Feature Photo: James Harris, OF, Athletics
(Photo by Chris Lockard)
Welcome to the first installment of what will be a weekly newsletter covering the 2016 Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) California League (High A) seasons, Notes From the West, edited by 2080’s Melissa Lockard. Melissa, Dave DeFreitas, Nick J. Faleris, and Jared Massey dive right in to the first week of play, and get you caught up on top performers, as well as news, stats, and notes from around each league.
At this time last season, James Harris’ future in professional baseball was murky. Harris, a 2011 Compensation Round A selection of the Tampa Bay Rays, was released by his original organization at the end of spring training after three-and-a-half disappointing seasons. A native of Oakland, Harris signed with his hometown organization shortly after his release, and reported to extended spring training without any guarantees he’d leave the Oakland A’s minor league complex. He played his way out of Arizona and put together his best season as a professional with the Class A Beloit Snappers in 2015. Impressed with Harris’ mature approach at the plate and his glove, the A’s promoted the speedy centerfielder to Triple-A for the final week of the season.
Harris was one of the top performers during the A’s minor league camp this spring, and he has carried that high level of play over to the regular season with the High A Stockton Ports. In his first nine games, Harris is batting .341/.413/.561, with five extra-base hits and a 4:6 BB:K ratio. Harris won’t turn 23 until August, and he could finally be reaching the potential the Rays saw in him when he was drafted out of high school. – Melissa Lockard
2080 Top 125 Prospect Updates
-Nomar Mazara, OF, Rangers (#5) : Mazara began the season in the Pacific Coast League, but his stay with the Round Rock Express lasted just three games. He collected six hits in 12 at-bats before getting the call to the big leagues. Mazara had three hits — including a home run — in his big league debut. Lisa Winston’s Les Debutantes has more on Mazara’s debut here.
-Julio Urias, LHP, Dodgers (#6): After a pair of forgettable Triple-A appearances last year, Urias — 2080’s sixth-ranked prospect — returned to the PCL with a vengeance in his first start, striking out nine in five innings for the Oklahoma City Dodgers. His second start was a little less dominant, as he allowed two homers and four runs in five frames against the Nashville Sounds.
-Joey Gallo, 3B, Rangers (#9): With Adrian Beltre agreeing to an extension this week with the Rangers, Gallo doesn’t have a clear path to the big leagues at third base with Texas. The Rangers may have to find another place to play Gallo soon, because he is making a push for a promotion with a red-hot start at Triple-A Round Rock. Our ninth-ranked prospect is still striking out in a quarter of his at-bats, but he homered four times over his first nine games and walked six times while batting .333 for the Express.
-Orlando Arcia, SS, Brewers (#15): At 21-years-old, Arcia is several years younger than the average Triple-A player. He is off to a decent start with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, hitting for average (.278), and playing well defensively.
-Sean Manaea, LHP, Athletics (#27): Manaea had an outstanding spring training in big league camp with Oakland A’s and is very close to being major-league ready (more on that below). His first two starts for Triple-A Nashville were dominant, and he may not have many more starts left before he is in the big leagues. Manaea currently leads the PCL with 17 Ks in 12 IP.
-A.J. Reed, 1B, Astros (#34): Houston Astros’ rookie first baseman Tyler White is off to a blazing start, so the Astros aren’t likely to call on Reed anytime soon, but he is putting himself in fine position to be ready when the Astros do need him. During his first week in Triple-A Fresno, Reed’s AVG is down in his first 40 ABs, but he’s still hitting for power, with two HRs, five doubles, and eight RBIs in his first nine games.
-Drew Jackson, SS, Mariners (#90): Jackson is off to a slow start for the High A Bakersfield Blaze, batting just .243 with one extra-base hit and one walk through his first eight games. Our 90th-ranked prospect should have better days ahead in the hitter-friendly California League after batting .358 in the pitcher-friendly Northwest League last season.
-Marco Gonzales, LHP, Cardinals (#103): Gonzales will miss the 2016 season after the Cardinals learned that Gonzales will need Tommy John surgery. He was DL’d by Triple-A Memphis on April 7th.
Check out further coverage of 2080 Top 125 prospects Forrest Wall (#98) and Jonathan Gray (#55) below!
