The Grapefruit and Cactus leagues have an unmatched concentration of talent. With ample opportunities for playing time, we’re afforded a glimpse of an array of players — including baseball’s top prospects. On Wednesday, the FanGraphs staff and I will descend on Arizona’s Cactus League, so I’ll take the opportunity to discuss a few Grapefruit League prospects who impressed me.
Kevin Gausman (#15 on Marc Hulet’s Top 100 Prospect List) - We last discussed Gausman two weeks ago when he and Dylan Bundy topped my Top 5 Pitching Prospect Duos for 2013. Watching Gausman this weekend against a weak Red Sox lineup, I began to believe the Orioles’ right-hander would make his Baltimore debut this season. After signing, Gausman threw just 15 innings across two levels last season and ended his debut in Carolina League. But, as a polished SEC arm, he should mow through Double-A hitters in the Eastern League and force a call up to Baltimore this season.
What stood out most about this start was how well Gausman’s fastball and changeup complemented one another. Gausman controlled the bottom half of the strike zone with a mid 90s fastball, set up hitters and unleashed his changeup. The changeup is his best offering, it sits more than 10 MPH below his fastball’s velocity and the bottom completely drops out of the pitch. The pair form a deadly combination that will keep batters off balance for years, starting in 2013. Additionally, his slider looked considerably tighter in this viewing than it had in the past. Gausman doesn’t need another plus pitch to reach his ceiling, but his slider could be another weapon against right-handed hitters.
Christian Yelich (#10) – Yelich’s swing is still as pretty as it was the day he was drafted by the Florida Marlins, but his body hasn’t develop significantly in the past three years leaving many wondering if left-handed outfielder will hit for power. Yelich is still a tall, skinny left handed hitter with ample room to add muscle throughout his frame. At just 21, continued growth should be expected for his wiry frame.
But, his line-drive swing does not suggest power is a significant part of his approach. With that said, Yelich will out perform expectations for his power due to his excellent bat control and bat speed. While he isn’t swinging for the fences, his ability to make consistent quality contact will produce above average power, even in Miami.
OLIVER Projection: .274/.343/.439/.342(wOBA) with 18 home runs and 16 stolen bases.
Brian Cartwright’s OLIVER projects will be available at FanGraphs soon, stay tuned!
Michael Wacha (#24) – Michael Wacha has quickly become a divisive prospect. Drafted out of Texas A&M, the right-hander was considered to be an arm that would ascend to the Cardinal’s rotation quickly, but with moderate upside. During his debut Wacha struck out legions of hitters and many began to wonder if he was underestimated. Despite continuing to post ridiculous numbers this spring, Wacha’s upside hasn’t changed – he is just closer to reaching it. Wacha’s success stems from excellent command of low 90s fastball and keeping hitters off balance with an advanced changeup.
His ability to get ahead of hitters and expand the strike zone with his straight change is impressive, but his fastball is too flat and lifeless to project him to be better than a middle of the rotation arm. Don’t get too excited about the mid to high 90s velocity Wacha reportedly featured in his brief debut. There is a major difference between pitching out of the bullpen and pitching once a week college. When Wacha adjusts to pitching once every five days his velocity will return to its previous levels. What I like most about Wacha’s spring is the development of his curveball. While it’s hardly an out-pitch, it’s getting closer to become an average pitch. Without an average curveball, he doesn’t project to be more than fourth or fifth starter. With close to three average offerings he can throw for strikes, expect to see Wacha in the Cardinals’ rotation this season should injuries occur.
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