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Eastern League Update Part I PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 27 May 2014 00:00

Triple-A is now most often thought of as the reserve roster for the Majors, mostly filled with veterans and a scattering of prospects here and there. Having visited there for the last few weeks, we move on to Double-A, where many of the top upper level prospects reside. Several players a season skip over Triple-A to the Majors, often to their detriment, particularly for starting pitchers who do not have a fully developed third pitch.

Akron RubberDucks (Indians)
Francisco Lindor is a good candidate to be one of those prospects jumped straight to the Majors. A future gold glove candidate, Lindor got off to a slow start in the Eastern League, but he has since found surer footing. I’ve often compared Lindor to former Mariner and Indian shortstop Omar Vizquel and that still stands. An elite defender, Vizquel had above average speed, gap power and superior on-base/contact making skills. Much the same can be said about Lindor, though he has had more difficulty making consistent contact at Double-A. The switch-hitter now has a .288/.368/.418 line and is a potential mid to late-season call-up, depending on whether the Indians opt to move free agent to be Asdrubal Cabrera. Keep in mind that it took Vizquel awhile to adjust to major league pitching, and the same patience is advised with Lindor. The glove will come first, the bat later.

Tyler Naquin continues to disappoint at the plate. The lefty continues to display solid centerfield skills and good base running speed, but also rather mediocre on-base skills and especially sub-par contact skills for someone with high single-digit home run power. Naquin has a .286/.345/.396 line and is likely to remain in Double-A all season long. I think he is on the fourth outfielder path to the Majors.

Cody Anderson’s lack of a wipeout pitch has shown up in Double-A. The big righty has produced 4.35 ERA and has seen his K/9 drop over a full point. The 23-year-old is looking more and more like a back end of the rotation starter.

As with Anderson, Ronny Rodriguez’s shortcomings are being exposed at the Double-A level. Rodriguez is a quality athlete with upper teens power potential and double-digit speed. Rodriguez makes fairly consistent contact but really has not met a pitch he doesn’t like to swing at and is now batting .184/.223/.316. Given a .198 BABIP and his tools, some upwards correction is likely, but again we may now be talking more borderline starter or utility player long-term.

Atloona Curve (Pirates)
After making 12 starts with a good deal of success in Double-A last year, I expected Nick Kingham to advance to Triple-A this year. Instead, the Pirates returned the righty to Double-A and the results thus far have been far worse than his first trial. When on, Kingham owns a good curveball and solid change, but he has increasingly been unable to throw his pitches for strikes and has also seen his K/9 drop almost two points since last season, which has me wondering if this is truly a 100% healthy pitcher.

Former pitcher Stetson Allie’s transition to hitting after crushing the ball in low-ball in 2013 has not gone well. The righty has done little to alter his approach, walking 13% of the time, but continues to fan over a quarter of the time and has now hit under .230 at both A+ and Double-A ball. Allie is starting to look more and more like a right-handed platoon player.

In a continuing and unfortunate theme of Pirate prospects failing to dominate Double-A, Alen Hanson joins that contingent. Hanson, who profiles best as a second baseman, has low to mid-teens pop and 30-plus stolen base tools. Despite good to very good across the board tools, like Ronny Rodriguez, Hanson has a suspect plate approach, making contact 82 to 83 percent of the time while walking fewer than 6% of the time. His .268/.313/.443 line might be the 21-year-old's MLB ceiling, which would be valuable as a 10 to 15 HR, 25-plus stolen base second baseman, though not as valuable in terms of real or sim-league play.

Binghamton Mets (Mets)
The Mets are one of the rare organizations that have more talent at Triple-A than Double-A. Kevin Plawecki is really the one player of note. A 6’2” catcher, Plawecki is an average defender most noted for an advanced, contact-oriented plate approach and gap power. That continues for now as the righty has made contact 88% of the time while producing  a .331/.367/.500 line. He’s most likely in line for a 2015 promotion after some time in Triple-A. While the 23-year-old has produced, he is drawing fewer walks this season and has not tapped into quite as much power as originally expected of him. It will be interesting to see if he can be more than a right-handed Josh Thole and more like A.J. Pierzynski (as a hitter) long-term.

If Jack Leathersich could ever make the transition from thrower to pitcher, the Mets might have something. The 5’11" lefty throws into the mid-nineties and misses bats regulary (16.4 K/9 in Double-A) but fails to control his breaking ball or changeup with any regularlty, walking more than five batters per nine innings. He’s a longshot as a late-inning reliever, but power-lefties are always worthy of note.

Next week, we continue our trek through the Eastern League.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 May 2014 02:57
 
Baez Blips PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 20 May 2014 00:00

This week, we make our last few stops on the Pacific Coast League train before delving down to Double-A.

Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Rockies)
Colorado Springs does not house many of the Rockies' top talents with the exception of Chad Bettis. 2009 first-round pick Tyler Matzek is also there and is still young at 23 years old. The lefty has had great difficulty developing into a pitcher and while his current 4.5 BB/9 is the lowest it's ever been, it still needs work. On the good side, Matzek has reversed the strikeout decline trend and is close to striking out a batter per inning again. While he remains in the rotation, his future screams reliever.

Between promotions in 2013 and this year, Bettis has exhausted his rookie eligibility. A 2010 second-round pick, Bettis has a more effective and deeper repertoire than Matzek which he can throw for strikes. Despite that, given a series of injuries, the Rockies have opted to move the righty to a relief role full-time this season where he is averaging 93 mph on the fastball. Despite a good fastball and plus-changeup to go along with good command, Bettis has not translated his strikeout rates to the upper minors or majors and will need to do so in order to be considered a potential setup man or closer at the MLB level.

Iowa Cubs (Cubs)
While Colorado Springs may be somewhat disappointing to prospect hunters, Iowa is a treasure trove. Javier Baez leads the way, but after being considered for a possible opening day spot, the Cubs wisely sent him to Triple-A. The PCL has not been all that kind to Baez, who is currently batting .162 and striking out at a 36 percent clip. Baez hit 37 homers last year, but did so with sub-par plate discipline. It's finally caught up to him and perhaps at 21 years of age, a demotion back to Double-A should be made where he'd be playing with others closer to his age. I have been and continue to remain very skeptical regarding his long-term viability as an everyday major leaguer barring a massive improvement in his plate approach.

