Feature Photo: Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers
Minor League Roulette
It is officially the mid-point of the season, and this week Emily and Jared are highlighting eight players in the lower levels of the minors. This week we’re covering a prized Red Sox left-hander making waves during his recent rehab assignment; a Dodgers’ outfielder in Triple-A with a 20-game hitting streak, and a standout righty In the Midwest League who caught Emily’s eye last week.
Also, the Cardinals might have a hidden gem in right-hander Mike O’Reilly, who is mowing down opponents in the Midwest League, and although the Mets have finally been open about why outfielder Tim Tebow is part of their farm system, there is an argument as to why fans shouldn’t be rooting against him.
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Players Who Stood Out for Emily
Alec Hansen, RHP, White Sox (High A Winston-Salem, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 6’7” / 235 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 22y, 5m
Season Stats: 10 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 10 SO, 0.90 ERA (Promoted to High A on June 26)
Hansen’s 6-foot-7 frame makes it hard for him to go unnoticed, as do the numbers he’s put up during his second professional season in the White Sox’ farm system. Hansen carries a four-pitch arsenal, including a double-plus fastball with life, a plus slider, an above-average curveball, and a serviceable changeup. Hansen’s fastball can touch as high as 99 mph, and it was a key weapon in his pair of 10-strikeout outings this season. He also had a 15-strikeout performance on May 28. He started the year within Class A Kannapolis, and was promoted to High A Winston-Salem on June 26 after striking out 92 in 72 2/3 innings for the Intimidators. Since his promotion, Hansen has made a pair of starts for the Dash, allowing a single earned run over 10 innings. Hansen’s height helps him generate serious downhill plane on his arsenal, but there have been concerns about his ability to keep his upper and lower half working together, which is not uncommon for such a large-framed hurler. He’s assuaged those concerns some this season, averaging a pair of walks per nine innings, Hansen’s control and repeatability appears to be improving with some seasoning. With an above-average to plus arsenal, it’s certainly possible that Hansen could see another bump to Double-A before year’s end.
Joey Lucchesi, LHP, Padres (Double-A San Antonio, Texas League)
Ht/Wt: 6’5” / 204 lbs. B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 23y, 9m
Season Stats: 78 2/3 IP, 56 H, 22 ER, 19 BB, 95 SO, 2.52 ERA (Promoted to Double-A July 1)
After leading all Division I pitchers with 149 strikeouts over 111 1/3 innings as a senior at Southeast Missouri State last year, Lucchesi joined the Padres as their fourth-round pick in the 2016 draft. He continued his dominance with a strong rookie campaign, allowing six earned runs over 42 innings with 11.9 strikeouts-per-nine innings split between Short-Season A Tri-City and Class A Fort Wayne in 2016. Lucchesi has the build to shoulder a starter’s workload, and he has already improved his late-moving fastball that can reach 96 mph when he needs it. Lucchesi utilizes a deceptive delivery to generate eye-catching strikeout numbers, including a 10.9 SO/9 rate at High A Lake Elsinore this year before his promotion to the Missions on July 1. With a three-pitch mix that includes an above-average curveball and changeup, and plus control of the arsenal, Lucchesi has the look of a future number three or four starter, with plenty of swing and miss in the profile to see a middle-relief role as his floor at present.
