In-person reviews of a dozen very young prospects.
Last week the Connecticut Tigers hosted the New York-Penn League All-Star Game with a host of talented young players moving out of the complex leagues and making their professional debuts. Twelve position players garnered most of my attention throughout the evening. While it is always risky placing too much weight on a one-game sample, the following are my notes on the position players who stood out last week.
Oscar Hernandez, C, Tampa Bay Rays (Hudson Valley) Very good body; good height for a catcher; strong, lean upper body; thicker lower half; has strength to catch and projects for durability; hands work well at the plate; extremely quick to the ball; handled velo and secondary pitches well in this contest; plus bat speed; defense will play; lightning fast hands behind the plate; showed good footwork and quick transfer; plus arm; popped 1.88, 1.94, 2.02; throws consistently on target; throws down to the bag; solid all-around potential; high risk; potential everyday backstop.
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The arrivalof John Buck's baby boy precipitates the arrival of baseball's best catching prospect.
The Situation: Mets starting catcher John Buck is away from the team to welcome a baby boy into his family, and to replace him the club will turn to the top catching prospect in the system, calling up Travis d’Arnaud.
Background: Originally selected in the first round by the Phillies in 2007, d’Arnaud had already established himself as a top-flight catching prospect at the time he was dealt to Toronto as a piece in the Roy Halladay trade. After rising to Low-A as a 20-year old with the Phillies, d’Arnaud posted a .259/.315/.411 line in the High-A Florida State League in 2010 and then broke out with a massive .311/.371/.542 slash line for Double-A New Hampshire in 2011. Following that explosive season, d’Arnaud battled through injuries to hit .333 in just 67 games in the high-octane Pacific Coast League in 2012. Last winter, d’Arnaud was the centerpiece in a deal that sent knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays, and he has followed up that trade with a nifty .304/.487/.554 line across 19 Triple-A games after returning from injury.
The Mets call up a player you've been hearing about for years.
The Situation: After sending David Wright to the disabled list with a hamstring strain, the Mets will turn to 22-year-old Wilmer Flores to man the hot corner. Flores has been torching the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with a .321/.357/.531 line through 107 games, mostly at second base.
Background: Flores was a high-dollar Venezuelan signing in 2007, inking for a $750,000 signing bonus on his 16th birthday. Despite his youth, the Mets started him off in the rookie-level Appalachian League in 2008 where he notched a .310 average and slugged 24 extra-base hits in 59 games. Promoted to Low-A for the 2009 season, Flores struggled as one of the league’s youngest players, hitting just .264 across 125 games and earning himself a return trip to the South Atlantic League to start the 2010 season. After improving across the board in 2010, Flores took on the High-A challenge as an 18-year-old and hit an impressive .300/.324/.415 in 67 games. Despite his early success in High-A, Flores spent all of 2011 and the first half of 2012 battling in the Florida State League before earning his first shot at Double-A. In the second half of last year, Flores found his stride at the plate and hit .311/.361/.494 down the stretch for Binghamton with 18 doubles and eight home runs. The Mets shipped Flores off to their new Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas this season, and while all Las Vegas stats are buoyed by the accommodating offensive environment, Flores’ .321 average, 36 doubles and 15 home runs are still impressive.
After gaining polish over 13 Triple-A starts, Zack Wheeler is ready to prove that he belongs in the Mets rotation.
The Situation: With the Mets struggling at the big-league level and the “Super 2” timeline squarely in the rearview mirror, it was time for the club to call upon their other high-end pitching prospect to pair him with right-hander Matt Harvey. Zack Wheeler will make his major-league debut just down the road from where he grew up near Atlanta on Tuesday night against the Braves.
Background: Wheeler, the sixth-overall pick by the San Francisco Giants in 2009, joined the Mets in exchange for outfielder Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline in 2011. After two successful but inconsistent seasons in Low-A and High-A with the Giants, Wheeler got his first taste of the upper levels in 2012 with the Mets. In 19 Double-A starts Wheeler notched a 3.26 ERA with just 92 hits allowed in 116 innings. He walked a career-low 3.3 batters per nine innings and fanned better than a batter per inning, making progress in his development. The Mets promoted him to Triple-A Buffalo at the end of 2012 season, and he logged a 3.27 ERA in six starts. Returning to Triple-A to start the 2012 season, though this time in the high-octane Pacific Coast League, Wheeler has posted a 3.93 ERA with 61 hits and 27 walks yielded in 68-2/3 innings and an impressive 73 punchouts.
Our top-ranked preseason prospect makes his major league debut tonight.
The Situation: Pittsburgh left-hander Wandy Rodriguez is suffering from inflammation in his left forearm, causing him to miss a start and forcing the Pirates to look for a replacement in the rotation. Enter Gerrit Cole, the top-ranked pitching prospect on BP’s preseason rankings, who will make his major-league debut on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
Background: A first-round pick of the Yankees in 2008, Cole opted not to sign and instead honored his commitment to UCLA, where he topped the Bruins’ rotation for three years. In 2011, the Pirates made him the no. 1 overall pick in the draft and signed him with an $8 million bonus. The right-hander made his official pro debut in 2012, dominating High-A Bradenton through 13 starts. He allowed just 53 hits in 67 innings while striking out 69 batters en route to a 2.55 ERA. The Pirates pushed him to Double-A Altoona in the second half of last season, and he responded with a 2.90 ERA and over a strikeout per inning in 12 starts. After another promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis to start the 2013 season, Cole has posted a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts with just 44 hits allowed in 68 innings, though he has seen his strikeout rate dip to 6.2 whiffs per nine innings.
