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2015 Prospect Outlook: The Twins PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 30 December 2014 00:06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week, we check out the Cleveland Indians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 December 2014 09:25
 
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Tigers PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 09 December 2014 00:00

The Tigers took the AL Central yet again only to get knocked out of the playoffs by the Orioles in the first round. On the young talent front, Nick Castellanos stuck it out for the year as their starting third baseman while Eugenio Suarez saw significant action as did catcher Bryan Holaday in a back-up capacity. Castellanos’ rookie season was less than impressive, regressing in his plate discipline. To be fair, the righty does not turn 23 until 2015, so a struggle should not have come as much as a surprise. The righty did show some doubles power and has shown better contact skills in the Minors, so 2015 will provide an opportunity for those two skills to come forth. Relievers Evan Reed and Ian Krol also came up to provide significant contributions and both look to stick in the bullpen during the coming season.

In the most shocking move to the Tigers farm system, they dealt their top prospect, Devon Travis, to the Blue Jays for one of the best examples of great tools, lack of skills in Anthony Gose.

Stock Rising: Steven Moya hammered 35 homers in Triple-A and another five in the Arizona Fall League this year. That output was eye opening enough to see his stock rise. The power is legitimate and there’s more than enough athleticism here for him to handle right field. The question is – will the lefty hit or get on base enough to warrant keeping his power bat in the lineup? Moya is a notoriously aggressive hitter, frequently walking less than 5% of the time and striking out close to 30% of it. Moya will move up to Triple-A and could see significant action with the Tigers in 2015, but his best long term role likely looks to be as a platoon player.

20-year-old Domingo Leyba enjoyed quite a year in A-ball. Granted it was just 116 at-bats, but he did hit .397. A switch-hitter, Leyba is an excellent contact hitter with a quick bat and while aggressive, he has a good feel for the strike zone. In time he could develop gap power and may be a 5-10 HR, .280+ type at second base. He may move up to A+ this coming season.

Hernan Perez is a player without any standout tools but is indeed a player with good baserunning instincts, a solid glove at second or short and a contact-making approach (89% at Triple-A) that allows him to hit for average. He made it to the Majors late last season and could open 2015 as a utility player who might be able to fill in as a starter in a pinch.

Former Yellow Jacket, Buck Farmer, advanced from A-ball all the way to the Majors in one season, skipping over A+ ball along the way. This is not that surprising when you consider Farmer will turn 24 this coming February and that his age and experience warranted a challenge. The righty is a fairly hard thrower with two solid complimentary pitches and should begin 2015 in Triple-A, so a call-up as a fourth or fifth starter is possible along the way, but that is likely Farmer’s upside unless he can further refine his command of his secondary stuff at the higher levels.

2013 second-round pick Kevin Ziomek may have jumped ahead of the team’s first-round pick, Jonathon Crawford, on the Tigers’ depth chart. The 6’3” lefty dominated A-ball with a 2.27 ERA, 11.1 K/9, and 3.9 BB/9. These were the kind of numbers expected of Crawford, who has higher quality and higher velocity offerings. The results though are of an experienced college lefty and while he has two to three potential MLB pitches, he’s probably more of a fourth or fifth starter at the MLB level given no real standout plus pitch and mediocre control.

Undrafted free agent Joe Jimenez made a splash in short season A-ball as a reliever with a 13.8 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. At 19 years of age, he’ll move up to A-ball next year but could conceivably rocket through the system given his plus fastball/slider combination.

2013 fourth-round pick Austin Kubitza dominated the West Michigan League with 140 strikeouts in 131 innings and just 98 hits allowed. The righty is essentially a one pitch pitcher with a tremendous heavy sinker that results in weak ground balls or strikeouts. He’ll need more pitches at the higher levels, but at the very least there is a lot of potential here as a reliever.

Steady as it Goes: Last year, I described James McCann as a possible starting catcher with “strong catch and throw skills.” I also liked his contact-making skills and emerging power which was readily apparent in his doubles production. McCann spent almost all of 2014 in Triple-A and transitioned well to the next level generally, but overall showed no growth with his bat and in fact walked less and struck out more frequently. So like last year, McCann could eventually be a starter, but it will mostly be on the strength of his glove. The former second-round pick profiles as a better ball player than fantasy weapon.

Derek Hill was drafted in the first round out of high school this year, so it really can only be “steady as it goes.” His production over the tiny sample was underwhelming but he is a player with plus-plus speed and superior centerfield skills. A year of full A-ball will really show us what the Tigers have in Hill, but right now he profiles as a no-pop speedster who may possess enough bat speed and contact skills to warrant a starting job down the road.

Lefty Tyler Collins played 2014 in Triple-A and received a late season call-up. Mediocre at best defensively, left field is Collins’ likely long-term home. The former sixth-round pick has high teens to twenties HR potential and is patient enough to draw a walk, though by the same token is not likely to hit for average. Collins is a borderline platoon starter/bench player for the Tigers in 2015.

Stock Falling: Harold Castro entered 2014 as a toolsy, projectable second baseman with plus foot speed and a quick bat. The 21-year-old played at A and A+ ball, hitting for average, but showed little to no power and an overly aggressive approach (less than 4% walk rate) that will not hold up at higher levels of competition.

2013 first-round pick Jonathon Crawford had a decent, but unremarkable first full season as a pro in A-ball. Over 23 starts, he posted just a 6.2 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9, both unimpressive feats for his pedigree and experience. Crawford is primarily a pitch to contact, ground-ball inducing pitcher but needs a third pitch in order to start getting more swings and misses. He was originally drafted with the idea of becoming a middle of the rotation work horse but is now looking like a back end of the rotation pitcher.

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

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 10:11
 
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Dodgers PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 00:00

The Dodgers competed to achieve the second best record in the National League in 2014 only to fail to advance as far as desired in the playoffs. Their deep, veteran roster provided few opportunities for rookies to obtain significant playing time with only one player, utility infielder Miguel Rojas, losing his rookie status.

Other more prominent prospects such as Joc Pederson made brief appearances but it was not yet their time.

Stock Rising: As far as improving youngsters go, Joc Pederson is a great starting off point. He was the consensus top prospect in the system last year but has actually only improved on that if that’s even possible. The 22-year-old lefty was an unheralded 11th round draft pick who has developed into an excellent all-around offensive and defensive threat. In the lower minors, Pederson showed a patient approach that he was able to combine with his power and speed to hit for average, but as he has become more focused on the long ball (33 HRs in Triple-A), the strikeouts have increased, but so at least have the walks. The biggest obstacle is the array of injury-prone veterans currently ahead of him on the depth chart. Provided Pederson can once again cut down on the strikeouts, he’s a possible .280-plus, 25 HR, 30 SB player. On the other hand, if the strikeout rates remain high and if Pederson continues to have difficulties versus lefties, then we might be looking at more of a .260s to .270s hitter.

