This week we're going to focus on some of the top international talent in the game, from those who have just arrived to those who are in different lanes on the highway to the top level.
Lisa's pick: Gerardo Parra, OF, Diamondbacks
Parra became the 100th player in Major League history to homer in his first big league at-bat, and he was hitting .385 with a homer, two triples and a .923 slugging percentage in his first three games. But don't pick up the 21-year-old Venezuelan because you're expecting power from him; grab him for his live high-average bat and speed. He owned a .319 average over four pro seasons coming into '09, and he ranked fourth in the Double-A Southern League with a .361 average when he was promoted. He's also swiped at least 20 bases every season. Parra is a polished youngster who can handle all three outfield positions, and new manager A.J. Hinch -- the team's former farm director -- is well aware of what he has to work with.
Jonathan's pick: Jose Ascanio, RHP, Cubs
Ascaino has pitched in relief and as a starter, most recently making six starts for Triple-A Iowa and pitching extremely well with a 1.01 ERA and a .191 batting average against. He's pitching out of the 'pen for Chicago, taking the place of Chad Fox, who had replaced Jeff Samardzija. He's got a power arm, and while he probably won't provide any kind of immediate value, it's worth watching to see what kind of role he fills for the rest of this year, either in the bigs or back in Triple-A. With Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol not always inspiring confidence, anyone who could possibly be a "closer of the future" should be on the radar (spoiler alert: that could be the theme for next week's Exchange).
Lisa's pick: Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers
The 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic checked in at No. 9 on MLB.com's preseason Top 50 list after a breakthrough 2008 in which he led all full-season starters with 10.81 strikeouts per nine innings and limited hitters to a .201 average. Offsetting a fastball consistently clocked in the mid- to high 90s with a rapidly improving curveball and changeup, his effortless mechanics impress all who see him and stamp him as a potential ace. He combined to go 10-6 with a 2.69 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 127 1/3 innings last summer, and though he has been inconsistent in his Triple-A debut at Oklahoma City, he bounced back from a sore shoulder to toss five innings of one-hit ball with seven strikeouts May 14.
Jonathan's pick: Luke Hughes, 3B, Twins
Following up a year in which he was an Eastern League All-Star and a Futures Game participant, the Aussie third baseman was added to the Twins 40-man roster and is off to a pretty solid start in his first full year of Triple-A ball. The 24-year-old has 25 RBIs in 31 games, tied for eighth in the International League, and he's slugging .526, showing that last year's .524 mark was no fluke. It's not like the third basemen in Minnesota have been setting the world ablaze, so it's good to know about Hughes' run production potential should that call come.
Lisa's pick: Hector Rondon, RHP, Indians
The "year away" estimate may be a bit conservative for the 21-year-old Venezuelan, especially since he was just moved from the Double-A Akron rotation to its bullpen to fit the club's most glaring need and further accelerate his arrival in the bigs. After starting out 5-0 with a 1.23 ERA in five starts, Rondon has allowed three earned runs in as many innings over two appearances while getting used to a relief role. In 2008, when he was named to the World Team in the Futures Game, he was 11-6 with a 3.60 ERA in 27 starts at Advanced A Kinston, striking out 145 in as many innings. His fastball and changeup are both plus pitches, and his slider is coming along.
Jonathan's pick: Antonio Bastardo, LHP, Phillies
Is Bastardo a starter or a reliever? The Phils have used him in both roles, with the long-term answer yet to be determined. One thing seems certain: The little lefty can pitch. He's third in the Double-A Eastern League with a 1.63 ERA, he's holding hitters to a .179 batting average and he's got 32 Ks against just six walks in 27 2/3 innings. He's been even better since moving into the rotation at the end of April, and it's becoming very clear the southpaw has a future of some fashion. At the very least, Bastardo should be added behind Carlos Carrasco on your Phillies pitching prospects list.
Lisa's pick: Jesus Montero, C, Yankees
The heir apparent to Jorge Posada in the Bronx, Montero stands a strapping 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. He's off to a blazing start as one of the youngest everyday players in the Class A Advanced Florida State League, hitting .326 with five homers and 25 RBIs. The numbers aren't far off from his full-season debut in 2008, when the 19-year-old Venezuelan hit .326 at Class A Charleston with 17 homers, 87 RBIs, 34 doubles and a South Atlantic League-leading 171 hits. His defense is a work in progress and has been improving, but he'll likely always be an offense-minded catcher. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that in the world of fantasy baseball, is there?
Jonathan's pick: Alex Liddi, 3B, Mariners
Arguably Italy's top prospect, Liddi went 3-for-8 in the World Baseball Classic and is currently lighting up the California League. While it should be noted that his High Desert home is one of the best places in the Minors to hit, he's still in the Top 10 in just about every offensive category in the league. A move up to the Southern League will be a real test for the 20-year-old third baseman, but color me interested.
MiLB.com Beat the Streak
May 18: LW: Jesus Montero, Tampa Yankees/Yankees; JM: Alex Liddi, High Desert Mavericks/Mariners
May 19: LW: Diory Hernandez, Gwinnett Braves/Braves; JM: Adam Stern, Huntsville Stars/Milwaukee
May 20: LW: Jose Constanza, Akron Aeros/Indians; Luis Durango, San Antonio Missions/Padres
May 21: LW: Gorkys Hernandez, Mississippi Braves/Braves; JM: Jorge Jimenez, Portland Seadogs/Red Sox
May 22: LW: Manuel Pina, Frisco RoughRiders/Rangers; JM: Curt Smith, Springfield Cardinals/Cardinals
May 23: LW: Alex Liddi, High Desert Mavericks/Mariners; JM: Johermyn Chavez, Lansing Lugnuts/Blue Jays
May 24: LW: Alexia Amarista, Cedar Rapids Kernels/Los Angeles Angels; JM: Luis Sumoza, Rome Braves/Braves