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.
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.
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.
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.
The September 1st call-up period is now over and while several good players may yet get promoted, it's time to turn our attention towards next year, and what better way to do that than to check out the Arizona Fall League (AFL). Many of the prospects who will have an impact on the 2016 season will be there, so we’ll kick this short series off with a look at some of the more interesting players on the Salt River Rafters.*
*Note – AFL rosters are still subject to change and I will note any deletions or additions in future articles.
22-year-old Abel De Los Santos is a former Rangers farmhand who has spent most of the 2015 season in Double-A for the Nationals where he has posted an 8.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 all in relief. The right-hander received a two-game promotion to the Majors back in July and was hit hard in his brief 1.2 innings of work. He projects as a middle reliever or possible setup man, throwing a decent fastball/slider combo.
Kyle Freeland was the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft but has not seen significant action since being taken by the Rockies, and while he has not suffered any serious injuries, the lefty has had some issues with respect to both his shoulder and elbow. He has now managed to make his way to A+ ball, showing his plus command and ability to throw strikes with consistency. When healthy, he has a definite plus fastball/slider combo, and the makings of a middle of the rotation starter. The Arizona Fall League was made for players like him who were unable to get the full amount of work they needed to accomplish and this should help him to make up for at least a little lost time. Freeland, if all goes well, should begin 2016 in Double-A.
Cuban defector Yoan Lopez will also be making up for lost time, throwing fewer than 60 innings thus far for the Diamondbacks. He was shut down in July due to tightness in his elbow and is expected to fully recover. Like Freeland, Lopez has very good upside with multiple plus pitches and has a future as either a starter or reliever. His 4.5 BB/9 in Double-A, however, indicates his control, provided it was not entirely induced by his elbow troubles, has some room for improvement.
Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom is an advanced hitter who walks more often than he strikes out and owns a good glove. However, despite his strike zone judgment, he’s hit just .248 and disappointed in the power department after impressing last year with nine home runs and 28 doubles in A-ball. At 24 years of age, he is likely on the journeyman path but could still make it as an MLB back-up.
Tom Murphy is the team’s second interesting catcher. The SUNY Buffalo grad has somewhat bounced back from a disappointing and injury-marred 2014 by combining on 20 home runs at two minor league levels and making it all the way to Triple-A. A solid defensive catcher, Murphy’s major flaw is his aggressiveness at the plate, limiting his upside despite his power skills. It is hard to see him as much more than a .230s to .240s hitter in the Majors.
Speedster Wilmer Difo spent a brief amount of time in the Majors earlier this season, hitting a mere .125. Coming into the season, he was known as a fairly solid contact hitter with modest plate discipline, plus speed and modest power. Much of that is still true except that Difo became tremendously aggressive at the plate, walking 3% of the time while making contact at a rate of just 80%. Yes, he stole 25 bases and somehow hit .279, but a .313 OBP from a sub-par power hitter is not going to cut it. Difo hit 14 home runs in 2014 and just two this season but may still have an inkling of power given his 21 doubles. The 23-year-old may now be on the utility infielder/pinch-runner path barring a massive turnaround in 2016. He’ll spend most of it in Triple-A.
20-year-old Rowdy Tellez was a late-round pick signed to earlier round money, and after missing much of 2014, he has bounced back in 2015 with 14 home runs between A and A+ ball. The lefty is limited to first base defensively, but at least he has shown a good batting eye and a quick bat, making contact over 80% of the time while still showing good power potential. Tellez profiles as a mid-twenties or better home run hitter. He could move up to Double-A and be one of the younger players there in 2016.
If you want to see some tools when you go to the AFL, check out Gabriel Guerrero. The Diamondbacks acquired him from the Mariners in exchange for Mark Trumbo this season. The 21-year-old has 20-20 or better potential but is an aggressive right-handed hitter with a penchant for swinging and missing too frequently. He’s simply very raw and very young. The Diamondbacks will probably have him repeat Double-A next year and will hope Vlad’s nephew starts to put things together.
