April 6, 2015
League Preview Series
Pacific Coast League
While Triple-A has recently been skipped over (especially in the PCL) by premium prospects, there’s still plenty of talent to be found. While there aren’t a ton of high-end arms, thanks to the brutal disposition of many of the PCL parks, there are interesting bats on display, at least to open the season. Still, the talent isn’t as abundant as it once was, as teams fear that their pitchers’ confidence will be shot, and their hitters’ swings will be altered thanks to the explosive offensive environments throughout the league.
Albuquerque Isotopes (Colorado Rockies)
Jonathan Gray isn’t likely to be in Albuquerque long, as the Rockies at least considered him for their opening day rotation. Expect him to get the Kris Bryant treatment—or something close to it—in terms of time in the minor leagues. Armed with a fastball that can reach the upper 90s, Gray complements his heater with a vicious slider. He’s got two plus pitches (or better), but his ability to turn over a lineup could hinge on the development of his changeup. Chad Bettis should be in New Mexico a little longer and still feature an above-average fastball and change, with an average cutter. All of those play down though, due to subpar command that may never come together.
Kyle Parker is the best bat to keep an eye on, but he’s almost purely a power bat and is limited to first base defensively. Colorado may trot him out in left field, but that’ll only serve as an example of why he’s limited to first base.
Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Milwaukee Brewers)
Traded twice now (DET to TEX, TEX to MIL), Corey Knebel remains a two-pitch, power reliever with a big fastball and a nasty curveball. He’s been tagged as a closer of the future, and that label should hold despite Francisco Rodriguez’s new deal.
The other part of the deal that sent Knebel to Milwaukee, Luis Sardinas, is so smooth on defense he must use shea butter. There’s work to be done at the plate, but he could end up with a plus hit tool to pair with his plus-plus speed. There’s absolutely zero power there, so the overall profile is fairly limited.
El Paso Chihuahuas (San Diego Padres)
An easy candidate to be involved in a trade over the offseason, Rymer Liriano has remained in the Padres organization. He’s a high-beta player with the potential for a 20/20 season at the major-league level… and the potential to never do much of anything there. He’s got a track record of making adjustments, but it’s possible MLB pitchers exploit the holes in his swing in a way he can’t fix.
Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin form a decent one-two punch for a Triple-A rotation. While Kelly has been dogged by injuries, losing some stuff because of it, there’s still a back of the rotation starter in there somewhere. No stranger to elbow soreness himself, Erlin also fills out the back-end starter profile. He doesn’t throw especially hard, but has a nice pitch-mix and hits his spots when he’s on. When he’s not, the PCL could be an especially rough place for him. PETCO will be easier, should he get there again.
Fresno Grizzlies (Houston Astros)
Apparently a $10 million contract doesn’t guarantee a roster spot. Jon Singleton found that out the hard way, as the Astros offseason moves put a roster crunch at the corner infield/DH spots. Singleton still boasts impressive raw power and enough hit tool to get to it in games, but is probably best served with some extra seasoning.
Andrew Aplin provides above-average defense in the outfield—be it center or right—and can hit a bit. He doesn’t have any power, but he’s a nice player to have in the organization and will stand out on the field for his all-out style of play. He’ll also pick up more injuries than you might expect because of that style. Add it all together and you have a potential fourth outfielder.
Iowa Cubs (Chicago Cubs)
Whether C.J. Edwards has the frame to hold up as a starter over the course of a full season is yet to be determined. His stuff is still top notch though, as his heavy two-seam fastball/sharp curve combination will attest. He can miss plenty of bats, but unless or until he can throw a full season as a starter, or improves his fastball command, the bullpen will remain his most likely destination.
Hey did you hear that Javier Baez strikes out a lot? It’s true, look it up, but also watch a game and stop looking up numbers, nerd. He’s still likely to be one of the better players in all of the PCL while he’s there, and he does have a track record of making adjustments, even if that track also includes a heaping portion of strikeouts. By now you know the scouting report, so just appreciate him for what he is, even if that means he’s flawed.
