Paul Goldschmidt and Collin Cowgill: Mining the Minors

One name that has come up often this year in the fanciful world of Prospectville is the Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt. He leads the minors with 22 home runs, in case you didn’t know. That sort of thing tends to get fantasy owners’ attention. As does Kevin Towers, the team’s GM, recently hinting that the D-backs may consider promoting a few of their minor leaguers in the weeks surrounding the All-Star Game. Seems like a good time to take a look at Goldschmidt and a few others in the system.

Similar to the other version of this column, which hits on Thursdays, the Friday edition offers a take on elite prospects, lesser-known farmhands and veteran minor leaguers — all with a nod to their fantasy relevance and impact, specifically for this season. To help owners, I’ll include a player’s Talent Rating; but just as important is the Opportunity Rating, which points out the likelihood that a player will make his way to the majors during the year.

The two primary positions that could be impacted by the potential promotions Towers was referring to are first base and left field, where the D-backs employ below-average offensive players. At first, Juan Miranda (.233, .779) is proving in his first season as a starter that he’s a big-league backup, while platoonmate Xavier Nady (.260, .684) is probably a really nice guy. And in left, Gerardo Parra (.271, .730) is a really good defender but more of a fourth outfielder/defensive replacement. So who’s next in line at these positions?

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
Organization: D-backs
Current Level: Double-A
Statistics: .323 BA; 1.090 OPS; 22 HRs; 61 RBIs; 56:55 K:BB over 254 ABs
40-man roster: No
Opportunity Rating: 6 (out of 10)
Talent Rating: 9 (out of 10)
Obstacle(s): Needs time at Triple-A; “struggles” against right-handers

Breaking news, people! We can report that Goldschmidt will be making his way to Chase Field in early July. Not to play for the D-backs, mind you. Rather, he’ll be participating in the Futures Game, an increasingly-popular event prior to the MLB All-Star Game — held in Arizona this year — in which baseball’s top U.S. prospects match up against elite prospects from the World team.

After bashing 35 homers in the hitter-friendly Cal League in 2010, the 23-year-old still faced questions about whether his power would translate against better competition and in a tougher offensive environment like the Southern League, especially since he also piled up 161 Ks. Um, it has. Goldschmidt, a right-handed bat who was selected in the eighth round in 2009, has been ridiculous overall and especially ruthless versus southpaws, against whom he’s posted video game numbers: a .415 BA, a 1.500 OPS, not to mention, nearly half of his homers and RBIs, despite one-third of his total at-bats versus righties.

At this point, it’s time to believe in and buy into the power. You get the sense that Goldschmidt could probably hit 20 homers over a full season in the majors right now. He just might hit sub-.250 along the way. He’s definitely curtailed his Ks this year (22% vs. 31% in 2010), so he’s showing progress. But he still has some holes in his swing that Double-A righties can exploit — he owns a still-great-but-not-insane .291 BA and .949 OPS versus right-handers, and he’s striking out at a higher rate (25%) against them — so he’ll need to continue to adjust as he makes his way to the majors.

There are two names that comes to mind when I think of Goldschmidt based on the profile — big-bodied first baseman with huge right-handed power and contact issues. The first is the Angels’ Mark Trumbo, who led the minors with 36 bombs last year while striking out 126 times at age 24, and has gone on to have himself a solid rookie year to date: .261 BA, .774 OPS and 12 homers. The second name is A’s prospect Chris Carter, who’s averaged 31 homers but also 135 Ks over his past four minor-league seasons — and at 24, he’s yet to have any success in the bigs. So while I like Goldschmidt and think he has a chance to be better than these two if his improved plate discipline is for real — and continues to get better — I’m worried that all the hype surrounding him could cause fantasy expectations to get out of hand, especially for this season. In fact, I’m not sold that the D-backs will rush him to Arizona this year because as obnoxiously good as he’s been, he’s also still in Double-A. That said, if and when he gets the call, he’s an immediate NL-only add and someone to watch in mixed leagues based on the power. But given the timeframe, I like him more for keeper and dynasty leagues.

ETA: This one is tricky. While a lot of the speculation points to something happening on this front in the next month, I can’t shake the sense that we won’t see Goldschmidt until August or September, given that he’s not on the 40-man roster (a formality) and has yet to step into a Triple-A batter’s box (a necessary developmental step). So we might wind up waiting longer than expected to see him in the majors.

Brandon Allen, 1B/OF
Organization: D-backs
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .297 BA; .968 OPS; 13 HRs; 51 RBIs; 69:54 K:BB over 246 ABs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 8
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Small window of opportunity; strikeout rate

If you frequent this site often, you know Allen is a FanGraphs fave. The 25-year-old was drafted in 2004’s fifth round by the White Sox and came to the desert in a 2009 deal for Tony Pena. Ultimately, Allen is probably going to be an impactful yet flawed bat in the majors. He’s smacked at least 20 homers in each of his past three seasons and he walks at a good clip (12%), but his 26% K rate has held him back. His two brief stints with D-backs, in 2009 and 2010, have resulted in decent pop (~.170 ISO) but waaaaay too many strikeouts (~40%). As a lefty hitter, Allen has really struggled against same-sided pitchers with a .103 BA and 15 Ks in 29 ABs as a Diamondback. That’s about as small as a sample size can be while still being called a sample size, but it’s also the kind of thing that reinforces preconceived notions about a player many scouts and evaluators figured would profile best as a platoon type.

