It is hard to believe that already two months have passed since the 2012 draft. Given the quick signing deadline of the new collective bargaining agreement, we have some initial samplings of many of the highly ranked prospects. These may not be significant samples, but at least we are starting to get some sort of track record.
The Twins Byron Buxton, a true 5-tools player, is showing power and speed with 4 HRs and 4 steals in just over 100 plate appearances. He’s taking a good amount of free passes, but is also striking out a quarter of the time and batting just .216. I am not concerned at the moment given his youth and a suppressed BABIP, but as with all righties who strike out at high rates, I keep in mind the possibility that he could end up a right-handed platoon player.
Kyle Zimmer, one of my favorites on draft day has already been promoted from short season A-ball to full season A-ball. Overall he’s made 6 starts and in 4 of them he has not walked a batter. In only one start has he walked 3 or more batters while at the same time fanning well more than a batter per inning. Clearly, Zimmer needs to face better competition, but that will probably occur next year with a promotion to A+ ball.
Mike Zunino was perhaps the most highly coveted college hitter in the amateur draft. So far the Mariners have not pushed him, placing him in rookie ball in the Northwest league. As the Mariners expected and one would have hoped, the righty is dominating the competition, batting over .300 while showing quality plate discipline and quite a bit more power with 7 homers and an ungodly .326 isolated power. Long term I still think he’s around the high-teens to low-twenties home run range and it will be interesting to see how his power translates as he proceeds up the minors. Like Zimmer, I suspect he’ll start 2012 in at least A+ ball, if not Double-A.
Taking a slight step back in time to the 2011 baseball amateur draft, Bubba Starling has gotten his first taste of professional ball, playing rookie-ball and so far I must say I’m impressed. Like Buxton, Starling has five-tool potential. However, I was not expecting it to be so apparent so quickly. The right has dominated the competition with 7 homers, 5 stolen bases while walking over 12% of the time. Yes, his .380 BABIP is elevating his batting average and as with Buxton, I share the same righty-power hitter skepticism. Still, one just has to like how someone who is only barely twenty years of age is already dominating the level of competition. Most likely he will be in full season low-A ball next year.
Sticking with high school outfielders, the Mets Brandon Nimmo is getting his first extended experience in professional ball with the Brooklyn Cyclones. While Nimmo is not putting up gaudy numbers, he is showing solid plate discipline and developing power. The lefty has yet to steal a base and the jury is out as to whether he will ever be a threat there given knee surgery as a high schooler.
One player expected to move through the Padres system quickly was 10th overall pick Cory Spangenberg. He has indeed already played at three levels over a short professional career, but has spent the entire season at A+ ball where the results have been rather underwhelming producing a .278 .325 .368 line with 22 steals. The expectations of a disciplined hitter with 10 to 15 HR potential have not been met and it does not help that the second basemen’s defense has earned sub-par reviews. Right now Spangenberg is on a utility player at best career path unless things starting turning around this season and next.
Sticking with the class of 2011, I remember being intrigued by the Brewers selection of two college hurlers in the first round in the former of Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley. Jungmann, 22, has spent the entire year in A+ ball and has thrown strikes and kept the ball in the park, and kept a modest 3.79 ERA, but has failed to show much ability to miss bats (5.4 K/9). The overall results suggest Jungmanni is on a one-level at a time career path, but his secondary pitches still need a good deal more refinement if he wants to be more than a back end of the rotation starter. Former Yellow jacket Jed Bradley has been in almost the same situation, but with mediocre to sub-par command, a strikeout rate of 5.0 and ERA over 5.00. One has to wonder if there is some malady affecting him. As it stands right now, the Brewers could easily come up empty on what could have become the core of their future rotation.
Moving back to hitters, C.J. Cron has inherited his dad’s power for sure with 20 homeruns compiled in 476 plate appearances. Over two seasons of professional ball, he has put 33 of them out of the yard in under 600 at-bats. Cron’s shortcoming, however is his aggressiveness. While he is making contact 88% of the time in A+ ball, he’s walking just 3-percent. At some point, as he moves up the ladder, he is going to start getting fewer things near the strikezone and it will be interesting then to see just how well his strikeout rates hold up. Right now, if he can make the majors as a starter, he fits the mold of better fantasy player than real life player. I could see a .280 .320 .500 performance or two in his future.
This week we continue to look at the prospects acquired by teams prior to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.
The non-contending Royals moved their closer, Jonathan Broxton, to the Reds in exchange for Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran. Greg Holland will get first crack at the closer’s job, but long-term the best bet may be Kelvin Herrera.
Joseph is a 24-year old left-handed reliever who is close to MLB ready. He has consistently struck out at least a batter per inning and is a power fastball/slider guy who has potential as a left-handed specialist reliever. Sulbaran, 23, is a righty has 2 to 3 potential plus pitches, he has command and mechanical issues that have generally pushed his walk rates over the 4.0 mark. I’d like to see him moved to relief.
Tyler Bortnick was the spoils of the Ryan Roberts deal. The former 16th rounder has solid plate discipline and above average base-running skills. Despite these attributes, he has struggled to hit for average in the upper minors and it looks like is being overpowered by the higher level of competition. Utility player.
Charlie Culberson was acquired for Marco Scutaro. A right-handed hitting second basemen, Culberson is aggressive with mid-teens HR potential. In his last two minor league seasons, he has failed to eclipse the .300 OBP mark, so while he has talent, the skill is not there to make him a starter. If we could Frankenstein Bortnick and Culberson together, we would have a player to get quite excited about.
The Phillies continued their rebuilding process by moving two-thirds of their starting outfield to the NLW. Shane Victorino garnered them Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin from the Dodgers while Hunter Pence landed Tommy Joseph, Nate Schierholtz, and Seth Rosin. Schierholtz and Domonic Brown should now start.
