Here we are on opening day of the 2015 Arizona Fall League season and what better way to send it off than to conclude our season preview series with a look at the sixth AFL team, the Scottsdale Scorpions. The Scorpions are affiliated with the Red Sox, Indians, Tigers, Twins and Giants.
Ray Black (Giants) has been injured an astonishing number of times, including undergoing Tommy John Surgery prior to becoming a professional athlete. As a pro, however, he tore his labrum and made it back in 2014 only to pitch sparingly. Once again, Black managed just 25 innings in 2015 and like many AFL players is making up for lost time. A 25-year-old right-handed reliever, Black is notable because “when healthy”, he regularly throws in the upper nineties, if not triple-digits, and has been reputed to touch as high as 103 mph on the gun. Despite having less than 60 innings of pro experience, Black has yet to produce a sub 15.0 K/9. Good health could move him from Double-A to the Majors in 2016, but that is a huge if.
2014 second-round pick Nick Burdi (Twins) has done well as a reliever since turning pro and will move up to Triple-A in 2016 with a legitimate shot at pushing his way into the MLB picture. Burdi works with a plus fastball that is consistently in the upper nineties and a nasty slider, but he has trouble at times locating either pitch.
Austin Kubitza (Tigers) is a sinker/slider starter who was originally drafted in the 4th round in 2013. After an excellent 2014 campaign that saw him post a 9.6 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9, Kubitza faded badly, dropping his K/9 by over three points and being more than hittable, posting an ERA close to 6.00. This could be an instance of a player failing the dreaded Double-A test, but he’ll get another chance. Kubitza still has the stuff to succeed as a back end of the rotation starter, but he’ll need to improve his changeup and start missing more bats upon his promotion to Triple-A in 2016.
Adalberto Mejia (Giants) missed 50 games due to a PED suspension and repeated Double-A upon his return without much change in results from his stay in 2014, producing a sub 7.0 K/9, albeit with solid walk rates. The lefty may have a future in relief if he cannot refine his change given a decent fastball/slider combo.
Taylor Rogers (Twins) could contend for a rotation job as soon as this coming spring after making 27 starts and throwing 174 Triple-A innings this year. The 24-year-old is an unheralded former 11th round pick who has fairly average stuff, but he gets decent results thanks to his above average command (2.3 BB/9). He looks like a fringe fifth starter at the moment.
Mitch Garver (Twins) has been exceeding expectations since being drafted in 2013 and has the most upside of the catchers on the Scottsdale roster. He’s an adequate defender behind the plate but has done fairly well in the offensive game, showing well above average plate discipline, making contact and getting on base. 2014 was a banner year as he walked about as often as he struck out while hitting .298 and belting 16 homers. He came back to earth this season, still showing the same control of the strike zone, but seeing his power plummet and his isolated power drop by more than 100 points. The results were mediocre with a .245/.356/.333 line. He’s now back on the journeyman/back-up catcher path.
Christian Arroyo (Giants) hit .304/.344/.459 but remains something of a disappointment considering he was a first-round pick back in 2013. Arroyo has gap power and a fairly quick bat that allows him to make contact over 80% of the time, but he has limited speed and is overly aggressive at the plate. He looks like a .260 to .280 hitter with high single-digit to mid-teens home run power and not much else.
JaCoby Jones (Tigers) was a former third-round pick of the Pirates dealt to the Tigers this season. The toolsy Jones has legitimate 20-20 potential in his power and speed (16 HR/24 SB this year) but continues to strike out at rather high rates, doing so over 30% of the time after his trade to Detroit. Jones’ defense at shortstop is questionable and a move to the outfield is possible. If he can stay at shortstop and cut down on the strikeouts, a sub .250 batting average could be quite forgivable given his other assets.
2014 second-round pick Sam Travis (Red Sox) has made steady progress, playing at two levels per season in his two years of professional ball, and he has yet to look overmatched. A likely member of the 2016 Pawtucket club, Travis controls the strike zone well, makes consistent line drive contact and gets on base. The one thing that has yet to emerge is his power, as he hit just nine home runs between two levels this year and seven the prior year, which is not a highly desirable trait for someone limited to first base defensively. Travis could be a .300, mid-teens HR producer at the MLB level, but it remains to be seen if he’ll get that opportunity.
