When going through the minor league stat sheets, it’s hard to ignore 24 home runs in 336 plate appearances (or a .312 isolated power for that matter) from a 23-year-old. It is even more difficult to ignore those home runs when you note that in just his fourth season of professional ball, Adam Walker already has 90 career minor league home runs. While the Twins outfielder is a fairly good bet to be promoted to Triple-A before the end of the year, how excited should we really be about him going forward? Well, of course the power is 100% legitimate. We're talking 30-plus home run potential. That said, Walker is a right-handed hitter who has had his strikeout rates trending upwards for each of his three full seasons in pro ball, reaching 38% this year. His overall slash is .266/.321/.578. While he may have a MLB career, it is likely as a LF/1B/DH platoon type if used properly.
Orlando Arcia made an appearance in this past weekend’s Futures Game. I have previously mentioned Arcia as one of my top ten long-term shortstop prospects, and he has not disappointed in Double-A. The Brewer, while showing a bit more aggressiveness in his approach, is still making good contact and batting .313/.355/.458. That is more than holding one’s own and quite a standout effort for a 20-year-old. Arcia is already noted for a plus glove and plus speed with 20-plus stolen base potential, but he appears to be adding more power and has tied his home run production from last season in 200 fewer plate appearances. Arcia should be in Triple-A at some point this season and could be in the Majors as soon as 2016, depending on what the Brewers decide to do with incumbent Jean Segura, who is currently on the trade market.
The Rockies’ Trevor Story also appeared in the Futures Game. The former supplemental first-round pick has been splitting his time between shortstop and second base in Double-A and Triple-A, where he is showing power, patience, and some speed. After being included in my impact prospect preseason pieces the last few years, Story made it only as an “honorable mention” in this past spring’s piece. He continues to display the tools, both offensively and defensively, that you like to see from a middle infielder, but like Adam Walker, his strikeout rates and handedness may keep him from having a long career as a starter. Story was striking out just under 25% of the time in Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A and needed to produce a .351 BABIP to hit just .281. He projects as a .230s to .250s hitter in the Majors.
Continuing with our theme of Futures Game participants, the Rangers' Nick Williams also played in Cincinnati over the weekend. The lefty has fairly decent all-around tools but has earned the reputation as an overly aggressive hitter who has yet to tap into his tools and put up some numbers. The 21-year-old has shown some improvement this year and is in fact young for Double-A. Williams has cut down on his strikeout rate, making contact over 80% of the time, and he has even shown quite a bit more selectivity, raising his walk rate to a respectable 8%. He’s currently slashing .295/.354/.455. I’m still not completely sold on Williams and I’d like to see if he can sustain the skill improvements. He's a potential 20 HR, 10 to 15 SB type player who can hit over .280 if it all works out.
Lucas Giolito gets all of the attention when it comes to Nationals prospects, and rightly so. But one should not ignore Austin Voth. The 23-year-old former fifth-round pick is in his first full season of Double-A, posting an 8.4 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9.While he is not going to be a future ace and may at best be a #3 type starter, Voth commands his low to mid-nineties fastball well and has a decent curveball and changeup that have swing and miss potential. Expect him in Triple-A before the year is out with a September call-up a possibility.
Tyler Glasnow is continuing on his fast track to the Majors with the Pirates. The 21-year-old has made nine starts at Double-A and has shown improved control and command, posting a 2.7 BB/9 without losing his strikeout skills, producing a 10.4 K/9. He lost almost a month of time this season, but thankfully to a non-arm injury. Instead, he only had to make his way back from a high ankle sprain. Glasnow works with an excellent fastball that can touch the upper nineties, a plus curve, and a changeup that has at least average potential. Glasnow projects as a #2 type starter.
