In George We Trust
A(nother) blog about the most storied franchise in sports
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Farm system report: May
The month of May is usually a great barometer in the game of baseball, it separates the Shelton's from the Pujols', the Arroyo's from the Peavy's, and more often than not, the contenders from the pretenders.

Much like the month of May, the Double-A level serves as a terrific talent evaluator. Players that succeed in Double-A usual go onto a major league career in some capacity. Those that don't, well...basically you never hear from them again. The Yanks Double-A affiliate in Trenton is home to arguably the organization's top 4 pitching prospects, and each one of them appears to be on his way to passing the test with flying colors.

Here's a wrap up of what the farm system gave us in the month of May (all stats, etc. are from May unless otherwise noted):

Triple-A Columbus (22-29, 8.0 GB, 13-14 in May)

Top pitching performance:
Kris Wilson (May 23): 9 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K - 75 of 113 pitches were strikes (66.4%), 14-7 GB/FB ratio
Top hitting performance:
Rob Stratton (May 27): 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 HR, 5 RBI

Injuries at the major league level reeked havoc on the Clippers roster, with call-ups and send-downs occurring almost daily. In a 10 day period, the Clippers saw Melky Cabrera, Mitch Jones and Kevin Reese summoned to bigs, only to see bullpeners Scott Erickson, Colter Bean and Matt Smith join them days if not hours later. Lefty Matt Smith appears to be entrenched on the Columbus-Bronx train this year, already being called to big league squad on 2 occasions in 2006.

The Clippers have also seen some new additions added to the mix, as former elite prospect Carlos Pena joined career journeymen Jason Conti and Robert Stratton to provide the Clips with a new heart of the order. While Conti has showed why he's been a journeyman, both Pena and Stratton have given the Clips a nice shot in the arm, posting .872 and .814 OPS's, respectively. Stratton - in the midst of his 6th straight year at the Triple-A level - has been especially impressive, providing 5 HR and 15 RBI from the cleanup spot in 16 May games.

However, the biggest story surrounded the Clippers this month has minor league free agent pick-up Kris Wilson going from roster-filler to potential call-up option. The 29 year old went 2-1 in May, giving up only 28 hits in 43 IP (good for a .185 BAA) while posting a .81 WHIP, 33-7 K/BB ratio and 1.67 ERA. Wilson pitched into the 8th inning in his last 5 May starts, having never allowed more baserunners than IP in any one of those starts.

Not to be outdone by Wilson, waiver pickup and recently called-up Darrell Rasner has continued his 2006 excellence, going 3-0, 1.50 ERA, 46-18 GB/FB ratio during May. Throw out a May 16th disaster in which Rasner gave up 11 H and 4 ER in 4.1 IP, and he put up a 0.35 ERA (not a typo), 1.01 WHIP and a 19-6 K/BB ratio during May. And this guy was on waivers...

Double-A Trenton (27-26, 2.5 GB, 20-12 in May)

Top pitching performance:
Steve White (May 31): 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 B, 4 K
Top hitting performance:
Randy Ruiz (May 17): 4 for 5, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K

Dominant. Lights out. Unhittable. Slamming the door. Nails in the coffin. All are fit to describe the Thunder's bullpen duo of James Brent Cox and Theodore Beam Junior, better known as JB Cox and TJ Beam. The first name-initialed tandem seemed to be on a mission this pass month, combining to give up only 5 ER in 47.1 IP, good for an ERA of 0.95. Beam has been overpowering hitters with a fierce fastball-slider combo (21-8 K/BB, .209 BAA), while Cox has been equally adept at getting outs on his own (13-5 K/BB) as well as on the ground(35-14 GB/FB). The Yankee braintrust has done an excellent job of getting Cox and Beam experience, having each throw multiple innings each time out. Joined by the unheralded relief corps of Charlie Manning, Francisco Butto and Justin Pope, the Trenton bullpen went 22 innings between giving up runs at one point in May.

Of course, what kind of farm system report would this be without mention of Phil Hughes. The 19 year old Southern Californian made the jump to Double-A to start the month, and he seems to have turned the corner after a somewhat inauspicious start at the level. After having his trademark control desert him to the tune of 8 BB in his first 24 May IP, Hughes has issued only 3 free passes in 12.1 IP over his last 2 starts. There is one disturbing trend however, as Hughes' WHIP has steady increased with each May start (.83-.86-.91-.94-.99). On the bright side, Hughes has been racking up K's with more regularity each start, putting up a 3-5-5-5-7 strikeout trend for the month. For the most part it seems like he's starting to round back into form, and it's only a matter of time before he unleashes a 7 IP, 2 H, double-digit K masterpiece again.

