When the St. Louis Cardinals drafted Charlie Tilson in the second round in 2011, they knew it might take some time for him to develop.
Tilson was, after all, not only a high school player, but one who played in a less-than-ideal weather environment in Illinois. Still, the Cardinals saw enough in him to give him an above-slot bonus to sign, knowing he'd almost certainly need time in extended spring camp before making his 2012 debut.
So far, things have gone well for the outfielder, ranked No. 13 on the Cardinals' Top 20 Prospects list. Not only has it been a good time for Tilson to get acclimated to the rigors of professional life, but he's really honed in on refining his offensive game.
"He's looking good; he's had a really good [spring camp]," Cardinals farm director John Vuch said. "Offensively, he's worked on using the whole field. He's taking good at-bats. He controls the strike zone really well. He's getting on base. He knows the kind of hitter he needs to be. He's taking that top-of-the-order-type approach to the plate."
Tilson brought with him a strong defensive skill set, and Vuch said he's as good as advertised, allowing him to work on the nuances of the outfield, rather than having to start anything from scratch.
Heading into the spring, the idea was that Tilson would get his work in during this time and eventually head to a short-season club, perhaps Johnson City in the Appalachian League, or maybe a gentle bump up to Batavia and the New York-Penn League. That's still likely to be the case, but Tilson has impressed enough to keep the Cardinals from etching anything in stone this early in the process.
"Coming into the year, we thought he'd go to a short-season club, but we're still open to have our minds changed," Vuch said. "He's made very good progress this spring. Whether that translates into him going someplace different, that remains to be seen. You don't want to decide in April or May where a guy's going to go in June. He's had a very good camp so far. If that continues, that could allow us to revise what we thought coming into the spring."
Tilson's progress hasn't been the only good thing to watch in Cardinals' camp recently. Mitch Harris has been wearing a uniform for the past several years, but not a St. Louis one very often. The Navy product finally got to pitch in a game -- albeit an extended training camp one -- with one on recently.
The Cardinals drafted Harris out of Navy back in 2008, knowing that his military commitment would come first. Now 26, there was hope he would be able to join the organization on a full-time basis sooner. He appealed for an early discharge, but it was rejected. So Harris will head back to the Navy later this month, able to join the Cardinals again in late August or early September.
"It was nice to see him get out there for the first time," Vuch said. "He'd gone a couple of years without pitching. He joined us in late March. Where he's come in the last month, he's made real progress. It's encouraging."
The good news is that even though Harris must fulfill the rest of his naval commitment soon, he'll be able to keep up with what he's learned this spring. And in a year, he'll get to give pitching his full attention.
"Any future assignment he has will be land-based, so he can be on a throwing program," Vuch said. "The last couple of years, he's been on a ship, where there wasn't really room to throw."
Yankees' Austin earns Hitter of the Week
In 2011, Tyler Austin made his real professional debut (he played two games in the Gulf Coast League in 2010) and hit .354/.418/.579 between the GCL and the New York-Penn League. The 13th-round selection from the 2010 First-Year Player Draft was ranked 15th on the Yankees' Top 20 Prospects list as a result, with people very curious to see what the step up to full-season ball would be like for him.
So far, Austin is showing his bat is legit, and he's a prospect worth tracking. Austin is this week's choice for Prospect Watch Hitter of the Week after batting .381 with a .440 OBP and slugging an outlandish 1.048. In six games, Austin had eight hits, six of them for extra bases (four homers, two doubles), while driving in 12 runs. The highlight was a two-homer, seven-RBI game against Hickory.
The 20-year-old, who is now settling into a corner outfield spot after coming into the system as a third baseman, has been swinging a hot bat for most of the season. For the year, Austin has hit .348/.404/.831 with nine homers and 25 RBIs. He leads the South Atlantic League in homers, slugging and OPS, while standing fourth in batting average and RBIs.
Reds' Cingrani is Pitcher of the Week
Pitching in the California League can be a daunting task. The ballparks are unforgiving and the pitching numbers that come out of that Class A Advanced circuit annually tend to be on the ugly side.
That makes what Tony Cingrani is doing all the more impressive. The Reds' No. 14 prospect has been very stingy while pitching for the Bakersfield Blaze.
The lefty was lights-out this past week and is given the Prospect Watch Pitcher of the Week nod after going 2-0 and not allowing a run in 11 innings. He gave up just four hits and two walks while striking out 17.
This wasn't an aberration. Cingrani has allowed just one earned run (two runs total) over 28 innings this season. That's a 0.32 ERA, best in the Cal League, as is his 0.64 WHIP. He's yielded 12 hits for a ridiculous .126 batting average against. He's struck out 37 (third in the league) while having allowed just six walks.
