The September 1st call-up period is now over and while several good players may yet get promoted, it's time to turn our attention towards next year, and what better way to do that than to check out the Arizona Fall League (AFL). Many of the prospects who will have an impact on the 2016 season will be there, so we’ll kick this short series off with a look at some of the more interesting players on the Salt River Rafters.*
*Note – AFL rosters are still subject to change and I will note any deletions or additions in future articles.
22-year-old Abel De Los Santos is a former Rangers farmhand who has spent most of the 2015 season in Double-A for the Nationals where he has posted an 8.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 all in relief. The right-hander received a two-game promotion to the Majors back in July and was hit hard in his brief 1.2 innings of work. He projects as a middle reliever or possible setup man, throwing a decent fastball/slider combo.
Kyle Freeland was the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft but has not seen significant action since being taken by the Rockies, and while he has not suffered any serious injuries, the lefty has had some issues with respect to both his shoulder and elbow. He has now managed to make his way to A+ ball, showing his plus command and ability to throw strikes with consistency. When healthy, he has a definite plus fastball/slider combo, and the makings of a middle of the rotation starter. The Arizona Fall League was made for players like him who were unable to get the full amount of work they needed to accomplish and this should help him to make up for at least a little lost time. Freeland, if all goes well, should begin 2016 in Double-A.
Cuban defector Yoan Lopez will also be making up for lost time, throwing fewer than 60 innings thus far for the Diamondbacks. He was shut down in July due to tightness in his elbow and is expected to fully recover. Like Freeland, Lopez has very good upside with multiple plus pitches and has a future as either a starter or reliever. His 4.5 BB/9 in Double-A, however, indicates his control, provided it was not entirely induced by his elbow troubles, has some room for improvement.
Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom is an advanced hitter who walks more often than he strikes out and owns a good glove. However, despite his strike zone judgment, he’s hit just .248 and disappointed in the power department after impressing last year with nine home runs and 28 doubles in A-ball. At 24 years of age, he is likely on the journeyman path but could still make it as an MLB back-up.
Tom Murphy is the team’s second interesting catcher. The SUNY Buffalo grad has somewhat bounced back from a disappointing and injury-marred 2014 by combining on 20 home runs at two minor league levels and making it all the way to Triple-A. A solid defensive catcher, Murphy’s major flaw is his aggressiveness at the plate, limiting his upside despite his power skills. It is hard to see him as much more than a .230s to .240s hitter in the Majors.
Speedster Wilmer Difo spent a brief amount of time in the Majors earlier this season, hitting a mere .125. Coming into the season, he was known as a fairly solid contact hitter with modest plate discipline, plus speed and modest power. Much of that is still true except that Difo became tremendously aggressive at the plate, walking 3% of the time while making contact at a rate of just 80%. Yes, he stole 25 bases and somehow hit .279, but a .313 OBP from a sub-par power hitter is not going to cut it. Difo hit 14 home runs in 2014 and just two this season but may still have an inkling of power given his 21 doubles. The 23-year-old may now be on the utility infielder/pinch-runner path barring a massive turnaround in 2016. He’ll spend most of it in Triple-A.
20-year-old Rowdy Tellez was a late-round pick signed to earlier round money, and after missing much of 2014, he has bounced back in 2015 with 14 home runs between A and A+ ball. The lefty is limited to first base defensively, but at least he has shown a good batting eye and a quick bat, making contact over 80% of the time while still showing good power potential. Tellez profiles as a mid-twenties or better home run hitter. He could move up to Double-A and be one of the younger players there in 2016.
If you want to see some tools when you go to the AFL, check out Gabriel Guerrero. The Diamondbacks acquired him from the Mariners in exchange for Mark Trumbo this season. The 21-year-old has 20-20 or better potential but is an aggressive right-handed hitter with a penchant for swinging and missing too frequently. He’s simply very raw and very young. The Diamondbacks will probably have him repeat Double-A next year and will hope Vlad’s nephew starts to put things together.
