The Prospector

AL East Call-Up Candidates PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 12 August 2014 00:00

September will be here before we know it. It's a good idea to get a jump start on potential impending minor league call-ups. Some are already on the 40-man roster as no player needs to be designated for assignment to make room for them, but plenty of players have their contracts purchased.

Much of the following is common sense, but it is worth mentioning. Redraft leaguers targeting September call-ups are in for a bit of a crapshoot. Yes, you can target skill and talent, but these are young people achieving their dream and over a tiny sample size, anything can happen. If you need to take chances, at the very least target players on teams that are not in contention. Those rookies are the least likely to be riding the pine. For keeper leaguers out of contention, this is a time to feast and try to take some chances.

Playing time for rookies on a first place team will be scarce. The Orioles have many veteran utlity player types who will come up and give their veterans some rest. Notable potential call-ups, however, include Michael Ohlman. The 23-year-old catcher has some power and a patient approach, but is thus far failing to pass the Double-A test with a .240/.312/.328 line and may have to repeat the league. Lefty Tim Berry could see some time making late-season starts, long-relief outings or as a reliever, but he has pitched well at Double-A with a 7.3 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. His stuff is not overpowering, but he has good command and could be a third or fourth starter in the Majors. Do not expect to see Dylan Bundy this year. The 21-year-old phenom is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery and has continued to have some elbow issues. Maybe next year. Christian Walker may be the most interesting player to likely receive a call-up. Although he’s not on the 40-man roster, the former fourth round pick has had a breakout season, belting 24 homers while hitting over .300 at two minor league levels while showing above average plate discipline skills. Prior to this year, Walker was felt to be an under-powered, contact hitting first baseman. He’s sacrificed some of the contact but is still making contact about 80% of the time. The righty is an interesting stash away pick-up, particularly if the Orioles decide to move on from Chris Davis this off-season.

Of course, Mookie Betts will be back up, but his playing time will be sporadic. Betts has all the skills to be a potential leadoff hitter and has nothing left to prove in the Minors. He just needs a regular spot in the lineup. Garin Cecchini will also get a look, but after a stellar climb through the Minors, the lefty's career no longer looks as bright after a dismal Triple-A campaign that saw his typically tremendous batting eye disintegrate and with it any offensive production to a tune of a .241/.317/.326 line. Cecchini has displayed too much skill in the past to dismiss him just yet and now could be the best buy opportunity you’ll have for him. Former first round pick Bryce Brentz will also get a look, but he’s managed just 186 plate appearances this year and has not played a full season since 2012 after battling injuries. While Brentz has hit only .241/.333/.457, he’s shown some decent power (.216 isolated power) and selectivity as well. He profiles as a low to moderate hitter for average with decent OBP skills, but it is hard to see how he fits in the lineup given all the depth the Sox have right now.

Anthony Ranaudo had an excellent debut and awaits a more prolonged MLB stint. The righty has become more dominant as the season has progressed, commanding his pitches and gradually increasing his strikeout rates. He's a hard thrower with a plus change and does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground. There is a chance he ends up in relief depending on the development of his curve.

New York AL
It is quite possible that we see a pair of catching prospects reach the Majors this September. Gary Sanchez continues to show 20-plus home run potential and has improved his contact-making game in recent seasons while maintaining above average catch and throw skills. J.R. Murphy has seen some brief action in the Majors already but has been overly aggressive at the plate in the Minors and Majors. His game is in making contact and hitting line drives while possessing high single digits to low-teens pop. Hopefully, he can get back to that approach, but in the end this is not a high ceiling skill set. Bryan Mitchell just made his MLB debut and was optioned back to the Minors on Monday, but he will certainly be recalled in September. The righty is not a high-ceiling starter but has a fastball/change-up/curveball combination that is effective enough to make him a number four or five starter or middle reliever.

