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A Whole New Ball Game

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A Whole New Ball Game

Posted on 19 May 2013 by Nick Schaeflein

Minor League Baseball in the Chicagoland area is nearing the start of the 2013 season. That can only mean that summer is approaching in the Windy City. However, wait a few minutes and that weather can change. In Illinois there are ten Minor League ball clubs representing different levels and leagues.

KaneCounty

A change for one minor league club, the Kane County Cougars, was a note worthy move here in Chicago. This past offseason the Cougars seemingly long overdue became an affiliation of the Chicago Cubs. The Kane County program has been around since 1991 and has been affiliated with four Major League clubs before finally becoming apart of the Cubs organization in early 2013.

Kane County is a Class A minor league team that is apart of the Midwest League. They are located in Geneva, Illinois about 35 miles west of Chicago. The Cougars are perennially among the league leaders in attendance throughout the Midwest League. They also have made 13 post season appearances in their 22 year history.

Minor League clubs are directly affiliated with a major league team through a standardized Player Development Contract (PDC). The major league team may enter into a two or four year term with the minor league club. At the end of the term the two sides may renew a new term or the minor league team will be available to except a new PDC from a different organization. This year, the Cubs signed a two year PDC with the Cougars.

Major League organizations may decide their minor league affiliations for a number of reasons. They could be for geographic reasons, scouting, or organizational strategies. Attending Cougar games, it was always a common question asked as to why they were never apart of either Chicago professional team

In the past, Kane County has had major league talent step between the lines out in Geneva. Alumni members include: Triple Crown Winner Miguel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Andre Either, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Willingham, and Misty May’s husband Matt Treanor. Pitchers include: Andrew Bailey, Josh Beckett, AJ Burnett, Houston Street, Ryan Dempster, and Trevor Cahill.

When Theo Epstein was brought on as President of the Chicago Cubs in 2011, one goal was to have an affiliated program in the backyard. The close proximity will be beneficial for many reasons. It will help with scouting and player development, call ups will be closer, and fans will now have access to the future prospects just a short drive away.

Fan interested will be more involved now being able to follow the future talent of the professional ball club. Currently, three of the top 10 Cubs prospects wear Cougar uniforms: Opening night starter Pierce Johnson, and infielders Dan Vogelbach and Jeimer Candelario. For once, the Cubs have note worthy minor league talent and some of it will be showcased just a short drive away from the lights of Waveland and Sheffield.

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Down On The Farm – Updating Prospects You Were Expecting in 2013

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Down On The Farm – Updating Prospects You Were Expecting in 2013

Posted on 19 September 2012 by Blake Murphy

When it comes to prospects, timelines change all the time. Injury, exceptional performance, poor performance, or the needs of the parent club can all slow or expedite a prospect’s path to the Major Leagues.

In an attempt to give fans and fantasy players a gauge of when to expect prospects in the Majors, Baseball America attached an ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) with their write-ups for this year’s Top 100 Prospects list. Today, Down On The Farm looks at those players ranked inside the top 50 at the beginning of the year who had an ETA of 2013. I chose 2013 because this group is essentially players who were expected to be adding the final seasoning to their repertoires or profiles.

Players with a 2012 ETA are either no longer prospects, having reached the Majors, or probably have a well-publicized reason for not making it yet, whether it be injury or performance. For your reference, the players Baseball America listed as Top 50 prospects with a 2012 ETA who have not had significant time in the Major Leagues this year are: Julio Teheran (struggles), Trevor Bauer (organizational decision), Danny Hultzen (struggles, ETA too aggressive), Mike Montgomery (struggles), Manny Banuelos (lack of team need), Brad Peacock (struggles), and Arodys Vizcaino (injury). Players with a 2014 ETA were not expected to be on our radar quite yet, so if their projection is now 2013, they are likely a special case, and we’ll highlight them in the future. That is all to say…I couldn’t update on everyone, and those with a 2013 ETA seemed the most logical.

Top 50 Prospects, Pre-Season 2012, 2013 MLB ETA
Per Baseball America rankings.

#7. Jurickson Profar – The Rangers shortstop prospect is still just 19 but getting a taste of Major League life already as a September call-up. Profar’s glove profiles as extraordinary, and his bat held up at Double-A with a 129 wRC+ (.281/.368/.452 AVG/OBP/SLG triple-slash line). Profar has some power and will steal bases in the Majors, making him a potentially hot commodity in 2013 drafts due to positional scarcity. While he hasn’t played at Triple-A yet, the Rangers will likely try to make room for him next year, potentially moving Elvis Andrus and/or Ian Kinsler to new positions.