Clint Frazier (Indians) had a nice bounce back season in 2015. The fifth overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft has moved through the Indians’ system quickly and performed quite well as a 21-year-old in A+ ball, showing power, speed and patience while cutting his strikeout rate by 8%. He’ll move up to Double-A where he’ll once again be one of the younger players in the league. There is more raw power here to be tapped and he has upside as a 25/20 .280 hitter.
2014 15th round pick Mike Gerber (Tigers) was an unheralded pick who ended up winning the Tigers 2015 hitting prospect of the year award after hitting .292/.355/.468 in full season A-ball. The 23-year-old is in need of a challenge and the AFL will fill that role, though a promotion to Double-A next year appears warranted too. Gerber is currently on track to potentially win a starting outfield job with Detroit. His offensive game is better suited to centerfield where he has mid to upper teens HR power, slightly above average speed and the contact skills to hit for average, but he may be best suited for right field, where more power would be expected from him.
Speaking of power, we come to Adam Walker (Twins). Since being selected in the third round of the 2012 draft, the power has been on display. In each of Walker’s three full seasons of pro-ball, he has hit no fewer than 25 home runs and is now coming off a 31-home run campaign. That said, Walker is a limited defender who will draw the occasional walk, but he has also seen his strikeout rate trending the wrong way through the Twins system, peaking at 35%, and he posted a .239/.309/.498 batting line in 2015. Walker will move up to Triple-A in 2016 but may be best utilized as a right-handed platoon player.
Mac Williamson (Giants) made it to the Majors this season, garnering 34 plate appearances after having played at both Double-A and Triple-A earlier in the year. Despite hitting just 13 home runs in 2015, Williamson hit 25 in 2013 and has 30-plus home run power. The 25-year-old is on the verge of losing his status as a prospect and will likely return to Triple-A to start 2016. If he can translate his lower minor league contact skills while retaining his power, a promotion to a more prominent role remains possible.
While we’re all gearing up for the playoffs, the Arizona Fall League campaign is still over a week away, giving us a chance to wrap up this article series next week with one last entry. Today, in our second to last entry, we scan the roster of the Surprise Saguaros, who are affiliated with the Royals, Brewers, Yankees, Cardinals and Rangers.
Ian Clarkin (NYY) comes to the AFL from the “making up for lost time” category of player. The left-hander missed the entire 2015 season due to elbow inflammation. When healthy, the 20-year-old has a solid four-pitch mix and commands it well. If he can avoid further elbow trouble, he profiles as a middle of the rotation starter. If all goes well, he will begin 2016 in A+ ball.
Josh Hader (MIL) is a former Oriole and Astro farmhand who thus far has exceeded expectations (former 19th round pick) and handled every level with aplomb. The 21-year-old has already made it to Double-A, where he posted an 11.6 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 over seven starts. A left-hander, Hader has a good fastball but has inconsistent command and secondary pitches and therefore looks more like a back end of the rotation starter or reliever long term.
One of the more exciting young arms on the team belongs to Alex Reyes (STL). The 21-year-old has three plus pitches, including an upper nineties fastball, curve, and change-up. At A+ and Double-A, he produced K/9 rates in excess of 13.5. His weakness, you ask? His control, of course. Reyes has yet to post a sub-4.0 BB/9 at any level in his career. Reyes has an upper end of the rotation arm but may end up profiling better as a power reliever. Expect him to return to Double-A in 2016, but he is also someone who could make an impact on the big league scene later in the season.
Luke Weaver (STL) is yet another interesting young pitcher the Cardinals are sending to the AFL. A former first-round pick, Weaver produced a 7.5 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 over 19 A+ starts in 2015. While he exhibits good command and has a good changeup, he no longer projects as a high end starting pitcher like he did when drafted due to some velocity loss and a sub-par breaking ball. Double-A will be a major test for him.
