Minor League Notes, April 15, 2012
*Is it time to start worrying about Hak-Ju Lee's bat? The Tampa Bay Rays shortstop prospect is off to a slow start for Double-A Montgomery, hitting .171/.244/.220 through 10 games, with four walks and 10 strikeouts. He didn't hit well in Double-A last August, and in 34 games at that level, he is hitting a combined .184/.263/.284 with 15 walks and 32 strikeouts in 159 plate appearances. I know the samples involved are small, but I was hoping he would get a handle on advanced minor league pitching more quickly and he doesn't seem to have improved since last year. His glove will get him to the majors, but he has to show more oomph with the bat. He's only 21 so it is way too soon to conclude that this is all he can do, but expectations that he could be ready by 2013 may need to be pared back.
**Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop prospect Jake Lemmerman is also struggling with his Double-A transition. He's hitting .200/.310/.240 through eight games with Chattanooga in the Southern League, with two walks and nine strikeouts. He was productive in the California League last year (.293/.379/.420) but slumped after being promoted for the stretch run (.234/.318/.390 in 77 at-bats), so this year's performance reflects his trend from last year. On the positive side, he's played error-less ball at shortstop this season. Scouting reports emphasize his reliability and fundamental soundness, although most think his arm and range will work better at second base in the majors. Without more offensive juice he looks like a utility guy.
**The news is better for Seattle Mariners shortstop prospect Nick Franklin, off to a fine start for Double-A Jackson at .313/.389/.500 in nine games, with four walks and just four strikeouts. This continues what he did at that level last season (.325/.371/.482 in 21 games), and it looks more and more like his uninspired numbers at High Desert last year (.275/.356/.411 in 64 games) were a result of injuries and bad luck. There's still some question about if his long-term position will be shortstop or second base, although I tend to the optimistic side on that and I think he can be at least acceptable at short with more experience. The bat sure looks good.
**Houston Astros shortstop prospect Jonathan Villar continues to show gaudy tools but unimpressive performance for Double-A Corpus Christi. He is hitting .189/.286/.216 through nine games, with five walks and 11 strikeouts in 37 at-bats. He's making more of an effort to control the strike zone, but so far without any boost in actual production. On the positive side, he's stolen seven bases in eight attempts, he doesn't turn 21 until next month, and his physical tools remain among the best in the minors. His defense remains flashy-but-sloppy (five errors already in nine games): he has more than enough arm and range for shortstop, but has poor fundamentals.