2014 first round draft pick Grant Holmes enjoyed a very solid pro debut, striking out 33 batters in 30 innings while walking only seven. At this point, the 18-year-old is already a two-plus pitch power pitcher and is working hard to develop his off speed stuff. He’ll pitch in full season ball in 2015.

Jose De Leon, a 24th round pick from 2013, turned some heads in the Pioneer League this season with a mid-nineties fastball and a 4:1 and 21:1 K/BB ratio in his two minor league stops. He struck out a combined 119 batters in just 77 innings with his fastball and slider and like Holmes, is making good strides with his change. He’ll move up to full season ball as well and could be moved aggressively as a 22-year-old.

Alex Verdugo had an interesting debut. The 2014 second round pick is already showing extremely advanced plate discipline at 18 years of age and collected more walks than strikeouts, making contact nearly 93% of the time and hitting .347/.423/.518. It remains to be seen just how much power Verdugo will develop, but so far we have a doubles hitter with excellent bat speed and strong fundamentals on the basepaths (8- for-8 in SB attempts) and at the plate.

18-year-old catcher Julian Leon emerged in the Pioneer League, showing the basic competencies to remain behind the plate while also showing some decent power (12 HRs in 264 PA) and an ability to draw walks. He produced a .332/.420/.565 slash and should now be taken seriously as a catching prospect for the Dodgers, though his ETA is well off in the future.

Steady as it Goes: Julio Urias maintained his status as the top arm in the Dodgers system with another 11+ K/9 season, this time at A+ ball. The young lefty has earned praise for his mature command of multiple pitches and ability to change speeds and offer a variety of looks. His overall control was not as great as his first full season, but one really can’t complain about a pitcher who first turned 18 late in the minor league season and who posts an 11.2 K/9 in A+ ball with three to four potential plus pitches. He’ll move up to Double-A this season and is on pace to be in the Majors before he turns 20.

At 28 years of age, Alex Guerrero should already be holding down L.A.’s starting second base job. Injuries and freak incidents held him back to just 258 plate appearances. Over that time, Guerrero showed above average power for a middle infielder with 15 homers while making fairly consistent contact, but he also showed an extremely aggressive approach that will not translate well in the OBP department at the MLB level. His bat should play at the MLB level, but like Pederson, a path to playing time must be found given that Dee Gordon is ahead of him on the depth chart and Corey Seager is climbing fast to the Majors.

Speaking of Seager, the 2012 first round draft pick is living up to his billing, tapping into his power as a 20-year-old, adroitly handling both A+ and Double-A despite being young for both leagues by hitting around .350 at each level with a combined 20 home runs. While Seager has a level, quick swing, his aggressiveness and increasing strikeout rates are not going to allow him to maintain a batting average anywhere remotely as high as it has been, but the power is projectable and he could end up a 25-plus HR hitter or better in time. Seager’s defense is still considered solid enough to stay at shortstop, but at 6’4” and as a player likely to fill out further, a move to third is likely in the cards somewhere down the road. Heading into 2015, he’ll remain at shortstop and could be starting in L.A. before the year is out despite his youth.

Chris Reed pitched at two levels in 2014 and kept his ERA under 4.00, but he continues to struggle to throw strikes and command his pitches. A 2011 first round pick, Reed has a good fastball/slider combination that may see him move to a loogy role long-term. He’ll start 2015 in the Triple-A rotation and could see some time in the Majors.

Scott Schebler continues to mash, hitting 28 home runs after driving out 27 the season prior. The lefty is overly aggressive at the plate, and strikes out frequently, but he has power aplenty and might make a good bat off the bench for the Dodgers. He’ll move up to Triple-A in 2015 and will likely spend it as roster filler.

Stock Falling: Zach Lee was coming off a solid Double-A campaign in 2013, but despite his 8.3 K/9, his stuff was and still is considered solid, but not overpowering. Originally a first round pick, Lee has not quite lived up to his billing and further declined in his Triple-A debut, dropping nearly three points on his strikeouts while walking a batter more per inning and generally getting knocked around with a 5.38 ERA. Unless he suddenly develops a pitch that he can really get some swings and misses on, Lee will end up a back end of the rotation starter.

Urias’ teammate, 22-year-old Chris Anderson, posted a 9.8 K/9 in A+ ball. The former first round pick throws plenty hard and has a good slider but is inconsistent with most of his offerings and has to develop an offspeed pitch that is workable. The righty will move up to Double-A with Urias, but he could be pushed to a relief path before long.

Key Injuries: Ross StriplingTommy John surgery. Won’t return until mid-2015 at the earliest. Profiles as back end of the rotation starter. Chris Withrow  - Tommy John surgery. Mid to late 2015 return. Still has possible future as a high-end setup man given his upper nineties fastball and plus slider.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2014 03:36
 
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Diamondbacks PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 18 November 2014 00:00

The Diamondbacks had the dubious honor of having the worst record in the Majors in 2014, good for the #1 overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft. That may be one of the few highlights of the season, though A.J. Pollock started to fulfill his potential and rookies Chris Owings, Ender Inciarte and David Peralta all played significant roles as did pitchers Vidal Nuno (after coming over from the Yankees), Chase Anderson, Evan Marshall and Mike Bolsinger, to name a few.

Since we’re now firmly amidst the offseason, these articles are more than a post-mortem. They are now an outlook and will focus on that aspect from here on out.

System Graduates: Chris Owings made the Majors last season and claimed the second base job this year. The righty showed flashes of his double digit HR and SB potential over 332 plate appearances, but he also continues to be an overly aggressive hitter who needs to improve how often he makes contact at the MLB level. Striking out 20% of the time and OBPs bordering on .300 are not long-term starter skills. In fact, Owings falls into that category of potentially being more valuable from a fantasy standpoint than from a real baseball standpoint.

It was thought Chase Anderson might move into a middle relief role last year, but he came back a starter after injury in Double-A and impressed with his strike-throwing ability and made 21 starts with the D-backs, most impressively bringing his strikeout rates along for the ride. (8.3 K/9). Anderson accomplished it by changing speeds rather well, armed with a solid curve and two changeups. Going forward, he projects well as a #3 or #4 starter.

Evan Marshall accomplished what was expected of him and more, throwing harder and keeping the ball on the ground (though 61% of the time was better than expected). Where he exceeded expectations was in his ability to actually throw strikes and command his pitches. He’ll continue to be a setup man as long as he can keep doing that.

Ender Inciarte and David Peralta head into 2015 with the intention that they will both see significant playing time in left field despite both being left-handed hitters. Prior to the season, neither player was considered much of a prospect and in fact both were more on the organizational player path at the beginning of the year. However, Inciarte’s speed and disciplined, contact-oriented approach make him viable as more than a platoon player, making it likely he will see significant action against lefties. His skills have translated well at each new level of play, so it actually would not be surprising in a second go around for Inciarte to actually improve in the OBP department. Peralta, 27, also has a fair history of making contact and gap power. Overall, the former Cardinal's role and production may not hold up as well as Inciarte’s given a more aggressive approach and less defensive versatility.

