Rex Brothers, Charlie Furbush, Josh Reddick: Mining the Minors

Timing is an important factor in this space. I had been planning to include Alexi Amarista, a second baseman in the Angels org who leads the minors with a .455 batting average. Except Amarista no longer plays in the minors…because the Angels called up the 22-year-old earlier this week to be a part of their middle infield mix in a utility role. Oh well. That just means one of these minor leaguers got some pub instead.

Rex Brothers, RP
Organization: Rockies
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: 1-0 W-L; 0.00 ERA; 1.27 WHIP; 20:4 K:BB over 11 IPs
40-man roster: No
Opportunity Rating: 6 (out of 10)
Talent Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Obstacle(s): Triple-A seasoning; shaky control; deep Rockies bullpen.
A 2009 sandwich pick, Brothers made enough of an impression in his first 81 1/3 innings over his first two seasons that he’s already reached Triple-A. Then again, in that span, the 23-year-old lefty surrendered just 50 hits and 3 homers while striking out 98, so his rapid rise through the system is understandable and warranted — even more so because he’s now dominating at Colorado Springs, too. So far, he’s thrown 11 innings without giving up an earned run, thanks to just 10 hits and a sparkly 20 strikeouts against 4 walks. That last number is the most important one for Brothers, whose mid-90s fastball and vicious slider make quick work of hitters, so long as he can control them. His minor-league walk rate to date sits at 4.8 per 9, which could hold him back from his potential as a future major-league closer. But if he can continue to keep that sub-4.0/9 — he’s walking 3.3 per currently, albeit in a small sample size — there’s much to like here. The other main hurdle is the very deep Rockies bullpen. But in this case, that could also be a good thing because the team won’t rush Brothers, allowing him more time to master his stuff. If he takes care of business, he’ll make his debut this season, regardless of how many arms are in the Rockies pen, which still lacks a legitimate lefty (sorry, Matt Reynolds and Franklin Morales). Brothers could earn a left-handed setup role sooner rather than later, making him a nice pick-up for NL-only owners looking for a staff-filler who can bring tons of Ks and a few holds. Long-term for keeper-leaguers, Brothers could take over for closer Huston Street in a year or two.
ETA: July, maybe sooner if Street makes his annual trip to the DL.

Charlie Furbush, SP
Organization: Tigers
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: 2-1 W-L; 1.90 ERA; 0.85 WHIP; 32:5 K:BB over 23 2/3 IPs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 9
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Andrew Oliver; hittable, homer-prone stuff.
On a team that isn’t shy about pushing timetables up for its pitching prospects, the fact that Furbush is already 25 and has yet to pitch in Detroit tells you he’s not exactly the most highly-regarded prospect, even in his own organization. But his performance since the beginning of last season has been hard to overlook. All the left-hander did in 2010 was pitch in three levels (Hi-A to Triple-A) while finishing second in the minors in strikeouts (183). And wouldn’t you know it: he’s currently tied for the minor-league lead in Ks with 32. Now before you get too excited, know that despite all the strikeouts, Furbush doesn’t have power stuff with a fastball that sits high-80s, topping out in the low-90s. He’s also hittable (8.5 hits per 9 career), his pitches got knocked out of the park on 21 occasions last year in his 159 innings, and his overall numbers got progressively worse as he climbed the ladder — the 6.29 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 48 2/3 Triple-A innings stand out, and not in a good way. But what’s promising is that the 2007 fourth-rounder has shown he’s adjusted to that level so far this season, with a 1.90 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and only 1 homer allowed through four starts. He was behind higher-rated fellow lefty pitching prospect Andrew Oliver (who actually made his big-league debut last June, less than a year after signing as a second-rounder) to start the year, but Furbush may have done enough to be the first call-up should the Tigers need another starter. And a rotation spot could open up soon, what with the way Brad Penny (1-3 W-L, 6.11 ERA, 1.39 WHIP) and Phil Coke (1-4, 4.88, 1.38) are pitching — to say nothing of Penny’s extensive injury history and Coke’s transition from reliever. For AL-only leaguers, Furbush would be a decent starter to stash on reserve until he shows how he’ll handle the bigs.
ETA: Even if Oliver (4.76 ERA, 1.32 WHIP through four starts) winds up getting the first shot to fill in for an injured/ineffective Penny or Coke, he could falter like he did a year ago (0-4, 7.36 ERA), and Furbush will be next in line. Either way, a late-June/early-July debut isn’t unrealistic.

Josh Reddick, OF
Organization: Red Sox
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .296 BA, 8 HRs, 16 RBIs, 13:11 K:BB over 81 ABs
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 6
Talent Rating: 8
Obstacle(s): Stacked big-league team; poor 2010 hurt reputation.
As bad a start as Reddick had last year at Triple-A, he’s been that good at the outset of 2011. The 24-year-old lefty-handed hitter has 7 homers in his past 10 games, including 6 in his last 6, capped off by a 2-homer outing Thursday night. Aside from the homer binge, the other impressive early takeaway is Reddick’s jump in walk rate (13.6% in 2011 vs. 7.7% career), which may be an indication that he’s finally starting to put everything together. While fellow Pawtucket outfielder Ryan Kalish’s partially torn labrum is bad news for the Red Sox, it can only help Reddick, who Kalish had leapfrogged on the organizational depth chart last year. Better still? Red Sox starters Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew and fourth outfielder Mike Cameron aren’t exactly the most durable players around. All of which adds up to Reddick, who was drafted in the 17th round in 2006, seeing time in Boston this season. Of course, he won’t be more than a backup, unless injuries hit the Red Sox as bad as they did in 2010, when Reddick’s awful first few months cost him a chance at some real PT. But he’s got enough pop — he averaged 18 HRs a season in his first four years and has an .843 career OPS in the minors — to be relevant in AL-only play. And keeper leaguers should take note: Cameron and Drew’s contracts are up after the season, so Reddick could be battling for the right-field job next spring.
ETA: Even if the Red Sox outfielders stay healthy, Reddick is ready enough to get a shot to be with the big-league club in a backup outfielder/pinch-hitter role at some point this season, probably by July.

***

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.

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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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Charlie Furbush? heh heh [/Bevis and Butthead]