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Saturday, June 1, 2013

State of the Farm - AL East

Wild on Sports
State of the Farm - AL East
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

As we inch closer to the 2013 MLB draft I thought it would be fitting to take pre-draft look at the state of each minor league system. On the agenda today: AL East...

Toronto Blue Jays:
OVERALL: The Jays’ system was thinned out in trades with Miami and New York, although strangely if you look their big league roster there really isn’t a specific player who they could have slotted in somewhere to help. Still, wouldn’t it be nice, if, despite their big league struggles, they still had Noah Syndergaard, Jake Marisnik, and all those other guys? Right now they’ve got a handful of promising pitchers in A-ball and that’s it.

GRADUATIONS: Lefty reliever Aaron Loup has done a nice job out of the pen. Munenori Kawasaki has surprised by getting on base at a reasonable rate (.339), although he’s not really a prospect either…you might have missed his 2012 debut when he slugged .202 in 104 at-bats for Seattle (that’s a slugging percentage, he had one extra-base hit). Anthony Gose is no longer an official prospect either, although his lack of pop is much more disappointing and unexpected.

TOP PROSPECT: Aaron Sanchez, rhp, was the one blue chip left standing in Toronto’s farm system after those big trades. Did they protect the right man? The scouting reports have remained strong and this year Sanchez has cut down his walk rate in high-A Dunedin, from a wild 5.1 BB/9 last year down to a more respectable 3.4. He has a 3.16 ERA with a solid-but-unspectacular K-rate (7.8), which means the 20-year-old still has a ways to go. In case you were wondering, Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino (part of last year’s trio of ‘aces’ in low-A Lansing) are also in A-ball and their ERAs are 2.73 and 2.79, respectively over 10 starts.

BIGGEST RISER: Robert Osuna, rhp, had a superb month of April in low-A Lansing, striking out 31 batters in 22.1 IP (while issuing just 4 BB), and it looked like the 18-year-old Mexican might have “arrived”…until he shut down with elbow discomfort and now it looks like he’ll need Tommy John surgery. Among healthy Blue Jays, outfielder Kevin Pillar is hitting .329 for AA-New Hampshire and he could be a nice spark-plug down the road, like an outfielder version of Jeff Keppinger.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Daniel Norris, rhp, received over $2 million in 2011 as an over-slot bonus in 2011, but so far he has a 7.44 ERA in over 80 innings in pro-ball. He strikes out batters but the 20-year-old will have to cut down on his 5.6 BB/9 (with low-A Lansing) if he wants to harness his stuff. Are his high hit-rates (.290 batting average against) bad luck or a sign of poor command? His 6.34 ERA this year is an “improvement”, so there’s that.

Baltimore Orioles:
OVERALL: The Orioles haven’t had much to show for in their drafts beyond their usual high picks, the likes of which have graduated to form the core of their current competitive ball club. They haven’t been very busy in Latin America, either. However, sprinkled among their farm teams are some solid pitching prospects and a big bopper or two. Up-the-middle guys, or potential starting outfielders, are nowhere to be found.

GRADUATIONS: Manny Machado, 3b, won’t win the Rookie of the Year, as he passed the AB cut-off point last September, but he might have his sites on bigger prizes as the 20-year-old contends for the batting title (as of tonight, he’s hitting .332 and he’s the AL leader in “WAR” according to baseball-reference.com). Last year’s first-round pick, Kevin Gausman, was just called up to Baltimore. Is he up for good? We’ll see.

TOP PROSPECT: Dylan Bundy, rhp, was the best pitching prospect in baseball before coming down with elbow issues before the year began. He still hasn’t appeared on a mound in real game action yet this year, and could require season-ending surgery, although that will probably stall his progression rather than hindering it. As soon as he’s healthy, either tomorrow or in July of 2014, he’ll be ready to help the Orioles at the top of their rotation.

BIGGEST RISER: Josh Hader, lhp, saw his velocity jump up after getting drafted and while his ceiling isn’t as high as some pitchers ahead of him in Baltimore’s system, he’s quickly established himself as a potential future no. 3 pitching to a 2.13 ERA and 9.1 K/9 in 8 starts for low-A Delmarva. He’ll have to improve his command but he’s only 19 and is a great find for a 19th round draft pick.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Branden Kline, rhp, was taken in the second round last year and Baltimore had high hopes for him, but he was pretty hittable earlier on this year, and now he’s injured. The ugly numbers: 5.86 ERA, .283 BA against, and one victory in seven starts. That will push him below Hader and a half-dozen guys doing well for high-A Frederick on future prospect lists.

Tampa Bay Rays:
OVERALL: The Rays are still sitting pretty after a recent history of extra high draft picks and successful trades to restock the system. Although they’ve had a strange recent run of misses on highly drafted outfielders, they’ve done very well finding promising pitching in the draft and on the international market.

GRADUATIONS: None yet, but just wait. Three promising pitchers have made spot starts-Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome, and Alex Torres-and there should be more coming. Wil Myers is due up any day now as well, once the calendar roles to June.

