Welcome to another edition of Touch’em All! We are going through the minor leagues with one goal in mind: Give you the fan, or fantasy player, the info and analysis that you need. This time, we are reviewing some of the top performances in the Eastern League. Players were selected for this list with age appropriate-ness to level, draft position, performance, and physical tools in mind. So let’s get started!!
Yangervis Solarte 2B MIN (24) – A non-drafted free agent in 2005, Solarte has all the physical tools to become a major league hitter when healthy. That’s the rub: health. In 2009, the switch hitter only checked in for 60 total at bats, so there was a year of development lost due to injury. In 2010, the Twins moved him aggressively through three levels to finally stop at Double A New Britain. In 2011, he not only picked up where he left off, but broke out with a .329 batting average on 151 hits, 36 doubles, and 7 homeruns, while walking 24 times and striking out only 38 in 459 at bats. He shows good power potential and contact skills with an excellent 22% line drive rate but also keeps control of the strike zone with only a 7.6% K rate. Now, if he learns to take more walks, watch out! If there is anything that could slow his progress to the majors it would be his defense, which is a work in progress, but finally settling him at second base and not bouncing him from OF to 3b to SS, like before, is a step in the right direction.. Plus, second is also the position where his bat will have the greatest value. Age-wise, the window is closing on Solarte and his prospect status. He’ll need to show more of the same next season.
Starling Marte OF PIT (22) – Pittsburgh signed Marte out of Santo Domingo in 2007. The Altoona centerfielder flashes some of the same power/speed skills as the Pirates current CF Andrew McCutchen, although Cutch was only 20 years old when he passed through the Eastern League. The 2011 season saw Marte’s power numbers explode with 12 homeruns and a league leading 38 doubles. His ISOP jumped from .116 to .168. Add to that a .330 batting average including 176 hits (good for the Altoona single season record) and 24 stolen bases, plus some terrific defensive play (18 assists). We have a budding 5-tool player here. On the minus side, striking out 100 times and walking only 22 in 534 at bats would be problematic to say the least without the offensive explosion. I’d like to see what he does next season to know if the power is for real. If it all rings true, Pirate fans could be hearing his name a lot as a possible call-up option.
Will Middlebrooks 3B BOS (just turned 23) – Drafted by the Red Sox in the 5th round in 2007, the power-hitting Middlebrooks is set to be either the heir apparent to Youkilis at the hot corner or trade bait for another run at the American League East. This season, Middlebrooks managed a .302 batting average in112 hits, 25 doubles, and 18 homeruns with 21 walks and 95 strikeouts in 371 at bats. The power bat is definitely there with a .218 ISOP and terrific 19% line drive rate. Look for Middlebrooks to start out 2012 in Portland again. His 56 at bat jaunt to Pawtucket showed him being a little over-matched. He’s not far away though.
Chih-Hsien Chiang OF SEA (23) – Traded to the Seattle, in July, in the three way deal that sent Boston prospects Stephen Fife, Tim Federowicz, and Juan Rodriguez to the LA Dodgers while LA sent Trayvon Robinson to Seattle, and Seattle sent Erik Bedard and Josh Fields to Boston, the lefty from Taiwan posted some studly numbers at Portland prior to the deal. He batted .340 with 37 doubles, 18 homeruns, and a .402/.648/1050 along with 25 walks and 61 strikeouts in 321 at bats. Add to this sickness a totally unsustainable .308 ISOP and you have a reason for Mariner fans to get excited very soon. Soon, that is, once he becomes more acquainted mentally with how to properly perform his outfield duties and works on having a little more patience at the plate. Nonetheless, his bat is what will get him to the show.
Travis D’Arnaud C TOR (22) – Received in 2009 along with Kyle Drabek and Michael Taylor in the deal that sent Roy Halladay to Philadelphia, 2007 first rounder D’Arnaud didn’t wow anyone at first. A nice defensive catcher, people didn’t really start taking notice until he combined his solid work behind the dish with some increased power. Then, after another season, 2011 happened. D’Arnaud hit .311 with 132 hits, 33 doubles, and 21 homeruns while walking 33 times and striking out 100. Although he makes very good contact, one should be careful about all the strikeouts. His K rate has risen each season of development. The whiffs need to plateau next season to really put Travis in competition with Toronto’s power-hitting catching incumbent JP Arencibia. Once D’Arnaud is deemed ready, I am betting that Arencibia could be on his way out.
Jerome “LJ” Hoes OF BAL (21) – Selected by the Orioles as a 3rd rounder in 2008, Hoes has never shown much power, but what he has done is cut his K% rate and increase his BB% rate each season of development. At Double A Bowie, Hoes hit .305 with 106 hits, walking 43 times and striking out only 56. His excellent plate discipline and good contact could make him a good bet to get on base and hit around .300 annually. For LJ to get that opportunity in the majors, he needs some stability in his defensive position. When Hoes made it to the minors, Baltimore immediately sent him to play second base which would be the position where his powerless bat would play the best. Even though he’s a good athlete, the transition was rough and he eventually slid back into the outfield in 2011, his natural position. This move puts the Orioles in a position where the big league club would be sacrificing a bunch of power if Hoes keeps the corner outfield spot. Monitor this situation. Another move could hamper his development, but not moving him may limit his opportunities.
Alex Hassan OF BOS (23) – Double A Portland has been very good to Massachusetts boy Alex Hassan. Once a pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, Boston, noticing some offensive prowess, drafted him and then put him in the outfield. The moved worked because, now, he’s hitting .291 on 132 hits, 34 doubles, and 13 homeruns while showing some advanced plate discipline by walking 76 times and striking out 79. In fact, looking at the three seasons of his minor league career, Hassan has shown gradual improvement in all power categories (.165 ISOP) with excellent contact while, at the same time, walking nearly as much as he strikes out. And not enough can be said about Hassan doing all this while adjusting to the jump in competition that comes with the Eastern League promotion. Not one of Boston’s widely hyped farm prospects, keep an eye on this one.
Jordany Valdespin SS NYM (23) – Once a slight framed SS without much potential offensive upside, Valdespin as made a physical metamorphosis over the past few years. He’s grown a couple of inches and added close to 40 lbs to his frame. The additional weight has had both positive and negative effects. While he’s always been an athletic and aggressive middle infielder, the additional weight has caused to lose a step. But not enough to keep him off of SS. He still projects as a middle infielder whether at SS or 2B. The additional weight has however, allowed him to utilize the above average bat speed that he has always flashed. His IsoP popped to .186 as he hit 24 doubles and 15 HR over 404 AB at Double-A. All career highs while hitting .294 between AA and Triple. Toss in his overall 37 SB and Valedspin has added himself to the Mets Top 10 prospects and if the Mets are unable to retain Jose Reyes it could be Valdespin who replaces him some time in 2012.
Check back soon as we profile many more Top MLB Prospects and also get our baseball geek on and take a look at some of the later draft picks from the 2011 draft that we think could be big names on the prospect radars in the near future. While you’re here, take a look at our on going series Touch’em All | Appalachian League and be a step ahead of the game. Thanks for checking Baseball Instinct. We’re working hard to bring you the best of the minor leagues and make the site the best experience it can be. So don’t hesitate to tell us what you would like to read about. Email us now at firstname.lastname@example.org.