Matt Chapman, a 2014 first-round pick by the A's, is showing off the power he was drafted for with 15 homers in 256 plate appearances. This total should be taken with a small grain of salt, however, given that Stockton is one of the better home run parks in the California League, though not close to being as good as a place like High Desert or even Lancaster. Park factors aside, Chapman has shown a patient approach and has kept his strikeout rate in check, but he's hitting just .257/.348/.545. Chapman remains on track to be a potential starting player at the MLB level, but he does not look like a future All-Star and may be an average third sacker at best.
Players will be receiving promotions after the All-Star break, so check back in as we explore more players who may be close to making a big league impact.
Once upon a time, Cheslor Cuthbert and Jefry Marte were top prospect third basemen for the Royals and Mets respectively. Both now find themselves suddenly thrust up to the Majors. Are they ready? What role will they have? And have they turned their careers around? Let’s find out.
Cheslor Cuthbert is still just 22 years old. After three-plus seasons of ineffectiveness, his shine dimmed and he was no longer considered amongst the best young players in the organization. Early 2015 has been much kinder to the young Nicaraguan as he has shown a bit more power and a decent approach that has led to a .256/.318/.389 line. The righty is starting at third while Mike Moustakas spends some time on the bereavement list after which he will likely be sent down. While he has improved and is staying healthy, Cuthbert looks like he is headed on the utility player/organizational career path. He does have the luxury of youth and could turn things around, but no sign of that occurring is present.
The Tigers were dealt a huge blow with Miguel Cabrera hitting the disabled list for the first time in his career and it will cost him much of the rest of the summer. In his place, the club will likely go with a variety of faces to man first base, but one such option is Jefry Marte. Marte is now in his third organization after spending his first five seasons with the Mets and his next two with the Athletics. The 24-year-old has been having a similar Triple-A season to Cuthbert though slightly better with the best power numbers of his pro career (13 home runs – a career high in just 323 plate appearances) while making contact 85% of the time and producing a .226 isolated power. The righty has always been an adept contact hitter, so it will be interesting to see if the power is for real. Marte has not had any playing time at first base, however, so it may be difficult for the Tigers to get him into the lineup. On Monday, they started Andrew Romine. Expect Detroit to try and get a bat with more punch into the lineup soon, and it may yet be Marte.
Not So Mixed Feelings
I’ve been avoiding talking about Tim Anderson for some time now, but it is hard to hold back when he keeps hitting. The 22-year-old shortstop is hitting over .300 with 27 steals in Double-A, and he could be a late season call-up. I still just don’t see him as a long-term major leaguer given his consistently high strikeout rates (20%) and ultra-low walk rates (3.4%). Anderson also lacks pop, so it will come down to his speed, and as it is written, “you can’t steal first base.” Until Anderson starts making a lot more contact and gaining some control of the strike zone, I really can’t recommend him as a long-term keeper, though his speed, even given a small opportunity to start at the MLB level, will force $10-plus FAAB bids regardless.
First Base Check-In
Time to catch up with a few of my favorite lower-level first base prospects. Casey Gillaspie is the more well known of the duo. The Rays selected him in the first round of the 2014 amateur draft. He is the younger brother of Conor Gillaspie. 2015 was to be the litmus test to see if he a) inherited the family plate discipline and b) actually had more power than his brother as expected when the Rays drafted him. The answer is “yes” on both counts. The switch-hitter had collected 16 homers at A-ball while making contact 84% of the time and walking over 10% with a .278/.358/.530 slash. That effort earned him a promotion to A+ ball. At 22-years of age, he could finish out the year in A+, but would then head to Double-A and be an Arizona Fall League candidate who would likely finish 2016 in Triple-A, if not the Majors. Keep an eye on his A+ progress. He could move even faster than I have indicated.
