Minor League Notes, May 11, 2011
**New York Yankees catching prospect J.R. Murphy is off to a quick start with Low-A Charleston in the South Atlantic League, hitting .328/.344/.492 in his first 29 games, a significant improvement over the .255/.327/.376 line he posted at the same level last year. Scouts like his bat; he's got plenty of bat speed and raw power, though he still struggles with the strike zone, and just four walks in 128 PA is a big caution flag. The good news is that his strikeout rate is low, too, just 13 whiffs, and I'm optimistic about his hitting in the long run. Defense is another matter: he's caught 30% of runners so far, but has also given up three passed balls and three errors already in 14 defensive games, spending almost all the rest of his time at DH, with a smattering of action (two games) at third base. Third base or left field are the likely long-term destinations.
**The Chicago Cubs drafted catcher Micah Gibbs in the third round in 2010 out of Louisiana State. Although his throwing isn't stellar, he was considered to be one of the top defensive catchers in the draft anyhow, due to his mobility, reliability, and leadership skills. He hit .388/.468/.592 for the Tigers last spring, but most scouts felt that wouldn't translate into pro ball, which is why he lasted until the third round. He played terribly in the Northwest League after signing, hitting just .203/.274/.250, with no power, disappointing plate discipline, and not-as-polished-as-expected defense. Gibbs is doing better this year, with a fast start at Low-A Peoria resulting in a .353/.457/.456 line. He's still not hitting for huge power, but his plate discipline has been much better (he drew 13 walks in 42 games last year and has already drawn 12 in 19 this year). He's still not great at throwing, catching just four of 24 runners so far, but his mobility and reliability look much better this year, and it's possible that he was just gassed last summer from the long college season. Given the sample size it is too soon to conclude that he's turned a corner, but I like the restoration of his strike zone judgment.
**Philadelphia Phillies catching prospect Sebastian Valle is another fast starter, hitting .303/.319/.461 in 23 games for High-A Clearwater thus far. The big issue here is plate discipline: he has just one walk against 21 strikeouts in 89 at-bats. He's a pull hitter with very strong power potential, but while his approach may work against A-ball pitching, he'll get carved up in Double-A without some improvement. He's just 20, so there is time to fix this. Valle is a solid defender and while he's not a baserunner killer (27% in his career), he moves well and is improving his receiving skills steadily. He can stick there.
**A fourth fast-starting catcher is Detroit Tigers prospect Rob Brantly, drafted in the third round last year out of UC-Riverside. Brantly is hitting .374/.418/.516 in 23 games for Low-A West Michigan, demonstrating the promising line-drive bat. He's been especially hot lately with a .390 mark in his last 10 games. Brantly won't be a huge home run hitter, but has enough strength to hit doubles, and his contact approach should keep his batting average and OBP decent at higher levels. He had a good defensive reputation among scouts when he was in college, but hasn't played as well with the glove as a pro, already giving up eight passed balls and two errors in just 23 games this year. He's not bad against runners (34%), but has to get more reliable with his receiving skills.