Monday, February 28, 2011

Kipnis is bordering on ready

I like kids from the Pac-10 Conference. It's probably my most notable trait as a prospect stalker - give me a Pac-10 kid, and I can give you his school and oftentimes even his major. (I'm particularly good at doing this with Stanford boys, of course.) But today we're going to talk about a kid from Arizona State, Jason Kipnis, now with the Indians. (In the photo to the right, he's sitting second from the left, with Josh Spence on the extreme left of the image.)

Kipnis, whose ASU bio claims his nickname is Kip, was a BIS major, which means he majored in Interdisciplinary Studies (Dustin Pedroia actually selected the same Major). In 2009, the year he was drafted, he was named Pac-10 Player of the Year, an honor he shares with fellow Indians player Trevor Crowe, as well as Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and this blogger's all-time favorite baseball player, Jed Lowrie. Baseball America actually ranks Kipnis at #3 in the Indians organization, as well, and he's already made it to AAA Columbus despite being drafted just two years ago. He's a fast mover.

As a prospect, Kipnis has played a couple of different positions - he started out as an outfielder, but he was moved to second base, and it's difficult to tell that he was a converted outfielder. Baseball America points out that he still needs work on his double play pivot, but that's something that takes any infielder some time to truly master, so in due time he'll have that down, as well. Because he is so offensively advanced, he could easily supersede Valbuena and Donald at second by the end of the 2011 season, and he might be called up at some point mid-season if the Indians need an offensive boost.

Oh, and one more thing - BA has him listed at just 5'10" and he's now playing second base. Doesn't that remind you of another ASU player who went on to be a successful second baseman in the Majors at least a little bit?

Friday, February 25, 2011

“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m just following the people who have been here before. I’m still trying to not look very stupid.”

That little bit of adorableness comes from the top prospect in the San Francisco Giants organization, Brandon Belt, in a story that ran in USA Today earlier. Makes him sound very humble compared to Bryce Harper, doesn't it?

Belt is 22 and was drafted out of the University of Texas, where he majored in education. There's some huge awesome points right there. He also, according to what Buster Posey says in that article up there, hit ".350" in Fresno last year and should be totally fine. Here's what you need to know about this kid, who, although he's probably starting in Fresno next season, should be ready for the Majors really, really soon. He comes across as so genuine, and I love that.

With his upside being as ridiculously high as it is, I think we can expect a September call-up at the very least. If not, he'll be up before that, as he likely deserves to be. He's hard-working, educated and totally skilled - what's not to like about him?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bryce Harper thinks he can make the Nationals' roster out of Spring Training

Ah, the optimism of youth. Remember when you were eighteen and you thought you could do anything? (I do, too. It was only four years ago.)

Bryce Harper, who is still eighteen, is hoping to make the big league club out of Spring Training this season. Says he:
"Why can't it be realistic? Why can't I come in here and think I can make this team. I've exceeded expectations my whole life."
I don't want to be the one to break it to you, Bryce, but you're eighteen and you haven't had any professional experience yet. Yes, young players can break through - Jose Reyes was nineteen when he made his Mets debut. However, the difference is that Jose had significant Minor League playing time before being called up and had proven that he could handle the grind of a full season. Bryce doesn't have that to his name yet - he spent time playing for a community college, which, of course, doesn't play for the full-length season that MiLB clubs do.

Exceed expectations all you like, Bryce, but you're still likely going to start in Hagerstown this season. I'll meet you there if you like and we can see how you're feeling at that point, okay? But for now, don't set unrealistic goals for yourself - you'll just end up beating yourself up when you don't achieve them right away. It's about hard work, Bryce, not just talent.

Westmoreland is recovering!

I'm posting here today because Alex Speier wrote an article on Ryan Westmoreland that is an absolute must-read. It's a wonderful story and seeing Westmoreland working back is beautiful.

Basically, go read it. It's right here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is Ryan Lavarnway the Red Sox's eventual solution at catcher?

With Jason Varitek aging, Jarrod Saltalamacchia having issues with yips, Victor Martinez signing with the Tigers, and Dusty Brown now with the Pirates, the future of the Red Sox behind the dish is a little uncertain. There are a couple of Double-A options, at least, and one of those two is Ryan Lavarnway. (The other, Luis Exposito, has perhaps received more attention, partially due to his entertaining Twitter account.)

Lavarnway is a Yaler. He was signed in 2008 in the 6th round, and he spent some time in the Arizona Fall League this past autumn. He started catching his sophomore year of college, picking up the duties full-time during his junior season. Catching, clearly, is still a work in progress, as he himself admits, but over the past two seasons he's made enough strides to make his way to Portland. He can't be too bad at it, in that case.

Lavarnway's progress as a hitter is just fine, which is a big part of the reason he's progressed to Portland so quickly. He's an extremely polished, patient hitter, and his plate discipline is very advanced. Perhaps most importantly, however, is his work ethic, which is the biggest reason that he continues to improve and maintain his skills as he advances up the Minor League ladder. He's worked hard enough to gain the catching skills necessary to be in Double-A already, and with continued perseverance, he could easily find himself in Pawtucket this season. If anything, he'll likely end up as a good defensive catcher in the mold of Josh Thole, but he won't be on the level that Varitek is (granted, Tek is a benchmark for all young catchers these days, and he's set the bar ridiculously high).

And hey, don't forget that Lavarnway is very smart. That's an advantage if there ever was one.

Photo of Ryan Lavarnway by Stephen Fritzer.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Kirk Nieuwenhuis Exists

So I finally got a chance to watch some Rookie Program videos, and I found this one of Mets prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis. For whatever reason, I've noticed that the Mets discuss their minor leaguers less than some other teams do (I'm looking at you, Boston), and I almost wonder if that's because Omar had this tendency to trade prospects away so frequently that nobody put stock in the kids.

Anyway, deep thoughts aside, meet Kirk.

Once you get to know him by watching this video, you can proceed to make Star Trek jokes about him with me (I admit it, I screamed "KHAAAAAAAAAAN!" at him last year at Spring Training). Although he's a dark horse out of Azusa State, he's risen up through the farm system and he was in Buffalo at the end of the season last year. He'll provide some decent outfield depth for the Mets should they choose to hang onto him, especially since Beltran isn't what he used to be prior to all of his injuries.

Basically, what I'm saying is keep an eye on him this season regardless of whether he begins it in Buffalo or Binghamton. Because he'll impress you, I can guarantee it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cross-Post: Steph makes a guess about Norfolk

I'm the Orioles correspondent for G9 Sports, and I just wrote a post on what I'm projecting will be the starting lineup and rotation for the Norfolk Tides this season. That can be read here!

With Spring Training finally on the way, look for more updates here in the near future - there are camp battles to be won and new minor leaguers waiting to emerge!