Saturday, April 11, 2009

(Gabe Jacobo finds himself batting in the middle of the order for the Kernels in '09)

By David Saltzer - Columnist

The Low-A Ball Cedar Rapids Kernels- 2009 Preview

Over the next few days, we’ll be taking a close look at each of our minor league affiliates to get to know the 5 big questions that each team needs to answer over the course of the season. Today we focus on our Single-A team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels to see what key issues are affecting each team.

Question #1: Who are those guys?
Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, looking over the roster at Cedar Rapids might be asking themselves “who are those guys?” While many of the names might not appear to be that familiar to the fans, most of the players on the Cedar Rapids team are the guys we’ve drafted over the past 1-3 years and are just coming out of short season ball or they are the guys who have been signed through our Dominican Academy and are now making the adjustment to a full season on an American minor league team. And, just like the men tracking Butch Cassidy and Sundance in the movie, many of these guys are good. The only question is been, how good are they.

When we ranked our Top-50 prospects, several of the players on this team were quite challenging for us to rank. It’s not that we didn’t know them or their stuff. In many cases it was how each of us individually ranked talent versus demonstrated stats, especially demonstrated stats at higher levels. Even still, this team features players that we ranked as 11th, 13th, 16th, 22nd, and 33rd in our Top Prospects for 2009. Most are only 19-21 in age. As they develop and we have a chance to further evaluate them, several of them should move up the rankings next year. So, definitely get to know these guys, because they’re going to be chasing several of our higher ranked prospects as they develop.

Question #2: Did the Angels really sign Will Smith?
Yes, the Angels really did sign Will Smith. But, no, he’s not the movie star or rap artist. He’s just our #11 prospect, who pitches with absolute control, posting a 76:6 K:BB ratio. That was tops for the Pioneer League last year.

As a young lefty, Smith has a chance to dominate the Midwest League this year. His fastball ranges from 88-94. At 6’5”, he attacks the strike zone with a good downward angle. His curveball has a good 12-6 drop on it, and he throws it with a couple of speeds. He is very good at adjusting the batter’s eye level and can locate his pitches on both halves of the plate for punchouts. And his changeup is developing into a good pitch.

If Will Smith performs as expected, he could earn a quick promotion on 2 fronts. First, he could see a mid-season promotion to Rancho. Second, he could make a big jump in next year’s top prospect list. Definitely keep an eye on him this year.

Question #3: How will Manuarys Correa adjust to the Midwest?
When asked what changes Kendry Morales made in order to realize his potential, Abe Flores, Director of Angels Player Development, said “I think number one I think Kendry has become a little bit more comfortable in our culture. He did not have a grasp of the English language at all. So if you put anybody in that environment they are going to struggle. Struggle with taking direction, struggle with trying to execute the direction. It takes time.”

Manuarys Correa, our #16 prospect this year has the stuff to be a middle to top of the order major league pitcher. He already throws in the low to mid-90s and could add some velocity as he fills out (he’s 6’3’ and only 170 lbs). He has a sharp slider and a developing changeup. Last year he struck out 84 while walking just 15 in 78 innings. But, put yourself in his situation: He is 20 years old and in his first full season outside of the Dominican. There are bound to be some culture shocks and some bumps along the way. However, he is also one that could push his way up into the top-10 list next year with a solid performance in a full season. Definitely keep an eye on Manuarys as well.

Question #4: How much power does Angel Castillo Have?
Angel Castillo, our #22 ranked prospect this year has probably as much power as any other player in our system outside of Mark Trumbo. Last year he had 37 extra base hits in 270 ABs. Defensively, he profiles to be a solid right fielder. At 19 years of age, he is still very young and should still fill out more. Since power is one of the skills that continues to blossom in the 20s, he could develop into quite a power hitter.

Castillo’s biggest problem, though, is his lack of plate discipline. That’s not a good trait to have in the Midwest League—a well known pitcher’s league. Last year he had a 97:18 K:BB ratio. Not good. But, if he and the Angels are serious improving their plate discipline overall, he could develop into a powerful right fielder. As our system presently lacks many power hitting OFers, he could rise with an improved plate discipline.

Question #5: How will Jacobo perform?
Last year’s Orem team featured some real hitters. Jacobo was one of them, along with Jimenez, Lopez and Castillo. Unlike Jimenez, Lopez and Castillo, Jacobo was a bit old for the Pioneer League—he was 21 facing a lot of 18-19 year olds. Jacobo did see some time in Cedar Rapids last year, posting a 320/338/504 line in 125 ABs. Overall, Jacobo posted a 324/357/556 line in 275 ABs last year.

As mentioned, the Midwest League is a well-known pitcher’s league. And, like many of the other youngsters, Jacobo needs to work on his plate discipline, having a 48:11 K:BB ratio.

Right now, the Angels are deep at 1B. There’s a logjam from Anaheim to Cedar Rapids. With Brandon Wood appearing to be considered as a permanent player at 3B, Matt Brown is playing 1B to keep his skills ready in case he’s needed for the majors. Trumbo is manning 1B at Arkansas, and Navarro is doing the same for Rancho. If Jacobo is going to move up the ranks, he’s going to have to push the guys above him. The best way for him to do so is to refine his strike zone, work on his defense and continue to hit the way he has.

Sleepers to Keep an Eye On

Alexia Amarista (2B): A switch hitting product of our Dominican Academy, Amarista is blessed with a good eye at the plate (20:29 K:BB ratio). His 352 AVG last year led that Angels AZL league. Combined, he produced a 416 OB% in 202 ABs. Look for this 20 year old to continue to produce as he bats 2nd for the Kernels.

Anel De Los Santos (C): Last year Baseball America ranked Anel as our #10 prospect (we put him in our keep an eye on category). Defensively, Anel is a gifted catcher. He’s advanced for his age, and last year impressed Scioscia with his defensive skills. Offensively, he has a lot to work on, especially in terms of his plate discipline. He still has time to work his way up the organization, but has been passed by several more offensively minded catchers.

Darwin Perez (SS): Another prospect out of our Dominican Academy, he’s been playing for us since he was signed in 2005 at age 16. As a switch hitting SS with good plate discipline 45 BBs in 265 ABs and a 394 OB%, this 19 year old should form a solid tandem with Amarista as they both make the jump to a full-season in America.

Chris Scholl (RP): Chris posted a 2.06 ERA in 43.2 innings last year in the Pioneer League. He also sported a 43:15 K:BB ratio and held opposing batters to a .195 AVG. Look for Scholl to continue his role as a reliever this year, working mostly as a swing man in the later innings.
Love to hear what you think!


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