The Prospect Team continues its breakdown of each league in the minors. Today they get to the Eastern League. Be sure to read the other previews here: Midwest League, California League, Carolina League, and Florida State League.
The Eastern League is in a bit of a dry stretch, with some of the deeper farm systems featuring talent bubbles at the Double-A level, at least as the season opens. Still, there’s good news on the horizon, with a wave of prospects coming in the near future from the talent-rich Red Sox, Rockies, Nationals, and Indians. Even as things are, there are relatively deep pockets of talent in Trenton, Altoona, and Reading.
Losing the Twins loaded system (they left New Britain for the Southern League’s Chattanooga Lookouts) certainly hurts a bit, but the Rockies have a lot of prospects in the low minors who should fill the hole admirably within the next couple years.
Portland Sea Dogs (Boston Red Sox)
While the Red Sox have one of the deeper systems in the game, there’s a bit of a talent bubble at Double-A. One possible exception to that could be switch-hitter Henry Ramos, who logged 48 games at Portland last year. He missed time with a stress fracture to his shin last year, though he had two mostly healthy seasons from 2012-13. A raw draftee, Ramos has more development in his future than most 22-year-olds, and while he’s made strides in pitch recognition and adding weight, there’s still room to grow. He’s never hit as well as he did in a small sample at Double-A, and there’s a chance the swing-and-miss in his game ultimately sinks him.
There’s a possibility that Manuel Margot, Yoan Moncada, and Teddy Stankiewicz arrive in Portland in the latter half of the season, but until then, it’s a bit of a one-horse town when it comes to intriguing talents.
Binghamton Mets (New York Mets)
Always around the zone, Gabriel Ynoa finally learned that could be a bad thing upon reaching Double-A. He’s never had a walk rate higher than the 4.3 percent he posted in 11 starts in Binghamton, and should be able to find success using his low- to mid-90s heaters and a mixture of below-average secondaries (change, curve, and slider).
With a chance for four average or better pitches, Michael Fulmer’s results don’t match his potential. He brings a mid-90s fastball and a filthy slider to the table, but his curve and change lag behind. Despite the bat-missing ability of the former two pitches, they play down due to inconsistent command, which goes a long way towards explaining why a guy with his stuff hasn’t experience the type of success you’d think.
Their first-round pick from the 2012 draft, Gavin Cecchini hasn’t been slowed too much in terms of progression, despite missing substantial time in both 2012 and 2013. He’ll be 21 years old this season and—outside of power—is solid just about everywhere. He’s not so weak as to get the bat knocked out of his hands, and should be a fringe-average hitter in time. He won’t wow you on defense, but he makes all the plays he gets to, and his instincts allow his range to play up.
Domingo Tapia has a 70 fastball, but with a 12 percent strikeout rate in High-A, it’s hard to imagine him succeeding at the upper levels as a starter.
There a chance that Michael Conforto gets time early on with Binghamton, but not having played in full-season ball at all last season makes it difficult to anticipate such a jump.
New Britain Rock Cats (Colorado Rockies)
With average tools across the board, but for his speed, Tom Murphy is an intriguing prospect behind the plate. He boasts a solid approach at the plate, pairing it with average power but a below average hit tool at present. His arm was a tick above average prior to a shoulder injury that ended his 2014 season. He’s a good enough receiver that his ability to stick behind the plate isn’t contingent on his arm returning to its prior form, but every little bit helps.
Bat speed has always been a selling point for Rosell Herrera, who heretofore had been playing the left side of the infield on his way through Colorado’s system. He’s been getting work in centerfield recently, and adding another position to his resume could aid his ascent through the minors. While Herrera boasts power—more so from the left side—he lacks feel for the barrel, and while he doesn’t have issues making contact, he might ultimately miss too much for the amount of power he has.
Colorado’s High-A team is absolutely loaded, and it’s possible that some of those players (David Dahl, McMahon, Raimel Tapia, Correlle Prime, Kyle Freeland) could see time at New Britain at some point this season, with Dahl and Freeland seeming the most likely candidates.
Trenton Thunder (New York Yankees)
More like AAron Judge this year, amir- I’m so sorry. A giant of a man, Judge combines huge raw strength with big leverage, and manages to do all that without an overly long swing. He does wrap his bat as he gets his hands moving but it hasn’t hindered him thus far, and he’s already shown the ability to make positive swing adjustments. His patient approach borders on passive, but his strong sense of the strike zone is still an asset. He’s the right fielder of the future for the Yanks.