My fellow former Yellowjacket, Daniel Palka, has provided plenty of lumber his last two seasons with 22 and 29 home runs respectively at A and A+ ball for the Diamondbacks. The 23-year-old has a patient, power-oriented approach, but he has seen his strikeout rates rise towards high-warning levels with his promotion at 28%. Given his age, Palka is definitely in need of a greater challenge and the AFL should supply it. The true test, however, will be Double-A.
Stay tuned next week as we take a look at another AFL roster.
For the prospect hunter, the keeper leaguer looking to grab and stash in particular, September 1st is almost a holiday. To commemorate this “holiday”, we’ll take a look at some of the key call-ups to target at your next transaction deadline, and for those in re-draft leagues, we’ll note whether any of these guys will actually do more than ride the pine as they acclimate to the major league lifestyle.
Dalton Pompey was a favorite of many heading into 2015 for his speed and on-base skills, but he simply wasn’t ready for prime time. Instead, he has spent time at Double-A and Triple-A, showing many of the skills that got him to the Majors in the first place, which include plus speed, gap power, and an ability to make contact. Pompey dominated Double-A, batting over .350 and while he didn’t show as much power, his plate discipline was exemplary in Triple-A, walking 12% of the time and striking out 14% while stealing 16 bases and 23 overall for the season. He may not play much down the stretch for the Jays, but he was inserted as a pinch runner in his first game back and stole two bases. He could make the postseason roster on that basis and should once again be in competition for a starting job next spring.
Moving on to a former Jay, we come to Miguel Castro. Castro was briefly a closer with the Jays this year. Like Pompey, he was moved to the Majors too rapidly, having only pitched as high as A+ ball in 2014. The Rockies used him exclusively as a reliever after acquiring him and he’ll likely remain in that role for the rest of the year, pitching sparingly. At 20 years of age, the Rockies would be wise, given that he has the makings of at least two plus MLB pitches and a possible average slider, to move him back to the rotation at the Double-A level. He is young enough to still have middle of the rotation potential, or he could be a late inning reliever in time.
Zach Davies is not a high-end arm, but the Brewers acquired him nevertheless from the Orioles at the trade deadline and are inserting him into the rotation, making him worthy of note for NL-only keeper leaguers. The 22-year-old has an excellent changeup and uses that as his primary weapon while he spots an average fastball with good sink and a curve. There’s enough here to be a possible #3 to #4 starter.
I’ve written of Hector Olivera several times this season already, but I’d be remiss not to include him in this article considering this rookie is a 30-year-old, MLB ready hitter who can make contact over 90% of the time and who is moving immediately into the Braves everyday lineup at third base. Olivera’s bat profiles better for second base long-term as a possible 15-15 HR/SB hitter who can also hit for average and has flashed the discipline to hit near the top of the lineup. Olivera has yet to show what he can do at any one level for an extended period, so we don’t really have a good sample. However, his role makes him a must grab and his experience in International Play suggests a quick transition to the Majors is quite possible.
The Cubs are going to give young slugger, Javier Baez, another chance, inserting him back at second base over Starlin Castro, at least for now. After racking up prolific strikeout rates in the Minors and Majors in 2014, Baez found himself banished to the Minors this year. The results have been mostly positive, as he has pounded 13 homers to go along with 17 steals, a .324 batting average and a slugging percentage over .500 in addition to cutting his strikeout rate. However, Baez still strikes out close to a quarter of the time and has done nothing to reign in his aggressiveness. Expect streakiness. At 22 years of age, he still has time to keep working on his game, though he could be on the Quad-A player path. If you’re in for this year and need some pop, you might get lucky and catch a hot streak.
Steven Matz had an impressive debut before missing over a month of the season due to a torn lat muscle. Fortunately, it was not an arm or elbow injury and all systems are go for Matz, who will rejoin the rotation on Saturday. The Mets will be utilizing a 6-man rotation for the remainder of the season, which could be a good thing considering the innings piling up on all those young arms. Matz has upper end of the rotation potential, featuring a mid-nineties fastball, plus curve, and a solid changeup, all of which he can throw consistently for strikes. He’s likely owned in just about every NL-only keeper league but could be an interesting pick-up in some mixed league formats.
