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Tuesday 20th Feb 2018

Well, I have to apologize for the late posting, but over the weekend I hit the Medicare age and my family decided that yesterday we would celebrate such that I could watch the epic Game 5 of the Series that tied us all up for five hours, thus pushing the Hotpage publication to late Monday morning.

But, I also need to remind readers that starting next week, The Hotpage returns to Creativesports, the original publication site of the column 21 years ago. My seven years partnering with my dear mate Todd Zola were great and fruitful, and Z and I are still the best of friends. In fact, Mastersball will continue to publish via the same server space and I carved the Creativesports 2.0 space out of the same greater space, and Todd will keep his "Z Zone" slot on The Tout Wars Hour and I will be offering Todd's projections via the new site. 

In the meantime, we are witnessing a crazily wonderful and wild World Series, not to mention football season and mock drafts and all the other fun insanity that seems to be driving the sports and games universe these days. On Wednesday, I will be heading down to Phoenix for First Pitch Arizona and will be providing live reports to the FNTSY network and of course I will be identifying the players I see at the Fall League who are worthy of note.

Since we started looking at the names at Double-A ball last week with the Eastern League, today the focus moves to the Southern League. Ideally, you will see some of the players noted both here and over the past few weeks covered on the Hotpage since I started the Hot Stove analysis of the Minors. 

So, here we go, and here's hoping we get two more games as magical as the five already logged!

Mike Soroka (P, Braves): Atlanta's first-round selection in 2015, a high schooler from Calgary, Soroka has tossed 330.6 minor league frames, posting a 21-19, 2.91 mark with 287 whiffs and a 1.11 WHIP. Soroka, 20, played the entire year at Mississippi, going 11-8, 2.75 with 125 strikeouts over 153.3 innings to go with a 1.14 WHIP. The right-hander is tall (6'5"), ranked #7 on the 2018 Top 250 Prospect list, and is on a good and improving young Braves team.

Luiz Gohara (P, Braves): It seems the Braves are loaded with prospects at Double-A much like the Rays were clogged with them at Triple-A, and Gohara, a native Brazilian, is one of Atlanta's gaggle of fine young players. The 21-year-old has four years of pro experience, but that saw the Southpaw climb through three minor league levels culminating with 29.3 frames at Turner Field (1-3, 4.91). But from Florida up through Gwinnett, Gohara went 7-4, 2.62 over 123.6 innings, posting 147 strikeouts while surrendering just six homers and logging a 1.21 WHIP. Gohara is on an even faster track than Soroka (#13 on the Top 250).

Braxton Lee (OF, Marlins): At 24, Lee is a little old for play at Double-A. Lee was drafted out of Mississippi in 2014 in the 12th round by the Rays, who swapped shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (along with another pitcher, Ethan Clark) for the outfielder last July. Lee mastered Southern League pitching in 2017 despite splitting time between Montgomery (.321-2-16) and Jacksonville (.294-1-21), giving a cumulative .309-3-37 line with 21 doubles and 20 steals (though 13 times caught) to go with 65 walks to 104 strikeouts (.395 OBP).

Kolby Allard (P, Braves): Like I said, Atlanta has some pretty good stuff on the horizon, and Allard, another 20-year-old, gets to go in the mix. A first-rounder from San Clemente, Ca., Allard spent all of 2017 with Mississippi, going 8-11, 3.18 over 150 innings with 129 strikeouts and a 1.27 WHIP. Another lefty, Allard has toiled 243.6 minor league innings since being drafted with 236 strikeouts. His stuff is as good as any of the troika of Atlanta hurlers.

Michael Kopech (P, White Sox): The first-round pick of the Red Sox in 2014, Kopech was included with Yoan Moncada et al as part of the Chris Sale deal initiated last December. The change of "sox" had little impact upon his skill set, as he notched an 8-7, 2.87 line over 22 starts and 119.3 innings with a fantastic 155 punchouts. Kopech posted a 1.15 WHIP and his totals precipitated three Charlotte starts good for a 1-1, 3.00 mark at Triple-A over 15 innings. The right-handed 21-year-old figures to factor in the Pale Hose rotation in 2018.

