July 23, 2015
Five to Watch
I previously wrote about prospects in the Sally League, the Midwest League, and some High-A All-Stars who are increasing their dynasty-league values with strong 2015 campaigns. This week, five Double-A players get their turn.
Jorge Bonifacio, OF, Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals)
Bonifacio played all of 2014 in Double-A at age 21 and struggled on his way to a .230/.302/.309 triple-slash with a measly four home runs. It’s worth recalling that Bonifacio was a top-101 fantasy prospect entering 2014, a guy who never hit below .282 in a meaningful sample and who has enough raw in the bat to get to 20-plus bombs. A .237 batting average and .307 OBP in 2015 show negligible improvement in his second season in Northwest Arkansas but his 15 home runs tie him with teammate Balbino Fuenmayor for most in the Texas League. He’s also managed to reverse what was a nasty and curious platoon split. In 2014, Bonfiacio’s OPS was 104 points higher against same-side pitching than it was against southpaws but he’s been a monster against lefties in 2015. His .886 OPS against left-handers is 172 points higher than his mark against righties. The hand-eye coordination and natural ability in his quick bat are keeping Bonifacio afloat, but he’ll eventually need to learn how to hit advanced pitching. He just turned 22, so there’s plenty of time for it all to click and the power outburst provides something to point to in the meantime.
Jorge Lopez, RHP, Biloxi Shuckers (Brewers)
Lopez was drafted in the second round way back in 2011 and it seems like he’s been around forever. He was just 18 on draft day, which makes him only 22 now and age-appropriate for Double-A. It’s been a bit of a bumpy road to this point but beginning with a strong winter ball showing in his native Puerto Rico, the results are starting to improve and so is Lopez’s long-term outlook. He still struggles with inconsistency but the blow-up outings have been fewer and further between in 2015. Lopez is top ten in the Southern League in ERA (2.70), WHIP (1.14), and strikeouts (8.57 K/9), and his heavy fastball leads to an above-average ground-ball rate. There is still projection left here, both in his body and in his arsenal and there is mid-rotation upside in play with continued development. Buy in if his current owner is still dwelling on his slow progress instead of the impressive half-season he’s put together in 2015.
Herschel “Boog” Powell, OF, Montgomery Biscuits (Rays)
This one’s cheating a little bit because Powell has been in Triple-A Durham since late June but he was one of the best players in the Southern League before the promotion and I’ll take any chance I can get to publish the word “Boog.” “Biscuit” too, for that matter. Powell hit .343 across two class-A levels in 2014 before he was popped for testing positive for amphetamines. He picked up where he left off in the Arizona Fall League and has continued hitting as part of the Rays organization, which he joined in the Ben Zobrist deal. Powell is hitting .318/.412/.393 in 2015 and while that line is evidence that he has very little pop, it also highlights his on-base ability. He walks almost as often as he strikes out (46-to-51) and offers solid speed, albeit with poor base-stealing efficiency. His is the kind of profile that gets ignored because of the lack of a loud tool but Powell could conceivably land in a leadoff spot and offer solid three-category fantasy production in a best-case scenario.
Austin Voth, RHP, Harrisburg Senators (Nationals)
Voth was a fifth round selection in 2013 who dominated Low-A and High-A in 2014 before struggling in five Double-A starts last August. That Voth dominated the lower levels isn’t too surprising given that he was a relatively polished college starter who can command a fastball. More surprising is that he’s been nearly as good in 110 Double-A innings this year as he was in class-A last season. Voth leads the Eastern League in strikeouts and his 1.96 BB/9 underscores his ability to throw strikes. Most scouts saw back-end starter as a best-case scenario because of underwhelming fastball velocity and secondary pitches that are above average but still inconsistent and in need of further development. They may well be right in the end, making Voth yet another cautionary tale about scouting the stat line. Nevertheless, Voth’s resume is getting more substantial and he wouldn’t be the first guy to outperform his pure stuff on pitchability and control. He’s been especially good in July, only allowing two runs in 27 innings while striking out 26 against six walks. If Voth keeps rolling, a promotion to Triple-A could come soon and a handful of September relief innings in Washington isn’t out of the question, though he isn’t currently on the 40-man.
Mac Williamson, OF, Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants)
Williamson is another questionable inclusion here because of his recent promotion to Triple-A but he’s worth discussing because of his prodigious raw power. The Wake Forest product hit 25 home runs in 2013 and while Cal League numbers should always be taken with a grain of salt, his 25 bombs were third most in the league. Tommy John surgery cost Williamson most of 2014 but he is back on track in 2015, hitting .293/.366/.429 with an acceptable 18.3 percent strikeout rate in almost 300 Double-A plate appearances. A single-digit home-run total to this point is disappointing but Richmond’s park is cavernous and it’s fair to cut him some slack barely a year removed from a major surgery. Williamson is a big dude with a long swing and whether he’ll continue to hit for average is an open question, but he’s managed a .296 batting average in his minor-league career and has the athleticism and approach to hit. Williamson is 25 years old, so there is some legitimate age-at-level skepticism but now in Triple-A, we’re getting closer to finding out if he can hack it against big leaguers. If he can get there and stick, his plus raw power to all fields will be the reason. Despite the premium on power these days, Williamson seems under the radar and is a flier worth taking.