CAL LEAGUE PLAYER WATCH

With the second half of the California League season underway, here’s a look at a few of the players I have been following all season. The hiA league is a great crossroad stop for so many players. It takes most prospects some time to get here as they have to pass the “entry level” leagues to get to the California League.

This is a circuit where you really start to see the quality of play look like what you see in the bigs, and it is somewhat of a make-or-break stop on the way to The Show. The rookie leagues and even loA are brief stops for many who never make it to the majors. Here, in the searing heat of Central and Southern California, the ball flies, pitchers are challenged and hitters need to produce to keep the dream alive. These are a few of the players I have been keeping an eye on.

JAKE BARRETT, LHP, VISALIA RAWHIDE (DIAMONDBACKS)

I’ll start with a guy who has already moved on. Barrett pitched 28 games out of the back end of Visalia’s bullpen and he was dominant, posting 15 saves with a 1.98 ERA while walking just nine batters against 37 K’s. 27 1/3 IP was all Barrett needed to move up to AA Mobile and he’s been the same lefty gunslinger back there.

In 6 games and 6 1/3 IP, Barrett has tacked on four more saves while his ERA is even lower than his Cal League mark at 1.42. Just two hits and a walk against Barrett so far. Baseball America had Barrett ranked as Arizona’s #16 prospect before the season and he has done everything he needs to do to keep moving up that list.

JAKE BARRETT INTERVIEW with HotStoveHeat.com

 

Photo: Steve Cummings/HotStoveHeat.com

TREVOR STORY, SS, MODESTO NUTS (ROCKIES)

Story was ranked by Baseball America as Colorado’s #3 prospect this spring so I have taken advantage of the chance to watch him play live while following his progress all season. He’s got great tools that justify his high ranking and his time at loA last year went well.

It hasn’t happened for Story in 2013. Following an 18-homer season in 2012 where he posted a line of .277/.367/.505 at loA Asheville, it has been a struggle in Modesto.

Story has hit in three straight games and five of the last six, but his slash line sits at just .212/.284/.360. Eight homers and 40 RBI aren’t what the Rockies are looking for from their 2011 first-rounder. Drafted out of high school, he’s still very young at age 20 so there’s time for him to put it all together. But so far in 2013, the gifted shortstop hasn’t seen the results from prior years that had this Bleacher Report article glowing last September.

 

Photo: MiLB.com

ADDISON RUSSELL, SS, STOCKTON PORTS (A’S)

2012 first-round draft pick (11th overall) Addison Russell is playing at the hiA level at age 19. That’s ahead of the curve for baseball prospects and he’s doing pretty well. Heating up lately, in fact.

For the season, Russell has a line of .263/.341/.478 with nine homers, 40 RBI and 12 stolen bases against three CS. That’s a dropoff from the stellar numbers that Russell, the A’s top organizational prospect according to Baseball America, put up in three 2012 stops after being drafted and signed. In 217 ABs last year, the Florida native went .369/.432/.594 with seven HR and 45 RBI.

That’s what the jump to hiA ball is all about, as described above. It gets pretty serious in this advanced A league as the skill level jumps up. A 19-year old doesn’t ordinarily dominate the opposition here. He gets shown what he has to work on and if he’s going to keep his phenom status, he adjusts and improves.

Russell is doing just that. In the 22 games in the second half, he has batted .299/.364/.506 (after .249/.332/.467 in the first half). This is a top-shelf talent. Look for Russell to finish strong and keep climbing up through the A’s minor league system. You can see him in there with the best of the minor leagues in the Futures Game on July 14th.

 

Photo: MiLB.com

KYLE CRICK, RHP, SAN JOSE GIANTS (GIANTS)

The top overall prospect in the Giants’ organization (Baseball America) has missed time due to an oblique injury and only has seven starts to this point. But they’re pretty good starts, indicative of his lofty prospect status.

The 2011 first-round draft pick (49th overall) is 1-1 with a 1.21 ERA and has had three scoreless starts in four outings since coming back from the oblique injury. In 29 2/3 IP, Crick has fanned 44 batters against 19 BB’s and of his nine runs allowed, only four are earned.

Crick is in his second full season as a pro and he is duplicating what he did last year at loA Augusta. The oblique injury is a quirky one and it is nothing to be concerned about as far as his progress. The Giants sure could use his fully developed talent now, but at age 20 Kyle Crick is on an accelerated pace to hit their rotation soon enough.

 

Photo: MiLB.com

EVAN MARZILLI, OF, VISALIA RAWHIDE (DIAMONDBACKS)

Marzilli fits the organizational profile pretty well, a gamer-type who plays a good centerfield and gets on base. He started the season as Arizona’s #30 prospect and was noted for his speed, his instincts and the fact that he had played on winning teams in college at South Carolina and his first year as a pro in Missoula.

Like Story, it hasn’t happened yet in 2013 for Marzilli. His line sits at .213/.318/.272 and he’s now hitting out of the #9 hole. 11 SB’s against just one CS is a plus and he has scored 44 runs. If you watch him play, you can see the talent and he’s come through in some clutch spots.

Marzilli had his 2012 season in rookie ball end before the playoffs due to a broken arm. This spring he told me that he was ready to go and it doesn’t appear that the injury factors into his loA struggles. His numbers are up just a tick in the 22 second-half games, though not anything dramatic at .238/.333/.286.

Thus is the challenge of loA ball in the California League. Evan Marzilli has almost half a season to get it going, and if his resume predicts future results, he will. Marzilli’s been an important part of several winning teams and the competition has stepped up. Now it’s his turn.

*****

That’s all California League North, I know. Next time we’ll look down south.

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