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Top Outfield Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 17 March 2015 00:22

As we get closer and closer to the start of the baseball season, we conclude our look at the various hitting prospects with a look around the outfield. Given the depth of the position, I will go beyond my normal “top ten” for both the near and long-term rankings.

Eligibility note: With the exception of those players coming from overseas straight to the Majors, all other players who retain their rookie status heading into 2015 will be considered for this series.

Top Outfield Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Joc Pederson (LAD) – Pederson is coming off a monster 30-30 campaign in which he slashed .303/.435/.582 in a hitter-friendly park and now finds himself in the role of opening day centerfielder for the Dodgers. The 22-year-old is quite selective, walking at high rates throughout his minor league playing days, but the strikeouts have indeed risen as he has tapped into his power, so the batting average line may not be sustainable going forward, particularly at Dodger Stadium. While his base running speed is above average, do not expect another 30+ steal campaign. Still, the overall combination offers a potent offensive threat with the skills and talents to be at least a mid-teens dollar bid in NL-only auction leagues.

2. Jorge Soler (CHC) - Despite having fewer than 10 major league plate appearances, the 22-year-old right fielder is projected as the Cubs’ opening day cleanup hitter, and with good reason. Soler’s calling card is his power, which projects in excess of 30-home run potential at his peak. Expectations for his first full season in the Majors, however, should be more subdued and a 20+ HR projection, if not high-teens, would be more realistic as a starting point. That said, Soler separates himself from many other right-handed sluggers with his patience and his ability to make contact, so far regularly making contact around 80% or better of the time during his extended minor league stops. Still, it remains to be seen how this translates to the Majors given his short stays in the upper minor league levels The Mastersball.com .267 AVG/23 HR projection is a good baseline to set your expectations.

3. Rusney Castillo (BOS) - Castillo made a late-season audition for the Sox and was in line for a starting job this spring until he was sidelined by an oblique injury. Regardless, even if he begins 2015 in Triple-A, he will be pushing Shane Victorino and Mookie Betts for playing time and with good reason. The 27-year-old is MLB ready and blessed with a quick bat and both above average power and speed, making 20-20 a possibility, though mid to high teens in both categories is a more realistic/conservative expectation. A .280 AVG/15 HR/15 SB line is a possibility should he manage to crack the lineup for a prolonged period.

4. Steven Souza (TB) – Getting traded from Washington to Tampa Bay vaulted Souza’s value from being trapped in Triple-A to the Rays' starting lineup. The right fielder has a very solid all-around game, including low to mid-twenties HR power, 20+ stolen base skill and speed, and an improving plate approach that saw him make contact more consistently than previously in his career. Some regression should be expected in the latter department, especially in light of a big league promotion, so keep your expectations on batting average modest, but Souza could contribute as a 15/15 candidate this year, hitting in the .260s or better.

5. Dalton Pompey (TOR) – After playing at four professional levels in 2014, Pompey will be the Blue Jays' starting centerfielder but will bat in the bottom of the order as he adjusts to the Majors. The 22-year-old has 30, if not 40+ stolen base potential and a disciplined, contact-oriented approach that should in time qualify him for a leadoff or #2 hole hitter spot in the lineup. Power is not a significant part of Pompey’s game, but the switch-hitter does at least have gap power and should be able to generate 20 or more doubles a season and in the mid to high single- digits in the HR category. Pompey had just 127 Double-A plate appearances and 56 Triple-A plate appearances prior to his MLB promotion, so do not be too surprised if he struggles to adjust to the higher level of competition, necessitating a temporary demotion to the Minors.

6. Michael Taylor (WAS) – Taylor will begin 2015 in the Nationals’ starting outfield and should receive substantial playing time thanks in part to injuries to the club's veteran hitters. He produced a .313/.396/.539 line in Double-A in 2014 but did so while striking out 30% of the time and he barely has any Triple-A experience, so it's quite possible that this first try in the Majors could fall flat on its face. That said, the 23-year-old has tremendous tools and is a 20+ HR/30+ SB threat already, which cannot be ignored. If not for the rather high risk of failure factor, he might be atop this list as a possible 2015 impact player.

7. Randal Grichuk (STL) – A former Angels prospect, Grichuk will likely begin 2015 on the Cardinals bench given his plus glove at multiple positions and appeal as a right-handed batter off the bench, given his 25+ HR power. Grichuk is otherwise noted for being a fairly aggressive, undisciplined hitter who fails to consistently get on base or hit for average. Stephen Piscotty (below) is the better long-term option, but Grichuk ranks higher here given that he has a roster spot.

8. Kyle Parker (COL) – Parker is a MLB ready outfielder who could be pushing for a starting job later this season. The righty does not have a high ceiling and is old for a prospect at 25, but he does have upper teens to low-twenties HR power and has consistently showcased an approach that will allow him to hit for average as well. Parker is a player who just needs an opportunity in order to become relevant to fantasy players.

9. Stephen Piscotty (STL) – Piscotty is MLB ready and has nowhere to play, so he’ll begin 2015 in Triple-A. The righty has never quite developed as the power threat once expected and now only has a modest ceiling, but his bat speed and plate discipline skills make him an instant .280, if not .290 or better potential hitter with high single-digit to mid-teens power and speed. Given the opportunity, his skills would not take long to translate to the Majors.

10. Byron Buxton (MIN) – Despite an injury that cost him most of 2014, Buxton remains one of, if not the top prospect in the game. The 21-year-old is a plus player in just about every category, armed with 30+ stolen base potential and 20+ HR power. The righty has also displayed a patient approach in combination with plus bat speed that has allowed him to make solid contact. The overall combination makes him a potential $30+ player down the road. First, however, he must prove he can stay healthy, and secondly, he must keep the strikeout rates in check as he advances through the Twins’ system. He’ll begin the year in Double-A and has a chance of finishing it in Minneapolis.

11. Domingo Santana (HOU) – Santana is a patient right-handed slugger with mid-twenties or better home run power, but also one that strikes out close to a third of the time. He’s best suited to a platoon role and has little left to prove in the Minors. Given full-time play, he is most likely a .240s to .250s hitter in the Majors.

12. Scott Schebler (LAD) – Schebler is a former 26th round draft pick who has made himself into a prospect with back-to-back 27 and 28 HR seasons. The lefty has done a good job of cutting down on his strikeouts while continuing to hit for power. His other tools are fringe-average to average at best. He's probably destined for the Dodgers bench but will begin 2015 in Triple-A.

13. Steven Moya (DET) – A left-handed hitter with legitimate 30+ HR power, Moya's bat plays best in a platoon role given his high strikeout/extremely aggressive approach at the plate. He’ll begin 2015 in Triple-A.

Honorable Mention 2015 Impact Prospect: Yorman Rodriguez (CIN)

Top Long Term Fantasy Impact Outfielders

1. Byron Buxton (MIN) – See Above.

2. Joc Pederson (LAD) – See Above.

3. Rusney Castillo (BOS) – See Above.

4. Jorge Soler (CHC) See Above.

5. David Dahl (COL) – Dahl played at two levels in 2014 and will ascend to Double-A for this season. In his first full season of pro-ball, Dahl showed a quick bat, plus speed and developing power for a 14 HR/21 SB output. While the lefty will need to tighten up his control of the strike zone, the former first round pick has the tools to remain in centerfield and the bat speed to hit for average. He could develop into a consistent 20-20 or better threat at the MLB level.

6. Brandon Nimmo (NYM) – The Mets 2011 first round draft pick turned a corner in 2014, playing at A+ and Double-A as a 21-year-old. Nimmo is still a legitimate centerfield prospect with above average speed and mid-teens SB potential. Where he has really grown is at the plate. He was already a very selective hitter heading into 2014 but has eliminated some of the passivity that hurt him earlier in his career and has become a much more consistent contact hitter with emerging high-teens to low-twenties HR power. He’ll start off at Double-A once again with a chance to move up to Triple-A and perhaps receive a September call-up. He could compete for a starting job as soon as early to mid-2016.

7. Austin Meadows (PIT) – Meadows unfortunately missed most of 2014 due to a hamstring injury but remains one of the better outfield prospects in baseball. Meadows is an above average athlete with long-term 20-20 potential. Most impressively, at just 19 years of age and over a fairly small sample size, Meadows has shown an advanced grasp of the strike zone, a quick bat and emerging power. He’ll spend 2015 in A+ ball.

8. Michael Conforto (NYM) – Conforto was the consensus top college hitter in the 2014 draft and has thus far not disappointed, showing a highly disciplined, short-left-handed swing with natural loft and plus power potential. Defensively, he is limited to left field, but he profiles as a possible 25+ HR hitter who can hit for average as well. The Mets are likely to advance him quickly, though it's entirely possible he’ll begin 2015 in A+ ball.

9. Aaron Judge (NYY) – The Yankees 2013 first round draft pick acclimated quickly to the Minors, showing off plate discipline and excellent power at two levels of play. The righty will advance to Double-A with a chance to move as high as Triple-A with a possible late-season call-up. He may not be a .300 hitter in the Majors but could be a .270s to .280s hitter with a good OBP and 30+ HR power over the long run.

10. Bradley Zimmer (CLE) – The 21st overall pick in the 2014 draft, Zimmer is on the fast track to the Majors and likely to begin his first full season of pro-ball in A+ ball. The 22-year-old is already displaying a very advanced plate approach, plus speed, the defense to handle center and projectable growing power that could make him a high-teens to low-twenties HR hitter in time. He should at least be able to hit for average and steal 20 or more bases at his peak.

11. Michael Taylor (WAS) – See Above.

12. Clint Frazier (CLE) - I am not a fan of players who tend to strike out close to a third of the time, but at 20 years of age, Frazier has time to turn things around. The tools are worth watching as Frazier is a centerfielder with above average speed and tools and could yet develop into a 30/20 player in time. Frazier is at least not overly aggressive and is willing to wait for his pitch, so there is some hope. Place him under the high-risk/high-reward category.

13. Jesse Winker (CIN) - Winker does not necessarily have the high end tools that many other prospects on this list have, but he does have the skills to succeed at the MLB level. A former supplemental first round pick, Winker has always displayed an extremely disciplined approach, walking almost as often as he strikes out while making solid and consistent contact to produce line drives and hit for average and OBPs eclipsing .400. The biggest question mark will be how he develops in the power department. The raw strength is there for 20+ home runs per season, but his approach may be more tailored to line drives and hitting for average. He’ll be valuable for fantasy players regardless. Expect Winker to begin 2015 in Double-A with a chance to move up to Triple-A and push for a starting job at some point in 2016.

14. Alex Jackson (SEA) – Jackson was the 6th overall pick in last year’s amateur draft. A 19-year-old right fielder, Jackson’s game is mostly about his bat. The righty is blessed with plus to plus-plus power and if successful in the Minors, he could develop into a 25 HR or better hitter at the MLB level. Jackson has already shown some selectivity and should draw walks at high rates as he heads up the Minors, but given his handedness and focus on his power game, he should not necessarily be expected to hit for a high batting average long-term. A former catcher, he will not be a threat to run.

15. Raimel Tapia (COL) - Tapia is an interesting long-term target. The 21-year-old had a solid full season of A-ball, showing a very quick bat with an ability to put the bat on the ball on a consistent basis. The righty is still fairly raw, but he made contact roughly 84% of the time while hitting .326. His power started to emerge too, as he put nine balls out of the park while collecting 32 doubles. Tapia is also an above average runner, stealing 33 bases, but may be more of a 20 to 25 SB threat long-term. The lefty will advance to A+ ball for 2015.

