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July 23, 2010 at 8:09 AM

The Ladder: 7.23.10

OF Jeremy Hazelbaker

The Line: After a longer transition and adjustment to professional baseball, Hazelbaker has been coming on as of late for Greenville. In 15 games this month, he’s posted a line of .407/.444/.831 with 8 doubles, 4 triples, and 3 home runs to lift his season OPS to .841 during the hot streak. Hazelbaker ripped off four straight multi-hit games from July 10-July 14. He got the stretch rolling on July 10 against Hagerstown with a 3-for-4 showing that included a home run, a double, and 2 runs scored. He came back the next night with a 2-for-4 effort, knocking a double and stealing a bag in the process. Hazelbaker picked up 2 more stolen bases on July 14 against Savannah, again going 2 for 4 at the plate. His 39 stolen bases have him currently leading the South Atlantic League.

The View: A fourth-round pick out of Ball State in 2009, Hazelbaker found himself in full-season baseball shortly after signing, mostly because of injuries to the Greenville squad, and struggled considerably to make good contact last season, often appearing over-matched. Hitting from the left side of the plate, he has a fluid stroke that can produce some good lift, especially when he turns on the ball and drops the head of the bat on inside fastballs. Hazelbaker shows the ability to keep his hands back, use them to go with pitches on the outer third of the plate, and cover a large portion of the plate with his swing. Built on the lean side, he has some room on his frame to fill out more and increase his present power, which projects as average to slightly above-average down the line. His main struggles have stemmed from coming up to speed with professional pitching and improving his pitch recognition. His slow progress here has resulted in a good number of strikeouts thus far into his career, while he has also had trouble working himself into favorable counts to consistently drive pitches. Hazelbaker will also chase breaking balls down and in, along with elevated fastballs. As he has settled into being more selective with his approach and figuring out which pitches he can handle, his solid contact has risen and he’s been driving balls more frequently, while displaying the ability to hit to all fields with some pop. A former first baseman that converted to the outfield, his defensive skills have been in the refinement stages, and with continued experience he can develop into a solid outfielder. With plus speed, Hazelbaker can cover enough ground out in center field, but if his route taking and judgment lag behind he’ll end up in left field given his average arm. An accomplished bases stealer right now, he’s able to run wild on more inexperienced catcher and pitcher combinations in the low-minors. His reads in getting jumps will be tested against experienced batteries when he reaches Double-A and teams attempt to hold him on more, but he has the top speed and first step to have an impact in the running game at the major league level. Now starting to round into form and show the skills that made him a breakout player in 2009 with Ball State, Hazelbaker’s next step in development will be to hone his approach further to consistently demonstrate selectiveness at the plate. Most, if not all of his needs, are centered on this aspect, and whether or not he reaches the big leagues in an outfield role will rest upon this. For now, Hazelbaker is making a push for a promotion to High-A, where he’ll get a chance to show that he can consistently perform as he has recently and push into the outfield picture in the upper minors.

RHP Mike Lee

The Line: After a rocky first two months with Salem, Lee has gotten into a groove in High-A. In his last 40.2 innings pitched, he has given up 35 hits while fanning 29 batters and only issuing 6 free passes. Effective at keeping the ball down, he’s only allowed 4 home runs in 77.2 innings overall this season. Lee fired 3.0 scoreless and hitless innings on July 3 against Myrtle Beach, picking up 3 strikeouts in the outing. Serving as a piggy-back starter for most of the season, Lee’s made back-to-back starts of at least 5.0 scoreless innings, including 5.1 innings against Kinston on July 7 and 5.0 innings July 14 against Winston-Salem, giving up 6 total hits in the two outings and striking out 7 hitters against only 2 walks.

The View: In his second full season with the Red Sox organization, the 23-year-old right-hander initially had trouble staying healthy, mostly due to his shoulder strength not being up to par. Lee entered this season stronger and has been able to take the ball each time called upon with Salem in 2010. Possessing a two-seam fastball with late movement that works 89-91 MPH and a four-seamer that can top out at 95 MPH when he reaches back, he effectively pounds the zone to get ahead of hitters and likes to come right at batters. Lee has been honing the command of his two-seam fastball and using it more to pitch to contact to become more efficient this season. A lot of his success this season has been tied into his improved command of this pitch and less of a reliance on trying to consistently throw his four-seamer past batters. After showing his fastball, he also works in a late-breaking mid-80’s slider that he also has been refining since entering the system. Lee used to throw more of an over-hand curveball, but since this past spring has been sharpening it into a slider to use as his out pitch. Both his fastball and slider have the potential to be plus pitches for him, but right now are about average offerings. Standing 6’7’’ tall, Lee works out of a higher arm slot and can get good tilt on his arsenal when he keeps on top of the ball. His fastball will show downward movement through the strike zone and, when he keeps consistent with that release, his command is usually on. As a tall pitcher, he tends to struggle from time to time keeping the same release point, and can fall into inconsistent stretches where his fastball loses some movement, and his slider loses bite. While working as a starter right now and being given innings to refine his arsenal, Lee projects as a reliever and most likely will shift to the bullpen some time down the line in the upper minors. His arsenal can play up nicely in relief, and he’ll be able to take advantage of the velocity he can generate with his four-seam fastball in shorter outings, while snapping off his slider to pick up swings and misses. Finally in a stretch where he’s been able to pitch consistently, Lee is a sleeper type arm moving up the ranks of the Red Sox system, and he should get a chance to compete for a spot in Double-A next season. With the abundance of more refined starting pitchers ahead of him, this is the point that Lee may end up converting into the bullpen, but for the rest of this season he should continue to focus on improving his repertoire in a starter’s role with Salem to prepare him for whatever role comes his way at the next level in 2011.

