Better late than never right? The 2104 regular season is in the books and I realized I hadn’t posted my final team’s bonus prospects: the Tampa Rays.
Once upon a time, the Rays’ farm system was the envy of every club. Picking high in the Draft helped, as did some savvy drafting later on. They also did a nice job of getting top-flight prospects in return for Major Leaguers they felt they had to trade away.
Recently, though, the system has not gotten the same kinds of reviews. Guys have graduated, drafts haven’t been as successful. Whatever the reason, it’s not the juggernaut it once was, with just one player in the Top 100, the recently drafted Casey Gillaspie.
21. Jeff Ames, RHP: The Rays had seven sandwich picks in the 2011 Draft and Ames was, ahem, sandwiched in the middle of them. He has the chance to be as good as any of the seven thanks to a combination of size and stuff, though he was sidenlined in 2014 by Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, an ailment that compresses nerve bundles in the upper body. Tall and lanky, Ames has an above-average fastball when healthy. He throws a slider and a changeup, both of which have the chance to be at least average offerings. He’ll need to continue to refine his command once he’s back on the mound.
22. Jose Mujica, RHP: Ranked No. 8 on our International Top 20 by Jesse Sanchez back in 2012, Mujica signed for $1 million as the top-ranked pitching prospect in that signing period. Developed at the Carlos Guillen academy in Venezuala, Mujica has a loose arm, with a nice delivery coming from a tall and lean frame. He throws a heavy fastball, has plenty of arm strength, with more in the tank fastball-wise. His changeup is his better secondary offering, but his curve was making progress as well. He gets points for his maturity and his leadership skills. A broken foot near the end of Extended Spring Training almost entirely wiped out his 2014 season.
23. Patrick Leonard, 1B: Wil Myers got most of the attention in terms of the offense the Rays got in the James Shields deal, but Leonard has some potential at the plate as well. Drafted as a third baseman in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft by the Royals, Leonard has since made the move across the diamond to first. Coming from St. Thomas High School in Texas (coached by Craig Biggio), Leonard is still learning to tap into his raw power. As he refines his approach, he should be able to find more pitches to drive to all fields. At the corner infield spot, the bat will have to play for him to keep advancing.
24. Oscar Hernandez, C: There seems to be little question that Hernandez has what it takes to catch at the highest level. The Venezuelan has tremendous catch-and-throw skills, having thrown out 44 percent of would-be basestealers in his brief career (41% in his full-season debut in 2014). He moves well behind the plate as well. Hernandez has shown raw power in the past, hitting 21 homers in 69 games in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2011, but it hasn’t shown up as much since. His swing can get long, though he did show some improvement this past season. How much his bat develops will determine whether he’s a backup or an everyday backstop in the future.
25. Jake Hager, SS: Before the Rays had seven sandwich picks in 2011, they had three true first rounders. The first two picks turned into Taylor Guerrieri and Mikie Mahtook. Hager was pick No. 3. Signing quickly, the Las Vegas prepster got a lot of playing time during his summer debut. That made the Rays confident to send the hard-working infielder to the full-season Midwest League as a teenager, where he more than held his own. He’s been moving a level at a time since and performed well in Double-A, at age 21, in 2014. Hager is quick to the ball at the plate and makes consistent hard contact. He may never be a huge power guy, but there is some extra-base ability and he can turn on the right pitch for some home run pop. He’s a solid runner and has the range, hands and arm to stay at shortstop for the long-term.
The march of bonus prospects goes on. Next up: The Seattle Mariners.
As of today, the Mariners are just a game out of a Wild Card spot. While the current big league roster has certainly received a boost from big-time acquisitions like Robinson Cano, there’s also been a lot of help from within. Seager, Miller, Taylor, Ackley, Zunino, Paxton… just some of the names who were drafted and developed under the watch of GM Jack Zduriencik and his staff.
There’s more coming, with Taijuan Walker back and healthy, D.J. Peterson not far off… I wouldn’t say it’s the deepest system in the world, but they do keep churning out big leaguers. There is a bit of a dropoff at the back end of the list, but that doesn’t mean the 21-25 set can’t produce some talent.
21. John Hicks, C: A 2011 Draft pick out of the University of Virginia, HIcks struggled in Double-A in 2013. The good news is he went back this past year, performed well and earned a promotion to Triple-A. His best tool is his arm, throwing out a combined 38% of would-be basestealers in 2014 (He’s at 47% for his career). He greatly improved other aspects of his defensive game, cutting his passed balls total from a whopping 17 in 2013 to just two this past season. He also bounced back with the bat, hitting for average albeit without much power. He appears just about ready to help out as a big league backup soon.
