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Prospect Post-Mortem: The Royals PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 28 October 2014 00:00

In continuation of last week, we continue to acknowledge the accomplishments of our World Series participants with a progress report on the Kansas City Royals. The system has some interesting pitching prospects and a number of tools-laden hitters, but unfortunately a number of them are still quite raw and hitting some bumps in the road.

System Graduates: The odds that a 2014 draft pick would make it to the Majors and make it to the World Series less than six months after pitching in college are rather long. The fact that Brandon Finnegan was a Royal pick makes those odds even longer, but there it is. Odds and teams aside, first round college picks moved to the bullpen have often been able to fly through the system. (Hello Chris Sale to name one). A starter in college, the Royals moved the lefty to the pen upon promotion to Double-A and then jumped him to the Majors to be a relief specialist. Finnegan has a plus fastball/slider combo which has aided the transition. As a starter, Finnegan also features an average changeup, but it is unknown whether the Royals will move him back into the rotation (and a possible minor league demotion to get the necessary innings) or keep his live arm in the pen.

While Finnegan’s quick emergence has been a surprise, Yordano Ventura’s has not. The young righty won a job in the opening day rotation, as expected, and is now a front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year honors. Ventura has encountered some minor shoulder issues over the course of the season but was able to maintain his excellent velocity regardless (97 mph fastball) and use that alongside his plus curve and changeup to produce a 7.8 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9. Health permitting, Ventura is a possible #2 or better long-term starter.

Stock Rising: Christian Binford pitched at three levels in 2014. The righty completely overmatched A+ ball over 14 starts with a 10.0 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9 before encountering a slight bit more resistance over eight Double-A starts, where his K/9 dropped to a 7.1, while maintaining his ability to pound the zone. A brief stay as a reliever in Triple-A (10 innings) was rougher. Binford’s command is elite, but his fastball is nothing special in of itself, nor are his breaking pitches, but he mixes them well and throws them all for strikes. At the moment, the righty looks like a #4 starter.

Sean Manaea had his way with A+ ball batters, producing a 10.8 K/9 over 25 starts. A supplemental first round pick, Manaea struggles with his health and control at times but did manage to stay healthy this season. A lefty, Manaea has a mid to upper nineties fastball, plus slider, and an average to plus changeup as well. Do not be surprised to see him move more quickly next season with a possible late season MLB audition in the cards.

Steady as it Goes: 2013 first round pick Hunter Dozier is certainly not on the same quick trajectory as Brandon Finnegan, but he did a half year in A+ ball and the second half in Double-A. In A+ ball, Dozier showed the plate discipline, power potential and defense that was expected. The 23-year-old’s progress at Double-A, however, was less than stellar with a .209/.303/.321 output. Dozier earns praise for his makeup and intelligence and it is far too early to write him off. A return to Double-A to start 2015 is possible. The key will be his ability to cut down on strikeouts and reassert his quick, line-drive stroke.

Jorge Bonifacio is gifted with a great deal of natural raw power, but at 21 years of age, he has still yet to tap into it. It may yet come as he physically matures, so some patience is required here. On the positive side, the righty’s approach is better than some of his compatriots, including showing a willingness to draw a walk, and while his strikeout rates are above 20%, they are not of the obscenely high variety. If the power comes and he maintains this approach, the Royals may have their future right fielder.

It was tempting to put Raul A. Mondesi in the “stock falling” category, but he is who he is – a raw player with tremendous natural tools and at 19 years of age, there is still plenty of time left to turn those tools into skills. The switch-hitter is not going to be a power hitter, but he is an excellent defensive shortstop with a quick bat and above average speed. Right now though, for someone with his power, 122 strikeouts against 24 walks is a significant concern. Mondesi has been sitting on keeper league Minors squads for a season or two now, and there are probably better MLB-ready options worth carrying, except in leagues with particularly deep minor league rosters.

Miguel Almonte continues to throw strikes and has a plus fastball and good change, but he needs to further develop his breaking pitches in order to build off his solid 8.2 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. At the very least, he has a good foundation for a move to the bullpen.

Stock Falling: 2011 first round pick Bubba Starling's stock is plummeting. Starling still has significant tools and 20-20 or better potential, but he simply cannot make contact. The righty was overmatched in A+ ball as a 21-year-old with a .218/.304/.338 line. As with others, there is still time given his age, but the righty has yet to adjust his game in 2+ seasons of minor league ball. 2015 could be make or break for him.

Orlando Calixte spent a second straight season in Double-A, where apart from a tiny increase in power, he showed little to no improvement to his game and in fact was even less selective at the plate than in the year prior. The 22-year-old has good pop for a shortstop and is capable in the field, but given mediocre ability to hit at even the Double-A level or to even get on base (.288 OBP), his role seems to be moving towards a utility one.

Key Injuries: 2012 first round pick Kyle Zimmer made just five minor league starts but was receiving additional work in the Arizona Fall League, where he had been impressive in his three starts before getting shut down for the season with shoulder tightness. If the righty can ever stay healthy, he has a ceiling at least as high as Yordano Ventura.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 October 2014 08:32
 
Prospect Post Mortem: The Giants PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 21 October 2014 00:00

This week, in honor of our upcoming World Series, we’ll consider the progress of the San Francisco Giants farm system. While the Giants did not promote many players to the Majors this season, overall the organization's prospects fared rather well as they advanced through the Minors with few surprising failures.

System Graduates: The most notable system graduate is, of course, the Giants' current starting second baseman, Joe Panik. Panik was also the lone prospect to exhaust his rookie eligibility (not including DFA’d minor league journeyman Brandon Hicks). A former 29th overall selection in the 2011 draft, Panik demonstrated superior plate discipline and contact making throughout his minor league career. In fact, his selectivity has yet to fully translate to the Majors and better OBPs may be in store. Beyond that ability, Panik has a relatively low ceiling as a gap-power hitter with mediocre at best foot speed. Long term, Panik looks like a .280 to .300 hitter with solid OBP skills, worth in the low to mid double-digits in NL-only leagues.

Andrew Susac did not exhaust his ROY eligibility, but solidified enough of a place on the roster to be a part of the postseason roster and could be the opening day back-up to Buster Posey in 2015. In fact, in many other organizations, he might have already taken over the starting job given an improving catch and throw game, a patient approach and mid-teens or better per season home run power. With Posey locked up until at least 2021, Susac could end up trade bait barring a position change for he or Posey.

Like Susac, Gary Brown is still technically a rookie but is on the postseason roster for his defense and speed primarily. The former top prospect appears, however, to be on more of a back-up outfielder career trajectory. The righty’s second tour of duty in Triple-A was better than his first, by a few hits and a greater number of stolen bases. Otherwise, Brown continues to strike out far too often and walks too little for someone of his speed skills/limited power ceiling tools. Despite a good Triple-A line that could earn 20-plus dollars if reproduced in the Majors, he needs to prove he can cut down on the K’s and handle right-handed pitching more effectively if he ever wants to be a starter.

Utility infielder Matt Duffy also made the postseason roster after a .332/.398/.444 campaign in Double-A. The former 18th round pick has pretty much already hit his ceiling as far as a roster spot, but he does bring a well-disciplined and contact-oriented approach, solid defense and above average speed. There’s an outside shot Duffy could have more long-term value than Panik if the opportunity were to arise.