Like Peralta and Inciarte, Mike Bolsinger was nowhere to be seen on the prospect radar even after 17 fairly solid Triple-A starts in 2013. The righty improved on that in 2014 and subsequently earned a promotion where his walk and strikeout rates barely altered in the transition with a .355 BABIP and acute homeritis destroying his ERA. Bolsinger is actually a dominant ground ball pitcher who throws strikes, so the issue is clearly a command one. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be an opening in the Diamondbacks rotation for him in 2015, so he’ll have to bide his time and wait for some spot start opportunities or injuries.

Stock Rising: Jacob Lamb retained his rookie status by a mere three at-bats. The former 6th round pick has enjoyed solid back to back campaigns, including a .318/.399/.551 slash at Double-A with 14 homers. Given a history of fairly high (low to mid-20%) strikeout rates, the batting average is not likely to move up with him to the Majors as seen in his 37 games with the D-Backs. What is likely to come along, in time, are his walk rates. Lamb is a patient right-handed hitter with upper teens to low-twenties home run power and an above average glove and arm for third base. For now, Lamb will spend a good deal of 2015 in Triple-A with Aaron Hill (coming off a very disappointing year) ahead of him on the major league depth chart.

Lamb is not the only third baseman in Arizona’s system whose career is on an upswing. Brandon Drury hit 23 home runs between A+ and Double-A ball while hitting another three in the AFL. Like Lamb, Drury is more than capable of handling the defensive demands at third base. Drury’s better power and bat speed, however, translate into above average contact-making skills which could make him a .280s or better hitter at the MLB level. Of the two, Drury has the higher ceiling and is more likely to man the hot corner for them long-term.

Steady as it Goes: Aaron Blair, the Diamondbacks' 2013 supplemental first round pick, remains on target to eventually join the starting rotation. The righty has a plus fastball/change-up combination and an average curve that he can all throw for strikes. The fastball is a quality sinker that induces plenty of groundballs as well. In eight Double-A starts, he managed an 8.9 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 and could easily move up to Triple-A to begin next year and has a shot at joining the rotation depending upon the circumstances. While he does not have the highest ceiling of the Diamondbacks young starters, he may be the safest bet of the bunch.

Braden Shipley was taken in the first round ahead of Blair and still projects as having the higher ceiling given three pitches with plus potential. Upon reaching Double-A, over a small sample, his control wavered a bit and his command within the zone can be shaky, resulting in a fair share of homers allowed in the past season. If he can make the necessary adjustments, he can be a #2 or more likely a #3 starter. He is more likely than Blair to retain higher strikeout rates at the MLB level given the separation between his mid-nineties fastball and plus changeup.

Sergio Alcantara repeated Rookie ball. The 18-year-old has a good glove for short and an intriguing approach, but he lacks punch and any outstanding offensive raw tools at the moment. Probably on the utility man track to the Majors, but there’s a ton of time here for him to turn things around.

20-year-old Stryker Trahan had an up and down season. The lefty has a great throwing arm and was tried out in right field, but he continues to see action behind the plate too. His long-term role at this time is still in flux. Trahan’s best tool is his power as he hit 19 home runs between two levels and profiles as a possible 25-plus HR hitter at his peak if he can continue to make contact. He showed some patience and contact skills in low A-ball, but in route to hitting the majority of his homers at full season A-ball, he also ended up striking out over a third of the time. That rate, however, is well out of context with what Trahan has done in the past, so there still remains plenty of room for optimism.

Peter O’Brien, acquired from the Yankees this season, showed tremendous power with his former team, but he also continued to show he is not a catcher long-term and that he is an aggressive hitter who frequently strikes out. The righty’s best path to the Majors is probably as a right-handed platoon player and emergency-only backstop.

Nick Ahmed’s game rebounded in his second season with the Diamondbacks, though not really in much part to any change in skill, but rather a significant fluctuation in BABIP from a surprising .266 in 2013 to an on the high side .352 this year. A plus defender, this second round pick has decent speed, doubles power, and makes frequent contact. Still, the sum total of the package is likely a utility player.

Stock Falling: One has to drool over Archie Bradley’s stuff, but his struggles at every level this season with his command demonstrate he is not yet ready to take on a big league starting role. When on his game, this is a pitcher with three absolutely dominant pitches and ace potential. However, it’s hard to be an ace when you get knocked around everywhere. Barring some significant improvement, it's starting to look like a move to the bullpen might be in the cards.

2012 supplemental first round pick Mitch Haniger came over as part of the Gerardo Parra deal from the Brewers. Like Parra, Haniger is a tweener who can play effective defense, make contact, and can even steal the occasional base. But he's neither a speed burner nor a dominant threat in the power department and needs to start changing some of those doubles into homers as was originally expected of him when drafted.  He has shown decent on-base abilities in the lower Minors and he’ll need to show that again in Triple-A this season if he is going to be more than a fourth or fifth outfielder type. There are too many “ifs” here to highly recommend him for fantasy league purposes.

Key Injuries: Jose Martinez made just two starts this season due to a fractured right elbow. Still, he has very good potential if he can show the same stuff when he returns.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 November 2014 08:56
 
Prospect Post-Mortem: The Rockies PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 11 November 2014 00:00

While the Rockies 2014 season was not that inspiring at the MLB level, they own one of the more exciting systems in the Majors today. They are armed both with potential bats and a few above average arms that could make the team a significant long-term threat.

System Graduates: Tyler Matzek began 2014 in Triple-A and reached the Majors where he actually pitched better than he had in the Minors. Given control and mechanical issues, it looked like the former first round pick was on the verge of making the switch to a relief role, but he improved his command (3.3 BB/9) at the MLB level while still producing a 7.0 K/9 and keeping the ball on the ground 50% of the time. The lefty is still primarily a fastball/slider pitcher and his new-found control is an outlier when contrasted against the rest of his history. He heads into 2015 a member of the Rockies rotation, but I suspect regression in the control and command department to be rather likely.

Christian Bergman was never expected to be much of a contributor at the MLB level, but he pitched his way to the top and made 10 starts for the Rockies. The 26-year-old righty is a pitch-to contact pitcher with elite control, but he is also quite hittable. There’s a good chance he’ll end up back in Triple-A next season given an upside as a fifth starter/swing-man.

Former second round pick Chad Bettis has been converted to relief and is now a member of the Rockies’ pen. Given the quality of his fastball/cutter/changeup combo, I expect his sub-par MLB K/9 should rebound to the 8-plus territory in 2015 and could eventually push him into a setup role.

Stock Rising: 20-year-old David Dahl played in his first full season of professional ball and enjoyed some mixed results, more than holding his own in the South Atlantic League where he made contact and showed off his power and plus speed. Dahl is a natural centerfielder with 20-plus stolen base potential. His swing is line-drive and contact-oriented and should allow him to hit for average long-term. The issue is just how much power will eventually come from that swing. My sense, given his game, is to expect no better than high-teens homers long-term, though this is still potentially a very valuable player from both a fantasy and real baseball standpoint.

