Hitters take the spotlight in this week’s Future Rookies. Of the pitchers featured, one was recently promoted from Double-A to Triple-A, and the other looks to be in line for a much anticipated major league debut on Thursday.
Ryan Lavarnway, C, Boston Red Sox, 24 years old
Raise your hand if you had Jarrod Saltalamacchia leading major league catchers in home runs on June 25 coming into the year. I see no hands, thus, I’m going to assume this is a slightly surprising development. Suffice to say, Salty has exceeded reasonable expectations, and the Red Sox have had no need to dip into the minors and grab Lavarnway. That hasn’t prevented him from raking in the International League. He is hitting for power, working walks, and basically doing everything at the dish statistically that the organization could possibly want, and he’s been at his best of late. In his last 10 games, he has hit .421/.489/.737 with six doubles, two home runs, and more walks, seven, than strikeouts, six. He’s smashing the ball in June, with more home runs this month, four, than he had in the first two months of the season, three. There isn’t an immediate opening for him, but his bat seems to be ready.
Ryan Wheeler, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks, 23 years old
Wheeler is still hitting since his feature here a few weeks ago. The Diamondbacks continue to get lackluster production from the hot corner. The team has had Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald taking groundballs at third base to prepare for the return of Stephen Drew on Wednesday, but even with them in the mix, the team could stand to improve at the position. Wheeler has been at his best in June, hitting .462/.480/.667 with four home runs and seven doubles.
Should the team turn to Wheeler to help bolster the position, they have a perfect platoon situation. Roberts, a right-handed batter, has been much better against left-handed pitching than against right-handed pitching in his career with a career line of .271/.358/.461 against lefties and .236/.312/.368 against righties. That platoon has played out again this year, with him sporting an OPS 156 points higher against lefties than righties. Conversely, Wheeler, a left-handed batter, is much better against right-handed pitching that left-handed pitching. In 2012, Wheeler is hitting .262/.333/.338 against lefties, and scorching the ball at a blistering clip of .396/.424/.645 against righties. Last year, while playing in Double-A, he hit .276/.310/.376 against southpaws and .301/.375/.500 against right-handed pitchers. Just 5.5 games out of first place in the National League West, the Diamondbacks are in a position that they need to figure out how to put the best team on the field and close the gap further. That could include promoting Wheeler.
Yasmani Grandal, C, San Diego Padres, 23 years old
Grandal hasn’t let his awkward promotion and demotion slow down his bat in the Pacific Coast League (PCL). He’s owning the strike zone, walking at the same rate as he’s striking out on the season. He has been even better than that in his last 10 games, with nine walks against three strikeouts. When he hasn’t been strolling to first base via ball four in the last 10 games, he is hitting at a solid .344/.488/.531 clip with three doubles and one home run. Padres catcher Nick Hundley is continuing to poop the bed at the plate, and he has ceded starts to John Baker of late, who isn’t lighting the world on fire either. It seems likely Grandal will get a more extensive major league look than his one at-bat to date before season’s end.
Josh Vitters, 3B, Chicago Cubs, 22 years old
The Cubs selected Vitters third overall in the 2007 amateur draft, and while he isn’t living up to the expectations that come with that high a selection, he’s far from a flame out. He’s just 22 years old, and he’s hitting well in Triple-A. Vitters is still free swinging, walking in fewer than six percent of his plate appearances, but he’s making the most of his hacktastic approach. The team experimented with Vitters in the outfield and at first base in the Arizona Fall League, but he has played third base almost exclusively this year. According to Baseball Reference, he has played 65 games at third base, four at designated hitter, and two at first base. Third base has been an offensive black hole for the Cubs, and the Ian Stewart experiment has been a disaster. That won’t be enough to prompt the Cubs, the team with the worst record in the majors, to rush Vitters, but it does mean that if they deem him ready, little stands in his way.
Danny Hultzen, SP, Seattle Mariners, 22 years old
Welcome to the PCL Danny boy. Not the debut fantasy owners stashing him hoped for, but it is also just one start. Hultzen was too good for Double-A, but may require an adjustment period in Triple-A. As long as he stays healthy, and doesn’t have some kind of Rick Ankiel-esque strike throwing disaster before year’s end, this season should be considered a positive professional debut even if he doesn’t reach the bigs.
Trevor Bauer, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks, 21 years old
Keith Law and his #FreeBauer movement will be happy to know that Bauer is in consideration for replacing an injured Joe Saunders in the rotation for Thursday’s start according to the Diamondbacks’ official website. Many fantasy owners see the gaudy strikeout totals and are excited, and for good reason. That said, Bauer isn’t a finished product. In addition to his high strikeout totals, he’s also walking a bunch of batters, and the combination creates an inefficient pitcher. Long term, he’s a prospect with a very high ceiling, but short term he has flaws that will probably result in some stumbles and clunker starts. He’s worth gambling on in large mixed leagues and NL-only formats, but shallow leaguers probably shouldn’t cut a useful player to take a chance on Bauer yet in most cases.
Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants, 23 years old
Brown made the most of the High-A California league hitter-friendly setting last year, but has found the Double-A Eastern League to be much tougher this year. It looks like he’s starting to settle in, though, and may have time to salvage the season. He has tallied multiple hits in his last six games, and seven of his last 10. He’s slashing .295/.350/.421 in June. Brown isn’t walking as often this year, and he has seen his stolen base success rate take a huge slide this year from 73.6 percent in 2011 to 63.6 percent in 2012. He has been better lately, stealing five bases in six chances in his last 10 games. His profile remains the same. If things work out, he’ll be a leadoff hitter for the Giants that can hit for average, could stand to walk a bit more, but has the type of speed to do damage on the base paths.
Josh is a graduate of SUNY Cortland's Sport Management program, and an aspiring fantasy writer. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad. You can also follow his work at The Hardball Times and follow him on Twitter (BChad50).
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