Royals right-hander Miguel Almonte is now at his third level of play this season after beginning the year in Double-A, where he made 17 starts. The 22-year-old has an interesting arsenal, blessed with a mid to upper nineties fastball and a plus changeup. The righty’s command of his pitches, however, leaves something to be desired as does the development of his curve, which is still very much a work in progress. Still, for those looking for an upside/keeper play, Almonte is worth a chance in AL-only formats.
And last, but not least, we come to Terrance Gore. The 5’7” 24-year-old outfielder has excellent speed, swiping 39 bags in Double-A this season, and has been caught just twice. Other than his speed and stolen base success, Gore leaves a lot to be desired as he is devoid of power and is far from a contact hitter, striking out close to 20% of the time in Double-A. He’ll be used as a pinch runner and it should be noted that he stole five bases in 11 games with the Royals late last season. If you’re looking for an output like that in AL-only formats and have an open roster spot, he’s your guy.
Here at the prospector, we’re mostly concerned with the long-term, so with that in mind, we’ll continue our look at some of the prospects acquired at the trade deadline and their value as future fantasy players.
The Braves traded prized prospect Jose Peraza to the Dodgers but received a MLB ready second baseman in return, Cuban defector Hector Olivera. I reviewed the then Dodgers farmhand just a few short weeks ago and my opinion remains unchanged. While he may not have Peraza's ceiling in the speed department or be 21 years of age, Olivera, when he comes up in the next week or two, will at least be a solid defensive second baseman. He also offers more power, a batting eye that should help the Braves overall OBP game, and bat speed that will let him hit for average too. Olivera looks like a possible .280s+ guy with modest power/speed skills who could be worth at least a mid-teens bid in NL leagues next season.
Zack Bird (from Dodgers) – Bird is a 21-year-old righty who has perhaps been pushed up the minor league ladder a bit too aggressively. A very hard thrower, the former 9th round pick has potential as a mid to upper end of the rotation starter or as a late-inning reliever but really has not refined any of his secondary pitches to the point where they are consistent weapons. I suspect he’ll end up in relief. If he can improve his curve, which flashes plus potential on occasion, he could be a name worth remembering.
John Gant (from Mets) – Gant was a fairly late-round pick and had been climbing up through the Mets system one level at a time. He’s done very well in the lower minors, putting up spectacular strikeout rates and showing above average command, but most of his stuff with the exception of his changeup rates at fringe to average at best, making him an unlikely fantasy target.
Rob Whalen (from Mets) – Whalen was the better prospect in the deal and could develop into a big league starter. The righty has a plus sinker/curveball combination and a workable changeup and slider. After a good year in A-ball in 2014, his follow-up in A+ has not been as strong, however, his strikeout rate dropping below 7.0 and his walk rate jumping a full point to 3.7. At 21 years of age, expect him to finish the year in A+ and to spend all of 2016 in Double-A with an ETA of late 2017 or 2018.
Rob Kaminsky (from Cardinals) – The trade of veteran Brandon Moss yielded a young lefty with some upside and some question marks. Kaminsky was a first-round pick for his pitchability and mid-nineties fastball that he commanded well. While he can still reach that level on occasion, he works frequently in the lower nineties and despite having a plus curve and solid change, is starting to look more like a middle to back end of the rotation starter. There is MLB ability here, but much of it rests on Kaminsky’s ability to increase his separation between his fastball and change and curve in velocity. At 20 years of age, he has plenty of time to work on it.
Eric Stamets (from Angels) – The declining David Murphy did not net a player of tremendous upside, but it did bring back a player who should at least give the Indians some potential bench depth. Stamets is a well above average defensive shortstop who could make the Majors on that attribute alone. The righty makes frequent contact but lacks the power or speed to do much of anything with it, hitting just .248/.306/.360 for the Angels.
