Chicago White Sox
While their crosstown rivals have been getting all the buzz lately, the transformation on the South Side has been equally impressive. The additions of Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, and David Roberston have bolstered the big league club, but their farm has also had an overhaul from the past few drafts. Just two years ago their system was easily the worst in baseball, but now it is very respectable. They have landed two premium talents with their past two Round No. 1 picks, but also have been aggressive by getting high-ceiling prep arms like Tyler Danish and Spencer Adams. Adams is a guy the White Sox can really dream about with a very projectable, athletic frame and a loose arm that can already touch 92-95 MPH. Former Red Sox prospect Francellis Montas has also broken out in a big way after a change of scenery. With an electric arm that can touch triple digits he profiles best as a reliever, but he does have a shot at starting. They have also landed some intriguing talents on the international front.
Top Hitter: Tim Anderson, SS — AGE: 21 HT: 6-1 WT: 180 B/T: R/R
While his game is raw for a player in Double-A, his explosive athleticism gives him one of the highest ceilings of all the shortstops in the minor leagues. Anderson has a loose swing and quick wrists that give generate stellar batspeed, and if he learns to incorporate his lower-half more in his swing, he could develop some solid pop. He is already starting to tap into it, exemplified by his .472 slugging percentage in High-A. He is a graceful runner and has the ability to accelerate when he needs too; he isn’t quite a burner but he can change the game with his legs when he need to. Anderson’s loose, flexible hands also help him at the plate and he has great bat-to-ball skills that allow him to attack fastballs and stay back even when he is fooled on off speed pitches. He is somewhat of a free-swinger, although with more at-bats and with a more refined approach, is strikeout rate should drop a little bit. His lack of experience shows up more on defense, where Anderson struggled with his footwork on some of the more routine plays this year. He is not a lock to stay at short, but he has the athleticism to make it work, it just might take more time than previously expected. His ceiling is a dynamic middle-infielder with 20/20 potential; he could be a potential all-star.
Top Pitcher: Carlos Rodon, LHP — AGE: 21 HT: 6-3 WT: 235 B/T: L/L
After completely dominating collegiate and international competition for the two previous years, Rodon had some pretty unrealistic expectations heading into 2014. At times Rodon’s fastball command and velocity were inconsistent and the consensus “1-1 talent” slid to No. 3 overall in the draft. With that said, it is not like is season was as bad as some would make it seem — he still averaged 10.7 strikeouts per nine. At his best Rodon features a devastating, top of the scale slider, a fastball that can get up to 97 MPH, a solid cutter, and a very underrated change up. Even Rodon might underrate his own changeup, he throws it infrequently, but it has late fade and when he keeps it low it is a true-out pitch. Those are the ingredients for a future top-of-the-rotation arm, but the command of those pitches is not quite there yet. Part of the problem is that his his slider is so filthy that he has used it at the expense of his fastball. He has been really uncomfortable working right-handed hitter away with his fastball, and when he gets in trouble it is usually because that pitch catches too much of the plate. He complements his hellacious east-west slider, with a tighter, even harder slider/cutter pitch that he can locate for strikes in almost any count. He is not especially athletic, but repeats is delivery well. His sliding leg kick follows an unusual pattern to the plate, but it creates some deceptive angles that can make it hard for opposing batters to square up on him.
In his professional debut he cleaned up some of the recoil that plagued him as an amateur. He also demonstrated more consistent velocity and worked in the 93-95 MPH range with less effort. Rodon pitches with extreme emotion. At times this competitiveness can be an X-factor that allows his stuff to play up to an even higher level, but at other times it can really hurt him. There are rumors that Rodon could break camp with the Sox next spring, but he would be in his best interest to return to Triple-A and to work on his fastball command. It might be a good strategy for Chicago to ask him to shelve his slider for a few months to gain confidence with his other pitches.
