The Prospector

The Need for Speed PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Thursday, 24 July 2014 00:00

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

Given all this, who should we be watching?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 July 2014 08:15
Young Guns for 2015 PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 08 July 2014 00:00

This week, we conclude our look at the 2014 amateur draft with a scan of some of the starting pitchers you should consider as targets for your 2015 minor league drafts.

The College Ranks
If you are looking for a pitcher who may be up in the Majors by late 2015 or 2016, this is where you should be looking. While college pitchers come with the caveat of generally having lower ceilings than some of their high school brethren and a heavier workload placed on their arm which puts them at high risk for injury, you are generally getting a more polished product with a greater likelihood of even reaching the Majors.

Probably the pitcher who best emulates what I’ve discussed is seventh overall pick Aaron Nola. The LSU ace is an extremely polished product with above average command of three pitches, including a plus fastball, plus change and improving slider. Barring injury, the righty should cruise through the Phillies system.

Getting back to upside, the White Sox selected Carlos Rodon out of NC State with the third overall pick. He’s a three-pitch guy with a plus fastball, plus-plus slider and average changeup. Rodon is a big lefty who can pitch in the mid-nineties and reach the upper nineties and looks like a potential #2 starter. While he has upside, he’s shown some inconsistencies with his command during his college career. The White Sox had yet to sign him as of the writing of this article, so that could put him on a slightly slower path to the Majors than some of the quicker signings.

Like Nola, Kyle Freeland is probably more of a #3 than a #2 starter, but the lefty is a pitcher with tremendous command of a quality sinking fastball which he has added mph to over the past year and plus slider which both have been swing and miss pitches for him in college. At the very least, Freeland could be a very effective left-handed specialist reliever at the MLB level. To the Rockies credit, they did go after someone with some ability to keep the ball on the ground.

Jeff Hoffman will be one of the exceptions to the rule of being quick to the Majors as a college pitcher. It is possible that the righty could have been the first college pitcher drafted, but he suffered a torn elbow ligament and underwent TJS back in May and probably will not make his pro debut until sometime in mid to late 2015, essentially landing him a year behind his draft class. When healthy, Hoffman is an extremely hard thrower with three potential plus pitches that could make him a #2 starter if all goes well. He’s probably more of a 2016 minor league draft target than a 2015 one for most fantasy players.

Nick Howard is a name to note as someone likely to move quickly. The 19th overall draft pick by the Reds has been both a starter and a reliever during his college career. Technically, Howard is a four-pitch pitcher, but when in relief he adds quite a bit of horsepower to his fastball, and with that, his slider makes him an impact weapon out of the pen. Potential setup man or better in the right circumstance.

Prep Picks
Heading back to high school, we come to number one overall selection Brady Aiken. The Astros drafted the left-hander, who gets high grades not only because of his stuff, but because of his excellent pitchability. Aiken already has at least two average, if not close to plus pitches in his arsenal and most importantly for any pitcher his age, actually has a changeup with average or better potential. The 6’4” pitcher will begin his career in short season ball, and at just 17 years of age, he likely has an ETA of 2019 at the very earliest.

Tyler Kolek was selected right behind Aiken by the Marlins with the number two overall pick. Kolek is rather huge and imposing at 6’5” and 260 pounds. Not surprisingly, the 18-year-old, given that frame, hits the upper nineties with regularity, but he is not simply a hard thrower, already having a good curve. It is easy to see Kolek as a potential top end of the rotation candidate given a good frame for pitches, but it will depend on the development of his change and his ability to throw his great stuff for strikes. The righty also fits the mold of late-inning reliever too if starting does not work out for him.

The 12th overall pick, by the Brewers, was Kodi Medeiros. The lefty has some of the most intriguing stuff as a high school pitcher, armed already with two to three potential plus pitches including his stuff. The reason that he slipped lower than his prep brethren, however, is his polish of said stuff. Medeiros now needs to learn how to command and throw those pitches for strikes.

So this has been just a small sampling of the pitchers taken in the 2014 amateur draft. It is likely some of the names mentioned will get injured while others from later rounds will emerge as possibly better prospects. As you can see, it will be very tempting to select the likes of Aiken and Kolek, but it will be your own patience and your league’s style of play that will determine whether or not pitchers with such long ETA times are viable options, particularly since many keeper leagues operate on a one-year on/off again go for broke/rebuild rotation.

