That’s right, folks. Today’s the day we get to watch all those prospects (save those in the big leagues) in action. You can check out my story about where the Top 100 prospects are playing right here. And I highly recommend the MiLB.TV package so you can watch these guys in action.
Obviously, I’m not the only one excited for Opening Day. The players are fired up about the start of the 2014 season. I asked Marlins prospect Andrew Heaney (He pitches Friday for Double-A Jacksonville, a game that is on MiLB.TV.) about what Opening Day means to him and what his hopes for the 2014 season are. Here’s his outstanding response:
“Opening day means a fresh start both individuals and as a team. It’s my first minor league opening day because I was hurt last year. I wanna prove myself throughout the course of a full year. I want to get better at the things I need to work on. If I can do that I’ll consider it a successful season for myself.” — Andrew Heaney
The Twitterverse has been ablaze with Opening Day excitement as well. Here’s a string of what some of the game’s best prospects have been tweeting yesterday and today:
A couple of days ago, it was reported here that Dylan Cease would miss this year’s National High School Invitational, which began on Wednesday at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina (Cease’s Milton High School lost its opener to The First Academy).
At the time, Cease was hopeful that rest would be all he needed for an elbow that had been bothering him. An initial MRI reading, he reported, showed no tear.
While he still hopes to avoid surgery, there might be a little less cause for optimism. MLB.com has learned that an additional reading of the MRI uncovered a small tear of the UCL. UCL tears often lead to Tommy John surgery.
For now, though Cease is opting to get what is called Platelet-Rich Therapy (PRP), where platelets are injected into the elbow. Will Carroll does a discusses the treatment in this thorough discussion of Matt Harvey’s injury (Harvey waited weeks after being diagnosed before having the surgery, trying to rehab first).
Cease will be out for about six weeks and it seems doubtful he’ll pitch again for Milton. If all goes well, he could potentially be able to throw in pre-draft workouts for scouting directors and general managers as the June Draft approaches.
This approach is not without precedent, though the majority do end up going under the knife. Takashi Saito, says Carroll, is the first Major League player known to have tried PRP therapy for an elbow injury. Zach Greinke also had the injection for his elbow and avoided surgery (Chad Billingsley, on the other hand, had the PRP treatment late in 2012, but ended up going under the knife in April 2013). Adam Wainwright suffered a UCL sprain in the Minors in 2004, managed to avoid TJ surgery until 2011.
Cease should get the injection early next week and then it will be time for everyone, Cease, pro teams, even Vanderbilt University (where Cease is committed), to wait.
Updates to this story will come as news develops.
Dylan Cease, ranked No. 26 on MLB.com’s Draft Top 50 list from this past fall, was slated to be among the highlights at the 2014 National High School Invitational. Instead, an elbow issue will force him to be able to only watch the action as his Milton High School team returns to th NHSI for the second straight year.
Cease, owner of one of the better fastballs in the class that regularly touches the upper-90s, is resting his powerful right arm for a month after dealing with a sore elbow. Cease said that he first felt discomfort in a start with game-time temperatures of around 30 degrees.
“I got to the fifth inning and it started feeling sore,” Cease said. “I should’ve rested for two weeks, but I tried to work through it. It’s still sore, so now I’m going to give it a month.”
Cease will receive an injection and will hope that rest and rehab will do the trick. He had just gotten MRI results back and was told there was no ligament damage, allowing the Vanderbilt commit to breathe a sigh of relief.
“I don’t need surgery,” Cease said. “I was just happy to hear that. I’ll get the shot and see what it does and we’ll go from there.”
Cease has tried to remain optimistic about the prognosis, and the MRI results certainly helped. But he admitted the tension over the condition of his right elbow had gotten to him a bit.
“It is kind of stressful,” Cease said. “People act like it’s armaggeddon, like I’m going to have to have my arm cut off. But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
If all goes well with this course of action, Cease could return to the mound with enough time to show scouts that he’s fully recovered and ready to go.
Not a lot of extras from my final camp visit. I guess I left it all out on the field. You can see if you agree by reading my Spring Training camp report. You can also view the Cubs’ Top 20 list, Bernie Pleskoff’s take on how the system fists the big league needs, as well as Jim Callis’s 21-25 prospects (he did their Top 20).
Here’s the video piece:
There was one answer Neil Ramirez gave me, before we were rudely interrupted by a team meeting (what nerve). I asked him about what had happened to cause him to kind of back up after he made that huge leap forward in 2011, and what he’s been able to do to get past it (He was better in 2013 than in 2012).
