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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
This week, we continue our look at some of the potential late-year minor league call-ups of note.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
After spending a few weeks looking at top producers in certain stat categories, it was time we “caught” up with the progress of some of the top backstop prospects in the minor leagues.
Blake Swihart is passing the Double-A test with flying colors, translating his approach nearly flawlessly while starting to tap into the power projected of him. Swihart has hit for average at each level of play thus far thanks in part to his contact making skills and now in part to his emerging power. So many catchers projected to hit for average at the MLB level have failed to do so because of their speed with Matt Wieters perhaps being the most recent/high-profile example. Swihart actually has a decent motor and has at least average speed. While this will decline the longer he remains behind the plate, the switch-hitter has a good chance to be a .270 to .280s hitter given his broader range of tools.
2011 second-round pick Austin Hedges struggled in a brief Double-A promotion last year and has not been able to get beyond the level. In fact, Hedges has had even greater difficulty making contact and has become more aggressive at the plate, producing a .237/.280/.347 slash. As I mentioned this spring, Hedges never profiled as an impact bat or as a pick for fantasy players, but far better for real baseball and strat/sim-league purposes, enough of a bat to potentially hit .260 to .270 with 10 to 15 HRs. Hedges' elite defense will get him to the Majors and will give him an opportunity to have a long career as a back-up at the very least, but next season could be make or break.
The Rangers' Jorge Alfaro draws quite a bit of interest as a legitimate catcher with 30-plus home run and possibly double-digit steal potential. Like Swihart, Alfaro has translated his game to the next level, showing power (12 HRs) and running well (four triples) in A+ ball. However, the righty also brought along his aggressive approach and strikeout rates (24%) and has not exactly dominated with a .252/.311/.421 line. Alfaro has more offensive upside potential and fantasy baseball potential than just about any catcher in the Minors, but how he adjusts and improves his game at Double-A next season will be critical in determining whether we have a potential star or perhaps the next John Buck.
If you are looking for a catcher who has truly improved his game as he has matured, look no further than Gary Sanchez. Since making his first big splash in 2011 in which he hit 17 HRs and struck out 27% of the time, Sanchez has continued to hit the ball with authority, though not quite as much as in 2011, while at the same time improving his approach and dramatically cutting his strikeout rate by 10%. In fact, he has successfully cut it below the 20% mark each of the past two seasons. The question is will he ever play for the Yankees with Brian McCann locked into a long-term deal. The odds are he’ll end up trade bait. Unlike some of the other catchers on this list, Sanchez is a more traditional backstop in that he is not at all a runner, so even if the righty continues to make consistent contact, he is not a threat to hit for high average and could indeed end up a .250s hitter at the MLB level.
Kevin Plawecki was a supplemental first-round pick of the Mets in 2012 and he has lived up to most of his billing as a highly disciplined/contact oriented hitter with average at best defensive skills. Early on, more power was expected from him and this season it has started to show up with eight home runs between Double-A and Triple-A. The 23-year-old dominated Double-A with a .326/.378/.487 mark and is following up well in terms of plate approach at Triple-A, but he has yet to get truly on track over his small 53 plate appearance sample. Plawecki has demonstrated his ability to hit at every level, and given his excellent feel for the strike zone, he should be competent enough to hit in the Majors too. Much depends on how comfortable teams are with his mobility behind the plate. He will likely reach the Majors this year and could also end up trade bait with Travis d’Arnaud starting to come into his own.
If you are looking for longer term projects, Reese McGuire is your guy. The 2013 first rounder is not dominating full season A-ball with a .265/.310/.313 line, but the way he has absolutely mastered the strike zone at each level of pro-ball has been fascinating. This year, he has made contact 90% of the time while walking 6%. At 19, McGuire is primarily focusing on his catching game which is already very strong. Given his contact making skills, bat speed, and actually slightly above average foot speed, there is .280-plus, 10-plus HR potential here. His ETA is late 2017 to mid 2018.
Finally, we finish with another long-term option in 19-year-old Chance Sisco. The lefty is enjoying his first full season of professional ball, batting .344/.407/.455 for the Orioles A-ball squad. A former middle infielder, Sisco is a good athlete who has taken to catching fairly well. Sisco combines an already solid plate approach with emerging power and average speed, which could make him, like McGuire, a solid but not star offensive player in the Majors.
