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The process of identifying standout tools in Triple-A is no different than at any other level, but, because performance takes on a much greater degree of importance in the overall evaluation of a player, one must be more open to the possibility that a player with a less than stellar collection of raw tools might in fact have something to offer at the major-league level. For example, a hitter who was tabbed as an org guy in Low-A because of his “funny” swing can shake that label if he goes out and performs exceptionally at subsequent levels, even if nothing dramatic changes about his swing. It might not look pretty, but if a player is performing well, especially at a relatively young age, it’s likely time to start reconsidering his overall future potential.

Identifying future big leaguers within the vast pool of non-toolsy performers at the Triple-A level is one of the more difficult aspects of scouting. There are, however, some rules of thumb one can utilize—such as evaluating age relative to level, placement on the defensive spectrum and contact ability—to make sense of these performers and their potential viability as big-league contributors.

Because it’s late October and there are no meaningful non-World Series baseball games taking place above the Mason-Dixon line these days, now’s as good a time as any to do some good ol’ fashioned box score scouting of the year that was in the Pacific Coast League. Looking at the league’s leaders in OPS relative to opening day age, restricting it to players who accumulated more than 100 plate appearances and have yet to appear in the majors, we’re going to encounter some toolsy performers who will likely debut early in 2016, some non-toolsy performers who have a chance to be valuable peripheral pieces on a big-league roster, and some guys who have little chance of seeing the majors for any extended stretch in spite of their strong performances. Yes, using OPS is quick, dirty and flawed in many ways, but so is Reno, Nevada, home of the PCL’s Reno Aces—and those qualities didn’t prevent the city from being named to Entrepreneur magazine’s prestigious list of “Three Alternative Tech Startup Cities With Less Traffic and More Housing” in May 2014.

As a group, the following subset of players aren't the sexiest, in that many are very close to reaching fairly unremarkable ceilings, but every contending team needs platoon starters, bench bats, utility infielders and fourth outfielders .Without further ado: your top six PCL performers of 2015 who have yet to debut at the major-league level.

Tyler White, 1B, Houston Astros (Fresno Grizzlies)

OD AGE

PA

BB%

SO%

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

24.4

259

16.2%

14.7%

0.412

0.362

0.467

0.559

1.026

0.197

Taken in the 33rd round of the 2013 draft, White has done nothing but perform since signing. The burly corner infielder has walked more than he’s struck out over the course of his minor-league career (174-to-164) while progressing at a rate of two levels per year. White has played the majority of his career innings at third base, but all signs point to him settling in across the diamond on a permanent basis. In spite of his shortcomings, there’s a real player here according to BP's Wilson Karaman—not just a Triple-A box score filler.

Say Wilson, “It’s a very legitimate bat. I have zero qualms about putting a 6 on his hit tool and it plays up. He controls the bat head excellently with outstanding command of the zone and very little swing-and-miss. He's kind of awkward physically, and he looked choppy even at first in my looks. I haven’t seen him play third, but I can't imagine it's very pretty. His raw power is only solid average with a stroke that probably makes it play down to a tick below in games.”

White, who will turn 25 later this month, is still on the young side for Triple-A and has already done much of the heavy lifting required of a guy whose offensive output isn’t perfectly supported by his collection of offensive tools. The analytically inclined Astros are more willing to believe in a guy like this than most. If White continues making hard contact and commanding the zone, he’s going to get a shot whether the overall package looks pretty or not.

Jabari Blash, RF, Seattle Mariners (Tacoma Rainiers)

OD AGE

PA

BB%

SO%

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

25.8

228

12.3%

27.6%

0.263

0.264

0.355

0.64

0.995

0.376

Blash has slowly climbed within the Mariners’ system since getting popped in the eighth round of the 2010 draft. He’s posted impressive power numbers at every stop, including a .376 ISO in 2015, but his developmental trajectory has nonetheless been retarded by a career strikeout rate north of 25 percent. Blash carries his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame very well, exhibits coordinated, athletic movements and shows some strength-driven bat speed, but the swing-and-miss in his game will ultimately prevent him from being an impactful big leaguer. “Blash is an org guy for me” says Brendan Gawlowski. “Maybe you can stash him to hit against lefties, but he's a poor outfielder and a one-tool player. The plus-plus raw power is impressive but he doesn't have the swing to hit for average and I don't think he'll walk much at the next level. He's more passive than discerning and as a guy who will be 27 two weeks into the season there's not much room for growth in his game.” Blash will continue dazzling Triple-A fans with impressive displays of power but given his inability to make contact and his limited defensive value, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him hold down a 25-man roster spot.

