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For Your Consideration PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 24 June 2014 00:00

It’s June. Too early to start talking about 2015? Of course not. Even if you are involved in a rare league that has a mid-season draft to allow for the selection of 2014 amateur draft picks, dynasty and keeper leaguers still need to start paying attention. After all, there are only a finite number of players, especially if your keeper league is an AL or NL-only league, that are being targeted in the upcoming draft. And therefore, whether your league bases its minor league draft picks on final standings, reverse final standings or an alternative format whereby the highest ranking team not to receive a monetary prize gets first pick and so on and so forth, owners need to start thinking about where they want to end up in the standings and determine where they need to finish to at least have a crack at this finite pool of talent.

So, who is out there that is truly worth targeting?

Catcher

Kyle Schwarber was the highest selected catcher at fourth overall by the Cubs, but it is pretty much universally questioned whether or not he can actually stay there given a sub-par glove and his size (240 pounds), which doesn’t scream stay behind the plate. What also is not questioned is a well-disciplined approach with plus-power potential that given a move to first base, makes the lefty an interesting target for NL-only leaguers, which makes him a legitimate top pick for dynasty leaguers.

If you are looking for a catcher who has a better chance to stay behind the plate, Max Pentecost might be the guy for you. Pentecost does not have Schwarber’s power, but he is a better all-around athlete who has a more contact/line-drive oriented theme that projects to low to mid-teens power with a strong average. Catchers, given their general overall snail-like foot speed, often fail to hit for average despite the tools to do so (see Matt Wieters, etc.), but Schwarber actually is at least an average, if not above average runner and might be a .280s or better hitter at the MLB level. That all said, he’s probably not a first-round pick in most minor league drafts as he projects to be more of a solid starter than a star player. The Blue Jays, having dealt away Travis D’Arnaud, have a thin system at catcher, and Pentecost has a chance to move up the ranks quickly as a result.

First Base

The Rays selected Casey Gillaspie 20th overall as their first baseman of the future. The Rays have used a mix of stop-gap type players at the position over the years, so as with Pentecost, Gillaspie is someone who could be promoted quickly depending on how quickly he acclimates to pro ball. The younger brother of Conor Gillaspie, the switch-hitting Casey has retained the familial trait of good plate discipline. As an aside, when drafted highly by the Giants in the first round of the 2008 draft, I thought Conor had a legitimate chance to be the next Bill Mueller. It seems Conor, like Mueller, is something of a late bloomer and hitting that stride, though the power has evaporated. Getting back to Casey, he is larger than his older brother and has more typical first baseman’s raw power, projecting to be at least a 20-HR, if not 25-HR per season threat. Starting next year in Double-A is not out of the question.

A.J. Reed is an interesting selection. The second first baseman taken in the draft has 25-plus homer potential and has a good approach, though not the bat speed of Gillaspie. As a second round pick, he’ll probably drop past the first round in most keeper league drafts, but as a fairly polished college hitter, he should move quickly through the Astros system, where his most likely destination is DH given his rather significant defensive limitations and the presence of Jon Singleton at first.

Ordinarily, I might instantly dismiss right-handed hitting first basemen from consideration, but Sam Travis defies that axiom as a highly disciplined hitter who walks more often than he strikes out and possesses high-teens to low-twenties home run power, a combination that could potentially be more valuable than the more highly drafted Reed.

Second Base
Second base is rarely a spot to find premium fantasy picks, as the best second basemen are typically shortstops that didn’t have the arm or range to stay there, so we’ll pass on the position for this draft.

Third Base
The A’s used their first-round pick to take the first third baseman in the draft at 25th overall in Cal State-Fullerton’s Matt Chapman. Off the top of my head, this is the first draft in recent memory where the top college hitter was not a third baseman or at the very least one was not selected among the first ten picks. That said, Chapman profiles well as a defender for the position given a good range and a true plus-fastball that also saw him used as a reliever in college. Chapman profiles as a mid to high-teens hitter for power and has the requisite plate discipline that one in the past would often see from an Oakland draft pick. He is more for consideration in the mid to late rounds of your minor league draft and does not project as a true impact talent.