Rowdy Tellez is the second of my first basemen. I first started tracking Tellez after the Blue Jays drew him away from a college career with a 30th round selection. He has massive raw power and it showed up quickly in rookie ball and I was hoping for big things in his first season of full-A ball in 2014. Well, things did not go quite as planned as Tellez was out for the season after just 49 plate appearances. He returned to A-ball with a vengeance, hitting seven home runs while making contact 81% of the time and batting .296/.351/.444. Not bad for a 20-year-old who missed a year of development. Like Gillaspie, he too has earned a promotion to A+ ball and has swatted another five home runs while making even more consistent contact and walking frequently in the FSL over a small 52 plate appearance sample size (.356/.442/.711 with a 90% contact rate). The Jays can afford to be more patient here given Tellez’s youth. It would be surprising to see him make it to Double-A this year, although not so much if he keeps hitting like this. If everything goes well, Tellez has a 2017 ETA.
The Red Sox have been spending a lot of time shuffling their starting outfield in 2015 due to injuries and ineffectiveness. Add another name to slide into that mix in Manuel Margot. The 20-year-old was only recently promoted to Double-A from A+ ball after batting .282/.321/.420 with three homers and 20 steals, so it’s premature to add him to the MLB mix, though he could enter the big league picture next season. Since being promoted to Double-A, he’s hit another home run to go along with four stolen bases. Margot has a very quick bat and is known for his ability to make contact, doing so well over 90% of the time at each of his prior two minor league stops. The righty’s power is still emerging, so it’s possible Margot could be a 15+ HR/30+ SB threat with the ability to hit for average at the MLB level.
Loaded as they are with young pitching and still in contention, the Mets need to add bats. While they may seek them in the trade market, some may be found closer to home if they dare to start their arbitration clocks. 2014 first-round pick Michael Conforto rises to the top of that pile. Despite not having experience beyond the Double-A level, the left-handed hitter has shown himself to be a selective hitter, with a short disciplined swing exhibiting natural loft. The 22-year-old had no problem with rookie ball in 2014 and has driven through two levels of the Minors, though as expected, his strikeout rate has increased in Binghamton to over 21%, though coupled with a 14% walk rate. Conforto does not necessarily project as a high average hitter at the MLB level but is a 20+ HR threat capable of producing a .270+ batting average and solid OBP numbers.
Another possible, though dark horse, 2015 MLB contributor from Binghamton is shortstop Gavin Cecchini. The Mets former first-round pick had fallen down the prospect radar in recent seasons but has pushed his way back into consideration. At just 21 years of age, the younger brother of Red Sox prospect Garen is holding his own at Double-A, making contact 90% of the time while walking 7% and hitting .285 with a reasonable five homers and 22 total extra-base hits. Cecchini was already noted as an above average defender, so the combination of his hitting coming on line in concert with his glove could be a welcome addition to a team needing improvement in both areas. Just keep in mind that his long-term offensive ceiling is relatively modest. He is likely a better real-life player than fantasy player, and a late-season cup of coffee is probably the most playing time he’ll get from the Mets in 2015, barring injuries to other personnel.
I’ve been impressed for awhile by the Twins' Max Kepler. He has always been a solid athlete and has an advanced feel for the strike zone and ability to make contact. This year, at age 22, Kepler appears to be finally growing into his tools and putting them to work. In Double-A, he’s hitting .344/.418/.555 to go along with three homers and 11 steals while making contact 87% of the time with an 11% walk rate. I’m still waiting to see if the power starts to emerge some more, but it’s hard to argue with a .211 isolated power that has produced 31 extra-base hits already this season. Kepler is on track for a promotion to Triple-A in short order and could be up with the MLB club before September if he keeps hitting like this. The Twins have not hesitated to call up youngsters before (see Byron Buxton).
Speaking of young Twins, Kepler’s teammate Jose Berrios, could potentially be on a faster path to the Majors. The 21-year-old made it to Triple-A in late-2014 before being sent back to Double-A to begin 2015. A promotion up a level is likely in the cards after producing a 9.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 over 15 starts. The right-hander is advanced beyond his years and has a good feel for multiple plus pitches, including a changeup which he commands well and throws for strikes. He profiles as at least a #2 type starter and redraft leaguers should even take note in case the Twins decide to get aggressive with promoting him.
