Thursday, February 10, 2011

BD Hot Stove: AL East Prospects | Baseball Digest

BD Hot Stove: AL East Prospects | Baseball Digest

The Hot Stove turns to the the beasts of the east today with a look at the AL East prospects. The division produced three Rookie of the Year winners in the last decade – Eric Hinske (2002), Dustin Pedroia (2007), and Evan Longoria (2008).

Yankees: From the moment George Steinbrenner and company signed Jesus Montero out of Venezuela at age 16, Yankees fans have been drooling at the prospect of seeing Montero reach the majors. The $2M bonus baby is a presence behind the plate at 6’4″, 225 lbs, a factor that has many scouts wondering if that’s where his future lies. Early in this off-season Montero was nearly guaranteed a chance to prove himself at the majors in 2011, but then the Yankees signed Russell Martin and told the former Dodger that he would be the starting catcher. That left Jorge Posada as the full-time DH/part-time catcher and Montero wondering what the immediate future holds for him. GM Brian Cashman and the Yankees front office must decide whether to let Montero be mentored at the major league level by Martin, Posada, and coach Tony Pena or have him start the season at Triple-A Scranton. Montero’s spring training performance will certainly have an impact on that decision.

The Yankees aren’t too concerned with the hard hitting catcher’s bat, but know he needs to prove himself defensively. In his four seasons in the minors Montero has a .314 career batting average and .882 OPS. He has also averaged 19 home runs over the past two seasons. The now 21-yr old was nearly dealt at last season’s trade deadline for Cliff Lee, but instead remained in the organization and caught fire at the plate. His hitting coach Butch Wynegar told the NY Times, “Initially it bothered him. He didn’t come out and say it exactly, but I could tell it in his demeanor. He wants to be a Yankee, and I think that did motivate him a little bit, knowing that nobody’s untouchable around here. It kind of shook him up a little bit, like, ‘I’ll show them.’ ”

“Monty was a joy to be around, and he’s still raw and growing,” said Wynegar. “That’s why I call him a beast. That’s why I think he can be a monster.” Ranked the ninth best prospect by, the Yankees hope 2011 is the arrival of the monster.

Red Sox: When Casy Kelly and a package of prospects were sent to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez, shortstop Jose Iglesias became Boston’s number one prospect. The Red Sox have had stalwarts at all infield positions, but shortstop since the team traded Nomar Garciaparra during the 2004 season. Marco Scutaro, in his second season in Boston, holds down the position for now. Jed Lowrie has also seen time there, but the long term plans for him in the organization are unknown. GM Theo Epstein is hoping that Iglesias, a native of Cuba that signed in 2009, will be the shortstop for many years to come. The 21-yr old played the majority of his first season at Double-A Portland, but missed a substantial amount of time after being hit on the right hand with a pitch. His return from injury included a 13 game stint in the New York-Penn league (rookie ball).

Iglesias’ time in Portland showed that his bat still needs work. Though he hit .285, he posted just a .695 OPS- nearly 80% of hits were singles and he lived up to his reputation as a free swinger by drawing just eight walks. Iglesias’ glove work is well ahead of his bat though. He’s got very good range, an excellent arm, and soft hands. Despite the missed time, Iglesias was still ranked the #42 prospect for 2011 by Spring Training will determine whether Iglesias starts the season in Portland or Pawtucket (Triple-A).

Rays: Tampa Bay lost many players via free agency this winter and dealt others, but this is an organization stocked with very good prospects. One of them is outfielder Desmond Jennings, who is the heir apparent to Carl Crawford. But the name on everyone’s lips after his brief 2010 stint in the majors is right-handed pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The fourth round pick in the 2005 amateur draft (Hoover HS- Des Moines, IA) has got the goods. Only Mike Trout is rated as a higher prospect in Major League Baseball.

Hellickson throws a steady fastball that hits the mid-90s and can throw both his curve and changeup for strikes. He has excellent composure on the mound and is aggressive in his approach towards hitters. The Iowa native averaged 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings at Triple-A Durham last season while posting a 1.173 WHIP. He made his Major League debut on August 2, holding the Twins to two runs and three hits over seven innings to earn his first win in the bigs. Hellickson allowed just three earned runs in his first three starts, all of which he won. The Rays monitored his innings, however, and of his seven additional appearances, just one was as a starter.

With nothing left to prove in the minors, Hellickson will go to spring training trying to win the final spot in the rotation. If he doesn’t, the Rays will then have to decide whether to use him out of the pen or send him back down to Triple-A.

Blue Jays: Another right-handed pitcher with tremendous potential is in the #1 spot for the Toronto Blue Jays. Kyle Drabek, acquired in the Roy Halladay deal, is on the precipus of what many feel should be a long and illustrious career. Drabek’s big pitch is his nasty curveball. Padres pitcher Mat Latos had the chance to play with Drabek earlier in his career and had this to say, “It’s (Drabek’s curveball) pretty filthy. I’ve seen a lot of curveballs and some nasty sliders, but not a curveball like that. All I could think was, ‘I’m glad I’m not a hitter.”’

Drabek’s four seam fastball is in the low 90′s, while his two-seamer is is around 88-90 mph and has plenty of movement. Like Hellickson, Drabek has receivEd High mark for his mound composure. He’ll need it since he should be in the Blue Jays starting rotation opening day and facing the best the AL East has to offer.

Orioles: The Orioles have developed some fine young talent of late- catcher Matt Wieters and pitcher Brian Matuz immediately come to mind. Shortstop Manny Machado was rated the best pure hitter and defensive infielder in the O’s organization by Baseball America and the 24th best prospect by He’s the highest pick by the Orioles since they draft pitcher Ben McDonald out of LSU in 1989.

Just 18 years old, Machado was the 3rd overall selection in last June’s amateur draft from Brito Miami (FL) High School. He didn’t sign until mid-August though, so the Orioles got to see him play just nine games, seven of which were for Aberdeen of the NY-Penn League. In that short stretch, Machado impressed with 10 hits in 29 AB (.345) and an .855 OPS. Being from Miami and having a 6’3″ frame, Machado has already drawn comparisons to fellow Miami native Alex Rodriguez. There are some in the organization who feel Machado, like A-Rod, will eventually move to 3rd base once his body matures.

The comparisons to A-Rod end there though. Machado is expected to hit for average with some power. He gets high marks for his fielding ability and for his hard work. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has known Machado since he was 10. “He’s hungry. (Machado) wants to be good. … I’ve see this kid prove himself day by day, week by week, year by year, to get better. I never thought he would be this good.” Machado will start the season in ‘A’ or Advanced ‘A’ ball.

Rumors, News, Transactions’s Jordan Bastian and Fox’s Ken Rosenthal have reported that the Cleveland Indians and infielder Orlando Cabrera have agreed to a deal. Rosenthal expects Cabrera to compete for the 2nd base job.

Red Sox GM Theo Epstein told reports that 1st baseman Adrian Gonzalez is ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery.

The Texas Rangers and centerfielder Josh Hamilton have agreed to a new two year, $24M deal.

The Angels Jered Weaver lost his arbitration hearing and will “only” make $7.37M this season. He had been asking for $8.8M.

Rumors are spreading that the Twins are thinking of dealing lefty Francisco Liriano, though they have him under control through 2012.

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