#8. Shelby Miller – The Cardinals’ top pitching prospect is getting a September taste of the Majors out of the bullpen even though his 2012 was not as successful as the Cardinals had hoped. His 4.74 ERA and 4.48 FIP were disappointing, but he still grades out well in the “stuff” department, striking out 10.54 per 9. The Cardinals have their entire rotation locked up beyond this year, so Miller will probably be forced to compete for a spot in the spring.

#10. Dylan Bundy – Bundy pitched at three different levels this year, dominating at each stop and closing with a 3.24 ERA and 3.86 FIP in three Double-A starts. If it were me, I’d probably send the 19-year old back for more seasoning next year, but the Orioles’ sudden rise to contender may make them more aggressive with his timeline. As I was editing this, in fact, news broke that Bundy will be joining the Orioles for the stretch run later today.

#11. Manny Machado – Machado got the nod in early August to help out the contending Orioles at the hot corner, and he hasn’t disappointed with a 95 wRC+ and solid defense thus far. He was aggressively promoted right from Double-A, where he showed 20-20 potential, making him a potential 2013 draft target and a solid keeper option. He can probably stick at shortstop, too, and may be one of those valuable dual-position fantasy players while J.J. Hardy is still around.

#12. Gerrit Cole – Cole shot through the system this year, starting in High-A and finishing with a single start at Triple-A. He strikes out over a batter an inning and had FIPs around 3.00 at High-A and Double-A, making him a likely candidate for many prospect top-10 lists next year. His ETA is probably more in the mid-season range, though.

#17. Travis d’Arnaud – d’Arnaud had a solid season derailed by injuries, and the Blue Jays have J.P. Arencibia and a recently-extended Jeff Mathis in house to hold the fort down if d’Arnaud needs extra time at Triple-A next year. When he did play, though, d’Arnaud sure looked ready, with a 147 wRC+ showing that his .333/.380/.595 line was not just fuelled by the Las Vegas air.

#19. Anthony Rendon – The Nationals’ third base prospect is blocked by Ryan Zimmerman but it may not matter in the short-term since his first year in the minors was cut short by an early ankle injury. As it is, Rendon played just 43 games across four levels, finishing up in Double-A where he was a slightly below-average bat. Rendon will almost certainly be back in Double-A to start the season but will probably be among the first call-ups should the Nationals run into injuries.

#28. Wil Myers – I believe my love and excitement for Myers has been well publicized at this point, and I don’t see how the Royals could justify him not being on the 2013 Opening Day roster. Jeff Francoeur, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Billy Butler are holding down the OF and DH spots, but I don’t see a way Myers doesn’t force one of them to the bench or the trade block come March.

#31. Martin Perez – Perez has a brief stint with the Rangers in the summer and is now back working out of the bullpen down the stretch. The 21-year old lefty hasn’t missed many bats in Texas (5.52 K/9), a fact that isn’t surprising given his downward trending K-rates in the Minors (bottoming at 4.89 K/9 in Triple-A this year). I know some are still high on Perez, but if he can’t miss bats at a greater rate he won’t be ownable for fantasy purposes.

#34. Jonathan Singleton – Singleton is not really blocked in Houston given Brett Wallace’s relative lack of pop for a first baseman, but he didn’t get pushed past Double-A despite a pretty successful Minor League season. The Astros may be taking it slow with the 21-year old and waiting for his power to further develop before tapping him for a call-up.

#35. Zack Wheeler – The news that the Mets will now be affiliated with Las Vegas at the Triple-A level is bad news for Wheeler, as he’ll now essentially need to break camp with the Mets or head to a pitcher’s graveyard. Wheeler had great success at Double-A and performed well in a 6-start stint at Triple-A, so making the Opening Day roster is certainly not out of the question, though fantasy owners would want to express caution at first.

#38. Gary Brown – Brown was merely league-average at Double-A this year, but he’ll likely be challenged with Triple-A at age 24 next season. I can’t see Brown making the club out of Spring given that his only Major League-ready tool is his speed right now, but he could be in line for a call-up if he starts off hot, especially if the Giants don’t improve their outfield in the offseason.

#39. Anthony Gose – Gose was forced into action with Toronto well ahead of schedule but despite struggling so far, he seems relatively assured an Opening Day spot unless the Jays make an addition in left. Gose is ownable right away for the speed, but he’ll probably bat ninth and he’s only ever had a strong average at Triple-A Las Vegas, so tread carefully.