Former Oriole receiver Mike Ohlman (STL) enjoyed a rebound season in his first year as a member of the Cardinals’ organization. Ohlman’s defense has never been much to write home about, but his power re-emerged as did his ability to make contact and draw walks with an overall .273/.356/.418 slash. The 24-year- old will move up to Triple-A and should see some time in the Majors next season. If he can improve with the glove, he’d make a nice back-up catcher and extra right-handed bat off the bench.
Gary Sanchez (NYY) does not have much left to prove in the Minors, yet he remains blocked by Brian McCann, who is signed through at least 2018, leaving him once again as potential trade bait. Sanchez, 22, has legitimate upper teens to low-twenties home run power, modest, though not overwhelmingly great plate discipline and an ability to translate his 80%+ contact rates up to each new level of play. Defensively, he still needs work, though he has an excellent throwing arm. Expect Sanchez to spend the majority of 2016, barring an injury to McCann, in Triple-A.
Jurickson Profar (TEX), though no longer a rookie, remains just 22 years old. Profar missed most of 2015 due to tearing his labrum and has an undefined role for 2016. Earlier in his career, he was one of the most coveted middle infield prospects in all of baseball, combining power, speed, a quick bat and a very advanced approach at the plate into a single package. If healthy, he may need to play in a super-sub capacity in order to get playing time with Texas next season.
Tyler Wade (NYY) is coming off a good campaign at A+ where he made contact, got on base and showed good speed (31 steals) while hitting .280/.349/.353. Wade is light on power product and hit just 15 doubles all season long along with three home runs and five triples. The 20-year-old struggled upon reaching Double-A, where his plate discipline fell apart. He’ll return there in 2016 and will try to prove he is not over-matched. Wade has an outside shot of becoming a regular and profiles best as a utility infielder. His speed and skills as a solid defensive shortstop make him worthy of note in AL-only formats.
Lewis Brinson (TEX) played at three levels for the Rangers in 2015, excelling at all three places and is good bet to begin 2016 in Triple-A at just 21 years of age. Brinson is a five-tool player with mid-twenties or better home run power long term (20 combined in 2015) and enough speed and defensive ability to handle centerfield (18 stolen bases). Despite having good bat speed, Brinson does have a long swing and struck out over 20% of the time at his two longer minor league stops. In fact, his .337 A+ batting average was powered a great deal by a .402 BABIP. That said, Brinson is still an exciting talent with 30-20 potential, but expectations as far as his long-term ability to produce good batting averages and on-base percentages need to be tempered.
Brett Phillips (MIL) was acquired by the Brewers in the same deal that netted them Josh Hader from the Astros and is seen as the better of the two prospects. A true centerfielder, Phillips has plenty of speed but is not necessarily a base stealer, swiping 17 bags this season. His power production, which was a concern earlier in his career, has emerged somewhat with 16 combined homers. The lefty showed better leadoff/upper end of the lineup skills earlier in his career but has seen his walk rates drop off to mediocre levels and is only a fair contact hitter, though that combined with his speed should enable him to be at least a .270s hitter in the Majors. He’ll begin 2016 in Triple-A and could be the starting centerfielder by the end of the year.
Next week, we conclude our AFL preview with a look at the Scottsdale Scorpions.
The Peoria Javelinas, affiliated with the Braves, Orioles, Reds, Padres and Mariners, are being skippered this year by Rod Barajas and include many names of interest for fantasy players in 2016. Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Getting in enough innings has been an issue for James Paxton. Yes, the Mariners' James Paxton, who is currently in the MLB rotation. The 26-year-old is far from a rookie and it remains to be seen just how long the Mariners keep him out in the AFL. The lefty is still hitting the mid-nineties and works with a good curve and change. Staying healthy and commanding his pitches remain the issues here.
2012 first-round pick Lucas Sims (Braves) is still a work in progress. The righty has upper end of the rotation stuff and it is readily apparent in his strikeout rates with an 8.3 and 10.6 K/9 at A+ and Double-A. The 21-year-old, however, appears to have been pushed beyond the level where he's really ready and perhaps should have remained in A+ for another complete season. His command and mechanics still need quite a bit of work (5.2 and 5.5 BB/9) and it looks like he has a date to repeat Double-A once again. Given his age, there is still time for him to develop as a starter, but he could be a prime candidate to be converted to relief work.
