The Prospector

Top Ten Catching Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 10 February 2015 00:00
Draft prep season is in full swing. With that in mind, we'll switch gears towards identifying prospects to help your squads in 2015 as well as the future. For the next several weeks, I will look at the top ten prospects at each position from a fantasy standpoint for both 2015 impact as well as a long term perspective. Players can logically end up in both lists, but the 2015 impact lists will focus on opportunity first and then talent whereas the long term lists will focus fully on fantasy value.

Eligibility note: With the exception of those players coming from overseas straight to the Majors, all other players who retain their rookie status heading into 2015 will be considered for this series.

We kick things off with a look at the top catching prospects around the Majors.

Top Ten Catching Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Blake Swihart – BOS – The Red Sox backstop tops both lists given the likelihood of his mid-season promotion and unquestionable talent. From an opportunity perspective, the Red Sox have placed few obstacles in his way with clear stop-gap catchers in front of him at the MLB level. A well above average defender who will stay behind the plate long-term, the switch-hitter has mid to upper teens and possible 20+ long-term HR power and a disciplined, line-drive hitting approach from both sides of the plate that will allow him to hit for average. Swihart has a skill set that should allow him to adapt to the Majors fairly quickly, but never underestimate the transition of defense trumping offense for catchers, which goes for everyone in this article.

2. Christian Bethancourt – ATL – The 23-year-old righty is penciled in as the Braves’ opening day catcher. That opportunity alone justifies his high placement on this list. A plus defender, Bethancourt has solid raw offensive tools, complete with a quick bat that lets him make consistent contact and low to mid-teens HR power. The only reason I rank him behind Swihart, who could spend considerable time in Triple-A to begin the season, is his overly aggressive approach. After an initial go around the league, Bethancourt’s tendency to swing at everything will be adjusted to and even though he makes contact, he’ll be unlikely to get a pitch to hit until he can prove he won’t swing at balls out of the zone. There is .270+ 10 to 15 HR potential here, but it may take time.

3. Kevin Plawecki – NYM – If the stars align his favor, Plawecki could be one of the most valuable rookie catchers. His opportunity to play, however, rests on the health and production of Travis d’Arnaud, neither of which is assured given a history of freak injuries and struggles at the MLB level thus far. A 2013 supplemental first round pick, Plawecki is a disciplined, line-drive oriented contact hitter who because of that approach, could transition to the Majors quite easily. His defense generally gets good grades too and it’s possible that in time, he could tap into his power and be more of a mid-teens HR threat. Plawecki does not have a high ceiling like other players in the long-term impact list, but because of his skills, he's a fairly low-risk player who could enjoy a long and productive career. He will begin 2015 in Triple-A, awaiting his opportunity.

4. Andrew Susac – SF – Susac is MLB ready yet has nowhere to play because he is behind Buster Posey on the Giants’ depth chart. While he does not have Posey’s upside, Susac has what it takes to start in his own right with mid-teens power and a patient/line-drive oriented approach that could make him a .260 to .270s hitter. Until such time as Posey switches positions, gets injured, dealt, or walks as a free agent (or a similar transaction for Susac), the realization of Susac’s potential will remain unattained. Susac could be starting for quite a few other clubs right now if the Giants were to deal him given the development of both his offensive and plus-defensive game.

5. J.T. Realmuto – MIA – Jarrod Saltalamacchia is in the second year of a three-year $21M deal with the Marlins and will receive a chance to “make good” before Realmuto gets his chance. Like Plawecki, Realmuto is not a high ceiling player, but rather a good all-around player with an acceptable level of risk, and he actually has a very similar game, though perhaps a better arm if not as much upside in the power department. The righty has a polished, contact-oriented approach with doubles power and high single-digits HR power. The 23-year-old is a possible .270+, 8 to 12 HR threat long-term. It will take another down season from Salty before he gets his chance, however.

6. James McCann – DET – Add James McCann to the list of very capable, modest ceiling backstops in this article. The 24-year-old will battle Bryan Holaday for the back-up job behind Alex Avila and should be on your radar as a possible injury replacement. McCann is a plus all around defender and not a slouch with the bat, making contact with a quick bat and possessing high single digits to low-teens HR power.

7. Roberto Perez – CLE – Perez is not an offensive dynamo, but he is an above average receiver with improving offensive skills, and most importantly, he’ll start 2015 as Yan Gomes’s back-up. Perez both walks and strikes out at fairly high rates, so while he may not hit for average, the righty could be useful in OBP leagues. 2014 was also an offensive breakout season as he tapped into more power and may now project as a high single-digits to mid-teens HR threat. The 26-year-old could get an extended look if Gomes goes down, but figure he is more likely in line for 180 to 230 plate appearances.

