The signing by the Tigers of Warwick Saupold gives myworld two prospects that we are a bit familiar with from Australia because we have either read a lot about them or seen them play. There are also a few names here that myworld saw play at the World Cup in Panama. It is difficult to judge a player by one game, so we have taken into account their ABL performance and/or the numbers they put up in the minor leagues. You can read a lot on the Australian players at http://thebaseballdigest.wordpress.com/. There may be some players that we missed. Of the 44 or so Australian minor league players, we have identified 10 of them. If they are 25 or older we left them off the list.
1. Liam Hendricks RHP (Twins) - He is the only Australian rated in the Baseball America Top 30 prospect book for each of the teams. He is rated as the Twins seventh rated prospect. That is good enough for myworld to give him the top rating here. His numbers were good in AA (2.70) but he struggled in AAA (4.56). This did not discourage the Twins from promoting him to their major league team where he was hit around at a .313 clip and a 6.17 ERA in four starts. His fastball is not overpowering, sitting in the high 80s to low 90s, but he relies heavily on its command to be effective. Sometimes, when facing major league hitters it is not good to be too much around the plate. He also mixes in a slider, sinker and curveball to give him four pitches to play with as a starter. Expect him to fall at the back end of the rotation at best.
2. Warwick Saupold RHP (Tigers) - The Tigers had a bit of an edge here since there resident scout is also the coach of the Perth Heat. Warwick broke the record for lowest ERA in the ABL with a 1.41. That was quite a big improvement over his 5.52 the previous year. His opposition average was also more than 100 points lower (.282 vs .173). He will not be overpowering with a fastball in the low 90s. What we saw of his breaking stuff was unimpressive, but he did give up 6 runs in just two innings of work against the Samsung Lions. He doesn’t have the command of a Liam Hendriks but he has a little more velocity. One thing that myworld noticed about him was his lower half, which appeared thick, translating into an innings eater similar to a Roger Clemens. He almost signed a couple years ago, but the club team that had his playing rights, but they made some demands that scared the major league team off. The batter that he most wants to face in the major leagues is Albert Pujols and now that Albert is an Angel Warwick may get that wish.
3. Ryan Searle RHP (Cubs) - He pitched well in the ABL, getting five starts with a 3.66 ERA. He struck out 34 in 32 innings and showed improved command, walking only nine. Last year he struggled a bit with his command, putting together a 57/93 walk to whiff ratio in 113 innings. He did finish with a 3.30 ERA making 11 starts in the AA Southern League. He pitched for the Australian national team in Panama, going 2-0 with a 0.74 ERA, pitching well against Nicaragua and shutting out the bronze medal Canadian team for seven innings. His best pitch is his curveball, though he also throws a fastball and slider. He is still working on the change. Based on his ABL and World Cup performance the Cubs should try to work him in the rotation.
4. Mitch Denning OF (Red Sox) - Mitch had an off year with the Red Sox last year, hitting just .220 with a .655 OPS. He doesn’t hit for enough power to really play a corner, but he has a very good arm. His range may be a little short to play centerfield for a major league team. So the best he can hope for is probably a spot on the major league roster as a fourth outfielder. He has to be more than a gap hitter to be a corner outfielder. Mitch has decent speed, but it doesn’t translate to stolen base success. The highlight of his career is when he hit .321 in the New York Penn League in 2008, getting him named to the All Star team. That year he also had a career best .471 slugging, otherwise it is more in the range of .360.
5. James Beresford 2B (Twins) - James Beresford played shortstop for the Australian national team in Panama. His future could be more as a second baseman, or even as a utility player. His arm is a little short to play short on a regular basis in the major leagues and he did make 16 errors in the 96 games he played there last year. He signed with the Twins at age 16, but missed the 2006 season because of a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. He didn’t make his minor league debut until 2007 when he was 18 years old. He hit a nice .270 in the Florida State League, but has only hit one homerun in his minor league career. He has a career .319 slugging percentage in the minor leagues, so you can’t expect any power from him. He has good speed, but it doesn’t translate well to stolen bases. He was 4 for 12 in stolen base success last year and previous years it has been a flip a coin success rate.
