It's been a while since we've done one of these, but here's an update featuring one player from each of the minor league affiliates through Princeton:
Dane De La Rosa, RHP, Durham Bulls: Between call-ups, injuries, and opt-outs, the Bulls roster has been shuffled on what seems like a daily basis. With Brandon Gomes and Jake McGee each with the big-league club, the closing duties will likely be handed to De La Rosa, the 6-7/245 righty plucked out of independent ball last season. He was a surprising addition to the 40-man roster in the off-season since he had last pitched in affiliated ball in 2007 and barely got out of short-season ball.
Last year with the Biscuits, De La Rosa struck out over a batter per inning and posted an ERA under 2.00. He's mainted the strikeouts with the Bulls -- whiffing 49 in 45.2 innings -- but his walk and home run numbers have jumped up resulting in ERA just under 4.00. He issued 26 walks in 76 innings last season but is already at 21 this year. He's also allowed twice as many home runs (six in 2011) in the 30 fewer innings. There's a reason he got put on the 40-man, though, with a powerful fastball to match his big frame. He could be next in line for a call-up, possibly replacing the recently-demoted Alex Torres. I'd at least expect to see him as a September call-up, and if the Rays have fallen out of it, he'll get a chance to pitch in some tight spots as an audition for a middle-relief role in 2012.Tim Beckham, SS, Montgomery Biscuits: After a very strong month of May, Beckham cooled off midway through June and his numbers aren't too different from last year's, though even maintaining that sort of production as a 21-year-old in double-A is worth noting. I predict the comments section will turn into a Beckham debate, so I'll get it started. First, the good: His power is up, having already matched last year's home run total. The reports on his defense have improved, and while he's not a flashy or even above-average defender, he's acceptable and the talk of him having to move off has cooled.
Now the not-so-good: His BB% has dropped from 11.5 to 8.4. That's been accompanied by a similar drop in his K% (22 to 19). According to StatCorner, the strikeout drop is almost entirely due to looking strikeouts. His kS% is down just 0.3 while his kL% has dropped from 7.4 to 4.6. So in other words, with fewer walks and looking strikeouts, he's simply being more aggressive, and the rise in batting average is due to putting more balls in play (in fact, his BABIP is an identical-to-2010 .333). This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though you'd like to see it translate to more power (his SLG is still under .400) and it explains why his BA is up .022 but his OBP is down .006 from last year.
Basically, it comes down to expectations. He's not a bust because the offensive bar for shortstops is set really low. Consider that Reid Brignac's BA/OBP as a 21-year-old with Montgomery were .260/.328. So Beckham is outperforming that. As he's still quite young there's always the chance he has a breakout, but currently the ceiling looks like an average SS. And that's fine, but considering he was he #1 pick (and like it or not, he's always going to be viewed through that lens), I think it's far to call that a bit of a disappointment.
Scott Shuman, RHP, Charlotte Stone Crabs: Shuman was one of my pet prospects entering the year. I predicted that he would rise through the system, finish the year in Durham's bullpen and be in serious consideration for a 2012 bullpen spot. After striking out nearly 14 per 9 innings last year, he's down to a still-good 10.3. Wait... 10.3 is his *walk* rate. Um, oops. It's true, in 35.2 innings, Shuman has walked 41 hitters, hit four more, and uncorked seven wild pitches. He was teetering on the edge of acceptable control with 40 free passes in 74 innings in 2010, but that's just completely fallen apart. His fastball/slider combo is legit plus stuff -- he's struck out 63 -- but that doesn't mean a thing if you're walking hitters at a Neighborgallian pace.
Shuman is still listed on Charlotte's active roster, but he hasn't pitched since walking four of the six batters he faced in an appearance on July 1. He doesn't seem to be hurt so I'm guessing he's working side sessions with a new pitching motion, arm slot, grip, or anything else that might help him throw strikes. He doesn't exactly have a track record of doing it, dating back to his Auburn days, but the stuff is so, so tantalizing.
Enny Romero, LHP, Bowling Green: Just a quick note here, but they seem to be limiting his innings as he's gone three and two innings in his last two starts. His strikeouts are still healthy (93 in 78.2 innings) and he showed better control in June, walking nine in 29 innings. He pitched 74 innings with Princeton last season, so the Rays will try to have him top out somewhere between 100-110 this year.
Jeff Malm, 1B, Hudson Valley Renegades: While fellow 2009 bonus babies Luke Bailey and Todd Glaesmann were assigned to Bowling Green, fifth-rounder Malm was held back in extended spring training and then assigned to short-season Hudson Valley. Whatever Malm did in XST seems to have worked, as he's hitting .301/.454/.581 through 27 games after a .606 OPS last season with Princeton. He's blasted seven home runs and is walking almost as much as he's striking out while Bailey and Glaesmann scuffle in Bowling Green. One wrinkle to his OBP: He's been hit by EIGHT pitches already this season. I don't know if this is a repeatable skill a la Craig Biggio or Chase Utley or what, but it's worth keeping an eye on. He was only hit five times all of last year, but perhaps he's standing closer to the plate this year. It's not like Hudson Valley as a team is getting hit a ton, they're actually tied for third-fewest as a team in the NY-PL. It was disappointing when he wasn't assigned to a full-season team, but keep in mind that 2011 would've been Malm's sophomore season at college. Typically, highly-drafted college players will play at low-A, so if Malm is there next year he's not terribly behind schedule.
Justin O'Conner, C, Princeton Rays: He's currently striking out in 37.9% of his ABs, which is just unacceptable. From drafts 2000-2006, the only player to strike out at a higher rate in their debut or first "full" season is Cody Johnson, who is an absolutely windmill. O'Conner has some power but it's not going to matter at all if he can't make more contact. Josh Sale isn't exactly lighting it up with Princeton but his 15.6% strikeout rate isn't even half of what O'Conner's is. O'Conner has some big tools but he simply needs to cut down on the swing and miss.