Riser: Tyler Danish, RHP — AGE: 20 HT: 6-0 WT: 205 B/T: R/R
Even though he is in the same organization that developed Chris Sale, Tyler Danish’s mechanics are nothing short of terrifying. Like Sale he has an extremely low arm slot and sling-shot-like arm action, but he throws everything with violent torque that causes his arm to almost snap back. It makes you hold your breath every time he throws a pitch. On the flip side, the delivery creates absurd fastball life and boomerang movement. His slider is also a good pitch for him and plays well off his fastball, looking like a similar pitch until right before it reaches the plate. His changeup is a little behind his other pitches, but shows some promise. Despite the movement on his pitches and his unorthodox delivery Danish has really good control. He can work both sides of the plate and can paint the black with all of his pitches, which helps make up for his lack of velocity. Danish compiled a 3.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio for High-A Winston-Salem. Going forward it is very hard to predict what Danish will become, and while it is still tough to envision him as a starter with those mechanics, anything is possible.
Cleveland has built a very solid system by mixing college performers with toolsy prep and international guys. Francisco Lindor is one of the best prospects in the game and the future shortstop despite the emergence of Jose Ramirez. In the past three years they have added an outfielder with their top pick with Tyler Naquin, Clint Frazier, and Bradley Zimmer. Mike Papi is another outfielder who they got in this past draft and I have always felt that he is criminally underrated. Papi has a big-league approach at the plate and is a natural hitter. He just feels like a guy that will carve out a ten to twelve year career in the majors. Cleveland also has one of the most intriguing catching prospects in the minors in Francisco Mejia. I haven’t seen enough of him to offer much insight on him but it sounds like he has some really loud tools behind the dish and at the plate. He is also a switch-hitter with big raw power. The system lacks high-ceiling arms but Mitch Brown and Justus Sheffield could be future starters.
Top Hitter: Francisco Lindor, SS — AGE: 20 HT: 5-11 WT: 175 B/T: R/R
It feels like Lindor has been on the cusp of being called up for a while now, so barring an injury we will almost certainly see him in 2015. Lindor has long been one of the best prospects in baseball, and he has just about everything you would want to see in your starting shortstop. The former No. 8 overall pick is a slick defender with soft hands and a good feel for positioning himself. Lindor has great footwork around the bag and can roll a double play with the best of them. He could win multiple Gold Gloves — the defense is that special. Lindor is just as impressive at the plate. He has a beautiful swing from both sides of the plate. The Puerto Rican native has a simple but effective weight transfer and his bat head takes a really good angle through the zone. Power has not been a big part of his game in the past but he took some steps forward in that department in 2014. In the Arizona Fall League he slugged .429. I would not be shocked to see him settle in the range of 12-15 home runs with lots of doubles and triples. Lindor has outstanding bat control and could evolve into a high-OBP guy. Even if his bat does not develop to that level and in the absolute worse case scenario you have to bat him at the bottom of the order, his glove is so good that he will still be a valuable everyday player. Lindor has always gotten praise for his high floor, but he could have a pretty high ceiling too.
Top Pitcher: Mitch Brown, RHP — AGE: 20 HT: 6-1 WT: 195 B/T: R/R
There really aren’t a lot of power arms in this system, but Mitch Brown has one of the higher floors of any pitcher in the Indian’s organization. Brown doesn’t have the ideal body for a right handed pitcher but he does have a deep arsenal of secondary pitches and a feel for sequencing. His fastball isn’t especially impressive, it lacks plane and sits in the 89-93 MPH range, but he can manipulate the pitch and get some cut on it. His curveball has two plane break and is a pitch he can get hitters to chase and also can use it early in the count to get strikes. Brown has a clean delivery and uses his lower-half to generate his power. He gets good separation and has a really quick arm. He really works the inner-third of the plate. Brown showed improved fastball command during the second half of the year and after July he struck out 66 batters against 14 walks in 62 innings of work. The profile isn’t all that sexy, but if he can be durable and continue to mix his pitches, Brown could be a cost controlled back-of-the-rotation starter for Cleveland.