Former eighth-round pick Kyle Hendricks received a taste of Triple-A late last season and is following up strongly in 2014, posting a 9.7 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. Hendricks is not overpowering, but he has excellent command of his fastball and changeup and has an overall deep enough arsenal to be considered as a potential #4 hurler.

22-year-old Arismendy Alcantara is making a solid, albeit unspectacular transition to Triple-A. The toolsy second baseman has plus speed and nine stolen bases to show for it as well as some extra base power which should translate to 25 to 30 doubles and 10 to 15 homers at the MLB level. Alcantara’s ability to make contact has faded as he has progressed and this season, his quarter of the time strikeout rate is the highest of his career, so do not expect an easy transition to the Majors upon his promotion later this year.

Reno Aces (Diamondbacks)
In Reno, Zeke Spruill has been splitting his time between the bullpen and the rotation and has an overall 7.0 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 alongside an ugly 5.72 ERA thanks in part to a .333 batting average on balls in play and 20% HR/FB rate. Spruill has the requisite skills, including a sinker, solid change, and plus slider to be a starter, but despite being able to throw them for strikes, his ability to command them in Triple-A and the Majors has been in question. The former Brave now looks like a possible fifth starter/swingman long reliever.

Nick Ahmed came along with Spruill from the Braves in the Justin Upton deal and after two very mediocre seasons that almost wiped him off the prospect chart, the second-round pick has started to perform at the plate. Ahmed has always had plus speed and 30-plus stolen base potential as well as above average shortstop defensive skills, so he will make the Majors at least as a utility man regardless of his bat. This year, Ahmed has posted a .301/.382/.361 line, showing off his good bat speed and plate discipline for effect. The former second-round pick, however, has little in the way of punch and projects as a low-single digits home run hitter at the MLB level. It is very possible that he, similarly to the recently retired Chris Getz, could be outmatched at the MLB level from a tools standpoint and not due to any lack of baseball skills on his part.

Many are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Archie Bradley to join the D-Backs rotation, but he has been sidelined due to what is termed a minor flexor strain. The 21-year-old right-hander’s pure stuff is upper end of the rotation quality with two to three plus potential pitches. Bradley struggled with his control at Double-A last year and has continued to do so this season to the point where his ERA has been over 5.00. Barring good health and a significant turnaround, do not expect to see Bradley before September.

Salt Lake Bees (Angels)
The Angels recently promoted C.J. Cron to the Majors, leaving Taylor Lindsey as the only solid prospect in Salt Lake City. Despite showing a very disciplined and contact-oriented approach, Lindsey has managed a weak .244/.330/.372 slash along with four homers and four steals. Despite the slow start, he still comps pretty well with Adam Kennedy, minus the speed, and should develop into an average regular, given the opportunity.

Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners)
Chris Taylor was behind both Nick Franklin and Brad Miller on the team’s long-term depth charts, but he may force the issue given the struggles of the former two players. The 23-year-old is currently lighting things up with a .372/.414/.593 line thanks in large part to an ungodly .440 batting average on balls in play. Because of that hot start, the former fifth-round pick could see some MLB action in the near future. His hot start aside, Taylor has low to mid single digits home run power and modest 15 to 20 stolen base speed. He’s fair with the glove and can handle short better than Franklin, but does not have Miller’s arm and is best suited to second base. Long term, he still looks best suited to a utility role.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 May 2014 08:14
 
Westerly Jaunt PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 13 May 2014 00:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 07:17
 
Slow Starters PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 29 April 2014 00:00

This week we pick up from last week with a detailed look at the progress of some prospects in the upper minors.

Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies)
21-year-old Maikel Franco is one of the younger players in the International League and it appears to be showing. The righty has always been an aggressive, if not overly aggressive hitter, but at least he had been making contact 86 to 90 percent of the time while rarely walking. Now, the third baseman is still aggressive, but striking out 20 percent of the time and batting just .176 after enjoying a .339/.363/.563 Double-A campaign plus 31 homers between two minor league stops. The season is still young and Franco could yet end up a slugging third baseman who also hits for average, but right now, an appropriate comparison might be Will Middlebrooks.

Norfolk Tides (Orioles)
The Orioles could use some help in the outfield but Henry Urrutia did not show much in spring training and has struggled mightily in Triple-A too. The Cuban defector has no particular standout tool but showed a good approach, gap power and solid defense in Double-A. At age 27, he will not stay employed for long with a .220 batting average and a 26 percent strikeout rate while showing no power to boot.

The Orioles do at least have some good news with Kevin Gausman. The righty is in stand-by mode while he waits for his MLB shot and has an 8.4 K/9 and sub-3.00 ERA to his name over five starts. However, his normally above average command has been off kilter, as he is walking batters at a rate of 4.6 per nine innings pitched. The hard-thrower will need to work on that aspect of his game to earn a promotion. Late last season, it was his lack of strike zone command that did him in with eight homers allowed. Gausman has a top of the rotation repertoire with a plus-plus change-up, plus fastball and solid average to plus slider and a history of good control. A month or two more of minor league work should get him the call.

Pawtucket Red Sox (Red Sox)
Based on the Red Sox’s roster juggling when Will Middlebrooks went down, it is quite clear they are in no rush to start Garin Cecchini’s service time clock. With Middlebrooks back from the DL, that clock will be pushed even further down the road. So far so good in Triple-A for the third baseman with a .320 batting average that has been fueled by a .404 batting average on balls in play. The lefty continues to be patient and is hitting line drives, but has raised his strikeout rate to above 20 percent for the first time in his career. Since Cecchini does not profile to be much more than a single-digits to low-teens home run hitter, it is imperative that his other offensive skills, particularly his plate discipline, translate to Triple-A and the Majors to make him worthy of consideration for starting duty.

A power pitcher, Anthony Ranaudo is mowing them down at Pawtucket with a 9.5 K/9 where his plus fastball/curve combo are both effective pitches. Throwing strikes, however, has been an issue (5.3 BB/9), and that along with a .368 BABIP has  his ERA soaring in the early goings. The righty is not being rushed, but at 24, needs to further refine his change-up as well as his command in order to remain in the rotation. Ranaudo has middle, or better, of the rotation potential but could also easily end up in relief where he might flourish as a late-inning arm.

Ranaudo is not the only one struggling. Allen Webster was quite effective in Triple-A last season but got hit hard in the Majors and has regressed with his control since then, posting  a 4.4 BB/9 in 2014. Of more concern has been the complete dropoff in strikeout rates from a 9.9 K/9 to 5.5. Webster has three average to plus pitches that should make him a  solid middle of the rotation type, but like Ranaudo, if he does not improve his command, he could end up being an effective late-inning reliever.