Josh Bell continues our theme of disciplined contact hitters drafted for their projectability as power hitters. Bell has hit well in his second go around for Pittsburgh in Double-A, walking more often than striking out and putting the ball in play nearly 91% of the time while producing a .325/.395/.444 slash. He’s showing some extra-base power but not over-the-wall power with just three homers, so my pre-season feeling of him developing into more of a James Loney type first baseman might be appropriate. At just 22 years of age, there is still some time to wait for the power to develop before jumping to that conclusion, however, although a 48% minor league ground ball rate is not all that encouraging.
The A’s Matt Olson is not destined to hit for average. Yes, he is patient, but he's patient to a fault, walking 19% of the time this season but striking out a quarter of the time. In other words, that’s roughly 43% of the time when Olson isn’t making contact. Olson has legitimate 30-plus home run power, but he has seen his power production fall dramatically with his promotion to Double-A. While he of course still has a shot to be the A’s first baseman down the road, he’ll need to show a lot more at this level, including less passivity.
Former Yankee farmhand and top prospect Manny Banuelos has recovered from Tommy John Surgery and is now expected to be recalled for his MLB debut this coming Thursday after producing a 2.29 ERA over 15 Triple-A starts. However, the 24-year-old is not quite the same pitcher he was with the Yankees. Most notably, his strikeout rates are down in the mid 7’s as opposed to the 8 or 9+ he was at prior to getting injured. Control, which was an issue before the injury, still is a problem as Banuelos has posted a 4.1 BB/9. Tread cautiously when considering him for a pick-up in NL-only leagues.
That’s all for this week. Tune in next week for more of The Prospector.
It is no secret that most keeper leagues work on a two-year plan or cycle. One year, you go for it. The next, you dump. While there are exceptions to this depending on league dynamics and quality of the owners of the teams in your fantasy league, this cycle pushes the prospect focus towards the near-term and those prospects that are going to help out at the MLB level this or the following season.
So heading into 2016, the recent draftees are typically amongst those first selected in any keeper league minor league draft. Those players then become the target of dumping teams hoping those players become factors the following season and beyond. That mindset pushes most, except the extreme top tier high school prospects like the recently called up Byron Buxton (after being drafted second overall in 2012) off the table, especially pitching prospects, unless it’s the next Dwight Gooden on the horizon.
With that in mind, here are a few early favorites of mine to target from this amateur draft class.
It is easy to peg Dansby Swanson (ARI) as a favorite. He was the consensus top college hitter in the draft and the only surprise was that he went first overall rather than second. While it remains to be seen whether he’ll have to move back to second base long-term, Swanson is an interesting hit for average, 15 HR, 20+ steal threat at the MLB level. He could be up at A+ or Double-A before the end of the season with a possible mid to late 2016 call-up date depending on how quickly the Diamondbacks can sign him.
Alex Bregman (HOU), the second overall pick, is another obvious target as an extremely polished college hitter with decent speed. He strikes me as more of a safe pick rather than an impact player pick though. While he is more likely to stay at shortstop than Swanson until he runs into Carlos Correa anyway, he has limited power, and may only be just into the double digits in the steals department, meaning his value may entirely come from his ability to hit for average and get on base. I would target him in my minor league drafts, but only if he falls in later in the first round or second round. With Jose Altuve and Correa around, it is also a bit difficult to see how Bregman fits, barring a position change for him or someone else, into the Astros lineup, at least in the near-term.
Dillon Tate (TEX) is a better choice as an early-round 2016 minor league draft pick. The best college pitcher in the draft, Tate has at least two wipeout pitches and multiple weapons with which to combat lefties. The righty has worked as both a starter and a closer in his college career and profiles well in either role with #2 starter or late-inning reliever upside.