Tampa Bay
While no longer a rookie, Nick Franklin will get a chance with his new club this September. The 23-year-old switch-hitter hit very well for Triple-A Tacoma, batting .294/.392/.455 while showing excellent plate discipline and stealing nine bases to go along with nine homers. His move to Durham is off to a slow start, but he could still very well be the Rays opening day second baseman in 2015. Hak-Ju Lee, Franklin’s current and possible long-term double-play partner, will also likely get a call-up despite having a miserable season in which (stop me if this is getting too familiar and sad) his contact-making skills have fallen apart and he’s managed a weak .205/.284/.260 line while coming back from a knee injury that ruined his 2013 campaign. There’s still hope that Lee could end up a possible leadoff man/elite defensive shortstop, but right now he’s in danger of heading down the utility player career path. Former first round pick Mikie Mahtook is nearly 25 years of age, but is currently amid the best year of his playing career, batting .293/.361/.447 with eight homers and 15 steals. Mahtook is a capable defensive centerfielder and has the offensive profile to fit it, but he may be playing a bit over his head given a right-handed stroke and the fact that he is striking out over a quarter of the time. If he could retain the production while returning to making contact over 80% of the time, he would have a more sustainable and exciting skill set. Otherwise, he’ll end up a .250 hitter with mediocre on-base skills.

On the pitching side of things, Enny Romero and Alex Colome could be recalled. Colome missed 50 games due to a PED suspension and made only 11, albeit successful starts, posting a 7.9 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. Command of his power stuff has been an issue in the past and he has been making a good transition from thrower to pitcher. Romero, a lefty, has managed an 8.4 K/9 but also an ERA above 5.00. His command and mechanics continue to be an issue despite an arsenal of plus stuff that could make him a middle of the rotation or better starter. I am starting to sense a career in relief may occur.

Next week – more potential call-ups!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 August 2014 08:07
Prospect Acquisitions PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00

This past week, nay this past month, all eyes have been on players who might be traded and who will have an immediate impact at the MLB level. Our focus here at the prospector, of course, is on the future. So with that in mind, let’s look long term at some of the younger targets that prompted some teams to deal their veterans.

The three-way trade between the Rays, Mariners and Tigers was full of well-known major leaguers, leaving Willy Adames to somewhat slip between the cracks on his way to the Rays. The 18-year-old has a legitimate chance to stick at shortstop, but more interestingly has emerging power (32 extra-base hits including six homers) and has acquitted himself well in terms of waiting for his pitch. Despite his age, Adames is advanced to the point where he could move up to A+ ball to start 2015.

Astros/Marlins Swap
The Astros took a good haul in raw talent from the Marlins in Jake Marisnick and Colin Moran and have already gone as far as to install the 23-year-old former Blue Jay, Marisnick, in centerfield as their everyday starter. The righty has all the tools to be a MLB centerfielder, blessed with speed and good defensive skill as well as offensive tools enough to produce a 20-20 or better season someday. However, the power side has yet to fully emerge and Marisnick is more of a mid-teens home run hitter with 20 to 30 stolen base per season skills. The real concern is his ability to hit righties and improve his plate approach to both draw more walks and reduce the swings and misses. There is a potential real and fantasy player here, but one with plenty of question marks and risk.

21-year-old Colin Moran was the 6th overall selection in the 2013 draft. The Marlins had kept him at A+ ball this year, but the Astros have quickly rewarded him with a promotion to Double-A upon his acquisition. The lefty was a polished hitter in his college days and has remained a contact-oriented/line-drive hitter with low to mid-teens home run potential. His glove is good enough to stay at third, but his bat plays better perhaps at second base where his power ceiling and ability to hit for average would be better suited. Unfortunately, he is too limited range-wise to make such a move.

The Marlins did come away with a prospect of their own in the deal in Austin Wates. The 25-year-old has good speed skills (31 steals in Triple-A) and has routinely shown a good knack for hitting line drives and making contact while also showing an aptitude for drawing walks and getting on base. This year, he posted a .299/.396/.381 slash and could get a look as a back-up outfielder with the Marlins. He is even a dark horse candidate to unseat Marcell Ozuna down the road.