8. Peter O’Brien – ARI – The Diamondbacks have been purposefully not all that active in the pursuit of catching help and have a fairly wide open starting catcher situation as we enter spring training. Enter power-hitting Peter O’Brien. The 24-year-old has no experience above Double-A, but what he does have is legitimate 30-plus HR power. Defensively, he is passable, though not a standout by any means and may be best suited for a corner position long term. His real shortcoming is in his plate approach as an all or nothing slugger who strikes out over a quarter of the time. But unlike most all or nothing sluggers, he fails to walk frequently, doing so just over 5% of the time in Double-A last year. He could win the job and hit 15 to 20 home runs, but his best comparison right now is probably J.P. Arencibia in terms of approach and batting average/on-base potential. At a minimum, O’Brien will begin 2015 in Triple-A with a chance at a mid-season call-up.

9. Gary Sanchez – NYY – As in San Francisco, the Yankees have a tough roster to crack with Brian McCann signed long term and Austin Romine as a capable back-up who is a low-end starter in his own right. Top prospect Gary Sanchez, meanwhile, will advance to Triple-A. The 22-year-old has come a long way from his early days, cutting back significantly on his strikeout rates and increasing his walks while not sacrificing much in the power department. He still projects as a high teens to mid-twenties HR hitter who could hit in the .270 to .280 range. While he has impressive physical tools, Sanchez isn’t the best receiver, but he still should stay there long term. Given McCann’s contract and Sanchez’s occasional “make-up” issues, it would not be surprising at all to see him dealt and almost instantly become the starter for another organization. He could be ready as soon as mid-season, but what opportunity is there remains to be seen.

10. Austin Hedges – SD – The Padres moved Yasmani Grandal and are going with Derek Norris, who is coming off a breakout season with Oakland, as their everyday catcher. Norris may be difficult to beat out now that he has fully translated those minor league plate discipline skills to the Majors, but Austin Hedges will be difficult to ignore given his well above average defensive skills. The righty should move up to Triple-A and despite his struggles last season, he makes a fair amount of contact and has high single-digits to low-teens pop that could return him to the .270s level in the upper Minors and Majors.

Honorable Mention/Call-up candidates: Tucker Barnhart (CIN), John Hicks (SEA), Tom Murphy (COL), Elias Diaz (PIT), Francisco Pena (KC), Max Stassi (HOU), Jett Bandy (LAA), Carlos Perez (LAA), Kevan Smith (CHW), Austin Barnes (MIA)

Top Ten Catching Prospects for Long Term Fantasy Impact

1. Blake Swihart – BOS - See Above.

2. Kyle Schwarber – CHC – The fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft is certainly on the fast track to the Majors. However, the Cubs’ acquisition of Miguel Montero and his heavy contract does not mean that “fast track” is the equivalent of “rush”. That said, Schwarber played at three minor league levels in 2014 and will open Double-A ball with a chance at a late season call-up. At each level, the righty showed an ability to hit for power (25+ HR long-term) while maintaining a patient approach, but also a short swing, and he did not have to sell for power. The biggest question is Schwarber’s defensive game, which is considered adequate at best. Given perhaps the best offensive ceiling of any catcher on this list, it is possible that the Cubs will want to minimize his chance for injury and maximize his offensive skills by moving him to the outfield long term.

3. Jorge Alfaro – TEX – Aflaro’s ceiling as a power hitter makes him a must for the long-term catching list. The 21-year-old, however, carries quite a bit of risk with him too as an aggressive right-handed hitter who has had a tendency to strike out over a quarter of the time in the past. Defensively, he has a good arm, but his defensive game remains quite raw and it’s possible he could eventually move off the position. The Ranger has a quick bat and is still quite young, so the selectivity and contact issues could resolve themselves. But overall, he carries quite a bit of risk.

4. Francisco Mejia – CLE – Mejia is almost all projection right now. The 19-year-old is a strong armed receiver with a quick bat from either side of the plate that could generate plus power in time. His all-around game is raw, both offensively and defensively, so it remains to be seen what the Indians have here. It should say something that he was instantly installed as his team’s cleanup hitter. 2015 will be his first full season of professional ball. He's only for those who have the really long term on their radar.