Brandon Workman began the year in the Sox’s bullpen but got sent to Triple-A to get stretched out as a starter instead. The righty does not have the upside of either Webster or Ranaudo but has a deep repertoire that he does indeed throw for strikes, and despite not owning a true wipeout pitch, there is a chance he might have a more successful career than either of his colleagues. Despite an 8.2 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9, Workman’s ERA is over 6.00 and he has proven to be rather hittable thus far with 16 hits allowed in 14.1 innings of work.

Rochester Red Wings (Twins)
Like Kevin Gausman, Twins’ top prospect Alex Meyer is biding his time in Triple-A. In four starts, the righty has produced a 10.5 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9. The 6’9" righty throws in the upper nineties, has decent though not outstanding command, and a plus slider/average change that should earn him a near the top of the rotation spot in the Twins rotation in time. With Marcus Stroman now up in Toronto, Meyer could easily be the next high profile pitching prospect recalled to the Majors, particularly with some Twins starters struggling badly.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 08:04
 
International Update PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 22 April 2014 00:00

No, this is not an update on international baseball activities, but it is an update of the much more local Triple-A International League. Three weeks into the baseball season and it is time to see just how close some of the closest players to the Majors actually are.

Buffalo Bisons (Blue Jays)
Marcus Stroman is making a strong bid for promotion. Three starts in, Stroman has allowed two earned runs and struck out 21 in 15.1 innings of work (all stats through Sunday), walking only three while keeping the ball on the ground exceptionally well. The righty owns multiple-plus pitches and has weapons to face down lefties with a good cutter and at least average changeup.

Former Jays’ rotation members are not fairing as well. Kyle Drabek has been awful in his return from TJS, allowing 23 hits and five home runs in 14.0 innings of work. The command just is not where it used to be. Similarly, former rotation mainstay Ricky Romero has walked (8) more batters than he has struck out in 10 innings of work. Don’t look for any help here.

The hitters are mostly journeymen. First baseman Dan Johnson continues to produce in the Minors with a .286/.446/.531 line. At 34, he’s not likely to receive any more extended looks though.

Charlotte Knights (White Sox)
For those waiting for the beginning of the Matt Davidson era, you’ll have to continue to wait. The slugger has struck out over 50 percent of the time and is hitting .203 at the moment. Davidson has never been expected to be much more than a .240s hitter with a decent OBP, but he has to at least make some contact in order to be in the Majors.

Columbus Clippers (Indians)
Jesus Aguilar is tearing things up, batting .370/.433/.670. Back in February, I expressed appreciation for the righty’s developing plate discipline and all- around game but wondered when or if the power would come. Well, it appears to have arrived. Keep a close eye on the DH production of the Indians. An opportunity could easily arise.

Jose Ramirez is playing well in Triple-A, but has no place to play in the Majors – blocked by both Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera. Ramirez has been flashing some speed and pop, but is still most likely on the utility man path to the Majors.

Trevor Bauer received a spot start to pitch for the Indians in a double-header and shined. In 18 combined innings, the righty has now struck out 26 batters while allowing 11 hits and walking just five. All that effort to fix his mechanics looks to have worked, making Bauer still a long-term middle to upper end of the rotation possibility. Both he and Aguilar should be on keeper league rosters if possible depending on your league's rules.

Durham Bulls (Rays)
Brad Boxberger was unable to make the opening day bullpen but is already making a case for a call-up with 13 strikeouts and two walks allowed in 6.2 IP. The hard-thrower very much has at least set-up man potential.

Off-season acquisition Nate Karns may soon be making a role change that has been long expected. The big righty is a power pitcher, but he has a history of command issues and has never been able to develop a good off-speed offering. Despite a 12.1 K/9, Karns owns an ERA approaching 6.00 over his first four starts thanks in large part to a 6.1 BB/9. Like Boxberger, Karns could be a dominant bullpen arm, so don’t write him off yet.

Enny Romero will be amongst those first in line to claim a rotation spot this season, but he’ll have to perform better to warrant use in fantasy leagues. Control issues are still a problem (4.4 BB/9). The lefty could end up in the bullpen like Karns, but to his credit has three to four pitches of average to plus potential that should give him a somewhat longer look in the Triple-A and perhaps MLB rotations.

Gwinnett Braves (Braves)
Over in Gwinnett County, Christian Bethancourt is not doing much to push his way into the job Brian McCann vacated. In fact, the righty is barely crossing the Mendoza line while striking out nearly a third of the time. Fortunately, this is out of character for the 22-year-old as someone who has made contact roughly 85% of the time each of the past two seasons. That said, Bethancourt does have a history of being overly aggressive at the plate, owning a career walk rate of under 4%. The righty’s defense will surely get him to the Majors in time and it's possible he may yet end up a .260s or better hitter with 12-15 home run potential, but be prepared for streak hitting and wild fluctuations in that batting average mark given his approach.

Indianapolis Indians (Pirates)
Gregory Polanco is quite possibly the best hitting prospect in all of baseball at the moment and at the very least is one of the most exciting as a potential 20-30 HR/SB player with the contact skills to be a .300-plus threat as well. So far, Polanco has hit .406/.449/.625 while making contact 90% of the time while Travis Snider is doing little at the plate. The 22-year-old could be up before June is out, if not sooner.

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 April 2014 13:36
 
Young Guns PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 00:00

This week, we continue our focus on some of the lesser known rookies who should be on your radar this season.

Some of the more intriguing options come from the pen. I already discussed Daniel Webb as a potential closer candidate, but there are indeed other options out there. 26-year-old former top starting pitching prospect Dellin Betances has emerged as a reliever with the Yankees. The huge 6’8", 260 pounder throws regularly in the mid-nineties with a plus cut fastball and solid slider. Control and command have always been elusive for him, but if you keep striking out batters at a rate of 16.6 per nine innings, it doesn’t matter too much if you walk about 4.

