Vlad released, Prior shines

Vlad released, Prior shines

Published Jun. 13, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

This weekend, families nationwide will stand back and celebrate the Father’s Day holiday. Countless grills will be lit aflame while sports fans enjoy a veritable smorgasbord of activity. The NBA Finals forge ahead with the Heat seeking to rally against the Thunder. Tiger Woods continues his comeback at the U.S. Open. The Sprint Cup Series heads to Michigan and, of course, interleague baseball fires things up for another round.

I know. You’re sorry that the NHL Finals is already in the books, and perhaps you lamented the missed opportunity for quality looting (Beverly Hills was on high alert).

I’ve got something to cheer you up in this week’s trek through the highways and byways of minor league baseball. In this stark contrast to the big ballparks, minor league baseball offers quality play at affordable prices with a chance to see “the next big thing.” You celebrate the mascots and musical accompaniment to every facet of the game.

Of course, the annual phenomenon of minor league teams stocking their calendars chock-full of giveaway dates and sponsorship ties doesn’t hurt the turnstile counter. Teams will run through myriad Father’s Day promotions, including a “President Seat Cushion” day, assorted bobbleheads and the arrival of wrestler Bret “The Hitman” Hart, who will make three appearances in northeast cities . It’s only appropriate that Hart appears on the schedule this week following the Pacquaio-Bradley “Screw Job” from the PPV event.


Without further ado, let’s mine for gold and our next wave of fantasy heroes. I’ll get things started in the Arizona system.

The Diamondbacks await the healthy return of Stephen Drew and the resurgence of 2011 hero Justin Upton’s bat. Second baseman Jake Elmore continues to await his call-up as the Diamondbacks rely on the power surge from Paul Goldschmidt and Jason Kubel. The 25-year-old second base prospect possesses a .384 batting average (83/216) with strong gap power (16 doubles) and 44 RBI with 21 stolen bases in 25 attempts.

Last week, I chronicled the demotion of Kila Ka’aihue by the A’s and how it upset members of the team because of the imminent birth of his twins. Ka’aihue was demoted in favor of longtime minor leaguer Brandon Moss, who had been crushing the ball in Triple-A. Moss homered twice with three RBI in a 2-for-4 performance against the Rockies in Colorado. Three of his first four hits this season (4-for-17) left the yard, including a moon shoot on Tuesday.

We have spent a ton of time marveling over the spring exploits of Anthony Rizzo (more on him in a bit), but the Cubs have another future piece of the outfield puzzle playing in Iowa as well. Brett Jackson has posted strong power numbers, generating 30 extra-base hits with 25 RBI and 12 stolen bases. The 23-year-old Jackson needs to improve on his contact rate (one per 2.81 at-bats) before he’ll be considered for a date in Wrigley Field.

If you’re in the market for an imminent call-up, Liam Hendriks appears set to receive a return trip to Minnesota. Hendriks went 2-0 this past week while pitching 15 2/3 shutout innings and striking out 18 batters. He’s pitched to a fantastic 1.94 ERA in seven minor league appearances following a rough introduction to Major League Baseball in April (9.00 ERA and 1.89 WHIP). Henriks possesses fantastic punch, striking out 42 batters while walking just 13. Henriks is expected to toe the rubbed for Minnesota against Milwaukee this Saturday.

St. Louis prospect Shelby Miller has struggled of late for Triple-A Memphis. Miller has allowed 15 earned runs in his past three starts spanning 12 innings pitched. The 21-year-old hurler’s hit rate has been problematic (11 per nine innings), though he’s fanned Triple-A batters at a rate of 10.3 batters per nine innings. The Cardinals’ “2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year” owns a dismal 5.72 ERA following his last start, a four-inning effort against Nashville in which he surrendered six earned runs.

Toronto’s J.P. Arencibia is tied for fourth among catchers with nine home runs and ranks fifth in RBI with 31. He’s not in danger of losing his job anytime soon (despite his .227 batting average), but prospect Travis d’Arnaud may force Toronto brass to find a place for his bat before long. d’Arnaud possesses a .333 batting average (77-for-231) with 38 extra-base hits (14 home runs) and 43 RBI. The 23-year-old slugger anxiously awaits his turn. Owners in keeper and dynasty leagues need to be ready.

Former Atlanta top prospect Julio Teheran remains stalled at Triple-A Gwinnett. Don’t sweat it. He’s still just 21 years old. Teheran has alternated quality and poor starts in his past four outings. He owns a 3.15 season ERA while striking out 7.1 batters per nine innings. Unfortunately, Teheran has also walked 3.5 batters per nine innings to prevent his recall to the big league staff.

The powerhouse Toronto squad (second in home runs) has power sources in reserve. Corey Brown, a 26-year-old outfield prospect, owns a .284 batting average (64/225) with 31 extra-base hits (16 home runs) and 39 RBI for Triple-A Syracuse.

The Mariners have a mighty intriguing young left-hander working his way through the organization. Danny Hultzen earned his second consecutive “Southern League Pitcher of the Week” nod after tossing eight shutout innings of two-hit ball against the Jacksonville Suns. Hultzen has allowed two earned runs in his past 39 2/3 innings pitched and owns a 1.28 season ERA.

The wheels continue to turn in Texas. The Angels have picked up the pace and are riding hot on the Rangers’ trail. Now, the Rangers forge ahead without starting pitchers Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando, both of whom have landed on the disabled list. I note this development here because veteran Roy Oswalt continues his work at Double-A Frisco in the Texas farm system. He’ll be reevaluated after his next start, his third, but he had noted that he’d need four starts to ready himself after signing with the club.

The Mets have been one of the surprises of the first-third of the season and headed into Thursday’s games four games over .500. They have another outfield prospect on the way to support the rising pitching staff in center fielder Matt Den Dekker. I can see the “Mad Men”-themed shirt selling through at a brisk pace outside Citi Field. Den Dekker led the Eastern League with a .340 batting average with 33 extra-base hits and 29 RBI to earn a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo.

Following an eight-game run with the Las Vegas 51s, the Blue Jays released Vladimir Guerrero from his minor league deal. He batted .303 during the period, but took advantage of his handshake deal with team executives to walk away when a call-up to the Blue Jays failed to materialize.

Fantasy owners and anxious fans of the Cubs await the imminent arrival of slugger Anthony Rizzo. On Tuesday, the scroll at the bottom of the television screen elevated their heart rates for a few minutes when it was revealed that Rizzo had left his Triple-A start with a knee injury after sliding into the outfield fence. Manager Dave Bialas advised The Des Moines Register that the highly-touted slugger “bumped his knee” and that “he’ll be OK.” Rizzo is currently hitting .367 with 16 doubles, 22 home runs and 57 RBI, including a series of highlight-reel shots that have whetted the appetite of Chicagoans.

Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the comeback effort being undertaken by former “can’t miss” pitcher Mark Prior. Prior has struck out 13 batters in 5 2/3 innings pitcher in four appearances for Triple-A Pawtucket. He’s allowed three hits and four walks. We don’t see many positive stories on our newsfeeds. As such, I felt compelled to relay his comeback effort.