Prospect watch: Jennings rising

BY foxsports • April 14, 2011

Over the past week, I’ve seen countless photos of friends and colleagues celebrating the return of baseball across the social media landscape.

Sure, there have been shots from the historic major league ballparks in the mix, but most of the smiles and family shots have come from minor-league stadiums. The logs of the events, sightings in the stands and ballpark concessions have me scouring websites for information about upcoming homestands near Los Angeles.

Perhaps the “Charlie Sheen-co de Mayo” event in Lake Elsinore (San Diego) will fit the bill. It includes a Sheen bobblehead, retirement of uniform No. 99 (Ricky Vaughn) and food specials, in addition to a game against Bakersfield.

My tribute to minor-league baseball continues herein with an early-season prospect watch. The first entry on this list has already been recalled to help shore up the Texas lineup following a huge injury.

Chris Davis, 1B/3B, Round Rock Express (Texas Triple-A)

Davis has taunted fantasy owners for years. He hit 21 home runs for the Rangers while batting .238 in 2009. He then spent the majority of the 2010 season at Triple-A Round Rock, recording 47 extra-base hits (including 14 home runs) and 80 RBI with a strong .327 batting average.

He opened the 2011 season well with a .421 batting average (9-for-21), including six extra-base hits (four home runs) and 11 RBI. Davis was recalled by the team to replace the injured Josh Hamilton on the roster. Mitch Moreland will take some at-bats in the outfield, but super-reserve David Murphy is also there. As such, at-bats for Davis in this latest call-up may be sparse. This might serve as Davis’ final audition for a full-time role in Texas (he batted .192 in 120 major league at-bats in 2010).

Dustin Ackley, 2B, Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle Triple-A)

I banged the drum for Ackley to start the season with the big club, and I believe it’s just a matter of time before he gets the call this summer. Ackley generated 48 extra-base hits (including 33 doubles) while batting .267. between Double-A and Triple-A last season He’s struggled out of the gate this season, batting .179 (5-for-28) with one home run, one RBI, three runs scored, five walks, five strikeouts and a stolen base.

Jerry Sands, OF, Albuquerque Isotopes (Los Angeles Dodgers Triple-A)

The Dodgers came into 2011 with questions about the left field position. Sands might be the answer to the question before long, as he’s tearing up Triple-A pitching early this season. He slammed 35 home runs with 93 RBI and a .302 batting average between the Midwest and Southern Leagues in 2010.

Sands entered Thursday’s play with a robust .393 batting average (11-for-28) while blasting two doubles and four home runs with 14 RBI. He’s also made consistent contact in his introduction to Triple-A, having struck out just twice in 30 plate appearances.

Desmond Jennings, OF, Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Triple-A)

It’s just a matter of time before Jennings returns to Tampa to start tormenting opposing pitchers on the basepaths. Jennings is batting .348 (8-for-23) with a double, home run, two RBI, five runs and two stolen bases. He’s also drawn five walks.

Jennings didn’t dominate in his brief introduction to the major leagues last season, but he appears to be rounding out as a complete player. Manny Ramirez’s abrupt exit from Tampa has brought more attention to Jennings’ minor-league efforts. For now, the Rays look to Johnny Damon and cult hero Sam Fuld. It won’t be long before Jennings joins them.

Devin Mesoraco, C, Louisville Bats (Cincinnati Triple-A)

The Reds have a stocked minor-league system, and Mesoraco is making an early case to join the hit parade at Great American Ballpark. Mesoraco enters Thursday’s action with a .318 batting average (7-for-22), including five extra-base hits (three home runs), eight RBI and four runs. He’s already struck out seven times.

Mesoraco moved up the ranks last season by producing prodigious power numbers. He batted .302 with 26 home runs and 25 doubles across three levels last season. Granted, Mesoraco struggled at the plate in his introduction to Triple-A last season (hit .231 with 14 strikeouts in 52 at-bats).

Brandon Dickson, SP, Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis Triple-A)

Dickson hasn’t fast-tracked through the St. Louis organization, but the 26-year-old hurler appears on the verge of a callup should the Cardinals sustain any additional setbacks in the rotation. Dickson pitched to a 3.23 ERA with 7.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 2010. He earned a spot on the Pacific Coast League All-Star team.

Dickson’s strikeout rate has jumped in his two starts to open 2011. He allowed four earned runs (3.00 ERA) with 14 strikeouts and a nice, round 1.00 WHIP in 12 innings.

Josh Collmenter, SP, Reno Aces (Arizona Triple-A)

The 25-year-old righty dominated the Southern League early last season, pitching to a fantastic 1.82 ERA in 12 starts. Collmenter than struggled in his introduction to the Pacific Coast League, registering a terrible 5.77 ERA with a sizable 1.56 WHIP in 10 starts.

He pitched well in his first outing for Reno. Collmenter allowed two runs and one earned with seven strikeouts against two walks in six innings.

Jenrry Mejia, SP, Buffalo Bisons (New York Mets Triple-A)

Mejia is a 21-year-old prospect who captured our attention last season. Following nine minor-league starts (had 1.28 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine IP), Mejia received the call to New York and logged 33 appearances (including 30 in relief) with a 4.62 ERA and bloated 1.56 WHIP.

Mejia is back to dominating minor-league batters to open 2011. He’s pitched 12 2/3 scoreless innings in two starts. Mejia allowed three hits while striking out 11 batters against five walks in both starts.

Mike Rayl, SP, Lake County Captains (Cleveland Class-A)

Rayl is a long-term prospect to watch, as he works through the Cleveland organization. The 22-year-old left-hander has allowed just two hits with 11 strikeouts in 11 innings. Last season, Rayl made 15 minor-league appearances (including 14 starts). He pitched to a 3.18 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings. Rayl allowed one home run.

Bryce Harper, OF, Hagerstown Suns (Washington Class-A)

I would be remiss if I did a minor-league review without a quick nod to super prospect Bryce Harper of the Nationals. He hit his first minor-league home run on Wednesday night. The 18-year-old behemoth is batting .240 (6-for-25) with five RBI, one stolen base and three walks against seven strikeouts at Class-A. It’s just the first of many updates, as Harper gets fast-tracked to Washington.

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