Taylor Sparks, a second-round pick, compares well to Chapman and may be a plus defender in his own right. Sparks may have greater raw power than Chapman, but he has a more suspect approach and higher strikeout rates that could catch up to him in the Minors.

Next week, we will have more 2014 amateur draft targets for your consideration in 2015.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 June 2014 01:17
 
Eastern League Update, Part III PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 17 June 2014 00:00

This week, we continue our focus on the Eastern League with a look at the Orioles' Bowie Baysox and the Nationals' Harrisburg Senators.

Bowie Baysox (Orioles)
The Baysox have a fairly interesting collection of hitting and pitching prospects to sift through starting with lefty Eduardo Rodriguez. The 21-year-old still has mid-to-upper end of the rotation potential but has struggled in his second stay in Double-A with his strikeout rates dropping over a full point and posting an ERA approaching 6.00 despite showing adequate control and strikeout skills. A knee injury that had him out for much of the early season may be to blame, as much of the damage occured earlier in the season before he went on the disabled list, but he has been up and down since his return with three solid starts alongside two poor outings. Patience is necessary, but the lefty is doing no favors for his trade value at the moment. The one saving grace is a .333 BABIP and 57% left-on-base rate that both suggest things can only get better, at least from the regression and skills displayed department.

Rotation-mate Tim Berry has fared quite a bit better and has done well to translate his skills from A+ to Double-A, showing very similar strikeout and control skills as he did at the lower level. The biggest question for Berry is how his stuff – a low nineties fastball, plus curve and average change-up, will work at the upper levels and whether or not he will continue to get swings and misses. Berry is still worthy of note to fantasy players, but it is hard to foresee him beyond a fourth starter type at the moment.

21-year-old Zach Davies came into the season as something of a sleeper, but the results have been both intriguing and frustrating. Intriguing on the basis of a 10.5 K/9 and frustrating on the part of collapsed command, significant trouble with the long-ball and generally being hit hard enough to post a 6.26 ERA. Given that Davies is not a hard thrower and has always been someone who has to rely upon having pinpoint command to succeed, his struggles are not good news.

I was hoping for big things from Michael Ohlman this season, particularly with Matt Wieters in his walk year. Now, Wieters is out for the season and Ohlman has done little to push his way up the minor league ladder, batting .236/.321/.330. Ohlman, at 6’5”, has always been a bat-first catcher who would eventually need to move out from behind the plate. Last year, he displayed good power, hit for average and showed on-base skills, and given his age, it would not have been surprising to see him split the year between Double-A and Triple-A. Unfortunately, that no longer seems to be the case and barring a turnaround, Ohlman could find himself relegated to organizational player status.

One of the bright spots for Bowie has been Christian Walker, who has produced a .306/.365/.543 line with 17 homers and really has little left to prove at this level. The main knock on Walker has been the lack of punch in his bat, making him a fringe starting first base option with mid to high-teens power potential, albeit with fair on base skills and a good ability to make consistent contact. Well, thus far, Walker is answering those critics strongly and it will be worth tracking him as he heads up the Minors to see if he can maintain these new gains. It should be noted, however, that the power output has cost him some of his contact making skills as Walker has posted his highest strikeout rate of the year, so carrying the .300 batting average beyond Double-A may no longer be possible. Keep an eye on him to see if the righty can somehow keep hitting for power and regain his previous contact making skills.

Harrisburg Senators (Nationals)
A.J. Cole leads an impressive pack of prospects in the Harrisburg rotation. After 12 starts, Cole has a 7.1 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9 to go along with a 2.56 ERA. While a concern, the two-plus point drop-off in K/9 is not a great surprise as Cole’s change-up and curve have some potential but are far from finished offerings, particularly the curve, which is more of a slurve. Cole’s command of his dominant fastball remains elite, and that along with his change-up will be enough to get him to the Majors on the path as a potential middle of the rotation candidate, at the very least.