My fellow former Yellowjacket, Daniel Palka, has provided plenty of lumber his last two seasons with 22 and 29 home runs respectively at A and A+ ball for the Diamondbacks. The 23-year-old has a patient, power-oriented approach, but he has seen his strikeout rates rise towards high-warning levels with his promotion at 28%. Given his age, Palka is definitely in need of a greater challenge and the AFL should supply it. The true test, however, will be Double-A.
Stay tuned next week as we take a look at another AFL roster.
For the prospect hunter, the keeper leaguer looking to grab and stash in particular, September 1st is almost a holiday. To commemorate this “holiday”, we’ll take a look at some of the key call-ups to target at your next transaction deadline, and for those in re-draft leagues, we’ll note whether any of these guys will actually do more than ride the pine as they acclimate to the major league lifestyle.
Dalton Pompey was a favorite of many heading into 2015 for his speed and on-base skills, but he simply wasn’t ready for prime time. Instead, he has spent time at Double-A and Triple-A, showing many of the skills that got him to the Majors in the first place, which include plus speed, gap power, and an ability to make contact. Pompey dominated Double-A, batting over .350 and while he didn’t show as much power, his plate discipline was exemplary in Triple-A, walking 12% of the time and striking out 14% while stealing 16 bases and 23 overall for the season. He may not play much down the stretch for the Jays, but he was inserted as a pinch runner in his first game back and stole two bases. He could make the postseason roster on that basis and should once again be in competition for a starting job next spring.
Moving on to a former Jay, we come to Miguel Castro. Castro was briefly a closer with the Jays this year. Like Pompey, he was moved to the Majors too rapidly, having only pitched as high as A+ ball in 2014. The Rockies used him exclusively as a reliever after acquiring him and he’ll likely remain in that role for the rest of the year, pitching sparingly. At 20 years of age, the Rockies would be wise, given that he has the makings of at least two plus MLB pitches and a possible average slider, to move him back to the rotation at the Double-A level. He is young enough to still have middle of the rotation potential, or he could be a late inning reliever in time.
Zach Davies is not a high-end arm, but the Brewers acquired him nevertheless from the Orioles at the trade deadline and are inserting him into the rotation, making him worthy of note for NL-only keeper leaguers. The 22-year-old has an excellent changeup and uses that as his primary weapon while he spots an average fastball with good sink and a curve. There’s enough here to be a possible #3 to #4 starter.
I’ve written of Hector Olivera several times this season already, but I’d be remiss not to include him in this article considering this rookie is a 30-year-old, MLB ready hitter who can make contact over 90% of the time and who is moving immediately into the Braves everyday lineup at third base. Olivera’s bat profiles better for second base long-term as a possible 15-15 HR/SB hitter who can also hit for average and has flashed the discipline to hit near the top of the lineup. Olivera has yet to show what he can do at any one level for an extended period, so we don’t really have a good sample. However, his role makes him a must grab and his experience in International Play suggests a quick transition to the Majors is quite possible.
The Cubs are going to give young slugger, Javier Baez, another chance, inserting him back at second base over Starlin Castro, at least for now. After racking up prolific strikeout rates in the Minors and Majors in 2014, Baez found himself banished to the Minors this year. The results have been mostly positive, as he has pounded 13 homers to go along with 17 steals, a .324 batting average and a slugging percentage over .500 in addition to cutting his strikeout rate. However, Baez still strikes out close to a quarter of the time and has done nothing to reign in his aggressiveness. Expect streakiness. At 22 years of age, he still has time to keep working on his game, though he could be on the Quad-A player path. If you’re in for this year and need some pop, you might get lucky and catch a hot streak.
Steven Matz had an impressive debut before missing over a month of the season due to a torn lat muscle. Fortunately, it was not an arm or elbow injury and all systems are go for Matz, who will rejoin the rotation on Saturday. The Mets will be utilizing a 6-man rotation for the remainder of the season, which could be a good thing considering the innings piling up on all those young arms. Matz has upper end of the rotation potential, featuring a mid-nineties fastball, plus curve, and a solid changeup, all of which he can throw consistently for strikes. He’s likely owned in just about every NL-only keeper league but could be an interesting pick-up in some mixed league formats.