Stock Rising: Michael Santos is a long way away as a 19-year-old pitching in short-season ball. He’s a tall, projectable righty with a plus fastball and two average to potential plus secondary pitches that he commands well. He’ll move up to full season ball next year. An interesting arm to track, but it's going to be a long time coming, that is if he can even stay healthy.

Another 19-year-old, Christian Arroyo, played well in the Northwest League, showing emerging power and solid play at second base. It remains to be seen if he has simply good power for a second baseman or enough power to be considered a third base option, given that he has good enough arm strength to handle the position.

6’2” lefty Keury Mella made just 12 starts in full-season A-ball, but he made an impression with an 8.6 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9. The 21-year-old throws rather hard, reaching the upper nineties, and has the makings of being a complete pitcher with an average to plus curve and change. He should move up to A+ ball next year. His power arm may be too tempting to leave in the rotation and his role could eventually be a specialist left-hander.

Steady as it Goes: The report on Kyle Crick really has not changed. At 21, the righty was young for Double-A but managed a 11.1 K/9. On the other hand, he continues to be amazingly wild, logging a 6.1 BB/9. Crick still has top of the rotation stuff, but he has a lot to learn about command, mechanics and developing into a pitcher. If he can’t, the potential for him to be a dominant relief ace is there too.

Clayton Blackburn has more than passed the Double-A test, showing excellent control of his pitches, but he did see his K/9 drop over a full point to 8.2. He is somewhat of an antithesis to Crick as a polished pitcher with solid average and well-controlled stuff that gives him a safe trajectory to the Majors but an upside of no more than that of a fourth starter.

Former first round pick Chris Stratton made it to Double-A despite issues with the longball in A-ball. Still, he has a plus-fastball/slider mix that makes his strikeout rates more likely to transition upwards than Blackburn’s. The keys to his game are command within the zone and the development of his change. It’s a fair bet he’ll return to Double-A to begin 2015.

Joan Gregorio is a hard-throwing, 6’7” righty who can already reach the mid-nineties on his fastball and has a good slider to boot. The 22-year-old needs to prove himself at higher levels of competition, but with just 22 innings of A+ ball under his belt, there is no guarantee he’ll be immediately advanced to Double-A.

Kendry Flores followed up on a good A-ball season by increasing his strkikeout rates in A+ ball (9.5) despite not having overpowering stuff. Instead, Flores relies on good mechanics and a solid fastball and changeup combination. He did, like Stratton, have some issues with the home run. He’ll join Stratton in Double-A next year. As with Blackburn, Flores is perhaps a safer bet to make it than Stratton, but Stratton’s upside makes him more worthy of picking in most fantasy leagues.

Stock Falling: Mike Kickham spent nearly another full season in Triple-A, producing a near carbon copy of skills and results as in 2013. Kickham has a live arm and decent enough secondary stuff, but he is inconsistent with his control and command which has resulted in him being more hittable than he should be in successive seasons. The lefty may now be on the organizational path with a move to middle relief being his best way of getting to the Majors.

Ty Blach made 25 starts in Double-A, pounded the strikezone with a 2.5 BB/9, kept the ball in the park and managed a very respectable 3.13 ERA. However, the 24-year-old’s K/9 dropped from 8.1 to 5.8. He’s not a power pitcher but has multiple solid pitches and commands them well. Blach looks more like an innings eater #3 or #4 starter at best, one who will continue to pitch to contact.

Key Injuries: After tapping nicely into his power in 2013, former 3rd round pick Mac Williamson injured his elbow to the point of needing Tommy John surgery, costing him most of the 2014 season. He’ll return in 2015 and no long term effects are expected from the surgery. But, he’ll be 24 years of age with fewer than 100 at-bats of A+ ball experience and will have to show a lot in a hurry to fit into the Giants' plans.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 October 2014 08:54
 
Prospect Post-Mortem: The Rays PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 14 October 2014 00:00

The Rays 2014 season was not the success at the MLB or minor league level that the organization had hoped for, but there were several significant players promoted to the Majors who will be in the 2015 opening day lineup while other prospects continued to ascend the ladder to the Majors.

System Graduates: On the hitting side of things, Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer were the two minor leaguers to shed their rookie status. Kiermaier, 24, is unlikely to ever be a significant power threat, but that isn’t his game. Kiermaier is a low to mid-teens HR threat known best for his prowess as a centerfielder and a contact-oriented approach at the plate. The lefty struggled against southpaws (.203/.224/.284) and will have to translate his minor league contact skills to the Majors in order to avoid becoming a platoon player. There is .280+, 10 HR, 15 steal or better potential in this skill set. Brandon Guyer has spent the better part of three seasons in Triple-A, showing that he really has nothing left to prove at the level. Guyer also lacks any standout tools, but he does have above average speed (20+ SB potential) and similar, if not better pop than Kiermaier. He’ll continue to be a bench player for the Rays with a potential to play regularly against lefties.

The real rookie standouts were Jake Odorizzi and Brad Boxberger. Odorizzi’s quick and dominant transition to the Majors was essential given the injuries to the Rays staff. The former Brewer and Royal farmhand was able to command his pitches well and generate strikeouts with two plus pitches in his 4-seam fastball and split-fastball. His strikeout rates, while likely to regress a little in 2015, seem to be generally sustainable. Boxberger, like the Yankees' Dellin Betances, became one of the best setup men in all of baseball with his effort which generated a 14.5 K/9 alongside a 2.8 BB/9. However, Boxberger pitched in just 63 games and despite his 104 strikeouts, did not have a very heavy workload when compared against his Yankees competitor, so that bodes well for a strong follow-up in 2015 provided of course that Boxberger’s much improved strike-throwing carries forward too.

Stock Rising: 2014 first round draft pick Casey Gillaspie hit the ground running, showing the power and plate discipline expected of him with seven homers and a 14% walk rate in A-ball. The 20-year-old switch-hitter continues the family tradition of having an excellent plate approach, but he has better raw power tools than either of his brothers and has 20 to 25 home run potential long-term. Defensively, he is less versatile than his brothers and is limited pretty much to first base.

Ryan Brett enjoyed a solid Double-A campaign, showing gap power, above average speed and ability to make solid contact. He’ll ascend to Triple-A next year and if the Rays so desire, they could move Ben Zobrist back to an outfield position in order to make room for Brett’s above average glove at second base. Possible .280, 5 HR, 25 SB threat in the Majors.

Jacob Faria enjoyed a break-through season in his first full season of pro-ball. In 23 starts, the righty managed an 8.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. The 21-year-old has two to three average or better potential pitches and an advanced feel for pitching. He’ll move up to A+ ball in 2015 with a chance to end it at the Double-A level.

Steady as it Goes: Former first round pick Mikie Mahtook enjoyed the finest season of his career in 2014, but that does not really mean his stock is rising. Yes, he hit .292/.362/.458 while playing centerfield and hit a career high 12 homers to go along with 18 steals, which is all impressive, but he did it with a by far career high .380 BABIP and much increased strikeout rate (25%) as compared to the rest of his career. If Mahtook can go back to his usual contact-making ways while still bringing additional pop, then he may indeed have a future as a back-up or part-time starter. Right now, he still looks like the .250s hitter he was in the lower minors.