5. Kevin Plawecki – NYM – See Above.

6. Andrew Susac – SF – See Above.

7. J.T. Realmuto – MIA- See Above.

8. Justin O’Conner – TB – The Rays brought back John Jaso, but it’s possible he may be utilized as a DH and instead minor league veteran, Rene Rivera, may see the bulk of the catching duties. While that scenario will likely play out the entire season, 22-year-old Justin O’Conner will be seeing more time in Double-A and could challenge for the starting job in 2016. The Rays love his throwing arm and while still a work in progress on defense, he has a good enough defensive game to stay at catcher long-term. Offensively, the former first round pick has plus power and could be a regular in the 20-25 HR range at his peak. Right now, he is getting by with that power and a quick bat, but he’ll find it tougher to hit for average at the upper level given an aggressive low-walk, high strikeout approach that could make him a sub .240s hitter long-term.

9. Reese McGuire – PIT - McGuire has a rather similar ceiling to Plawecki, Susac and Realmuto, and even McCann for that matter. The former first round pick has a very quick bat, makes good contact and has an above average defensive game. While his HR ceiling is likely in the low teens, he makes it up for it with slightly above average speed and could steal double digit bags while his knees hold up.

10. Chance Sisco – BAL – Sisco is not a highly experienced defender, only picking up the position just before he was drafted, but he has the physical tools to stay behind the plate. What makes him interesting is that the second rounder already has a very advanced hitting approach. He makes plenty of line-drive contact, generating doubles, and should in time add more power. The 19-year-old left-hander will move up to A+ ball for 2015 after producing a .340/.406/.448 line.

Honorable Mention: Arvicent Perez (DET), Chase Vallot (KC), Luis Torrens (NYY), Carson Kelly (STL)

Next week, we check out the first base crop!
Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 February 2015 22:16
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Pirates PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 03 February 2015 00:00

The Pirates finished in second place in 2014 and have a solid offensive core and rotation that should have them poised to be a contender this upcoming season. The organization promoted a few prominent prospects including Gregory Polanco, who claimed the starting right field job and remains in that role heading into 2015. While Polanco translated his plate approach and speed well to the Majors, Polanco owners should be advised that the power may be slow in coming given his propensity for high groundball rates. Still, he remains a .280+ 15 HR/30 SB threat, which could be worth a $15 to $20 bid.

Moving onto the players still in the Minors:

Stock Rising: Josh Bell made some noise, showing power and a quick bat, making contact 88% of the time at both A+ and Double-A, hitting for average and slugging nine home runs. Given past knee issues and subpar route running, the Pirates have used Bell at first base at times and that may be his long-term destination, particularly if he can tap into the power projected of him. At the moment, he profiles as a mid to high teens HR hitter who can hit for average and has displayed solid on-base skills. The translation, or lack thereof, of power to Double-A and higher will determine whether he remains on the path to becoming a MLB-level starter.

Tyler Glasnow continues to dominate at all levels. The 6’7” hurler can have mechanical and control issues (4+ BB/9), but he's an extremely hard thrower with a curve and changeup that both have average to plus potential. As a 20-year-old, he posted an 11.4 K/9 in A+ ball and will be young for his league once again when he pitches in Double-A this season. Glasnow has upper end of the rotation potential, but unsurprisingly given size and age, still is very much a work in progress. Expect him to spend most of 2015 in Double-A and at least half of 2016 in Triple-A before reaching the Majors.

Stephen Tarpley enjoyed a quality season in rookie ball after being selected in the third round of the 2013 amateur draft. The lefty throws fairly hard, and has good command of multiple pitches. At 21 years of age, it would not be surprising to see him jump over A-ball to A+ ball as a true test for a veteran college hurler.

Steady as it Goes: Reese McGuire, a 2013 first round draft pick, played in his first full season of professional ball as a 19-year-old in A-ball and held his own fairly well, making contact roughly 90% of the time and displaying above average catch and throw skills. His above average speed skills, especially for a catcher, still showed up with seven stolen bases and three triples, though his overall power development definitely remains a work in progress. Right now, he is looking like a high single-digit to low-teens HR threat, but there is plenty of time for him to still physically mature. McGuire is an interesting prospect but not a high-end fantasy target at the moment.

Alen Hanson remains an attractive prospect, particularly for fantasy players given low-teens power potential and 20-plus stolen base skills, but his development as a player has leveled off. In fact, he has become more aggressive at the plate as he has progressed through the system and has become less of an asset at getting on base. Granted, his aggressiveness has also resulted in making more contact, but it has not resulted in a higher batting average. Hanson will advance to Triple-A to begin 2015 and could be up by mid-season, depending on whether Jordy Mercer can or cannot hang onto the shortstop job. Defensively, Hanson is best suited to second base, but Neil Walker is entrenched at the position.

