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

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

Eligibility note: With the exception of those players coming from overseas straight to the Majors, all other players who retain their rookie status heading into 2015 will be considered for this series.

Top Ten First Base Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Ten First Base Prospects for Long-Term Fantasy Impact

D.J. Peterson – See Above.

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

Christian Walker – BAL – See Above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travis Shaw – BOS – See Above.

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

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 09:48
 
Top Ten Catching Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 10 February 2015 00:00
Draft prep season is in full swing. With that in mind, we'll switch gears towards identifying prospects to help your squads in 2015 as well as the future. For the next several weeks, I will look at the top ten prospects at each position from a fantasy standpoint for both 2015 impact as well as a long term perspective. Players can logically end up in both lists, but the 2015 impact lists will focus on opportunity first and then talent whereas the long term lists will focus fully on fantasy value.

Eligibility note: With the exception of those players coming from overseas straight to the Majors, all other players who retain their rookie status heading into 2015 will be considered for this series.

We kick things off with a look at the top catching prospects around the Majors.

Top Ten Catching Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Blake Swihart – BOS – The Red Sox backstop tops both lists given the likelihood of his mid-season promotion and unquestionable talent. From an opportunity perspective, the Red Sox have placed few obstacles in his way with clear stop-gap catchers in front of him at the MLB level. A well above average defender who will stay behind the plate long-term, the switch-hitter has mid to upper teens and possible 20+ long-term HR power and a disciplined, line-drive hitting approach from both sides of the plate that will allow him to hit for average. Swihart has a skill set that should allow him to adapt to the Majors fairly quickly, but never underestimate the transition of defense trumping offense for catchers, which goes for everyone in this article.

2. Christian Bethancourt – ATL – The 23-year-old righty is penciled in as the Braves’ opening day catcher. That opportunity alone justifies his high placement on this list. A plus defender, Bethancourt has solid raw offensive tools, complete with a quick bat that lets him make consistent contact and low to mid-teens HR power. The only reason I rank him behind Swihart, who could spend considerable time in Triple-A to begin the season, is his overly aggressive approach. After an initial go around the league, Bethancourt’s tendency to swing at everything will be adjusted to and even though he makes contact, he’ll be unlikely to get a pitch to hit until he can prove he won’t swing at balls out of the zone. There is .270+ 10 to 15 HR potential here, but it may take time.

3. Kevin Plawecki – NYM – If the stars align his favor, Plawecki could be one of the most valuable rookie catchers. His opportunity to play, however, rests on the health and production of Travis d’Arnaud, neither of which is assured given a history of freak injuries and struggles at the MLB level thus far. A 2013 supplemental first round pick, Plawecki is a disciplined, line-drive oriented contact hitter who because of that approach, could transition to the Majors quite easily. His defense generally gets good grades too and it’s possible that in time, he could tap into his power and be more of a mid-teens HR threat. Plawecki does not have a high ceiling like other players in the long-term impact list, but because of his skills, he's a fairly low-risk player who could enjoy a long and productive career. He will begin 2015 in Triple-A, awaiting his opportunity.

4. Andrew Susac – SF – Susac is MLB ready yet has nowhere to play because he is behind Buster Posey on the Giants’ depth chart. While he does not have Posey’s upside, Susac has what it takes to start in his own right with mid-teens power and a patient/line-drive oriented approach that could make him a .260 to .270s hitter. Until such time as Posey switches positions, gets injured, dealt, or walks as a free agent (or a similar transaction for Susac), the realization of Susac’s potential will remain unattained. Susac could be starting for quite a few other clubs right now if the Giants were to deal him given the development of both his offensive and plus-defensive game.

5. J.T. Realmuto – MIA – Jarrod Saltalamacchia is in the second year of a three-year $21M deal with the Marlins and will receive a chance to “make good” before Realmuto gets his chance. Like Plawecki, Realmuto is not a high ceiling player, but rather a good all-around player with an acceptable level of risk, and he actually has a very similar game, though perhaps a better arm if not as much upside in the power department. The righty has a polished, contact-oriented approach with doubles power and high single-digits HR power. The 23-year-old is a possible .270+, 8 to 12 HR threat long-term. It will take another down season from Salty before he gets his chance, however.

