Afternoon Update: May 19, 2010
**Texas Rangers pitching prospect Robbie Erlin made his debut as a starter last night for Hickory in the South Atlantic League, throwing five perfect innings and fanning nine. Combined with eight previous outings in relief, Erlin has a 0.36 ERA with a 31/4 K/BB in 25.1 innings this year, with just 11 hits allowed. A third round pick last June out of high school in Scotts Valley, California, Erlin isn't a big guy at 6-0, 175, but he has a solid 90 MPH fastball and a big-breaking curve. His command has been excellent this year, and he is also a good overall athlete. I like this guy; I gave him a Grade C+ "with higher potential" in the book, and so far there is nothing to complain about and lots to be pleased with in his performance. He could get well into the B-range by the end of the season.
**One of the hottest hitters in the minor leagues right now is Giants first base prospect Brandon Belt, currently hitting .381/.481/.579 for High-A San Jose, with 25 walks and just 20 strikeouts in 126 at-bats. He's been especially devastating on the road, hitting .443/.533/.615 in other California League parks outside San Jose. Belt was drafted in the fifth round last June from the University of Texas. He's a big guy at 6-5, 195, with a long wingspan, but he wasn't a dominant hitter in college and scouts said that his swing didn't translate his strength to power effectively. I saw him play for the Longhorns last year and I thought he looked like a good player, looking more athletic than most first basemen his size and controlling the strike zone well. I wrote in my book this year that I thought he "had some breakout potential once he gets comfortable." He's clearly comfortable. It will be interesting to see how quickly the Giants promote him to Double-A, but you have to like what he's done so far.
**Liam Hendriks is another hot pitcher, an Australian in the Twins system. He began this year with Beloit in the Midwest League, going 2-1, 1.32 with a 39/4 K/BB in 34 innings and just 16 hits allowed. Promoted to Fort Myers in early May, he's remained strong in his first two starts, with a 2.84 ERA and a 12/0 K/BB in 13.1 innings, allowing nine hits. Hendriks. He has a 90 MPH sinker, decent curve and slider, and obviously outstanding command. He is fully recovered from back surgery that cost him all of 2008. You can find some video of him here. I didn't put him in the book, but he looks like at least a Grade C+ prospect right now.
**Mets catching prospect Josh Thole is currently hitting .198/.265/.319 in 24 games for Triple-A Buffalo, with nine walks and 17 strikeouts. He hasn't hit a homer yet, but has managed to knock nine doubles. He's also having problems throwing out baserunners, nabbing just 17% thus far in 24 games behind the plate. Thole isn't really a .198 hitter, but he's not really a .300+ hitter either, not at the major league level anyway. He'll pull out of the slump eventually, but I still do not see him as a long-term solution behind the plate for a major league team. He just doesn't have enough power and isn't good enough at throwing out runners. All of his offensive value is tied into his batting average, and if he can't hit .300+ consistently against good pitching, or at least show much better defense, he won't stay in a lineup.