Austin Meadows missed most of 2014 due to hamstring issues, but he remains a solid long-term prospect. Despite getting only 165 plate appearances at A-ball, Meadows made an impression with his bat speed, developing power and all-around above average tools. At just 19 years of age, his power has not yet developed, but lurking in there is a potential 20-20 player with a precocious approach at the plate that could make him a fantasy force. For now, he’ll head back to A-ball with an ETA of late 2017 to mid-2018.

Like Meadows, international signee Harold Ramirez missed significant playing time due to health issues with his hamstring. He does not have Meadows' ceiling but is a good contact hitter with plus speed and mid to high-single digits power. The 5’10” righty probably projects best as a fourth outfielder but may have enough talent/skill to make it as a low-end left fielder.

Nick Kingham should see the Majors this season. The 6’5” right-hander is most notable for his ability to pound the zone and get ahead in counts. He pitched at two levels in 2014 and his K/9 dropped to the high 6’s, a clear indication that he really lacks a true wipeout pitch. That said, none of Kingham’s pitches are poor. He just has a ceiling that is as a third starter at best and more likely, a fourth. He could end up in the Pirates’ rotation for a significant period of his career but is unlikely to ever be the ace.

The expectation was Jameson Taillon would claim a full-time job along with Gregory Polanco this season. Unfortunately, Tommy John Surgery got in his way. Taillon still rates amongst the Pirates’ best prospects despite the setback. When healthy, he has a plus fastball/curveball combination that generates strikeouts aplenty. The hope was that he would work more on his changeup in 2014 and become a more complete pitcher. That mission will be pushed to this year. While he still has upper end of the rotation or top reliever potential, do not expect him to see significant duty, if any, in the Majors this year.

Stock Falling: Barrett Barnes has barely been on the field since being selected in the supplemental first round of the 2012 amateur draft and he really has not shown much since his draft year, when he showed some pop, speed, and solid plate discipline. Those skills and tools are still lurking somewhere, but unless he can get healthy and start applying them, he may run out of time.

2014 Draft Picks of Note: With the 24th overall pick, the Pirates selected Cole Tucker. The high schooler adapted quickly to pro-ball, showing an advanced approach and good speed. Long term, he has the glove to stick at short and enough tools to be a 10 to 15 HR/SB threat. The Pirates may promote him to full-season ball to begin 2015 at just 18 years of age.

Third round pick Jordan Luplow did very well in rookie ball as an advanced college hitter with a quick bat, good plate approach, and at least teens power and stolen base speed. He’s a possible candidate for right field with the team long-term, though he needs to prove himself at a higher level of competition. A two-level jump to A+ ball might do him some good.

Next week, more NL Central action.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 08:54
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Indians PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 20 January 2015 00:00

The Indians are coming off a fairly successful season, though they fell a few games shy of making the playoffs. Young players like Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall both emerged to claim starting jobs while Trevor Bauer was finally able to translate his minor league success to the Majors. Both Kyle Crockett and C.C. Lee were successful additions to the MLB pen too. Meanwhile sinkerballer T.J. House took advantage of his opportunity and made 18 starts for the Tribe. The rotation is deep enough, however, that he may have to pitch out of the pen or Triple-A to begin 2015.

Stock Rising: Francisco Mejia oozes tools. The 19-year-old catcher has the mobility and arm to stay behind the plate long term as a possible elite defender, but more impressively the switch-hitter has tremendous bat speed and plus power potential. His approach, and quite frankly most of his game, is rather raw at the moment, but that is not all that surprising considering his age and experience. Mejia profiles as a .280+, 20+ HR threat in the Majors. While that is a very attractive projection that will make him targeted by many on draft day, keep in mind that his ETA is probably at least three years away and that the rawness of his game and position of choice make him a potential high risk pick too.

Erik Gonzalez’s stock took a small step upwards thanks to hitting .357 at Double-A. However, he accomplished that feat with no real change in skills. Gonzalez is a solid defensive player but has marginal power, average to slightly above average speed and an aggressive approach at the plate. He profiles as a utility player and could move to Triple-A this year.

Lonnie Chisenhall better keep hitting because Giovanny Urshela was already knocking on the door at Triple-A last season. Urshela is a very good contact hitter with low to mid-teens power potential. His glove and throwing arm at third base are his best attributes. Most likely, he’ll end up as Triple-A roster filler or a bench player, but there is enough here to warrant fantasy owners' attention.

2012 second-round pick Mitch Brown got back on the prospect radar with his first full season of pro-ball. In 27 starts he posted a 8+ K/9 and more impressively, improved his mechanics and control to produce a 3.2 BB/9. Brown has middle to lower end of the rotation potential but has a good fastball and a curveball that seems to get mixed reports from being anywhere from the best curveball in the Indians’ system to a sub-par pitch. He’ll move up to A+ ball this year.

