No time to waste, since we've got a bullpen that needs saving. Mike Stutes may be no Jesus Christ, but on Easter Sunday, the 2008 11th round pick got the call to fill in for Jose Contreras. Let's highlight the man of the hour above the jump, then check in some others below.
Mike Stutes, RHP, Lehigh Valley: While we all commence freakouts about what a flexor pronator strain actually means, this year's spring training darling heads to the majors for the first time. The Oregon State product certainly deserves it, as he's been Lehigh Valley's best reliever in the early going, with a 1.34 FIP and a 14:4 K:BB in 10.0 innings so far. The only concerning thing, to me, is Stutes' ground ball rate, which has dropped from 56% between Lakewood and Williamsport in 2008 to just 30% so far this year. The more fly balls you allow, the more extra base hits and homers you'll surrender, so while it's nitpicking a bit, it's something to keep an eye on as Stutes throws to major league hitters for the first time in his career.
Sebastian Valle, C-R, Clearwater: The Mexican backstop has really flipped the script the past few years -- once a bat only prospect with dubious defensive prospects, Valle has turned himself into an adequate catcher, but it's his offense that's slipped in recent years, as his shaky plate discipline (2.2% BB, 25.0% K in the early going) has held him back from unlocking his power potential. Valle's still just 20 years old, and the offensive bar is low for those who don the tools of ignorance, but it will take a better approach at the plate for him to live up to his offensive potential.
Trevor May, RHP, Clearwater: As May has struggled in his second go around in the Florida State League, I think it's worth re-examining what Mike Newman from Scouting the Sally wrote on May back in February. Key quote: "In seeing his fastball from different angles and how he used it in game action, it became apparent why he struggled in his FSL stint. A handful of May’s nine punchouts came on 92 MPH fastballs above the letters which simply won’t work at higher levels as batters become more discerning." Three starts isn't enough to draw conclusions, but a 4.34 FIP and a 12:8 K:BB has me thinking about Mike's analysis.
Jonathan Pettibone, RHP, Clearwater: Pettibone was a tough luck omission from the offseason Top 30 primarily because he didn't miss enough bats in Lakewood last year for my liking (just 5.8 K/9). His early season surface stats are shiny -- 3-0 with a 0.38 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP -- but it's the improvement of that strikeout rate (6.8 K/9 through four starts) that's the real cause for hope, as he's maintained his otherwise solid peripherals, issuing just 2 walks in 24.0 innings thus far while maintaining a 48% ground ball rate. It's easy to forget that the 2007 3rd round pick is still just 20 years old, so there's plenty of time here.
Domingo Santana, OF-R, Lakewood: Speaking of young 'uns, Santana is just 18 years old himself despite this being his third pro season. Like the rest of the BlueClaws, it's been some tough sledding offensively for the young Dominican right fielder, but this past week was a bit better, as Santana went 8-for-25 with 1 HR, 3 2B, and 2 BB. The one worrying sign is that he hasn't exhibited the same patience we've seen from him in the past, with those bases on balls representing his first two of the campaign in a full 56 plate appearances. Any sort of offensive performance is a good sign after a rough 2010 season, but the approach means some caution is necessary here.
Cesar Hernandez, 2B-S, Clearwater: Santana's assignment to Lakewood to begin 2010 proved to be a bit overaggressive, and while it's still early, the club's decision to have Hernandez skip Low A entirely may be the 2011 version of that Santana decision. Small sample size caveats, of course, but the Venezuelan infielder is hitting just .160/.208/.180 through 53 plate appearances, and what's even more telling is that a kid who walked nearly as much as he struck out in 2010 has suddenly whiffed 12 times to just 3 free passes so far in 2011. If the struggles continue for another few weeks, there's no reason not to flip Hernandez with Lakewood's (24-year old) second baseman Jeremy Barnes.
Austin Hyatt, RHP, Reading: Double-A is the big test for the Austin Hyatts of the world, i.e., the guys with no knockout pitches who skate through the lower minors on pitchability, so it's a good sign that the Alabama product has risen to the challenge in the early going, including his 6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K gem from last Monday. He turns 25 next month, so it's not like there's huge upside here, but it's not hard to envision some sort of future big league career for a guy whose cumulative Double-A line across 7 starts features a 41:15 K:BB in 38.0 IP.
Cody Overbeck, 1B-R, Reading: Overbeck made the season's initial prospect roundup, and he hasn't really cooled off since, leading the Eastern League with 6 home runs thus far as part of an overall .350/.381/.717 line. The turd in the punch bowl, however, is Overbeck's position -- I noted him as a (bad) third baseman two weeks ago, but that was erroneous, as the club has shifted him across the diamond to first. As the Reading Eagle's Mike Drago noted for Beerleaguer, "The organization has few, if any, legit third base prospects, so his move across the diamond is telling."
Ronnie Belliard, 3B, Lehigh Valley: What's that you say? The 36-year old Belliard isn't a prospect? Well of course not, but so I'm not writing about Joe Savery every single week, I may have to stretch things a bit until short season ball starts. Belliard's worth mentioning because he's hitting well in Triple-A right now (.279/.371/.393), can play a passable second base and third base, and has a bit of pop from the right side. He doesn't provide the same versatility as Pete Orr and Michael Martinez, but he's a better hitter, so if Ruben Amaro looks to reshuffle the bench at some point, the veteran could be in the mix.
B.J. Rosenberg, RHP, Reading: With the major league bullpen in a state of flux -- hell, Zagurski and Stutes are on the 25-man right now, and arguments are breaking out about Phillippe Aumont pushing for a roster spot in 2011 -- it's not out of the question for someone to come from off the radar to helping the big league club in the second half, and Rosenberg's as good a candidate as any for that longshot role. The club has always thought highly of him, and after an injury-plagued 2010, he's come out of the gate strong this year, striking out 11 across 7.2 innings (to just 2 walks) and running a 56% ground ball rate. Early days still, but at this point, it's good to see him healthy and throwing strikes.