Sims’ teammate, Andrew Thurman (Braves), was a former second-round pick in 2013. A former Astro, Thurman’s issues are not in the control department, where he has consistently posted sub-2.0 walk rates. Instead, he has yet to really translate his secondary offerings to the higher levels of play and has not gotten many swings and misses at either A+ or Double-A. Slight improvements in his changeup and curve could still net him a career as a middle to back end of the rotation starter.
Reds hurler Nick Travieso had a near mirror image to his 2014 campaign, making 19 starts in A+ with a 7.3 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. A 2012 first-round pick, Travieso has a plus fastball/slider combination but is still working to refine his changeup. The Reds like him as a potential #3 starter/innings eater type given good mechanics and a durable frame, but 2016 could be a make or break year as he’ll have to acquit himself well in Double-A.
The Braves selected Dan Winkler from the Colorado Rockies in the Rule-5 draft even though he was recovering from Tommy John Surgery. The righty was only just recently activated from the 60-day DL and is therefore very much in need of innings. A former 11th round pick, Winkler’s fastball is not a great one, but he throws it for strikes and has a deep repertoire of weapons he can utlize against lefties and righties alike. Prior to injuring his elbow, he had a 9.1 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in Double-A. He’ll try to win a spot in the Braves' Triple-A rotation in 2016.
Chance Sisco (Orioles) continues to show advanced plate discipline and an ability to make contact at every level of play. At just 20 years of age, he has legitimately earned his way to Double-A after hitting .308/.387/.422 in A+ ball. He’s developing well defensively and has a strong throwing arm. The question that remains is whether or not he will develop any power. Again, the former 2nd round pick is just 20 years of age and will see a full season of Double-A ball in 2016. He’s shown an aptitude for hitting doubles and has time on his side in the strength building/physical maturation department.
Alex Blandino (Reds) was the 29th overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft. A+ ball was a success for him as he hit .294/.370/.438, but despite continuing to make contact, the righty struggled in Double-A, batting just .235 albeit showing improving plate discipline skills. Expect him to start there again in 2016. A shortstop now, Blandino profiles better over at second base long term where he could hit for average with solid on-base skills and developing low to mid-teens home run power.
D.J. Peterson (Mariners) was coming off a 30-plus home run season between A+ and Double-A and was widely expected to advance quickly from Double-A to Triple-A and to potentially claim the starting first base job well before the season ended. That plan did not happen as Peterson managed just seven home runs and hit .223/.290/.346 before straining his Achilles in mid-August and taking the rest of the minor league season off. The righty’s strikeout rates were up slightly, though not significantly, so it doesn’t seem to be a question of being overmatched or a massive shift in plate approach. One has to wonder if he’s been playing injured all year given the decline, though there were no signs of that. The 23-year-old now goes from being one of the best prospects in baseball to having to prove he actually is in fact still a prospect. The power is for real.
Considering Phillip Ervin (Reds) stole 30 bases and hit 12 home runs while making contact over 80% of the time in Double-A, it’s a bit baffling to see him hit only .242 and then .235 over a small sample in Triple-A. Ervin, however, has occasional issues with his swing and has holes in it that can be exploited even though he has the speed and plate discipline skills of a potential leadoff hitter. Ervin still profiles as a legitimate centerfielder with 30+ stolen base skills and mid-teens power. He’ll return to Double-A as a 23-year-old, so expect to see him promoted quickly if he proves adept at handling Double-A pitching.
Travis Jankowski (Padres) missed most of 2014 only to make it all the way to the Majors this year. A 24-year-old supplemental first-round pick, Jankowski has little to no pop, but focuses his game on his ability to get on base, make contact and steal bases (32 stolen bases and counting between three levels of play). Jankowski hit .316 and .392 in the Minors but is the type of hitter who is often overmatched once he reaches the major league level. The Padres have him on a fourth outfielder/pinch runner trajectory.