I’ve discussed Lindblom quite a bit. He’s a fly-ball pitcher who works in the low to mid-nineties and is known for a good slider and workable changeup. He’ll pitch in a setup role for the Phillies behind Jonathan Papelbon. Martin, 23, moved back to a starting role in 2012. His command has been better this year and he is missing bats, but he still has trouble commanding his secondary pitches. I still see him as a reliever despite the fact that he has four pitches.
Tommy Joseph has improved his play enough to stay behind the plate and this is exciting considering he is no longer behind Buster Posey and the fact that he has 20+ HR pop. I’d like to see him improve his plate discipline as a .313 OBP will not cut it at the big league level. Seth Rosin is a potential middle reliever with a plus sinkerball that he commands extremely well along with a mediocre change and curve.
The Cubs were one of the most active teams picking up 5 players for Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson, Geovany Soto, and Ryan Dempster. From the Braves, they are taking a gamble on Arodys Vizcaino who is working his way back from Tommy John surgery. When healthy he is a power pitching fastball/slider reliever with closer potential. Jaye Chapman, 25, is another reliever, but is the opposite of Vizcaino, He works mostly in the 80s, relying on his ability to change speeds to miss bats, but control does remain an issue with Chapman as well.
Jacob Brigham came over from Texas where he was pitching for the second straight year in Double-A. The 24-year old profiles as a back end of the rotation starter or Triple-A roster filler. But considering Soto’s decline, it’s far from surprising the Cubs didn’t get a tremendous prospect in return.
In a separate deal with Texas for Dempster, the Cubs added Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks. Villanueva, 21, is an aggressive hitter with 20 HR potential. He has regressed plate discipline-wise and has not brought as much thunder, but is young for his level. The righty has starter potential, but looks a bit like a borderline major leaguer at the moment. Hendricks, 22, is a strike-throwing machine posting a 1.0 BB/9 in 130.2 innings at A+ ball. It will be interesting to see how his 7.7 K/9 translates to the upper levels of the minors as he is not a hard thrower. The move to the NL could be a good fit.
In exchange for Brandon League, the Mariners acquired Leon Landry and Logan Bowcam. Landry is a toolsy outfielder with mid-teens homer and 20+ steal potential. That said, the lefty makes consistent contact, but is ultra aggressive and is not a long-term threat in the OBP department. His most likely route to the Majors is through his speed and defense. Bawcom is a right-handed reliever who has been closing in Double-A, but has pretty average overall stuff and moderate command. His upside is middle relief.
The Astros made deals with the Diamondbacks and Pirates, trading Chris Johnson for Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss . Krauss is an interesting 24-year old outfielder with high-teens to low-twenties power potential and excellent plate discipline. Krauss is certainly old to be playing in Double-A and needs a challenge ASAP. He could be anything from an organizational player to an everyday left fielder. Borchering is a 21-year old switch-hitter with 25+ HR potential, but is limited defensively (best position is DH) and is known for striking out more than a quarter of the time. Borchering is young enough to improve, but appears to be on an organizational player career path.
Wandy Rodriguez was dealt for the trio of Rudy Owens, Colton Cain, and Robbie Grossman. Owens is a control-artist whose stock has declined since 2010. None of the lefty’s pitches are a plus pitch and he’s looking more like a back end of the rotation starter. Cain is also a left-handed starter, but throws harder and has multiple plus-pitch potential. Overall Cain is a work in progress and his upside too is probably back end of the rotation. Grossman is a former sixth round pick noted for his advanced plate discipline. He has decent speed as well and can play all three outfield positions, but has limited power potential (low-teens per season). If the cards fall his way, he could get a chance to start, but long-term he probably profiles best as a fourth outfielder.
In exchange for Francisco Liriano the Twins added shortstop Eduardo Escobar and left-handed starter Pedro Hernandez. Escobar has well above average defensive skills. His offensive ceiling is more limited, but he does make fairly consistent contact, has some gap power, and a little speed. I still like him best as a utility guy long-term. Hernandez has excellent command and control, but does not miss bats even at the minor league level. Not much to see here.
Zack Greinke moves to the Angels where he has pushed Garrett Richards from the rotation. Jean Segura was the key of the deal and is quite possibly the best prospect acquired at the deadline. The righty is an aggressive hitter, making frequent contact with 10 to 15 HR along with 30+ stolen base potential. Presently in Double-A for now, Segura could be the Brewers starter by mid-2013. Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg will be joining Segura in Double-A. Pena is a 23-year old right-handed starter with excellent raw power stuff. He has improved his control, but is still mostly a fastball/slider guy who profiles best in the bullpen. Hellweg is the better prospect, armed with a mid-nineties fastball, good curve, and solid change, but lacks overall control. His 4.51 BB/9 is by far the best of his young career.
The Marlins continued their fire sale moving Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Gaby Sanchez, and Edward Mujica. Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough were acquired from LA. Eovaldi is an extremely hard thrower who lacks a good secondary pitch and thus strikeouts despite being a flame thrower. McGough was a 2011 firth round draft pick who has struck out more than a batter per inning in A+ ball. Despite a quality fastball/slider combo he has not dominated A+ ball quite as much as one would like. Still, he should get a shot to pitch in middle relief in the long run.
Sanchez went from consistent regular to completely falling apart. He showed some signs of life in the minors and could potentially unseat Jones at first base, but will most likely serve as a reserve for the remainder of 2012. Gorkys Hernandez has excellent speed, but has little power and profiles best as a fourth outfielder.
Finally, the Marlins dealt reliever Mujica to the Cardinals for Zack Cox.Cox was considered one of the best college hitters in the 2011 amateur draft and this deal spells out quite clearly how well he fit in the Cardinals organization defensively and how his bat has failed to develop. Cox is more of a contact-making, line drive hitter than a power hitter and if he can somehow improve his defense at second, his bat might fit there. Right now, his chances of being a starter in Miami long-term are in considerable doubt.
We are a less than a week from the non-waiver trade deadline and there have been a few deals worty of note. While it’s fairly easy to get a read on the implications of the MLB players involved, what of the minor leaguers and their long-term potential?