I can pretty much discuss Carson Fulmer (CHW) in the same breath as a college reliever turned starter who is expected to stay in the latter role. Not surprisingly, as a first-rounder, Fulmer can touch and hold his velocity in the mid to upper nineties but also knows how to change speeds, and perhaps his best speed is a plus curveball which he commands well. The White Sox have shown themselves to be aggressive with their college picks and have a penchant for drafting reliever/starter types (Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon), so don’t be surprised to see Fulmer broken in to the Majors in a relief role before he slots into the starting rotation.
Though on the small side, Andrew Benintendi (BOS) may be my favorite college hitter in the draft. He’s a centerfielder who makes consistent, hard contact and has legitimate 20-20 potential. The Red Sox, however, are a bit clogged in the outfield at the moment, trying to figure out which of their young players is part of their long-term outfield composition, so a mid to late 2016 call-up with more of a 2017 sustained impact seems more likely at the moment for Benintendi.
Switch-hitter Ian Happ (CHC) will end up at either second base or left field, though he’ll likely never earn defensive accolades at either position. His bat will have to do the talking as a disciplined hitter with a quick bat and high teens to low-twenties home run power and double digit steals potential.
For those who like to gamble on upside from prep talent, Kyle Tucker is probably your guy. His older brother Preston is noted for having upper teens to low-twenties power potential, decent patience at the plate, and an ability to make consistent contact. Think of Kyle as having a similar plate approach, but perhaps an even quicker bat and greater (30+ HR) power potential.
Sticking with more of a dynasty league look, Mike Cameron’s son Daz (HOU) must be considered. Like his dad, he is a potential top of the line defensive centerfielder with 20/30 potential. Inconsistency in his approach led to his stock dropping him out of the first round when he was originally considered a possible top-10 pick. For now, the scouting reports compare him favorably to his dad, a patient right-handed hitter who will provide in the defense and HR/speed games but may come up short in the batting average department.
Jon Harris (TOR) is a polished right-hander out of Missouri State who could move quickly through the Blue Jays system. He has a deep repertoire of pitches, all of which are already considered plus pitches. However, it remains to be seen if the can throw them consistently for strikes.
Next week, back to looking at prospects who will help us out in 2015.
Monday was the first round of the Rule-4 or as it is better known, the First-Year Player Draft. The web today is inundated with recaps and reviews of those players. However, for fantasy, 99% of those players will not be relevant for two or more years. Rather than providing a review of those top prospects, I will continue looking at players whose impact will be more immediate. Next week, I’ll cherry pick some of the higher profile names you need to know.
For now, let’s discuss some recent call-ups and potential call-ups.
In weekly leagues, Scott Schebler was sent down before fantasy players had a chance to lay their hands on him. The Dodger outfielder has not been hitting particularly well in Oklahoma City, but he has shown a similar plate approach to his 2014, 28 HR campaign, and power as well with six homers and a .171 ISO. The 24-year-old was a 26th round draft pick in 2010 and surged up the Dodgers radar after two straight seasons of producing 25 or more home runs while also cutting down on his strikeouts and improving his selectivity. It is unclear as to whether the Dodgers view him as their long-term left fielder or more of a fourth outfielder/platoon player. The latter may be his ultimate role, but he has shown enough bat speed and power to possibly make it as a starter, provided he shows he can adjust to Triple-A pitching.
Nationals prospect Joe Ross made his MLB debut on Saturday to mixed results, allowing six hits and four earned runs, but on the other hand, not walking a single batter and striking out four in five frames. The former Padre is in his first season with the Nationals after coming over as part of the three-way trade with Tampa Bay. In nine Triple-A starts, Ross had a 9.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. The righty has two good swing and miss pitches in his plus fastball and slider, but he has good control of his lesser pitches and has a changeup that is at least an average pitch, flashing plus at times. He may get a few more starts, but redraft leaguers should note that both Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister are working towards their returns from the DL, so Ross is not going to be claiming a full-time job just yet. His middle of the rotation potential should at least make him a grab and stash target in NL-only keeper leagues.
