Feature Photo: A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics
Nearly three months of baseball in the Short-Season A New York-Penn League came to a close this past Monday, with the State College Spikes (Cardinals) sweeping the Hudson Valley Renegades (Rays) in a best-of-three series en route to their ninth league championship in franchise history. The conclusion of the 2016 campaign offers a timely chance to recognize prospects that stood out in the abbreviated season – not only with respect to their on-field production, but also those who showed some of the more impressive tools at the level.
Scouting prospects in short-season ball can be difficult in a jam-packed schedule (there’s a reason they call it short-season), and as a result we evaluate within the constraints of a limited sample size. Still, I had the chance to attend 18 NYPL games (including the NYPL All-Star Game) across seven different parks – spanning as far east as Lowell, MA and as far west as Niles, OH – and was able to evaluate a majority of the top talent the league had to offer, and my conversations with scouts along the way helped mold my opinions of players.
To qualify for my team, I created some informal rules: all position players must have met a criteria of at least 120 PAs; starting pitchers required at least 30 IP; and relievers 20 frames. I also made an effort to include at least one prospect from all 14 organizations, though Batavia (Marlins) and Connecticut (Tigers) simply missed the cut in this respect.
Lastly, bear in mind that these players aren’t necessarily top prospects at their respective positions; rather, their combination of production, sample size of playing time and tools were such that, in my opinion, they deserved recognition above their counterparts.
Acquired: 4th Rd., 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (STL)
Why He’s Here: Slashed .325/.419/.433 with mostly gap power (14 doubles, two triples, one home run) in first pro year, including league-best 2.0 BB/K ratio. Receiving and blocking skills need some refinement, but but he led all catchers with an eye-opening 46% caught stealing rate (17 CS/37 SBA).
Acquired: 14th Rd., 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (PHI)
Why He’s Here: Muscled nine home runs, led qualifiers in ISO (.238) and slashed .282/.372/.518 in first pro season. Employs high leg kick and aggressive approach (13 BB/57 K), but ball really jumps to the pull side. Complimented 60-grade raw pop with solid-average defense at first (.989 FLD% in 366 innings).
Acquired: 2nd Rd., 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (NYY)
Why He’s Here: The Louisville product led all primary second basemen in AVG (.321) with gap power (13 doubles, three home runs) and quality approach (30 BB/39 K). Flashed above-average speed (4.25 H-to-1B) and some base-stealing ability (eight SB, zero caught). Solid-average defender with soft hands and instincts.
Acquired: 4th Rd., 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (BOS)
Why He’s Here: Arguably the most productive bat in the NYPL despite smaller, 34-game sample size, slashing .386/.427/.674 with 7 HRs and 33 RBIs. Defense at third base was below average (.885 FLD% in 189 innings, with seven errors), but he has plus arm to stick. Some holes to his swing, but raw power is exciting.
Acquired: 6th Rd., 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (STL)
Why He’s Here: Posted best OBP (.400), SLG% (.437) and most stolen bases (19) among qualified shortstops. Works counts very well with polished approach (1.66 BB/K), impressive feel for the barrel and line-drive gap power (13 doubles, five triples, two home runs) and a solid, if not above-average, middle-infield glove.
Acquired: 1st Rd. (#22 overall), 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (PIT)
Why He’s Here: Tall and thick-bodied third-sacker slashed .282/.412/.362 with 41 BB/37 K in debut. In-game power didn’t show (two home runs; below-average .082 ISO), but has country-strong build and 55-to-60 grade raw power with consistent barrel control. Plus arm at third, but lacks ideal range and footwork.
Acquired: 13th Rd., 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (HOU)
Why He’s Here: The Texas A&M product hit .287/.393/.441 with five home runs and nine doubles in pro debut, earning a late-year bump to Class-A Quad Cities. Paired impressive discipline metrics (20 BB/12 K) with solid second base glovework (.984 FLD% in 301 innings).
Acquired: 2nd Rd., 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft (NYM)
Why He’s Here: One of the youngest hitters in the NYPL, Lindsay slashed .297/.418/.450 with four home runs in an abbreviated 32-game stay. Compact stroke yields plus bat speed and hard pull-side line drives. Works counts well for his age (25 BB/31 K). Athletic build with minimal physical projection, and with solid tools across the board.
Acquired: 19th Rd., 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft (BOS)
Why He’s Here: Led all qualified hitters in AVG (.332) and wRC+ (166) with solid power output (19 XBH; .155 ISO). Average raw power limited to pull side. Hunts fastballs early in counts, will lunge against advanced breakers. Average speed (4.38 H-to-1B) with fringy arm; likely limited to left field moving forward.
Acquired: 6th Rd., 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (HOU)
Why He’s Here: Early-season standout finished with .282/.365/.544 slash line, nine home runs and .262 ISO across 36 games. Swing can get long, but ball shows some carry to all fields. Average runner with moderate base-stealing skills (8-for-9 in SB attempts) and average range, arm and instincts defensively.
Acquired: Signed as IFA October 28, 2013 (CLE)
Why He’s Here: Shorter, wiry-built athlete nabbed a league-high 28 stolen bases and .322 AVG in 65 games. Employs slap approach from both sides with burst out of the box and near elite straight-line speed (3.92 HP-to-1B). Ingredients of future leadoff type with above-average range and passable arm in center field.
Acquired: 3rd Rd., 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (BAL)
Why He’s Here: Produced a .352/.386/.514 slash line with four home runs in 38 games. Simple, quick stroke from right side conducive to liners to the gaps; raw pop presently limited to pull-side. Flashes plus arm from right field; average range and underway speed likely limit him to a corner-outfield spot.
