Welcome back to the start of another wonderful baseball season, now fully underway with the commencement of the minor-league schedule last evening. What that means in this space, of course, is another season of the Minor League Update.
If you’re not familiar the Update, it is a daily article that recaps all of the notable happenings from the minor-league/prospect world from the night before. Don’t have time to scour box scores, check for twitter updates, or read game stories? Of course you don’t. You have a life. Luckily, I generally don’t, so I have you covered.
But the Minor League Update is more than just a recap of stats or a regurgitation of box scores. Minor-league numbers must be taken with large grains of salt, but when combined with in-person scouting reports, they can help paint a broader picture. As you’re likely aware, we have an entire team of scouts attending minor-league games around the nation. I’ll be making an even bigger effort this season to incorporate their looks into the update to expand upon my own thoughts and scouting reports.
So without further ado, let’s spend the next five months talking about prospects, shall we?
Hitter of the Night: Matt Olson, 1B, Athletics (Midland, AA): 2-3, 3 R, HR, 2 BB, K. The good people of Midland got the full Matt Olson Experience on Opening Day, complete with all three true outcomes. The good news for the A’s is that he picked up right where he left off last season, but is now doing so sans-California League hitting environments. If that becomes a trend for this season, it’s going to be impossible to ignore him as a prospect, given the lack of big-hitting first-base prospects throughout the game.
Pitcher of the Night: Trevor Williams, RHP, Marlins (Jacksonville, AA): 6 IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K. Leaving the Florida State League for the Southern League isn’t supposed to make things easier on pitchers, but after a rough three-game stint at the end of last year, Williams appears to have made an adjustment. I saw Williams a number of times last season and he was at his best when he pounded the strike zone with his two-seam fastball and complements it with curveballs and changeups down in the zone. When he’s on, he’s got three above-average pitches and the body to handle a full-season’s worth of innings.
Best of the Rest
Carlos Tocci, OF, Phillies (Lakewood, A-): 3-4, R, 2B. It’s a big year for Tocci, who is taking his third crack at the Low-A South Atlantic League. Normally, that alone would be enough to discount a player’s future, but the Phillies rushed Tocci to full-season ball at just 17 (in 2013) and he’s been playing catch-up ever sense. He went from completely overmatched his first go-round to just partially overmatched last season, so he’s at least trending in the right direction. The question is just how far the development continues. He’s a surefire center fielder, but he’s now blocked by Roman Quinn at that position within the organization. The obvious need for Tocci is to add weight, and there are those (like myself) who question whether or not it will ever happen. If he can begin to show any kind of sign with the bat, he could finally leave Lakewood behind, but despite still being just 19, it’s time to see something at the plate. A prospect can’t fail three straight years at the same level and still be a prospect.
Dylan Baker, RHP, Indians (Lynchburg, A+): 5 IP, 0 H, BB, 9 K. Baker made our “on the rise” section of the Indians prospect list this offseason, and it looks like he’s continued that trend into the start of the season. Our own Tucker Blair saw him in spring training just a few weeks ago and noted that “transformation from the beginning of last season to now is astounding.” One of the biggest issues for Baker has been throwing enough strikes, but we can see that the result when he does is a spike in the number of bats missed. This is a trend we’ll watch for this season.
Manuel Margot, OF, Red Sox (Salem, A+): 3-3, 2 SB. Margot is pure fun in a baseball uniform, attacking everything he does between the lines with the subtlety of a bowling ball. That aggressiveness could catch up with him eventually (and a looming jump to Double-A is typically where it is tested best), but he didn’t slow down in a brief Carolina League cameo last season and picked up right where he left off this year. He’s yet to ascend to a level in which he’s not the most talented player on the field, and he may not have found it in Salem either.
Bubba Starling, OF, Royals (Wilmington, A+): 2-4, 2 2B, K. Could this be the year? Starling returns to Wilmington with what may be his final opportunity to keep himself in the Royals plans, or even in the back of their minds. A methodical journey through the Royals system has stalled out in perhaps the worst hitter’s park in the minor leagues, but Frawley Stadium’s expansive gaps or ball-flight-restricting highway overpass aren’t the reason for Starling’s long swing or poor approach at the plate. If he can correct these things, the raw tools are still present. He’s not, however, nearly as young as you probably think, and will turn 23 this season. The clock is ticking loudly.
