It’s getting a little late in the year for breakout performances in the full season leagues, and the guys who are going to get off-track have probably mostly done it by now. Still, there are a couple of power hitters who are stepping up their games at the upper levels, and a few players at the short-season levels are off to good enough starts to make them worth some attention.
Andrew Lambo, 1B/OF (AAA): I put Lambo on this list two weeks ago, but he’s earned another trip. Before, I thought it was an achievement that he simply made it back to AAA after various sorts of struggles in AA — including extended injury absences. But over the last couple weeks he’s hammered the ball, hitting even better than he did at Altoona. In his last ten games he’s hit at a 342/390/816 clip, with four HRs, leaving him at 317/397/698 for his first 17 games with Indianapolis. He’s also shown decent plate discipline, with nine walks and 16 Ks, although his K rate is one in four ABs, which is a dangerous sign. The issue that scouts had with him, before injuries and other problems got him off track, was power, but 20 HRs so far this year have gone a long way toward addressing that. If he keeps hitting at anywhere near his current pace, he could force his way onto the 40-man roster, which would be another achievement for a guy who went unselected in the Rule 5 draft last winter.
Jarek Cunningham, 2B (AA): Cunningham has always had the same plusses and minuses as he’s come up through the system: he has excellent power in his bat, but he’s struggled to make contact and lay off bad pitches. Then last year at Altoona he didn’t even hit for power. This year, following a poor April, he hit seven HRs in May, although he didn’t do a lot else. In June, he’s hit better all around. Despite slowing down the last week or so, for the month he stands at 266/342/594. His BB/K ratio has improved each month, from 4/20 to 11/27 to 6/14, and his K rate is down below once in four ABs for the first time since rookie ball. His overall line – 233/309/470 – isn’t great, but he’s still only 23 and could develop into something like a poor man’s Dan Uggla. An infielder with Cunningham’s power should have some value.
Jin-De Jhang, C (SS): Jhang showed a solid approach at the plate last year in rookie ball, but not a great deal of power. The good news with him this year has been three HRs in his first seven games. His over line of 259/300/593 isn’t outstanding apart from the slugging, but he’s fanned only twice in 27 at-bats, so there’s every reason to believe he’ll hit for average. As a left-handed hitting catcher with power, he’d have significant potential.
Danny Collins, 1B (SS): Collins didn’t play in a big-time college program at Troy University, but he put up big numbers and also got very good scouting reports, so it was a little puzzling that he wasn’t drafted until the 13th round. That may have partly to do with being a right-handed hitting first baseman. He’ll have to keep hitting – a lot – to get and stay on the prospect track, but at least he’s off to a good start. He’s batted 294/368/676 with four HRs in his first nine games.
Wei-Chung Wang, LHP, and Adrian Grullon, RHP (R): Young pitchers are so unpredictable that it’s very hard to tell whether a team has any on its rookie league affiliate who are worth watching, unless there’s a much-hyped signing, which isn’t the case with the GCL Pirates. So it’s helpful to have Wang and Grullon open the season well. Wang signed out of Taiwan over a year ago, but missed all of last year due to Tommy John surgery. He’s made two starts and pitched well in both, except that he apparently tired in the last inning of his first start. His ERA is only 5.19, but he’s fanned 12 and walked none in 8.2 IP. Grullon has made only one start, but pitched shutout ball in four innings, walking none and fanning seven. They’re not much in the way of sample sizes, but they’re nice beginnings that provide a couple pitchers worth following in rookie ball.
There’s nobody stumbling who wasn’t already stumbling, so I’ll skip it this time.