Detroit potentially answered their long-term #2 starter and second basemen needs, while the Marlins acquired Jacob Turner , Brian Flynn and Rob Brantly. Turner was the Tiger’s best young pitcher in their system at the start of the season and was considered for the opening day rotation. This season, however, has been marred by a few red flags including shoulder troubles and significant decline in strikeout rates at the minor league level and an overall decline in command of his pitches, despite throwing strikes, at both the minor league and MLB level. While Turner still has upper end of the rotation potential, it has me wondering if this will be the Andrew Miller deal for the Marlins all over again.
Flynn, a 2011 7th round pick is a tall hard-throwing lefty who has stared at three levels for the Tigers and only just recently made his Double-A debut. The 6’8” pitcher exceeded expectations in terms of his ability to throw strikes and has made progress developing his pitches beyond his fastball to the point where he could be a successful middle reliever. The question, like with many young pitchers, is the quality of his off-speed stuff. For now, Flynn has certainly done well enough to stay a starter, though the nit-picker in me would have liked to have seen higher strikeout rates in the lower minors and questions his ability to translate his 7+ K/9 to even Double-A.
Brantly gets decent reviews for his catch and throw skills. At the plate, the lefty makes rather consistent, line-drive contact and gap power. Like most catchers, he is far from fast, so it is unlikely that his .311 batting average at Double-A will translate even if he does make contact more than 90% of the time. I think Brantly has starter potential, but more of “average regular” with the ability to hit .270 to .280 and 8 to 15 HRs per season.
With Brett Gardner likely done for the season, the Yankees sent over D.J. Mitchell and RHP Danny Farquhar for Ichiro Suzuki. Mitchell, 25, is a bit long in the tooth for a prospect. The righty has spent time at Triple-A each of the last three seasons and finally made his MLB debut earlier this season. The former 10th round pick is a four-pitch pitcher who works in the upper eighties with a decent sinker, trying to generate ground balls. None of his pitches are exceptional, but he changes speeds and throws strikes consistently enough to be a potential 5th starter or middle reliever, but it’s unlikely that he will ever have much value as a fantasy player.
Farquhar, also 25 and a former 10th round pick, is a smallish right-handed reliever. The Mariners will be his fourth organization before he even makes his MLB debut which means he is well regarded enough to keep getting traded. He’s a fastball/slider guy who hides and varies his arm angle well. Farquhar profiles best in middle relief.
The White Sox acquired Brett Myers for additional bullpen depth and dealt pitchers Matt Heidenreich and Blair Walters to the Astros. Heidenreich was a fourth round pick out of high school in 2009. The big righty has not worked out quite as well as envisioned. The righty tops out in the low nineties and is a pitch to contact pitcher with very good control, but with mediocre secondary stuff that has had him produce sub 6.0 K/9 at the A+ level and lower levels. I’m doubtful he makes it to the majors as a starter. Perhaps he might do well with a conversion to relief.
Walters, a lefty, is more likely to have a MLB career. A 2011 11th round pick, Walters was a college reliever who has been used as a starter in the White Sox’s system and has been meeting with some heavy resistance since being promoted to A+ ball, albeit with excellent peripheral skills (8+ K/9 and sub 2.0 BB/9). His low to mid-nineties heavy sinker earns praise and should help to earn at least a left-handed specialists gig in the long run.
In exchange for J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, and David Carpenter the Astros took on the salary of Francisco Cordero to acquire Joe Musgrove, Asher Wojciechowski, David Rollins, and Carlos Perez. Musgrove, 19, has upside with a heavy sinker that hits the upper nineties and the makings of a good slider and is already showing aptitude for throwing strikes. The next step is the development of a changeup. Perez, a catcher, is a 21-year old with solid defensive skills, gap power, and well above average plate discipline. Like Brantly above, he is not a fast runner and it could hurt his ability to hit for despite solid contact making skills. Perez is probably 1.5 to 2 years away and is a potential starter. Wojciechowski, 23, has a good pedigree as a former supplemental first round pick, but got knocked around last year and is repeating A+ ball. The 230 pounder throws plenty hard and has a plus slider that he can throw for strikes. Over 18 starts Wojciechowski posted a 7.3 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 and is due for promotion given his success and age. At the very least he’ll make it in middle relief if he can’t as a starter. Rollins, 22, is a former 24th round pick who was working in low A-ball as a starter at the time of the trade. He profiles as an organizational type who would do well to convert to a lefty specialist role.
Next week, more trade deadline prospect acquisition analysis!
This week we take a look at prospects who are dominating the minors to get a better idea of their prospect legitimacy.
Billy Hamilton has been giving us flashbacks like it’s the 1980s with back to back 100+ stolen base seasons. It is quite amazing to note that he’s already surpassed 2011’s total in 200+ fewer plate appearances with 104. The question, of course is, how will Hamilton translate to the Majors as an actual player? Well first off, he is a non-power threat, speed merchant and a right-handed hitter to boot. On the positive side he has become more selective, walking 13% of the time and has improved his contact, but not to a level that screams “special” with an 18% strikeout rate. In other words his .404 BABIP is a bit telling and over his head. The young shortstop, who will probably need to be converted to 2B or the OF in the long run, is in line for a promotion to Double-A and if things go as planned, could get some cups of coffee and perhaps a more promising role with the Reds in 2012. At the very least, Hamilton could be a valuable fantasy player possibly in the mold of Rajai Davis given similar plate discipline skills and power potential. If he can make more consistent, solid contact and continue to translate those selectivity skills upwards through the minors, we may have something. For now, I remain skeptical and do not quite see him as an everyday player without further improvement.
19-year old Dylan Bundy is already dominating the competition at A+ ball, striking out more than a batter per inning while throwing strikes. Bundy’s skill set and talents are for real and the Orioles seriously have him on a fast track that could even get him an (ill-advised from an arbitration clock standpoint) cup of coffee. However, it is more likely that he will finish the year at A+ ball, and move up to Double-A with a chance at Triple-A in 2013 and perhaps be in their rotation full time at the age of 21 in 2014. Bundy’s stuff is just impressive across the board and deep with high octane velocity, the ability to spin the ball, handle lefties, and change speeds like a pitcher several years older than himself. Health permitting, Bundy is a future ace in the making.