Acquired: 13th Rd., 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (TAM)
Why He’s Here: One of only two qualified NYPL hitters with at least .300 AVG and 20 XBH this season. Has compact, low-effort swing with 50-to-55 raw power and ability to spray it to all fields. Tall, muscular build but below-average overall athleticism means he’ll probably stay at first base long term.
Acquired: 1st Rd.(#6 overall), 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (OAK)
Why He’s Here: Tall, mature-bodied lefty managed 11.0 SO/9, .184 BAA, 3.03 ERA in pro debut. Did not see him live, unfortunately, but reports had him hitting 97 mph with the fastball in early August. The slider and change remain promising pitches. Overall view of scouts I spoke to was that this was about what was expected from his pro debut.
Acquired: As part of three-team trade 12/17/14 (TAM)
Why He’s Here: Lanky southpaw had standout campaign (6-0, 1.06 ERA, 9.3 SO/9, 4.7 H/9). Loose, slingshot arm action produces fringy 89-to-91 mph fastball that flashes average two-seam sink; leans on his 74-to-76 mph curveball with 1-to-7 shape and above-average depth for whiffs. Will need to develop changeup and pack on some muscle for upper levels.
Acquired: 5th Rd., 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (PHI)
Why He’s Here: The Oregon product went 5-1 with a 1.97 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP across 45.2 innings. Spots above-average 90-to-93 mph fastball well horizontally with late arm-side run. Out pitch is 83-to-85 mph slider that will flash plus snap on occasion. Tall frame creates good angle to plate. Strong build with minimal projection left physically. Pitches deep into games.
Acquired: 1st Rd. (#42, CBA), 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft (CLE)
Why He’s Here: Young, projectable 6’5” righty led league in ERA (0.55) with 10.0 SO/9, earned bump to Class A Lake County midseason. Fastball sat 88-to-91 mph (T92); flashes advanced feel for curveball; changeup has some fade, but lacks ideal velo separation presently. Long levers add some deception. Repeats delivery well for size. Exciting arm with upside and inherent risk.
Acquired: Signed as IFA 2014 (NYM)
Why He’s Here: Dominican righty posted 2.01 ERA, 9.3 SO/9, in first full season in a rotation. Sits 88-to-92 mph with arm-side life on fringy fastball; changeup flashes above-average, splitter-like drop; varies break on average low-80s curveball. More control than command profile, but has the stuff to miss bats.
Acquired: 34th Rd., 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft (WSH)
Why He’s Here: Mustered 1.88 ERA, 10.0 SO/9 and .188 BAA in nine starts. Showed below-average 86-to-89 mph fastball with average sink in the NYPL ASG; 73-to-76 mph curveball is out pitch with 1-to-7 shape and flashes of above-average depth; 80-to-83 mph changeup is raw, with fringe-average fade. Tall, strong build with some room to add muscle for added velo.
Acquired: 24th Rd., 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft (TAM)
Why He’s Here: The Fordham product relinquished neither a run nor home run across 22.1 total relief frames, with a 28-to-5 SO/BB rate, and T2 in the NYPL with eight saves. Was unable to see him in a live setting, and reports on his stuff aren’t readily accessible. Nevertheless, an impressive season like this deserves recognition.
Acquired: Signed as UDFA February 19, 2015 (NYM)
Why He’s Here: Big, physical righty was T2 in saves (eight) with 45 strikeouts and a 1.23 ERA in 23 late-game appearances. Sits 90-to-93 mph with a straight fastball and reaches back for 94 mph. Put-away pitch is 83-to-86 mph slider that will flash plus horizontal bite and quality feel for spin.
Top Overall Player (in order; does not imply overall prospect value or ceiling)
- Triston McKenzie (RHP, Indians)
- Bobby Dalbec (3B, Red Sox)
- A.J. Puk (LHP, Athletics)
- Jeremy Martinez (C, Cardinals)
- Gabriel Mejia (OF, Indians)
Most Exiting Tool (in order)
- A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics (fastball)
- Gabriel Mejia, OF, Indians (speed, defense)
- Adonis Medina, LHP, Phillies (slider)
- Brady Aiken, LHP, Indians (curveball/changeup combo)
- Bobby Dalbec, Red Sox/Pete Alonso, Mets (raw power)
Top Raw Power
- Pete Alonso (Mets)
- Bobby Dalbec (Red Sox)
- Darick Hall (Phillies)
- Ryan McCarvel (Cardinals)
- Miguel Mercedes (Athletics)
Who are three players that people should be talking about more?
- Adonis Medina (RHP, Phillies)
- Sandy Santos (OF, Pirates)
- Timmy Robinson (OF, Yankees)
Of everyone you saw this season, who ya got?
Brady Aiken, LHP, Indians (Mahoning Valley Scrappers)
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 205 B/T: L/L Age: 20 yrs, 1m
Acquired: 1st Rd. (#17 overall), 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft (CLE)
Why He’s Here: Had I seen A.J. Puk (LHP, Athletics) in person, there’s a solid chance he would have gotten my vote. I didn’t, though, so I’m going with what I saw in Aiken, who was, hands down, the best pitcher I saw in person this summer (though, for this exercise, his 22.1 innings in the NYPL made him ineligible for this All-Star team). His combination of size, pitchability, command and advanced feel for two legitimately plus secondary pitches separated himself from the pack. A dip in fastball velocity post-Tommy John may be a concern moving forward – he was 88-to-91 mph in the live viewing last month – but a full offseason of rest should help his cause heading into 2017 spring training.