We're almost a week in to the MiLB season, and every starter that's healthy and in full season ball has made their first star. As I mentioned in my pre-season post about things that most intrigued me this year, I've really looked forward to see how a number of minor leaguers do this year. I'll go team by team and hit on some guys that I either find interesting or have gotten off to a hot start.
- Much has been made of the Rays inability to score runs early this season (save the most recent domination of Daisucky), so looking at the highest level for position prospects could provide a much needed shot in the arm. So far 2 of our top OF prospects are both hitting very well in AAA. Brandon Guyer, acquired in the Garza deal, is following up his breakout in AA with a hot start in his first stop at AAA. With his first AAA HR today, Guyer's line is at .304/.384/.522/.906. Guyer's more highly touted (and longer tenured) teammate Desmond Jennings is off to an even hotter start. The OF-in-waiting is hitting a scorching .348/.483/.522/1.004. Maybe at some point this season one (or both) can be a shot in the arm to the Big Club at the plate.
- In the same vein, the Rays have what they hope are a couple of good starting pitching options down in to Durham in the case of injury or ineffectiveness: Alex Cobb and Alex Torres. The Alexes were largely ignored by major publications in putting together top prospect lists. Torres did garner some ink by being included in the Rays' top 10s, but Cobb was vastly ignored after posting a great season in his first trip through AA. Well both started off 2011 the right way. Cobb went 5 innings giving up one run (earned) on 3 hits and 2 walks while striking out 7. The seven Ks is especially exciting as his biggest knock is that prospectors question his stuff. Alex Torres was apparently a bit miffed that Cobb had such a great first outing as he proceeded to out-duel his like-named teammate posting 9 strike-outs in 5 innings to go along with only 2 hits and no walks or runs allowed. Hopefully, these two can replicate these successes going forward to join a (relatively) long line of successful, homegrown Rays' pitchers.
- The bullpen in Durham is another spot where the big team may need to poach some talent over the course of the season with Cory Wade, Brandon Gomes, etc. all stashed there. So far the bullpen in Durham has been excellent. In 32 innings of relief the Bullspen (get it?), has an ERA of 1.97, a FIP of 2.76, and a WHIP of 1.16 (to go along with a K/9 of exactly 9). The bullpen reserves are doing phenomenal so far in the early season.
- The Biscuits boasted one of the best minor league pitching staffs you'd see anywhere going in to the season, and so far the results have been mixed. Matt Moore started it off with a terrific start striking out 7 in 5 innings surrendering only 1 run on 2 hits. Chris Archer had trouble with command in his first start (only pitching 4 innings and giving up 2 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks). Nick Barnese and Joe Cruz also had a rough first outings, but Shane Dyer started his bounce-back campaign with a nice start.
- Don't look now, but MEGA-BUST Tim Beckham is leading the Biscuits in OPS. The oft-criticized Beckham is off to a hot start leading the Bulls in AVG (.316) and OPS (.802). The much-maligned SS is the 8th youngest player in the Southern League this year, so a good year at the plate would likely silence a lot of his critics.
- Matt Sweeney is leading the team in slugging, HRs, and total bases, but his 7:1 K:BB and .167 BA in his first 18 ABs is not what Rays fans are looking for. Hopefully, he can work on his contact without sacrificing his pop (I won't hold my breath).
- This team could not be less interesting to me until Hak-Ju Lee and Ty Morrison return to the lineup. There are some decent pitching prospects (namely Jake Thompson and Alex Colome), but they both were pretty unimpressive in their first start.
- The lone bright spot so far for the Stone Crabs has been their bats. Four players have an OPS higher than .900 so far this year despite missing their two best position prospects. Brett Nomenson, Tyler Bortnick, Greg Sexton, and Anthony Scelfo are all raking right now, but I can't imagine any of them will ever see much big league time as all were unlisted by BA when doing the Rays top 30 prospects.
- Luke Bailey's placement in full season ball was a pretty aggressive move from a generally conservative front office (at least as far as prospect promotion goes). The early results at the plate look like it was the right decision, though. Bailey is crushing the ball so far through 5 games hitting .438/.526/.750/1.276. The young catcher certainly seems at home in low-A, and if he keeps hitting like this he may press the Rays to be even more aggressive with him.
- Derek Dietrich was a standout at Georgia Tech because of his bat, and that is likely what the Rays used a second round pick in 2010 on him for. After signing quickly, he posted a respectable .757 line for Hudson Valley on a late season assignment. The shortstop (for the time being) was off to a blistering start to the season before being hit on the hand by a pitch Saturday (4 H, 1 HR, 2 2B, and 1 BB in his first 8 PAs), and he returned today and hit his second HR. He's sporting an otherworldly .455/.500/1.182/1.682 line through his first 4 games.
- Enny Romero and Braulio Lara both made the Rays top 15 prospects after good years in Princeton last year. Lara's first start was a bit of a dud (going only 4 IP while surrendering 8 base-runners and 2 runs in 3 IP with only 2 Ks), but Romero has been outstanding so far. The first Ray farmhand to make 2 starts, Romero has been stellar. In 9 2/3 innings pitched, Enny has allowed no runs on 4 walks and 3 hits while striking out 14 batters. What may be more impressive is his BIP data. By my count, 18 batters have put the ball in play against him, and of those 12 of them were ground balls. Additionally, 2 of the others were infield flies. He's given up one fly-ball that left the infield and 3 line-drives (2 of which were caught by infielders). Two of his three hits surrendered were on ground balls. That is incredibly impressive.