It’s not supposed to work this systematically when it comes to breakout prospects. You aren’t supposed to see one team having the biggest breakout players every single season. Normally it should be spread out and random. One year the big breakout might be in Altoona. The next it might be in Bradenton. But for the last two years, the biggest breakout players in the system have come in West Virginia.
In 2012 it was Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson. Hanson was getting a lot of attention from scouts prior to the 2012 season. Polanco had a lot of interesting tools, but was very raw. Both used their 2012 campaigns in West Virginia to propel themselves to the top 50 prospect ranks prior to this season.
This year it was Tyler Glasnow. The right-hander drew a lot of attention prior to the season, especially from this outlet, which rated him as the 8th best prospect coming into the year. Glasnow dominated SAL hitters, showing top of the rotation potential and getting to the point where he could easily be a top 50 prospect in most national lists next year.
And in 2014, West Virginia could see a third wave of breakout players. Here is a look at the top candidates.
Austin Meadows is the top player on the list, as far as players who could start the 2014 season in West Virginia. The thing about Meadows is that he’s not exactly a breakout player like the previously mentioned players. Meadows could be a top 50 prospect just because of his draft rankings and his strong start to his career. But he also has shown the tools, and the advanced approach for a high schooler, to make you think that he could quickly become one of the top prospects in baseball. In this case, it’s not about a player getting on the top 50. It’s about a player propelling himself to impact status, and jumping into the top 10. Meadows definitely has the talent to do this.
Reese McGuire is in the same boat. He’s got amazing defensive skills behind the plate, and the big question is whether he can hit in pro ball. He answered that question with strong hitting in the GCL, although he’s going to need to continue that hitting in higher levels to raise his stock. McGuire could make a lot of top 100 lists, and he could raise his stock in West Virginia next year with strong hitting to pair with his defense. With a good season, I could see him being a top 50 prospect heading into 2015.
The catching situation behind McGuire provides two guys who are true breakout candidates. Jin-De Jhang and Wyatt Mathisen both have a lot of potential with the bat. Mathisen was in West Virginia this year, but had a shoulder injury early, which could have impacted his numbers. He’s got strong hitting skills, and is very athletic behind the plate, which could allow him to be a good two-way catcher down the line. He could get another shot next year to show what he can do when healthy.
Jhang played in the NYPL, hitting for a .277/.338/.413 line with five homers in 184 at-bats in the pitcher friendly league. He shows great ability to make contact, and has some pop in his bat, with the potential for 15-20 homers down the line. Jhang is a big framed catcher, but has a plus arm and handles the position pretty well for his size. With McGuire playing at the level, there would only be room for one of these two in West Virginia, serving as a DH/backup catcher.
As far as true breakout prospects, the best bets might be JaCoby Jones and Harold Ramirez. Jones had some brief success in Jamestown, hitting for a .311/.358/.459 line in 61 at-bats, before going down with a knee injury that ended his season early. He was splitting time between shortstop and center field, and was considered highly athletic prior to the injury. It’s hard to say how the injury could impact his future, since knee injuries are always questionable. However, Jones has a lot of upside, and if the knee injury doesn’t have any lasting effects, it wouldn’t be hard to see him have a huge breakout season in 2014.
Ramirez, on the other hand, is in Tyler Glasnow territory. He will enter the 2014 season on the radar as a top prospect with a lot of potential. He was already named the top prospect in the NYPL, just like Glasnow was one of the top prospect in the GCL prior to his breakout season. Ramirez hit for a .285/.354/.409 line in 274 at-bats, again in a pitcher friendly league. He’s a speedy outfielder who has the tools to stick in center field, although he will probably move to a different position with Austin Meadows at the same level. Ramirez doesn’t project for a lot of home run power, but he makes great contact with a quick swing, and the ball explodes off his bat to the gaps. For that reason, he should hit for average, and make up for the lack of home runs with a ton of extra base hits.
In terms of deep sleeper breakouts, there are middle infielders Adam Frazier and Ulises Montilla. Frazier had a strong season in the NYPL, hitting for a .321/.399/.362 line. The problem he saw was a total lack of power, although he won’t need much from the shortstop position in order to have value. Without the added power, I don’t see him as more than a future utility player, but I’m not going to rule it out just because he didn’t hit for power in the NYPL.
Montilla had a great season in the GCL, which is even more pitcher friendly than the NYPL. The second baseman hit for a .290/.364/.439 line in 155 at-bats. He’s a bit older than some of the previous prospects that have come through the lower levels. Dilson Herrera and Alen Hanson were both 19 in the SAL, while Montilla will turn 22 next year. However, he has great contact skills, shows a good approach at the plate, and has the ability to hit for extra bases.
