Prospects, man. Prospects. Sometimes they can be loads of fun to follow, and other times they can be infuriating, causing you to question everything you believe in and wondering if maybe you should see if Best Buy is hiring.
One of the more frustrating things about following/scouting prospects is the volatility, as players you feel should be successful have bumps in the road, and sometimes these bumps in the road last a full season or more. Too often, though, those prospects get written off, and as we have seen many times, a poor minor-league season may diminish a prospect’s value, but it’s far from a death sentence.
Here’s my Don’t You Give Up On Me! team of 2015, along with why each of these guys have a chance to has sustained big league careers.
C: Pedro Severino, Washington Nationals – This was supposed to be Severino’s breakout season after showing flashes of brilliance in his first three years in the Washington system. It didn’t happen, as Severino has struggled to a .625 OPS with only 18 extra-base hits.
Although the overall numbers are far from inspiring, there have still been enough flashes to believe Severino can become an every-day backstop. His statistics are weighed down by a disastrous May (.390 OPS) and August (.451), and he still possesses some of the best catch-and-throw skills of any backstop prospect, with receiving that is improving, but is still prone to sloppiness. Next year will be huge for him, but there were just enough positives here to believe he might factor into the plans behind the plate in the nation’s capital.
1B: D.J. Peterson, Seattle Mariners – It’s sort of odd to be typing Peterson’s name, as those of you who have followed my work over the years know that I thought he was a vastly overrated prospect coming into the 2013 draft, but here we are.
Peterson was awful in Double-A before earning a controversial—to put it nicely—promotion to Tacoma, and subsequently being placed on the DL with an Achilles strain. Keep in mind though that the 2013 first-round pick was one of the best-hitting corner infielders in baseball in 2014, and though the swing path doesn’t suggest plus power to me, his natural strength and feel for hitting give him a chance for two 55 tools when he’s done developing. Even if he’s not a middle-of-the-order hitter, the former New Mexico star still has a chance to be a starting first baseman who can hit .280 with 20-plus homer seasons at his peak.
2B: Alen Hanson, Pittsburgh Pirates – Hanson’s stock has seemingly slipped every year since he was a borderline top-50 prospect in 2012, and his 2015 line—.265/.315/.394—isn’t awe-inspiring, nor is the fact that shortstop is no longer an option. With that being said, Hanson still looks like a future starter up the middle—just on the other side of the bag—and he can be a major factor both on the bases and in the field with his plus speed and solid instincts. The hit tool is no longer plus, but he should be good enough offensively to justify playing every day, with super-utility infielder as a realistic floor.
Ruiz was one of the key components in the deal that sent Evan Gattis to the Astros, and the 2012 fourth-round pick has responded by having easily the worst season of his professional career, slugging .308 with just three home runs in 447 plate appearances, hitting .232 in the process.
The good news is that his .308 slugging percentage was hovering in the .250 range for the better part of July, so he’s shown more pop toward the end of the season. He also continues to show an impressive feel for the strike zone—58 walks with almost no reason to pitch around him is pretty solid—and he’s held his own at the hot corner. There’s no question that 2016 will be a critical year for Ruiz, but those who had high hopes for the 21-year-old can still be optimistic; there’s an awful lot to like here still.
SS: Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs – Yes, technically Baez has exhausted prospect status. Nuts to technicalities; he’s still only 22 years old and if you think a 22-year-old is done developing, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d just love to sell you.
Baez is still one of the most talented middle infielders in the game, and though he struggled—again—at the start of his 2015 campaign, the overall statistics (a .917 OPS in Triple-A Iowa) once again help illustrate just how much offensive prowess there is in the right-handed-hitting infielder’s bat. It may not be in Chicago—and maybe he will have to move to third or second base—but Baez should still become a regular, and there’s still a chance he becomes a star. Assuming he receives a September call-up, he could also be a difference-maker off the bench as the Cubs try to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.
OF: Phil Ervin, Cincinnati Reds – Ervin showed impressive power at Samford University as a junior, but that power hasn’t really been on display as a professional, with a career slugging percentage of .411 and a .392 mark in 2015. Still, those who have watched the 23-year-old outfielder in BP know that there’s potential plus pop in his bat, and the approach gets better every year, as seen in his 59 walks this season. He’s also a plus runner with an above-average, accurate arm, so Ervin can certainly become a competent starting outfielder. You just are going to have to be a little more patient than many anticipated a few years ago.
OF: Austin Wilson, Seattle Mariners – Wilson was a personal favorite of mine ever since he was a senior at Harvard Westlake, and I believed he was the steal of the 2013 draft after slipping to the second round that year. All he’s done since then is disappoint, missing time with injuries, struggling to make consistent contact, and showing that he was much more athlete than baseball player than anyone anticipated.
And yet, I just can’t give up on Wilson’s potential. There’s plus power potential from the right side, he’s an above-average runner, and there’s enough bat speed and extension to suggest at least an average hit tool. If he struggles like this in 2016 he’ll be closer to non-prospect than future regular, but I just can’t give up on the potential here, and neither should you.
OF: Jorge Bonifacio, Kansas City Royals – At one point, Bonifacio was considered a five-tool prospect and one of the best all-around outfield prospects in baseball. That’s no longer the case as he’s struggled to make adjustments at the plate, but the hype has gone from overrated to underrated relatively quickly. There’s still plus bat speed from the right side that, along with a strong frame, gives him a chance for 60 power, and though the approach is woefully inconsistent, his strong hand-eye coordination and the aforementioned bat speed does give him a chance to possess an average hit tool when everything is said and done. Add in his strong throwing arm and good instincts in the field, and you get a guy who could become a starting corner outfielder. Like so many on this list however, the volatility is very real.
RHP: Braden Shipley, Arizona Diamondbacks – Statistically, Shipley hasn’t been bad at all in 2015, with a 3.29 ERA in just over 145 innings for Double-A Mobile. For a pitcher taken with the 15th pick of a draft however, Shipley hasn’t missed bats like so many believed he would (105 strikeouts) and the command has arguably taken a step backwards.
Let’s keep a couple of things in mind with Shipley, however. First, he’ll still show three plus pitches in his fastball, curveball and change, so the stuff is still there for him to become a No. 2 starter. Second, let’s remember that Shipley is still relatively new to pitching, so it’s only natural for there to be some ups-and-downs. When “down” is putting up reasonably solid statistics in Double-A as a 23-year-old, maybe things aren’t so bad. He’s no longer a top 30 prospect, but I still think Shipley has a great chance of pitching near the top of a rotation; it just probably isn’t going to be until 2017 at the earliest.
LHP: Max Fried, Atlanta Braves – Fried hasn’t pitched in a game since July 21st of last year, and in his three years in professional baseball he’s accumulated just 147 innings, so it’s understandable why there are concerns about his durability. That being said, at just 21 years old, with three plus pitches and outstanding feel for pitching, I’m not sure there are five left-handed starting pitching prospects I’d rather have than Fried. It’s of course frustrating not to see the southpaw on the mound, but at his age and with his advanced stuff, the concerns drop substantially for me.
Thank you for reading
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