Prospect Rumor Roundup Rumors
Where did the year go?
The 2013 minor league regular season is in the books, and the lucky few are currently competing in the playoffs. We've seen a lot of exciting moments during the year. We've also seen a lot of prospects significantly improve their values. To celebrate the best of the best, MLBTR is celebrating the 2013 All-Prospect All-Star Team, which features the top players in the minors at each position. Given the depth at some positions -- as well as the lack there of at others -- this was no easy task.
The players were chosen by considering a mixture of future potential and statistical results.
Catcher: Austin Hedges, Padres -- Because of his abilities on both defense and offense, San Diego's catcher of the future narrowly edged out the Yankees' Gary Sanchez. His abilities on both sides of the ball also impressed his employers, according to Padres Assistant General Manager of Player Personnel Chad MacDonald. "He has the tools and skill set to impact both sides of the ball... and we are excited about his future with the San Diego Padres," MacDonald said.
Hedges will probably never be the strongest offensive catcher in the league but he won't embarrass himself, either. Behind the plate, he's perhaps the best defensive catcher in the minors if you take everything into consideration: arm, receiving, blocking, game calling and leadership.
First Base: Dan Vogelbach, Cubs -- This position was the hardest one to find a deserving candidate. The Astros' Jonathan Singleton missed the beginning of the year due to a suspension and then struggled with his consistency. The Angels' C.J. Cron failed to consistently tap into his raw power. Vogelbach, just 20, performed well at two A-ball levels and showed the ability to hit for average and power while also getting on-base at a solid clip.
Brandon Hyde, the Cubs' director of player development, said Vogelbach's successes came from hard work. "It was an impressive season with raw power to all fields," he said. "He has an advanced approach for his age, and he controls the strike zone."
Second Base: Rougned Odor, Rangers -- Second base was another tough position to settle on the winner. The Angels' Taylor Lindsey, Cardinals' Kolten Wong, and Twins' Eddie Rosario also received serious consideration before the award went to Odor. The Rangers' prospect hit more than .300 between High-A and Double-A with a strong OPS and 32 stolen bases -- all at the age of 19. The left-handed hitter also popped 58 extra base hits, including 41 doubles. With all the middle infield depth in Texas, Odor could make things very interesting -- and crowded -- in short order.
Third Base: Miguel Sano, Twins -- Sano was the runaway winner at third base, although the Cubs' Kris Bryant could give him a run for his money in a year's time (assuming both prospects are still in the minors). The Dominican native launched 35 home runs and produced a .610 slugging percentage. However, he didn't hit for a great average after his promotion from High-A to Double-A, and he combined to strike out 142 times in 123 games, so there are some holes in his game that need to be addressed.
Shortstop: Javier Baez, Cubs -- There were five players that were considered in this slot, including Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox), Francisco Lindor (Indians), Addison Russell (Athletics) and Carlos Correa (Astros). Baez, though, came out ahead when considering his outstanding statistical results and the fact that he has a chance to be as good as any other player on the list. Just 20, he finished the year in Double-A and hit a combined 37 home runs with 20 stolen bases and a .920 OPS.
Hyde was impressed with Baez's ability to make adjustments after being promoted to Double-A. "He hit in the middle of the order on a prospect-laden team. He made huge strides defensively and with his plate discipline," Hyde said. "He has a unique combination of raw power, speed and off-the-charts instincts, especially for a 20 year old in Double-A."
Outfielder: George Springer, Astros -- Springer, 23, had an eye-popping season while playing at both Double-A and Triple-A. He narrowly missed becoming a 40-40 player (HR-SB) with 37 homers and 45 steals while playing at the highest levels of the minors. Springer's approach produces massive strikeout numbers, but he showed improvements in that area as the year progressed.
The prospect impressed the club's front office not only with his play but also his attitude, according to Quinton McCracken, the Astros director of player development. "George is an exceptional five-tool talent, and even better person. He has great makeup, work ethic, off-the-chart intangibles coupled with incredible athleticism... He's a very special player," he said.
Outfielder: Byron Buxton, Twins -- Buxton was the biggest no-brainer on this list. Just 19 and in his first full pro season, the five-tool outfielder played at two A-ball levels while hitting more than .330 and producing double digits in doubles, triples and homers. He also got on base at a .424 clip, stole 55 bases in 74 tries and played above-average defense in centerfield. The Twins have one of the best minor league systems in all of baseball and could be a massive threat in two to three seasons.
Outfielder: Gregory Polanco, Pirates -- Polanco edged out a few other players because, at a very young age, he showed a five-tool approach and had an impact in numerous areas. The 21-year-old outfielder showed that he may one day develop into a 20-20 or perhaps even a 30-30 player. After beginning the year in A-ball, he ended the season in Triple-A.
Pirates Director of Minor League Operations Larry Broadway said the most impressive thing about Polanco's growth has been his maturity. "He has fit into each clubhouse and added value to the culture of each club that he's been on," Broadway explained. "He continues to approach the game with a learner's mentality and is always looking to find a way to get better. He's not afraid to make a mistake in the process, which has allowed him to progress well in all areas of his game."
Starting Pitcher: Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks -- Bradley and Dylan Bundy grew up playing baseball together, but the former passed the latter on top prospect lists after the Orioles' prospect blew out his elbow. Just 20 years old, Bradley spent the majority of the year in Double-A and finished the season with a combined ERA of 1.84 and 162 strikeouts in 152 innings of work. He also allowed just 115 hits.
Starting Pitcher: Taijuan Walker, Mariners -- Utilizing a strong fastball and excellent breaking ball, Walker, who just turned 21 on Aug. 13, made older competition look foolish as he produced outstanding numbers in Double-A and Triple-A before earning his MLB promotion. The right-hander struck out 160 batters in 141 1/3 innings while allowing just 112 hits.
Chris Gwynn, the Mariners director of player development, said Walker is oozing talent but he's also an extremely hard worker. "Going into the offseason last year he realized there were some things he needed to work on to get better," Gwynn said, listing fastball command (down in the zone, to both sides of the plate) and improved secondary pitches as two of those things. "Coming into this season he was a man on a mission... and had a dominant season in Double-A and Triple-A didn't phase him. It shows he wants it really bad."
Starting Pitcher: Noah Syndergaard, Mets -- Jameson Taillon (Pirates), Kevin Gausman (Orioles) and Robert Stephenson (Reds) also received consideration as the one of the top pitchers in the minors but the final spot went to the Mets' prospect. Syndergaard showed a rare combination of power (his fastball can tickle triple digits) and control when he struck out 133 batters in 117 2/3 innings and issued 28 free passes. Just 20, the Texas native finished the year with 11 starts at the Double-A level.
Reliever: Steve Geltz, Rays -- It's hard to find a worthy reliever because many of the best MLB bullpen aces originally come from the starting ranks. Geltz, though, is still only 25 years old and he was the hardest pitcher to hit in Triple-A (minimum 50 innings) by allowing a batting-average-against of just .152. That mark was actually the seventh lowest in the entire minor leagues. His strikeout percentage (31.3 percent) was good for 12th in Triple-A ball. Not bad for a player that went undrafted and signed with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent in 2008.