Prospect Spotlights – Pacific Coast League
Manaea is very close to major-league ready and is in Triple-A to put the finishing touches on his game. His changeup has been inconsistent in his first two starts, but that pitch has improved for him considerably over the past nine months, and it should be a workable pitch in the big leagues. He still needs to trust the pitch and work it inside more. The fastball and slider are both plus offerings. Manaea had a mild groin strain late in spring training, so he was pushed back to the fifth-starter spot at the beginning of the season to make sure he was completely recovered from the injury. His fastball has sat 92-to-94 mph in his first two starts and he hides the ball well, making it tough on hitters. His slider has a heavy bite. Command has been an issue for Manaea in the past, but he is commanding his two primary pitches much better so far this season. He has walked only two over his first 12 innings. Manaea’s pick-off move is still awkward and it needs work, a good example of polishing that he’ll be focused on before the A’s call him up. – Melissa Lockard
Dillon Overton, LHP, Athletics (Triple-A Nashville)
Ht/Wt: 6’2″/175 | B/T: L/L | Age (as of April 1, 2016): 24y, 7m
With a full season now under his belt following Tommy John surgery in 2013, the former second rounder has yet to see his collegiate velocity return to his left arm. Previously a wielder of low- to mid-90s fastballs, Overton worked more regularly in the upper 80s in 2015 and continues to operate in that range in 2016, touching the low 90s periodically. The lefty relies now on solid command, a bit of crossfire deception, and an average three-pitch mix that includes his fringy fastball, a late-fading changeup and average curveball.
Through his first two starts of the year, Overton has shown both his strengths and his weaknesses, mixing his arsenal and playing to the black, racking up 10 Ks in 9 IP (eight of which came in just four innings against a light-hitting Oklahoma City Dodgers’ lineup). Unfortunately, Overton can struggle to put hitters away when he isn’t hitting his spots, and the stuff can be quite hittable when catching too much of the plate too often. The parts add up to a potential back-end arm. Should he fall short of a rotation spot, it’s likely swingman work, as he may need a little more out of his curveball to profile as an effective lefty-specialist –Nick J. Faleris
It has been a fast start for Reed for the Sky Sox, with the outfielder slashing .371/.436/.400 through the first nine games of the season. He shows a high level of comfort in the box and a willingness to attack pitches in his kill zone, leaning on a compact swing and good feel for the barrel that produces impressive contact across the diamond. In addition, Reed continues to show a penchant for aggressive actions on the base paths and a heady approach, swiping five bags in six attempts already, or about 20% of his stolen base output for all of 2015.
There isn’t much in the way of power when it comes to Reed’s offensive game, which makes center field the more natural fit, though he has more than enough arm strength for right, where he has spent the bulk of his career. Thus far in 2016, he’s rotated primarily between right and left fields with a solitary appearance up the middle, though he possesses the physical tools to man all three spots. He’ll need to maintain high contact rates to warrant a spot as a corner outfielder at the highest level, but his future becomes much more interesting if given the opportunity to hold down center field regularly. At a minimum he looks like a useful fourth outfielder. –Nick J. Faleris
Dan Vogelbach, 1B, Cubs (Triple-A Iowa)
Ht/Wt: 6’0″/250 | B/T: L/R | Age (as of April 1, 2016): 23y, 4m
As was the case in 2015, Vogelbach has come out of the gates raking to start the season, slashing .412/.487/.588 while walking in more than 10% of his plate appearances. The flipside of the coin is that the former second rounder is swinging through more pitches early on than he has in the past, with early speculation that Vogelbach is letting loose more frequently trying to tap into the big raw power that has previously failed to manifest with any regularity.
The body remains an issue, with the most logical outcome still a trade to an American League club where Vogelbach can settle in as a capable designated hitter. In order for the Cubs to maximize his value through such a move, however, he’ll need to sell opposing scouts on his ability to reach his upside as an above-average power bat in addition to his overall impressive feel for hitting. If there’s one thing to watch with respect to Vogelbach’s development in 2016, it’s his in-game power. –Nick J. Faleris
Contreras enjoyed a breakout 2015 followed by a loud and impressive Arizona Fall League performance last fall. Those performances culminated in his ranking as the second-best catching prospect in all of baseball to start this spring. It’s been more of the same to start 2016, with the offensive-minded backstop slashing an impressive .429/.474/.543 through his first 10 games of the year. Not only does Contreras show an ability to work for his pitch and drive it, there’s good juice in the barrel helping to project the stick to solid-average playable power at maturity, and perhaps a tick more.