Ramirez: I think I put a little too much pressure on myself after 2011 coming into 2012. I thought I had to do a little too much. Now I’m back to worrying about what I can control.
Good news for the Cubs, who while rich with hitters, could use Ramirez’s contributions on the pitching front.
With that in mind, my One More Guy is another arm:
OK, it might seem like a copout because Callis has him at No. 21, too, but I still like Duane Underwood‘s upside, even after his terrible 2013. One of the key reasons for his struggles was the fact he was not in good shape to start the year. But when I was in Cubs camp, farm director Jaron Madison used Underwood as an example of one of a few arms who had really worked hard this offseason. I’m intersted to see what that translates to on the mound in 2014.
After a brief hiatus (I got to spend some quality time with the B3 family), I’m back at it, heading to Arizona after my travels through Florida. On the site today are reports from Dodgers and Giants camp (I’ll post separately on my Giants extras).
For the Dodgers, be sure to check out:
- My Spring Training report
- The new Dodgers’ Top 20, with Corey Seager in the top spot.
- Bernie Pleskoff’s take on how the system fits the organizational needs, short- and long-term
- And the video piece, featuring Joc Pederson and Zach Lee:
I do have some extra stuff from 2013 first-rounder Chris Anderson. We talked a bit about the struggles he had at times during his junior season at Jacksonville (which led to a really interesting talk about pitch counts — he’s not a fan). At any rate, I asked him if he was concerned about how he was up-and-down a little bit and what impact that would have on his Draft status:
Anderson: I wasn’t too worried about it. I think every pitcher has those days when it’s just not their day. The college season is so short, you’re under a lot of pressure to perform every single week, but you only have a couple of months to perform. With those rough starts, I think it made me better, I learned from them and got better as I went on with the year.
You come to an organization that has a pretty good track record for developing pitching, especially power arms. How excited are you to be in that next wave of guys to be able to keep building on that track record?
Anderson: I’m very excited. I’m blessed to get this opportunity with the Dodgers here. They’ve given me a great opportunity. I’ve just come out here to work hard and try to become the best I can be.
My One More Guy would be Jesmuel Valentin. Maybe I’m putting too much stock in the MLB bloodlines, but I think he still has a chance to hit, probably play 2B, and has a good understanding of the game.
My last Spring Training stop in Florida was at the Yankees’ Minor League facility. Here’s the resulting Spring Training report, as well as the new Top 20 ranking and Bernie Pleskoff’s take on how the system fits the organization’s needs. Jim blogged his picks for prospects Nos. 21-25.
Here’s the video piece:
And boy, do I have extras for you. Yankees’ senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman and I discussed all sorts of things during our chat. First, about Mason Williams and previous reports about his lack of effort:
Newman: It hasn’t been this spring and it wasn’t for most of the time last year, either. He has momentary relapses, and they’re relapses out of frustration. He’s doing fine there. With young kids, it happens. There aren’t many Derek Jeters who show up here and know what it’s like to play hard every day. So we teach them that. Gary Sanchez and Mason are 21, 22; they’re like college juniors. They’re learning this stuff.
Some of the problems, Newman thinks, stem from the amount of attention young players get before they set foot in the big leagues. Some can handle it, others can struggle, not only with expectations, but with a certain sense of entitlement that can come with fame that comes prematurely (at least in Newman’s opinion):
Newman: Twenty-five years ago, when I started doing this, people didn’t do what you’re doing. I never talked to anybody about prospects. If I had my way, I’d never talk about them ever. They haven’t done anything yet. Now they have this notoriety in short order and they haven’t done anything to deserve it, other than be talented. They won the gene pool. They have to learn how to play and perform. They’re making progress. Mason’s problem is not going to be effort.
Now, if you thought Newman was talkative, you need to meet Eric Jagielo, one of the most engaging prospects I’ve met to date. Here’s the rest of our conversation.
Going back to last year, at what point did you get to finally take a breath and look back at everything that happened?
Jagielo: I was able to take some time off right after instructs. I was able to go back to Chicago for a little, then go to Notre Dame. I think that was the first time it all kind of settled in. I was planning on working out at Notre Dame, so I was there. I was able to see some friends and guys from my class and realized that my life had changed a little bit, for the best. But I was in a different kind of spot. Was the chance to reminisce a little bit. My three years at Notre Dame were the best years of my life. This is a new chapter and I’m excited to get it started.