Next week, back to the prospects who are closer to helping us out in 2014!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 07:47
Shortstops and Outfielders PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 01 July 2014 00:00

Last week, I discussed the importance of determining the top targets for minor league drafts in 2015 by looking at some of the hitters selected in this year’s amateur draft and taking that information to determine where one needs to finish in their league to ensure landing a targeted player. This season’s amateur draft crop, particularly in the middle infield and the college ranks, is not all that deep, so to even consider getting one of the few impact hitting talents available, you’ll have to get one of the first picks to acquire them.

This week, we follow up by examining the rest of the amateur draft’s hitting crop.

Two Gordon’s have made it to the Majors, so why not Nick? Nick Gordon has an interesting pedigree with Tom Gordon and Dee Gordon as father and brother respectively that warrants your attention, especially now that older brother Dee was able to translate his minor league skills to the Majors and fulfill his potential as a solid shortstop and serious speed threat. Nick is a larger version of his brother at 6’2” compared to 5’11”, but he still has above average speed (though not as good as Dee and how big a SB threat he’ll be is up in the air) and the glove to stay at shortstop. Like his brother, Nick is a good contact hitter and has good bat speed, but he provides a bit more punch at the plate. From a fantasy perspective, given Dee’s speed, the older of the siblings is likely to be the more valuable long-term, but Nick could be a .280-plus, 15 HR/15 SB threat in his own right. Given the long time that it will take him to make the Majors, Nick Gordon may be a more viable second round or later pick in many AL-only leagues. The key here I think is the development of his speed game. The more he leans towards being like Dee in that area, the more first round worthy he’ll be for fantasy players.

A more likely first round pick for fantasy leaguers will be the Padres’ Trea Turner. The NC State star is already a potential 40-plus stolen base threat and has good enough power that like many speedsters, he won’t simply have the bat knocked out of his hands when he’s at the plate. The knock on Turner all around seems to be a desire to tap into his low to mid-teens power and try to knock the tar out of the ball rather than concentrate more on having a quicker to the plate, line-drive or more ground-ball oriented swing to take advantage of his near 80-scale speed. Turner plays good enough defense to stay at short and actually has fairly good enough plate discipline to the point where some consider him leadoff material, but that depends highly on the improvement of his swing.

I’m skipping a few of the prep players here to talk about Alex Blandino. The Stanford product is a steady defender, but he's best suited to second base where his mid-teens power potential best fits. Blandino also earns pretty good marks as a disciplined hitter who may be able to hit towards the upper part of the batting order. The righty has no standout tool that makes him a first round pick, but he is someone to watch in the later rounds of your NL-only draft.

For those who like raw tools, I’ll go back to the Pirates' first round selection of Cole Tucker. The righty is a legitimate shortstop with 30-plus stolen base potential and a very quick bat that should allow him to hit for average too. His likely ETA, however, is 2019 or 2020.

Let’s start with the college guys. The Mets selected Michael Conforto with the 10th pick overall. Conforto was the consensus top college hitter in the draft and that alone will make him a first round pick in most NL-only keeper leagues. Conforto projects as a power hitter with 25-plus home run potential but that is really his only standout tool. Otherwise, the lefty is more of a DH type, limited to left field. As a power hitter, Conforto has a history of fairly high strikeout rates and an all or nothing approach, which limits his upside for standard 5x5 leaguers in the batting average department but may be more attractive to OBP leaguers. The lefty should move through the Mets system fairly quickly, but as of right now, he is sounding rather comparable to former seventh round pick Lucas Duda.

While Conforto has a single standout tool, Bradley Zimmer has none, but the 21st overall pick is a far better athlete, though not quite good enough to perhaps be an everyday starter in centerfield. This is a shame as Zimmer’s bat would play well there as a mid-teens home run threat with 20-plus stolen base potential and a line-drive oriented approach. In order to play him in right field, the Indians would have to find power elsewhere in their lineup. Again, he’ll probably be a first round pick in many AL-only leagues, but his profile is not necessarily the one of an impact player long term.