It's been a tough rebuilding season for the Miami Marlins, but help is on the way.
The club is currently in last place in the National League East and has the worst record in the NL. The Houston Astros are the only team in Major League Baseball with a lower winning percentage.
Miami is one of three teams to have used 19 rookies in 2013. The club has trotted out 11 freshman hitters and eight first-year pitchers. Of those 19 players, 10 have received significant playing time. Despite their inexperience, the Marlins front office is building a club with a strong core of young, high-ceiling players. And, even with the significant wave of talent that's already reached the Majors, Miami has more on the way.
The pitching staff stands to be the most significant beneficiary of the talent infusion. The club already has a number of young hurlers that could settle into the starting rotation in 2014, including Jose Fernandez, Tom Koehler, Henderson Alvarez, Jacob Turner and Nate Eovaldi. Four more names could settle into the big league club's starting rotation next season, and the organization has the Toronto Blue Jays to thank for three of the prospects.
None of the names can match the ace-in-the-making ceiling that Fernandez has, but they certainly have the talent necessary to be impact performers in the coming seasons.
Anthony DeSclafani, RHP, Double-A: DeSclafani has a big-time fastball, but an inconsistent college career caused him to slide to the Blue Jays in the sixth round of the 2011 amateur draft. Despite being stuck in the bullpen for much of his collegiate career, the right-hander has thrived as a starter in pro ball.
DeSclafani, 23, was one of the lesser-known names in last year's 12-player trade between the Marlins and the Jays. He's pitched extremely well since joining his new organization, playing at two levels in 2013 -- High-A and Double-A. The million dollar question, though, is whether or not he can maintain his success as a starter in the upper levels of the minors and into the Majors.
The Marlins' Director of Player Development, Brian Chattin, said he's not surprised by the young hurler's pro success and added that the organization followed his amateur career closely at the University of Florida: "His slider is an above-average pitch at times and should be a consistent weapon for him as he continues to develop," Chattin said. "His changeup is a work in progress but is showing signs of being a usable third pitch. I am confident he can stick as a starter."
Sam Dyson, RHP, Triple-A: The Marlins more or less stole this talented pitcher from the Jays. Toronto added Dyson to the 40-man roster when he was called up to the Majors last season, but he appeared in just two big league games (both out of the bullpen) before being returned to the minor leagues. In the offseason, the club faced a roster crunch and the former fourth round draft pick was claimed off waivers by the Fish.
With his new club, the 25-year-old Dyson was converted back to a starter after spending much of 2012 in the bullpen. Like DeSclafani, he's had a lot of success in his new role. He's spent the majority of the 2013 season in Double-A but has also pitched well in four starts since being promoted to Triple-A.
According to Chattin, Dyson's ultimate role is still open for discussion: "We are encouraged by his overall development and will consider him for both a rotation and bullpen role if his progress continues," said Chattin. "Our primary focus with Sam this year has been to get him consistent work and establish a usable breaking ball... We like the sinker, as well as the changeup, but want a consistent breaking ball that he will throw with confidence. He used a curveball early but has gone to a slider recently."
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Double-A: The club's first round draft pick in 2012, Heaney has been a fast mover. Despite making just six appearances last season, the southpaw has played at two levels this year: High-A and Double-A. His ERA sits at just 1.41 for the year between the two levels.
Chattin said Heaney's success has come from his ability to throw three average to above-average pitches for strikes. He also has a reliable out-pitch in his slider, and simply needs to add polish. "He needs to log some innings so he can learn the lessons this game naturally teaches through experience," he said. "He also needs to control the running game more effectively."
Justin Nicolino, LHP, Double-A: The third and final former Blue Jays farmhand on this list, Nicolino came over to the organization in last offseason's blockbuster deal involving Jose Reyes. In the Jays organization, he was a member of impressive trio of high-ceiling arms that were all drafted out of high school in 2010: Nicolino, Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard (who was traded to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal). The Jays had a plethora of picks that season, and Nicolino was actually the seventh player selected by Toronto despite being nabbed in the second round (80th overall).
Nicolino's success and rise through the system has mirrored Heaney's in 2013. Chattin said the young lefty will see his success continue into the Majors if he trusts his stuff and continues to attack the strike zone. "He is intelligent, pitches with a plan and purpose, throws three pitches for strikes and changes speeds effectively," Chattin explained.
The demise of the Montreal Expos led to years of MLB control for the organization (2001-04), which resulted in limited budgets until the club was officially sold and became the Washington Nationals in 2005. Since that time, it's been an uphill battle to rebuild the system's depth, more or less from scratch.
One of the most difficult areas to create depth is pitching because of the large number of players needed, as well as the natural volatility and fragility of the role. It's taken years but the Nationals organization is finally starting to see the fruits of its labor, thanks to the guidance of General Manager Mike Rizzo and his front office staff, including both the scouting and player development departments.
The six talented hurlers listed below have seen their values skyrocket during the 2013 season.
A.J. Cole, RHP, Double-A
Cole is an interesting prospect. He was originally drafted by the Nationals in the fourth round of the 2010 draft and was then traded to the Athletics in late 2011. When the two clubs paired up for another swap in January 2013, Cole was returned to his original organization.
Always a talented pitcher, Cole struggled in A-ball and spent parts of three years there. In a piece by Jonathan Raymond of MiLB.com, the young hurler admitted that he was disappointed to begin the 2013 back in A-ball. However, he stayed motivated and worked hard to get better.
"Going through [Class A Advanced] again, I was there last year, got sent down to [Class A] with the A's, and I just had to bounce back, not be let down about being sent down and then starting at [Class A Advanced] this year," he said. "Basically getting the feel for everything, learning different things and showing that I'm able to play here, pitch here and be successful. I just want that to keep going on... I basically just started pitching like I knew how I could," he said.
Cole was recently promoted to Double-A and has allowed just 11 hits and four walks with a 0.90 ERA in his first 20 innings.
Lucas Giolito, RHP, Rookie ball
Giolito was arguably the most sought after prep arm in the 2012 amateur draft, but he slipped to the Nationals with the 16th selection of the first round after he suffered a serious elbow injury in his senior year of high school. The hard-throwing pitcher -- who touched triple digits with his fastball when healthy -- underwent Tommy John surgery in September 2012 but officially returned to the mound last month.
Teddy Cahill of MLB.com spoke to Doug Harris, the Nationals director of player development, who said Giolito progressed well in his rehab. "It's gone extremely well. We're pleased with his progression, where he is physically and how he's performing."
Giolito took to the mound in his first official game since 2012 on July 3 and he immediately made an impression on Harris. "I was really, really pleased with [his stuff]... The fastball velocity was good, it had good life and carry and he threw it for strikes. His curveball had above-average depth and finish and he's continuing to develop his changeup."
Taylor Jordan, RHP, Majors
Jordan experienced perhaps the most significant increase in value of any of the six players mentioned in this article. A former ninth-round draft pick, the right-hander showed some potential in 2011 before suffering an elbow injury and undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow.
He returned in 2012, but his results were inconsistent at best. The 2013 season, though, has been a different story, and he dominated A-ball and Double-A before settling into the Nationals' big league rotation.
