Five Extremely Young Prospects to Stick With by Nathaniel Stoltz July 29, 2013 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. Ronald Torreyes, 2B, Astros (AA)–It’s been two straight “meh” years for Torreyes after he rocketed up prospect lists in 2011 by hitting .356 in Low-A as an 18-year-old. His age-19 season saw him hit .264/.326/.385 in High-A, and he’s followed that up with a similar .257/.329/.364 triple-slash in Double-A this year. Torreyes has four big things going for him, though. First, he makes a ridiculous amount of contact. He struck out just 6.2% of the time in his breakout 2011 season, but actually cut that to 6.1% last year and is at 6.9% this year. His batting average may have taken a dive, but he’s still making tremendous contact and will hit for a really nice average if BABIP bounces his way. Not only that, but Torreyes has gone from a relatively impatient player (4.6% BB in 2011) to a guy who can walk a fair amount (6.8% BB in 2012; 7.9% this year). He stands somewhere between 5’7″ and 5’9″, and is increasingly learning how to use that small strike zone to his advantage. Torreyes’ small stature may seem like an impediment to his driving the ball enough to post good BABIPs, let alone power numbers, but he hasn’t shown himself to be a mere slap hitter in his career. He’s never posted an Isolated Power mark below .100, and he has enough strength to rip line drives rather than just trying to slap and scoot. Finally, Torreyes is a second baseman who projects to stay in the middle infield easily with good defense. He also brings the oft-accompanying 20+ steal potential with that. Overall, this is a player who could provide a high batting average and OBP at a middle infield spot without being a zero in other areas. Sure, the triple-slash lines the last two years are nothing to write home about, but the skills that made Torreyes so exciting have not diminished at all as he’s advanced. Hanser Alberto, SS, Rangers (AA)–Well, here’s an ugly triple-slash: .215/.254/.291. Ugh. Alberto, though, is in a similar position as Torreyes: he dominated Low-A (.337/.385/.463 in the first half of 2012), struggled somewhat in High-A (.265/.273/.362 in the second half of 2012), and was put in Double-A anyway. You can probably make a better case for Alberto being rushed, as he only had 66 games of High-A experience, and only mustered a 27/2 K/BB there, before being promoted to Double-A. Alberto is another high-contact player (10.8% K%)–his struggles this year are largely the product of a .229 BABIP. Of course, some of that BABIP is due to advanced pitchers exploiting his weaknesses, but a) some of it is bad luck and b) he’s a fairly raw player (being 20) who has the athletic potential to close up his weaknesses as he progresses. Alberto doesn’t have Torreyes’ polish, as he plays more out-of-control at times, leading to a lower walk rate (4.0% this year) and slightly higher (though still great) strikeout rate. However, he has more physical upside, showing the ability to stay at shortstop defensively and having nice gap power at the plate. Not to get too pie-in-the-sky, but the skillset isn’t that far off from that of Jean Segura–who, at age 20, was performing worse in Low-A than Alberto did at 19. I’m not saying Alberto is the next Segura, but I think writing him off is way premature. Nomar Mazara, OF, Rangers (A)–Another Rangers prospect, Mazara is famous for getting $4.95 million to sign as an amateur; he made his full-season debut this year a few weeks before turning 18. On a Hickory team filled with high-profile talent (even with the recent trade of C.J. Edwards), Mazara’s .232/.313/.355 line has sent him to the back of the line when it comes to publicity. However, I would probably rather have Mazara than any other position player on the squad not named Nick Williams. First off, Mazara’s struggles were clustered early–when he was just adjusting to full-season pitching–and late–when he’s tiring out in his first full season–in the year. In between, from May 9 to July 3, he hit .301/.393/.449 with a 40/20 K/BB, so he’s already showed he can hit Low-A pitching for an extended stretch. Mazara’s approach stands out as a big positive, even though his overall K/BB is a relatively unimpressive 101/36. He works a lot of very deep counts, taking borderline offerings and fouling good pitches off repeatedly. At the moment, he hasn’t quite figured out the other half of plate discipline–getting a good pitch to hit and driving it–but at his age, there’s no reason to worry about that. Mazara has a nice clean, short stroke that’s quick to the ball, and there’s solid power potential in his lanky 6’4″ frame. He’s not just going to be an all-or-nothing slugger like teammate Joey Gallo–Mazara has a shot to hit .275 or .280 with a high number of walks and 20+ home runs. He’s already a corner outfielder and isn’t a good defender even there, with stiff actions and an average arm–he’s also fielding just .937 this year, which is pretty brutal for right field. Mazara won’t contribute any sort of baserunning value, either. Still, he has the ability to be an all-around contributor at the plate, and he’s already quite polished for an 18-year-old. He’s a better buy than everyone on the Hickory squad except Williams and perhaps fellow bonus baby Ronald Guzman. Mauricio Cabrera, RHP, Braves (A)–Cabrera’s the only pitcher on this list, as well as the only player I haven’t laid my own eyes on. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to see him before the season ends, because the reports on him are quite intriguing–namely, he works legitimately in the upper 90s as a starting pitcher, touching 101 (!). Sure, the 88/55 K/BB and 4.31 ERA in 104 1/3 innings are moderately disappointing, but when you have a guy throwing upper 90s with movement at age 19, and holding that velocity, that’s a rare commodity indeed. Consider that no starting pitcher in MLB this year averages over 96.0 mph on his fastball–Cabrera could legitimately be MLB’s hardest-throwing starter (though Mike Foltynewicz may have other ideas). Cabrera has nearly a 50% groundball rate and has allowed just three home runs all season. His offspeed pitches have wavered in effectiveness throughout the year, but at times he’ll get them working together and put together dominant outings. As with most young flamethrowers, his path to success will be all about consistency. With an absolutely huge arm, Cabrera certainly holds a lot of intrigue. At the worst, one would have to think he could make for a bigtime relief pitcher with his electric fastball. He’s definitely an arm to watch. Amed Rosario, SS, Mets (R)–Rosario is the youngest regular position player in the Appalachian League at age 17; he got the aggressive assignment after being signed for a hefty $1.75 million. Rosario’s hitting just .218/.266/.361, but again, there’s some interesting stuff going on here on both a statistical level and an eye-test one. He has a 25/8 K/BB in 30 games, which is hardly bad for somebody so young–as with Torreyes and Alberto, the BABIP (.250) is a big reason for the poor statline. Note also the .143 Isolated Power…from a seventeen-year-old shortstop. Not bad. Rosario’s a skinny 6’2″ kid with loose wrists and good power potential. In my viewing, I saw him hit an easy opposite-field home run, not a common sight in the Appy League. He has some athleticism and isn’t guaranteed to need to move off of shortstop, though that will depend how he fills out. He certainly isn’t a threat on the bases, going 0-for-4 in steals this year, but has fairly fluid actions and a good arm. He should at least be able to play third base, and may have the power punch to be an asset there. Obviously, Rosario is a long way off, but he does merit watching as he moves through the system. He’s already got some talent and is occasionally turning it into production, not a bad feat for somebody the age of a high school senior.