The Mariners selected Alex Jackson with the first pick overall and as the top outfielder selected in the draft, and despite whatever the wait time will be, Jackson warrants careful consideration. He offers a polished approach and at least a 70, if not an 80 on the projectable power scale and excellent bat speed to catch up to just about any fastball. Jackson was actually a catcher in high school, but given his offensive ceiling and an arm suited for right field, that is where the Mariners have already placed him.

Next week, we turn our focus to pitching.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 July 2014 08:28
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?


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
Westerly Jaunt PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 00:00

This week, we continue our tour of the Pacific Coast League to check up on the progress of some of the closest prospects to the Majors.

Albuquerque Isotopes (Dodgers)
Albuquerque is quite well stocked with some of the Dodgers' top prospects. Leading the way is top hitting prospect Joc Pederson. While Albuquerque is up there as one of the top hitter’s parks in professional baseball, Pederson’s output has still been impressive. The 22-year-old continues to be a highly disciplined hitter, walking 17% of the time, but even though he is striking out a career high quarter of the time, he has a .373/.481/.679 slash (Hello .476 batting average on balls in play!). Regardless, the lefty remains a legitimate 20-20 or better threat, though of course the batting average is likely to drop given the increase in strikeout rates and how he adjusts to lefties in the big leagues.

Alex Guerrero failed to beat out Dee Gordon for the starting second base job, and while Gordon is doing everything to keep the job, batting .336, that does not mean Guerrero is done as a potential starter. The Cuban defector is enjoying the hitting environment, batting .341/.398/.588 while making contact nearly 90% of the time. Guerrero has mid-teens or better HR potential and solid foot speed and a 28 million dollar contract that pretty much guarantees he will get a shot at some point.

Both Pederson and Guerrero will get their chances, but they hinge on potential injuries, which given the history of the Dodgers’ veterans, makes their odds favorable for call-ups here and there. Obtaining sustained playing time may be more difficult, but the season is still quite young.

As favorable as Albuquerque is to hitters, the opposite is true for pitchers. Zach Lee has been overcoming the odds for now, despite a 2-plus point drop in his strikeout rate, but strikeouts have never been a huge part of his game. Lee is more of a strike zone pounder with a deep repertorire, but without a single wipeout pitch. In other words, the drop-off was expected, though perhaps not to this degree at the Triple-A level. Regardless, Lee has a 3.86 ERA over seven starts and continues to show above average command. The former first-round pick should see some cups of coffee this season and will eventually settle in as a third or fourth starter for the Dodgers.

Jose Dominguez has already had his first tour of duty, likely of several, in the Majors this season. While control will never be his forte’, no one can deny the 23-year-old does not throw hard. Dominguez regularly reaches the upper nineties and has been known to reach triple digits. Given that and an average to plus slider, there is late-inning potential, provided he continues to make the adjustment from thrower to pitcher. So far, Dominguez has struck out batters at a 12.4 K/9 rate in the Minors and 11.4 K/9 in the Majors to go along with a 4-plus BB/9 at both levels.

Omaha Storm Chasers (Royals)
The Storm Chasers are unfortunately not as prospect-laden a team as Albuquerque. Brett Eibner is perhaps the best hitting prospect on the team. The 25-year-old outfielder has risen through the organization one level at a time since being drafted as a second-round pick in 2010. The righty has pretty good tools and enough range to handle centerfield. However, Eibner is also known for his high strikeout rates (31% this year), though he has been known to draw walks and get on base too. Given 20-plus HR ability and good defensive chops, he should get a chance as a reserve outfielder and could serve as a platoon player in the long run. Right now, he is struggling to make contact and batting just .216/.283/.352, so it may be a late season call-up at this rate until he proves capable of shortening his swing.

Fresno Grizzlies (Giants)
Outfield prospect Gary Brown has fallen down the prospect charts over the past two seasons. His performance at Double-A in 2012 was disappointing and last year in Triple-A, Brown batted .231/.286/.375 and has lost his centerfielder of the future tag. His second tour of duty for Fresno has been better with a .276/.333/.395 line. Brown still has double-digits home run power and 30-plus stolen base tools while showing a much improved approach in the early goings, so while he may not be a regular, there is some renewed chance here that he may have a MLB career and be of value.