#41. Christian Yelich – Yelich’s timeline is definitely not 2013 anymore, if it ever was. He spent the year at High-A and outclassed the league with a 164 wRC+, but the fact that he didn’t get a Double-A promotion means it’d be far too big a jump to expect him to have an impact next year.

#42. Nolan Arenado – Many were calling for Arenado’s promotion early in the year but his Double-A performance hasn’t really warranted it. He’s been a shade above average with a 109 wRC+ but hit just 12 home runs and adds little on the bases. With the Coors Field effect he could be rosterable for fantasy, but there’s no reason for the Rockies to think he’s a better 2013 option than Chris Nelson or Jordan Pacheco.

#43. Mike Olt – Olt has struggled to an atrocious 14 wRC+ over 39 at bats with the Rangers, but this is obviously far too small a sample in which to judge him. Instead, expectations for 2013 should be tempered but his long-term outlook should stay the same. A half-season or more at Triple-A could be beneficial given that he jumped from Double-A to Texas, albeit after a dominant 95 games (28 HR, 170 wRC+).

#44. Hak-Ju Lee – Lee got his first full-season crack at Double-A and was league-average with the stick, chipping in 37 stolen bases as well. He also improved in the second half and maintained his reputation as a stud defender, so a strong start at Triple-A could put him on the radar for Tampa, where I’m sure Joe Maddon would find a way to get the most out of him.

#50. Jarred Cosart – Cosart followed the path this year, performing well enough at Double-A to get the promotion to Triple-A, where he looked great across six appearances. He’ll need to work on an out pitch to improve his strikeout rates, but there’s no reason to think he won’t join the Astros at some point in 2013.

Hopefully this article was able to update you on some players you were expecting to be fantasy-relevant in 2013. It should also serve as an early reminder to take ETAs from prospect sites with a grain of salt, as a whole lot can happen between March and September. Next week, I’ll take a look at prospects in general who could have a 2013 fantasy impact.

Follow me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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Down On The Farm: Fun With Major League Equivalencies

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Down On The Farm: Fun With Major League Equivalencies

Posted on 12 September 2012 by Blake Murphy

Last week’s Down on The Farm began what was to be a multi-part series on the Arizona Fall League rosters. After it was brought to my attention just how much AFL-related content had already been produced, I decided it would be best to switch gears. So rather than looking forward to October and November, this week Down On The Farm will go in the opposite direction and look back at the year that was 2012 in Minor League Baseball.

My primary interest in looking through the leaderboards at Triple-A and Double-A was, of course, prospects on the rise. But when doing some digging and trying to interpret Minor League numbers within the scope of future Major League impact, I found myself doing a lot of Major League Equivalency conversions.

For some background, the statistically-inclined have been trying for years to effectively translate Minor League statistics into “Major League Equivalents,” that is, a translation of what a player with numbers X-Y-Z would have looked like at the Major League level. To quote Dan Szymborski from a Baseball Think Factory piece, “One thing to remember is that MLEs are not a prediction of what the player will do, just a translation of what the major league equivalence of what the player actually did is. This is useful for predictions however, because like, major league statistics, MLEs have strong predictive value.” Thus, for the purposes of identifying 2013 fantasy assets, or simply keeping our expectations in check, MLEs can have value.

While there is no standard, widely-accepted MLE calculator, most of the ones available will give you roughly the same outcome. I chose to use this one because I found it easy to use and straight forward. There are more available, I believe, beyond paywalls, but this one is free (though it stopped being updated recently – not a large concern since changes over a small amount of time would not significantly alter our results). Basically, what follows is a look at some of the Minor League leaders at varying levels, with a focus on the higher levels for 2013 fantasy impact, and how their Minor League numbers stack up in terms of potential Major League production. Just a small note that I used context-neutral “Major League Team” as a means of comparing apples to apples for this exercise.

AAA – Pacific Coast League
Long known as a hitter’s haven, the PCL is home to many parks pitcher’s dread. As such, it tends to be the long-term home of many Quad-A players. Still, even with the inflated numbers we see some strong performances.

Adam Eaton – The 2012 PCL Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player was absolutely Trout-ian at AAA Reno (without the homers), earning himself a September audition with the Diamondbacks. His .381/.456/.539 triple-slash line equates to a .318/.368/.440 MLE, while his 38 SBs and 119 runs convert to 31 and 89, respectively. Eaton is just 23 and could get a shot, at least as a 4th outfielder, in 2013.

Alex Castellanos – A part of the 2011 Rafael Furcal trade, Castellanos led the PCL with a 1.010 OPS while also chipping in 17 HR and 16 SB, making him and enticing prospect for fantasy owners. Unfortunately, his line translates to just a .250/.316/.435 mark, though MLEs see him as a potential 20-20 man if given full playing time. Castellanos earned a September call-up from the Dodgers, his third stint in the Majors this year.

