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Prospect Progress for 6/9 PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 09 June 2015 00:00

Monday was the first round of the Rule-4 or as it is better known, the First-Year Player Draft. The web today is inundated with recaps and reviews of those players. However, for fantasy, 99% of those players will not be relevant for two or more years. Rather than providing a review of those top prospects, I will continue looking at players whose impact will be more immediate. Next week, I’ll cherry pick some of the higher profile names you need to know.

For now, let’s discuss some recent call-ups and potential call-ups.

In weekly leagues, Scott Schebler was sent down before fantasy players had a chance to lay their hands on him. The Dodger outfielder has not been hitting particularly well in Oklahoma City, but he has shown a similar plate approach to his 2014, 28 HR campaign, and power as well with six homers and a .171 ISO. The 24-year-old was a 26th round draft pick in 2010 and surged up the Dodgers radar after two straight seasons of producing 25 or more home runs while also cutting down on his strikeouts and improving his selectivity. It is unclear as to whether the Dodgers view him as their long-term left fielder or more of a fourth outfielder/platoon player. The latter may be his ultimate role, but he has shown enough bat speed and power to possibly make it as a starter, provided he shows he can adjust to Triple-A pitching.

Nationals prospect Joe Ross made his MLB debut on Saturday to mixed results, allowing six hits and four earned runs, but on the other hand, not walking a single batter and striking out four in five frames. The former Padre is in his first season with the Nationals after coming over as part of the three-way trade with Tampa Bay. In nine Triple-A starts, Ross had a 9.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. The righty has two good swing and miss pitches in his plus fastball and slider, but he has good control of his lesser pitches and has a changeup that is at least an average pitch, flashing plus at times. He may get a few more starts, but redraft leaguers should note that both Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister are working towards their returns from the DL, so Ross is not going to be claiming a full-time job just yet. His middle of the rotation potential should at least make him a grab and stash target in NL-only keeper leagues.

A few weeks back, I noted that Lonnie Chisenhall’s struggles might get him in trouble with Giovanny Urshela lying in wait. Well, the Indians shook things up, sending Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez down to the Minors. While Francisco Lindor will stay in Triple-A for the time being, Urshela is getting his opportunity to claim the third base job. Urshela, like Chisenhall, is a modest ceiling player. A plus defender at third, Urshela is an aggressive, contact-oriented hitter with doubles power and his home run power projects to the low to mid-teens. While Urshela is not going to be an impact offensive force, he still has a potentially useful and valuable skill set for AL-only leaguers.

In a continuing theme of aggressive call-ups, the Houston Astros plan to call up Vincent Velasquez in time for making a start this coming Wednesday. The 23-year-old former second-round pick has made five Double-A starts, posting a 12.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. His stuff, a lively fastball and plus changeup, has long been raved about by scouts. Staying on the field has been the primary concern. To date, Velasquez has not pitched more than 124.2 innings in any season, his second highest total standing at 64. He has missed time due to Tommy John surgery but also a parade of non-arm related muscle injuries. If Velasquez can improve the consistency of his curve, he has upper end of the rotation potential. It looks like he’ll be receiving an extended look with Roberto Hernandez losing his spot in the Astros rotation, so redraft and keeper leaguers alike should take note of his debut.

The Phillies are not having the greatest of luck with their pitching staff in 2015, so a hard look must be taken at 2014 first-round draft pick and Double-A pitcher Aaron Nola. Nola was someone I expected to move quickly through the Phillies system after being taken 7th overall. While the strikeout totals have not been as high as expected, Nola did make it all the way to Double-A last year. He's beginning his first full season of pro ball there and has at least raised his K/9 a full point from 5.6 to 6.8. Nola is mostly known for his polish and command. He has yet to produce a BB/9 higher than 1.9 and has walked just one batter per nine innings pitched this season. Considering the quality of his repertoire, it is surprising to not see more swings and misses at this point, but they may come in time. A Triple-A promotion may be soon in the making and a call-up, at least by September, seems quite possible.

