Separating signal from noise can be difficult in the prospect landscape.
My first look at Phillies pitching prospect Adonis Medina this spring was so boring that I managed to not write about it at all—not in a Ten Pack or Eyewitness Report, not in my column, not even as a throwaway line in a bit about someone else. He was, more or less, the same guy we wrote up in the Phillies offseason top ten: 90-94 with a heavy fastball, a slurvish curve and a firm change that both needed generous projection to get to average, but a strong feel for pitching and good command for his age. With more physical projectability left than you’d think, we snuck him onto the back of the offseason 101 as the 91st-best prospect in baseball. There are dozens of pitching prospects with this rough outline and they populate around the 75th-to-150th spots in any given global top 101 list. I marked him as a guy to check back on and probably Ten Pack on a rainy week.
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Don't you act surprised when it all goes to hell on your dime.
I’m sure I had heard of Courtney Hawkins before the 2012 MLB Draft; he was a fairly high pick in the first round, and I’ve heard of all of those guys weeks or months ahead of time, if not more. But it feels right to say the first time I saw Courtney Hawkins was during the draft telecast on MLB Network, doing a standing backflip on live television. That pretty much summed up Courtney Hawkins at the time of the draft: fun, entertaining, and very athletic. He made a few short cameo stops in the minors after the draft, getting pushed up all the way to a couple weeks in High-A. There were concerns about the hit tool and contact ability, but really no more than your normal prep draftee.
-1.) Gleyber Torres first enters the back of my consciousness sometime in the spring or summer of 2013. He’s one of the biggest July 2 international free agents of that cycle, and the Cubs are one of the first teams to jump through the loophole in the old July 2 free agency rules and blow far past their international spending cap. The top-rated prospects of that class are Eloy Jimenez and Torres; the Cubs sign them both for seven figures each, plus dozens of others.
How much should we read into a slow start - relative to expectations - from a top overall pick?
I’ve often said that the hardest thing to evaluate in baseball is whether a player will hit. This is an inversion of an old Ted Williams line which is just as true for our purposes: the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a baseball.
Getting a first-hand look at Tim Tebow, Single-A outfielder, and all that comes with him.
For a decade or so after it opened, First Energy Park would host the circus during a long, late-summer Lakewood BlueClaws away trip. It was a nice little local traveling circus setup; First Energy has a big parking lot and until recent suburban development, was located a few miles into the middle of nowhere, in the depths of an industrial park off the highways. For whatever reason, the circus stopped coming a few years ago.
The circus returned this past week. The ringleader was a former Heisman Trophy winner, one of the greatest players in college football history, trying his hand at minor-league baseball in much the same way that Michael Jordan did over two decades ago. It was presented by the Columbia Fireflies, but really by the parent club New York Mets. Over three days and four games, more than 23,000 folks came to see Tim Tebow try to hit baseballs.
It's Happening! The Cubs have called up their top prospect, infielder Ian Happ, to the big-league club. What should we expect?
The Situation: The World’s Champion Chicago Cubs have been besieged by injuries to key hitters, including Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Addison Russell. The injuries have mostly been minor, but they ran out of functional position players on the 40-man roster to call-up over the weekend. Instead of calling up an organizational player to cover the emergency, the Cubs decided to use the opportunity to break in their top hitting prospect, Ian Happ.
Background: The Cubs drafted Happ ninth overall from the University of Cincinnati in 2015, the last of the series of top-10 picks they accumulated during the Epstein/Hoyer rebuilding period. Happ played all over the diamond in college, and given that he’s a polished switch-hitter, Zobrist comps started long before they ended up with the same employer. The Cubs kept Happ exclusively in the outfield for his pro debut in 2015, but shifted him to primarily play at second base in 2016. Happ breezed through the minors, playing well but not dominating any level until he reached Triple A after camp this year. He ranked as the 67th-best prospect in baseball before 2016 and the 54th-best prospect before this season.
We don’t talk about prospects that project as less than true MLB-quality players much in prospect columns. The vast, vast majority of nearly any minor-league team is composed of players below an OFP 40, players that don’t project to be long-term MLB roster players, role 2 and role 3 players. But within that grand batch of players, there’s an interesting distinction. Role 2 players are pure minor-league filler, players that won’t be expected to make The Show outside of extreme emergencies or goodwill gestures or things like that. Role 3 players are basically what the original sabermetricians defined as replacement-level players, the up-and-down types and minor bench/bullpen pieces living on the major-league fringes.
After faltering during his Junior season, Alec Hansen has put himself back on the map in High-A.
Let’s rewind ourselves two years, back to the halcyon days of 2015. Not only had the Chicago Cubs not yet won the World Series, but they were still in the midst of their upward turn back to relevancy. Noah Syndergaard and Francisco Lindor were spending their second seasons in Triple-A and starting to show prospect fatigue. Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw were still the best player and pitcher in baseball respectively by light years...well, that’s your constant, I suppose. And Alec Hansen, sophomore pitcher from the University of Oklahoma, was amongst the handful of most likely candidates to go first overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, along with Jason Groome and Riley Pint.
George Bissell is joined by Ryan Bloomfield of BaseballHQ to discuss James Paxton’s meteoric rise, Chris Devenski’s upside, and deliver a “Fact or Fluke?” verdicts. Then, Jarrett Seidler of BP and BP Mets stops by to break down the impact of Noah Syndergaard’s injury, Robert Gsellman’s disappointing first month, and Amed Rosario’s fantasy potential.
Second sackers get a bad rap as prospects, but should they?
When watching the minors in person, occasionally a position player really pops out at you in a way you don’t quite expect. These are often enough the guys you end up writing a glowing report about after confirming your initial impressions. They aren’t always the top prospects on the team, just guys that make a strong positive initial impression. Last year, guys that stood out for me like this included Andrew Benintendi and Tyler Wade. The first guy that fit the bill for me this year is Daniel Brito, a 2014 six-figure July 2 prospect in the Phillies system. He’s an A-ball second baseman. I usually don’t like A-ball second basemen.
Sixto Sanchez is a fast-rising prospect with a big fastball.
This past Thursday, I saw one of 2017’s breakout candidates for the first time: Philadelphia Phillies right-handed pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez. Sanchez was even better than advertised, and I think it’s safe to say he’s breaking out. Sanchez mixed in all kinds of fastballs from 92 up to a comfortable 98, and featured a promising slider and change. The command profile was unusually advanced for an 18-year-old making his second start in A-ball, especially one that was a late pitching convert. He worked unusually fast, and he got off the mound to cover first as fast as any pitcher I’ve ever seen. He wasn’t perfect—the command wasn’t always there—and normal caveats about tiny righties who have two starts above the complex leagues absolutely apply. But you’re probably going to be hearing us all talk about Sixto Sanchez in hushed tones for awhile.
Building off of last week's aggressive assignments, a look at who could have been challenged a bit more.
Last week, I looked at six top prospects that were assigned aggressively and why that might have been so. This week, let’s look at some assignments going the other way: prospects who were given assignments a level below what might’ve been expected to begin the season.