TOP PROSPECT: Wil Myers, of, got off to a slow start-was he pressing?-in AAA as he awaits his expected call-up. He’s done better lately and is up to .267/.350/.471 with 9 HR and 41 RBI, although his 60 strikeouts are a major concern and he probably won’t hit for a high batting average in his rookie season, if ever. He’s only 22 but right now it seems as if Tampa is holding him down in the minors for service time concerns. They haven’t necessarily needed him-they’re fifth in the AL in runs scored-but the more the merrier, yes?

Alex Torres, lhp, had the kind of collapse in his command and component ratios last year that have ended careers, or signaled a major injury. Never one to control the strike zone, Torres walks 63 batters in 69 terrible innings in AAA last year, with an ugly 7.30 ERA. Pitchers who walk a batter an inning just don’t get many chances. However, whatever was ailing him, mental or physical, is over now and Torres looked dominant in his first two months of 2013. His walk rate of 4.1 BB/9 is still high but it’s actually lower than his career rate and he’s gone 2-2 with a 3.52 ERA and 61 K in 46 IP. He throws hard and if he can’t improve his command enough to be a starter, he can still be an excellent lefty reliever, the kind that can dominate over multiple innings.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Joshua Sale, of, is among a number of Rays prospects currently saddled with suspensions for drug abuse, but apparently 50 games wasn’t enough of a humbling punishment, as Sale was recently suspended indefinitely for insulting comments he made about a stripper on facebook. See this amusing article for more details: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/rays-prospect-overshares-strippers-facebook-article-1.1356702. Sale has played sparingly since being drafted in 2010, and although he’s only 21, he wouldn’t be the first idiot to derail his career over behavioral issues.

Boston Red Sox:
OVERALL: The Red Sox spent large amounts of money in the draft before baseball effectively prevented teams from over-slot spending going forward, and those extra premium signings have paid off nicely, as their system is currently loaded. Over the next few years they should be able to turn over some of their roster and say goodbye to some veterans like John Lackey or Jacoby Ellsbury without missing a beat.

So far, only two rookies have seen significant time with Boston, with opposite results. Jackie Bradley Jr. is only 4-for-33 with the Red Sox despite hitting .350 in AAA, while shortstop Jose Iglesias hit .419 in the majors despite continuing his punchless ineptitude in the minors (he now has a career .622 OPS in over 1000 at-bats).

TOP PROSPECT: Xander Bogaerts, a “star” shortstop for the Netherlands team in this springs World Baseball Classic, promises big-time power at a position more known for its gloves. In the past, scouts thought Bogaerts would have to move to third but he’s now 20 and he’s looked adequate at short this year at AA-Portland, so he could replace Stephen Drew next year and/or end the “threat” of watching Iglesias hit .210 all year for Boston. Right now his line is .290/.374/.464 and he’s worked hard this year to successfully improve his plate discipline. Watch out for this guy.

BIGGEST RISER: Anthony Ranaudo, rhp, was hurt and ineffective last year (6.69 ERA in 9 starts) and it looked like the Red Sox had gambled and missed when they gave him several million in 2010. His stuff has been inconsistent over the past three years, and so have his stats, but right now he’s in an “up” period in a big way, with a 1.48 ERA and 58 K in 54.2 IP for AA-Portland. He might be their best pitching prospect right now, and they have a few good ones.

Jose Vicinio, ss, was one of the youngest regulars in full-season baseball last year and held his own hitting .277 with 24 SB in 70 games for low-A Greenville. This year, however, he’s repeating the level and he’s down to .192 with little power or patience. He’s only 19 but he’ll have to reestablish his prospect credentials.

New York Yankees:
OVERALL: The Yankees have had some bad luck recently with pitching prospects ruining their arms, and this year their promising outfielders are mostly struggling at their various levels. First Jesus Montero, now Gary Sanchez; must the Yankees have at least one bat-only “catcher” in their system at all times?

GRADUATIONS: Lack of upper level prospects is the reason the Yankees chased after the likes of Lyle Overbay and Brennan Boesch all spring. The only ‘prospects’ filling in are catcher Austin Romine, who’s bat is not major league ready, and third basemen David Adams, who has some pop but is already 26. Adam Warren has done well so far in long relief but that’s his ceiling.

Gary Sanchez, c, is expected to move off the position as soon as he is ready to play in the majors, but his bat looks special enough to play at first or even as a DH. Sanchez is hitting .283/.349/.492 for high-A Tampa, in a pitcher’s league, and he’s only 20. A word of caution: at the same age Jesus Montero was putting up similar numbers…in AAA.

BIGGEST RISER: Rafael De Paula, rhp, has a great fastball and he’s been awesome for low-Charleston. His numbers: 5-2 with a 2.74 ERA, and a crazy 80 strikeouts in just 49.1 IP. He’s a long way from the Bronx but he’s already their best pitching prospect.

Slade Heathcott, of, has struggled the most among the Yankees disappointing trio which includes Tyler Austin and Mason Williams. Heathcott is hitting .246/.298/.377 with AA-Trenton, and he’s not using his speed either (just 4 SB). His stalled development means more Vernon Wells in pinstripes, and that’s not a good thing.


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