The Braves call up a hit-first second baseman whose performances have carried him up the ladder.
The Situation: The Braves incumbent second basemen, Dan Uggla (.177/.254/.257) and Tyler Pastornicky (.200/.317/.257), have struggled mightily so far this season, and as a result, the club is looking for a spark to help their offense. On the horizon, the Braves' no. 6 ranked prospect (by Baseball Prospectus) Tommy La Stella will get a chance to have an impact with the big-league club.
Is a tendency to favor fire-breathers a bias, or sound wisdom?
“Doesn’t pitch with enough fire.” He’s soft.” “Doesn’t attack.” “Lacks fortitude on the mound.” “Doesn’t pitch with confidence.” “I question the sack.” “Doesn’t act the part of a number one starter.” These are all descriptions found in various scouting reports on pitcher Mark Appel going back to his amateur days and continuing in the present. Validity of the scouting assessments aside, the number of evaluators questioning the fortitude of a recent 1:1 player is significant for several reasons, but for this particular article, I want to focus on the role fortitude plays in the scouting process, and why some pitchers take a hit based on such a subjective and often biased means of categorizing talent.
Notable minor-league careers that haven't led to cups of coffee...yet.
If you haven’t heard of Guilder Rodriguez, don’t beat yourself up. Until fairly recently, I hadn’t heard of him either. Rodriguez is a 30-year-old Venezuelan middle infielder in the Rangers system who just started his 13th minor-league season. In those 13 seasons, he’s played in over 1000 games, made close to 4000 plate appearances, and hit one home run, back in 2009 with the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders. Rodriguez has played parts of the past five seasons in Frisco; if he were any good, either the fine folks of Frisco would’ve built him a statue by now, or he would have spent more time in Triple-A. But between his makeup and his ability to play shortstop, he’s soldiered on as an organizational guy, going weeks—and in one stretch last season, well over a month—without an extra-base hit.
Rodriguez really hasn’t had any competition for the title of “Least Power in Pro Baseball” since fellow career minor leaguer Carlos Rojas retired. And although Ben Reveremight be making a run, Rodriguez has no recent big-league equivalent. Among major leaguers of the last 60 years, only Duane Kuiper and Frank Taveras (who played in a lower-power era) showed the same sort of staying power without hitting more home runs. Only two major leaguers have made as many plate appearances with as high a ratio between their OBP and SLG as Rodriguez’ career minor-league line (.338/.283), and both played during the Deadball Era.
Raul Adalberto Mondesi, shortstop, Royals (Low-A Lexington) Coming into the season, Mondesi the Younger was an invisible prospect to many, having failed to capture more national attention despite being ranked third on the Baseball Prospectus Royals’ Top 10 list and 58th overall in baseball on the pre-season 101. His most familiar quality at the time was a bloodline and a short-season resume, but after the then-17-year-old jumped to the full-season level and flashed his high-ceiling tools, he became a featured player on prospects lists all over the internet. The equivalent of a junior in high school, Mondesi had 27 extra-base hits and 24 stolen bases in the Sally League, while showing off his legit left-side chops on defense. Mondesi has a chance to blossom into one of the best prospects in the game, as the hit tool has projection (clean stroke; can make hard contact and drive velocity) and the glove is more than capable of sticking at shortstop. Factor in his extreme youth, natural ease and feel for the game, and tool-based ceiling, and Mondesi might be one of the most exciting prospects in the minors. He exceeded all my expectations in 2013 and my expectations were high, and with another step forward, the aforementioned prospect prophecy might be a truth and not just a tease. –Jason Parks
Lucas Sims, pitcher, Braves (Low-A Rome)
Sims is a stud, but I didn’t see him developing into this level of stud this early in the developmental process. A first-round pick in 2012, Sims has been on the prospect radar for a while, but the 19-year-old righty really blossomed in 2013, logging over 116 innings in the Sally League and missing 134 bats. He’s not an imposing figure on the mound, but the stuff casts a bigger shadow than his 6’2’’ frame. He’s comfortable working his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s with late tailing action, dropping a true upper-70s hammer with heavy vertical action, and a 82-86 mph changeup with late sink. Because of his impressive performance in 2013, Sims is sailing up prospect lists, and if his final six starts of the season are a harbinger of his next step forward (34 IP, 46 K, 23 H, 5 ER), the Braves might have something special on their hands. –Jason Parks
Scouting and fantasy takes on hitter prospects promoted to the majors this month.
We’ve devoted full articles to the most promising prospects promoted to the majors late this season, but we're offering scouting and fantasy takes on the best of the rest in a two-part series. The pitchers ran yesterday. Here are the position players.
JR Murphy, C, Yankees
Scouting Take: A converted infielder, Murphy has made significant progress as a defender behind the plate, but even that progress leaves him as an adequate defensive catcher. His arm is just average and while he shows occasional quickness with his feet, pop times in the 1.95-2.00 range are relatively unique for Murphy. His receiving is not clean and there is still work to be done to polish his defensive tools. Offensively, Murphy has the balance and strength in his swing to project as a fringe-average hitter with average overall power once he settles into the big leagues. He makes frequent contact and has solid pitch recognition skills that should allow him to contribute in the bottom third of an MLB lineup. —Mark Anderson
A late-season series provides a chance to compare and contrast two of the game's best third-base prospects.
When going through the schedule each week and figuring out which games I am going to attend, I typically first look through the projected pitching rotations to see which arms I can line up. Due to the nature and timing of pitching, there’s a smaller window of opportunity to catch everything you need to see. The position players then usually fall into place from there. The final series of the season between Reading and New Britain was different, however. My main objective was to get my eyes on two prospects: Miguel Sano and Maikel Franco.
I’ve seen quite a bit of Sano since he signed with Minnesota, but it’s been in spring training and fall Instructs against low-minors competition. One of the big things I’ve been waiting to see is how his progressing hitting skills match up against more advanced arms. The reports on Franco have been intriguing, and it was my first opportunity to take a long look at the 21-year-old. With the chance to see both third base prospects on the field at the same time, it presented a chance to do some comparing and contrasting.