22-year-old Edwin Escobar has risen to become one of the Giants' top pitching prospects, but despite showing good command (2.8 BB/9) and missing bats (8.2 K/9), he has struggled with runners on base and sports a 4.89 ERA. The lefty owns three pitches of at least MLB quality and given an elevated BABIP and suppressed left-on-base rate, he should be able to improve that ERA over the course of the season. An opening for him should be available later this season.

25-year-old Heath Hembree should already own a bullpen spot for the Giants but has been up and down this season with the big club. The righty posted a 14.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 over his brief stint and dominated in 2013 as the Fresno closer. This year, he has produced a 9.7 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9. Hembree possesses a plus, upper nineties fastball and plus slider. Expect him to be up and down all season long, but keep him in mind down the road as a potential closer candidate.

Despite Marco Scutaro being on the disabled list, Joe Panik remains in Triple-A. Panik is not a high-end prospect, possessing single-digit home run power and stolen base speed, but he is a highly disciplined hitter who makes frequent contact and gets on base. Last year, he appeared a bit overpowered, managing a .257/.333/.347 line, but he is back on track this year with a .317/.389/.401 slash. Whether or not MLB pitchers can overpower him will determine his long-term viability as a starter.

Andrew Susac would be more highly rated in another organization. In fact, this catcher does belong in another organization considering the presence of Buster Posey. Susac has the chops to be an average defender and hitter, possessing mid-teens to perhaps in time low-twenties home run power and a very advanced plate approach. This year, he has made contact 84% of the time while batting .333/.421/.591. Eventually, the Giants will have to figure out how to get his bat in the lineup or deal him to address an organizational need.

Next week, we continue with more action in the PCL.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 May 2014 08:09
PCL Progress PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 06 May 2014 00:00

We have given our due to the International League these past two weeks, so it is time for a mild change-up and move westerly with a progress update on the upper level prospects of the Pacific Coast League.

El Paso Chihuahuas (Padres)
Both Burch Smith and Keyvius Sampson are enduring some difficulties. Smith has been out with a strained forearm for much of the season and has just two starts under his belt so far. No structural damage was revealed, but forearm injuries are typically linked to elbow issues. Keep this situation carefully monitored if you have Smith in a keeper league and once activated watch his walk rate closely.

Sampson has no such excuses. The Padres have kept the righty in the rotation over his first six starts, but that role may not last much longer. Sampson has a plus fastball/curve combo, but ever since reaching Triple-A last year has had a great deal of difficulty finding the strike-zone with a combined 6-plus BB/9 over 15 Triple-A starts. The move to a relief role, where he might flourish and has late-inning potential, may be coming soon.

Reymond Fuentes enjoyed a comeback as a prospect in 2013, playing well at two levels while stealing 35 bases, showing much improved plate discipline and contact-making skills. His first full season of Triple-A has been more of the same in the plate discipline and steals department, but has been nil otherwise in the offense department as he has hit just .195/.305/.280 in the early goings. Given Fuentes’ plus tools and skills, this is a situation that is likely to turn around, but he is still on a fourth outfielder track as opposed to an everyday player track.

Las Vegas 51s (Mets)
Sleeper closer Vic Black failed to make the opening day roster and while he continues to have two plus power pitches and has a 9.6 K/9 in 10.1 innings, the righty has also walked 8.7 batters per nine innings yet somehow has an 0.87 ERA. That won’t last for long in Triple-A and certainly won’t work in the Majors.

Jacob deGrom, meanwhile, is biding his time for a rotation spot. The 25-year-old is a late bloomer who pitched well in Triple-A last year and has thrown up almost a carbon copy of those results so far with a 7.5 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. He should make it at least as a reliever given a fastball that can touch the upper nineties and a good change-up, but it is the development of his curve which will be the deciding factor.

Rafael Montero does not have deGrom’s fastball, but he is a more complete pitcher with pinpoint command. The 23-year-old’s command has not been as sharp as last year, though somewhat forgivable pitching in Vegas (3.5 compared to 2.5 the year before and sub 2.0 at just about every other minor league stop). More impressively, despite no one true wipe-out pitch, Montero has actually increased his strikeout rate from last year to 8.6. Long term, Montero could be a third or fourth starter for the Mets.