You also get 12 or so days of Kris Bryant. Make ‘em count.
Las Vegas 51s (New York Mets)
Noah Syndergaard would probably be pitching in most MLB rotations. That doesn’t imply that he’s a finished product, but the development he has left in front of him is probably best done in the majors, rather than the bandbox that is Las Vegas. The Mets deep rotation (despite the loss of Zack Wheeler) means he’s back in Triple-A, however. Syndergaard still boasts the potential for two plus-plus pitches (FB/CB), and the chance for his change to get above average, but much will depend on how he refined his command within the zone, as he was mostly throwing to quadrants, rather than hitting his spots last season.
The big bat to watch at Triple-A is Kevin Plawecki, who has breezed through the minors since being drafted in the first round in 2012. He’s not a power hitter, but has a nice combination of average hit and power tools that stand out based on his position. He should be able to stick behind the plate, and could see time in New York should Travis d’Arnaud suffer one of his various maladies.
Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis Cardinals)
Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney front the Redbirds rotation. While Gonzales has MLB and playoff experience, he couldn’t best Carlos Martinez for the fifth-starter’s spot, and will head to Triple-A to wait his turn. Both pitchers feature good changeups—though Gonzales is at least a grade better—that help their fastballs play up. Cooney saw his strikeout rate drop as he moved up the organizational ladder as more experienced hitters waited for him to pound the zone without a strikeout pitch. He’s a nice arm to have at the ready, but not a difference maker at the next level.
Jason Heyward’s acquisition pushed Stephen Piscotty back to Triple-A a little longer. Piscotty is the owner of a sweet swing that leads to a lot of contact and extra-base hits, even if they’re not home runs. He makes a ton of hard contact, lashing the ball to all fields, and even plays a decent right field thanks to a plus arm.
Nashville Sounds (Oakland Athletics)
Max Muncy’s future depends on his power stroke returning. If that happens, he could hack it as a low-end first baseman, thanks to his patience at the plate. Joe Wendle won’t supply a ton of power, but is known for his hard and consistent contact. Like Muncy, Wendle carries a second-division ceiling and is also coming off a season marred by a wrist/hand injury. Unlike Muncy, Wendle has positional value going in his favor.
New Orleans Zephyrs (Miami Marlins)
Justin Nicolino doesn’t miss nearly enough bats thanks to mostly average stuff, but at least gets around half the balls that get in play to be grounders.
J.T. Realmuto has a solid approach at the plate and makes a ton of contact. That makes him a decent prospect at the plate, considering that he’s a catcher. Add in his power breakout from last year, and there’s the possibility that we’ll look back on Realmuto as supremely underrated. A former middle-infielder, his athleticism behind the plate is an asset, and while he still has work to do as a receiver, he could be a dual threat backstop in the not too distant future.
Oklahoma City Dodgers (Los Angeles Dodgers)
A neglected part of the trade that sent Andrew Heaney to Los Angeles and Dee Gordon to Miami, Austin Barnes plays catcher and second base. He’s not good enough defensively to stick as a full-time catcher, but his athleticism and versatility makes him a nice option at the end of a bench. He’s a grinder at the plate and makes decent contact. Enrique Hernandez is another member of that deal, and is another versatile player who should see time at second, third, and every outfield spot. Scott Schebler has always been old for his level, but the power is real. The question is whether he’ll be able to hit lefty pitchers and where he’ll play defensively thanks to a weak arm. Left field is the most likely spot, and if the hit tool doesn’t play to its ceiling, he’s probably stuck as a bat-first bench player.
Zach Lee, Joe Wieland, and Chris Reed provide some interesting arms for a Triple-A rotation. The first two will likely fight over the first available rotation spot, with both featuring a variety of pitches, but none that consistently miss bats. Reed was used as a starter all last year, but probably functions best as a lefty reliever thanks to a lack of a dependable third pitch. He’s also seen some regression in his stuff that will make it harder for him to hold up under a starter’s workload, but could be rediscovered in shorter bursts.
