A few weeks back I looked at five Double-A prospects who have had productive seasons and elevated their dynasty-league profiles in the process. With the end of minor-league regular seasons unbelievably only a few weeks away, let’s go another round.
Jharel Cotton, RHP, Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers)
Tulsa’s rotation is loaded, boasting a pair of top-50 prospects in Julio Urias and Jose De Leon, as well as 2013 first-round draft pick Chris Anderson. Less known than that trio is Cotton, a 23-year-old hurler and former 20th-round pick from East Carolina by way of Miami-Dade Junior College. Cotton led the Cal League in strikeout rate last year and his 2015 season didn’t begin until late May because of a comebacker off the wrist during spring training. Cotton arrived in Double-A after 22 dominating innings back in the Cal League, and is having another statistically excellent season. His 2.30 ERA is third-best in the Texas League and his 28.6 percent strikeout rate (10.2 K/9) is good for second-best, trailing only De Leon’s otherworldly 12.12 K/9. Cotton throws strikes, and while everyone agrees his low-90s fastball is a plus pitch, some sources also give his changeup a plus grade with others not quite willing to go that high. His breaking pitch is still developing. In my opinion, Cotton’s fantasy profile is similar to that of Antonio Senzatela, in the sense that on-field production across multiple levels and in difficult environments might be telling us something that the scouting is slower to pick up on. In Cotton’s case, that could be because of improving stuff or more consistently throwing in the higher velocity bands, but whatever it is, I have been aggressively adding Cotton in deep leagues.
Edwin Diaz, RHP, Jackson Generals (Mariners)
Read anything about Diaz and you’re going to learn about his slight build, so let’s get this out of the way right here: Diaz is thin. So, adding strength is obviously something he’ll need to do in order for the Diaz-as-reliever crowd to quiet down. Another box he needs to check is development of an offspeed pitch to complement an explosive fastball-slider combination that has continued to overwhelm minor-league opponents in 2015. Diaz graduated from High-A to Double-A after just 37 innings during which he posted a 1.70 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 10.22 strikeouts per nine innings. That’s extra impressive when you consider the Cal League/Bakersfield context in which he achieved it. The numbers aren’t quite as shiny in Jackson, where Diaz has struggled with control, upping his walk rate to a career-high 9.6 percent. This is an area where Diaz will need to be careful and make refinements, as his live arm and inconsistent mechanics have earned him the thrower-not-a-pitcher label, which won’t work at the highest level. Diaz continues to strike out more than a batter per inning and his 23.4 percent strikeout rate would be good for a top-five mark in the Southern League if he had the innings to qualify. It’s easy to dwell on the shortcomings here but his stuff, performance, and the fact that he won’t turn 22 until just before 2016’s Opening Day make Diaz an exciting prospect whose stock has taken a big step forward in 2015.
Trey Mancini, 1B, Bowie Baysox (Orioles)
Read anything about Mancini and you’re going to learn about his long swing, so let’s get this out of the way right here: Mancini has a long swing. Nevertheless, he’s hit everywhere he’s gone, with last year’s half-season at High-A the lone exception. His .251 batting average there was largely a product of a below-average .273 BABIP. Mancini began 2015 back in Frederick and after a .314/.341/.527 triple-slash with eight home runs, he was promoted to Double-A. He’s gone .355/.387/.563 with nine more home runs there and is answering those who asked whether his plus raw power would show up in games. That .950 OPS is tops in the Eastern League among hitters with 200 plate appearances and his .868 OPS back in the Southern League bested everyone except the ascendant Bradley Zimmer. Our own Tucker Blair questions whether Mancini can hit enough to be a regular, first-base prospects are inherently disinteresting, and as a righty with limited defensive ability there is enormous pressure on his bat, but Mancini is a player to watch in deeper leagues. Chris Davis is a free agent this winter and while Christian Walker currently tops the internal depth chart, it might only take another productive half-season before the 23-year-old Mancini gets a taste of the majors.
Colin Moran, 3B, Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros)
On a recent episode of TINO, the gang discussed the theory that Jonathan Papelbon has not been properly valued since signing with the Phillies because the contract was presumed to be joke-worthy when signed and because Papelbon himself is tiresome. It’s a valid argument, given that Papelbon has a 2.34 ERA and 1.02 WHIP since 2011 and has converted 125 of his 140 save changes in that timeframe.
I think it’s fair to extend that analogy to Colin Moran’s prospect status. Part of why you don’t see Moran on any top prospect lists is because he’s a relatively safe, unexciting player who is unlikely to be among the elite players at his position or even among the very best on his own club. On the other hand, I think Moran is being unfairly discounted because he doesn’t carry the kind of ceiling we expect from a former sixth overall pick and because scouts frequently pan Moran for his effort and energy level. I don’t mean to suggest that I overlook those evaluations entirely and ideally I’d like to have both characteristics but I’ll take my chances on a player with innate ability over the guy that tries hard every time. Moran has bat-to-ball skill that can’t be taught and as a .295 hitter in the minor leagues, he’s had little trouble showing it. Whether Moran can hit for in-game power will decide whether he becomes a first-division regular and he is making strides on that front lately. His .446 slugging percentage is just outside the top ten in the Texas League and the statistics are even more encouraging recently. After not homering in his first 45 games (he missed a month with a broken jaw in that span), Moran has hit seven in his last 34 contests, as part of a .323/.405/.556 triple-slash. It’s an arbitrary endpoint, sure, but the pop is in there and Moran is starting to unlock it. He’s a boring player that’s not ever going to make you look like a genius but there’s value in floor, too. You should be careful not to penalize Moran because of whatever notion you have about how a top-10 player needs to turn out to be considered a success.
Chad Pinder, SS, Midland RockHounds (Athletics)
In a recent chat, someone asked me whether I thought Marcus Semien or Chad Pinder would be Oakland’s starting shortstop in 2016. I went with Semien or a player not yet acquired by Billy Beane, but the question made me take a harder look at Pinder’s progress and I came away impressed. The 2013 supplemental second rounder played 2014 in the Cal League and while his .288/.336/.489 line is plenty solid on its face, deciphering Cal League stats is a fool’s errand. Pinder was always thought to be a well-rounded player without any one standout tool. It’s been surprising, then, to see him not just better his Cal League numbers across the board but also become one of the best hitters for both power and average in the Texas League. Pinder has continued to trim his strikeout rate while hitting .323/.367/.498 with 14 home runs. That’s impressive regardless of position, and doubly so from a shortstop. The home run total is tied for seventh most in the league, is equal to that of teammate and noted slugger Matt Olson, and trails Midland’s other mashing corner bat, Renato Nunez, by one. The Athletics have been methodical with Pinder, having him play full seasons one level at a time. As such, I’d be surprised if they jumped him to the majors on Opening Day but a mid-2016 promotion isn’t out of the question depending on what Beane does this winter. Where Pinder warranted only deep-league consideration at the beginning of 2015, he has shown enough hit and pop to join the periphery of standard-depth-league consideration.