While the Detroit Tigers continue to love Miguel Cabrera’s bat they know his long term position cannot be third base. They are counting on Nick Castellanos to be that man. The 20-year old is on the fast track and has played at both Single-A+ and Double-A ball this year along with appearance with this weeks’ Futures Game. His defensive skills should allow him to play 3B at the MLB level. In Single-A he dominated, batting .405 (.486 BABIP) while making contact 83% of the time while showing improving patience and gap power along with 3 homeruns. In Double-A Castllanos has been having a good deal more trouble and looks to be pressing with a 20%+ strikeout rate while walkin less than 2% of the time over a small 119 plate appearance sample size. The righty is very young for his league and his struggles over a small sample should not be read too much into. However, Castellanos is very much an unfinished product who is a bit over aggressive for a hitter with possibly sub 20-HR power potential. I think he will get a chance to start, but I see him as a more regular everyday player than as a potential star.
It feels like forever, but Mets prospect Wilmer Flores was promoted to Double-A a little while back and has translated his contact-making skills (91% of the time) to the new level. More impressively, the 20-year old hit for power in the fairly notoriously pitcher friendly Florida State League with 10 HRs. Since moving to Double-A he has followed up 3 more long balls while producing a .390 .433 .576 line over an incredibly small sample. Like Castellanos, Flores is very young and given his size and frame has long been expected to move to third base. The good signs here have been the upwards trending power over last season and this season while maintaining good contact making skills. That said, Flores is too aggressive of a hitter to be much an OBP threat (.330s at best?), but there is .280 20+ HR potential here to be found. Again, not a stud or star unless he somehow finds a way to stay at short, but more likely an average regular.
The Rangers Justin Grimm leads the Texas League in ERA. He recently received a 3-start trial in the Rangers rotation, but showed he was not quite ready for the 2-level jump and was sent back to Double-A at the All Star break. In Double-A the righty has a 1.87 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. The righty is a three pitch pitcher who throws relatively hard and can touch the mid-nineties and has a good slider, but gets mixed reports on his changeup. For now Grimm needs more time at Double-A and deserves a promotion to Triple-A. At the moment I see him more as a reliever than as a starter despite his dominance this season.
2010 first round pick Zack Cox really is not working out the way the Cardinals had hoped. His .252 .298 .405 line includes a fairly hot June. The power expectations are not there and with the exception of 75 plate appearances during an Arizona Fall League campaign, the right has been an aggressive hitter whose contact rates have declined as he has progressed up the minor league ladder. Still, Cox is only 23 years of age and may yet turn things around, but right now the lefty is not looking like he has the bat desired for the hot corner and if he could show some competency at second base, might profile better than from an offensive standpoint.
Jedd Gyorko, on the other hand, has been seeing his stock rise. Also a 2010 draft pick, Gyorko has advanced from Double-A to Triple-A already, showing a good combination of power, contact-making, and plate discipline. I had been previously skeptical regarding his power potential and will be interested to see how it ultimately translates to PETCO. While Gyorko’s .349/.396/.597 line in Triple-A is over his head and certainly impacted by park and PCL league conditions, his right-handed bat would be a welcome addition to the Padres’ lineup. Chase Headley is arbitration eligible again after this season and could easily end up costing the Friar’s over $4M, so a positional change for one of this duo may have to occur.
When Scott Sizemore went down in spring training, the A’s had to scramble for a third baseman. The Josh Donaldson experiment was a failure while adding veterans like Brandon Inge and Brandon Hicks have been band-aide maneuvers at best. Steve Parker looked like a viable candidate to possibly enter the fray this spring too. Recently the lefty has been seeing some time at the hot corner and may yet receive a trial at the MLB level, but while Parker’s been steady, his bat really has not come to life producing a pedestrian .270/.349/.417 line for Sacramento. The OBP skills are there, but it is hard to imagine him as more than mid-teens per season homerun candidate. I think Parker may be more worthwhile to hold onto in redraft leagues than keeper leagues simply because he is a low-ceiling player who could provide a boost in deep formats still this year, but for keeper leaguers, there are more attractive long-term options to fill their limited minor league rosters.
Many wished Nolan Arenado won the starting third base job for the Rockies this spring. Instead the 21-year old appears properly placed in Double-A where the righty is sporting a .293/.348/.424 line along with an 88% contact- rate. These are very respectable numbers when you consider the fact that Arenado is young for his league and is holding his own well. On the other hand, Arenado is far from dominating the level and is not hitting for as much power as anticipated. Given these factors, it is hard to expect Arenado to be an impact factor in 2012. He may get a promotion to Triple-A and perhaps even a September call-up, but it would unsurprising if he was on a one-level-at-a-time program now with a more likely mid-2013 recall date. There is still plenty of potential in this skill and toolset for Arenado to be a 20+ .300+ threat in his prime.
I had high hopes for the Mariner’s Vinnie Catricala given his dominating performances at A+ and Double-A ball in 2011 where he showed a solid combination of power and plate discipline. 2012 has been a struggle for the 23-year old. The former 10th round pick in stead is hitting under .200 against lefties and is being out of context, overly aggressive at the plate. Catricala continues to make a fair amount of contact, but is not driving the ball like he did in 2011. While the righty has been showing some signs of life lately with a few multi-hit games under his belt, it is starting to get a bit cloudy as to where he fits into the M’s long-term plans, especially given his defensive shortcomings.
The Angels have not received much offense from third base this season except when they ill-advisedly deploy a very much out of position Mark Trumbo there. Meanwhile, in Triple-A, Luis Jimenez is having a rather similar season to his Double-A campaign, hitting for average and making very consistent contact while showing mid to high teens homerun per season potential. However, he continues to be a rather aggressive hitter, walking less than 5% of the time and despite hitting .296, is actually getting on base at just a .323 clip. Should the Angels decide to give Jimenez a shot, the righty’s skills should translate rather easily to the Majors, but I suspect in the long run his aggressiveness will be exploited and could reduce him to a bench or organizational role long-term given a relatively modest offensive ceiling.
