Cause For Concern? A Look At Slow Starts For Prospects

Robinson Chirinos hasn't carried a strong spring campaign into the regular season with Durham (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

We've talked about some prospects who are off to hot starts, but what about those struggling? Sample size caveats are still in play as they're not yet a month into the minor league season, but obviously success is preferable to failure in any size sample. So here's a look at some prospects who have come out of the gate cold and whether or not we should be hitting the panic button just yet.

(All stats through Sunday, May 1 unless otherwise noted)

Robinson Chirinos, C - He was one of the more impressive players in the Rays' spring training camp, hitting .429/.500/.905 in 21 at bats in March. That hasn't translated to Durham at all, where he's put up an anemic .176/.253/.191 line in 68 at bats. He's struck out 20 times, has just one extra-base hit (a double), and has lost some playing time to Jose Lobaton, who started the season en fuego, with an OPS still over 1.000. Chirinos has swung and missed way too often, with his swinging strikeout percentage almost three times what it was last season.

Is there cause for concern? Yeah, I think so. Chirinos is no spring chicken -- in fact, he's older than Lobaton -- and it's not like he's a guy who has big tools that haven't clicked yet. Before mashing the past two seasons as a catcher, he was a relatively light-inning infielder. He's been okay defensively in 2011, throwing out 33% of attempted basestealers, but clearly his offense has been a problem. His BABIP is .250, low but not terribly so. He needs to get the strikeouts under control and hit for some pop if he wants to get Kelly Shoppach or John Jaso sweating.

Joseph Cruz, RHP - Cruz entered the season as a minor sleeper, his solid across-the-board numbers having been over-shadowed by Matt Moore and Nick Barnese the past two seasons. He was supposed to form the Big Four in Montgomery with those two and Chris Archer, but Cruz has fizzled big time. In 21 innings spanning five starts, he's allowed 26 earned runs on 32 hits, including seven home runs. He's struck out only one more batter than he's walked (12-11) and obviously hasn't been "right" all season.

Worried? You bet I am. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and his groundout/flyout ratio has gone from solid GB to solid FB. That's the trifecta of things you don't want to have happen to pitching prospects. He was a fastball-dependent pitcher who needed to sharpen his breaking stuff, but that hasn't happened. His off-speed stuff hasn't progressed and his fastball has regressed. It's only been five starts, but there haven't been many encouraging signs in 2011.

Braulio Lara, LHP - BaseballAmerica rated him above Alex Cobb and Joseph Cruz in the off-season and was expected to form a 1-2 Dominican lefty punch in Bowling Green with Enny Romero. Romero's battled some control issues in an otherwise promising start to the year, and while that's true to some extend of Lara, the age gap makes their situations different. Lara is already 22 years old in the Midwest League, and while there's something to be said for late bloomers, he should be doing better against younger competition.

Cause for concern? Lara's BA ranking seemed aggressive, and so far he hasn't quite lived up to it. He's struck out 15 in 15.2 innings, but also walked 12 and allowed nine earned runs. His batting average against (.241) is fine but he's not dominating or even consistently overpowering the MWL like maybe he should be. His stock will probably fall regardless, but getting his walk rate back in order would help cushion the drop.

Todd Glaesmann, OF - The Rays' top pick to sign in 2009, Glaesmann got the bump to Bowling Green this year despite hitting .233 with Princeton. He hasn't been able to translate his loud tools into production, and through 20 games with the Hot Rods he's hitting .227/.282/.303. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has continued to be a problem. With 24 strikeouts against four walks, his career ratio is now 97 strikeouts to 17 walks in 87 games.

There's definitely concern about Glaesmann since he simply hasn't hit as a pro. He has the best pure tools of the class of 2009, but tools will only get you so far. Fifth rounder Jeff Malm didn't even get a full-season assignment, though fourth rounder Luke Bailey started hot and has recovered after a slump. For Glaesmann, it seems not much has changed with his production, and that's bad news considering his lackluster production in his career so far.

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Quick hitters:
Ty Morrison, OF - My most disappointing simply because he hasn't yet played and I don't think it's been reported what his injury is. I expected a quasi-breakout year, but he needs to get on the field sooner rather than later.

Matt Moore, LHP - 5.18 ERA. Let's all panic. Or look at his 32-to-4 strikeout-to-walk rate in 24.1 innings and assume his way-above-career-norm home run rate is a fluke. Moore should be fine, even if he doesn't maintain a 1.5 BB/9 all season.

Alex Colome, RHP - Rough start to the season but he's rightsized the ship since then, including a 10-strikeout, 1-walk performance his last start. Seven runs in 1.2 innings in his first start will keep his ERA looking ugly for a while, but he should be okay going forward.

Scott Shuman, RHP - Another of my sleeper picks entering the year, the good news is Shuman is striking out 16.4 per 9 innings. The bad news is he's also issued 11 walks in as many innings, leading to a 7.36 ERA. He'll never be a control artist, but his plus fastball and slider won't do much good if he can't control them. He has command problems in college and his career BB/9 is 5.0, so proceed with caution.

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