Steady as it Goes: While Francisco Lindor’s 2014 season was somewhat disappointing, it is way too early to throw him on the “stock falling” list. He hit Double-A and Triple-A ball at just 20 years of age, two and three years younger than usually expected compared to the competition. Lindor typically controls the strike zone and makes consistent contact but has only modest pop. Where he excels is his glove, his 20 to 30 stolen base per season potential and ability to hit for average, where he could be anywhere from a .270 to .290s hitter.

Clint Frazier, the 5th overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft, moved up to full season A-ball as a 19-year-old and held his own, showing some power, speed, and some patience at the plate. Long term, Frazier has 20-20 potential, but he’ll need to greatly cut down on that 30% strikeout rate to come anywhere close to fulfilling his potential. As it was, he hit just .266 in the Midwest league and right now might be a .220 to .240s hitter if he continues to swing and miss this often.

2012 first-round pick Tyler Naquin was enjoying a very solid year in Double-A before fracturing his hand and missing the rest of the season. Though he has a good pedigree and can handle centerfield, Naquin has no real standout tool in the power or speed departments and swings and misses too often for someone with limited power potential. He's looking like a fourth outfielder despite his .313/.371/.424 slash. Naquin could move up to Triple-A this year.

The one knock on Jesus Aguilar prior to heading into 2014 was whether or not he had enough power to be a first baseman. At Double-A in 499 plate appearances, he tied his career high of 19 homers while making contact more than 80% of the time and showing great selectivity, walking 13% of the time for a .304/.395/.511 line. Despite this, the Indians never gave the now 24-year-old an extended chance to claim either the DH or 1B job in 2014, despite their difficulties in receiving production from those positions. The Indians head into 2015 with Carlos Santana at 1B and Nick Swisher at DH, so it will have to take an injury or lack of production for Aguilar to even get another chance. He’ll begin 2015 in Triple-A, biding his time.

The Indians acquired James Ramsey in a deadline deal and promoted him to Triple-A immediately last summer. The 25-year-old does not have a high tools ceiling, but he has modest mid to high teens power, plays solid defense and will take a walk now and then. Ramsey projects best as a platoon player or better than typical fourth outfielder.

Stock Falling: Cody Anderson is a big guy who throws consistently hard and gets good movement on his fastball but nevertheless struggled at Double-A as he lacks an average pitch beyond that plus fastball. Yes, he has a slider and changeup that have some potential, but it is clear from his 5.8 K/9 at Double-A that those pitches have a lot of catching up to do with his fastball. He’ll move up to Triple-A as a starter, but it is hard to see him in that role long term.

2014 Draft Picks of Note: Bobby Bradley was a third-round selection and hit short-season ball running with eight homers and a .361/.426/.652 slash. A high school first baseman with 30-plus HR potential, Bradley is so far showing a quick bat and a pretty good approach for a power hitter. He is unlikely to hit the Majors until 2018 or 2019 along with Francisco Mejia.

Bradley Zimmer cruised through rookie-ball and made it to full-season ball in his first summer of being a pro. A college veteran, Zimmer has a solid foundation of skills with a patient, line-drive approach for now, but with solid average to plus tools across the board. While Zimmer’s power upside is a bit of a question mark, he does profile as a teens HR/SB threat who can hit for average and consistently get on base. There is 20-20 or better potential here, but that remains to be seen. Zimmer could move up to A+ ball and end up in Double-A before the season ends if all goes well.

Supplemental first-round pick Mike Papi moved almost immediately to full-season ball but struggled, batting just .178, and may have been on the passive side with a 16% walk rate. In college, he showed a fairly similar disciplined approach with average to plus power potential and the contact skills to hit for average as well. For now, Papi is expected to play in the outfield where he has a plus arm but only average mobility. He’ll likely move up to A+ ball this coming year. Papi is too skilled and talented a hitter to struggle at this low a level again, so expect better things in 2015.

With the 31st overall pick, the Indians selected prep pitcher Justus Sheffield. The 18-year-old is a long ways away from the Majors and will get his first extended look in 2015. Though only 5’10”, the lefty throws into the low to mid-nineties and already has a plus slider and is working to develop his changeup and curve, which could be average or better pitches long term. Right now, as with all pitchers who are so young, Sheffield is high risk, but has only a moderately high ceiling as a #2 or #3 type starter.