Moving across town, the Mets bullpen is once again in shambles. Jose Valverde is actually pitching fairly well, but he is not the dominant flame-thrower of his youth. Enter Gonzalez Germen, who received a few cups of coffee last season. Unlike Betances, Germen has never been a top prospect, but like Betances, he moved to relief and has found success in that role since making the full-time conversion in Triple-A last season. He’s now throwing 93 mph and has shown a quality changeup and slider to boot. Gonzalez has been a successful strike thrower throughout his minor league career and has translated that skill to the Majors too. One significant caveat, however, are fly balls. So far, German has shown extreme fly-ball tendencies (56% of the time) over a tiny sample and 40% last year. The righty is most likely destined for middle relief or setup work, but this is an organization that could easily have openings.

Vic Black was supposed to have been the sleeper as the Mets’ potential closer. Instead, the righty failed to make the big league roster out of spring training. Acquired in the Marlon Byrd deal, Black throws in the upper nineties and has a nasty fastball/slider combination, but like many young throwers, he has trouble commanding it. So now Black is back in Triple-A working on it as the Las Vegas closer. The former Pirate should be up and down all season long with the big club, but given an up and down history, he is far from a safe bet to even be a consistent major league setup man, let alone a closer.

Staying in the NL, Chris Withrow has been missing bats to the tune of a 15.4 K/9. Like Germen, Withrow converted from starting last season and has done so with success, striking out well over a batter per inning at each stop he’s made since. The former first-round pick is blessed with a plus fastball/slider combination and is throwing strikes, but it remains to be seen if he can continue to do that over a larger sample.

Over in the batter’s box, we have Robinson Chirinos. The injury to Geovany Soto and the inability of J.P. Arencibia to make contact could give the former Ray an opportunity. The righty is a bit long in the tooth for a rookie at 29, but he has always been something of a personal favorite. Chirinos’ most notable skill has always been his plate discipline, regularly walking as often or more often than he has struck out throughout his minor league career. The former Cub combines that with high single-digit home run power potential and is worthy of note in OBP leagues. When he was with the Rays, it looked like John Jaso and Chirinos could form an ideal platoon. Thus far, Chirinos has yet to translate his contact skills to the Majors and as such, he has failed to stick. He might be a quadruple-A player and this is likely his last chance at getting an extended shot in the Majors. Keep in mind that the Rangers do have a few veterans at Triple-A in the form of Chris Gimenez and Chris Snyder. Neither create excitement, but they are available options that could deny Chirinos a long look. While we’re talking about Rangers' minor league catchers, I’ll give a quick update on top prospect Jorge Alfaro. Alfaro has premium power potential and actually runs well for a catcher to boot, making him one of the more intriguing prospects in the game. This year, he was advanced to A+ ball. So far, there is not much to report given a 38 plate appearance sample, but the early results have not been pretty with a 32% strikeout rate. I continue to worry, despite Alfaro’s excellent bat speed and power, that his overly aggressive approach from the right-hand side could lead him to have a career more similar to J.P. Arencibia than anything else.

Maladroit Middle Infield

The Jays just lost Maicer Izturis for 4-6 monthswith a torn UCL, forcing them to utilize Ryan Goins almost every day. Goins has struck out nearly a third of the time and most recently was a .250s hitter in Triple-A with gap power and no speed or exciting defensive skills to speak of. With glove-only Jonathan Diaz seeing the bulk of the time at shortstop while Jose Reyes is out, that leaves Chris Getz as the next most likely option to receive a call-up. So yes, the Blue Jays long term solution to second base currently is not in the organization.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 09:17
 
Rookie Round-Up PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 08 April 2014 00:00

One week into the season and there are 29 rookie batters and 48 rookie pitchers who have been or are still on MLB rosters. Sample sizes at this point are rather tiny, but it is important to note some of the players receiving a significant amount of playing time and determine their ability to stay in the lineup or even on the roster.

Eye of the Needle

The Mariners are carrying Abraham Almonte, Stefen Romero and James Paxton. Paxton is the most likely member of this trio to remain in the Majors. The hard-throwing lefty had already asserted his ability to miss bats and has worked hard to improve his control. He’s mostly a two-pitch pitcher, relying heavily on his fastball, and it will be interesting to see how batters adjust as the season progresses. Almonte currently holds down the starting centerfield gig and has little internal organizational competition for the job. The small switch-hitter has mostly been viewed as a fourth or fifth outfielder, but he does own plus-speed skills, has a long history of drawing walks and possesses doubles power. Almonte’s strikeout rates have varied up and down over the years, but once comfortable at a level of play, he has demonstrated an ability to make contact about 84% of the time. There is enough skill and talent here to stick, and Almonte should be taken quite seriously by AL-only and mixed leaguers as a speed source. Romero got the nod to win a bench job as the Mariners would rather Nick Franklin play every day in the minor leagues so they can continue to showcase him as trade bait. Romero is an aggressive hitter with low-single digits home run power, but he is a sub-par defensive second baseman and lacks the tools expected of a corner outfielder.

Chicago Hot Corner

Mike Olt claimed the starting third base job for the Cubs. The former Ranger prospect acquired in the Matt Garza deal remains well regarded for his patience and 20-plus home run power potential. Olt, however, is a right-handed batter who strikes out about a quarter of the time and is not someone who is likely to eclipse a .250 batting average with any frequency. The 25-year-old has been on base just once, via a home run, over his first 13 plate appearances. This comes after an injury-abbreviated season that saw Olt struggle at the Triple-A affiliates of two different organizations. If he can at least hit .230, Olt could still produce an acceptable starter’s OBP, but that is a big if at the moment. Keep in mind that the presence of Christian Villanueva in Triple-A and first-round pick Kris Byrant in Double-A means Olt may end up on a short leash should one or both of those two perform well.

Journeyman’s Chance

Yangervis Solarte has played for the Twins and the Rangers without a whiff of MLB air despite playing each of the past two seasons at Triple-A Oklahoma. A strong spring and a need for infield bats won the 26-year-old a bench job with the Yankees. The 5’11” switch-hitter has a fairly disciplined and contact oriented plate approach, meaning he may not walk much, but he sees quite a few pitches and puts the ball in play. To back that up, Solarte has reached double-digits in homers in each of the past two seasons, albeit under favorable hitting conditions. The former Twin still profiles best as a utility guy, filling in at third base and second base, but he has enough skill to hit for average and manage a single-digit home run output. Given that this roster contains an aging cast, there may be plenty of opportunities for Solarte to receive playing time over the course of the season, making him a very reasonable addition in deep AL-only leagues.