Oh yes, the Mets also have a pitcher named Noah Syndergaard in their Triple-A rotation. Scouts love the 6’5” righty’s mechanics, command and pitchability, not to mention his #1 or #2 type starter’s stuff which includes an overpowering fastball and hard curve. The further lack of development of his changeup and quite possibly pitching conditions (Las Vegas being perhaps the worst place to pitch in the Minors) are showing as his K/9 has dropped to a 7.9 while his walk rate has climbed above the 3.0 mark for he first time since 2011 when he was in rookie ball. The 21-year-old is one of the younger players in Triple-A and still very much a work in progress. The Mets have no need to rush him, especially given the presence of both deGrom and Montero.

Wilmer Flores was up briefly with the Mets and is being utilized at a variety of positions, particularly shortstop, in order to find a way to get his bat into the MLB lineup. Flores really does not have the range to play the position but does have good hands and a strong throwing arm, which make him a capable third baseman and a reasonable option at second. Flores has not been dominating offensively like last year and is making less contact than he has in the past, but he has started to pick things up recently with a two-home run game this past Friday.

Cesar Puello’s transition to Triple-A has not gone as well as hoped. The 23-year-old may have excellent all-around tools, but when one walks 2% of the time and strikes out near a quarter, results will be tough to come by. Puello has produce d a.241/.267/.287 line in Triple-A and could possibly be demoted. There is 20-20 potential lurking here, but he has quite a bit to prove, especially after his PED suspension last season.

Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals)
Lefty Tim Cooney has had two rough outings out of six starts this year, giving up eight of the 13 earned runs he’s allowed this season in those starts alone. Otherwise, Cooney remains true to form, pounding the zone with a fairly deep repertoire that should earn him a call-up and possibly a rotation spot later this season. While Cooney has produced solid strikeout rates in the Minors, there has been a dip from Double-A to Triple-A and a further decline into the 6’s should be expected once he reaches the Majors. Cooney’s upside is that of a fourth to third starter at best.

Undrafted free agent Zach Petrick is not a high-end prospect, but given the way he pitched at three levels of the Minors in 2013, one might think otherwise. In fact, he has already pitched at two levels this season, promoted to Triple-A after three starts at Double-A where he posted a 0.48 ERA. His move to Triple-A has been Petrick’s first brush with adversity since turning pro, though to be fair most of the damage was done in a single start where he walked a very uncharacteristic five batters. Generally, Petrick has very good pitchability, throwing strikes and mixing his pitches well. He now profiles as a fourth or fifth starter.

To contrast Petrick, his teammate Stephen Piscotty was a supplemental first-round pick in 2012. An outfielder, the righty continues to hit for average and make good contact while showing at least gap power, but so far he has not been able to tap into the high-teens to low-twenties home run power projected of his 6’3” frame. The lack of power and a decline in normally excellent plate discipline (sub 4% walk rate and increased strikeout rates) are reasons to be concerned, but of course the sample size is small. Right now, there is a wide range of outcomes for how his career will end up, though perhaps his upside is likely that of a Nick Markakis.

Fortunately for Piscotty, he has time to correct his game as Oscar Taveras is ahead of him on the depth charts and is currently blocked for everyday time. The 22-year-old continues to impressively make consistent, hard contact while hitting for power, maintaining the possibility that he’ll end up a 25-plus home run, .300-plus hitter long term. The lefty is currently batting .301/.357/.495 while making contact 88% of the time without sacrificing his plate discipline.

Former first-round pick Kolten Wong won the opening day starting job only to struggle in his first regular exposure to MLB pitching, and was subsequently demoted. The good news here is that unlike some prospects, he has not let his struggles stick with him in the Minors. Instead, Wong has hit .310 over his first 31 plate appearances. We have not seen the last of him and he should still be the Cardinals' man at second long term. While not an impact player per se, the combination of his on-base and hitting skills and solid defense at second will get him another chance.

Next, we'll continue to make the rounds around the PCL.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 07:17
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