But! Allen’s actually done well enough against southpaws in his minor-league career, and he’s slashing .304/.385/.595 against ’em in 2011, so maybe it’s about time to see what the guy can do if given a few months of regular playing time and consistent at-bats against major leaguers. There’s enough upside here to make Allen an intriguing NL-only add if he gets a shot — and he should before Goldschmidt — but the window is obviously a pretty small one.

ETA: He should get the call by July because, really, how much longer can Arizona continue to trot out Miranda and Nady without at least seeing what Allen can do?

Wily Mo Pena, OF
Organization: D-backs
Current Level: Majors
Statistics: .363 BA; 1.165 OPS; 21 HRs; 63 RBIs; 48:25 K:BB over 237 ABs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 9
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Previous big-league struggles; journeyman factor

So Pena really belonged in yesterday’s version of Mining the Minors, but I wanted to keep the D-backs theme in place, so he’s wedged into today’s column. Earlier this week, Mr. Podhorzer wrote that Pena is “exactly the type of player NL-Only leaguers need to take a flyer on and hope to catch lightning in a bottle.” I agree with that 100%. There’s not really much risk involved here: If the 29-year-old doesn’t hit when he sees DH duty in the remaining interleague games or when he gives Gerardo Parra a breather in left, then owners can just cut him, as he’ll probably just get sent back down anyway. But if he shows his improved contact skills (20% K rate) are for real at all — we are, keep in mind, talking about a dude who’s whiffed in 33% of his major league at-bats — there’s at least the possibility Pena could steal some playing time from Parra to give the D-backs another potent bat in the lineup. And it’s not like this team has any objections to giving PT to power hitters who strike out a lot.

ETA: Now. But unless he hits right away, it might not be for long.

Collin Cowgill, OF
Organization: D-backs
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .366 BA; 1.027 OPS; 12 HRs; 51 RBIs; 24 SBs; 40:35 K:BB over 287 ABs
40-man roster: No
Opportunity Rating: 8
Talent Rating: 8
Obstacle(s): PCL product?

Only until very recently, Cowgill’s prospect stock has flown under the radar. Maybe hitting for the cycle a few weeks ago brought him some more pub. Or maybe he’s getting noticed for that .366 average, which ranks fifth in the minors. Or maybe it’s just that it took the 25-year-old some time to really break out. In addition to his hit tool, the 2008 fifth-rounder has been putting all of his skills on display on a nightly basis at Triple-A, compiling 70 runs and 24 steals, which rank first and second in the PCL, respectively. Cowgill has shown good pop (.592 SLG) and a keen eye (14% K rate and 12% BB rate), too. Beyond that, the right-handed hitter doesn’t have any noticeable difference or flaw against righties or lefties. Basically, he’s made himself into a solid, if unspectacular prospect who is just about ready to contribute in the majors.

The biggest question with Cowgill is how much of what he’s doing is attributable to playing in the hitter-friendly PCL. There’s definitely some effect, but it’s not like he’s all of a sudden hitting a crazy amount of homers now that he’s in Reno — he did hit a respectable 16 last year in the Southern League’s tougher offensive environment. And it’s not like power is the hallmark of his game; rather his all-around skillset — he even plays center field, so he’ll be capable of doing the job at any outfield position — should translate pretty well to the bigs right away. Cowgill might not have Pena’s mammoth power or Goldschmidt’s huge upside, but he may be the best bet to really contribute in 2011 because he doesn’t have any glaring weakness in his game, and he’s proving as much at Triple-A already.

ETA: Should Pena falter, it would be surprising if Cowgill isn’t next in line to try his hand in left field, so there’s a strong chance he makes his way to Arizona in July.

Cole Gillespie, OF
Organization: D-backs
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .318 BA; .921 OPS; 4 HRs; 46 RBIs; 14 SBs; 52:38 K:BB over 255 ABs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 6
Talent Rating: 5
Obstacle(s): Last on depth chart; didn’t impress during 2010 big-league debut; limited upside

I’m mentioning Gillespie out of courtesy more than anything else. He’s a righty hitter with decent pop (.510 SLG), enough speed to swipe a few bags and solid plate discipline (15% BB rate). But at 27, there’s limited upside and even less of an opportunity for the 2006 third-round choice. He just sort of was in his first taste of the majors last year (.231/.283/.365 in 104 ABs). And while I think he could handle being a fourth outfielder, he’s well behind the other names here, and Gerardo Parra is clearly a better fit as a big-league backup. There’s really no reason to consider him for fantasy.

ETA: He may get a couple cups of java, most likely come September, but the playing time will be limited.

BOTTOM LINE: If I’m in the middle of the standings and looking to hit a home run in an NL-only league, I’m jumping on Pena and Goldschmidt — who you’ll probably have to add before he comes up to have a shot at getting him — but Cowgill may wind up being the guy who does the most with the opportunity he gets, given his age, development and skill set. That makes him a smart add-and-stash as a potential starter in NL leagues that require five outfielders, especially for teams who are making a push toward the top of the standings.


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.

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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

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