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman commented in Florida Today (unattributed staff writer) on how important the increased pitching depth has been for the organization in 2013. "We continually have guys come up from our minor league system and help us out. I think that shows how good of a system we have and what a good job they do getting those guys ready to contribute. Taylor has kind of saved us."
Nate Karns, RHP, Double-A
Karns has experienced a lot of turmoil since turning pro in 2009. The right-hander suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder early in his career, which is one of the most catastrophic injuries to try and return from for a pitcher. It's widely considered a much more difficult surgery to recover from than Tommy John.
His personal life has also been a challenge. As James Wagner of the Washington Post detailed, Karns' biggest supporter -- his mother -- suffered through both cancer and a major stroke. "My mom has been through a lot and she has done a lot for me," said Karns. "It was really nice that I was able to show that all her sacrifices paid off for me and I didn't waste whatever she gave me and took full advantage of it."
Karns' mother was able to witness her son's Major League debut, and the two shared a special moment together after the game. The young pitcher has made a total of three appearances at the big league level but has since returned to Double-A where he's struck out 121 batters in 100 1/3 innings of work.
Ian Krol, LHP, Majors
Like Cole, Krol was acquired from the Athletics this past January and has rejuvenated his career in the Nationals system. After suffering through injury issues as a starter, the A's moved the lefty to the bullpen in late 2012. Returning to the 'pen in '13, Krol has thrived in his new role and has seen his average fastball velocity jump from 88-91 mph as a starter to as high as 96 mph as a reliever. As Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post explained, that bump in velocity took everyone by surprise, including Krol.
"I was like, 'Whoa. Where'd that come from?'" Krol said. "I didn't even think it was possible to sniff 96. I guess something must have happened. My arm was liking the relieving a lot better than the starting role. It was pretty insane to see 96 up there on the scoreboard. I never thought I would hit 96 in my life."
Krol has since become a stabilizing force in the Nationals' bullpen with a 2.25 ERA in 21 games and is well on his way to becoming one of the top left-handed relievers in the National League.
Sammy Solis, LHP, High-A
A 2010 second-round draft pick, Solis saw a sudden increase in fastball velocity in 2011 but, not long after, he blew out his elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery. The southpaw missed all of 2012 but returned in May this year. Since that time, his results have been understandably inconsistent but promising nonetheless.
As James Wagner of the Washington Post stated, Solis' command hasn't fully returned yet but he's throwing pain free for the first time since 2011, and his velocity is back in the 93-94 mph range. He's also getting more comfortable with all of his pitches. "The feel has been the biggest thing," Solis said. "Change-up and curveball, especially."
Is this the beginning of a new era for shortstops?
Four publications -- Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus (subscription required), Keith Law at ESPN (subscription required), and FanGraphs (compiled by yours truly) -- recently released their midseason Top 50 prospects lists. The rankings featured as many as eight elite shortstop prospects. That position is widely considered to be the most important (non-pitcher) spot on the baseball field and those potential star athletes are highly-sought-after commodities on the open market, through trades and via the draft.
Of those eight prospects featured on the four lists, five of the players are found in American League organizations, suggesting we may be soon entering another Era of the Shortstop, similar to what we experienced in the early 2000s with the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada in the AL.
Let's have a closer look at those eight shortstop prospects...
1. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox: Bogaerts was the highest ranked shortstop on all four lists. Boston is clearly planning for the day that the Aruba native is ready to contribute at the big league level as they recently had him playing games at the hot corner -- an area of weakness for the playoff hungry club. However, the recent trade of Jose Iglesias, as well as the pending free agency of veteran Stephen Drew, should provide a clear path to the Major League shortstop job for Bogaerts, who has more than held his own at the Triple-A level.
2. Francisco Lindor, Indians: Just 19, Cleveland's top shortstop prospect earned a mid-season promotion from High-A to Double-A after a strong showing both in the field and at the plate. Veteran incumbent Asdrubal Cabrera's uninspired 2013 season could help convince the front office that his time with the organization is coming to an end. Lindor, who is only in his third professional season, could be ready for the Majors by the middle of 2014. He could develop into a perennial Gold Glove winner at shortstop.
3. Carlos Correa, Astros: The first overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, Correa has produced above-average offensive numbers in Low-A ball despite being just 18 years of age. The Puerto Rico native has shown a natural hitting ability, but he has yet to tap into his raw power. There are concerns that he'll eventually outgrow shortstop, but he should have the offensive chops to be an above-average player at just about any position on the field.
4. Javier Baez, Cubs: Baez has arguably the best raw power out of any player on this list, and he already has 27 home runs in 98 games this year. Like Lindor (a fellow 2011 first-round draft pick), he's already reached Double-A. Unlike the Indians prospect, though, his offensive game is raw. He has a very aggressive approach at the plate, which has resulted in just 29 walks with 111 strikeouts in 391 at-bats. As is the case with Correa, there has been some talk of moving Baez to third base. However, with fellow prospect Mike Olt (recently acquired from the Rangers) -- a plus defender at the hot corner -- that move doesn't make a ton of sense now. He could also move out to right field, but the Cubs organization features a lot of depth in that area. If and when everything clicks for Baez, though, Chicago will certainly find a spot for him.
5. Addison Russell, Athletics: Russell, a 2012 first-rounder, burst onto the prospect landscape in a big way last season. His strong play earned him an aggressive assignment to High-A ball to open the 2013 season despite being just 19 years old. He struggled in the first two months of the season but has posted an OPS near 1.000 during the past two months. Russell probably won't be ready until 2015, so current big league shortstop Jed Lowrie likely has one more season of job security before he finds himself at another position or on another club.
6. Alen Hanson, Pirates: The emergence of Jordy Mercer has added some middle infield stability at the big league level for the Pirates but he's not likely to be the long-term answer at shortstop. Hanson, 20, is the best in-house option to eventually take over the position -- although his name has popped up more than a few times in recent trade rumors. After a strong showing in High-A ball, the Dominican native was recently promoted to Double-A. The switch-hitter has shown the ability to steal 20-30 bases with solid line-drive pop.
7. Raul Mondesi, Royals: Previously known as Adalberto Mondesi, this shortstop prospect is one of the youngest players in full-season ball, having just recently turned 18. His inexperience has shown in 2013, and he walked just four times in May and June. His raw ability is undeniable, though, and he's made adjustments with a strong month of July -- including 13 walks and his highest monthly OPS of the year at .817.
8. Corey Seager, Dodgers: Seager -- whose brother Kyle Seager plays for the Mariners -- is perhaps the most underrated shortstop on this list. The teenager has enjoyed his time in the Midwest League, and he's been on fire over the summer months with an OPS approaching 1.000. He's also slugged eight of his 11 home runs in June and July. Like Correa, Seager is expected to outgrow shortstop but he's shown enough skill at the position to suggest he may be able to stick there for a few more years. He's likely at least two seasons away from reaching Los Angeles.
The July trade deadline in Major League Baseball is less than two weeks away on the 31st. We don't exactly know who will be on the move, or how many trades will be completed, but we do know that a lot of minor league prospects will be changing uniforms within the next 13 days.
Below is a look at some of the prospects who could be on the move to new organizations looking to build for the future.