16. Billy McKinney (CHC) – Acquired along with Addison Russell in the Jeff Samardzija deal, McKinney is a left fielder with a modest ceiling but advanced skills. The lefty is a selective line drive hitter who focuses on making contact and hitting line drives. Some power began to emerge last season as he registered 11 homers, 24 doubles and six triples between two A+ ball stops. Long term, it's possible he could be a high teens to low-twenties HR hitter, but that may require him to sell out on some of his contact making. Expect McKinney to get a full season at Double-A.

17. Dalton Pompey (TOR) – See Above.

18. Hunter Renfroe (SD) – Renfroe is a right-handed right fielder with plenty of raw power, knocking 21 balls over the wall last year. He has done well to keep his strikeouts under control and wait for his pitch. The biggest issue for him right now is the Padres’ outfield depth, which will have him return to Double-A and make it difficult for him to receive playing time at the MLB level in 2015. Renfroe is a possible .270s 20+ HR hitter at the MLB level.

19. Manuel Margot (BOS) – Margot broke out in A-ball, showing more power and making better contact while stealing 39 bases. He is not necessarily a high ceiling player, his power maxing out in the low teens, but he is a possible top of the lineup hitter who can handle centerfield and so far has shown a consistent ability to get on base. He’ll move up to A+ ball this year.

20. Rafael Bautista (WAS) - Bautista’s 69 stolen bases in A-ball make him hard to ignore. An above average centerfielder, Bautista is a fairly good contact hitter but will need to work a lot on his selectivity to become a bottom of the order or fourth outfielder type player as he offers very little in the extra-base power department.

Honorable Mention Long-Term Outfield Prospects: Albert Almora (CHC),  Nick Williams (TEX), Josh Bell (PIT), Phil Ervin (CIN), Tyler Naquin (CLE), Alex Verdugo (LAD), Derek Hill (DET), Gabriel Guerrero (SEA)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 March 2015 08:55
 
Top Ten Shortstop Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 10 March 2015 00:00

This week, we continue our look at the top ten short-term and long-term prospects with a scan of the prospects manning the shortstop position. Some of the best power-hitting prospects can be found at this position, though many carry the “high-risk/high-reward” label.

Eligibility note: With the exception of those players coming from overseas straight to the Majors, all other players who retain their rookie status heading into 2015 will be considered for this series.

Top Ten Shortstop Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Addison Russell (CHC) – Russell will begin 2015 in Triple-A, where he will await an opening at either shortstop or second base. A lot depends on whether the Cubs opt to trade Starlin Castro or whether Javier Baez can adapt to the Major Leagues. While a solid average defender, Russell is mostly noted for his bat. The former first round pick has good bat speed and most notably, above average power for his position with 20 or more HR per season potential. Russell showed off a patient approach and made good contact in the lower minors, but his plate discipline numbers have varied a bit from level to level, but he should be at least a .270 hitter in the Majors, producing solid power numbers. Russell once stole over 20 bases in a minor league season but is more likely a mid-teens contributor long-term.

2. Francisco Lindor (CLE) – Last year it was speculated that the slick-fielding Lindor would make it all the way to the Majors. He played well in Double-A, earning a promotion to Triple-A, where his offensive game fell somewhat apart as he became more aggressive at the plate, walking less and striking out more frequently, showing his youth and that he was not quite ready for primetime. That said, Lindor still has Omar Vizquel potential. If moved to the Majors now, Lindor would rate as one of the best glove men in the Majors. When on his game, the switch-hitter has a very refined approach, making contact and drawing walks, as well as plus speed and the ability to steal 30 or more bases in a single season. Provided the 21-year-old can right his ship, there is a possible .280 to .300+ hitter with single-digit HR power to be found. Lindor’s arrival is tied to the effectiveness and health of either Joe Ramirez or Jason Kipnis.

3. Corey Seager (LAD) – Seager stormed through A+ and Double-A, batting around .350 at each level while displaying above average power to combine on 20 long balls. Seager will return to Double-A to begin 2015 but could advance quickly with more of the same. While the Dodgers want him to remain at shortstop for now and he could stay there a few more seasons, it’s fairly obvious that at 6’4” and with sub-par speed, a move to third is in the cards. The lefty has well above average bat speed and has shown a good batting eye in the lower levels, but he was selling out more for power last season, his walk rate dropping and strikeouts increasing as well. The potential for a .300+ hitter is here given the tools, but unless he translates some of those minor league skills to the upper levels, he’ll be more of a .280s hitter in the long run.

4. Carlos Correa (HOU) – Not even a broken fibula that cost Correa most of 2014 pushes him down off of the top shortstop pedestal. Correa is above average on both sides of the ball and will remain at shortstop for his career. At just 20 years of age, Correa is already an advanced hitter with plenty of patience and a quick bat that profiles to add more power as he matures. The 6’4” righty is a solid contact hitter with plus speed and looks like a possible .300+ mid-teens HR, 30+ steal candidate. Due to his advanced skills, he’ll begin 2015 in Double-A and has a chance to reach the Majors later this season. It depends mostly on how aggressive the Astros want to be with his arbitration time clock.

5. Daniel Robertson (TB) – The Rays acquired Robertson this offseason in the deal for Ben Zobrist. He instantly zoomed to the top of their long-term positional charts for shortstop, at least for the short-term as there are other players in the system who rate slightly better with the glove and could force his move to third or second base long-term. That aside, Robertson has the ability to stay at the position long-term, but what he brings that is a plus is on offense with mid-teens to low-twenties HR power potential and a very disciplined approach that lets him make consistent, hard contact. He batted .310/.402/.471 in 2014 in A+ ball and will move up to Double-A with a chance of reaching Triple-A and making a MLB impact in 2016.

6. Matt Duffy (SF) – Duffy is not a high ceiling player, but he is a high-skills one. He hit .332 in Double-A, showing patience and making good contact. He is not blessed with great speed but is a smart runner who stole 20 bases last year. He ended up in the Majors  in a utility role and will begin 2015 as the Giants Triple-A shortstop waiting for a chance in the Majors.

7. Nick Ahmed (ARI) – Ahmed could push Chris Owings and Cliff Pennington for playing time as soon as mid-season. Ahmed is a plus fielder with 25+ stolen base potential and a contact-oriented approach at the plate. It is unclear whether or not he will be able to hit for average at the MLB level, but he improved in Triple-A last season to hit .312 while showing plenty of doubles power. Worst case scenario will find him as the Diamondbacks utility player later this year and in 2016. His all-around defensive and hitting skills could be enough to push him to the forefront.

8. Deven Marrero (BOS) – Marrero is on the borderline of potential starter and utility guy. He will return to Double-A, where he’ll show off his well above average glove. Marrero also has enough speed to steal 20 bases and is a disciplined, contact hitter to boot with doubles power. He could fill the role of starter for a lot of teams given the opportunity.

9. Jorge Polanco (MIN) – Polanco jumped from Double-A to the Majors as a 21-year-old but would benefit from more time at Double-A and Triple-A. He has the tools to remain at short but may be better off at second. From a fantasy perspective, he brings high single-digits to mid-teens HR power potential and above average speed, and at the lower levels of the Minors showed excellent control of the strikezone. Polanco has a nice blend of tools and skills and could return to the Majors as soon as mid-season if all goes well, but most likely he will have a bigger impact in 2016.

10. Jace Peterson (ATL) – A former supplemental first round pick of the Padres, Peterson will begin 2015 as the Braves Triple-A shortstop, though he is better suited to second. Peterson’s best asset is his plate discipline, as he has showed tremendous patience and ability to make contact and hit for average. Otherwise, he has modest speed, though an excellent minor league record of being able to steal bases despite said speed, and average at best doubles power. Peterson, if given the opportunity, could be a solid, though unspectacular second baseman at the MLB level. However, his double play partner in Triple-A is Jose Peraza, who will be the Braves long-term second baseman, limiting Peterson to a utility role.

Honorable Mention: Dixon Machado (DET)

Long Term Fantasy Impact

1. Carlos Correa (HOU) – See Above.

2. Addison Russell (CHC) – See Above.

3. Corey Seager (LAD) – See Above.

4. J.P. Crawford (PHI) - Crawford is a potential impact player on both sides of the ball, similarly to Addison Russell. Crawford made it all the way to A+ ball as a 19-year-old,  hitting eight home runs in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. At all stops, Crawford has shown a very advanced approach, walking and striking out at similar rates. The combination may make him an ideal #2 hole hitter long-term, where he could show off his on-base skills, ability to hit for average, and mid-teens or better HR potential. Crawford stole 24 bases last year but has only average speed at best and should not be considered much of a stolen base threat long-term.

5. Francisco Lindor (CLE) –See Above.

6. Daniel Robertson (TB) – See Above.

7. Orlando Arcia (MIL) – The younger brother of Oswaldo, Orlando has elite defensive talents and 30-plus stolen base potential. More impressively was how well he handled A+ ball as a 19-year-old, making contact 88% of the time while drawing walks a respectable 8% of the time. Arcia has doubles power now and projects to possibly hit double-digit home runs long-term. He’ll move up to Double-A to begin 2015 and could be in the Majors by mid to late 2016.

8. Trea Turner (WAS/SD) – The Padres’ 2014 first round pick is in an odd state of limbo wherein he was dealt as part of a three-way trade with the Nationals but can’t actually be included in the deal until a year after he was drafted. Regardless, Turner is an average defender at short with good upside with the bat, including average power that should translate into low to mid-teens HR power, above average bat speed, and most notably, plus-speed, as he stole 23 bases between two different minor league stops and seven more in the AFL. Turner will get his first full season of pro-ball in the California League. There’s a solid foundation of skills and tools here to make him well worth watching.

9. Franklin Barreto (OAK) – While it is unclear as to whether Barreto will remain a shortstop long-term, his bat certainly plays there quite well. A plus runner, Barreto stole 29 bases last year, but he is not just a one-dimensional speedster. He also combined for 33 extra-base hits, including six homers, while hitting .311/.384/.481 and projects to add more power as he matures. He needs to work on his defense and cut down on the strikeouts, but at 19, there is plenty of time for him to improve. He’ll move to full-season ball this year.

10. Nick Gordon (MIN) - The fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, Nick is the younger brother of Dee and the son of Tom Gordon. Though a solid defensive shortstop, Nick is not a blazer like his older brother. However, he is 6’2” and profiles to hit for more power and still has above average speed and the potential to perhaps develop into a 15-15 or better threat at the plate.

11. Ozhaino Albies (ATL) – For those with the very long-term in mind, keep an eye on Albies. 2015 will be his first full season of pro-ball, but the 18-year-old is already a plus defender with advanced plate discipline skills and 20+ or better stolen base speed, and he should develop into a doubles hitter with high single-digit to low-teens HR power.

Honorable Mentions: Yoan Moncada (BOS), Tim Anderson (CHW), Amed Rosario (NYM), Wilmer Difo (WAS), Willy Adames (TB), Jorge Mateo (NYY), Trevor Story (COL), Sergio Alcantara (AZ), Gavin Cecchini (NYM), Gleyber Torres (CHC), Alex Blandino (CIN), Cole Tucker (PIT)

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 March 2015 01:18
 
Top Ten Third Base Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 03 March 2015 00:00

This week, we continue our look at the top ten short-term and long-term prospects with a scan of the prospects manning the hot corner. Some of the best power hitting prospects can be found at this position, though many carry the “high-risk/high-reward” label.

Eligibility note: With the exception of those players coming from overseas straight to the Majors, all other players who retain their rookie status heading into 2015 will be considered for this series.

