Today we completed the first draft of the 2016 Top 50 Prospects for the 2016 Prospect Guide. A few hours later, we completed the second draft. And then we started on the third. And that will continue a process for the next month and a half that will see daily tweaks to the numerical rankings, until we finally settle on a list that will inevitably lead to disagreement due to personal preferences. This is exactly why I love tiered rankings better — we rarely make mass changes to those after the initial rankings. That said, people love lists, so we go the traditional route as well.
The Prospect Guide is far from complete, and the individual player rankings are far from complete. Even the individual writer rankings aren’t complete, as we constantly revisit certain players throughout the off-season as we have more time to review their seasons and all of the notes on those players. That’s part of why I love the end of the year rankings. You don’t get caught up in the middle of big seasons, and you can take more time to evaluate each player, leading to a more sound ranking (although we don’t see massive changes, as we usually go conservative with breakout seasons in our mid-season rankings, to account for the “in-season” effect).
Since the rankings are a work in progress, I won’t have anything finalized until mid-December. And honestly, I want to keep the group rankings for the Prospect Guide, and for the annual January top prospect countdown. But I did want to discuss a few players who saw a rise in value in the second half in my own personal rankings.
We grade each player on the 2-8 scale, with three different grades: Floor, Ceiling, and Likely Upside. The Upside is the biggest factor here, but the floor and the ceiling determine risk and how high a player could go. After I completed my end of the season list, I went back to my mid-season rankings to see some of the differences. There were several players who went up and down, naturally. I felt it would be a good idea to break down some of the players who took big second half strides in my view.
The following ten players all saw at least a one point increase in both Ceiling and Likely Upside from my mid-season rankings to my end of the year list. They’re not the only ones who saw an increase, but they’re the guys I want to focus on here. Names are listed in alphabetical order, by last name, so don’t take this as a ranking.
Steven Brault – I loved what I saw from Brault in his time with Bradenton, which led me to believe he had a shot at the majors. After his success in Altoona, I think there’s a strong chance he’ll be a back of the rotation starter in the majors, with a possibility being a strong number three. I’m generally skeptical of lefties until they have success in Double-A, and Brault doesn’t have overpowering stuff, which leaves room for more hesitation. But I love his two-seam fastball, which is thrown at a downward angle, and has late cutting action that drops to the bottom of the zone at the last second. He commands the pitch well, and that makes up for a lack in velocity in my book.
Yeudy Garcia – Spring Training at Pirate City can be confusing. You’ve got four fields to follow on some days, which can make it difficult to know who you’re watching. One day this Spring, I walked over and saw Garcia listed on the mound, and settled in to watch Hector Garcia, who I heard good things about in 2014. He was bringing mid-90s velocity in the inning I saw, which was eye-opening. It was only later that I realized my mistake — I was watching Yeudy Garcia (you’d think the whole lefty/righty thing would have tipped me off, but again, Pirate City is chaotic). Since that point, Garcia opened my eyes, and apparently did the same for the Pirates. I saw him twice throughout the season, and he continued pitching well with one of the best fastballs in the system, and improving off-speed stuff.
Ke’Bryan Hayes – I didn’t exactly have Hayes low after the draft, but I was a bit conservative on his upside, as you should be with any young prep player. There were reports that he could play strong defense at third, and what I saw lived up to the reports, to the point where I’ve got him as the best defensive third baseman in the system, and no concerns about him moving off the position in the future. He also showed some great hitting skills, and while he doesn’t project to hit for a lot of power, he could make enough contact and hit for good enough gap power to add a strong bat to his defense. Overall, I’d say I got more confident in the reports of his upside and strengths after seeing him play.
Logan Hill – He was a 25th round pick out of college, so my initial reaction was that he was an organizational guy. That changed when I saw him in Morgantown. He looks like a guy who should have been taken in the top ten rounds, as he’s got a great build, he’s athletic, and he hits the ball hard, with some good power potential going forward. Hill probably saw the biggest jump from me, and while I don’t think he’ll be a top 30 prospect this year, he will definitely be a sleeper to watch from the 2015 draft.