Raimel Tapia continues to dominate at every level of play. An aggressive hitter who rarely walks, Tapia has emerging power (33 doubles and nine homers), above average speed and a quick bat that allows him to make consistent, hard contact. The righty is still on the path to becoming a potential 20-20 or better candidate, provided he can adjust his free-swinging ways to the upper minor league levels.

Ryan McMahon followed up on his solid rookie-league debut with a solid display in the South Atlantic League. The third baseman continues to show off his most prominent tools, his power, to good effect with 18 homers and projects as a possible mid-twenties home run hitter long-term. The lefty looks like a possible .260s to .270s hitter given a patient, power-oriented approach. He plays good enough defense at third to possibly stick there long-term too. He along with Dahl and Tapia will be a trio to watch in A+ ball in 2015.

2011 first round pick Tyler Anderson is back on track after a successful stint in Double-A. He posted an 8.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 over 23 starts. He’s a four-pitch lefty who profiles well as a possible #3 or #4 starter. Like Jon Gray, he’ll move up to Triple-A and is a candidate for mid-season call-up, though with less fanfare.

2013 fourth round pick Jordan Patterson is starting to get some notice after he showed off his plus-power/speed skills in A-ball. He’ll need to cut down the strikeouts but is now on the radar as a possible 15-20 HR/15-20 SB threat.

Long-term keeper leaguers should note Forrest Wall immediately. The Rockies 2014 supplemental first round draft pick took to pro-ball rather quickly. The lefty displayed a very advanced plate approach, well above average speed and good pop while producing a .318/.416/.490 line. There are certainly quite a few similarities to Mookie Betts here.

Steady as it Goes: Jon Gray continued his ascent to the Majors as he was one of the more dominant pitchers in the Southern League, armed with multiple wipe-out pitches and good command. The 22-year-old was shut down late in the season due to some soreness, but it is not considered serious. He’ll move up to Triple-A in 2015 with a chance to crack the rotation as soon as mid-season.

I expected Cristhian Adames to make the Majors this year and he managed to get into seven games with the Rockies. The 23-year-old played at two levels, showed a good glove at short and continued making consistent contact throughout the Minors. He still profiles as a utility infielder long-term.

Kyle Parker’s game has stayed pretty much the same no matter what level of play he has been placed. The 25-year-old played a full season in Triple-A and enjoyed another campaign in which he showed some power and enough contact ability to hit for average too. He reached the Majors and should challenge for a job at least on the bench next spring. With Michael Cuddyer moving on, Parker’s right-handed bat might be a good replacement.

Former supplemental first round pick Trevor Story continues to have an up and down minor league career. The 21-year-old is loaded with tools on both the offensive and defensive side of the equation, but execution continues to be an issue. At A+ ball, Story hit .332 while walking 14% of the time, showing power and stealing 20 bags. However, his 27% strikeout rate caught up with him in Double-A (and increased to 35%) and his game fell apart as he barely made the Mendoza line. Story is likely to repeat Double-A next season and will need to improve those swing mechanics and cut down on the strikeout rates if he is ever to fulfill the potential of his gifts.

Taylor Featherston translated his A+ ball numbers to Double-A well albeit with a slight dip in batting average despite no noticeable change in skills or tools. The 25-year-old continues to display solid pop and speed and glove for the position. He’ll move up to Triple-A next year and should see time in the Majors too. It remains to be seen whether or not the Rockies see him as anything more than a utility player.

2014 9th overall pick Kyle Freeland pitched at two levels in his pro debut, showing tremendous ability to hit his spots with a sub 2.0 BB/9 at both levels. He has at least three quality pitches and could make the jump to A+ ball to begin 2015.

Stock Falling: After an extremely exciting 2013 campaign, Rosell Herrera came back to earth with a very mediocre effort at A+ ball, though that may be due in part to multiple injuries including a wrist injury during the early goings. Herrera has decent pop for a second baseman and showed improvement in his on-base skills in 2014. He’ll move up to Double-A in 2015 but has a lot to prove in terms of performance, skills, and health.

Tim Wheeler spent a second full season at Triple-A and continues to fail to impress. The nearly 27-year-old is simply no longer the player he was prior to breaking his hamate bone, lacking the plus power he once displayed.

Key Injuries: This past spring, I gushed about Eddie Butler and his chances to develop into a mid to upper end of the rotation starter. Shoulder and upper back issues have been an issue for the young righty throughout the season and the effects of the rotator cuff strain were clearly seen in his 3-point K/9 drop off at Double-A. Butler was still throwing strikes, but he needs to get healthy in order to hang onto his #5 spot in the Rockies rotation. The injuries, at this time, are not considered serious or career-threatening, but one should remain cautious drafting him regardless.

Tom Murphy was expected to stay on track to becoming the Rockies everyday catcher, but his season was derailed by a shoulder injury in May and he ended up receiving just 109 plate appearances. If he can stay healthy, Murphy profiles as a .260s hitter with decent OBP numbers and upper teens home run power.

Daniel Winkler was enjoying a tremendous Double-A campaign (thanks in great part to a 92% left-on-base rate), but was dominant with a nine-plus K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 before injuring his elbow which ultimately required Tommy John surgery. He won’t be back until late next season at the earliest.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 November 2014 09:52
 
Prospect Post-Mortem: The Padres PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 04 November 2014 00:00

The 2014 season has come to a close, but our look back at the progress of the various farm systems has not. The Padres finished third in their division, eight games under .500, and obviously did not perform as desired at the MLB level but did promote several players who are now mainstays in their rotation and bullpen while providing depth to their bench. The Padres also acquired a few rookies who made and who could make significant contributions.

System Graduates: The two most significant rookie hitters on the team were actually journeyman Tommy Medica and mid-season acquisition Yangervis Solarte. Medica is now a right-handed bat with some pop off the bench and 1B/OF back-up which was the role he had long-profiled best as. Solarte took over the third base job for the Yankees earlier in the season after coming seemingly out of nowhere, cooled off and was dealt to the Padres in the Chase Headley deal where he once again picked things up, showing a tremendous eye at the plate while making contact over 90% of the time. His overall level of play was fairly similar to the level he performed at in the Minors, an aggressive, but contact-oriented approach with low-teens pop. Ideally, his bat profiles better in the middle infield, but there is enough skill here for him to remain a starter at third for the Padres unless another option comes around.

Former Ray Jesse Hahn recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2013 and then found himself dealt to the Padres. He emerged as a potent part of the rotation after a solid Triple-A campaign, translating his pitches and skills, if not increasing his strikeout rates at the MLB level. Hahn has two to three plus pitches and does an excellent job of keeping the ball both in the park and on the ground. If he can keep his mechanics in control, the former sixth round pick could be a long-term middle of the rotation solution.

