Minor League Roundup Part 1

<i>Duran helps close Play Ball Park<i>

Part 1 of the Minor League Roundup takes you down on the farm with the true youngsters at Rookie Ball Missoula, into the Bears den at Short Season A Ball Yakima, and flying high with the Lo A Midwest League South Bend Silverhawks.

To say its been a tough year for the D'Backs is like saying the USA Men's Basketball Olympic team is disappointing.  Injuries, underperformance, and trades have decimated the major league club's roster, and a byproduct of that has been a decimation of the minor league rosters as well.  Of Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects in the D'Backs organization four of the ten are currently on the major league roster.  Want more proof?  Consider this, the El Paso Diablos have had 77 different players on their roster.  While movement is the expected (and often positive) byproduct of improvement at the minor league level, it makes it difficult to put together a winning season.  While many of those players have moved up to, or from, the Diablos, the question remains, are the kids being rushed to fill the shoes of others who were rushed before them?  The Minor League Roundup shares some insight.

Missoula Osprey (Rookie Level Pioneer League)  

For the Osprey (10-15, 5.0 games out of first in the Second Half) it has been a struggle.  A new ballpark, far fewer draft picks than expected, and more under-drinking-age players than one can remember have put the team at a significant disadvantage.  The team is just sixth in the league in batting average, and fifth in team ERA.  The bright spots have been few and far between, but RHP Tim Vaillancourt's 4.13 ERA is better than his 4-4 record, and his 60/29 strikeout to walk ratio shows real promise.  RHP Ben Krantz has shown flashes of what he might become, and inconsistency is what pitchers are supposed to work on in rookie ball.  

On the offensive side both 3B Travis Gulick and OF Marcus Townsend have launched 10 homers, tying them for 6th in the league, and Townsend in particular looks to be making strides (since those 10 HRs have come in less than 30 games).  OF Miguel Matos has shown wheels, swiping a 3rd in the league 16 bases in 21 attempts and the Osprey bullpen has been better than advertised, with three potential closer prospects in Matt Elliott, Esmerling Vasquez, and Enmanuel Duran.

It is to be expected that such young players would be more comfortable at home than on the road, and the Osprey's record shows it.  A 9-7 mark at Play Ball Park might not set the world on fire, but next to the 1-8 road record above .500 ball seems like the '27 Yankees.

Yakima Bears (Short Season A Northwest League)

30-32 isn't the record anyone is looking for, but in a very competitive NW League the Bears find themselves only 3.0 games out of first place.  The team is 6th in the league in batting average, which punctuates the fantastic job the pitching staff has done (3rd in the league in ERA).  

The pitchers have been led by AJ Shappi, who's exceeding expectations, not an easy thing to do when you are the 9th round pick.  With a 3-1 record, a fantastic 1.67 ERA and a ridiculous 52 Ks to only five walks Shappi seems poised to rocket through the D'Backs farm system and (barring injury) crack the D'Backs starting rotation as early as 2006.

The hitters have taken turns being the studs, but two names stand out, stand up and stand tall.  Erik Schindewolf was taken in the 26th round out of Texas A&M and frankly he was a nice kid who the Diamondbacks did not expect much of.  Obviously no one told Schindewolf that because the first year 2B leads the NW League in runs scored, is 4th in on base percentage, fifth in stolen bases and seventh in hits. All while playing a stellar defensive second base.  He never over swings, rarely strikes out, and does all the intangibles (hitting behind runners, taking the extra base, getting the lead runner, etc) that managers love.  

As good as Schindewolf has been there have been few to match the year OF/1B Chris Carter is having.  His 77 hits lead the Northwest League, he also leads in RBIs.  He's 2nd in on base percentage, 2nd in slugging, 3rd in runs scored, 3rd in home runs and 7th in extra base hits.  To be perfectly honest, this kid has been terrifying pitchers when he steps to the plate, and not coincidentally, he's been there all year.  This has been a big first step in the development of a kid who could become a major force in the major leagues during the 06 or 07 seasons.

South Bend Silverhawks (Lo A Midwest League)

At 26-30 South Bend is a team that just hasn't added up to the sum of their parts.  It doesn't help when Matt Chico goes 8-5 with a 2.57 ERA and then gets promoted.  Or when William Juarez goes 3-1 with 1.55 ERA and then gets promoted.  Or when...well you get the idea.  At 26-30 they still can smell the playoffs at 6.5 games back, but the scent is fading.  Alex Frazier is the name on everyone's lips in Indiana.  Currently he's third in the league in doubles and extra base hits, fourth in homers and 7th in batting average at .305.  The outfielder has been stellar at the plate, showing a solid mix of speed and power that needs some work on plate discipline but has a break through coming. 

Danny Muegge is 12-4 with a 3.28 ERA with an even more impressive 102 Ks against 40 base on balls.  But hitting hasn't been a team wide thing.  At only .258 the teams hitting has been disappointing, even more so considering their team ERA is a very impressive 3.77.  Speed has been the name of the game as the light hitting Silverhawks have tried to manufacture runs, particularly through the stolen base.  Emilio Bonofacio has 32 steals good enough for 5th in the league, while Jon Kaplan checks in at 8th in league with 22, even Frazier is prone to run, with 17 steals. 

Tomorrow we'll finish up the roundup, checking in with Hi A Lancaster, AA El Paso, and AAA Tucson to see who's up, who's down, and who might be the next one trotting out on the indoor grass of Bank One Ballpark.

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