A few weeks back, I noted that Lonnie Chisenhall’s struggles might get him in trouble with Giovanny Urshela lying in wait. Well, the Indians shook things up, sending Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez down to the Minors. While Francisco Lindor will stay in Triple-A for the time being, Urshela is getting his opportunity to claim the third base job. Urshela, like Chisenhall, is a modest ceiling player. A plus defender at third, Urshela is an aggressive, contact-oriented hitter with doubles power and his home run power projects to the low to mid-teens. While Urshela is not going to be an impact offensive force, he still has a potentially useful and valuable skill set for AL-only leaguers.
In a continuing theme of aggressive call-ups, the Houston Astros plan to call up Vincent Velasquez in time for making a start this coming Wednesday. The 23-year-old former second-round pick has made five Double-A starts, posting a 12.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. His stuff, a lively fastball and plus changeup, has long been raved about by scouts. Staying on the field has been the primary concern. To date, Velasquez has not pitched more than 124.2 innings in any season, his second highest total standing at 64. He has missed time due to Tommy John surgery but also a parade of non-arm related muscle injuries. If Velasquez can improve the consistency of his curve, he has upper end of the rotation potential. It looks like he’ll be receiving an extended look with Roberto Hernandez losing his spot in the Astros rotation, so redraft and keeper leaguers alike should take note of his debut.
The Phillies are not having the greatest of luck with their pitching staff in 2015, so a hard look must be taken at 2014 first-round draft pick and Double-A pitcher Aaron Nola. Nola was someone I expected to move quickly through the Phillies system after being taken 7th overall. While the strikeout totals have not been as high as expected, Nola did make it all the way to Double-A last year. He's beginning his first full season of pro ball there and has at least raised his K/9 a full point from 5.6 to 6.8. Nola is mostly known for his polish and command. He has yet to produce a BB/9 higher than 1.9 and has walked just one batter per nine innings pitched this season. Considering the quality of his repertoire, it is surprising to not see more swings and misses at this point, but they may come in time. A Triple-A promotion may be soon in the making and a call-up, at least by September, seems quite possible.
Next week, as promised, we hit the 2015 Draft.
This week, we check in with a few top names discussed in the preseason to see how they are faring. We begin with a pair of recent call-ups.
Here to Stay?
The Red Sox called up Eduardo Rodriguez when they were in need of a sixth starter but ended up so impressed with the lefty’s MLB debut that he is receiving a second start and could conceivably stick with the big league club (at someone else’s expense) with another strong outing. Rodriguez, 22, was acquired from the Orioles last year for Andrew Miller. Rodriguez is a fairly hard thrower for a lefty, reaching the mid-nineties with a plus fastball and offsets that with perhaps an even better changeup. His slider has long been a work in progress but has plus potential and is a swing and miss pitch. What makes Rodriguez special is his ability to combine these pitches with good and still improving command. Over eight Triple-A starts, Rodriguez had an 8.2 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9. Though young, this is a pitcher with nothing left to prove in the Minors and #3 to #2 starter potential.
Slugger in Texas
The injury to Adrian Beltre has resulted in a two-level jump for top power hitting prospect Joey Gallo to the Majors. This is expected to just be a cup of coffee, but Gallo’s power is worthy of note even over the short-term in all fantasy formats. The 21-year-old may be the top pure power hitter in the Minors today. He has a third baseman’s arm, but is fringy at the corner long-term and may be best suited for a left field or first base (or DH) slot. At the plate, Gallo is having an improved second go around in Double-A with a .314/.425/.636 line with nine homers. The lefty reminds me quite a bit of Adam Dunn as a patient, all or nothing power hitter who should produce solid OBPs and be a constant 30+, if not 40 HR threat. Completing that Adam Dunn picture are the strikeout rates in excess of a third of the time. In other words, hitting .240 may be a good year and there could be some seasons where Mendoza line battles a la Chris Carter may also occur.
