This is all-star week for several minor leagues and in addition to being fun exhibitions, the games provide a good opportunity to check in on prospects who are popping up or boosting their dynasty league values with strong first halves. I covered a few prospects in the South Atlantic and Midwest leagues already, so today I’ll focus on the High-A leagues.
The Florida State League played its intra-league all-star game Saturday while the Carolina League all-stars fell to their California League counterparts on Tuesday night. Here are some notes on five High-A all-stars across the three leagues, at least one of whom is now a top 100 dynasty prospect and a few others who are wild cards converting tools into production. As always, make sure your own valuations are based on scouting reports first and foremost and use the stat line as a secondary (but still important) piece of data.
Willy Adames – SS – Charlotte Stone Crabs (Tampa Bay)
Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh discussed the David Price trade on a recent episode of Effectively Wild and as they noted, the trade has been a downer for the Rays because of a combination of bad luck (Drew Smyly) and bad return (Nick Franklin). We're still a ways away from closing the book on this one though, because Adames is continuing to raise expectations. Through the Florida State League’s first half, its third youngest player sits at .299/.380/.429 with a pair of homers and six stolen bases, good for a league-leading 145 wRC+. Adames’ 25.1 percent strikeout rate is more than you'd like to see from a player who doesn't hit for much power but Jeff Moore noted in a recent look that his approach is improving and he's showing more ability to hit breaking pitches. For a kid who already has a solid feel with the stick, that kind of development will not only solidify the projection of his hit tool at major league level, but will also give more confidence that he can get to his raw power, which could be enough to reach 15-20 homers at his peak. There has been some speculation that Adames will need to slide to third base because of his size and middling foot speed—and that would clearly change his fantasy value—but he has the hands and arm to stay at short and I don't think a move is certain. Bret compared his upside to Jhonny Peralta in the preseason and while that may seem like a slight for a guy the Rays need to salvage the Price deal, Peralta has been a top five performer at shortstop in multiple seasons.
Jake Bauers – 1B – Charlotte Stone Crabs (Tampa Bay)
Thanks to Steven Souza, the Rays don't need Bauers to justify the Wil Myers trade in the same way they need Adames to justify the Price trade, but it sure looks like Bauers will be icing on the cake. The smooth-swinging lefty with above-average bat speed has really impressed this year, converting what many thought would be doubles pop in to home run power despite playing in the toughest park for home runs in the Florida State League—which is pitcher friendly on the whole. That Bauers is even younger than his 19-year-old teammate Adames makes it even more notable. Bauers’ 33 strikeouts are only four more than the 29 times he's walked and to date he owns a .267/.357/.433 triple-slash. Daric Barton has been a popular comp, in part because they went to the same high school and in part because Bauers has shown the same high average/moderate power combination that Barton did at a similar age and level. Aside from a 2010 where he delivered 3.5 WARP, Barton never panned out, so let's hope Bauers’ 2015 power bump puts an end to the Barton talk. The MVP of the FSL All-Star Game, Bauers is unlikely to ever be a fantasy star but should be an asset in deeper leagues in the same way current Ray James Loney has been for most of his career.
Luigi Rodriguez – OF – Lynchburg Hillcats (Cleveland)
Rodriguez was a top ten prospect in the Indians system prior to the 2012 and 2013 seasons, getting as high as fifth on Jason Parks’ 2013 organizational ranking and drawing a Ken Griffey, Jr. comp from PECOTA. That came after a season in which Rodriguez hit .268/.338/.406 with 11 home runs and 24 steals as a 19-year-old in his full-season debut. While guys behind him on Parks’ list are now productive major leagues (Danny Salazar, Cody Allen, Jose Ramirez…okay fine, he’s not productive, or a major leaguer for that matter) and others who garnered PECOTA comps to The Kid are the best players in baseball (Trout, Harper), Rodriguez has been in High-A since April 2013. With 16 steals in the first half of this year, he’s showing off the plus speed that has always been part of his game. The surprise in 2015 is that he’s leading the Carolina League with ten bombs as part of a .287/.342/.512 line. Rodriguez has always had more pop in his bat that you’d guess for a guy his size, he’s just getting to it more this season than he has before. Rodriguez was considered a plus defender in center field after converting from the middle infield but a loaded Lynchburg outfield has Rodriguez playing DH most days. That should resolve itself shortly and I’d expect to see Rodriguez back on the grass. He is due for a new challenge and if he keeps hitting, could project as a leadoff hitter, a lineup spot scouts had for him pegged for a few years back. With a little power as a complement to the speed, Rodriguez is a nice under-the-radar option for dynasty owners looking for an upside play.
Antonio Senzatela – RHP – Modesto Nuts (Colorado)
As a general rule, fantasy owners run like hell from Rockies pitchers and find another gear with regard to Rockies pitching prospects. Remember when we all thought Eddie Butler was going to be good? Me neither. How about Jon Gray? He hasn't even been bad in the majors yet but has seen his value plummet after an awful April in Triple-A. The pause is absolutely warranted, of course, but can also open a dirt-cheap buying opportunity for a prospect like Senzatela. To be clear, Senzatela is a deep league play only, as it's not clear that he'll even be a starter when and if he arrives in the major leagues. His fastball is probably enough to get him there, but unless he improves his secondaries, he'll end up in the 'pen. Nevertheless, Senzatela is a favorite prospect of mine because of his competitiveness and his success in tough environments at a young age. I saw him a couple times in Low-A Asheville last season, where he finished with a 3.11 ERA and 1.18 WHIP while playing the whole season at 19 years old. He moved to the Cal League this year and currently has a 2.36 ERA and 1.02 WHIP while adding almost ten percent to his strikeout rate, which is fifth highest in the league among qualifiers. It's not just the raw numbers that are impressive, but the context. Consider that Asheville's park factor for runs last year was 142 and Modesto's was 107. Coors played to a 116 for righties and 113 for lefties, so is considerably easier relative to its league peers than Asheville and a bit tougher than Modesto, but MLB as a whole and the NL West in particular is not as hard on pitchers as the Cal League. To paraphrase Wilson Karaman from a recent Eyewitness Report, Senzatela has overwhelmed low minors batters on the back of an explosive fastball but the Rockies can afford to wait on Senzatela's off-speed and breaking ball development given his status as the second youngest pitcher in the Cal League. The payoff isn't likely to be dramatic but you have the possibility of high leverage if starting doesn’t work out and the investment needed to acquire Senzatela is probably minimal.
Cody Reed – LHP – Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals)
Royals fans are stuffing ballot boxes at the minor league level too, as Wilmington sent its three best starters to Rancho Cucamonga to represent the Carolina League. Alec Mills and Eric Skoglund are having fine seasons but Cody Reed stands out, thanks to his mid-90s velocity and vast improvements to his walk rate, which was previously a problem. Keith Law saw him earlier this year and came away thinking that his fastball along with a solid-average changeup and fringe-average slider add up to back-of-the-rotation potential. Wilson Karaman tweeted from last night’s game that Reed got up to 99 and the fastball had movement down in the zone. Perhaps most importantly, the former 46th overall pick has sharpened his control in 2015. Reed’s walk rate is down to 6.5 percent while his strikeout rate has climbed to 23.4 percent. The Royals have no shortage of pitching depth and if Reed can hold these gains and continue to refine his secondaries while maintaining that kind of fastball velocity and movement, he’ll shoot up the Royals depth chart.
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