Moving to the Marlins, it appears to be unfortunately time to cross Matt Dominguez off the prospect lists. Dominguez remains an elite defender, but has yet to show an ability to hit for average, to get on-base, or much in any form of power over his minor league career. The righty has actually made contact 90% of the time, but has been held to a .231 batting average. This may be in part due to a .236 BABIP leaving open the possibility for improvement, but his overall ceiling as a low to mid-teens homerun hitter who may be overmatched at the MLB level leaves little reason to keep him on your minor league squad if better options present themselves.
The big prospect note of this week is Trevor Bauer’s proposed debut later today. Bauer, 22, will be replacing Joe Saunders , who is on the DL with a shoulder strain, in the rotation. This could be a short-term stay on the first go around , but keep in mind that Saunders is an impending free agent who will be on the block as soon as he is healthy, so that should provide the long-term opportunity for Bauer.
Bauer was the third overall pick in the 2011 Rule-4 draft out of UCLA. Since then he has done nothing but miss bats at every level of professional play and has yet to post a sub-11.0 K/9. The young righty features multiple plus--if not plus-plus pitches--and a repertoire that says “potential ace." His shortcomings are in the control and command department. While Bauer is generally unhittable, he has also continuously walked over 4 batters per nine innings pitched. When you combine that number of walks with his high strikeout rates that translates to quite a few pitches, so the key task for his long-term success and quite possibly his health will be improving his efficiency. For now, if somehow available, Bauer is recommended in NL only and most mixed formats given strikeout potential.
The second biggest prospect call-up of note is Martin Perez by the Rangers. The 21-year old lefty may get a start against Oakland on Saturday, but has been far from phenomenal this season, failing to miss bats (5.2 K/9) and to throw strikes (4.1 BB/9)/ While Perez has good raw stuff, he has not appeared to be ready to handle Triple-A level hitting let alone meet the stadard of MLB quality pitching given his performance each of the past two seasons. Perez' recall is directly linked to his most recent performances where he seems to have gotten things a bit more together and started throwing strikes. Despite some success over a small sample of starts I recommend staying away in non-keeper seeking situations given the potential for volatility. Perez is not quite ready for prime time and could easily end up on a bullpen/loogy path if things do not get better. At least Perez has age on his side.
Los Angeles Keystone
The Dodgers have been using a patchwork of players at second base, throwing in veterans Mark Ellis, Adam Kennedy, and utility guys like Ivan DeJesus Jr., and Elian Herrera. Meanwhile, at Triple-A, Alex Castellanos has been on a tear batting .379 .459 .719. Granted, the hitting environment of Albuquerque favors the batter, however, Castellanos has shown improved plate discipline, drawing walks and making good, hard contact. The 25-year old is not a high-end prospect, but has legitimate middle teens or better power and stolen base talents. Defensively, he is not the best second basemen, but he could be play adequately enough there given the upgrade in offense he might bring to the team.
Arencibia Owners Get a Reprieve
Well, at least in deference to the kicker above, if batting less than .220 is a reprieve. Anyway, I feel like I jinxed Travis D’Arnaud. His PCL injury will have him out until at least early August and probably closer to late August, which means the best we can hope for is a brief September call-up. In other words, it would be far from surprising for him to end up being shut down for the year and instead challenging for the starting job next Spring or again on mid-season call-up watch.
It is no great secret that Wil Myers has been on fire. The Royals’ outfielder may soon force the MLB club’s hand. The 21-year-old started the season in Double-A, hitting .351 while masing 13 homers in just 152 plate appearaces. I was somewhat skeptical given a rather dauntingly high, though out of career context, strikeout rate and .425 batting average on balls in play. Well, the Royals could not keep him in Double-A and he has rewarded them with a return to norm in the contact department at a sub 20% strikeout rate, but has also maintained good plate discipline and power, where in just another 132 plate appearances, he crushed 11 more homers for 24 overall. Myers may never be noted for his defensive attributes, but the righty looks like a legit masher and potential .300 30+ HR threat at the MLB level. Jeff Francouer owners need to be on notice as he is a rather high probability target to be dealt around the trade deadline to make way for Myers.
In Toronto, Travis D’Arnaud got off to a slow, but solid start, but it was rather unimpressive considering he was playing in the hitter’s haven of Las Vegas. In recent weeks, he has been nothing but hot, adjusting to the Triple-A game and now up to a .335 overall batting average. He's well on pace to set a single-season personal high in homers with 15 in just 275 plate appearances after posting 21 in 466 last year. D’Arnaud has shown he can be a fairly solid contact hitter at multiple levels of play, but unlike Myers, he is a more aggressive hitter and being a catcher, I remain skeptical of his ability to be a .300 hitter in the big leagues, regardless of what he has done the last two years in the minors. The righty is going to have to prove that the contact he makes is consistently hard contact to hit for average because a catcher’s legs are not going to give him many infield hits to boost it. That said, these are still at least a .270s hitter's skills, if not better, and J.P. Arencibia continues to show power, but is on pace to repeat a consecutive sub .220 batting average and well sub .300 OBP. This is not sustainable for a major league starter, so a second half call-up of D’Arnaud looks quite likely.
Over in Toledo, Jacob Turner owners may be thinking their man may be getting close to the show with his 3.43 ERA, especially given the recent, albeit short-term, injury to Drew Smyly. In fact, Turner will be making a spot start later this week in Smyly’s place. Well, I would urge caution here. Though he showed some signs of life in his most recent start with six strikeouts in six innings with only two walks, Turner has had a very up and down season to the point that his K/9 is below 6.0 and his normally characteristic above average command and control have not been there for him. Instead, he has walked batters at a rate of over 4.0 per nine innings. The issues, especially earlier this season, can be linked to shoulder problems (“dead arm”) and only in recent weeks has he been showing signs of regaining his full velocity. So Turner has some red flags here with respect to his health. It is also tough to recommend him as a spot starter for now as we are indeed discussing a 21-year-old with just 10 total starts above the Double-A level.