In unfortunate news, David Dahl suffered a lacerated spleen and will miss the rest of the season. The 21-year-old Colorado Rockie outfielder appeared to just be getting things going when the fielding collision occurred. When healthy, Dahl is an intriguing centerfield prospect known for his speed and quick bat. He still has 20-20 potential but will now lose most of a year’s development time.
The Mariners entered 2015 with a lot of question marks at first base and hoped D.J. Peterson might cruise through Triple-A and perhaps answer those questions by becoming their first baseman by mid-season. Instead, Peterson has struggled to hit, producing a .211/.284/.298 line after hitting over 30 homers between two minor league levels in 2014. His plate discipline numbers have not radically altered from his previous efforts, so that at least provides some room for optimism that he is simply dealing with an extended slow start and hopefully is not dealing with any undisclosed injuries that are holding him back. Logan Morrison still has not run away with the Mariners first base job, so Peterson owners should continue to be patient given the potential for a big league opportunity.
Unfortunately, Peterson is not the only former first-round pick of the Mariners who is struggling. 2014 first-rounder Alex Jackson has been hampered by a shoulder injury, so one cannot get a true read on his skills. In his first full season of pro-ball, his power has yet to show up while his approach at the plate has not been as good, striking out close to 30% of the time while walking less than 6%. At 19, he has plenty of time to fulfill his promise as a patient, right-handed power hitter. But he’s walking a rather fine line given his skill set and limited speed and defensive tools.
For those waiting on Sean Manaea to begin his season, keep waiting. The 23-year-old 2013 supplemental first-round pick has missed the entire season thus far thanks to a variety of strains and has now injured his oblique which should keep him out until late June. The good news is that none of these injuries are in any way career threatening. The bad news is that Manaea already has a history of being somewhat fragile and this only adds to that legacy. On the good side, the lefty posted a 10.8 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in his pro debut at A+ in 2014. While his command and mechanics can be inconsistent, he does have the stuff and makings of a middle of the rotation starter.
Hunter Dozier has not been able to crack .230 in two seasons now in Triple-A. The 2013 sixth overall pick originally impressed with his plate discipline, quick bat, glove and upper teens, if not better, power potential. Since his debut, it has been a descent. While he continues to be very patient, his ability to make contact has declined and it may be a sign that he is simply being too passive at the plate. With Mike Moustakas enjoying a breakthrough season, Dozier will really need to turn things around to force the issue to get playing time at another position.
The Cubs have seen the rise of Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant already in 2015, but they still have more in store for their fans. Catcher Kyle Schwarber was the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft. He rampaged through three levels after being drafted last year and has followed up strongly at Double-A with 12 homers and a .327/.454/.633 line. Within that stat line is a 20% walk rate and 21% strikeout rate. Schwarber’s glove continues to be a question mark and a move to the outfield would not be shocking. This is a .300 AVG, 25+ HR threat they’ll want in their lineup as early as this September, though more likely in 2016.
We are almost two months into the season and the pressure to produce is becoming more and more intense. Teams have already been making changes and promoting from within and it is a trend that is not going to stop. With that in mind, we will take a glance at some players who are putting some pressure on their MLB counterparts.
The Houston Astros are one of the first teams you should be looking at to find some players who could crack the MLB lineup. The club has already shown a willingness to promote with the two-level jump of pitcher Lance McCullers, so more moves of this nature may happen soon.
It is no secret that Carlos Correa is on the fast track and that the Astros combination of Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar has been treading water at best. Meanwhile, the former first overall pick hit .385 over 133 plate appearances in Double-A with seven home runs and 15 steals and has followed up strongly since being promoted to Triple-A. While he projects as having only average (teens) power long-term, the 20-year-old has extremely advanced plate discipline skills and plus speed, not to mention legitimate starting shortstop ability. Unfortunately, he is likely only still available in mixed leagues and perhaps some redraft AL-only leagues. Take the opportunity to grab him if you can, as a call-up before the trade deadline, if not before the All-Star break, is a very real possibility. He’s a potential impact player from both a real baseball and fantasy baseball perspective.