Next week, as promised, we hit the 2015 Draft.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 June 2015 09:14
 
Prospect Progress for 6/2/15 PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 02 June 2015 00:00

This week, we check in with a few top names discussed in the preseason to see how they are faring. We begin with a pair of recent call-ups.

Here to Stay?
The Red Sox called up Eduardo Rodriguez when they were in need of a sixth starter but ended up so impressed with the lefty’s MLB debut that he is receiving a second start and could conceivably stick with the big league club (at someone else’s expense) with another strong outing. Rodriguez, 22, was acquired from the Orioles last year for Andrew Miller. Rodriguez is a fairly hard thrower for a lefty, reaching the mid-nineties with a plus fastball and offsets that with perhaps an even better changeup. His slider has long been a work in progress but has plus potential and is a swing and miss pitch. What makes Rodriguez special is his ability to combine these pitches with good and still improving command. Over eight Triple-A starts, Rodriguez had an 8.2 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9. Though young, this is a pitcher with nothing left to prove in the Minors and #3 to #2 starter potential.

Slugger in Texas
The injury to Adrian Beltre has resulted in a two-level jump for top power hitting prospect Joey Gallo to the Majors. This is expected to just be a cup of coffee, but Gallo’s power is worthy of note even over the short-term in all fantasy formats. The 21-year-old may be the top pure power hitter in the Minors today. He has a third baseman’s arm, but is fringy at the corner long-term and may be best suited for a left field or first base (or DH) slot. At the plate, Gallo is having an improved second go around in Double-A with a .314/.425/.636 line with nine homers. The lefty reminds me quite a bit of Adam Dunn as a patient, all or nothing power hitter who should produce solid OBPs and be a constant 30+, if not 40 HR threat. Completing that Adam Dunn picture are the strikeout rates in excess of a third of the time. In other words, hitting .240 may be a good year and there could be some seasons where Mendoza line battles a la Chris Carter may also occur.

Injured Outfielder
In unfortunate news, David Dahl suffered a lacerated spleen and will miss the rest of the season. The 21-year-old Colorado Rockie outfielder appeared to just be getting things going when the fielding collision occurred. When healthy, Dahl is an intriguing centerfield prospect known for his speed and quick bat. He still has 20-20 potential but will now lose most of a year’s development time.

Seattle Sluggers
The Mariners entered 2015 with a lot of question marks at first base and hoped D.J. Peterson might cruise through Triple-A and perhaps answer those questions by becoming their first baseman by mid-season. Instead, Peterson has struggled to hit, producing a .211/.284/.298 line after hitting over 30 homers between two minor league levels in 2014. His plate discipline numbers have not radically altered from his previous efforts, so that at least provides some room for optimism that he is simply dealing with an extended slow start and hopefully is not dealing with any undisclosed injuries that are holding him back. Logan Morrison still has not run away with the Mariners first base job, so Peterson owners should continue to be patient given the potential for a big league opportunity.

Unfortunately, Peterson is not the only former first-round pick of the Mariners who is struggling. 2014 first-rounder Alex Jackson has been hampered by a shoulder injury, so one cannot get a true read on his skills. In his first full season of pro-ball, his power has yet to show up while his approach at the plate has not been as good, striking out close to 30% of the time while walking less than 6%. At 19, he has plenty of time to fulfill his promise as a patient, right-handed power hitter. But he’s walking a rather fine line given his skill set and limited speed and defensive tools.

Royal Pains
For those waiting on Sean Manaea to begin his season, keep waiting. The 23-year-old 2013 supplemental first-round pick has missed the entire season thus far thanks to a variety of strains and has now injured his oblique which should keep him out until late June. The good news is that none of these injuries are in any way career threatening. The bad news is that Manaea already has a history of being somewhat fragile and this only adds to that legacy. On the good side, the lefty posted a 10.8 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in his pro debut at A+ in 2014. While his command and mechanics can be inconsistent, he does have the stuff and makings of a middle of the rotation starter.

