Yesterday I wrote about the offensive help from the system that can help the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 2012 season. The Pirates don’t have many strong options. Jordy Mercer is the best option to help the major league team this year, and he profiles as an average major league shortstop at best. Matt Hague could also help, profiling as an average major league first baseman at best. The top prospect in Indianapolis, Starling Marte, hasn’t broken out in Triple-A, and isn’t close to a call-up yet. Outside of those guys, the rest of the help comes from 4-A hitters who can provide some help off the bench in the form of a .700 OPS and power.
Today I’ll be looking at the players in the lower levels of the system who can help in future years. I’ll only be looking at the full season leagues, since anyone below that is too far off to project. Some of players in the other three levels will also be hard to project, at least in terms of ETA, so not every player will have that information. My main focus is on players who have a chance of being starters in the majors. Some of these guys might profile as starters, but might not help the offense as much. I’ll note that in their individual sections.
At the end of each section I’ll list a group of notable players. In Double-A, these guys will all be players who have a shot at reaching the majors as bench players, or who have an outside shot at pulling an Alex Presley and getting a chance at regular playing time. In the lower levels, they’ll be guys who need to have success at a higher level to strengthen their prospect status. I’ll put a star next to the guy who stands out from the group with the best shot of reaching the majors.
Now it’s time for the usual prospect disclaimer. These are the guys who I think have a shot at the majors. Obviously prospects aren’t a guarantee. I give the upsides of players, but I don’t feel the need to mention that the player could fall short, or could fail to make the majors, as that risk is assumed with every prospect. With that said, let’s take a look at the teams.
I am going to add a plug here for the 2012 Prospect Guide. Most of the reports came from the knowledge in the book, mixed with updates from information I’ve gathered this season. The Prospect Guide is a big reason why I’ve been able to gather that information, and includes reports on over 250 players in the system. So if you like the 12 reports below, check out the Prospect Guide for more. You can purchase the book on the Products page of the site.
The jump to Double-A is the toughest for hitters. First of all, you have to be good enough to make it this high. I believe that if you can hit at this level, it shows that you’ve got the skill to make it to the majors. That doesn’t provide any additional guarantees for a prospect. It just shows that they’ve got the talent to make the majors with their bat. Obviously there would still be the need for adjustments as they move from Double-A to the majors.
Jarek Cunningham - Cunningham hasn’t had much playing time in Altoona this year, after missing time with a wrist injury. He currently has a .226/.317/.396 line in 53 at-bats. He’s got some power, with his .170 ISO this year actually being down from his .258 in high-A in 2011. One issue is his K/BB ratio. He’s been around 27% for his strikeout rate in the lower levels, and is at 30% so far this year. He has shown some improvements with his walk rate, improving to just over 8% this year. He probably won’t hit for a high average, but does have above average power for a middle infielder. He’s also got above-average speed. The plate patience will be an issue for him, and he’s got a history of being injury prone. Defensively he profiles as a second baseman, which puts more emphasis on the bat, although he could also play left field. I could see him taking a Jordy Mercer path, sticking around in Altoona for the first half of next year if his bat doesn’t pick up this year.
Matt Curry - Curry lit up the South Atlantic league last year, then didn’t have nearly the same results after an aggressive promotion to Double-A. He’s a guy who hits to all fields, and can hit for power to all fields. So far this year he has a .280/.339/.433 line in 150 at-bats. Most of his power this year has come in the form of extra base hits, with just two homers. I’ve heard him compared to Mike Carp for a comparison of what he could become in the majors. He’s not tearing up Double-A, so I’d expect him to spend most of the year here, moving up to Triple-A in 2013, and possibly getting a call to the majors if he gets off to a hot start.
Robbie Grossman - Grossman got off to a slow start this year, hitting for a .195/.298/.280 line in April. In May he picked up the pace, although he’s been slumping in the last week, dropping his line to .224/.337/.408 in 76 at-bats. It’s unknown whether the slow start is due to the difficult jump to Double-A, the off-season hamate surgery, or both. One good sign is that Grossman is still drawing walks at an above-average rate, with a 13% walk rate this season. His strikeout numbers could use some improvement, with a 24.6% ratio this year. He’s also hitting for a bit of power lately, with a .184 ISO in May, which is higher than his .157 in high-A last year. Grossman will probably need to spend the entire year in Altoona. If he continues to improve as the year goes on, he could jump to Triple-A next year. A conservative ETA would be 2014, although he’s got a shot at arriving next year if he starts hitting.