Over in the National League, Anthony Rizzo is doing in the Minors what caused the Padres to promote him early last year. Of course, he fizzled upon his promotion, but it is hard to ignore someone who has hit 23 homers and has a .364/.426/.745 line (yes, .745!). Yes, he is playing above his head, but his trial with the Padres now looks fluky in the context of his professional career (30% strikeout rate) compared to a low-twenties or high-teens rate that he normally produces. Bryan LaHair, of course, has established himself as a legitimate slugger, so the Cubs will have an interesting conundrum to unravel in the next few weeks considering neither player really should step anywhere near the outfield or any other defensive position for that matter.
In other news, the NY-Penn League and other short-season baseball leagues opened this week. The rapid signing of draft picks has already well stocked these rosters. If you live near one of these short-season clubs, I highly recommend checking them out. I hope to be checking out some Hudson Valley Renegade Action myself! This and other teams in these rookie leagues could be some of the most intriguing minor league baseball to see. And keep in mind that because of the quick signing process, we could see some expedited promotions through organizations, or even cuts, as some picks will fizzle.
Getting back to players with at least some amount of professional track record, Drew Smyly has exhausted his rookie status after 12 starts and 63 2/3 innings of work. The birthday boy has had impressive results, producing an 8.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 and has translated his minor league skills to the Majors quite well. The now 23-year-old does have a chink in his armor, however, as he is a fly-ball pitcher who has allowed home runs at a rate of 1.4 per nine innings pitched or on 13% of fly balls allowed. Owners, however, need not be too alarmed as his overall skills suggest that his ERA hovering around 4.00 is right about where it should be and in time may see improvement given a slightly elevated HR/FB rate. Looking deeper to the splits department, Smyly has been death on lefties, walking just three in 20.1 innings and striking out 25 and while his work against righties has not been as menacingly dominant, the young lefty has produced very respectable results with a 6+ K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. Interestingly, Smyly has allowed four of his ten home runs against lefties, so given experience and his general success against them, it should assure further improvement long-term. As with all rookie pitchers, however, the enemy is total innings, pitch counts, and “second time around the league.” While Smyly looks like a solid addition to Detroit in the long term, ups and downs for the rest of 2012 need to be expected.
Over in Boston, Will Middlebrooks’ production has pushed Kevin Youkilis to the rumor mill/trade block. Hitting .302/.341/.517 can do that, especially while Youkilis has spent much of the year out of the lineup and batting only a bit above the Mendoza line. Yes, Youkilis is a free agent at the end of the season and Middlebrooks is a low-cost option with upside, but I still remain skeptical that the young righty is truly the long-term solution for the Bosox. Keep in mind that Middlebrooks has had to hit .302 to post that .341 OBP and Youkilis, while he is hitting just .225, has a .305 OBP. This is the same skepticism I expressed in the pre-season regarding Middlebrooks. The kid has good raw power, can play third base well enough to stick, but is just a darn aggressive hitter (did I mention he was right-handed yet?) who strikes out over 20% of the time and thus far more than a quarter of the time over his short MLB sample. Boston fans and Middlebrooks owners are going to have to get used to extreme highs and lows given this skill set and overall should probably be expecting a sub .280 or worse hitter, not a .300 hitter in the long run.
Giving the National League some love, Yonder Alonso has been something of a disappointment in his first full season of MLB ball. From a plate discipline skills perspective at least, there is a lot to like as the former Red has shown both selectivity and contact-making ability. What is not apparent is any sign of punch with a sub .100 ISO. This is not what you want to see from your starting first baseman. So far we have seen a low 30% fly-ball rate and a 40%+ ground ball rate. The only thing salvaging his season thus far has been his ability to hit line drives. It is far too early to write Alonso off, especially given such solid fundamentals, but he is going to have to turn it around soon to keep his job.
On the mound, Wade Miley has been surprisingly dominant for the Diamondbacks with his 2.53 ERA. I’ve had a soft spot for the lefty for several years now given the depth of his repertoire and very good command, but this is not a pitcher with a great arsenal of swing and miss pitches. Instead, he has honed his game as a fairly dominant ground-ball pitcher (49%), combined it with a 2.1 BB/9, and mid 5’s K/9. A .257 batting average on balls in play and pitching in a ballpark more conducive to hitting, however, suggests Miley is pitching over his head. The long-term scouting report on Miley remains as more of a back-end of the rotation type/innings eater. Enjoy the success for now, but do not be surprised if his ERA and WHIP climb more than a point upwards as the season progresses.
In Seattle, Jesus Montero is pretty much performing exactly as expected. The 22-year-old is showing a fair amount of power, but like Middlebrooks, we are talking about a fairly aggressive swinging righty with so-so contact and OBP skills. The end result of a .250 batting average and .298 OBP therefore is not surprising. Now, Montero has shown greater selectivity than Middlebrooks at the minor league level, so I expect some more adjustments, but I would not expect a future .300 hitter at the moment, especially when you include how dreadfully slow a runner Montero has proven to be. A speed score of 1.6 is pretty abysmal and the fact that it was similar at the minor league level shows it not to be a fluke. Expect more of the same for the rest of the season and perhaps the next few seasons before Montero can become more of an impact bat as he both physically matures and learns the MLB game.
This week, my thoughts on the in-progress amateur drafts results of several organizations.