Relief prospect Kevin Quackenbush emerged from Triple-A to post a 9.3 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 over 56 games. His stuff is not, however, that of a typical closer, with a low-nineties fastball, average curve and solid splitter. He’ll continue in a setup role for now.

Stock Rising: Matt Wisler was one of the brighter spots for the Padres in 2014. The 22-year-old pitched as a starter at two levels with a good deal of success, ending his year in Triple-A (7.8 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 over 22 starts), and he could push his way into a MLB starting role in 2015. The righty has a deep repertoire with two to three potential plus pitches and good command and could push towards a middle of the rotation spot in the near future.

Shortstop Jace Peterson reached the Majors after playing well at two minor league levels. The 24-year-old’s excellent plate approach carried him through both levels, allowing him to hit for average and get on base at both stops. The question now is opportunity. The lefty has some gap power, is an excellent base-runner who can crack double-digits in steals and has a good enough glove to play short. At the very least, he’ll end up a back-up utility player, but there’s enough here for him to be more than that.

Joe Ross improved on his 2013 season. The 21-year-old former first round pick raised his K/9 by two points in A+ ball from the year before and maintained it with a move to Double-A later in the season while improving his ability to throw his pitches for strikes. His changeup, however, remains a work in progress.

Steady as it Goes: Hunter Renfroe dominated A+ ball in the early going, demonstrating his well above-average power potential and a willingness to get on base. Double-A proved more challenging fo the 22-year-old where he, despite cutting down on the strikeouts and walking more often, was far less effective with a .232/.307/.353 line. He’ll see more Double-A action next year and likely Triple-A time too. I still think there is some Nelson Cruz potential here if he can keep the strikeout rates under control, but that’s a best case scenario projection.

Former first round pick Cory Spangenberg produced a great line in his repeat of Double-A, batting .331/.365/.470, and continues to show above average speed, but he has little pop and continues to be overly aggressive at the plate. His career now appears to be on a utility/pinch-running path.

After a miserable 2012 campaign, Reymond Fuentes bounced back in 2013 and continued that success again at Double-A before receiving a promotion to Triple-A where he was solid, yet unspectacular. The former first round pick still has 30-plus stolen base potential and is a solid defensive centerfielder. There’s enough tools and skills here still to make him a potential .280 hitter with high single-digit home run power, but it’s unclear whether or not the Padres will put him on that path or use him as a fourth outfielder. He’ll require a few more months at Triple-A regardless.

Jose Rondon came over in the trade for Huston Street and has shown himself to be a capable glove-man who makes contact but lacks any standout offensive tool. This is pretty much on par with what he had done with the Angels, keeping him on the utility-role train.

Rymer Liriano came back nicely from missing all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, hitting 14 homers in Double-A alongside 17 steals before getting a promotion to Triple-A. Like Fuentes, Liriano has centerfielder tools with 20-plus stolen base potential and high single-digit to mid-teens pop. The righty continues to strike out at a high rate and despite “bouncing back” from injury, he did not exactly dominate Double-A with his .264/.335/.442 line. He’ll join Fuentes in Triple-A next season.

Stock Falling: Top prospect Austin Hedges' first extended exposure to Double-A pitching did not go as expected. The righty looked overmatched at that level, failing to make his usual contact and failing to hit .230 at the level. Hedges will make the Majors because of his superb defensive game, but he is likely now delayed. Do not be surprised to see the former second round pick repeat the level.

Taylor Lindsey was the most ready prospect in the Angels system to start the season, but after a lackluster season in which he failed to produce at either of his Triple-A stops, he now finds himself without much of a path to the Majors. Lindsey has decent power for a second baseman, makes contact and has a fair eye, but no outstanding tools. Even with Jedd Gyorko’s disappointing season, there is far from a guarantee Lindsey will even be considered for the second base job in 2015.

2013 second round pick Dustin Peterson could still come around, but his first full season in pro-ball was still uninspiring with a .233/.274/.361 line. The righty has excellent bat speed and power potential but is rawer in his strike zone judgment than originally anticipated, striking out nearly a quarter of the time while walking less than 5% of the time.

As somewhat expected, Keyvius Sampson transitioned to the bullpen this year after once again struggling to throw strikes. He struck out more than a batter per inning but also posted a 6.7 BB/9. His power fastball/slider is well suited to the pen if he can get them over.

Key Injuries: Alex Dickerson lost a bunch of time due to an ankle injury and was limited to 147 plate appearances in Double-A. A former third round pick of the Pirates, he should get a crack at Triple-A to see if he can earn a bench role with the Padres by mid to late 2015.

Casey Kelly still has yet to make it back from 2013 Tommy John surgery, barely pitching at all in 2014 after dealing with more elbow soreness.

Burch Smith, after breaking through with the Padres last season, pitched in just two games after getting shut down with elbow soreness. He is back on the mound in the Arizona Fall League and still has middle of the rotation potential.

Max Fried underwent Tommy John surgery and likely will not see significant minor league action again until 2016. Fortunately, he is still just 20 years old and has plenty of time to try to see if he can still become a top of the rotation pitcher.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 November 2014 08:18
 
Prospect Post-Mortem: The Royals PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 00:00

In continuation of last week, we continue to acknowledge the accomplishments of our World Series participants with a progress report on the Kansas City Royals. The system has some interesting pitching prospects and a number of tools-laden hitters, but unfortunately a number of them are still quite raw and hitting some bumps in the road.

System Graduates: The odds that a 2014 draft pick would make it to the Majors and make it to the World Series less than six months after pitching in college are rather long. The fact that Brandon Finnegan was a Royal pick makes those odds even longer, but there it is. Odds and teams aside, first round college picks moved to the bullpen have often been able to fly through the system. (Hello Chris Sale to name one). A starter in college, the Royals moved the lefty to the pen upon promotion to Double-A and then jumped him to the Majors to be a relief specialist. Finnegan has a plus fastball/slider combo which has aided the transition. As a starter, Finnegan also features an average changeup, but it is unknown whether the Royals will move him back into the rotation (and a possible minor league demotion to get the necessary innings) or keep his live arm in the pen.

While Finnegan’s quick emergence has been a surprise, Yordano Ventura’s has not. The young righty won a job in the opening day rotation, as expected, and is now a front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year honors. Ventura has encountered some minor shoulder issues over the course of the season but was able to maintain his excellent velocity regardless (97 mph fastball) and use that alongside his plus curve and changeup to produce a 7.8 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9. Health permitting, Ventura is a possible #2 or better long-term starter.

Stock Rising: Christian Binford pitched at three levels in 2014. The righty completely overmatched A+ ball over 14 starts with a 10.0 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9 before encountering a slight bit more resistance over eight Double-A starts, where his K/9 dropped to a 7.1, while maintaining his ability to pound the zone. A brief stay as a reliever in Triple-A (10 innings) was rougher. Binford’s command is elite, but his fastball is nothing special in of itself, nor are his breaking pitches, but he mixes them well and throws them all for strikes. At the moment, the righty looks like a #4 starter.

