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Tampa Bay Triage PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 12 May 2015 00:00

This week, the Tampa Bay Rays suffered serious harm to their rotation, losing two-thirds of its membership, and not the weak two-thirds of it. Instead, they lost the pitchers that would make them most able to compete in the form of Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb. That leaves them with Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi as the two remaining mainstays and three pitching slots that are quite likely to vary in whose name occupies them for the remainder of the season. Matt Moore is due back, tentatively, in June, and he could provide a major boost (or not), but keep in mind that it is still just May, so we could see quite a few different pitchers receiving starts regardless of whether Moore is healthy or not. Let us review!

In the Majors
Earlier this year, I investigated two of the Rays’ younger pitchers in Matt Andriese and Nate Karns. Both will get much longer leashes now, but to sum up my earlier analysis – Andriese – mediocre stuff/extremely hittable. Karns throws hard, has a curve that is sometimes a plus, mediocre at best command and lacks secondary stuff, which makes him best suited for a relief role.

Alex Colome currently commands a rotation spot as well. I like him best out of the bunch to hold down a rotation spot over the long haul provided he can keep his oft-injured body in one piece. So far, he has struck out 10 in 10 innings and walked zero (late note: Colome was hit hard by the Yankees last night). The righty has never been known for his ability to throw strikes, so expect that K/BB ratio to shrink quite a bit over time. Colome is armed with a quality 4-pitch arsenal, so it’s not a question of stuff here. If you are going to pick a target to try in Tampa, make it him for now even with the bad start. Everyone has their growing pains.

Erasmo Ramirez technically remains an option, but he cannot be trusted at the MLB level until he translates his control from the Minors to the Majors. He’s had multiple, rather unsuccessful, extended big league opportunities, so look elsewhere for pitching help.

Andrew Bellatti could also get a look. The 23-year-old was working in the Triple-A rotation until his call up to a middle relief role, the role he had been used almost exclusively in since 2011. He is a fastball/slider/changeup guy who has posted some solid K/9 numbers and BB/9 numbers in the Minors.

Meanwhile, Back in the Minors
Continuing on the unexciting front, the Rays do have former Twin and Binghamton University graduate Scott Diamond in Durham. The righty throws strikes and keeps the ball on the ground, but he fools no one. It is possible he makes 10+ starts for the Rays this year and perhaps with some short-term success, but it must be noted he’s even more hittable than Andriese. Matt Buschmann and Everett Teaford are two 31-year-olds serving as Triple-A roster filler.

Former 13th round draft pick Dylan Floro has been moving through the Rays system one level at a time and has made six starts at Triple-A. Floro does not lack for control. In fact, he hasn’t posted a BB/9 higher than 1.6 in his entire professional career. That said, his K/9 dropped to 4.6. The righty simply does not have a wipeout pitch and despite the fact that he does a good job of keeping the ball in park, he is in the strike zone far too often to consider for fantasy play.

Moving on to pitchers with an inkling of potential, we come to Grayson Garvin. A 2011 supplemental first round pick, Garvin has struggled to come back from Tommy John surgery and managed to pitch 74 innings in Double-A last year. He’s currently on the DL once again in Double-A, so it’s a longshot to expect him to help this year, but he is at least on the Rays' 40-man roster. When healthy, he has at minimum three MLB quality pitches, and he commands those pitches well. He also throws hard for a lefty. The question is health. Since 2012, he’s made just 41 minor league starts plus six in the Arizona Fall League. Almost half of them came last year.

The Rays had hoped Enny Romero might help the team last year, but he did not make an appearance and is instead in his second season in Triple-A. He’s been out with a back injury and made just one start this season.  The 6’3” lefty can reach the upper nineties on his fastball and possesses a plus-fastball/changeup combination that gives him middle of the rotation potential. That said, his command of those pitches has been up and down throughout his career. His 3.71 BB/9 last year was by far the best he’s done since rookie ball in 2010. He might have a career as a late-inning reliever too.

Jaime Schultz is a 23-year-old righty who has been fairly dominant in Double-A this year. Though on the short side for a starter at 5’10”, Schultz has a plus fastball and a solid curveball/changeup combo, but like many Rays hurlers, command has been a major issue. Over six Double-A starts, Schultz has an 11.4 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9. Still, a promotion to Triple-A with all the attrition going on would be far from shocking.

Blake Snell, like Grayson Garvin, was a 2011 supplemental first round pick, but unlike Garvin, he was drafted out of high school and has been working his way up the system all that time. A 6’4” left-hander, he can reach the lower to mid-nineties with a good slider and a workable changeup. The recurring theme of control issues, however, rears its ugly head once again as Snell has yet to post a sub-4.0 BB/9 at any level since 2012. On the good side, Snell has already been promoted once this year, starting the season in A+ and now in Double-A, where he has posted a 12.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 over a tiny sample size of two starts.

So to sum things up, there is not much immediate help on the horizon. The club's 2015 chances largely depend upon a healthy Moore and Colome. They could then shuffle between fifth starters throughout the rest of the season while regrouping for 2016, when Cobb and Smyly come back from their respective injuries by mid-season. However, keep an eye on the likes of Colome, Romero and Garvin as pitchers with some legitimate potential as big leaguers.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 May 2015 08:39
 
Journeyman Jubilee PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 05 May 2015 00:00

I spend most of my time in this column focusing on players who still have that prospect shine on them. However, every season we see minor league veterans ascend to the Majors and a lucky few finally break through to become viable major leaguers or at the very least get an opportunity to do so. With that in mind, let's take a look at some post-hype (and never-hyped) players, some being recent MLB call-ups, who should be on your radar in deeper AL-only and NL-only leagues.

The injury to Mitch Moreland opened up a temporary gateway for Kyle Blanks. The 28-year-old former 42nd round pick worked his way to being one of the Padres’ top prospects only to suffer injury and was subsequently ineffective once given other opportunities with the club. Now with his third organization, Blanks still has plenty of raw power (30+ HR talent). Over his career, the righty has shown a patient approach and has not necessarily been a high strikeout rate hitter at any one level, usually striking out a quarter of the time. The main issue comes from his handedness and his struggles against righties (.227/.306/.400 with a 33% strikeout rate). If used in a strict platoon, Blanks could bring his more solid skills to bear as a career .254/.349/.442 hitter who strikes out only 23% of the time. He’ll see fairly regular action until Moreland returns in a few weeks after having bone chips cleaned out, but it will be interesting to see if the Rangers try to keep him with the club to be utilized in the aforementioned fashion where he could be an asset.

Johnny Giavotella has had an excellent minor league career. The former second-round pick of the Royals had been given multiple extended opportunities to lock down their second base job. Once in 2011, again in 2012 and briefer chances in 2013 and 2014, all resulting in failure and an uninspiring career .245/.288/.339 slash. That said, throughout his minor league career, Giavotella has displayed extremely advanced plate discipline skills, walking and making contact at frequent rates while showing gap power and good instincts on the base paths. He went into 2015 probably on course to open the year in Triple-A only to win the starting 2B job out of spring training, and so far he has shown much of that minor league skill. Before you get too excited about his change in fortune, Giavotella’s power numbers have been trending downward for three straight seasons and while he is hitting for average thus far, his .288/.346/.370 line may not be enough to hold down the job for the entire season.

Joey Butler is yet another journeyman taking advantage of an injury situation. While Desmond Jennings is only expected to miss a few weeks due to bursitis in his left knee, the 29-year-old Butler is expected to play at least semi-regularly during his absence and received the opportunity to start Monday night, responding with his first MLB home run. Butler has spent most of the past four seasons at Triple-A, where he's done nothing but hit. He’s batted no lower than .290 while walking at high rates, (13%+), minimizing his strikeouts and showing mid-teens if not high-teens power potential. Butler is not a high-end starter, but he has enough game to be a solid fill-in and part-time starter at the very least.

Continuing on a theme, Ezequiel Carrera recently was recalled and has been playing regularly in a new outfield alignment along with Kevin Pillar and Michael Saunders (who recently returned from the DL) while Jose Bautista handles DH duties. Formerly of the Mets, Mariners and Indians, the 27-year-old has long been noted for his plus speed, and he is coming off two 40+ SB minor league seasons. At the minor league level, Carrera has been a fairly effective contact hitter with an average to slightly aggressive plate approach, though he has been more selective in recent seasons, including a 1:1 BB/K ratio so far this year. When given opportunities in the Majors, he has not been able to translate those skills. Right now, however, may be Carrera’s single greatest opportunity to prove otherwise. At the very least, his speed alone makes him worthy of a FAAB bid, if for no other reason than to obtain a few steals in AL-only formats, even if he does not break through and become an everyday player long-term.

In non-Journeyman news, the Padres recalled their former first-round pick and top catching prospect, Austin Hedges to the Majors. An elite defender, Hedges has yet to show very much with the bat, struggling to hit even Double-A pitching and far from dominating the lower levels of minor league play. However, to begin 2015, Hedges appears much improved, albeit over a tiny 79 plate appearance sample, making contact 90% of the time and walking the same while showing slightly more power and batting about 100 points higher than last season. The righty has a lot to prove before I can recommend getting on his bandwagon, especially considering he’ll still play in a back-up role. His glove, however, should get him to stick in the Majors eventually, even if his bat does not ever come around.

Also in the NL, the Reds called up their 2013 supplemental first-round pick, Michael Lorenzen, to fill a rotation spot as a result of Homer Bailey’s season-ending injury. This is a true opportunity for Lorenzen to claim a long-term rotation spot, so in NL-only leagues, he is someone to pursue with some vigor on that basis alone. The righty was a closer when drafted out of college and remained in that role until the beginning of last year. He has a plus fastball that can reach the upper nineties, controls it fairly well, and does a solid job of keeping the ball on the ground. That said, while he technically has a fastball, change-up and slider, the pitches beyond his 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs are all adequate at best and are works in progress. Over his first three minor league starts this season, he was able to muster just a 5.7 K/9 after a Double-A season in which he managed a 6.3 K/9 in 24 starts. These are far from the strikeout rates one wants from a top end starting pitching prospect. Barring significant improvement of his secondary pitches, expect Lorenzen to shift back to a relief role before the year is out.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 May 2015 08:17
 
International League Round-Up PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 28 April 2015 00:00

Now that we are almost a month into the baseball season, it’s time to start taking a peek at the progress of some of the prospects still in the Minors. This week, we scan some of the teams of the International League.