Jose Martinez, RF, Kansas City Royals (Omaha Storm Chasers)

OD AGE

PA

BB%

SO%

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

26.7

396

12.1%

13.9%

0.434

0.384

0.461

0.563

1.024

0.179

The 2015 PCL batting champ’s path to this point in his career has hardly been smooth sailing. The physically impressive corner outfielder was once a highly regarded prospect in the White Sox system but stalled out in Double-A in his sixth minor-league season, then kicked around the lower levels of the Braves system and with mid-tier indie-ball teams before landing with the Royals in 2015. Listed at 6-foot-7, 210 pounds, he isn’t able to produce the power output one would expect from a man of his size. He showed nice zone command, with nearly as many walks as strikeouts in his 2015 campaign, but his offensive success was otherwise driven almost entirely by an otherworldly BABIP of .434. As Wilson Karaman recently noted, Martinez possesses a “surprisingly direct swing path” and has performed well thus far in Winter Ball. While he won’t be an everyday regular of any sort, his ability to make contact gives him a better chance of being a usable peripheral piece than low-contact Triple-A performers such as Blash and Jeremy Hazelbaker (whom we’ll encounter later in this piece). His performance on balls in play will inevitably come back to earth, both at the Triple-A level and in any big-league time he might accrue, but betting on demonstrated Triple-A contact ability is a much more desirable wager than betting on demonstrated Triple-A power output, as there’s simply a far better chance of the former quality translating at the next level.

Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies (Albuquerque Isotopes)

OD AGE

PA

BB%

SO%

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

22.4

275

5.8%

24.7%

0.341

0.277

0.324

0.504

0.828

0.227

Having reached Triple-A as a shortstop-capable 22-year-old, Trevor Story is undoubtedly a legitimate prospect. However, like the older, less toolsy corner bats in this group, Story is held back by his inability to make consistent contact. He was ascending steadily up the Rockies’ chain until he encountered a fairly substantial roadblock at Double-A in 2014 (.200 AVG, 34.6% SO rate in 237 PA). He rebounded with a strong 2015 performance by first demolishing Double-A and then moving up to Triple-A, but was nonetheless unable to shake the troublesome strikeouts. He is big-league ready right now thanks to his defensive flexibility and the low offensive bar set by middle infielders. While he doesn’t show the “shortstopiest” of shortstop actions, there’s enough there that he’ll be given a chance to claim the position once the (inevitable) trade of Jose Reyes goes down. Bettering Reyes on defense should be a relative piece of cake but don’t be surprised if Story endures some initial offensive growing pains. He really struggles to recognize spin and his balance is thrown off by a lengthy, poorly timed stride that causes his weight to drift aggressively when trying to meet off-speed offerings. He lacks a true trigger and superfluous, non-rhythmic hand actions performed pre-launch inhibit his ability to consistently deliver the barrel on the appropriate plane. Story might struggle with the bat initially, but he’ll eventually settle in as a second-division starter at second base, while manning shortstop in spurts along the way. He’ll likely begin 2016 back in Albuquerque but expect his debut in Colorado within the first two months of the season.

Brandon Nimmo, CF, New York Mets (Las Vegas 51s)

OD AGE

PA

BB%

SO%

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

22

112

16.1%

17.9%

0.304

0.264

0.393

0.418

0.81

0.154

Like Story, it’s only a matter of time before Nimmo makes his big-league debut. I was initially a bit underwhelmed by him during my first look at him in the 2014 Arizona Fall League, but by game five he’d really grown on me. Many in the world of prospect coverage are disappointed that the 6-foot-3, 205-pound physical specimen has yet to show the in-game power one would expect from a player of his size, but getting hung up on that risks obscuring the ultimate value of Nimmo’s overall package—that of a very well-rounded, center-field-capable player whose offensive value is driven by a discerning eye and gap-to-gap power. Further, it’s hardly the time to give up entirely on Nimmo’s power, given the raw ingredients he has to work with. The bat speed is a bit light but his balanced, mechanically efficient swing will yield more in-game power once he figures out how to better leverage the favorable counts he often finds himself in. Those who were expecting a prototypical slugger profile will be disappointed but Nimmo’s ultimate value will likely equal, if not exceed those expectations, albeit accomplished via different means.

