Every Thursday throughout the season, Minor Impacts takes a look at some of the hottest minor league players that could have impacts at the Major League Level in the near future. Some of the players we’ve educated you on before their promotions include: Vince Mazzaro, Andrew McCutchen, Gordon Beckham, Robert Manuel, Marc Rzepczynski, Aaron Poreda, Jake Fox, Nolan Reimold, Daniel Bard, and Mat Latos.
Freddie Freeman: The Atlanta Braves organization recently promoted its two top offensive prospects from high-A to double-A. Freeman, a first baseman, had a breakout 2008 season, in what was his first full year in the minors after being selected in the second round of the 2007 draft out of a California high school. The prospect, who recently turned 20, hit .316/.378/.521 with 18 homers in 491 at-bats. This season, he began the year in high-A where he hit .302/.394/.447 with six homers in 255 at-bats. So far in double-A, Freeman is hitting .294 with three doubles in nine games. Although he does not walk a ton, the left-handed hitter does not strike out much (16.1 K%), compared to other power hitters. Defensively, he is above average and he has a strong arm as a former prep hurler who was committed to Cal State Fullerton as a two-way player.
Jason Heyward: This power-hitting outfielder was, like Freeman, a steal from the 2007 draft. The Braves nabbed the Georgia native with the 14th overall pick of the draft. An advanced hitter for a prep signee, Heyward has a career line of .312/.379/.491 in 733 at-bats – and he’s still just 19 years old. Earlier this season in high-A ball, Heyward hit .296/.369/.519 with 10 homers in 189 at-bats, while missing time with an injury. In a good pitcher’s park, the left-handed hitter posted a walk rate of 10 BB% and a strikeout rate of 15.9 K%. Since his promotion to double-A, Heyward is hitting .346/.438/.615 with three doubles and two triples in eight games. Neither Freeman nor Heyward should see the Majors this season, but they should both be kept in mind for 2010… They could both be up before the MLB All-Star break, depending on the big league club’s playoff hopes.
Danny Valencia: It’s been a rough offensive season for the Minnesota Twins. Incumbent third baseman Joe Crede is hitting .234/.297/.452, while back-up Brian Buscher is hitting .210/.350/.310. Help, though, may be on the way. Valencia does not have the same pedigree that other top prospects have, as a former 19th round selection out of the University of Miami. However, he’s clawed his way to the top and is on the cusp of giving some offensive aid to the Twins’ big league club. In four seasons, Valencia has a triple-slash line of .305/.363/.489. He began the 2009 season in double-A, where he hit .284/.373/.482 with seven homers in 218 at-bats. Recently promoted to triple-A, Valencia is currently hitting .360/.372/.573 with three homers and seven doubles in 19 games. His 2.6% walk rate at triple-A suggests he has a little work to do with his approach. However, the right-handed hitter is almost big-league ready and has the potential to be an average Major League third baseman.
Terry Evans: If you think Valencia is a long-shot made good, meet Evans. This Angels outfield prospect was selected out of a small junior college in the 47th round in the 2002 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He had four nondescript years in the minors before breaking out offensively in 2006. The next season, Evans was traded to the Angels organization and he made his MLB debut (eight games). Outfield depth in the system kept him at triple-A in 2008 and an injury cost him much of the season. Back at full strength in 2009, Evans is putting on a show with a line of .287/.333/.520 in 348 at-bats. He also has 17 homers and 20 steals in 23 attempts. Although he’s already 27, Evans is showing 30-30 ability at the triple-A level. His poor plate rates will probably limit his ceiling in the Majors, but this late bloomer has some big-league potential, even if only as a part-time player.
Esmil Rogers: For long-time fans, it is still hard to wrap one’s mind around the fact that Colorado could produce effective Major League pitchers. But in this new era, talented pitchers can actually survive in the Rockies. Rogers, 23, has been slowly navigating the Colorado minor league system since coming over to North America in 2006. He’s really taken his game to another level this season, thanks to improved command and control of his solid repertoire: low-to-mid-90s fastball, good curveball and improving changeup. At double-A, Rogers allowed 87 hits in 94.1 innings, while also posting a walk rate of 1.81 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 7.92 K/9. The right-hander was recently promoted to triple-A, where he’s made just one start (6 IP, 3 R).
Hector Rondon: Another quietly-blooming Latin prospect, Rondon’s name is slowly gaining popularity among prospect watchers. The right-handed hurler broke out in a big way in 2008 and has continued to improve in 2009. He began this season in double-A where he allowed 60 hits in 72 innings of work. The 21-year-old pitcher also posted a walk rate of 2.00 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 9.13 K/9. Promoted to triple-A, Rondon has made just one start and he did not allow a hit over six innings, while walking two and striking out eight. His repertoire includes a fastball that can touch 94-95 mph, a plus changeup, and a developing slider. He has the potential to be a No. 2 or 3 starter.
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