Royals right-hander Miguel Almonte is now at his third level of play this season after beginning the year in Double-A, where he made 17 starts. The 22-year-old has an interesting arsenal, blessed with a mid to upper nineties fastball and a plus changeup. The righty’s command of his pitches, however, leaves something to be desired as does the development of his curve, which is still very much a work in progress. Still, for those looking for an upside/keeper play, Almonte is worth a chance in AL-only formats.
And last, but not least, we come to Terrance Gore. The 5’7” 24-year-old outfielder has excellent speed, swiping 39 bags in Double-A this season, and has been caught just twice. Other than his speed and stolen base success, Gore leaves a lot to be desired as he is devoid of power and is far from a contact hitter, striking out close to 20% of the time in Double-A. He’ll be used as a pinch runner and it should be noted that he stole five bases in 11 games with the Royals late last season. If you’re looking for an output like that in AL-only formats and have an open roster spot, he’s your guy.
Before the prospect-happy call-up barrage that is September 1st, this week we update the progress of some key members of the 2015 Amateur Draft class.
The first overall pick, Dansby Swanson, has seen some action in the Northwest League (short season ball). While he has not dominated the level (a trifling 41 at-bats mind you), Swanson has shown a disciplined approach and power, slugging over .500. It would not be surprising to see his name on an AFL roster when those rosters are announced, likely later this week or next, followed by a promotion to A+ ball to begin 2016.
The Astros, meanwhile, have been more aggressive with second overall pick Alex Bregman. The shortstop started at full-season A-ball and was quickly promoted thereafter to A+, making a start at Double-A in 2016 a real possibility and a major league promotion a possibility too, though he’s blocked defensively at his natural position. So far, the righty has been a disciplined, contact-oriented line drive hitter with modest power and above average speed (13 stolen bases in less than 250 plate appearances). He projects as a solid regular, not necessarily a star.
Dillon Tate, the top college pitcher in the draft, has pitched sparingly (5 innings over four games) albeit at least at two different minor league levels. The 21-year-old has battled some dead arm issues and may simply need time off after heavy usage during his final college season. When healthy, the Ranger can touch the upper nineties, works regularly in the mid-nineties and has a deep repertoire that gives him upper end of the rotation potential.
Illinois left-hander Tyler Jay was pushed directly to A+ by the Twins, entirely in relief. The 21-year-old has excelled, posting an 11.3 K/9. A college closer, Jay has multiple plus pitches and has MLB closer potential, but it’s also possible the Twins may try to extend him next year to have him work on his repertoire and see if he can indeed build up the stamina to be a starter. If he remains in relief, he could easily be the first player from this draft class to reach the Majors.
Andrew Benintendi is probably my favorite hitter in the draft and so far my enthusiasm is still rather high. The Red Sox have played him at two levels and thus far he’s shown plenty of power (nine home runs in 178 plate appearances, stolen eight bases and made contact over 90% of the time at each level of play while walking quite a bit more frequently (16% walk rate in A- ball). At just 5’10”, it will be interesting to see just how much of that power translates to the upper levels long-term. For now, he is on track to being a potential centerfielder and a 20-20 candidate who could possibly also be a .300 hitter if he maintains his approach and can handle upper level pitching. Expect him to move up to A+ ball next year.
Like most college first round picks, Carson Fulmer is on the fast track and is already in full-season A-ball where he has struck out over a batter per inning pitched. Like Tyler Jay, Fulmer has worked as both a reliever and as a starter in college. The Vanderbilt grad so far has been used exclusively as a starter by the White Sox. Fulmer does more than just throw hard. He has a good curve and change speeds with some success too. All that said, given the White Sox history of breaking in starters as relievers in the Majors, it might make sense in the case of Fulmer given his history and his power fastball/curve, which could make him a dominant reliever as well as a starter.