Jeremy Hazelbaker, RF St. Louis Cardinals (Memphis Redbirds)

OD AGE

PA

BB%

SO%

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

27.6

233

9.9%

25.8%

0.428

0.333

0.403

0.594

0.998

0.261

Released by the Dodgers early in the 2015 season, then picked up shortly thereafter by the Cardinals, Jeremy Hazelbaker has failed to live up to the power-speed promise he showed as a Red Sox farmhand in the low minors. The concerns initially expressed about Hazelbaker and his inability to make contact have proven to be well founded as he’s posted a 25.4 percent strikeout rate through 3,104 career minor-league plate appearances. “Hazelbaker is just a runner,” says Al Skorupa. “He’s inconsistent at the plate, doesn’t see spin at all and doesn’t track pitches well. There’s a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. He’ll show surprising raw power at times, but he doesn’t bring it to games because of hit tool deficiencies. He can play all three outfield spots but despite the speed, he’s not a good defender and the tools he shows are undermined by poor baseball IQ. He’s a lower-end up-down/emergency guy who could provide some speed, but nothing more, off the bench.” The oldest among the players mentioned here, Hazelbaker is also the least promising, as his chance at becoming something of value has likely come and gone. He’ll almost certainly have an upper-minors job in 2016 but big-league action is unlikely unless a slew of injuries befall his parent org’s 25-man roster.

Others of Note

NAME

ORG

POS

OD AGE

PA

BB%

SO%

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

Todd Glaesmann

ARI

RF

24.4

300

4.7%

19.0%

0.316

0.286

0.327

0.551

0.878

0.265

Travis Taijeron

NYM

RF

26.2

478

13.6%

30.8%

0.367

0.274

0.393

0.536

0.929

0.261

Brett Eibner

KC

CF

26.3

431

8.8%

18.3%

0.338

0.303

0.364

0.514

0.878

0.211

Garrett Weber

ARI

2B

26

301

10.0%

16.3%

0.341

0.303

0.375

0.491

0.866

0.187

Wrap Up
As we’ve seen, even in the absence of park and league adjustments, one can gain further insight into strong upper minors performances by invoking some of the heuristics we’ve used to analyze these six players. Age, contact ability and defensive value inform the analysis of a player at any level, but they take on a greater degree of significance when evaluating players in the high minors, especially those whose performance is not supported by a collection of impressive tools. Triple-A might not be the most exciting level to evaluate at but it’s perhaps the most thought-provoking, as one is forced to deeply examine the truly granular differences in ability that separate career minor leaguers from useful big-league pieces. The next time you’re at a Triple-A game, devote some of your scouting bandwidth away from the toolsy, youthful no-doubter who’s there getting some final seasoning and toward a non-toolsy upper-minors veteran or two. Ask yourself, “Why is this guy still here and how does he differ, if at all, from the fourth outfielder, utility infielder or backup catcher on the parent club’s big-league roster?” I promise it will be a worthwhile experience.

Thank you for reading

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huztlers
10/27
Regarding Trevor Story's swing mechanics, those sound like relatively easy adjustments. Shorten up the stride and settle down the hands.
ezrawise
10/27
In general, I'm a firm believer in TINSTAAEHMA (there is no such thing as an easy hitting mechanics adjustment). Wow, that really doesn't roll of the tongue well. In any case, the positive mechanical adjustments hitters make almost never come easily. The introduction of a new movement pattern can be fairly disruptive to the finely tuned chain of movements a hitter aleady has in place. Hes not only learning a new movement but also attempting to forget the old, inefficient movement, while simultaneously trying to maintain coordination between all of the disparate elements of his swing.
Behemoth
10/27
Is there anything there with Eibner? I know he's old for a prospect, but his numbers have improved so much over the last couple of years, and he does have some defensive value.
ezrawise
10/29
You're absolutely right. Very real tools--plus raw, high 90s off the mound in college and CF-capable defensive value. He's been hampered by injuries along the way but really put things together in 2015. Hit tool utility is the biggest question mark. Even if it doesn't come on, he has a strong chance to make an ML impact thanks to the three plus or better tools he does have.