Top Ten Third Base Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Kris Bryant – CHC - The 2013 first round draft pick is not guaranteed a starting job out of spring training but is a non-roster invitee who will be challenging for playing time around the infield and may get a look in the outfield too, so the Cubs are already looking at creative ways to get his potential impact bat into the lineup as soon as possible. Bryant hit over 40 homers between two minor league levels in 2014 and projects as a 30+ HR hitter at the MLB level and is a patient hitter who waits for a pitch to drive out of the ball park. While this will work nicely in OBP leagues, Bryant is a righty who strikes out over a quarter of the time regularly and looks like a long-term .250s to .260s hitter. Defensively, he can handle third for now, but he probably profiles better in a corner outfield spot or at first base. He’ll be up by mid-season at the latest, but keep in mind his handedness/strikeout rate combination makes him a high-risk/high-reward selection. 

2. Ryan Rua – TEX – Rua is technically a third baseman, but he is enough of an athlete and his bat is of a high quality that the Rangers will consider a position change for him, particularly with Adrian Beltre still on the team and Joey Gallo one step behind him in Double-A. Rua of course does not have Gallo’s raw power but does project to be able to hit 20 to 25 home runs in a season and what’s more, he actually has improved his ability to make contact, doing so over 80% of the time at his Double-A and Triple-A stops in 2014, leaving some hope that he could hit for a modest batting average as well as some power. Keep an eye on the left field situation as Rua has the ability to take the job as soon as mid-season, if not this spring if he outperforms the competition.

3. Miguel Sano – MIN – Barring Sano’s injury last season, there was reason to believe the 21-year-old would reach the Majors and claim a starting job. Sano is another third baseman who might play the position for a few years but is expected to outgrow it and necessitate a move across the diamond. The righty’s game is quite similar to Kris Bryant’s as a patient hitter with easy legitimate 30-plus HR potential and a strikeout rate that ranges from 25% to 30% of the time. Again, this is another situation to expect a solid OBP but quite varied results in the batting average department. Sano should begin 2015 in Triple-A with a chance at a mid-season promotion once he proves his surgically-repaired elbow is fully healed.

4. Colin Moran – HOU – A former first round pick of the Marlins, Moran could push his way into the starting third base job for the Astros by mid-season, especially considering they have gone with a stop-gap option in the form of Luis Valbuena at third base. Moran is a solid, but unexciting defensive third baseman who has a line-drive/contact-oriented swing that should allow him to hit for average, but right now he looks like a high-single digits to low-teens home run hitter barring a change in plate approach. Those looking for a modest ceiling, low-risk option should consider Moran as a draft pick.

5. Maikel Franco – PHI - Franco combines excellent bat speed with good contact-making skills and plus raw power. The overall combination, however, has produced mid to upper teens results in home runs and sub-par OBPs given his aggressiveness at the plate. However, his contact/power skills give Franco the ability to hit for average, making him a possible .280+, 15+ home run hitter at the MLB level. He’ll begin 2015 in Triple-A. A lackluster start to the season by Cody Asche and solid results by Franco could have him in the Majors by mid-season.

6. Giovanny Urshela – CLE – Lonnie Chisenhall picked the right time to firm up his full-time job, but he will need to keep it up because the Indians have another near-ready option at Triple-A in Urshela. A slick fielder, the 23-year-old is not a high-ceiling offensive player but has similar, if not slightly beter power potential than the former and a quick, line-drive hitting bat that should allow him to hit for average too. It's possible Urshela could be an upgrade over Chisenhall right now, but the Indians will stick with the incumbent for now.

7. Kyle Kubitza – ATL – Defensively, Kubitza rates ahead of the recently acquired Rio Ruiz. On offense, once his greatest strength is his greatest weakness as the lefty posts high walk rates, but does so to such an extent that he is too passive, generating high strikeout rates too. Power wise, he is comparable to Ruiz as a mid-teens HR hitter, but he offers more to the fantasy player due to slightly above-average speed and mid to high-teens stolen base potential. He’ll begin the year in Triple-A, hoping to push aside Chris Johnson (who is coming off a sub-.300 OBP 2014 campaign) at the MLB level.

8. Jake Lamb – ARI – Heading into the 2014 off-season, the Diamondbacks were already pretty rich in terms of third base prospects. Then they signed Yasmany Tomas, blocking off the progress of both Jake Lamb and Brandon Drury, so a potential opportunity for their young players has effectively gone up in smoke unless Tomas fails miserably. There is nothing tremendously wrong with Lamb’s game. He’s a more than capable defender at 3B, has a good history of being patient, and has above average power, projecting to eclipse 20 homers a season given the opportunity. His one shortcoming, not surprising for a power-hitter, has been his strikeout rates, but they have been at or under a quarter of the time for most of his career and therefore far from potentially career ruining. His 133 plate appearance audition last season, however, did not go very well as his plate discipline fell apart after jumping straight from Double-A, managing just a .230 batting average. Lamb will return to Triple-A for more seasoning and could end up trade bait.

9. Hunter Dozier – KC – Dozier was the 8th overall pick in the 2013 draft. After a solid rookie-ball debut, the Royals advanced him to A+ ball where he played well, showing off his plate discipline and emerging power to the point that he was promoted at mid-season to Double-A. There, his strikeout rate rose and he began to struggle and play off his game. Normally, Dozier is a line-drive oriented hitter with a patient approach and not one prone to chase pitches. He’ll repeat Double-A, where the Royals hope he can regain his form. An early to mid-season promotion to Triple-A is a possibility with a late-season promotion to the Majors also fair to consider, especially if Mike Moustakas continues to struggle. A college shortstop, Dozier transitioned well to third base and should have no trouble remaining there. He profiles as a low to mid-teens HR hitter who can hit for average and get on base if he can get his game together.

10. Garin Cecchini – BOS - Cecchini had a chance to push aside Will Middlebrooks and become the Red Sox starting third baseman last year. He failed, translating few of his lower-level minor league skills to Triple-A. Now, Pablo Sandoval is in town for the next several seasons and there is no clear path to the Majors for Cecchini. When on his game, he profiles to hit for average and a very solid OBP. While not a fast runner, he’s a smart one capable of double-digits in steals. However, it now looks like a trade may be the only way he gets a chance, but first he’ll have to prove 2014 was a fluke after producing a weak .263/.341/.371 Triple-A line.

Honorable Mention/Names to Keep on the Radar as call-up candidates: Matt Davidson

Top Ten Third Base Prospects for Long Term Fantasy Impact

1. Kris Bryant – CHC – See Above.

2. Miguel Sano – MIN – See Above.

3. Ryan McMahon – COL – McMahon does not have quite the raw power of some players on this list, but he does have a plate approach that provides less risk when compared to his third base prospect compatriots. The recently turned 20-year-old could advance to A+ ball to start this year and given his age and the presence of Nolan Arenado, the Rockies will probably keep him on a one-level/season time-frame. Still, he’ll be quite young for his league. McMahon projects to generate low to mid-twenties home run or better power at his peak, plus given low to mid-twenties strikeout rates, he could be a .270s or better hitter. McMahon is also separated from other power hitters on this list by being a solid athlete with a good arm who should be able to remain at third base long-term.

4. Joey Gallo – TEX – The 21-year-old Gallo has ripped through the Rangers system, reaching Double-A last year while hitting 42 homers, 21 at each level of play. The lefty is a true all or nothing slugger who typically strikes out over 35% of the time, but he walked 21% and 12% at each level of play respectively in 2014. The former supplemental first round pick looked like he was making some progress in the contact making department during his time in A+ ball, cutting his strikeout rates down to just a quarter of the time, but promptly relapsed to 40% of the time upon promotion to Double-A. Gallo is an exciting prospect, especially playing in Texas, but it is hard to see him hitting much beyond .230 given his current state of development. Long-term, he’ll move off third base to first base or the outfield, should he make it as a starter. While Gallo has youth on his side, it is hard to see him making it as a starter long-term barring a substantial reduction in his strikeout rates at the upper levels of the Minors. Gallo could see time in the Majors, but he is more likely a September call-up.

5. Rafael Devers – BOS – For those of you in deeper dynasty leagues, Devers is worthy of consideration. The lefty hit seven home runs as a 17-year-old in rookie ball and should move up to full-season A-ball as an 18-year-old. Devers will stick at third for now, but time will tell his long term position. So far, he has shown a quick, powerful bat, and while raw in many aspects of his game, has shown an aptitude for making contact thus far. While there is stud potential here, it is hard to recommend him until we can see what he does over the course of a full minor league season.

6. Maikel Franco – PHI - See Above.

7. Brandon Drury – ARI – Drury is coming off a solid season split between A+ and Double-A, hitting for average and power, batting around .295 with 23 homers and a mid-.300 OBP. Like Lamb, he is a solid defender at third base but has had the benefit of receiving playing time at second base too, which could be his ultimate destination. It is unclear whether Drury will return to Double-A, where he had fewer than 200 plate appearances, or advance to Triple-A and play second base full-time. Like Lamb, Drury could end up either trade bait or Aaron Hill’s heir apparent.

8. Rio Ruiz – ATL – The Braves acquired Ruiz in the Evan Gattis deal and have him slated to begin his Braves career in Double-A. The former fourth round pick does not profile as a stud but has enough skill to stay at 3B defensively, and he has a very disciplined approach that should allow him to post solid OBP numbers and hit for average too. Because of that said approach, however, his power ceiling is not that high, projecting to the mid-teens. Still, the overall combination of skills could put him ahead of fellow third base prospect Kyle Kubitza in the Braves’ system in the long run, though Kubitza is likely to get an opportunity before Ruiz does.

9. Matt Chapman – OAK – Oakland’s 2014 first round pick had a mixed debut season. Over a small sample size, he showed off his well above average defense and flashed his plus power potential, but he also displayed an overly aggressive approach at the plate that may have been out of context with his previous performance at the college level. He’ll get his first full season of professional ball in A+ ball but could advance to Double-A before the end of the season if he performs well.

10. Renato Nunez – OAK – With Chapman in this organization, from a pure defensive spectrum, Nunez will not be staying at third base. However, Nunez does at least have the advantage of having established himself as a power-hitting prospect with 19 HR and 29 HR in back-to-back seasons as a 19-year-old and 20-year-old. The righty is still raw at the plate and can be overly aggressive, but he has a quick bat and still managed to make contact 80% of the time in A+ ball. Renato is a possible 25+ HR, .280 threat but not likely much of an OBP one. He will probably be limited to first base long-term.

Honorable Mention: Drew Dosch (BAL), Jomar Reyes (BAL), Zach Shepherd (DET), Steven Fuentes (DET), J.D. Davis (HOU), Trey Michalczewski (CWS), Jhoan Urena (NYM), Gavin LaValley (CIN), Gilbert Lara (MIL)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 March 2015 10:10
 
Top Ten Second Base Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 24 February 2015 01:46

This week, we continue our look at the top ten short-term and long-term prospects with a scan of the prospects manning second base.

Eligibility note: With the exception of those players coming from overseas straight to the Majors, all other players who retain their rookie status heading into 2015 will be considered for this series.

Top Ten Second Base Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Jose Peraza – ATL – The Braves’ top prospect could be making the jump to the Majors as early as opening day, though will more realistically receive a mid-season promotion from Triple-A. The right-handed hitter’s game is all about his speed, possessing both a quick bat with a high-frequency contact making approach and a near 80 on the scale scout speed that should translate into 50-plus stolen base totals. While he’ll never be a significant OBP threat or more than a 1 to 3 HR threat, Peraza could be a .290 to .300-plus hitter and his overall give should translate quickly to the Majors, making him a possible immediate impact fantasy threat.

2. Devon Travis – TOR – The Jays enter 2015 with Maicer Izturis as their starting second baseman. Given the former’s injury history and Travis’ talent, it is only a matter of months before the latter has the starting job. The former top Tigers prospect is a very advanced hitter with doubles power and mid-teens HR potential that should allow him to post solid OBP and batting averages long term. The righty had a .298/.358/.460 line at Double-A and has done a very solid job of translating his game to each new level of play. A mid-season call-up is a very good possibility.