Yu-Cheng Chang was not a draft selection but rather an international free agent signing out of Korea. Probably a third baseman long term, the 19-year-old is already showing a very selective approach while making good, hard contact, and showing some power with six home runs in 181 plate appearances. He’ll move up to full-season A-ball in 2015 and it will be interesting to see what he can do at that level. He's a possible MLB starting 3B, though a shortstop for now.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 02:09
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Twins PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 30 December 2014 00:06

Frustrating injuries seemed to be the recurring theme for an organization with some of the game’s better prospects. Both Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano looked like potential mid-season call-ups prior to their injuries and now must prove they are healthy, can stay healthy and have their games back in respective order.

The Twins did at least receive some support with Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas claiming starting jobs at shortstop and DH. Josmil Pinto was slated to take over for Joe Mauer, but he struggled early and was demoted and is now behind Kurt Suzuki, at least temporarily, on the depth charts.

The Twins know they have a fair amount of talent that is getting close to MLB ready, but they are trying to remain competitive at the same time by signing veterans like Torii Hunter, Ervin Santana and Tim Stauffer, biding time for their potential roster upgrades from their farm system.

Stock Rising: Jose Berrios, a 2012 supplemental first rounder, has to be at the top of the Twins’ long-term pitching depth charts after crushing A+ and holding his own at Double-A at 20 years of age. Berrios has already shown the ability to pound the strike zone as well as a deep repertoire full of potential plus pitches, including his changeup. Berrios has a shot at advancing to Triple-A as soon as the start of this year with a chance at a mid or late-season call-up. He’s a possible #2 or #3 starter.

Jorge Polanco received a cup of coffee with the big club in 2014, but will spend most of 2015 in Triple-A, looking to unseat Danny Santana or Brian Dozier from their starting jobs. Polanco is a disciplined hitter, making frequent contact with gap power, profiling as a doubles hitter with a ceiling of high single digits home runs. He can play second or short effectively and could develop into a prototypical number two hitter with a chance to be similar to another Polanco, Placido.

19-year-old Lewis Thorpe pitched his way to full season A-ball, posting a 10.1 K/9 over 16 starts before spraining his UCL. Fortunately, the youngster does not require Tommy John surgery, yet. The lefty already has three pitches but is likely on a slow path to the Majors given his youth and inexperience.

Steady as it Goes: Alex Meyer, a 2011 first round pick, never got the call in 2014. The righty made 27 starts in an up and down Triple-A season, posting a 10.6 K/9, but also a 4.4 BB/9. The lanky righty has top of the rotation stuff but struggles with mechanics given his 6’9” frame. Meyer is regularly in the upper nineties and can hit triple digits, has a plus slider and a very workable changeup. The righty has an outside chance of winning a rotation spot this spring and if not, he will certainly be on the short list for a call-up. Regardless of whether he remains a starter or is converted to late-inning relief, Meyer should certainly be in your plans in AL-only formats.

Miguel Sano, perhaps the finest pure power hitting prospect in the game, missed all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. It has long been thought Sano’s ultimate destination will be first base. At 21 years of age, he’s already over 235 pounds and though naturally athletic enough for his present spot at the hot corner, he simply doesn’t have the necessary range. Defense aside, the righty is a patient, power hitter, drawing a lot of walks but also whiffing frequently. He's unlikely to ever hit for much average, settling in the .240 to .260 range with plus power. Sano is most likely to return to Double-A or perhaps even A+ ball to get the rust off and he wouldn’t even be old for that league.

2012 first round pick Byron Buxton is a bit ahead of Sano in his recovery from injuries, seeing some action in the Minors and the Arizona Fall League. Prior to 2014, Buxton was the consensus top prospect in the game, displaying well above average speed, centerfielder skills, plus power potential and a very advanced approach. All of this remains true for Buxton, who is even younger than Sano, turning 21 earlier in December. Double-A is likely his destination for the beginning of 2015 with a modest chance of a big league call-up.

Trevor May made nine starts with the Twins in 2014, getting hit fairly hard, albeit over a small sample. With a strong spring, he still has a chance to make the opening day rotation. The former Philly lacks a standout pitch, having issues with command and allowing a good deal of fly balls. However, his four-pitch arsenal are all at least average quality and he has been able to get swings and misses at every level of play. He still could be a number four pitcher long-term.

Adam Walker has hit 25 or more homers in both of his full seasons of professional ball and will seek to add a third in Double-A in 2015. At 23, he was about a year too old for his league and the same will be true this year, but the power is legitimate. As with most right-handed power hitters, Walker needs to cut down on the strikeouts quite a bit to be considered as more than an organizational player, let alone a possible platoon or MLB starter.

