In the first of a thirty-part series (yeesh!), We will be looking around baseball at potential bullpen vacancies and the internal candidates that each organization has in the upper levels of their systems to fill those vacancies. We’re hoping to expose some fresh faces that should see plenty of action in 2014 barring injuries or roster screwery and in doing so provide a bit of a relief summary for each organization’s upper minors. Without further ado, we’ll start with this years World Series champion: the Boston Red Sox.
If you are reading this blog then there is a roughly 90% chance you are aware of the existence of Houston Astros’ top OF prospect George Springer. You may even be able to summarize his skillset and when doing so, you may sound a lot like I would when trying to summarize Springer’s skillset. If you sounded exactly like me, you would probably say something like: “George Springer is a legitimate five-tool prospect. With a high BABIP due to his speed and drive-dominant swing, his K totals mask a potentially scary hit-tool, and I’ve never heard any question marks at all about any of the other four.” Springer is the face of the new face of baseball: a beautiful swing plane and his lightning-fast hands allow him to make hard line-drive contact that goes a long way, and with the foot speed to beat out a lot of the ones that do end up as grounders he should be able to be productive even if he were to approach 200 strikeouts per season. That same speed allows him to patrol center field with ease and his graceful stride and right fielder’s arm combine to potentially make him a flashy, first tier defender up the middle. His power tool, long one of his calling cards, has progressed very well considering he played last year at age 23. Springer is a big part of the reason that fans in Houston endured 2013’s abysmal season with smiles on their faces, as the Astros have the talent in the upper part of their pipeline to become scary-good scary-fast. He is not without his detractors though, pundits consistently return to the mountain of strikeouts that he continues to build beneath him as a sign that he is sure to fail in the majors, as he may lack the profile to succeed in the Dunn/Reynolds mould.
C.J. Cron is a good human; we already know that. What we, or at least I, didn’t know is that this prototypical looking first baseman in the Angels’ organization is not quite that. Cron just wrapped up a torrid run through the AFL where he finished as the batting average champ while teammate and Prawn favorite Kris Bryant stole the MVP honors, besting Cron by a single point of wRC+ (215 to Cron’s 214) Cron is a first baseman, through and through – a BABIP that hovers around .300, dingers and dingers, and an all-contact-barely-walk approach. Wait, what? A contact-first hitter, a touch of foot-speed, and plus-plus power? Cron struck out in only 14.7% of his professional plate appearances so far across three levels not counting his crazy run through the AFL, which would be the same mark Eric Hosmer posted this year. Hosmer posted the fourth lowest strikeout rate amongst qualified first basemen this year, and Cron projects to be a much more powerful hitter than his other peripheral comps, who all tend to hover around .150 ISOs. (Obvious exception Encarnacion, 13%BB, 10%K, .262ISO, but that’s just nuts) Suffice it to say, Cron is a unique beast, and with Mark Trumbo reportedly available and a hobbled Albert Pujols missing a hundred games a year, he may be taking his unique approach to the Bigs sooner rather than later.
