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.