6. David Kandilas OF (Rockies) - He has spent three years in the rookie league in Casper increasing his average from .205 to .262 to .327. Something tells me he is ready for a change. To his dismay, he probably knows all the best restaurants in Casper, Wyoming. Baseball is leaving Casper, so even if the Rockies want to give him a fourth year in rookie ball Casper will be out of the question for 2012. The Rockies signed him in 2008 and he will be 22 years old in September 2012. At his leadoff spot he was the entire offense for the Adelaide Bite during the playoffs, but only hit .250 for them during the regular season. In his third year at Casper he improved his walk/whiff ratio, stolen bases and power, slugging .548 with 17 doubles, 10 triples and six homeruns. If he makes it to the major leagues it will have to be as a centerfielder, which was his primary position last year.
7. Mitch Nilsson C (Indians) - If the name sounds familiar, he is the nephew of Dave Nilsson, who had a long major league career as a catcher for the Milwaukee Brewers. Mitch hopes to repeat that feat, but with the Cleveland Indians. He is off to a good start, hitting .358 in the Arizona League. He also shared catching duties with Ryan Battaglia with the Brisbane Bandits, hitting .200 with one homerun. The Indians also signed Ryan Battaglia to a contract, but he saw limited playing time last year. Mitch is a long way off from being a polished product so we base this mainly on his genes and his good start in the minor leagues, though with limited at bats. What he does in his second season will determine whether he stays on this list.
8. Mathew Kennelly C (Braves) - He is the younger brother of Tim Kennelly, who is a better hitter than Matt at this stage in their careers. Tim plays for the Philadelphia Phillies but at 25 next year he may be a little old to be considered a prospect. At 23 next year Mathew reached the Braves AAA Gwinnett team. Overall, between AA and AAA he hit ,262. He had a little more than 20 percent success rate behind the plate in throwing out runners so he doesn’t look to be anything but a backup at this point. In the ABL he splits catching duties for the Perth Heat with Allan de San Miguel, though Miguel gets most of the catching time, while Mathew plays DH. He has a .297 average in the ABL with six homeruns.
9. Stefan Welch 1B (Pirates) - He had a good year down in St Lucie, hitting 16 homeruns with a .271 average. That didn’t persuade the Mets to put him on the 40 man roster and he left as a minor league six year free agent, signing a minor league contract with the Pirates for the 2012 season. He played first base for the Australian National team in the World Cup in Australia and at 23 he still has some time left to make his mark. The 16 homeruns was twice as many as he has hit in any other year and it was done in the Florida State League, where the parks are spacious. In the ABL he is hitting .279 with a .558 slugging percentage, so it appears the power is arriving. At first base he has to hit for a few more homeruns if he wants to play in the major leagues.
10. Boss Moanaro 1B (Red Sox) - The Red Sox released his older brother Moko, but they have kept Boss. Boss is one of the big bats in the Sydney Blue Sox lineup, hitting .273 with five homeruns and 22 RBIs. The 22 RBIs were the second most on the Blue Sox club. For the Red Sox minor league team he hit .241 with five homeruns and 31 RBIs. His family roots go back to New Zealand, but Boss was born in Australia. The sports he played while growing up were rugby and cricket, not baseball, so he has a lot of learning to do. One of the things he likes to do is hit the baseball a long way. He can do that in batting practice. During the games it is a lot more difficult.
Some pretty good players who lack a major league affiliation include:
Elliott Biddle OF - He had one year as a pitcher in the Twins organization back in 2008. He only appeared in three games. Now he is carrying a big stick, hitting 12 homeruns, second in the ABL. At one point he hit a homerun in six straight games. The park in which Aces play is small, which may be why they had the top three homerun hitters in the ABL. At 23 he would have to rise quickly to make a major league investment worthwhile.
Brad Harman 2B - He led the ABL in homeruns with 14 and is a teammate of Biddle, playing in the small park that also entertains livestock. He was a top prospect for the Phillies a number of years ago, but eventually was released and has not resigned with another club. He is still only 26, which is the age of Yoenis Cespedes. Of course, after he was designated by the Phillies he was suspended for 14 months by Australia for failing to take a drug test, violating the “whereabouts rule”. He has 11 major league at bats.
Todd Van Steensel RHP - He is only 21 years old and pitched 11 games in relief in the ABL. He finished with an ERA of 3.32 but had an excellent 5/25 walk to whiff ratio in 22 innings. He played for the Phillies in 2011 but had an ERA of 5.68. He gave up 10 homeruns in just 57 innings of work. In the ABL three left the park in 21 innings of work.