Was it weird to be there and your friends are still in classes?
Jagielo: Especially the first couple of weeks. The coaches here, they said to make sure to take my time off. The college season, it was basically three years straight, with going into fall, then to spring, then to summer ball and then right back to fall ball. It was kind of three years of straight baseball. Especially with the hamstring injury, I really wanted to get healthy for this first full season of pro ball and be an everyday guy. Everything is good. The Yankees did a wonderful job, keeping me back for a couple of weeks after the Draft, smoothing things out and making sure there was nothing wrong with it. Then, when I did make the debut in Staten island, I was ready to go. I felt fine there. I was able to participate in instructs and get the best instruction.
You’re 21, you’re working out with Derek Jeter. How long did it take before you weren’t star struck?
Jagielo: Looking back at it now, I don’ t know if I ever got past it. This spring, you see him, you’re thinking about working out with him. Every time you use him on TV, or the tribute to him retiring, you’re like, wow, you’re on the same field with him. It’s an honor. To be able to talk to him and have a different kind of conversation rather than when you’re a little kid and you’re asking for an autograph…just trying to pick his brain so you can just do things they’ve done.
There’s a profile for 3B. They think power production. Do you have to remind yourself to stay within your own approach? Do you have to make sure you don’t go out there and try to fit that profile?
Jagielo: Reggie Jackson was out here during instructs. I was in a group with Aaron Judge, who just has ridiculous power. He miss-hits balls and he’s inside-outing balls and he’s hitting them over the right-field fence. We were talking and he said, “It doesn’t matter how the ball gets over the fence. You’re going to get your home runs. Just stay with the backspin, just stay with the middle of the field, gap approach and do your things and the ball will fly.” I think that’s when it hit me, you can’t try to be anybody else but yourself. God gave you so much talent and power. What I have now, I try to pride myself on that, the doubles, the gap guy, run production. I don’t think you have to move up in the rankings just by hitting home runs. What I’ve been trying to do is take the singles when they need to be singles and then hammering the mistakes when you need to and putting them over the fence.
The Tigers package is up. Go take a look:
- Spring Training report, from yours truly.
- New Top 20 prospects list, brought to you by Jim Callis (who posted his choices for No. 21-25 here)
- Bernie Pleskoff on where the prospects fit into the organizational plans
- And the video piece, starring Nick Castellanos and Robbie Ray:
Here’s some more stuff from VP David Chadd, mostly on how the Tigers’ system isn’t perceived as being very strong externally.
Chadd: If you don’t dig down to the lower levels and you’re just skimming the upper levels at Double-A and triple-A, you’ll miss guys. If you’re just doing that, to some people, it might look like we don’t have a lot. But we think we do.
You can always improve, there’s no doubt about that. As a scout, and a scouting staff, you always have to self-evaluate, what you’ve done and players you’ve been able to promote to the Major League level. It’s not just scouting, that includes player development as well because it’s hand-in-hand. Saying that, you can never have enough talent in your system and we’re constantly trying to improve that, but I think some bright spots over there are Drew VerHagen; he’s throwing very well so far in camp. Tyler Collins has done well, Devon Travis, he’s been on a tear since he’s been over there. Daniel Fields has looked good. We’re pretty pleased with where we’re at. Are we satisfied? No. Will we ever be? No. But we’re pretty pleased with what we’ve seen so far in camp.
And here are some extras from my conversation with Devon Travis, starting with a follow up to the question that’s on the ST report about him watching all of the veterans on the Tigers when he was growing up:
You have to be careful with the veterans when you say you grew up watching them. You don’t want to make them feel old.
Travis: You’re probably right. If they heard me say that, they’d probably not be too happy.
Going into the year, there probably weren’t expectations, but looking back now, you’ve raised the bar a little bit. You’re no longer off the radar. People are going to be watching to see what you do. The expectations have definitely gone up.
Travis: I think that’s something I appreciate. It will make me work harder. I feel a lot of guys get to that point and they kind of shut it down and say, ‘I’ve done this or I’ve done that.’ For me, it’s just more reason to work. It gives people more reason to bash you. If you’re in an 0-for-20 slump, now it’s ‘Oh, what happened? Last year was a freak year.’ I know how all that goes and I try to stay away from it. At the same time, it comes along with it.
One of the reasons the Tigers were interested in you was that Tigers scout Bruce Tanner saw you play against the Phillies in a Spring Training game when you were at Florida State. People on the outside may look at those games against college teams as a waste of time, but for you, it made a huge difference, didn’t it?
