Since joining RotoGraphs last month, I’ve spent the bulk of my time here discussing prospects who are worth considering as impact fantasy commodities. Today, I want to focus on the flip side, and talk about five prospects I’ve seen this season who don’t quite measure up to their hype or statistics and should be avoided.
Jorge Alfaro, C, Rangers (Low-A Hickory)–Alfaro is often hailed as a top-50 prospect, an athletic 20-year-old catcher with all kinds of bat speed, power potential, and defensive chops. I have seen him extensively this year, and while there are certainly some intriguing elements to his skillset, there are also two very significant problems that leave me troubled regarding his ultimate potential.
The more fantasy-relevant of these is Alfaro’s lack of plate discipline. He has just 40 walks in 951 plate appearances (4.2%) in his career, and has been just a shade over 5% each of the last two seasons. It would be one thing if he also had good contact rates, but he’s struck out 27.3% of the time in his career, including 25.3% this season. As such, he’s needed a high BABIP (.324) to hit .263 this year, as well as a lot of hit-by-pitches (14) to post a .334 on-base percentage. The last of these broke his hand, and he’s currently on the disabled list. More advanced pitchers are likely to exploit Alfaro’s free-swinging ways even more, and he will need to make significant progress with his discipline (never an easy task) to project as a competent producer of hits or walks.
It would be one thing if he was gradually eradicating his rawness, but Alfaro is repeating the Low-A level this season and shown precious little improvement. Compare the statlines:
2012: .261/.320/.430, 21 2B, 5 HR, 84/16 K/BB in 300 PA
2013: .263/.334/.458, 16 2B, 11 HR, 74/15 K/BB in 293 PA
Alfaro’s turned a few doubles into homers, slightly inflating his slugging percentage, he’s been hit by more pitches, slightly increasing his OBP, and he’s cut his strikeouts from 28.0% to 25.3%, but that’s not much to show for repeating the level.
Defensively, Alfaro flashes a big arm (38% CS), but has worlds of trouble handling pitches. He leads the South Atlantic League in passed balls with 22, five more than anyone else in the circuit, despite catching just 58 games. He has unusual athleticism for a catcher, but he has a ton of work to do on his receiving before he’s going to be a playable major league catcher.
Add it all up, and you have a player who does have intriguing tools, but may never have the approach to make them play in the majors, let alone play well enough for him to be a fantasy asset. The easy comparison to make is Miguel Olivo, who was known for his athleticism (29 steals in 2002!) back in his prospect days, but had receiving and plate discipline issues. There are two problems with that comparison, though: a) At age 20, Olivo hit .305/.363/.519 in High-A, with a reasonable enough 60/21 K/BB and b) If Alfaro’s upside equates to the career of a player who had a .241 average and .275 OBP for his career, he probably isn’t somebody to stash and wait on for half a decade.
Alfaro has a whole lot of work in front of him on both sides of the ball just to get to an Olivo/J.P. Arencibia-type career, and such a modest upside (especially in setups where walks and/or OBP count) just isn’t worth betting on. If you own Alfaro, it’s possible that his reputation might make him a decent trade chip, but otherwise, he should be dropped from all but the most far-reaching fantasy rosters. Look into Kevin Plawecki, Tom Murphy, Josmil Pinto, or even Mike Blanke as potential alternative catching prospects.
Matt Purke, LHP, Nationals (High-A Potomac)–Purke is known for turning down the Rangers out of high school after being picked 14th overall and then getting a $4.4 million major league deal after being taken in the third round by the Nationals two years later. He’s been plagued by shoulder problems for years, and they limited to just three poor starts in his first season in 2012. He finally got back on the mound on May 29 this year and rekindled hope by dominating the SAL in six starts (29 IP, 7 BB, 41 K, 2.48 ERA), earning a quick promotion to the High-A Carolina League.
I saw his second (and most recent) start in that latter circuit, and while I entered hoping to see a renewed power arm, all I saw was a finesse lefthander who was no match for the hitters in a relatively ordinary Winston-Salem lineup (he allowed nine runs on eleven hits in 3 2/3 innings). Purke worked at 88-91 mph with a bit of life on the ball, his mid-70s curve flashed plus but was very inconsistent, and he barely even showed a changeup. He throws across his body somewhat and still appears to put a lot of stress on his shoulder in his motion, taking away from his command while also putting him at an elevated re-injury risk.
Purke turns 23 next week, so the fact that his relative polish and good curveball allowed him to carve up the SAL doesn’t make him a premium pitching prospect by any means. It seems that whatever worked so well for him in Low-A isn’t translating well to High-A, and even if it did, Purke’s lack of velocity, a changeup, or pristine command doesn’t bode well for his future. That’s not to write him off entirely–88-91 with some movement isn’t exactly bad for a lefty starter, the curveball is good, and Purke has shown the ability to at least find the strike zone, which could add up to a back-of-the-rotation career if he stays healthy–but as with Alfaro, if you’re going to stash an A-ball player, you should stash one that could pay off more handsomely than just being a fringe fantasy asset.