Athletics: Oakland hasn't shied away from leaning on young players while in a playoff hunt and recent promotions for pitcher Sonny Gray and infielder/outfielder Grant Green could also serve a secondary purpose: showcasing. Gray, a right-handed hurler, was extremely successful in Triple-A and was lights-out during his one big league appearance before the All-Star break. He could develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter, or a high-leverage reliever. Green has played sparingly since his promotion but the former first round draft pick's versatility could be highly coveted.
Indians: Cleveland has one of the top shortstop prospects in (untouchable) Francisco Lindor, which could make fellow infielder Dorssys Paulino expendable in the right deal. Just 18, his numbers don't look great but he's holding his own in Low-A ball at a young age and has shown signs of improvement in June and July.
Orioles: L.J.Hoes doesn't have a huge ceiling but the 23-year-old prospect can play all three outfield positions, as well as second and third base. Currently hitting .308/.405/.413 at Triple-A, he makes good contact and can run the bases well.
Rangers: It would probably take a very intriguing veteran player with more than one year of control but Texas' middle infield depth could allow the club to dangle shortstop Luis Sardinas on the trade market. The 20-year-old infielder is a slick defender with little-to-no power but the ability to hit for average and steal some bases.
Rays: Right-hander Alex Colome made three starts with Tampa Bay earlier this year and the organization's pitching depth could allow the right-hander to be offered in an attractive deal, but he's currently on the Triple-A disabled list with what has been called a "mild elbow strain." Second baseman Ryan Brett, 21, received a 50-game suspension last year, so that cloud is still hanging over his head, but the scrappy baseball player can really hit. He's currently batting .336/.392/.480 with 17 steals in 39High-A ball games.
Red Sox: Boston is in an enviable position with a fair amount of depth that can be used to help strengthen the big league product. The presence of top prospect Xander Bogaerts means that the club can comfortably move third base prospect Garin Cecchini or shortstop Deven Marrero, should the right deal come along, because Bogaerts could probably handle either position at the big league level. Cecchini swings a mean stick but he lacks the prototypical power that teams look for from the hot corner. Marrero's numbers have been respectable in 2013 but nothing to write home about. A team that really liked him in college, though, might be willing to bite.
Tigers: The Tigers system is pretty thin, which could impact the organization's ability to make key moves via the trade market. Outfielder Danry Vasquez is highly projectable thanks to his frame and left-handed swing, both of which hint at future power. Just 19, he's aggressive but makes good contact given his limited experience.
Yankees: Catcher J.R. Murphy could be an attractive name on the trade market, if New York is willing to part with him knowing that Gary Sanchez is not that far behind. Murphy is an offensive-minded backstop who's improved his defensive game, especially with throwing out baserunners.
Braves: On the surface it seems like the Braves haven't really made the amateur draft a priority in recent years and that has hurt the organization's depth. The versatile Joey Terdoslavich's strong performance in Triple-A earned him a promotion to the big league level where he's possibly been showcased for a deal. The pop in his bat, along with his ability to switch hit and positional versatility could make him an intriguing trade target.
Cardinals: The Cardinals have some impressive middle infield depth and former first round draft pick Kolten Wong could become a casualty. The second baseman can hit, but converted third baseman Matt Carpenter has been nothing short of brilliant at the big league level. Any team that acquires Wong is getting a player who's very close to MLB ready.
Diamondbacks: If Arizona is looking to make a big splash at the trade deadline, the club has a lot of pitching depth to deal from, including (likely) untouchables Archie Bradley and Tyler Skaggs. It would take a special player coming over to Arizona to nab him, but lefty David Holmberg is an underrated talent that could help a lot of ball clubs. His ceiling is probably that of a No. 3 or 4 starter but he's been durable and isn't afraid to throw strikes.
Dodgers: Los Angeles is always rumored to have a lot of irons in the fire and the club is definitely looking to improve itself despite the massive payroll. Southpaw Onelki Garcia, signed out of Cuba in 2012, made just one appearances during the regular season last year. In 2013, he's been very good in Double-A thanks to his above-average fastball. He's mostly viewed as a future reliever but Garcia has made six starts.
Pirates: To get value back, you often have to trade quality players. Pittsburgh has enjoyed breakouts over the past year in the form of infielder Alen Hanson, outfielder Gregory Polanco and pitcher Tyler Glasnow, among others, and that trio is probably safe at the trade deadline barring a blockbuster deal. However, pitcher Luis Heredia could perhaps be had at the right price. The right-hander is just 18 with three years of pro experience under his belt. He's a larger-framed pitcher and hasn't developed quite as hoped, suggesting a modest ceiling as a starter. He's been passed on the depth chart by a number of guys like Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Glasnow.
Reds: Outfielder Jesse Winker doesn't wow with his tools but he gets the most out of his abilities and is one of the safer bets in Cincinnati's system to have a big league career. The 19-year-old prospect has modest power and doesn't steal bases so he's going to have to hit for average to provide value as a hitter -- along with his willingness to take a free pass.
Rockies: Colorado doesn't have much in the way of tradable commodities, but the organization could cash in on the lack of catching depth around the game -- much like the Yankees -- with Tom Murphy. The second-year catcher, who's now 22 years old, has inexplicably been left in Low-A ball all year long despite overpowering the younger competition. He's by no means a finished product and has holes in his game but an OPS over 1.000 is going to attract some suitors.
We're just past the halfway mark of the 2013 Major League Baseball season and well past the midway point of the Minor League Baseball season. While taking stock of the top prospects from around baseball, a number of names appear in the "disappointment column," which is not surprising given the general volatility of young players. Below, we take a look at some of the prospects having disappointing seasons, as well as some educated guesses as to what might be ailing them.
Matt Barnes, RHP, Red Sox: Barnes' season hasn't been as bad as some of the other players on this list but it's still been a disappointing 2013 for the right-handed hurler. The former first-round pick was expected to zoom through the minor leagues and possibly even help the big league club this season, but he currently has a 5.32 ERA with 78 hits allowed in 67 2/3 innings at the Double-A level. As the Boston Globe's Julian Benbow explained, Barnes has been working on fleshing out his secondary pitches this season so he doesn't have to rely so heavily on his low-to-mid-90s fastball.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Indians: Bauer is the perfect example of the volatility of prospects. Selected third overall in the 2011 amateur draft, the right-hander out of UCLA dominated competition during his first taste of pro ball but the wheels fell off the wagon towards the end of 2012. Bauer's issues -- both on and off the field -- lead to an offseason trade and continued into 2013. His results at Triple-A have been less than ideal. After his most recent disastrous big league start, the young pitcher was returned to the minors and -- according to a piece by Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon Journal -- he may focus on pitching exclusively from the stretch as a starter.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Angels: Los Angeles doesn't have a very deep minor league system whatsoever so when their top prospects stumble, it hurts them more than most organizations. The young third baseman is hitting just .215/.280/.309 at Double-A this season and some adjustments he made during the springtime could be to blame for his slow start. As Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com explained, the switch-hitting Cowart quieted his stance and eliminated the leg kick from the left side of the plate. He's still hitting just .198/.261/.275 versus right-handed pitching so clearly there are more wrinkles to iron out.
