Author Archive

Nationals Righty Lucas Giolito Impresses, As Expected

Anyone who follows prospects knows that Washington Nationals pitching prospect Lucas Giolito comes with considerable hype. After being in consideration for the first overall pick in the 2012 draft before succumbing to elbow problems, Giolito has repeatedly shown the sort of form that put him in that conversation (one that, given the performance of Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton to date, is frankly quite lofty).

I have seen Giolito twice over the past two years, and I’ve happened to take in two of his more notable outings. Last August, I witnessed him toss five scoreless innings working exclusively with his fastball and changeup, and last week, I watched him throw seven no-hit frames after entering in the second inning. As one might expect, the heralded hurler showed plenty of substance behind his acclaim in both outings.

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Boston’s Trey Ball Coming Along Slowly, Still Has Upside

It has been almost exactly two years since the Red Sox made high-school left-hander Trey Ball the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 draft, the first southpaw off the board. Needless to say, such a high selection comes with considerable fanfare and attendant expectations. Soon after being drafted, most Red Sox prospect lists included Ball somewhere in the top 10 (in a stacked organization), and he even snuck into the back end of a few overall top 100s. He did sign for under slot, and as a lanky, projectable high-school arm, he wasn’t exactly expected to move quickly, but still, Ball has spent his career at least largely under the microscope.

Now under a month from his 21st birthday, though, Ball has done little to inspire significant praise since his selection. In 175.2 career innings, he has struck out 115, walked 75, allowed 18 home runs, and posted a 4.41 ERA. He ranked just 15th on Kiley’s offseason Red Sox prospect list, and that wasn’t far off his typical placement. Nobody’s written Ball off as a bust, but nobody has thrown future ace plaudits at him as a pro, either. Oddly, he seems to be almost flying under the radar, as others in Boston’s system have attracted more attention at various points in the past two seasons.

Ball nevertheless remains an important figure in the Boston system, and he’s at the point in his career where it’s time to start examining the present and future of his development. I caught his start on May 29, and it definitely gave a better sense of why Ball hasn’t taken the minors by storm yet, as well as how he projects going forward.

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Courtney Hawkins: Are 2014’s Improvements Enough?

About 16 months ago, I wrote this 3,000-word-plus diatribe about Courtney Hawkins, attempting to make sense of how a 2012 mid-first-round pick could collapse from a .284/.324/.480 line in his post-draft 2012 season (complete with reaching High-A at age 18) to an abysmal .178/.249/.384 mark in 2013 (complete with ghastly 37.6% strikeout rate).

For some, those numbers were grounds for Hawkins’ dismissal as a prospect; for others, his youth and level made that immediate, severe pessimism seem a bit over-the-top and premature; he did manage to slug nineteen homers in 103 games in the midst of all that whiffing, at least. The thought of this latter group was that Hawkins would repeat High-A in 2014 as a 20-year-old and that the tools that made him a first-round pick would again surface as he grew into the level.

A glance at the big outfielder’s 2014 end-of-season results shows that those who held out hope for improvement weren’t off base. Hawkins came through with a .249/.331/.450 line this past season, good for a .352 wOBA and 117 wRC+. He cut his strikeout rate to a more workable 27.8% while raising his walks from 6.8% to 10.3%. If his 2013 season didn’t exist, statistically-minded prospect-watchers would look at Hawkins’ age-20 campaign and declare it a solid success, or at least say he met expectations.

In this piece, I want to look beneath this superficial dramatic improvement and examine what drove Hawkins’ improvements, with an eye toward where his 2014 modifications might lead him in the future.

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Domingo German: Flamethrowing Reliever or Useful Starter?

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades. There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. -Kiley

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Austin Voth: Low-Minors Ace, But What Sort of Prospect?

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades.   -Kiley

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Cody Buckel, Back on Track?

For much of the past two seasons, “enigma” has been an optimal word to describe Rangers pitching prospect Cody Buckel. Formerly a performance prospect extraordinaire who dominated the A-ball levels as a teenager, he suddenly lost all sense of the strike zone in 2013, walking 35 batters in 10 2/3 innings. It’s one thing to see a pitcher totally “lose it” in this fashion, but it’s another for that pitcher to be one who originally was lauded for his exceptional polish.

With Buckel entering the 2014 season still at just 21 years of age, a second-round pedigree, and a past history of dominance, the Rangers weren’t ready to cut bait just yet. A look at his statistics this past year reveal a pitcher who wobbled through a slightly less disgraceful year than his 2013—a 5.73 ERA in 59 2/3 High-A innings, mostly in relief, a disgusting (if much improved) 19.9% walk rate, and a solid 26% strikeout rate. Instead of being essentially unplayable, Buckel is now just bad.

Or is he?

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De Leon and Beras: Extreme Youth in the Rangers System

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades. There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. -Kiley

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How Good Is Aaron Nola Already?

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades.   -Kiley

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Nick Ciuffo and Josh Almonte: Raw Promise in the Appy League

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his change-up, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. Often, those will be the same grades. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. – Kiley

Nick Ciuffo, C, Princeton Rays (Rays Rookie-Advanced)

Ciuffo was the Rays’ 21st overall pick out of a South Carolina high school in 2013 ($1.97 million bonus) and was a near wire-to-wire first round pick from the summer showcase season to draft day, after a standout prep career where he drew a scholarship offer from the local Gamecocks before he played in high school.  While his swing and frame aren’t necessarily as pretty as other prep hitter first round picks, Ciuffo made plenty of contact with above average raw power and showed the tools to stick behind the plate with an above average to plus arm.  Scouts often compared him to A.J. Pierzynski as a solid-across-the-board backstop with everyday upside.