Behind the dish, Contreras is still refining his actions and smoothing out his receiving. After showing progress in 2015, and showing further growth thus far this spring, it’s no longer considered a question as to whether or not the former third baseman will stick behind the plate, but rather how long it will be before he is comfortable enough to handle big league arms on the regular. There is no need to rush Contreras at this point, and the Cubs will give the promising young backstop plenty of time to grow his defensive chops in Iowa before being tasked with a big league assignment. –Nick J. Faleris
Prospect Spotlights – California League
Heath Fillmyer, RHP, Athletics (High A Stockton)
Ht/Wt: 6’1″/180 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of April 1, 2016): 21
Fillmyer has a slender, wirey frame. He is a plus athlete who looks like he will be able to stick in the rotation at the upper levels. He showed an average- to above-average fastball at 91-to-94 mph (T96), along with an average curveball with good arm speed and feel for spin. The arm works well and while the majority of the changeups he used lacked bottom, he did show one with very good circle action to the glove side, so it is in there. He is a converted shortstop, so look for more to come with this kid as he logs more innings and gets a better feel for pitching. He does not miss a ton of bats at the moment, and was erratic in 2015, but he has time for the command to catch up. He could see a spike in strikeout numbers as his secondary pitches develop. He is young for the level, so the A’s like him and want to see what they have with this kid. From the looks of him on Sunday, he is justifying their interest. — Dave DeFreitas
Gray made his first rehab start at High A in Stockton on April 10, and things looked clean for him. His fastball was in the 92-to-97 mph range, sitting at 94. The delivery looked free and easy and he showed some late hop in the strike zone. While the four-seam stayed straight, he showed solid-average command. He also made a concerted effort to work his two-seamer to both sides of the plate, but the offering was far less effective command-wise. Gray was locating a 12-to-6 curveball with some snap. He has feel for spin, and this looked to be his top secondary pitch. He mixed in a few sliders and changeups, with the slider showing some depth, but fringe-average bite, and the changeup coming out hard and lacking any real bottom or dive. All in all, this was a rehab start, and he was likely only running at about 80%, but he seemed healthy and is rumored to be rejoining the Rockies sometime in the next week or so. However, with the nature of his injury (abdominal strain) and the cold weather locations coming up for the Rockies, they could opt for a one more rehab start in the warmer Cal League. — Dave DeFreitas
Forrest Wall, 2B, Rockies (High A Modesto)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 176 I B/T: L/R I Age: 20
I had a quick look at Wall, a former compensation round pick. He showed the makings of an offensive player that will at some point be moved off second to a corner outfield spot. Wall is a little bit unique in that he has a plus hit tool with some power projection, but mostly in the way of doubles; he is likely an average runner, however that speed doesn’t seem to translate in the field. He showed below average footwork and hands going to his left on a routine groundball; he showed arm strength on a double play, but was flat-footed and slow on the turn. Overall, this is a guy that has hit at a good clip thus far in his short pro career and projects to continue developing in that area. He doesn’t seem like he has the run or instincts for centerfield, but if he hits, look for Colorado to find a spot for him at a corner outfield spot. — Dave DeFreitas
Pacific Coast League
- Jeff Hoffman (RHP, Rockies, Triple-A Albuquerque) has allowed just two earned runs over his first two Triple-A starts (13 IP). Hoffman, the centerpiece in the Troy Tulowitzki deal last July, has nine strikeouts, and has issued just four walks while allowing only eight hits.
- Willson Contreras (C, Cubs, Triple-A Iowa) is following up a strong Arizona Fall League season with a good start to 2016. He is batting .429 and has struck out just three times in his first 35 official PAs.
- After spending most of the past two-and-a-half seasons in the big leagues, Mike Zunino (C, Mariners, Triple-A Tacoma) is back in the minors trying to find his swing. Zunino is off to a good start, homering four times and driving in 11 in his first eight games while posting a .441 BA.
- That Jurickson Profar (SS, Rangers, Triple-A Round Rock) is playing at all is newsworthy after injuries robbed the former top prospect in baseball of most of the past two seasons. Through his first eight games, Profar is hitting for average (.303) and is getting on base (.410), but has only one extra-base hit.
- Speedster Johneshwy Fargas (CF, Giants, High A San Jose) swiped 59 bags in 102 games for Class A Augusta in 2015. He already has three stolen bases in his first six games for High A San Jose, although he has been caught two times. Fargas leads the California League with three triples despite the team losing three games to rainouts during the first weekend of the season.
- One of the main prospects involved in the Craig Kimbrel trade with the Red Sox this offseason, Javier Guerra (SS, Padres, High A Lake Elsinore) is off to a slow start with his new organization. He has just five hits over his first 35 at-bats and only one extra-base hit. Guerra has also struck out 17 times and has walked only twice.