Tyler O’Neill (Mariners) launched 32 home runs in the California League while stealing 16 bases. However, he also struck out 31% of the time, walked under 7% of the time and posted a .260/.316/.558 slash. O’Neill is also capable of manning a decent corner outfield spot and is not just a slugger. The power is legitimate and should be fun to watch in batting practice, but hopefully the 20-year-old begins to learn a bit about selectivity if he wants to have more than a minor league or platoon player career.
Opening day for the Arizona Fall League is just around the corner and today we arrive at the fourth team (out of six) in our preview series, but first a few updates as the Mets have added a few names of note to the Salt River roster in the form of prospects Gavin Cecchini and Dominic Smith.
Both players are former high school first-round picks of the New York Metropolitans. Cecchini, 21, has already advanced as far as Double-A and should begin 2016 in Triple-A after posting a .317/.377/.442 slash for Binghamton. Scouting reports have somewhat reversed on him as a solid defender whose glove would carry him to the Majors and now the glove has fallen to making him an average, but unspectacular shortstop, but one who now has excellent command of the strike zone, an ability to make consistent contact, and developing gap power with 37 extra-base hits in the neutral hitting environment. Given the unsettled nature of New York's MLB shortstop situation, Cecchini has the opportunity to perhaps push his way into the starting job and possibly give the Mets a more balanced player there, one who can field as well as hit a bit.
Dominic Smith has been young for his level of play for each of the past two seasons, but he has managed to show off his quick, left-handed swing and is making good contact as well as displaying a solid glove around the first base bag. The question that has been haunting him and Mets officials is whether he'd develop into a power hitter or the next James Loney. Smith may have started to answer the offensive questions, hitting .305/.354/.417 in a pitching friendly league, leading the league in RBIs while driving 33 doubles and putting six out of the park. To put this in perspective, the league leaders in home runs were Andrew Pullin and Matt Dean with 14 longballs as compared to the more hitting-friendly California League where 14 or more players hit 14 or more home runs, including three at the 30-plus mark. Moving to a neutral park like Binghamton will be an interesting test for Smith, and he will once again be one of the youngest players in the league.
Moving on, we come to the Mesa Solar Sox, who are affiliated with the Cubs, Angels, Marlins, Athletics and Rays. This is also the moment where I realized I was getting old when I saw that I am older than or the same as the entire Solar Sox coaching staff. But enough about me, let's talk prospects.
Corey Black (Cubs) was a former fourth-round pick, blessed with a plus arm and multiple potential plus offerings, but he has struggled throughout his career to command any one of them consistently. This year, the Cubs moved Black and his mid-nineties fastball to relief after nine starts. His walk rates continue to hover close to 5.0, but his strikeout rates jumped to 10.6 per nine innings pitched. There is middle relief/setup man potential here.
Austin Brice (Marlins) is essentially a Corey Black type who has yet to be moved to a relief role. The former 9th round draft pick regressed in the control department after appearing to get things more on track after posting a 3.9 BB/9 in 2014, dropping to a near 5.0 BB/9. Still, a power arm with a good curve could make it in relief.
Former supplemental first-round pick Pierce Johnson (Cubs) has had difficulty staying on the field since being drafted in 2012. This year was no different as he was limited to just 16 starts as a result of an early-season back injury. Once he got on track, he showed good command and a plus fastball/curveball combination. The changeup is still a work in progress and he may have to come up with another weapon to handle lefties in the long run if he wants to remain a starter. Johnson should head to Triple-A and receive an opportunity to pitch in the Majors in 2016, health permitting.
Sean Manaea (A's) was perhaps the principle prospect acquired by the A's in the deal with the Royals for Ben Zobrist. Another former supplemental first-round pick, the left-hander pitched well in 2015, showing a deeper and better repertoire than Pierce Johnson, complete with a changeup and an ability to miss bats at high rates (10.8 K/9 after being dealt to the A's over seven starts). Manaea will move up to Triple-A in 2016 and could emerge as a middle of the rotation or better starter for the team.
Trevor Williams (Marlins) enjoyed a solid season in Double-A and made three starts in Triple-A before the year was out. The righty is mostly a pitch to contact/ground ball specialist who changes speeds well and is known for having above average control. He'll return to Triple-A with a chance to contribute at the MLB level next year, but one should not expect him to develop into anything more than an innings eater.
