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.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks (Profile)
Level: Triple-A/Double-A Age: 21 Top-15: 1st Top-100: 5th
Line: 46.2 IP, 38 K, 26 BB, 45 H, 3.66 ERA
Bradley is a talented pitcher.
The 21-year-old hurler entered the season as the No. 1 ranked pitcher on FanGraphs Top 100 Prospects list. He recently placed second amongst pitchers behind Seattle’s Taijuan Walker on the mid-season update. Keep in mind that he missed significant time during the first half due to an elbow injury and you have a good idea of just how talented this Oklahoma native truly is.
With that said, the past few weeks since returning from the disabled list have not been a walk in the park. Some of his superficial numbers look OK — including a 1.47 ERA in four Double-A starts — but he’s walked 13 batters in 18.1 innings. And he’s struck out just nine batters. Something is amiss.
Bradley still comes right after hitters and challenges them, but his command has been off. His feel for his pitches — both the fastball and the curveball — is off; in his most recent start he was fighting his arm slot and appeared to be guiding the ball at times. These issues should not have a long-term effect on Bradley — assuming he’s not altering his arm action to compensate for continued soreness or weaknesses. What it does do, at the very least, is slow down his big league timetable. Prior to the season, Bradley appeared to be a near lock to appear in the Majors in 2014.
That is no longer the foregone conclusion, and he’s taken a step backward from Triple-A — which is where he opened the season. That might not be such a bad thing for the Diamondbacks. They’re most likely not going to compete for a playoff spot in 2014, so there’s little motivation to start Bradley’s arbitration countdown. He doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster (to protect from the Rule 5 draft) until after the 2015 season. Keeping him in the minors will allow him to take his time and work through his mechanical issues in the near obscurity of Double-A Mobile and/or Triple-A Reno.
If I’m the Diamondbacks, I would also have the young pitcher look at loosening up his frame a bit too — he appears thicker than last year and needs to keep an eye on his conditioning. A lack of flexibility on the mound could lead to a stiffer delivery, which could lead to more strain on his arm. As well, his changeup needs further polish. When he struggles to command the curveball, he needs another go-to pitch to keep hitters honest. This was evident even at the Double-A level and we all know big league hitters are far more dangerous.
Kyle Wren, CF, Atlanta Braves (Profile)
Level: High-A/Double-A Age: 23 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 398 PA, .295/.359/.353, 0 HR, 39 SB, 35-45 BB-K
Nepotism can be a dangerous thing in baseball (just ask Kenny Williams). However, being Frank Wren’s son — the general manager of the Atlanta Braves — may have worked against Kyle. It’s quite possible that scouts overlooked him. He appears to be a steal as an eighth-round pick out of Georgia Tech.
Wren, 23, is a prototypical top-of-the-order hitter. He hits from the left side and is athletic with long legs despite his 5-10 frame. At the plate, he spreads out to produce good balance, which, in turn, allows him to make consistent contact. He clearly understands his strengths and his swing is geared to making contact and driving the ball into the gaps. Wren has a solid eye at the plate, which keeps his strikeout rate low but the consistent contact keeps his walk rate down as well and creates a reliance on his batting average.
On the base paths, he shows above-average speed and is a smart base runner. He has the skill set to steal 30 bases in the Majors even if his speed grades out in the 65 range rather than a Billy Hamilton-like 80. In the field, he’s made improvements and should stick in center field.
Wren will likely be MLB ready in less than a year; he’s hit everywhere that he’s played and he’s currently at the Double-A level. The biggest roadblock to his big league career appears to be the deadweight contract that B.J. Upton is enjoying. It’s possible, though, that Wren could ease into his big league career as a fourth outfielder capable of handling all three outfield gigs. Based on current projections, no other prospect is close to threatening for the future center field gig in Atlanta.
Tom Belza, OF/1B/2B, Arizona Diamondbacks (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 24 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 300 PA, .307/.389/.381, 0 HR, 6 SB, 31-50 BB-K
Belza’s name won’t be found on Top 100 or even Top 10 lists. He’s a fifth-year pro who was originally drafted in the 43rd round of the 2010 amateur draft out of Oklahoma State University. The simple facts that he’s still playing and has also reached Double-A are impressive.
He’s a career .290 hitter with a .361 on-base percentage. He receives additional value because swings from the left side of the plate and doesn’t embarrass himself against southpaws. At the plate, he spreads out and shows good balance. His swing is clearly geared to a line-drive approach and is more about making contact than hitting for power. He incorporates a patient approach that appears well-suited to hitting at the top of an order, either in the No. 1 or 2 slot.
The problem with Belza, though — and why he doesn’t get more ink — is that his best positions are the corner outfield slots and first base. With his career high home run total coming in at 10, power is not his game. His best defensive positions are traditionally power spots on the field. He does have a little experience at second base and third base in the past couple of seasons but he really needs to polish his infield repertoire to be taken seriously for the 24th or 25th slot on a big league roster.
Given his potential at the plate, I believe Belza — soon to turn 25 — could spend five to 10 years in the Majors as a big league bench player — especially if he can prove himself competent at second base and/or third base. As a college product with five years experience under his belt, the Kentucky native is eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December of this year if he’s not added to the 40-man roster by the November deadline. He’s not flashy, but Belza is worth consideration as a low-risk, low-cost bench contributor.
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