With most of the draft signings official, it's time to turn our attention to rookie ball. The Great Falls Voyagers, the more advanced rookie ball affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, start their Pioneer League season tonight. Let's take a look at the talent on their roster.
2009 in review:
The Voyagers went 21-17 in both halves (42-34 overall) to split the North Division title in the first half and take it in the second half. However, they were not able to defend their 2008 league crown when the Missoula Osprey knocked them out in the semifinals, two games to one. Matt Wickswat led the league in ERA (3.84), strikeouts (91), K/9 (10.59) and BB/9 (1.63). Joucer Martinez was a rock in the rotation, leading the league with 79 innings pitched. Offensively, five starters had an OPS above .800 led by Jose Vargas and Nick Ciolli.
This year's roster appears finalized as listed on milb.com and Great Falls has some good prospects in the rotation, but a somewhat unimpressive offense on paper.
Trey Delk, RHP
David Holmberg LHP
Thomas Royse, RHP
Addison Reed, RHP
To start, the rotation is
reportedly going to pitch in the order they are listed. Reed, this
year's 3rd round pick, and Royse, the supplemental 3rd round choice, are
advanced college arms that should do well. If the White Sox feel like pushing
them, both have the polish to wind up in Low-A before the season ends. The Sox have been patient with Holmberg, a 2nd round pick a year ago. Holmberg struck out 37 against 18 walks in 40 innings last year for Bristol (4.73 ERA). I would expect him to do better this year, but keep in mind that he is the youngest player on the roster (turns 19 in mid-July). Upchurch had a nice pro debut after signing for above slot out in the 12th round of high school in 2008, but his K/9 and H/9 dropped off last year while repeating Bristol. He's shown good control (27 BB in 99.1 IP), but opponents hit .338 off him in 2009. He has talent, but the doubters are growing. This year is pretty big for him.
Brett Bruening, RHP
Paul Burnside, RHP
Nelson Curry, RHP
Rene Garcia, RHP
Pete Gehle, LHP
Edward McCray, RHP
Doug Murray, RHP
Goldy Simmons, RHP
Taylor Thompson, RHP
Jacob Wilson, RHP
16th rounder McCray and 19th rounder Murray had good seasons at big D1 programs this year and could make some starts if needed throughout the year. Curry and Wilson were productive out of the Voyagers' bullpen in '09. A minor concern is that there is only one lefty in the bullpen and there might not be much help from other draft signings. The rotation should be the strength of the team, but the bullpen doesn't look too shabby either.
Blanke is the highest 2010 draft pick (14th round) among the hitters on the roster so far. He killed the ball for D2 Tampa, but his defense isn't as advanced as his bat. He should be the starter, but might see some time at DH as well.
Robert Cummings, 3B
Kyle Davis, SS
Jared McDonald, 3B
Leighton Pangilinan, 1B
Juan Silverio, 3B
Jeffrey Tezak, 2B
For now, there are no rookies on the Great Falls infield. From that Great Falls Tribune article, manager Chris Cron says his starters will likely be Pangilinan, Tezak, Davis and Silverio. Silverio's prospect stock continued to slip with a brutal showing at the plate for the Intimidators. For anyone to believe in him, he's going to have to hit this summer. Pangilinan hit .299 with a .778 OPS out of high school for Bristol last year. He could be an intriguing name to follow this year.
The Voyagers' infield is experienced, but the outfield is filled with rookies. Earley, Harvard and Thorpe were taken in the middle of the draft. Earley and Thorpe have good speed. Hamme and Lee had decent seasons last year in rookie ball. This group will likely have to carry the offense because the infield doesn't give me a lot of confidence offensively.
The starting pitching should keep this team in almost every game. There are four legitimate looking prospects in the rotation, which should make it one of the best in the league. The bullpen will probably be more average. The offense is the question mark of the team. I think Blanke will hit and the outfield has some ability, but the current group is probably going to struggle. However, reinforcements are likely coming. Andrew Wilkins, Joe Terry, Tyler Saladino and Ross Wilson were all top 10 round picks that could turn the offense from poor to good if they sign on and are assigned to the Montana club.
If the offense remains close to what it is now, Great Falls will probably hang around .500. If Wilkins and Saladino join the Voyagers and do well they should contend for a spot in the playoffs yet again.