We continue our quest this week with a look at the minor league's top base stealers. I’ve been writing and analyzing prospects for a long time now and have definitely noticed some trends when it comes to analyzing which speedsters have what it takes to be a MLB regular. Speed-only hitters, and by that I really mean those with little to no power whatsoever, have the toughest row to hoe. In order to be a MLB regular without any pop, one should consider the likes of Juan Pierre. While Pierre’s approach was not the ideal leadoff hitter approach, he made contact just around 95% of the time over his career while walking nearly the same amount and putting the ball on the ground 56% of the time which resulted in a career .295/.343/.361 line and 614 steals. Pierre was an aggressive hitter, but he had a good batting eye, a quick bat, and understood his game. Make contact and run like hell. Hitters with similar tools need to make that high level of contact to succeed. Consider the failures of players like Emmanuel Burriss. He and so many other similar players were unable to translate their contact skills to the Majors, ending up overpowered at the MLB level. In order to have a greater margin for error, more power needs to be added to the equation. For example, no one has ever accused Michael Bourn of being a good contact hitter or a power hitter for that matter either, but the lefty A) focused on his speed game and keeping the ball on the ground when he does make contact, B) has a history of patience, and C) has some gap power and regularly topped out over 20 doubles and 10 or more triples during his prime. Just a bit of pop can forgive a high-teens strikeout rate.
Given all this, who should we be watching?
Mookie Betts – Getting the obvious out of the way quickly. Still a rookie and might actually still have that status when the season ends, depending on whether the Red Sox move any of their veteran outfielders in deals. Betts combines very advanced plate discipline, a quick bat, low-teens home run power and legitimate 30-plus stolen base potential. Better off at second base, but some Pedroia person is there.
Billy Burns came over to the A’s from the Nationals last off-season and was the target of many keeper leaguers on draft day already after he stole 74 bases between two levels in 2013. A former 32nd round draft pick, the short right-handed hitter continues to blaze with 45 steals while repeating Double-A ball. Burns has a pretty good approach at the plate and draws walks, making contact 85% of the time, but he has hit just .254. Burns falls into that group of underpowered speedsters, and I am worried that he will be overpowered at Triple-A, let alone the Majors.
Gabriel Mejia may be on quite a few people’s radars after his pro debut. The 18-year-old switch-hitter has stolen 48 bags in 194 plate appearances while walking and striking out 14.9% of the time. He does have eight extra-base hits and is quite raw, as one would expect of an 18-year-old, but this is an interesting start to a career.
Like father, like son, Delino DeShields Jr. knows how to swipe a bag with 41 after stealing 59 a year ago and 101 the year before that. Also like his dad, Jr. can draw a walk (11.3%) and has demonstrated doubles and mid to high single-digit home run potential. Where Junior continues to differ is in his ability to make contact. The 21-year-old continues to make contact less than 80% of the time, which is a major no-no for speed-oriented players, and that issue has caught up with him at Double-A with a .239/.346/.332 slash. His father owned a career 84% contact rate and the years he struggled the most were directly related to being the years in which his strikeout rate was closer to where his son’s is now. At 21 years of age, Deshields Jr. could turn things around like his dad and should not be written off because of his struggles, but he should be treated with some caution.
Padres farmhand Mallex Smith currently leads all minor leaguers in steals with 65 after stealing 64 in 507 plate appearances last year. This year, he has done it in 404 plate appearances. The former fifth-round pick has handled his promotion to A+ ball well (.300/.370/.444) and has a good history for drawing walks, but he does tend to swing and miss close to 20% of the time. Despite being listed at 5’9”, Smith does have a bit of gap power and has a shot at a MLB career. I’ll get more excited if he replicates his success at Double-A.
The Nationals' Rafael Bautista is second in all of minor league ball to Mallex Smith in total steals with 53. The 21-year-old is having some success in his first full season of professional ball at low-A ball where he has made contact 85% of the time and more importantly, developing some gap power with 14 doubles, four triples and four home runs in 334 plate appearances. Defensively, he has the range and arm to be solid in centerfield and should move up the Nationals' prospect rankings nicely after this season, but there is still a good chance he could end up an organizational player or fourth outfielder if the power and plate discipline do not continue to improve. He’ll likely spend most of 2015 in A+ ball.
