The Prospector

Post-Hype Prospect Third Sackers PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 07 July 2015 00:00

Once upon a time, Cheslor Cuthbert and Jefry Marte were top prospect third basemen for the Royals and Mets respectively. Both now find themselves suddenly thrust up to the Majors. Are they ready? What role will they have? And have they turned their careers around? Let’s find out.

Cheslor Cuthbert is still just 22 years old. After three-plus seasons of ineffectiveness, his shine dimmed and he was no longer considered amongst the best young players in the organization. Early 2015 has been much kinder to the young Nicaraguan as he has shown a bit more power and a decent approach that has led to a .256/.318/.389 line. The righty is starting at third while Mike Moustakas spends some time on the bereavement list after which he will likely be sent down. While he has improved and is staying healthy, Cuthbert looks like he is headed on the utility player/organizational career path. He does have the luxury of youth and could turn things around, but no sign of that occurring is present.

The Tigers were dealt a huge blow with Miguel Cabrera hitting the disabled list for the first time in his career and it will cost him much of the rest of the summer. In his place, the club will likely go with a variety of faces to man first base, but one such option is Jefry Marte. Marte is now in his third organization after spending his first five seasons with the Mets and his next two with the Athletics. The 24-year-old has been having a similar Triple-A season to Cuthbert though slightly better with the best power numbers of his pro career (13 home runs – a career high in just 323 plate appearances) while making contact 85% of the time and producing a .226 isolated power. The righty has always been an adept contact hitter, so it will be interesting to see if the power is for real. Marte has not had any playing time at first base, however, so it may be difficult for the Tigers to get him into the lineup. On Monday, they started Andrew Romine. Expect Detroit to try and get a bat with more punch into the lineup soon, and it may yet be Marte.

Not So Mixed Feelings
I’ve been avoiding talking about Tim Anderson for some time now, but it is hard to hold back when he keeps hitting. The 22-year-old shortstop is hitting over .300 with 27 steals in Double-A, and he could be a late season call-up. I still just don’t see him as a long-term major leaguer given his consistently high strikeout rates (20%) and ultra-low walk rates (3.4%). Anderson also lacks pop, so it will come down to his speed, and as it is written, “you can’t steal first base.” Until Anderson starts making a lot more contact and gaining some control of the strike zone, I really can’t recommend him as a long-term keeper, though his speed, even given a small opportunity to start at the MLB level, will force $10-plus FAAB bids regardless.

First Base Check-In
Time to catch up with a few of my favorite lower-level first base prospects. Casey Gillaspie is the more well known of the duo. The Rays selected him in the first round of the 2014 amateur draft. He is the younger brother of Conor Gillaspie. 2015 was to be the litmus test to see if he a) inherited the family plate discipline and b) actually had more power than his brother as expected when the Rays drafted him. The answer is “yes” on both counts. The switch-hitter had collected 16 homers at A-ball while making contact 84% of the time and walking over 10% with a .278/.358/.530 slash. That effort earned him a promotion to A+ ball. At 22-years of age, he could finish out the year in A+, but would then head to Double-A and be an Arizona Fall League candidate who would likely finish 2016 in Triple-A, if not the Majors. Keep an eye on his A+ progress. He could move even faster than I have indicated.

Rowdy Tellez is the second of my first basemen. I first started tracking Tellez after the Blue Jays drew him away from a college career with a 30th round selection. He has massive raw power and it showed up quickly in rookie ball and I was hoping for big things in his first season of full-A ball in 2014. Well, things did not go quite as planned as Tellez was out for the season after just 49 plate appearances. He returned to A-ball with a vengeance, hitting seven home runs while making contact 81% of the time and batting .296/.351/.444. Not bad for a 20-year-old who missed a year of development. Like Gillaspie, he too has earned a promotion to A+ ball and has swatted another five home runs while making even more consistent contact and walking frequently in the FSL over a small 52 plate appearance sample size (.356/.442/.711 with a 90% contact rate). The Jays can afford to be more patient here given Tellez’s youth. It would be surprising to see him make it to Double-A this year, although not so much if he keeps hitting like this. If everything goes well, Tellez has a 2017 ETA.

