Prospect Stock Watch – 04/10/13

The first week of the minor league season is behind us and we’ve already had some interesting performances – both good and bad. This week’s Prospect Stock Watch reviews two minor league performances, as well as one MLB debut.

Sam Dyson, RHP, Miami Marlins

The Miami Marlins front office added four prospects during last off-season’s mega-trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. Three of those players (outfielder Jake Marisnick, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, and pitcher Justin Nicolino) made the Marlins’ Top 15 prospects list here at FanGraphs, while another pitcher, Anthony DeSclafani, narrowly missed the list. Toronto then gift-wrapped another intriguing arm and handed it over to the Marlins in the form of waiver claim Sam Dyson, thanks to puzzling roster management.

Dyson was selected by the Jays in the fourth round of the 2010 amateur draft, but he didn’t make his pro debut until 2012 due to Tommy John surgery and the subsequent rehab. He reached the majors with the Jays last year but appeared in just two games while pitching out of the bullpen. He was then designated for assignment in late January to make room for replacement-level infielder Mark DeRosa. It was a questionable move because A) He has good stuff and was given an over-slot signing bonus of $600,000 in 2010, B) He had two minor league options remaining at the time, and C) DeRosa is, well, DeRosa… and much more talented players settled for non-roster invites.

A starter in college, Dyson has performed both roles in pro ball (In 2012, he made six starts and 35 relief appearances). Due to concerns over both his shoulder and his elbow — as well as a low arm slot that lends itself to extreme batter splits — Toronto appeared to favor the relief role. Now that he’s in the Marlins’ system, though, Miami has moved the pitching prospect back into a starter’s role at the double-A level.

During his first start of the year on April 8, Dyson displayed good velocity on his heater and outstanding movement. He induced a high number of ground-ball outs, which is typical for him. Both his secondary pitches — a slider and changeup — were used sparingly and showed average (50 grade) potential. Overall, his control was better than his command but some of that could be a result of the crazy movement he had working on that night.

I do question the decision to work him out as a starter, given his checkered medical past and arm slot. However, the organization may be trying to get him more innings and experience built up in an effort to improve his secondary pitches. If he does in fact settle in as a reliever at the big league level, I see the potential for either a right-on-right specialist (assuming an improved slider) or a set-up man (assuming an improved changeup).

Nick Tepesch, RHP, Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers right-hander Nick Tepesch made his MLB debut on April 9 against the Tampa Bay Rays. A first- or second-round talent in high school, his contract demands – which were not met by the Boston Red Sox — resulted in a college career at the University of Missouri. After an inconsistent collegiate career, he signed with the Texas Rangers for $400,000 as a 14th round pick in the 2010 amateur draft. It took him just two full seasons in the minors to prove to the Rangers that he was ready for the majors.

In his MLB debut, Tepesch showed good velocity early on, working up to 93 mph on his fastball. The ball had solid downward movement and resulted in a plethora of ground-ball outs. GameDay had some difficulties differentiating between his curveball and slider at times, but he threw some very good curveballs (mostly 80-81 mph) — some of which were credited as sliders (86-87 mph). Based on what I saw in the one start, I would give his curveball a potential grade of 60 (20-80), while his slider has more of a 50-55 potential.

At one point, Tepesch did a nice job of doubling-up on breaking balls to strike out Matt Joyce. He utilized only a few changeups but the curve was an effective change-of-pace for him on this night.

In the first inning, likely helped by adrenaline, Tepesch attacked the zone and worked quickly. He ran into trouble in both the second and third innings when his fastball command deserted him and he started to rush his delivery but he gutted through the game and made it through 7.0 innings without exceeding 100 pitches. When he ran into trouble with the fastball, he threw more breaking balls but, as a result, they lost effectiveness.

This was a very promising start for a pitcher that features the ceiling of a No. 3 or 4 starter. If he continues to pitch like he did last night, Tepesch looks like he could be ready to settle in at the back-end of the Rangers’ rotation.

Michael Wacha, RHP, St. Louis

I ranked Wacha extremely aggressively on my FanGraphs Top 100 prospect list earlier this year, placing him 24th overall. Wacha displayed wicked stuff during his brief pro debut in 2012 but prospect analysts pointed to the lack of a reliable breaking ball, small sample size results, and limited pitch counts (preventing him from turning the lineup over on a regular basis) as reasons why fans should temper their displays of enthusiasm.

The Cardinals organization placed a large amount of faith in the 2012 first round draft pick by challenging him with an assignment to triple-A to open the ’13 season. He made his first start of the year on April 7 and had mixed results. Wacha showed both good velocity and excellent life on his heater. His changeup also had excellent downward movement and flashed 70 potential (20-80 scale). Although the curveball needs significant work (currently showing 40-50 grade potential) he wasn’t afraid to throw the pitch in key situations and even doubled-up on the offering at times. Wacha worked quickly and showed outstanding athleticism on the mound, fielding his position well on three or four tough plays

On the down side, Wacha struggled mightily with his command, perhaps exacerbated by nerves. He constantly worked up in the zone and survived thanks to the overpowering stuff. Although he attacked the zone early in the count, he constantly fell behind and failed to strike out a batter in his four innings. Because he was behind in the count so often, he was unable to utilize his changeup as a strikeout weapon. The breaking ball has a long way to go to become a go-to pitch against big league hitters.

Wacha has a ways to go before he’ll be ready to assume a regular big league job. However, he continues to display the raw abilities that suggest he could develop into a key starter for the Cardinals.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Good stuff Marc, thanks