Mac Williamson, OF, Giants (Richmond, AA): 2-4, R, 2 2B, BB, K. There is still a lot of unknown surrounding Williamson, given that he missed most of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. What little we’ve seen of him as a professional has been good but comes with the questions that come with all players whose success has been isolated to the California League. Whether or not he can back up any of his success in a much tougher hitting environment will go a long way towards painting a better picture of exactly what the Giants have in Williamson.
Steven Matz, LHP, Mets (Las Vegas, AAA): 5 1/3 IP, 3 H, R, 3 BB, 4 K. It’s far too early to make anything out of one game, but one start into his season, Matz is doing his best to discredit virtually every excuse we made for Noah Syndergaard last season. Sure, Vegas is a miserable place to have to pitch, but it is possible to have success there. The Mets won’t want to leave their prize left-hander there any longer than necessary, nor will he need to spend it there, but he’s off to a good start towards making the best out of his time in Sin City.
Fight Another Night
Michael Mader, LHP, Marlins (Greensboro, A-): 2/3 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 2 BB, 2 K. While his fellow Marlins prospect headlined this list after pitching in close to ideal conditions in nice, warm Jacksonville, Mader was stuck trying to pitch in terrible weather on the Delmarva Peninsula. Our own Tucker Blair was there and texted me the following report:
“Ok so basic story on Mader is it was [redacted] cold, misty and he had no feel on any of his pitches. 90-93 mph but couldn’t get any feel going.”
Understandable, especially for a Florida kid who went to a Florida JuCo who probably just pitched the coldest game of his life. These sorts of games happen and are why we can’t look at minor-league box scores by themselves, especially after just one game. The good news is that, even in the cold weather, Mader was able to crank up the velocity. The feel will come, but let’s remember this start while his ERA is higher than the temperature for the next month.
Stetson Allie, “OF”, Pirates (Altoona, AA): 0-4, 3 K. Allie’s home run in a spring game about two weeks ago was still one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in the past month, but he mixes far too many of these performances in between them. He’s repeating Double-A, so the time to give him free passes for getting a late start on hitting and having tremendous raw power have come and gone. We’ll need to see a little more with the hit tool this season to give the power a chance to play.
Albert Almora Walked
This gets its own headline for a number of reasons—(1) because it’s extremely rare, (2) because it’s perhaps the most important aspect of the development of a player we just ranked as the 38th best prospect in the game, and (3) because sometimes late at night I’m a jerk that likes to screw with Cubs fans.
In all seriousness though, Almora’s ability to show more plate discipline at the plate is one of the things I’m going to be watching most closely this season. And it’s not just him. There are a number of top prospects whose respective developments hinge on their ability to be more patient and I’ve made my stance on how that factors in quite clear.
Walks aren’t the best gauge of approach, but they do tell us a pretty good part of the story. I’ve mentioned this stat before, but Almora’s walk rate has dropped from 6.3 percent in Low-A in 2013 to 3.1 percent in High-A at the start of 2014 to 1.4 percent in Double-A after his promotion. That’s what we call a pretty distinct downward trend. He’s never going to be Rickey Henderson, but it’s essential to his development that he gets things at least headed in the other direction. Thursday was a good start to that, and you can be sure it’s something we’ll track with him and others throughout the season.
Notable Pitching Performances
- Sean Newcomb, LHP, Angels (Burlington, A-): 5 IP, 2 H, R, 2 BB, 9 K.
- Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Braves (Gwinnett, AAA): 4 IP, 3 H, R, 2 BB, 7 K.
- Alex Reyes, RHP, Cardinals (Palm Beach, A+): 4 2/3 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 10 K.
- C.J. Edwards, RHP, Cubs (Tennessee, AA): 2 1/3 IP, 2 H, R, 2 BB, 2 K (now a reliever).
- Aaron Blair, RHP, Diamondbacks (Mobile, AA): 6 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 4 K.
- Tyler Beede, RHP, Giants (San Jose, A+): 5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K.
- Nick Kingham, RHP, Pirates (Indianapolis, AAA): 6 IP, 4 H, R, 0 BB, 4 K.
- Robert Stephenson, RHP, Reds (Pensacola, AA): 5 2/3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 7 K.
- Kohl Stewart, RHP, Twins (Fort Myers, A+): 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 5 K.