3. Ryan Brett – TB – The Rays brought in Ryan Franklin last season from Seattle and will give him an extended look to lock down the second base job, but the club is not without a backup plan. Former 3rd round pick Ryan Brett will be advancing to Triple-A this year. The switch-hitter is a solid defender with plus speed and is coming off a 27-stolen base season in which he also produced 39 extra-base hits, including eight home runs, in just 459 plate appearances. Brett has a quick bat, makes solid contact, and could transition quickly to the Majors given the opportunity. Franklin owners should make a priority of selecting Brett in the minor league phase of their keeper league drafts.

4. Micah Johnson – CWS – Johnson is the long-term favorite to inherit the second base job and will compete for the job this spring. The 24-year-old has a history of hamstring troubles, but when healthy has 30-plus stolen base speed, high single-digits to low-teens home run power and a top-of-the-order worthy approach at the plate. At Double-A, Johnson posted a .329/.414 line, but he faded in the selectivity department upon promotion to Triple-A. The lefty could possibly use a half-season more at Triple-A, but it's only a matter of time (and good health), before he wrests the job away from Carlos Sanchez.

5. Carlos Sanchez – CWS – Sanchez took over as the White Sox second baseman late last year and has the job heading into the spring, albeit with Gordon Beckham on the bench and Micah Johnson waiting in Triple-A, so he’ll be under a lot of pressure to even hold onto the job. The switch-hitter makes a fair amount of contact but has little in the way of pop and can be overpowered. Long-term, he’s more of a utility player and pinch runner. Sanchez is a possible .260s hitter with double-digit steals given regular playing time.

6. Rob Refsnyder – NYY – The Yankees re-signed Stephen Drew to a one-year contract, but this was designed as a stop-gap move for Refsnyder, who could be up by mid-season. A former fifth-round pick, Refsnyder has mid to upper teens power and a patient approach that should play well in OBP leagues, but he also has a slightly long swing that will make his .300 batting average in Double-A tough to translate to the Majors. More likely, the righty is a .260 to .270s threat with mid-teens pop and single-digit speed.

7. Christian Colon – KC – A former first-round pick, Colon enters 2015 as a utility player for the Royals. If injury were to occur to Omar Infante, Colon would be a very capable fill-in as a highly disciplined contact hitter with upper single-digit to low-teens home run power.

8. Hernan Perez – DET – Perez heads into spring training as a bench player for the Tigers and has been adding to his versatility with playing time in the outfield, though his best position remains 2B. The 23-year-old has just a modest ceiling but is a line-drive hitter with mid-single digit pop and double-digit capable speed. Barring injury to Ian Kinsler, however, he’ll remain in a utility role and a pickup only in deeper leagues.

9. Dilson Herrera – NYM –The Mets are going to have to make some decisions, but all signs point to Herrera taking over as the starting second baseman. Whether this occurs in the middle of this year or in 2016 is tied to the Mets’ ability to challenge for a playoff spot. An out of contention Mets franchise would be all but assured to deal soon-to-be free agent Daniel Murphy out of town. Herrera, unfortunately, like Murphy is not particularly gifted in the defensive department and is best regulated to 2B, leaving him blocked unless the former is dealt or injured. Herrera is a well-rounded offensive force with mid-teens HR potential, solid control of the strike zone, good bat speed and the ability to get on-base. Herrera has stolen bases in the Minors, but like Murphy, it is more on skill rather than talent and expectations should rise no further than the low double-digits. Herrera won’t be a star, but he could be a very solid regular.

10. Alex Yarbrough – LAA – Yarbrough has a legitimate shot at pushing his way into the starting second base job this year. A year ago with both Howie Kendrick and Taylor Lindsey ahead of him, this seemed an unlikely prospect, but now he has only Grant Green, Josh Rutledge and Taylor Featherston as real competition. The switch-hitter has mid to upper teens HR power and makes enough contact to be a .260s to .280s hitter, but he is not the best defensive second baseman in the world and has little speed to speak of.

Honorable Mention/Names to Keep on the Radar as call-up candidates: Alen Hanson (PIT), Jace Peterson (ATL), Sean Coyle (BOS), Ronny Rodriguez (CLE), Alex Guerrero (LAD), Jose Pirela (NYY), Taylor Featherston (LAA), Tony Kemp (HOU), Darnell Sweeney (LAD), Joe Wendle (OAK), Odubel Herrera (PHI), Taylor Lindsey (SD), Cory Spangenberg (SD), Jacob Wilson (STL).

Top Ten Second Base Prospects for Long Term Fantasy Impact

1. Jose Peraza – See above.

2. Forrest Wall – COL – A 2014 supplemental first-round pick out of high school, Wall is an exciting player with an extremely advanced feel for the strike zone, a quick bat and plus power for his position. The 19-year-old dominated rookie ball with a .318/.416/.490 line while stealing 18 bases and has at least 15/15 potential in the Majors, if not 20/20.

3. Jesmuel Valentin – PHI – The 20-year-old son of former MLB shortstop Jose Valentin, Jesmuel was acquired from the Dodgers by Philadelphia last year. A switch-hitter like his dad, Jesmuel already has above average speed, swiping 24 bags in A-ball, and while not as powerful as his dad, he's not devoid of power either, hitting seven home runs and registering 31 other extra-base hits, including eight triples. The 20-year-old is at this point a better contact hitter than his dad and has also shown solid patience at the plate. Right now, he looks like a 10 to 15 HR/25 SB player and should be the Phillies' long term second base solution.

4. Ryan Brett – TB – See above.

5. Dilson Herrera – NYM - See above.

6. Micah Johnson – CWS - See above.

7. Alen Hanson – PIT - Hanson has very interesting fantasy potential as someone who profiles to hit into the low teens in home runs and has the ability to steal 20 or more bases. The question here is opportunity with the Pirates as Neil Walker remains locked in as their second baseman. It may also depend on Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison continuing to perform for him to get his opportunity. For now, Hanson will get his first taste of Triple-A and will most likely receive a late season call-up to prepare for a more robust role in 2016.

8. Devon Travis – TOR – See above.

9. Avery Romero – MIA – Romero is an offense-oriented second baseman who has a very quick bat and makes consistent contact as well as emerging power (possible middle teens or better HR power). The righty batted .320 at both A and A+ ball in 2014 while hitting plenty of doubles. The 21-year-old will move up to Double-A and is still a work in progress in terms of defense and selectivity.

10. Travis Demeritte – TEX – The 2013 first-round pick has the greatest raw power of any second baseman on this list. So far, he’s shown he can stick at the position, so he at least has that under his belt. The question, despite his 25 HR output of 2014, is his ability to make contact. Demeritte swung and missed almost 37% of the time and hit .211. He was at least selective enough to post an OBP of .310, so there is a ray of hope. Demeritte is the epitome of high-risk/high-reward. If he can make any strides in his pitch recognition over the coming years (and fortunately he has the advantage of youth), then he could become a potent offensive threat at second base. For now, there are less risky options worth selecting ahead of him.

Honorable Mention: Christian Arroyo (SF), Domingo Leyba (AZ), Sean Coyle (BOS), Jake Peter (CWS), Chad Pinder (OAK), Jacob Wilson (STL)

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 10:41
 
Top Ten First Base Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 17 February 2015 00:13

This week, we continue our look at the top ten short-term and long-term prospects with a scan of the prospects manning first base.

Eligibility note: With the exception of those players coming from overseas straight to the Majors, all other players who retain their rookie status heading into 2015 will be considered for this series.

Top Ten First Base Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Christian Walker – BAL – The question for Walker heading into 2014 was “will he ever hit for power?” He answered that and then some with 26 homers between two levels of play. To do so, Walker had to sell out a little bit, cutting 3% off his strikeout rates from 2013 and then cutting them another 6 percent upon promotion from Double-A to Triple-A last year. If this is the new Christian Walker, the righty is now likely more of a .250 to .260s hitter with high teens to low-twenties home run potential. Chris Davis will get a chance to redeem himself this year, but Walker is waiting in the wings. This year, Walker’s challenge will be to try to retain some of, if not most of, the power he has tapped into while reestablishing his old contact-making skills.

2. D.J. Peterson – SEA – The Mariners head into 2015 with off-injured Logan Morrison penciled in as their everyday 1B. Should Morrison fail, Jesus Montero or possibly Ji-Man Choi may be the first options to receive playing time, meaning while Peterson could be a mid to late season call-up based on his fast paced progress through the system, he might not be the first option. That said, Peterson has the greatest impact bat of the trio and it may be difficult for the Mariners to keep him down on the farm if he continues from where he left off in 2014. The righty has the raw power expected of a first baseman, with 25-plus, if not 30-plus HR potential, but he's not a high strikeout machine, instead making contact close to 80% of the time at every level he’s played at. Peterson crushed it in the extremely friendly environment of High Desert, batting .326 while slugging 18 HRs in 299 plate appearances. While his assault tapered in Double-A he still managed another 13 round-trippers there and showed little variance, if not improvement in his plate approach with the change in level. Peterson is also not a typical all or nothing slugger. He’ll begin 2015 in Triple-A and a strong follow-up could move him to the Majors by mid-season.

3. Justin Bour – MIA – This former Cub and 25th round draft pick has a rather good shot of opening the season on the Marlins’ opening day roster as a pinch hitter and back-up to Michael Morse. Bour is a fairly typical 1B prospect, devoid of speed and much defensive skill, but he has power aplenty with 19 HRs between the Minors and Majors last year. Bour has shown some ability to make contact in the Minors and is patient, but he has a somewhat long swing, so it remains to be seen how high an average he can hit for. Keep an eye on the situation between him and Morse, as moving into a platoon role is within Bour’s capabilities.

4. Jesus Aguilar – CLE – Aguilar answered critics last season by developing his power while retaining the rest of his plate discipline skills, yet he got only a brief cup of coffee. In 2015, he will enter the season in a similar situation, likely spending most of it in Triple-A as roster filler with his best path to success being either the injury or further decline of one of the Indians’ veterans. Aguilar hit 19 HRs in Triple-A while making contact 81% of the time and walking 13% of it to bat .304/.395/.511. He doesn’t have quite the power potential of many of the first basemen in this article, but his all-around combination of skills makes him deserving of a shot.

5. Travis Shaw – BOS – The son of former Reds closer, Jeff Shaw, Travis is a former 9th round pick who has done well to develop his power (21 HRs) while showing excellent plate discipline skills. In Double-A, he actually walked more than he struck out, making contact 89% of the time while slugging .548. The 24-year-old faded mightily (and back more towards his career norms in the strikeout department) once promoted to Triple-A, but overall Shaw does have good enough tools and skills to be a major leaguer. A poor showing by Mike Napoli could make that a reality.

6. Rangel Ravelo – OAK – First base has been a bit of no man’s land for the A’s these last few years, and they once again head into uncertainty with Ike Davis. Ravelo may prove the primary beneficiary. The former White Sox prospect will head to Triple-A and lie in wait. The righty is no power hitter, but instead more a Doug Mientkiewicz type with a decent glove and an excellent plate approach that will help him get on-base and hit for average. He hit .309/.386/.473 in Double-A last year and has a skill set that should allow him to transition quickly to the Majors.

7. Patrick Kivlehan  - SEA – Kivlehan is helping to make things a log-jam in Seattle. The 25-year-old falls in between Peterson and Choi on the power spectrum with mid to upper teens power potential, but has a disciplined, line-drive hitting approach that allows him to hit for average and get on base. He’s Triple-A ready, but it’s unclear given this log-jam where exactly he will play in 2015. It’s possible he’ll have to go back to his original position of third base or move to the outfield.