The Cubs selected outfielder Ian Happ 9th overall. He signed quickly and has received over 100 plate appearances at two different levels of play, giving us a good idea of his game. Happ is a patient switch-hitter with mid-teens or better home run power (eight home runs) and above average speed (ten stolen bases). There was some talk of using Happ at second base, but the Cubs have used him in the outfield for now. It remains to be seen whether or not Happ will be able to hit for average as he has struck out over 20% of the time and nearly 25% of the time with his promotion to A-ball. But the overall combo of skills and tools do make him a rather attractive target for fantasy purposes.
Cornelius Randolph is awesome not just because his name is. The 10th overall pick out of a Georgia high school by the Phillies, Randolph’s pro career is off to a good start. So far, he has slashed .297/.422/.439 and has been showing an excellent feel for the strike zone, making contact 84% of the time while walking 15% of the time. While his long term position is unsettled, he projects to add a good deal of power to his frame. Randolph should advance to full season A-ball in 2016 and could be a .290+ 20 HR threat down the road.
Giants first baseman Chris Shaw showed he could hit with a wood bat in the Cape Cod League and has continued to rip the ball since being drafted 31st overall. The Boston College alum is at least a 70 on the raw power scale and has seven home runs in rookie ball. Thus far, he’s been adept at being patient and making contact, slashing .291/.381/.500. Shaw is definitely in need of a greater challenge and it's surprising that the Giants haven’t promoted him to full-season ball to get a better test. That test will come though as a jump to A+ ball would seem logical for 2016.
Here at the prospector, we’re mostly concerned with the long-term, so with that in mind, we’ll continue our look at some of the prospects acquired at the trade deadline and their value as future fantasy players.
The Braves traded prized prospect Jose Peraza to the Dodgers but received a MLB ready second baseman in return, Cuban defector Hector Olivera. I reviewed the then Dodgers farmhand just a few short weeks ago and my opinion remains unchanged. While he may not have Peraza's ceiling in the speed department or be 21 years of age, Olivera, when he comes up in the next week or two, will at least be a solid defensive second baseman. He also offers more power, a batting eye that should help the Braves overall OBP game, and bat speed that will let him hit for average too. Olivera looks like a possible .280s+ guy with modest power/speed skills who could be worth at least a mid-teens bid in NL leagues next season.
Zack Bird (from Dodgers) – Bird is a 21-year-old righty who has perhaps been pushed up the minor league ladder a bit too aggressively. A very hard thrower, the former 9th round pick has potential as a mid to upper end of the rotation starter or as a late-inning reliever but really has not refined any of his secondary pitches to the point where they are consistent weapons. I suspect he’ll end up in relief. If he can improve his curve, which flashes plus potential on occasion, he could be a name worth remembering.
John Gant (from Mets) – Gant was a fairly late-round pick and had been climbing up through the Mets system one level at a time. He’s done very well in the lower minors, putting up spectacular strikeout rates and showing above average command, but most of his stuff with the exception of his changeup rates at fringe to average at best, making him an unlikely fantasy target.
Rob Whalen (from Mets) – Whalen was the better prospect in the deal and could develop into a big league starter. The righty has a plus sinker/curveball combination and a workable changeup and slider. After a good year in A-ball in 2014, his follow-up in A+ has not been as strong, however, his strikeout rate dropping below 7.0 and his walk rate jumping a full point to 3.7. At 21 years of age, expect him to finish the year in A+ and to spend all of 2016 in Double-A with an ETA of late 2017 or 2018.
Rob Kaminsky (from Cardinals) – The trade of veteran Brandon Moss yielded a young lefty with some upside and some question marks. Kaminsky was a first-round pick for his pitchability and mid-nineties fastball that he commanded well. While he can still reach that level on occasion, he works frequently in the lower nineties and despite having a plus curve and solid change, is starting to look more like a middle to back end of the rotation starter. There is MLB ability here, but much of it rests on Kaminsky’s ability to increase his separation between his fastball and change and curve in velocity. At 20 years of age, he has plenty of time to work on it.