It is nice to see Matt Skole still at third base. In the pre-season, it was thought he would have to move to first base given the depth in the organization at the position, but the former Yellow Jacket has stayed at the hot corner for now, but given a lack of speed despite having the arm and hands, he will still ultimately move over to first base. Skole’s value lies in his bat, and unfortunately, the hitter from 2012 who hit 27 homers and walked 21% of the time has yet to show up. Things have started to turn around with back-to-back games with homers last week and three multi-hit games, so he may be finally adjusting to the higher level of the Minors.

Michael Taylor is producing at an exciting level with 16 homers, 17 steals and a .331/.416/.595 line all while walking 12% of the time. The righty is a five-tool player with 20-30 or better home run potential, but his strikeout rate is a huge red flag as he has swung and missed over 30% of the time and has posted a .451 batting average on balls in play to accomplish that impressive stat line. The speed will continue to help him hit for average, but it is difficult to see him as much more than a .260 to 270s hitter at the MLB level barring an adjustment to his swing and selectivity.

Sammy Solis made three starts at three different levels only to find himself on the disabled list with elbow discomfort. Solis has previously undergone Tommy John surgery, so the Nationals will be very cautious with the lefty. Given a fastball that reaches the upper nineties and a solid change, health permitting, Solis has a shot at a big league career as a middle reliever.

Next week: A break from the Eastern League and a look at the amateur draft crop for keeper and dynasty leaguers.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 June 2014 09:11
 
Eastern League Update Part II PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 00:00

This week, we will be spending some more quality time in the Eastern League, delving into the status of the Giants and Yankees top Double-A prospects.

Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants)
Richmond is home to three of the Giants’ top minor league hurlers. 21-year-old Kyle Crick has gone more than five innings this season only once due to hitting his pitch count far too early in games. Crick has struggled with his control his entire pro career and is now operating with a 9.7 K/9 and 7.5 BB/9, but continues to be highly rated due to two definite plus pitches and potential for a third. The Giants have every intention of leaving him in the rotation for now, and keep in mind that he is young for his level of play, so repeating Double-A in 2015 is not out of the question. All that said, I think his projection screams “move to the pen” where he could possibly be dominant.

While Crick is young for Double-A, he is not the youngest on the roster. Adalberto Mejia won’t turn 21 until later this month but has had quite a bit more success than his teammate. The 6’3” lefty continues to show excellent command (2.0 BB/9) and mixes an average to plus fastball and plus changeup well. Mejia is a more sure thing, as pitchers go, than Crick, but he profiles more as a #3 or #4 type starter. For now, he has a 7-plus K/9 in Double-A, but let's see how well he transitions to the upper levels with a mediocre breaking ball at best.

Ty Blach is the most refined product of this trio, unsurprising for being the 23-year-old college veteran of the group. The lefty is a strike zone pounder with four effective, but non-wipeout level pitches. While Blach has a 1.6 BB/9 this year, he has been very hittable (4.9 K/9) and his 2.77 ERA is not sustainable given a near 80% left on base rate and .239 batting average on balls in play. Before the season, I might have considered him a fourth starter, but now he’s looking more like a borderline fifth, barring him missing more bats.

Reliever Derek Law has 12 saves as Richmond’s closer and has struck out more than a batter per inning, but something seems off. Law has been generally known for his sterling command of two average to plus pitches and has struck out batters at high rates at each level of play. This year, his BB/9 is up almost five points (yes it’s a 5.2 from a 0.4 in A+ last season) and his strikeout rates are down from a 15.8 to a 9.3. Law is still performing, but he’ll need to show more to stay on the potential late-inning reliever/possible closer path.

Trenton Thunder (Yankees)
Yankee fans, prepare to get slightly depressed.