6. James McCann – DET – Add James McCann to the list of very capable, modest ceiling backstops in this article. The 24-year-old will battle Bryan Holaday for the back-up job behind Alex Avila and should be on your radar as a possible injury replacement. McCann is a plus all around defender and not a slouch with the bat, making contact with a quick bat and possessing high single digits to low-teens HR power.

7. Roberto Perez – CLE – Perez is not an offensive dynamo, but he is an above average receiver with improving offensive skills, and most importantly, he’ll start 2015 as Yan Gomes’s back-up. Perez both walks and strikes out at fairly high rates, so while he may not hit for average, the righty could be useful in OBP leagues. 2014 was also an offensive breakout season as he tapped into more power and may now project as a high single-digits to mid-teens HR threat. The 26-year-old could get an extended look if Gomes goes down, but figure he is more likely in line for 180 to 230 plate appearances.

8. Peter O’Brien – ARI – The Diamondbacks have been purposefully not all that active in the pursuit of catching help and have a fairly wide open starting catcher situation as we enter spring training. Enter power-hitting Peter O’Brien. The 24-year-old has no experience above Double-A, but what he does have is legitimate 30-plus HR power. Defensively, he is passable, though not a standout by any means and may be best suited for a corner position long term. His real shortcoming is in his plate approach as an all or nothing slugger who strikes out over a quarter of the time. But unlike most all or nothing sluggers, he fails to walk frequently, doing so just over 5% of the time in Double-A last year. He could win the job and hit 15 to 20 home runs, but his best comparison right now is probably J.P. Arencibia in terms of approach and batting average/on-base potential. At a minimum, O’Brien will begin 2015 in Triple-A with a chance at a mid-season call-up.

9. Gary Sanchez – NYY – As in San Francisco, the Yankees have a tough roster to crack with Brian McCann signed long term and Austin Romine as a capable back-up who is a low-end starter in his own right. Top prospect Gary Sanchez, meanwhile, will advance to Triple-A. The 22-year-old has come a long way from his early days, cutting back significantly on his strikeout rates and increasing his walks while not sacrificing much in the power department. He still projects as a high teens to mid-twenties HR hitter who could hit in the .270 to .280 range. While he has impressive physical tools, Sanchez isn’t the best receiver, but he still should stay there long term. Given McCann’s contract and Sanchez’s occasional “make-up” issues, it would not be surprising at all to see him dealt and almost instantly become the starter for another organization. He could be ready as soon as mid-season, but what opportunity is there remains to be seen.

10. Austin Hedges – SD – The Padres moved Yasmani Grandal and are going with Derek Norris, who is coming off a breakout season with Oakland, as their everyday catcher. Norris may be difficult to beat out now that he has fully translated those minor league plate discipline skills to the Majors, but Austin Hedges will be difficult to ignore given his well above average defensive skills. The righty should move up to Triple-A and despite his struggles last season, he makes a fair amount of contact and has high single-digits to low-teens pop that could return him to the .270s level in the upper Minors and Majors.

Honorable Mention/Call-up candidates: Tucker Barnhart (CIN), John Hicks (SEA), Tom Murphy (COL), Elias Diaz (PIT), Francisco Pena (KC), Max Stassi (HOU), Jett Bandy (LAA), Carlos Perez (LAA), Kevan Smith (CHW), Austin Barnes (MIA)

Top Ten Catching Prospects for Long Term Fantasy Impact

1. Blake Swihart – BOS - See Above.

2. Kyle Schwarber – CHC – The fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft is certainly on the fast track to the Majors. However, the Cubs’ acquisition of Miguel Montero and his heavy contract does not mean that “fast track” is the equivalent of “rush”. That said, Schwarber played at three minor league levels in 2014 and will open Double-A ball with a chance at a late season call-up. At each level, the righty showed an ability to hit for power (25+ HR long-term) while maintaining a patient approach, but also a short swing, and he did not have to sell for power. The biggest question is Schwarber’s defensive game, which is considered adequate at best. Given perhaps the best offensive ceiling of any catcher on this list, it is possible that the Cubs will want to minimize his chance for injury and maximize his offensive skills by moving him to the outfield long term.