Colome's fastball-curveball tandem might fit better in the bullpen, but the Rays will give him a rotation trial while Alex Cobb and David Price are out.
The Situation: Tampa Bay originally called up Colome to help solidify its bullpen, but ended up needing him in the starting rotation when Alex Cobb came down with an injured finger.
Background: Signed in 2007, Colome did not make his stateside debut until 2008, when he was torched for a 6.80 ERA in 46 1/3 rookie-league innings. He improved dramatically the following year in the New York-Penn League, posting a 1.66 ERA across 15 starts while striking out more than 11 batters per nine innings. As the Rays typically do, they have moved Colome slowly through the system; he spent the entire 2010 season in Low-A and then the majority of the 2011 season in High-A. Late in the 2011 season, he was promoted to Double-A Montgomery for nine starts and he finished with a 4.15 ERA and less than a hit per inning, though he did walk 28 batters and only strike out 31. During a return trip to Double-A in 2012, Colome battled injuries but still showed improvement across the board, as he continued to refine his arsenal. Entering the 2013 season, Colome ranked 10th on BP’s Rays Top 10 Prospects list. With Triple-A Durham this season, Colome has notched a 2.60 ERA in 10 starts, allowing just 46 hits and 22 walks in 55 1/3 innings while fanning 61 hitters.
The Nationals call up a pitching prospect to fill in for the injured Ross Detwiler.
The Situation: Following a breakout 2012 season, Karns seemed destined for another full season in the minor leagues blocked by a loaded Washington rotation. With just one injury, though, things can change, and they changed to Karns’ benefit when Ross Detwiler injured his oblique, creating a need for another starter.
Background: After battling inconsistency at North Carolina State and Texas Tech, Karns’ draft stock plummeted in 2009, as he was routinely touched up throughout the spring. He was finally popped in the 12th round by the Nationals and signed for $225,000. Almost immediately after signing, Karns came up lame with a torn labrum and missed the remainder of the 2009 season and all of 2010. Back on the hill in 2011, Karns posted a solid 3.44 ERA in eight starts for the New York-Penn League’s Auburn Doubledays. His breakout came in 2012 with good health and monster showings at both Low-A and High-A. On the season, he recorded a 2.17 ERA in 116 innings with just 70 hits allowed, 47 walks, and 148 punchouts. Karns has handled the jump to Double-A reasonably well this season, pitching to a 4.60 ERA in nine starts, allowing less than a hit per inning, and fanning 11 batters per nine.
The Mariners replace Dustin Ackley with Franklin, Seattle's fourth-best prospect on our offseason rankings.
The Situation: Second baseman Dustin Ackley came out of college considered an elite-level hitter who would quickly establish himself in the big leagues. Ackley has never fulfilled his potential in three seasons in Seattle, totaling a .237/.307/.344 line in 1,215 plate appearances. With his continued struggles (.205/.266/.250 this year) and a Seattle offense that is hitting just .241/.310/.392 as a team, changes needed to be made. Enter Nick Franklin. Franklin, the team’s fourth-ranked prospect entering the year, has been called up to replace Ackley, who was optioned to Triple-A.
Background: A first-round pick in 2009, Franklin signed for $1.28 million and hit .333/.354/.476 in a 16-game debut that spanned the rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Northwest League. The following year Franklin exploded with a .281 average in the offensively difficult Midwest League, punching 22 doubles and a whopping 23 home runs as a 19-year old. With lofty expectations in the California League in 2011, Franklin stumbled as myriad injuries took their toll. After hitting .275 in 64 games for High Desert, Franklin was tested with an assignment to Double-A Jackson where he ripped off a .325/.371/.482 line in 21 games. The Mariners returned Franklin to Double-A in 2012 and he again torched the Southern League with a .896 OPS and 25 extra-base hits in 57 games. He struggled after a promotion to Triple-A in the second half, hitting just .243, though he did knock 27 extra-base hits in 64 games. Back in Triple-A to start the 2013 season, Franklin made the necessary adjustments and has hit .324/.440/.472 so far this season.
Desperate for a starter, the Jays call up their no. 2 pitching prospect from Double-A.
The Situation: After an active offseason that included the acquisition of starting pitchers Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, and Josh Johnson, the Blue Jays are now prepared to send their 10th starting pitcher of the season to the mound. In addition to Johnson’s injuries, J.A. Happ has been dealing with injuries of his own and Ricky Romero has been struggling through the first two months of the season. As if that weren’t enough, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison are still several months away from returning to the mound and the club was forced to send Ramon Ortiz to the hill this week. All of that leads to the call-up of left-hander Sean Nolin, the team’s no. 2-rated pitching prospect.
Background: A sixth-round pick by the Blue Jays in 2010, Nolin has had little trouble motoring through the minor leagues. After a 6.05 ERA in six New York-Penn League starts during his professional debut, Nolin has improved at every stop. With Low-A Lansing in 2011 he posted a 3.49 ERA in 108-1/3 innings, allowing just 102 hits and 31 walks while fanning 113 batters. He followed up that strong performance with a dazzling 2.19 ERA in 17 games (15 starts) for High-A Dunedin in 2012 before being promoted to Double-A New Hampshire. In just three starts with New Hampshire, Nolin notched a 1.20 ERA and better than a strikeout per inning. After some missed time early this season due to a pulled groin, Nolin has continued his Double-A dominance with a 1.17 ERA in three more starts.