Another Yankees prospect, another hitter with patience that borders on passivity. Doesn’t look like MLB’s initiative to shorten games is taking hold in the Yankees system. Greg Bird’s long, left-handed swing can result in long fly balls, but also plenty of strikeouts. His impressive command of the zone allows him to post high on-base percentages even if his contact woes limit his ability to hit for average. He’s going to have to prove his value with his bat, because he’s already a first baseman, and while he’s not a butcher, he’s not quite notable there either.
Like Bird and Judge, there is plenty of swing-and-miss in Eric Jagielo’s game. Unfortunately, he doesn’t pack quite their punch or walk quite as often. Fortunately for him, he plays a more premium position—for now. He’s presently adequate at the hot corner, but doesn’t have the best footwork and sports a merely average arm. He was drafted for his power, and while it’s not as loud as his teammates’, it should play to above average at peak. He’s easily the best prospect at the position in the system, which should buy him some time in terms of sticking there. A move down the defensive spectrum would greatly affect his prospect status.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto Blue Jays)
If you don’t like the three-true-outcome hitter, you’ll love Dwight Smith, Jr. While he’s not quite the antithesis of that model—he’ll take his fair share of walks—Smith makes a ton of contact without supplying much power. He’s seen time in center and left fields, though he also got work at second base in the AFL, as he tries to increase his versatility.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly Roberto Osuna may open his season. He was on the fast-track as a teenager in Low-A in 2013 before undergoing Tommy John surgery, and while he’s only thrown 35 1/3 innings since returning, it’s possible his polish could send him to New Hampshire. While the results weren’t pretty in his 22-inning sample in Dunedin last year, Osuna’s stuff wasn’t adversely affected. He still has his 92-95 mph fastball, and flashes a tight curveball, along with a tumbling changeup, though his lack of command makes all pitches play down, at present.
Reading Fightin Phils (Philadelphia Phillies)
It’s not clear whether J.P. Crawford will return to the Florida State League when he recovers from his oblique strain, or if he’ll head to Reading, but he should figure to spend plenty of time in Double-A this season. The smooth-fielding shortstop is a lock to stick at the position; while he won’t hit for a ton of power, he makes hard contact and should hit for average.
The Fightin Phils rotation should be an interesting one, with recent acquisitions Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, and southpaw Tom Windle all slotting in. Eflin has the highest ceiling of the three, but is the furthest away from it, throwing his fastball in the low 90s, but with room for growth on his long and lean frame. His changeup is an above-average pitch, and he’ll spin a slider as well. Windle might ultimately cap out as a relief arm given his primarily two-pitch (FB/SL) arsenal, but he’ll get the chance to stick in the rotation until he proves he can’t. Lively thrives off deception, allowing his entire arsenal to play up, especially his low-90s fastball that seems to get on hitters faster than his radar gun readings would indicate.
Roman Quinn took to centerfield well after scouts were split as to whether he could hack it at shortstop. He’s an elite runner, which helps in the outfield and at the plate. While he’s a slight 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, Quinn has more power than you’d think. While it’s good to know he won’t just get the bat knocked out of his hands, speed is, and needs to remain, his game. He’s at his best when he puts the ball in play and pressures the defense with his wheels.
There’s a distinct possibility that in addition to the three starters mentioned above, the Reading rotation could be headlined by 2014 first-round pick Aaron Nola and Jesse Biddle, who was in the rotation last year but suffered from a concussion.
Richmond Flying Squirrels (San Francisco Giants)
The 20th-overall pick in 2012, Chris Stratton features a four-pitch mix headed by an 88-92 mph fastball and a mid-80s slider/cutter. Because his other pitches lag behind these already middling offerings, some view Stratton as a future reliever, but the Giants have done well to get the most out of their pitching prospects, so he’ll remain a starter for now. Kyle Crick is another potential reliever, though his stuff far exceeds that of Stratton’s. Crick threw 90 innings at Richmond last year, but with middling results and massive concerns about his control, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back there again to start the year.
Like velocity? Ray Black is your man. He touches triple digits on the regular and has been clocked as high as 103 mph. Unlike most pitchers, who flatten out and lose movement at the upper ends of their velocity bands, Black’s fastball features some run, and he’ll compliment it with a power curve. With two pitches like that, it’s no surprise he struck out 71 batters across 35 1/3 innings across two levels last year. He’s likely to start the year in High-A rather than Richmond, but relievers often get fast-tracked, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he arrives in Double-A quickly.