High-A Tampa (25-26, 5.5 GB, 15-12 in May)

Top pitching performance:
Alan Horne, Chase Wright, Gerardo Casadiego (May 5): combined 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 8 K
Top hitting performance:
Brett Gardner (May 25): 2 for 5, 1 R, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 1 SB

Exit Phil Hughes, enter Alan Horne. With the Yanks prized arm heading north to Trenton, Horne - the former Gator and one-time first round pick - seems to have taken over the spotlight down in West Florida. Here's Horne's numbers from May: .197 BAA, 11.63 Kper9, 15 hits allowed in 21.2 IP. So what's the problem? Control. Horne has allowed 5.40 BBper9 in May, ballooning his OBPA to .340 (remember he held hitters to a .197 BAA) and limiting himself to short outings due to high pitch counts. Horne does possess a remarkable K rate, striking batters out at least a 10.7 Kper9 rate in each start this year. He's got the Farnsworth-esque enigma cloud around him; when he's on, he's flat out nasty, but when he's off, it's real ugly (like yo momma, ooooooooh. Just kiddin').

Cody Ehlers continues to be a man amongst boys in the Florida State League as he places in the league top 10 in HR (9), RBI (43), TB (95), and SLG (.514). Ehler's sidekick Brett Gardner has cooled down after an ungodly start, but he's still 2nd in the league in R (37), 7th in H (59), 2nd in BB (37), 1st in SB (22), 1st in OBP (.451), 3rd in BA (.333) and 7th in OPS (.886). The over/under on both finishing the year in Tampa is at about 5%.

News out of Tampa in May reported a Carl Pavano sighting, but still no word yet on Christian Garcia's ETA from an oblique strain.

Low-A Charleston (26-27, 10.0 GB, 12-18 in May)

Top pitching performance:
Bryan Villalona (May 5): 5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
Top hitting performances:
Jose Tabata (May 5): 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 SB
Reegie Corona (May 20): 6 for 7, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB

When you talk about the Yanks Low-A affiliate in Charleston, you'll inevitably skip right past the fact that they're on a 9 game losing streak and have lost 11 of 13, and bring up the tremendously talented teenage trio (say that 3 times fast) of Austin Jackson, Jose Tabata and CJ Henry. Throw in recent demotees Marcos Vechionacci, Eduardo Nunez and Tim Battle, and you'll be hard pressed to find another team in the minors with 6 players possessing this much raw ability still on the un-fun side of their 21st birthday (all 6 of those guys were in the Yanks top 12 prospects according to BA). Both Jackson and Tabata continued to do what they do best last month: drive in runs (28 combined RBIs), rack up XBHs (16 combined XBHs) and create havoc on the basepaths (14 combined SBs). Apparently the Mets inferiority complex kicked in (again), because they picked up a Tabata of their own.

After coming off the DL on May 8th, CJ Henry performed like a man (kid) possessed. In his first 9 games back, he went .406-.457-.750-1.207 with 8 XBH, 5 RBI, and 7 runs scored while raising his BA 123 points in just over a week. Since then? He's gone .104-.232-.125-.357 with 17 K's in 13 games. And that's not even the worst of it. The 20 year old has committed 14 errors in 31 games this season, with 9 of those E's coming in May. Lots of people have said they see a position change in Henry's future, and it's not hard to see why based on the kid's defense, or lack thereof.

When it comes to the RiverDogs pitching crew, there's really only 1 name worth mentioning: Abel Gomez. The 21 year old Dominican held batters to a .127 BAA in 18.1 IP in April, only to follow that up by allowing 47 baserunners in 22.0 May innings. The scary thing is that 23 of those baserunners reached base via the free pass, meaning Gomez is the proud owner of a 9.41 BBper9 for the month of May. Oy vay, someone should tell the kid he doesn't need to try to throw the ball through a brick wall with each pitch.

In-Season Top 10 Prospects
(based on 2006 performance)
  1. Darrell Rasner: No his upside isn't as monumental as Hughes', but don't argue with me, argue with the numbers.
  2. Austin Jackson: There's no up-and-downs with this kid, it's been nothing but consistent production game after game after game.
  3. Jose Tabata: About 2 weeks ago he seemed like a lock for this month's top spot, then he hit the DL with a hand injury.
  4. Phil Hughes: Struggles in Double-A keep a Top 3 Prospect spot away. (sorry, that was pathetic, it'll never happen again)
  5. JB Cox: His success is even sweeter knowing Craig Hansen has allowed 38 baserunners in 30.2 IP this year.
  6. Steven White: Pitched into the 7th in each May start, and only once gave up more than 2 ER. Oh yeah, he only gave up only 8 line drives in 32 IP (Mets lovechild Mike Pelfrey gave up 21 liners in 21.2 IP).
  7. TJ Beam: Would it be the worst thing in the world to call him up to the bigs right now to give Scott Proctor a breather once in a while?
  8. Brett Gardner: Slowed down a bit after a hot start, but he's still 4th in the organization with a .333 BA and 7th with a .884 OPS.
  9. Tyler Clippard: He still scares the crap out of me (6'3", 170 lbs - did he ever hear of a Ring Ding???), but when you strikeout 25 and give up only 21 hits in a month, you're doing something right.
  10. CJ Henry: It's not all about K's and E's, his OBP was almost 100 points higher than his BA in May.

Both Short-Season Staten Island and the Gulf Coast League Yankees kick off their seasons on the 20th of June, less than 3 weeks away. The GCL team is always fun to check up on, because it's usually chock full of very young, very talented players just plucked from the draft or the international market.

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