Mike Hessman – Your 2012 PCL home-run champion is the 34-year old Astros minor leaguer, the proud owner of 35 HR…and a .231 AVG, .301 OBP, and 136 K. The profile says Quad-A all the way and MLEs agree, pegging him to hit below the Mendoza line and strikeout in 33% of his at bats, albeit with 26 bombs.

Jedd Gyorko – The Padres’ third-base prospect got the bump to AAA-Tucson early in the season and cruised to an impressive .968 OPS. At just 23-years old, Gyorko is headed for the Majors in the near future, especially if Chase Headley is moved in the offseason. MLEs like him to perform at a .272/.318/.463 level with 20+ home-run power now, and that’s not taking into account his development curve as a young player.

PCL/TEX Experiment – Wil Myers
Wil Myers – Myers gets a category of his own, having dominated at two levels this year. Plugging in his numbers separately for each league (combined he hit 37 homers with a .987 OPS), the MLEs spit out a .260 AVG with 27 homers and 80 RBI. Once again, these calculations don’t take into account the fact that Myers, at just 21-years old, is still very early on his development curve.

AAA – International League
So how does the International League, a notoriously friendlier league for pitchers, hold up in comparison to the PCL when it comes to MLEs for its top players? Let’s start with their MVP.

Mauro Gomez – At 28, Gomez is beyond prospect status and probably won’t crack the Red Sox as much more than a bench bat in 2013. With that said, his .960 OPS and 24 HR earned him an August call up, so at least he’s on the right track. MLEs think he could stick as a bench bat or lower-tier first baseman as well, projecting him for a .266/.314/.491 slash line and 19 homers in just 400 at bats.

Dan Johnson – The former Rays’ hero lead the IL in homers with 28, earning him a shot with the White Sox down the stretch. MLEs see Johnson’s power and keen eye (94 BB to 94 K in 476 AB) and think they could carry over (22 HR, 74BB). Unfortunately, they don’t see much else, pegging him for just a .221 AVG and a .715 OPS, below replacement level for a first baseman.

Matt LaPorta – The bane of fantasy writers everywhere, LaPorta has once again enticed with his Minor League numbers. Believe it or not, he’s now 27, so the clock is ticking. Unfortunately, his .822 OPS and 19 homers don’t translate, showing a .234/.298/.403 equivalency. Out of curiosity, I looked up his MLEs from after his first season in AAA-Columbus, back in 2009 if you can believe it, and let’s just say they were a lot higher on him then (.772 OPS, but at that time he was just 24).

AA – Eastern League
Darin Ruf – The 2012 Eastern League MVP and ROY is a bit old for the level at 26, a former 20th round pick and likely 1B/DH eventually. Still, an MVP deserves some attention, and his 38 HR and 1.028 OPS are cause for a double-take. The MLEs see him as a .258/.320/.476, 27HR player right now, though given his age and player type that might be his eventual upside.

Gary Brown – I chose Brown, the 23-year old CF prospect for the Giants, out of curiosity for how MLEs would treat his 33SB and 18CS (he also had a .279/.347/.385 slash line). They weren’t kind, showing an equivalent of 26 SB and 20 CS, marks that would give him a permanent red light (and also an awful .575 OPS). In all likelihood, ESPN’s 68th ranked prospect will repeat Double-A for at least part of 2013.

AA – Southern League
Hunter Morris – Sticking with our MVP analysis, I took a look at the MLEs for 23-year old Brewers first base prospect and 2012 Southern League MVP Hunter Morris. With a .920 OPS, 28 HR, and 113 RBI (though with a 40:117 BB:K ratio), the MLEs see Morris as needing more seasoning, pegging him for a .454 SLG and 21 HR but just a .295 OBP.

Matt Davidson – Davidson was ESPN’s #82 prospect before the season, and his success at AA at just age 21 is somewhat encouraging. With the caveat once again that MLEs are backwards-looking and not predictive using a development curve, MLEs like Davidson’s .836 OPS and 23HR to translate to a .215/.287/.367 line and 17HR right now. While that’s not enticing on the surface, it’s not a bad sign for the 2009 1st round selection.

AA – Texas League
Oscar Taveras – Rounding out our MVPs is 20-year old Cardinals’ OF prospect Taveras, owner of a batting title and Texas League MVP. His .321/.380/.572 slash line came with 23HR and 10SB, and MLEs think he could almost be an adequate regular already with a .254/.295/.425 slash line with 16HR and 8SB. It seems likely Taveras will play at AAA next year, but his double-digit potential in HR and SB, along with improving contact skills, make him an intriguing dynasty league watch.