Taylor Guerrieri lost time due to a PED suspension and Tommy John surgery but came back strong over five short-season rookie ball starts, throwing strikes and missing bats. Granted it was a low level of competition, but at least the former first round pick is looking healthy and most importantly for someone coming off elbow surgery, throwing strikes, even if over a small sample size. Expect him to start 2015 in A+ ball, if healthy.

Alex Colome made it to the Majors pitching as both a starter and reliever for the Rays. The righty is one of the harder throwers in the system and has multiple average to plus pitches to back up his fastball. Command and health issues are the major concern here as is his path to a rotation spot. A trade or injury would have to occur for that opportunity to emerge. Possible #3 starter long-term.

Stock Falling: Like Colome, Enny Romero pitched in Triple-A this year but failed to get a single call-up. Despite an 8.4 K/9, the lefty continued to have some control issues and sported a 4.50 ERA and has yet to develop much of a changeup. Plus, because of his command problems, he developed an issue with allowing the longball in 2014. Romero has a nice upside, but his two power pitches could be well utilized as a loogy.

After coming over in a deal last offseason with the Nationals, Nate Karns continued to rack up strikeouts with his solid fastball/curve combination, but he continued to struggle with his command and posted a 5.07 ERA. The righty also has yet to develop much of a changeup which seems to suggest more and more that the former 12th round draft pick will eventually transition to the bullpen, where he could indeed flourish.

Hak-Ju Lee continues to rate amongst the top of the Rays minor league talents despite his difficulties staying healthy and his ineffectiveness at Triple-A this season (.203/.287/.276). Lee is potentially an elite defender who has displayed excellent bat control skills in the past along with gap power and 30-plus stolen base potential. Lee will be 24 years old to start next season and will have to show quite a bit more at the plate to avoid getting the “glove only” moniker.

2013 first round draft pick Nick Ciuffo scuffled in rookie ball, battinng .223. That said, we are talking about a 19-year-old catcher with the ability to stay behind the plate long-term and excellent bat speed, power, and make-up that could still make him an everyday player down the road. No need to roster him given his ETA, but definitely don’t lose track of Ciuffo.

2012 first round pick Richard Shaffer’s first foray into Double-A was a disappointment. There was plenty of power on display (19 HR) and good deal of walks (11%) but also few strikeouts and ineffectiveness against righties. Possible low-average, good OBP/HR threat at the MLB level. Think .230 or .240s hitter at the moment.

Next week, we move over to the National League for a change of pace.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 October 2014 08:49
 
Prospect Post-Mortem: The Yankees PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 00:00

This week, we continue wrapping up how each organization’s prospects fared in the past year and what holds for 2014. Let's take a glance at the New York Yankees farm system.

System Graduates: The Yankees had one rookie batter exhaust his rookie eligibility in Yangervis Solarte, ultimately sending him to the Padres in the Chase Headley deal. They were more successful in the pitching department with Dellin Betances establishing himself as one of the top setup men in the game and a potential closer candidate down the road. In 90 innings of work, Betances was able to focus on his nasty fastball/slider combination, throwing both pitches for strikes and posting a 13.5 K/9 while showing little to no platoon splits. The righty was dominant all season long, so the only concern is whether the heavy usage will catch up with him in 2015.

As well-known a prospect Betances was coming up through the Yankees system, Shane Greene was not. The former 15th round pick has not been noted for his command throughout his minor league career and has indeed seen his ERA see-saw up and down since being drafted in 2009. However, the righty has translated his strikeout rates at around the high 7 to low 8’s mark from one level to the next and had turned things around with his mechanics at A+ ball in 2013 with a 1.2 BB/9 and has since managed to keep it well under 4.0. The result was a very promising MLB debut and a good chance of making the 2015 opening day rotation.

After three seasons in Triple-A, fellow 15th round pick Chase Whitley was promoted and was used as a swing man, a role he’ll likely remain in for much of his career. The righty has fairly average stuff, but throws strikes and changes speeds pretty well.

Stock Rising: 20-year-old Luis Severino pitched at three levels this season with little to no difficulty in making that transition. In Double-A, the righty still posted a 10.4 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. As one would expect, Severino is still refining his stuff, but he already throws three plus to potential plus pitches consistently for strikes, giving him upper end of the rotation potential. Expect him to spend most of 2015 in Double-A with a shot at a September call-up and becoming a full-fledged rotation member in 2016.

2013 first round pick Aaron Judge already has some fascinating plate discipline skills, walking at high rates at two minor league stops while already tapping into his plus power potential with 17 homers. The 22-year-old will get more of a challenge in Double-A this season. He’s a future right fielder who will have to prove, because of his 6’7” frame, he can handle right-handed pitching at the upper levels of the Minors.

Rob Refsnyder hit over .300 or more at two minor league levels in 2014 along with 14 homers and a .380+ on-base percentage. A 2012 fifth round pick, Refsnyder is a very advanced line-drive hitter with low-teens pop and slightly above average speed. The righty is originally an outfielder and has been making the transition to second base the last two seasons. He's probably a utility guy long-term but does remind me a little bit of the Mets' Daniel Murphy in terms of modest ceiling, advanced game, adequate at best defense.

Gregory Bird showed his 20-home run A-ball output was for real with a combined 14 homers between A+ and Double-A in 2014. The 6’3” first baseman also translated his high walk rates to each new level of play without a substantial rise in swings and misses, though he did manage just a .253/.379/.558 line in Double-A. Not bad for a guy who missed April with a lower back injury. He’ll return to Double-A and if all goes well, could make a late-season appearance in the Bronx as a possible long-term replacement for Mark Teixeira, though it would be unwise to expect Bird to have a peak anywhere near as high as Tex.

Steady as it Goes: Gary Sanchez remains on pace to make the Majors and possibly win a starting job as soon as mid-2015. The long-term deal to Brian McCann, however, places a major damper on that opportunity, making Sanchez a candidate to be dealt. Sanchez has tapped into his power and made strides in reducing his aggressiveness at the plate while making more consistent contact. His below average running speed, however, puts a cap on his ability to hit for average long-term. Think .250 to .260 hitter who might manage 15 to 20 homers given the opportunity.

Taken 26th overall in 2013, Eric Jagielo spent time on the DL with a ribcage injury,but still managed to showcase his power in A+ ball with 16 homers. The lefty is a third baseman for now, but profiles best at 1B or DH where he’ll have to show he has enough power to warrant the job. So far, Jagielo is on the right track, but he will have to keep the strikeouts at bay at Double-A next year to be considered for a starting job long-term.

2013 first round pick Ian Clarkin enjoyed a solid first full season of pro-ball, posting a 9.1 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 at full season A-ball. Clarkin is a projectable lefty with two potential plus pitches. Clarkin is right on target as far as progress goes, but he’s not really for consideration in all but the deepest of fantasy leagues as of yet.

Stock Falling: J.R. Murphy is a fairly good defensive catcher with modest low to mid-teens power potential who earlier in his career showed a good approach and ability to make consistent contact. 2014 was a struggle as his offensive game deserted him at Triple-A with a weak .246/.292/.397 line. Murphy performed slightly better in the Majors and will now have to fight for the back-up job behind McCann. If he can’t win that job, he’ll end up as Sanchez’s Triple-A back-up.