Only recently, Manny Banuelos was the best prospect, let alone the best pitching prospect, in the Yankees farm system. Now 23 years of age, Banuelos is trying to reclaim that title as he pitches his way back from Tommy John surgery. The lefty made quick work of the Florida State League over five starts and has since made five appearances for Trenton with mixed results and much reduced control over the strike zone, with a 5-plus BB/9 and 7.8 K/9 over the extremely small 11.2 inning sample size. Most of the damage can be traced to a single 0.2 inning outing in which he walked three batters. Banuelos’ velocity and command are slowly returning and he is worth watching, but his ascent back up the ladder will be slow and his ultimate role may be relief. At the very least, his stint in A+ ball with a sub 2.0 BB/9 was very encouraging for someone recovering from TJS.

21-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez is continuing his climb to the Majors but is quite likely to do so one level at a time. After hitting just .250 in Double-A last year, he continues to hit just .257 and is getting on base less often than last season with an overall .257/.322/.436 slash. The righty’s consistent .280 batting average on balls in play is very indicative of his foot speed/role as a catcher and despite his ability to make fairly consistent contact and having high teens or quite possibly even better power potential, it’s unlikely he’ll be a candidate to hit for a high average going forward. The Yankees have little reason to rush him with Brian McCann signed long-term and it’s quite possible that Sanchez could end up trade bait. At the very least, Sanchez’s plus defensive skills will carry him to the Majors.

Top outfield prospect Slade Heathcott is currently repeating Double-A and has missed much of the early season due to his recovery from off-season knee surgery. So far, it looks like the lefty is right where he should be, batting under .200 while striking out 36% of the time in his first 36 plate appearances. When healthy, Heathcott profiles as a capable centerfielder/right fielder with mid-teens home run potential and 20-plus stolen base skills. First, he has to prove he can actually make contact and produce, something he has not done since his stint in A+ ball in 2012.

Unfortunately, the dismal news continues for the Yankees with Mason Williams. A gifted athlete who has shown much improved plate discipline this season, he has struggled in Double-A with a .203/.301/.276 line. Williams is actually making contact close to 90% of the time and walking even more often, but he has not shown any punch at the plate whatsoever. Again, this is another good tools prospect who has not shown anything of significance since 2012, when he was in A-ball.

 Next week - more Double-A action.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 June 2014 01:39
 
Eastern League Update Part I PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 27 May 2014 00:00

Triple-A is now most often thought of as the reserve roster for the Majors, mostly filled with veterans and a scattering of prospects here and there. Having visited there for the last few weeks, we move on to Double-A, where many of the top upper level prospects reside. Several players a season skip over Triple-A to the Majors, often to their detriment, particularly for starting pitchers who do not have a fully developed third pitch.

Akron RubberDucks (Indians)
Francisco Lindor is a good candidate to be one of those prospects jumped straight to the Majors. A future gold glove candidate, Lindor got off to a slow start in the Eastern League, but he has since found surer footing. I’ve often compared Lindor to former Mariner and Indian shortstop Omar Vizquel and that still stands. An elite defender, Vizquel had above average speed, gap power and superior on-base/contact making skills. Much the same can be said about Lindor, though he has had more difficulty making consistent contact at Double-A. The switch-hitter now has a .288/.368/.418 line and is a potential mid to late-season call-up, depending on whether the Indians opt to move free agent to be Asdrubal Cabrera. Keep in mind that it took Vizquel awhile to adjust to major league pitching, and the same patience is advised with Lindor. The glove will come first, the bat later.

Tyler Naquin continues to disappoint at the plate. The lefty continues to display solid centerfield skills and good base running speed, but also rather mediocre on-base skills and especially sub-par contact skills for someone with high single-digit home run power. Naquin has a .286/.345/.396 line and is likely to remain in Double-A all season long. I think he is on the fourth outfielder path to the Majors.

Cody Anderson’s lack of a wipeout pitch has shown up in Double-A. The big righty has produced 4.35 ERA and has seen his K/9 drop over a full point. The 23-year-old is looking more and more like a back end of the rotation starter.