Mike Olt – The Ranger’s heavy hitting third base prospect got the call to The Show in early August, stunting his AA numbers a bit, and disappointing those expecting instant MLB production. Had fans looked to MLEs, they would have known his .288/.398/.579 slash line equates to just a .224/.303/.421 Major League line. That’s nothing to scoff at, especially for a 24-year old, but it doesn’t scream savior.

Major League Equivalent stats aren’t perfect, and the fact that we have to wait until the offseason for projection systems to merge them with development curves to give us a predictive tool can be frustrating. Even still, MLE converters allow us to put the numbers of prospects, Quad-A mashers, and potential call-ups into the proper frame of reference, and can also aid as a fantasy tool by providing a check and balance for overzealous prospect hoarders.

Follow me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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Down On The Farm: Arizona Fall League Part 1, Mesa Solar Sox

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Down On The Farm: Arizona Fall League Part 1, Mesa Solar Sox

Posted on 05 September 2012 by Blake Murphy

With most minor leagues winding down to playoff time, September generally brings one of two big pieces of news for prospects – a September call-up to the Majors, or an assignment to the Arizona Fall League. Running through October and November, the AFL operates as a league of extra seasoning for top prospects, and is usually a haven for scouts and prospect junkies alike. With few time-relevant minor league updates to make throughout September, the focus of Down On The Farm, for the next few weeks at least, will shift  to the Arizona Fall League rosters.

An assignment to the roster is definitely a positive for a player, though many top prospects are not sent due to the scarcity of roster spots, innings limits, commitments to native countries, and more, so a non-assignment is certainly not an indictment on a player. The league has six teams, so for each of the next sixweeks I will look at the rosters for one team at a time, hoping to shed light on the prospects sent from various teams and what the assignment may mean for their development.

This week we start with the Mesa Solar Sox, the team affiliated with the Orioles, Cubs, Tigers, Astros, and Dodgers.

Mesa Solar Sox
Baltimore Orioles
Michael Belfiore, LHP, 23 – 2.71 ERA over two levels (A+ and AA) out of the bullpen, 78K in 66 IP. Extra work assignment.
Chris Petrini, LHP, 25 – 2.49 ERA over two levels (A+ and AA) out of the bullpen, 81K in 83 IP. Extra work assignment.
Clay Schrader, RHP, 22 – 1.86 ERA over two levels (A+ and AA) out of the bullpen, 68K and 51BB in 58 IP. Extra work assignment, control the likely focus.
Mike Wright, RHP, 22 – 4.06 ERA over two levels (A+ and AA) over 20 starts, 22BB in 108 IP, .279 OPP AVG. Likely working on developing an out pitch.
Brian Ward, C, 26 – .592 OPS at AA, 1 HR, 24:24 BB:K in 161 AB. Punishment, perhaps?
Jonathan Schoop, 3B, 20 (ESPN #56, BP #85, BA #82) – .710 OPS at AA, 14 HR, 50:103 BB:K in 485 AB. Extra work assignment to continue accelerated development for AAA assignment in 2013.
L.J. Hoes, OF, 21 – .759 OPS over two levels (AA and AAA), 5 HR, 20 SB, 12 CS, 65:75 BB:K in 513 AB. Possible mechanical assignment to improve ISO, potential 5th OF in 2013.

Chicago Cubs
Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP, 23 – 4.81 ERA over 26 starts at AA, 78K in 142 IP, .298 OPP AVG. Extra work assignment to accelerate slow development.
Kevin Rhoderick, RHP, 24 – 4.99 ERA out of the bullpen at AA, 53:47 K:BB in 57 IP. Extra work assignment, control the likely focus.
Zach Rosscup, LHP, 24 – 3.45 ERA over three levels (AA peak), 45K in 31 IP. Extra work assignment to recuperate time lost to injury.
Nicholas Struck, RHP, 22 – 3.18 ERA over 26 starts at AAA, 123K in 155 IP, .238 OPP AVG. Assignment a potential audition for 2013 rotation spot and to continue gradual workload increase to MLB level.
Tony Zych, RHP, 22 – 3.67 ERA over two levels (A+ and AA), 64K in 61 IP. Extra work assignment.
Javier Baez, SS, 19 (ESPN #95, BP #66, BA #61) – .888 OPS over two levels (A and A+), 16 HR, 24 SB, 14 BB in 293 AB. Struggled at A+, extra work assignment to continue development and recuperate time lost to injury.
Rubi Silva, OF, 23 – .727 OPS over two levels (A+ and AA), 15BB in 500 AB, 10SB, 18CS. Extra work assignment, likely focusing on plate discipline and baserunning.
Matthew Szczur, OF, 23 (BA #64) – .751 OPS over two levels (A and AA), 42SB, 14CS, 79:61 K:BB in 438 AB. Possible adjustments to improve ISO and contact ability.