David Dahl, OF, Rockies: Like Bauer, Dahl's value is down as a result of well-documented off-the-field actions and maturity concerns. But those aren't the only things that have gone wrong for the outfielder in 2013. In early May, Dahl suffered what was expected to be a pulled hamstring while running the bases. About a week later, though, the prospect revealed on Twitter that his hamstring had been torn and was much more serious than first reported. That halted his season after 10 games (He got off to a late start because of the maturity issues mentioned above) and he hasn't appeared in a game since that time. His timetable for a return to the game is still up in the air.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds: Hamilton, 22, hasn't had a terrible year but he has yet to build off of the momentum he created last season when he hit .323/.413/.439 in High-A ball and stole 155 bases between two minor league clubs. Promoted to Triple-A to begin 2013 after spending just 50 games at the Double-A level, the speedy Hamilton has struggled to find his footing at the plate. On the plus side, the shortstop-turned-outfielder has nabbed 50 bases in just 80 games. His stolen base total could become much higher once he improves upon his .300 on-base percentage.
Courtney Hawkins, OF, White Sox: Hawkins has experienced a lot of struggles in his first full professional season. After hitting a combined .284 between three levels during last season's debut, he's batting just .191/.273/.485 with 95 strikeouts in 55 games during 2013. Scott Merkin of MLB.com talked to Hawkins regarding the learning curve he's experienced in High-A ball and how he plans to come out ahead.
Bubba Starling, OF, Royals: Starling opened 2013 with huge expectations surrounding him, but he hit just .195/.263/.379 with a massive strikeout rate in April. As Danny Wild of MiLB.com explained, things got so bad that Starling was sent to have his eyes examined for possible LASIK surgery in May -- similar to what the Rangers did with third base prospect Mike Olt. Dick Kaegel of MLB.com later updated the story to report that the outfield prospect underwent the procedure on May 16. In June, after the eye surgery, Starling improved to hit .250/.327/.369 for the month, but he continued to strike out at a similar rate. He also hit jut one home run in 24 games. Clearly, there is more work to be done.
Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals: During the first three months of the year, Zimmer posted an ERA of more than 5.00 despite showing the same strong repertoire that caused him to be chosen fifth overall during the 2012 amateur draft. Thankfully, the right-hander may have finally turned a corner in July. He's posted a 2.77 ERA with no walks and 20 strikeouts in 13 innings. On the season, he's now whiffed 103 batters in 84 2/3 innings of work. Jonathan Raymond of MiLB.com spoke to Zimmer, who stated that he's finally becoming comfortable with his pitching mechanics, which is in turn allowing him to provide more consistent command.
A number of prospects have also suffered significant loss in value due to serious injuries. The list of walking wounded include: Dylan Bundy, RHP, Orioles; Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets; Danny Hultzen, LHP, Mariners; Casey Kelly, RHP, Padres; Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Rays; and Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Cubs.
If you're a fan of Major League Baseball and of reading sports tickers on the television, then July is the perfect month for you. More than 20 trades occurred in July 2012 as playoff-hopeful clubs looked to position themselves for strong second halves of their seasons and robust drives for the postseason.
For just about every veteran player on the move to a contending club in July, there is a prospect or two heading back in the other direction -- towards a rebuilding club desperate for a cost-controlled building block. Close to 80 players changed jerseys last July prior to the looming trade deadline at the end of the month, and the 2013 season is expected to be no different.
But just how many of those young players that changed allegiances have maintained their values with their new organizations? Below is a list of the Top 10 young players who were traded last July. Only players who had not exceeded their MLB rookie eligibilities (50 IP for pitchers, 130 AB for hitters) at the 2012 trade deadline were considered for the article, and the list is in alphabetical order.
Rob Brantly, C (Tigers to Marlins): Given the Marlins' starting catcher gig at the beginning of the 2013 season, the offensive-minded backstop's bat has wilted under the pressure, and he has a .587 OPS in 49 games. The good news is that his defense has improved noticeably -- perhaps thanks to the guidance from veteran second-string receiver Jeff Mathis, an excellent defensive player, and manager Mike Redmond, a former catcher. Juan C. Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel looked at Brantly's inconsistent season.
Matt Dominguez, 3B (Marlins to Astros): It's been an inconsistent season for the young third baseman -- both at the plate and in the field, despite his reputation as a strong defender. Just 23, Dominguez has time on his side as he looks to breathe new life into his withering bat, but questions about his offensive abilities have been floating around since his amateur days. Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle penned a piece about Dominguez' focus on the future rather than the past.
Robbie Grossman, OF (Pirates to Astros): Grossman earned a shot at a starting outfield gig in Houston after a hot April in Triple-A. Unfortunately, he posted an OPS of just .553 and was returned to the minors after 28 games. His offensive struggles followed him back to Oklahoma City and he managed a measly .512 OPS in June.
Johnny Hellweg, SP (Angels to Brewers): Hellweg's raw ability is undeniable but command and control issues have haunted him throughout his pro career. Tall pitchers are considered late bloomers in those areas, and the 6'9'' right-handed hurler definitely fits into that category. He recently received his first big league promotion, but he was roughed up during his first two appearances in The Show. Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel spoke to the rookie, as well as his manager, after his first outing.
Tommy Joseph, C (Giants to Phillies): Joseph has experienced a major setback with the bat in 2013. After beginning the year in Triple-A, he hit just .209 before a concussion knocked him out of action. Now healthy again, Joseph is getting back into playing shape while at the A-ball level. The struggles and injury helped to ensure that he missed an opportunity to fill in at the big league level when both Carlos Ruiz and Erik Kratz went down in Philadelphia. Jeff Schuler of The Morning Call wrote a piece on Joseph's return from the disabled list.
Jean Segura, SS (Angels to Brewers): Perhaps the biggest success story on this list, Segura is currently in the hunt for a batting title in the National League. He also has surprising pop and an outside chance at eventually becoming a 20-20 (HR-SB) hitter. Originally a second baseman, the sturdy but diminutive hitter was relocated to the left side of the infield, but it remains to be seen how long he'll stick there. Either way, he could be a mainstay in the middle of the diamond for years to come. Mike Woods of the Sheboygan Press recently spoke to Segura who admitted to being surprised by his success in 2013.
Jacob Turner, SP (Tigers to Marlins): Turner's value has taken a hit over the past year or two as his stuff has regressed. Scouting forecasts focus more on the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter now, rather than that of the No. 1 or 2 starter ceiling from the early days of his pro career. Despite that, Turner has had an excellent start to the 2013 season at the big league level by posting a 1.76 ERA and holding hitters to a .229 batting average in six starts.
Christian Villanueva, 3B (Rangers to Cubs): The emergence of Mike Olt in the Rangers system made Villanueva expendable. The Cubs third baseman has the chance to develop into a multifaceted player, albeit one without any true standout tool. He's showing solid gap power at the Double-A level but both his batting average and his on-base percentage are down in 2013.
Arodys Vizcaino, SP (Braves to Cubs): Vizcaino, 22, hasn't pitched since 2011, but he's been the property of three organizations thanks to his power arm. The right-hander injured his elbow early on in his career with the Yankees and finally underwent Tommy John surgery, missing all of the 2012 season. He looked ready to return in 2013 before undergoing a second surgery on his throwing elbow.
