Feature Photo: Yoan Moncada, 3B, White Sox
Like their counterparts at the major league level, the minor league season began on April 6, and already there’s intrigue abound. At 2080 Baseball, we are dedicated to chronicling the happenings of the minor leagues, so each Monday, Jared and I will be bringing you unique insights into the game with our Minor League Roulette column. We’ll highlight a handful of players across all levels whose performance made them stand out, a couple of players worth watching, and whatever other happenings catch our eyes down on the farm.
This week, the upper levels stood out for Jared, while I had some insights into a couple of budding prospects on the West Coast.
Players Who Stood Out for Emily
Week in Review: Following an elbow injury that eventually led to Tommy John surgery as a high school senior, the Chicago Cubs 2014 sixth-round pick knew he would need to work that much harder to find success. Starting his first full season as a pro at Class-A South Bend, Cease has worked at full strength through a pair of starts, boasting a double-plus fastball that sat 95-to-97 mph (T98), as well as a crippling curveball dropping in to the zone in the 76-mph range. Already this season, Cease has shown an effective mix of his plus to double-plus arsenal, generating a healthy amount of swing and miss, and allowing just one run since the start of the season. Following his 13.5 SO/9 in Short-Season A ball in 2016, Cease looks to be well on his way to similar numbers in Class A. He won’t be expected to remain in the Midwest League for long if he keeps it up.
Week in Review: The Detroit Tigers’ farm system couldn’t ask for better raw power than what they secured through the acquisition of Stewart. After pounding out 24 home runs for Lakeland in the High A Florida State League last year, the Tennessee alum managed to add another six home runs following his promotion to Double-A Erie in August. Since beginning 2017 with the SeaWolves, Stewart submitted his first multi-home run game with a pair against the Trenton Thunder, followed by a third in the second game of that day’s doubleheader. For Stewart, if he’s able to remain a step ahead of Eastern League pitching this season by improving his recognition of secondary offerings, he should remain on pace for another promotion before 2017 comes to a close.
Week in Review: In his first season of High A ball, the 20-year-old righty is seemingly taking the transition to High A ball in stride. A product of the Dominican Summer League for two seasons before his stateside debut in 2015, Barria leaves little, if any projection remaining on his frame, standing at an already-sturdy 210 lbs. With a fastball sitting 89-to-92 mph, Barria also works a changeup that scouts report as a 60-to-65 grade offering. The most curious piece he brings to the table is a reported power curveball, which remains a work in progress. For just 20-years-old, the right-hander is holding his own in the hitter-happy Cal League, putting up 10 scoreless innings of work for High-A Inland Empire to-date. Entering 2017, Barria consistently generated an excellent 2.0 BB/9 rate, with multiple scouts consider giving him a solid projection of that of a fourth- or fifth-rotation starter in the big leagues.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Week in Review: As a hitter, it’s hard to imagine facing anything as daunting as a six-foot-seven lefty staring you down from the mound. Add a mid- to high-90’s fastball to the mix, and congratulations, you’ve been officially introduced to Oakland A’s 2016 top pick in the MLB Draft (#6 overall), A.J. Puk. After debuting with the Short-Season A Vermont Lake Monsters in the NY-Penn League, Puk made the transition to High A Stockton this season, and has acclimated himself just fine to the level. Through a pair of games for the Ports, including one start, Puk has registered 13 strikeouts, allowing one run and walking one over eight innings on 14-to-16 pitches per inning. At 21 years old, Puk could move quickly for the A’s, should he be able to stay on track in facing more advanced bats at the level. It’s tough to not be intrigued by Puk’s journey thus far, and to be honest, he’ll making himself hard to ignore within the A’s front office with a solid early season run of success.