Mesa does not have much in the catching department and the best at the moment is fringe Cubs prospect Wilson Contreras. Contreras is a strong-armed receiver who emerged out of nowhere with the bat this season, showing extremely advanced plate discipline, making good contact, and emerging power with eight home runs and 34 doubles. He'll move up to Triple-A next season and given the Cubs tendency to move their other catching prospects from out behind the plate to make use of their bats, Contreras may have a chance to assume some playing time at the MLB level in time.
2014 first-round pick Matt Chapman (A's) has been pretty much as advertised and should be the A's regular third baseman in time, but he has to prove himself at higher levels first. A fine defender, Chapman has mid-twenties, if not 30-plus home un potential. He is a fairly patient right-handed hitter, walking 11% of the time, but hit just .250/.341/.566. It will be interesting to watch how the 22-year-old's strikeout rates change as he moves up to Double-A and Triple-A, but right now, expectations of a mediocre batting average with good power/OBP skills are the likely outcome.
I have written about Casey Gillaspie (Rays) a few times since he was drafted in 2014. A former 20th overall selection and younger brother of Conor, Casey owns the family skill of good strike zone judgement. But unlike his older brother, he brings plus power to the table. Also, unlike Conor, he does not bring remarkable defense and will be limited to first base as opposed to the outfield or third. He missed time due to a left wrist injury and is making up for lost time in the AFL. It's possible the Rays could be more aggressive with him and move him to Double-A after just 45 at-bats in A+ ball, but that remains to be seen.
Chad Pinder (A's) is notable as a middle infielder with better than average power for his position. A supplemental second-round pick back in 2013, Pinder hit 13 home runs in 2014 and 15 more this season. He has an aggressive approach at the plate but did at least cut back on his strikeout rates to sub 20-percent and hit .317/.361/.486 in Double-A. He'll move up to Triple-A and could be at least a utility infielder for the MLB club before the 2016 season is finished.
It is all Rays and A's in the middle infield and we end this part of the article with a player who has been in both organizations. Daniel Robertson (Rays) is a 21-year-old shortstop and supplemental first-round pick who has moved through the Minors rather quickly because of his mature approach. The righty does not exactly have a high ceiling (though he might yet add more power), but he is adept at getting on base and hitting for average to go along with mid-teens power potential. Despite his youth, he hit .274/.363/.415 in Double-A and will move up to Triple-A next year with a chance to claim a starting job later next season.
Mark Zagunis (Cubs) is the one outfield prospect on this roster worthy of discussion, and interestingly, he only became an outfielder this season after having been a catcher. A former third-round pick, Zagunis has excellent control of the strike zone with a near 1:1 BB/K ratio in A+ ball. His bat, however, does profile better behind the plate given his modest power potential. Zagunis does possess above average speed and his overall combination of talents and skills make him an interesting candidate as a leadoff or #2 hole hitter. It is difficult, however, to see how he fits into the Cubs lineup in the long run.
Last week, we began our look at the most interesting prospects selected in the Arizona Fall League with the Salt River Rafters. This week, we continue our exploration with the Glendale Desert Dogs. The Desert Dogs are affiliated with the White Sox, Astros, Dodgers, Phillies and Pirates.
Steven Brault (Pirates) enjoyed a successful season, actually performing better after his mid-season promotion from A+ to Double-A, increasing his strikeout rate and reducing his walks. Over 15 Double-A starts, the lefty posted an 8.0 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9, which is a good sign for a pitcher with decent, but not overpowering stuff. Brault is noted for his plus command and a decent changeup. Having passed the dreaded Double-A test, Brault will likely begin 2016 in Triple-A with a chance to develop into a #4 or #5 type starter.
Ralston Cash (Dodgers) finally managed to stay healthy for a season, pitching in 49 games. However, his days as a starter are now over and he is trying to make it as a late-inning reliever. At Double-A, he posted an 8.8 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9. He is a fairly hard thrower but needs to locate his pitches, his curveball in particular, if he is going to make it.