3. Jorge Alfaro – TEX – Aflaro’s ceiling as a power hitter makes him a must for the long-term catching list. The 21-year-old, however, carries quite a bit of risk with him too as an aggressive right-handed hitter who has had a tendency to strike out over a quarter of the time in the past. Defensively, he has a good arm, but his defensive game remains quite raw and it’s possible he could eventually move off the position. The Ranger has a quick bat and is still quite young, so the selectivity and contact issues could resolve themselves. But overall, he carries quite a bit of risk.

4. Francisco Mejia – CLE – Mejia is almost all projection right now. The 19-year-old is a strong armed receiver with a quick bat from either side of the plate that could generate plus power in time. His all-around game is raw, both offensively and defensively, so it remains to be seen what the Indians have here. It should say something that he was instantly installed as his team’s cleanup hitter. 2015 will be his first full season of professional ball. He's only for those who have the really long term on their radar.

5. Kevin Plawecki – NYM – See Above.

6. Andrew Susac – SF – See Above.

7. J.T. Realmuto – MIA- See Above.

8. Justin O’Conner – TB – The Rays brought back John Jaso, but it’s possible he may be utilized as a DH and instead minor league veteran, Rene Rivera, may see the bulk of the catching duties. While that scenario will likely play out the entire season, 22-year-old Justin O’Conner will be seeing more time in Double-A and could challenge for the starting job in 2016. The Rays love his throwing arm and while still a work in progress on defense, he has a good enough defensive game to stay at catcher long-term. Offensively, the former first round pick has plus power and could be a regular in the 20-25 HR range at his peak. Right now, he is getting by with that power and a quick bat, but he’ll find it tougher to hit for average at the upper level given an aggressive low-walk, high strikeout approach that could make him a sub .240s hitter long-term.

9. Reese McGuire – PIT - McGuire has a rather similar ceiling to Plawecki, Susac and Realmuto, and even McCann for that matter. The former first round pick has a very quick bat, makes good contact and has an above average defensive game. While his HR ceiling is likely in the low teens, he makes it up for it with slightly above average speed and could steal double digit bags while his knees hold up.

10. Chance Sisco – BAL – Sisco is not a highly experienced defender, only picking up the position just before he was drafted, but he has the physical tools to stay behind the plate. What makes him interesting is that the second rounder already has a very advanced hitting approach. He makes plenty of line-drive contact, generating doubles, and should in time add more power. The 19-year-old left-hander will move up to A+ ball for 2015 after producing a .340/.406/.448 line.

Honorable Mention: Arvicent Perez (DET), Chase Vallot (KC), Luis Torrens (NYY), Carson Kelly (STL)

Next week, we check out the first base crop!
Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 February 2015 22:16
 
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Pirates PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 03 February 2015 00:00

The Pirates finished in second place in 2014 and have a solid offensive core and rotation that should have them poised to be a contender this upcoming season. The organization promoted a few prominent prospects including Gregory Polanco, who claimed the starting right field job and remains in that role heading into 2015. While Polanco translated his plate approach and speed well to the Majors, Polanco owners should be advised that the power may be slow in coming given his propensity for high groundball rates. Still, he remains a .280+ 15 HR/30 SB threat, which could be worth a $15 to $20 bid.

