Feature Photo: Greg Allen, CF, Indians
Dave DeFreitas, Nick J. Faleris and Mark Shreve took a look around the minor leagues last week, and wrote up Johnny Barbaro (RHP, Yankees), Greg Allen (CF, Indians), Forrest Wall (2B, Rockies) and Alec Hansen (RHP, White Sox). Shreve also posted 10 new videos from the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox recent series with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (PHI), and 2080’s Alec Dopp updates the Video Library with 14 new looks of some high-profile NY-Penn League prospects.
Triple-A Prospect Spotlight
Barbato came into the August 27 game against the Rochester Red Wings to start the 5th inning in relief of a seriously roughed-up Richard Bleier (four IP, 10 H, six ER). Barbato’s high-octane arsenal was a serious change-of-pace off of Bleier’s softer stuff, and he put up two hitless innings with three strikeouts, while working quickly and from ahead in the count to four of the six batters he faced.
He brought an above-average four-seamer to the table at 93-to-95 mph (T96 twice) that he worked inside with some slight bore to RHH and set up his hard-biting slider with ¾ depth and late, sharp bite at 87-to-89 mph that flashed plus. He also threw a few curveballs at 78-to-80 mph with average depth that worked to keep hitter off balance. But the slider is likely the go-to for put-away.
Barbato has a solid, thick frame with boulders for thighs. He throws with some stab in the back that goes straight down behind his back hip and up into a tight arm circle to provide some plus deception. He gets big drive off the mound with that lower half, ending with a hop-step finish around his plant foot to the first base side to finish a high-effort delivery. In this view Barbato’s command was on — save for what looked to be an effectively wild 96-mph fastball in on the chin of the sole lefty he faced, Daniel Parka, in the 6th, and the fastball command helped him get some chase on the slider when ahead in the count.
Since the All-Star break, his Triple-A numbers have shown some shut-down effectiveness, including a 1.08 ERA, .169 BAA, and 1.02 WHIP. But there’s also a longer-term control issue that can be seen in the numbers, and this is where the profile gets cloudy for me. Despite the solid outcomes recently, he’s got seven walks over his last 15.2 innings, and for the season he’s got a well-below average 4.2 BB/9, up from 2015’s Triple-A rate of 4.0 and 2014’s 3.3 across Double-A Trenton and San Antonio. The strikeout rate is also trending the wrong way, from 2015’s 9.4/9 to 8.5/9 this year. Most telling is that his hits-per-9 IP has jumped from 4.7/9 to 7.5/9 year-over-year at the Triple-A level, and indication that the advanced hitters at the higher levels will wait him out and force him into the zone, making his fastball hittable when he is forced to throw strikes.
After starting the year with the Yankees, these trends seemed to also have played out at the major league level (3.5 BB/9, 9.0 H/9 rates, though a bump in Ks to 10.4/9) and he was optioned on May 9 after 13 appearances. He was given another look via a quick up/down outing for the Yankees on August 5 – an ugly 0.0 IP, 3H, 3R, 1BB line that had him optioned back to the RailRiders the next day. With their recent wipe-the-slate clean approach to their relief corps – goodbye LHPs Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman in roster-rebuilding trades – and his August 5 call-up netting a rather rough outing, it would seem his spot in the pecking order of September tryouts for the Yankees’ 2017 bullpen corps might have taken a hit. However, the fastball/slider combo was impressive in this viewing, and improved control and consistency over multiple outings would get him back on the front offices’ radar soon enough, and possibly bump him off of his present Role 30, AAAA profile. – Mark A. Shreve
Double-A Prospect Spotlights
While “Believe-land” didn’t land Jonathan Lucroy from the Brewers when the catcher invoked his no-trade rights, there was definitely some let-down among Tribe fans. However, in a year or so, when Allen is running down balls in center field and getting on base at the top of the lineup, people will be happy that Lucroy favored Texas BBQ over, well…whatever it is they eat in Brown-town.
Allen is very unassuming in stature, but what he lacks in size he more than makes up for in fast-twitch strength and bat control. Since being taken in the 6th round of the 2014 MLB Draft out of San Diego State, Allen has been an on-base machine with plus defense in center field. On top of that, since his first full season in 2015 through today he has found some pop, with 51 doubles and 13 HRs over 960 ABs.
Allen works out of a slight crouch at the plate and has pretty simple mechanics – he stays short to the ball and does a very good job getting the barrel out front creating good backspin. He uses the whole field and really has a good feel for the strike zone. To give you a better idea of how good, he has not had an OBP lower than .361 since his draft year in 2014, and has increased each year since – .367 in 2015 and .412 so far this season. After walking 58 times and striking out 51 times in High A, he has turned in 15 walks to 22 Ks through 31 games since his promotion to Double-A in late July. He is 23 years old now, and will play most of 2017 at 24, but he’s only in his second full season of pro ball, and is already showing improvement in all the right areas.
Defensively he should stay in center field – in my short look he got great jumps going into both gaps and was very comfortable going back on balls. He doesn’t throw real well (40 grade), but his throws are accurate and didn’t show much tail. I didn’t get a good run time on him down the line, but the first step quickness in the outfield and the 120 bags he’s stolen since signing suggest that he is a plus runner.
