Feature Photo: James Kaprielian, RHP, Yankees
Dave DeFreitas, Alec Dopp and Mark Shreve were at the fields for the start of the Arizona Fall League season, and check in with 2080’s Week One newsletter, profiling the bats and arms that caught their eyes during early action out in the desert.
2080 Prospect Spotlights – Arizona Fall League
James Kaprielian, RHP, Yankees (Scottsdale Scorpions, AFL)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/200 B/T: R/R Age: 22 yrs, 7m
Kaprielian is an athletic, strong bodied righty with slightly rolled shoulders and a very strong lower half. He has power stuff and looks to have at least two plus pitches between his fastball and slider, and on Wednesday night showed the makings of an average changeup as well. He is 94-to-97 mph with the fastball and has some heavy sink middle to arm side with ride up in the zone. He gets good angle, and does a good job working to both sides of the plate. He has some feel to add and subtract with the slider – backing off a bit at 84-to-86 mph range early in the count and dialing up ¾ break with late bite at 88-to-91 mph for put-away. The changeup is 86-to-88 mph with some gradual circle fade that plays up slightly due to the effort and the arm speed.
In his short pro career he has done a good job pounding down in the zone and letting the late life he gets on his power stuff work for him (3.00 ground-ball rate and 1.6 BB/9 in 29.1 IP). That all said though, he has only reached High A ball due to the elbow issue this past year and his FB command in the zone is not great, so his Fall League innings will be his first real test vs. competition beyond what he saw at UCLA.
I like the idea of working him as a starter, even though there are those that feel he will ultimately end up in the pen. I worry a bit about how he will react to 180-to-200 innings going forward, considering the effort level in the delivery and how the arm swing wraps a little in back before coming through the slot. However, he is a good athlete and showed some ability to throttle up and back in my look on 10/12, so I’m willing to bet that he will smooth things out and manage the stress his delivery puts on his body. I’m less concerned about him being two-pitch heavy, as the sink on the FB is something hitters will struggle to square up and he seems to be able to change the shape on the slider enough to produce a couple different looks. If the changeup stays at even fringe-average then he will have enough weapons to run through lineups multiple times. I think the arsenal and potential of the stuff compares to Kevin Brown (RHP, TEX, BAL, SD, MIA, LAD, NYY), who relied mainly on his power sinker and slider. Brown also had some effort in the delivery early in his career that he was able to eventually dial up and back as he matured. Brown understood the value of letting hitters pound the ball into the ground and eating innings, something that I can see Kaprielian eventually doing as well. If this kid can stay healthy, the Yankees could be looking at that type of ceiling with their 2015 first rounder. – Dave DeFreitas
Louie Lechich, LHRP, White Sox (Glendale Desert Dogs, AFL)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/200 B/T: L/L Age: 24yrs, 11m
Lechich started the 2016 season hitting 22 hits over 138 ABs (16 of them singles) with 42 punchouts and only eight walks. He finished the season giving up 12 hits over 15 innings pitched while striking out 16 and only walking just three.
Lechich has an athletic, lanky frame and has some very real arm strength off the mound. He has some crossfire action in the delivery and that, coupled with his compact arm action and ¾ slot that generates a fair amount of deception. While there is some effort in the delivery and arm action, Lechich does a good job repeating, and he looks very comfortable for a guy that just started pitching in June. In his new left-handed reliever role, Lechich has renewed value and showed the ingredients of potentially becoming a valuable lefty bullpen piece. The fastball is fringe average right now (89-to-92 mph), but he can really turn it over and get some late life down in the zone. As he gets more innings under his belt, it is not a stretch to see him build some arm strength and add a couple miles per hour. He stayed down in the zone in my look and the delivery is pretty clean, so it looks like he shouldn’t have too much trouble throwing strikes going forward. The circle change (80-to-82mph) is probably his best pitch—it gets late bottom and the arm action really sells it. At a future 55-grade offering, it could give him a real weapon vs. right-handed hitters. He has confidence with it and showed feel as well, using it to both sides of the plate. The slider is also fringe average presently, but he showed a couple with ¾ bite, and it should get to average.