Moving onto the players still in the Minors:

Stock Rising: Josh Bell made some noise, showing power and a quick bat, making contact 88% of the time at both A+ and Double-A, hitting for average and slugging nine home runs. Given past knee issues and subpar route running, the Pirates have used Bell at first base at times and that may be his long-term destination, particularly if he can tap into the power projected of him. At the moment, he profiles as a mid to high teens HR hitter who can hit for average and has displayed solid on-base skills. The translation, or lack thereof, of power to Double-A and higher will determine whether he remains on the path to becoming a MLB-level starter.

Tyler Glasnow continues to dominate at all levels. The 6’7” hurler can have mechanical and control issues (4+ BB/9), but he's an extremely hard thrower with a curve and changeup that both have average to plus potential. As a 20-year-old, he posted an 11.4 K/9 in A+ ball and will be young for his league once again when he pitches in Double-A this season. Glasnow has upper end of the rotation potential, but unsurprisingly given size and age, still is very much a work in progress. Expect him to spend most of 2015 in Double-A and at least half of 2016 in Triple-A before reaching the Majors.

Stephen Tarpley enjoyed a quality season in rookie ball after being selected in the third round of the 2013 amateur draft. The lefty throws fairly hard, and has good command of multiple pitches. At 21 years of age, it would not be surprising to see him jump over A-ball to A+ ball as a true test for a veteran college hurler.

Steady as it Goes: Reese McGuire, a 2013 first round draft pick, played in his first full season of professional ball as a 19-year-old in A-ball and held his own fairly well, making contact roughly 90% of the time and displaying above average catch and throw skills. His above average speed skills, especially for a catcher, still showed up with seven stolen bases and three triples, though his overall power development definitely remains a work in progress. Right now, he is looking like a high single-digit to low-teens HR threat, but there is plenty of time for him to still physically mature. McGuire is an interesting prospect but not a high-end fantasy target at the moment.

Alen Hanson remains an attractive prospect, particularly for fantasy players given low-teens power potential and 20-plus stolen base skills, but his development as a player has leveled off. In fact, he has become more aggressive at the plate as he has progressed through the system and has become less of an asset at getting on base. Granted, his aggressiveness has also resulted in making more contact, but it has not resulted in a higher batting average. Hanson will advance to Triple-A to begin 2015 and could be up by mid-season, depending on whether Jordy Mercer can or cannot hang onto the shortstop job. Defensively, Hanson is best suited to second base, but Neil Walker is entrenched at the position.

Austin Meadows missed most of 2014 due to hamstring issues, but he remains a solid long-term prospect. Despite getting only 165 plate appearances at A-ball, Meadows made an impression with his bat speed, developing power and all-around above average tools. At just 19 years of age, his power has not yet developed, but lurking in there is a potential 20-20 player with a precocious approach at the plate that could make him a fantasy force. For now, he’ll head back to A-ball with an ETA of late 2017 to mid-2018.

Like Meadows, international signee Harold Ramirez missed significant playing time due to health issues with his hamstring. He does not have Meadows' ceiling but is a good contact hitter with plus speed and mid to high-single digits power. The 5’10” righty probably projects best as a fourth outfielder but may have enough talent/skill to make it as a low-end left fielder.

Nick Kingham should see the Majors this season. The 6’5” right-hander is most notable for his ability to pound the zone and get ahead in counts. He pitched at two levels in 2014 and his K/9 dropped to the high 6’s, a clear indication that he really lacks a true wipeout pitch. That said, none of Kingham’s pitches are poor. He just has a ceiling that is as a third starter at best and more likely, a fourth. He could end up in the Pirates’ rotation for a significant period of his career but is unlikely to ever be the ace.

The expectation was Jameson Taillon would claim a full-time job along with Gregory Polanco this season. Unfortunately, Tommy John Surgery got in his way. Taillon still rates amongst the Pirates’ best prospects despite the setback. When healthy, he has a plus fastball/curveball combination that generates strikeouts aplenty. The hope was that he would work more on his changeup in 2014 and become a more complete pitcher. That mission will be pushed to this year. While he still has upper end of the rotation or top reliever potential, do not expect him to see significant duty, if any, in the Majors this year.

