As I stated on Twitter a few nights ago, these are being released a few weeks later than I planned, but I have always created at these evaluations as a Preview to the upcoming season rather than a Review following last season. The advantage this season is that I was able to include the notes I made during my visit to spring training, which assists in offering the freshest outlook possible.
To get things started, here is the NEXT 15, those that did NOT make the Top 30 but were considered strongly and could be headed for such status by the time the Mid-Season Prospect Report is released this summer.
Those marked with a * sign were downgraded due to health risk.
Many of the prospects below have a better shot to get to the majors than some that made the Top 30. The role and value of said role is the strongest consideration in these scenarios. For example, all major-league starting pitchers are more valuable than non-elite relievers, and more difficult to come by in the game today. Catchers and shortstops — and starting pitchers, of course — are more valuable than first baseman that grade out similarly. Again, they’re much tougher to find. Others listed below are merely projects and long shots, but they belong here because of their upside. If their probability was higher, they’d make the Top 30.
Rayder Ascanio, SS
Ascanio just turned 19 and played well last summer in the Arizona League, showing bat skills and strike zone judgment. He’s a switch hitter who is better as a right-handed batter but may have more pop as a lefty downt he line, thanks to a better power swing. His arm is average and he shows depth and solid lateral range atshortstop. His footwork needs work, but the tools all are available to him.
Michael Kickham, LHP
Many seem to like Kickham more than I do, not that I don’t see value in the left-hander. As a starter, his fastball is up to 93 with sink and plane, setting up a solid-average slider and a hard changeup that flashes average, too. His best role may be in the bullpen where there’s a chance his velocity improves a tick and the bite on his slider sharpens. At 26, Kickham’s chance to start in the majors may be gone, which is why he failed to crack the Top 30, despite the size and stuff combination.
Jack Reinheimer, SS
Reinheimer can handle shortstop and makes consistent contact at the plate. He’s an above-average runner, a solid base stealer and handles the bat well on bunts and hit-and-run calls. I don’t buy the bat long term, however, and Reinheimer’s swing plane and lack of bat speed — due to strength in his arms, wrists and hands — suggests a reserve at best at the highest level. The East Carolina product has an average but accurate arm and his defensive instincts are solid. Reinheimer’s only chance to change his profile is to change his physical makeup in terms of strength.
Trey Cochran-Gill, RHP
Cochran-Gill sits 91-94 mph with a heavy-sinking fastball and can finish off batters with a plus slider. The former Auburn Tigers wallflower likely is limited to relief work due to a high-effort delivery and lack of ideal stature — 5-foot-10, 190 pounds — and he appears to be lacking a third pitch, too. He could move quickly after spending ’14 in Pulaski and Everett thanks to good control and command and above-average raw stuff.
David Rollins, LHP
Rollins, the club’s Rule 5 pick, has pitched well in big-league camp, touching 95 mph on the gun with some sink and armside run.His slider is below average, however, but he does command it fairly well.
Joe DeCarlo, 3B
DeCarlo’s numbers are ugly, specifically in terms of his contact rates, but his natural approach works in pro ball and there’s 20-homer power in the swing. He’s shortened his swing since Draft Day 2012 and began to hit the ball more up the middle and occasionally to the back side. He has good enough hands and an above-average arm, suggesting he fits well defensively at the hot corner for the long haul. DeCarlo should head to Bakersfield to start the season.
*Julio Morban, LF
Morban can hit some but he has yet to stay healthy and give himself a chance to develop fully. He possesses a line-drive swing, fringe-average speed and an average arm. He’s solid in right field and dealt well with center field, but lacks the instincts to make quick adjustments, which explains some of the problems he’s had in left field. There may be 15-homer pop in the bat, but more discipline is necessary to keep him in at-bats and provide opportunities to drive the ball in hitter’s counts.
Erick Mejia, SS
Mejia is a slick fielder with good plate skills and promising gap power. He was a bit old for the rookie league last summer, but now has posted two strong years with the bat. Mejia is an above-average runner, but is not a burner and has yet to learn to steal bases — he managed 26 on 35 attempts combined the past two summers. Mejia has a shot to start the year in Class-A Clinton.
*Ji-Man Choi, 1B
Choi can hit, and despite lacking ideal power for first base, has a chance to be useful at the big-league level. He’s had a history of getting hurt and the injury bug bit him again this spring, although the ankle injury was certainly a freak incident, not a recurring issue that needs to be harped on moving forward.
Emilio Pagan, RHP
Pagan, 24 in May, sits in the low-90s with a fastball that commands well down in the zone and to both sides of the plate. There’s some sink and occasional arm side run to the pitch, setting up an average slider that flashes above average. Pagan has a changeup, too, but is mostly fastball-slider in his relief role. I wonder why the club hasn’;t gone the route of Pagan as a starter — at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds and a three-pitch mix from a solid, athletic delivery, I’d at least like to see what happens. Pagan could handle Double-A Jackson to start 2015, but may begin at Advanced-A Bakersfield.
Zack Littell, RHP
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Littell dwelled in the low-90s with his fastball in 2014, touching 95 on occasion and showing life up in the zone and to his arm side. The 11th-round pick in 2013 also employs a changeup and curveball. Littell was the last prospect left off the Top 30 and the most likely to jump into the Mid-season Top 20 if he breaks camp with a full-season club. He’s projectable and avoids the walk. His secondary pitches need work.
Daniel Missaki, RHP
Missaki, a 6-foot, 175-pound right-hander, showed above-average control and command last summer in the Appalachian League. He’s a command-and-feel pitcher with some deception to aid his 86-89 mph fastball, which often is true and can flatten out at times. The 18-year-old Brazilian product also offers a 40-grade curveball that flashes average and a changeup he’s willing to throw regularly.
Leurys Vargas, 1B
Vargas, 18, is a strong, left-handed hitter with 60-grade raw power. He’s still learning to hit for average but shows above-average pitch recognition for his age and experience. The swing is long, but the Mariners’ staff already has helped Vargas make an adjustment that could improve his production this season.
Onil Pena, C
Pena, a right-handed batter that will be 18 years of age for the entire 2015 season, posted a strong season in the DSL last summer, batting .302/.360/.430 and displays above-average athleticism on the bases and behind the dish. He’s raw, as most teenage prospects are, but he’s a grinder, which bodes well for his development defensively.
Dan Altavilla, RHP
Like Chochran-Gill, Altavilla, who was the second prospect I left off and like Littell I had a tough time doing it, may be best suited for the bullpen but he’s strong, sturdy and has the stuff that may develop enough for a shot at the rotation. His fastball touched 96 mph for me in Everett a few times and the 5th-round pick out of Mercyhurst University offers a promising slider that could be a strikeout pitch. He does have a hard changeup that at its best dives late and sharp, but it’s inconsistent and he hasn’t shown confidence in it yet.
I’d like to see Altavilla head to Clinton as a starter, knowing he can be moved to the bullpen next year of enough progress isn’t made with his command and control. At worst he jumps on the Mark Lowe track to the majors after a shot at the rotation in 2015.