Even a limited look at the Cuban super prospect makes it clear why he's garnered so much attention.
Yoan Moncada’s journey from Cuba to Fort Myers has simultaneously been well documented and, as with so many Cuban defectors, shrouded in mystery. I, on the other hand, had only to forego a Friday night of debauchery*, respond to a 5 a.m. alarm clock, and make the cross-state trip through Alligator Alley in order to see the Red Sox newest acquisition in action for the first time.
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Understanding the relationship between plate discipline in the minors and future big-league success.
Not long ago, in the empty hours that fill scouts’ time between batting practice and the first pitch, I was speaking with (read: listening intently to) to an experienced scouting director. The topic of plate discipline came up. As anyone who closely follows the BP prospect team has figured out, I fall at the “extremely important” end of the spectrum when it comes to using plate discipline to evaluate prospects and predict their future success. Because of that, it didn’t take much prodding to get me to rave about a prospect I had recently seen from this scouting director’s system. The prospect, along with many strong skills, had a fantastic eye.
The scouting director’s response surprised me. He informed me his organization values plate discipline extremely highly, to the point of actually considering it a sixth tool (something we’ve seen the old-school camp dismiss in the past). I love the concept, but was stupefied because the organization in question is not one we typically think of as sabermetrically friendly. I assumed I was at a more extreme end of the spectrum on this topic, but here my views were accepted with arms open wider than I had anticipated.
Plate discipline, of course, is not a new concept in scouting. The way we view player value has brought about the current on-base renaissance within the big-league game, and that has had a trickle-down effect into the scouting world. With a better understanding of the value of on-base ability, we have changed how we evaluate prospects in some regards, at times excusing larger holes in a hit tool, for example, so long as it comes with strong on-base skills. The ability to avoid outs with better plate discipline can make up for some flaws in one’s ability to hit his way on base.
It's a treacherous path one travels from teenaged prospect to Cy Young winner to Hall of Famer, further than the journey from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, or from Highland Park to Los Angeles, or even from Culiacan, Mexico to Los Angeles. To be a left-handed pitcher in the fabled Dodgers organization, the path is more treacherous still, thanks to the landmines of expectations that history has laid down.
Every farm system in baseball, ordered from best to worst.
1. Chicago Cubs Farm System Ranking in 2014: 2 2015 Top Ten Prospects: Link Top Prospect: Addison Russell (2) Prospects on the BP 101: 7 State of the System: Despite graduating infielders Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez, and mildly uninspiring years from former Top 10 prospects like C.J. Edwards and Christian Villanueva, the Cubs are the proud owner of the game’s top system. With the 2014 arrival of shortstop Addison Russell via trade, the explosive emergence of third baseman Kris Bryant, and the selection of a hit-first prospect like Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs remain absolutely loaded with impact talent. The arrival and emergence of those players doesn’t even begin to touch on the continued presence of outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, as well as quality depth of high ceiling players like Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, Carson Sands, and Mark Zagunis. The Cubs’ system is loaded to the gills with talent that could help their roster continue to improve internally, or via trade. Must-See Affiliate: Triple-A Iowa Prospects to See There: Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Pierce Johnson
A look at the arms who've stood out in Puerto Rico to date.
Miguel Chalas, RHP, White Sox (Cangrejeros de Santurce): 18 IP, 17 H, 16 K/8 BB, 3.50 ERA.
Chalas came over from the Orioles in the Alejendro De Aza deal, though by that time the minor-league season had come to an end. He’s an undersized, max-effort reliever who struggles with his in-the-zone command. Chalas has a good arm and achieves low-to-mid 90s velocity, but he profiles as a middle reliever.
Joe Jimenez, RHP, Tigers (Gigantes de Carolina): 12 2/3 IP, 3 H, 15 K/1 BB, 0.00 ERA.
