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What We Learned from MiLB: Week Four

I continue to steal from Dave Cameron’s review format below. Here’s what seems clear after a month of minor league action:

Brandon Belt likes wood.

What a coup it was when the Texas Longhorns managed to convince Brandon Belt to come to Austin, rather than sign with the Atlanta Braves, following his freshman season at San Jacinto Junior College. Belt was considered one of the top JuCo transfers in the nation, a big left-handed slugger that could double as a power southpaw out of the bullpen. However, in two seasons with Texas, Belt never took the jump that scouts and coaches alike expected. Yes, his junior season he still sported a .329/.429/.532 batting line, but by college first base standards, this is hardly other-worldly.

Given his build, his potential, his batting practice showings, Belt still showed enough to be drafted in the fifth round last season by the San Francisco Giants. Assigned to San Jose of the California League for his professional debut, Belt has been a revelation since moving to wood bats. He is one of four hitters in the minors batting .400, he leads the minors with a .510 on-base percentage, and his .640 slugging ranks 14th. Belt has essentially been platooned with the SJ Giants — he only has 8 AB against LHP — but is showing patience, bat control and gap power that make him a real prospect.

In 75 at-bats through 24 games, Belt has just 8 strikeouts against 17 walks. He has 12 extra-base hits, and has even managed seven steals. This is what Augie Garrido and the Texas staff thought they were getting when Belt arrived in Austin, but Belt is showing the rare skill to have more comfort with wood than aluminum. He is a real prospect, and looks to be a great pick by San Francisco.

Derek Holland should be in the Majors.

The Rangers are experiencing a wild change in fortune this season, as, for the first time in who-knows-how-long, the pitching staff (121 ERA+) is currently outpacing the offensive output (82 OPS+). I don’t know how long this will last — Justin Smoak hasn’t hit his stride, Nelson Cruz is on the shelf — but it’s clear that with C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and even Rich Harden, the Texas staff is the best it has been in awhile. And yet, it could be better.

We have written before on this site about Derek Holland‘s misfortune last season — a 6.12 ERA vs. a 4.38 xFIP. And when Holland suffered an injury in Spring Training, it became pretty clear that he had earned a ticket back to Triple-A. But now through six minor league starts, it seems silly for him to be wasting time with minor league hitters. Through 38.2 innings, Holland has allowed one home run, 7 walks and struck out 37 batters (0.93 ERA). He is ready.

When the realization hits that Scott Feldman isn’t good, or that Holland is better than Matt Harrison, I don’t know. But locked in a dogfight division, the Rangers would be best served finding clarity about their best pitching staff soon.

The Giants farm system just wins, baby.

More a fun tidbit than a telling statistic, I do think it’s noteworthy that the San Francisco Giants four minor league affiliates are a combined 61-42, two games better in the standings than any other Major League team. This is not indicative, nor should it be a factor, of any farm system rankings (the Mets are second), but I do think the 21 point advantage the Giants have in winning percentage over their competition is noteworthy.

The Low-A Augusta Greenjackets are 16-11, and have received a team-leading five home runs from catcher Tommy Joseph, and 2009 first-round pick Zack Wheeler‘s last two starts have been great: 9.2 innings, 6 hits, 0 ER, 6 walks, 13 strikeouts. I’ve mentioned Belt’s contributions to the 13-11 San Jose Giants, who have another college bloomer in former NC State ace Eric Surkamp, who continues to be brilliant in all three FIP categories.

The Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Giants new Double-A affiliate, are 15-11 despite little contributions from actual prospects: Thomas Neal (.235/.324/.357), Brandon Crawford (.224/.324/.353) or Roger Kieschnick (.284/.324/.337). Leading the charge are the 17-9 Fresno Grizzlies,armed with Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, but getting their biggest contributions from good ol’ Joe Borchard, hitting .360/.455/.640.