The Braves are hoping Jose Peraza is their long-term shortstop. His plus defense will at least get him to the Majors. At 20 years of age, he is not just handling, but dominating both A+ and Double-A ball, batting .342 and .368 at each level respectively. If anything, the young righty’s plate discipline has improved, as he is making contact 93% of the time since his promotion to Double-A. On the downside, Peraza has been overly aggressive this season, walking 3% and 4% of the time at each level, though who needs to walk when you’re hitting as often as he has? The righty also is not a power threat, with just two homers alongside his 48 steals. Given his history, the strikeout rate is likely to increase over time, so while he could make the Majors as soon as next season, his success as a starter is far from guaranteed.
Keeper lists are all about value. What is the ratio of cost to projected value? On draft day, the focus shifts from value to stats. How are you going to fill that speed, power, or saves void? Well, long-term obviously through your league's minor league draft.
Generally, one focuses on the best overall prospect available. However, it still pays to keep in mind the categories you're drafting, particularly if the focus is strictly on who can help the quickest. With that in mind, let’s focus on sources of power.
Texas’ Joey Gallo was the recent hero of the Futures Game, hitting the game-winning homer, and is far from a sleeper. At just 20 years of age, the lefty is more than holding his own and has in fact dominated A+ ball while continuing to slug the ball with authority in Double-A. Encouragingly, while in A+ ball, Gallo kept his strikeout rates in check at a 26% clip while walking an astonishing 21% of the time and producing an overall .323/.463/.735 line. Double-A Frisco is one of the better hitter’s parks around and Gallo has hit 10 more homers for 31 total on the season while continuing to walk and post an OBP nearly 100 points higher than his batting average. Unfortunately, the alarmingly high strikeout rates of his previous campaigns have returned (42%). Gallo is expected to move off of third base long-term and could be limited to first base duties. Gallo is the epitome of high-risk/high-reward with a possible 80 score on the power scouting scale, but with strikeout rates that could make him the next Dallas McPherson. Most hitters his age would still be receiving their first taste of full-season A-ball and that is an encouraging thought. He showed improvement earlier this season and has plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments.
Former first-round pick Kris Bryant comes with many of the same caveats as Joey Gallo. Like Gallo, Bryant has 31 homers on the season and has shown an all or nothing approach with high walk rates and 26 to 30% strikeout rates at the two levels he’s played. The differences between the players are age. Bryant is a college veteran, and his glove and range gives him more defensive options long-term. Bryant’s strikeout rates are more typically lower than he has shown in his brief stay in Triple-A and while he has hit over .300 at every minor league level, he’s probably more of a .260s to .280s hitter in the Majors. Keep in mind that Bryant is not fool-proof. As a right-handed hitter who strikes out as often as he does, the slide to becoming a wrong side of the platoon split player can be a sharp one.
If one talks about Kris Bryant, one cannot leave out Javier Baez, who many, if not all, rated as the better long-term prospect earlier in the season. As big a high-risk/high-reward play Gallo is, Baez tops it. The righty drove 34 balls over the fence last season and has followed up with another 14 so far in Triple-A. Like Gallo, Baez is about two years younger than where one would normally find him at this stage in his career. The 21-year-old is holding his own, but far from dominating with a .240/.305/.449 line. While he may have even greater power potential than either Gallo or Bryant and even greater bat speed, Baez is by far the least refined at the plate and though he may have the skills to stay at shortstop, he can be raw and has shown his lack of polish there too. Baez’s 8% walk rate this year marks a career high measured against a career high 32% strikeout rate. The 2011 first-rounder should be up for a cup of coffee in September but would probably be best suited for spending at least half of 2015 in Triple-A too.
The Mariners selected D.J. Peterson in the first round of the 2013 draft as the consensus top college hitting prospect in the draft. The 22-year-old had an impressive debut in short-season ball and has gone from A+ to Double-A in his first full season of professional ball. Peterson’s approach has been a bit more aggressive than originally expected, but he has started to make better adjustments in terms of making contact while still hitting for power. Through the All-Star break, Peterson had hit 21 homers and projects as a possible 25-plus home run threat in the Majors. He’ll probably close out 2014 in Double-A with an outside shot at a September call-up followed by spending at least half of 2015 in the Minors before challenging for a starting job. The righty, if he keeps making good hard contact, is a possible .280 to .290 hitter to go along with his power.
Steven Souza received a brief call-up earlier this season while the Nationals were battling injuries but was sent down after only nine plate appearances. The 25-year-old does not rank as highly as some of the bats I’ve already mentioned, but I mention him as someone who may not have been drafted in your local league and as a player with both legitimate 20-plus HR power and some advanced skills that might make him a slightly lesser risk than his above compatriots. Souza moved off third to right field where he has the range and arm to handle the position, not to mention pretty good speed that has allowed him to steal 20-plus bags in multiple minor league seasons. The former third-round pick has a fairly advanced approach, walking frequently and this season cutting down on his strikeouts significantly, though that may be an anomaly compared against the context of his career. His .371/.449/.615 slash and 20-20 potential make him hard to ignore.
