Friday, September 4, 2009

Predictions Review: Lower-Level Breakout

Back in March, we polled the Rays blogosphere for predictions about the 2009 season in the minors. Now that it's September and the minor-league seasons are drawing to a close, it's time to take a look back and laugh at stupid things we all said. We continue today with Lower-Level Breakout. Again, the panelists were: Cork Gaines from RaysIndex, Tommy Rancel and R.J. Anderson from DRaysBay, the RaysParty gang, Tyler Hissey from AroundTheMajors, Brickhaus from all over the place, and Doug and I from this site.

The question I sent out for this was: "Who among the lower levels of the minors do you think will have a breakout season?" You can view the original post with everyone's full answers here.

I'd venture to say we did better this round than upper-level breakout, but I think the "most" right was Tommy Rancel, who pegged Matt Gorgen as a guy to quickly rise through the system. He was proven right immediately as the Rays skipped him over Bowling Green to Charlotte, where he posted a cartoonish 0.57 ERA with peripheral stats to back it up: 59 strikeouts to 16 walks in 47.2 innings and a GO/AO over 1. He was promoted to Montgomery where he's hit a bit of a rough patch. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, but opponents are still hitting just .211 off him there. Gorgen will report to the Arizona Fall League in October. R.J. Anderson, also of DRaysBay, mentioned Desmond Jennings here, who did break out but he started at AA, so I'm not sure to award him imaginary points or not.

Cork Gaines went with catcher Jake Jefferies, admitting that it was somewhat wishful thinking. A high-contact hitter in college, Jefferies has continued that, striking out only 34 times in 426 at-bats so far this season. Cork predicted a 1-1 strikeout-to-walk rate and is almost exactly right, as Jefferies has 35 walks. Still, combined with a .270 batting average, that's only good for a .332 OBP. He hasn't hit with a ton of power, with a SLG under .400 and an OPS of .703.

RaysParty took Alex Cobb, and were it not for some nagging injuries, may have been correct. Cobb has emerged as a pitcher who doesn't do anything poorly, but doesn't do any one thing well. He has a greater than 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate, but not a dominant K/9(7.7). He gets a healthy number of groundballs(1.58 GO/AO) but isn't wholly reliant on them. And he's not a control artist, but doesn't hurt himself with walks. He's battled some problems with blisters but has still made 23 starts, and from a personal standpoint, I feel he's underrated.

Tyler Hissey went with Nick Barnese, who started the year injured and then pitched in the shadow of Matt Moore in Bowling Green(Moore vs. Barnese was a prediction topic, so check for that review soon). Barnese didn't get started until June, and though he has a healthy 2.53 ERA and has shown flashes of brilliance(including a 1-hit, 7 inning performance in his 4th start and two 8-strikeout games), he hasn't maintained the dominant K/9 rate from Hudson Valley: it's fallen from 11.5 all the way to 7.5. His fastball still has enough movement to generate groundballs, and opponents are hitting barely over .200 off him. A decent season, but far from a breakout.

Brickhaus also chose a Bowling Green player who wound up starting the year hurt in Kyeong Kang. Despite missing almost a month, Kang ranks just outside of the top-10 in the SAL in doubles. He was named to the Futures Game world team and was having a solid but unspectacular season until he blew up in August with a .366/.459/.620 line which has helped bring his season line to .302/.387/.488. Plate discipline was an issue early, but since July 1st he's drawn 27 walks and struck out 35 times. He played the season at age 21, slightly old for the SAL, but promising anyway. The only thing more I'd have liked to see was turning more of those doubles into homeruns, of which he has just 5 this season.

Doug Milhoan said he'd like to see Joseph Cruz pushed to Bowling Green, and he got his wish. Cruz has made 21 starts for the Hot Rods, where he struck out just over a batter per inning. His first-half stats are better than his second-half ones, indicating he may be tiring over the course of a full-season. Whether by conscious effort or statistical noise, his groundball rate in the second half is almost a point higher than the first half. For whatever it's worth, his WHIP has remained exactly the same(1.39) from last season at Princeton. Doug also mentioned outfielder Brian Bryles, who after a hot start has really failed to produce. His season OPS is just .522, and he's been caught stealing more times than successful, troubling for a guy with his speed.

And lastly, I went with one of my favorite prospects, Jason McEachern. I predicted a big year at Princeton, but after only a few starts there he was promoted to Hudson Valley, where he's more than held his own as an 18-year old. He's a little bit similar to Alex Cobb in that he hasn't had a dominant strikeout rate but has found success. McEachern's combined BB/9 is 1.5, which is terrific for an 18-year old. In 8 of his 14 starts so far this season, he hasn't walked a batter. I think it's far to describe what he's had as a breakout season, but if his stuff develops next year and he starts striking more hitters out, then he may truly break out.

Since I mentioned the Moore vs. Barnese pre-season post, we'll get to that next, probably on Tuesday.

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