The Arizona Fall League has concluded it’s always entertaining season for yet another year, with Surprise surprising everyone and winning by pitching after having spent the previous twenty-five games hammering opponents into submission with their bats. On a day when the Solar Sox’ starter Dallas Beeler was plenty sharp (possibly earning himself a look by the pleasantly busy Cubs, who appear to be rolling in their prospect riches), giving up just one run on two hits and a walk through five innings, it’s a good thing for the Saguaros that they happened to bring their pitching game on Saturday. After scoring in excess of six runs per game on average throughout the AFL circuit heading into the championship, Surprise was expected to give the Solar Sox and their league-best 3.24 ERA an excellent strength vs. strength matchup; the potent Sags offense versus the dominant Sox starters. As is often the case with a championship on the line (even one that doesn’t come with a trophy) the long statistical game of baseball changes dramatically when reduced to a single game. AFL MVP and top dreamy-eyed prospect Kris Bryant went 0-4 with two Ks, the first game in the circuit that he failed to reach base. Orioles prospects came out of the woodwork after posting fairly lackluster numbers through the short season. One-and-done Games, man…
With his team’s season now over in the AFL, Giants catching prospect Andrew Susac has wrapped up another long year. He has played in a hundred games for the second straight season, all as a catcher to the best of my knowledge. Susac was drafted in 2011 in the second round by the Giants out of Oregon State and has quietly been very good in the Giants organization. He finished his second pro season in AA, with a tour of the AFL at the end of an 84 game stint for the Flying Squirrels in the Eastern League. Susac rounded off his season by posting one of the better offensive lines in the Arizona Fall League with a .360/.507/.480 line. I’m always drawn to outlier performances and one of my favorites are players with higher OBPs than SLGs, and with a startlingly unsustainable .507 OBP, I couldn’t ignore Susac any longer. Carson Cistulli of Fangraphs regresses prospects’ performance in various minor leagues to their expected walk and strikeout rates based on their peripheral stats, like an FIP for hitters, and ranked Susac the fourth best hitter in the AFL this year. Does he profile as a future major leaguer? The gist of it is probably. Does he profile as a replacement for the perennial All-Star and Golden Man currently playing his position at the highest level? Not exactly.
Closing their season with a nigh-heroic seven game win streak, the Salt River Rafters marched dominantly into second place to close the AFL season after never quite challenging the also surging Mesa Solar Sox, winning six of their own in a row to keep their half-game lead. It was a tenuous week for fans of either team but a truly awful outcome for the players and fans of the Rafters, who did nothing but win and ‘couldn’t catch a break.’ It seems as if the Rafters were destined to lose, or if one looks at it positively, the Solar Sox were destined to win. This obviously isn’t true; the Sox’ team of top prospects played slightly better baseball earlier in the season and therefore are obviously deserving of their placement in the championship game against the hard-hitting Surprise Saguaros, but the point that I am laboriously making is that it was only slightly.
With three games left in the Arizona Fall League, you could be forgiven for expecting the players to be showing a bit more fatigue. With many of the roster spots going to prospects who played the entire regular season in the minors, it would be understandable to see less hustle and less highlight catches, it must be harder to focus and get the big hit toward the end of such a grind. Watching yesterday’s games play out around the AFL, if there were any tired players out there I would need to have them pointed out.
Trackman is a proprietary system (originally developed for use for the PGA) that uses radar technology to track the movement, speed and spin rate of the balls that zip around a baseball diamond. While proprietary means that it cannot be regularly and accurately transmitted into our brains the way pitch f/x stats have entered the lexicon recently, this does nothing to diminish the amount of useful information can be taken from it’s readings by those who can afford to pay for such info. As a sort of advertising for their product, the Trackman team will publicly release some of their non-major league readings. On the fifth of November the team released the readings they had taken up to that point in the AFL this year. After browsing through the admittedly fascinating numbers they have tracked, one of the things that jumps out at me is that Trackman seems to really like Blue Jays Top Prospect RHP Aaron Sanchez.
Today, the Salt River Rafters will head to Glendale to play the Desert Dogs in the first part of a two-game tilt that could very well decide the fate of the season of either team.
In basketball the athletes chosen in the first round are expected to contribute immediately, meaning that a draft can change the chances of success for a team with a shrewd first round selection. This is not usually the case in baseball, where it often takes a year or two before a draftee is even mentioned amongst an organization’s top prospects, even in weaker minor league systems. The development of pitching and the difficulty of hitting said improving pitching necessitates a slow and gradual build toward the crescendo of the Major Leagues. Cubs 3B Kris Bryant still appears to be waiting for that challenge to present itself, despite the fact that he’s been facing live pitching since January. In the Arizona Fall League last night, Kris Bryant got a single hit in the Solar Sox’ contest against the Surprise Saguaros, bringing his AFL wRC+ up to a Miggian 213. He also kept alive a streak that has reached 20 games spanning back into the regular season, including each of the 17 AFL games he’s played in, where he’s reached base safely.