Omaha Storm Chasers (Kansas City Royals)
A probable back-end starter, Christian Binford throws four pitches, none of which miss bats consistently. There’s been some thought to making him available to KC out of the bullpen, but given what a strength that’s been for them, it makes sense to let Binford start as long as possible. Getting left-handed hitters to swing and miss at his slider is his best shot of retaining that rotation spot.
Cheslor Cuthbert is only 22 years old, but has already shifted across the diamond to first base, putting more pressure on his already underperforming bat. He’s going to need his power to manifest to be worth playing, considering the slide down the defensive spectrum.
Reno Aces (Arizona Diamondbacks)
While it’s probably disappointing for fans and management alike in Arizona, Yasmany Tomas starting the season in the minors is likely for the best. The time he spent attempting to learn third base detracted from needed reps in the outfield, and could have affected his experience at the plate as well. Tomas looked understandably rusty, and having him get up to speed at the major-league level was wholly unnecessary. He’s got prodigious power when he makes contact, and that could be understating it, given the generous offensive environs of the PCL. Getting to that raw power is going to be the key. While Tomas and Peter O’Brien are going to provide plenty of offense for their Reno pitchers, they might give it all back and then some on defense. O’Brien experienced a case of the yips while behind the plate this spring, and will instead focus on his bat as he learns the outfield ropes.
Acquired as part of the deal that sent Didi Gregorius to New York, Robbie Ray’s lack of a breaking ball could doom him to the bullpen. If he can make it a viable third pitch, his fastball and changeup should allow him to work as a back of the rotation starter.
Round Rock Express (Texas Rangers)
Luke Jackson will front the Round Rock rotation, thanks to his mid-90s velocity that he’ll hold deep into games. He’s got the potential for a plus curveball, and will mix in a change and a slider. His command has always held him back, though an 11-start run of dominance at Double-A gives (faint) hope that there’s a chance he figures it out at some point. Alex Claudio’s changeup looks like it hits water midway to the plate. He’s mostly a one-trick pony though, with a mid-80s two-seamer and a generic curveball to round out his arsenal as a reliever.
Michael Choice might end up as a quad-A type eventually, but it’s too early to put that label on him just yet. There’s significant power in that bat, and enough of a hit tool to get to it in game. He’s absolutely brutal against right-handed pitchers though, which could limit him to a lefty masher, even if everything breaks right.
Salt Lake Bees (Los Angeles Angels)
The son of Steve “Bedrock” Bedrosian, Cam Bedrosian flew threw three minor-league levels before stumbling in a major-league call-up. He struck out 82 batters in 45 minor-league innings thanks to a mid-90s fastball and a sharp, biting slider. It’s not anything major-league hitters haven’t seen before, so while he’s got a good chance at a closer role in his future, it’s possible he settles in as a middle reliever.
“Blocked” by Chris Johnson in Atlanta, Kyle Kubitza was shipped to Anaheim where he’d only slightly more blocked by David Freese. While he’s not devoid of pop, Kubitza is more of a doubles hitter than someone with over-the-fence power. Whether he’ll even be able to get to that extra-base power in the majors is going to be determined by how well MLB pitchers can exploit the hitch in his swing, or if he can iron it out in response. He’s solid at third defensively, and his strong arm should play well there.
Tacoma Rainiers (Seattle Mariners)
Danny Hultzen is back and throwing in the low 90s from the left side, with a good changeup, though his slider remains inconsistent—as you might expect from a guy with the layoff/surgery he’s had. When he’s right, he boasts two plus pitches (FB/CH) and an above-average slider. The problem is that he’s not been right nearly enough. He’ll work to become more consistent in Tacoma, while getting stronger as he comes off his shoulder surgery.
The big question on Ketel Marte is whether he’ll stick at shortstop or not. If he does, his plus-plus speed and above-average hit tool could play quite nicely. That package will still work at the keystone, but the move down the defensive spectrum hurts the overall value provided.