Joe McCarthy (1B, Rays): I am old enough to still blanch when I see the name of the potential future first sacker for the Rays. But make no mistake, the 23-year-old has some potential pop living underneath the .284-7-56 line posted at Montgomery, as witnessed by the 31 doubles and eight triples. Also note that 36% of his hits were of the extra-base variety. McCarthy, who generated 76 runs, also controlled the zone well, walking 90 times to 94 strikeouts and producing a .409 OBP. The left-handed hitter could wind up at first with a Mark Grace-type profile, or based upon the 57 swipes McCarthy generated over the past two years, his future could be in the outfield.

Charcer Burks (OF, Cubs): This 22-year-old was selected out of high school in the ninth round of the 2013 draft, climbing up a level a year since 2015. At Tennessee in 2017, Burks hit .270-10-40 with 20 doubles and 16 swipes (coupled with 12 CS), walking 69 times to 107 strikeouts with a .370 OBP. Over 449 minor league games, Burks has a .265-25-164 line, albeit with 253 runs and 86 steals. Burks has some solid basic skills though similarly, there are some holes in his portfolio. That said, the combination of speed and zone judgement tells us to keep an eye on the outfielder.

LaMonte Wade (OF, Twins): A ninth-round pick out of Maryland in 2015, Wade flew through A-ball in 2016, earning full-time play at Double-A Chattanooga for 2017. The outfielder responded with a .292-9-67 line that included 22 doubles. Wade swiped nine bags and scored 74 runs over 117 games last year, walking an impressive 76 times to 71 strikeouts, good for a .395 OBP. Wade's on-base skills and potential power make a case for a big league career of some success, and he will likely get a big league shot this coming season.

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

Double-A ball is the best barometer as to whether a player will make it or not in my meager opinion. For, it is not uncommon for a young player to play a level of A-ball, succeed beautifully, and then move on to the Eastern, Texas, or Southern League and suddenly be hamstrung by the hitting and pitching at the new level.

There are a few reasons for this. Mainly, peppered in with the numbers of the 21 to 23-year-olds are a bunch of vets ranging from 25-29, meaning suddenly the youngsters get to face an experienced veteran. Couple that with the bulk of young players who are advanced are also tussling with one another, and often that means a Rule 5 draft pick who played a couple of years of college going against a high school pick two years removed from graduation. 

Meaning the competition is fierce. However, because Triple-A is pretty much a taxi squad, that means Double-A is really where we can look to see who is succeeding, for good numbers in the Southern League, for example, means a chance at the big club these days whereas in the past, making it at Triple-A was paramount.

This week we start looking at the Eastern League, kicking off our little foray into players of interest in 2018. These next league reviews--for the three levels of Double-A--should be the most revealing. Also note that my annual Top 250 Prospect List will be available on December 1. More news on that and changes forthcoming.

Christin Stewart (OF, Tigers): A first-round pick of Detroit in 2015 out of Tennessee, the 23-year-old put up a strong season at Erie last year, hitting .256-28-86 over 136 games with an .836 OPS. Stewart has a good enough eye with 168 walks to 337 strikeouts--almost exactly two-to-one--for a .361 OBP. Of his 310 minor league hits, 145 have gone for extra bases.

Carlos Tocci (OF, Phillies): Perhaps the most interesting in this week's cluster, Tocci is a 22-year-old Venezuelan who doesn't turn 23 until next August. On the down side, Tocci does not have a lot of pop nor is his speed obvious with 12 big flies and 56 swipes over 566 games. However, he does make pretty good contact with just 70 whiffs to 30 walks over 483 at-bats last year during which the outfielder hit .307-2-48 with 59 runs scored. So, Tocci can get on. At 6'2", 160 pounds, I am betting the outfielder bulks up and adds some muscle to his game.

Thairo Estrada (SS, Yankees): The Pinstripes are not just pretty good as a playoff team despite their loss to the Astros, but they have some good young stuff in the wings, like Estrada, a 21-year-old Venezuelan. At Trenton in 2017, Estrada hit .301-6-48 last year with 72 runs scored. He also has good zone judgement as witnessed by 34 walks to just 56 whiffs (.353 OBP). Like Tocci, Estrada needs to develop some pop and his rawness includes work on the bases where the infielder has 49 minor league steals, but has been caught 28 times. Still, there is some real skill potential in this kid.

