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.
Brian Matusz: The 2009 MLB amateur draft is just around the corner, so let’s take a look at one of the top picks from 2008 that has been absolutely dealing in high-A ball. Left-handed starter Brian Matusz is probably ready for the challenge of double-A, but Baltimore has been cautious with its top prospects in the last couple of years (including Matt Wieters and Jake Arrieta). Matusz currently has allowed 42 hits in 46.2 innings of work but his strikeout rate is really impressive at 11.57 K/9. His walk rate is OK at 3.63 BB/9. In his last three games, the southpaw has allowed six walks (including four in one game) but he’s kept hitters to just 14 hits in 19.2 innings, with 28 Ks.
Aaron Poreda: Like Matusz, Aaron Poreda is another former first-round draft pick. He’s taken a little longer to get the hang of pro ball, but he’s having a very nice season in double-A for the White Sox. In fact, it’s a little surprising that he hasn’t received a promotion to triple-A, after spending half of 2008 at the same minor league level – but it’s probably the base-on-balls. After walking 22 batters in 87.2 double-A innings in ’08, Poreda has issued 19 free passes in 33.1 innings this season. On the plus side, though, he has allowed just 23 hits and zero home runs. A two-pitch hurler, Poreda’s slider is just an OK pitch and it’s his fastball that will earn him a big-league job, as it has touched 100 mph. It’s probably about time Chicago bit the bullet and placed the big left-hander in the bullpen and began to groom him as Bobby Jenks‘ successor.
Hector Rondon: This right-hander burst upon the scene in 2008 and has continued to grow into one of the Indians’ top prospects. Hector Rondon currently has a 1.95 ERA (2.61 FIP) in double-A and has allowed 29 hits in 32.1 innings of work. His walk rate is at just 1.95 BB/9, down from an already respectable 2.61 from 2008. Rondon’s strikeout rate has dropped a bit from last year’s 9.00 K/9 but it’s still solid at 7.79 K/9. Impressively, he’s also allowed just one home run despite allowing more fly-ball outs than ground-ball outs, which is the one thing he really needs to work on to take his game to the next level.
Josh Thole: Let’s go off the board now and talk about a couple players you probably have not heard much about. As a 13th round draft pick out of an Illinois high school in 2005, Josh Thole has understandably flown under the radar for a while. His blip began to show up on the radar in 2008 when he hit .300 in high-A ball. The catcher cannot hide any longer, though. Thole is currently hitting .349/.418/.476 in 32 double-A games at the age of 22. He’s also a left-handed hitting catcher, which is extremely valuable and somewhat rare. He’s still raw behind the plate though, having played mostly first base prior to 2008. Thole is showing signs of improving, as he has yet to make an error behind the dish and he’s improved his throwing, going from a caught-stealing rate of 22% in ’08 to 42% so far in ’09.
Cyle Hankerd: This talented outfielder is getting back on track. Cyle Hankerd had a dominating pro debut in 2006 after being selected out of USC in the third round of the draft. He hit more than .370 with 12 home runs in half a season and ended the year in high-A ball. The shine came off Hankerd over the next two seasons though, as he struggled to hit for power and his batting average kept dipping lower and lower. Repeating double-A in 2009, he’s starting to show signs of taking off again. The 24-year-old prospect is hitting .362/.434/.543 with an ISO of .181 in 36 games. Hankerd had wrist problems in 2007, which resulted in surgery. It often takes players about two years to recover from that type of injury, so the Arizona prospect’s surge could be related to finally being healthy. Although he has just three homers, Hankerd also has 12 doubles in 116 at-bats, which is just five fewer than he had in 436 at-bats last season. As long as he continues to show some sock in his bat, Hankerd has the chance to be at least a league-average left fielder.
Give the Guy a Chance: Cleveland’s Jordan Brown just cannot catch a break. The first baseman has been stuck in an organization that has had Travis Hafner and Ryan Garko blocking both the first base and designated hitter positions in the Majors. Then the club brought in left-fielder Matt LaPorta, a top offensive prospect from Milwaukee, whose best position is probably 1B or DH. Brown has a career minor league line of .303/.373/.464 in parts of five seasons since being selected out of the University of Arizona in the fourth round of the 2005 amateur draft. The biggest knock on Brown is his lack of power, but he has a similar skill set that that of former Indians first baseman Sean Casey, who put together a very solid 12-year MLB career. The left-handed batter is currently in triple-A Columbus hitting .348/.347/.583 in 34 games. At the very least, Brown should be a valuable pinch hitter for a National League team and he even has a career batting average of .293 versus southpaw pitchers.
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