All-Star Countdown: Bakersfield Blaze

Winston-Salem is the host for the 2012 California-Carolina League All-Star Game, which is 34 days away. As we lead up to the game, we wanted to give Dash fans a chance to read about some of the prospects that will likely make the trek to Winston-Salem next month.

We will preview a different team almost every day, and the California League takes the stage first. Today, we feature the Bakersfield Blaze, the High-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, with help from Dan Besbris, the Blaze’s play-by-play broadcaster.

LHP Tony Cingrani – In a hitters league, Cingrani has dominated on the mound. He is 4-1 with an earned run average at 0.68, which is almost a run lower than the second-best mark in the league. The 15th-best prospect in the Reds system according to Baseball America, Cingrani has struck out a league-high 53 batters in 40 innings.

“He is a rare lefthanded starter that can hit 96-97 in short bursts,” Besbris said. “He compounds hitters’ frustrations with a goofy, late release. He looks like the best pitcher in the California League.”

Billy Hamilton entered 2012 with 165 career stolen bases (Ricky Bassman/Bakersfield Blaze).

SS Billy Hamilton – If you could only pick one prospect from the California League to watch, it would likely be Hamilton because of his base-stealing exploits. Hamilton, who stole an absurd 103 bases for Low-A Dayton in 2011, already has 35 swipes with the Blaze this season, which is the highest mark in the minors by a long margin. Throw in his batting average of .346 (5th in the California League), and you have a guy who deserves his number two spot on Baseball America’s Reds prospect list.

“Hands down, Hamilton is the most electrifying player I have ever seen,” Besbris said. “He makes entire press boxes stop what they’re doing and watch. This is a guy that has already done a handful of things on the field that many 20-30 year baseball veterans have never seen before, and he makes every game special.”

1B Donald Lutz – Lutz has a different skill set than Hamilton. He is tied for the top spot in the league with 11 home runs, which is almost one third of Bakersfield’s team total. Lutz, who was not among the top 30 prospects in Cincy’s system to begin the year, paces all Cal League hitters with 34 RBI, too. His numbers are impossible to ignore, and he has been the league’s best first baseman so far this year.

“Lutz is a big guy with a hard swing that has managed to bring a .300-plus average and 30-plus homer power together into a terrifying Cal League bat,” Besbris said. “Lutz burst onto the Reds radar last year, and his follow-up to a big 2011 has not been a disappointment.”

3B David Vidal – Vidal and Lutz combine for quite a corner infield connection in Bakersfield. Vidal’s numbers aren’t as overwhelming as other Blaze members’ stats, but he leads all California League third basemen in homers (7), sits in second in RBI (21) and boasts a respectable .281 batting average through Monday’s action. However, Vidal’s contributions go beyond his numbers.

“He is one of those ballplayers who just does everything right,” Besbris said. “He’s a great defensive third baseman, he can hit the breaking ball much better than most 21-year olds, he’s patient, and he has some sock despite being just 5’9″.”

Once again, thanks to Dan for his help in this. Bakersfield should provide some great players next month for the All-Star Game in Winston-Salem. Tomorrow, we will break down one of the minor league’s best offensive clubs–the High Desert Mavericks.

- Brian

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