Asher Wojciechowski, SP (Blue Jays to Astros): One of the most unheralded acquisitions of 2012, Wojciechowski was a supplemental first round selection from the 2010 amateur draft. He didn't respond well at all when the Jays attempted to rework his delivery and his results suffered. He has rediscovered his prospect value with the Astros, although inconsistency continues to haunt him. It remains to be seen if his future lies in the starting rotation or the bullpen.
Honorable Mentions: Colton Cain, SP (Pirates to Astros); Kevin Comer, SP (Blue Jays to Astros); Kyle Hendricks, SP (Rangers to Cubs); Marc Krauss, OF (Diamondbacks to Astros); Ethan Martin, SP (Dodgers to Phillies); Carlos Perez, C (Blue Jays to Astros); David Rollins, SP (Blue Jays to Astros).
2012 Trade Deadline Winners: Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers
2012 Trade Deadline Losers: Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays
If you're a moderate to hardcore baseball fan, you've probably heard of the term "Super Two" when top prospects and their imminent big league promotions are being discussed. Basically, it's an important business aspect of baseball that can cause your favorite MLB-ready prospect to spend a little extra time in the minors. For a refresher on the subject, check out Tim Dierkes' article from April and Ben Nicholson-Smith's post from February.
Now that you're up to date and understand why some players have been recently called up to the Majors, it's time to identify the next big-named prospects who could be promoted in 2013, following in the footsteps of the Rays' Wil Myers, the Mets' Zack Wheeler, and the Mariners' Mike Zunino.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox: Bogaerts, 20, didn't let his age stop him from dominating Double-A ball. One of the youngest players in the Eastern League, the shortstop hit more than .300 with strong on-base skills and power. The Aruba native earned himself a trip to Triple-A after less than half a season. A strong start to 2013 earned fellow shortstop prospect (and potential roadblock) Jose Iglesias a 25-man roster spot as the backup to oft-injured veteran Stephen Drew, but Bogaerts has a much higher ceiling. Iglesias is much more likely to end up as trade bait thanks to his high-level play -- should Boston need to shore up its roster for a run at the playoffs. Drew is a free agent at the end of the year, and the Red Sox may want to give Bogaerts a chance to get his feet wet in the Majors by the end of the year to gauge if he's truly ready to assume the full-time gig in 2014.
Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF, Tigers: Castellanos had a modest start to the 2013 season, but he's seen his offensive numbers improve each month with his OPS rising from .755 to .814 to 1.025. Also working in his favor for a call-up is the fact that he can offer competent defensive assistance at both third base and in the corner outfield. Miguel Cabrera isn't going to be bumped from his starting gig at the hot corner, but the emergence of Castellanos could allow the club to rest the veteran in the second half of the year in preparation for long playoff run. The prospect could also be a solid platoon complement to left fielder Andy Dirks, a left-handed hitter. It would also give Avisail Garcia -- another rookie outfielder -- a chance to spend more time in Triple-A. Lynn Henning of the Detroit News wrote that Castellanos could be a key player for the big league club as it tries to secure a playoff spot in 2013.
Sonny Gray, RHP, Athletics: Aside from Bartolo Colon, injuries have ensured that Oakland's starting rotation lacks pitchers with more than two years of service time. Due to the volatility of young pitchers, depth could become an issue for the first-place club in the second half of the year. Gray, a former first round draft pick, could offer some help after rebounding well from a disappointing 2012 season. The right-hander has averaged more than six innings per start in his 13 Triple-A appearances and struck out 83 batters in 82 1/3 innings of work.
Erik Johnson, RHP, White Sox: Chicago is currently deploying an inexperienced starting rotation with the likes of Hector Santiago, Jose Quintana, and Dylan Axelrod. Johnson, a former second round draft pick, has dominated pro ball and his time at Double-A in 2013 has been no different. He currently has a 2.24 ERA with 74 strikeouts and just 21 walks in 84 2/3 innings of work. Johnson, 23, has a frame that suggests he should develop into an innings-eater and his pitching acumen could eventually help him develop into a No. 2 or 3 starter for the Sox. The California native could offer some assistance to the big league club in the second half of the season, and he has the highest ceiling of any starter in the Sox system at either Double-A or Triple-A. Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune recently penned an article after speaking with Johnson, who said he's just taking it one day at a time and not worrying about a promotion to The Show.
Danny Salazar, RHP, Indians: After spending big in the offseason, Cleveland finds itself in a playoff hunt. With a big league starting rotation that features some rather large question marks with the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, and Carlos Carrasco, Salazar could become a key player at some point during the second half of the season. While splitting the season between Double-A and Triple-A, the Dominican right-hander has struck out 80 batters in 58 innings of work. If he doesn't figure into the club's plans in the starting rotation, his power arsenal and ability to pitch multiple innings could allow him to offer some assistance in the bullpen in the latter half of the year and even the playoffs. In a piece for MLB.com, John Wagner spoke to Salazar's Triple-A manager, Chris Tremie, who talked about the things that the young pitcher does well.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B/OF, Astros: Singleton's season got off to an inauspicious start when he was suspended for 50 games after violating minor league baseball's drug policy. Since returning, the 21-year-old hitter has appeared in just 10 games, split between Single-A, Double-A and now Triple-A. Thirteen of his 20 hits have gone for extra bases, and he's walked 13 times. Singleton has experience playing both left field and first base but has exclusively played the infield in 2013. Despite that, his clearest opening for big league playing time could be in the outfield where Trevor Crowe, J.D. Martinez, and (recently demoted) Jimmy Paredes have produced less-than-impressive numbers. First basemen/designated hitters Chris Carter and Carlos Pena have also had underwhelming seasons to date (and could become trade bait) but offer much-needed power. The playoffs are out of the question for 2013, but once outfield prospect George Springer joins Singleton in Houston, the club will have a strong middle-of-the-order core to build around.
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals: Talented but undersized pitching prospects are slowly shedding the stigma that they're destined for future bullpen work at the big league level. Like Toronto's Marcus Stroman, the slender Ventura doesn't break the six-foot mark, but his upper-90s velocity -- which tickles triple digits -- has intrigued prospect watchers since he came over to North America from the Dominican Republic in 2010. After opening 2013 in Double-A, a recent promotion has brought Ventura one step away from the Majors. Should injuries strike -- or should the Royals tire of the inconsistent performances from Luis Mendoza or Wade Davis -- the 22-year-old Dominican could receive the call. Jeffrey Flanagan of Fox Sports Kansas City recently spoke to Royals Assistant General Manager J.J. Picollo who said the organization is looking to have Ventura become more efficient and keep his pitch counts down.
The 2013 Major League Baseball amateur draft will begin later today and the Houston Astros possess the first overall pick for the second year in a row. The draft acts as a cost-effective tool for clubs looking to stockpile young talent. Despite the thousands of hours logged by each club's scouting department while trying to determine the best amateur talents available, the draft remains a bit of a crapshoot and will be full of hits and misses -- although it may be years before most teams' outcomes are fully known.