Stock Falling: Kohl Stewart is listed here but with the caveat he has a better chance than many others to reverse course. The 2013 first round pick dealt with fatigue, pitching through his first full professional season, along with shoulder issues sapping his velocity and reducing his K/9. Stewart, who turned 20 after the season ended, is very much a work in progress with middle of the rotation upside.

After showing a good deal of early promise, Eddie Rosario may have stalled a bit this season. Now 23, Rosario had trouble adjusting to Double-A pitching, showing an aggressive approach, for the first time struggling to make contact. When on his game, Rosario is a possible .280+/8-10 HR/10-15 SB candidate. Right now, he may end up being passed over in favor of other prospects.

Max Kepler, 21, like Stewart and even Rosario, has a chance to turn things around. The 6’4” lefty has plus tools, projecting to hit for power while continuing to show good bat speed and contact-making skills with a fair amount of selectivity. If the power emerges, there could be a player worth getting excited about here as a .280+/20+ HR threat.

Rule-5 Selection: The Twins took a chance on Braves farmhand, J.R. Graham. Graham has spent three seasons at Double-A, watching his K/9 drop a point a season as a starter, and a change in role may be in order. He’s often been seen as a reliever with a heavy fastball and plus slider, giving him a fair chance to stick with the Twins.

2014 Draft Picks of Note: The Twins drafted Michael Cederoth in the third round of the 2014 draft. The righty is a project as a very hard- throwing starter with a good curve but mediocre at best mechanics and command of his secondary stuff. The former San Diego State pitcher could begin 2015 in A+ ball where the Twins will see if he can stick in the rotation. If not, he has enough of an arm to be a force in the pen.

The Twins were targeting hard-throwing college guys in this draft. Their second round pick, Nick Burdi, was a college closer who can reach triple-digits to go along with an impressive slider. The Twins advanced him as far as A+ ball. If he stays a reliever; he could absolutely fly through the system as many college closers often do. There is some talk, given a decent changeup, that they may want Burdi to try his hand in the rotation.

The Twins did not stop there with college relievers, drafting Jake Reed, who made it as far as the AFL and could begin 2015 in Double-A. Reed compiled nine saves at three minor league stops and projects as a possible right-handed specialist in the Majors.

First round pick, brother of Dee and son of Tom, Nick Gordon had a good debut in rookie ball. Like his brother, Nick is expected to stick at shortstop. Unlike Dee, he does not profile as a speedster. He's larger with more punch in his bat and could be at least a 15-15 threat down the road. Next year he’ll get his first taste of full-season ball.

Next week, we check out the Cleveland Indians.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 December 2014 19:58
2015 Prospect Outlook: The White Sox PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 23 December 2014 00:03

After finishing 16 games under .500, the White Sox have been one of the busiest teams this off-season, both on the free agent and trade fronts. This is not surprising considering the youth and rawness of most of the Sox’s prospects who are not nearly ready to make a contribution at the MLB level.

Stock Rising: Carlos Rodon was selected third overall in this past year’s amateur draft and has not disappointed. The lefty throws in the mid-nineties and features a wicked slider and plus changeup. While Rodon could still use a bit more polish in terms of commanding his excellent stuff, there is talk that he could advance to the Majors as early as this spring in much the same capacity as former first round draft pick, Chris Sale, who spent his first year in the bigs as a reliever before moving to the rotation permanently the following season. Rodon should be near the top of your draft lists in AL keeper league formats.

Francellis Montas made excellent strides in 2014. The 21-year-old pitched at two levels and showed he is more than just a flamethrower and in fact has multiple weapons in both a slider and changeup that he can throw for strikes (2.0 BB/9). The righty will move up to Double-A where the quality of his changeup will be tested. Prior to this year, most saw Montas, who can attain triple digits on his fastball, as a potential reliever, and while that may still be the outcome, there is now potential for more than that.

Steady as it Goes: Infielder Carlos Sanchez received a long look last September after spending 2013 and 2014 at Triple-A. Still just 22 years of age, Sanchez has nothing left to prove in the Minors and is penciled in to be the Sox’s opening day second baseman. While Sanchez may indeed have little left to prove in the Minors, his ceiling is fairly low and there are holes in his game, including having marginal power and an aggressive plate approach. Long term, he profiles best as a utility guy. On the positive side, Sanchez does bring decent speed to the table and should crack double digits in steals if given enough plate appearances.