Hunter Dozier has not been able to crack .230 in two seasons now in Triple-A. The 2013 sixth overall pick originally impressed with his plate discipline, quick bat, glove and upper teens, if not better, power potential. Since his debut, it has been a descent. While he continues to be very patient, his ability to make contact has declined and it may be a sign that he is simply being too passive at the plate. With Mike Moustakas enjoying a breakthrough season, Dozier will really need to turn things around to force the issue to get playing time at another position.

Cub Power
The Cubs have seen the rise of Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant already in 2015, but they still have more in store for their fans. Catcher Kyle Schwarber was the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft. He rampaged through three levels after being drafted last year and has followed up strongly at Double-A with 12 homers and a .327/.454/.633 line. Within that stat line is a 20% walk rate and 21% strikeout rate. Schwarber’s glove continues to be a question mark and a move to the outfield would not be shocking. This is a .300 AVG, 25+ HR threat they’ll want in their lineup as early as this September, though more likely in 2016.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 June 2015 08:48
 
Prospect Pressure PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 26 May 2015 00:00

We are almost two months into the season and the pressure to produce is becoming more and more intense. Teams have already been making changes and promoting from within and it is a trend that is not going to stop. With that in mind, we will take a glance at some players who are putting some pressure on their MLB counterparts.

The Houston Astros are one of the first teams you should be looking at to find some players who could crack the MLB lineup. The club has already shown a willingness to promote with the two-level jump of pitcher Lance McCullers, so more moves of this nature may happen soon.

It is no secret that Carlos Correa is on the fast track and that the Astros combination of Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar has been treading water at best. Meanwhile, the former first overall pick hit .385 over 133 plate appearances in Double-A with seven home runs and 15 steals and has followed up strongly since being promoted to Triple-A. While he projects as having only average (teens) power long-term, the 20-year-old has extremely advanced plate discipline skills and plus speed, not to mention legitimate starting shortstop ability. Unfortunately, he is likely only still available in mixed leagues and perhaps some redraft AL-only leagues. Take the opportunity to grab him if you can, as a call-up before the trade deadline, if not before the All-Star break, is a very real possibility. He’s a potential impact player from both a real baseball and fantasy baseball perspective.

Another question the Astros have on offense is Chris Carter. No one ever expected this consistent 30%+ strikeout threat to hit much more than .220, but .170 may be trying their patience, especially with perennial prospect Jon Singleton crushing the ball. The former Phillie is still just 23 years old, the age when most prospects get their first taste of the Majors. Once again, the lefty is displaying 30+ HR potential with 14 homers, but he is also drawing walks at a high rate (15%) and has cut down on his strikeout rate to less than 80% of the time to produce an overall slash of .291/.399/.646. Both Singleton and Carter have similar power and they both know how to draw a walk. Singleton, however, does have a chance of actually making contact on occasion and producing an OBP desired closer to the top of the lineup. The time for him to get another chance may occur soon.

Speaking of knocking on the door to the Majors, we come to Buck Farmer. Farmer will actually get the call to the Tigers rotation this coming Thursday, taking the place of the injured Kyle Lobstein. Farmer is the Tigers top rated upper level pitching prospect. The 24-year-old is a former fifth-round pick and is currently sporting an 8.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 for Toledo. He throws fairly hard for a lefty, has a slider that generates plenty of swings and misses and a changeup that ranges anywhere from average to plus. The overall combination does not scream ace, but there is enough solid stuff and command here to consider him as a potential #3 or #4 starter long-term, worthy of note in AL-only formats.

For those, including myself, who thought Andrew Heaney was going to crack the opening day rotation for the Angels, don’t lose heart for his long-term success. Short-term, however, there just does not seem to be any openings. The former 9th overall pick really has nothing left to prove in the Minors and has produced an 8.7 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. He is a hard-throwing lefty like Farmer, only he has better command and consistent plus pitches across the board, making him a potential #2 starter candidate down the road. It may take a trade or injury in order for him to get his shot.