Eric Stamets (from Angels) – The declining David Murphy did not net a player of tremendous upside, but it did bring back a player who should at least give the Indians some potential bench depth. Stamets is a well above average defensive shortstop who could make the Majors on that attribute alone. The righty makes frequent contact but lacks the power or speed to do much of anything with it, hitting just .248/.306/.360 for the Angels.
Dustin Ackley brought back two fairly fringy prospects in Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez from the Yankees. Flores, a 23-year-old outfielder, gets on base, makes good contact and has hit .286/.377/.417 in Triple-A, but he has only gap power and is not much of a runner. It is difficult to see him beyond a Quad-A player, though his bat and glove might be decent off the bench. Ramirez, 25, has excellent raw stuff, posting a 10.2 K/9 as a reliever in Triple-A. Once considered a top prospect as a starter, his inability to stay healthy and to throw his multiple plus pitches for strikes with any consistency made him expendable. The Mariners are keeping him in the bullpen and he can still be filed under “you never know” as a potential late-blooming, late-inning reliever.
Rob Rasmussen (from Blue Jays) – The 26-year-old Rasmussen has now been a member of five different organizations and has just 14 innings of MLB service to his credit, so it speaks a lot to the desirability of his left-handed arm and his effectiveness. The move to the pen full-time in 2014 has helped his career quite a bit as he has added velocity to all of his pitches and now may have a future as a left-handed relief specialist, though he still needs to improve his command of said secondary pitches. The Mariners have opted to throw him right into things in middle relief where he’ll likely stay.
Nick Wells (from Blue Jays) – Wells is a highly projectable left-hander. The 6’5” starter has done well in rookie ball, posting an 8.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9, working with a plus fastball that is steadily gaining velocity as he fills out and a curve with plus potential. At just 19 years of age, Wells will need to stay healthy and develop a changeup before we get too excited, but he is one to track particularly once he starts at full-season ball in 2016.
Jacob Brentz (from Blue Jays) – The Mariners did well to acquire projectable arms and Brentz is no exception. Like Wells, he too is a lefty, but this 20-year-old already touches the mid to upper nineties and throws much harder with regularity. His secondary stuff has potential but is a project, as evidenced by his 6.6 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in rookie ball this season.
Until next week, happy prospecting.
Refreshed after a nice vacation camping in the Catskills, we come to the MLB trade deadline and all of the prospect swapping that comes with it! So we will now concentrate on some of the prospects acquired, starting this week with the Athletics and Brewers.
Aaron Brooks (from Royals) – A bit long in the tooth to be a prospect at 25 years of age, this former 9th round pick certainly knows how to throw strikes, continuously posting a sub 2.0 BB/9. He profiles mostly as a pitch to contact, ground-ball inducing innings eater. He could be a passable fourth or fifth starter long-term but is likely to sport a 4.00 ERA in the process. The A’s have thrown him to the fire and he is a legitimate AL-only FAAB target this week.
Sean Manaea (from Royals) – Manaea, a former 2013 supplemental first-round pick, has battled a number of minor strains and tweaks that have cost him development time. The lefty has two to three plus pitches and is finally healthy. He dominated A+ ball and is currently in Double-A with the A’s. The knock on him, beyond his seemingly constant array of minor injuries, has been his mechanics and control, walking 4.0 batters per nine in 2014. He profiles as a number three or four starter or possibly a late-inning lefty reliever with an ETA of 2016.
Casey Meisner (from Mets) – The 20-year-old Meisner was known as a projectable right-hander with a fastball that was gaining velocity. The 6’7”, 190 pound pitcher can now touch the mid-nineties with regularity and his once sub-par to mediocre secondary offerings are starting to improve, especially his curve which now has plus potential. Mechanical issues beyond those of simply being 6’7” may be an issue long-term, particularly as it relates to his long-term health and durability, but they have not affected his command. Meisner has managed a 3.6 BB/9 in five A+ starts and a 2.3 BB//9 over 12 A-ball starts. If his changeup develops, he could range from a #2 to #4 starter, but his ETA is likely 2017 or 2018.
