Because simply following the big league club isn't enough to support my addiction, I check the MiLB boxscores daily. Every day, once all of the games are down, I go to milb.com and click through all of the Royals' minor league affiliates, checking the boxscores. Obviously, I want every team to win every game. But, more importantly, I want players to perform, naturally.
So far this year, one name has stuck out to me throughout my boxscore escapades: Jose Duarte. Now, of course, it is incredibly early to draw any real conclusions from this data. However, there are some things that you can point to as to why this improvement is real, and that's what I talk about below.
Jose Duarte -- FanGraphs
He's always been pegged as a defensive-first speed guy without a lot of pop. His first three seasons, he had a high BA thanks to some lucky BABIPs and decent patience. This year, though, he's been hitting. And hitting and hitting and hitting. Last year in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, his BABIP luck finally caught up to him. He hit .250 with very little power. He did walk some, but still, an OPS of .663 isn't pretty whatsoever.
This year, though, he's hitting .390/.480/.512. If he could keep that up, he'd be a top prospect. Of course, his BABIP is an entirely unattainable .457. However, there is still reason to believe he has real improvement this season. A couple of reasons, actually.
For one, his LD% rate. Yes, it's hard to compare different league's LD%, because a line drive has a different definition everywhere. Still, you can glean some information. Duarte's LD% has gone up from 7% as a rookie in 2005 (in the AZL) to 22% so far this year. That is a big jump, and would partly explain his higher BA and such.
For two, his BB% rate is at an all-time high. After posting rates hovering around 9% his first couple of years in the minors, his BB% rate is 16.3% so far this season. Likewise, his K% has gone down from a career average around 8% to 14.6% so far this year.
So, who knows. Hopefully his increase in BB% in K% is for real, as is his much-improved LD% rate. If so, combined with his defense and speed (6 SBs so far this year), we could have a really solid 4th OF prospect. Maybe even a sleeper at CF. Definitely someone you should be watching.
Along with Duarte, there have been some other prospecta that have caught my eye:
Other Hot Starters
Nick Francis -- Yes, I know he's old for A-ball (23 years old; he didn't play in 2007), and he has a long way to go before really emerging on people's radar. However, he is ripping the absolute cover off of the ball, to the tune of a .400/.523/.714 line. Yes, that's a 1.237 OPS. The biggest reason he's improved so much from last season is his BB% and K% rates. HIs BB% rate has gone up to 22.5% from 8% last year, his K% rate falling from 31% last year to 16.5% this year. His LD% is awfully low, but again, LD% rates are hard to get a read on.
In any case, he deserves a promotion, and soon. Wilmington's outfield is stacked, yes, but we need to see just how good they are. Right? And yes, I know it's only 35 AB's. But those 35 AB's are so off-the-charts good, it's worth watching.
Brian McFall -- McFall has always been a power machine. Early on this year, though, his SLG has gone way up. Way, way up. Last year's SLG was .454. This year, so far, he's slugging .650. He is still hardly walking (actually, his BB% rate has gone down to under 5%) and he strikes out at on(his K% rate is 25%), but when he hits it, it almost always goes far. Of his 11 hits, 6 are doubles. Another 3 are HR's. His ISO is .375. If his power surge keeps up, he's another guy to watch out for.
Jeff Bianchi -- Everyone knows Bianchi's story. Widely considred a reach as a 2nd round pick, he put on two fabulous hitting displays in the Arizona League, but both seasons were cut short due to injury. His last two seasons he's been healthy, but incredibly underwhelming. So far this year, though, he's been hitting way better. Of all of my people to talk about, Bianchi is probably the least "for real". His BABIP is a ridiculous .475, despite a LD% of 16%. So, enjoy the hot streak, and he has the potential to keep it up, but don't count on it. His BB% and K% have stayed about the same, showing very little improvement.
Clint Robinson -- I've always liked this guy. He's way old for his level (24 for a A+ player), and he was a college senior when drafted. However, he's always raked, and this year is no different. He doesn't walk (his BB% rate is a laughable 2.4%), but makes pretty solid contact and has a ton of power. A ton. Of. Power. In a double-header today, he hit 3 HR's. His ISO is nearly .300. And compared to Bianchi's low LD% rate, he is posting a 25% rate on the same team. Obviously, he is far from an actual "prospect", but if his power keeps up he could be worth watching. Personally, this is my favorite part of the minors. The guys who probaly aren't good enough to really play in the majors, but it's always fun to dream that they could. Right?
OK. Hopefully that isn't too brutal to read. Duarte is really exciting me. I hope, hope, hope he can be "for real". That would be utterly fantastic, wouldn't it?
I want to do something like this for the pitchers too, whenever I get the time. Maybe it'll be soon, maybe not. We'll have to see.