Ian Desmond should watch out. Trea Turner technically won’t be acquired by the Nationals until he is eligible (a drafted player cannot be traded until a year since being drafted has passed), but he is making headway to unseating the Nationals current shortstop. The 13th overall pick, Turner has now hit over .340 at two levels of play, showing plus speed and the selectivity to be a top of the lineup batter. Turner is not without power, hitting five homers in 170 plate appearances, and projects into the mid-teens in that department down the road. Desmond’s job is not likely in jeopardy this season, but Turner could easily get a late-season call-up and be a factor in the team’s 2016 opening day lineup.

Neither Brad Miller nor Chris Taylor have run away with the M’s starting shortstop job, even with the trade of Nick Franklin to reduce the competition. This season, a new player entered in the field in the form of Ketel Marte. The 21-year-old is making contact over 90% of the time and hitting .343/.393/.440 with 14 steals to boot. The soft-handed Marte is a switch-hitter with limited, single-digit HR power, but he's made great strides the last two seasons in terms of his selectivity. He may yet end up a utility player if he cannot translate his contact-making gains to the Majors, but the other M’s middle infielders should at least be on notice.

Back over in the NL, the Mets are not quite done pushing starting pitching talent through their system. Noah Syndergaard is now up at least temporarily with Dillon Gee and Rafael Montero on the shelf, but they also have Steven Matz lurking in wait. The 2009 second-round pick has spent a lot of time recovering from injuries, but he has spent three seasons showing he is indeed one of the team's upper end arms in their system. The lefty throws in the mid to upper nineties and generates plenty of strikeouts with his changeup and curveball, which he throws fairly consistently for strikes (3.2 BB/9). He projects as a possible #2 or #3 type starter. The club's biggest problem is keeping everyone healthy long enough so they can figure out how to use all this starting pitching depth to leverage them some hitting in trades.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 May 2015 08:40
 
Tampa Bay Triage PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 12 May 2015 00:00

This week, the Tampa Bay Rays suffered serious harm to their rotation, losing two-thirds of its membership, and not the weak two-thirds of it. Instead, they lost the pitchers that would make them most able to compete in the form of Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb. That leaves them with Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi as the two remaining mainstays and three pitching slots that are quite likely to vary in whose name occupies them for the remainder of the season. Matt Moore is due back, tentatively, in June, and he could provide a major boost (or not), but keep in mind that it is still just May, so we could see quite a few different pitchers receiving starts regardless of whether Moore is healthy or not. Let us review!

In the Majors
Earlier this year, I investigated two of the Rays’ younger pitchers in Matt Andriese and Nate Karns. Both will get much longer leashes now, but to sum up my earlier analysis – Andriese – mediocre stuff/extremely hittable. Karns throws hard, has a curve that is sometimes a plus, mediocre at best command and lacks secondary stuff, which makes him best suited for a relief role.

Alex Colome currently commands a rotation spot as well. I like him best out of the bunch to hold down a rotation spot over the long haul provided he can keep his oft-injured body in one piece. So far, he has struck out 10 in 10 innings and walked zero (late note: Colome was hit hard by the Yankees last night). The righty has never been known for his ability to throw strikes, so expect that K/BB ratio to shrink quite a bit over time. Colome is armed with a quality 4-pitch arsenal, so it’s not a question of stuff here. If you are going to pick a target to try in Tampa, make it him for now even with the bad start. Everyone has their growing pains.

Erasmo Ramirez technically remains an option, but he cannot be trusted at the MLB level until he translates his control from the Minors to the Majors. He’s had multiple, rather unsuccessful, extended big league opportunities, so look elsewhere for pitching help.

Andrew Bellatti could also get a look. The 23-year-old was working in the Triple-A rotation until his call up to a middle relief role, the role he had been used almost exclusively in since 2011. He is a fastball/slider/changeup guy who has posted some solid K/9 numbers and BB/9 numbers in the Minors.

Meanwhile, Back in the Minors
Continuing on the unexciting front, the Rays do have former Twin and Binghamton University graduate Scott Diamond in Durham. The righty throws strikes and keeps the ball on the ground, but he fools no one. It is possible he makes 10+ starts for the Rays this year and perhaps with some short-term success, but it must be noted he’s even more hittable than Andriese. Matt Buschmann and Everett Teaford are two 31-year-olds serving as Triple-A roster filler.

