17 March 2010

Five to Watch in Frederick

As many who watched Delmarva would know, the Shorebirds lacked the talent that their opponents had. Much of this group is promoted up to Frederick, where fans there may get to see a large dose of mediocrity. That said, there are a few prospects in this bunch who could really break out. Ronnie Welty is certainly someone who has the tools needed, but has not yet been completely able to combine them with the needed skills. Xavier Avery is another who has a lot of raw ability, but needs to start translating that into actual performance.

After the jump, top five guys to keep a tab on.

1. Ronnie Welty RF Delmarva
291/373/427 over 426 AB; TZ: +1 run over 150

Welty's strikeout rate was a concern his first year in pro ball with Bluefield as he struck out 23% and walked 4% of the time. In 2009, he spent the entire season in Delmarva, which is usually the first place draftees see well polished off speed offerings. He k'd 25% and bb'd 10%. The walk rate was quite promising, but the inability to reduce strikeouts is tempering expectations. He stands right now as a fringe bat. There is good reason to think he can retain those rates and should build on the ISO as Delmarva is not a forgiving place for hitters. For this season to be a success, he needs to retain his walk rate and his ISO if not build on them. He also needs to start whittling down his strikeouts. Another aspect he needs to build on is his performance against right handed pitchers. Much of his offensive output last year was caused by him mashing lefties. Defensively, he is a solid outfielder in right and should be able to take his tool set quite easily to left field. Right now, he looks like he might be a poor man's Nick Markakis in terms of production and skills. That would be a fringe 4th outfielder type.

2. Xavier Avery CF Delmarva
264/309/343 over 469 AB; TZ: -3 runs over 150

Avery was a second round selection in the 2008 draft. He was a raw talent having spent a significant portion of his high school developmental time as a very talented football player. He flashes plus plus speed and is toolsy. His swing does not suggest power and his build indicates that he will most likely not acquire that. His success offensively has been mainly a product of utilizing his speed by hitting groundballs and beating them out. However, he has shown that when he is able to pull the ball he is capable of hitting low liners into right field at a rather successful rate. If he is able to build upon that and produce some marginal gap power, it might translate into greater success at the plate as it appears few pitchers are afraid to challenge him. His defense is equally raw. His missteps are often covered by his shear speed. Right now, he has the look of a marginal fourth outfielder. It is rare for someone who was so challenged in loA to become a top prospect even when they were aggressively promoted like Avery was. What would be good to see would be a batting average above .280 and an ISO over .100. If these two things happen, we can start looking forward to Avery as a potential solution for the Orioles. Most troubling would be a decrease in his contact rate and an increase in strikeouts. This really isn't "the" year for Avery to make or break, but he needs to start showing baseball skills as opposed to athletic ability.

3. LJ Hoes 2B Delmarva
263/303/322 over 429 AB; TZ: -6 runs over 150

Hoes was selected in the third round of the 2008 draft. A local guy who was selected for his polished bat and pitch recognition. He was largely without a position, so the Orioles slated him for second base as it meets his tool set and is an area of organizational need. His rookie year in Bluefield was very promising as he showed great pitch recognition and marginal gap power. His adjustment to playing second was somewhat difficult though. In Delmarva, off speed pitches ate him up and he saw his walk rate drop from 15% to 5%. For his age, it was an aggressive push. One could argue that extended spring training and a stop in Aberdeen would have suited Hoes better. Understanding that, it has been mentioned that scouts were pleased with his progression. I was unable to see him last season, so I am not sure what exactly they were impressed by. He did increase his contact rate as the seaosn progressed and was able to work deeper into the counts. He still appeared quite overmatched at the plate. His defense also continues to be a need area where he must improve. For this season to be a success, he'll never to improve his batting average past 280 and get his walk rate above 10% again. If he stumbles, he will probably see himself back in Frederick again next year.

4. Brandon Cooney
60.3 IP 3.28 FIP 7.2 k/9 2.8 bb/9 2.45 GB:FB +37 FIP(L)

Not to take anything away from Brandon Cooney, but when the fourth most interesting prospect on your team is a reliever . . . that really is not a very positive thing. Minor league relievers are pretty much a dime a dozen as their worth is directly related to the development of two pitches. At the MiL level, a reliever can often be quite successful with one good pitch and another average one. Similar to how a MiL starter can get by with two solid pitches. Trouble is that does not play well on a MLB scale. That MiL starter becomes a middle reliever and the MiL pitcher goes back to AAA. The margin of error just is quite tight for relievers in the minors and is a major reason why you typically do not see their names on any prospect list. That said, he throws hard and lives over a 2 seamer. From what I hear, he needs to command it a little better and develop a second offering. He may spend half a year in Frederick and should be the first in the bullpen to be promoted if a need arises in Bowie.

5. Oliver Drake RHSP Delmarva
134.7 IP 3.64 FIP 7.0 k/9 2.8 bb/9 1.59 GD:FB +17 FIP(L)

Drake was a surprise pick in the 2008 draft as it seems many teams did not realize he was draftable. His performance was what was largely expected last year as he succeeded against LoA hitters in a pitchers park. That success should translate to HiA as much of it was the result of inducing groundballs. As he stands right now, Drake looks to be a middle reliever when he reaches the Majors, but as a starter he probably won't face exceptional trouble until he reaches AAA. He is probably the Keys' best starter in 2010.

Others to watch:
Joe Mahoney 1B - Confused season as potential power hitter became more of a gap hitting base stealer. Need to see some power development.
Tyler Kolodny 3B - Good power, but very poor contact skills. Might stall out in Frederick.
Cole McCurry RHSP - Promising, but his fly ball tendencies will not play well as he moves up.
Patrick Kantakevich RHRP - Long road ahead as he looks to be an MiL RHRP. Not overpowering.

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