8. Jason Rogers – MIL – The Brewers moved Rogers to third base last season, a position he is a borderline at best fit for, so we’ll keep him at his original position of first base for the purposes of this piece. A 26-year-old former 32nd round draft pick, Rogers will begin 2015 in Triple-A as an insurance policy at multiple positions. The righty has a rather disciplined approach and has developed upper teens to low-twenties home run power while continuing to maintain contact rates in the mid-80% range. It’s somewhat possible that he could push his way into a platoon with Adam Lind at first base before the season is over, if not something more substantial.

9. Ji-Man Choi – SEA – Should an injury occur to Logan Morrison, Choi could be a player who gets the call and could possibly claim the 1B job for the rest of the season. Choi is a low-ceiling hitter in terms of power, but he is also an extremely well-disciplined line-drive hitter who gets on base and makes consistent contact. The 23-year-old could possibly hit in the .280s with a very solid OBP in the Majors right now, albeit with mid to high single digit home run power.

10. Xavier Scruggs – STL – Scrugs has hit no fewer than 21 HRs in each the four previous seasons and has made strong strides along the way to cut back on his strikeouts. In 2015, they dropped 11 points from 32.4% to 21.2%. Scruggs' chances at playing time are fairly blocked at the MLB level, but he has proven power and a patient approach. The question here is whether the strikeout rates regress back to their previous, lofty numbers, taking him from possible bench/platoon player to organizational player.

Honorable Mention/Names to Keep on the Radar as call-up candidates: Stetson Allie (PIT), Andy Wilkins (CWS)

Top Ten First Base Prospects for Long-Term Fantasy Impact

D.J. Peterson – See Above.

Gregory Bird – NYY - Bird is looking like the heir apparent to Mark Teixeira. The question is will it be 2015 or 2016? The former fifth round draft pick has low to mid-twenties homer potential and a very selective approach, walking frequently while keeping his strikeout rates under a quarter of the time. He’ll begin the year in Double-A and could enjoy a mid-season call-up to Triple-A, but he's likely to receive a cup of coffee at most in the Majors, unless significant injuries occur at the MLB level. Long-term, he looks like a possible .270s, 20 HR player who will be quite valuable in OBP-based leagues.

Christian Walker – BAL – See Above.

Dominic Smith – NYM – Smith’s position on this list is all about whether the power projected of him actually develops. A smooth defender with a quick bat, Smith has shown off this power in batting practice, but he has yet to demonstrate it in a game situation. At just 19 and moving up to the Florida State League, a notorious pitcher’s league, the power may not materialize noticeably. So far, Smith has demonstrated a good eye and ability to make contact, so he is at least a potential James Loney type, but his 26 doubles last season do point to some hope of greater impact down the road.

Casey Gillaspie – TB – The younger brother of Cole and Conor Gillaspie, Casey is a switch-hitter who carries the strong family trait of selectivity with him quite well. The 20th overall selection in the 2014 draft, Gillaspie brings an aspect to his game that his brothers have not, and that is power, which he showed off quite well in his rookie debut (7 HRs in 308 plate appearances). For now, the Tampa Bay Ray profiles as a .260 to .270 hitter with good OBP skills and 20 to 25+ HR power. A college hitter, he should move fairly quickly through the system, advancing to A+ ball this year with a chance to reach Double-A and become a possible 2016 impact prospect.

Matt Olson – OAK – We likely will not be seeing Matt Olson in 2015, but he is a potential impact bat that should be on your radar after slugging 37 homers and posting a .404 OBP in A+ ball. Olson is similar to Greg Bird, but he walks even more frequently and has shortened his swing to reduce his strikeout rates. However, it does not look like the lefty will be someone who will ever hit for a high average. That said, someone who can approach a .400 OBP and has legitimate 30-plus HR potential is quite eye catching, even if that someone ends up only a .240s hitter.

Bobby Bradley – CLE – Bradley was the second of two first basemen selected earlier in the 2014 draft by the Indians. Unlike Papi (see below), Bradley hit the ground running, showing plus power at 18, a solid approach, and good bat speed. The lefty will be a long way from making the Majors, but he has excellent power potential and is already on the right path. Just keep in mind that you may not see him in the Majors until late 2018/early 2019 should you select him.

Mike Papi – CLE – Papi, a 2014 supplemental first rounder, continues a theme in this list of highly selective hitters with plus power potential. While first base may be Papi’s long-term destination, the Indians like his arm and feel he has at least average mobility to play some in the corner outfield. Papi struggled in a small sample in his first exposure to pro-ball, but he should come to dominate the lower levels given his talent and refinement at the plate. Expect Papi to play at A or A+ ball this season with a chance to reach Double-A before the end of 2015, at which point we’ll get a true assessment of his long-term potential.

Amaurys Minier – MIN – Minier is technically an outfielder who has played some first base, but his athletic tools other than his bat pretty much scream 1B/DH long-term. Minier will move to A-ball for his first full season of pro ball in 2015. The switch-hitter has excellent raw power potential, posting an ISO of .228 in the Gulf Coast League with eight homers last year. Minier is also showing some aptitude at the plate and is no mere hacker, walking 14% of the time while striking out a quarter. His progress through the Minors should be interesting and this could possibly be the last time you get to buy in low.

Travis Shaw – BOS – See Above.

Honorable Mention: Sam Travis (BOS), Nellie Rodriguez (CLE), Rowdy Tellez (TOR)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 February 2015 09:48
 
Top Ten Catching Prospects for 2015 and Beyond PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 10 February 2015 00:00
Draft prep season is in full swing. With that in mind, we'll switch gears towards identifying prospects to help your squads in 2015 as well as the future. For the next several weeks, I will look at the top ten prospects at each position from a fantasy standpoint for both 2015 impact as well as a long term perspective. Players can logically end up in both lists, but the 2015 impact lists will focus on opportunity first and then talent whereas the long term lists will focus fully on fantasy value.

Eligibility note: With the exception of those players coming from overseas straight to the Majors, all other players who retain their rookie status heading into 2015 will be considered for this series.

We kick things off with a look at the top catching prospects around the Majors.

Top Ten Catching Prospects for 2015 Fantasy Impact

1. Blake Swihart – BOS – The Red Sox backstop tops both lists given the likelihood of his mid-season promotion and unquestionable talent. From an opportunity perspective, the Red Sox have placed few obstacles in his way with clear stop-gap catchers in front of him at the MLB level. A well above average defender who will stay behind the plate long-term, the switch-hitter has mid to upper teens and possible 20+ long-term HR power and a disciplined, line-drive hitting approach from both sides of the plate that will allow him to hit for average. Swihart has a skill set that should allow him to adapt to the Majors fairly quickly, but never underestimate the transition of defense trumping offense for catchers, which goes for everyone in this article.

2. Christian Bethancourt – ATL – The 23-year-old righty is penciled in as the Braves’ opening day catcher. That opportunity alone justifies his high placement on this list. A plus defender, Bethancourt has solid raw offensive tools, complete with a quick bat that lets him make consistent contact and low to mid-teens HR power. The only reason I rank him behind Swihart, who could spend considerable time in Triple-A to begin the season, is his overly aggressive approach. After an initial go around the league, Bethancourt’s tendency to swing at everything will be adjusted to and even though he makes contact, he’ll be unlikely to get a pitch to hit until he can prove he won’t swing at balls out of the zone. There is .270+ 10 to 15 HR potential here, but it may take time.

3. Kevin Plawecki – NYM – If the stars align his favor, Plawecki could be one of the most valuable rookie catchers. His opportunity to play, however, rests on the health and production of Travis d’Arnaud, neither of which is assured given a history of freak injuries and struggles at the MLB level thus far. A 2013 supplemental first round pick, Plawecki is a disciplined, line-drive oriented contact hitter who because of that approach, could transition to the Majors quite easily. His defense generally gets good grades too and it’s possible that in time, he could tap into his power and be more of a mid-teens HR threat. Plawecki does not have a high ceiling like other players in the long-term impact list, but because of his skills, he's a fairly low-risk player who could enjoy a long and productive career. He will begin 2015 in Triple-A, awaiting his opportunity.

4. Andrew Susac – SF – Susac is MLB ready yet has nowhere to play because he is behind Buster Posey on the Giants’ depth chart. While he does not have Posey’s upside, Susac has what it takes to start in his own right with mid-teens power and a patient/line-drive oriented approach that could make him a .260 to .270s hitter. Until such time as Posey switches positions, gets injured, dealt, or walks as a free agent (or a similar transaction for Susac), the realization of Susac’s potential will remain unattained. Susac could be starting for quite a few other clubs right now if the Giants were to deal him given the development of both his offensive and plus-defensive game.

5. J.T. Realmuto – MIA – Jarrod Saltalamacchia is in the second year of a three-year $21M deal with the Marlins and will receive a chance to “make good” before Realmuto gets his chance. Like Plawecki, Realmuto is not a high ceiling player, but rather a good all-around player with an acceptable level of risk, and he actually has a very similar game, though perhaps a better arm if not as much upside in the power department. The righty has a polished, contact-oriented approach with doubles power and high single-digits HR power. The 23-year-old is a possible .270+, 8 to 12 HR threat long-term. It will take another down season from Salty before he gets his chance, however.

6. James McCann – DET – Add James McCann to the list of very capable, modest ceiling backstops in this article. The 24-year-old will battle Bryan Holaday for the back-up job behind Alex Avila and should be on your radar as a possible injury replacement. McCann is a plus all around defender and not a slouch with the bat, making contact with a quick bat and possessing high single digits to low-teens HR power.

7. Roberto Perez – CLE – Perez is not an offensive dynamo, but he is an above average receiver with improving offensive skills, and most importantly, he’ll start 2015 as Yan Gomes’s back-up. Perez both walks and strikes out at fairly high rates, so while he may not hit for average, the righty could be useful in OBP leagues. 2014 was also an offensive breakout season as he tapped into more power and may now project as a high single-digits to mid-teens HR threat. The 26-year-old could get an extended look if Gomes goes down, but figure he is more likely in line for 180 to 230 plate appearances.

8. Peter O’Brien – ARI – The Diamondbacks have been purposefully not all that active in the pursuit of catching help and have a fairly wide open starting catcher situation as we enter spring training. Enter power-hitting Peter O’Brien. The 24-year-old has no experience above Double-A, but what he does have is legitimate 30-plus HR power. Defensively, he is passable, though not a standout by any means and may be best suited for a corner position long term. His real shortcoming is in his plate approach as an all or nothing slugger who strikes out over a quarter of the time. But unlike most all or nothing sluggers, he fails to walk frequently, doing so just over 5% of the time in Double-A last year. He could win the job and hit 15 to 20 home runs, but his best comparison right now is probably J.P. Arencibia in terms of approach and batting average/on-base potential. At a minimum, O’Brien will begin 2015 in Triple-A with a chance at a mid-season call-up.

9. Gary Sanchez – NYY – As in San Francisco, the Yankees have a tough roster to crack with Brian McCann signed long term and Austin Romine as a capable back-up who is a low-end starter in his own right. Top prospect Gary Sanchez, meanwhile, will advance to Triple-A. The 22-year-old has come a long way from his early days, cutting back significantly on his strikeout rates and increasing his walks while not sacrificing much in the power department. He still projects as a high teens to mid-twenties HR hitter who could hit in the .270 to .280 range. While he has impressive physical tools, Sanchez isn’t the best receiver, but he still should stay there long term. Given McCann’s contract and Sanchez’s occasional “make-up” issues, it would not be surprising at all to see him dealt and almost instantly become the starter for another organization. He could be ready as soon as mid-season, but what opportunity is there remains to be seen.