Sean Manaea had his way with A+ ball batters, producing a 10.8 K/9 over 25 starts. A supplemental first round pick, Manaea struggles with his health and control at times but did manage to stay healthy this season. A lefty, Manaea has a mid to upper nineties fastball, plus slider, and an average to plus changeup as well. Do not be surprised to see him move more quickly next season with a possible late season MLB audition in the cards.

Steady as it Goes: 2013 first round pick Hunter Dozier is certainly not on the same quick trajectory as Brandon Finnegan, but he did a half year in A+ ball and the second half in Double-A. In A+ ball, Dozier showed the plate discipline, power potential and defense that was expected. The 23-year-old’s progress at Double-A, however, was less than stellar with a .209/.303/.321 output. Dozier earns praise for his makeup and intelligence and it is far too early to write him off. A return to Double-A to start 2015 is possible. The key will be his ability to cut down on strikeouts and reassert his quick, line-drive stroke.

Jorge Bonifacio is gifted with a great deal of natural raw power, but at 21 years of age, he has still yet to tap into it. It may yet come as he physically matures, so some patience is required here. On the positive side, the righty’s approach is better than some of his compatriots, including showing a willingness to draw a walk, and while his strikeout rates are above 20%, they are not of the obscenely high variety. If the power comes and he maintains this approach, the Royals may have their future right fielder.

It was tempting to put Raul A. Mondesi in the “stock falling” category, but he is who he is – a raw player with tremendous natural tools and at 19 years of age, there is still plenty of time left to turn those tools into skills. The switch-hitter is not going to be a power hitter, but he is an excellent defensive shortstop with a quick bat and above average speed. Right now though, for someone with his power, 122 strikeouts against 24 walks is a significant concern. Mondesi has been sitting on keeper league Minors squads for a season or two now, and there are probably better MLB-ready options worth carrying, except in leagues with particularly deep minor league rosters.

Miguel Almonte continues to throw strikes and has a plus fastball and good change, but he needs to further develop his breaking pitches in order to build off his solid 8.2 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. At the very least, he has a good foundation for a move to the bullpen.

Stock Falling: 2011 first round pick Bubba Starling's stock is plummeting. Starling still has significant tools and 20-20 or better potential, but he simply cannot make contact. The righty was overmatched in A+ ball as a 21-year-old with a .218/.304/.338 line. As with others, there is still time given his age, but the righty has yet to adjust his game in 2+ seasons of minor league ball. 2015 could be make or break for him.

Orlando Calixte spent a second straight season in Double-A, where apart from a tiny increase in power, he showed little to no improvement to his game and in fact was even less selective at the plate than in the year prior. The 22-year-old has good pop for a shortstop and is capable in the field, but given mediocre ability to hit at even the Double-A level or to even get on base (.288 OBP), his role seems to be moving towards a utility one.

Key Injuries: 2012 first round pick Kyle Zimmer made just five minor league starts but was receiving additional work in the Arizona Fall League, where he had been impressive in his three starts before getting shut down for the season with shoulder tightness. If the righty can ever stay healthy, he has a ceiling at least as high as Yordano Ventura.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 October 2014 08:32
 
Prospect Post Mortem: The Giants PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 21 October 2014 00:00

This week, in honor of our upcoming World Series, we’ll consider the progress of the San Francisco Giants farm system. While the Giants did not promote many players to the Majors this season, overall the organization's prospects fared rather well as they advanced through the Minors with few surprising failures.

System Graduates: The most notable system graduate is, of course, the Giants' current starting second baseman, Joe Panik. Panik was also the lone prospect to exhaust his rookie eligibility (not including DFA’d minor league journeyman Brandon Hicks). A former 29th overall selection in the 2011 draft, Panik demonstrated superior plate discipline and contact making throughout his minor league career. In fact, his selectivity has yet to fully translate to the Majors and better OBPs may be in store. Beyond that ability, Panik has a relatively low ceiling as a gap-power hitter with mediocre at best foot speed. Long term, Panik looks like a .280 to .300 hitter with solid OBP skills, worth in the low to mid double-digits in NL-only leagues.

Andrew Susac did not exhaust his ROY eligibility, but solidified enough of a place on the roster to be a part of the postseason roster and could be the opening day back-up to Buster Posey in 2015. In fact, in many other organizations, he might have already taken over the starting job given an improving catch and throw game, a patient approach and mid-teens or better per season home run power. With Posey locked up until at least 2021, Susac could end up trade bait barring a position change for he or Posey.

Like Susac, Gary Brown is still technically a rookie but is on the postseason roster for his defense and speed primarily. The former top prospect appears, however, to be on more of a back-up outfielder career trajectory. The righty’s second tour of duty in Triple-A was better than his first, by a few hits and a greater number of stolen bases. Otherwise, Brown continues to strike out far too often and walks too little for someone of his speed skills/limited power ceiling tools. Despite a good Triple-A line that could earn 20-plus dollars if reproduced in the Majors, he needs to prove he can cut down on the K’s and handle right-handed pitching more effectively if he ever wants to be a starter.

Utility infielder Matt Duffy also made the postseason roster after a .332/.398/.444 campaign in Double-A. The former 18th round pick has pretty much already hit his ceiling as far as a roster spot, but he does bring a well-disciplined and contact-oriented approach, solid defense and above average speed. There’s an outside shot Duffy could have more long-term value than Panik if the opportunity were to arise.

Stock Rising: Michael Santos is a long way away as a 19-year-old pitching in short-season ball. He’s a tall, projectable righty with a plus fastball and two average to potential plus secondary pitches that he commands well. He’ll move up to full season ball next year. An interesting arm to track, but it's going to be a long time coming, that is if he can even stay healthy.

Another 19-year-old, Christian Arroyo, played well in the Northwest League, showing emerging power and solid play at second base. It remains to be seen if he has simply good power for a second baseman or enough power to be considered a third base option, given that he has good enough arm strength to handle the position.

6’2” lefty Keury Mella made just 12 starts in full-season A-ball, but he made an impression with an 8.6 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9. The 21-year-old throws rather hard, reaching the upper nineties, and has the makings of being a complete pitcher with an average to plus curve and change. He should move up to A+ ball next year. His power arm may be too tempting to leave in the rotation and his role could eventually be a specialist left-hander.

Steady as it Goes: The report on Kyle Crick really has not changed. At 21, the righty was young for Double-A but managed a 11.1 K/9. On the other hand, he continues to be amazingly wild, logging a 6.1 BB/9. Crick still has top of the rotation stuff, but he has a lot to learn about command, mechanics and developing into a pitcher. If he can’t, the potential for him to be a dominant relief ace is there too.

