Future Forty Update for August
The Future Forty has received its monthly update. There are some notable departures in this version, as I’ve decided that its time to give organizational opportunity a little more weight in the rankings than I have in the past. Opportunity is obviously vital to a prospects success, and if the organization isn’t going to give him one, we necessarily have to downgrade the likelyhood that he’s going to become a major league player.
So, with that in mind, Guillermo Quiroz and Bobby Livingston have both been removed from the list. Yes, they’re probably better bets to have major league careers than some of the players listed, but at this point, it’s almost certain that those major league careers won’t come with the Mariners, and neither has any real trade value, making it unlikely that the Mariners will ever get anything of value out of either player. Also departing are Shin-Soo Choo (traded), George Sherrill (established major leaguer), and Michael Saunders (not as good as some other end of list guys).
Replacing them are some new names, as well as a mea culpa. A few months ago, I booted Luis Valbuena from the Future Forty as he hadn’t hit in several years and his defense was nothing to write home about. Well, pretty much starting the day after that, he started to hit, and hit well. He earned a promotion out of the Midwest League, and is now trying to hold his own as a 20-year-old in high-A. So, sorry Luis, I never should have dismissed you in the first place. Welcome back. Joining him as newcomers or returners to the list are Michael Wilson (numbers too good to ignore right now), Kuo-Hui Lo (interesting young OF prospect), Carlos Peguero (Wladimir Balentien part two?), and Anthony Butler (solid arm, showing decent stuff in pro debut).
You’ll notice that the list got quite a bit younger. The top levels of the system are really being thinned out by promotion and trade. This isn’t a problem, as this is exactly what a farm system is for, but the bulk of the talent in the minors is now several years away. Among current minor leaguers, the only ones you could realistically expect to contribute the rest of the year would be Chris Snelling, Eric O’Flaherty, and Francisco Cruceta, and none of them would play major roles for the big club. I’ve categorized only 7 of the 32 minor leaguers on the Future Forty as being in one of the top four tiers of prospects. The guys who are close to the majors are probably role players, and the guys with talent to be everyday players are several years away. The M’s farm system is going to be ranked quite low again this offseason.
However, that shouldn’t cause us to overlook the fact that the farm system is doing its job – stocking the major league club with young, effective, cheap talent. A huge portion of the M’s success this season can be tied directly to the players the farm system promoted in the last 12-18 months. We won’t be seeing another wave of talent like the one we saw get to Seattle in the last year, but we don’t need to.
One player specific comment, since the guy has been generating some buzz lately for his improved play.
I’m a known critic of Wladimir Balentien. In the past, his approach at the plate was so terrible that finding a major leaguer who had succeeded with his mentality and skillset was darn near impossible. I kept comparing him to Hensley “Bam Bam” Muelens, and while we acknowledged the potential was there, kept reminding everyone that the risk was even higher. Until he learned to control the strike zone and make better contact, his ability to hit major league pitching was going to be neutralized.
So, in the last month, Wladimir Balentien apparently got the memo. During July, he drew 24 walks and struck out 25 times in 93 at-bats. This is a guy who drew 33 walks all of last season. His 2005 walk rate was 6.1%. In July, his walk rate was 26%. That’s a ridiculous difference, and there’s no chance it was a fluke. Wlad has clearly worked on his patience at the plate, working counts, and laying off pitches out of the strike zone.
However, it has come at a high cost. Balentien’s calling card has been his power, and that is the one tool he has that projects to the major leagues. He’s going to live and die by how often he crushes the baseball. And while the walks went through the roof, the power took the elevator to the ground floor. In July, just 7 of his 24 wents went for extra bases, or a 29% mark. For the rest of the season, 31 of his 65 hits had gone for extra bases, or 47%. That difference is just as significant as the walk rate. 29% XBH/H in the minors is barely acceptable for a player with a broad base of skills; for a guy whose power is his only plus tool, it’s disaster.
In the last month, we’ve seen Balentien essentially convert himself from being Hensley Muelens into being Rich Becker. While the improved walk rate is an extremely positive development, it’s hard to think that its a coincidence that his power took a nosedive when his approach at the plate changed. I’ve often referred to skillsets as a sliding scale – the more you move one set of skills, other skills are often negatively impacted. Wlad needs to show that he can both walk and hit for power at the same time.
As always, feel free to use this thread as a catch-all for minor league questions, and I’ll try to answer as many as I can.