Originally a pitcher in college, Mac Williamson converted to the outfield and got selected in the third round anyway. He still couldn’t avoid Tommy John surgery though, lasting only 23 game before undergoing the procedure in April of last year. Williamson spent a large portion of the 2013 season in San Jose though, so moving him to Richmond wouldn’t be hyper-aggressive. He has a solid approach at the plate and plus raw power. He and Cuban import Daniel Carbonell should form two-thirds of the Richmond outfield.
Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland Indians)
If you were worried the Indians were running out of middle infield prospects, don’t worry, there’s Erik Gonzalez. Already 23 years old, Gonzalez reached Double-A for the first time last year, slashing .357/.390/.473 in 31 games. He’s not that good with the stick, but he did have a successful season at High-A, and would be a good bet to stay at short if Francisco Lindor didn’t have that on lock. He generally doesn’t hit for much power, though at 6-foot-3, he could learn to leverage his swing and add some pop that way.
It’s possible that Dylan Baker, who has turned some heads this spring, could arrive a bit later on in the season.
Bowie Baysox (Baltimore Orioles)
There’s not much to say about Dylan Bundy that you don’t already know. He’ll be in Bowie to open the year. Mychal Givens could relieve him, as the former position player has been impressive on the mound, using a bowling ball of a fastball to generate plenty of groundballs.
Mike Yastrzemski tore through the lower minors before closing out the season at Double-A with Bowie. He’ll likely open the season there before pushing through to Norfolk. He’s a likely fourth outfielder, but there aren’t many flaws in his game beyond the limits of his tools.
Erie SeaWolves (Detroit Tigers)
Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Josh Bell and Stetson Allie will both be back in Altoona, but they’ll be swapping positions, with Bell at first base and Allie in right field. Bell does a great job of making contact for someone with his power, but calling him a work in progress at first base would be charitable. He had a power outage upon arriving in Double-A last year, but was too much for the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, so it’s not unreasonable to expect a return to form in terms of slugging. Allie has all the trouble making contact that you’d expect from a power hitter, but he pairs it with good command of the strike zone. After 117 games in Altoona last year, he’ll return there to determine whether he can handle the rigors of the outfield.
Tyler Glasnow has all the stuff you’d want in a frontline starter and none of the control. At 6-foot-7 it’s possible he reigns in his problems with control as he adjusts to the size of his body and his mechanics become more repeatable. Until that happens though, his results aren’t going to match up with his stuff. He’s seen his walk percentage sit in the double digits every year he’s been in pro ball, but he’s managed his stellar results thanks to his ability to miss bats and limit home runs. He can touch triple digits with his fastball, but it flattens out at the upper ends of his velocity band. It features significant life and plane when located down in the zone, but remains too hittable thanks to spotty command. His curveball is a hammer that gives him a second bat-missing offering, and he’s willing to use it against lefties or righties. His changeup arrives in the high 80s and as you might imagine, is a bit firm. Too often he’ll telegraph the pitch by slowing down his arm. All in all, it’s a top of the rotation package that requires further refinement. While there’s plenty to work on, there’s a huge pot of gold if he ever reaches the end of this rainbow.
Harrisburg Senators (Washington Nationals)
One of the primary acquisitions in the trade that sent Steven Souza, Jr. to Tampa Bay, Joe Ross tossed 20 innings in Double-A last year, after drastically improving his strikeout rate while in High-A. Armed with a plus (perhaps plus-plus) fastball that arrive in the low to mid-90s and features significant life, Ross’ slider comes and goes, and with it, his fortunes on any given night. When it’s above average he can look like a future top-of-the-rotation arm, but too often it’s below average or inconsistent enough that, when paired with iffy command, he ultimately profiles as a back-end starter.
While he’s not a sexy prospect, Drew Vettleson has some intrigue to him. He performed brutally in a small sample at Double-A last year, but was coming back from a broken hand that cost him two months. He’s got limited upside—think fourth outfielder/platoon bat—but that won’t even happen unless or until he can figure out how to tap into his average raw power.
Acquired as part of the trade that sent Ross Detwiler to the Rangers, Chris Bostick is a second baseman all the way. He doesn’t lack for bat speed and shows the ability to square up a baseball, but his size—listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, but is likely smaller—limits his overall power potential. Not a premium defender, he’s at least adequate with the glove but is limited to the right side of the infield thanks to a subpar arm. If it all clicks, he could be a second division starter, but the likelihood remains that he’s a depth piece at the keystone.
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