Feature Photo: Joe Jimenez, RHP, Tigers
Contributors Mauricio Rubio, Jr. and Emily Waldon, are back this week, highlighting players that could be candidates to break in to our next top 125 prospect rankings, thanks to strong starts to their 2016 campaigns. Today, they take a look at one prospect who could jump up our existing rankings list, and nine candidates who are making strong cases for inclusion in our top 125 rankings next year, including five from the Detroit Tigers.
(Ed. Note: Stats are through June 1st; 2080 preseason prospect rank in parentheses)
Movin’ On Up
I’ve only gotten brief glimpses at Anderson, but this is a player whose profile generates a lot of chatter considering the tools and the risk associated with his relative youth in baseball years. Anderson is enjoying a hot streak over his last 10 games. He’s hitting .311 over that span but there are some unique flags in his production. Anderson hasn’t hit any homers and he hasn’t used his 70-grade speed to steal any bases in his last ten in spite of his high average. He hasn’t struck out much more than expected, nine times in 45 at bats, but he hasn’t walked much either (three walks). The walks are a frequent topic of discussion with Anderson. He posted a 4.4% walk rate at AA Birmingham last year and hasn’t posted a walk rate over 5% in any meaningful sample since 2013. It’s caused some in the public to doubt whether he will be able to control the strike zone enough to utilize his raw hit tool in game. Anderson has never displayed much over-the-fence power so his lack of homers over his last 10 games isn’t anything out of the ordinary, considering his profile.
Anderson’s lack of plate discipline inspires a lot of doubt among evaluators, but it’s important to note he’s still a much more raw product than his minor league plate appearances indicate. Anderson has found the barrel well enough during his hot stretch, and the White Sox are hoping he starts to start finding his power and utilizing his speed as well. -Mauricio Rubio Jr.
On the Outside Looking In: Candidates to Jump Into 2080’s Next Top 125 Prospect Ranking List
When the Tigers selected the Tennessee outfielder as their supplemental first round pick (34th overall) in the 2015 MLB Draft, they knew they had a display of raw power on their hands. A stocky, barrel-chested, left-handed hitter, Stewart is listed at a generous 6’0”, carrying the majority of his power in his upper body. At the plate, he uses strong upper body rotation, leaning back on every pitch and utilizing that raw power, and combines it with plus bat speed to drive the ball.
It was following his 2016 assignment to High A Lakeland that Stewart showed his true offensive colors, punching a Florida State League best 15 home runs, leading second place by six home runs. To see Stewart in person, this comes as no surprise, as the 330-foot right field line at Lakeland’s Henley Field seems to agree just fine with the 22-year-old’s power profile. In addition to his home runs, Stewart is slashing.232/.363/.537 with a rock solid .900 OPS.
Defensively, Stewart stands an average-level defender with decent range, impressing a need for growth if he looks to hold his own in the outfield at the higher minor league levels. With his bat as his calling card, and when adding in a .305 ISO, his keys to future success will come through Stewart’s ability to read pitching at the Double-A level – the make-or-break mark of improvement that so many players must face. -Emily Waldon
Already garnering buzz before he reached the Class A level in 2015, the elite velocity of the 20-year-old Jimenez gives the Tigers every reason to anticipate a bright future for the stocky closer. Standing every bit of his 6’3” listed height, Jimenez has been known to occasionally flirt with triple-digits with his plus fastball. Jimenez will also be quick to tell you he is pleased with the development of his slider, coupling that with a changeup for a solid arsenal in the making. Prior to his promotion to Double-A Erie on May 26, Jimenez absolutely dominated the Florida State League with a 0.59 WHIP, striking out 20 through a scoreless 17.1 IP for High A Lakeland.
Jimenez officially debuted for the Double-A Erie SeaWolves on May 29, striking out the side in 16 pitches in the ninth inning to earn his first save at the Double-A level. As anticipated, the Eastern League has no plans to hand success to the big right-hander, as this year’s league features a much more patient crop of seasoned hitters. Jimenez plans to continue development of his changeup and slider to offer a better mix against opposing hitters, and he knows he has his work cut out for him. An awareness of the task at hand, continued organizational instruction for the youngster, combined with a lethal skillset should lead to a steady climb up the Tiger’s minor league ladder. -Emily Waldon
Hayes has cooled of late, hitting just .205 over his last 10 games to drop his season average to .276 (with five homers and 29 RBIs over 44 games), but he’s still off to a hot start overall at a full season assignment as a 19-year-old. Hayes has displayed a solid feel for the barrel, and some pop over his first 159 ABs. He’s hitting .283 and only has a 16.7 K% on the season. He has a projectable body, and he should grow into some intriguing power as he ages, which would mesh well with his apparent contact skills. Hayes has a strong arm, and he’s shown to be a competent defender at third base in spite of poor athleticism. Look for Hayes to start finding the barrel once again, and in a few years his power numbers should be louder than what they are now. -Mauricio Rubio Jr.