Another question the Astros have on offense is Chris Carter. No one ever expected this consistent 30%+ strikeout threat to hit much more than .220, but .170 may be trying their patience, especially with perennial prospect Jon Singleton crushing the ball. The former Phillie is still just 23 years old, the age when most prospects get their first taste of the Majors. Once again, the lefty is displaying 30+ HR potential with 14 homers, but he is also drawing walks at a high rate (15%) and has cut down on his strikeout rate to less than 80% of the time to produce an overall slash of .291/.399/.646. Both Singleton and Carter have similar power and they both know how to draw a walk. Singleton, however, does have a chance of actually making contact on occasion and producing an OBP desired closer to the top of the lineup. The time for him to get another chance may occur soon.
Speaking of knocking on the door to the Majors, we come to Buck Farmer. Farmer will actually get the call to the Tigers rotation this coming Thursday, taking the place of the injured Kyle Lobstein. Farmer is the Tigers top rated upper level pitching prospect. The 24-year-old is a former fifth-round pick and is currently sporting an 8.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 for Toledo. He throws fairly hard for a lefty, has a slider that generates plenty of swings and misses and a changeup that ranges anywhere from average to plus. The overall combination does not scream ace, but there is enough solid stuff and command here to consider him as a potential #3 or #4 starter long-term, worthy of note in AL-only formats.
For those, including myself, who thought Andrew Heaney was going to crack the opening day rotation for the Angels, don’t lose heart for his long-term success. Short-term, however, there just does not seem to be any openings. The former 9th overall pick really has nothing left to prove in the Minors and has produced an 8.7 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9. He is a hard-throwing lefty like Farmer, only he has better command and consistent plus pitches across the board, making him a potential #2 starter candidate down the road. It may take a trade or injury in order for him to get his shot.
Ian Desmond should watch out. Trea Turner technically won’t be acquired by the Nationals until he is eligible (a drafted player cannot be traded until a year since being drafted has passed), but he is making headway to unseating the Nationals current shortstop. The 13th overall pick, Turner has now hit over .340 at two levels of play, showing plus speed and the selectivity to be a top of the lineup batter. Turner is not without power, hitting five homers in 170 plate appearances, and projects into the mid-teens in that department down the road. Desmond’s job is not likely in jeopardy this season, but Turner could easily get a late-season call-up and be a factor in the team’s 2016 opening day lineup.
Neither Brad Miller nor Chris Taylor have run away with the M’s starting shortstop job, even with the trade of Nick Franklin to reduce the competition. This season, a new player entered in the field in the form of Ketel Marte. The 21-year-old is making contact over 90% of the time and hitting .343/.393/.440 with 14 steals to boot. The soft-handed Marte is a switch-hitter with limited, single-digit HR power, but he's made great strides the last two seasons in terms of his selectivity. He may yet end up a utility player if he cannot translate his contact-making gains to the Majors, but the other M’s middle infielders should at least be on notice.
Back over in the NL, the Mets are not quite done pushing starting pitching talent through their system. Noah Syndergaard is now up at least temporarily with Dillon Gee and Rafael Montero on the shelf, but they also have Steven Matz lurking in wait. The 2009 second-round pick has spent a lot of time recovering from injuries, but he has spent three seasons showing he is indeed one of the team's upper end arms in their system. The lefty throws in the mid to upper nineties and generates plenty of strikeouts with his changeup and curveball, which he throws fairly consistently for strikes (3.2 BB/9). He projects as a possible #2 or #3 type starter. The club's biggest problem is keeping everyone healthy long enough so they can figure out how to use all this starting pitching depth to leverage them some hitting in trades.
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.
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.
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.
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.