I was sitting at Camden Yards with some sportswriter friends two Sundays ago when Jay Bruce's latest home run flashed across the out-of-town scoreboard.
"I think Jay Bruce might hit .800," one of my buddies said.
Well, maybe not .800, but the Cincinnati uberprospect is making the Reds look pretty silly for starting Corey former Oriole Patterson ahead of him for two months.
Bruce's blinding start is a reminder of the huge impact of midseason call-ups. The key, of course, is to anticipate these next-big-things before they arrive. Thus, here's my quarterly checkup on top prospects.
Nick Adenhart: The Maryland native was hammered in a glimpse of major league action for the Los Angeles Angels this year. His 3.86 ERA at Triple-A is decent, but his 39-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 58 1/3 innings isn't. Adenhart is a good prospect but lacks the crazy upside of prodigies Joba Chamberlain and Clayton Kershaw. I wouldn't count on him for fantasy help this season.
Francisco Liriano: Remember him? Liriano has posted six good starts in his past seven, but with 40 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings, he's nowhere near as overpowering in Triple-A as he was in the big leagues two years ago for the Minnesota Twins. I still expect Liriano to pitch well in the majors again, but it probably won't be this year, and he might never recapture the form that briefly made him the game's most exciting starter.
Travis Snider: The supposed best high school bat from the 2006 draft was promoted to Double-A quickly after a solid start. There, the Toronto Blue Jays prospect has flashed decent power with eight homers in 45 games, but he's hitting only .262 and striking out in more than one-third of his official at-bats. Talk of a big league call-up in September seems premature, even if his long-term future looks very bright.
Adam Lind: He lacks much luster after a disappointing big league run last year. But Lind has always killed minor league pitching and continues to do so at Triple-A. I suspect that, as Matt Stairs and ex-Oriole Jack Cust did before him, he'll have a few good years for somebody. If he comes up for Toronto this year, take a shot at him in AL leagues.
Matt LaPorta: The Milwaukee Brewers surprised everyone by grabbing this big-time college hitter in last year's draft. The reason? His great bat seems stuck behind left fielder Ryan Braun and first baseman Prince Fielder. LaPorta has confirmed that he can really hit, with a .406 on-base percentage and .591 slugging average at Double-A. So if the Brewers make room for him, grab him.
Mat Gamel: LaPorta's teammate has been even better with the stick, hitting .378 with a .660 slugging average. But he's another big-time bat with questionable defensive skills who seems blocked from a major league job. Like LaPorta, he's probably worth a pick-up in NL leagues, if he surfaces.
Fernando Martinez: He's the guy the New York Mets wouldn't trade for Johan Santana. At 19, he's very young for Double-A, but his .408 slugging average does not suggest he would be an impact player in the big leagues this season.
Steve Pearce: I thought he was big league-ready entering the season, but a .735 OPS at Triple-A doesn't cry out for a corner outfield job in Pittsburgh.
Andrew McCutchen: He has always been popular with scouts and is justifying that love at Triple-A with a good batting eye, some pop and a lot of speed. The Pirates' top prospect would be worth claiming if he's called up because of his power-speed upside.
Cameron Maybin: Speaking of toolsy outfielders, this Florida Marlins farmhand is throwing off mixed signals at Double-A. You have to love 11 homers, 13 steals and 33 walks in 57 games. But 77 strikeouts and a .265 average suggest he would struggle to make sufficient contact in the majors. His upside remains huge.
Chase Headley: San Diego's best hitting prospect got off to a slow start but has really come on to the tune of a .299 average and .564 slugging average. The Padres are starved for offense, so you would have to think Headley will be up soon, probably as a left fielder. He could be a solid hitter down the stretch, especially in NL-only leagues.
Colby Rasmus: I thought he would be right there with Bruce, but instead, the St. Louis Cardinals' top prospect has been brutal at Triple-A. A .371 slugging average and 52 strikeouts in 229 at-bats aren't the marks of a guy who could handle big league pitching. Scouts still love Rasmus, but it's hard to imagine he won't slide in prospect rankings for next season.
Rick Porcello: The best high school pitcher in last year's draft was the talk of the Detroit Tigers' spring camp. Porcello's 2.94 ERA at high Single-A is excellent for a pitcher his age (19). But his 41 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings are fewer than you would expect for a guy who is supposed to have great stuff.