Dustin Ackley brought back two fairly fringy prospects in Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez from the Yankees. Flores, a 23-year-old outfielder, gets on base, makes good contact and has hit .286/.377/.417 in Triple-A, but he has only gap power and is not much of a runner. It is difficult to see him beyond a Quad-A player, though his bat and glove might be decent off the bench. Ramirez, 25, has excellent raw stuff, posting a 10.2 K/9 as a reliever in Triple-A. Once considered a top prospect as a starter, his inability to stay healthy and to throw his multiple plus pitches for strikes with any consistency made him expendable. The Mariners are keeping him in the bullpen and he can still be filed under “you never know” as a potential late-blooming, late-inning reliever.
Rob Rasmussen (from Blue Jays) – The 26-year-old Rasmussen has now been a member of five different organizations and has just 14 innings of MLB service to his credit, so it speaks a lot to the desirability of his left-handed arm and his effectiveness. The move to the pen full-time in 2014 has helped his career quite a bit as he has added velocity to all of his pitches and now may have a future as a left-handed relief specialist, though he still needs to improve his command of said secondary pitches. The Mariners have opted to throw him right into things in middle relief where he’ll likely stay.
Nick Wells (from Blue Jays) – Wells is a highly projectable left-hander. The 6’5” starter has done well in rookie ball, posting an 8.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9, working with a plus fastball that is steadily gaining velocity as he fills out and a curve with plus potential. At just 19 years of age, Wells will need to stay healthy and develop a changeup before we get too excited, but he is one to track particularly once he starts at full-season ball in 2016.
Jacob Brentz (from Blue Jays) – The Mariners did well to acquire projectable arms and Brentz is no exception. Like Wells, he too is a lefty, but this 20-year-old already touches the mid to upper nineties and throws much harder with regularity. His secondary stuff has potential but is a project, as evidenced by his 6.6 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in rookie ball this season.
Until next week, happy prospecting.
Before the prospect-happy call-up barrage that is September 1st, this week we update the progress of some key members of the 2015 Amateur Draft class.
The first overall pick, Dansby Swanson, has seen some action in the Northwest League (short season ball). While he has not dominated the level (a trifling 41 at-bats mind you), Swanson has shown a disciplined approach and power, slugging over .500. It would not be surprising to see his name on an AFL roster when those rosters are announced, likely later this week or next, followed by a promotion to A+ ball to begin 2016.
The Astros, meanwhile, have been more aggressive with second overall pick Alex Bregman. The shortstop started at full-season A-ball and was quickly promoted thereafter to A+, making a start at Double-A in 2016 a real possibility and a major league promotion a possibility too, though he’s blocked defensively at his natural position. So far, the righty has been a disciplined, contact-oriented line drive hitter with modest power and above average speed (13 stolen bases in less than 250 plate appearances). He projects as a solid regular, not necessarily a star.
Dillon Tate, the top college pitcher in the draft, has pitched sparingly (5 innings over four games) albeit at least at two different minor league levels. The 21-year-old has battled some dead arm issues and may simply need time off after heavy usage during his final college season. When healthy, the Ranger can touch the upper nineties, works regularly in the mid-nineties and has a deep repertoire that gives him upper end of the rotation potential.
Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay was pushed directly to A+ by the Twins, entirely in relief. The 21-year-old has excelled, posting an 11.3 K/9. A college closer, Jay has multiple plus pitches and has MLB closer potential, but it’s also possible the Twins may try to extend him next year to have him work on his repertoire and see if he can indeed build up the stamina to be a starter. If he remains in relief, he could easily be the first player from this draft class to reach the Majors.
Andrew Benintendi is probably my favorite hitter in the draft and so far my enthusiasm is still rather high. The Red Sox have played him at two levels and thus far he’s shown plenty of power (nine home runs in 178 plate appearances, stolen eight bases and made contact over 90% of the time at each level of play while walking quite a bit more frequently (16% walk rate in A- ball). At just 5’10”, it will be interesting to see just how much of that power translates to the upper levels long-term. For now, he is on track to being a potential centerfielder and a 20-20 candidate who could possibly also be a .300 hitter if he maintains his approach and can handle upper level pitching. Expect him to move up to A+ ball next year.