Former 13th round draft pick Dylan Floro has been moving through the Rays system one level at a time and has made six starts at Triple-A. Floro does not lack for control. In fact, he hasn’t posted a BB/9 higher than 1.6 in his entire professional career. That said, his K/9 dropped to 4.6. The righty simply does not have a wipeout pitch and despite the fact that he does a good job of keeping the ball in park, he is in the strike zone far too often to consider for fantasy play.

Moving on to pitchers with an inkling of potential, we come to Grayson Garvin. A 2011 supplemental first round pick, Garvin has struggled to come back from Tommy John surgery and managed to pitch 74 innings in Double-A last year. He’s currently on the DL once again in Double-A, so it’s a longshot to expect him to help this year, but he is at least on the Rays' 40-man roster. When healthy, he has at minimum three MLB quality pitches, and he commands those pitches well. He also throws hard for a lefty. The question is health. Since 2012, he’s made just 41 minor league starts plus six in the Arizona Fall League. Almost half of them came last year.

The Rays had hoped Enny Romero might help the team last year, but he did not make an appearance and is instead in his second season in Triple-A. He’s been out with a back injury and made just one start this season.  The 6’3” lefty can reach the upper nineties on his fastball and possesses a plus-fastball/changeup combination that gives him middle of the rotation potential. That said, his command of those pitches has been up and down throughout his career. His 3.71 BB/9 last year was by far the best he’s done since rookie ball in 2010. He might have a career as a late-inning reliever too.

Jaime Schultz is a 23-year-old righty who has been fairly dominant in Double-A this year. Though on the short side for a starter at 5’10”, Schultz has a plus fastball and a solid curveball/changeup combo, but like many Rays hurlers, command has been a major issue. Over six Double-A starts, Schultz has an 11.4 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9. Still, a promotion to Triple-A with all the attrition going on would be far from shocking.

Blake Snell, like Grayson Garvin, was a 2011 supplemental first round pick, but unlike Garvin, he was drafted out of high school and has been working his way up the system all that time. A 6’4” left-hander, he can reach the lower to mid-nineties with a good slider and a workable changeup. The recurring theme of control issues, however, rears its ugly head once again as Snell has yet to post a sub-4.0 BB/9 at any level since 2012. On the good side, Snell has already been promoted once this year, starting the season in A+ and now in Double-A, where he has posted a 12.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 over a tiny sample size of two starts.

So to sum things up, there is not much immediate help on the horizon. The club's 2015 chances largely depend upon a healthy Moore and Colome. They could then shuffle between fifth starters throughout the rest of the season while regrouping for 2016, when Cobb and Smyly come back from their respective injuries by mid-season. However, keep an eye on the likes of Colome, Romero and Garvin as pitchers with some legitimate potential as big leaguers.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 May 2015 08:39
 
Journeyman Jubilee PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 05 May 2015 00:00

I spend most of my time in this column focusing on players who still have that prospect shine on them. However, every season we see minor league veterans ascend to the Majors and a lucky few finally break through to become viable major leaguers or at the very least get an opportunity to do so. With that in mind, let's take a look at some post-hype (and never-hyped) players, some being recent MLB call-ups, who should be on your radar in deeper AL-only and NL-only leagues.

The injury to Mitch Moreland opened up a temporary gateway for Kyle Blanks. The 28-year-old former 42nd round pick worked his way to being one of the Padres’ top prospects only to suffer injury and was subsequently ineffective once given other opportunities with the club. Now with his third organization, Blanks still has plenty of raw power (30+ HR talent). Over his career, the righty has shown a patient approach and has not necessarily been a high strikeout rate hitter at any one level, usually striking out a quarter of the time. The main issue comes from his handedness and his struggles against righties (.227/.306/.400 with a 33% strikeout rate). If used in a strict platoon, Blanks could bring his more solid skills to bear as a career .254/.349/.442 hitter who strikes out only 23% of the time. He’ll see fairly regular action until Moreland returns in a few weeks after having bone chips cleaned out, but it will be interesting to see if the Rangers try to keep him with the club to be utilized in the aforementioned fashion where he could be an asset.