Cingrani was a senior signee out of Rice and will turn 23 in July. He was a successful reliever in his final season with the Owls, and he could be shortened up again and get to the big leagues in a hurry. But with how Cingrani has pitched so far in his brief pro career -- 1.25 ERA, 9.75 K/BB ratio, 13.3 K/9 and 0.744 WHIP -- he could start moving pretty fast as a legitimate starting prospect.
A Scout's View: Double-A Mobile
Any professional scout who gets to spend a few days watching the Mobile BayBears is certainly going to get his money's worth.
Four of the D-backs' Top 10 prospects are on that roster, including a pair of pitchers in the top 25 of the overall Top 100. That doesn't count Patrick Corbin and Adam Eaton, both in Arizona's Top 20, who have since been promoted.
Trevor Bauer is No. 9 overall and sits atop the organization's list. The No. 3 overall pick from the 2011 Draft has been largely unhittable in his first full season, keeping opposing batters to a .211 average against and striking out 12.1 per nine innings. But while his 2.36 ERA is sixth lowest in the Double-A Southern League and he tops that circuit in strikeouts, he's also third in walks and has a 5.2 BB/9 ratio to date. The scout MLB.com spoke to, however, doesn't see it as a long-term problem.
"The only thing I'm really concerned with is he can get up in the zone," the scout said about Bauer, who had his worst outing of the season on Tuesday, allowing five earned runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. "He's getting strikeouts on hitters chasing up and away. I think he's going to be a 'one step forward, two steps back' guy, then he'll settle into what he is. The pitches hitters are chasing now, they're not going to chase [at the next level]. He'll have to come back in the zone. He's going to have to get the fastball command down."
"But it's going to be Orel Hershiser pitchability with Roy Oswalt stuff."
The scout was equally impressed with lefty Tyler Skaggs, No. 21 on the Top 100 and No. 3 on the D-backs' list. The scout didn't even see a strong Skaggs start -- the southpaw allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits over six innings -- but was still very impressed with the pure stuff and how Skaggs handled himself on the hill.
"He was as outstanding as can be with his stuff," the scout said. "He probably has the best curve in Minor League Baseball. He's a top-of-the-rotation type, even though he got beat around. His stuff is outstanding, he's confident on the mound."
On the other members of the D-backs' Top 10:
Matt Davidson (No. 5): "He's very offensive. I don't know if he can stay at third [base], but let him play his way off there. You put him in the Draft this year and he's a top-five pick [Davidson was taken in 2009 out of high school]. There's a little more average than power. He's 21 in Double-A, and he's doing it. The body's not great, so he takes a little beating on that. He's not a great defensive third baseman. Those things aside, when you look at the bat potential, you have to love this guy."
Evan Marshall (No. 10): "He's tough as nails, a gritty guy. He pitches to contact and doesn't have overpowering stuff. He's a young guy in Double-A, but he's not afraid and attacks the zone. He's going to take a little bit of a beating as he learns to make better pitches, but he looks like a quality sixth- or seventh-inning guy [in the big leagues]."
Wimmers, Soliman on the shelf for Twins
A year ago, Twins prospect Alex Wimmers (No. 15 on the Twins' Top 20 went through quite an ordeal. The 2010 first-rounder completely lost the strike zone and was shut down after just one start. To his credit, he fought his way back and finished the year strongly, with seven innings of no-hit ball to conclude the 2011 season.
There were high hopes he could continue his path to the big leagues as an advanced college arm, moving up to Double-A New Britain to start the year. But after just one start, he was sidelined with an elbow strain and put on the disabled list.
For now, surgery is not being prescribed. According to Twins farm director Jim Rantz, Wimmers is in Fort Myers, Fla., doing exercises to keep his shoulder strong while on a strict non-throwing program for four weeks. There's no timetable for a return to the mound for Wimmers as of yet, as the Twins want to see how the rehab program goes first.
No. 16 prospect Manuel Soliman is also on the DL, though he didn't have to go as far to rehab. He began the year as a part of the Fort Myers rotation in the Florida State League, getting shut down with a sore shoulder. An MRI revealed no damage, and he's expected to begin a throwing program and be ready to return in about three weeks.
Injury notes: Pirates outfield prospect Josh Bell had knee surgery to repair his meniscus a week ago and will rehab in Bradenton, Fla., with the hope of returning to action before the season is over. ... A partially torn nail on his right middle finger has landed Mets pitching prospect Zack Wheeler on the DL. This is the second time a fingernail issue has shelved Wheeler. He missed a month and half of the 2010 season while with the Giants organization. ... Rays outfield prospect Brandon Guyer is on the disabled list with a sprained left ankle, while Rockies outfield prospect Charlie Blackmon has been shelved with turf toe on his left foot.