I've been itching to overreact to the season so far, and I thought I'd use this space to do so. It's important as always to note that stats are not the best way to judge prospects, especially in just a fraction of a season like we've seen so far. These are just a handful of things that have stood out to me so far in the early going. The stats I'm looking at are updated through Sunday's games.
Durham's best hitter is...
Not Wil Myers or even triple-A veterans like Leslie Anderson or Brandon Guyer, but Hak-Ju Lee. It's reminiscent to the hot start he got off to in 2011 when he first joined the Rays organization in high-A. Nine strikeouts in 41 plate appearances is a bit much, but he also has seven walks already. He's batting over .400 and has five steals in six attempts, and he's had a little pop so far too. He already has five extra base hits in 10 games after taking 21 games to reach that point last year. Meanwhile, there are 10 Bulls hitters with more plate appearances than Tim Beckham so far. It's a product of batting near the bottom of the lineup mostly, but unless he's banged up, there is little or no reason for Mike Fontenot or Vince Belnome to get more playing time than him.
Toles off and running again
Last year in his pro debut, Andrew Toles had a tremendous start. In 23 July games with short-season Princeton, he batted .375 with a .402 on-base percentage and .580 slugging percentage. His August was not nearly as good, and he finished with a slash line of .281/.327/.482 which is still quite good. Moving up to low-A Bowling Green this year, he's off to a great start again. In 45 plate appearances, he's batting .381 with a .422 OBP and .690 SLG, obviously quite similar to his month of July in 2012. He's shown surprising pop too and uses his speed to get extra bases and already has five doubles and four triples. It's extremely doubtful that he can keep this up, and one potential red flag is that his walk rate of 4.4% is even lower than last year's (5.6%). His strikeout rate has dropped as well, so maybe he is making better contact than last year.
It surprised me when Tyler Goeddel was assigned back at Bowling Green for a second straight year. He wasn't great last year, but his .706 OPS was probably good enough to merit a new assignment. He's a Hot Rod again though, and his early performance hasn't been what one would expect from a good prospect repeating a level. He's batting just .200 with a .280 OBP and .244 SLG. His 10% walk rate is identical to last year's and his strikeout rate is down from 24.8% to 10%. Those are good signs, and his BABIP is 100 points lower (.225) than it was last year, so perhaps it's just a matter of time for Goeddel to break out.
Filling up the strike zone
A number of pitching prospects are off to very good starts, maybe most notably Alex Torres for triple-A Durham. I totaled up some stats of the pitching prospects in the organization's top 30 who have pitched so far (12 total), and the numbers are impressive. They've combined to strike out 104 batters out of 420 faced (24.8%) and walked just 32 (7.6%). The walk rate is above average compared to usual league averages, but what's truly outstanding is that strikeout rate. Those are two of the key components to most defense-independent pitching stats, and it's clear the organization's arms are doing quite well in those departments.
In his third full season since being drafted in 2010, Justin O'Conner is finally in full-season ball with Bowling Green, and he's actually back in the field. O'Conner was solely a DH in 2012 for short-season Hudson Valley because of a hip injury, but he's healthy enough to get back behind the plate this year. He's played in six games for Bowling Green and has caught for three of them. He's had a few passed balls, but he also caught an attempted base stealer and picked another runner off in his first game back last week. Known for his all or nothing approach at the plate, his batting line has actually been a bit odd. O'Conner is batting .273, well above his career average, with a .333 OBP and .364 SLG. His walk rate of 8.3% is right around where it usually is, but his strikeout rate of 25% is much lower than his previous two seasons. That average will probably fall when his .375 BABIP does, and he'll need some of that power to come back when it does.