The pitching group features guys who could be true breakout players. None of these guys will even draw consideration for top 50 prospect lists. They might have trouble cracking the top 20 of our system rankings. But these four pitchers have a lot of potential and upside, and it wouldn’t take much to flip a switch and watch them break out.
Buddy Borden is a really interesting pitching prospect. He only threw 16.2 innings in the NYPL, with a 1.08 ERA and a 23:5 K/BB ratio. The right-hander was a seventh round pick this year, and has reached 96 MPH with his fastball at times. It’s possible that Borden might skip West Virginia and move right to Bradenton. However, the Bradenton rotation might be crowded with Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, Jason Creasy, and possibly Ryan Hafner. There won’t be much room for 2013 college picks to jump to high-A right away in 2014.
Cody Dickson is another 2013 college draft pick. The lefty shows good velocity, touching 95 MPH, and has a plus curveball. He’s another guy who could move up to Bradenton, although he needs to work on fastball command first, and developing his changeup, and the SAL could be better for those adjustments. He probably won’t be a Tyler Glasnow type breakout player, but he could emerge as a future number three starter with his fastball/curveball combo leading the way.
Dovydas Neverauskas is an interesting guy. He had a 4.01 ERA in 60.2 innings in the NYPL this year, although the numbers were inflated by a few horrible starts. He’s got a tall, projectable frame and has been hitting 95 MPH pretty routinely the last two years. He looked dominant at times this year in the NYPL. He turns 21 in January, so he’s older than Glasnow was in his breakout season. However, Neverauskas is fairly new to organized ball, having only played in tournament style ball in Lithuania before being signed in 2009. It’s hard to look past the tall right-hander consistently hitting 95 MPH at the age of 19-20, and with his projectable frame it could be easy to see another boost in velocity going forward.
Jon Sandfort is one of my favorites as a potential breakout pitcher. He saw his velocity increase this year, working in the 89-92 MPH range. That doesn’t sound like much, although it’s the same velocity range that Glasnow worked in for most of his season in the GCL in 2012. Sandfort has hit 95 before, and could improve his velocity to that range in the future. More importantly, Sandfort has a lot of movement on his fastball, and one NL scout I spoke to this year said that he doesn’t need velocity to be effective. He’s also improved the command of his fastball. Sandfort saw improvements with his changeup this year, getting comfortable throwing it in any count. He also has a 12-to-6 curve that looks like a plus offering at times. Sandfort might not be the next Tyler Glasnow, and the Pirates might not get a Tyler Glasnow breakout at all next year. But out of the four pitchers named, I think Sandfort has the best shot of a breakout next year in West Virginia.
Who Will Break Out?
It’s not easy to predict who will be a breakout candidate. If it was, they wouldn’t exactly be a breakout candidate to begin with. It’s a lot easier to get a feel for this during Spring Training. That’s when I saw a big change in Gregory Polanco prior to the 2012 season, and it’s when I saw Tyler Glasnow really start to dominate prior to 2013.
Some of the guys above, like Meadows, are already on the radar. They’re on this list because they could either go from top 50 prospects to the top 10, or top 100 to top 50. Then there’s guys like Harold Ramirez who are just starting to get national attention, and could jump on the top 100 lists with a big season next year (like Hanson and Glasnow in previous years). The true breakouts like Polanco are impossible to predict. You pretty much have to look at a list of players with talent, and guess which one it will be.
Prior to this season I wrote an article looking at the potential breakout players in West Virginia for 2013. To give an idea of how unpredictable it can be, I pointed to Dilson Herrera, Wyatt Mathisen, Tyler Glasnow, Clay Holmes, and Barrett Barnes as my top five. Mathisen and Barnes saw their seasons derailed by injuries. Glasnow did break out. Herrera didn’t have a Hanson type breakout, but he did enough to be flipped to the Mets for Marlon Byrd. Holmes started slow, but looked dominant in the second half, and could start to get Nick Kingham attention in 2014 in his move to high-A.
You don’t necessarily need a Tyler Glasnow or an Alen Hanson breakout from the players above to have a successful year. Getting a Clay Holmes type season is just fine. Having another Dilson Herrera trade chip is a good thing. But if the Pirates do get another huge breakout prospect, then the 2014 West Virginia team definitely projects to have plenty of guys with a lot of upside.