Chalk it up to small sample size. This column is off to a 2-for-2 start, with each edition having highlighted a minor leaguer who was called up to the bigs only days later. First Chris Davis two weeks ago, then Jerry Sands last week. Don’t expect Mining the Minors to maintain this type of perfection because, frankly, that would be impossible. In fact, the three players chosen in this installment, while certainly capable of making an impact at some point in 2011, will definitely not be doing so in the next few days. Even Jobu doesn’t have that kind of power.
A quick UPDATE: Sands has started three of the Dodgers’ four games in left field since his recall, so he’s getting PT. While he does have 2 doubles and 2 RBIs, if he doesn’t do a better job of making contact soon — 5:0 K:BB — he won’t be long for LA because the team won’t want to keep him up in a part-time role when he could be working everyday in Triple-A.
Clint Robinson, 1B
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .373 BA, 4 HRs, 11 RBIs, 10:8 K:BB ratio over 51 ABs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 6 (out of 10)
Talent Rating: 7 (out of 10)
Obstacle(s): Kila Ka’aihue short-term; Eric Hosmer long-term; playing 1B in the Royals organization
Being a 1B prospect in the Royals org hasn’t been easy in recent years. Sure, you’re blocked by Billy Butler’s occasional dabbling in the field (when he’s not DHing). But the position has also been one of the biggest points of contention in the Saberworld, what with KC choosing to ignore guys with proven minor-league track records (think: Kila Ka’aihue and Ryan Shealy) in favor of more expensive options with serious flaws and limited upside (read: Mike Jacobs and Ross Gload). Such is the expected outcome for Clint Robinson. Drafted in 2007’s 25th round, Robinson is already 26, so he’s routinely been old for his level, but he’s also hit at every stop along the way, including last season at Double-A where he won the Texas League Triple Crown (.335 BA, 29 HRs, 98 RBIs). He’s slashed .310/.376/.918 in his career, and Robinson’s hot start is a good indication he’s not likely to be overwhelmed in his first taste of Triple-A this year. Of course, even if he tears up the PCL for month or two, he’s got a lot of history to overcome to work his way to Kansas City — not to mention, he’ll need to beat Eric Hosmer there to have any sort of window. But given the Kila Monster’s poor showing so far (.579 OPS), it’s not completely out of the question that C-Rob could get a shot with the Royals before he turns, say, 37.* A full-time role at any point this season would be surprising, but someone with Robinson’s ability to hit for power and average should be considered in AL-only leagues if he’s called up. Otherwise, there’s a good chance he winds up being trade bait. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for his career — or his fantasy value.
ETA: While Robinson could debut sooner if something goes wrong with Ka’aihue or Butler, don’t bet on seeing him before September.
*Give or take.
Charlie Blackmon, OF
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .328 BA, 4 HRs, 14 RBIs, 5 SBs, 7:8 K:BB ratio over 61 ABs
40-man roster: No
Opportunity Rating: 6
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Dexter Fowler; Seth Smith/Ryan Spilborghs platoon; Triple-A seasoning; not on 40-man roster
Blackmon, 24, would be closer to the bigs had he not lost a couple months last season with a nagging hamstring injury. Nevertheless the 2008 second-rounder had his best showing in the power department with 11 homers and a .484 SLG in only 337 ABs, and he’s got enough speed (career-high 30 SBs in 2009) to translate to 15-20 swipes in a full big-league season. Even if fantasy doesn’t care much about defense, the fact that Blackmon is a centerfielder can only help him; whether he winds up in center or a corner likely depends on Dexter Fowler’s development. Fowler, of course, is Blackmon’s most direct hurdle at this point, but the perennial Seth Smith/Ryan Spilborghs platoon doesn’t exactly help his chances, since Colorado essentially has to use four OFs to fill three spots, making it harder for Blackmon to break in and learn the ropes as a fourth outfielder. And unfortunately for Blackmon, he hits lefthanded like Smith (career .620 OPS vs. LHPs), making him a poor fit for a non-Spilborghs platoon possibility. Still, as the organization’s top OF prospect at the higher levels, Blackmon is next in line should injury strike or Fowler need another tune-up at Colorado Springs at some point, making him an intriguing NL-only bench stash if you’ve got room to spare. That way, at least you can tell everyone you own the Captain of Team Joy Squad.
ETA: There’s a chance Blackmon gets to Coors Field before September, but it’s not a big one.
Anthony Slama, RP
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: 0-0 W-L, 11.57 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 2:3 K:BB ratio over 2 1/3 IPs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 8
Talent Rating: 6
Obstacle(s): Age; elbow injury; Twins’ lack of faith
A quick look at Slama’s minor-league stats — 85 saves in five seasons (including 17 last season at Triple-A), an eye-popping 12.4 K/9 and a crazy 5.7 H/9 — might make you wonder why the hi-ho-heck he hasn’t thrown more than 4 2/3 innings in the majors. The short answer is: His stuff isn’t as good as the numbers indicate. The 2006 draftee’s fastball sits in the low-90s and his control is only passable (3.9 BB/9). Plus he’s always been on the older side for the level he’s pitched — that mustache doesn’t help — and he’s already 27, so he is what he is by now. After debuting last July (6 hits and 5 BBs in 4 2/3 innings), Slama had a shot to break camp with the Twins this year — he actually made it to the final cut despite being limited to just one late-February appearance by a stress reaction in his elbow — which shows that the Twins are finally starting to consider him for their bullpen. Of course, these days, who aren’t they considering? Minnesota recently brought up Eric Hacker and Jim Hoey to try to fix their late-inning issues, and Slama could be next in line if he can show he’s healthy. Also in his corner is a new cut fastball he worked on in the offseason. While he won’t see any save opps, he could work himself into a role that earns him some holds and a solid K rate.
ETA: Considering the state of the Twins’ pen, Slama should get a shot by June, provided his elbow’s back to full strength.
When it comes to monitoring players for this column, I’ll do the grunt work, but if you have any suggestions for minor leaguers that you would like to see tracked, discussed and evaluated in Mining the Minors, feel free to post suggestions in the comments section. I’ll do my best to get to as many as I can going forward.
Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11