Bobbie Bradley (1B, Indians): A third-round high school selection by the Tribe out of Gulfport, Mississippi, Bradley has some serious pop with 87 homers over 411 games. He went .251-23-89 at Akron this past season while improving his contact rate, striking out 122 times in 2017 compared to the 170 whiffs he earned in 2016. Bradley, who turns 22 next May, will probably cut some chops at Columbus, but barring anything goofy, he should debut in the Majors next year.

J.D. Davis (OF, Blue Jays): At 25, Davis is the elder statesman here, but the 15th rounder in 2013 has moved up the chain steadily since debuting at Rookie ball that year. Davis has a .250-30-145 career line over 336 games with a .354 OBP (176 walks to 314 strikeouts). He also has good speed with 75 swipes and 219 runs scored. There is definitely some upside here and Davis could be a solid contributor, but he needs a chance soon.

Tate Scioneaux (P, Pirates)Pitchers are usually a little older than hitters as they move up the corporate chain, and Scioneaux, nearly 25, is a pretty good example. A late (#39) pick in 2015, Scioneaux put together a pretty good season last year with a 6-5, 2.39 record over 83 frames, culling 14 saves in 17 attempts. The right-hander struck out 67 last year to just 17 walks (0.99 WHIP) and has 183 whiffs over 189.2 innings. Obviously, Scioneaux goes to the pen, but there is closer potential out there.

Thomas Pannone (P, Blue Jays)Drafted by the Indians in the 9th round in 2013 out of Southern Nevada Community College, Pannone had arguably the best season among Eastern League hurlers, going 6-1, 2.62 at Akron with 81 strikeouts over 82.3 innings. Pannone also twirled the pill at Lynchburg (2-0, 0.00) and then New Hampshire before the Tribe swapped him to Toronto at the deadline for Joe Smith. For the season, Pannone was 9-3, 2.36 over 144.6 innings with 149 strikeouts and just five homers allowed.

Sean Reid-Foley (P, Blue Jays)A second-round pick of the Jays in 2014, Reid-Foley is one of those works in progress who could blossom, or fail in equal directions. He's 25-28, 4.12 over 366.6 minor league innings, with 402 stikeouts and just 16 homers allowed. However, the right-hander also allowed an unseemly 168 walks to go with 326 hits, resulting in a 1.35 WHIP. He tossed 132.6 innings last season and struck out 122, but posted a 5.09 ERA to go with a 10-11 mark. Reid-Foley is one of those guys who could be deadly good if he can gain some control.

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

During the off-season, my intention is to go through the minor leagues--at least through A-ball--and review eight players per league who might prove to be an interesting investment for the short, or long term. However, these pieces will not be continuous as I will also be looking at the AFL and Winter Meetings.

These lists are also separate from the Top 250, scheduled for release later this year.

So, to start off, here are some names from the Triple-A International League, which already gave us Rhys Hoskins and Yandy Diaz before the season ended.

Willy Adames (SS, Rays): A Dominican native, Adames has led a lot of top prospect lists over the past couple of years, hitting .277-10-62 at Durham as a 21-year-old (Adames turned 22 last month) with 11 steals and though he whiffed 132 times, Adames did walk 65, good for a .360 OBP. The fact that 45 of Adames' 140 hits went for extra bases is an encouraging sign for a youngster at that level as it suggests more power to come with age and experience.

Tyler Wade (SS, Yankees): The Pinstripes have done pretty well developing from within, and the 22-year-old Wade had a fine year at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hitting .310-7-31, but with 68 runs scored to go with 26 steals over just 85 games before the Yanks promoted him (.155-0-2). Wade, a fourth-rounder in 2013, was making very good contact with just 75 whiffs over 339 plate appearances with 38 walks (.382 OBP).

Jake Bauers (OF, Rays): After going .274-14-78 at Montgomery in 2016 as a 20-year-old, Bauers, who turned 22 last week, went to Durham and hit .263-13-63 with 31 doubles and 78 walks to 112 strikeouts, good for a .368 OBP. With all the great young players they have, Tampa better be winning big time in the next couple of years.

Mitch Garver (C, Twins): Garver registered 88 games at Rochester in deference to some time on the DL, and then a stint with the Twins (.196-0-3), but he showed great plate discipline with a .291-17-45 line to go with 50 walks to 85 strikeouts and a .387 OBP. Garver hit 29 doubles, giving him 46 extra-base hits of his 93 total hits, meaning nearly 50% went for extra bases. 