Francis Martes is an 18-year-old wild card. The righty is a very hard thrower who has struck out a batter an inning this season thanks to a mid to upper nineties fastball, but like many young flame throwers, he has had trouble throwing strikes. He’s a starter for now, but could just as easily end up in relief and may have an ETA as late as 2018 or even 2019.

Diamondbacks/Yankees Deal
Having both Brian McCann and Gary Sanchez in house made it a less difficult decision for the Yankees to deal Peter O’Brien, particularly since O’Brien is not a very good defensive catcher and will likely have to shift to first base or left field, despite having below average speed, long term. O’Brien, however, is blessed with a ton of raw power (23 dingers/.310 isolated power at Double-A Trenton). Before you start drooling too much, keep in mind that O’Brien has a very aggressive approach, walking less than 4% of the time in A+ ball and less than 6% in Double-A contrasted against striking out roughly a quarter of the time at each level. In other words, this is not a skill set and in particular for a right-handed hitter, that is likely to hold up at the MLB level. O’Brien has an outside shot at a September call-up and is a potential mid-2015 call-up candidate too.

Busy Indians
In exchange for Justin Masterson, the Indians received a pretty good haul in outfielder James Ramsey. Ramsey got caught in a logjam of good outfield prospects and with the Indians could be in a better position now to get opportunities at the MLB level. Not surprisingly, he was instantly promoted to Triple-A upon being acquired. The 24-year-old is a patient hitter with high teens to low-twenties home run potential and double-digit steal potential. A former first-round pick, Ramsey needs to cut down on his strikeouts a bit, but he still profiles as a possible .270s or better hitter. Expect him to be called up in September, if not sooner, and for the possibility that he claims either the left or right field job once he gets the call.

Ramsey was not the only nearly MLB ready player received near the deadline. In exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera, the Tribe nabbed infielder Zach Walters. A 24-year-old shortstop, Walters is a switch-hitter with 25-plus HR potential and has already reached the 20-home run mark this year at three different stops, managing 29 longballs in Triple-A last season. Walters showed a tiny bit more selectivity this season repeating Triple-A for the third time, walking nearly 8% of the time and cutting his strikeouts under a quarter of the time. He’s probably a utility or Quad-A player long term, but like Wates for the Marlins, has enough talent to force his way into a starting job if the opportunity arises.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 August 2014 00:47
Catching On PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 29 July 2014 00:00

After spending a few weeks looking at top producers in certain stat categories, it was time we “caught” up with the progress of some of the top backstop prospects in the minor leagues.

Blake Swihart is passing the Double-A test with flying colors, translating his approach nearly flawlessly while starting to tap into the power projected of him. Swihart has hit for average at each level of play thus far thanks in part to his contact making skills and now in part to his emerging power. So many catchers projected to hit for average at the MLB level have failed to do so because of their speed with Matt Wieters perhaps being the most recent/high-profile example. Swihart actually has a decent motor and has at least average speed. While this will decline the longer he remains behind the plate, the switch-hitter has a good chance to be a .270 to .280s hitter given his broader range of tools.

2011 second-round pick Austin Hedges struggled in a brief Double-A promotion last year and has not been able to get beyond the level. In fact, Hedges has had even greater difficulty making contact and has become more aggressive at the plate, producing a .237/.280/.347 slash. As I mentioned this spring, Hedges never profiled as an impact bat or as a pick for fantasy players, but far better for real baseball and strat/sim-league purposes, enough of a bat to potentially hit .260 to .270 with 10 to 15 HRs. Hedges' elite defense will get him to the Majors and will give him an opportunity to have a long career as a back-up at the very least, but next season could be make or break.

The Rangers' Jorge Alfaro draws quite a bit of interest as a legitimate catcher with 30-plus home run and possibly double-digit steal potential. Like Swihart, Alfaro has translated his game to the next level, showing power (12 HRs) and running well (four triples) in A+ ball. However, the righty also brought along his aggressive approach and strikeout rates (24%) and has not exactly dominated with a .252/.311/.421 line. Alfaro has more offensive upside potential and fantasy baseball potential than just about any catcher in the Minors, but how he adjusts and improves his game at Double-A next season will be critical in determining whether we have a potential star or perhaps the next John Buck.

