four straight multi-hit games, so I think the Rangers could have a future star in the making here.
I also like the development shown this year by 21-year-old righty Jackson Quezada, signed by the Padres from the Dominican in 2003. He’s looking like a potential future closer, having saved 16 games in 40 appearances for Fort Wayne. He’s certainly been dominant enough, fanning 48 in 43 2/3 IP, with just 31 hits and only one homer allowed while compiling a very sweet 2.27 ERA. Quezada looks ready to move up to High-A ball shortly.