Triple-A Gwinnett (Braves)

The Braves acquired Michael Foltynewicz from Houston this off-season as one of the key parts of the Evan Gattis deal and the righty has not disappointed over his first four starts. The 23-year-old thus far has a 12.5 K/9, but he still struggles to throw strikes, owning a 4+ BB/9. The Astros had moved the former first round pick to relief last year before the Braves decided to give him another try in the rotation despite his lack of a decent off speed pitch. So far, it is looking like he’ll get a chance to start in the Majors in the near future given his success and some struggles in the Braves MLB rotation, but his upper nineties fastball and plus curveball do make him more enticing as a reliever long term. He’s one to watch.

The Braves were busy this off-season, stockpiling their Triple-A rotation not only with Foltynewicz but with Matt Wisler too. The former Padre has shown excellent command (1.7 BB/9) and also struck out more than a batter per inning over three starts. Despite this, he's still 0-2 thanks to a .354 OBP and continued gopheritis with a 1.7 HR/9 after a 1.5 last season. Wisler is a more complete starter than Foltynewicz as a four-pitch pitcher with a solid fastball and slider, but as noted tends to keep the ball in the air and has paid accordingly. Despite his early struggles, there is more than enough talent and skill here for Wisler to make the necessary adjustments and still make it as a middle of the rotation starter. Stick with him if you own him in NL-only formats.

Jose Peraza is biding his time in Triple-A as Jace Peterson hits under the Mendoza line in the Majors. However, the 20-year-old, while holding his own for Gwinnett, isn’t exactly dominating, batting .271/.311/.314. That said, Peraza has translated his approach successfully to Triple-A as well as his speed. His aggressiveness at the plate makes him a poor upper end of the lineup option, but there remains plenty of ability here to make contact, steal bases, and hit for average. Right now, it is looking like a mid-season call-up unless the Braves tire of Peterson, et al, more quickly than expected.

Triple-A Columbus (Indians)

If Jesus Aguilar wants the Indians’ first base job, he needs to hit, and so far the 24-year-old is mostly failing, batting just .219. On the other hand, he does have four home runs and is not striking out at a significantly higher rate than he has previously, so a turnaround should be forthcoming. Aguilar’s best path to playing time will come at DH given Nick Swisher’s tendency to be injured in the late stages of his career. Aguilar is on the verge of making it or becoming an organizational player, depending upon the club’s view of him.

Francisco Lindor is another shortstop waiting for his chance to claim a starting job. Jose Ramirez has not played as well as hoped with a .196 batting average and strikeout rates well above his normally contact-oriented game, suggesting he may be pressing at the plate. Lindor, meanwhile, is commanding Triple-A with a .303/.380/.429 slash while showing the very advanced plate discipline he displayed at lower levels of the Minors. Combine that with his slick glove and speed (six steals) and it is only a matter of weeks before a switch occurs.

For those waiting for Giovanny Urshela to unseat the struggling Lonnie Chisenhall at third base, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. The 23-year-old has spent much of the young season on the disabled list with a back injury and only got his season underway last week, but at least he's hit .500 with a home run in his first two games played, suggesting the back is certainly no longer an issue. Urshela does not have a high degree of upside, but he is a solid defender and a better contact hitter than Chisenhall with comparable power. The month of May for both players could be telling.

Triple-A Syracuse (Nationals)

Former A’s farmhand A.J. Cole is in his second season in Triple-A (his first full year), and over three starts, he owns a 2.40 ERA along with a 6.0 K/9 and 0.6 BB/9. He no longer looks like a top of the rotation type, but more of a #3 or perhaps #4 armed with a solid fastball/changeup combo. However, he really lacks a wipeout slider or curveball that would elevate his game as a strikeout pitcher. Nevertheless, as a result of Max Scherzer’s injury, Cole will be making his MLB debut today. This is not a long-term job obviously, but it is notable that he is the team's preferred option beyond their opening day rotation when it comes to opportunities that may arise later this season.

Michael Taylor began the season in the Nationals outfield while their veterans mended from injuries. Taylor has truly tremendous tools and 30-30 or better potential, but it is really starting to look like it will only be potential. The former sixth round pick is now 24 years old and continues to strike out over 30% of the time. It is getting difficult to see him as anything beyond a Quad-A player or bench player at the MLB level despite his gifts.

Last Updated on Monday, 27 April 2015 22:54
 
Call-Up Rundown PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 21 April 2015 00:00

This week, we answer important questions like “Who is Asher Wojciechowski?” and consider other recent minor league call-ups.

For those interested, Wojciechowski (pronounced wo-juh-HOW-ski) was a supplemental first round pick in 2010 of the Blue Jays (41st overall) and was acquired by the Astros in a 2012 near-deadline deal. Now 26, the righty has had a solid, though unspectacular minor league career and has spent the past two seasons toiling in Triple-A before getting the call and a Monday night start. He has three average pitches and can throw them all for strikes but does tend to get into trouble with his command in the zone and has been noted for giving up the long ball. View him as a short-term solution and occasional spot starter in Houston who may have a better career if moved to full-time relief.

Speaking of starters as relievers, the White Sox called up their top pitching prospect and 2014 first round pick Carlos Rodon today. The only leagues he is likely available in at this point are perhaps some smaller scale AL-only redraft leagues and mixed leagues. Those leagues are now on notice and should consider stashing him. While he may be pitching in long relief for now, he is a hair's breadth away from claiming a starting job. The lefty has upper end of the rotation stuff, including a mid-nineties fastball, a solid cutter, average change and an absolutely filthy slider. So far, Rodon has lived up to the billing as a strikeout machine, but by the same token, he has had issues throwing strikes and as such, moving to a MLB rotation spot just now might be too soon. An audition as a reliever, a la Chris Sale, may be an excellent way for him to get his feet wet and to refine his game.

The Mets received bad news when they lost Travis d'Arnaud to a broken hand that will sideline him for at least three weeks. The good news for the Mets is that not only do they have one of the better young catchers around in d’Arnaud, but they have also hung onto Kevin Plawecki, who is playing at Triple-A and is one of the better catching prospects in the game. The 2012 supplemental first round pick is not necessarily a high ceiling player, but he does have a fairly high floor. The righty is a more than competent receiver and handler of pitchers but also has a solid bat, combining low to mid-teens home run power and an advanced, contact-oriented approach that has let him hit for average and produce high OBPs in the Minors. His second go-around in Triple-A is off to a slow start, batting just .229, but he is also making contact 92% of the time. The Mets intend to insert him immediately as their everyday catcher, making him worthy of note in all formats as a catcher with some offensive upside.

Rangers reliever Keone Kela made the jump from Double-A to the Majors this season and is pitching in a middle relief role for the Rangers, but now may be the time to buy in. The 22-year-old has a closer’s power stuff with a plus fastball that reaches the upper nineties and a power curveball combination that allows him to generate strikeouts aplenty. Throwing strikes was an issue upon his promotion to Double-A last year where he posted a 6.3 BB/9, so he is certainly no finished product. Kela is also noted for his ability to generate groundballs at a high rate which will serve him well in Arlington. Keep an eye on his progress.

The Rays have brought up Ryan Brett and installed him temporarily on their bench while Nick Franklin is still on the mend. In the pre-season, I recommended that all Franklin owners should keep an eye on or draft Brett if possible as insurance in the event that Franklin falters. Brett is not the most disciplined of hitters, but he makes good contact, has high single digits HR power and above average speed that could make him a 20+ stolen base threat at the MLB level. He was off to a slow start over 33 plate appearances at Triple-A and will play sporadically for the Rays right now, but he is a good grab and stash play in AL-only formats should the opportunity of regular playing time arise.

Chris Martin was acquired from the Rockies this past off-season and subsequently claimed a spot in the Yankees’ bullpen. A nearly 29-year-old journeyman, Martin has excellent control and is coming off a 12.2 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 season for the Rockies in Triple-A. He is a sinker/slider baller who can reach the mid to upper nineties on his fastball. Although he is a longshot to close, his stuff makes him worthy of watching and note in AL-only leagues.

The Giants’ Chris Heston currently leads all rookies in innings pitched with 20.2 this young season. An unheralded former 12th round pick in 2009, the 27-year-old is known for his control and his two-seamer/sinker ball. Overall, his stuff is nothing exceptional, but he mixes his mediocre offerings well and keeps the ball on the ground. For now, he has a 7.0 K/9, but his M.O. is more that of a pitch to contact/innings eater type who will likely see that tail off as the season progresses. There is enough here though for him to continue to be of value in NL-only leagues, but you may want to move on once he has gone around the league and hitters adjust to him. Long term, he could settle in as a solid though unspectacular fourth or fifth starter.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 April 2015 08:48
 
P.S.A.: Young Pitchers Can Lead to Scarring and Emotional Trauma PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 14 April 2015 00:00

Hopefully, some of you had a chance to cash in on Miguel Castro after I discussed him as a potential closer last week. I didn’t realize that that opportunity would come quite so soon though! Keep in mind that he is just 20 years of age and has had some control issues, so that situation remains volatile. As mentioned also last week, Roberto Osuna, also 20, is next in line for saves beyond him and also worth a a shot in deep AL-only leagues.

Getting to this week’s crop of young talent, we continue our relief theme with Seattle’s Carson Smith. A 6’6” right-hander, Smith does not actually throw quite as hard as one would think, averaging in the lower to mid-nineties on his fastball. Smith is a sinker/slider pitcher who mixes his two pitches fairly evenly, focusing on keeping the ball down and generating swings and misses as well as plenty of ground balls. In a brief cup of coffee last year, he posted a 10.8 K/9 and has followed up strongly thus far in the early goings too. He probably profiles as a setup man at best, but the Mariners do not exactly have a deep pen and are relying on 38-year- old Fernando Rodney to close.

