RC's Top 10 first half performances: #10

The full-season minor league clubs have reached the halfway point of their respective seasons, and with that, RC has crunched the numbers and identified the top 10 performances turned in by Royals prospects thus far. This isn't a top prospect list, but rather a means to recognize the players who have put together the most impressive 2006 campaigns through the first three months of the season.

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We begin with the tenth-best performance, which has been turned in by Wichita's Matt Tupman. Tupman, the Wichita Wranglers' starting catcher, kicks off our list after an excellent first half that resulted in him being named a starter in the Texas League All-Star game. Tupman, a 26-year-old left-handed hitter, is repeating double-A Wichita this year after hitting .263/.355/.334 last year. This season, the 26-year-old catcher is hitting .315/.438/.370 with one homer, 38 BBs, and 26 RBIs in 165 at bats.

His on-base percentage ranks second in the Texas League, and his BB/K ratio of 2/1 is absolutely stellar. He's hit righties this year at an impressive .321/.443/.380 clip, but he's also put up solid numbers vs. lefties, batting .286/.412/.321. He's cooled off a bit this month, but nobody could have expected him to keep up the torrid pace he set during the first two months of the season.

That being said, Tupman is a very difficult prospect to evaluate. All reports are that his defense is very solid, and he may even turn out to be an above average defensive catcher. The question has always been his bat, and prior to this season, Tupman's career line over the past four years was .265/.341/.347 – not the type of numbers you'd expect or want to see out of a prospect in the low minors. How much stock should be put into his 2006 performance? We're not certain yet, but it's important to note that it's typical to see a player make significant statistical improvement when repeating a level, particularly a player as old as Tupman.

Of course, there are some things to be encouraged about. Most notably, Tupman has improved his walk rate the last three seasons, and he seems to have developed a solid knowledge of the strike zone and an ability to control his at bats. We'd definitely like to see more power (he only has 10 career home runs), but that can be overlooked if he continues to play solid defense while showing a knack for getting on base. RC saw him play in both the Arizona Fall League and Spring Training, and he looked like a player with a smooth, fluid swing and a good idea about what he was doing at the plate.

What does the future hold for Tupman? With the turnover in the organization, it's even more difficult to gauge the Royals' plans for him. It seems clear that Omaha's catcher, Paul Phillips, remains higher on the organizational depth chart, but the Royals' current backup catcher, Paul Bako, isn't exactly lighting the world on fire. If Bako goes the way of Alberto Castillo sometime this season, it will be very interesting to see what unfolds.

Bako's left-handed bat was a primary reason he was signed in the first place, so it's quite feasible that the Royals would opt for Tupman over Phillips (a right-handed batter) in the event Bako is removed from the roster. Doing so would require the Royals to add him to the 40-man roster, which admittedly makes the scenario more unlikely (particularly since Phillips is already on the 40-man), but if Buddy Bell values the left-handed bat, anything could happen.

Regardless of what unfolds, it will be interesting to track Tupman's progress throughout the remainder of the season. It's easy to dump on an older prospect with a questionable minor league track record, but the fact remains that Tupman is doing everything he can to put himself in the mix.

Be sure to stay tuned, as we plan to unveil our ninth-best performance in the coming days.

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