10. Austin Hedges – SD – The Padres moved Yasmani Grandal and are going with Derek Norris, who is coming off a breakout season with Oakland, as their everyday catcher. Norris may be difficult to beat out now that he has fully translated those minor league plate discipline skills to the Majors, but Austin Hedges will be difficult to ignore given his well above average defensive skills. The righty should move up to Triple-A and despite his struggles last season, he makes a fair amount of contact and has high single-digits to low-teens pop that could return him to the .270s level in the upper Minors and Majors.

Honorable Mention/Call-up candidates: Tucker Barnhart (CIN), John Hicks (SEA), Tom Murphy (COL), Elias Diaz (PIT), Francisco Pena (KC), Max Stassi (HOU), Jett Bandy (LAA), Carlos Perez (LAA), Kevan Smith (CHW), Austin Barnes (MIA)

Top Ten Catching Prospects for Long Term Fantasy Impact

1. Blake Swihart – BOS - See Above.

2. Kyle Schwarber – CHC – The fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft is certainly on the fast track to the Majors. However, the Cubs’ acquisition of Miguel Montero and his heavy contract does not mean that “fast track” is the equivalent of “rush”. That said, Schwarber played at three minor league levels in 2014 and will open Double-A ball with a chance at a late season call-up. At each level, the righty showed an ability to hit for power (25+ HR long-term) while maintaining a patient approach, but also a short swing, and he did not have to sell for power. The biggest question is Schwarber’s defensive game, which is considered adequate at best. Given perhaps the best offensive ceiling of any catcher on this list, it is possible that the Cubs will want to minimize his chance for injury and maximize his offensive skills by moving him to the outfield long term.

3. Jorge Alfaro – TEX – Aflaro’s ceiling as a power hitter makes him a must for the long-term catching list. The 21-year-old, however, carries quite a bit of risk with him too as an aggressive right-handed hitter who has had a tendency to strike out over a quarter of the time in the past. Defensively, he has a good arm, but his defensive game remains quite raw and it’s possible he could eventually move off the position. The Ranger has a quick bat and is still quite young, so the selectivity and contact issues could resolve themselves. But overall, he carries quite a bit of risk.

4. Francisco Mejia – CLE – Mejia is almost all projection right now. The 19-year-old is a strong armed receiver with a quick bat from either side of the plate that could generate plus power in time. His all-around game is raw, both offensively and defensively, so it remains to be seen what the Indians have here. It should say something that he was instantly installed as his team’s cleanup hitter. 2015 will be his first full season of professional ball. He's only for those who have the really long term on their radar.

5. Kevin Plawecki – NYM – See Above.

6. Andrew Susac – SF – See Above.

7. J.T. Realmuto – MIA- See Above.

8. Justin O’Conner – TB – The Rays brought back John Jaso, but it’s possible he may be utilized as a DH and instead minor league veteran, Rene Rivera, may see the bulk of the catching duties. While that scenario will likely play out the entire season, 22-year-old Justin O’Conner will be seeing more time in Double-A and could challenge for the starting job in 2016. The Rays love his throwing arm and while still a work in progress on defense, he has a good enough defensive game to stay at catcher long-term. Offensively, the former first round pick has plus power and could be a regular in the 20-25 HR range at his peak. Right now, he is getting by with that power and a quick bat, but he’ll find it tougher to hit for average at the upper level given an aggressive low-walk, high strikeout approach that could make him a sub .240s hitter long-term.

9. Reese McGuire – PIT - McGuire has a rather similar ceiling to Plawecki, Susac and Realmuto, and even McCann for that matter. The former first round pick has a very quick bat, makes good contact and has an above average defensive game. While his HR ceiling is likely in the low teens, he makes it up for it with slightly above average speed and could steal double digit bags while his knees hold up.

10. Chance Sisco – BAL – Sisco is not a highly experienced defender, only picking up the position just before he was drafted, but he has the physical tools to stay behind the plate. What makes him interesting is that the second rounder already has a very advanced hitting approach. He makes plenty of line-drive contact, generating doubles, and should in time add more power. The 19-year-old left-hander will move up to A+ ball for 2015 after producing a .340/.406/.448 line.

Honorable Mention: Arvicent Perez (DET), Chase Vallot (KC), Luis Torrens (NYY), Carson Kelly (STL)

Next week, we check out the first base crop!
Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 February 2015 22:16
 
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Pirates PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 03 February 2015 00:00

The Pirates finished in second place in 2014 and have a solid offensive core and rotation that should have them poised to be a contender this upcoming season. The organization promoted a few prominent prospects including Gregory Polanco, who claimed the starting right field job and remains in that role heading into 2015. While Polanco translated his plate approach and speed well to the Majors, Polanco owners should be advised that the power may be slow in coming given his propensity for high groundball rates. Still, he remains a .280+ 15 HR/30 SB threat, which could be worth a $15 to $20 bid.

Moving onto the players still in the Minors:

Stock Rising: Josh Bell made some noise, showing power and a quick bat, making contact 88% of the time at both A+ and Double-A, hitting for average and slugging nine home runs. Given past knee issues and subpar route running, the Pirates have used Bell at first base at times and that may be his long-term destination, particularly if he can tap into the power projected of him. At the moment, he profiles as a mid to high teens HR hitter who can hit for average and has displayed solid on-base skills. The translation, or lack thereof, of power to Double-A and higher will determine whether he remains on the path to becoming a MLB-level starter.

Tyler Glasnow continues to dominate at all levels. The 6’7” hurler can have mechanical and control issues (4+ BB/9), but he's an extremely hard thrower with a curve and changeup that both have average to plus potential. As a 20-year-old, he posted an 11.4 K/9 in A+ ball and will be young for his league once again when he pitches in Double-A this season. Glasnow has upper end of the rotation potential, but unsurprisingly given size and age, still is very much a work in progress. Expect him to spend most of 2015 in Double-A and at least half of 2016 in Triple-A before reaching the Majors.

Stephen Tarpley enjoyed a quality season in rookie ball after being selected in the third round of the 2013 amateur draft. The lefty throws fairly hard, and has good command of multiple pitches. At 21 years of age, it would not be surprising to see him jump over A-ball to A+ ball as a true test for a veteran college hurler.

Steady as it Goes: Reese McGuire, a 2013 first round draft pick, played in his first full season of professional ball as a 19-year-old in A-ball and held his own fairly well, making contact roughly 90% of the time and displaying above average catch and throw skills. His above average speed skills, especially for a catcher, still showed up with seven stolen bases and three triples, though his overall power development definitely remains a work in progress. Right now, he is looking like a high single-digit to low-teens HR threat, but there is plenty of time for him to still physically mature. McGuire is an interesting prospect but not a high-end fantasy target at the moment.

Alen Hanson remains an attractive prospect, particularly for fantasy players given low-teens power potential and 20-plus stolen base skills, but his development as a player has leveled off. In fact, he has become more aggressive at the plate as he has progressed through the system and has become less of an asset at getting on base. Granted, his aggressiveness has also resulted in making more contact, but it has not resulted in a higher batting average. Hanson will advance to Triple-A to begin 2015 and could be up by mid-season, depending on whether Jordy Mercer can or cannot hang onto the shortstop job. Defensively, Hanson is best suited to second base, but Neil Walker is entrenched at the position.

Austin Meadows missed most of 2014 due to hamstring issues, but he remains a solid long-term prospect. Despite getting only 165 plate appearances at A-ball, Meadows made an impression with his bat speed, developing power and all-around above average tools. At just 19 years of age, his power has not yet developed, but lurking in there is a potential 20-20 player with a precocious approach at the plate that could make him a fantasy force. For now, he’ll head back to A-ball with an ETA of late 2017 to mid-2018.

Like Meadows, international signee Harold Ramirez missed significant playing time due to health issues with his hamstring. He does not have Meadows' ceiling but is a good contact hitter with plus speed and mid to high-single digits power. The 5’10” righty probably projects best as a fourth outfielder but may have enough talent/skill to make it as a low-end left fielder.

Nick Kingham should see the Majors this season. The 6’5” right-hander is most notable for his ability to pound the zone and get ahead in counts. He pitched at two levels in 2014 and his K/9 dropped to the high 6’s, a clear indication that he really lacks a true wipeout pitch. That said, none of Kingham’s pitches are poor. He just has a ceiling that is as a third starter at best and more likely, a fourth. He could end up in the Pirates’ rotation for a significant period of his career but is unlikely to ever be the ace.

The expectation was Jameson Taillon would claim a full-time job along with Gregory Polanco this season. Unfortunately, Tommy John Surgery got in his way. Taillon still rates amongst the Pirates’ best prospects despite the setback. When healthy, he has a plus fastball/curveball combination that generates strikeouts aplenty. The hope was that he would work more on his changeup in 2014 and become a more complete pitcher. That mission will be pushed to this year. While he still has upper end of the rotation or top reliever potential, do not expect him to see significant duty, if any, in the Majors this year.

Stock Falling: Barrett Barnes has barely been on the field since being selected in the supplemental first round of the 2012 amateur draft and he really has not shown much since his draft year, when he showed some pop, speed, and solid plate discipline. Those skills and tools are still lurking somewhere, but unless he can get healthy and start applying them, he may run out of time.

2014 Draft Picks of Note: With the 24th overall pick, the Pirates selected Cole Tucker. The high schooler adapted quickly to pro-ball, showing an advanced approach and good speed. Long term, he has the glove to stick at short and enough tools to be a 10 to 15 HR/SB threat. The Pirates may promote him to full-season ball to begin 2015 at just 18 years of age.

Third round pick Jordan Luplow did very well in rookie ball as an advanced college hitter with a quick bat, good plate approach, and at least teens power and stolen base speed. He’s a possible candidate for right field with the team long-term, though he needs to prove himself at a higher level of competition. A two-level jump to A+ ball might do him some good.

Next week, more NL Central action.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 08:54
 
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Indians PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 20 January 2015 00:00

The Indians are coming off a fairly successful season, though they fell a few games shy of making the playoffs. Young players like Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall both emerged to claim starting jobs while Trevor Bauer was finally able to translate his minor league success to the Majors. Both Kyle Crockett and C.C. Lee were successful additions to the MLB pen too. Meanwhile sinkerballer T.J. House took advantage of his opportunity and made 18 starts for the Tribe. The rotation is deep enough, however, that he may have to pitch out of the pen or Triple-A to begin 2015.

Stock Rising: Francisco Mejia oozes tools. The 19-year-old catcher has the mobility and arm to stay behind the plate long term as a possible elite defender, but more impressively the switch-hitter has tremendous bat speed and plus power potential. His approach, and quite frankly most of his game, is rather raw at the moment, but that is not all that surprising considering his age and experience. Mejia profiles as a .280+, 20+ HR threat in the Majors. While that is a very attractive projection that will make him targeted by many on draft day, keep in mind that his ETA is probably at least three years away and that the rawness of his game and position of choice make him a potential high risk pick too.

Erik Gonzalez’s stock took a small step upwards thanks to hitting .357 at Double-A. However, he accomplished that feat with no real change in skills. Gonzalez is a solid defensive player but has marginal power, average to slightly above average speed and an aggressive approach at the plate. He profiles as a utility player and could move to Triple-A this year.

Lonnie Chisenhall better keep hitting because Giovanny Urshela was already knocking on the door at Triple-A last season. Urshela is a very good contact hitter with low to mid-teens power potential. His glove and throwing arm at third base are his best attributes. Most likely, he’ll end up as Triple-A roster filler or a bench player, but there is enough here to warrant fantasy owners' attention.

2012 second-round pick Mitch Brown got back on the prospect radar with his first full season of pro-ball. In 27 starts he posted a 8+ K/9 and more impressively, improved his mechanics and control to produce a 3.2 BB/9. Brown has middle to lower end of the rotation potential but has a good fastball and a curveball that seems to get mixed reports from being anywhere from the best curveball in the Indians’ system to a sub-par pitch. He’ll move up to A+ ball this year.