Jacob Nottingham (from Astros) – A former sixth-round pick, Nottingham is a 20-year-old catcher known more for his offense than his glove (14 home runs between two minor league stops this season). He’s overly aggressive at the plate and will likely have difficulty maintaining his .300 batting average at the upper levels of the Minors. His defense is now considered passable. Right now, he looks like a possible platoon player.
Daniel Mengden (from Astros) – The 22-year-old right-hander has succeeded at the lower levels of the Minors and is in need of a challenge at the Double-A level. For now, the A’s have kept him in A+ ball. He features one or two potential plus pitches, has a good feel for hitting the strike zone and may have a future as a back-end of the rotation starter.
Zach Davies – Acquired in exchange for Gerardo Parra from the Orioles, Davies is not a high-end prospect. The former 26th round pick nevertheless has performed well, translating his skills to each new level of competition. The six-foot tall right-hander has an average fastball at best, but he works with refined secondary pitches and commands all his pitches quite well, generating a fair share of swings and misses (7.2 K/9 in Triple-A) while keeping the ball on the ground close to 50% of the time over his professional career. He projects most likely as a back-end of the rotation starter and his success will be determined by his ability to translate those strikeout skills to the final level and the infield defense behind him. He’ll pitch in Triple-A now and could get a cup of coffee in the Majors in the coming weeks.
Domingo Santana – (From Astros) – The 22-year-old righty has plenty of raw power and is patient enough to wait for his pitches, but he is also known for striking out close to a third of the time in the Minors. Has fared decently against righties in the Minors but has crushed lefties to a .303/.385/.523 slash over his minor league career. He could push Khris Davis for playing time in right field as soon as later this season. His brief call-ups have not gone well to date, featuring an over-aggressive approach that doesn’t reflect what he has done in the Minors and given his youth, the righty still projects as a possible everyday, albeit low batting average, good power/OBP hitter or useful platoon player.
Brett Phillips (from Astros) – Phillips was the centerpiece and most likely the long-term replacement for Carlos Gomez. The 21-year-old is a legitimate centerfielder with 20-20 potential. Last year, he made some strides in the plate discipline department only to give them back and once again become an aggressive hitter who rarely walks, limiting his potential as a possible leadoff hitter. On the other hand, his once questioned power has come on strong with 16 homers combined between two levels. Expect him up in Milwaukee in mid to late 2016 and if all goes well, to be their 2017 opening day centerfielder.
Josh Hader (from Astros) – This trade marks Hader’s third organization since being drafted by the Orioles in 2012. It’s good to be young and left-handed, even if you are a former 19th round pick. Hader does not have a plus pitch, but he has improved his ability to throw strikes and generate strikeouts due to a deceptive delivery. He’s a starter at the moment but is probably a middle reliever in the long run.
Adrian Houser (from Astros) – Houser is a fairly hard thrower with multiple potential plus pitches, but he has not always been effective at using them. He posted a 10.0 K/9 with a 3.6 BB/9 in A+ ball this year but has struggled upon promotion to Double-A, where his K/9 has dropped three points and his command has faltered. If he can keep improving his secondary pitches and his ability to throw them for strikes, he may have back-end of the rotation or middle relief potential as soon as 2016.
Yhonathan Barrios (from Pirates) – Barrios is a converted infielder with a cannon of an arm. However, he is still very much a thrower and not a pitcher to date, yet he’s made it all the way to Triple-A. He could be up later this year or next season. Given his recent move to pitching, he has late bloomer potential if he can develop his command and a secondary pitch.
Malik Collymore (from Cardinals)- A toolsy and raw 20-year-old outfielder with good power/speed potential, Collymore is the epitome of a “project player.” The righty hit well in rookie ball last year and remains in rookie ball for a third straight season, but he is showing signs of improvement. He’ll move up to full-season ball next season.
This week, two players are getting chances to be everyday starters at corner positions even though neither player is technically a corner position player.