Gosuke Katoh made a splash in the GCL in 2013, but he appeared mostly overmatched in A-ball, producing a 31% strikeout rate. On the other hand, the 19-year-old walked 15% of the time, played solid defense, showed gap power and decent speed. While it is too early to write him off, Katoh has a ton to prove.

Mason Williams has excellent all-around tools, including above average bat speed, but he has not shown any ability to do anything with the ball. In two seasons at Double-A, he has failed to hit above .223 and may have to repeat the level a third time.

Key Injuries: Slade Heathcott (missed all of 2014 except for 36 at-bats) and underwent knee surgery.

Next week, more prospect post-mortem.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 October 2014 08:20
 
Prospect Post-Mortem: The Red Sox PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 23 September 2014 00:00

Last week, we began our year-end organizational wrap-up. So how did those shiny prospects do this year? Which ones prospered? Which ones failed? Which ones came out of nowhere? Let’s dive in with a look at the Boston Red Sox.

Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have a deep farm system and dipped into it on many occasions this season, often with great success.

System Graduates: Mookie Betts was the breakout prospect for the Sox this year. Well regarded previously, the 21-year-old was not expected to soar through the system. Instead, Betts displayed legitimate leadoff hitter on-base and contact skills, 30-plus stolen base speed, and developing power to the point that he has hit a combined 16 HR between three professional levels. Betts’ skills have translated well to the Majors and suggest the right-hander has yet to hit his ceiling with improved plate discipline. The Red Sox have a logjam in the outfield but Betts has proved worthy of a spot in the lineup next year. Beware, at 5’9”, 155 pounds, a power regression has to be expected for the upcoming year.

After a strong 2013 postseason, Xander Bogaerts was a lock for the opening day roster. He managed to stick with the team all season long, splitting time between shortstop and third base. My draft day expectations for the 21-year-old in his first full MLB season were “Jhonny Peralta” and I purposefully threw out a $15 bid to crickets at AL Tout Wars this year with that comparison in mind. Unfortunately, I got Peralta in one of his weaker campaigns. After showing a patient approach early on, MLB pitchers adjusted and Bogaerts floundered and has yet to readjust, resulting in a higher strikeout rate and much lower walk rate than his minor league pedigree suggests. It didn’t help that the Red Sox bounced him between third and shortstop. The good news to remember: he is only 21! Most players his age are still in A+ to Double-A ball. Bogaerts did manage to show some pop, has good bat speed, and has in his past displayed a good plate approach. He’ll come at a discount next season, but it is rather possible that Bogaerts, should he indeed break out as an offensive player, may take a few seasons to adjust and physically mature. He’ll be in his third season of MLB ball at 23 when most players are getting their first cup of coffee.

Jackie Bradley, now 24, has exhausted his rookie eligibility and his career may actually already be at a crossroads. Prior to 2014, he was looked at as a legitimate replacement to Jacoby Ellsbury with mid-teens power potential, 30-plus stolen base speed, and a patient approach at the plate. Like Bogaerts, Bradley has not been able to take his minor league skills up to the Majors yet. Now, after over 500 MLB plate appearances and near 30% strikeout rate with four homers and ten steals, he could be out of the Red Sox long-term plans.

Brandon Workman was removed from the rotation just this week. The righty performed well out of the pen in 2013 for the MLB team and enjoyed a solid campaign for Pawtucket. But after pitching initially solidly for the Sox this season, he appears to have run out of steam and has been absolutely torched of late in line to a 1-10 record despite a 7.2 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. The 26-year-old works mostly with a fastball, cut-fastball and curveball combo of solid, but not lights out quality. A move back to the bullpen or a role as a fourth starter are Workman’s most likely destinations.

Allen Webster, like Workman, has exhausted his rookie eligibility. More highly regarded than Workman, Webster continues to have difficulty throwing strikes at the MLB level as evidenced by a 5.4 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9 in 52 innings this year. Webster’s stuff is technically better than Workman’s, but his lack of command and decline of fastball velocity make him a prime relief conversion project.

Stock Rising: Henry Owens is starting to throw strikes. The lefty was already striking out batters at every single level by the bushel, but now the lefty is actually commanding his pitches. He began the season in Double-A, sporting a 3.5 BB/9  in 20 starts, and followed up strongly with a 2.8 BB/9 in six Triple-A starts with a dominant 10.4 K/9. Owens is armed with three wipeout pitches and if he maintains his control gains, he might be next year’s Marcus Stroman.

The Red Sox landed Eduardo Rodriguez in a deal with the Orioles for Andrew Miller, who has found his niche as a dominant left-handed specialist. In six starts, Rodriguez produced a 9.4 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9. The 21-year-old is a power-throwing lefty with three potential plus pitches and may end up a better long-term middle to upper end of the rotation option than many of Boston's home grown farm products.

Steady as it Goes: Blake Swihart was well touted and has now thoroughly proven himself against Double-A pitching with a .300/.353/.487 season in Portland while starting to add the expected power with 13 combined home runs. He’ll return to Pawtucket in 2015 and could compete for the starting job by mid-season. His above average speed and contact-making ability as a catcher make him the rare high batting average potential threat for his position.

Anthony Ranaudo has made it to the Majors but will likely still be a rookie heading into 2015 and will spend most of the year at Pawtucket. The righty has a power fastball and curveball combo, but is still working on his change and command, though the latter has started to improve a good deal this season. His long-term role as a middle of the rotation starter or late inning reliever are still up in the air.

Matt Barnes received a late season call-up after a solid, though far from dominant, Triple-A season in which his K/9 dropped four points from his Double-A performance. Barnes has an interesting fastball, but he struggles to consistently locate his curve, which has plus potential, and he has a changeup that is still very much a work in progress. A former first-round pick, Barnes is another 2015 rotation or bullpen option.

Stock Falling: Garin Cecchini has been perhaps one of, if not the most, disappointing young Red Sox this season. Early on, given the inconsistency of Will Middlebrooks' plate approach, there was a good chance for Cecchini to push his way into the starting gig. Instead, his game completely crumbled with an 8% decline in walk rate and a 4% rise in strikeout rate, and he continued to show no gains in the power department. The end result was a rather non-starter like .263/.341/.371 slash. Cecchini has always been a great skill, modest talent type player that you really want to pull for. At 23, the lefty is still young enough to turn things around and given that he has shown a high level of skill in the past, there is a very good chance that he can bounce back. While I do not want to write him off yet, he no longer has much trade or keeper value until he proves otherwise.

Next week, more prospect post-mortem.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 September 2014 08:09
 
Prospect Post-Mortem: AL East Birds PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 16 September 2014 00:00
The minor league regular season is now over. It’s time to assess the status of key young players and see how they lived up, or failed, to meet expectations.

Blue Jays
I got on the Blue Jays' Mitch Nay bandwagon this season, but I suspect I might be too early an adopter here. Nay, a former supplemental first round pick by the Jays is a third baseman with good bat control, contact-making ability, size and bat speed that suggests above average long-term power potential. In his first full season of A-ball, Nay managed just a .285/.342/.389 line. Not bad for a 20-year-old, but far from dominant, though the 35 doubles and 41 total extra base hits is quite encouraging. The foundation is there and the righty is still worthy of tracking in AL-only dynasty leagues, but there is little reason to keep him in most fantasy leagues until he starts turning some of those doubles into homers. Of course, though, he’ll be on everyone’s radar. He’ll spend the majority of 2015 in A+ ball.

