Former Indian first rounder Corey Smith keeps scuffling. (Trading Card Database)
Today, we look at what Torii Hunter has been able to do now that he’s not hurting; how Cleveland 2000 first round pick Corey Smith has stalled; and how Nate McLouth is looking less attractive now that’s slumping.
- Torii Hunter has been relatively healthy this year, on pace to play his most games in three seasons, and he’s responded with some solid totals. On Sunday, he extended his hitting streak to seven games with a 3-for-5 performance with a run and pair of RBI. Hunter was just a home run short of the cycle and has lifted his average from .269 to .280 during the run. Our chief complaint about him is the lack of steals — just six so far after topping 20 in each of the last two seasons, even last year when injuries held him under 100 games played.
- Former Indian first rounder Corey Smith still isn’t progressing. The third baseman was dealt to the Padres prior to the 2005 season, and then released near the end of Spring Training this year. Signed by the ChiSox in late-April, Smith is now in his fourth season of Double-A, but his numbers are not improving. He’s showing better plate discipline with 55 walks and 85 strikeouts in 94 games, but with just 10 homers, the 26th overall pick from the 2000 draft is definitely not delivering on his power promise. Unbelievably, Smith is still just 24 years old, so never say never, but considering he’s played just five games above Double-A, he’s not exactly worth tracking at this stage.
- Nate McLouth, the Pirates’ fourth outfielder, looked like a decent play in mid-sized NL leagues with his power-speed potential. But he has just three hits in last 17 at-bats, and it’s time to set him free unless your league is pretty deep. We still like the 24-year-old’s long-term potential, but we don’t see him contributing much down the stretch barring an injury.
- What does Jeff Keppinger have to do to get another shot at the majors? He hit .284 in 116 at-bats with the Mets in 2004, but hasn’t returned to a major league field, despite batting almost .340 at Triple-A Norfolk last year. The Pirates’ fourth rounder in 2001 was doing it again at Norfolk this season, batting .300 and showing his usual tremendous contact skills (Keppinger is next to impossible to strike out). A couple of weeks ago, the Mets gave up on him, dealing him to baseball purgatory, also known as Kansas City. But that should mean opportunity, right? Apparently not. With Mark Grudzielanek manning second base in KC and Esteban German backing him up, there’s no room for the 26-year-old Keppinger right now. Yet, thanks to a recent 13-game hitting streak, he’s batting over .410, with a .461 OBP and .574 SLG at Triple-A Omaha, having driven in 15 runs in 17 games. Why the Royals didn’t try to dump Grudzy and his $4 million salary to open up full-time work for German, who deserves it, and back-up work for Keppinger, who also deserves it, is beyond us. But we guess you don’t become the worst team in baseball by doing the right thing.
- Speaking of former Pirate farmhands, Walter Young, the club’s 31st rounder in 1999, looked like he finally was going to get a shot, making his major league debut with the Orioles last year, and batting over .300 in 14 games. Instead, Baltimore waived him in January and San Diego picked him up. Things haven’t gone well on the West Coast for the behemoth Young, who at 6’5″, 290, might look more appropriate in a mumu rather than a baseball uniform. After struggling at Triple-A Portland, batting just .200 through 35 at-bats, he found himself back at Double-A for the first time since 2004. Young is hitting .280 through 264 at-bats, but that strike zone judgement is as bad as it’s ever been for him (nine BB/34 K). However, Young is just 26 and has 126 minor league homers, slugging almost 35 dingers as an Eastern League All-Star just two years ago. So you’ve got to believe with that kind of pop, he’ll get another chance.
- Detroit let first baseman Juan Tejeda walk as a minor league free agent last year despite the fact that he had driven in 174 runs the past two seasons at Double-A. Last year, he finished ninth in the Eastern League with a .291 BA and led the SeaWolves in RBI. But now the 24-year-old power prospect is a Met. However, things haven’t started well for Tejeda. He struggled badly in his first taste of Triple-A, batting under .220 with 10 walks against 35 strikeouts and just 10 runs in 42 games. Demoted to High-A, Tejeda has fared much better, batting .291 with five homers and 20 RBI in just 33 games with an excellent walk-to-strikeout ratio (21 BB/16 K). Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1999, expect him back in Double-A shortly at this pace.
- Rich Lane was never highly touted; 28th round picks, as he was for Montreal in 1998, don’t tend to get a lot of press. But he was an Eastern League All-Star outfielder in 2004 after hitting almost .295 with 29 doubles. Lane lost a good chunk of 2005 to injury and now he’s a back-up first baseman, still in Double-A for the Washington organization. He’s just 26, but with an OPS of just 575 and only 20 RBI in 90 games, we’d be surprised if this isn’t his last season in the organization if not in baseball altogether. Being a minor league All-Star, even at a higher level like Double-A, will only go so far.
- Second baseman Luis Maza looked like he had possibilities for the Twins when he followed up his 2004 Eastern League All-Star showing by hitting .291 with some pop (.476 SLG) in 275 Triple-A at-bats last season. However, he’s batting just .215 through 81 games and 275 at-bats at Triple-A Rochester this year with a mere 25 runs, 10 doubles, five triples, and 35 RBI. Maza is slugging only .320 and has managed only 14 walks. Clearly, Luis Castillo has nothing to fear from this 26-year-old.