1. Chris Davis, 3B, Round Rock
A career .331 Triple-A hitter over 695 official at-bats, Davis was back to his old ways––and then some––before getting recalled to Arlington over the weekend. In 23 plate appearances with Round Rock, Davis had already belted two doubles and four home runs, knocking in 11. He tied an Express franchise record with three round-trippers in one game against Iowa on April 9. And although it doesn't show up in the stats, Davis has also been impressive with his work at the hot corner, showing improved range and soft hands to go along with his usual plus arm strength.
2. Mike Olt, 3B, Myrtle Beach
The supplemental first-round pick couldn't have scripted a better start to his full-season career. After a strong showing in spring training, Olt has posted a .405/.511/.784 slash line in his first 10 games with Myrtle Beach. He's hitting 15-for-37 with five doubles, three homers, and 10 runs batted in. Additionally, he's walked eight times against nine strikeouts. The 22-year-old has excellent bat speed and raw power, and he has worked to clean up some of the pre-swing movement in his hitting mechanics. If he proves he can limit the strikeouts, the 6-foot-2 third baseman could be in Double-A Frisco at some point this year.
|Ramirez appeared to fit in with Round Rock. b>|
Neil Ramirez, Olt, and Davis might as well be 1a, 1b, and 1c on this list. Ramirez showed signs of breaking out late last year at Hickory, when he began throwing strikes with a plus curveball and a fastball that reached 96 mph. Like Davis and Olt, Ramirez has also built on an excellent spring training performance. He fanned nine batters over 4.2 scoreless innings in his High-A debut before getting a promotion to Triple-A for an emergency spot-start. Facing a talented Omaha lineup, Ramirez showed improved command of a 92-96 mph fastball and tossed six scoreless innings on 75 pitches. The outing was good enough to earn one more Triple-A look, as he'll face off against the Oklahoma City RedHawks on Tuesday evening.
4. Hickory's Arizona League-graduate hitters
Coming into the regular season, the Single-A Crawdads were better known for a starting rotation that included six of the organization's top 50 prospects. But the talented young lineup has been a key factor in the club's 8-4 start. Players like 1B Jhonny Gomez, C Tomas Telis, OF Teodoro Martinez, 2B Odubel Herrera, and 3B Christian Villanueva entered the season with little or no experience above the complex leagues. So far, the five youngsters posted a cumulative .328/.398/.492 slash line. Gomez currently leads the way with a .393 average (11-for-28), though Telis (.341), Martinez (.333), and Herrera (.317) aren't far behind.
5. Mike Bianucci, OF/DH, Frisco
While Bianucci has cooled off over the last few days, he turned a few heads by belting five home runs in his first seven games at the Double-A level. The 24-year-old doesn't have great bat speed––which contributed to 114 strikeouts in 120 games at Bakersfield last season––but his gargantuan strength gives him plenty of raw power. Through 11 games, Bianucci is hitting .279/.380/.651 with a double and five homers. He has also drawn seven walks (against eight strikeouts), including one free pass in each of his last five contests. Bianucci has three starts in left field thus far, although he's getting the majority of his action as the RoughRiders' DH and cleanup hitter.
6. Martin Perez, LHP, Frisco
Following an uninspiring regular-season debut of three innings and 71 pitches, Perez turned in one of his best Double-A performances yet on April 14. The left-hander ran his fastball up to 97 mph and held Springfield scoreless for five innings, giving up four hits, walking two, and matching a career best with nine punchouts. He threw 81 pitches. After the game, the 20-year-old said that he pitched mostly with his fastball and curveball. During spring training, Perez showed better command and more consistent secondary stuff than he has in the past. It'll be interesting to see if he can build upon Thursday's outing and gain consistency. He turned in a handful of gems with the ‘Riders last year but was inconsistent from start-to-start.
7. Endy Chavez, OF, Round Rock
Chavez is fully healthy for the first time since he suffered a torn ACL with the Seattle Mariners in June 2009, and it's showing in the results. He attempted to come back last season but was shut down after just eight minor league games. After signing another minor league deal with Texas over the offseason, he is looking more like the nine-year major league veteran that he is. Regarded as a strong defender, Chavez is showing his versatility by already getting starts at each of the three outfield positions. He's also off to a hot start with the bat, hitting .357 (15-for-42) with four doubles, a triple, and a home run in 10 games. The knee may not be much of a problem anymore for the 33-year-old, who has five stolen bases in as many attempts.
|Grimm is missing lots of bats. b>|
Right-handed pitchers Barret Loux, Justin Grimm, Nick Tepesch, and Luke Jackson all ranked within the organization's top 50 prospects entering the season, but none of them had logged an official inning in professional ball. Supplemental first-round pick Luke Jackson had a strong camp––throwing his fastball between 92-96 mph with a good curveball and a developing change––but he is beginning the year in extended spring training. Loux (Texas A&M) earned an assignment to High-A Myrtle Beach while Grimm (Georgia) and Tepesch (Missouri) went to Single-A Hickory. The three pitchers all have good arms and are all finding early success, combining for the following line––26 ip, 20 h, 7 er (2.42 ERA), 6 bb, 28 k. Grimm has been perhaps the most impressive, logging 13 strikeouts and yielding four hits over 9.1 innings.