Marcus Stroman was among the top pre-season targets to help out at the MLB level this year and he has generally delivered, showing some rookie inconsistency, but also dominant at times. The righty completely translated his strike-throwing abilities, albeit with a near-4.0 point drop-off in K/9 from Triple-A. The former first round pick has multiple plus pitches, plus command, and does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go for $15 or so in AL-only leagues next season.

I expected Daniel Norris to spend 2014 in A+ ball, yet the lefty is up in the Majors for a cup of coffee. Norris ended up being dominant at three different levels, striking out in excess of 10.3 batters per nine innings at every level while improving his mechanics and control. The 21-year-old will likely head back to Triple-A and could be next year’s Marcus Stroman.

Orioles
I’ve long been a Caleb Joseph supporter and had hoped the Orioles would give him a chance. While the circumstances of that chance were not expected, Joseph has shown off his power in the Majors. Unfortunately, the contact-making skills did not come along for the ride. The righty has often in his career needed a season or so of adjustment time at each level and at this point, the Orioles are unlikely to bring back Matt Wieters. It is uncertain whether or not Joseph will receive a second opportunity as a starter in 2015.

The converse here is Michael Ohlman, who looked like a possible long-term successor to Wieters given power and advanced approach. Instead, the 23-year-old has been a flop at Double-A, showing little to no pop. Chance Sisco, on the other hand, has been quite exciting in A-ball with a .340/.406/446 line along with 34 extra base hits. Sisco doesn’t project as a home run hitter, but his contact/gap power could make him a worthy addition as a fantasy catcher. Keep in mind the lefty is 19 years of age and the majority of his career in the Majors, should he make it, will be next decade.

Over at first base, I expected Christian Walker to be a tweener/organizational type with few opportunities beyond the likes of Chris Davis. Well, he has not gotten a call-up but torched Double-A while showing far more power than he displayed previously in his career. The righty continued to hit for power in Triple-A, but the plate discipline faded and overall Walker’s strikeout rate rose from 14.5% to over 25%. He’ll spend most of 2015 in Triple-A and will need a repeat of his Double-A performance to push his way into the lineup.

The Orioles' new supplemental first round pick, Josh Hart, was a toolsy, but raw athlete when they drafted him in 2013. Hart, at 19, may have 15-30 HR potential but was a washout at the plate, in the power game and in the plate discipline development game. There’s plenty of time here for him to develop into something, but the odds are against him.

As expected, Kevin Gausman is now a mainstay in the Orioles rotation. As with Stroman, the minor league strikeout rates have not yet fully moved up with him to the Majors. He’s essentially a two-pitch pitcher at the moment with his mid-nineties fastball and split-finger fastball. The strikeouts should come as he incorporates more of his repertoire into his game.

After a solid performance in Double-A, it looked likely Mike Wright would make his MLB debut in 2014 after some time in Triple-A. Things have not gone so well. The former third round pick has been hittable, posting a 4+ ERA while seeing his strikeout rate drop two points. His profile has always been that of a fourth or fifth starter, so repeating Triple-A in 2015 may yet give him that opportunity.

Tim Berry is enjoying a successful one level at a time approach, his skills moving solidly up from A+ ball, though his control has not been quite as sharp as previously. His issue remains finding a pitch with which to combat right-handed batters. The former fifth round pick will move up to Triple-A next year and should remain in the rotation for now, but he may have a long-term role as a specialist reliever rather than as a starter.

Finally, the talk of the town earlier this season was Hunter Harvey. Unfortunately, the former first round pick developed elbow inflammation and the Orioles took no chances, shutting him down for the season back in late July. A 2013 first round pick and son of former Marlins and Angels closer Bryan Harvey, Hunter had produced a 10.9 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 as a 19-year-old in full-season ball over 17 starts. He screams upper end of the rotation potential if that elbow can stay healthy.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 09:13
 
Call-Up and Deliver PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 02 September 2014 00:00

We no longer need to discuss “potential” call-ups. We may instead focus on the reality of which prospects are actually receiving a major league assignment and which are worthy of targeting down the stretch and in particular for keeping for 2015. Some of these call-ups are borderline prospects too who are getting a chance to play and their career path may already be on the line.

The Dodgers’ call-up of Joc Pederson was the leading move. The 22-year-old outfielder has delivered a monster year, producing a 30-30 season while batting .303/.435/.582. There are no questions here about Pederson’s raw power, 20-plus stolen base potential and patient approach. The question that remains is how much of all this production will actually translate to the Majors. Some will of course have to be taken off given the move from one of the best hitter's parks in the Minors to a ballpark that has traditionally favored pitchers. Moving on from that, the knock on Joc prior to this year was his ability to hit lefties. This season, his splits were virtually invisible and quite surprisingly, Pederson actually showed more power against lefties than righties. For now, however, it appears given the Dodgers’ depth that he will be utilized in a back-up capacity for the rest of the season.

Taijuan Walker was supposed to come up in an equally frustrating capacity for the Mariners as a top prospect unlikely to see much action beyond long or middle relief. The complete ineffectiveness of Chris Young on Monday, however, allowed Walker a chance to shine with a six inning, five strikeout and two walk performance. The righty appears to be over, at least for now, his shoulder problems, throwing into the mid-nineties and showing multiple plus pitches to good effect. While this outing may afford Walker another opportunity to start down the road this season, James Paxton remains ahead of him on the depth charts and will return to the rotation as soon as his turn comes up again.

The Mets made a surprising move, recalling the youngest player in the Eastern League when Daniel Murphy hit the DL this past Friday. Dilson Herrera, acquired from the Pirates in the Marlon Byrd deal, has exceeded expectations. The 20-year-old has surprising pop for his size and could be a 10 to 15 HR threat in the Majors long-term. The righty has improved his plate discipline, walking 10-percent of the time while cutting his strikeout rate. Range-wise, he is limited to second base, but he has good enough hands for the position. While he will see a fair amount of playing time while Murphy is out, Herrera will likely return to Triple-A to start next year, though it’s possible he could inherit the everyday job should the Mets decide to move Murphy at some point.

Another recent call-up seeing steady playing time is the Cubs' Jorge Soler. The 22-year-old Cuban has taken over right field and has an edge on keeping the job for the beginning of 2015. The righty has tremendous power, blasting 18 long balls in just 252 plate appearances amongst four levels of pro-ball, including three since his recall. Soler also possesses tremendous bat speed as well as a fair eye and is not an all or nothing power hitter, meaning there is a very fair chance he’ll be able to hit for average and power for the Cubs.

Ryan Rua's minor league hitting success has granted him an opportunity. In 2013, Rua hit 32 homers and he has followed that up with an 18 HR campaign between Double-A and Triple-A. While traditionally a third baseman, the Rangers have used him at second base and have now made him their starting first baseman due to injury and the ineffectiveness of others. The righty could hit 20-plus homers at the MLB Level and most impressively has actually improved his ability to make contact over time and is showing signs of possibly being more than a utility or platoon player. His role for next season, however, is well up in the air as both Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland are expected to return.

Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and now Daniel Norris. The Blue Jays have not been shy about bringing up their young guns, but given Norris’ Triple-A success, it is hard to argue against it even if he is just 21 years old. A lefty, Norris has posted no less than a 10.4 K/9 at any one of his three levels of play this season. With the exception of his time in Double-A, he has been able to throw the ball for strikes and is a power-pitching lefty with a plus fastball, slider, and changeup. Another half-season in Triple-A is likely, but he could be a #2 or #3 starter long term for the Jays. For now, however, it appears Norris will just get a cup of coffee, working in long and middle relief.

The Padres promoted former first round pick Cory Spangenberg from Double-A after he hit .331/.365/.470. The 23-year-old’s shine had lost quite a bit of its luster in recent seasons. While the lefty still showed 30-plus stolen base speed, a lack of pop and on-base skill was pushing him towards a utlity or organizational role rather than the everyday starter that was once his forecast. Despite his Double-A performance, I continue to remain skeptical given a lack of pop, power contact skills for a player with said limited pop, and a very aggressive approach. Spangenberg will play off the bench and perhaps get some pinch running opportunities.

The trade of Adam Dunn has opened up playing time for 25-year-old Andy Wilkins. A former fifth round pick, Wilkins has been enjoying a breakout season in which he has hit 30 homers at Triple-A while making contact 83% of the time and producing a .293/.338/.558 line. Like Rua above, it is difficult to see where Wilkins fits with the White Sox long term as he is not a huge on-base threat and has no true standout tools other than his power. For now, he’ll see almost everyday action at first base and try to continue to make his mark.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 September 2014 03:31
 
The Call-Up Candidates Keep Coming PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 26 August 2014 00:00

This week, we conclude our look at some of the potential late-year minor league call-ups of note, but not to worry, we will reflect upon the actual call-ups next week!

Philadelphia Phillies
Maikel Franco is not on the 40-man roster and the Phillies still have yet to decide on whether or not to call him up this September. This is pretty reasonable considering Franco’s age (21) and struggles this season in Triple-A. Despite not producing splashy numbers, the righty translated his contact and power to the highest level of the Minors at a very young age. Yes, he is very aggressive and needs to improve his selectivity and he may never be a great on-base threat, but there are certainly useful talents here. It would be no great surprise to see him dominate as a 22-year-old in Triple-A in 2015.

As much doubt as to whether or not Franco will get the call, Aaron Altherr is pretty much guaranteed a promotion. Though only in Double-A, Altherr remains on the 40-man roster and has already spent a very brief stay in the Majors in 2014. His long term future as a regular or as a back-up remains in question, but his tools are not. The 23-year-old outfielder has 15 to 20 HR and 20 SB potential as well as true centerfielder defensive skills. On the other hand, the righty is a very aggressive hitter who strikes out far too frequently and it has shown at Double-A in his .232/.283/.401 line.

Altherr’s teammate Kelly Dugan may be even more likely to receive the call to the Majors. The former second round pick repeated Double-A and the results have been telling as he found his patience from the lower minors and it resulted in a very similar season to his 2013 A+ ball campaign in which he was able to hit for average, get on base and demonstrate some pop. He may profile best as a left-handed hitting platoon player.

Chicago White Sox
The White Sox made a preemptive September call-up move recently by recalling and inserting second baseman Carlos Sanchez into their everyday lineup. A switch-hitter, Sanchez answered critics regarding his lack of pop by hitting more home runs this season than in the rest of his entire minor league career (seven compared to three over three seasons previously) and tied his career high in triples with six. Sanchez is a fair contact hitter with high teens to mid-twenties stolen base potential. One word of caution, the 22-year-old managed his accomplishments after repeating Triple-A, a level at which he spent the entirety of 2013 to very mediocre results. His transition to the Majors could be quite slow.

Matt Davidson is a call-up candidate, but while once again he impressed with his power production (20 HR) and continued to walk often, he has just barely been able to hit above the Mendoza line in the Minors. His ceiling is that of a .230s to .240s hitter who can hit between 20 and 25 homers, but the odds of him getting an opportunity to try and accomplish that are fading fast. Davidson might be best utilized as a right-handed platoon player.

Marcus Semien struggled mightily with the White Sox earlier this season, but his performance in Triple-A may have redeemed him and should get him another call-up in September. After striking out nearly a third of the time in the Majors, he is back to his usually very refined plate approach with a 16% strikeout rate and 14% walk rate along with a .264/.371/.482 line. There is talk the Sox may even try him in the outfield. His combination of mid-teens power potential, on base skills and position flexibility are starting to remind me a little bit of former big leaguer Tony Phillips. We just need to see this type of play in the Majors. Semien is no longer a rookie, but don’t count him out just yet.

Cleveland Indians
As of this article, the Indians are five games out of the wild card and five and a half games out of first place in the AL Central, so opportunities for rookies may be slim. Jesus Aguilar made a few brief appearances in the bigs for the Tribe this year. The right-handed first baseman has little to prove in the Minors, having quieted critics somewhat with a power display of 17 homers and the raw potential to be a 20 to 25 home run hitter in the Majors. Aguilar also continues to exhibit an advanced and patient approach, walking 13% of the time while making contact 80% of the time, a quality accomplishment for someone expected to hit for some pop. File him under “someone who just needs a chance”.

Expect Cleveland to also take a brief look at their haul from the Justin Masterson trade. James Ramsey was promoted to Triple-A upon acquisition and has transitioned there pretty much without a hitch (except a climb in the strikeout department), still showing his mid to upper teens power and patience and continuing to hit over .300. Still, Ramsey has no true standout tool and may end up a fourth outfielder or platoon player.

Francisco Lindor may get the call in September on the basis of being a late inning defensive replacement. The 20-year-old made it to Triple-A and has hit .287 with four homers at Columbus, but has otherwise seen his typically disciplined, contact-oriented approach disintegrate. At 20 years of age, he really would benefit from at least a half season, if not a full season, at Triple-A.

Next week, it’s 40-man roster expansion day and a look at the call-ups of note that may have slipped through the cracks.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 August 2014 08:10
 
NL East Call-Up Candidates PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 19 August 2014 00:00

This week, we continue our look at some of the potential late-year minor league call-ups of note.

Atlanta Braves
The Braves are very much in contention and their roster offers few opportunities for youngsters to shine. On the other side, the Braves have few upper level prospects ready to really make a splash regardless. Christian Bethancourt has seen some time in the Majors and is likely to get a call-up once rosters expand. Despite being the superior receiver, he won't upstage Evan Gattis. Bethancourt has some pop and has made rather consistent contact throughout his minor league career, but he has a penchant for being overly aggressive and getting on-base at sub-.300 rates. All the tools are there for him to be a valuable real and fantasy baseball player, but unless he drastically improves his pitch recognition, he’ll end up a back-up no matter his pedigree.

Jose Peraza is a bit of a wild card. At 20 years of age, it is premature for the Braves to start his arbitration clock. On the other hand, this is a mature hitter with elite speed, good defensive skills and an aggressive, but very good contact-making approach. The righty has hit over .340 at two minor league levels and his utility as a defensive replacement/pinch-runner in the late-season/post-season may be too tempting to resist keeping him in the Minors.