Stock Falling: Barrett Barnes has barely been on the field since being selected in the supplemental first round of the 2012 amateur draft and he really has not shown much since his draft year, when he showed some pop, speed, and solid plate discipline. Those skills and tools are still lurking somewhere, but unless he can get healthy and start applying them, he may run out of time.

2014 Draft Picks of Note: With the 24th overall pick, the Pirates selected Cole Tucker. The high schooler adapted quickly to pro-ball, showing an advanced approach and good speed. Long term, he has the glove to stick at short and enough tools to be a 10 to 15 HR/SB threat. The Pirates may promote him to full-season ball to begin 2015 at just 18 years of age.

Third round pick Jordan Luplow did very well in rookie ball as an advanced college hitter with a quick bat, good plate approach, and at least teens power and stolen base speed. He’s a possible candidate for right field with the team long-term, though he needs to prove himself at a higher level of competition. A two-level jump to A+ ball might do him some good.

Next week, more NL Central action.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 08:54
 
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Indians PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 20 January 2015 00:00

The Indians are coming off a fairly successful season, though they fell a few games shy of making the playoffs. Young players like Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall both emerged to claim starting jobs while Trevor Bauer was finally able to translate his minor league success to the Majors. Both Kyle Crockett and C.C. Lee were successful additions to the MLB pen too. Meanwhile sinkerballer T.J. House took advantage of his opportunity and made 18 starts for the Tribe. The rotation is deep enough, however, that he may have to pitch out of the pen or Triple-A to begin 2015.

Stock Rising: Francisco Mejia oozes tools. The 19-year-old catcher has the mobility and arm to stay behind the plate long term as a possible elite defender, but more impressively the switch-hitter has tremendous bat speed and plus power potential. His approach, and quite frankly most of his game, is rather raw at the moment, but that is not all that surprising considering his age and experience. Mejia profiles as a .280+, 20+ HR threat in the Majors. While that is a very attractive projection that will make him targeted by many on draft day, keep in mind that his ETA is probably at least three years away and that the rawness of his game and position of choice make him a potential high risk pick too.

Erik Gonzalez’s stock took a small step upwards thanks to hitting .357 at Double-A. However, he accomplished that feat with no real change in skills. Gonzalez is a solid defensive player but has marginal power, average to slightly above average speed and an aggressive approach at the plate. He profiles as a utility player and could move to Triple-A this year.

Lonnie Chisenhall better keep hitting because Giovanny Urshela was already knocking on the door at Triple-A last season. Urshela is a very good contact hitter with low to mid-teens power potential. His glove and throwing arm at third base are his best attributes. Most likely, he’ll end up as Triple-A roster filler or a bench player, but there is enough here to warrant fantasy owners' attention.

2012 second-round pick Mitch Brown got back on the prospect radar with his first full season of pro-ball. In 27 starts he posted a 8+ K/9 and more impressively, improved his mechanics and control to produce a 3.2 BB/9. Brown has middle to lower end of the rotation potential but has a good fastball and a curveball that seems to get mixed reports from being anywhere from the best curveball in the Indians’ system to a sub-par pitch. He’ll move up to A+ ball this year.

Steady as it Goes: While Francisco Lindor’s 2014 season was somewhat disappointing, it is way too early to throw him on the “stock falling” list. He hit Double-A and Triple-A ball at just 20 years of age, two and three years younger than usually expected compared to the competition. Lindor typically controls the strike zone and makes consistent contact but has only modest pop. Where he excels is his glove, his 20 to 30 stolen base per season potential and ability to hit for average, where he could be anywhere from a .270 to .290s hitter.

Clint Frazier, the 5th overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft, moved up to full season A-ball as a 19-year-old and held his own, showing some power, speed, and some patience at the plate. Long term, Frazier has 20-20 potential, but he’ll need to greatly cut down on that 30% strikeout rate to come anywhere close to fulfilling his potential. As it was, he hit just .266 in the Midwest league and right now might be a .220 to .240s hitter if he continues to swing and miss this often.