Sticking with relievers, we come to Logan Verrett. Verrett was originally a Mets farmhand selected by Baltimore in the Rule-5 draft only to be put on waivers and claimed by the Texas Rangers. A former third-round pick, Verrett has worked exclusively as a starter throughout his minor league career and is now only in 2015 being used in the pen. The 24-year-old has precision control, four solid pitches and four average, but not standout pitches. He’ll work as a loogy or long reliever for now, but could work his way into a few spot starts if the odds are in his favor and find his way into a back end of the rotation spot, though he is probably a bit too hittable to be a viable option in fantasy play anytime soon.

Matt Andriese will be making his first career MLB start today for the Tampa Bay Rays. The 25-year-old came over from the Padres in 2013 and spent all of 2014 in Triple-A as a starter, posting a 7.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. Right now, he is simply filling in for Drew Smyly, but he is of course also auditioning for future opportunities. Like Verrett, Andriese is more of a back-end of the rotation/innings eater type who has good control of multiple pitches, but again none of them are true wipeout pitches. Andriese typically keeps the ball on the ground, but when his command is off, the ball tends to travel far. Both he and Verrett are worth monitoring if they can figure things out at the MLB level given decent skills, but given their underwhelming stuff, avoiding them is probably the safer option.

Andriese is not the only rookie currently in the Rays’ rotation. Nate Karns won a spot outright this spring. The former top Nationals prospect has managed to remain a starter and ended up posting a 9.5 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 over 27 Triple-A starts last year. Last year, I thought he was on the verge of finally making the leap to a relief role given an excellent fastball/curveball combination, mediocre command, and a lack of a changeup. Well, the latter pitch has come a long way to being an average MLB offering. The inconsistency in his command still remains, so AL-only leaguers taking a chance on the 27-year-old will need to have a steady supply of antacids as Karns is the type of pitcher who can dominate on one night and potentially implode on another, as has already been the case in this young season. Stick with him for the upside though in deeper leagues.

Andrew Heaney was selected in most AL-only and some mixed league auctions and drafts this spring. The lefty was acquired from the Dodgers this off season and had an up and down spring. It looked like he had won the 5th starter's job, but the Angels are now giving him more time in AAA before a call-up which could happen soon. His start in Triple-A made him look quite ready as he allowed just two baserunners in seven innings while striking out eight. The 22-year-old lefty was a 2012 first-round pick and has three plus pitches as well as plus command of said pitches to boot. Heaney is MLB ready and profiles long-term as a middle of the rotation pitcher.

Fellow 22-year-old and former first-round pick Archie Bradley won a spot with the Diamondbacks this spring and was dominant in his first MLB start, allowing one hit over six innings while striking out six. Bradley, however, did also walk four batters and though this is a small sample, it gives you a pretty clear picture of his issues. No one questions Bradley’s pure stuff, which is upper end of the rotation material. The question is his ability to command it. Bradley has yet to produce a sub-4.0 BB/9 at any level in which he has made at least 12 starts. In fact, in two of those stops, his BB/9 was closer to 6.0, including his 12 starts in Double-A last year in which he produced a 5.9 BB/9, though to be fair he was dealing with some elbow issues which likely exacerbated his typical control problems. See Nate Karns as a guideline for your level of frustrations and for the fact that you have to stick with him for now in NL-only formats given the potential upside.

And finally, in what seems to be a recurring theme of public service announcements, we bring you to the Twins’ Trevor May. May was called up to fill in for the injured Ricky Nolasco for the next few weeks. A 25-year-old former fourth-round pick of the Phillies, May came to the Twins in 2013 and has done a credible job of generating swings and misses at high rates in the Minors with K/9’s in the 9’s and 8’s in the upper Minors. His upside is better than that of a Verrett or Andriese, given two plus pitches, but he struggles to consistently command his slider and other secondary pitches and has been noted for his bouts of gopheritis. He is a better pitcher than he showed late last season with the Twins (.377 BABIP and 57% left on base rate) and does have fourth or maybe even third starter potential, but he also has a lot to prove in the consistency department. Pass for now.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 April 2015 09:05
 
A Call to Arms PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 07 April 2015 00:00

Greetings and happy opening week of the baseball season everyone! As Spring Training drew to a close, many a rotation or bullpen spot was decided and some rookies rose to the top to claim those spots. This week, we take a gander at a few of those pitchers.

The Butler Did It
While Jon Gray may get more press, Eddie Butler was the one who won the opening day rotations spot. Like Gray, Butler profiles as a possible upper end of the rotation candidate. Given his subpar 2014, however, it is impressive he was able to put things back together and claim the job. Butler pitched through some shoulder issues and struggled at times with his secondary pitches, the combination resulting in his K/9 doing a dramatic three-point tumble to a 5.3. When on, Butler can keep the ball on the ground, throw strikes, and get plenty of swings and misses, but he has a lot to prove in terms of command, pitch refinement, and simply staying healthy. The upside makes him worth a small risk, but not a substantial one.

Blue Jays Embrace Inexperience
The Blue Jays have faith in their young arms and are carrying four rookie pitchers this spring, including Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez in their rotation along with Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna in their bullpen. The 21-year-old Norris pitched at four professional levels, dominating everywhere except for his brief 6.2 inning MLB exposure, striking out well over a batter per inning. The lefty has a deep repertoire with multiple plus pitches and none of his four primary offerings is anything less than average. Maintaining his mechanics and control will be the most significant issues. It should also be noted that he has less than 70 innings of experience above A+, so ups and downs can be expected, with a demotion being a possibility.

Sanchez, 22, has marginally more experience with 33 MLB relief innings under his belt and 100 innings at or above Double-A. Like Norris, Sanchez has #1 or #2 starter upside, but command and consistency are the key issues here. As a starter in the Minors, Sanchez often struggled to throw strikes, but once moved to relief in the Majors, he was able to concentrate on fewer pitches and post a solid 2.5 BB/9. It remains to be seen whether the 5.0 BB/9 Sanchez or the sub-3.0 BB/9 Sanchez shows up this season.

Miguel Castro’s sudden rise to the Majors comes as a bit of a shock given that he has just 8.2 innings of A+ ball experience and is just 20 years old. That said, the 6’5” righty throws regularly in the upper nineties and has a plus changeup too. A return to the rotation may occur at some point for him, but he’ll be relied upon mostly to throw his heater. Fantasy owners should note that he is already positioned as the top righty in the pen and has a solid chance to supplant Brett Cecil should he falter. Castro should be a relatively inexpensive FAAB target in the early goings given his role and inexperience and high-risk label.

Roberto Osuna is hitting the Majors with pretty much the same credentials as Castro. A Class-A starter with 22 innings of A+ experience, Osuna is a few weeks younger than Castro and will pitch in middle relief. Also like Castro, Osuna’s primary secondary weapon is a changeup with his breaking ball a work in progress. Osuna does not throw quite as hard as Castro, but he commands his pitches better.

A’s Arms
The A’s are also laying their hopes on multiple rookies with Kendall Graveman in the number four spot of their rotation and R.J. Alvarez in a middle relief or setup role. Graveman beat out the likes of Jesse Chavez and a long list of veterans including Barry Zito to win the fourth spot. However, Graveman owners should note that A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker and Sean Nolin are all working their way back from injuries and could provide further competition down the road. Graveman came over during the off-season in the trade with the Blue Jays for Josh Donaldson. Like his former teammate Daniel Norris, Graveman pitched at multiple levels. In fact, he pitched at even more levels than Norris for a grand total of 5. That said, Graveman simply does not have Norris’ upside, but he may have a set of skills that make him less likely to flame out. The former 8th round pick is noted for his above average control and for being a pitch to contact pitcher who keeps the ball on the ground. His longest stay anywhere in 2014 was in A+ ball where he posted a 6.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9. In other words, Graveman has the skill set to possibly have a long career as a fourth or fifth starter, innings eater type pitcher.

Alvarez was also a trade acquisition, but from the Padres rather than the Blue Jays. A former 3rd round pick by the Angels, Alvarez has done nothing but get strikeouts since being drafted in 2012. The righty has never posted a K/9 below 10.1, that coming in his eight innings with the Padres last year. His control has been variable from level to level and from organization to organization though. Alvarez works with a plus fastball/slider combination and at least looks to have a good future as a setup man. It remains to be seen whether or not he has an effective enough weapon to handle lefties and be a possible closer candidate down the road.

The Mets Deep Pen
Rafael Montero battled hard for the fifth starter’s spot but ultimately lost out to veteran Dillon Gee. Montero, however, pitched well enough to remain with the Mets to serve as their long reliever and is likely their first fallback option in case of injury. In an organization deep with starting pitching prospects, Montero was near the top of them heading into 2014, mostly on the virtue of being at the Triple-A level. He does not have the same upper end stuff as some his teammates, but he has shown elite command of his fastball and changeup. However, he faltered a bit in the very hitter-friendly confines of Las Vegas, where his BB/9 jumped over a full point from 2013. Still, he continued to get swings and misses in Triple-A and at the MLB level. His window of opportunity may be short should a rotation chance come, even with the season-ending injury to Zack Wheeler, depending upon the progress of Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. Montero has a chance to be a solid #3 or more likely #4 starter long-term, but it may end up coming with a different organization depending on how things play out.

Next week – More pitching!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 April 2015 07:56
 
Top Outfield Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 00:22

As we get closer and closer to the start of the baseball season, we conclude our look at the various hitting prospects with a look around the outfield. Given the depth of the position, I will go beyond my normal “top ten” for both the near and long-term rankings.

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.

Top Outfield Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Joc Pederson (LAD) – Pederson is coming off a monster 30-30 campaign in which he slashed .303/.435/.582 in a hitter-friendly park and now finds himself in the role of opening day centerfielder for the Dodgers. The 22-year-old is quite selective, walking at high rates throughout his minor league playing days, but the strikeouts have indeed risen as he has tapped into his power, so the batting average line may not be sustainable going forward, particularly at Dodger Stadium. While his base running speed is above average, do not expect another 30+ steal campaign. Still, the overall combination offers a potent offensive threat with the skills and talents to be at least a mid-teens dollar bid in NL-only auction leagues.