Tony Sanchez - Sanchez had a bad year at the plate last year, hitting for a .241/.340/.318 line in 402 at-bats. His numbers this year haven’t been much better. He’s got a .250/.357/.343 line in 108 at-bats. There’s a slight improvement, but a .700 OPS isn’t what you want to see in Double-A, especially from someone repeating the level. The lack of power is the biggest concern. He gets on base at a good rate, but doesn’t look like a guy who will hit for average. He hasn’t been hitting for power, with just nine homers in 727 at-bats in high-A and Double-A combined. He’s not making up for that power with extra base hits, with 41 doubles in that span. Defensively he has the skills to be a major league catcher, although there are some concerns with his throwing accuracy. His bat will really determine his upside, with his struggles this year profiling him in the range of a defensive minded backup catcher and a strong defensive, average catcher. If the bat picks up, Sanchez could move quickly to the majors.
Other Notable Players - Ramon Cabrera, Elevys Gonzalez, Brock Holt*, Andrew Lambo, Quincy Latimore, Adalberto Santos.
As I mentioned, the jump from high-A to Double-A is the hardest. I focus more on scouting reports than numbers in the lower levels. In some cases, the scouting reports can trump a lack of numbers. In other cases, the lack of a good report can overshadow a good performance. In this section, the “Notable Players” don’t have as strong of a chance to reach the majors as the Double-A guys. Instead, they’re guys with good scouting reports, or good numbers, who need to prove themselves in the upper levels before
Alex Dickerson - Dickerson has had a disappointing year so far. He’s a big first baseman who has the ability to hit to all fields and hit for power to all fields. He’s doing neither of those this year. He currently has a .255/.337/.346 line in 153 at-bats. Those aren’t the numbers you want to see from an advanced college hitter. Dickerson was one of the top 50 prospects in the draft last year, and his offense was considered the best part of his game. He doesn’t have any defensive value, so that offense will have to improve. It’s too early to write him off, but the slow start isn’t encouraging. Heading in to the season it looked like he could be a guy who could arrive in 2013, splitting 2012 in high-A and Double-A, then going Triple-A and the majors next year. Obviously the slow start changes that. He could move quickly when he does start hitting, but I’d be conservative at this point, rather than projecting him to cruise through the upper levels.
Drew Maggi - Maggi is a guy I’ve been higher on than most. He’s got some good tools, highlighted by his speed. He’s got good plate patience, and is a good base runner. He doesn’t have much power, mostly coming in the form of doubles. I think he can be an option at shortstop, although he doesn’t stand out as a sure bet to remain at the position. He’s been a streaky hitter in his pro career, racking up a ton of hits in a short span, then following it up with an equally long cold spell. He profiles similar to Chase d’Arnaud in that he doesn’t really excel at any one area, but he’s got average to above average tools across the board, with his speed being the best tool. Like d’Arnaud, Maggi is more of a boom or bust player.
Mel Rojas - Rojas was a top hitting prospect at the level coming in to the year mostly on his tools. He’s a switch hitter with a good swing from both sides, although he’s got some plate patience issues, striking out in 25% of at-bats this year, with a 5% walk rate. He’s a five tool talent, although his skills at the plate are raw. He’s got raw power which shows up at times in the game, but not at a consistent pace. He’s hitting better this year, and surprisingly is having a lot of success on the road in the pitcher friendly Florida State League, hitting for a .329/.390/.438 line in 73 at-bats. He got off to a slow start in April, but has picked up the pace in May, hitting for a .326/.361/.413 line in 92 at-bats. Again, the power hasn’t shown up yet in games this year, with one homer in 175 at-bats, and only four doubles. He’s got good range in center field, with an arm that could allow him to play in right field. He remains more scouting report than stats, but he’s showing improvements over his first two years in the system. I’d expect him to spend an entire year in Bradenton, and wouldn’t be surprised if he got a push to Altoona next year.
