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Thursday, June 6, 2013

State of the Farm - AL West

Wild on Sports
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State of the Farm - AL West
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 West...

Los Angeles Angels:
OVERALL: The Angels challenge the White Sox and Brewers for the worst system in baseball as we near the season’s midpoint. Their top prospect has spent most of 2013 hitting under .200 and they’ve given away lots of talent in trades and lost draft picks. There won’t be much help coming in this draft, either, as the Angels don’t have a pick until no. 59.

GRADUATIONS:
Lefty Michael Roth was one of the first player from the 2012 draft to reach the major leagues, but he’s given up 14 runs and 14 innings (that’s a 9.00 ERA).

TOP PROSPECT: Kaleb Cowart, 3b, is Los Angeles’ best prospect despite a miserable .226/.286/.333 start to the season for AA-Arkansas. He’s still only 21 and last year Cowart showed good power defense at the hot corner. He was also more patient last year; Cowart is still probably the only position prospect who projects to be an above-average regular in Anaheim’s system.

BIGGEST RISER: Mark Sappington, rhp, is holding his own in the tough pitching environment of San Bernardino (their official name is the “Inland Empire 66ers” in the high-A California League). He currently has a 3.97 ERA and 62 K in 68 IP. He throws hard and has a chance to stick as a starter.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:
Cowart. Although Nick Maronde, lhp, who came into the year as their second-best prospect, is not off the hook as his conversion to relief has not gone particularly well. He’s walked 19 batters in 20.1 IP with a 4.87 ERA for AA-Arkansas, a puzzling development for someone who’s never had control issues.


Houston Astros:
OVERALL: The Astros might have the deepest farm system in baseball, the product of (so far) successful trades and strong drafts in recent years. Last year they were able to take advantage of baseball’s strict slotting system by saving money on top pick Carlos Correa, allowing them to allot some money to other picks and finding several more intriguing players. That might be the only way to draft multiple first-round talents under the new rules. It will not be long before more promising players start showing up in Houston.

GRADUATIONS: The Astros have yet to call up any of their true top prospects, but there have been some interesting rookies on their roster early on. Potential lead-off man Robbie Grossman has gotten on base but he’ll have to do better than a .198 batting average with zero power. Third baseman Matt Dominguez has hit for empty power (8 HR but a .262 OBP) and even that might be a fluke, he’s not a long-term answer. Brad Peacock, rhp, come over in the Jed Lowrie trade and he’s done terrible in multiple roles for Houston, coughing up an 8.77 ERA and .302 opponent’s batting average in 26 IP. More promising are relievers Paul Clemens and Jose Cisnero who can dominate with their fastball in multiple-inning stings.

TOP PROSPECT:
Carlos Correa, ss, was last year’s top pick in the draft, and he’s more than held his own as a teenager (18) for low-A Quad Cities. Correa has cooled down after a hot start but he’s still hitting .275/.383/.401 with 3 HR and 33 RBI in 167 AB. That plate discipline is very impressive for someone so young, and the scouting reports anticipate a premium bat with enough speed (and more than enough arm) to stick at short.

BIGGEST RISER: Nolan Fontana, ss, was another early-round pick last year by the Astros, and although he is older and less athletic than Correa, Fontana has demonstrated impressive plate discipline and a strong hitter’s profile. In his career, Fontana has a .458 OBP in over 400 plate appearances, and even though high-A Lancaster is a hitter’s environment, Fontana’s .317/.450/.479 line makes him a top prospect up the middle. Could he be another Ben Zobrist?

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Rio Ruiz, 3b, earned $1 million in the draft last year due to his power potential, but the 19-year-old has struggled so far in low-A Quad Cities. Ruiz is hitting just .219/.325/.336 with 3 HR, although he’s drawing walks and that’s always a good sign for a teenager.


Oakland Athletics:
OVERALL: It is a farm system neither great nor terrible. Two winters ago Oakland built up the farm through rebuilding trades, but then they were surprise contenders, so some of that depth graduated and/or was given away again, this time to improve the major league team this year. Oakland has a spotty record with recent drafts, getting some solid hitting prospects like Michael Choice and Addison Russell, but at times failing to acquire the upside you’d expect from top picks (Jemile Weeks, Grant Green, etc).

GRADUATIONS: Older rookie Nate Freiman (and Team Israel “star” last September), 1b, is hitting well in limited playing time. Catcher Derek Norris is fighting to keep his batting average over .200. Control artist Dan Straily is doing better than his 4.60 ERA would suggest (8 starts).

TOP PROSPECT: Addison Russell, ss, showed five-tool star power in rookie-ball last year and so he was aggressively moved up to high-A Stockton as a 19-year-old. The results have been mixed, with Russell batting .215/.306/.410 with 6 HR and 5 SB, showing strong secondary skills but striking out a lot. The hits haven’t been falling in, but when they do, they are more likely to be for extra bases (22 out of 42).

BIGGEST RISER: Michael Ynoa, rhp, received a massive $4.25 million bonus all the way back in 2008, which at the time was a record for international teenagers. Since then he’s been mostly hurt, although the stuff has never disappeared. This year Ynoa has nearly doubled his career innings total at low-A Beloit, working in short stints but performing very well. He has a 2.52 ERA and 32 K in 35.2 IP.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Miles Head, 1b, entered the year with stats that said ‘future masher’ but scouting reports that questioned his long swing and aggressive approach. So far this year, the scouts have been right, and although Head is just 21, his .197/.272/.265 line for AA-Midland raises serious red flags. Since hitting is his only calling card, this amounts to a lost season so far and he’ll have to prove he can do something, even just hit for power, in the high minors, before re-establishing himself as a prospect.