2. Jorge Soler (CHC) - Despite having fewer than 10 major league plate appearances, the 22-year-old right fielder is projected as the Cubs’ opening day cleanup hitter, and with good reason. Soler’s calling card is his power, which projects in excess of 30-home run potential at his peak. Expectations for his first full season in the Majors, however, should be more subdued and a 20+ HR projection, if not high-teens, would be more realistic as a starting point. That said, Soler separates himself from many other right-handed sluggers with his patience and his ability to make contact, so far regularly making contact around 80% or better of the time during his extended minor league stops. Still, it remains to be seen how this translates to the Majors given his short stays in the upper minor league levels The Mastersball.com .267 AVG/23 HR projection is a good baseline to set your expectations.

3. Rusney Castillo (BOS) - Castillo made a late-season audition for the Sox and was in line for a starting job this spring until he was sidelined by an oblique injury. Regardless, even if he begins 2015 in Triple-A, he will be pushing Shane Victorino and Mookie Betts for playing time and with good reason. The 27-year-old is MLB ready and blessed with a quick bat and both above average power and speed, making 20-20 a possibility, though mid to high teens in both categories is a more realistic/conservative expectation. A .280 AVG/15 HR/15 SB line is a possibility should he manage to crack the lineup for a prolonged period.

4. Steven Souza (TB) – Getting traded from Washington to Tampa Bay vaulted Souza’s value from being trapped in Triple-A to the Rays' starting lineup. The right fielder has a very solid all-around game, including low to mid-twenties HR power, 20+ stolen base skill and speed, and an improving plate approach that saw him make contact more consistently than previously in his career. Some regression should be expected in the latter department, especially in light of a big league promotion, so keep your expectations on batting average modest, but Souza could contribute as a 15/15 candidate this year, hitting in the .260s or better.

5. Dalton Pompey (TOR) – After playing at four professional levels in 2014, Pompey will be the Blue Jays' starting centerfielder but will bat in the bottom of the order as he adjusts to the Majors. The 22-year-old has 30, if not 40+ stolen base potential and a disciplined, contact-oriented approach that should in time qualify him for a leadoff or #2 hole hitter spot in the lineup. Power is not a significant part of Pompey’s game, but the switch-hitter does at least have gap power and should be able to generate 20 or more doubles a season and in the mid to high single- digits in the HR category. Pompey had just 127 Double-A plate appearances and 56 Triple-A plate appearances prior to his MLB promotion, so do not be too surprised if he struggles to adjust to the higher level of competition, necessitating a temporary demotion to the Minors.

6. Michael Taylor (WAS) – Taylor will begin 2015 in the Nationals’ starting outfield and should receive substantial playing time thanks in part to injuries to the club's veteran hitters. He produced a .313/.396/.539 line in Double-A in 2014 but did so while striking out 30% of the time and he barely has any Triple-A experience, so it's quite possible that this first try in the Majors could fall flat on its face. That said, the 23-year-old has tremendous tools and is a 20+ HR/30+ SB threat already, which cannot be ignored. If not for the rather high risk of failure factor, he might be atop this list as a possible 2015 impact player.

7. Randal Grichuk (STL) – A former Angels prospect, Grichuk will likely begin 2015 on the Cardinals bench given his plus glove at multiple positions and appeal as a right-handed batter off the bench, given his 25+ HR power. Grichuk is otherwise noted for being a fairly aggressive, undisciplined hitter who fails to consistently get on base or hit for average. Stephen Piscotty (below) is the better long-term option, but Grichuk ranks higher here given that he has a roster spot.

8. Kyle Parker (COL) – Parker is a MLB ready outfielder who could be pushing for a starting job later this season. The righty does not have a high ceiling and is old for a prospect at 25, but he does have upper teens to low-twenties HR power and has consistently showcased an approach that will allow him to hit for average as well. Parker is a player who just needs an opportunity in order to become relevant to fantasy players.

9. Stephen Piscotty (STL) – Piscotty is MLB ready and has nowhere to play, so he’ll begin 2015 in Triple-A. The righty has never quite developed as the power threat once expected and now only has a modest ceiling, but his bat speed and plate discipline skills make him an instant .280, if not .290 or better potential hitter with high single-digit to mid-teens power and speed. Given the opportunity, his skills would not take long to translate to the Majors.

10. Byron Buxton (MIN) – Despite an injury that cost him most of 2014, Buxton remains one of, if not the top prospect in the game. The 21-year-old is a plus player in just about every category, armed with 30+ stolen base potential and 20+ HR power. The righty has also displayed a patient approach in combination with plus bat speed that has allowed him to make solid contact. The overall combination makes him a potential $30+ player down the road. First, however, he must prove he can stay healthy, and secondly, he must keep the strikeout rates in check as he advances through the Twins’ system. He’ll begin the year in Double-A and has a chance of finishing it in Minneapolis.

11. Domingo Santana (HOU) – Santana is a patient right-handed slugger with mid-twenties or better home run power, but also one that strikes out close to a third of the time. He’s best suited to a platoon role and has little left to prove in the Minors. Given full-time play, he is most likely a .240s to .250s hitter in the Majors.

12. Scott Schebler (LAD) – Schebler is a former 26th round draft pick who has made himself into a prospect with back-to-back 27 and 28 HR seasons. The lefty has done a good job of cutting down on his strikeouts while continuing to hit for power. His other tools are fringe-average to average at best. He's probably destined for the Dodgers bench but will begin 2015 in Triple-A.

13. Steven Moya (DET) – A left-handed hitter with legitimate 30+ HR power, Moya's bat plays best in a platoon role given his high strikeout/extremely aggressive approach at the plate. He’ll begin 2015 in Triple-A.

Honorable Mention 2015 Impact Prospect: Yorman Rodriguez (CIN)

Top Long Term Fantasy Impact Outfielders

1. Byron Buxton (MIN) – See Above.

2. Joc Pederson (LAD) – See Above.

3. Rusney Castillo (BOS) – See Above.

4. Jorge Soler (CHC) See Above.

5. David Dahl (COL) – Dahl played at two levels in 2014 and will ascend to Double-A for this season. In his first full season of pro-ball, Dahl showed a quick bat, plus speed and developing power for a 14 HR/21 SB output. While the lefty will need to tighten up his control of the strike zone, the former first round pick has the tools to remain in centerfield and the bat speed to hit for average. He could develop into a consistent 20-20 or better threat at the MLB level.

6. Brandon Nimmo (NYM) – The Mets 2011 first round draft pick turned a corner in 2014, playing at A+ and Double-A as a 21-year-old. Nimmo is still a legitimate centerfield prospect with above average speed and mid-teens SB potential. Where he has really grown is at the plate. He was already a very selective hitter heading into 2014 but has eliminated some of the passivity that hurt him earlier in his career and has become a much more consistent contact hitter with emerging high-teens to low-twenties HR power. He’ll start off at Double-A once again with a chance to move up to Triple-A and perhaps receive a September call-up. He could compete for a starting job as soon as early to mid-2016.

7. Austin Meadows (PIT) – Meadows unfortunately missed most of 2014 due to a hamstring injury but remains one of the better outfield prospects in baseball. Meadows is an above average athlete with long-term 20-20 potential. Most impressively, at just 19 years of age and over a fairly small sample size, Meadows has shown an advanced grasp of the strike zone, a quick bat and emerging power. He’ll spend 2015 in A+ ball.

8. Michael Conforto (NYM) – Conforto was the consensus top college hitter in the 2014 draft and has thus far not disappointed, showing a highly disciplined, short-left-handed swing with natural loft and plus power potential. Defensively, he is limited to left field, but he profiles as a possible 25+ HR hitter who can hit for average as well. The Mets are likely to advance him quickly, though it's entirely possible he’ll begin 2015 in A+ ball.

9. Aaron Judge (NYY) – The Yankees 2013 first round draft pick acclimated quickly to the Minors, showing off plate discipline and excellent power at two levels of play. The righty will advance to Double-A with a chance to move as high as Triple-A with a possible late-season call-up. He may not be a .300 hitter in the Majors but could be a .270s to .280s hitter with a good OBP and 30+ HR power over the long run.

10. Bradley Zimmer (CLE) – The 21st overall pick in the 2014 draft, Zimmer is on the fast track to the Majors and likely to begin his first full season of pro-ball in A+ ball. The 22-year-old is already displaying a very advanced plate approach, plus speed, the defense to handle center and projectable growing power that could make him a high-teens to low-twenties HR hitter in time. He should at least be able to hit for average and steal 20 or more bases at his peak.

11. Michael Taylor (WAS) – See Above.

12. Clint Frazier (CLE) - I am not a fan of players who tend to strike out close to a third of the time, but at 20 years of age, Frazier has time to turn things around. The tools are worth watching as Frazier is a centerfielder with above average speed and tools and could yet develop into a 30/20 player in time. Frazier is at least not overly aggressive and is willing to wait for his pitch, so there is some hope. Place him under the high-risk/high-reward category.

13. Jesse Winker (CIN) - Winker does not necessarily have the high end tools that many other prospects on this list have, but he does have the skills to succeed at the MLB level. A former supplemental first round pick, Winker has always displayed an extremely disciplined approach, walking almost as often as he strikes out while making solid and consistent contact to produce line drives and hit for average and OBPs eclipsing .400. The biggest question mark will be how he develops in the power department. The raw strength is there for 20+ home runs per season, but his approach may be more tailored to line drives and hitting for average. He’ll be valuable for fantasy players regardless. Expect Winker to begin 2015 in Double-A with a chance to move up to Triple-A and push for a starting job at some point in 2016.

14. Alex Jackson (SEA) – Jackson was the 6th overall pick in last year’s amateur draft. A 19-year-old right fielder, Jackson’s game is mostly about his bat. The righty is blessed with plus to plus-plus power and if successful in the Minors, he could develop into a 25 HR or better hitter at the MLB level. Jackson has already shown some selectivity and should draw walks at high rates as he heads up the Minors, but given his handedness and focus on his power game, he should not necessarily be expected to hit for a high batting average long-term. A former catcher, he will not be a threat to run.

