Feature Photo: Brett Phillips, OF, Brewers
While the Arizona Fall League gives us a peek at the future of the game, many more eyes were on the World Series Game matchup between the Indians and the Cubs. It’s a whole different world here in the sparsely filled stadiums of Arizona. It would seem to have nothing in common with the frenzied atmospheres in Cleveland and Chicago, yet the road to such glory starts in places like this. It starts with scouting and development, and both World Series participants owe much of their current success to the kind of homegrown talent that we see here in Arizona everyday.
The Indians team features many homegrown players, both in their lineup and on their pitching staff. They have also deftly added to their roster with trades for young, inexpensive players. Because of their success with player development, they have been able to limit their investment in free agent players.
We have also witnessed the Theo Epstein-led Cubs resurrect a franchise decimated by a bloated, aging payroll and years of neglect when it came to scouting and development. The Cubs’ front office rebuild has been a patient, five-year plan that focused on the draft, international talent, trades for young players and strong investment in the development of those prospects – though the free agent signings of Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler and John Lackey also helped the process along this year.
The Arizona Fall League has played a significant role in the rise of both franchises. The Indians team features former AFL’ers Jason Kipnis, Tyler Naquin, Roberto Perez, and Bryan Shaw. They also traded another former fall league prospect, Clint Frazier, as the centerpiece of the package to acquire mega-star reliever Andrew Miller from the Yankees. Meanwhile, the Cubs roster features former AFL’ers Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras, Jorge Soler, and Carl Edwards, Jr. It was also the scene of the much-publicized Kyle Schwarber two-game rehab assignment. Like the Indians, the Cubs used arguably their top prospect to acquire a star reliever when they shipped shortstop Gleyber Torres (and three other players) to the Yankees in return for Aroldis Chapman.
So with the World Series as a backdrop, I started wondering which teams might be the next ones to emulate the rise of the Indians and Cubs. What players that we are seeing today may someday play a role in a World Series down the road?
Having attended quite a few games over the past couple of years, one team that looks to add a bunch of AFL alumni over the next couple of years is the Brewers. Top prospect Lewis Brinson, then with Texas, was one of my favorite players last year and Josh Hader proved to be an uncomfortable at-bat for many AFL hitters with his mid-to-high 90s fastball and plus slider from a crossfire delivery. This year two hitters, Isan Diaz and Brett Phillips, are flashing some impressive tools. I talk about Phillips below, and will talk on Diaz another day, after I get at least one more look.
Another team who has added a lot of young talent is the Braves. They acquired a potential future infield piece this past July when they parlayed five solid starts from Lucas Harrell into infield prospect Travis Demeritte, who I profile below. The Braves new front office has restocked a once-dwindling farm system that was ravaged by ‘win now’ deals when the team was still competitive. They have made shrewd trades for young prospects (Demeritte, Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb, Touki Touissant, Max Fried) while also focusing heavily on the draft (Ian Anderson, Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Joey Wentz) and the international market (Ozzie Albies, Kevin Maitan). In addition to Demeritte, perhaps we will see current or recent AFL prospects such as Lucas Sims, Dustin Peterson, and Rio Ruiz on the next great Braves teams.
The Padres were much criticized for their go-for-broke strategy before the 2015 season, but this year they’ve looked to reverse that trend. They used veterans to acquire prospects like Anderson Espinoza, Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Chris Paddock, Logan Allen as well as Josh Naylor at the deadline. With A.J. Preller at the helm, it’s no surprise that the Padres have done well in the international market (Dinelson Lamet and Yimmi Brasoban) and overall, they now boast some of the best lower level talent in all of baseball right now. It may take a little time, but the Padres appear to be back on track. Today, I’ll look at one of their recent top draft picks, outfielder Michael Gettys.
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Ht/Wt: 6’0″/185 B/T: L/R Age: 22 yrs, 5m
Phillips is an athletic player, with infectious energy and an average to plus set of tools across the board. Where he has made tremendous progress is with his feel for hitting. He generates above-average bat speed with a level swing plane best suited for line drives, though he can hit for power when he turns on pitches. But therein also lies the problem. Phillips natural stroke has him hitting the ball to all fields, particularly back up the middle, but he can get pull conscious, perhaps in an attempt to tap into some of his raw power. The more advanced pitchers in Double-A were able to exploit this, helping to result in a career low .229 average and a strikeout rate just a shade under 30%. It certainly was a disappointing season for the rising star, but perhaps it was also a lesson learned for the long run.
In recent games this fall, Phillips has been going back to his all-fields approach and in the last game I attended, he had three hits, all back up the middle. Those hits included a scorching double over Bradley Zimmer’s head in center field. I think it’s just a matter of maturity for Phillips when it comes to learning when he should turn on mistakes inside, and when he should take what the pitcher gives him. He seems to be making some progress in that area.
Helping him in this pursuit is that Phillips has shown good plate discipline. He’ll work counts and draw walks, but he is still learning the value of waiting for that pitch he can drive. He probably won’t have much more than average home run power despite his above-average bat speed, but he should provide plenty of extra base hits, especially when you consider he has the speed to stretch hits into doubles and triples.