Detroit Tigers
Tyler Clark, RHP, 23 – 1.62 ERA over two levels (A+ and AA) out of the bullpen, 66L in 50 IP. Extra work assignment.
Matt Hoffman, LHP, 23 – 3.69 ERA out of the bullpen at AAA, 32:16 K:BB in 46 IP. Extra work assignment, likely working on an out pitch for potential 2013 promotion.
Michael Morrison, RHP, 24 – 3.14 ERA out of the bullpen at AA, 72:40 K:BB in 63 IP. Extra work assignment, likely focusing on control.
Luke Putkonen, RHP, 26 – 4.92 ERA out of the bullpen at AAA in 56 IP, with a 6.52 ERA in 10 IP MLB audition. Potential audition for 2013 bullpen role.
James McCann, C, 22 – .589 OPS over two levels (A+ and AA), 18BB in 380 AB. Extra work assignment, likely focusing on plate discipline and contact ability.
Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF, 20 (ESPN #37, BP #71, BA #45) – Potential stud had 1.014 OPS at A+, struggled with .678 OPS at AA, striking out once per game. Assignment for further development of plate discipline and to further move to RF.
Aaron Westlake, 1B , 23 – .711 OPS at A over 465 AB. Extra work assignment to expedite development.

Houston Astros
Jared Cosart, RHP, 22 (ESPN #78, BP #48, BA #50) – 3.30 ERA over two levels (AA and AAA), 92:51 K:BB in 114 IP. Extra development time for potential 2013 rotation spot and to recuperate some time lost to injury.
Chia-Jen Lo, RHP, 26 – 0.90 ERA over two levels (A and A+), primarily out of the bullpen, 31:6 K:BB in 30 IP. Extra development time to recuperate time lost to injury.
Alex Sogard, LHP, 25 – 3.62 ERA over two levels (A+ and AA) out of the bullpen, 52K in 69 IP. Extra development time, likely working on out pitch.
Jiovanni Mier, SS, 22 – .805 OPS at A+, 34:39 K:BB in 171 AB. Extra development time to recuperate time lost to injury.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, 20 (ESPN #46, BP #73, BA #34) – .893 OPS, 21HR, 7SB, 131:88 K:BB in 461 AB at AA. Extended development to prepare for AAA in 2013 with potential MLB call-up.
Bobby Borchering, OF, 21 – .756 OPS across three levels (AA peak), 24HR, 159K in 479 AB. Has profile of Quad-A hitter eventually, will likely work to improve contact, possibly at the expense of some power.
George Springer, OF, 22 (ESPN #60, BP #49, BA #59) – .955 OPS at A+, 22HR and 28SB in 433 AB, though struggled to .630 OPS in 22 AA games. Extra work to expedite development, could reach AAA in 2013.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Eric Eadington, LHP, 24 – 3.63 ERA over three levels (AA peak), 77K in 67 IP. Extra work assignment to build on successful season and continue expedited development.
Red Patterson, RHP, 25 – 3.07 ERA at AA out of the bullpen, 71K in 70m IP. Extra work assignment, preparing for AAA assignment in 2013.
Steven Rodriguez, LHP, 21 – 0.92 ERA over two levels (A+ and AA) out of the bullpen, 32K in 19 IP. Continuation of expedited development for 2012 draftee touted as Major League ready.
Andres Santiago, RHP, 22 – 3.69 ERA across two levels (A+ and AA), primarily starting, 122K in 112 IP. Extra work to increase season inning load as building block for 2013 at AAA.
Gorman Erickson, C, 24 – .673 OPS at AA, 56:44 K:BB in 274 AB.. Extra work to recuperate time lost to injury.
Rafael Ynoa, 2B, 25 – .715 OPS, 23SB at AA. Extra work to expedite what has been a slow development.
Joc Pederson, OF, 20 – .913 OPS, 18HR, 26SB, 14CS in 434 AB at A+. Great season to be put closer under the microscope, with a likely promotion to AA in 2013.
Yasiel Puig, OF, 21 – 1.076 over two levels (R and A+), 5HR, 8SB in just 82 AB. Extra work to further development, as he was just signed out of Cuba in late June.