Jimenez has taken his upper-90s fastball to his native country this winter and has been even more dominant than he was in his New York-Penn League stint this summer. His fastball/slider combination has yet to be challenged, and even though he’s likely destined for a relief role, he could be an impact ‘pen arm.
A look at four arms who've stood out in Venezuela.
Adys Portillo, RHP, Padres (Aguilas del Zulia): 17 IP, 16 H, 13 K/15 BB, 7.94 ERA.
Winter league numbers require context due to the small sample sizes, different hitting environments in different leagues, ends of long seasons, etc. At no point in the baseball universe, however, is it a good thing to walk more batters than you strike out. Extreme control issues have plagued Portillo since he signed for $2 million in 2008, and they don’t appear to be getting any better, even after he switched to a relief role this season.
J.C. Sulbaran, RHP, Royals (Tiburones de La Guaira): 4 GS, 17 IP, 18 H, 13 K/5 BB, 5.82 ERA. Best known as the player the Royals got in return for Jonathan Broxton at the 2012 trade deadline, Sulbaran stagnated at Double-A in 2013 but bounced back with a solid season in 2014. Upon their acquisition of Sulbaran, the Royals moved him into the bullpen, but the right-hander never took to the change. He returned to the Double-A rotation this season and once again found mild success. There’s not a lot of upside with Sulbaran, but having just turned 25 and with a solid foundation of innings built up throughout his minor-league career, he should serve as rotation depth for the Royals as early as this season and could settle in as a spot-starter/long man.
A look at the arms who've stood out in DWL action.
Last week, I recapped all three winter leagues, but if you were paying careful attention, you noticed that all of the players mentioned were position players. That actually wasn’t on purpose so much as the amount of hitting prospects greatly outweighs the number of pitching prospects playing in winter leagues. With the concern about innings totals and the abuse of young arms, this isn’t terribly surprising.
Still, while perhaps not of the prospect variety, there are still a number of notable arms active in winter league action. That’s where this Update comes in.
Picking out the prospects and intriguing young players in the thinnest of the three winter circuits.
Anthony Garcia, OF, Cardinals (Gigantes de Carolina): .331/.429/.661, 9 2B, 3B, 10 HR, 19 BB/24 K in 124 AB.
Garcia is a free-swinger to the fullest extent. That doesn’t work very well in the Florida State League, as evidenced by just 10 home runs in a full season in Palm Beach in 2014 (don’t feel too bad for Garcia, he did get to love in Palm Beach for six months). Despite his modest home run totals during the regular season, Garcia does have plus raw power, but despite his impressive totals this winter, it isn’t likely to play in games. He’s not much of a defensive player either, so his value will have to come exclusively from his bat, and that’s a major question given his swing-and-miss issues.
The Update returns with a look at the prospects and young players who've stood out in the Dominican.
Cristhian Adames, SS, Rockies (Toros del Este): .353/.426/.473, 4 2B, 4 3B, 2 HR, 18 BB/19 K in 167 AB.
Adames generally does a nice job making contact, and does so without an extremely aggressive approach, so it’s not shocking to see him go on runs like this where he strings together high averages with lots of balls in play. The lack of power in his game limits his upside, and though he’s shown more extra-base thump this winter than in his minor-league career, there’s not much reason to believe there’s a lot of punch in his bat long term. Still, his ability to put the bat on the baseball and possibly handle all three infield positions makes him a valuable bench candidate.
A look at the prospects and young big leaguers who've stood out in Venezuela.
Odubel Herrera, 2B, Phillies (Tiburones de La Guaira): .373/.429/.557, 13 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 17 BB/28 K in 185 AB.
Herrera hasn’t shown much power in the past, and I wrote just that in our Rule Five recap a few weeks ago. Naturally, he’s proved that to be false this winter in his native country. We can’t put a lot of stock in a month’s worth of winter league numbers, but if Herrera can add just a little bit of pop to his speed and defense, he could be a valuable asset to a suddenly shallow Phillies middle infield.