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.
Of the 33 players selected in the first round of last year’s amateur draft, 30 of them recorded either a plate appearance or inning pitched at the professional level. What follows is a brief report on the three who didn’t do that.
Phil Bickford, RHP, Cal State Fullerton (Profile)
Level: College Age: 18 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 64.1 IP, 9.1 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 0.28 HR/9, 2.24 ERA
The only unsigned draftee from last year, Bickford is pitching effectively (although perhaps with less velocity) in a hybrid role for Cal State Fullerton.
The right-handed Bickford was the only player selected in the first round of last year’s draft who ultimately remained unsigned. Indeed, this wasn’t a surprise: there appear to have been some clues before the draft itself that this was a possibility. Keith Law, for example, reported that one possible contingency might involve Toronto selecting Bickford and then inviting him either to take a lower bonus than his 10th-overall slot would offer or go to college.
Whatever the precise reasons, Bickford ultimately opted for the latter — which, in this case, meant Cal State Fullerton. For the Titans, the freshman has made roughly an equal number of appearances in a relief and starting capacity, producing the fifth-highest strikeout rate among qualified pitchers in so doing.
Here, courtesy Chance Moore, is video of Bickford from a recent collegiate start — during which Bickford seems to be sitting at 90-92 mph with his fastball (i.e. lower than the mid-90s velocity often cited in draft profiles last year):
Aaron Judge, OF, New York AL (Profile)
Level: Class A Age: 22 Top-15: 6th Top-100: N/A
Line: 135 PA, 14.8% K, 19.3% BB, 3 HR, .301/.407/.425 (.365 BABIP)
The very huge outfielder is demonstrating a very considered offensive approach.
Owing to how, at a listed 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, he is larger than nearly every alive person — and also owing, perhaps, to how his physical tools were generally regarded as more impressive than his baseball ones entering last year’s draft — outfielder Aaron Judge represents an interesting case to monitor.
Unfortunately, last year wasn’t an ideal one for assessing Judge’s adjustment to professional ball: after being selected 32nd overall out of Fresno State, Judge proceeded then to record zero plate appearances within the Yankees system, due to a quad pull — the severity of which injury, however, was downplayed considerably by the Yankees’ vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman last October.
What Judge has shown this year, however, has been very promising. Playing right field almost exclusively for Charleston of the South Atlantic League, the 22-year-old has perhaps defied expectations, demonstrating a control of the strike zone, even while hitting fewer home runs than might be expected from his physicality and batting-practice power.
Keith Law spoke to this approach recently, noting that Judge appears to opt for “hard line-drive contact rather than trying to pull everything out to left.”
Here’s an animated GIF of what Judge’s swing looks like if you’re also drunk:
Ryne Stanek, RHP, Tampa Bay (Profile)
Level: Class A Age: 22 Top-15: 6th Top-100: N/A
Line: 5.0 IP, 19 TBF, 6 K, 1 BB, 1 HR
Stanek’s return from hip surgery was a success, although reports concerning his stuff are non-extant.
The numbers above for Stanek represent both his line from a start for Class-A Bowling Green last Thursday (box) and also the entirety of his minor-league resume to date. After being selected 29th overall out of Arkansas last year by Tampa Bay and then signing for $1.8 million, Stanek failed to record any professional appearances, eventually requiring hip surgery in December.
Though estimates originally placed his return at mid-summer, the right-hander has now already made his first start in the Midwest League. An effective first start, it appears to have been, as well.
After a very successful sophomore campaign with Arkansas (during which produced the sliders embedded below), Stanek generated less enthusiasm with his junior season. The potential for excellence certainly remains, however.
Stanek is capable of throwing a slider with distinctly erotic undertones — such as this one from 2012 against South Carolina left-fielder Tanner English during the College World Series:
And also this other slider, later on from that same game, also to English:
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