Riser: Clint Frazier, OF — AGE: 19 HT: 6-0 WT: 190 B/T: R/R
Frazier’s bat speed is probably better than any player in professional baseball not named Javier Baez, so the sky is the limit with his potential. Frazier plays the game with a lot of confidence and it can definitely rub people the wrong way. So like Baez in both of those areas, he is probably going to have to tone his game down a little bit. The problem with his elite bat speed is that his hands get through the zone too fast sometimes. He had 161 strikeouts last year and had a lot of problems with spin as many people predicted he would before he was drafted. This is mostly because pitchers in the low minors are so scared of what he can do to their fastball that they choose to slow down to make him slow down. He is a good athlete but not necessarily the burner that some thought he would before he was drafted. It is hard to put a projected slash line on his potential ceiling because it is so high, but he also could never really establish himself in the big leagues. Here is a PI report on Frazier from this past season.
While this is generally regarded as one of the worst systems in the game, the Tigers have managed to maximize its talent to supplement their big league team. They have used many of their top prospects as trade chips and in the last 6 months have dealt guys like Jake Thompson, Domingo Leyba, Robbie Ray, and Devon Travis. All of those guys are probably better than anyone currently in the system, but Detroit has been able to complete a surprising number of deals despite the lack of depth down on their farm. Detroit was also aggressive promoting its young talent and down the stretch called on Buck Farmer, Corey Knebel, Hernan Perez, and Steven Moya for assistance in their pennant chase. Detroit used 19 players who were 25 or younger in 2014. The remaining group of prospect eligible players is not impressive, but at least they have managed to get some production from it.
Top Hitter: Stephen Moya, OF — AGE: 22 HT: 6-6 WT: 230 B/T: L/R
Moya is a polarizing player with a lot of extremes in his game. He is a 6-foot-6 behemoth with an athletic body and unworldly raw power. But with that body comes a crazy amount of strikeouts. His long limbs generate loft and backspin that help him hit the ball a country mile, but they also allow opposing pitchers to victimize him on the inner-third of the plate. Moya also has difficulty controlling his center of mass, which moves vertically during his swing, and further hinders his ability to make consistent contact. Moya’s profile gets even more complicated when you consider that he isn’t your typical three-true-outcomes sluggers. He isn’t like a Joey Gallo or a Miguel Sano where he will draw walks to offset the ridiculous amount of punch outs. In his time with Double-A Erie he fanned in over 29 percent of his at bats and compiled a very poor 4.3 percent walk rate. That ratio, no matter how special the power is, will probably not work at the next level. In Double-A he was able to punish pitcher’s mistakes and hit 35 home runs, but pitchers will make fewer and fewer mistakes as he climbs the ladder.
Top Pitcher: Buck Farmer, RHP — AGE: 23 HT: 6-4 WT: 225 B/T: L/R
Buck Farmer pitched the majority of the year in the Midwest League but then was rocketed through the minors to help out the Tigers in the thick of the pennant race. He skipped High-A and made only two starts in Double-A before being summoned to Detroit. In the final month and a half of the season he was constantly being jerked around in the majors and the upper minors. In total he had six promotions and demotions barely allowing him to get comfortable at any level. Farmer has a sturdy build that should allow him to log a lot of innings. He doesn’t have over-powering stuff but can get up into the mid-90’s MPH when he needs too. His best secondary is his change up and he also possesses a slider to finish hitters off. Although he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter, he could help Detroit next year out of the pen at some point. But first he should probably return to the minors and get a chance to breathe.
Riser: Tyler Collins, OF — AGE: 24 HT: 5-11 WT: 215 B/T: L/L
Collins has filled out and added more power to his profile as he has progressed through the minors but has also seen his contact rate fall. He has a wide base and an aggressive uppercut that he relies heavily on to generate that new power. He has a stocky build and will be limited to a corner outfield spot. Collins produced against righthanders and slugged .441 but struggled against pitchers of the same handedness and posted an OPS of just .670. Collins probably profiles best on the strong-side of a platoon in a corner outfield spot. While this isn’t a particularly exciting prognostication, he will probably be ready to contribute in a significant capacity next season.