2012 first-round pick Tyler Naquin was enjoying a very solid year in Double-A before fracturing his hand and missing the rest of the season. Though he has a good pedigree and can handle centerfield, Naquin has no real standout tool in the power or speed departments and swings and misses too often for someone with limited power potential. He's looking like a fourth outfielder despite his .313/.371/.424 slash. Naquin could move up to Triple-A this year.

The one knock on Jesus Aguilar prior to heading into 2014 was whether or not he had enough power to be a first baseman. At Double-A in 499 plate appearances, he tied his career high of 19 homers while making contact more than 80% of the time and showing great selectivity, walking 13% of the time for a .304/.395/.511 line. Despite this, the Indians never gave the now 24-year-old an extended chance to claim either the DH or 1B job in 2014, despite their difficulties in receiving production from those positions. The Indians head into 2015 with Carlos Santana at 1B and Nick Swisher at DH, so it will have to take an injury or lack of production for Aguilar to even get another chance. He’ll begin 2015 in Triple-A, biding his time.

The Indians acquired James Ramsey in a deadline deal and promoted him to Triple-A immediately last summer. The 25-year-old does not have a high tools ceiling, but he has modest mid to high teens power, plays solid defense and will take a walk now and then. Ramsey projects best as a platoon player or better than typical fourth outfielder.

Stock Falling: Cody Anderson is a big guy who throws consistently hard and gets good movement on his fastball but nevertheless struggled at Double-A as he lacks an average pitch beyond that plus fastball. Yes, he has a slider and changeup that have some potential, but it is clear from his 5.8 K/9 at Double-A that those pitches have a lot of catching up to do with his fastball. He’ll move up to Triple-A as a starter, but it is hard to see him in that role long term.

2014 Draft Picks of Note: Bobby Bradley was a third-round selection and hit short-season ball running with eight homers and a .361/.426/.652 slash. A high school first baseman with 30-plus HR potential, Bradley is so far showing a quick bat and a pretty good approach for a power hitter. He is unlikely to hit the Majors until 2018 or 2019 along with Francisco Mejia.

Bradley Zimmer cruised through rookie-ball and made it to full-season ball in his first summer of being a pro. A college veteran, Zimmer has a solid foundation of skills with a patient, line-drive approach for now, but with solid average to plus tools across the board. While Zimmer’s power upside is a bit of a question mark, he does profile as a teens HR/SB threat who can hit for average and consistently get on base. There is 20-20 or better potential here, but that remains to be seen. Zimmer could move up to A+ ball and end up in Double-A before the season ends if all goes well.

Supplemental first-round pick Mike Papi moved almost immediately to full-season ball but struggled, batting just .178, and may have been on the passive side with a 16% walk rate. In college, he showed a fairly similar disciplined approach with average to plus power potential and the contact skills to hit for average as well. For now, Papi is expected to play in the outfield where he has a plus arm but only average mobility. He’ll likely move up to A+ ball this coming year. Papi is too skilled and talented a hitter to struggle at this low a level again, so expect better things in 2015.

With the 31st overall pick, the Indians selected prep pitcher Justus Sheffield. The 18-year-old is a long ways away from the Majors and will get his first extended look in 2015. Though only 5’10”, the lefty throws into the low to mid-nineties and already has a plus slider and is working to develop his changeup and curve, which could be average or better pitches long term. Right now, as with all pitchers who are so young, Sheffield is high risk, but has only a moderately high ceiling as a #2 or #3 type starter.

Yu-Cheng Chang was not a draft selection but rather an international free agent signing out of Korea. Probably a third baseman long term, the 19-year-old is already showing a very selective approach while making good, hard contact, and showing some power with six home runs in 181 plate appearances. He’ll move up to full-season A-ball in 2015 and it will be interesting to see what he can do at that level. He's a possible MLB starting 3B, though a shortstop for now.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 02:09
 
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
 
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