Miami Marlins
J.T. Realmuto may have moved to the top of the long-term catching herd in Miami, but it remains to be seen whether or not that is cause for celebration. The 23-year-old is a Double-A repeater with solid defensive skills and gap power. This season, he has made some progress in becoming more selective while continuing to put the ball on the bat with some consistency (14 percent strikeout rate and 9 percent walk rate).

Justin Bour is a journeyman at 26 years of age, but he is a very interesting one. The Marlins selected him in the minor league phase of the Rule-5 draft last fall and so far it has worked out well. Bour has been enjoying a breakout season that has resulted in a .319/.389/.549 line. The lefty is also showing excellent strike zone discipline by making contact 88% of the time while also displaying a patient approach. Bour is limited to first base defensively, so the Marlins would have to decide to sit Garrett Jones in order to play him. Given that Jones is signed for two years, they may be reluctant to do that even if Bour deserves the shot.

Despite a pedestrian ERA of 3.51, Andrew Heaney has pretty much dominated two levels of play and only got better with his promotion to Triple-A, where he produced a 10.4 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. He’s made a few spot starts with Miami and may not get much of an opportunity down the stretch but has a good chance to make the 2015 opening day rotation or at the very least claim a spot by mid-season. The lefty is not a blazer, but he has pinpoint control of his fastball, a wipeout slider and can change speeds at will. The combination could make him a long-term #2 type starter.

24-year-old Brian Flynn has made appearances in the Majors each of the past two seasons with the Marlins. Flynn does not have Heaney’s repertoire with only a slider that is a true plus pitch and only average command. He has enough depth of solid average pitches to be a #3 or #4 type starter given the opportunity. It is more likely he will work in long relief than start during a September call-up.

Anthony DeSclafani was only recently optioned to Triple-A after producing a 6.84 ERA. Despite that, the righty did actually throw strikes (1.7 BB/9) and missed some bats (6.8 K/9) over his brief stay, which is fairly well supported by his minor league production. His changeup gets mixed reviews and that will be the key factor of remaining in the rotation or bullpen. Given his fastball and slider and good groundball tendencies, DeSclafani could make quite a good setup man.

Jose Urena is probably a longshot to get a call-up, but the righty has had success in Double-A and is on the 40-man roster. The righty has a plus fastball and throws it for strikes, posting sub 2.0 BB/9 each of the past three seasons. However, he also failed to strike out more than 6.7 batters per nine innings in any of those seasons. The reason: a lack of a credible secondary pitch. Without another weapon, a transition to the Majors in anything but a relief role could be quite painful.

New York Mets
The Mets would prefer not to call up Noah Syndergaard this season. The top pitcher in the Mets minor league system, Syndergaard has battled some minor health issues this season and also had to deal with the joy of pitching in the hitter-haven of Las Vegas. Despite a somewhat ugly ERA, the former Blue Jay has posted a 9.7 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. Syndergaard remains a potential ace and one who could be joining the Mets by mid-2015.

The Mets are rapidly fading from contention, so openings for youngsters may occur. I think I have talked ad nauseum about Kevin Plawecki this year, but it is likely the catcher will get a call-up even though he has struggled at Triple-A, producing a .257/.319/.394 line. The Mets are comfortable with Travis d’Arnaud, for now, and Plawecki will likely spend at least half of 2015 in Triple-A.

The Mets may be tempted to bring up former first round pick Brandon Nimmo. The lefty’s power is slowly starting to emerge while he has also retained an elite plate approach that allowed him to hit .322/.448/.458 in A+ ball. His bat is starting to come alive after struggling initially at Double-A, but more importantly he has translated his plate approach to that level too. Nimmo is only 21, young for his league, and not yet on the 40-man roster, so bet against this call-up, but you never know.

23-year-old Steven Matz has worked his way back into the prospectosphere. The former second round pick has pitched almost identically at A+ and AA-ball with a K/9 around 8.0 and BB/9 in the low to mid-twos. Matz does a great job of keeping the ball on the ground and is armed with two plus pitches, including a mid-nineties fastball and change. Matz is on the 40-man roster and should have a solid career at least as a reliever, if not a member of the rotation.

Next week, more potential call-ups of note!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 August 2014 07:03
 
AL East Call-Up Candidates PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 12 August 2014 00:00

September will be here before we know it. It's a good idea to get a jump start on potential impending minor league call-ups. Some are already on the 40-man roster as no player needs to be designated for assignment to make room for them, but plenty of players have their contracts purchased.

Much of the following is common sense, but it is worth mentioning. Redraft leaguers targeting September call-ups are in for a bit of a crapshoot. Yes, you can target skill and talent, but these are young people achieving their dream and over a tiny sample size, anything can happen. If you need to take chances, at the very least target players on teams that are not in contention. Those rookies are the least likely to be riding the pine. For keeper leaguers out of contention, this is a time to feast and try to take some chances.

Baltimore
Playing time for rookies on a first place team will be scarce. The Orioles have many veteran utlity player types who will come up and give their veterans some rest. Notable potential call-ups, however, include Michael Ohlman. The 23-year-old catcher has some power and a patient approach, but is thus far failing to pass the Double-A test with a .240/.312/.328 line and may have to repeat the league. Lefty Tim Berry could see some time making late-season starts, long-relief outings or as a reliever, but he has pitched well at Double-A with a 7.3 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. His stuff is not overpowering, but he has good command and could be a third or fourth starter in the Majors. Do not expect to see Dylan Bundy this year. The 21-year-old phenom is still working his way back from Tommy John surgery and has continued to have some elbow issues. Maybe next year. Christian Walker may be the most interesting player to likely receive a call-up. Although he’s not on the 40-man roster, the former fourth round pick has had a breakout season, belting 24 homers while hitting over .300 at two minor league levels while showing above average plate discipline skills. Prior to this year, Walker was felt to be an under-powered, contact hitting first baseman. He’s sacrificed some of the contact but is still making contact about 80% of the time. The righty is an interesting stash away pick-up, particularly if the Orioles decide to move on from Chris Davis this off-season.

Boston
Of course, Mookie Betts will be back up, but his playing time will be sporadic. Betts has all the skills to be a potential leadoff hitter and has nothing left to prove in the Minors. He just needs a regular spot in the lineup. Garin Cecchini will also get a look, but after a stellar climb through the Minors, the lefty's career no longer looks as bright after a dismal Triple-A campaign that saw his typically tremendous batting eye disintegrate and with it any offensive production to a tune of a .241/.317/.326 line. Cecchini has displayed too much skill in the past to dismiss him just yet and now could be the best buy opportunity you’ll have for him. Former first round pick Bryce Brentz will also get a look, but he’s managed just 186 plate appearances this year and has not played a full season since 2012 after battling injuries. While Brentz has hit only .241/.333/.457, he’s shown some decent power (.216 isolated power) and selectivity as well. He profiles as a low to moderate hitter for average with decent OBP skills, but it is hard to see how he fits in the lineup given all the depth the Sox have right now.

Anthony Ranaudo had an excellent debut and awaits a more prolonged MLB stint. The righty has become more dominant as the season has progressed, commanding his pitches and gradually increasing his strikeout rates. He's a hard thrower with a plus change and does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground. There is a chance he ends up in relief depending on the development of his curve.

