Today’s Prospect Stock Watch takes a look at three triple-A players worthy of a big-league opportunity but they are blocked in their current organizations. One player has a minor league option remaining for 2018 with the Astros, while the other two could be available through the Rule 5 draft in December. One of those two players is also heading into minor league free agency.
Tony Kemp, IF/OF, Astros: An excellent college performer at Vanderbilt, Kemp was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft by the Astros. The lower levels of the minors proved to be little challenge for the infielder and he reached triple-A in 2015. Unfortunately, strong depth at the big league level (Jose Altuve and Marwin Gonzalez) has kept Kemp at triple-A for the past three seasons despite solid numbers.
He’s even increased his versatility to no avail. His 2017 triple-slash line sits at .328/.373/.469 through 110 games and he has nothing left to prove at the level. Kemp, who turns 26 in October, will enter 2018 in a similar position — still stuck behind Altuve, etc. And with one minor league option remaining, he could be destined for another round in triple-A unless the Astros do him a favor and move him to a club with a question mark at second base or with a need for a strong bat off the bench.
Christian Walker, 1B, Diamondbacks: If you’re looking for the next Adam Duvall or Scott Schebler — underrated corner men with pop — Walker might be your man. Stuck behind a glut of similar players in the Baltimore system, this former fourth round pick never got a fair shot in The Show and he bounced around the waiver wire last winter from Atlanta to Cincinnati to Arizona. He’s spent the entire 2017 in triple-A — once again blocked at the corners by the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, David Peralta, Yasmany Tomas and now J.D. Martinez. During that time in the minors, he’s slugged 32 homers and hit .310. He’s not an all-or-nothing slugger and his .384 on-base percentage is buoyed by a 10.3% walk rate. He also does a nice job of making contact with a 16.9% strikeout rate (a significant improvement over his previous two triple-A seasons with rates at 23% and 25%).
Now 26, Walker is not on the Diamondbacks 40-man roster so unless things change between now and November, he will be available in the Rule 5 draft as an attractive (cheap) source of power. He’s not the typical type of player that gets nabbed in the draft but players with a proven track record of success in the upper minors (at a youngish age) aren’t normally available.
Matt Purke, LHP, White Sox: Originally selected 14th overall in the 2009 draft by the Texas Rangers, issues beyond his control scuttled his deal with the club and forced him to college. He later signed with the Nationals as a third round selection in 2011 after he suffered through injury concerns prior to the draft. Health woes popped up again in 2014 and he underwent Tommy John surgery. The injury troubles are mostly behind him now but his stuff has never been as crisp as a pro as it was in his amateur days. As a result, Purke has mostly been a journeyman in the minors and he didn’t reach triple-A until 2016 – the same year he appeared in 15 big league games. He’s spent all of 2017 in triple-A with the White Sox organization after being designated off their 40-man roster last December.
That means, unless the Sox add him back to the roster by the November deadline, he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft but, more importantly, also a minor league free agent. As a left-hander with decent stuff and solid results, he should be in strong demand. In 58.2 innings, he’s struck out 72 batters with just 26 walks and 53 hits allowed. He also generates an above-average number of ground-ball outs and has given up just three homers. Purke likely has enough stuff to get both right- and left-handed batters out but he should at least be “loogy” worthy after holding left-handed batters to a .194 average and striking out more than 50% of those swinging from the same side.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.