15. Raimel Tapia (COL) - Tapia is an interesting long-term target. The 21-year-old had a solid full season of A-ball, showing a very quick bat with an ability to put the bat on the ball on a consistent basis. The righty is still fairly raw, but he made contact roughly 84% of the time while hitting .326. His power started to emerge too, as he put nine balls out of the park while collecting 32 doubles. Tapia is also an above average runner, stealing 33 bases, but may be more of a 20 to 25 SB threat long-term. The lefty will advance to A+ ball for 2015.

16. Billy McKinney (CHC) – Acquired along with Addison Russell in the Jeff Samardzija deal, McKinney is a left fielder with a modest ceiling but advanced skills. The lefty is a selective line drive hitter who focuses on making contact and hitting line drives. Some power began to emerge last season as he registered 11 homers, 24 doubles and six triples between two A+ ball stops. Long term, it's possible he could be a high teens to low-twenties HR hitter, but that may require him to sell out on some of his contact making. Expect McKinney to get a full season at Double-A.

17. Dalton Pompey (TOR) – See Above.

18. Hunter Renfroe (SD) – Renfroe is a right-handed right fielder with plenty of raw power, knocking 21 balls over the wall last year. He has done well to keep his strikeouts under control and wait for his pitch. The biggest issue for him right now is the Padres’ outfield depth, which will have him return to Double-A and make it difficult for him to receive playing time at the MLB level in 2015. Renfroe is a possible .270s 20+ HR hitter at the MLB level.

19. Manuel Margot (BOS) – Margot broke out in A-ball, showing more power and making better contact while stealing 39 bases. He is not necessarily a high ceiling player, his power maxing out in the low teens, but he is a possible top of the lineup hitter who can handle centerfield and so far has shown a consistent ability to get on base. He’ll move up to A+ ball this year.

20. Rafael Bautista (WAS) - Bautista’s 69 stolen bases in A-ball make him hard to ignore. An above average centerfielder, Bautista is a fairly good contact hitter but will need to work a lot on his selectivity to become a bottom of the order or fourth outfielder type player as he offers very little in the extra-base power department.

Honorable Mention Long-Term Outfield Prospects: Albert Almora (CHC),  Nick Williams (TEX), Josh Bell (PIT), Phil Ervin (CIN), Tyler Naquin (CLE), Alex Verdugo (LAD), Derek Hill (DET), Gabriel Guerrero (SEA)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 March 2015 08:55
 
Top Ten Shortstop Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 10 March 2015 00:00

This week, we continue our look at the top ten short-term and long-term prospects with a scan of the prospects manning the shortstop position. Some of the best power-hitting prospects can be found at this position, though many carry the “high-risk/high-reward” label.

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.

Top Ten Shortstop Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Addison Russell (CHC) – Russell will begin 2015 in Triple-A, where he will await an opening at either shortstop or second base. A lot depends on whether the Cubs opt to trade Starlin Castro or whether Javier Baez can adapt to the Major Leagues. While a solid average defender, Russell is mostly noted for his bat. The former first round pick has good bat speed and most notably, above average power for his position with 20 or more HR per season potential. Russell showed off a patient approach and made good contact in the lower minors, but his plate discipline numbers have varied a bit from level to level, but he should be at least a .270 hitter in the Majors, producing solid power numbers. Russell once stole over 20 bases in a minor league season but is more likely a mid-teens contributor long-term.

2. Francisco Lindor (CLE) – Last year it was speculated that the slick-fielding Lindor would make it all the way to the Majors. He played well in Double-A, earning a promotion to Triple-A, where his offensive game fell somewhat apart as he became more aggressive at the plate, walking less and striking out more frequently, showing his youth and that he was not quite ready for primetime. That said, Lindor still has Omar Vizquel potential. If moved to the Majors now, Lindor would rate as one of the best glove men in the Majors. When on his game, the switch-hitter has a very refined approach, making contact and drawing walks, as well as plus speed and the ability to steal 30 or more bases in a single season. Provided the 21-year-old can right his ship, there is a possible .280 to .300+ hitter with single-digit HR power to be found. Lindor’s arrival is tied to the effectiveness and health of either Joe Ramirez or Jason Kipnis.

3. Corey Seager (LAD) – Seager stormed through A+ and Double-A, batting around .350 at each level while displaying above average power to combine on 20 long balls. Seager will return to Double-A to begin 2015 but could advance quickly with more of the same. While the Dodgers want him to remain at shortstop for now and he could stay there a few more seasons, it’s fairly obvious that at 6’4” and with sub-par speed, a move to third is in the cards. The lefty has well above average bat speed and has shown a good batting eye in the lower levels, but he was selling out more for power last season, his walk rate dropping and strikeouts increasing as well. The potential for a .300+ hitter is here given the tools, but unless he translates some of those minor league skills to the upper levels, he’ll be more of a .280s hitter in the long run.

4. Carlos Correa (HOU) – Not even a broken fibula that cost Correa most of 2014 pushes him down off of the top shortstop pedestal. Correa is above average on both sides of the ball and will remain at shortstop for his career. At just 20 years of age, Correa is already an advanced hitter with plenty of patience and a quick bat that profiles to add more power as he matures. The 6’4” righty is a solid contact hitter with plus speed and looks like a possible .300+ mid-teens HR, 30+ steal candidate. Due to his advanced skills, he’ll begin 2015 in Double-A and has a chance to reach the Majors later this season. It depends mostly on how aggressive the Astros want to be with his arbitration time clock.

5. Daniel Robertson (TB) – The Rays acquired Robertson this offseason in the deal for Ben Zobrist. He instantly zoomed to the top of their long-term positional charts for shortstop, at least for the short-term as there are other players in the system who rate slightly better with the glove and could force his move to third or second base long-term. That aside, Robertson has the ability to stay at the position long-term, but what he brings that is a plus is on offense with mid-teens to low-twenties HR power potential and a very disciplined approach that lets him make consistent, hard contact. He batted .310/.402/.471 in 2014 in A+ ball and will move up to Double-A with a chance of reaching Triple-A and making a MLB impact in 2016.

6. Matt Duffy (SF) – Duffy is not a high ceiling player, but he is a high-skills one. He hit .332 in Double-A, showing patience and making good contact. He is not blessed with great speed but is a smart runner who stole 20 bases last year. He ended up in the Majors  in a utility role and will begin 2015 as the Giants Triple-A shortstop waiting for a chance in the Majors.

7. Nick Ahmed (ARI) – Ahmed could push Chris Owings and Cliff Pennington for playing time as soon as mid-season. Ahmed is a plus fielder with 25+ stolen base potential and a contact-oriented approach at the plate. It is unclear whether or not he will be able to hit for average at the MLB level, but he improved in Triple-A last season to hit .312 while showing plenty of doubles power. Worst case scenario will find him as the Diamondbacks utility player later this year and in 2016. His all-around defensive and hitting skills could be enough to push him to the forefront.

8. Deven Marrero (BOS) – Marrero is on the borderline of potential starter and utility guy. He will return to Double-A, where he’ll show off his well above average glove. Marrero also has enough speed to steal 20 bases and is a disciplined, contact hitter to boot with doubles power. He could fill the role of starter for a lot of teams given the opportunity.

9. Jorge Polanco (MIN) – Polanco jumped from Double-A to the Majors as a 21-year-old but would benefit from more time at Double-A and Triple-A. He has the tools to remain at short but may be better off at second. From a fantasy perspective, he brings high single-digits to mid-teens HR power potential and above average speed, and at the lower levels of the Minors showed excellent control of the strikezone. Polanco has a nice blend of tools and skills and could return to the Majors as soon as mid-season if all goes well, but most likely he will have a bigger impact in 2016.

10. Jace Peterson (ATL) – A former supplemental first round pick of the Padres, Peterson will begin 2015 as the Braves Triple-A shortstop, though he is better suited to second. Peterson’s best asset is his plate discipline, as he has showed tremendous patience and ability to make contact and hit for average. Otherwise, he has modest speed, though an excellent minor league record of being able to steal bases despite said speed, and average at best doubles power. Peterson, if given the opportunity, could be a solid, though unspectacular second baseman at the MLB level. However, his double play partner in Triple-A is Jose Peraza, who will be the Braves long-term second baseman, limiting Peterson to a utility role.

Honorable Mention: Dixon Machado (DET)

Long Term Fantasy Impact

1. Carlos Correa (HOU) – See Above.

2. Addison Russell (CHC) – See Above.

3. Corey Seager (LAD) – See Above.

4. J.P. Crawford (PHI) - Crawford is a potential impact player on both sides of the ball, similarly to Addison Russell. Crawford made it all the way to A+ ball as a 19-year-old,  hitting eight home runs in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. At all stops, Crawford has shown a very advanced approach, walking and striking out at similar rates. The combination may make him an ideal #2 hole hitter long-term, where he could show off his on-base skills, ability to hit for average, and mid-teens or better HR potential. Crawford stole 24 bases last year but has only average speed at best and should not be considered much of a stolen base threat long-term.

5. Francisco Lindor (CLE) –See Above.

6. Daniel Robertson (TB) – See Above.

7. Orlando Arcia (MIL) – The younger brother of Oswaldo, Orlando has elite defensive talents and 30-plus stolen base potential. More impressively was how well he handled A+ ball as a 19-year-old, making contact 88% of the time while drawing walks a respectable 8% of the time. Arcia has doubles power now and projects to possibly hit double-digit home runs long-term. He’ll move up to Double-A to begin 2015 and could be in the Majors by mid to late 2016.

8. Trea Turner (WAS/SD) – The Padres’ 2014 first round pick is in an odd state of limbo wherein he was dealt as part of a three-way trade with the Nationals but can’t actually be included in the deal until a year after he was drafted. Regardless, Turner is an average defender at short with good upside with the bat, including average power that should translate into low to mid-teens HR power, above average bat speed, and most notably, plus-speed, as he stole 23 bases between two different minor league stops and seven more in the AFL. Turner will get his first full season of pro-ball in the California League. There’s a solid foundation of skills and tools here to make him well worth watching.