Boston Bee Party

Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. receive most of the attention in Boston, but Brandon Workman deserves a mention as well. A starter throughout his minor league career, Workman made the Sox as a reliever. The former second-round pick has a plus fastball/curveball, cut-fastball and a change. His sinker allows him to keep the ball on the ground with high frequency as well. He’s a sleeper in the Red Sox bullpen right now as someone with enough stuff to be a setup man or as someone who could slip into the rotation and become a viable #3 or #4 starter.

You Can’t Steal First

Billy Hamilton is off to a rather rough start, striking out nearly half the time over the first three games of the season, and he was subsequently benched for two games over the weekend before getting into Monday's game and actually managing a double and a run scored. The sample size is of course very tiny and conclusions cannot be drawn from it, but Hamilton will need to demonstrate some on-base skills and some ability to make contact. Given a true “80” speed and almost non-existent power, the Willy Mays Hays doctrine applies in Hamilton’s case. He needs to put the ball in play and on the ground with high frequency to generate infield hits. Unfortuantely, Hamilton is not a Juan Pierre/Ichiro type who makes extremely high contact and can hit for a high average and produce starter-worthy on-base numbers. Instead of being a 90%, if not 95% of the time contact hitter, Hamilton is more of a 80% to 82% of the time contact hitter. So while Hamilton’s speed makes him extremely valuable for fantasy players, his probable long-term outcome is as the next Rajai Davis and not the next Ricky Henderson or even the next Vince Coleman.

 

Last Updated on Monday, 07 April 2014 23:59
 
2014 Minor League Outlook: The Padres PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 18 March 2014 00:00

Today, we continue our tour of the MLB farm systems from a 2014 impact as well as dynasty/keeper league standpoint with a scan of the San Diego Padres.

Catcher
Keeper League: Austin Hedges is an elite all-around defender with a superb makeup and will without a doubt be a major leaguer. The righty offers a solid offensive ceiling as well given a short swing with perhaps 15 HR or better per season power and an ability to make consistent contact that should let him be a .260s, if not a .270s hitter at the MLB level. Hedges could be a very good player, but not necessarily a fantasy stud. ETA: September 2014 cup of coffee to mid-2015.

First Base
2014 Impact: Right-handed Tommy Medica has high-teens pop and a decent approach at the plate. The soon-to-be 26-year-old made his MLB debut last season and will report to Triple-A in 2014 as roster filler/possible fallback option for Yonder Alonso. Medica profiles best as an organizational player. ETA: 2014.

Alex Dickerson will challenge or platoon with Medica in Triple-A. Dickerson could see outfield time too, though the oft-injured Medica may see a lot of DH duty to clear 1B playing time for Dickerson. Dickerson has similar power potential – mid to high-teens as Medica, is a mediocre defender and has a history of making fairly consistent contact and hitting for average. Both players are long shots as starters. ETA: 2014.

Second Base
2014 Impact:
Former first-round pick Cory Spangenberg will likely make the Majors this year, though not as a starter as originally planned. When the Padres drafted him, Spangenberg looked like a potential leadoff hitter with an excellent approach and plus-speed. While the latter has been there, the former has not at all and as a player with marginal pop, his profile now looks like a utility player. The speed could make him useful to NL-only leaguers. ETA: 2014.

Third Base
Keeper League: Dustin Peterson is probably a first baseman long-term with average to plus power potential and a quick bat that should allow him to hit for average and, like his older brother D.J., a good feel for the strike zone. The 18-year-old won’t be reaching the Majors anytime soon, but he is a prime dynasty league pick as someone who could vault into the Padres’ top ten prospects as soon as this season. ETA: 2018.

Gabriel Quintana is a bit closer to the Majors than Peterson and has greater raw power as well as good enough defensive skills to stay at third. On the other hand, the righty is an extremely overly aggressive hitter who walked just 3% of the time last season while whiffing a quarter of the time. The 22-year-old may have hit .305 in low-A ball in 2013, but that will not hold up as he advances. ETA: 2017.

Shortstop
Keeper League: The constant knock on Jace Peterson is that he does not have any one particular plus skill. Quite frankly, that’s not a bad thing when you consider that we have a legitimate starting shortstop with superior on-base skills, contact-making skills, decent speed, gap power and very good instincts on the base paths (42 steals). His overall line at A+ ball in 2013 was .303/.382/.454 with a near 1:1 BB/K ratio. Potential starting shortstop and leadoff or #2 hole hitter. ETA: Mid-2015.

Outfield
2014 Impact: Reymond Fuentes was once one of the top prospects in the system until an absolutely miserable 2012 Double-A campaign derailed him. The 23-yaer-old bounced back in his repeat and did well in a short promotion to Triple-A. Fuentes features good defense, doubles power/high-single-digit home run power and 30-plus stolen base talents. Fuentes is now a dark horse starter and more likely a fourth outfielder given a lack of power-hitting skills. ETA: 2014.

Keeper League: 2013 first-round pick Hunter Renfroe is a traditional right fielder with a strong arm and 25-plus HR power. The 22-year-old did well in rookie ball but needs to improve his plate approach substantially if he is going to repeat a .308/.333/.510 or better line at full season ball. His upside is a middle of the order Nelson Cruz type, but that projection carries quite a bit of risk. ETA: Late 2015/Early 2016.

Rymer Liriano will likely get more time in Double-A, but could be up in Triple-A well before the season ends. The righty is a true centerfielder with excellent speed and stolen base skills, but has only low to mid-teens home run potential and like Refroe is on the over aggressive side of things. As such, I remain skeptical of both players' potential to be everyday players regardless of their respective plus tools. ETA: 2015.

Travis Jankowski does not have Renfroe or Liriano’s sheer volume of physical gifts but is blessed with some of the best speed in the Minors combined with tremendous stolen base efficiency. That in addition to superlative defense should get him a look as at least a back-up and worthy of consideration in NL-only leagues. At the plate, Jankowski is pretty much devoid of pop and might be overpowered at the higher levels of the Minors, but at least he has a fairly patient approach and does not strike out at an egregious rate. ETA: Late 2015/2016.

Pitching
2014 Impact: The Padres' best young pitcher, Matt Wisler, offers two plus power pitches and an effective changeup to go along with good command. At just 21 years of age, the righty was able to more than hold his own at Double-A, posting a 8.8 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9. Wisler has #2 to #3 starter potential. ETA: Late 2014/2015.

Casey Kelly missed all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery. The former Red Sox has already made his MLB debut, but could spend most of the season at Double-A and Triple-A as he works his way back into form. When healthy, Kelly pounds the zone and generates both strikeouts and ground balls, making him a potential #2 starter. ETA: 2014/2015, health permitting.

