Interesting backstories dominate after this weekend's games, with surprise performances, defensive shifts, reclaimed prospect status, disappointing contracts, and accelerated big-league arrivals all on display.
Matt Barnes, RHP, Red Sox (High-A Salem)
Throughout the entire month of April, it was pretty clear that Barnes didn't belong in Low-A, as the 2011 first-round pick allowed just one run over 26 2/3 innings while striking out 42. On Saturday, Barnes showed that he might not belong in High-A either, as he whiffed 12 over six four-hit innings in his Carolina League debut. Just as important as the numbers, Barnes has started to break out the secondary stuff, as after relying primarily on a fastball that can touch 97 in Greenville, he was generating swings and misses with a curveball that has been an inconsistent pitch in the past. His ceiling hasn't changed yet, but his timetable is quickly accelerating.
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We talk about great pitching prospects being Future No. 1 starters, but what does that really mean?
With both Bryce Harper and Mike Trout getting the call to the big leagues recently, Dylan Bundy is now the official engineer of the Prospect Hype Train, and with good reason. He's faced 52 batters on the young season, and three have reached base, while 25 have struck out. That has prompted the inevitable questions—especially on Twitter—about whether Bundy can become a No. 1 starter. However, becoming a No. 1 starter takes more than just stuff, or more than just command; it takes something that is more than a little bit ineffable.
OMG, you've never heard of Hanser Alberto? You totally should.
Hanser Alberto, SS/3B, Rangers (Low-A Hickory)
When I visited the Rangers minor league camp this spring, they were playing a pair of games with their Low- and High-A squads about 20 feet from each other. With one of the best systems in baseball, including a plethora of expensive draft picks and big ticket international signings, it was an impressive display of expensive talent, but it was Alberto who stole the show, as he just barreled everything. I hadn't even heard of him, but I got a quick primer from Jason Parks, who thinks he can hit, and that seems to be the universal opinion. That's with good reason as after eight hits over the weekend, including four on Sunday, the 19-year-old Dominican is now hitting .369/.396/.476 while seeing time at both left-side infield positions. It's always fun to see the big name players, but it's equally good to find new names as well.
A number of high-profile prospects are off to disappointing starts. But how worried should we be?
We’re three weeks into the minor league season, and so far there are a few prospects that entered the year with high expectations, yet are falling well below them. It's easy to just say small sample size, and chances are that plays a huge role, but the question remains: are there reasons to be concerned? Here's a look at a quintet of players having slow starts, and why you should be concerned. Or not.
A trio of perplexing pitchers leads off today's Ten Pack.
Dylan Axelrod, RHP, White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte)
The fact that Axelrod even reached the big leagues is quite an achievement. A 30th-round pick in 2007 by the Padres, Axelrod lasted a year and a half before landing in Indy ball, but all he did was get better. His primary skill is the ability to throw strikes. He pounds the strike zone with an 88-91 mph fastball, has a decent slider, and a somewhat-less-than-decent curve. He has no changeup, but he hits his spots and keeps hitters off balance; while that's the kind of pitcher who should hit a wall, he just hasn't yet. With 7 2/3 shutout innings on Sunday, he now has a 1.08 ERA in four starts for the Knights to go with 26 strikeouts and just four walks. He's already a great scouting find for the White Sox, and has to upgrade that status by becoming a usable arm as a No. 5 starter or middle reliever, which exceeds any expectation ever put on him.
The pitchers of the 2002 and 2011 drafts have record-breaking potential.
Evaluating a draft is a difficult thing. Some say it takes three years—others five—to really evaluate a pick, but realistically even those might be light. Consider the time it take a high school pick to reach the big leagues, as well as the six years of control at the big league level before free agency arrives, and it could take a decade or more to totally realize the value from a selection.
Today's Ten Pack features more than a few notable A-ball performances in systems that could use some good news.
Tyler Austin, 1B/OF, Yankees (Low-A Charleston)
A 13th-round pick in 2010 who signed for an above-slot figure of $130,000, Austin showed impressive offensive ability in the New York-Penn League last year; on a Sally League squad loaded with much more well-known prospects, it's Austin who has stood out, going 8-for-13 with three doubles, a triple and his third home run of the year. His season line is at .438/.471/1.031 after eight contests. He has nowhere near the tools of some of his Riverdog prospect brethren, but the bat stands out, and is very much for real.
Feel like a road trip? Each league has at least two teams you should make time to see before the inevitable promotions.
At the start of the minor league season, the most frequent question I get is, “Hey, I live in or near [insert minor league town here], who should I go see?” Sometimes the talent isn't in your home town, but that's what visiting rosters are for, and who doesn't like a good old-fashioned road trip to go see future stars? Here are the rosters to watch in each league. But make your plans quickly; these rosters are good because they have good prospects, and when good prospects play well, they move on.
Kevin caught two young power threats in a recent Midwest League matchup.
It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game. My mom used to say that a lot, and I used to think it was a load of crap. I still do in many ways, but it sure does apply to how I watch minor league baseball. I actually had to look up the final score (Beloit 9, Kane County 7) of my first minor league game of the season, because I really don't care who wins. I wasn't there to see a collective group of Snappers or Cougars, I was there to see players, specifically a pair of 18-year-old cleanup hitters: Jorge Bonifacio of Kane County and Miguel Sano of Beloit. Neither disappointed.
A quick look at ten players with notable opening weekends in the minors.
Matt Adams, 1B, Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
Though he was last year's Texas League MVP, Adams still hasn't gotten a lot of love, as he was a 23rd round pick out of a small school in Pennsylvania and he looks more like a cleanup hitter for a 16-inch softball team than a professional baseball one. He gained more support from scouts with an impressive spring, and while he went 0-for-3 on Sunday, he's still off to one of the hotter starts around: after going deep in Thursday's opener, he hit another on Friday and just missed a third, and after initially getting an off day on Saturday, he ended up providing a pinch-hit three-run shot in the ninth inning. No prospect is going to make anybody forget Albert Pujols, but Adams could make the loss a little less painful for Cardinals fans in 2013, if not earlier.
Of the notable prospects who didn't start the year in the majors, who got jumped ahead and who got left behind?
With Opening Day upon us, roster decisions have been made, and while most players continue to take the standard route up the minor league ladder, there are plenty of prospects either making a double jump, or being left behind to repeat a level. Last week's player of the year watch had three teenagers-- Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras and Seattle righty Taijuan Walker--who are all beginning the year in Double-A; here are ten more players beginning the year somewhere other than where many expected.