A few days ago, I wrote a post looking into some players who were putting up fairly pedestrian numbers but remained quite intriguing due to being young for their levels. I didn’t include White Sox outfield prospect Courtney Hawkins on the list, but I suppose I could have. Nobody would say Hawkins doesn’t have tools–he was the 13th overall pick in the 2012 draft for a reason–but he sure is struggling in High-A Winston-Salem this year. I mean, sure, he’s second in the Carolina League with 19 home runs, and he’s slugging a quite respectable .452–the elephant in the room is the strikeout totals.
It’s always interesting to see how prospects adapt to new levels after they are promoted, and one of the most promotion-heavy parts of the year is the days around the trade deadline. Today, I want to discuss five prospects promoted in that recent vicinity or so who merit close attention as they take on the challenge of succeeding against a higher level of competition. These aren’t necessarily the five most notable prospects to recently move up a level–I have a longer list (not counting Luke Jackson, A.J. Cole, and Josmil Pinto, who I’ve already discussed in recent articles on this site), and I’m tackling five of them this week and others next week.
Pirates righthanded pitcher Tyler Glasnow stayed put at the trade deadline, but not before being tossed around as a centerpiece of many a trade rumor. His name, therefore, has penetrated the consciousness of many a fan. The recent swirlings aren’t the only thing that have boosted Glasnow’s stock: 128 strikeouts in 93 1/3 innings in A-ball as a 19-year-old have a way of doing that on their own. The fact that he’s 6’7″ heightens the intrigue–even without seeing him live, the age, size, and numbers all paint the picture of a dominant flamethrower with bigtime stuff. A wunderkind. A legend in the making. Glasnow wasn’t even a can’t-miss amateur who we could all see coming–he was a mere fifth-round pick back in 2011. I won’t say he came out of nowhere, but this is definitely a breakout campaign–he came in as the Pirates’ #19 prospect before the season according to Baseball America, which indicates he was somewhat noteworthy but hardly a central figure in their system like he is today.
If you don’t actually go and see Glasnow, it’s easy to get swept up in trains of thought that bear an aura of mythology, imagining this 6’7″ teenager who rose out of obscurity and became Justin Verlander overnight. But I have seen this fast-rising arm live (on June 14, against Greensboro), and today, I want to separate the reality from the hype on this intriguing young pitcher.
It is often difficult to factor a prospect’s age into his projection. We find ourselves struggling to decide if a 24-year-old High-A player hitting .350 with power is good or just a mirage; conversely, we have to tease out how much of a 17-year-old’s struggles in full-season ball are due to mere inexperience and how much results from a simple lack of talent.
Today, I’m going to look at five players who are very young for their levels but who we shouldn’t give up hope on. All five have average or worse statlines but could still evolve into big MLB assets.
Whether we like to admit it or not, exposure can play a key role in the perception of baseball prospects. Baseball’s player universe is so wide, and there’s so much going on during the season, that it’s impossible to get a good firsthand read on every notable minor leaguer out there–invariably, we have to turn to outside sources (like this very website!) to fill in the gaps and lend some measure of authority. The more sources unite at a given point in their praise or condemnation for a particular prospect, the more likely we are to take that praise or condemnation as gospel.
One surefire way for a prospect to get some helium in this fashion is to be traded, especially if the trade involves a somewhat protracted negotiation period where the prospect’s name comes up again–you know, when we hear “This is the guy System A would hate to lose and System B has to have” and so on. This sort of publicity can’t help but have an effect on the general notability of a prospect–suddenly, an A-ball guy with good numbers goes from somebody discussed on a few MiLB-centric websites and discussion threads to a topic on Baseball Tonight. For those who don’t keep extensive track of the minor leagues, suddenly the player is on their radar.
This year, 252 pitchers have started a game in the major leagues. Exactly 21 of them have maintained an average fastball velocity of 94 mph or greater in their starts. The list reads like a who’s who of current and potential aces: Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey, Gerrit Cole, Kevin Gausman, Jarred Cosart, Andrew Cashner, Zack Wheeler, Alfredo Figaro…okay, not all 21 come with heaps of accolades. Still, velocity is undoubtedly a prized commodity in starting pitchers, and anybody who threatens to someday join the 94+ starter club merits our attention.
I recently saw two pitchers who may someday join that club: Texas prospect Luke Jackson and Washington prospect A.J. Cole. Both righthanded pitchers are having excellent campaigns in High-A and have big velocity behind those numbers. Let’s take a closer look at what sort of potential these two flamethrowers have.
Since joining RotoGraphs last month, I’ve spent the bulk of my time here discussing prospects who are worth considering as impact fantasy commodities. Today, I want to focus on the flip side, and talk about five prospects I’ve seen this season who don’t quite measure up to their hype or statistics and should be avoided.
It is often said that closers are made, not born. Any experienced baseball fan knows this; it seems that for every Huston Street type who arrives with hype, four or five Jason Grillis, Andrew Baileys, or John Axfords slip into dominance after finding dead-ends in other roles. As such, predicting who will ascend to MLB closer roles (beyond the obvious “the best MLB non-closer relief pitchers”) is often a fool’s errand.
This becomes even more difficult when one attempts to find future closers in the minor leagues. Many of the pitchers who end up closing MLB games were starters all through their minor league careers, but it’s tough to project a minor league starter as a closer outright–in doing so, one is essentially saying “This pitcher will fail badly at the role he’s currently in and subsequently find tremendous success in a role he’s never pitched in.” Certainly plausible, but not something that seems like it can be said with much confidence. And minor league relievers–well, they’re equally problematic to forecast. After all, if a pitcher has a big future, why isn’t he able to crack a minor league rotation?
It’s certainly possible to envision any number of minor leaguers closing out ballgames–as so many sabermetricians are fond of saying, the role of garnering save totals can be accomplished reasonably effectively by any number of players, and the minor leagues have no shortage of interesting power pitchers that could fit a closer profile if things go their way. However, it’s quite another thing to actually predict that a minor league pitcher will end up amassing saves in the big leagues.
I think White Sox pitching prospect Daniel Webb merits such a prediction, though.
If you’ve ever had to go through a rebuilding phase with a dynasty league roster, you may have run against the difficulty of finding a minor league first baseman who projects as a bigtime MLB force. A couple of years ago, I discussed the extreme paucity of first base prospects here, and I feel that many of the points I raised in that piece still largely hold water. First base prospects are held to such a high standard of offense and are constantly competing with not only other first base prospects, but also defensively-challenged third base and corner outfield prospects, for the few open MLB spots at the position. Most of the first base prospects that do ascend to considerable MLB playing time–let alone success–at the spot are the players who are pegged as bigtime prospects from the moment they sign a professional contract–witness Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, Eric Hosmer, Adrian Gonzalez…even guys traditionally at the lesser end of the quality spectrum like Justin Smoak, Ike Davis, and James Loney.
If you’re in a dynasty league with any depth, chances are that most of the “obvious” first base prospects have been swept up (if you’re looking for a first baseman of the future and the big prospects aren’t swept up, stop reading this article and grab Jonathan Singleton). Who might you be able to turn to that’s a bit lower-profile (and thus available) but still could end up as a solid producer at the first base position? Today, I’m going to look at five players who might fill that void.