As with Anderson, Ronny Rodriguez’s shortcomings are being exposed at the Double-A level. Rodriguez is a quality athlete with upper teens power potential and double-digit speed. Rodriguez makes fairly consistent contact but really has not met a pitch he doesn’t like to swing at and is now batting .184/.223/.316. Given a .198 BABIP and his tools, some upwards correction is likely, but again we may now be talking more borderline starter or utility player long-term.

Atloona Curve (Pirates)
After making 12 starts with a good deal of success in Double-A last year, I expected Nick Kingham to advance to Triple-A this year. Instead, the Pirates returned the righty to Double-A and the results thus far have been far worse than his first trial. When on, Kingham owns a good curveball and solid change, but he has increasingly been unable to throw his pitches for strikes and has also seen his K/9 drop almost two points since last season, which has me wondering if this is truly a 100% healthy pitcher.

Former pitcher Stetson Allie’s transition to hitting after crushing the ball in low-ball in 2013 has not gone well. The righty has done little to alter his approach, walking 13% of the time, but continues to fan over a quarter of the time and has now hit under .230 at both A+ and Double-A ball. Allie is starting to look more and more like a right-handed platoon player.

In a continuing and unfortunate theme of Pirate prospects failing to dominate Double-A, Alen Hanson joins that contingent. Hanson, who profiles best as a second baseman, has low to mid-teens pop and 30-plus stolen base tools. Despite good to very good across the board tools, like Ronny Rodriguez, Hanson has a suspect plate approach, making contact 82 to 83 percent of the time while walking fewer than 6% of the time. His .268/.313/.443 line might be the 21-year-old's MLB ceiling, which would be valuable as a 10 to 15 HR, 25-plus stolen base second baseman, though not as valuable in terms of real or sim-league play.

Binghamton Mets (Mets)
The Mets are one of the rare organizations that have more talent at Triple-A than Double-A. Kevin Plawecki is really the one player of note. A 6’2” catcher, Plawecki is an average defender most noted for an advanced, contact-oriented plate approach and gap power. That continues for now as the righty has made contact 88% of the time while producing  a .331/.367/.500 line. He’s most likely in line for a 2015 promotion after some time in Triple-A. While the 23-year-old has produced, he is drawing fewer walks this season and has not tapped into quite as much power as originally expected of him. It will be interesting to see if he can be more than a right-handed Josh Thole and more like A.J. Pierzynski (as a hitter) long-term.

If Jack Leathersich could ever make the transition from thrower to pitcher, the Mets might have something. The 5’11" lefty throws into the mid-nineties and misses bats regulary (16.4 K/9 in Double-A) but fails to control his breaking ball or changeup with any regularlty, walking more than five batters per nine innings. He’s a longshot as a late-inning reliever, but power-lefties are always worthy of note.

Next week, we continue our trek through the Eastern League.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 May 2014 02:57
 
Baez Blips PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 20 May 2014 00:00

This week, we make our last few stops on the Pacific Coast League train before delving down to Double-A.

Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Rockies)
Colorado Springs does not house many of the Rockies' top talents with the exception of Chad Bettis. 2009 first-round pick Tyler Matzek is also there and is still young at 23 years old. The lefty has had great difficulty developing into a pitcher and while his current 4.5 BB/9 is the lowest it's ever been, it still needs work. On the good side, Matzek has reversed the strikeout decline trend and is close to striking out a batter per inning again. While he remains in the rotation, his future screams reliever.

Between promotions in 2013 and this year, Bettis has exhausted his rookie eligibility. A 2010 second-round pick, Bettis has a more effective and deeper repertoire than Matzek which he can throw for strikes. Despite that, given a series of injuries, the Rockies have opted to move the righty to a relief role full-time this season where he is averaging 93 mph on the fastball. Despite a good fastball and plus-changeup to go along with good command, Bettis has not translated his strikeout rates to the upper minors or majors and will need to do so in order to be considered a potential setup man or closer at the MLB level.

