09/04/09 10:00 AM ET
Minor Leagues: Breaking out of obscurity
Players become prospects after strong 2009 seasons
By Benjamin Hill / MLB.com
First-round Draft picks and foreign-born phenoms may get the lion's share of the attention, but there are many others who deserve praise as a result of their unexpectedly high-caliber 2009 campaigns. These players have successfully traveled that nefarious path from "suspect" to "prospect," thereby ensuring they won't be toiling in anonymity for much longer.
Chief among this year's crop of breakout players is Oakland A's farmhand Grant Desme -- currently the only 30-30 player in all of affiliated professional baseball. The 23-year-old Californian has split the season between Kane County and Stockton, putting up better numbers in the latter location despite its higher level of play. All told, Desme is batting .288 with 31 homers, 98 runs scored, 89 RBIs and 40 stolen bases in just 45 attempts. After finishing up the season in Stockton, he'll travel southward in order to play in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League.
For Desme, the success of 2009 came down to one crucial component -- health. He was a highly regarded outfielder at Cal-Poly and was drafted by the A's in the second round of the 2007 Draft. But a litany of injuries limited him to just 14 games over his first two professional seasons.
"That was my only goal this season, to get through the whole year," said Desme. "Coming into the season, I had very little idea of what went on outside of the trainer's room."
Perhaps not surprisingly, given his lack of experience, 2009 started out on a rocky note. Desme went hitless over his first 20 at-bats of the season, and he had compiled a .226 average through May 15.
"I didn't feel comfortable, and was missing a lot of pitches," he said. "But all I needed was repetition, because that gave me the chance to fine-tune my approach."
Indeed. In each month of the season, Desme improved on the one that came before. In August, he hit .344 with eight home runs and eight stolen bases. He joined the 30-30 club with a home run against Rancho Cucamonga on Aug. 27, and it remains to be seen whether anyone else will join him.
"Early on, that wasn't on my mind at all," he said. "It wasn't something I was setting out to do, especially because I had never really stolen many bases before. ... Basically, my coaches just kept giving me the opportunity to run."
Going forward, Desme's main goal is simply to prove that this season wasn't a fluke.
"Once this year's over, it's over," he said. "I've just got to be consistent."
Desme's not the only Minor Leaguer to cement his prospect status with a monster 2009 campaign, find out who else has made names for themselves this season:
Koby Clemens (Astros)
Clemens has always received a certain degree of attention -- the inevitable result of being Roger's son. But this year marked the first in which he made a name for himself above and beyond his famous father. His 119 RBIs aren't just the most in the California League -- they're the most in all of Minor League Baseball. And with five games left in the season, Clemens has an outside shot at the batting title as well. His .345 average is just three points behind Alex Liddi, the league leader.
Alex Liddi (Mariners)
High Desert Mavericks
Speaking of Liddi... prior to 2009, the 21-year-old third baseman was perhaps best known as the only Italian-born position player in the Minor Leagues. After putting up mediocre numbers in each of the past two seasons as a member of the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, everything came together for Liddi in High Desert. His .348 average leads the California League, and he ranks in the top five in hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs and runs scored.
Matt McBride (Indians)
Kinston Indians/Akron Aeros
McBride was selected as a catcher in the second round of the 2006 Draft, but shoulder surgery during the 2007 offseason necessitated a switch to the outfield. That experiment didn't last long, as McBride was told that he'd open the '09 campaign as Kinston's first baseman. He adapted well to his new surroundings and hit a sizzling .405 over 31 games before receiving a much-deserved callup to Akron. McBride cooled off somewhat in Double-A, but has still managed to drive in 61 runs over just 94 ballgames.
Sam Deduno (Rockies)
Deduno made up for lost time in 2009. The 26-year-old Dominican right-hander put up mediocre numbers with Tulsa in 2007 (5-8, 5.44 ERA over 21 starts), and then missed all of 2008 due to Tommy John surgery. He's always had a lively fastball and the ability to strike out batters, but this season he clicked on all levels. With a 12-4 record, 2.57 ERA and 123 strikeouts, Deduno is currently in line to win the Texas League's pitching Triple Crown.