I should reiterate that these assignments should be taken in the vain I tried to explain – for some, it is extra grooming for promotions, while for others it is simply extra work for the sake of extra work. The top prospects are the ones to keep an eye on, and hopefully over the next few weeks Down On The Farm can help to highlight who to focus on as you see the scouting reports and stat lines begin to trickle in.

Follow me on Twitter, @BlakeMurphyODC.

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Down On The Farm: Kansas City Royals

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Down On The Farm: Kansas City Royals

Posted on 29 August 2012 by Blake Murphy

Wil Myers hits the ball very far, very often. As one of the most complete minor league hitters in baseball, it is almost astonishing that he is yet to crack the line-up of the Royals. He is one of the most exciting, major-league ready talents still yet to accrue service time, a major boon for the system. However, the system’s top arms have either struggled or been hurt, and a farm system that was once the envy of the league now has some question marks. The consensus pre-season top-5 system of the Kansas City Royals is today’s focus on Down On The Farm.

My apologies for no DOTF or Sabermetric Mining piece last week. I was driving from Kitchener, ON to Vancouver, BC and then settling in to a new place.

Pre-Season Rank: #5 (ESPN), #5 (Baseball Prospectus), #2 (Baseball America)

The Top 5
1. Wil Myers
Overall Ranks: #13 (ESPN), #19 (BP), #28 (BA)
As mentioned, Myers hits the ball very far, very often. The converted catcher has played the outfield this year to try and preserve his body in the long run, and reports show him as a good corner outfielder with a strong arm, though he likely won’t continue to play center field for long. Still, it is the bat that has people buzzing, and with good reason – Myers has clubbed 35 homers across two levels in 128 games this year. He first astonished onlookers at Double-A Northwest Arkansas with 13 taters and a ridiculous .388 isolated power (ISO, slugging percentage minus batting average) in 35 games, earning a promotion to Triple-A Omaha at just 21. 93 games and 22 homers later, with an ISO of .247 and a wRC+ of 133. Myers should have earned a September call up with this performance, and at the very latest will probably start the season for the Royals next year, an enticing idea for Royals fans and fantasy owners alike.

2. Bubba Starling
Overall Ranks: #15 (ESPN), #27 (BP), #24 (BA)
The converted quarterback is all athleticism and tools at this point, but even just getting him to sign after the 2011 draft was a huge boon for the system. He is still just 20, but the fact that a late signing and an early injury pushed his career start date back to late June of this year, at Rookie Ball, is of some concern. Basically, Starling lost a full year of development right away. Luckily, it does not appear to have set him back too much, as he has posted a 144 wRC+ for Burlington. The 30.3% strikeout rate is a concern but not uncommon for young, inexperienced players, and his 12.3% walk rate indicates there is potential for plate discipline. Starling is a few years away from making a major league impact, but this type of ultra-high-upside player always reflects well on a team and system.

3. Cheslor Cuthbert
Overall Ranks: #43 (ESPN), #83 (BP), #84 (BA)
Along with having one of the oddest first names out there, the 19-year old third base prospect also has an enviable resume for his age and an advanced approach for his point on the development curve. With that said, the promotion this year to High-A Wilmington has been a challenge, seeing Cuthbert’s wRC+ fall to an ugly mark of 72. With just an .081 ISO and a sub-.300 OBP, the Royals are likely concerned at the performance dip compared to a successful 2011 at Low-A. Still, Cuthbert doesn’t strike out too much (15.7% K-rate, 19% last year), walks enough (7.0% walk rate, 10.5% last year), and may have just been advanced too quickly for the hit tool to catch up with the approach. Cuthbert will likely repeat at Wilmington for a part of next year, putting him off the major league radar for another two seasons at least.

4. Mike Montgomery
Overall Ranks: #52 (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #23 (BA)
Montgomery is an imposing 6’5” lefty who has been on the prospect map for several seasons now. Drafted back in 2008, Montgomery has had a slow climb through the Royals system, but is failing to find success at the Triple-A level for the second year in a row, this time as a 23-year old. Last season, Montgomery struggled to a 5.32 ERA and 4.30 FIP over 150 innings, and this year it has been more of the same with a 5.69 ERA and a 4.95 FIP over 91 frames. It got so bad that Montgomery was actually demoted to Double-A Northwest Arkansas in hopes of regaining some semblance of his command. Unfortunately, he is yet to find success there as well. There is obviously still time for a 23-year old lefty with two plus-pitches (fastball and changeup) to find the missing piece, likely a third reliable pitch, but the Royals have to be getting concerned that a former top prospect will need a third attempt at Triple-A next year.