This is still a very small sample size, and going forward Lechich will need to perform well this month and carry it over into good spring camp in 2017. I would not be surprised to see him get a non-roster invite to big league camp in March, but ultimately expect the White Sox to assign him to High A again for some reps, and then quickly get him up to Double-A Birmingham. Here’s my full report on Lechich. –Dave DeFreitas
Josh Staumont, RHP, Royals (Surprise Saguaros, AFL)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/200 B/T: R/R Age: 22 yrs, 9m
While his overall BB/9 rate of 7.6/9 IP over two levels can stand out as a cause for concern with his command profile, Staumont finished up the year improving those numbers to 2.9/9 over his last five starts (34.1 IP) of the season, while his SO/9 bumped up to a eye-popping 13.1/9 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas from an 11.6 rate at High A Carolina.
The Royals’ 2015 second rounder looked strong in his first AFL appearance, going three shutout innings and giving up just two hits and a walk, and striking out three. His mechanics looked smooth and repeatable in this viewing, using a full windup with a high leg kick and staying tall with moderate extension to get some downhill plane.
His fastball sat in the 92-to-96 mph range, though he reached back for 98 mph twice in the 2nd inning. He gets varying mild-to-moderate cut action in the lower velo band, and with late life and run to the armside in the higher ranges. His fastball command issues were mostly to the glove side, with the late life taking it out of the zone, and he did get squared up for three loud outs going up in the zone to challenging hitters. His most impressive offering was his plus curveball, which showed above-average depth and sharp late dive on an 11-to-5 plane, and it was used most effectively as a chase pitch when it followed the higher-velo fastball. The curve sat in the 77-to-81 mph range, but he showed great feel for the pitch, dialing it up with some snap into the 82-to-83 mph range for put-away. He threw just two changeups, which were effectively mixed in at 78 and 80 mph with some dive.
So in a perfect world you’d like to see a developing changeup that reaches fringe-average or better to stay in the rotation. But his use as a starter this year seems more an exercise in building innings (123.1 IP) and arm strength in preparation for a transition to the pen, perhaps as early as next year. The two plus pitch profile and improvements in command later in the season screams late-inning, shutdown reliever who could give you multiple innings. – Mark Shreve
Brett Phillips, OF, Brewers (Salt River Rafters, AFL)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 185 B/T: L/R Age: 22yrs, 5m
Gauged as a consensus top-five prospect in Milwaukee’s system after two consecutive years of at least 15 HR, 17 SB, .300 AVG and .900 OPS between 2014 and 2015, Phillips’ stock has slipped slightly after a 2016 campaign that encompassed a lackluster .229/.332/.397 slash and career-high 30.9% strikeout rate in his first full year at the Double-A level. The 22-year-old former sixth-round pick has appeared in two of four possible games in Arizona, and while a 1-for-4 line with a triple and one stolen base in that span isn’t flashy, he leads Salt River in walks (4) and has struck out just twice in nine plate appearances.
Phillips’ build is on the shorter end of the spectrum at 6’0”, though he has a strong lower half and surprisingly natural athletic attributes. He stole just 12 bases in 19 attempts this season in the Southern League (63% success rate), but he shows good burst out of the box and underway speed that borders as plus for a left-handed bat, clocking a 4.13 home-to-first time on Opening Night. Combined with his solid defensive reads and an arm that looks to be above-average in limited looks, that speed helps him reach balls in the corner quickly and cover an above-average amount of real estate in right field.
The swing has not looked particularly impressive in limited looks thus far, appearing a bit too mechanical in the upper body and failing to time his leg kick effectively, as he routinely finds himself out front on off-speed stuff, which elicits more defensive hacks and lunges than you’d like to see. There is also a tendency to drop the hands slightly in his load, often causing the swing path to lengthen. Having said all that, he has shown restraint against chasing pitches in the dirt in early looks, which validates the fact that he has actually posted above-average walk rates in each of his first two seasons with Milwaukee.
Beyond the traits he has displayed in-game, Phillips has great makeup and observable passion for his craft, which bodes well for his ability to make adjustments and cope with failures. Projection-wise, I think he ultimately hits for average power (12-16 HR) with a high volume of doubles in a best-case scenario. The swing still requires smoothing out, though, and his pull-happy tendencies have already elicited infield shifts in the fall league, which could limit his ability to hit for a high average. I think there is 15-19 SB annually in his future given his speed, which should also help him man a reliable if not above-average right field. Indeed, a return to Double-A to start 2017 may be in his future, but a 15 HR/15 SB upside with solid defensive attributes will make him a valued asset at the next level. – Alec Dopp
Brent Honeywell, RHP, Rays (Peoria Javelinas, AFL)
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 200 lbs B/T: R/R Age: 21 yrs, 6m
In just his second full season of pro ball, the 21-year-old Honeywell comes to the AFL following an impressive run through High A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, where the 2014 second rounder solidified his reputation as the Rays’ top pitching prospect with a combined 2.34 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and impressive 2.0 BB/9 and 9.1 SO/9 rates over 20 starts and 115.1 innings, evenly split between the two levels.