Brent Honeywell (P, Rays): I've written about Honeywell before, starting with last year's Fall League where the right-hander, out of Walters State Community College, was the best arm I saw. I actually thought the 22-year-old would have been to the Show by now, so if there is room for this minor leaguer on your ultra roster, grab him. Honeywell began the season at Montgomery and after a 1-1, 2.08 line there moved on to Durham where he was 12-8, 3,68, striking out 152 over 123.6 innings.

Ryan Yarbrough (P, Rays): Tampa has become really good at developing young arms as you can see, and the thing I like about Yarbrough is he really has developed. At 25, the Southpaw, drafted in the fourth round by Seattle in 2014, jumped his strikeout numbers from 99 over 128.3 innings to 159 in 157.3 innings, walking just eight more batters while notching a 13-6, 3.43 record.

Yonny Chirinos (P, Rays): Don't ask me what is going on in the Tampa waters that facilitates pitching, but next we have Chirinos, 23, who hails from Venezuela. The righty was only in Double-A Montgomery over four starts (1-0, 2.63) before turning in 141 frames in Durham with a 12-5, 2.74 record that included 120 strikeouts and a wicked 0.98 WHIP.

Chance Adams (P, Yankees): A 23-year-old fifth-rounder from 2015, Adams began the season at Double-A Trenton. After posting a 4-0, 1.03 line over 36 innings and six starts, he moved up to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where the right-hander was 11-5, 2.89 over 115.3 frames, giving him a 15-5, 2.45 mark over 150.3 innings with 135 strikeouts coupled with a 1.08 WHIP. Adams kept hits down to just 104, so he seems to have learned to move the ball around and keep it down.

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

Last week we kicked off the Hot Stove by looking at some of the intriguing players of the International League in 2017, so this week we sojourn mostly west of the Mississippi to the Pacific Coast League.

The PCL has always largely been a hitters league, but these days the discrepancy between the pair is massive, such that the best pitchers in the league are really Taxi squad innings eaters like Justin Masterson.

Still, I was able to scrounge a couple along with some serious sticks, so let's take a look.

These lists are also separate from the Top 250, scheduled for release later this year.

Breyvic Valera (2B, Cardinals): Valera is 25, making him a little long in the tooth for prospect status, but he signed as an 18-year-old with the Cards seven years ago, and has moved up the chain systematically while employing a pretty good tactical game. The Keystone man hit .314-8-41 with 68 runs scored to go with 11 swipes, 22 doubles and six triples. But, most impressive were the 38 walks garnered to 34 strikeouts, a career trend with 260 to 226 respectively coupled with a .359 OBP. This guy was made to hit second in some order somewhere.

Dan Vogelbach (1B, Mariners): Acquired in a 2016 trade deadline swap with the Cubs, Vogelbach was expected to move to the Mariners this year, but that did not really happen. Instead, the 24-year-old spent the year at Tacoma where he hit a decent .290-17-83 with a fine .388 OBP (73 walks to 98 strikeouts). The lefty hitter has a minor league .866 OPS.

Franchy Cordero (OF, Padres): Cordero, a 23-year-old Dominican import also mined at the age of 18, had a strong .326-17-64 season with the Chihuahuas, collecting 18 triples to go with 22 doubles and 15 swipes. The concern is his 23 walks to 118 strikeouts. But, as long as the outfielder can get the bat on the ball, he should be interesting to watch.

Renato Nunez (OF, Athletics): This 23-year-old from Venezuela runs into a glut of very good Oakland youngsters. Still, his 32 homers and 78 RBI over 126 games at Nashville to go with 27 doubles merits a long look. Nunez is so-so with the zone as a young hitter with 191 career walks to 649 strikeouts (.317 OBP).

Jimmie Sherfly (P, Diamondbacks): OK, so the pitchers we will review are both relievers, but Sherfly, a 10th rounder out of Oregon in 2013, has 66 minor league saves to go with 287 strikeouts over 220.3 innings with just 176 walks allowed. He has a career 1.18 WHIP with just 15 homers surrendered. 