If you are looking for a catcher who has truly improved his game as he has matured, look no further than Gary Sanchez. Since making his first big splash in 2011 in which he hit 17 HRs and struck out 27% of the time, Sanchez has continued to hit the ball with authority, though not quite as much as in 2011, while at the same time improving his approach and dramatically cutting his strikeout rate by 10%. In fact, he has successfully cut it below the 20% mark each of the past two seasons. The question is will he ever play for the Yankees with Brian McCann locked into a long-term deal. The odds are he’ll end up trade bait. Unlike some of the other catchers on this list, Sanchez is a more traditional backstop in that he is not at all a runner, so even if the righty continues to make consistent contact, he is not a threat to hit for high average and could indeed end up a .250s hitter at the MLB level.

Kevin Plawecki was a supplemental first-round pick of the Mets in 2012 and he has lived up to most of his billing as a highly disciplined/contact oriented hitter with average at best defensive skills. Early on, more power was expected from him and this season it has started to show up with eight home runs between Double-A and Triple-A. The 23-year-old dominated Double-A with a .326/.378/.487 mark and is following up well in terms of plate approach at Triple-A, but he has yet to get truly on track over his small 53 plate appearance sample. Plawecki has demonstrated his ability to hit at every level, and given his excellent feel for the strike zone, he should be competent enough to hit in the Majors too. Much depends on how comfortable teams are with his mobility behind the plate. He will likely reach the Majors this year and could also end up trade bait with Travis d’Arnaud starting to come into his own.

If you are looking for longer term projects, Reese McGuire is your guy. The 2013 first rounder is not dominating full season A-ball with a .265/.310/.313 line, but the way he has absolutely mastered the strike zone at each level of pro-ball has been fascinating. This year, he has made contact 90% of the time while walking 6%. At 19, McGuire is primarily focusing on his catching game which is already very strong. Given his contact making skills, bat speed, and actually slightly above average foot speed, there is .280-plus, 10-plus HR potential here. His ETA is late 2017 to mid 2018.

Finally, we finish with another long-term option in 19-year-old Chance Sisco. The lefty is enjoying his first full season of professional ball, batting .344/.407/.455 for the Orioles A-ball squad. A former middle infielder, Sisco is a good athlete who has taken to catching fairly well. Sisco combines an already solid plate approach with emerging power and average speed, which could make him, like McGuire, a solid but not star offensive player in the Majors.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 July 2014 07:37
The Need for Speed PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Thursday, 24 July 2014 00:00

We continue our quest this week with a look at the minor league's top base stealers. I’ve been writing and analyzing prospects for a long time now and have definitely noticed some trends when it comes to analyzing which speedsters have what it takes to be a MLB regular. Speed-only hitters, and by that I really mean those with little to no power whatsoever, have the toughest row to hoe. In order to be a MLB regular without any pop, one should consider the likes of Juan Pierre. While Pierre’s approach was not the ideal leadoff hitter approach, he made contact just around 95% of the time over his career while walking nearly the same amount and putting the ball on the ground 56% of the time which resulted in a career .295/.343/.361 line and 614 steals. Pierre was an aggressive hitter, but he had a good batting eye, a quick bat, and understood his game. Make contact and run like hell. Hitters with similar tools need to make that high level of contact to succeed. Consider the failures of players like Emmanuel Burriss. He and so many other similar players were unable to translate their contact skills to the Majors, ending up overpowered at the MLB level. In order to have a greater margin for error, more power needs to be added to the equation. For example, no one has ever accused Michael Bourn of being a good contact hitter or a power hitter for that matter either, but the lefty A) focused on his speed game and keeping the ball on the ground when he does make contact, B) has a history of patience, and C) has some gap power and regularly topped out over 20 doubles and 10 or more triples during his prime. Just a bit of pop can forgive a high-teens strikeout rate.

Given all this, who should we be watching?