Like most college first round picks, Carson Fulmer is on the fast track and is already in full-season A-ball where he has struck out over a batter per inning pitched. Like Tyler Jay, Fulmer has worked as both a reliever and as a starter in college. The Vanderbilt grad so far has been used exclusively as a starter by the White Sox. Fulmer does more than just throw hard. He has a good curve and change speeds with some success too. All that said, given the White Sox history of breaking in starters as relievers in the Majors, it might make sense in the case of Fulmer given his history and his power fastball/curve, which could make him a dominant reliever as well as a starter.
The Cubs selected outfielder Ian Happ 9th overall. He signed quickly and has received over 100 plate appearances at two different levels of play, giving us a good idea of his game. Happ is a patient switch-hitter with mid-teens or better home run power (eight home runs) and above average speed (ten stolen bases). There was some talk of using Happ at second base, but the Cubs have used him in the outfield for now. It remains to be seen whether or not Happ will be able to hit for average as he has struck out over 20% of the time and nearly 25% of the time with his promotion to A-ball. But the overall combo of skills and tools do make him a rather attractive target for fantasy purposes.
Cornelius Randolph is awesome not just because his name is. The 10th overall pick out of a Georgia high school by the Phillies, Randolph’s pro career is off to a good start. So far, he has slashed .297/.422/.439 and has been showing an excellent feel for the strike zone, making contact 84% of the time while walking 15% of the time. While his long term position is unsettled, he projects to add a good deal of power to his frame. Randolph should advance to full season A-ball in 2016 and could be a .290+ 20 HR threat down the road.
Giants first baseman Chris Shaw showed he could hit with a wood bat in the Cape Cod League and has continued to rip the ball since being drafted 31st overall. The Boston College alum is at least a 70 on the raw power scale and has seven home runs in rookie ball. Thus far, he’s been adept at being patient and making contact, slashing .291/.381/.500. Shaw is definitely in need of a greater challenge and it's surprising that the Giants haven’t promoted him to full-season ball to get a better test. That test will come though as a jump to A+ ball would seem logical for 2016.
Refreshed after a nice vacation camping in the Catskills, we come to the MLB trade deadline and all of the prospect swapping that comes with it! So we will now concentrate on some of the prospects acquired, starting this week with the Athletics and Brewers.
Aaron Brooks (from Royals) – A bit long in the tooth to be a prospect at 25 years of age, this former 9th round pick certainly knows how to throw strikes, continuously posting a sub 2.0 BB/9. He profiles mostly as a pitch to contact, ground-ball inducing innings eater. He could be a passable fourth or fifth starter long-term but is likely to sport a 4.00 ERA in the process. The A’s have thrown him to the fire and he is a legitimate AL-only FAAB target this week.
Sean Manaea (from Royals) – Manaea, a former 2013 supplemental first-round pick, has battled a number of minor strains and tweaks that have cost him development time. The lefty has two to three plus pitches and is finally healthy. He dominated A+ ball and is currently in Double-A with the A’s. The knock on him, beyond his seemingly constant array of minor injuries, has been his mechanics and control, walking 4.0 batters per nine in 2014. He profiles as a number three or four starter or possibly a late-inning lefty reliever with an ETA of 2016.
Casey Meisner (from Mets) – The 20-year-old Meisner was known as a projectable right-hander with a fastball that was gaining velocity. The 6’7”, 190 pound pitcher can now touch the mid-nineties with regularity and his once sub-par to mediocre secondary offerings are starting to improve, especially his curve which now has plus potential. Mechanical issues beyond those of simply being 6’7” may be an issue long-term, particularly as it relates to his long-term health and durability, but they have not affected his command. Meisner has managed a 3.6 BB/9 in five A+ starts and a 2.3 BB//9 over 12 A-ball starts. If his changeup develops, he could range from a #2 to #4 starter, but his ETA is likely 2017 or 2018.