Phillips speed also works well in the outfield, where he is more than capable as a center fielder, where I would grade him as above average in terms of range with a well-above-average arm.
What the Brewers hope to eventually have with Phillips is a player who provides above average to plus defense at a premium position and gives them on-base ability, solid power, and some speed on the bases, though he doesn’t project to be much of a base-stealing threat. Those skills should make him a top-of-the-order bat, and if he sticks in center field as expected, he should grade out as at least an above-average regular overall.
Demeritte interested me a great deal in the days leading up to the 2013 MLB Draft, when he was selected by the Rangers in the first round with their 30th-overall pick. At the time, Demeritte showed some athleticism to go with a wirey frame that looked to be very projectable. Like many high school shortstops, most expected him to eventually move off the position. In Demeritte’s case, the assumption was that he would eventually fill out and outgrow the position, and project favorably as a power-hitting third baseman.
Well, 3 1/2 years later, Demeritte is still a wirey ballplayer and he has shifted to second base, not third. He is solid, though not spectacular at the position, showing good enough footwork, athleticism, and a powerful arm that would easily play on the left side of the infield.
But despite his slender frame, Demeritte is no slap-hitting middle infielder. What he lacks in bulk, he more than makes up for with a live, loose frame that helps him generate excellent torque and well-above-average bat speed. Demeritte has made loud contact every time I have seen him, including a hard line drive single to right field and a long home run to left field. Perhaps it should not be all that surprising, as Demeritte did hit 25 home runs with the Rangers’ High A affiliate before the trade to Atlanta. He managed to hit just three more homers in just over 150 PAs for the Braves at High A Carolina Mudcat team, but there is no mistaking the raw power there.
Unlike Phillips, Demeritte doesn’t project as an above-average hitter in part because he has a tendency to be aggressive early, fall behind, and make him susceptible to breaking balls out of the strike zone, and expanding the zone in general. Mark Shreve’s spotlight on Demeritte also noted some mechanical issues with his swing that can make him susceptible to velocity. He struck out in one third of his ABs last season and hit just .250 despite hitting nearly .400 on balls put in play. As mentioned, when Demeritte makes contact, he makes hard contact — there just isn’t enough consistent contact right now.
Despite the aggressive approach, Demeritte can show some patience at the plate, walking in 12.6% of his PAs last season, but those numbers can be deceptive at this stage of development. He’s still trying to develop an approach where he’s taking pitches with a purpose, but the fact that he’s showing a good eye already is encouraging. Once again, it is about becoming a more mature hitter.
In the field, there is every reason to think Demeritte can stick at second base except for the fact that the position is currently the domain of Braves consensus #2 prospect Ozzie Albies, assuming top prospect Dansby Swanson assumes full-time duties at shortstop. Albies would be a superior defender to Demeritte at second base and his top-of-the-order bat would profile well there. That has rekindled those original plans to shift Demeritte to third base, where I think he can be exceptional defensively, though increasing the burden on his bat. However, given the potential for an above-average glove at the hot corner, he only needs to be a fringe-average hitter provided he is able to maintain his walk rate while hitting for power.
Gettys is a top-of-the-scale athlete with double-plus speed. That, coupled with plus defensive instincts, gives him tremendous range in center field to go with a powerful arm that is among the best in the minor leagues right now. It adds up to a potential Gold Glove-level center fielder – if his bat can develop enough to earn him a full-time starting role.
As breathtaking as it can be to watch Gettys patrol center field, however, it is equally frustrating to see him at the plate. His quick-twitch athleticism translates somewhat to his bat, in that it gives him explosive hands and well-above-average bat speed. Gettys can give you a taste of those tools in batting practice, where his raw power is clearly evident. Live pitching, unfortunately, has been a much different story.
Gettys is an aggressive hitter with some holes in his swing. He can get beat with high fastballs and is also prone to chasing breaking pitches out of the zone. I worry more about his pitch recognition than I do with Demeritte or Phillips, and I have less confidence he can develop enough bat to become an everyday player in center field. Complicating the issue is the Padres recent acquisition of former Red Sox top prospect Manuel Margot, who may not be the defender Gettys is in center field, but he is plenty good enough, rating as above average to plus. Where Margot separates himself is with his much more advanced feel for hitting, though Margot projects more as a contact-oriented, top-of-the-order type hitter.
The toolsy Gettys, however, offers a potentially unique skill set, and his elite defensive skills would be a very valuable asset in spacious Petco Park – if the bat doesn’t hold him back. What works in Gettys favor is excellent makeup that includes an off-the-chart work ethic. He fits the “grinder with tools” description and one thing I have learned in all my years evaluating prospects is to never count out a superior athlete who is willing to put the work in. When it clicks for them, it can happen quickly, resulting in sudden breakout seasons that seem to come out of nowhere. If it comes together for Gettys, we can expect to see a top-tier defender with an exciting power/speed combo on offense. If it doesn’t, his skill set could still fit nicely as a fourth outfielder in the big leagues.