Bradley Meyers (Nationals)
Potomac Nationals/Harrisburg Senators
It is often said that the jump to Double-A is the hardest in all of professional baseball, but Meyers has taken it in stride. The lanky right-hander earned the callup to Harrisburg after posting a 1.43 ERA over 88 1/3 innings with Class A Advanced Potomac. Meyers has gone 4-1 with a 2.30 ERA over eight starts with the Senators, holding Eastern League batsmen to a .215 average against him. The two impressive marks make an even more impressive number when combined -- the best ERA for a starting pitcher in Minor League Baseball (1.71).This is a dramatic improvement for a pitcher who just last year got knocked around in the Class A South Atlantic League to the tune of a 4.79 ERA and a .299 average against.
Rudy Owens (Pirates)
West Virgina Power/Lynchburg Hillcats
Owens, 21, couldn't have asked for more in his first full season. After posting a mediocre 4.97 ERA over 15 appearances in the New York-Penn League in 2008, Owens opened '09 with the Class A West Virginia Power. He proceeded to blaze through the competition, posting a 10-1 record and a 1.70 ERA over 19 starts en route to being named the most outstanding pitcher in the South Atlantic League. Even more impressively, he yielded just 71 hits and 15 walks over 100 2/3 innings. With nothing left to prove in the Sally League, Owens received a promotion to Class A Advanced Lynchburg. There, he has gone 1-1 with a 3.10 ERA over five starts.
Travis Wood (Reds)
Carolina Mudcats/Louisville Bats
Wood struggled in the Double-A Southern League last season, posting an unsightly 7.09 ERA over 17 starts. But the 22-year-old lefty changeup specialist showed he can hang with the competition this season, as he posted a staggeringly low 1.21 ERA over 19 starts with the Mudcats. This warranted a callup to Triple-A Louisville, where he has continued to shine (albeit not quite as brightly). Wood has gone 4-2 with a 3.30 ERA over seven starts with the playoff-bound Bats, holding opponents to a respectable .228 average against him. He has also shown a consistent ability to pitch deep into a ballgame, as his 162 2/3 innings pitched are the sixth-most in all of Minor League Baseball.
Garrett Parcell (Marlins)
Jupiter Hammerheads/Jacksonville Suns
Parcell got a late start to the season due to injury and made two appearances with Class A Advanced Jupiter before getting a callup to Jacksonville. It's a contradiction of terms, but with the Suns he has been lights out. The 25-year-old right-hander has allowed just one earned run over his 21 relief outings -- good for a microscopic 0.27 ERA. He has not allowed a run over his last 20 innings pitched, and opponents have managed to hit just .130 against him.
Dan Remenowsky (White Sox)
Signed by the White Sox as an undrafted free agent in July of last year, Remenowsky has paid huge dividends thus far. One would be hard-pressed to find a more astronomical strikeouts-to-innings pitched ratio, as the 23-year-old closer has whiffed 106 batters over just 61 1/3 frames. Meanwhile, he has walked just 15 batters while allowing 38 hits. Remenowsky's 23 saves rank third in the South Atlantic League, and only one Kannapolis pitcher (Charles Leesman) has exceeded his win total of seven.
Daniel Runzler (Giants)
Augusta GreenJackets, San Jose Giants, Connecticut Defenders, Fresno Grizzlies
Entering the season, Renzler was a 24-year-old reliever who had never pitched above Class A. He sure made up for lost time this season, as he climbed up the Giants' Minor League ladder with amazing rapidity. Combined, he went 5-1 with an 0.76 ERA and 17 saves over four levels of play in the Minors, and then got called up to San Francisco on Wednesday. Being a southpaw -- that most precious of commodities -- may have attributed to Runzler's lightning ascent. But by any measure, his 2009 season has been nothing short of phenomenal.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.