Outfield Shuffle
The Red Sox have been spending a lot of time shuffling their starting outfield in 2015 due to injuries and ineffectiveness. Add another name to slide into that mix in Manuel Margot. The 20-year-old was only recently promoted to Double-A from A+ ball after batting .282/.321/.420 with three homers and 20 steals, so it’s premature to add him to the MLB mix, though he could enter the big league picture next season. Since being promoted to Double-A, he’s hit another home run to go along with four stolen bases. Margot has a very quick bat and is known for his ability to make contact, doing so well over 90% of the time at each of his prior two minor league stops. The righty’s power is still emerging, so it’s possible Margot could be a 15+ HR/30+ SB threat with the ability to hit for average at the MLB level.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 July 2015 08:05
Prospect Progress for 6/30 PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 30 June 2015 00:00

Loaded as they are with young pitching and still in contention, the Mets need to add bats. While they may seek them in the trade market, some may be found closer to home if they dare to start their arbitration clocks. 2014 first-round pick Michael Conforto rises to the top of that pile. Despite not having experience beyond the Double-A level, the left-handed hitter has shown himself to be a selective hitter, with a short disciplined swing exhibiting natural loft. The 22-year-old had no problem with rookie ball in 2014 and has driven through two levels of the Minors, though as expected, his strikeout rate has increased in Binghamton to over 21%, though coupled with a 14% walk rate. Conforto does not necessarily project as a high average hitter at the MLB level but is a 20+ HR threat capable of producing a .270+ batting average and solid OBP numbers.

Another possible, though dark horse, 2015 MLB contributor from Binghamton is shortstop Gavin Cecchini. The Mets former first-round pick had fallen down the prospect radar in recent seasons but has pushed his way back into consideration. At just 21 years of age, the younger brother of Red Sox prospect Garen is holding his own at Double-A, making contact 90% of the time while walking 7% and hitting .285 with a reasonable five homers and 22 total extra-base hits. Cecchini was already noted as an above average defender, so the combination of his hitting coming on line in concert with his glove could be a welcome addition to a team needing improvement in both areas. Just keep in mind that his long-term offensive ceiling is relatively modest. He is likely a better real-life player than fantasy player, and a late-season cup of coffee is probably the most playing time he’ll get from the Mets in 2015, barring injuries to other personnel.

I’ve been impressed for awhile by the Twins' Max Kepler. He has always been a solid athlete and has an advanced feel for the strike zone and ability to make contact. This year, at age 22, Kepler appears to be finally growing into his tools and putting them to work. In Double-A, he’s hitting .344/.418/.555 to go along with three homers and 11 steals while making contact 87% of the time with an 11% walk rate. I’m still waiting to see if the power starts to emerge some more, but it’s hard to argue with a .211 isolated power that has produced 31 extra-base hits already this season. Kepler is on track for a promotion to Triple-A in short order and could be up with the MLB club before September if he keeps hitting like this. The Twins have not hesitated to call up youngsters before (see Byron Buxton).

Speaking of young Twins, Kepler’s teammate Jose Berrios, could potentially be on a faster path to the Majors. The 21-year-old made it to Triple-A in late-2014 before being sent back to Double-A to begin 2015. A promotion up a level is likely in the cards after producing a 9.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 over 15 starts. The right-hander is advanced beyond his years and has a good feel for multiple plus pitches, including a changeup which he commands well and throws for strikes. He profiles as at least a #2 type starter and redraft leaguers should even take note in case the Twins decide to get aggressive with promoting him.

Josh Bell continues our theme of disciplined contact hitters drafted for their projectability as power hitters. Bell has hit well in his second go around for Pittsburgh in Double-A, walking more often than striking out and putting the ball in play nearly 91% of the time while producing a .325/.395/.444 slash. He’s showing some extra-base power but not over-the-wall power with just three homers, so my pre-season feeling of him developing into more of a James Loney type first baseman might be appropriate. At just 22 years of age, there is still some time to wait for the power to develop before jumping to that conclusion, however, although a 48% minor league ground ball rate is not all that encouraging.

The A’s Matt Olson is not destined to hit for average. Yes, he is patient, but he's patient to a fault, walking 19% of the time this season but striking out a quarter of the time. In other words, that’s roughly 43% of the time when Olson isn’t making contact. Olson has legitimate 30-plus home run power, but he has seen his power production fall dramatically with his promotion to Double-A. While he of course still has a shot to be the A’s first baseman down the road, he’ll need to show a lot more at this level, including less passivity.

Former Yankee farmhand and top prospect Manny Banuelos has recovered from Tommy John Surgery and is now expected to be recalled for his MLB debut this coming Thursday after producing a 2.29 ERA over 15 Triple-A starts. However, the 24-year-old is not quite the same pitcher he was with the Yankees. Most notably, his strikeout rates are down in the mid 7’s as opposed to the 8 or 9+ he was at prior to getting injured. Control, which was an issue before the injury, still is a problem as Banuelos has posted a 4.1 BB/9. Tread cautiously when considering him for a pick-up in NL-only leagues.