Clayton Blackburn has more than passed the Double-A test, showing excellent control of his pitches, but he did see his K/9 drop over a full point to 8.2. He is somewhat of an antithesis to Crick as a polished pitcher with solid average and well-controlled stuff that gives him a safe trajectory to the Majors but an upside of no more than that of a fourth starter.

Former first round pick Chris Stratton made it to Double-A despite issues with the longball in A-ball. Still, he has a plus-fastball/slider mix that makes his strikeout rates more likely to transition upwards than Blackburn’s. The keys to his game are command within the zone and the development of his change. It’s a fair bet he’ll return to Double-A to begin 2015.

Joan Gregorio is a hard-throwing, 6’7” righty who can already reach the mid-nineties on his fastball and has a good slider to boot. The 22-year-old needs to prove himself at higher levels of competition, but with just 22 innings of A+ ball under his belt, there is no guarantee he’ll be immediately advanced to Double-A.

Kendry Flores followed up on a good A-ball season by increasing his strkikeout rates in A+ ball (9.5) despite not having overpowering stuff. Instead, Flores relies on good mechanics and a solid fastball and changeup combination. He did, like Stratton, have some issues with the home run. He’ll join Stratton in Double-A next year. As with Blackburn, Flores is perhaps a safer bet to make it than Stratton, but Stratton’s upside makes him more worthy of picking in most fantasy leagues.

Stock Falling: Mike Kickham spent nearly another full season in Triple-A, producing a near carbon copy of skills and results as in 2013. Kickham has a live arm and decent enough secondary stuff, but he is inconsistent with his control and command which has resulted in him being more hittable than he should be in successive seasons. The lefty may now be on the organizational path with a move to middle relief being his best way of getting to the Majors.

Ty Blach made 25 starts in Double-A, pounded the strikezone with a 2.5 BB/9, kept the ball in the park and managed a very respectable 3.13 ERA. However, the 24-year-old’s K/9 dropped from 8.1 to 5.8. He’s not a power pitcher but has multiple solid pitches and commands them well. Blach looks more like an innings eater #3 or #4 starter at best, one who will continue to pitch to contact.

Key Injuries: After tapping nicely into his power in 2013, former 3rd round pick Mac Williamson injured his elbow to the point of needing Tommy John surgery, costing him most of the 2014 season. He’ll return in 2015 and no long term effects are expected from the surgery. But, he’ll be 24 years of age with fewer than 100 at-bats of A+ ball experience and will have to show a lot in a hurry to fit into the Giants' plans.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 08:54
 
Prospect Post-Mortem: The Rays PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 14 October 2014 00:00

The Rays 2014 season was not the success at the MLB or minor league level that the organization had hoped for, but there were several significant players promoted to the Majors who will be in the 2015 opening day lineup while other prospects continued to ascend the ladder to the Majors.

System Graduates: On the hitting side of things, Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer were the two minor leaguers to shed their rookie status. Kiermaier, 24, is unlikely to ever be a significant power threat, but that isn’t his game. Kiermaier is a low to mid-teens HR threat known best for his prowess as a centerfielder and a contact-oriented approach at the plate. The lefty struggled against southpaws (.203/.224/.284) and will have to translate his minor league contact skills to the Majors in order to avoid becoming a platoon player. There is .280+, 10 HR, 15 steal or better potential in this skill set. Brandon Guyer has spent the better part of three seasons in Triple-A, showing that he really has nothing left to prove at the level. Guyer also lacks any standout tools, but he does have above average speed (20+ SB potential) and similar, if not better pop than Kiermaier. He’ll continue to be a bench player for the Rays with a potential to play regularly against lefties.

The real rookie standouts were Jake Odorizzi and Brad Boxberger. Odorizzi’s quick and dominant transition to the Majors was essential given the injuries to the Rays staff. The former Brewer and Royal farmhand was able to command his pitches well and generate strikeouts with two plus pitches in his 4-seam fastball and split-fastball. His strikeout rates, while likely to regress a little in 2015, seem to be generally sustainable. Boxberger, like the Yankees' Dellin Betances, became one of the best setup men in all of baseball with his effort which generated a 14.5 K/9 alongside a 2.8 BB/9. However, Boxberger pitched in just 63 games and despite his 104 strikeouts, did not have a very heavy workload when compared against his Yankees competitor, so that bodes well for a strong follow-up in 2015 provided of course that Boxberger’s much improved strike-throwing carries forward too.

Stock Rising: 2014 first round draft pick Casey Gillaspie hit the ground running, showing the power and plate discipline expected of him with seven homers and a 14% walk rate in A-ball. The 20-year-old switch-hitter continues the family tradition of having an excellent plate approach, but he has better raw power tools than either of his brothers and has 20 to 25 home run potential long-term. Defensively, he is less versatile than his brothers and is limited pretty much to first base.

Ryan Brett enjoyed a solid Double-A campaign, showing gap power, above average speed and ability to make solid contact. He’ll ascend to Triple-A next year and if the Rays so desire, they could move Ben Zobrist back to an outfield position in order to make room for Brett’s above average glove at second base. Possible .280, 5 HR, 25 SB threat in the Majors.

Jacob Faria enjoyed a break-through season in his first full season of pro-ball. In 23 starts, the righty managed an 8.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. The 21-year-old has two to three average or better potential pitches and an advanced feel for pitching. He’ll move up to A+ ball in 2015 with a chance to end it at the Double-A level.

Steady as it Goes: Former first round pick Mikie Mahtook enjoyed the finest season of his career in 2014, but that does not really mean his stock is rising. Yes, he hit .292/.362/.458 while playing centerfield and hit a career high 12 homers to go along with 18 steals, which is all impressive, but he did it with a by far career high .380 BABIP and much increased strikeout rate (25%) as compared to the rest of his career. If Mahtook can go back to his usual contact-making ways while still bringing additional pop, then he may indeed have a future as a back-up or part-time starter. Right now, he still looks like the .250s hitter he was in the lower minors.

Taylor Guerrieri lost time due to a PED suspension and Tommy John surgery but came back strong over five short-season rookie ball starts, throwing strikes and missing bats. Granted it was a low level of competition, but at least the former first round pick is looking healthy and most importantly for someone coming off elbow surgery, throwing strikes, even if over a small sample size. Expect him to start 2015 in A+ ball, if healthy.

Alex Colome made it to the Majors pitching as both a starter and reliever for the Rays. The righty is one of the harder throwers in the system and has multiple average to plus pitches to back up his fastball. Command and health issues are the major concern here as is his path to a rotation spot. A trade or injury would have to occur for that opportunity to emerge. Possible #3 starter long-term.

Stock Falling: Like Colome, Enny Romero pitched in Triple-A this year but failed to get a single call-up. Despite an 8.4 K/9, the lefty continued to have some control issues and sported a 4.50 ERA and has yet to develop much of a changeup. Plus, because of his command problems, he developed an issue with allowing the longball in 2014. Romero has a nice upside, but his two power pitches could be well utilized as a loogy.