Honeywell was showcasing his aggressiveness with the fastball right out of the gate in his debut turn for the Peoria Javelinas on Wednesday afternoon, though the results were not as expected. Challenging hitters with his plus 93-to-96 mph fastball (T97) early, Honeywell struggled with his armside command, missing the inside target towards the middle of the plate and getting squared up for a two run homer by Jose Trevino (C, Rangers) in the first frame, and Corey Toups (2B, Royals) in the second inning, see video below) as part of a rough outing in which he went two innings, giving up four hits and five earned runs, while walking one and striking out one.
His fastball in the higher velo version showed late life and had effective boring action in on the hands of righties, and when spotted with command, it was extremely effective, breaking two bats in the process and getting swing and miss. He also mixed in a four-seam variation with some mild cut action in the 93-to-95 mph range, but again showed inconsistent feel.
His well-publicized screwball, which was in the 75-to-77 mph range, stood out more clearly from his changeup in this view, with the screwball showing the look of an opposite-hand, 1-to-7 shaped curveball with early break and late downer action. His changeup (80-to-82 mph) held a flatter fastball look out of hand before showing above average late, hard tumble. In both cases he replicated the fastball arm action well, making for a tough combination for hitters.
It’s not worth reading into the command issue seen with the fastball in this viewing, especially given the 34 days of rest he’s had since finishing up the season with Double-A Montgomery. His mechanics were consistently smooth and repeatable, and his command should return to regular-season form in short order. He showed he’s still got some gas in the tank after a 115-inning campaign, so there’s no reason to think he won’t finish strong in the AFL to put a bow on an impressive season. – Mark Shreve
Michael Peoples, RHP, Indians (Mesa Solar Sox, AFL)
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/190 B/T: R/R Age: 25 yrs, 1m
Peoples, the Indians’ 14th-rounder in the 2012 Draft, and has been steadily building innings as a starter since 2014, reaching 27 starts and 165 innings this year for the Tribe. The 6’5” righty has a thin, athletic build with good coordination and some room to get stronger in his upper half.
He has the most success when he is spotting his four-pitch mix down in the zone and pitching to contact, but he struggled with his command in my view on October 11, tossing 2.2 innings and giving up five hits and three runs, pairing two walks with four strikeouts.
Peoples’ delivery has a high leg kick with an inverted W when he separates with some shoulder tilt to help generate solid downhill plane. His fastball was a sitting 88-to-90 mph and it showed some moderate arm side run, but it was hit hard when left up in the zone. (It should be noted that he’s been up to T94 during the season, so there may be a fatigue factor playing into that velo after his solid 165 IP this year). His sinker is average and plays up a bit because of the downhill plane he gets, sitting in the 86-to-89 range. He gets some good downer action on it and he showed average command to both sides of the plate. When both offerings are kept down, there is enough variance in the movement to be effective, and both offerings are coming from the same ¾ slot to give some deception out of hand, but any lapses in command can lead to a big inning, as it did in this start.
His curveball was a fringy offering, in the 78-to-81 mph range, showing more of a gradual, rolling break that at times lacked teeth in the zone, but he did show some feel for the pitch in snapping off a tighter-breaking version for a called strikeout. He also flashed a changeup with some late tumble that played well when following his sinker, getting some swing and miss on the offering, but he threw just four of them in this view and had some potential.
Peoples controlled the running game well, flashing a quick-turn pickoff move to first base that caught Ryan O’Hearn in the first inning, and had solid 1.2-1.25 second delivery times with runners on.
Zeroing in on commanding his repertoire in the lower third, developing his secondaries and improving his sequencing of the four-pitch mix is probably why he’s getting some extra work this fall. End-of-season fatigue aside, the Indians likely want to see if Peoples is bumping up against his ceiling, or if there is more to come. He’s a good bet to get an early test at the Triple-A level to start 2017, hoping that the change or the curve will grow into an average pitch and that he can take that next step. – Mark Shreve