Iowa Cubs (Cubs)
While Colorado Springs may be somewhat disappointing to prospect hunters, Iowa is a treasure trove. Javier Baez leads the way, but after being considered for a possible opening day spot, the Cubs wisely sent him to Triple-A. The PCL has not been all that kind to Baez, who is currently batting .162 and striking out at a 36 percent clip. Baez hit 37 homers last year, but did so with sub-par plate discipline. It's finally caught up to him and perhaps at 21 years of age, a demotion back to Double-A should be made where he'd be playing with others closer to his age. I have been and continue to remain very skeptical regarding his long-term viability as an everyday major leaguer barring a massive improvement in his plate approach.

Former eighth-round pick Kyle Hendricks received a taste of Triple-A late last season and is following up strongly in 2014, posting a 9.7 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. Hendricks is not overpowering, but he has excellent command of his fastball and changeup and has an overall deep enough arsenal to be considered as a potential #4 hurler.

22-year-old Arismendy Alcantara is making a solid, albeit unspectacular transition to Triple-A. The toolsy second baseman has plus speed and nine stolen bases to show for it as well as some extra base power which should translate to 25 to 30 doubles and 10 to 15 homers at the MLB level. Alcantara’s ability to make contact has faded as he has progressed and this season, his quarter of the time strikeout rate is the highest of his career, so do not expect an easy transition to the Majors upon his promotion later this year.

Reno Aces (Diamondbacks)
In Reno, Zeke Spruill has been splitting his time between the bullpen and the rotation and has an overall 7.0 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 alongside an ugly 5.72 ERA thanks in part to a .333 batting average on balls in play and 20% HR/FB rate. Spruill has the requisite skills, including a sinker, solid change, and plus slider to be a starter, but despite being able to throw them for strikes, his ability to command them in Triple-A and the Majors has been in question. The former Brave now looks like a possible fifth starter/swingman long reliever.

Nick Ahmed came along with Spruill from the Braves in the Justin Upton deal and after two very mediocre seasons that almost wiped him off the prospect chart, the second-round pick has started to perform at the plate. Ahmed has always had plus speed and 30-plus stolen base potential as well as above average shortstop defensive skills, so he will make the Majors at least as a utility man regardless of his bat. This year, Ahmed has posted a .301/.382/.361 line, showing off his good bat speed and plate discipline for effect. The former second-round pick, however, has little in the way of punch and projects as a low-single digits home run hitter at the MLB level. It is very possible that he, similarly to the recently retired Chris Getz, could be outmatched at the MLB level from a tools standpoint and not due to any lack of baseball skills on his part.

Many are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Archie Bradley to join the D-Backs rotation, but he has been sidelined due to what is termed a minor flexor strain. The 21-year-old right-hander’s pure stuff is upper end of the rotation quality with two to three plus potential pitches. Bradley struggled with his control at Double-A last year and has continued to do so this season to the point where his ERA has been over 5.00. Barring good health and a significant turnaround, do not expect to see Bradley before September.

Salt Lake Bees (Angels)
The Angels recently promoted C.J. Cron to the Majors, leaving Taylor Lindsey as the only solid prospect in Salt Lake City. Despite showing a very disciplined and contact-oriented approach, Lindsey has managed a weak .244/.330/.372 slash along with four homers and four steals. Despite the slow start, he still comps pretty well with Adam Kennedy, minus the speed, and should develop into an average regular, given the opportunity.

Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners)
Chris Taylor was behind both Nick Franklin and Brad Miller on the team’s long-term depth charts, but he may force the issue given the struggles of the former two players. The 23-year-old is currently lighting things up with a .372/.414/.593 line thanks in large part to an ungodly .440 batting average on balls in play. Because of that hot start, the former fifth-round pick could see some MLB action in the near future. His hot start aside, Taylor has low to mid single digits home run power and modest 15 to 20 stolen base speed. He’s fair with the glove and can handle short better than Franklin, but does not have Miller’s arm and is best suited to second base. Long term, he still looks best suited to a utility role.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 May 2014 08:14
 
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