Next week, we look at the minor league speed merchants.
This week, we conclude our look at the 2014 amateur draft with a scan of some of the starting pitchers you should consider as targets for your 2015 minor league drafts.
The College Ranks
If you are looking for a pitcher who may be up in the Majors by late 2015 or 2016, this is where you should be looking. While college pitchers come with the caveat of generally having lower ceilings than some of their high school brethren and a heavier workload placed on their arm which puts them at high risk for injury, you are generally getting a more polished product with a greater likelihood of even reaching the Majors.
Probably the pitcher who best emulates what I’ve discussed is seventh overall pick Aaron Nola. The LSU ace is an extremely polished product with above average command of three pitches, including a plus fastball, plus change and improving slider. Barring injury, the righty should cruise through the Phillies system.
Getting back to upside, the White Sox selected Carlos Rodon out of NC State with the third overall pick. He’s a three-pitch guy with a plus fastball, plus-plus slider and average changeup. Rodon is a big lefty who can pitch in the mid-nineties and reach the upper nineties and looks like a potential #2 starter. While he has upside, he’s shown some inconsistencies with his command during his college career. The White Sox had yet to sign him as of the writing of this article, so that could put him on a slightly slower path to the Majors than some of the quicker signings.
Like Nola, Kyle Freeland is probably more of a #3 than a #2 starter, but the lefty is a pitcher with tremendous command of a quality sinking fastball which he has added mph to over the past year and plus slider which both have been swing and miss pitches for him in college. At the very least, Freeland could be a very effective left-handed specialist reliever at the MLB level. To the Rockies credit, they did go after someone with some ability to keep the ball on the ground.
Jeff Hoffman will be one of the exceptions to the rule of being quick to the Majors as a college pitcher. It is possible that the righty could have been the first college pitcher drafted, but he suffered a torn elbow ligament and underwent TJS back in May and probably will not make his pro debut until sometime in mid to late 2015, essentially landing him a year behind his draft class. When healthy, Hoffman is an extremely hard thrower with three potential plus pitches that could make him a #2 starter if all goes well. He’s probably more of a 2016 minor league draft target than a 2015 one for most fantasy players.
Nick Howard is a name to note as someone likely to move quickly. The 19th overall draft pick by the Reds has been both a starter and a reliever during his college career. Technically, Howard is a four-pitch pitcher, but when in relief he adds quite a bit of horsepower to his fastball, and with that, his slider makes him an impact weapon out of the pen. Potential setup man or better in the right circumstance.
Heading back to high school, we come to number one overall selection Brady Aiken. The Astros drafted the left-hander, who gets high grades not only because of his stuff, but because of his excellent pitchability. Aiken already has at least two average, if not close to plus pitches in his arsenal and most importantly for any pitcher his age, actually has a changeup with average or better potential. The 6’4” pitcher will begin his career in short season ball, and at just 17 years of age, he likely has an ETA of 2019 at the very earliest.
Tyler Kolek was selected right behind Aiken by the Marlins with the number two overall pick. Kolek is rather huge and imposing at 6’5” and 260 pounds. Not surprisingly, the 18-year-old, given that frame, hits the upper nineties with regularity, but he is not simply a hard thrower, already having a good curve. It is easy to see Kolek as a potential top end of the rotation candidate given a good frame for pitches, but it will depend on the development of his change and his ability to throw his great stuff for strikes. The righty also fits the mold of late-inning reliever too if starting does not work out for him.
The 12th overall pick, by the Brewers, was Kodi Medeiros. The lefty has some of the most intriguing stuff as a high school pitcher, armed already with two to three potential plus pitches including his stuff. The reason that he slipped lower than his prep brethren, however, is his polish of said stuff. Medeiros now needs to learn how to command and throw those pitches for strikes.
So this has been just a small sampling of the pitchers taken in the 2014 amateur draft. It is likely some of the names mentioned will get injured while others from later rounds will emerge as possibly better prospects. As you can see, it will be very tempting to select the likes of Aiken and Kolek, but it will be your own patience and your league’s style of play that will determine whether or not pitchers with such long ETA times are viable options, particularly since many keeper leagues operate on a one-year on/off again go for broke/rebuild rotation.
