Last week, we took a look at some of the players who had gotten off to poor starts in 2015 and whether or not we should be concerned by their inauspicious results.
This week, we’re putting on our positivity caps—sort of—and taking a look at some prospects who have gotten off to surprisingly hot starts. Is this just a case of hot starts from flawed prospects, or a sign of bigger things to come?
Vogelbach was far from abhorrent in 2014—posting a .766 OPS as a 20-year-old in High-A Daytona, but those numbers pale in comparison to his 2015 campaign. The 2011 second-round pick ranks near the top in several offensive categories, and he’s done it against both left and right-handed pitchers as seen in his 1.041 OPS against lefties and 1.008 vs righties.
“I think people get the idea based on his size that he’s just a power hitter, but he’s more than that,” an AL East scout said. “He’s a smart hitter who sees pitches well, and he has the ability to hit the ball hard to all parts of the field. Obviously there are concerns about the weight and what he’ll be able to do on the field, but I really think the bat’s going to play.”
Level of optimism: Low. I understand why Vogelbach excites Cub fans, but there’s just an awful lot going against him becoming a major leaguer. He’s a 20 runner and a poor defender at first base, so he’s going to have to be a well above-average offensive player in order to justify playing as a regular, or go to the American League. With no plus-plus tool and two completely empty tools, it’s really hard to imagine Vogelbach ever becomes anything more than a bench bat at the big-league level.
Crick was one of the bigger disappointments of the 2014 season, as the 2011 first-round selection struggled mightily with his control (61 walks in 90 1/3 innings) and didn’t show the top-of-the-rotation stuff he did in the previous season. This year, Crick still has had his command issues, but the 22-year-old has shown vast improvement in that regard in 2015.
“[Crick looks] much better,” an NL West scout said. “The fastball and slider have always been there to give hitters fits, but the difference is this year he seems to actually know where those pitches are going. If that third pitch comes around, he’s a potential ace. But we’ve seen guys with two plus pitches start before, he just might be one of those guys.”
Level of optimism: Moderate. As the scout above said, it was never a question of stuff with Crick, as the right-hander possesses a 70 fastball and a slider that will flash 60. The fact that he looks more like pitcher than hurler though is a major breakthrough, and pushes off the idea of moving him to the bullpen at least another year. Either the change or command has to have a major breakthrough though, if he’s going to be anything more than a backend starter, but there’s still time for Crick to have that breakthrough.
At one point, Franco was considered by many a “can’t-miss” offensive prospect, but the lack of patience caught up to him in 2014 as he posted an OPS below .500 in three of the season’s months. He’s been red hot to start the 2015 season though, and with plus bat speed and two of the strongest wrists you’ll see, there’s reason to believe it isn’t fool’s gold.
“There’s more upside in his bat than any other Phillies prospect,” an AL West scout said. “The raw power is plus-plus, and his bat speed and plane give him a chance to have at least an average hit tool, maybe even above average if he starts taking some pitches. He’s also looked better with the glove, and I think there’s at least a 50/50 shot he sticks at third base. When you’re as bad as the Phillies are, you can take a chance on it.”
Level of optimism: Moderately low. I said there’s reason to believe it’s not fool’s good, but there’s still way too much “hacker” here for me to believe that he’s ready to become a regular in a big-league lineup. The speed is well below average as well, and despite his strong arm, asking him to play a quality hot corner seems like it’s asking too much. He’ll be in the Phillies’ everyday lineup sooner than later and likely deliver his fair share of extra-base hits, but it’d be an upset if he got on base at even a semblance of a quality rate in 2015, much less give any defensive value.
Nicolino has always been somewhat of a controversial prospect, as he doesn’t do it with great stuff, but rather with his command and “pitchability,” so to see him be as dominant as he has been has surprised many. He’s still not missing bats at anywhere near an elite level, but his strikeout rate is up a full K/9 (4.3 to 5.3) while still showing the same elite command.
“There’s big-league command right now,” the AL west scout said. “He locates his stuff as well as any left-handed pitching prospect I’ve seen, and you so rarely see him miss above the knees, so the damage he gives up is always limited. The only pitch in his arsenal that’s close to plus is the change and the fastball is a 45, but when you throw everything for strikes, you’ve got a chance to be a quality starter.”
Level of optimism: High. No, Nicolino will never be a fantasy stalwart, and you better have a quality defense playing behind him. That being said, the floor here is extremely high, and with a solid-average curve and a plus change, Nicolino isn’t completely without upside. It wouldn’t shock me if he was pitching at the big-league level relatively soon, and holding his own as the Marlins try to stay in contention in the National League.
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