That’s all for this week. Tune in next week for more of The Prospector.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 June 2015 08:36
Prospecting the 2015 Amateur Draft PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 16 June 2015 00:00

It is no secret that most keeper leagues work on a two-year plan or cycle. One year, you go for it. The next, you dump. While there are exceptions to this depending on league dynamics and quality of the owners of the teams in your fantasy league, this cycle pushes the prospect focus towards the near-term and those prospects that are going to help out at the MLB level this or the following season.

So heading into 2016, the recent draftees are typically amongst those first selected in any keeper league minor league draft. Those players then become the target of dumping teams hoping those players become factors the following season and beyond. That mindset pushes most, except the extreme top tier high school prospects like the recently called up Byron Buxton (after being drafted second overall in 2012) off the table, especially pitching prospects, unless it’s the next Dwight Gooden on the horizon.

With that in mind, here are a few early favorites of mine to target from this amateur draft class.

It is easy to peg Dansby Swanson (ARI) as a favorite. He was the consensus top college hitter in the draft and the only surprise was that he went first overall rather than second. While it remains to be seen whether he’ll have to move back to second base long-term, Swanson is an interesting hit for average, 15 HR, 20+ steal threat at the MLB level. He could be up at A+ or Double-A before the end of the season with a possible mid to late 2016 call-up date depending on how quickly the Diamondbacks can sign him.

Alex Bregman (HOU), the second overall pick, is another obvious target as an extremely polished college hitter with decent speed. He strikes me as more of a safe pick rather than an impact player pick though. While he is more likely to stay at shortstop than Swanson until he runs into Carlos Correa anyway, he has limited power, and may only be just into the double digits in the steals department, meaning his value may entirely come from his ability to hit for average and get on base. I would target him in my minor league drafts, but only if he falls in later in the first round or second round. With Jose Altuve and Correa around, it is also a bit difficult to see how Bregman fits, barring a position change for him or someone else, into the Astros lineup, at least in the near-term.

Dillon Tate (TEX) is a better choice as an early-round 2016 minor league draft pick. The best college pitcher in the draft, Tate has at least two wipeout pitches and multiple weapons with which to combat lefties. The righty has worked as both a starter and a closer in his college career and profiles well in either role with #2 starter or late-inning reliever upside.

I can pretty much discuss Carson Fulmer (CHW) in the same breath as a college reliever turned starter who is expected to stay in the latter role. Not surprisingly, as a first-rounder, Fulmer can touch and hold his velocity in the mid to upper nineties but also knows how to change speeds, and perhaps his best speed is a plus curveball which he commands well. The White Sox have shown themselves to be aggressive with their college picks and have a penchant for drafting reliever/starter types (Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon), so don’t be surprised to see Fulmer broken in to the Majors in a relief role before he slots into the starting rotation.

Though on the small side, Andrew Benintendi (BOS) may be my favorite college hitter in the draft. He’s a centerfielder who makes consistent, hard contact and has legitimate 20-20 potential. The Red Sox, however, are a bit clogged in the outfield at the moment, trying to figure out which of their young players is part of their long-term outfield composition, so a mid to late 2016 call-up with more of a 2017 sustained impact seems more likely at the moment for Benintendi.

Switch-hitter Ian Happ (CHC) will end up at either second base or left field, though he’ll likely never earn defensive accolades at either position. His bat will have to do the talking as a disciplined hitter with a quick bat and high teens to low-twenties home run power and double digit steals potential.

For those who like to gamble on upside from prep talent, Kyle Tucker is probably your guy. His older brother Preston is noted for having upper teens to low-twenties power potential, decent patience at the plate, and an ability to make consistent contact. Think of Kyle as having a similar plate approach, but perhaps an even quicker bat and greater (30+ HR) power potential.

Sticking with more of a dynasty league look, Mike Cameron’s son Daz (HOU) must be considered. Like his dad, he is a potential top of the line defensive centerfielder with 20/30 potential. Inconsistency in his approach led to his stock dropping him out of the first round when he was originally considered a possible top-10 pick. For now, the scouting reports compare him favorably to his dad, a patient right-handed hitter who will provide in the defense and HR/speed games but may come up short in the batting average department.

Jon Harris (TOR) is a polished right-hander out of Missouri State who could move quickly through the Blue Jays system. He has a deep repertoire of pitches, all of which are already considered plus pitches. However, it remains to be seen if the can throw them consistently for strikes.

Next week, back to looking at prospects who will help us out in 2015.

Last Updated on Monday, 15 June 2015 23:08
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
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