Interesting Prospect Talk from the Minors

COULD THIS BE THE O’DOWD (CHRIS) WHO REALLY MAKES THE ROCKIES A CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM? HOPE MAY LIE AMONG THE LESSER KNOWN PROSPECTS

 

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RYAN CASTEEL

Patrick Valaika, Tzu-Wei Lin

PAT VALAIKA

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TREVOR STORY

COULD ONE OF THESE GUYS SOON BE THE ANSWER AT CATCHER, 2ND OR SUPER UTILITY? PERHAPS SOONER THAN WE THINK

 

With our eyes turned toward 2015 (with a small match flame of hope still for 2014), we should start looking at the names and performances of guys down on the farm who might be here in 2015 through late 2016.

Now top the 10 and top 20 prospect lists by national agencies will be loaded with about 50% pitching prospects – which I am not talking about here since, a) you have already have heard a lot about them b) they move slower in general and c) all of them have probably pitched at Coors already.

But of the other half of the list, the position players, you will have some who make it up to the big show, those who will be traded for other parts and pieces, those who will stop hitting or whose defense ends their prospect rating, or who simply get to old and lose their prospect rating (although with players like Chris David figuring it out at 27 or 28, a player who gets it will probably still end up a chance.  But as the list changes others will push their way into the conversation.

Generally, the higher draft number, the more chances you get, the more quickly you are moved, and the more you are covered. But as we have seen with players like Corey Dickerson, a 4th rounder (which is not the high a pick really), push their way into the conversation (as have Bergman and Winkler on the arm side). The position a player matters to, as there are a lot of outfielders, but few catchers (though you need a lot of them to catch the gazillion pitchers in the organization). The prospect lists usually focus on future starters or players, like super utility players with great gloves, who are likely to not just make the majors, but get significant ABs. The thing is those lists sometimes miss players and sometimes a player can make himself more interesting within an organization than outsiders might think. You never know if a player is about to make a huge jump in growth and talent or size, or the heart of a player, or how hard they will work. So with that in mind, a quick tour through the minors:

Asheville Tourists

First, all the way down to Low A at Ashville. Honestly, it is going to take a lot for any of the players still in Asheville to be here by the end of 2016 (roughly 2 years as of now).  There are three interesting names and one very important name in the everyday lineup still with the Tourists and one that is a rated as a  prospect but further away.

1)      Ryan McMahon, who started the season on a tear but has faced the challenges of being a still 19 year-old facing college grads in many cases. His .862 OPS and 12 homers excite. His May and June numbers below .800 do not. He has been averaging 1 homer a month since April! But his bat still is interesting and his glove has potential. I think he will be in Asheville the whole season, and then move to Modesto in 2015. As he gets older, stronger, and wiser he has the chance to become the player Ian Stewart should have been. The league adjusted to him…now he has to do the same, and now is the time to have struggles – better to learn in the coastal cities of Carolina than Dodger Stadium.

2)      Next up is Ramiel Tapia, the tiny outfielder who took Grand Junction by storm last year with his team’s all-time record hitting streak. Tapia is now 20, but still just 160 pounds. He started off slow, but has gone .616,.896, .946 in OPS from April through June. The 6 homers and 20 doubles shows this hasn’t been empty singles but real production (had to be for a .946 OPS). He is 20 of 31 in steals as well. There is an exciting player there…what he will be is still to hard to tell.

3)      Finally is Jordan Patterson, a kid I like a lot, a leader, and a smaller slightly more athletic version of Kyle Parker. Patterson is 22, which means the clock is ticking. He really struggled to start the season, but work with the Rockies hitting coaches got him unstuck – from .619 in April to .688 in May to 1.131 in June. July has been tough again but his overall numbers of .809 OPS and a .279 average with 9 HR and 16 of 19 in steals is pretty exciting.

4)      The important name – David Dahl. With 2013 a total loss due to a ruptured hamstring, the future CF of the Rockies needed a great season. He turned 20 at the beginning of the season. He is for the season hitting an .842 OPS, 10 HR, with 16 for 20 in steals. He has had an over .800 OPS each month, though the homers have dried up since May, only 1. His status as their top positional prospect seems back on track! Can he be there by 2016? I think he will spend some time in Modesto later this year and start there in 2015, with a chance to end up in Tulsa in 2016.

5)      The further away rated prospect is Jose Briceno, the 21-year old catcher from Venezuela who has come up through their Latin program. He is doing most of the catching, and is playing against younger players, so those two factors go into looking at the numbers (his D is genuinely viewed positively but again learning to call games) – .307/.844 with 5HR and 7 for 9 in steals. When the game calling and defense rounds out, he may move quicker the next 2 years or he may make himself interesting enough to be a trade target by teams. I didn’t include him, but the other guy catching and playing DH and 1B at Asheville of interest is Wilfredo Rodriguez, who is hitting .324/.785 with just 1 HR. Both are too far away from being in the “catcher of the future” conversation but again, they might be of interest to teams in the ongoing search by every team for catching depth.

Onto High A:

Modesto Nuts                                                                                                             

Modesto plays in an offensive league, so those numbers will look better than they are in reality. I will not mention players who have already moved to Tulsa, so in Modesto there are two players who are not on the radar screen who could make themselves prospects.