Players Who Stood Out to Jared
Week in Review: After earning a spot on the Triple-A Iowa roster after a very strong spring, Happ has continued with an air show in Des Moines, launching half-a-dozen home runs in the first week of the season. In spite of having just 248 at-bats higher than High A Myrtle Beach last season, Happ appears ready to see major league pitching pretty soon. Whether that happens before mid-summer, or even when rosters expand in September, will probably have more to do with the health of the outfielders with the parent club than it will be with his performance, so expect to see him raking in the Pacific Coast League for a while longer. To complement the prodigious hitting, Happ, who has experience at second base in college and in his early pro career to go with his usual presence in the outfield, is looking to add to his defensive flexibility by taking a few starts at third base.
Week in Review: One of the centerpieces of the trade that sent Chris Sale (LHP, Red Sox) to the East Coast, Moncada is giving White Sox fans reason to feel good about both that trade, and with the rebuilding going on in the farm system on the South Side. Moncada had a cup of coffee in the majors last season while he was still with Boston, getting 4 hits in 19 at-bats, while striking out – yikes – 12 times. The whiff issues have followed him so far this season—14 strikeouts in 39 at-bats so far—but Moncada had only played as high as Double-A Portland in 2016 before his brief call-up to the big leagues, and even his Double-A experience was limited to just 45 games. Because the White Sox are not expected to be competitive this year, they can afford to be patient, and allow Moncada some time to develop further, though the enticement of giving him some more major league exposure in a down year is still possible, later in the season.
Week in Review: The 2013 first-rounder has had at least one hit in all nine games he’s played in 2017, and has raked multiple hits in four games to-boot. Arroyo spent the entirety of the 2016 season in the Eastern League with Richmond, where his slash line was a much more modest .274/.316/.373, but his 36 doubles last season were a foretaste of what he could do in both the Pacific Coast League, and eventually the majors, when the time comes. With Brandon Crawford (SS, Giants) currently manning short for the parent club, and Arroyo getting his first look at Triple-A pitching this season, it may be a while before he earns a major league look, despite the torrid start to his 2017 campaign.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Week in Review: The Rice University product pitched just one inning in the Short-Season A Northwest League last season after the Diamondbacks took him in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft, so this is the first notable look he’s getting of a full season of pro ball with Kane County. In two starts, he has been stingy with baserunners, and effective in getting them to swing and miss at his fastball – an offering that can run into the upper 90s, and plays up his plus changeup and curveball secondaries. Duplantier had shoulder issues in college that kept him out of the 2015 season, so it’s worth keeping tabs on his health as much as his strikeouts this season.
Statistical Highlights From Around the Minor Leagues
- Scott Copeland (RHP, Marlins) pitched the first seven innings of a combined no-hitter for the New Orleans Baby Cakes of the Pacific Coast League in an 11-1 win over the Iowa Cubs . The 29-year-old journeyman struck out eight and walked just one in the April 14 start.
Key Minor League Transactions
- Elniery Garcia (LHP, Phillies), a top arm in the Phillies’ farm system, was suspended 80 games for testing positive for boldenone, a synthetic anabolic-androgenic steroid (AAS). Garcia was slated to start 2017 in Double-A with Double-A Reading, but shoulder issues had already delayed him. He’ll have plenty of time to heal now that his season has been more than cut in half.
Notes of Interest
- The Hartford Yard Goats of the Eastern League spent their entire 2016 season on the road because issues with funding and construction delays kept their new ballpark from opening as originally planned. They finally made their home-field debut at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford on April 13, though it was with a 7-2 loss to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
What We’re Reading
- Bill Baer from NBCSports.com writes that Astros prospect and shortstop Jonathan Arauz was suspended 50 games after testing positive for Methamphetamine. He made our 2017 Astros Organizational Review as a top prospect to watch this year.
- Brandon Sneed of Bleacher Report has an insightful look at the survival skills needed for the family of a minor league prospect. It’s worth a read.
- Mike Axisa from CBSSports.com writes on how the development of minor leaguers is a slow process sometimes, and that process can result in some crazy box scores.