Jacob Nottingham (from Astros) – A former sixth-round pick, Nottingham is a 20-year-old catcher known more for his offense than his glove (14 home runs between two minor league stops this season). He’s overly aggressive at the plate and will likely have difficulty maintaining his .300 batting average at the upper levels of the Minors. His defense is now considered passable. Right now, he looks like a possible platoon player.
Daniel Mengden (from Astros) – The 22-year-old right-hander has succeeded at the lower levels of the Minors and is in need of a challenge at the Double-A level. For now, the A’s have kept him in A+ ball. He features one or two potential plus pitches, has a good feel for hitting the strike zone and may have a future as a back-end of the rotation starter.
Zach Davies – Acquired in exchange for Gerardo Parra from the Orioles, Davies is not a high-end prospect. The former 26th round pick nevertheless has performed well, translating his skills to each new level of competition. The six-foot tall right-hander has an average fastball at best, but he works with refined secondary pitches and commands all his pitches quite well, generating a fair share of swings and misses (7.2 K/9 in Triple-A) while keeping the ball on the ground close to 50% of the time over his professional career. He projects most likely as a back-end of the rotation starter and his success will be determined by his ability to translate those strikeout skills to the final level and the infield defense behind him. He’ll pitch in Triple-A now and could get a cup of coffee in the Majors in the coming weeks.
Domingo Santana – (From Astros) – The 22-year-old righty has plenty of raw power and is patient enough to wait for his pitches, but he is also known for striking out close to a third of the time in the Minors. Has fared decently against righties in the Minors but has crushed lefties to a .303/.385/.523 slash over his minor league career. He could push Khris Davis for playing time in right field as soon as later this season. His brief call-ups have not gone well to date, featuring an over-aggressive approach that doesn’t reflect what he has done in the Minors and given his youth, the righty still projects as a possible everyday, albeit low batting average, good power/OBP hitter or useful platoon player.
Brett Phillips (from Astros) – Phillips was the centerpiece and most likely the long-term replacement for Carlos Gomez. The 21-year-old is a legitimate centerfielder with 20-20 potential. Last year, he made some strides in the plate discipline department only to give them back and once again become an aggressive hitter who rarely walks, limiting his potential as a possible leadoff hitter. On the other hand, his once questioned power has come on strong with 16 homers combined between two levels. Expect him up in Milwaukee in mid to late 2016 and if all goes well, to be their 2017 opening day centerfielder.
Josh Hader (from Astros) – This trade marks Hader’s third organization since being drafted by the Orioles in 2012. It’s good to be young and left-handed, even if you are a former 19th round pick. Hader does not have a plus pitch, but he has improved his ability to throw strikes and generate strikeouts due to a deceptive delivery. He’s a starter at the moment but is probably a middle reliever in the long run.
Adrian Houser (from Astros) – Houser is a fairly hard thrower with multiple potential plus pitches, but he has not always been effective at using them. He posted a 10.0 K/9 with a 3.6 BB/9 in A+ ball this year but has struggled upon promotion to Double-A, where his K/9 has dropped three points and his command has faltered. If he can keep improving his secondary pitches and his ability to throw them for strikes, he may have back-end of the rotation or middle relief potential as soon as 2016.
Yhonathan Barrios (from Pirates) – Barrios is a converted infielder with a cannon of an arm. However, he is still very much a thrower and not a pitcher to date, yet he’s made it all the way to Triple-A. He could be up later this year or next season. Given his recent move to pitching, he has late bloomer potential if he can develop his command and a secondary pitch.
Malik Collymore (from Cardinals)- A toolsy and raw 20-year-old outfielder with good power/speed potential, Collymore is the epitome of a “project player.” The righty hit well in rookie ball last year and remains in rookie ball for a third straight season, but he is showing signs of improvement. He’ll move up to full-season ball next season.