9. Tom Mendnoca, 3B, Frisco
Mendonca has almost literally been an all-or-nothing hitter over his first 10 Double-A games. He is currently 12-for-41 (.293) with four home runs and 14 strikeouts. He has walked twice and doesn't have a double or a triple. Despite the contact issues, the game power is at least an encouraging sign for the 23-year-old, who posted just a .248/.331/.391 line in the hitter-friendly California League last season. Mendonca didn't get his first long ball until May 26 last season, and he didn't hit his fourth until July 23rd––75 games into the 2010 campaign. With Mike Olt breathing down his neck in High-A, it may be sink or swim time in Double-A this season for Mendonca.
10. Cody Eppley, RHP, Round Rock
The sidearmer's velocity was down a tick (85-88 mph) in spring training, and he permitted seven runs over seven innings in big league games. But once the regular season began, his heavy sinker returned to the upper-80s and the slider regained sharpness. Over his first five appearances with the Express, the righty has tossed 7.2 scoreless innings, giving up five hits, walking three, and striking out nine. The sinker has helped him net 2.5 groundouts per flyout. Eppley's sinker-slider combination is death on righties––they are 0-for-12 with five strikeouts against him thus far. He's a major leaguer waiting to happen, and his ability to refine his command and changeup to lefties will ultimately determine how big his future role will be.
|Deglan is scuffling offensively. b>|
While the less experienced bunch that spent most of last season in rookie ball is having early success, the Crawdads' hitters that came up from short-season Spokane are off to slow starts. The one outlier is first baseman Andrew Clark, who is hitting .350/.422/.500 through 11 games. The others––centerfielder Jake Skole, shortstop Jurickson Profar, outfielder Josh Richmond, and catcher Kellin Deglan––are a combined 26-for-130 (.200) thus far. Profar made waves by going yard in each of his first two games, but he has slowed since.
2. Jared Bolden, Jared Prince, and Leury Garcia
Much of the High-A Myrtle Beach lineup is off to a fast start, but this trio has been marred in a major slump since opening day. While the 20-year-old Garcia is beginning to pick up the pace, he fell into an 0-for-18 hole after picking up a hit in his first at-bat of the season. Prince and Bolden, both strong performers in the Single-A Hickory lineup last year, are a collective 4-for-58 right now. Both players––generally Myrtle Beach's corner outfield duo so far––are still searching for the first extra-base knocks.
3. Kasey Kiker, LHP, Myrtle Beach
After spending the last two seasons at Double-A Frisco, Kasey Kiker is beginning the 2011 campaign at High-A Myrtle Beach in an attempt to work out some kinks with pitching coach Brad Holman. The former first-round pick logged 40 innings in Double-A last season, issuing 46 walks and plunking eight batters. Throwing his fastball mostly in the 86-91 mph range, Kiker struggled with the strike zone in spring training and has issued eight walks (with a hit batsman and three wild pitches) over his first four innings for the Pelicans.
One to Watch
Jose Ruiz, 1B, Frisco
The Cuba-born first baseman defected from his homeland in 2009 and signed a unique contract with the Tampa Bay Rays for the 2010 campaign––a one-year minor league deal with a four-year, $4 million big league option. Ruiz began last year in the Dominican Summer League before joining Double-A Montgomery in August. He appeared in 23 games with the Biscuits, hitting .272 (25-for-92) with two doubles, one triple, one homer, and 13 walks. After the season, Ruiz played in the Arizona Fall League and Puerto Rican Winter League.
The Rangers gave the 26-year-old a similar deal for 2011, with a one-year minor league contract followed by a three-year major league option (although reportedly less money than the Tampa deal). In other words, if Ruiz is to stick with the Rangers beyond this season, he'll have to be impressive. The lefty hitter was solid early in spring training but struggled toward the end.
While Ruiz flashes outstanding raw power in batting practice, it hasn't yet translated into game pop in the States. He has a good-looking stroke and isn't afraid to take a walk––the key is getting the plus raw power to show up in games. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Ruiz has hit well in his first nine games at Double-A Frisco, going 11-for-31 (.355) with two doubles, six walks, and six strikeouts. His first nine hits were all singles, but he has knocked one double in each of his last two games. It should be interesting to track his progress throughout the year.
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