Steady as it Goes: While Francisco Lindor’s 2014 season was somewhat disappointing, it is way too early to throw him on the “stock falling” list. He hit Double-A and Triple-A ball at just 20 years of age, two and three years younger than usually expected compared to the competition. Lindor typically controls the strike zone and makes consistent contact but has only modest pop. Where he excels is his glove, his 20 to 30 stolen base per season potential and ability to hit for average, where he could be anywhere from a .270 to .290s hitter.

Clint Frazier, the 5th overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft, moved up to full season A-ball as a 19-year-old and held his own, showing some power, speed, and some patience at the plate. Long term, Frazier has 20-20 potential, but he’ll need to greatly cut down on that 30% strikeout rate to come anywhere close to fulfilling his potential. As it was, he hit just .266 in the Midwest league and right now might be a .220 to .240s hitter if he continues to swing and miss this often.

2012 first-round pick Tyler Naquin was enjoying a very solid year in Double-A before fracturing his hand and missing the rest of the season. Though he has a good pedigree and can handle centerfield, Naquin has no real standout tool in the power or speed departments and swings and misses too often for someone with limited power potential. He's looking like a fourth outfielder despite his .313/.371/.424 slash. Naquin could move up to Triple-A this year.

The one knock on Jesus Aguilar prior to heading into 2014 was whether or not he had enough power to be a first baseman. At Double-A in 499 plate appearances, he tied his career high of 19 homers while making contact more than 80% of the time and showing great selectivity, walking 13% of the time for a .304/.395/.511 line. Despite this, the Indians never gave the now 24-year-old an extended chance to claim either the DH or 1B job in 2014, despite their difficulties in receiving production from those positions. The Indians head into 2015 with Carlos Santana at 1B and Nick Swisher at DH, so it will have to take an injury or lack of production for Aguilar to even get another chance. He’ll begin 2015 in Triple-A, biding his time.

The Indians acquired James Ramsey in a deadline deal and promoted him to Triple-A immediately last summer. The 25-year-old does not have a high tools ceiling, but he has modest mid to high teens power, plays solid defense and will take a walk now and then. Ramsey projects best as a platoon player or better than typical fourth outfielder.

Stock Falling: Cody Anderson is a big guy who throws consistently hard and gets good movement on his fastball but nevertheless struggled at Double-A as he lacks an average pitch beyond that plus fastball. Yes, he has a slider and changeup that have some potential, but it is clear from his 5.8 K/9 at Double-A that those pitches have a lot of catching up to do with his fastball. He’ll move up to Triple-A as a starter, but it is hard to see him in that role long term.

2014 Draft Picks of Note: Bobby Bradley was a third-round selection and hit short-season ball running with eight homers and a .361/.426/.652 slash. A high school first baseman with 30-plus HR potential, Bradley is so far showing a quick bat and a pretty good approach for a power hitter. He is unlikely to hit the Majors until 2018 or 2019 along with Francisco Mejia.

Bradley Zimmer cruised through rookie-ball and made it to full-season ball in his first summer of being a pro. A college veteran, Zimmer has a solid foundation of skills with a patient, line-drive approach for now, but with solid average to plus tools across the board. While Zimmer’s power upside is a bit of a question mark, he does profile as a teens HR/SB threat who can hit for average and consistently get on base. There is 20-20 or better potential here, but that remains to be seen. Zimmer could move up to A+ ball and end up in Double-A before the season ends if all goes well.

Supplemental first-round pick Mike Papi moved almost immediately to full-season ball but struggled, batting just .178, and may have been on the passive side with a 16% walk rate. In college, he showed a fairly similar disciplined approach with average to plus power potential and the contact skills to hit for average as well. For now, Papi is expected to play in the outfield where he has a plus arm but only average mobility. He’ll likely move up to A+ ball this coming year. Papi is too skilled and talented a hitter to struggle at this low a level again, so expect better things in 2015.

With the 31st overall pick, the Indians selected prep pitcher Justus Sheffield. The 18-year-old is a long ways away from the Majors and will get his first extended look in 2015. Though only 5’10”, the lefty throws into the low to mid-nineties and already has a plus slider and is working to develop his changeup and curve, which could be average or better pitches long term. Right now, as with all pitchers who are so young, Sheffield is high risk, but has only a moderately high ceiling as a #2 or #3 type starter.

Yu-Cheng Chang was not a draft selection but rather an international free agent signing out of Korea. Probably a third baseman long term, the 19-year-old is already showing a very selective approach while making good, hard contact, and showing some power with six home runs in 181 plate appearances. He’ll move up to full-season A-ball in 2015 and it will be interesting to see what he can do at that level. He's a possible MLB starting 3B, though a shortstop for now.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 02:09
 
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Twins PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 30 December 2014 00:06

Frustrating injuries seemed to be the recurring theme for an organization with some of the game’s better prospects. Both Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano looked like potential mid-season call-ups prior to their injuries and now must prove they are healthy, can stay healthy and have their games back in respective order.

The Twins did at least receive some support with Danny Santana and Kennys Vargas claiming starting jobs at shortstop and DH. Josmil Pinto was slated to take over for Joe Mauer, but he struggled early and was demoted and is now behind Kurt Suzuki, at least temporarily, on the depth charts.

The Twins know they have a fair amount of talent that is getting close to MLB ready, but they are trying to remain competitive at the same time by signing veterans like Torii Hunter, Ervin Santana and Tim Stauffer, biding time for their potential roster upgrades from their farm system.

Stock Rising: Jose Berrios, a 2012 supplemental first rounder, has to be at the top of the Twins’ long-term pitching depth charts after crushing A+ and holding his own at Double-A at 20 years of age. Berrios has already shown the ability to pound the strike zone as well as a deep repertoire full of potential plus pitches, including his changeup. Berrios has a shot at advancing to Triple-A as soon as the start of this year with a chance at a mid or late-season call-up. He’s a possible #2 or #3 starter.

Jorge Polanco received a cup of coffee with the big club in 2014, but will spend most of 2015 in Triple-A, looking to unseat Danny Santana or Brian Dozier from their starting jobs. Polanco is a disciplined hitter, making frequent contact with gap power, profiling as a doubles hitter with a ceiling of high single digits home runs. He can play second or short effectively and could develop into a prototypical number two hitter with a chance to be similar to another Polanco, Placido.

19-year-old Lewis Thorpe pitched his way to full season A-ball, posting a 10.1 K/9 over 16 starts before spraining his UCL. Fortunately, the youngster does not require Tommy John surgery, yet. The lefty already has three pitches but is likely on a slow path to the Majors given his youth and inexperience.

Steady as it Goes: Alex Meyer, a 2011 first round pick, never got the call in 2014. The righty made 27 starts in an up and down Triple-A season, posting a 10.6 K/9, but also a 4.4 BB/9. The lanky righty has top of the rotation stuff but struggles with mechanics given his 6’9” frame. Meyer is regularly in the upper nineties and can hit triple digits, has a plus slider and a very workable changeup. The righty has an outside chance of winning a rotation spot this spring and if not, he will certainly be on the short list for a call-up. Regardless of whether he remains a starter or is converted to late-inning relief, Meyer should certainly be in your plans in AL-only formats.

Miguel Sano, perhaps the finest pure power hitting prospect in the game, missed all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. It has long been thought Sano’s ultimate destination will be first base. At 21 years of age, he’s already over 235 pounds and though naturally athletic enough for his present spot at the hot corner, he simply doesn’t have the necessary range. Defense aside, the righty is a patient, power hitter, drawing a lot of walks but also whiffing frequently. He's unlikely to ever hit for much average, settling in the .240 to .260 range with plus power. Sano is most likely to return to Double-A or perhaps even A+ ball to get the rust off and he wouldn’t even be old for that league.

2012 first round pick Byron Buxton is a bit ahead of Sano in his recovery from injuries, seeing some action in the Minors and the Arizona Fall League. Prior to 2014, Buxton was the consensus top prospect in the game, displaying well above average speed, centerfielder skills, plus power potential and a very advanced approach. All of this remains true for Buxton, who is even younger than Sano, turning 21 earlier in December. Double-A is likely his destination for the beginning of 2015 with a modest chance of a big league call-up.

Trevor May made nine starts with the Twins in 2014, getting hit fairly hard, albeit over a small sample. With a strong spring, he still has a chance to make the opening day rotation. The former Philly lacks a standout pitch, having issues with command and allowing a good deal of fly balls. However, his four-pitch arsenal are all at least average quality and he has been able to get swings and misses at every level of play. He still could be a number four pitcher long-term.

Adam Walker has hit 25 or more homers in both of his full seasons of professional ball and will seek to add a third in Double-A in 2015. At 23, he was about a year too old for his league and the same will be true this year, but the power is legitimate. As with most right-handed power hitters, Walker needs to cut down on the strikeouts quite a bit to be considered as more than an organizational player, let alone a possible platoon or MLB starter.

Stock Falling: Kohl Stewart is listed here but with the caveat he has a better chance than many others to reverse course. The 2013 first round pick dealt with fatigue, pitching through his first full professional season, along with shoulder issues sapping his velocity and reducing his K/9. Stewart, who turned 20 after the season ended, is very much a work in progress with middle of the rotation upside.

After showing a good deal of early promise, Eddie Rosario may have stalled a bit this season. Now 23, Rosario had trouble adjusting to Double-A pitching, showing an aggressive approach, for the first time struggling to make contact. When on his game, Rosario is a possible .280+/8-10 HR/10-15 SB candidate. Right now, he may end up being passed over in favor of other prospects.

Max Kepler, 21, like Stewart and even Rosario, has a chance to turn things around. The 6’4” lefty has plus tools, projecting to hit for power while continuing to show good bat speed and contact-making skills with a fair amount of selectivity. If the power emerges, there could be a player worth getting excited about here as a .280+/20+ HR threat.

Rule-5 Selection: The Twins took a chance on Braves farmhand, J.R. Graham. Graham has spent three seasons at Double-A, watching his K/9 drop a point a season as a starter, and a change in role may be in order. He’s often been seen as a reliever with a heavy fastball and plus slider, giving him a fair chance to stick with the Twins.

2014 Draft Picks of Note: The Twins drafted Michael Cederoth in the third round of the 2014 draft. The righty is a project as a very hard- throwing starter with a good curve but mediocre at best mechanics and command of his secondary stuff. The former San Diego State pitcher could begin 2015 in A+ ball where the Twins will see if he can stick in the rotation. If not, he has enough of an arm to be a force in the pen.

The Twins were targeting hard-throwing college guys in this draft. Their second round pick, Nick Burdi, was a college closer who can reach triple-digits to go along with an impressive slider. The Twins advanced him as far as A+ ball. If he stays a reliever; he could absolutely fly through the system as many college closers often do. There is some talk, given a decent changeup, that they may want Burdi to try his hand in the rotation.

The Twins did not stop there with college relievers, drafting Jake Reed, who made it as far as the AFL and could begin 2015 in Double-A. Reed compiled nine saves at three minor league stops and projects as a possible right-handed specialist in the Majors.

First round pick, brother of Dee and son of Tom, Nick Gordon had a good debut in rookie ball. Like his brother, Nick is expected to stick at shortstop. Unlike Dee, he does not profile as a speedster. He's larger with more punch in his bat and could be at least a 15-15 threat down the road. Next year he’ll get his first taste of full-season ball.

Next week, we check out the Cleveland Indians.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 December 2014 19:58
 
2015 Prospect Outlook: The White Sox PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 23 December 2014 00:03

After finishing 16 games under .500, the White Sox have been one of the busiest teams this off-season, both on the free agent and trade fronts. This is not surprising considering the youth and rawness of most of the Sox’s prospects who are not nearly ready to make a contribution at the MLB level.

