Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Including the Prospects

Hitting prospects love to play in the Double-A Texas League. The league is a hitter’s haven and a number of the cities boast some of the best parks in all of minor league baseball for hitting; it also doesn’t hurt that most clubs don’t have to worry about cold weather in April. Right now, 29 batters in the Texas League are hitting .300 or higher. Seventeen of those hitters are at .340 or more.

The Texas League can turn suspects into prospects (for a brief time). We are also still dealing with small sample sizes this early in the season, so we cannot get too ahead of ourselves. Let’s pull out a few names from the 29 hot-hitting players in the Texas League and have a closer look at some of the prospects that came into the 2009 season with a scouting report that matches (or at least hinted to) their current offensive output.

Marcus Lemon has the most obscure profile of the five players we’re looking at, although he is no stranger to the game as the son of former Tigers outfielder Chet Lemon. The younger, fresher Lemon is a shortstop who is enjoying his time in Frisco with a line of .409/.458/.545. That puts him fourth in the league in batting average. In 44 at-bats, he’s struck out just four times (also with four walks). Last season, Lemon hit .295/.374/.434 with 30 doubles and 12 stolen bases in High-A ball. With all the talent in the Texas system, and all eyes on fellow prospect Elvis Andrus, it’s easy for a promising (but not-so-flashy) player like Lemon, one of the youngest players in Double-A at 20, to get lost in the crowd. He could be a very solid shortstop in the Majors or a top-flight utility player. He’s not going to be manning shortstop in Texas anytime soon, though.

Catcher Mitch Canham was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the supplemental first round of the 2007 draft because of his offensive reputation. He certainly has not disappointed; it took him just two years to make it to Double-A, where he is currently hitting .324/.439/.412. Last season in High-A ball (at another good hitter’s park), Canham, 24, hit .285/.382/.434 with solid rates of 13.7 BB% and 17.5 K%. His current success is likely no fluke and he could earn a mid-season promotion to Triple-A if he shows enough improvement on the defensive side of his game. The current platoon in San Diego of Nick Hundley and Henry Blanco does not provide much of a roadblock.

Daryl Jones broke out in a big way in 2008. The St. Louis Cardinals’ outfield prospect was drafted because of his athletic ability but no one knew exactly when (or if) he would translate those skills to the baseball diamond. Well, it happened in High-A ball last season and it’s continuing on into Double-A early in 2009. The 21-year-old prospect is currently hitting .303/.415/.455 in 33 at-bats. So far, he’s making a little more contact at the plate with his strikeout rate dropping from 24.2 K% in 2008 to 15.2 K% in 2009. Jones has a nice mix of speed and developing power, which could debut in St. Louis in 2010 if he continues to build upon the success he’s shown in the past year.

Adrian Cardenas is the first of two offensive-minded Oakland prospects that we’re going to look at today, which is good news for the A’s, given that the club is one of the worst offensive teams in all of Major League Baseball right now. Cardenas, a second baseman who might play third or short in the Majors, received a 26-game taste of Double-A last season and enjoyed it. He also hit .307/.371/.441 in 261 High-A at-bats. This season, Cardenas, 21, is hitting .364/.417/.600 in 55 at-bats. He’s slugged eight doubles in 13 games and is showing a willingness to take a walk (with five). But he’s also struck out 10 times. If he keeps hitting like this, Oakland will likely be tempted to promote him aggressively.

Chris Carter is lucky to be on the list of players hitting .300, with a triple-slash line of .315/.385/.500. He might be a .300 hitter in a good park/league in the minors, but with a career strikeout rate of around 30 percent, he’s not going to do that in the Majors. The 22-year-old first baseman is currently riding a hot steak as he is 12-for-27 (.444) with 13 RBI in his last seven games. His home run output is down with one homer in 50 at-bats, but that’s OK. We know the power is there, especially after he slugged 39 homers last year. What Carter needs to work on is making more consistent contact after hitting .259 last year with 156 Ks. By getting fellow prospect Sean Doolittle (in Triple-A) playing time in the outfield, it signifies that the organization believes in Carter, because Doolittle is a superior fielder to the former White Sox draft pick who is less versatile.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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14 years ago

I saw quite a bit of Mitch Canham during his time at Oregon State. Regardless of how good a college player is, rarely does one truly look like a major leaguer – like somebody you can picture digging into the batters box at Yankee Stadium or taking the mound at Fenway Park, exactly as he appears at that moment in his college uniform. You know what I’m talking about? Maybe he doesn’t have the mature frame or the confident walk or the emotional calm or the mannerisms most of us take for granted when we watch a lot of professional baseball. Canham had all of those things. Loads of ‘em. It was instantly recognizable, like seeing Phil Nevin for the first time when he was with Cal State Fullerton. I am not at all surprised Canham is moving fast.