- John Nogowski (1B, Athletics, High A Stockton) had a week to remember. On April 13, he had a pinch-hit, walk-off two-run double in the bottom of the ninth. Nogowski was a late-game replacement again on April 15. He went 0-for-2 at the plate, but it was on the mound that he made an impact. Throwing 63 mph fastballs, Nogowski held High A Modesto to two hits and two walks in four innings to earn the win in a 17-inning victory for the Ports. It was his first professional appearance as a pitcher.
Stat Wrap (Stats through April 15, 2016)
Pacific Coast League
Joey Gallo, 3B, Rangers: 11-33, 11 R, 2 2B, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 6 BB, 10 K
Tony Kemp, 2B, Astros: 10-23, 4 R, 2 RBI, 4 BB, 5 K
Jonathan Dziedzic, LHP, Royals: 12 IP, 5 H, 2 R (0 ER), 1 BB, 14 K
It’s no surprise that the PCL’s home run leader out of the gate is Joey Gallo, who has already had a pair of two-homer games. Infielder Tony Kemp leads the circuit in batting average, but hasn’t collected an extra base hit and is 0-3 in stolen base attempts. Jonathan Dziedzic allowed a two-run homer in the second inning of his first start, although it came after a two-out error. He hasn’t allowed another run in his last 10 innings. — Jared Massey
Travis Demeritte, 2B, Rangers: 11-27, 9 R, 1 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K, 2 SB
Forrest Wall, 2B, Rockies: 16-37, 6 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 5 BB, 8 K, 3 SB
Wes Rogers, OF, Rockies: 14-32, 7 R, 2 3B, 4 RBI, 7 BB, 5 K, 6 SB
Grant Holmes, RHP, Dodgers: 11 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 12 K
Free-swinging Travis Demeritte came out of the gate crushing the ball in his first season in High A, hitting a league-leading five home runs in his first seven games. He has also struck out nine times. Modesto Nuts teammates Wes Rogers and Forrest Wall rank first and second in the league in batting average; Rogers has been showing off his speed, collecting a pair of triples and recording six steals, even though he’s already been caught four times. Wall has shown an advanced approach at the plate with a dash of power as well as a trio of steals. Grant Holmes, who is the fifth-youngest player in the California League, has allowed just one unearned run in his first two starts while striking out a dozen batters. — Jared Massey
News and Notes
- Andrew Bettencourt of the Visalia Times-Delta looks at the start of former Cal Leaguer Trevor Story and latest on whether two California League teams will be relocating to the Carolina League in the near future in his Cal League Notebook
- Los Angeles Angels prospect and former Cuban League prospect Roberto Baldoquin landed on the Inland Empire DL, but the injury isn’t serious, according to Kyle Glaser of The Press-Enterprise.
- The Stockton Ports’ rotation is filled with top-rated Oakland A’s prospects, says Scott Linesburgh of the Stockton Record.
Pacific Coast League
- Andy Furillo of the Sacramento Bee details the comeback attempt for former big leaguer Ricky Romero with the Sacramento River Cats.
- Former Seattle Mariners’ catcher and top prospect Mike Zunino is starting over with the Tacoma Rainiers to begin 2016, says Lauren Smith of the Tacoma News Tribune.
- Arizona Diamondbacks’ prospect and member of Team Canada Sean Jamieson is embracing a utility role with the Reno Aces, notes Darryl Smart of the Norfolk News.
- Former Oklahoma State star Corey Brown’s return to the Sooner State as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization has rekindled plenty of memories, reports Jacob Unruh of NewsOK.
- Nashville Sounds’ broadcaster Jeff Hem discusses the Sounds’ pitching staff with Oakland A’s minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson in Hem’s broadcaster blog.
This Week at 2080 Baseball…
Reports Filed: Check out the most recent player reports filed at 2080 Baseball.
Videos Filed: Video of Colorado Rockies’ prospect Forrest Wall from an April 10 California League game between Modesto and Stockton. Video of fellow Rockies’ prospect Jonathan Gray from his April 10 rehab start vs. Stockton.
- PCL and Cal League alum Trevor Story (SS, Rockies) has had a headline-making debut in the big leagues. He is one of several MLB debuts highlighted by Lisa Winston in her latest ‘Les Debutantes’ article.
- Former Cal League and PCL alum Corey Seager (SS, Dodgers) leads our Top 125 Preseason Prospect Rankings list.