No one will ever expect a Tyler Saladino! Yet, lo and behold, he is the new starting third baseman for the Chicago White Sox. Actually, that’s not entirely fair. For awhile, it seemed like Saladino was on the path towards becoming a utility/organizational player, yet the former seventh round pick made adjustments last year and started tapping into a bit more power, hitting nine home runs in 325 Triple-A plate appearances while slashing .301/.367/.483 and showing a good eye and contact. Saladino’s power production has fallen back to earth this year, but the plate discipline skills and defense are still there. Though an average runner, he is known for his instinct on the base paths and has swiped 25 bags already in 231 plate appearances. That said, the right-handed hitter is not a high ceiling player by any means, but his all-around game is quite solid. However, it is difficult to imagine him as a high average hitter as long as he is putting the ball on the ground nearly 50% of the time and failing to come close to topping the 30% mark on fly balls. However, the opportunity to play every day coupled with his stolen base skills trump those concerns, especially in AL-only league play, making him a priority FAAB claim for this week.
The Cardinals have been struggling to get production from first base since Matt Adams went down with an injury. In response, Stephen Piscotty has recently been getting time at first base in Triple-A. The righty had been crowded out of the Cardinals outfield despite having a major league ready bat. The 24-year-old is a highly disciplined hitter capable of hitting for average. When drafted, he was projected to have 20+ HR power, but that has been slow in coming. This year, Piscotty has sacrificed some of his contact skills, though he’s still striking out just 16.7% of the time, for power and already has eleven home runs in 372 at-bats and a .203 isolated power, both of which are quite encouraging. Given his chance for full-time at-bats and his advanced feel for hitting, Piscotty is a must grab in NL-only leagues and at least someone to consider in most mixed league formats.
The Cubs’ Hitting Factory
There does not seem to be an end to the supply of hitting prospects in Chicago. While many have already been promoted, Billy McKinney is on pace for a 2016 promotion. The former Oakland first-round pick has been well noted for a very advanced approach at the plate, walking frequently and making contact at high rates with doubles power. Well, he’s in a similar boat to Piscotty and it's called “Where’s the power?” McKinney got off to a great start in A+ ball, hitting four home runs with a .202 isolated power alongside a .340/.432/.544 line. That production led to a promotion and while the stats are piling up like they have been, the lefty is still showing similar skills, albeit power more in line with his 2014 campaign and a .130 ISO. Keep in mind that McKinney is just 20 years of age and dominated a league he was young for and is now holding his own in a league when most players his age are still in regular A-ball. It is possible his power production could kick in well after he earns a MLB job.
Up and Coming Indians
Third-round pick Bobby Bradley made quite a splash in rookie ball in 2014, hitting eight home runs in 176 plate appearances while batting .361. The power is still very much there this season with another 14 home runs in 281 plate appearances. Bradley is a patient hitter, but this year he has struggled to make contact, missing the ball over 33% of the time and hitting just .244/.331/.463. The strikeout rates are actually a bit surprising considering the 19-year-old has been noted for having a good approach and quick bat and was not particularly noted for having a long swing. His youth and power potential give him the benefit of the doubt for now considering he has a likely ETA of 2018.
Sticking with the Indians, 2013 first-round pick Clint Frazier was a highly touted prospect who disappointed in his first full season of professional ball, striking out 161 times in 474 at-bats. The toolsy 21-year-old has turned things around, cutting his strikeout rate by 7% in A+ ball and showing greater power than he did in 2014 with ten home runs in 395 plate appearances and a .271/.361/.423 line. Frazier still has 20-20 potential and those who are considering jumping ship on the 20-year-old should reconsider. The improvements in his game make him too good to give up on anytime soon.
Lastly, we come to Cuban defector Hector Olivera. The 30-year-old second baseman has gone from rookie to Double-A to Triple-A ball in fewer than 100 plate appearances, hitting over .300 at every stop and showing an excellent batting eye to boot. The righty profiles as someone who can hit for average and get on base, play steady defense at second base while offering low to mid-teens power and stolen base potential. The only question is where will the Dodgers play him. The answer seems to involve either pushing a veteran to a utility or bench role or trading a veteran starter to accommodate Olivera, who has signed a 62.5 million dollar deal with the club.