22. Jack Reinheimer, SS: The East Carolina product was a fifth-round pick in the 2013 Draft and had a solid first full season as a pro in 2014. Most of it was spent in the Midwest League, though he did get bumped up late to the California League. He’s a solid defender who’s tools play up because of his plus instincts. He saw some time at second base as well, but the Mariners like to have their middle infielders play multiple positions as they move up, if at all possible (Nick Franklin, Chris Taylor stand out as examples). Reinhemer’s baserunning instincts also allow him to maximize his solid, though not plus, speed. His 39 steals in 2014 put him second in the organization. How much he’ll hit will determine what kind of future he’ll have.
23: Austin Cousino, OF: The Mariners like their college position players, don’t they? Cousino was their third-round selection from the most recent Draft (He was ranked No. 182 on our Draft Top 200.). The University of Kentucky product debuted in the short-season Northwest League this summer, hitting .266/.341/.402 while his 23 steals (in 27 attempts) were good for fourth in the league. He runs well and plays a very good defensive center field. It’s all going to be about the bat for Cousino. If he can hit for average and get on base (he’s not a power guy), he has the chance to patrol center field at the highest level.
24. Stephen Landazuri, RHP: Sometimes talent can be found in the later rounds. The M’s took Landazuri out of the California high school ranks in the 22nd round of the 2010 Draft and he spent the 2014 season in Double-A. He fits the mold of the “undersized right-hander,” but has shown a solid three-pitch mix with his fastball that touches 93-94 mph, a curveball and a changeup. He missed nearly two months of the season with an oblique injury. He’ll need to tighten up his command a bit, but could be a back end of the rotation type in the future.
25: Dylan Unsworth, RHP: It’s been a slow climb for this South African right-hander, who made his United States debut at age 17 back in 2010 (He struck out 44 and walked just one in the rookie-level Arizona Legaue that summer). A member of South Africa’s World Baseball Classic team, he struck out Shawn Green in a qualifier against Israel. He spent the 2014 season in High Desert, a horrific place for pitchers in the California League. He’s still a command/control type, and walked just 19 — while striking out 119 — in 119 innings. He has fringy stuff across the board and was way too hittable (11.5 hits per nine innings), but it will be interesting to see if he can make adjustments once he gets away from High Desert.
We continue our march through my teams’ 21-25 prospect lists. Next up is the Pirates, a fun system to talk about, and not just because I live in Pittsburgh and get to see these guys when they make it up to the big leagues.
Last November in a Pipeline Perspectives piece, I touted the Pirates as having the best farm system in baseball. Since that time, Jameson Taillon (and Clay Holmes, for tha tmatter), needed Tommy John surgery. But the mark of a good, and deep, system, is that the loss of a top prospect to injury doesn’t disproportionately impact the strength of your organization. Several years ago, a Taillon-type injury would’ve been huge for the Pirates. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not good now, but the system can take the hit and still be successful.
Much of the talent is at the lower levels, though some of the top guys reached Double-A and above this year. There was still plenty of talent to choose from for the 21-25 set:
21. Joely Rodriguez, LHP: This lefty spent time on the Top 20 earlier in the season, coming out with the re-rank and the addition of draftees over the summer. The move up to Double-A was a bit rough for him, though he did show the ability to get a ton of groundball outs, thanks to his sinking fastball. He did leave it up a bit too much, making him more hittable than he’d been the previous year. He has a breaking ball that has the chance to be average and a changeup that is above-average with sink as well. If he can get back to commanding the baseball better within the strike zone, he has the chance to be a back end of the rotation type of starter.
22. Elias Diaz, C: Sometimes it takes a Minor Leaguer a while to hit his stride. For catchers, it can take even longer given all of their responsibilities behind the plate. Diaz toiled away during his first few years in the organization as a strong-armed backstop who couldn’t hit. He spent two seasons in the Class A South Atlantic League. His bat started to show signs of life in 2013 with a move up a level, hitting .279. He hit .328 this past year in Altoona, being named an Eastern League All-Star and earning a late promotion to Triple-A. There hasn’t been much power to speak of, but he doesn’t strike out much. And his arm gets a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale according to some. Like Rodriguez, he spent some time in the Top 20.
23. Chad Kuhl, RHP: Looking for a good under-the-radar pitcher? Kuhl’s an excellent candidate, a ninth-round pick out of the University of Delaware who pitched well during his first full season of pro ball, in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. He improved as the season went on, lowering his ERA by well over a run in the second half compared to the first. He can touch 95 mph, sitting in the low 90s, with his power sinking fastball. He has a slider and changeup as well, which are inconsistent, but improving. He goes right after hitters and has solid command. If the secondary pitches continue to develop, he has the makings of a solid mid-rotation starter.
