Moving the prospect meter, 9/13

In the prospect world, this time of year is like the time for the rest of the sports world between the end of the Super Bowl and that glorious Thursday in March when the NCAA tournament madness begins. The minor league regular seasons have ended, and each playoff series that passes ends the season for another batch of prospects. We still have a few weeks before the winter leagues begin play, which means there’s not a lot of action to report.

But that’s what you have me for. If there’s news out there, I’ll find it for you. After all, no matter what time of year it is, the prospect meter is always moving.

For instance…

Jesus Montero, the Yankees top hitting prospect and one of the top all-around hitting prospects left in the minors, will miss the remainder of the International League playoffs due to a leg infection. Montero was not slated to play in the Arizona Fall League, and in past winters has returned home to Venezuela to play winter ball. There is no announcement regarding just how long Montero will be out or whether it will affect the team’s offseason plans for the catching prospect, only that he is done for the remainder of the playoffs.

It would seem advantageous for the Yankees to keep Montero in the country this offseason and have him work at the team’s facility in Tampa on his defense behind the plate, as Jorge Posada is taking more and more starts as the Yankees’ DH every year, and the only other positional option for Montero (first base) is occupied by Mark Teixeira. Montero showed this year that his bat is ready for the majors, and the Yankees would like to have him in their lineup at some point in 2011, perhaps in a rotation between DH and catcher along with Posada and Francisco Cervelli.

The Blue Jays have just announced that Kyle Drabek, the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year, will make his major league debut on Wednesday night against the Orioles. The move skips Drabek right over Triple-A, but between the Phillies and Blue Jays organizations, Drabek spent a year-and-a-half in the Eastern League and pitched 258.1 innings at that level.

Drabek likely would have been promoted earlier in the season, at least to Triple-A, but the Blue Jays have a logjam of young starters both in the majors and the upper levels of the minor leagues, and without other promotions, there was nowhere for Drabek to move. This brief audition in the majors will be the beginning of Drabek’s attempt to make the Blue Jays rotation in spring training next year, but because he’s still just 22, the team can still afford to be patient with its biggest return asset from the departure of Roy Halladay.

While most teams’ prospects are done with their seasons, the A’s still get to watch their top picks from the past two years develop for a few more games. Both Grant Green (13th overall in 2009) and Michael Choice (10th overall in 2010) are leading their respective teams in postseason action.

Green spent the entire regular season in the High-A California League, but joined the Double-A Midland Rockhounds for the Texas League playoffs and homered in his first at-bat to help send the team into the championship series. Green should get used to hitting in Midland, where he will likely start the 2011 season. The A’s did the same thing with Choice, who spent the majority of his season in the short-season Northwest League (where he posted an impressive .284/.388/.627 line) and joined the Kane County Cougars for the Low-A Midwest League playoffs. Like Green, Choice homered in his first at-bat at the new level and he could start either there or in the California League next season.

Over the past decade, the Phillies have consistently and effectively developed mid-to-late round pitching draft picks into legitimate prospects. One of those is Jonathan Pettibone, who had one of the best starts of his young professional career, striking out nine and sending his Lakewood Blueclaws team to the South Atlantic League finals. Despite being 6-foot-5, Pettibone isn’t the hardest thrower and in his first full season as a professional he struck out just 5.76 hitters per nine innings. That’s a rate that won’t allow him sustained success unless he manages an extremely high groundball rate (which he doesn’t—his career rate is just under 50 percent), but the Phillies have to be pleased with a 3.49 ERA and a BB/9 rate of 2.81 by a projectable 20-year-old.

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