Kansas City Royals
It was a magical fall in Kansas City where a highly-touted core finally broke through to push the Royals to Game 7 of the World Series. They might have trouble repeating their success in 2015, but their long term outlook is promising. KC’s depth on the mound is excellent throughout the entire system. Yordano Ventura, Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan, Kyle Zimmer, and Miguel Almonte are the building blocks of a pretty dominant rotation. In addition to their high profile arms at the top of system they added an impressive prep duo in Foster Griffin and Scott Blewett this past June. At the plate, there is less certainty. Bubba Starling, Cheslor Cuthbert, Orlando Calixte, Raul Mondesi, and Hunter Dozier have struggled to perform despite their tremendous talents.
Top Hitter: Raul Mondesi, SS — AGE: 18 HT: 6-1 WT: 165 B/T: B/R
It is hard to get excited about a 61 wRC+, but you have to cut the 18-year-old Mondesi some slack considering he was facing pitchers who were four or five years his superior. The fact that the Royals challenged him with this aggressive assignment speaks volumes about their confidence in the young shortstop. While he certainly struggled offensively, he made huge strides on the the other side of the ball. He is a flashy defender at short who really glides to balls and controls the infield. He showed improved arm strength and accuracy. In the past he has had trouble with some of the routine plays, but he showed steadier hands to make the easy plays to go along with the difficult ones he is capable of making. Mondesi has all the tools to be an impact defender at short. On the bases he has game changing speed and will be a huge stolen base threat when he improves his jumps as a base runner. While he struggled with the stick in 2014, there are still a lot of things to like about his bat going forward. Mondesi has quickness in his wrists and a level swing from both sides of the plate. He makes hard contact to the gaps and can use the whole field. With maturity he could grow into some pop, although he profiles as more of the lead-off type. His approach at the plate is currently holding him back, but that is pretty what you would expect to see from 18-year-old in an full season league. He is not very patient and he chases pitches out of zone. After seeing his flaws exploited last year, he could really take off next year if he makes the necessary adjustments.
Top Pitcher(s): Kyle Zimmer, RHP — AGE: 22 HT: 6-3 WT: 215 B/T: R/R
Sean Manaea, LHP — AGE: 22 HT: 6-5 WT: 235 B/T: L/L
How you rank Sean Manaea, Kyle Zimmer, and Brandon Finnegan doesn’t really matter because they are similarly talented pitchers from the college ranks who all have chances at being No. 2 or No. 3 starters. Finnegan has gotten the most hype recently, but the other two probably have greater upsides. Manaea is an especially intriguing talent going forward with a lively 92-94 MPH fastball from the left side. I saw Manaea at his best during the summer before his Junior year. He was touching 98 MPH and struck out 85 batters in 51 innings. He has really long limbs and gets good angles on all of his pitches. The physical 6-foot-5 southpaw works downhill and his fastball has heavy life that accelerates at the last second. The ball stays in his hand a little too long during his arm swing, which allows hitters more time to pick it up. He’s had problems throwing strikes in the past do to inconsistencies at the end of his delivery, both with his release point and his landing spot. He also has a pretty big leg kick. Manaea has a slider and change up that can miss bats, but he rarely controls both pitches at the same time.
Kyle Zimmer, the former No. 4 overall pick, has had so many injuries since being drafted that it is hard to keep track of them anymore. If he can stay healthy though, he has No. 2 starter upside. He is a rare pitching prospect who has already developed three pitches and he can put away batters with all of them. His curve ball is a knee-buckling pitch and can be uninhittable on certain nights. The sky is the limit for Zimmer but after making just five starts this year, he has to prove he can stay on the field.
Riser: Brandon Finnegan, LHP — AGE: 21 HT: 5-11 WT:185 B/T: L/L
Finnegan was everyone’s darling during the playoffs, and as the Fox booth pointed out a few thousand times, it was amazing that he got to pitch in the World Series just months after pitching in the College World Series. Finnegan was used out of the pen for the Royals down the stretch, although they hope to develop him as a starter. The former Horned Frog ace has a very quick arm that can generate premium velocity. He has a clean arm action and throws from a three-quarters slot. Finnegan has some natural sink on his pitches that helps make up for his lack of height. His breaking ball has sharp tilt and he throws it at a pretty high velocity, but if he leaves it up he can really get hurt. He allegedly learned how to throw the current version of his slider from Carlos Rodon during a stint when they both played for Team USA. His change up is presently a step behind his other offerings and can also get him into trouble when it is elevated. His delivery is pretty sound, although his knee extension at the end of his motion is a little awkward.