1)      Up first is a name we know, O’Dowd, but this one is Chris, his son, a catcher, from Dartmouth. He is a switch-hitter, who hits much better vs. righties, making him a future platoon option behind the plate. He is said to call a good game, and is athletic if still not full filled out. At 24, he is a little-old for the league, but catchers from college have to learn the game-calling in the lower minors so they move slower. His .265 average and .726 OPS don’t blow you away, but in his 208 ABs vs righties he has a .279/.792 with all 5 of his homers and is 15 for 19 in steals. He has been compared (at his best) to Jason Kendall. Given our search for a nice catching combo, and my recent focus on platoons, O’Dowd is an interesting player if not a high prospect. But players like him can push their way into a team’s plans by doing what he is doing.

2)      The other guy to watch for at Modesto is SS and utility man Pat Valaika, still only 21, the former UCLA player has already been moved up from Asheville. He hasn’t hit as well at Modesto – .245/.668 (.370/.982 at Asheville). He has 9 homers overall, 5 at Modesto. He has the tools and bat IQ to be a good bench player in the future and who knows, if he can stick playing at SS, he can be asset as either a back-up, Tulo replacement, trade option, or many things. Good player, from a ball-playing family.

Modesto is the least prospect filled of the teams right now, which isn’t bad, and will change as they moved kids from Asheville to Modesto.

Finally the most interesting place, AA

Tulsa Drillers

Tulsa has been a focus this year for 2 reasons – the great rotation and the 2 catchers. The rotation is now split between the DL and the 5 inning limit. The catchers…well, we will look at them. Tulsa has a lot of interesting players and a few prospects.

1)      Cristhian Adames, a switch-hitting, 23-year old from the DR, is probably the future Johnny Herrera. His glove is solid, and he can handle the bat okay, .287/.709 with 2 homers but sadly not great speed – 6 of 13 steals. He is about the same vs right and left.

2)      Taylor Featherston, the 24-year old former 4th rounder, has had an up and down year, and his defense is only slightly better than Rutledge, but he will likely get a chance next spring to push for the 2nd base job. His .270/.782 with 11 HR and 10 for 15 in steals doesn’t excite or disappoint. It’s just okay.  He had a solid April, a miserable May, a great June and so-far a poor July – .823-.567-.945- .716. He does intrigue, and again, the 2nd base job is going to be one each year that is open to competition.

3)      Lastly among the “interesting” group is Delta Cleary, Jr., who has been on and off prospect lists over the years. He is now a 24 nearly 25-year old and at both AAA and AA he has been the same – .250/.635 or .255/.644. The speed (12 for 16 in steals) and outfield D is what has always intrigued. But time is running out.

4)      The big prospect at AA is Trevor Story, who earned his promotion from Modesto earlier this year. He only has 11 games at AA, so a look at both levels is worthwhile. At Modesto the 21-year old (November birthday) hit .332/1.017 with 5 HR and 20 of 24 in steals. Yes, 59Ks in 184 official ABs with another 31 walks (or a K rate of 27%). His AA stats are rough (he is young for Tulsa) – .205/.609, but that is in just 44 ABs (14Ks, but 7BB), so same 27% K rate. He is play SS at Tulsa, but I think we may be looking at the future 2B for the Rox, and maybe mid-2015. If he can find his way at Tulsa. Story really dropped in a lot of prospect magazines last year due to poor performance, but he really seems to have found himself again and is going to grow into more power – likely 10-15 homer power.

And what of the two important catchers?

Tom Murphy, the best defensive and game caller – with great offense last year and not so much this year. Mostly, injury has been the problem, but before that he was only hitting .213/.736 with 5 HR. He is the one with the greatest hope attached to him.

Ryan Casteel is often mentioned in the same breath with Murphy, though my understanding is his D is more in doubt. His bat has not – .272/.768 with 11 HR. He may end up being moved to 1B at some point or moved in a trade. A lot depends on what happens with Tom Murphy.

These 2 are clearly the “catchers of the future” for now…but like all teams, the Rockies draft and sign in Latin America catchers by the buk in order to catch all the pitchers a team drafts. Your chance to be the catcher of the future is short….and then the next guy up gets the shot.

Are the Rockies positional prospects great? No, sadly, their positional group is probably a B at the best. They added another kid who I think will move fast with 2B prospect with Forrest Wall who sans torn shoulder that turned him from SS to 2B would have been a high 1st round pick, as he was rated the top hitter among high school players.  He of course as a high pick will be watched by all, but he is probably about 4 years away, so enjoy the kids closer to The Show, and see who might become the next Corey Dickerson.

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rockymountainhigh

There’s three catchers at Grand Junction that’s highly touted. Keep your eyes on them. Can’t remember the names, they rotate between catching and DH.

sabrchip
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sabrchip

Just off my Baseball America prospect list for yesterday: HITTER OF THE DAY: Max George, ss, Rookie-level Grand Junction (Rockies) George, the Rockies’ sixth-round pick out high school in Colorado, hit for the cycle in just his 16th professional game. George, 18, a third-team high school All-American who grew up a Rockies fan, singled in the eighth to complete the feat. So far George, who uses a quick swing and direct, line-drive bat path, is slashing .271/.417/.521. Oh yeah, Dahl… Read more »