Mookie Betts – Getting the obvious out of the way quickly. Still a rookie and might actually still have that status when the season ends, depending on whether the Red Sox move any of their veteran outfielders in deals. Betts combines very advanced plate discipline, a quick bat, low-teens home run power and legitimate 30-plus stolen base potential. Better off at second base, but some Pedroia person is there.

Billy Burns came over to the A’s from the Nationals last off-season and was the target of many keeper leaguers on draft day already after he stole 74 bases between two levels in 2013. A former 32nd round draft pick, the short right-handed hitter continues to blaze with 45 steals while repeating Double-A ball. Burns has a pretty good approach at the plate and draws walks, making contact 85% of the time, but he has hit just .254. Burns falls into that group of underpowered speedsters, and I am worried that he will be overpowered at Triple-A, let alone the Majors.

Gabriel Mejia may be on quite a few people’s radars after his pro debut. The 18-year-old switch-hitter has stolen 48 bags in 194 plate appearances while walking and striking out 14.9% of the time. He does have eight extra-base hits and is quite raw, as one would expect of an 18-year-old, but this is an interesting start to a career.

Like father, like son, Delino DeShields Jr. knows how to swipe a bag with 41 after stealing 59 a year ago and 101 the year before that. Also like his dad, Jr. can draw a walk (11.3%) and has demonstrated doubles and mid to high single-digit home run potential. Where Junior continues to differ is in his ability to make contact. The 21-year-old continues to make contact less than 80% of the time, which is a major no-no for speed-oriented players, and that issue has caught up with him at Double-A with a .239/.346/.332 slash. His father owned a career 84% contact rate and the years he struggled the most were directly related to being the years in which his strikeout rate was closer to where his son’s is now. At 21 years of age, Deshields Jr. could turn things around like his dad and should not be written off because of his struggles, but he should be treated with some caution.

Padres farmhand Mallex Smith currently leads all minor leaguers in steals with 65 after stealing 64 in 507 plate appearances last year. This year, he has done it in 404 plate appearances. The former fifth-round pick has handled his promotion to A+ ball well (.300/.370/.444) and has a good history for drawing walks, but he does tend to swing and miss close to 20% of the time. Despite being listed at 5’9”, Smith does have a bit of gap power and has a shot at a MLB career. I’ll get more excited if he replicates his success at Double-A.

The Nationals' Rafael Bautista is second in all of minor league ball to Mallex Smith in total steals with 53. The 21-year-old is having some success in his first full season of professional ball at low-A ball where he has made contact 85% of the time and more importantly, developing some gap power with 14 doubles, four triples and four home runs in 334 plate appearances. Defensively, he has the range and arm to be solid in centerfield and should move up the Nationals' prospect rankings nicely after this season, but there is still a good chance he could end up an organizational player or fourth outfielder if the power and plate discipline do not continue to improve. He’ll likely spend most of 2015 in A+ ball.

The Braves are hoping Jose Peraza is their long-term shortstop. His plus defense will at least get him to the Majors. At 20 years of age, he is not just handling, but dominating both A+ and Double-A ball, batting .342 and .368 at each level respectively. If anything, the young righty’s plate discipline has improved, as he is making contact 93% of the time since his promotion to Double-A. On the downside, Peraza has been overly aggressive this season, walking 3% and 4% of the time at each level, though who needs to walk when you’re hitting as often as he has? The righty also is not a power threat, with just two homers alongside his 48 steals. Given his history, the strikeout rate is likely to increase over time, so while he could make the Majors as soon as next season, his success as a starter is far from guaranteed.

Last Updated on Friday, 25 July 2014 01:46
Power Up PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 15 July 2014 00:00

Keeper lists are all about value. What is the ratio of cost to projected value? On draft day, the focus shifts from value to stats. How are you going to fill that speed, power, or saves void? Well, long-term obviously through your league's minor league draft.

Generally, one focuses on the best overall prospect available. However, it still pays to keep in mind the categories you're drafting, particularly if the focus is strictly on who can help the quickest. With that in mind, let’s focus on sources of power.