5. Jake Odorizzi
Overall Ranks: #71 (ESPN), #47 (BP), #68 (BA)
Omaha has had one success on the mound, at least, with 22-year old righty Odorizzi posting a 3.08 ERA over 102 innings after earning the mid-season promotion from Double-A. While the surface ERA is fine, Odorizzi has not carried his impressive strikeout rate at Double-A (11.13 K/9) to Triple-A (7.21), causing his FIP to inflate to 4.21. Still, the team should be happy with his development, especially the fact that he uses four pitches reliably. One of those offerings needs to evolve into an out pitch to predict success at the major league level, but he could probably fill in at the back of a rotation right now. Look for him to crack the majors at some point in 2013, though he is unlikely to be fantasy relevant right away.

Additions and Subtractions
The Royals made just a single deal during the season, cashing in on their Jonathan Broxton gamble by acquiring a pair of players from Cincinnati in Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran. Sulbaran has struggled at Double-A since coming over and will likely have to repeat the level as a 23-year old next season, while Joseph is a LOOGY in training at Triple-A. The Royals grabbed righty Kyle Zimmer fifth overall in the draft this summer, and he’s an exciting prospect to watch next year, as he has already been moved to Low-A and had success through six starts.

Other Interesting Names By Level
Triple-A Omaha – Along with Montgomery and Odorizzi, Omaha is also home to 25-year old Ryan Verdugo, a lefty who has had success with a 3.37 ERA but was the recipient of six earned runs over 1.2 innings in his July major league debut. 24-year old Nate Adcock has struggled to a 4.86 ERA but held his own in a brief audition as a swing-man earlier in the year. Finally, 23-year old lefty Will Smith had a good half-season starting before earning a promotion, though he has struggled mightily for Kansas City. Beyond Myers, Johnny Giavotella is having success, though he has flopped in the majors twice now.

Double-A Northwest Arkansas – Yordano Ventura earned a promotion in mid-July but has struggled, though it was not unexpected for the 21-year old who relies primarily on his heater. For some reason, 24-year old lefty Chris Dwyer got promoted to Omaha despite a 5.25 ERA at this level, though sadly that made him one of the better candidates. Michael Mariot was converted to starting partway through the year and has had success with a 3.40 ERA over 113 innings, though he’s only struck out 81. Justin Marks, a 24-year old lefty, has posted a 3.80 ERA through 17 starts, making him the de facto ace of the staff. At the plate, Myers’ promotion left the cupboard pretty bare, so it is no real surprise that the Naturals are a shameful 19-43 in the second half. Shortstop Christian Colon posted a .364 OBP over 73 games, enough to get him promoted to Omaha, but he offers very little at the plate beyond the OBP.

High-A Wilmington – Wilmington has been the part-time home of several strong pitchers this year, including one with perhaps the best name in baseball. Jason Adam is 6-12 but has a 3.61 ERA and has shown great command with a 3.5:1 K:BB ratio. Sugar Ray Marimon posted a 2.12 ERA over 68 innings before earning the bump to Double-A, where he has posted a 3.97 ERA over 10 starts. Matt Ridings is too old for this level at 24, but has a tidy 2.26 ERA and less than two walks per nine. 23-year old Andy Ferguson has climbed the ladder quickly, with Wilmington being his third stop, and he has struck out 53 over 56 innings with a 3.34 ERA so far. Finally, Elisaul Pimentel got dropped from Double-A at mid-season, but has been strong since with nearly a strikeout per inning and an ERA of 3.00. A few hitters have performed well for the Blue Rocks, but most are too old for the level to get excited.

Low-A Kane County – A young trio of arms have led the way, with Edwin Carl (23-years old, 1.92 ERA, promoted to Wilmington), Angel Baez (21, 3.17 ERA, 83 K in 76 IP), and Kyle Smith (19, 3.00 ERA, 72 K in 57 IP) all impressing. None of the hitters have been amazing, with nary an 11-homer bat or a .300 average on the team, but just about everyone has been solid, helping the team to a .500 mark.

The Royals system has strong depth, especially on the mound, and it is scattered nicely across all levels. While there have not been many stand-out performers aside from Myers, he alone is reason to look favourably on the system. John Lamb, when recovered, adds another high-end arm to the mix, along with top pick Zimmer. The Royals can expect to be a top-10 system again next year, though with the shine coming off a few pitching prospects and a few players graduating to the majors, a top-5 system is not a certainty.

Come get to know me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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