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Prospect Central - June 17, 2007

Lou Blasi Felix Pie – Cubs
Outfielder – Bats Left – 6-2, 170 – 2/8/1985

2006 pretty much constituted a “Take 2” in Felix Pie’s pro career. After an ankle injury sidelined him for half of the 2005 season the Cubs abandoned their fast track plan for Pie, signed Juan Pierre, and assigned their #1 prospect to AAA.

Pie struggled at AAA after a hot April (.301, .494 SLG%, .862 OPS) hitting .230 in May (.372/.676) and .222 in June (.343, .630). But he turned it around the second half hitting .316 in July (.419, .771), .310 in August (.548, .913) and .444 in 18 September ABs (.889, 1.389).  Overall though he fanned 126 times but just 48 times after July 1st in 261 ABs or 18.3%, aka a big improvement over his 78 Ks in 295 ABs before July 1 (26.4%)

This year at AAA Felix has cut that K rate even more lowering it to 13.5% in 126 AB before his promotion to the Cubs. His walk rate sat at 9.4% in AAA which is the bottom of the acceptable range, but an improvement over his 7.6 in 2006. That has dropped to 6.5% here with the big club and obviously that has to improve. There has been a slide in his K rate in the majors as well, down … or technically up … to 18.8% … that’s still a strength.

Pie is a great specimen of the type of power/speed prospect that we all get excited about. Felix has quick hands and great wrists. That combination is the infecting agent of Alfonso Soriano Syndrome in which a hitter runs through the minors having success driving bad pitches and thinks he’ll be able to do that in the majors. In Pie’s case his low walk rate is the symptom and his .257 AVG. in spite of a very hefty .300 BHIP% is the result. You can still see the difference in the majors however when you consider his .434 BHIP% in AAA this year and .342 last year.

I like Pie’s skill set quite a bit, I just don’t think he’s ripe quite yet. At the point where he can resist swinging a balls in bad places and learn to work hitter’s counts he will be a fantasy force. He’s not quite a Carlos Beltran, or a Soriano to be sure, but he may have a 30/30 season in him or certainly a couple 25/20 seasons ahead.

Long Term Fantasy Grade A

Seas Lvl   AB XBH  HR  BB  SO  SB   AVG   SLG   OPS
2006 AAA  559  56  15  46 126  17  .283  .451  .788
2007 AAA  126  12   3  13  17   5  .389  .563 1.010
2007 MLB  101  10   2   7  19   5  .257  .416  .719

Trevor Crowe – Indians
Outfielder – Bats Right – 6-0, 200 – 11/17/2003

It is easy and fun to try and project prospects onto current players. In the case of Trevor Crowe, the Tribe’s first round pick in 2005, they think in terms of the player we thought that Coco Crisp was going to evolve into, a sub-All Star, but impact power/speed combo.

The Tribe is pretty set in center field for a while so they experimented briefly last year with converting Crowe to second base where he would be a very valuable fantasy commodity. Unfortunately that plan failed and it appears to be off of the radar for now.

This switch-hitter finds gaps in all fields, makes good contact and draws walks. He lowered his strikeout rate from 21% in A+ to 15.6% in AA last year. This year at AA he’s holding the same neighborhood at 16.9%

Here is the problem. His AVG has shown similar declines from .329 in A+, to .234 in AA in 2006 to .192. Given the fact that his K-rate is going the other way, how do explain that? Take a look at his BHIP% which has plummeted from .402 in Hi-A to .271 in AA last year to a paltry .227 this year.

We generally pass of BHIP% as a “luck” stat and presume that his rate will rebound towards universal norms. But we have to recognize that sometimes there’s a reason for an outlying result in a “luck” stat. In Trevor’s case, he is too prone to hitting ground balls. We normally like that in speed players but Trevor doesn’t have the pure speed necessary to make that skill an asset.  

Last year in the Eastern League he was 10% higher than league average in GB production at 58%. That doesn’t rate his .192 BHIP% but the case can be made that if a player is going to continually under produce the league BHIP%, he is probably going to be a groundball hitter. After all we love pitchers who throw ground balls, and that’s because they are easier to defend, especially with runners on base. We simply may not be able to assume that Crowe will cling to league average in BHIP% until he actually tends to do it. Until then we have to assume that he will suffer in the AVG. column despite good contact skills.

Given his lack of power potential, his lack of positional opportunity at the major league level, and his declining SB totals, we have to downgrade Trevor as a fantasy prospect until he reverses some of these trends, or reveals skill levels we haven’t seen yet.

Long Term Fantasy Grade – C-   

Seas Lvl  AB XBH  HR  BB  SO  SB   AVG   SLG   OPS
2006 A     5   0   0   0   1   0  .000  .000  .000
2006 A+  219  21   4  48  46  29  .329  .470  .920
2006 AA  154  10   1  20  24  16  .234  .325  .647
2007 AA  219  11   1  29  37  12  .192  .256  .542

Kurt Suzuki – A’s
Catcher – Bats Right – 5-11, 200 – 10/4/1983

You gotta love any player who has earned the nickname “Kurt Klutch” don’t you? Especially when he is a dirt dawg player like Kurt Suzuki, the A’s second round pick out of Cal State Fullerton in 2004.

Kurt is a dirt dawg in every way. He is a tireless worker, a team leader, and he absorbs coaching. His short, inside swing manufactures line drives from foul line to foul line. Last year in AA Midland he K rate and BB rate was nearly level at 13.4% and 13.3% respectively, showing outstanding zone control.

Kurt doesn’t seem poised to generate a lot of power despite his 26 doubles last year and  9 in 59 ABs this year, but he hits the ball with authority and when you do that you are going to hit 10-15 HRs simply by accident.

Kurt’s defense is ok, probably MLB ready, but he’s not satisfied about his skill level and that has usually resulted in significant improvement in the past. He has earned the kudos of A’s veterans in camp and the team will embrace him during this call up.

In 211 ABs at AAA this year, Kurt’s K rate and BB rate have slipped quite a bit but he was installing some significant defensive upgrades and he may not have had time to adjust to the pitching in AAA. His contact skills allowed him to maintain a .280 AVG. despite the rise in K rate and that held his OBP at a respectable .345.

Kurt is a favorite son of the A’s organization. He has strong contact skills and plate discipline and he is ready to handle MLB pitching. The problem is that he has to catch while doing it. Kurt will hit .270-.280 once established in the majors and contribute 10-15 HRs and, dependant on where he hits in the order, 60-75 Rbi. Once he gets enough PT (read: after Jason Kendall’s contract expires at the end of the year, or after Kendall gets dealt at the trading deadline) he will be a viable fantasy option in most formats.  

Long Term Fantasy Grade – B

Seas Lvl   AB XBH  HR  BB  SO  SB   AVG   SLG   OPS
2006 AA   376  34   7  58  50   5  .285  .415  .795
2007 AAA  211  12   3  21  41   0  .280  .365  .710
2007 MLB   2    0   0   0   0   0  .500  .500 1.000

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