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.
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