Five players from the 2012 draft -- Kevin Gausman (fourth overall, Orioles), Michael Wacha (19th overall, Cardinals), Paco Rodriguez (second round, Dodgers), Alex Wood (second round, Braves) and Michael Roth (ninth round, Angels) -- have already made their debuts in The Show. Many others have seen their prospect values soar, while a select few have already taken steps backward. It's generally thought that the best talents of any given draft will be found in the first five to 10 picks but success is never a guarantee. Let's have a look at the early results from the first 10 picks of the 2012 draft and see if that belief has held true.
1. Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (Puerto Rico HS): It's been reported that Houston's front office went down to the wire before finally settling on Correa as the first overall pick. While speaking with "someone in the know" during the offseason, I was told that one of the things that made the young Puerto Rican attractive -- other than his obvious raw talents -- was that he will likely be ready to be an impact talent at the big league level when the rebuilding Astros are ready to legitimately compete in the American League West. Someone like Gausman, Mark Appel, or Mike Zunino are more likely to see their best seasons occur while the club is still finding its competitive footing. Still just 18, Correa has held his own in A-ball while showing the ability to hit for a solid average, an impressive understanding of the strike zone and good power.
2. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (Georgia HS): Buxton, a toolsy Georgia native, has made Correa's 2013 numbers look pedestrian. The Twins prospect is currently hitting .348 with a 1.023 OPS and 26 stolen bases in 53 games. At just 19 years of age, the gifted centerfielder looks too advanced for Low-A ball. Robert Emrich of MiLB.com wrote a piece on Buxton last night after the prospect went 5-for-6 with two triples.
3. Mike Zunino, C, Mariners (University of Florida): Seattle fans were eager to see the catcher make the big league club out of Spring Training but the organization wisely played it safe and assigned him to Triple-A. After a quick start to the 2013 season, holes in Zunino's game were exposed and his batting average plummeted while his strikeout rate rose. Currently hitting just .228, he's still showing impressive power with 11 home runs in 43 games.
4. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Orioles (LSU): As mentioned above in the intro, Gausman has already reached the Majors -- no doubt a welcome sight for the O's after former top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy succumbed to an elbow injury. Gausman struck out 49 batters with just five walks in eight Double-A starts, though his Major League results have thus far been inconsistent (a 7.20 ERA through three starts).
5. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals (University of San Francisco): Considered almost on par with Gausman from a talent perspective prior to the draft, Zimmer is currently stuck in High-A ball. He's flashed a heavy, powerful fastball and has struck out 65 batters in 52 innings of work but he's struggled with his command, resulting in seven home runs allowed and a 5.54 ERA.
6. Albert Almora, OF, Cubs (Florida HS): Considered a gifted fielder, it was said that Almora's defensive work in center field was almost MLB caliber at the time of the draft. The Florida native got a late start to the 2013 season thanks to a broken hamate bone but he's been on fire since being activated. He's hitting .429 with just six strikeouts in 12 games.
7. Max Fried, LHP, Padres (California HS): Fried got off to a quick start to the year and has shown glimpses of his immense talent but he's also displayed the need for improvements in a number of areas. He's allowed 13 runs in his last 13 1/3 innings of work. On the year, he's issued 22 walks in 44 innings and has struggled against right-handed hitters ( RHHs at .265 vs. LHHs batting .149).
8. Mark Appel, RHP, Pirates (Stanford): Appel was the lone 2012 first-rounder that did not come to terms with the club that selected him. He returned to Stanford for his senior year of college and has improved his draft stock; he's expected to be a top-three pick, going to either the Astros, Cubs or Rockies. That should land him a larger signing bonus than he would have been eligible for with the Pirates in 2012. Had Appel signed with Pittsburgh, he would have given the organization quite an impressive future rotation along with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. Tim Keown of ESPN.com recently wrote about Appel's decision to return to college and re-enter the draft in 2013.
9. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Marlins (Oklahoma State): Like Almora, Heaney was slowed by injury and did not make his first start of the year until late May. In total, he's made three starts and has an ERA below 2.00 with 18 strikeouts in just 12 1/3 innings. He joins Justin Nicolino, who was acquired from the Blue Jays in the offseason, as a pair of impressive left-handed pitching prospects that look close to ready for the challenge of Double-A.
10. David Dahl, OF, Rockies (Alabama HS): Dahl made a very positive impression during his 67-game pro debut in 2012 and, during the offseason, was touted as one of the steals of the draft as the 10th overall selection. However, some questionable decision making (which reportedly involved missing a flight) got him shipped out to extended Spring Training in April, despite originally earning a roster spot on the Low-A club to begin the season. Dahl has since regained his Low-A spot and produced solid-but-unspectacular results in his first 10 games; he was recently placed on the minor league disabled list.
Supplemental Round Picks of Note
The first round of the MLB amateur draft is not the only place to find high-ceiling talent. Quality prospects can be found littered throughout the 40 rounds. Below are some of the players that were taken in the supplemental first round -- picks mainly given as compensation for the loss of key free agents from the previous offseason. A number of the players selected in that round have looked impressive early in their careers and have performed well enough to suggest they should have been true first-round selections.
Jose Berrios, RHP, Twins: Berrios brings a much-needed power arm to the Twins organization. The Puerto Rico native has struck out 44 batters in 39 innings despite being one of the youngest pitchers in the Low-A Midwest League; Berrios just recently turned 19 years old.
Zach Eflin, RHP, Padres: Like his fellow Padres prospect Max Fried, Eflin was a promising prep arm acquired in the 2012 draft. Unlike his southpaw teammate, though, the right-hander has gotten stronger as the year has progressed and has been a little more consistent.
Daniel Robertson, SS, Athletics: Originally expected to move from shortstop to third base as a pro, Robertson's steady defensive play has convinced the organization to give him a longer look at his natural position. Despite missing much of the first month of the year while rehabbing an injury, the young hitter has shown flashes of above-average potential at the plate.
Kevin Plawecki, C, Mets: High draft picks from the college ranks typically skip over Low-A ball and begin their careers in High-A ball, but the Mets organization has been cautious with Plawecki -- possibly to give him an opportunity to polish his defense. The 22-year-old prospect is showing that his bat is more than ready for a promotion with a .341 batting average and 30 extra base hits. MLB.com's Teddy Cahill recently wrote a feature on Plawecki.
Joey Gallo, 3B, Rangers: After a much-hyped start to his pro career that saw him hit 22 home runs in his first 59 games, the left-handed hitter has come crashing back down to earth. He's slugged another 14 dingers this year but he's also struck out 89 times in 55 games, causing his batting average to dip to .210. He has a lot of adjustments to make to avoid becoming the next Russell Branyan.
Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Astros: McCullers showed the raw potential to be a first round draft pick in the 2012 draft but questions about his delivery and potential move to the bullpen caused him to slip into the supplemental round. The young pitcher, though, has temporarily quieted his critics and overpowered the Midwest League with a 1.70 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings.
Eddie Butler, RHP, Rockies: As with McCullers, Butler was thought to be potentially headed for a pro career out of the bullpen. He's been exceptional as a starter, although the college product did begin the year in Low-A ball where he should have dominated the less-experienced competition. He was recently promoted to High-A ball and has a 3.71 ERA in his first three starts. David Lee of the Augusta Chronicle wrote about Butler's promotion.