24: Erich Weiss, 2B: This University of Texas product grew up around the game, with father Gary spending parts of two sesaons in the big leagues. Weiss’s best tool is his bat, with a quick stroke that can send line drives to all fields. There’s room for some power to come, though it hasn’t much yet. He makes the most of his average speed and is aggressive on the basepaths. The 2013 11th-round pick was a third baseman initially, but spent all of 2014 in the South Atlantic League playing second. He doesn’t have a true defensive profile, leading some to believe a super-utility type role might be the best bet.
25. Gage Hinsz, RHP: The Pirates went to Montana to find Hinsz, a high school right-hander they took in the 11th round of this past Draft. The limit for picks after the 10th round is $100,000, with any overages counting against your pool for the top 10 rounds. The Pirates liked Hinsz enough to give him $580,000 to walk away from Oregon State. With no high school baseball in Montana, Hinsz played with the Canadian travel team, the Langley Blaze for a while. He has an intriguing three-pitch mix and there’s confidence all will become better with coaching and experience. He made his debut, albeit a brief one, in the Gulf Coast League. He may take a while, but organizational patience could provide a huge payoff.
The Phillies, as everyone knows, have a bit of an aging big league roster, with one of the highest average ages in Major League Baseball. The question, of course, is just what help is on the way. The Phillies Top 20 doesn’t provide a ton of immediate future solutions, though Maikel Franco is up now. Recent first-round pick Aaron Nola should help next year. J.P. Crawford does have the makings of a star at shortstop, but you might need to wait a bit.
As for further down the list, some injuries to promising arms have hurt depth a bit, but if some can return to health, this system could get better down the road.
21. Franklyn Kilome, RHP: If you like tall, projectable right-handers, then Kilome might be the guy for you. The 19-year old made his debut in the Gulf Coast League this summer and threw very well. The 6-foot-6, 175-pound Dominican has plenty of room for growth and added strength, and already throws a fastball in the low-90s. His sinker produces groundball outs and he commands his heater well. The secondary stuff is a work in progress, though he was making strikes in setting hitters up with his fastball and developing off-speed stuff.
22. Austin Wright, LHP: An eighth-round pick in 2011 out of Mississippi, Wright began his pro career promisingly as a starter. When the 6-foot-4 lefty stalled in 2013, the Phillies moved him to the bullpen. Sometimes, that move allows a pitcher to take off; sometimes it takes a while. Wright fits into the latter category as he’s struggled with his command more than anything. While he did repeat at Double-A and his numbers aren’t anything to write home about, left-handed hitters did have trouble hitting him. With his fastball-breaking ball combination, if he can improve his command/control a bit, he still has the stuff to be a successful lefty reliever in the big legaues.
23: Drew Anderson, RHP: Taken out of the Reno, Nevada, high school ranks in the 21st round of the 2012 Draft, Anderson was making excellent progress, pitching well in the New York-Penn League as a teenager in 2013. This year, he battled injuries, throwing just 49 2/3 innings, but when he was healthy, he threw pretty well in his first taste of full-season ball. Anderson can touch 94 mph with his fastball, which he sinks and commands well. He throws a curve and changeup along with it. The breaking ball has the chance to be a swing-and-miss pitch and the changeup is developing. A back end starter if everything clicks.
24. Jose Pujols, OF: Pujols was ranked No. 16 on our International Top 20 list back in 2012 and the Phillies signed him for $540,000 when the signing period began in July of that year. He made his United States debut in 2013 at age 17 and showed very good raw power, and just how much he needed to learn about hitting. He went back to the GCL this year and did much of the same thing, showing some pop and struggling with plate discipline. He’s still a work in progress, but the upside is that of a prototypical power-hitting right fielder.
25. Shane Watson, RHP: Watson is one of the aforementioned injured pitchers. The supplemental first-round pick in 2012 was looking like he was handling an assignment to full-season ball in 2013, but then the arm trouble started. He was shut down in early July and hasn’t thrown a competitive pitch since, dealing with shoulder trouble. When healthy, he can touch the mid-90s with his fastball and has a big curve ball that’s a solid second pitch. He was really learning to pitch with his changeup before the arm issues started. He has the confidence you like to see from a starting pitcher. Now it’s just a question of getting back on the mound for competitive pitching.
Next up are the Minnesota Twins, one of the organizations I like writing about the most. I’ve long liked the way they go about their business and their system is one of the better ones in baseball. Even with injuries to the top guys, No. 1 overall prospect Byron Buxton and No. 9 Miguel Sano, the Twins have a tremendous amount of potential impact talent. Including Buxton and Sano, the Twins have six players in the top 40 on our Top 100 list, with the addition of Nick Gordon via the 2014 Draft.
No. 11 prospect Kennys Vargas just graduated off, meaning No. 21 below is now officially in the Top 20. The 21-25 list is still pretty solid, showing you just how good this system is.