Mike Zunino was expected to go in the first five picks. The Mariners have an interesting history with first round catching picks. Most recently they selected Jeff Clement with this very pick in 2005 and also Ryan Christianson with the 11th overall pick in 1999. Some guy named Jason Varitek 14th overall in 1994, and Terry Bell 17th overall in 1983. Zunino is in theory a more well rounded player than either Clement or Christianson, but has neither player’s “potential” with the bat and Zunino does not strike me as an impact player, but more of a solid citizen type. After the rather safe Zunino, Seattle followed with some raw tools selections in Joe DeCarlo (a future 3B), Edwin Diaz, a projectable righty who throws serious heat already, and Tyler Pike, a left-handed high school pitcher who already has some depth to his repertoire. A lot of risk in these three before you get to Rutgers’ Patrick Kivlehan, a solid hitter with 20+ HR Potential and Taylor Ard, a DH type, with even more raw power potential. Both have some OBP skills as well. Shortstop Chris Taylor looks like a utility guy with a good glove, Grady Wood a fifth starter type who could start at A+ ball and move quickly up the ladder, and Mike Faulker has to be tracked because of his tremendous speed, but may be overpowered by even minor league pitching.
Of course I have to include my hometown New York Mets. The Mets draft thus far lacks the potential upside of last year’s effort, but does feature quite a few players who should see time in the Majors. Gavin Cecchini was no surprise as his name came up for the Mets in multiple mocks. Cecchini is a good defender with moderate hitting/speed tools. He looks like a potential starter, but not a star and my initial sense says far better in real baseball than fantasy. The Mets then explored a low-ceiling, fairly quick ascent path with several college picks including Kevin Plawecki, a contact hitting catcher who is constantly compared to A.J. Pierzynksi. Interestingly the Mets rated him higher than 3rd overall pick Zunino. Matt Reynolds has a chance to be Daniel Murphy type with better defensive skills. Matt Koch and Brandon Welch have setup men potential. Then they went with several projectable starters in Teddy Stankiewicz (middle of the rotation potential), Corey Oswalt, and Chris Flexen. High school catcher Tomas Nido has interesting power potential. The Jayce Boyd selection is a puzzle as a non-power hitting right-handed first basemen - the 6th round feels like an overdraft.
One cannot fault the Twins for going upside with Byron Buxton who has minimum 20-20 potential. Pitch recognition and plate discipline are what it will determine if Buxton realizes that or falls into prospect purgatory. The Twins then continued with a talent/high ceiling approach selecting J.O. Berrios who is armed with multiple plus pitch potential and projectability. After that they settled in for six straight college picks, five pitchers, though none project best as starters. But all are rather hard throwers and should be on a quick path to the majors. The group includes Daniel Bard’s kid brother Luke Bard, Mason Melotakis, J.T. Chargois, and Zach Jones. Melotakis is the lone lefty of the group. It almost has a “throwing darts” feel to it where the Twins may end up with one or two keys to the bullpen. Adam Brett Walker, the hitter of the group, could be the Twins long-term first basemen with his above average power. I am, however, very concerned with his high strikeout rates at even the college level.
Some thought Mark Appel was destined to be #1 overall, but he slipped to #8 and the Pirates jumped at the opportunity to add to their crop of power arms that includes last year’s #1 overall pick Gerrit Cole, making this two straight years they snagged the top pitcher on their board. The Pirates also took another pre-draft favorite of mine in Barrett Barnes, a disciplined hitter with excellent speed and gap power. The knock on him is that he has a centerfielder’s bat, but profiles better in a corner outfield spot. The Bucs then selected arguably the best all around catcher in the draft, Wyatt Mathisen, who has some defensive tools and a bat with power projection. Interestingly the Pirates took a second player like Barnes in Brandon Thomas, another college speedster profiling better as a left fielder. He looks more like a back-up or organizational type, however. The Pirates made some bids on projectable pitchers in the later rounds with Dalton Friend and Walker Buehler, both of whom could be first five round picks after college. It will be interesting to see if they can sign them.
The Royals may have selected the best rounded starting pitching choice in Kyle Zimmer with the fifth pick overall. His combination of stuff, depth of repertoire, mechanics, and command make him a potential fast mover. Sticking with college pitchers, the Royals next selected Sam Selman. Teams seem to love his potential as a power lefty, but he has quite a few question marks in stark contrast to Zimmer. Kenny Diekroeger is another bit of a head-scratcher as true second basemen who grades out average at best in the power/speed department and strikes me as a utility or average/unspectacular starter at best.
Last week I covered some interesting names that are sure to be selected in the first round of the draft and will be amongst the more targeted in your minor league/dynasty leagues next year. This week, let’s take a bit deeper look beyond the early picks to find some additional targets.
The crop of college talent can usually be relied upon several strong armed pitchers with setup or possible closer potential. It helps, that given their college experience and concentrating on 2 to 3 pitches tops in the minors tends to help them cruise through the minors, to the Majors, if they are effective.
Matt Koch is a right-handed reliever out of Louisville with a multiple plus-potential pitch arsenal including the requisite heat. Like with many hard throwers, command is the key for Koch. I would not be surprised to see him handled somewhat like Chris Sale, moved between relief and starting, since he does have enough pitches to potentially be a starter.
Nolan Sanburn throws harder than Koch and has a rather nasty curve to boot. While his pure stuff may rate a bit higher than Koch’s, he is still working on a pitch to combat lefties and like Koch, also has issues with commanding his pitches.
Another potential late inning reliever available in the 2012 draft is Jake Barrett. He’s a big righty with power stuff and three quality pitches. He will likely fall in the draft due to injury and/or potential future injury concerns, but should still go in the first rounds on the basis of his stuff alone.
Dan Langfield may not be as tall as some power closers at just 6’0” and is probably more effective when he doesn’t try to throw too hard where he can rely on more movement. Langfield has some weapons including a cutter against lefties and has made some strides this year as far as throwing strikes, but needs to prove this is a for real change at the professional level and especially over a larger sample of innings.
Hitters of Note
Moving away from pitching we are brought to the backstop and Kevin Plawecki. There are other catchers more highly rated in the draft, but Plawecki may move through the minors more speedily than most. The righty first and foremost is noted for his contact making abilities and drawing walks more often than he strikes out. The Boilermaker also has gap power and could be capable of high single digits to low-teens power output in the long run. His defense is such that it is solid enough to certainly stay behind the plate too. So overall he is not a high ceiling player, but rather one who should hit his ceiling quickly and be quite fantasy relevant.