Texas’ Joey Gallo was the recent hero of the Futures Game, hitting the game-winning homer, and is far from a sleeper. At just 20 years of age, the lefty is more than holding his own and has in fact dominated A+ ball while continuing to slug the ball with authority in Double-A. Encouragingly, while in A+ ball, Gallo kept his strikeout rates in check at a 26% clip while walking an astonishing 21% of the time and producing an overall .323/.463/.735 line. Double-A Frisco is one of the better hitter’s parks around and Gallo has hit 10 more homers for 31 total on the season while continuing to walk and post an OBP nearly 100 points higher than his batting average. Unfortunately, the alarmingly high strikeout rates of his previous campaigns have returned (42%). Gallo is expected to move off of third base long-term and could be limited to first base duties. Gallo is the epitome of high-risk/high-reward with a possible 80 score on the power scouting scale, but with strikeout rates that could make him the next Dallas McPherson. Most hitters his age would still be receiving their first taste of full-season A-ball and that is an encouraging thought. He showed improvement earlier this season and has plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments.

Former first-round pick Kris Bryant comes with many of the same caveats as Joey Gallo. Like Gallo, Bryant has 31 homers on the season and has shown an all or nothing approach with high walk rates and 26 to 30% strikeout rates at the two levels he’s played. The differences between the players are age. Bryant is a college veteran, and his glove and range gives him more defensive options long-term. Bryant’s strikeout rates are more typically lower than he has shown in his brief stay in Triple-A and while he has hit over .300 at every minor league level, he’s probably more of a .260s to .280s hitter in the Majors. Keep in mind that Bryant is not fool-proof. As a right-handed hitter who strikes out as often as he does, the slide to becoming a wrong side of the platoon split player can be a sharp one.

If one talks about Kris Bryant, one cannot leave out Javier Baez, who many, if not all, rated as the better long-term prospect earlier in the season. As big a high-risk/high-reward play Gallo is, Baez tops it. The righty drove 34 balls over the fence last season and has followed up with another 14 so far in Triple-A. Like Gallo, Baez is about two years younger than where one would normally find him at this stage in his career. The 21-year-old is holding his own, but far from dominating with a .240/.305/.449 line. While he may have even greater power potential than either Gallo or Bryant and even greater bat speed, Baez is by far the least refined at the plate and though he may have the skills to stay at shortstop, he can be raw and has shown his lack of polish there too. Baez’s 8% walk rate this year marks a career high measured against a career high 32% strikeout rate. The 2011 first-rounder should be up for a cup of coffee in September but would probably be best suited for spending at least half of 2015 in Triple-A too.

The Mariners selected D.J. Peterson in the first round of the 2013 draft as the consensus top college hitting prospect in the draft. The 22-year-old had an impressive debut in short-season ball and has gone from A+ to Double-A in his first full season of professional ball. Peterson’s approach has been a bit more aggressive than originally expected, but he has started to make better adjustments in terms of making contact while still hitting for power. Through the All-Star break, Peterson had hit 21 homers and projects as a possible 25-plus home run threat in the Majors. He’ll probably close out 2014 in Double-A with an outside shot at a September call-up followed by spending at least half of 2015 in the Minors before challenging for a starting job. The righty, if he keeps making good hard contact, is a possible .280 to .290 hitter to go along with his power.

Steven Souza received a brief call-up earlier this season while the Nationals were battling injuries but was sent down after only nine plate appearances. The 25-year-old does not rank as highly as some of the bats I’ve already mentioned, but I mention him as someone who may not have been drafted in your local league and as a player with both legitimate 20-plus HR power and some advanced skills that might make him a slightly lesser risk than his above compatriots. Souza moved off third to right field where he has the range and arm to handle the position, not to mention pretty good speed that has allowed him to steal 20-plus bags in multiple minor league seasons. The former third-round pick has a fairly advanced approach, walking frequently and this season cutting down on his strikeouts significantly, though that may be an anomaly compared against the context of his career. His .371/.449/.615 slash and 20-20 potential make him hard to ignore.

Next week, we look at the minor league speed merchants.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 July 2014 08:15
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