After coming over in a deal last offseason with the Nationals, Nate Karns continued to rack up strikeouts with his solid fastball/curve combination, but he continued to struggle with his command and posted a 5.07 ERA. The righty also has yet to develop much of a changeup which seems to suggest more and more that the former 12th round draft pick will eventually transition to the bullpen, where he could indeed flourish.

Hak-Ju Lee continues to rate amongst the top of the Rays minor league talents despite his difficulties staying healthy and his ineffectiveness at Triple-A this season (.203/.287/.276). Lee is potentially an elite defender who has displayed excellent bat control skills in the past along with gap power and 30-plus stolen base potential. Lee will be 24 years old to start next season and will have to show quite a bit more at the plate to avoid getting the “glove only” moniker.

2013 first round draft pick Nick Ciuffo scuffled in rookie ball, battinng .223. That said, we are talking about a 19-year-old catcher with the ability to stay behind the plate long-term and excellent bat speed, power, and make-up that could still make him an everyday player down the road. No need to roster him given his ETA, but definitely don’t lose track of Ciuffo.

2012 first round pick Richard Shaffer’s first foray into Double-A was a disappointment. There was plenty of power on display (19 HR) and good deal of walks (11%) but also few strikeouts and ineffectiveness against righties. Possible low-average, good OBP/HR threat at the MLB level. Think .230 or .240s hitter at the moment.

Next week, we move over to the National League for a change of pace.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 October 2014 08:49
 
Prospect Post-Mortem: The Yankees PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 00:00

This week, we continue wrapping up how each organization’s prospects fared in the past year and what holds for 2014. Let's take a glance at the New York Yankees farm system.

System Graduates: The Yankees had one rookie batter exhaust his rookie eligibility in Yangervis Solarte, ultimately sending him to the Padres in the Chase Headley deal. They were more successful in the pitching department with Dellin Betances establishing himself as one of the top setup men in the game and a potential closer candidate down the road. In 90 innings of work, Betances was able to focus on his nasty fastball/slider combination, throwing both pitches for strikes and posting a 13.5 K/9 while showing little to no platoon splits. The righty was dominant all season long, so the only concern is whether the heavy usage will catch up with him in 2015.

As well-known a prospect Betances was coming up through the Yankees system, Shane Greene was not. The former 15th round pick has not been noted for his command throughout his minor league career and has indeed seen his ERA see-saw up and down since being drafted in 2009. However, the righty has translated his strikeout rates at around the high 7 to low 8’s mark from one level to the next and had turned things around with his mechanics at A+ ball in 2013 with a 1.2 BB/9 and has since managed to keep it well under 4.0. The result was a very promising MLB debut and a good chance of making the 2015 opening day rotation.

After three seasons in Triple-A, fellow 15th round pick Chase Whitley was promoted and was used as a swing man, a role he’ll likely remain in for much of his career. The righty has fairly average stuff, but throws strikes and changes speeds pretty well.

Stock Rising: 20-year-old Luis Severino pitched at three levels this season with little to no difficulty in making that transition. In Double-A, the righty still posted a 10.4 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. As one would expect, Severino is still refining his stuff, but he already throws three plus to potential plus pitches consistently for strikes, giving him upper end of the rotation potential. Expect him to spend most of 2015 in Double-A with a shot at a September call-up and becoming a full-fledged rotation member in 2016.

2013 first round pick Aaron Judge already has some fascinating plate discipline skills, walking at high rates at two minor league stops while already tapping into his plus power potential with 17 homers. The 22-year-old will get more of a challenge in Double-A this season. He’s a future right fielder who will have to prove, because of his 6’7” frame, he can handle right-handed pitching at the upper levels of the Minors.

Rob Refsnyder hit over .300 or more at two minor league levels in 2014 along with 14 homers and a .380+ on-base percentage. A 2012 fifth round pick, Refsnyder is a very advanced line-drive hitter with low-teens pop and slightly above average speed. The righty is originally an outfielder and has been making the transition to second base the last two seasons. He's probably a utility guy long-term but does remind me a little bit of the Mets' Daniel Murphy in terms of modest ceiling, advanced game, adequate at best defense.

Gregory Bird showed his 20-home run A-ball output was for real with a combined 14 homers between A+ and Double-A in 2014. The 6’3” first baseman also translated his high walk rates to each new level of play without a substantial rise in swings and misses, though he did manage just a .253/.379/.558 line in Double-A. Not bad for a guy who missed April with a lower back injury. He’ll return to Double-A and if all goes well, could make a late-season appearance in the Bronx as a possible long-term replacement for Mark Teixeira, though it would be unwise to expect Bird to have a peak anywhere near as high as Tex.

Steady as it Goes: Gary Sanchez remains on pace to make the Majors and possibly win a starting job as soon as mid-2015. The long-term deal to Brian McCann, however, places a major damper on that opportunity, making Sanchez a candidate to be dealt. Sanchez has tapped into his power and made strides in reducing his aggressiveness at the plate while making more consistent contact. His below average running speed, however, puts a cap on his ability to hit for average long-term. Think .250 to .260 hitter who might manage 15 to 20 homers given the opportunity.

Taken 26th overall in 2013, Eric Jagielo spent time on the DL with a ribcage injury,but still managed to showcase his power in A+ ball with 16 homers. The lefty is a third baseman for now, but profiles best at 1B or DH where he’ll have to show he has enough power to warrant the job. So far, Jagielo is on the right track, but he will have to keep the strikeouts at bay at Double-A next year to be considered for a starting job long-term.

2013 first round pick Ian Clarkin enjoyed a solid first full season of pro-ball, posting a 9.1 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 at full season A-ball. Clarkin is a projectable lefty with two potential plus pitches. Clarkin is right on target as far as progress goes, but he’s not really for consideration in all but the deepest of fantasy leagues as of yet.

Stock Falling: J.R. Murphy is a fairly good defensive catcher with modest low to mid-teens power potential who earlier in his career showed a good approach and ability to make consistent contact. 2014 was a struggle as his offensive game deserted him at Triple-A with a weak .246/.292/.397 line. Murphy performed slightly better in the Majors and will now have to fight for the back-up job behind McCann. If he can’t win that job, he’ll end up as Sanchez’s Triple-A back-up.

Gosuke Katoh made a splash in the GCL in 2013, but he appeared mostly overmatched in A-ball, producing a 31% strikeout rate. On the other hand, the 19-year-old walked 15% of the time, played solid defense, showed gap power and decent speed. While it is too early to write him off, Katoh has a ton to prove.

Mason Williams has excellent all-around tools, including above average bat speed, but he has not shown any ability to do anything with the ball. In two seasons at Double-A, he has failed to hit above .223 and may have to repeat the level a third time.

Key Injuries: Slade Heathcott (missed all of 2014 except for 36 at-bats) and underwent knee surgery.

Next week, more prospect post-mortem.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 October 2014 08:20
 
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