New York AL
It is quite possible that we see a pair of catching prospects reach the Majors this September. Gary Sanchez continues to show 20-plus home run potential and has improved his contact-making game in recent seasons while maintaining above average catch and throw skills. J.R. Murphy has seen some brief action in the Majors already but has been overly aggressive at the plate in the Minors and Majors. His game is in making contact and hitting line drives while possessing high single digits to low-teens pop. Hopefully, he can get back to that approach, but in the end this is not a high ceiling skill set. Bryan Mitchell just made his MLB debut and was optioned back to the Minors on Monday, but he will certainly be recalled in September. The righty is not a high-ceiling starter but has a fastball/change-up/curveball combination that is effective enough to make him a number four or five starter or middle reliever.

Tampa Bay
While no longer a rookie, Nick Franklin will get a chance with his new club this September. The 23-year-old switch-hitter hit very well for Triple-A Tacoma, batting .294/.392/.455 while showing excellent plate discipline and stealing nine bases to go along with nine homers. His move to Durham is off to a slow start, but he could still very well be the Rays opening day second baseman in 2015. Hak-Ju Lee, Franklin’s current and possible long-term double-play partner, will also likely get a call-up despite having a miserable season in which (stop me if this is getting too familiar and sad) his contact-making skills have fallen apart and he’s managed a weak .205/.284/.260 line while coming back from a knee injury that ruined his 2013 campaign. There’s still hope that Lee could end up a possible leadoff man/elite defensive shortstop, but right now he’s in danger of heading down the utility player career path. Former first round pick Mikie Mahtook is nearly 25 years of age, but is currently amid the best year of his playing career, batting .293/.361/.447 with eight homers and 15 steals. Mahtook is a capable defensive centerfielder and has the offensive profile to fit it, but he may be playing a bit over his head given a right-handed stroke and the fact that he is striking out over a quarter of the time. If he could retain the production while returning to making contact over 80% of the time, he would have a more sustainable and exciting skill set. Otherwise, he’ll end up a .250 hitter with mediocre on-base skills.

On the pitching side of things, Enny Romero and Alex Colome could be recalled. Colome missed 50 games due to a PED suspension and made only 11, albeit successful starts, posting a 7.9 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. Command of his power stuff has been an issue in the past and he has been making a good transition from thrower to pitcher. Romero, a lefty, has managed an 8.4 K/9 but also an ERA above 5.00. His command and mechanics continue to be an issue despite an arsenal of plus stuff that could make him a middle of the rotation or better starter. I am starting to sense a career in relief may occur.

Next week – more potential call-ups!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 August 2014 08:07
 
Prospect Acquisitions PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 05 August 2014 00:00

This past week, nay this past month, all eyes have been on players who might be traded and who will have an immediate impact at the MLB level. Our focus here at the prospector, of course, is on the future. So with that in mind, let’s look long term at some of the younger targets that prompted some teams to deal their veterans.

The three-way trade between the Rays, Mariners and Tigers was full of well-known major leaguers, leaving Willy Adames to somewhat slip between the cracks on his way to the Rays. The 18-year-old has a legitimate chance to stick at shortstop, but more interestingly has emerging power (32 extra-base hits including six homers) and has acquitted himself well in terms of waiting for his pitch. Despite his age, Adames is advanced to the point where he could move up to A+ ball to start 2015.

Astros/Marlins Swap
The Astros took a good haul in raw talent from the Marlins in Jake Marisnick and Colin Moran and have already gone as far as to install the 23-year-old former Blue Jay, Marisnick, in centerfield as their everyday starter. The righty has all the tools to be a MLB centerfielder, blessed with speed and good defensive skill as well as offensive tools enough to produce a 20-20 or better season someday. However, the power side has yet to fully emerge and Marisnick is more of a mid-teens home run hitter with 20 to 30 stolen base per season skills. The real concern is his ability to hit righties and improve his plate approach to both draw more walks and reduce the swings and misses. There is a potential real and fantasy player here, but one with plenty of question marks and risk.

21-year-old Colin Moran was the 6th overall selection in the 2013 draft. The Marlins had kept him at A+ ball this year, but the Astros have quickly rewarded him with a promotion to Double-A upon his acquisition. The lefty was a polished hitter in his college days and has remained a contact-oriented/line-drive hitter with low to mid-teens home run potential. His glove is good enough to stay at third, but his bat plays better perhaps at second base where his power ceiling and ability to hit for average would be better suited. Unfortunately, he is too limited range-wise to make such a move.

The Marlins did come away with a prospect of their own in the deal in Austin Wates. The 25-year-old has good speed skills (31 steals in Triple-A) and has routinely shown a good knack for hitting line drives and making contact while also showing an aptitude for drawing walks and getting on base. This year, he posted a .299/.396/.381 slash and could get a look as a back-up outfielder with the Marlins. He is even a dark horse candidate to unseat Marcell Ozuna down the road.

Francis Martes is an 18-year-old wild card. The righty is a very hard thrower who has struck out a batter an inning this season thanks to a mid to upper nineties fastball, but like many young flame throwers, he has had trouble throwing strikes. He’s a starter for now, but could just as easily end up in relief and may have an ETA as late as 2018 or even 2019.

Diamondbacks/Yankees Deal
Having both Brian McCann and Gary Sanchez in house made it a less difficult decision for the Yankees to deal Peter O’Brien, particularly since O’Brien is not a very good defensive catcher and will likely have to shift to first base or left field, despite having below average speed, long term. O’Brien, however, is blessed with a ton of raw power (23 dingers/.310 isolated power at Double-A Trenton). Before you start drooling too much, keep in mind that O’Brien has a very aggressive approach, walking less than 4% of the time in A+ ball and less than 6% in Double-A contrasted against striking out roughly a quarter of the time at each level. In other words, this is not a skill set and in particular for a right-handed hitter, that is likely to hold up at the MLB level. O’Brien has an outside shot at a September call-up and is a potential mid-2015 call-up candidate too.

Busy Indians
In exchange for Justin Masterson, the Indians received a pretty good haul in outfielder James Ramsey. Ramsey got caught in a logjam of good outfield prospects and with the Indians could be in a better position now to get opportunities at the MLB level. Not surprisingly, he was instantly promoted to Triple-A upon being acquired. The 24-year-old is a patient hitter with high teens to low-twenties home run potential and double-digit steal potential. A former first-round pick, Ramsey needs to cut down on his strikeouts a bit, but he still profiles as a possible .270s or better hitter. Expect him to be called up in September, if not sooner, and for the possibility that he claims either the left or right field job once he gets the call.

Ramsey was not the only nearly MLB ready player received near the deadline. In exchange for Asdrubal Cabrera, the Tribe nabbed infielder Zach Walters. A 24-year-old shortstop, Walters is a switch-hitter with 25-plus HR potential and has already reached the 20-home run mark this year at three different stops, managing 29 longballs in Triple-A last season. Walters showed a tiny bit more selectivity this season repeating Triple-A for the third time, walking nearly 8% of the time and cutting his strikeouts under a quarter of the time. He’s probably a utility or Quad-A player long term, but like Wates for the Marlins, has enough talent to force his way into a starting job if the opportunity arises.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 August 2014 00:47
 
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