Hitters converting to pitchers, and vice versa, is nothing new in Major League Baseball. One of baseball's all-time best hitters -- Babe Ruth -- began his career as a successful pitcher before becoming a full-time hitter and eventually landing in the Hall of Fame mainly for his exploits at the plate. That said, Ruth -- who played between 1914 and 1935 -- is clearly an anomaly when it comes to his performance given how tough it is to succeed at one role, let alone two.
The conversion from hitter to pitcher is generally considered to be a little easier due to the smaller learning curve and fewer skills that need to be developed. Some of the recent examples of hitters-turned-pitchers include Sean Doolittle of the Athletics, Jason Motte of the Cardinals, and Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers.
There are a number of interesting conversion stories developing throughout the minor leagues as prospects desperately cling to their dreams of playing in The Show by redefining their roles.
Stetson Allie, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates
As alluded to above, switching from hitting to pitching is a very difficult thing to do and many nameless minor leaguers have washed out attempting to make the bold move. Some of the more recent successes include the likes of Rick Ankiel, Adam Loewen and Brian Bogusevic but that group of players has experienced moderate success at the plate at best. Pirates prospect Stetson Allie is looking to become more than just a role player, Quad-A slugger, or curious oddity.
Originally signed for $2.25MM due to his big-time fastball, the Ohio native made just 17 appearances on the mound before it became apparent his best hope for a big league career would come while standing in the batter's box. As a pitcher, Allie posted a 7.76 ERA while walking 37 batters in 26 2/3 innings of work.
The decision to turn Allie into a first baseman was not a desperate grasp at straws to try and recoup a hefty investment. Baseball America is one of the best in the business when it comes to covering the annual amateur draft, and Allie's pre-draft scouting report touched on the young player's prep hitting abilities (subscription required). "[Allie] had expressed a desire to hit, and he does have some of the best raw power in the draft... With his size, power and arm strength, he could be an early-round pick as a third baseman, but he now accepts that his future is on the mound."
He began his journey as a hitter in 2012 and had a modest first season as a hitter in the Gulf Coast League. Moved up to A-ball in 2013, the 22-year-old Allie got off to a hot start in his first two months of the season (.342 batting average and 13 home runs) although there are some red flags. He's age-appropriate for his league and there would be more enthusiasm for his numbers if he were a year or two younger. Additionally, a strikeout rate of 28 percent in Low-A ball is worrisome, although Allie will likely earn a mulligan due to his lack of experience. Improvements in his contact rate will have to be made if he hopes to succeed against better pitching and improved breaking balls at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. When asked about the Pittsburgh prospect's chances of reaching the Majors, ESPN's prospect expert Keith Law referred to him as a "longshot" on Twitter.
Allie is not the only prospect in the Pirates system attempting to reinvent himself. Jared Lakind, 21, was originally given a $400K contract to forgo a two-way career at the University of Arkansas because of his intriguing raw power. He never tapped into it in pro ball with just five home runs in three seasons. He also hit just .148 and .169 over the past two seasons.
Kyler Burke, LHP, Chicago Cubs
Toiling away in the near obscurity of the Florida State League (High-A) -- where crowds are announced in the hundreds rather than the 10s of thousands -- is another conversion project in Kyler Burke of the Cubs. The Padres originally selected the prospect 35th overall during the 2006 amateur draft out of a Tennessee high school. He spent more than five years as a hitter in the low minors and was traded to the Cubs in 2007 as part of a package for former big league catcher Michael Barrett. Burke's best season as a hitter came in 2009 at the A-ball level when he posted a .911 OPS.
Contact issues plagued the young prospect throughout his career and he made the decision to give pitching a try after he struck out 131 times in 135 High-A ball games in 2010. Still just 25, he's moved methodically through the system as a pitcher and he's currently in the Daytona Cubs' starting rotation. Burke has made two starts so far after opening the year rehabbing an injury in extended spring training and he's allowed five hits in 10 innings of work and features a 0.90 ERA.
The prospect recently told writer Jake Seiner of MiLB.com he was willing to do anything asked of him to realize his dream of playing in the big leagues. "I just want to get to the big leagues," he said. "I love starting and I love the routine of going out every fifth day and getting my work in between. If it works out as a reliever, that's fine, too. It really doesn't matter to me."
The Cubs will face a difficult decision with Burke this fall. If he's not added to the 40-man roster, he'll not only be available in the annual Rule 5 draft, but he'll also be a minor league free agent, allowing him an opportunity to search out the clearest path to a Major League opening.
Justin Jackson, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Like Burke, Justin Jackson was a highly-regarded prep hitting prospect out of North Carolina. The Toronto Blue Jays selected the former shortstop 45th overall during the 2007 amateur draft and handed him a $675K bonus. He spent six seasons as a hitter but never hit more than .249 in a season and played just 94 games above the A-ball level. Ashley Marshall of MiLB.com sat down with Jackson, 24, and spoke to him about the decision to switch roles -- which was borne out of a conversation between his agent and the Jays front office.
He opened 2013 in extended spring training in an effort to give him as much time as possible to polish his repertoire before making his pro debut as a pitcher. That moment finally came on May 4th when he worked 2 2/3 innings out of the bullpen for the Lansing Lugnuts of the Midwest League (A-ball). Sam Dykstra of MiLB.com spoke with Jackson shortly after his first appearance. Since then, Jackson has accumulated 11 1/3 innings in seven appearances and features a 1.59 ERA with eight strikeouts.
His control continues to be a work in progress with six walks issued but he flashes an intriguing repertoire that includes a low-90s fastball, slider and changeup. If he's not added to the Jays' 40-man roster after the conclusion of the 2013 season, Jackson will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft in November and he'll also become a minor league free agent after six full seasons in the minors.
Jackson's former Lansing teammate Markus Brisker is also switching from hitter to pitcher, although he's still working out in extended spring training. The 22-year-old outfielder was originally a sixth round draft pick out of a Florida high school back in 2008. After hitting .306 in his debut, the athletic and strong-armed outfielder managed to hit above .200 just once in parts of four seasons in A-ball.
Prospect Tidbits: Like Allie, Micah Owings is trying to reinvent himself as a hitter after reaching the Majors as a pitcher and making 138 appearances (68 starts), mostly with the Diamondbacks. The born-again rookie currently has a respectable .770 OPS at the Triple-A level for the Nationals. He's slugged 15 extra base hits in 40 games but his 32 percent strikeout rate is a concern. Owings, 30, owns a career .813 OPS with nine homers in 205 big league at-bats -- despite a strikeout rate of 33 percent.....Royals outfield prospect Brett Eibner, 24, was selected in the second round of the 2010 amateur draft after a strong career at the University of Arkansas as a two-way player. After parts of three years, though, he has yet to hit higher than .213 in any one season and struck out 165 times in 120 games last year in High-A ball. During the 2010 pre-draft scouting report on Eibner, Baseball America stated (subscription required): "Eibner is the best two-way prospect in the 2010 draft. Teams are evenly split about whether he has more potential as a pitcher or an outfielder... Eibner's preference is to hit, but it remains to be seen if he'll get his wish." The publication noted that his fastball velocity ranged anywhere from 88-97 mph. If he continues to struggle with the bat, the outfielder could take to the mound in the near future.