9. Franklin Barreto (OAK) – While it is unclear as to whether Barreto will remain a shortstop long-term, his bat certainly plays there quite well. A plus runner, Barreto stole 29 bases last year, but he is not just a one-dimensional speedster. He also combined for 33 extra-base hits, including six homers, while hitting .311/.384/.481 and projects to add more power as he matures. He needs to work on his defense and cut down on the strikeouts, but at 19, there is plenty of time for him to improve. He’ll move to full-season ball this year.

10. Nick Gordon (MIN) - The fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, Nick is the younger brother of Dee and the son of Tom Gordon. Though a solid defensive shortstop, Nick is not a blazer like his older brother. However, he is 6’2” and profiles to hit for more power and still has above average speed and the potential to perhaps develop into a 15-15 or better threat at the plate.

11. Ozhaino Albies (ATL) – For those with the very long-term in mind, keep an eye on Albies. 2015 will be his first full season of pro-ball, but the 18-year-old is already a plus defender with advanced plate discipline skills and 20+ or better stolen base speed, and he should develop into a doubles hitter with high single-digit to low-teens HR power.

Honorable Mentions: Yoan Moncada (BOS), Tim Anderson (CHW), Amed Rosario (NYM), Wilmer Difo (WAS), Willy Adames (TB), Jorge Mateo (NYY), Trevor Story (COL), Sergio Alcantara (AZ), Gavin Cecchini (NYM), Gleyber Torres (CHC), Alex Blandino (CIN), Cole Tucker (PIT)

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 March 2015 01:18
 
Top Ten Third Base Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 03 March 2015 00:00

This week, we continue our look at the top ten short-term and long-term prospects with a scan of the prospects manning the hot corner. Some of the best power hitting prospects can be found at this position, though many carry the “high-risk/high-reward” label.

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.

Top Ten Third Base Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Kris Bryant – CHC - The 2013 first round draft pick is not guaranteed a starting job out of spring training but is a non-roster invitee who will be challenging for playing time around the infield and may get a look in the outfield too, so the Cubs are already looking at creative ways to get his potential impact bat into the lineup as soon as possible. Bryant hit over 40 homers between two minor league levels in 2014 and projects as a 30+ HR hitter at the MLB level and is a patient hitter who waits for a pitch to drive out of the ball park. While this will work nicely in OBP leagues, Bryant is a righty who strikes out over a quarter of the time regularly and looks like a long-term .250s to .260s hitter. Defensively, he can handle third for now, but he probably profiles better in a corner outfield spot or at first base. He’ll be up by mid-season at the latest, but keep in mind his handedness/strikeout rate combination makes him a high-risk/high-reward selection. 

2. Ryan Rua – TEX – Rua is technically a third baseman, but he is enough of an athlete and his bat is of a high quality that the Rangers will consider a position change for him, particularly with Adrian Beltre still on the team and Joey Gallo one step behind him in Double-A. Rua of course does not have Gallo’s raw power but does project to be able to hit 20 to 25 home runs in a season and what’s more, he actually has improved his ability to make contact, doing so over 80% of the time at his Double-A and Triple-A stops in 2014, leaving some hope that he could hit for a modest batting average as well as some power. Keep an eye on the left field situation as Rua has the ability to take the job as soon as mid-season, if not this spring if he outperforms the competition.

3. Miguel Sano – MIN – Barring Sano’s injury last season, there was reason to believe the 21-year-old would reach the Majors and claim a starting job. Sano is another third baseman who might play the position for a few years but is expected to outgrow it and necessitate a move across the diamond. The righty’s game is quite similar to Kris Bryant’s as a patient hitter with easy legitimate 30-plus HR potential and a strikeout rate that ranges from 25% to 30% of the time. Again, this is another situation to expect a solid OBP but quite varied results in the batting average department. Sano should begin 2015 in Triple-A with a chance at a mid-season promotion once he proves his surgically-repaired elbow is fully healed.

4. Colin Moran – HOU – A former first round pick of the Marlins, Moran could push his way into the starting third base job for the Astros by mid-season, especially considering they have gone with a stop-gap option in the form of Luis Valbuena at third base. Moran is a solid, but unexciting defensive third baseman who has a line-drive/contact-oriented swing that should allow him to hit for average, but right now he looks like a high-single digits to low-teens home run hitter barring a change in plate approach. Those looking for a modest ceiling, low-risk option should consider Moran as a draft pick.

5. Maikel Franco – PHI - Franco combines excellent bat speed with good contact-making skills and plus raw power. The overall combination, however, has produced mid to upper teens results in home runs and sub-par OBPs given his aggressiveness at the plate. However, his contact/power skills give Franco the ability to hit for average, making him a possible .280+, 15+ home run hitter at the MLB level. He’ll begin 2015 in Triple-A. A lackluster start to the season by Cody Asche and solid results by Franco could have him in the Majors by mid-season.

6. Giovanny Urshela – CLE – Lonnie Chisenhall picked the right time to firm up his full-time job, but he will need to keep it up because the Indians have another near-ready option at Triple-A in Urshela. A slick fielder, the 23-year-old is not a high-ceiling offensive player but has similar, if not slightly beter power potential than the former and a quick, line-drive hitting bat that should allow him to hit for average too. It's possible Urshela could be an upgrade over Chisenhall right now, but the Indians will stick with the incumbent for now.

7. Kyle Kubitza – ATL – Defensively, Kubitza rates ahead of the recently acquired Rio Ruiz. On offense, once his greatest strength is his greatest weakness as the lefty posts high walk rates, but does so to such an extent that he is too passive, generating high strikeout rates too. Power wise, he is comparable to Ruiz as a mid-teens HR hitter, but he offers more to the fantasy player due to slightly above-average speed and mid to high-teens stolen base potential. He’ll begin the year in Triple-A, hoping to push aside Chris Johnson (who is coming off a sub-.300 OBP 2014 campaign) at the MLB level.

8. Jake Lamb – ARI – Heading into the 2014 off-season, the Diamondbacks were already pretty rich in terms of third base prospects. Then they signed Yasmany Tomas, blocking off the progress of both Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury, so a potential opportunity for their young players has effectively gone up in smoke unless Tomas fails miserably. There is nothing tremendously wrong with Lamb’s game. He’s a more than capable defender at 3B, has a good history of being patient, and has above average power, projecting to eclipse 20 homers a season given the opportunity. His one shortcoming, not surprising for a power-hitter, has been his strikeout rates, but they have been at or under a quarter of the time for most of his career and therefore far from potentially career ruining. His 133 plate appearance audition last season, however, did not go very well as his plate discipline fell apart after jumping straight from Double-A, managing just a .230 batting average. Lamb will return to Triple-A for more seasoning and could end up trade bait.

9. Hunter Dozier – KC – Dozier was the 8th overall pick in the 2013 draft. After a solid rookie-ball debut, the Royals advanced him to A+ ball where he played well, showing off his plate discipline and emerging power to the point that he was promoted at mid-season to Double-A. There, his strikeout rate rose and he began to struggle and play off his game. Normally, Dozier is a line-drive oriented hitter with a patient approach and not one prone to chase pitches. He’ll repeat Double-A, where the Royals hope he can regain his form. An early to mid-season promotion to Triple-A is a possibility with a late-season promotion to the Majors also fair to consider, especially if Mike Moustakas continues to struggle. A college shortstop, Dozier transitioned well to third base and should have no trouble remaining there. He profiles as a low to mid-teens HR hitter who can hit for average and get on base if he can get his game together.

10. Garin Cecchini – BOS - Cecchini had a chance to push aside Will Middlebrooks and become the Red Sox starting third baseman last year. He failed, translating few of his lower-level minor league skills to Triple-A. Now, Pablo Sandoval is in town for the next several seasons and there is no clear path to the Majors for Cecchini. When on his game, he profiles to hit for average and a very solid OBP. While not a fast runner, he’s a smart one capable of double-digits in steals. However, it now looks like a trade may be the only way he gets a chance, but first he’ll have to prove 2014 was a fluke after producing a weak .263/.341/.371 Triple-A line.

Honorable Mention/Names to Keep on the Radar as call-up candidates: Matt Davidson

Top Ten Third Base Prospects for Long Term Fantasy Impact

1. Kris Bryant – CHC – See Above.

2. Miguel Sano – MIN – See Above.

3. Ryan McMahon – COL – McMahon does not have quite the raw power of some players on this list, but he does have a plate approach that provides less risk when compared to his third base prospect compatriots. The recently turned 20-year-old could advance to A+ ball to start this year and given his age and the presence of Nolan Arenado, the Rockies will probably keep him on a one-level/season time-frame. Still, he’ll be quite young for his league. McMahon projects to generate low to mid-twenties home run or better power at his peak, plus given low to mid-twenties strikeout rates, he could be a .270s or better hitter. McMahon is also separated from other power hitters on this list by being a solid athlete with a good arm who should be able to remain at third base long-term.

4. Joey Gallo – TEX – The 21-year-old Gallo has ripped through the Rangers system, reaching Double-A last year while hitting 42 homers, 21 at each level of play. The lefty is a true all or nothing slugger who typically strikes out over 35% of the time, but he walked 21% and 12% at each level of play respectively in 2014. The former supplemental first round pick looked like he was making some progress in the contact making department during his time in A+ ball, cutting his strikeout rates down to just a quarter of the time, but promptly relapsed to 40% of the time upon promotion to Double-A. Gallo is an exciting prospect, especially playing in Texas, but it is hard to see him hitting much beyond .230 given his current state of development. Long-term, he’ll move off third base to first base or the outfield, should he make it as a starter. While Gallo has youth on his side, it is hard to see him making it as a starter long-term barring a substantial reduction in his strikeout rates at the upper levels of the Minors. Gallo could see time in the Majors, but he is more likely a September call-up.

5. Rafael Devers – BOS – For those of you in deeper dynasty leagues, Devers is worthy of consideration. The lefty hit seven home runs as a 17-year-old in rookie ball and should move up to full-season A-ball as an 18-year-old. Devers will stick at third for now, but time will tell his long term position. So far, he has shown a quick, powerful bat, and while raw in many aspects of his game, has shown an aptitude for making contact thus far. While there is stud potential here, it is hard to recommend him until we can see what he does over the course of a full minor league season.