21. Michael Cederoth, RHP: This San Diego State product was ranked No. 59 on our Draft Top 200 and went No. 79 overall in the third round. He doesn’t lack for arm strength, with an ability to hit the upper-90s, especially in shorter stints. He performed well in such a role, serving as San Diego State’s closer as a junior. He had started in the past as well, with mixed results, and the Twins sent the big right-hander out as a starting pitcher. Early returns were positive, so look for him to be in a rotation somehwere with a full-season club in 2015.
22. Jake Reed, RHP: Ranked No. 123 on the Draft Top 200, the University of Oregon right-hander went in the fifth round, No. 140 overall. Reed had been a starter for two years, but really took off when he moved into the closer role this past spring. His fastball-slider combination works really well in short relief, throwing the heater in the mid-90s with good life and a hard slurve-like slider that misses a lot of bats. He had a strong pro debut this summer and should move quickly through the Twins system.
23. Rainis Silva, C: Considered by some to be the best young backstop in the system, Silva made his United States debut in 2014, playing in the Gulf Coast League at age 18. He more than held his own, hitting .270, albeit without any power or on-base skills. He has some impressive catch and throw ability that should continue to improve. He threw out 39 percent of would-be basestealers in the GCL this summer.
24. Ryan Eades, RHP: The 2013 second-rounder out of LSU had an up-and-down first full season of pro ball. He finished with a 5.14 ERA over 133 innings, all in the Midwest League. He did finish the season well, with a 2.86 ERA in 28 1/3 August innings. When he’s on, he has an intriguing three-pitch mix, with a fastball that sits in the low 90s, a curve and a changeup. He needs to continue improving his secondary stuff along with his command in order to move up the ladder.
25. Yorman Landa, RHP: Landa made the move to the bullpen in 2014, his first taste of full-season ball. He was throwing well, striking out 10.8 per nine innings over his first 25 innings pitched. But the Venezuelan right-hander landed on the disabled list in late May with a shoulder issue and didn’t return. He should be back in 2015. If he’s healthy and can refine his command a bit, he could be a very good power arm out of the pen.
It’s time to move on to the Angels. Truth be told, Los Angeles doesn’t have a particularly strong farm system, with 2014 first-round pick Sean Newcomb the only member of the Top 100. Only three in its Top 20 get an overall grade of 50 or better.
That being said, they have gotten key contributions at the big league level this season from homegrown players like Mike Trout (the obvious one), Howie Kendrick, Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron, Kevin Jepsen, Mike Morin and Garrett Richards. And they had enough in their system to send to San Diego to get Huston Street to anchor a bullpen that’s helping the Angels pull away a bit in the AL West.
Still, coming up with five more names in this system isn’t as easy as it is for others. But here goes:
21. Jett Bandy, C: A big, strong catcher, Bandy has gotten raves for his work behind the plate. He’ s a solid receiver who calls a good game. While he doesn’t have a gun for an arm, it’s a bit above-aveage and he’s now thrown out 35 percent of would-be basestealers in his career (40% in 2014). He does have some power that comes more from strength than bat speed and he set a career high in home runs. He profiles as a solid backup at the big league level, one who will run into a few long balls at the plate.
22. Jake Jewell, RHP: A strong second season at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M as the team’s closer had Major League clubs heading to see him throw. The Angels liked him enough to nab him in the fifth round (Taken No. 149, Jewell was ranked N0. 141 on our Draft Top 200.). Jewell can tough 97 mph with his fastball and it can have good life at times. His slider is inconsistent, but it’s solid when he’s executing the pitch correctly. He’s shown some feel for a changeup, but if he ends up in the bullpen long-term (The Angels did send him out as a starter during his pro debut, though his innings were limited), he may not need a third pitch.
23. Harrison Cooney, RHP: The 2013 sixth-round pick out of Florida Gulf Coast University had a very solid first full season in the Midwest League, finishing third in the circuit with his 2.65 ERA. He does it with average stuff, across the board. His fastball will touch 93 mph and he combines it with a changeup and slider, both of which are fringy average. He doesn’t miss a ton of bats, but does get a fair amount of ground ball outs. He has the chance to be a back of the rotation innings-eater.
24. Julio Garcia, SS: The Angels signed Garcia out of the Dominican Republic at the start of this summer’s signing period (July 2), giving him $565,000 to join the organization (the highest international bonus the Angels gave this summer). The 17-year old (He turned 17 on July 31) made his first steps in his pro career, playing in the Domincan Summer League and appearing in 18 games at shortstop. He’s a switch-hitter with some tools on both sides of the ball.
25. Jose Suarez, LHP: The Venezuelan lefty received $300,000 from the Angels to sign this signing period. Suarez has a good feel for pitching, showing an upper-80s fastball and a plus changeup so far. He could be a Jason Vargas type of starter in the future.