Stock Rising: Carlos Rodon was selected third overall in this past year’s amateur draft and has not disappointed. The lefty throws in the mid-nineties and features a wicked slider and plus changeup. While Rodon could still use a bit more polish in terms of commanding his excellent stuff, there is talk that he could advance to the Majors as early as this spring in much the same capacity as former first round draft pick, Chris Sale, who spent his first year in the bigs as a reliever before moving to the rotation permanently the following season. Rodon should be near the top of your draft lists in AL keeper league formats.

Francellis Montas made excellent strides in 2014. The 21-year-old pitched at two levels and showed he is more than just a flamethrower and in fact has multiple weapons in both a slider and changeup that he can throw for strikes (2.0 BB/9). The righty will move up to Double-A where the quality of his changeup will be tested. Prior to this year, most saw Montas, who can attain triple digits on his fastball, as a potential reliever, and while that may still be the outcome, there is now potential for more than that.

Steady as it Goes: Infielder Carlos Sanchez received a long look last September after spending 2013 and 2014 at Triple-A. Still just 22 years of age, Sanchez has nothing left to prove in the Minors and is penciled in to be the Sox’s opening day second baseman. While Sanchez may indeed have little left to prove in the Minors, his ceiling is fairly low and there are holes in his game, including having marginal power and an aggressive plate approach. Long term, he profiles best as a utility guy. On the positive side, Sanchez does bring decent speed to the table and should crack double digits in steals if given enough plate appearances.

Carlos Sanchez owners will need to keep an eye on Micah Johnson, the former ninth round pick also saw time at Triple-A in 2014. Despite battling some hamstring problems, the speedy lefty displayed some gap power and his exceptional speed when on the field. More interestingly, Johnson has also shown a more balanced approach, drawing walks and understanding his role as a potential leadoff hitter. If he can stay healthy, Johnson is easily a 30-plus stolen base candidate, if not better.

At just 19 years of age, it is way too early to dismiss Trey Michalczewski, but it is also hard to get very excited about him. A switch-hitter with a good, quick swing, Michalczewski is rather raw in his plate approach, swinging and missing far too often. On the positive side, the former seventh round draft pick is not overly aggressive at the plate, plays good enough defense to stay at third long-term and is already displaying gap power that projects to develop into double digits, if not twenty-plus HR power long-term. He’ll see more action at A+ ball in 2015. For the time being, there are too many “ifs” here to recommend him for most keeper leagues.

2013 first round pick Tim Anderson burst onto the scene with 24 steals in 301 plate appearances, and he showed excellent all around tools that could make him a double digits HR/30-plus SB threat long-term. While his tools are exciting, the righty’s approach showed itself to be extremely raw, despite hitting .297/.323/.472 with a near 2.0% walk rate and strikeout rate close to 23%. He’ll be young for Double-A and barring a change in approach, it is likely to expect him to struggle a bit at this level. I was tempted to place him into the Stock Falling category but decided that was a bit premature given his success in A+ ball and the fact that he really hasn’t come close to failing at any level of play yet. It is best to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

Continuing a theme, fellow 2013 first round pick Courtney Hawkins spent a second season in A+ ball, though for a 20-year-old this is far from a bad thing considering he was still young for the league. Hawkins actually improved his selectivity, cutting down on his strikeouts by 10% while still showing the type of power that could make him a 30 home run threat down the road. Still, the righty strikes out close to 30% of the time and further work is required. He’ll move up to Double-A, though a third tour of duty at A+ ball really would not be a bad idea either. Hawkins is walking a fine line between potential everyday right fielder and Triple-A roster filler.

Tyler Danish is well thought of, but he is just not a high ceiling guy. He generates groundballs with his plus sinker, changes speeds exceptionally well, and throws strikes and commands the ball well. These are impressive feats for any pitcher, let alone a 20-year-old in A+ ball. The righty will move up to Double-A and he will be one of the younger pitchers in the league, but do not be surprised to see the K/9 drop a point.

Spencer Adams enjoyed an impressive Rookie-League debut after being drafted from a Georgia high school this spring with 59 K’s in 42 innings alongside four walks. The righty is already throwing in the mid-nineties and has at the very least a fastball/slider combo that could make him a high leverage reliever long-term. As with many young pitchers coming out of high school, the art of changing speeds is something to be learned. He will first turn 19 this coming spring.

The White Sox pursued Michael Ynoa as a key part of their Jeff Samardzija deal and were happy to get him. The former top A’s prospect moved to relief last season after several seasons of dealing with injuries. The 6’7” 23-year-old is still a power pitcher with multiple plus pitches and it showed in his 12.6 K/9 at A+ ball last year. Control is still very much an issue, but Ynoa may indeed have a future as a late-inning reliever and is worth watching.

Stock Falling: Trayce Thompson turned in a clone of his 2013 campaign, showing solid tools with double digit home run output and eclipsing the 20-steal mark while walking about 10% of the time. The skills to be a legitimate centerfielder with plus offensive tools are there, but his swing has more holes in it than Swiss cheese and remains uncorrected. He’ll get his chance at Triple-A this season but has a lot to prove and may be on the bench/platoon player path to the Majors.

Erik Johnson looked like a sleeper coming into 2014. He pitched well in September of 2013 and won the #4 spot in the rotation this spring only to get absolutely rocked out of the rotation. He continued to get hit hard in Triple-A and ended up on the DL due to shoulder fatigue. Considering his K/9 dropped over three points since 2013, the shoulder injury is not all that surprising. A return to the White Sox rotation, given full health, is not out of the question, but he’ll have to earn it back through his Triple-A performance in 2015. Keep in mind that Johnson does have a solid four-pitch selection and multiple swing and miss pitches, so there is reason to keep him on your radar as a possible free agent pickup.

Chris Beck was drafted in the second round with the idea that he’d develop into a middle of the rotation starter. Instead, multiple reports have indicated his stuff has declined in terms of both velocity and movement since his college days. The righty made it to Triple-A in 2014 and managed a 7.6 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, but he now looks more like a #4 starter at best and may have difficulty getting strikeouts in the Majors.

Next week, we continue our look around the AL Central.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 December 2014 09:25
 
2015 Prospect Outlook: The Tigers PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 09 December 2014 00:00

The Tigers took the AL Central yet again only to get knocked out of the playoffs by the Orioles in the first round. On the young talent front, Nick Castellanos stuck it out for the year as their starting third baseman while Eugenio Suarez saw significant action as did catcher Bryan Holaday in a back-up capacity. Castellanos’ rookie season was less than impressive, regressing in his plate discipline. To be fair, the righty does not turn 23 until 2015, so a struggle should not have come as much as a surprise. The righty did show some doubles power and has shown better contact skills in the Minors, so 2015 will provide an opportunity for those two skills to come forth. Relievers Evan Reed and Ian Krol also came up to provide significant contributions and both look to stick in the bullpen during the coming season.

In the most shocking move to the Tigers farm system, they dealt their top prospect, Devon Travis, to the Blue Jays for one of the best examples of great tools, lack of skills in Anthony Gose.

Stock Rising: Steven Moya hammered 35 homers in Triple-A and another five in the Arizona Fall League this year. That output was eye opening enough to see his stock rise. The power is legitimate and there’s more than enough athleticism here for him to handle right field. The question is – will the lefty hit or get on base enough to warrant keeping his power bat in the lineup? Moya is a notoriously aggressive hitter, frequently walking less than 5% of the time and striking out close to 30% of it. Moya will move up to Triple-A and could see significant action with the Tigers in 2015, but his best long term role likely looks to be as a platoon player.

20-year-old Domingo Leyba enjoyed quite a year in A-ball. Granted it was just 116 at-bats, but he did hit .397. A switch-hitter, Leyba is an excellent contact hitter with a quick bat and while aggressive, he has a good feel for the strike zone. In time he could develop gap power and may be a 5-10 HR, .280+ type at second base. He may move up to A+ this coming season.

Hernan Perez is a player without any standout tools but is indeed a player with good baserunning instincts, a solid glove at second or short and a contact-making approach (89% at Triple-A) that allows him to hit for average. He made it to the Majors late last season and could open 2015 as a utility player who might be able to fill in as a starter in a pinch.

Former Yellow Jacket, Buck Farmer, advanced from A-ball all the way to the Majors in one season, skipping over A+ ball along the way. This is not that surprising when you consider Farmer will turn 24 this coming February and that his age and experience warranted a challenge. The righty is a fairly hard thrower with two solid complimentary pitches and should begin 2015 in Triple-A, so a call-up as a fourth or fifth starter is possible along the way, but that is likely Farmer’s upside unless he can further refine his command of his secondary stuff at the higher levels.

2013 second-round pick Kevin Ziomek may have jumped ahead of the team’s first-round pick, Jonathon Crawford, on the Tigers’ depth chart. The 6’3” lefty dominated A-ball with a 2.27 ERA, 11.1 K/9, and 3.9 BB/9. These were the kind of numbers expected of Crawford, who has higher quality and higher velocity offerings. The results though are of an experienced college lefty and while he has two to three potential MLB pitches, he’s probably more of a fourth or fifth starter at the MLB level given no real standout plus pitch and mediocre control.

Undrafted free agent Joe Jimenez made a splash in short season A-ball as a reliever with a 13.8 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. At 19 years of age, he’ll move up to A-ball next year but could conceivably rocket through the system given his plus fastball/slider combination.

2013 fourth-round pick Austin Kubitza dominated the West Michigan League with 140 strikeouts in 131 innings and just 98 hits allowed. The righty is essentially a one pitch pitcher with a tremendous heavy sinker that results in weak ground balls or strikeouts. He’ll need more pitches at the higher levels, but at the very least there is a lot of potential here as a reliever.

Steady as it Goes: Last year, I described James McCann as a possible starting catcher with “strong catch and throw skills.” I also liked his contact-making skills and emerging power which was readily apparent in his doubles production. McCann spent almost all of 2014 in Triple-A and transitioned well to the next level generally, but overall showed no growth with his bat and in fact walked less and struck out more frequently. So like last year, McCann could eventually be a starter, but it will mostly be on the strength of his glove. The former second-round pick profiles as a better ball player than fantasy weapon.

Derek Hill was drafted in the first round out of high school this year, so it really can only be “steady as it goes.” His production over the tiny sample was underwhelming but he is a player with plus-plus speed and superior centerfield skills. A year of full A-ball will really show us what the Tigers have in Hill, but right now he profiles as a no-pop speedster who may possess enough bat speed and contact skills to warrant a starting job down the road.

Lefty Tyler Collins played 2014 in Triple-A and received a late season call-up. Mediocre at best defensively, left field is Collins’ likely long-term home. The former sixth-round pick has high teens to twenties HR potential and is patient enough to draw a walk, though by the same token is not likely to hit for average. Collins is a borderline platoon starter/bench player for the Tigers in 2015.

Stock Falling: Harold Castro entered 2014 as a toolsy, projectable second baseman with plus foot speed and a quick bat. The 21-year-old played at A and A+ ball, hitting for average, but showed little to no power and an overly aggressive approach (less than 4% walk rate) that will not hold up at higher levels of competition.

2013 first-round pick Jonathon Crawford had a decent, but unremarkable first full season as a pro in A-ball. Over 23 starts, he posted just a 6.2 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9, both unimpressive feats for his pedigree and experience. Crawford is primarily a pitch to contact, ground-ball inducing pitcher but needs a third pitch in order to start getting more swings and misses. He was originally drafted with the idea of becoming a middle of the rotation work horse but is now looking like a back end of the rotation pitcher.

Next week, we continue our look around the AL Central.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 December 2014 10:11
 
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