Minor League Notes, June 23rd, 2011

Tampa Bay Rays shortstop prospect Hak-Ju Lee (photo by Nick Martinez/Courtesy of Charlotte Stone Crabs)

Minor League Notes, June 23, 2011

**Tampa Bay Rays shortstop prospect Hak-Ju Lee continues his strong campaign for High-A Charlotte in the Florida State League, hitting .304 in his last 10 games and posting a .339/.412/.468 line overall, with 26 walks and 41 strikeouts in 233 at-bats. He's also stolen 20 bases in 28 attempts. Although he hasn't maintained the power surge he showed in April (he slugged .686 that month), he continues lashing liners to all fields and is generally impressing everyone who sees him.

Charlotte sources indicate that Lee's swing is working well, and his speed/gap power approach is perfectly tailored for the roomy, spacious parks in the Florida State League.  His season is particularly pleasing when one considers that he missed the first two weeks with chickenpox, which is a nasty, strength-sapping bug for anyone past childhood. Lee continues to impress defensively, showing excellent range and lowering his error rate compared to last year.

**A reader recently asked me for my take on New York Yankees prospect Pat Venditte, the famous switch-pitcher. For the uninitiated, Venditte was a 20th round pick in 2008 from Creighton University in Nebraska. He is a switch-pitcher, working at 87-90 with a decent curveball and changeup from the right side, and 80-84 with a fair slider from the left. His southpaw delivery is deceptive and lefty hitters have some trouble picking him up, while his arsenal against right-handers is decent enough when his command is on.

Venditte breezed through A-ball (1.70 ERA, 218/36 K/BB in 175 innings, 127 hits, 51 saves over three years) but scouts were skeptical that his approach would work in Double-A. He had a rough initiation in April (6.55 ERA) but has been effective in May and June, giving him a current mark of 3.52, 42/20 K/BB in 46 innings, 42 hits. Venditte isn't just a novelty act; he's got a good feel for pitching and a chance to be a useful component of a major league bullpen. He at least deserves a shot in Triple-A. Yankees sources take a "wait and see" approach with him, but also indicate he'll be given a chance to move up if he keeps pitching well.

**Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Tyler Skaggs is having a fine campaign thus far in the California League, with a 3.36 ERA and a 102/32 K/BB in 83 innings for Visalia, allowing just 66 hits. The K/IP and H/IP are excellent, and he also has a 1.47 GO/AO, so the strikeout/grounders combination that I like to see is here. Acquired from the Angels in the 2010 Dan Haren trade, Skaggs was a supplemental first round pick in 2009 and is living up to his potential. He didn't throw especially hard in high school, but he was projectable and his velocity has picked up into the 90s. He has a plus curveball and reports indicate that his changeup has improved. The main statistical weakness is a higher-than-ideal walk rate, but overall things look good with Skaggs and he could reach Double-A in the second half despite his youth (he doesn't turn 20 until next month).

**Speed-hungry fantasy owners should keep an eye on Cincinnati Reds shortstop prospect Billy Hamilton. He's stolen 53 bases in 68 games for Low-A Dayton, which is all the more remarkable considering that his on-base percentage is an anemic .292. To put it in bolder terms, he is on course to steal 100 or more bases, with a sub-.300 OBP.  Hamilton's overall line is .233/.292/.329.

A second round pick in 2009 from high school in Taylorsville, Mississippi, Hamilton has 80-speed and is an aggressive and skilled runner. The rest of his game needs a lot of work: his plate discipline is mediocre, he strikes out a lot (73 times in 66 games), he doesn't have much power. He is also error-prone (.913 fielding percentage) and hasn't shown the best range this year despite his speed and athleticism. He may be better-suited for second base. Hamilton is quite raw and is likely a one-level-at-a-time player, but his upside is highly intriguing. He could be something like Vince Coleman with the ability to play in the middle infield.

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