6. Maikel Franco – PHI - See Above.

7. Brandon Drury – ARI – Drury is coming off a solid season split between A+ and Double-A, hitting for average and power, batting around .295 with 23 homers and a mid-.300 OBP. Like Lamb, he is a solid defender at third base but has had the benefit of receiving playing time at second base too, which could be his ultimate destination. It is unclear whether Drury will return to Double-A, where he had fewer than 200 plate appearances, or advance to Triple-A and play second base full-time. Like Lamb, Drury could end up either trade bait or Aaron Hill’s heir apparent.

8. Rio Ruiz – ATL – The Braves acquired Ruiz in the Evan Gattis deal and have him slated to begin his Braves career in Double-A. The former fourth round pick does not profile as a stud but has enough skill to stay at 3B defensively, and he has a very disciplined approach that should allow him to post solid OBP numbers and hit for average too. Because of that said approach, however, his power ceiling is not that high, projecting to the mid-teens. Still, the overall combination of skills could put him ahead of fellow third base prospect Kyle Kubitza in the Braves’ system in the long run, though Kubitza is likely to get an opportunity before Ruiz does.

9. Matt Chapman – OAK – Oakland’s 2014 first round pick had a mixed debut season. Over a small sample size, he showed off his well above average defense and flashed his plus power potential, but he also displayed an overly aggressive approach at the plate that may have been out of context with his previous performance at the college level. He’ll get his first full season of professional ball in A+ ball but could advance to Double-A before the end of the season if he performs well.

10. Renato Nunez – OAK – With Chapman in this organization, from a pure defensive spectrum, Nunez will not be staying at third base. However, Nunez does at least have the advantage of having established himself as a power-hitting prospect with 19 HR and 29 HR in back-to-back seasons as a 19-year-old and 20-year-old. The righty is still raw at the plate and can be overly aggressive, but he has a quick bat and still managed to make contact 80% of the time in A+ ball. Renato is a possible 25+ HR, .280 threat but not likely much of an OBP one. He will probably be limited to first base long-term.

Honorable Mention: Drew Dosch (BAL), Jomar Reyes (BAL), Zach Shepherd (DET), Steven Fuentes (DET), J.D. Davis (HOU), Trey Michalczewski (CWS), Jhoan Urena (NYM), Gavin LaValley (CIN), Gilbert Lara (MIL)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 March 2015 10:10
 
Top Ten Second Base Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 24 February 2015 01:46

This week, we continue our look at the top ten short-term and long-term prospects with a scan of the prospects manning second base.

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.

Top Ten Second Base Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Jose Peraza – ATL – The Braves’ top prospect could be making the jump to the Majors as early as opening day, though will more realistically receive a mid-season promotion from Triple-A. The right-handed hitter’s game is all about his speed, possessing both a quick bat with a high-frequency contact making approach and a near 80 on the scale scout speed that should translate into 50-plus stolen base totals. While he’ll never be a significant OBP threat or more than a 1 to 3 HR threat, Peraza could be a .290 to .300-plus hitter and his overall give should translate quickly to the Majors, making him a possible immediate impact fantasy threat.

2. Devon Travis – TOR – The Jays enter 2015 with Maicer Izturis as their starting second baseman. Given the former’s injury history and Travis’ talent, it is only a matter of months before the latter has the starting job. The former top Tigers prospect is a very advanced hitter with doubles power and mid-teens HR potential that should allow him to post solid OBP and batting averages long term. The righty had a .298/.358/.460 line at Double-A and has done a very solid job of translating his game to each new level of play. A mid-season call-up is a very good possibility.

3. Ryan Brett – TB – The Rays brought in Ryan Franklin last season from Seattle and will give him an extended look to lock down the second base job, but the club is not without a backup plan. Former 3rd round pick Ryan Brett will be advancing to Triple-A this year. The switch-hitter is a solid defender with plus speed and is coming off a 27-stolen base season in which he also produced 39 extra-base hits, including eight home runs, in just 459 plate appearances. Brett has a quick bat, makes solid contact, and could transition quickly to the Majors given the opportunity. Franklin owners should make a priority of selecting Brett in the minor league phase of their keeper league drafts.

4. Micah Johnson – CWS – Johnson is the long-term favorite to inherit the second base job and will compete for the job this spring. The 24-year-old has a history of hamstring troubles, but when healthy has 30-plus stolen base speed, high single-digits to low-teens home run power and a top-of-the-order worthy approach at the plate. At Double-A, Johnson posted a .329/.414 line, but he faded in the selectivity department upon promotion to Triple-A. The lefty could possibly use a half-season more at Triple-A, but it's only a matter of time (and good health), before he wrests the job away from Carlos Sanchez.

5. Carlos Sanchez – CWS – Sanchez took over as the White Sox second baseman late last year and has the job heading into the spring, albeit with Gordon Beckham on the bench and Micah Johnson waiting in Triple-A, so he’ll be under a lot of pressure to even hold onto the job. The switch-hitter makes a fair amount of contact but has little in the way of pop and can be overpowered. Long-term, he’s more of a utility player and pinch runner. Sanchez is a possible .260s hitter with double-digit steals given regular playing time.

6. Rob Refsnyder – NYY – The Yankees re-signed Stephen Drew to a one-year contract, but this was designed as a stop-gap move for Refsnyder, who could be up by mid-season. A former fifth-round pick, Refsnyder has mid to upper teens power and a patient approach that should play well in OBP leagues, but he also has a slightly long swing that will make his .300 batting average in Double-A tough to translate to the Majors. More likely, the righty is a .260 to .270s threat with mid-teens pop and single-digit speed.

7. Christian Colon – KC – A former first-round pick, Colon enters 2015 as a utility player for the Royals. If injury were to occur to Omar Infante, Colon would be a very capable fill-in as a highly disciplined contact hitter with upper single-digit to low-teens home run power.

8. Hernan Perez – DET – Perez heads into spring training as a bench player for the Tigers and has been adding to his versatility with playing time in the outfield, though his best position remains 2B. The 23-year-old has just a modest ceiling but is a line-drive hitter with mid-single digit pop and double-digit capable speed. Barring injury to Ian Kinsler, however, he’ll remain in a utility role and a pickup only in deeper leagues.

9. Dilson Herrera – NYM –The Mets are going to have to make some decisions, but all signs point to Herrera taking over as the starting second baseman. Whether this occurs in the middle of this year or in 2016 is tied to the Mets’ ability to challenge for a playoff spot. An out of contention Mets franchise would be all but assured to deal soon-to-be free agent Daniel Murphy out of town. Herrera, unfortunately, like Murphy is not particularly gifted in the defensive department and is best regulated to 2B, leaving him blocked unless the former is dealt or injured. Herrera is a well-rounded offensive force with mid-teens HR potential, solid control of the strike zone, good bat speed and the ability to get on-base. Herrera has stolen bases in the Minors, but like Murphy, it is more on skill rather than talent and expectations should rise no further than the low double-digits. Herrera won’t be a star, but he could be a very solid regular.

10. Alex Yarbrough – LAA – Yarbrough has a legitimate shot at pushing his way into the starting second base job this year. A year ago with both Howie Kendrick and Taylor Lindsey ahead of him, this seemed an unlikely prospect, but now he has only Grant Green, Josh Rutledge and Taylor Featherston as real competition. The switch-hitter has mid to upper teens HR power and makes enough contact to be a .260s to .280s hitter, but he is not the best defensive second baseman in the world and has little speed to speak of.

Honorable Mention/Names to Keep on the Radar as call-up candidates: Alen Hanson (PIT), Jace Peterson (ATL), Sean Coyle (BOS), Ronny Rodriguez (CLE), Alex Guerrero (LAD), Jose Pirela (NYY), Taylor Featherston (LAA), Tony Kemp (HOU), Darnell Sweeney (LAD), Joe Wendle (OAK), Odubel Herrera (PHI), Taylor Lindsey (SD), Cory Spangenberg (SD), Jacob Wilson (STL).

Top Ten Second Base Prospects for Long Term Fantasy Impact

1. Jose Peraza – See above.

2. Forrest Wall – COL – A 2014 supplemental first-round pick out of high school, Wall is an exciting player with an extremely advanced feel for the strike zone, a quick bat and plus power for his position. The 19-year-old dominated rookie ball with a .318/.416/.490 line while stealing 18 bases and has at least 15/15 potential in the Majors, if not 20/20.

3. Jesmuel Valentin – PHI – The 20-year-old son of former MLB shortstop Jose Valentin, Jesmuel was acquired from the Dodgers by Philadelphia last year. A switch-hitter like his dad, Jesmuel already has above average speed, swiping 24 bags in A-ball, and while not as powerful as his dad, he's not devoid of power either, hitting seven home runs and registering 31 other extra-base hits, including eight triples. The 20-year-old is at this point a better contact hitter than his dad and has also shown solid patience at the plate. Right now, he looks like a 10 to 15 HR/25 SB player and should be the Phillies' long term second base solution.

4. Ryan Brett – TB – See above.

5. Dilson Herrera – NYM - See above.

6. Micah Johnson – CWS - See above.

7. Alen Hanson – PIT - Hanson has very interesting fantasy potential as someone who profiles to hit into the low teens in home runs and has the ability to steal 20 or more bases. The question here is opportunity with the Pirates as Neil Walker remains locked in as their second baseman. It may also depend on Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison continuing to perform for him to get his opportunity. For now, Hanson will get his first taste of Triple-A and will most likely receive a late season call-up to prepare for a more robust role in 2016.

8. Devon Travis – TOR – See above.

9. Avery Romero – MIA – Romero is an offense-oriented second baseman who has a very quick bat and makes consistent contact as well as emerging power (possible middle teens or better HR power). The righty batted .320 at both A and A+ ball in 2014 while hitting plenty of doubles. The 21-year-old will move up to Double-A and is still a work in progress in terms of defense and selectivity.

10. Travis Demeritte – TEX – The 2013 first-round pick has the greatest raw power of any second baseman on this list. So far, he’s shown he can stick at the position, so he at least has that under his belt. The question, despite his 25 HR output of 2014, is his ability to make contact. Demeritte swung and missed almost 37% of the time and hit .211. He was at least selective enough to post an OBP of .310, so there is a ray of hope. Demeritte is the epitome of high-risk/high-reward. If he can make any strides in his pitch recognition over the coming years (and fortunately he has the advantage of youth), then he could become a potent offensive threat at second base. For now, there are less risky options worth selecting ahead of him.