Burch Smith received a late season MLB look, but was unable to translate his above average minor league command and control to the Majors at all, going from a 2.5 BB/9 to a 5.2. Given a second shot, this will improve. Burch is not a high-end prospect but does own three average to plus pitches. Possible #3 or #4 starter. ETA: 2014.

Keyvius Sampson may be moving to the bullpen this year and that could put him on the path to becoming a closer. The 23-year-old has a power/slider combo and an average changeup. Like many power pitchers who get converted to relief, Sampson has had difficulty finding the strike zone in the past, though he did post an encouraging 2.9 BB/9 in Double-A last year before falling apart in Triple-A (6.9).

Former Ranger Joe Wieland is currently slated for the Triple-A rotation. Like Kelly, he too is coming back from Tommy John surgery. The 24-year-old features a good fastball/change/curveball combination and a history of throwing strikes with consistency, but the overall package lends itself more towards #3 and #4 starter rather than top of the rotation. ETA: 2014.

Keeper League: Max Fried is certainly the best lefty in the Padres’ system and is arguably a better prospect than Wisler or Kelly, but his ETA is more distant and his overall game is still raw. The 20-year-old has a plus fastball/curve combination but like many young pitchers, he is still raw, flashing a plus changeup but mediocre at best command. Fried has a good build, may yet add velocity in time and owns smooth mechanics, so it is quite possible that dramatic improvements are in store for him. ETA: 2017/2018.

Former first-round draft pick Joe Ross is a high-risk/high-reward play. There are some plus pitches in his arsenal, but none are currently a strikeout pitch. Right now, he is a ground ball producer who throws a fair number of strikes. The righty might find more success in the bullpen. ETA: 2016.

Wrapping Up: When looking at this system from a fantasy/likely to make it perspective, I focus on Jace Peterson and Austin Hedges. Dustin Peterson and Max Fried are the most intriguing for long-term focus. Meanwhile, Wisler and perhaps Kelly could make an impact as soon as this season and will certainly do so in 2015. Burch Smith is someone to watch for on the waiver wire this year at the MLB level and is a decent late-round minor league selection.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 March 2014 23:47
 
2014 Minor League Outlook: The Blue Jays PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 11 March 2014 00:00

Today we continue our tour of the MLB farm systems from a 2014 impact as well as dynasty/keeper league standpoint with a scan of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Catcher
2014 Impact: When the Jays traded away Travis D'Arnaud to the Mets last year, they left their farm system relatively barren of catching prospects. Now they are committed to 30-year-old Dioner Navarro for the next two seasons. If Navarro cannot continue what he accomplished in a breakout season with the Cubs, the mantle could fall to A.J. Jimenez.

 Jimenez, 23, is a MLB-ready defensive catcher with a great throwing arm. Offensively, Jimenez has a fairly low ceiling. The righty makes good contact and has gap power, but like most catchers is a slow runner, which will undermine his ability to hit for average.

First Base
Keeper League: Rowdy Tellez is not quite yet 19, but should already be on your prospect radar. A definite long-term 1B/DH type, Tellez brings it well with the bat, showcasing well above average raw power (30-plus homers), a quick bat and a very advanced approach for someone his age. For those in dynasty leagues, he’s a very interesting late-round speculative play. Barring a tremendous spring training, it’s quite possible he moves up to a higher level of short-season ball in 2014, so that ETA might be closer to 2020 than 2015.

Second Base
2014 Impact: Ryan Goins is currently the favorite to open up as the Blue Jays' starting second baseman, and that is perhaps the only reason he makes this list. Good defense is the lefty’s calling card while the bat is not. The 26-year-old has some doubles power, but is otherwise an overly aggressive hitter with a slow bat and slow foot speed. Even if he wins the opening day job, Goins is a utility guy long-term.

Third Base
2014 Impact: Andrew Burns is coming off a nice A+-ball and Double-A campaign in which he hit 15 homers and stole 33 bases. Heading into the season, Burns profiled best as a utility type, but now may make a passable starter given 15 home run or better power potential, a solid plate approach and good base running instincts with solid defensive skills. Burns should advance to Triple-A this season and may get a MLB call-up as well.

Keeper League: Mitch Nay is technically still a third baseman and will remain there for now, but is likely a first baseman long-term. As with Tellez, his value is bat-related and it will be interesting to see which of the two turns out to be the better player. Right now, I am leaning towards Nay, who has similar, if not better, raw power to Tellez and combines that with a disciplined, high-percentage contact approach, putting him possibly on the .300, 25+ homer path. The former supplemental first-round pick will probably receive his first exposure to full-season ball this year.

Shortstop
Keeper League: Dawel Lugo received 70 plate appearances at full-season A-ball and will likely be staying at that level. The 19-year-old has projectable above-average power and a build suited better for third or second long-term. The righty’s plus bat speed allows him to make very consistent contact, but he also needs to rein things in a bit as he now owns a career 2.0% walk rate in the Minors.

Franklin Barreto, despite standing 5’9”, has some interesting tools that could make him a 10-15 homer and 15-20 stolen base threat. The righty’s overall game needs a lot of work, particularly defensively, though he does have the raw athletic ability to stay at short given more experience. Like Lugo, Barreto needs to work on his plate discipline and in particular to play within his game. Players with decent, but limited power potential should not be striking out greater than 20% of the time.

Outfield
2014 Impact: Kevin Pillar made his MLB debut in 2013. The 25-year-old is a tweener with average pop and speed who makes some contact but isn’t a great on-base threat. The combination of skills and talents, however, has at least allowed him to hit for average at every level of minor league play. Pillar could win a fourth outfielder job with the Jays this year and could be useful as a fill-in player in AL-only formats.

Keeper League: D.J. Davis is probably the best pure athlete in the Jays system. The lefty has excellent defensive, power, and speed potential. At the same time, this former first-round pick remains extremely raw in most facets of the game. On the positive side, Davis does draw walks frequently, but also has had a lot of difficulty making contact. Because of tools, Davis is likely to be selected in most keeper and dynasty leagues, but only as a later round selection given that it is more likely he’ll be a bust than a success.

One of my sleeper picks is Dalton Pompey. The 21-year-old has above average speed, doubles and mid-teens home run power and is a true centerfielder. Unlike many others in the organization, Pompey has a more refined approach, drawing walks at high rates. One red flag, however, was the rise in his strikeout rates in full-season A-ball last year. He’ll need to improve in that area to be considered more than a backup.

