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.
We’re changing things up this week in honor of the first Minor Impacts report of the month. Today’s posting will look at a group of players that received a call-up to the Majors, or were involved in a trade, in the past two days.
Gordon Beckham: The White Sox organization has promoted a few rookies to the big league club in recent days (including LHP Wes Whisler, who could be the next Micah Owings, given his college hitting skills). Beckham, though, is the club’s top prospect and was its first-round selection from the 2008 draft. Signed as a shortstop, he showed the ability to handle third base, which encouraged the big league club to promote him to the Majors. Beckham began the 2009 season in double-A and hit .299/.366/.497 in 38 games. He then spent just six games in triple-A (.458 average) before receiving the call to the Majors. His home run power is not fully developed yet – he had just four homers in double-A, but 17 doubles – so Beckham may show below-average power for a third baseman early on in his career. He can also be a little too aggressive at the plate at times, so big-league pitchers may exploit that weakness. Long-term, though, he has solid potential as either a third baseman or a shortstop and could quickly become the face of the franchise and the team’s leader.
Andrew McCutchen: Well it’s about time. I have been calling for this promotion since the beginning of the season when McCutchen was demoted to triple-A for a second straight year. It’s a little surprising, though, that the organization chose to trade off incumbent center-fielder Nate McLouth, rather than shift him (or McCutchen) to right field. Regardless, the rookie is now where he belongs – in the Majors… even if the club somehow managed to weaken itself in the process (In classic Pittsburgh fashion, of course). McCutchen was hitting .303/.361/.493 with four home runs and 10 stolen bases in 49 games. The 22-year-old outfielder does not walk a ton, but he’s also trimmed his strikeout rate to about 11% in 2009. He has the potential to hit .300 with 10-15 home runs and 30-40 steals in a full MLB season. He also plays above-average defense in the outfield.
Tommy Hanson: Hanson is another top prospect who was fully deserving of this opportunity, which probably could (should) have come sooner. The Braves effectively released 300-winner Tom Glavine to make room for the next generation. An argument could be made for Hanson being the best pitching prospect in baseball, but his name is definitely in the Top 3-5 pitching prospects, along with southpaws David Price and Madison Bumgarner. Hanson had a breakout 2008 season and got even better in 2009 while opening the year in triple-A. Last season, the right-hander dominated in high-A ball for seven games (0.90 ERA) before receiving a promotion to double-A. There, Hanson allowed just 70 hits in 98 innings of work and struck out 114 batters. He did, though, struggle with his control to a degree and he walked 41 batters (3.77 BB/9). Hanson then pitched in the Arizona Fall League and dominated some of the best prospects in the game. This year, Hanson had a 1.49 ERA in 11 starts. He allowed 40 hits and 17 walks (2.31 BB/9) in 66.1 innings of work. He also struck out 90 hitters (12.21 K/9). Hanson’s repertoire includes a mid-90s fastball, slider, curve and changeup. With the strides he’s made in the past year, he has the potential to be a No. 1 starter.
The Nate McLouth Loot: In a surprise trade, the Pirates tossed quality outfielder Nate McLouth to the Braves for two good, but not great, prospects: outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, and LHP Jeff Locke, and one OK young MLB-ready pitcher (who was pitching at triple-A): Charlie Morton. Hernandez, who was originally acquired from Detroit (along with Jair Jurrjens) in the Edgar Renteria deal, is a speedy, toolsy outfielder. He was playing in double-A ball with mixed results. His triple-slash line looks pretty good on the batting-average side: .316/.361/.387, but 15 walks in 212 at-bats (6.6 BB%) bites into the on-base percentage. He also has not hit a home run in 2009, after hitting just five in 100 games last year in high-A ball. So, obviously, Hernandez’ game is built around speed. At this point, it does not look like he’ll get on-base enough to be an impact player at the MLB level. He’s also stolen just 10 bases in 18 attempts this season, so he needs to work on becoming a better base runner to take advantage of the speed. He stolen 54 bases in 2007, but that total dropped to 20 in 2008 (although he was caught just four times). Defensively, he’s a very good center fielder. But with McCutchen now in the Majors in center, Hernandez does not profile well at all in a corner outfield spot (and neither does McCutchen).
Locke probably has the greatest potential amongst the three players acquired from the Braves. With that said, though, he’s also still fairly raw as a 2006 second round draft pick out of a New Hampshire high school. The southpaw currently has a 5.52 ERA (but 3.64 FIP) in high-A ball. He’s allowed 47 hits in 45.2 innings of work. Locke is also struggling with his control (5.12 BB/9), although it has been a strong suit of his in the past. He’s struck out 43 batters (8.47 K/9) this year. Locke instantly becomes the best left-handed pitching prospect in the Pirates system with a low-90s fastball, good curve and developing changeup. He’s probably two years away from the Majors and a lot can go wrong with young pitching in that time frame. Locke projects to top out as a No. 3 starter in the Majors.
Morton is the only player headed to Pittsburgh that has any MLB experience. He received a desperation call to the Majors in 2008 and was hit around. He posted a 6.15 ERA and allowed 80 hits with 41 walks in 74.2 innings of work. In 2009, Morton had obviously slid down the Braves’ depth chart as he was passed over for a MLB promotion on a few occasions despite posting solid numbers. The right-hander had a 2.51 ERA and had allowed 52 hits in 64.2 innings of work. His rates were solid at 2.23 BB/9 and 7.65 K/9. Despite being a third-round pick out of a New Jersey high school in 2002, Morton has never been considered amongst the Braves’ top prospects. His fastball averages out around 90 mph and he also has a good breaking ball and a changeup that has improved over the years. He could very well end up in the Pirates’ rotation within a month, given the current state of affairs.