I can see similarities in Allen and Andrew Toles (OF, Dodgers)–both see the ball very well and know the strike zone (Allen actually looks to be the better on-base guy). Both have feel for the barrel and while they are not big power guys, generate some bat speed, have the ability to do damage, and are enormous threats to take the extra base. The slightly-older Toles had no trouble galloping through the minor leagues this season only to then lay waste to big league pitching since his call up last month (.397/.463/1.152 i first 58 ABs). I liked what I saw from Allen this summer and apparently the Brewers did too. No doubt Lucroy would have helped the Indians on both sides of the ball this year and next but if Allen stays on his current, pace the best trade for the Indians in 2016 might be the one that didn’t happen. – Dave DeFreitas
Class A Prospect Spotlights
The Rockies rolled the dice on Wall’s hit tool, taking him with the 35th-overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. Wall is a well-built kid – athletic with some present strength. I imagine he will get stronger, though I don’t see a ton of physical projection. As I noted back in April, Wall has always shown an advanced bat and feel for the barrel beyond his years, which ultimately had Colorado believing that he would advance through their system in short order. Wall does have a short, smooth stroke that produces some bat speed, and while he does not have much power projection, he has enough juice to find the gaps and pop one to the pull side from time to time.
The lack of power projection was one major knock on Wall when he was drafted – a concern that has largely held true through his first two-plus seasons in pro ball. However, the Rockies saw the hit tool and on-base ability as being so advanced that it outweighed the below-average power – a prediction that Wall rewarded the organization on by hitting .318 with a .416 OBP in his first 157 ABs in 2014. In his first full season in 2015 he hit .280 with a .355 OBP in the South Atlantic League, but showed a pedestrian 17% strikeout rate. The K-rate can usually be chalked up to the jump in level and a young hitter seeing more consistent breaking stuff for the first time. However, so far this year things have regressed a bit across the board – the 18% K-rate and .266 average represent only small dips, but the 30-point drop in OBP and the 82-point drop in and already below-average SLG are causes for concern. To be fair, Wall did jump up another level to High A and, at 20 years old, he is on the young side for the level. However, his value is directly tied to his ability to make consistent hard contact, shoot the gaps and get on base. He does have 22 SBs in 2016, so he can run a little bit (3.75 HP-to-1B on drag bunt; 4.35 down the line not going hard), but being caught 11 times each of the last two years does not suggest that he is going to be a consistent threat.
As I mentioned in April, Wall’s heavy feet around the bag at second, the whopping 30 errors and the fact that the average run doesn’t seem to translate in the field I think suggests that he won’t stay on the infield. Now there have also been rumors that he’s been dealing with a balky shoulder all season, which would be a good excuse for the offensive regression. So while his value is down, it’s far too early to write off a 20-year-old former first rounder. My prediction is that he ends up in left field down the line, and that he’ll actually be pretty good there. He is a little more of a straight line runner, so take out the need to change directions quickly and he may show surprising range. However, the industry mantra is usually to keep the bats on the infield as long as humanly possible because the value of an offensive infielder at the major league level is so much greater. My best guess is that he may go to instructs later this month if healthy to try and get the bat straightened out and give the Rockies’ brass a chance to reevaluate what they have. Look to Nick Franklin (LF, Rays) for a good comparison at the major league level. – Dave DeFreitas
Hansen entered this spring at the University of Oklahoma on a short list of players being eyed-up for top ten selection in the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft. His control and effectiveness abandoned him, however, and Hansen was relegated to relief work for a chunk of the regular season, with his draft stock slipping accordingly. The White Sox rolled the dice on the Sooner’s electric right arm and grabbed him in the second round, easing him into pro life with 10 short starts between the Rookie Arizona League and the Rookie Pioneer League before promoting him to Class A Kannapolis last week.
In his first two starts in full-season ball, Hansen has challenged hitters with a mid-90s fastball that comes with impressive run that is particularly effective as a backdoor offering to same-side bats when he hits his spots. He pairs with the heater a hard slider that flashes plus with solid tilt and hard bite and a softer breaker in the upper-70s with 11-to-5 action and some depth. He rounds out the arsenal with a quality changeup that can show sharp fade when he turns it over and hits his release.
While a slightly toned-down set of mechanics have helped to solve some of the significant control issues Hansen struggled with earlier in 2016, there is still some occasional falloff and inconsistency in his finish and command continues to be a question mark for the imposing righty. The fastball can work too loosely in the zone, particularly against left-side bats with the ball running to the barrel. Conversely, Hansen has been able to get away with less surgical implementation of the fastball to righties with the pitch effectively boring to the hands and drawing soft groundball contact.
The raw numbers thus far look great: 48.2 IP, 18 H, 8 ER, 18 BB, 76 SO, .114 AVG, 0.74 WHIP. It would be dangerous to read too much into the dominant stat line Hansen has produced over a mere 48-plus innings of work – 36 of which came against Rookie level competition – and the same it would be foolish to ignore the improved consistency in execution and frequency with which Hansen has been able to find the zone with each of his four offerings. If he can maintain the developmental momentum he’s built to this point and continue to work to replicate his release pitch-to-pitch and start-to-start, there’s potential for a dominant starter profile to emerge. At minimum even a rudimentary level of consistency over short spurts, when combined with the raw stuff, would make Hansen a quality high-leverage arm out of the pen. –Nick J. Faleris