Travis: For us, as college guys, it’s an opportunity to go out and have fun, but at the same time, test yourself and see what it’s like to play at that level. I take every game seriously, whether it’s a scrimmage or the final game of the season. I’m thankful for that. I don’t think I even got any hits in that game, but the opportunity to play in any of those games is something every kid should take advantage of.
And my One More Guy:
I think I’ll give the nod to Austin Schotts, No. 24 on Jim’s 21-25 list. He had a terrible 2013, but it’s hard to look past his athleticism. I dig Jim’s Shane Victorino upside comp.
For your viewing pleasure, the video piece from camp as well:
Some good extras from my conversations, especially with GM Jeff Luhnow. I had one Q&A left over from my chat with George Springer:
Everyone talks about all the prospects in the Astros system. As a group, are you excited collectively to get to the big leagues and help turn things around?
Springer: As players and kids, the dream is to play professional baseball at the highest peak, to get there. At the same time, you still have to have the utmost respect for the guys who are in the clubhouse now, who have gone through the struggles, who’ve had success and not had success, guys like Castro, Altuve. That’s something to honor. As a player, it shows how they’re able to handle failure, adversity and success at the same time. I think for kids who are coming up, that’s something to look up to.
Now, on to my conversation with Luhnow. We’ll start with continuing on what he was saying in the story about wanting to maintain a top level system.
Luhnow: [We hope] we can consistently maintain it in the top 10-15. Obviously, as you graduate players to the big leagues, you lose some of that. I think we’re well-positioned to do that because we have an interesting system. We’ve got players that are top prospects that are both pitchers and position players. We also have players that are spread throughout the life cycle. We’ve got really good players in rookie ball, A ball, Double-A, Triple-A. They’re not all going to show up all at one time and then we’re going to have a barren system after that.
The other thing I think we’re counting on is our second tier prospects, if you will, being good major league players. When I was in charge of the Draft and player development in St. Louis, there were a lot of players that were considered second-tier prospects, like Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay, Allan Craig, Lance Lynn, even. None of these guys ever made the Top 100 prospects. They were good players, performers in the Minor Leagues. Ultimately, those are the guys that created a ton of value when it came to the 2011 World Series and the last couple of years. I think we’re seeing a bunch of guys like that, that are sleepers in our mind. Guys like Preston Tucker, Nolan Fontana, guys that aren’t sexy because they don’t wow you with blinding speed or awesome power, but consistent performers that are going to go out and do the job. Brady Rodgers, Andrew Thurman, guys like that, who we feel are a big part of our system right now.
One of the biggest changes we’ve realized, in doing the Top 20, is how much more talent there is at 11-20. It used to be hard to come up with 20 guys, now players are being left off who are pretty good.
Luhnow: The depth is important to us. There are going to be injuries, there are going to be poor performances. That’s just part of the nature of what happens in baseball. Also, some guys are going to step up and surprise. Jonathan Meyer is a perfect example. He’s re-establishing himself. This is a big year for him. He’s either going to make himself into a Major League player or drop off people’s radar. Even those guys not on any list (he mentioned Jio Mier as one) still have the chance to bounce back. That’ll be fun to watch this year.
We talked about camp standouts and while I went with Preston Tucker in the story, Luhnow had a lot of good things to say about Mike Foltynewicz impressing in camp as well.
Luhnow: [Major League pitching coach Brent] Strom doesn’t have a lot of history with him and then you see a guy throwing 100, who’s got that good delivery and good mentality, it’s easy to be impressed with a guy like that. I do think he has the chance to break through that last barrier and get to the big leagues and be a pretty dominant pitcher. We balance the speed to the big leagues with role in the big leagues. He could probably get there quickly as a reliever, but we really feel we want to continue to give him the chance to be a starter. So far his outings have been pretty impressive.
He’s starting to develop a repertoire that’s effective. His curveball, you used to see it at times, it’s now becoming more consistent. He has a changeup that we spent a lot of time last year trying to convince him to throw it. When you throw 100, you don’t really want to throw a changeup that much, but he’s doing it and he’s having more success with it. As he develops the repertoire, he’s going to realize in Triple-A and in the big leagues that you need a full repertoire to get guys out. It’s not just about throwing gas.
And, finally, my One More Guy:
It has to be the guy who I listed as the camp standout, Preston Tucker. I really like the Allen Craig comp Luhnow made in terms of them both having been college senior signs, later in the Draft, who just went out and hit. Craig hit his way to the big leagues and an All-Star appearance. Whether Tucker can reach those heights remains to be seen, but his .303/.373/.506 so far as a pro is certainly a very good start.
