Minor League Notes, May 25, 2011
**Colorado Rockies prospect Juan Nicasio had a solid year in the California League in 2010, going 12-10, 3.91 with a 171/31 K/BB in 177 innings. But he gave up 186 hits, and he was a little old for the league at age 23/24. Promoted to Double-A Tulsa this year, he's been even better so far at the higher level, going 5-1, 2.22 in nine starts with a 63/10 K/BB in 57 innings, 48 hits allowed. He has four solid pitches: 90-94 MPH fastball, curve, slider, changeup, and his command is usually excellent. We might see him in Colorado later this year, but a trial sometime in 2012 is more likely. (NOTE: after I wrote this, it became apparent that Jorge De La Rosa will need Tommy John surgery and Nicasio may come up on Saturday to replace him). The fact that his ratios haven't deteriorated at all, and in fact have improved, at the higher level is a great sign.
**Seattle Mariners prospect James Paxton is working off the rust at Low-A Clinton in the Midwest League, and doing so very effectively: he fanned 12 in six innings last night in a start against Cedar Rapids. On the year he has a 2.22 ERA with a 38/17 K/BB in 28 innings, 22 hits allowed. Paxton's control was shaky in his first few outings but was solid last night. You will recall that Paxton was an unsigned supplemental first round pick by the Blue Jays in 2009, but re-entered the draft pool last year after the NCAA declared him ineligible to return to the University of Kentucky due to his association with Scott Boras. He pitched in independent ball instead and was drafted in the fourth round by the Mariners. Paxton is working in the low-90s according to Midwest League sources and his curveball has been very strong so far.
**27-year-old New York Yankees farmhand Kevin Whelan is having a strong year for Triple-A Scranton so far, collecting 13 saves with a 2.18 ERA and a 21/6 K/BB in 21 innings, with just 13 hits allowed. Originally drafted by the Tigers in the fourth round in 2005 out of Texas A&M, he was traded to the Yankees in the 2006 Gary Sheffield deal. He was considered a solid relief prospect for a few years due to a 92-94 MPH fastball and a devastating splitter, but his career was undone by control problems and injuries and he disappeared off prospect lists after posting a 6.02 ERA with 31 walks in 49 innings in Double-A/Triple-A last year. All of a sudden, Whelan is throwing strikes again in 2011 and is breezing through the International League. If he continues to do that, he could reach the majors as a relief reinforcement later this year.
**Houston Astros outfield prospect J.D. Martinez is hitting .321/.398/.518 so far in 31 games for Double-A Corpus Christi, very much in line with what he did last year. A 20th round pick in 2009 from Nova Southeastern University, Martinez doesn't have the prettiest swing in the world, but still generates plenty of bat speed, controls the strike zone well, and so far has hit excellently in pro ball despite his lack of a big draft pedigree. He is now a career .341/.403/.549 hitter in 241 games, including .309/.374/.449 in 81 Double-A contests. His below average range and mediocre arm strength limit him defensively and kept him from a high draft slot, but he can hit.