One has to root for a former 20th round draft pick like Jharel Cotton (Dodgers). The 23-year-old pitched at four minor league levels in 2015, averaging a double-digit K/9 at each stop while posting a walk rate of no higher than 3.0. The 5’11” right-hander’s longest stay was at Double-A, where he pitched 62.2 innings and struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings. Cotton is at his best when he works in the lower nineties and mixes a plus changeup and average curveball. He’ll begin 2016 in Triple-A and could be a mid-season call-up.
Nick Pivetta pitched well in A+ ball for the Nationals earlier this season, but he floundered at Double-A both before and after his trade to the Phillies as he watched his normally solid walk rate soar to over 5.0. In theory, Pivetta has plenty of tools, armed with a plus fastball and a solid changeup and curve. The problems here are mechanical as Pivetta has trouble consistently locating his secondary pitches. At 22 years of age, he could repeat Double-A in 2016. A move to the bullpen might be an intriguing option for the former fourth-round pick.
Former 14th overall pick Reese McGuire is coming off two straight disappointing seasons for the Pirates. While he continues to make contact around 90% of the time, the lefty has offered nothing in the way of punch (zero homers) and has barely been able to keep his OBP above .300. McGuire at least remains a plus defender and his glove will allow him to make it to the Majors, but overall his progress is disappointing for a former high round selection. The one ray of sunshine is McGuire’s age. At 20 years old, he’s young for A+ ball and still has time to develop physically and add strength.
The Phillies’ J.P. Crawford is one of the most exciting shortstop prospects in baseball. The 20-year-old has already advanced to Double-A, where he continues to walk more often than he strikes out and flash a plus glove and throwing arm. A former 16th overall pick, Crawford already displays a fair amount of power with 21 doubles, seven triples and five home runs. Long-term, Crawford could be a .290+ hitter who could hit 15 or more home runs a season. Crawford has stolen 12 bases this year and over 20 in prior seasons, but he has only average speed and should be considered a single-digit base stealer long-term.
J.D. Davis (Astros) jumped on the scene immediately after being drafted in the third round, hitting 13 home runs between two levels. The right-hander has continued his power-hitting ways with 26 more long balls at A+ ball and an overall .289/.370/.520 line. The 22-year-old has also impressed somewhat with his glove and for now projects to remain at third base given enough agility and a plus throwing arm to boot. Offense will always be Davis’ primary calling card, with 30+ home run potential. While he is a patient hitter, as is with most power hitters, Davis also strikes out quite frequently and as a right-handed hitter, that could be troublesome. It remains to be seen how good a hitter he will be for average long-term. Next year, he’ll be tested at Double-A.
Davis is not the only power source for the Astros’ farm system. First baseman A.J. Reed has had an even better season, slugging 34 home runs between A+ and Double-A while making contact at a rate of 80% or better and drawing walks at 15% and 11% of the time respectively. Given that feel for the strike zone, Reed has not surprisingly hit well over .300 (.346 and .332), dominating both levels of play. At this rate, Reed could take over as the Astros' primary first baseman by mid-2016. Just keep in mind that the lefty is a sub-par defender destined to be a full-time DH in the long run.
File Austin Meadows under the “yay he finally stayed healthy” list. The Pirates' 2013 first- round pick is a possible center fielder in the long run. The 20-year-old handled himself quite well against A+ level pitching, making contact 86% of the time while showing doubles power and plus speed (20 stolen bases). The only element that has not fully translated yet is his plate discipline as Meadows walked a mediocre 7.4% of the time as compared to the double-digit rates of the past, when he looked like a potential leadoff man. Meadows has been promoted to Double-A and will likely begin there in 2016. He should still be looked upon as a top prospect with 20-20 potential as well as the ability to hit for average and get on base.
Astros prospects have dominated this article and we will close out this piece with one more. Derek Fisher, a 2014 supplemental first-round pick, is yet another member of this organization moving through at a quick pace, seeing time at both A and A+ ball. A left-handed hitter, Fisher has displayed patience, power, and speed with walk rates above 11%, 22 combined homers, and 31 steals. While it is uncertain how well the left fielder will hit for average given his rising, but still acceptable (24%) strikeout rates, Fisher has the makings of a fine player with 20-20 or better potential.
Check back next week for another AFL preview.