The Twins entered 2014 with the best system in the game and they also hosted the Futures Game, so this past season was supposed to be an celebration of their embarrassment of riches. Unfortunately very little went as planned. Injuries derailed the seasons of Bash Brothers Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton and thus the organization was not able to showcase either of their marquee talents during the All-Star festivities. A shoulder injury also haunted Kohl Stewart, their top pick in the 2013 draft. With that said, Minnesota still has one of the best farm systems in the game. They have been selecting near the top of the draft lately and it looks like they have made the most of their opportunities. Minnesota has also done a lot to shake their stigma as an organization that only takes “soft-tossers” by collecting an impressive array of power arms. Jose Berrios, Kohl Stewart, and Alex Meyer could help lead their rotation and flamethrowers Nick Burdi, Michael Cederoth, Trevor May, and Jake Reed could be factors out of the pen.
Best Hitter: Byron Buxton, OF — AGE: 20 HT: 6-2 WT: 190 B/T: R/RAfter an injury marred season Buxton has lost some of his shine, but when healthy his raw ability is on the same level with anybody in professional baseball. He is the dictionary definition of a five-tool player, a term that gets thrown around way too often, and has the ability to win a game in the batters box, on the bases, and in center field. He is an explosive quick-twitch athlete with wiry strength and quickness that would play in just about any sport. At the plate he has loose hands that give him flexibility to manipulate the bat head. There is a lot of foreward momentum in his swing but he still manages to stay balanced. His lightning quick hands and knack for making hard contact give him sneaky power. Buxton is more than just a raw, toolsy athlete. He has a pretty mature approach at the plate and good feel, but missing so many at bats will slow down his path to the big leagues. Buxton’s injuries are concerning, but if he can stay healthy going forward the sky truly is the limit. His combination of tools and feel are lethal.
Top Pitcher: Jose Berrios, RHP — AGE: 20 HT: 6-0 WT: 190 B/T: R/R
In the past Berrios has been pigeon-toed as a future reliever because of is a 6-foot-frame from the right side, but Berrios doesn’t exactly fit that profile. Berrios is athletic and has a quick, clean arm that generates a fastball that operates in the 93-96 MPH range with some riding life. He features a curveball that is a little slurvy at times, but not necessarily in a bad way. He has the ability to change the shape of his breaking ball in different scenarios and when he needs to he can get a sharp 11-5 action to put hitters away but can also get them down in the zone to get weak contact. Berrios is also equipped with a change that he throws with the same arm action as his fastball. After averaging over 10 strikeouts per nine in the Florida State League the Twins were aggressive with Berrios and he even made a start in Triple-A at the end of the year. He should return there and he could make his debut in 2015 as a starter or out of the pen. Although his height limits the amount of downward action he can get on his fastball, Berrios may have the bat missing ability to overcome his fly ball tendencies. He has the upside of a No. 3 starter and could be a high-leverage reliever if he can not get there.
Riser: Lewis Thorpe, LHP — AGE: 18 HT: 6-1 WT:165 B/T: R/L
As a southpaw from Melbourne his background is certainly intriguing, but his profile and potential ceiling make him an exciting young arm that stands out even in this stacked system. At just 18 years-old he made his debut in a full season league and showed an advanced feel for pitching to go with a promising repertoire. The Australian native held his own against older competition and fanned over 10 batter per nine while recording an ERA of 3.52 in 16 starts. Thorpe’s fastball sits in the 90-93 MPH range but features late life and comes from a clean release. He has two breakingball in his aresenal which he can use in different situations. His curveball has rolling action but he can locate it on the corners to get batters to chase. His slider is a better offering that has tighter break and features some bend.
Jason A. Churchill
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