Trending Up

First-round draft pick Kolbrin Vitek has begun to find his footing with Lowell and recently hit his first career professional home run, while posting an OPS of .856 in his last 10 games. Vitek has shown a smooth, compact stroke highlighted by his lightening- quick hands and excellent batspeed that he generates to the point of contact. Starting to make the transition to hitting with wood bats and becoming more comfortable facing professional pitching, he’s been grinding out at-bats and demonstrating a good understanding of the strike zone in the early stages of his summer with the Spinners. Making the move over to third base, Vitek has been working to come back up to speed with the position and trying to shake off the rust. While he’s got some work to do to stick in the infield, his hitting skills have been as advertised since joining the Red Sox organization, and he has the look of an excellent hitting prospect that should move through the lower minors relatively quickly…After a tough June in Triple-A, first baseman Lars Anderson has turned things on in July to hit .338 with 8 doubles and 2 triples through 16 games this month. Re-establishing himself as one of the top hitting prospects in the Red Sox system to start the season with the Portland Sea Dogs, Anderson found the initial transition to the International League to be a bit difficult, but has recently been back to his ways of driving balls from gap-to-gap with authority. Now more locked in with his approach and letting the ball get deep on him, look for Anderson to start lifting the ball out of the park with more frequency…Right-handed starter Stephen Fife has recently been limiting the amount of solid contact against him and settling back into a groove in Double-A. Covering his last 17.2 innings, Fife has given up 13 hits while striking out 11 batters and issuing only 4 walks. Effective when he is pounding the lower portion of the strike zone with his heavy, sinking fastball, batters have had trouble lifting the ball against Fife and he’s been able to flash his curveball more during the stretch as a result of getting ahead in more counts…Just 17 years old and playing in the Gulf Coast League, shortstop Jose Vinicio has shown some good contact skills in his first 74 at-bats to hit .284 with 3 doubles and 3 triples. Producing good batspeed and displaying a lot of confidence against older competition, Vinicio is a name within the system to keep an eye out on as he matures and approaches full-season baseball.

Trending Down

Drafted in this year’s supplemental round, Lowell outfielder Bryce Brentz’s initial transition to professional baseball has been a slow one. Possessing above-average power potential and a compact stroke, Brentz’s approach was known to be in need of some work and his over-aggressiveness has lead to a lot of instances of non-contact when he unleashes his swing. Striking out 15 times and only walking once in his last 43 at-bats, Brentz needs to slow things down at the plate and to work himself into better counts, along with attacking more favorable pitches to drive rather than trying to yank every offering. The right fielder shows a plus arm, but has had some trouble judging balls and has sometimes drifted in his routes…Greenville’s Pete Hissey has just 3 extra-base hits in his last 19 games and has posted a .584 OPS during the stretch. As with most young hitters in their early careers, Hissey can be very streaky at the plate and have prolonged stretches of failing to make much solid contact…July has been a tough month for right-handed pitcher Caleb Clay in High-A. Covering his last 21.0 innings, Clay has allowed 30 hits while striking out just 9 batters. As a pitcher who relies on spotting his fastball on the corners and operating low in the zone, his offerings have been more towards the middle of the plate during the recent stretch. Clay’s arsenal seems more conducive to a relief role where he doesn’t have to go through a lineup multiple times and rely on batters constantly putting the ball into play to record outs…Very raw entering the season, right-handed starter Madison Younginer has been fighting his command and control so far this season with Lowell. Through 28.2 innings, he’s walked 18 batters and given up 30 hits. Younginer is in the early stages of refining his arsenal and struggles like these are to be expected. Possessing a mid-90’s fastball, hard over-hand curveball, and changeup with developing feel, his repertoire has a lot of potential once he gets a consistent release point down and constant tempo to his delivery.