Pitching
2014 Impact: Former first-round draft pick Marcus Stroman has an outside shot of winning the fifth starter’s spot this spring. Even if he fails, the injury history of Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ and contenders such as Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek might provide further opportunities. The righty has multiple plus or potential plus pitches, throws strikes and has enough weapons to get out lefties and righties alike. The constant knock on Stroman is his size and lack of downward play, which makes many envision him more as a potential closer. Regardless of his role, Stroman is a valuable commodity. He does, however, have enough stuff and skill to stick as a starter and will be given every opportunity to do just that.

Lefty Sean Nolin will return to Triple-A, most likely alongside Stroman. At 6’5”, 235, Nolin does not throw as consistently hard as one might think of someone his size, but it doesn’t matter. The 24-year-old is more of a strike zone pounding innings eater with good command of all his pitches. While he does not have much projection left, he profiles well as a fourth starter.

John Stilson made the move to full-time relief in 2013 and found success there. The righty added some velocity and created greater separation between his mid-nineties sinker and plus change. In Triple-A, Stilson posted an 8.9 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 and profiles well as a setup man long-term provided his violent mechanics don’t catch up with him first.

Keeper League: While Stroman is the pitcher in the Jays system to target immediately, Aaron Sanchez is the best long-term option. At 21 years of age, Sanchez has already held his own at A+ ball and will be moving up to Double-A and has an outside shot at receiving a September call-up. While Sanchez has quite a bit of work to do in the control and command department (4.2 BB/9 in A+ ball), the righty is a groundball machine with a plus to plus-plus heavy fastball, plus-curve and at least an average slider and workable changeup.  He projects best as a #2 starter.

Daniel Norris is a hard-throwing lefty who, like Sanchez, is still learning to consistently throw his above average stuff for strikes. At 20, he’ll pitch most of 2014 in A+ ball, where he will work to improve his mechanics and refine his pitches, at least three of which have plus potential. He already was showing improved mechanics in the second half last year and is someone who could take a big step forward this season.

For those in deep dynasty leagues, Roberto Osuna may be worthy of your consideration. Currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and unlikely to pitch in 2014, Osuna still has middle of the rotation potential. Unlike many of the club's younger arms, the 18-year-old has at least two plus pitches and has already established himself as a strike thrower. His ETA is a ways off and pending a complete return to health.

Following the very long range theme, Chase DeJong is a potential middle of the rotation starter who will pitch in full-season ball for the first time in 2014. The righty, at 6’4”, projects to add more velocity, already throws his fastball and a plus curve consistently for strikes and also projects to have a solid changeup. His ETA, however, is likely late 2017 to mid 2018.

Once again, the Jays are well stocked with good arms that are very far away from having an impact at the major league level. Add Alberto Tirado to that mix. This 19-year-old has two to three potential plus pitches, including an already very effective changeup. As with all pitchers, let alone ones as young as Tirado, the odds of making it to the Majors are stacked against him, but he does at least have a sound basis of skills and talent to be successful as a starter.

Wrapping Up: The Jays' short-term prospect excitement pretty much begins and ends with Marcus Stroman. Redraft leaguers should keep in mind that the Jays do have many in-house options already with MLB starting experience who may get the ball over Stroman, so do not be surprised to see him stay in the Minors until the All-Star break unless there is a rash of injuries. Longer term, Nay and Tellez offer an interesting combination of on-base and power skills while Sanchez has top of the rotation potential.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 March 2014 02:51
 
2014 Minor League Outlook: The Nationals PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Monday, 03 March 2014 22:59

Today we continue our tour of the MLB farm systems from a 2014 impact as well as dynasty/keeper-league standpoint with a scan of the Washington Nationals

Please be sure to check back as the pre-season progresses, I will be updating as necessary. All players who have retained rookie status are eligible for this series.

Catcher
Keeper League: Twenty-year old Pedro Severino will make the majors. His glove and throwing arm are just that good. However, it is most likely as a back-up. While the 6’1” righty has a bit of project left in his frame, it is unlikely much power will ever develop. Severino makes a fair amount of contact, but has little speed and a raw approach at the plate and managed just a .241/.274/.333 slash  in A-ball. The best catching prospect in the National’s system is not recommended for fantasy baseball purposes.

First Base
Keeper League:
Matt Skole is technically still a third basemen and has good enough hands and throwing arm for the job. However, he’ll be moving to first base this year as not only is Ryan Zimmerman is ahead of him on the depth chart but Skole has mediocre range and is coming off of an injury that essentially wiped out his entire 2013 season. The former Yellowjacket has a quick bat and plus power, hitting 27 HRs in A-ball in 2012 and projects as a 25 to 30 home run hitter at the MLB level. The lefty couples that with a ultra-patient approach that leads to both high walk rates and high strikeout tallies, so he’s not likely a significant batting average threat, but still very much a viable everyday player. Skole might have been a potential 2014 call-up if not for the injury, but will now instead repeat Double-A. Adam LaRoche is coming off a disappointing season and is in an option year, so there is a small window of opportunity for Skole given quick progress to Triple-A and more struggles from LaRoche.

Second Base
The Nationals already have Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa, provided he is not traded, at second base and have no other standout minor league second basemen in their system, but do have a few dark-horse candidates.

2014 Impact: 25-year old Jeff Kobernus was once a second round pick out of California. The righty has excellent speed, stealing no fewer than 41 bases in any of the three previous seasons and is also a very good contact hitter to boot. Besides those two facets, there is little to recommend given a weak glove and an utter lack of pop that might cause him to struggle against MLB level pitching. Regardless, if Kobernus can make the Nationals as a utility player, he warrants attention as a $1 Willie Bloomquist type.

Keeper League: Tony Renda is a 5’8” righty who absolutely controls the strike zone, walking frequently and making contact even more frequently (89% of the time). The 23-year old even managed 30 stolen bases last year, despite average speed. In other words, Renda knows how to play the game and get the most out of his all-around limited tools. How he handles the upper minors will determine his trajectory.

Third Base
Keeper League: Drew Ward is not yet a high profile prospect, but could be one in time. At age 18 the Oklahoma native showed an already capable glove and arm at third base as well as a more advanced than expected approach at the plate. At 6’3”, 215 pounds, Ward already has some doubles power and may project to have 20-plus homerun capabilities over time. The Nationals may take things slowly with the 19 year old and could have him play another year of short-season ball rather than promote him to full-season A-ball already. Ward’s ETA is at least three seasons off if all goes well and his power does indeed emerge to point where the righty is worthy of starting.