Next week, back to the prospects who are closer to helping us out in 2014!
Last week, I discussed the importance of determining the top targets for minor league drafts in 2015 by looking at some of the hitters selected in this year’s amateur draft and taking that information to determine where one needs to finish in their league to ensure landing a targeted player. This season’s amateur draft crop, particularly in the middle infield and the college ranks, is not all that deep, so to even consider getting one of the few impact hitting talents available, you’ll have to get one of the first picks to acquire them.
This week, we follow up by examining the rest of the amateur draft’s hitting crop.
Two Gordon’s have made it to the Majors, so why not Nick? Nick Gordon has an interesting pedigree with Tom Gordon and Dee Gordon as father and brother respectively that warrants your attention, especially now that older brother Dee was able to translate his minor league skills to the Majors and fulfill his potential as a solid shortstop and serious speed threat. Nick is a larger version of his brother at 6’2” compared to 5’11”, but he still has above average speed (though not as good as Dee and how big a SB threat he’ll be is up in the air) and the glove to stay at shortstop. Like his brother, Nick is a good contact hitter and has good bat speed, but he provides a bit more punch at the plate. From a fantasy perspective, given Dee’s speed, the older of the siblings is likely to be the more valuable long-term, but Nick could be a .280-plus, 15 HR/15 SB threat in his own right. Given the long time that it will take him to make the Majors, Nick Gordon may be a more viable second round or later pick in many AL-only leagues. The key here I think is the development of his speed game. The more he leans towards being like Dee in that area, the more first round worthy he’ll be for fantasy players.
A more likely first round pick for fantasy leaguers will be the Padres’ Trea Turner. The NC State star is already a potential 40-plus stolen base threat and has good enough power that like many speedsters, he won’t simply have the bat knocked out of his hands when he’s at the plate. The knock on Turner all around seems to be a desire to tap into his low to mid-teens power and try to knock the tar out of the ball rather than concentrate more on having a quicker to the plate, line-drive or more ground-ball oriented swing to take advantage of his near 80-scale speed. Turner plays good enough defense to stay at short and actually has fairly good enough plate discipline to the point where some consider him leadoff material, but that depends highly on the improvement of his swing.
I’m skipping a few of the prep players here to talk about Alex Blandino. The Stanford product is a steady defender, but he's best suited to second base where his mid-teens power potential best fits. Blandino also earns pretty good marks as a disciplined hitter who may be able to hit towards the upper part of the batting order. The righty has no standout tool that makes him a first round pick, but he is someone to watch in the later rounds of your NL-only draft.
For those who like raw tools, I’ll go back to the Pirates' first round selection of Cole Tucker. The righty is a legitimate shortstop with 30-plus stolen base potential and a very quick bat that should allow him to hit for average too. His likely ETA, however, is 2019 or 2020.
Let’s start with the college guys. The Mets selected Michael Conforto with the 10th pick overall. Conforto was the consensus top college hitter in the draft and that alone will make him a first round pick in most NL-only keeper leagues. Conforto projects as a power hitter with 25-plus home run potential but that is really his only standout tool. Otherwise, the lefty is more of a DH type, limited to left field. As a power hitter, Conforto has a history of fairly high strikeout rates and an all or nothing approach, which limits his upside for standard 5x5 leaguers in the batting average department but may be more attractive to OBP leaguers. The lefty should move through the Mets system fairly quickly, but as of right now, he is sounding rather comparable to former seventh round pick Lucas Duda.
While Conforto has a single standout tool, Bradley Zimmer has none, but the 21st overall pick is a far better athlete, though not quite good enough to perhaps be an everyday starter in centerfield. This is a shame as Zimmer’s bat would play well there as a mid-teens home run threat with 20-plus stolen base potential and a line-drive oriented approach. In order to play him in right field, the Indians would have to find power elsewhere in their lineup. Again, he’ll probably be a first round pick in many AL-only leagues, but his profile is not necessarily the one of an impact player long term.
The Mariners selected Alex Jackson with the first pick overall and as the top outfielder selected in the draft, and despite whatever the wait time will be, Jackson warrants careful consideration. He offers a polished approach and at least a 70, if not an 80 on the projectable power scale and excellent bat speed to catch up to just about any fastball. Jackson was actually a catcher in high school, but given his offensive ceiling and an arm suited for right field, that is where the Mariners have already placed him.
Next week, we turn our focus to pitching.