Other Notable Players - Dan Grovatt, Justin Howard, Gift Ngoepe*, Carlos Paulino.
West Virginia Power
Most of the top offensive prospects this year reside in West Virginia. Part of that is because of Josh Bell. A bigger part is because of the aggressive push of several talented international prospects. There’s two things to note about players who are playing this low. First, they’re several years away from the majors, likely 2015 or later. Second, their numbers don’t mean as much, since the quality of pitching in low-A is much different from the upper levels. For the “notable players”, I listed guys with good tools. Those guys have a remote chance of reaching the majors, but they are more of long shots, needing a breakout season at some point to get there.
Josh Bell - Outside of Starling Marte, Josh Bell is the only other impact hitter in the system, profiling as a guy who could be a top prospect in all of baseball. He went down with a knee injury this year, and had surgery to repair his meniscus. There’s no word on the timetable for his return, other than the fact that he’ll be back this year. He was hitting for a .274/.288/.403 line in 62 at-bats with West Virginia, and was struggling against a heavy diet of changeups, which isn’t unnatural for a guy coming out of high school. Before his injury he started hitting better, with a .300/.310/.450 line in his last ten games before going down.
Willy Garcia - Garcia was signed out of the Dominican Prospect League in 2010, and is a five tool talent. He’s a bit raw at the plate, but has handled the aggressive jump to full season ball well for a 19 year old. So far he’s hitting for a .241/.275/.398 line, with the highlight being his power production. He’s really stepped that up in May, with a .220 ISO. He’s got some plate patience issues, with a 28.3% strikeout rate so far this year. That’s not uncommon for young international hitters.
Alen Hanson - He’s been one of the biggest stories in the farm system this year. Hanson got off to a great start, hitting for a .410/.441/.695 line in 105 at-bats in April. He’s cooled off in May, hitting for a .221/.299/.429 line, although the power is still there. Hanson is very athletic and very fast, and is a good hitter. He does make some ill-advised swings, although his plate patience numbers haven’t been horrible, with a 23.6% strikeout rate, and a 7.5% walk rate. The big question is whether he can remain at shortstop, or whether he will move to second base. Most of that hinges on the strength of his arm, which isn’t bad, but also isn’t a plus tool. He also has some awareness issues on the field, and some footwork issues. I don’t put much stock in error counts in the minors, but from what I’ve seen and heard on Hanson, I’m not surprised by his 21 errors this year, most of which are of the fielding variety.
Jose Osuna - Osuna emerged as a surprise prospect the last few years, mostly from his power. He was originally a pitcher, but received little interest at the position. The Pirates tried him out in the field, and were impressed with his speed for his size, which is 6′ 2″, 213 pounds. So far in the lower levels he has hit, and hit for power, leading the VSL in homers in 2010, and putting up a .511 slugging percentage in the very pitcher friendly GCL last year. He’s been hitting this year, although his power started off slow. That has picked up in May, with a .180 ISO, compared to a .094 ISO in April. On the season he is hitting for a .280/.339/.414 line in 157 at-bats, and ranks second in the system with 15 doubles, one behind Hanson. He doesn’t have much defensive value, making the full time move to first base this year, so his value will have to come from his bat.
Gregory Polanco - There’s been a ton of attention paid to Alen Hanson, but a guy I like just as much is Gregory Polanco. He didn’t have the monster April that Hanson had, but he’s been consistently good all year. Polanco is hitting for a .302/.343/.491 line, and leads the minor league system with seven homers in 159 at-bats. As I mentioned, his numbers have been consistent. He had a .286 average and an .838 OPS in April, and has a .324 average and an .828 OPS in May. His plate patience has been good, with an 18% strikeout rate and a 5.9% walk rate. Polanco is a tall, skinny left handed hitter, at 6′ 4″, 170 pounds. He added some muscle this year, which could explain the power numbers and the better hitting. He’s got above-average to plus speed, and he’s a good base runner. He’s got the defensive skills to stick in center field. Considering the risk that Hanson could move to second base, and considering how well Polanco has been playing, I might consider Polanco the better prospect, although they’re neck and neck either way.
Other Notable Players - Jodaneli Carvajal, Elias Diaz, Dan Gamache*