Luis Heredia, RHP, Pirates (Low-A West Virginia)–Heredia was signed to a $2.6 million bonus out of Mexico as a 16-year-old, billed as one of the best Latin American arms in recent memory. He’s still just 18–he turns 19 in a few weeks–but he’s already made it to full-season ball and hasn’t been bad, allowing just three runs on eleven hits and ten walks in 17 innings, with twelve strikeouts.
It’s easy to take Heredia’s youth and record of success (in addition to getting off to a good start this year, he had a 2.71 ERA in short-season ball as a 17-year-old last season) as a sign that he’s a high-upside prospect, a notion that both his high-profile background and massive size feed into. But while I didn’t see Heredia get knocked around like Purke was (he threw three scoreless innings, allowing just two baserunners) in my viewing this week, I came away similarly disappointed.
First off, Luis Heredia is a huge kid. He’s every bit of his listed 6’6″, and a whole lot more than his listed 205 pounds–reverse the 0 and the 5 and you probably have a more accurate picture of his body type. There’s nothing especially wrong with that, other than that it probably compromises Heredia’s ability to field the position somewhat, but what it means is that for all of Heredia’s youth, he’s not a projectable pitcher. Physically, he probably is what he is, so he’s not likely to suddenly pick up a ton of velocity.
It would be one thing if that were the case and he already threw in the mid-90s, but Heredia instead works in the more pedestrian 89-92 mph range. He has a nice low-80s changeup with bigtime fade, though he hasn’t figured out how to command it yet, and he has a passable but unexceptional curveball (the Pirates generally emphasize changeup development over curve development with their A-ball starters). Both offspeed pitches should improve with time, leaving Heredia with an average fastball and curve and plus change–the sort of recipe that makes for a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Heredia also has very poor mechanics–he bails out his front side extremely early (and awkwardly), which compromises his command and causes his pitches to float at times. He has yet to strike batters out at a high clip at any level, and his delivery likely will not allow him to be the sort of efficient pitcher who can be above-average without a lot of whiffs.
Again, when a player has so many significant roadblocks to being more than a mediocre fantasy asset and is light years from contributing, he’s not worth the roster spot. There are plenty of guys who have the same upside and two or three levels higher who are likely to be sitting on most or all dynasty league free agent pools, to say nothing of the fact that many current MLB #4 types often are floating out there. Heredia’s backstory gives him an aura of intrigue and mystery, but once he takes the field, he can’t sustain the excitement that his background generates.
Viosergy Rosa, 1B, Marlins (Low-A Greensboro)–Rosa has already slugged nineteen homers in 87 games this year, ranking third in Low-A and tied for 18th in the minors. His 50 walks rank sixth in Low-A, so he has discipline to back up his power. One could view him as an interesting discipline-and-power sleeper based on that production.
The problem is, Rosa plays in a very hitter-friendly home park in Greensboro, which is especially friendly to lefthanded hitters. Lo and behold, check out Rosa’s splits:
Home: .320/.407/.605, 15 HR
Road: .210/.341/.336, 4 HR
The power display is likely largely a Greensboro mirage, as this indicates–indeed, Rosa had just five homers across three seasons of short-season ball. That’s not to say he has no power at all, but his short stroke isn’t geared toward excessive power, though it does have some loft. Rosa does a nice job controlling the strike zone (78/50 K/BB, and 45/46 last year in the NYPL), but he’s already 23 years old and is limited to first base due to his below-average athleticism and stiff actions. He’s turned himself into a nice organizational player, but he’s not somebody to look to as a future major league contributor.
Kendry Flores, RHP, Giants (Low-A Augusta)–Flores is another guy you might stumble across if you’re sorting through statistical leaderboards. He certainly has impressive numbers, with an 89/14 K/BB in 94 innings and a 2.97 ERA, and he’s more age-appropriate than Rosa, being a 21-year-old in Low-A.
While Flores has turned himself into a nice fringe prospect with his breakout campaign, he is not a pitcher with much upside. He works at a mere 87-91 mph without much life on the ball, an issue that has led to an alarmingly low 33.3% groundball rate–look out for the issues this will cause when he hits the hitter-friendly California League at his next stop. Flores has a four-pitch mix and a low-effort motion with a deceptive, slow tempo that approaches Dan Haren-pause territory, but none of his four offerings rate or project as more than average pitches. I wouldn’t rule out Flores picking up a bit more velocity as he fills out and finding a way to become a command-and-control fifth starter, but it’s more likely that his skillset will lend itself best to working as a Triple-A rock who can make spot starts on a big league club without embarrassing himself. While it’s nice that he’s pitching so well, don’t expect that performance to fully translate to the next level, let alone the level that really matters.
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