The power was always apparent with the broad and projectable Jimenez. The question was whether he would make enough adjustments with his swing to find the raw pop in-game. So far, so good for the 19-year-old Jimenez. He’s hitting .328 with a .538 SLG to pair along with some impressive home runs. The strikeout rate is still high for Jimenez – he’s sitting at a 24.6 K% on the year – but to this point it hasn’t hampered his bat-to-ball skills. The strikeouts will be something to keep tabs on as he advances levels and faces more advanced stuff than what the Midwest League has to offer on a nightly basis, but Jimenez has shown impressive power early in 2016. -Mauricio Rubio Jr.
I was in the house for Alcantara’s stunning 10-strikeout performance against Kane County May 17th, in which he relied primarily on a double-plus fastball and a slider that flashed plus. Alcantara’s season on the whole has been up and down, his battle with command has resulted in a 12.4 BB%, but he has done a better job of limiting the walks in two starts since May 17th. Alcantara over his past 18 innings has 28 strikeouts and five walks. The stuff is certainly loud, and the risk is similarly loud considering his age, and his inconsistent command of a high-octane arsenal. But Alcantara is showing the tools that could result in him jumping onto 2080’s top prospect lists by next year. -Mauricio Rubio Jr.
The Red Sox are blessed with high-octane prospects like Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and Anderson Espinoza so it’s understandable why Dubon has flown under the radar so far in 2016. Dubon doesn’t have a loud skillset, and his power won’t amount to much at maturity, making his bat reliant on his contact skills and approach. That works just fine for Dubon, however as he’s shown the ability to consistently barrel up the baseball and has more walks (26) than strikeouts (21) early in the season. Dubon will provide plus defense at short as well, which plays the profile up considerably as it’s difficult to find a plus defender at shortstop who can hit. Dubon isn’t a flashy prospect by any stretch, but there’s enough there to make the case that he should earn consideration as a top 100 prospect when the 2017 lists come out. -Mauricio Rubio Jr.
The Tigers appear to have a diamond in the rough on their hands. Just 20 years old, Azocar has the ability to pull you in, despite the lack of a power-hitting build. The right-hander hasn’t broken the .100 ISO mark since his time with the Gulf Coast League Tigers in 2015. Where Azocar currently lacks power, he produces consistency that overshadows the output of his slightly thin frame. In his first year of full season play with Class A West Michigan, Azocar is hitting .310/.339/.374 with .064 ISO, including 53 hits and 22 runs over 180 ABs.
Featuring plus speed and range, Azocar has quickly become a fixture in the outfield for West Michigan, developing a personal highlight reel of mowing down runners, while covering a great deal of ground. The toolsy youngster has plenty of projection ahead, and he’s expected to bulk up some in the coming years, and add to his already-natural understanding of the game and strong instincts. The pieces are there, and the development should follow in due time as he works his way through the Class A system for Detroit. -Emily Waldon
Coming into the Tigers system as the 10th– round selection out of Dallas Baptist University in 2014, Voelker was almost instantly labeled as undersized, although the velocity he brought to the table was just too sharp to ignore. Making a leap through three levels of the Tigers’ farm system within a span of 40 games in 2015, the right-hander has displayed admirable resilience. At the conclusion of the 2015 campaign, Voelker had submitted 18 saves in 20 opportunities, adding a 1.08 WHIP and striking out 63 in 55.1 IP between the three minor league clubs.
Continuously working to expand his arsenal, Voelker features a mid-90’s fastball and a potentially plus slider that has been known to touch the high 80’s. Back in the seat as the primary closer for Double-A Erie this season, Voelker’s attack to the plate will depend on the continued development of command, and an ability to stay a step ahead at the plate, a task that has been hot and cold for the righty so far this season. 2016 has presented a reality check for the 23 year old, with a raise in his runs allowed, but Voelker continues to chip away in the same fashion he has since he first entered the league. Now facing competition for the closing role against newly-promoted flame thrower Joe Jimenez, Voelker has struck out 24 through 16 innings, allowing 11 runs off 20 hits, combined with a 1.81 WHIP. This year will feature the biggest challenge for Voelker to date, requiring him to match pace of development that the Tigers expect from their Double-A prospects. -Emily Waldon
When the Tigers announced their 2015 6th-round selection of Missouri State southpaw Matt Hall, it wasn’t quite clear what was to be expected. Hall stands as one of the most unassuming weapons in Detroit’s Class A system. With a fastball that struggles to squeak beyond 90 mph, you may question my use of the term weapon, but for Hall, he’s letting his numbers speak for themselves.
In his opening assignment to Connecticut in the New York-Penn League (Short-Season A) in 2015, Hall never saw more than a four-inning outing, posting the consistent strikeout numbers (30 in 31 IP) that first grabbed the eye of the Detroit front office in the beginning. Aside from less-than-dazzling velocity with his fastball, Hall is using a crippling curveball to carve out the productivity that has turned him into one of the most valuable assets at West Michigan this season.
Securing his sixth win on June 1st, Hall – who has yet to see a loss – leads the Midwest League in wins, and also leading the Whitecaps pitching staff with 50.1 IP. The durability of the now 22 year old has solidified as well, with Hall submitting a pair of 6.2-inning outings, both a career high for the lefty. As for strikeouts, Hall has once again found an unassuming way to make his presence known with a team-high 56 Ks on the year, adding a team-best 0.72 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. Averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, the naturally unassuming Hall is proving that you can find success with something other than mind-blowing velocity, and he’s perfectly content with that. -Emily Waldon