Chad Kuhl – I’ve liked Kuhl as a potential back of the rotation option or depth starter, but his second half performance might have pushed him up a level. He was hitting 96-97 MPH consistently with his fastball in the second half, and while the slider still needs some work, that kind of fastball velocity, along with Kuhl’s sinker and ground ball approach, makes him a guy who could definitely hold down a rotation spot in the majors one day.
Jordan Luplow – He still has work to do learning his defense at third, with a big focus on his footwork and first step reactions. But the bat showed signs of life in the second half, with a .994 OPS in 215 plate appearances. You can forgive the first half struggles, even from a college hitter in Low-A, when you consider all of the defensive work he was putting in to re-learn third base. He shows great plate patience, and should be able to hit as he moves up, even to the point where he could have value as a starter in a corner outfield spot if third base doesn’t work out.
Carlos Munoz – The rankings for Munoz are kind of funny. Last year I was higher on him than anyone else ranking him after liking what I saw in the GCL. This year, I find myself the lowest on his upside. It’s not that I’m low on him at all, at least relative to his current level and performance. It’s just that I tend to be more conservative than others when it comes to grading first basemen. In this case, I’m concerned with the weight and with the possibility that Munoz could be just a DH. However, it’s hard to ignore the huge strides he took this year, with some very promising numbers that he’s carried over to winter ball. I think he’d move up on anyone’s list.
Harold Ramirez – Ramirez is a guy who really impressed me in Bradenton this year. He’s one of the best pure hitters in the system, and what I saw this year from his speed and defense gave him higher grades than what I’ve seen reported on him in the past, especially with his arm strength. Usually the person who sees the player the most will have the most influence on his ranking, and so I thought going into this process that I’d be elevating Ramirez up in the rankings. I was a bit surprised to find that we all had him ranked high, which will probably lead to him being ranked higher by us than any other outlet.
Adrian Valerio – Hayes gets a lot of attention because he was a first round pick, but Valerio is close to the same value for a lot of the same reasons. He’s got excellent defense at shortstop, with very smooth fielding and the skills to stick at the position long-term. He could possibly end up the best defensive shortstop in the system. He also has a lot of speed, and a good ability to drive the ball to the gaps. I think Hayes is a bit more polished and consistent with the bat, and as a result I’ve got him ranked higher. But the early results show that Valerio is a guy who will get a good ranking from us, and I consider him a future starter at shortstop in the majors, albeit with the risk you’d expect from a lower level player.
Brandon Waddell – I didn’t actually see Waddell pitch this year, as I left Morgantown right before he made his debut. However, I did receive reports on him, and the thing factoring into my increased ranking the most was the conversation I had with him. He comes across very smart, knowing what type of pitcher he is (finesse, good mix of pitches, command), and having an advanced view of the game. The off-field stuff is something that definitely weighs into my evaluations, and that’s especially true when you’ve got smart pitchers. Those are the guys who tend to find a way to win with what they’ve got, and make key adjustments to make it to the majors. Waddell is a lefty, and once again I’m skeptical on lefties until they reach Double-A, but I give him a bit more of a pass than most due to his good mix of stuff and his understanding of the game.
**Rick Sofield Goes For Second Interview With Padres. This indicates that he’s a top contender for the job. The poaching of front office members and coaches from the Pirates continues.
**Pirates Extend Contract With Indianapolis Through 2020 Season. The previous deal ran through 2016.
**AFL: Meadows Doubles, Big Day For Frazier in Glendale Victory. Some good results from Frazier this off-season, and it’s good to see Meadows starting to heat up.
**Winter Leagues: Jose Osuna and Edwin Espinal Homer. Osuna continues his strong performance in winter ball.
**Deolis Guerra Elects Free Agency. You figured this was coming after he was outrighted to the minors last week. He wouldn’t be a bad guy to try and bring back on a minor league deal once again.