Kyle Crick (P, Giants): An "A" Compensation pick for the Giants in 2011, Crick was always highly thought of but struggled. At least until he was yanked as a starter, and moved to the pen to begin 2017. He flourished in his first season as a reliever, with six saves to go with a 2.76 ERA and 39 punchouts over 29.3 innings. The pen seems to be the future, but Crick could be useful there.

Alex Verdugo (OF, Dodgers): A second-round high school pick in 2014, Verdugo has some serious skills. The 21-year-old hit .314-6-62 with 27 doubles and nine swipes at Oklahoma City where he also delivered 52 walks to 50 whiffs, good for a .388 OBP. Verdugo has a career OPS of .800 and a high ceiling.

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

With 2017 a done deal and the postseason, along with Fall and Winter leagues ahead, there are a bunch of youngsters I will be looking at anticipating a bigger role for all during the coming 2018 season. Note that several of these players have been mentioned over the past weeks as I covered call-ups.

Let's begin our Hot Stove run by taking a look at some of these guys, starting with Walker Buehler, the Dodgers hurler who was a first rounder out of Vanderbilt in 2015. Buehler has made 37 appearances, including 20 starts, since signing with a composite 4-3, 3.17 mark over 93.6 frames. Buehler has 131 whiffs over that span, walked 34 while posting a 1.08 WHIP and allowing opposing batters to hit just .199. He should compete for a rotation gig next year. 

As long as we are talking #1 2015 pitching selections out of Vanderbilt, the White Sox Carson Fulmer was also one. Fulmer was spotty at Triple-A this past season, going 7-9, 5.79 over 126 innings, but his time with the Pale Hose was better spent. Fulmer was 3-1, 3.86 with a 1.24 WHIP and 19 strikeouts over 23.3 frames. He should challenge for a rotation spot next spring.

Texas swapped Yu Darvish to the Dodgers for a bevy of prospects including Willie Calhoun, a 22-year-old diminutive (5'8", 185 lbs) hitter with a position to be named later. Do not underestimate Calhoun's power and skill in deference to size for Calhoun assembled a .300-31-93 line split between Round Rock and Oklahoma City, with a .355 OBP that included an excellent 42 walks to 61 whiffs, with 43% of his hits going for extra bases. Calhoun has been a second sacker and left fielder, and is a likely DH candidate sooner rather than later, but there's no question the dude can rake.

The Indians seem pretty well stacked but somehow they will have to work Francisco Mejia, a 21-year-old Dominican, into their on-field mix. A catcher in the Minors, Mejia hit .297-14-52 over 92 minor league games, making pretty good contact with just 24 walks and 52 strikeouts (.348 OBP). Mejia made a brief September stop at Progressive, but at worst should back up Yan Gomes in 2018.

Mitch Keller was a second-round selection of the Pirates in 2014 out of Xavier. The righty burned through three levels, finishing at Double-A Altoona, going an aggregate 8-5, 3.03 over 116 innings with 116 strikeouts and 32 walks (1.00 WHIP). Over 293 minor league innings, Keller has 318 punchouts and a 1.05 WHIP.

Boston drafted Sam Travis in the second round back in 2014, and he probably would have been the Sox first sacker this past season, but a leg injury that sidelined him for the bulk of 2016 put that on the skids. However, Travis hit .307-9-78 over 131 games in 2015 and in 2016 was .272-6-29 over 47 games before the injury at Pawtucket, and went .270-6-24 at Triple-A and .264-1-6 over 76 big league at-bats. Travis, 24, has Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez standing in his way to regular playing time, meaning he will likely get that opportunity shortly.

The Rays' Willy Adames, a 22-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic, should soon be ready for a big league try. At Durham last year, Adames was .277-10-62 with 32 doubles and 11 swipes. He walked 65 times to 132 whiffs, good for a .360 OBP, but those numbers should equal out if the infielder's past (56 walks to 44 strikeouts in 2013) and experience tie together. 

Oakland is flush with hot prospects, but the future shortstop is 21-year-old Venezuelan Franklin Barreto, who went .290-15-54 with 63 runs and 15 swipes at Triple-A this season. Barreto needs to improve his zone judgement, as witnessed by his 27 walks to 141 whiffs (.336 OBP), but he should move Marcus Semien to second and be a fixture in Oakland shortly. 

Remember to tune into the Tout Wars Hour on the FNTSY network, hosted by me, with Justin Mason and featuring Lord Z every Thursday night at 9 PM ET. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

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