All the Nats stuff is now live. As always, you have many options:
- New Nationals’ Top 20
- Spring Training camp report
- Bernie Pleskoff’s take on how the system fits the team’s needs
- The video piece, embedded below:
I don’t have a ton of extra stuff, using most of it the Spring Training Report. One extra question and answer from Sammy Solis:
Now that you’re actually not worried about rehabbing, what are you working on? Outside of logging innings, what do you feel you need to work on in order to be ready?
Solis: I think I got back to even with pitching in the Arizona Fall League. I wouldn’t say I’m working on one specific pitch. I would say, just like any other guy out here, I’m getting back to season form. Location and feel for pitches, not just one single pitch.
And here’s my One Extra Guy for their system:
Teddy Cahill did a great job on this Top 20, in my opinion. This isn’t a case where I would actively advocate to get this guy in, but I do like Aaron Barrett’s arm a bit. Yes, he’s 26, which makes him a little long in the tooth in the prospect world, but it’s taken him a little time to figure out his role. He has a plus slider that can get big league hitters out right now and he’s commanding his fastball better. He gets swings and misses (12 K/9) and ground balls (1.72 GO/AO in 2013). He saved 26 in Double-A, but he’s probably not a closer at the highest level. He is, however, ready for a shot to contribute in Washington.
I had a lot of extra good stuff from my time in Jupiter with the Cardinals. Some of that has to do with how generous with his time Cards farm director Gary LaRocque was and how well-spoken 2013 first-round pick Marco Gonzales was.
First, here’s more from my chat with Gonzalez, the lefty who came in at No. 5 on the St. Louis Top 20:
There’s often a jump for two-way guys when they focus on one skill. Have you noticed anything different? Do you feel any different?
Gonzales: I feel like I have a little more stamina already just with the PFPs we do every day, the conditioning. My body is just not as worn down. I don’t feel like an old man anymore like I did in college. I don’t know if I’ve noticed a velo jump. We haven’t been paying attention to velo yet. As far as overall body care and the way I feel, it’s a lot better already.
How important do you think it is, especially about to hit your first full season, that you were able to dedicate yourself to preparing only for pitching every five days?
Gonzales: That’s going to be the most exciting thing. Preparing the whole offseason to build my legs and core has been huge for me. Not playing every day, especially the combination of hitting and pitching on the same day, it just wears on you. I’m excited to focus and get in a routine and see how it goes.
The college season has started up. Have you been keeping up with Gonzaga (his alma mater)?
Gonzales: I was texting a bunch of my teammates and was on the phone with them before their opening weekend. I was saying it felt like I should be suiting up with those guys. So much has happened in the past year, it’s kind of crazy to look back and see where you’ve been. I’ll always miss playing for those guys, but I’ve got a good thing going on here.
LaRocque had some really great things to say about the culture and the philosophy the organization tries to foster. Rather than set up his comments, I’m just posting because they are pretty self-explanatory.
LaRocque: If you look back at over these last two years, we had 20 players plus move up from the system to the big leagues and contribute, which is really the big thing. From that standpoint, you’re right. The next group has to get the at-bats and the innings to be ready for the next wave of guys. We do think we have some players who can become the same type of contributors in the big leagues. That’s what we have to do; our system is crucial to us. You have to be ready for the next wave. I think it’s very typical of most player development systems, we have to look at it for the next 2-3-4 years. We have to make sure players go from projection to production or performance as they go to the high levels. We have a share of players who went to Quad Cities and then skipped a level, skipped high A and went to Double-A right away . To their credit, they went into Double-A and they played at the level of the league right away. Knowing your own system is crucial.
Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Adams, Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong [all did that[. It’s important that we’ve had that level of success with those players. They played to the league right off. When we send a player to a league, you find the players you can move or keep accelerating. We’ve found with these players, by July and August, they move ahead of the league. We tell them: April is important, but what matters is where you are in July and August.
Every day our Minor League players walk down the hallway to get to the clubhouse. Lining that hallway is a picture of every guy who is in St. Louis right now who was a Minor Leaguer. They see them, they know it can happen.
For my One More Guy candidate, I’m going to let Jim Callis do the work. He did the Top 20 and just blogged his picks for 21-25 in the system. For whatever it’s worth, I’m kind of a Greg Garcia fan.