Johnny Giavotella has had an excellent minor league career. The former second-round pick of the Royals had been given multiple extended opportunities to lock down their second base job. Once in 2011, again in 2012 and briefer chances in 2013 and 2014, all resulting in failure and an uninspiring career .245/.288/.339 slash. That said, throughout his minor league career, Giavotella has displayed extremely advanced plate discipline skills, walking and making contact at frequent rates while showing gap power and good instincts on the base paths. He went into 2015 probably on course to open the year in Triple-A only to win the starting 2B job out of spring training, and so far he has shown much of that minor league skill. Before you get too excited about his change in fortune, Giavotella’s power numbers have been trending downward for three straight seasons and while he is hitting for average thus far, his .288/.346/.370 line may not be enough to hold down the job for the entire season.

Joey Butler is yet another journeyman taking advantage of an injury situation. While Desmond Jennings is only expected to miss a few weeks due to bursitis in his left knee, the 29-year-old Butler is expected to play at least semi-regularly during his absence and received the opportunity to start Monday night, responding with his first MLB home run. Butler has spent most of the past four seasons at Triple-A, where he's done nothing but hit. He’s batted no lower than .290 while walking at high rates, (13%+), minimizing his strikeouts and showing mid-teens if not high-teens power potential. Butler is not a high-end starter, but he has enough game to be a solid fill-in and part-time starter at the very least.

Continuing on a theme, Ezequiel Carrera recently was recalled and has been playing regularly in a new outfield alignment along with Kevin Pillar and Michael Saunders (who recently returned from the DL) while Jose Bautista handles DH duties. Formerly of the Mets, Mariners and Indians, the 27-year-old has long been noted for his plus speed, and he is coming off two 40+ SB minor league seasons. At the minor league level, Carrera has been a fairly effective contact hitter with an average to slightly aggressive plate approach, though he has been more selective in recent seasons, including a 1:1 BB/K ratio so far this year. When given opportunities in the Majors, he has not been able to translate those skills. Right now, however, may be Carrera’s single greatest opportunity to prove otherwise. At the very least, his speed alone makes him worthy of a FAAB bid, if for no other reason than to obtain a few steals in AL-only formats, even if he does not break through and become an everyday player long-term.

In non-Journeyman news, the Padres recalled their former first-round pick and top catching prospect, Austin Hedges to the Majors. An elite defender, Hedges has yet to show very much with the bat, struggling to hit even Double-A pitching and far from dominating the lower levels of minor league play. However, to begin 2015, Hedges appears much improved, albeit over a tiny 79 plate appearance sample, making contact 90% of the time and walking the same while showing slightly more power and batting about 100 points higher than last season. The righty has a lot to prove before I can recommend getting on his bandwagon, especially considering he’ll still play in a back-up role. His glove, however, should get him to stick in the Majors eventually, even if his bat does not ever come around.

Also in the NL, the Reds called up their 2013 supplemental first-round pick, Michael Lorenzen, to fill a rotation spot as a result of Homer Bailey’s season-ending injury. This is a true opportunity for Lorenzen to claim a long-term rotation spot, so in NL-only leagues, he is someone to pursue with some vigor on that basis alone. The righty was a closer when drafted out of college and remained in that role until the beginning of last year. He has a plus fastball that can reach the upper nineties, controls it fairly well, and does a solid job of keeping the ball on the ground. That said, while he technically has a fastball, change-up and slider, the pitches beyond his 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs are all adequate at best and are works in progress. Over his first three minor league starts this season, he was able to muster just a 5.7 K/9 after a Double-A season in which he managed a 6.3 K/9 in 24 starts. These are far from the strikeout rates one wants from a top end starting pitching prospect. Barring significant improvement of his secondary pitches, expect Lorenzen to shift back to a relief role before the year is out.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 May 2015 08:17
 
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