Shortstop
2014 Impact: Zach Walters had a brief cup of coffee in D.C. last year, but will most likely spend most of 2014 at Triple-A. The switch-hitter came almost out of nowhere to hit 29 homers in 2013 after hitting just 12 the year prior, but at 6’2” 220, it appears to be legitimate. The switch hitter profiles better at third or in the outfield given his size and throwing arm. An overly aggressive hitter, Walters is not likely to be much of an OBP or significant batting average threat. Unless there are significant injuries, the 25-year old will most likely remain in Triple-A or a bench role for the Nationals, but the power is worthy of note should the opportunity arise.

Outfield
2014 Impact: The Nationals outfield is so deep that they were able to sign Nate McLouth to a two-year deal after coming off of a solid season as a starter to serve as a fourth outfielder. In other words, there may not be much opportunity here for youngsters. Still, the Nationals have three outfielders who are close to MLB ready.

Brian Goodwin is the most highly regarded of the Nationals upper-level outfielders. The toolsy 23-year old has at least 15-20 HR/SB potential and is a legitimate centerfielder. The former supplemental first round pick also possesses good on-base skills, but possibly almost to a fault as the lefty struggled to hit for average, posting just a .252 batting average alongside a .355 OBP and struck out 23% of the time. Given Goodwin’s limited power ceiling, a slightly more aggressive approach might actually benefit him.

Every time I write this player I accidentally type in “Scott” without thinking. (Way back Masterball readers will remember Scott Souza who once upon a time wrote for this site). Anyway, no relation that I know of - Steven Souza will proceed to Triple-A alongside Goodwin. A former third basemen, Souza also has above average across the board tools, but because of his third basemen’s arm, is well suited to right field.  In 323 Double-A plate appearances, Souza produced a 15 HR/20 sB line with a .300/.396/.557 slash and indeed has 20-20 or better potential. As a right-handed hitter who strikes out close to a quarter of the time, it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his ability to hit for average at Triple-A and the majors.

Eury Perez is technically closer to the majors than either Goodwin or Souza having played in Triple-A each of the past two seasons.  The nearly 24-year old righty, however, profiles best as an extra outfielder with superior defensive and top of the charts speed. Perez’s shortcomings are in the power and on-base department as a good, but extremely aggressive contact hitter.  Perez has an outside chance of becoming the next Endy Chavez.

Keeper League:

Michael Taylor provides the Nationals with yet another 5-tool player with the defensive chops to start in centerfield. Like many of the other outfielders in the system, Taylor employs a patient approach, but has a long swing and has struggled to make contact because of it. While the righty has 20-30-plus potential, it will take a great deal of refinement to actually harness it. Right now Taylor might be a very good right-hand half of a platoon or fourth outfielder with a chance to be much more given some mechanical adjustments to his swing.

Former supplemental first round pick Drew Vettleson was only very recently acquired from the Rays.  2013 was a disappointing season in which the lefty failed to get on base or hit for power, producing an otherwise fairly empty .274 batting average in the Florida State League. There is some pop lurking here and he remains a power/speed threat from right field. 2014 will be quite pivotal for the 22-year old.

Pitching
2014 Impact: A.J. Cole is the Nationals best upper-level pitching prospect. The righty owns at least a plus fastball which he can touch the mid to upper nineties with and does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground with his two-seamer. Cole’s other secondary pitches get mixed reviews and has a change-up and curve that are both works in progress that occasionally flash average to plus potential. Cole is adept at throwing strikes and commands his fastball well. He’ll begin 2014 in Double-A, but could move up to Triple-A in a hurry given the success he had there already late last season. Keep your expectations at a September call-up for now.

Reliever Aaron Barrett could find his way to the Majors this year. The 26-year old righty has moved through the system one level at a time, but is now coming off of a 26-save, 12.3 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 season. The former 9th round draft pick will move up to Triple-A and has a shot at being a right-handed specialist reliever, given a plus slider, in the coming months.

Keeper League: Lucas Giolito feels like the next Dylan Bundy with the exception of having already recovered once from Tommy John surgery. At 19 years of age Giolito has perhaps already the best fastball in the minors and one of the best curves to boot and has a fair feel for throwing them for strikes. The righty’s changeup already flashes plus-potential too. Get on board now as Giolito is likely to be moved through the system at a rapid pace and could be up for a cup coffee as soon as 2015.

Sammy Solis has no experience above A+ ball, but has been to the Arizona Fall League on three separate occasions mostly attributable to recovering from Tommy John surgery. The lefty will move up to Double-A this year. Solis throws hard and changes speeds well, but struggled to make hitters swing in miss to the degree that they did prior to Tommy John surgery. More importantly for TJS recoverees, Solis’ good control had returned and there is hope for more as he builds arm strength this season. Long-term he profiles best as a third or fourth starter.

2013 second round pick Jake Johansen showed his plus fastball in A-ball this season and also made strides with his curve and changeup too. The righty can reach triple-digits on his fastball and was able to show decent control of his pitches in rookie-ball, but was has a long way to go before he has true command of any. The most likely scenario has Johansen in the bullpen given his excellent sinking fastball and a potential out pitch in his curve.

Jefry Rodriguez made the hitter to pitcher conversion in 2012 and while still mostly a thrower, is improving his ability to find the strike zone. Like Johansen, he’s probably a reliever, but does offer an interesting mid-nineties fastball/curveball combination. The 20-year old will remain in the rotation as he moves up to full-season ball this year.

Wrapping Up: The Nationals system offers up one of the most intriguing arms in the game in Giolito. The righty is probably available in most NL keeper leagues and makes him one of the very top selections as a result. Cole has #2 or #3 level quality starter potential while Skole, if healthy, has the attributes to be a very similar, if not better player, to current first basemen Adam LaRoche. Drew Ward is an intriguing sleeper and a good last pick in NL only leagues if you are looking for upside. The Nationals are full of five-tool outfielders albeit with none deserving the “sure-thing” label. All have their weaknesses and barring injury there is little opportunity for the upper level ones to play in the Majors. Goodwin and Taylor have the most raw upside, but Souza of the group, may be the best balanced in terms of tools and applied skills.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 01:38
 
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