Stephen Piscotty is another contact-hitting type, with not too high a ceiling, but who like Plawecki might be able to reach his ceiling in the Majors quickly. His frame is more built for power than Plawecki’s, but his bat, while quick, has a swing designed more for line drives than homeruns. The soon to be Stanford alum could hit for average in the Majors and is a reasonable fantasy target as long as he can stay at third base. If Piscotty has to move off third to first or a corner outfield spot, his bat will not play as well and could cost his career.
At shortstop, Nolan Fontana has all the skills and tools to be a regular major leaguer. He has the glove to stay at shortstop, makes contact, has some gap power, and well above average plate discipline that will allow him to get on base and perhaps hit for average as well. I see a .280 5 to 10 HR, 10 to 20 steal per season capability of output from him.
The 2012 draft does consist of a few college outfielders that could move through their respective systems at a fair rate. Travis Jankowski has true centerfielder skills including the glove and plus speed to handle the position. The lefty out of Suny Stonybrook has little power to speak of, but at least makes contact. This of course, however, is not enough, as many a low-powered speedster has not been able to make the kind of quality contact it takes to be a Major Leaguer, so Jankowski will have to pass that test.
Barrett Barnes is more of a left fielder in the long run, but has a better rounded set of tools and skills than Jankowksi. The Red Raider is a right-handed hitter, but has good bat speed and at least average power potential. Barnes is also blessed with plus speed and may have a shot at 20-20 in the long run. I remain a bit skeptical at this time regarding his ability to hit for average in the long run given a power-conscious approach and his right-handedness.
The Caly Poly slugger Mitch Hanigan has 20+ HR potential. Normally I would be skeptical of a right-handed power hitter’s ability to make it in the Majors, but Hanigan has made strides in the plate discipline department, walking as much, if not more than he has struck out. Time will tell whether he can translate this skill development to the pros.
James Ramsey will probably be a quick signing as a senior for the Florida Seminoles. He gets excellent reviews for his makeup and is a disciplined hitter w ho makes good contact. The lefty, however, only has teens per season homerun potential. His best tool may be his speed where he has 20+ potential. As an outfielder, Ramsey is something of a tweener as he is more of a fringy centerfielder and does not have the bat for a corner spot. Its possible he may be tried in the infield by some organization where his bat would better fit.
Next week we will take a look to see how the draftees look to fit into their new organizations long-term plans.
We are under two weeks away from this year’s Rule-4 draft and I already have a my eye on more than a few players for my keeper and dynasty leagues.
Mike Zunnio, a catcher out of the University of Florida, has a solid all-around game that will allow him to stay behind the plate and be a productive offensive force. I don’t think he has the ceiling to be a star. Despite plenty of bat speed, opinions are divided long term whether Zunnio will be a teens per season home run hitter or more a 20-plus guy. For now, as a right handed hitter, I just want to be sure he translates his contact making skills to professional ball before rendering a full opinion, but he does look like an everyday starter.
Michael Wacha out of Texas A&M is probably considered the “safest” of picks as far as starting pitchers goes. That is a fairly loaded term given the amount of innings college hurlers rack up, but we are talking about a polished right hander with above average command and a good fastball/changeup combo. So that is a very nice foundation. There are some questions out there regarding Wacha’s ability to spin the ball (curve and change), so I also wonder if this is a potential Mike Pelfrey situation. Though to be fair, Pelfrey was drafted with the idea that he could spin the ball and it simply wasn’t ever true.
Mark Appel is the higher end pick with a power fastball/slider combo and workable change. This Stanford righty could easily be a top five pick. However, he is riskier than Wacha as his command has been questioned and his 4-seamer has been called “too straight” by multiple sources while his two-seamer receives better reviews. It will be interesting to see how quickly Appel will make it to the Majors, but it is fairly clear that he has some work to do.
Kyle Zimmer may be the best overall package as far as college pitchers go heading into the amateur draft. He combines Wacha’s strike-throwing ability with stuff that more closely approaches Appel’s level and the overall combination could make him a potential #2 or better MLB starter.
Byron Buxton is probably the highest ceiling player in this year’s draft. The right-handed hitting outfielder is already blessed with abundant speed and has a 6’2” frame that he can grow into and gain power, and already excellent bat speed. Essentially Buxton is in the same situation as Bubba Starling - tons of talent, but how will that talent translate to professional ball and especially as a right-hander hitter, will he have the plate discipline to truly harness that talent? Time will tell. High risk, high reward can be found here, but it will far from surprising to see him go first overall.
Marcus Stroman is an interesting potential first round selection. He pitches for Duke and stands well under the ideal height for a pitcher at a generous 5’9”. That aside, the righty has all the qualities you look for in a first round college pitcher. Plus command and a deep repertoire with multiple pitch potential that includes weapons to combat lefties and righties alike. The question will be how deceptive he is and how well/how quickly pro hitters see and recognize his pitches given his stature. Right now I am optimistic and think he can make it as least a back end of the rotation pitcher. I also believe he could be one of the faster movers through the minors.
We need to talk about a middle infielder and Deven Marrero is worth talking about. Despite possible work ethic issues, Herrera is a true shortstop and will stay at the position long term. He strikes me as something of a Mark Grudzielanek type perhaps with the ability to hit for average, perhaps get double digits in steals and homeruns, but also is an aggressive hitter who will not impress in the OBP department.
Finally, moving over to the hot corner, fantasy players should watch the progress of Richie Shaffer. While his long term position is up in that air, most likely 1B, we are talking about a player who already has plus power and is a legitimate 20+, if not closer to 30 homerun per season threat. Why I like Shaffer, however, is his advanced plate discipline. The righty regularly draws more walks than strikeouts. If he can translate that ability to pro ball along with his power, he could be a legitimate .280+ 25+ threat. The fact that he is slow afoot, however, reduces the likelihood that he is a consistent .300-hitting threat.
I’ll have more to report on the amateur draft as we approach and review it in the coming weeks.