Now that we are almost a month into the baseball season, it’s time to start taking a peek at the progress of some of the prospects still in the Minors. This week, we scan some of the teams of the International League.
Triple-A Gwinnett (Braves)
The Braves acquired Michael Foltynewicz from Houston this off-season as one of the key parts of the Evan Gattis deal and the righty has not disappointed over his first four starts. The 23-year-old thus far has a 12.5 K/9, but he still struggles to throw strikes, owning a 4+ BB/9. The Astros had moved the former first round pick to relief last year before the Braves decided to give him another try in the rotation despite his lack of a decent off speed pitch. So far, it is looking like he’ll get a chance to start in the Majors in the near future given his success and some struggles in the Braves MLB rotation, but his upper nineties fastball and plus curveball do make him more enticing as a reliever long term. He’s one to watch.
The Braves were busy this off-season, stockpiling their Triple-A rotation not only with Foltynewicz but with Matt Wisler too. The former Padre has shown excellent command (1.7 BB/9) and also struck out more than a batter per inning over three starts. Despite this, he's still 0-2 thanks to a .354 OBP and continued gopheritis with a 1.7 HR/9 after a 1.5 last season. Wisler is a more complete starter than Foltynewicz as a four-pitch pitcher with a solid fastball and slider, but as noted tends to keep the ball in the air and has paid accordingly. Despite his early struggles, there is more than enough talent and skill here for Wisler to make the necessary adjustments and still make it as a middle of the rotation starter. Stick with him if you own him in NL-only formats.
Jose Peraza is biding his time in Triple-A as Jace Peterson hits under the Mendoza line in the Majors. However, the 20-year-old, while holding his own for Gwinnett, isn’t exactly dominating, batting .271/.311/.314. That said, Peraza has translated his approach successfully to Triple-A as well as his speed. His aggressiveness at the plate makes him a poor upper end of the lineup option, but there remains plenty of ability here to make contact, steal bases, and hit for average. Right now, it is looking like a mid-season call-up unless the Braves tire of Peterson, et al, more quickly than expected.
Triple-A Columbus (Indians)
If Jesus Aguilar wants the Indians’ first base job, he needs to hit, and so far the 24-year-old is mostly failing, batting just .219. On the other hand, he does have four home runs and is not striking out at a significantly higher rate than he has previously, so a turnaround should be forthcoming. Aguilar’s best path to playing time will come at DH given Nick Swisher’s tendency to be injured in the late stages of his career. Aguilar is on the verge of making it or becoming an organizational player, depending upon the club’s view of him.
Francisco Lindor is another shortstop waiting for his chance to claim a starting job. Jose Ramirez has not played as well as hoped with a .196 batting average and strikeout rates well above his normally contact-oriented game, suggesting he may be pressing at the plate. Lindor, meanwhile, is commanding Triple-A with a .303/.380/.429 slash while showing the very advanced plate discipline he displayed at lower levels of the Minors. Combine that with his slick glove and speed (six steals) and it is only a matter of weeks before a switch occurs.
For those waiting for Giovanny Urshela to unseat the struggling Lonnie Chisenhall at third base, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. The 23-year-old has spent much of the young season on the disabled list with a back injury and only got his season underway last week, but at least he's hit .500 with a home run in his first two games played, suggesting the back is certainly no longer an issue. Urshela does not have a high degree of upside, but he is a solid defender and a better contact hitter than Chisenhall with comparable power. The month of May for both players could be telling.
Triple-A Syracuse (Nationals)
Former A’s farmhand A.J. Cole is in his second season in Triple-A (his first full year), and over three starts, he owns a 2.40 ERA along with a 6.0 K/9 and 0.6 BB/9. He no longer looks like a top of the rotation type, but more of a #3 or perhaps #4 armed with a solid fastball/changeup combo. However, he really lacks a wipeout slider or curveball that would elevate his game as a strikeout pitcher. Nevertheless, as a result of Max Scherzer’s injury, Cole will be making his MLB debut today. This is not a long-term job obviously, but it is notable that he is the team's preferred option beyond their opening day rotation when it comes to opportunities that may arise later this season.
Michael Taylor began the season in the Nationals outfield while their veterans mended from injuries. Taylor has truly tremendous tools and 30-30 or better potential, but it is really starting to look like it will only be potential. The former sixth round pick is now 24 years old and continues to strike out over 30% of the time. It is getting difficult to see him as anything beyond a Quad-A player or bench player at the MLB level despite his gifts.