Hit: 20/45, Raw Power: 55/55, Game Power: 20/45, Speed: 40/35, Field: 45/50+, Throw: 60/60   – Kiley

Ciuffo is a potential plus defensive catcher who might offer enough bat to make a real impact.

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Juan Perez and Pedro Fernandez: Young Latin American Arms

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his change-up, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. Often, those will be the same grades. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. – Kiley

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Power vs. Finesse: Scouting 2014 Draftees Hess and Imhof

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. -Kiley

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Prospect Watch: Youth Up The Middle

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this piece, I look at three 18-and-under up-the-middle prospects.

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Carlos Tocci, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 18  Top-15: 6   Top-100: N/A
Line: 456 PA, .248/.299/.340, 2 HR, 21 BB, 83 K

Summary
This athletic, projectable glider has made moderate inroads at the plate and has plenty of time and projection to allow for additional progress.

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Prospect Watch: The Rangers’ Big Promotions

Yesterday, it was announced that the Texas Rangers promoted two of their top prospects, catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nomar Mazara, to Double-A Frisco. Both players arrive in the upper minors with plenty of hype and plenty of youth–Alfaro turned 21 in June, while Mazara is just three months and change past his nineteenth birthday.

From a superficial, looking-at-the-numbers perspective, one might say that both promotions are premature, or at least aggressive. Mazara is just 19 and is being skipped over High-A after hitting a good, but hardly Troutian .264/.358/.470 in Low-A Hickory. Alfaro was at least playing at High-A Myrtle Beach, but he was just hitting .261/.318/.440 and allowed 18 passed balls in 75 games caught.

Of course, current production is far from the full picture of supremely talented players competing against others that are often older. Having seen both play extensively in both 2013 and the 2014 seasons, here I’ll offer some thoughts on Texas’ bold move in promoting this duo, as well as their futures beyond Frisco.

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Prospect Watch: The Burlington Royals, From Impact to Curiosity

For players in 28 of MLB’s 30 organizations, the lowest level of U.S.-based affiliated professional baseball is the complex leagues, the Arizona League and the Gulf Coast League. These leagues feature the rawest of the raw when it comes to professional baseball players, largely including players fresh out of high school or Latin America, with some low-rung college players mixed in.

Two organizations, however, do not have complex league teams. The Rockies haven’t had one since 2000, instead maintaining a Rookie-Advanced team in the Pioneer league and a short-season-A team in the Northwest League. From 2003 to 2013, the White Sox were the other team, but this year, the Pale Hose picked up an Arizona League team and their division rivals in Kansas City became the second club with a complex league vacuum.

The Royals thus lost an entire team’s worth of roster spots in their system in the offseason, and that created something of a backlog in their organization. All the high school draftees and Latin American kids who would normally (or at least often) be assigned to their old AZL team now jumped straight up to the club’s Rookie-Advanced affiliate in Burlington. The squad opened the year with a whopping 38 players on its roster as a result, including four 17-year-olds and six players picked in the top six rounds of the 2014 draft. As you’d expect, the raw Burlington squad resides in last place in the Appalachian League East Division, but also as you’d expect, they are largely considered the most talented team in the circuit. I sat in on seven of their contests this year, and in this piece, I’m going to touch on several intriguing players on this oversized roster.

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Prospect Watch: Nick Gordon and Post-Draft Expectations

A couple of weeks ago, I broke from the typical Prospect Watch post setup to write this, which still managed to provide thoughts on and evaluations of two players but in a more freeform space than usual. On some occasions such as that one, I find my thoughts on players get encased in larger thoughts about prospecting in general. In this installment, I bring you another, but it concerns a player of far more repute than 25-year-old A-ball pitcher Dario Alvarez or his reliever teammate Akeel Morris–I’m talking about 2014’s fifth overall draft pick, Twins shortstop prospect Nick Gordon.

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Prospect Watch: Toolsy Outfielders

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

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Ryan Cordell, OF, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 22  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 252 PA, .336/.402/.543, 8 HR, 23 BB, 41 K

Summary
A strapping outfielder with a full set of tools, Cordell has ripped South Atlantic League pitching apart in his first full season.

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Prospect Watch: High-Ceiling Teenage Arms

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

This time around, I bring you tales of three teenagers who really stood out in recent viewings.

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Brent Honeywell, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 19  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 10/1 K/BB, 0.00 ERA, 1.58 FIP

Summary
Honeywell already looks like a steal with the 72nd pick in the draft.

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Prospect Watch: ’14 Draftee Arms in the Appy

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment of the PW, I’m focusing on three hurlers in the Appalachian League who were just selected in the top three rounds of the 2014 draft.

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Foster Griffin, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 18  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 8.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 6/3 K/BB, 1.04 ERA, 5.15 FIP

Summary
More about projection than current ability, Griffin is nonetheless off to a good start in pro ball.

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Prospect Watch: Polished Hurlers

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment, I’ll discuss three pitchers I’ve come across in A-ball who boast more polish than most at their level.

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Adam Plutko, RHP, Cleveland Indians (Profile)
Level: High-A   Age: 23   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 41 IP, 41 H, 23 R, 31/9 K/BB, 4.83 ERA, 4.86 FIP

Summary
Plutko gained plenty of prospect helium with a dominant run at Low-A early in the season, but he’s found the going tougher after a promotion to the Carolina League.

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Prospect Watch: The Mets’ Dominant Duo

Today, I’m going to do something slightly different in this space than I have previously. Rather than discussing the pasts, presents, and futures of three prospects I’ve seen in a serialized fashion, I am going to tell you about a game I attended this past Saturday, July 5th.

Of course, I go to a lot of games, and not all of them are worth talking about. But the reason this particular one was interesting was that it involved two pitchers who entered the game with statlines that almost had to be seen to be believed.

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