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, and Daniel Bard.
Alex Avila: The Detroit Tigers organization does not have a very deep minor-league system so it’s an exciting day when a prospect exceeds expectation. That is exactly what Avila has done since signing as a 2008 fifth round draft pick out of the University of Alabama. The catcher has built off of a strong junior year in college to become an above-average offensive catcher. After hitting .305 in his debut season, Avila has continued to bat .300 in 2009, while also adding more power with 21 doubles and eight homers in 247 at-bats. He’s striking out a bit (23.5 K%) but he’s also showing good patience (13.9 BB%). Add in that Avila is a left-handed batter and you have the heavy side of a platoon with either Gerald Laird or Dusty Ryan (in the very near future).
Lance Zawadzki: The San Diego Padres organization had eight picks before the third round of the 2007 draft so it looked for some ways to save money in later rounds. Shortstop Zawadzki was nabbed in the fourth round as a senior at a small NAIA college (Having transferred away from San Diego State after a terrible junior year). The infielder was one of those players who always had a ton of potential but just could not put everything together – in part due to injuries. Zawadzki’s first full pro season in 2008 was modest but he’s broken out in a big way in 2009. He hit .276/.360/.552 with 10 homers in 145 at-bats in high-A ball. The 24-year-old prospect was then promoted to double-A where he’s hitting .346/.428/.512 with three homers in 127 at-bats. Zawadzki also stole 28 bases in 31 attempts in 2008, so he has some speed. Given the lack of middle infield options on the big league club, this under-the-radar prospect could see time in San Diego before the year is out.
Kila Ka’aihue: It’s safe to say that the love that the Kansas City Royals organization received over the winter for its “shrewd moves” is over. The move that received the most scrutiny was probably the acquisition of one-dimensional hitter Mike Jacobs. One of the most puzzling parts of the decision to add Jacobs was that the club already had a breakout, MLB-ready first baseman in Ka’aihue, who batted .315 with 37 homers (and excellent on-base skills) between double-A and triple-A in 2008. His batting average is down this year to .265, but he still has more walks than strikeouts (1.03 BB/K) and he’s hitting for more power than Jacobs (ISO: .228 vs .186). Ka’aihue would probably be of much more value to the big league club right now, but the organization would be admitting it made a huge mistake with the Jacobs acquisition.
Brian Matusz: We looked at Matusz earlier this season in this column and the picture has only gotten brighter for the left-handed pitching prospect. The bad news for the former No. 1 pick, though, is that the Baltimore Orioles organization is absolutely stacked with upper-level pitching talent. Regardless, the big league club is not going to be able to ignore him for long. After posting a 2.11 ERA (2.91 FIP) in 11 high-A starts, Matusz has posted a 0.34 ERA (1.57 FIP) in four double-A starts. He’s allowed just 11 hits and six walks in 26.1 innings of work. The southpaw has also struck out 32 batters and has yet to allow a home run in double-A. The 22-year-old hurler has more than justified his fourth-overall selection in the 2008 draft.
Zach Braddock: One of the hardest things to do with talented prospects is to be patient. The Milwaukee Brewers organization has been rewarded for its patience with Braddock, a 2005 18th round selection out of community college. The southpaw was inconsistent in his first three pro seasons, while showing flashes of brilliance. Moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen in 2009, he’s taken off and been able to stay healthy. Braddock posted a 1.09 ERA (1.74 FIP) in 24.2 innings of work in high-A, while posting a walk rate of just 1.46 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 14.59 K/9. He’s continued to deal after a promotion to double-A. In 9.2 innings, Braddock has allowed nine hits and three walks, while striking out 13 batters. His repertoire includes an above-average fastball that touches 93-94 mph out of the pen, as well as a good slider and an occasional changeup.
Sam Demel: A move to the bullpen while at Texas Christian University really made Demel’s career. He’s taken off as a reliever in the A’s organization after signing as a third-round pick from the 2007 draft. The 23-year-old right-hander struck out 90 batters in 67 high-A innings in 2008. He then posted a 0.61 ERA with a strikeout rate of 7.98 K/9 in 29.1 double-A innings in 2009. Demel has since been promoted to triple-A, where he has yet to allow a run in four appearances. He’s given up three hits (but four walks) and struck out eight in 5.2 innings. With a little more control, Demel could be a future late-game reliever for the A’s organization.
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