Carlos Sanchez owners will need to keep an eye on Micah Johnson, the former ninth round pick also saw time at Triple-A in 2014. Despite battling some hamstring problems, the speedy lefty displayed some gap power and his exceptional speed when on the field. More interestingly, Johnson has also shown a more balanced approach, drawing walks and understanding his role as a potential leadoff hitter. If he can stay healthy, Johnson is easily a 30-plus stolen base candidate, if not better.

At just 19 years of age, it is way too early to dismiss Trey Michalczewski, but it is also hard to get very excited about him. A switch-hitter with a good, quick swing, Michalczewski is rather raw in his plate approach, swinging and missing far too often. On the positive side, the former seventh round draft pick is not overly aggressive at the plate, plays good enough defense to stay at third long-term and is already displaying gap power that projects to develop into double digits, if not twenty-plus HR power long-term. He’ll see more action at A+ ball in 2015. For the time being, there are too many “ifs” here to recommend him for most keeper leagues.

2013 first round pick Tim Anderson burst onto the scene with 24 steals in 301 plate appearances, and he showed excellent all around tools that could make him a double digits HR/30-plus SB threat long-term. While his tools are exciting, the righty’s approach showed itself to be extremely raw, despite hitting .297/.323/.472 with a near 2.0% walk rate and strikeout rate close to 23%. He’ll be young for Double-A and barring a change in approach, it is likely to expect him to struggle a bit at this level. I was tempted to place him into the Stock Falling category but decided that was a bit premature given his success in A+ ball and the fact that he really hasn’t come close to failing at any level of play yet. It is best to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Continuing a theme, fellow 2013 first round pick Courtney Hawkins spent a second season in A+ ball, though for a 20-year-old this is far from a bad thing considering he was still young for the league. Hawkins actually improved his selectivity, cutting down on his strikeouts by 10% while still showing the type of power that could make him a 30 home run threat down the road. Still, the righty strikes out close to 30% of the time and further work is required. He’ll move up to Double-A, though a third tour of duty at A+ ball really would not be a bad idea either. Hawkins is walking a fine line between potential everyday right fielder and Triple-A roster filler.

Tyler Danish is well thought of, but he is just not a high ceiling guy. He generates groundballs with his plus sinker, changes speeds exceptionally well, and throws strikes and commands the ball well. These are impressive feats for any pitcher, let alone a 20-year-old in A+ ball. The righty will move up to Double-A and he will be one of the younger pitchers in the league, but do not be surprised to see the K/9 drop a point.

Spencer Adams enjoyed an impressive Rookie-League debut after being drafted from a Georgia high school this spring with 59 K’s in 42 innings alongside four walks. The righty is already throwing in the mid-nineties and has at the very least a fastball/slider combo that could make him a high leverage reliever long-term. As with many young pitchers coming out of high school, the art of changing speeds is something to be learned. He will first turn 19 this coming spring.

The White Sox pursued Michael Ynoa as a key part of their Jeff Samardzija deal and were happy to get him. The former top A’s prospect moved to relief last season after several seasons of dealing with injuries. The 6’7” 23-year-old is still a power pitcher with multiple plus pitches and it showed in his 12.6 K/9 at A+ ball last year. Control is still very much an issue, but Ynoa may indeed have a future as a late-inning reliever and is worth watching.

Stock Falling: Trayce Thompson turned in a clone of his 2013 campaign, showing solid tools with double digit home run output and eclipsing the 20-steal mark while walking about 10% of the time. The skills to be a legitimate centerfielder with plus offensive tools are there, but his swing has more holes in it than Swiss cheese and remains uncorrected. He’ll get his chance at Triple-A this season but has a lot to prove and may be on the bench/platoon player path to the Majors.

Erik Johnson looked like a sleeper coming into 2014. He pitched well in September of 2013 and won the #4 spot in the rotation this spring only to get absolutely rocked out of the rotation. He continued to get hit hard in Triple-A and ended up on the DL due to shoulder fatigue. Considering his K/9 dropped over three points since 2013, the shoulder injury is not all that surprising. A return to the White Sox rotation, given full health, is not out of the question, but he’ll have to earn it back through his Triple-A performance in 2015. Keep in mind that Johnson does have a solid four-pitch selection and multiple swing and miss pitches, so there is reason to keep him on your radar as a possible free agent pickup.

Chris Beck was drafted in the second round with the idea that he’d develop into a middle of the rotation starter. Instead, multiple reports have indicated his stuff has declined in terms of both velocity and movement since his college days. The righty made it to Triple-A in 2014 and managed a 7.6 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, but he now looks more like a #4 starter at best and may have difficulty getting strikeouts in the Majors.

Next week, we continue our look around the AL Central.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 December 2014 09:25
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