Honorable Mention: Christian Arroyo (SF), Domingo Leyba (AZ), Sean Coyle (BOS), Jake Peter (CWS), Chad Pinder (OAK), Jacob Wilson (STL)

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 10:41
 
Top Ten First Base Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 17 February 2015 00:13

This week, we continue our look at the top ten short-term and long-term prospects with a scan of the prospects manning first base.

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.

Top Ten First Base Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Christian Walker – BAL – The question for Walker heading into 2014 was “will he ever hit for power?” He answered that and then some with 26 homers between two levels of play. To do so, Walker had to sell out a little bit, cutting 3% off his strikeout rates from 2013 and then cutting them another 6 percent upon promotion from Double-A to Triple-A last year. If this is the new Christian Walker, the righty is now likely more of a .250 to .260s hitter with high teens to low-twenties home run potential. Chris Davis will get a chance to redeem himself this year, but Walker is waiting in the wings. This year, Walker’s challenge will be to try to retain some of, if not most of, the power he has tapped into while reestablishing his old contact-making skills.

2. D.J. Peterson – SEA – The Mariners head into 2015 with off-injured Logan Morrison penciled in as their everyday 1B. Should Morrison fail, Jesus Montero or possibly Ji-Man Choi may be the first options to receive playing time, meaning while Peterson could be a mid to late season call-up based on his fast paced progress through the system, he might not be the first option. That said, Peterson has the greatest impact bat of the trio and it may be difficult for the Mariners to keep him down on the farm if he continues from where he left off in 2014. The righty has the raw power expected of a first baseman, with 25-plus, if not 30-plus HR potential, but he's not a high strikeout machine, instead making contact close to 80% of the time at every level he’s played at. Peterson crushed it in the extremely friendly environment of High Desert, batting .326 while slugging 18 HRs in 299 plate appearances. While his assault tapered in Double-A he still managed another 13 round-trippers there and showed little variance, if not improvement in his plate approach with the change in level. Peterson is also not a typical all or nothing slugger. He’ll begin 2015 in Triple-A and a strong follow-up could move him to the Majors by mid-season.

3. Justin Bour – MIA – This former Cub and 25th round draft pick has a rather good shot of opening the season on the Marlins’ opening day roster as a pinch hitter and back-up to Michael Morse. Bour is a fairly typical 1B prospect, devoid of speed and much defensive skill, but he has power aplenty with 19 HRs between the Minors and Majors last year. Bour has shown some ability to make contact in the Minors and is patient, but he has a somewhat long swing, so it remains to be seen how high an average he can hit for. Keep an eye on the situation between him and Morse, as moving into a platoon role is within Bour’s capabilities.

4. Jesus Aguilar – CLE – Aguilar answered critics last season by developing his power while retaining the rest of his plate discipline skills, yet he got only a brief cup of coffee. In 2015, he will enter the season in a similar situation, likely spending most of it in Triple-A as roster filler with his best path to success being either the injury or further decline of one of the Indians’ veterans. Aguilar hit 19 HRs in Triple-A while making contact 81% of the time and walking 13% of it to bat .304/.395/.511. He doesn’t have quite the power potential of many of the first basemen in this article, but his all-around combination of skills makes him deserving of a shot.

5. Travis Shaw – BOS – The son of former Reds closer, Jeff Shaw, Travis is a former 9th round pick who has done well to develop his power (21 HRs) while showing excellent plate discipline skills. In Double-A, he actually walked more than he struck out, making contact 89% of the time while slugging .548. The 24-year-old faded mightily (and back more towards his career norms in the strikeout department) once promoted to Triple-A, but overall Shaw does have good enough tools and skills to be a major leaguer. A poor showing by Mike Napoli could make that a reality.

6. Rangel Ravelo – OAK – First base has been a bit of no man’s land for the A’s these last few years, and they once again head into uncertainty with Ike Davis. Ravelo may prove the primary beneficiary. The former White Sox prospect will head to Triple-A and lie in wait. The righty is no power hitter, but instead more a Doug Mientkiewicz type with a decent glove and an excellent plate approach that will help him get on-base and hit for average. He hit .309/.386/.473 in Double-A last year and has a skill set that should allow him to transition quickly to the Majors.

7. Patrick Kivlehan  - SEA – Kivlehan is helping to make things a log-jam in Seattle. The 25-year-old falls in between Peterson and Choi on the power spectrum with mid to upper teens power potential, but has a disciplined, line-drive hitting approach that allows him to hit for average and get on base. He’s Triple-A ready, but it’s unclear given this log-jam where exactly he will play in 2015. It’s possible he’ll have to go back to his original position of third base or move to the outfield.

8. Jason Rogers – MIL – The Brewers moved Rogers to third base last season, a position he is a borderline at best fit for, so we’ll keep him at his original position of first base for the purposes of this piece. A 26-year-old former 32nd round draft pick, Rogers will begin 2015 in Triple-A as an insurance policy at multiple positions. The righty has a rather disciplined approach and has developed upper teens to low-twenties home run power while continuing to maintain contact rates in the mid-80% range. It’s somewhat possible that he could push his way into a platoon with Adam Lind at first base before the season is over, if not something more substantial.

9. Ji-Man Choi – SEA – Should an injury occur to Logan Morrison, Choi could be a player who gets the call and could possibly claim the 1B job for the rest of the season. Choi is a low-ceiling hitter in terms of power, but he is also an extremely well-disciplined line-drive hitter who gets on base and makes consistent contact. The 23-year-old could possibly hit in the .280s with a very solid OBP in the Majors right now, albeit with mid to high single digit home run power.

10. Xavier Scruggs – STL – Scrugs has hit no fewer than 21 HRs in each the four previous seasons and has made strong strides along the way to cut back on his strikeouts. In 2015, they dropped 11 points from 32.4% to 21.2%. Scruggs' chances at playing time are fairly blocked at the MLB level, but he has proven power and a patient approach. The question here is whether the strikeout rates regress back to their previous, lofty numbers, taking him from possible bench/platoon player to organizational player.

Honorable Mention/Names to Keep on the Radar as call-up candidates: Stetson Allie (PIT), Andy Wilkins (CWS)

Top Ten First Base Prospects for Long-Term Fantasy Impact

D.J. Peterson – See Above.

Gregory Bird – NYY - Bird is looking like the heir apparent to Mark Teixeira. The question is will it be 2015 or 2016? The former fifth round draft pick has low to mid-twenties homer potential and a very selective approach, walking frequently while keeping his strikeout rates under a quarter of the time. He’ll begin the year in Double-A and could enjoy a mid-season call-up to Triple-A, but he's likely to receive a cup of coffee at most in the Majors, unless significant injuries occur at the MLB level. Long-term, he looks like a possible .270s, 20 HR player who will be quite valuable in OBP-based leagues.

Christian Walker – BAL – See Above.

Dominic Smith – NYM – Smith’s position on this list is all about whether the power projected of him actually develops. A smooth defender with a quick bat, Smith has shown off this power in batting practice, but he has yet to demonstrate it in a game situation. At just 19 and moving up to the Florida State League, a notorious pitcher’s league, the power may not materialize noticeably. So far, Smith has demonstrated a good eye and ability to make contact, so he is at least a potential James Loney type, but his 26 doubles last season do point to some hope of greater impact down the road.

Casey Gillaspie – TB – The younger brother of Cole and Conor Gillaspie, Casey is a switch-hitter who carries the strong family trait of selectivity with him quite well. The 20th overall selection in the 2014 draft, Gillaspie brings an aspect to his game that his brothers have not, and that is power, which he showed off quite well in his rookie debut (7 HRs in 308 plate appearances). For now, the Tampa Bay Ray profiles as a .260 to .270 hitter with good OBP skills and 20 to 25+ HR power. A college hitter, he should move fairly quickly through the system, advancing to A+ ball this year with a chance to reach Double-A and become a possible 2016 impact prospect.

Matt Olson – OAK – We likely will not be seeing Matt Olson in 2015, but he is a potential impact bat that should be on your radar after slugging 37 homers and posting a .404 OBP in A+ ball. Olson is similar to Greg Bird, but he walks even more frequently and has shortened his swing to reduce his strikeout rates. However, it does not look like the lefty will be someone who will ever hit for a high average. That said, someone who can approach a .400 OBP and has legitimate 30-plus HR potential is quite eye catching, even if that someone ends up only a .240s hitter.

Bobby Bradley – CLE – Bradley was the second of two first basemen selected earlier in the 2014 draft by the Indians. Unlike Papi (see below), Bradley hit the ground running, showing plus power at 18, a solid approach, and good bat speed. The lefty will be a long way from making the Majors, but he has excellent power potential and is already on the right path. Just keep in mind that you may not see him in the Majors until late 2018/early 2019 should you select him.

Mike Papi – CLE – Papi, a 2014 supplemental first rounder, continues a theme in this list of highly selective hitters with plus power potential. While first base may be Papi’s long-term destination, the Indians like his arm and feel he has at least average mobility to play some in the corner outfield. Papi struggled in a small sample in his first exposure to pro-ball, but he should come to dominate the lower levels given his talent and refinement at the plate. Expect Papi to play at A or A+ ball this season with a chance to reach Double-A before the end of 2015, at which point we’ll get a true assessment of his long-term potential.

Amaurys Minier – MIN – Minier is technically an outfielder who has played some first base, but his athletic tools other than his bat pretty much scream 1B/DH long-term. Minier will move to A-ball for his first full season of pro ball in 2015. The switch-hitter has excellent raw power potential, posting an ISO of .228 in the Gulf Coast League with eight homers last year. Minier is also showing some aptitude at the plate and is no mere hacker, walking 14% of the time while striking out a quarter. His progress through the Minors should be interesting and this could possibly be the last time you get to buy in low.

Travis Shaw – BOS – See Above.

Honorable Mention: Sam Travis (BOS), Nellie Rodriguez (CLE), Rowdy Tellez (TOR)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 09:48
 
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