Seattle Mariners: 
OVERALL: There’s a bottleneck of top pitching prospects in the upper minors for Seattle, which is a little strange considering they are trotting out washed-up veterans like Aaron Harang and Jeremy Bonderman in the rotation. The Mariners’ have an enviable supply of pitching prospects, while on the hitting side they are largely dependent on the progress of toolsy-but-raw Latin American players in the low minors. Also, the grade from high-A High Desert up to Seattle is particularly steep, considering the relative hitting environments.

GRADUATIONS: Can shortstop Nick Franklin join Kyle Seager as a home-grown everyday player, one whose numbers survive Safeco Field? Brandon Maurer won a rotation spot in spring training but he’s been one of the league’s worst pitchers so far, with an ugly 6.93 ERA in 10 starts. Hard-throwing relievers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor have done well.

TOP PROSPECT: Taijuan Walker, rhp, is repeating AA, but he’s lowered his ERA 2 runs down to 2.67 and he’s improved his K-rate to over a batter an inning (9.6). Walker has some of the best stuff in the minors and, come next year, could give Seattle a second ace. Even if he needs an adjustment period, he’s only 20, and Safeco Field is a soft landing for any pitching prospect.

BIGGEST RISER: Down in low-A Clinton, pitchers Tyler Pike (lhp) and Victor Sanchez (rhp) have dominated, but they were supposed to. The youngster who’s really surprised is South African native Dylan Unsworth, who compensates for sub-par stuff by throwing strikes. Lots and lots of strikes. The 20-year-old has a 2.25 ERA and just THREE walks in 56 IP, although his 5.8 K/9 raises a red flag that this might be the case of a polished control guy taking advantage of lesser hitters. In fact, it probably is. But at age 20, there is enough hope for growth or perhaps an uptick in his fastball that Unsworth could become a back-end starter down the road. And he’s from South Africa, which is pretty cool.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: John Hicks and Jack Marder were hard hitting catchers last year for high-A High Desert, but this year they’ve devolved into organizational depth, batting .242/.265/.349 and .189/.280/.276, respectively. Together they’ve drawn 14 BB and struck out 64 times. Further proof that batting lines at High Desert should be treated with extreme suspicion.


Texas Rangers:
OVERALL: Despite (or because of?) the success of the major league team, Texas’ farm system has taken a hit in the first two months of the year, not merely due to graduations, but also because their high-profile Latin prospects have failed to break out and several of their best prospects have endured bizarre collapses (we’ll get to that later).

GRADUATIONS:
Rookies have, in many ways, helped power Texas’ strong season. Twelve days ago Jurickson Profar, the best prospect left in the minors, was called up to play second base for an injured Ian Kinsler and he’s done well so far, hitting .300/.341/.475 in 40 AB. He’s real good. Outfielder Leonys Martin has made it easier to say goodbye to Josh Hamilton, as he’s hit .276 with 8 SB in 47 games so far. In the rotation, righties Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm have filled in for injuries, throwing strikes and eating innings. Tepesch is the younger and better of the two, although Grimm has pitched better than his 5.13 ERA. Martin Perez is young and left-handed, but his AAA numbers are spotty and he’s not had success yet in the majors. He’s ten innings away from losing his rookie status and might be more valuable as trade bait for mid-season reinforcements.

TOP PROSPECT: The promotion of Profar leaves no clear front-runner. Rougned Odor, 2b, and Luke Jackson, rhp, are the best position player and pitcher prospect left in their system. Odor is the rare infield prospect who has already moved to second base (most top 2b in the majors are converted shortstops), but his bat is for real and he’s smacking doubles (16) and stealing bases (14) for high-A Myrtle Beach at just age 19. Also at Myrtle Beach, Luke Jackson still lacks great command but he uses his fastball to great effect, generating a career 9.7 K/9 in in 250+ IP and this year sports a shiny 2.44 ERA.

BIGGEST RISER: CJ Edwards, rhp, has a 2.25 ERA and 10.6 K/9 in 11 starts for low-A Hickory. Those numbers are actually the worst of Edwards’ brief minor league career, as he’s dominated the low minors (and rookie ball) to the tune of a 1.83 ERA in 123 IP.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Mike Olt, 3b, and Cody Buckel, rhp, were top prospects going into the year, and were featured in trade discussions this winter for players like RA Dickey, but they’ve started the season in such terrible fashion that not just their ceiling, but in fact their careers, have been called into question. Olt started the year hitting .175/.267/.300 for AAA-Round Rock, striking out in almost half his at-bats. He turns 25 in August so the clock is ticking, and fast. Buckel is only 21, but he’s done even worse, putting up an insane 20.25 ERA and 28 (!!!) walks in 9.1 IP. Control was never an issue before and that’s an unprecedented collapse. There hasn’t been an identifiable injury, either, as he’s currently working in extended spring training. This is Rick Ankiel wild-arm stuff. It will be a good story if Buckel can even recover to post solid numbers again at any level, let alone the majors.

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