Dalton Kelly, 1B, Rays (Double-A Montgomery, Southern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 180 lbs. B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21y, 7m
Season Stats: .588/.611/.1.059 10 H, 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBIs (Promoted to Double-A on June 28)
Selected as the Mariners’ 38th-round pick in the 2015 MLB Draft out of U.C. Santa Barbara, Kelly was part of the trade with Tampa Bay that sent Taylor Motter (SS, Mariners) to Seattle this offseason. As a late-round pick, Kelly wasn’t exactly a high-profile prospect for Seattle, but he’s starting to make a name for himself this season. Kelly initially struggled through Rookie ball in 2015, slashing .219/.385/.333 with a 28.5 strikeout rate, though he showed a good eye at the plate, working deep into counts and having a 24:35 BB:SO rate over 123 plate appearances. An upswing at the plate with Class A Clinton the following year saw Kelly’s strikeout percentage drop by eight points to 20.4%, and he hit for more power, boosting his ISO from .115 to .124. After being traded to the Rays, Kelly’s approach at the plate has only improved in 2017. He was slashing .305/.390/.411 with 17 doubles and 32 RBIs, and he saw a slight drop in his strikeout percentage to 19.9% prior to his promotion to Double-A Montgomery. The transition at the plate has been a smooth one so far, with 10 hits over his first four Double-A games, including his first five-hit game since April 19, 2016.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Dustin May, RHP, Dodgers (Class A Great Lakes, Midwest League)
Ht/Wt: 6’6” / 180 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 19y, 6m
Season Stats: 75 2/3 IP, 69 H, 28 ER, 16 BB, 76 SO, 3.33 ERA
Despite a drop in velocity while in high school, the towering May landed as the Dodgers third-round selection in 2016. The resilient 19-year-old has since built his fastball back up, currently topping at 95 mph with a chance at adding more heat as he fills out his slim frame. Known for exceptional spin rates and hair that rivals Indians-era Clint Frazier (LF, Yankees), May’s delivery is a tough look for hitters, with plenty of downhill plane coming out of a high ¾’s arm slot, and his fastball and tight spinning curveball have kept Midwest League hitters off-balance this season. The right-hander is averaging 9.1 SO/9 and only 1.9 BB/9 during over his 75-plus innings with the Loons this season, and the downhill plane is generating a 1.52 GO:AO rate. May has three average-to-plus pitches (fastball, slider and curveball) with his fastball currently being the best offering in the arsenal. May continues to work on his changeup, which is still developing, but there is plenty of projection in the profile for the nineteen-year-old, and his first full pro season has been one of the bright spots of the Dodgers’ 2016 MLB Draft class.
Players Who Stood Out to Jared
Alex Verdugo, OF, Dodgers (Triple-A Oklahoma City, Pacific Coast League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 205 lbs. B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 20y, 11m
Season Stats: .352/.420/.467 95 H, 14 2B, 3 HRs, 38 RBIs
Verdugo had a PCL-best 20-game hitting streak come to an end on Saturday night. The outfielder was already hitting .298 before the hit streak began, and that average climbed to .352 during the streak. Verdugo, profiled just over a week ago by 2080’s Dave DeFreitas, has five multi-hit games in just the last week. After a successful full season with Double-A Tulsa in 2016, Verdugo is showing that he can move up a level and continue to improve, which bodes well for whenever he reaches the majors. Verdugo is only 20 years old, but he has a mature approach at the plate and has walked (33) more than he has struck out (31) this season. Given the parent club’s stability on their 25-man roster in the outfield, and Verdugo’s age, however, a full season of development in Triple-A won’t be a surprise, though he could be knocking on the door of a roster spot in next year’s spring training.
Mike O’Reilly, RHP, Cardinals (Class A Peoria, Midwest League)
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 180 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 22y, 7m
Season Stats: 64 2/3 IP, 39 H, 9 BB, 58 SO, 1.95 ERA
It’s hard to believe that O’Reilly was a 27th-round pick in 2016 (out of Flagler College) when watching his domination over Midwest League hitters this season. O’Reilly is looking like a sleeper pick and surprise gem in the St. Louis system. Through 12 appearances, O’Reilly has held opposing batters to a .172 BAA in 2017 while walking a miniscule 1.3 batters-per-nine innings. Last Friday, he threw eight scoreless innings against the Kane County Cougars, allowing only two hits and striking out nine for his six win in his last seven outings. O’Reilly doesn’t throw hard, nor does he have a prototypical starter’s build, but he is a smart pitcher, and because of his smaller frame, he could fit into a bullpen nicely at some point later in his career. As a starter in the minors, however, he has proven successful thus far. This late-round find might prove to be a valuable addition to the Cardinals’ if he can keep it up.
Darick Hall, 1B, Phillies (Class A Lakewood, South Atlantic League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 236 lbs. B/T: L/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21y, 9m
Season Stats: .284/.348/.550, 65 H, 17 2B, 14 HRs, 57 RBIs
Hall has eight multi-hit games over the last two weeks, and he has brought his batting average up 30 points during that stretch. Over the past week, he had two different games in which he hit a home run and a double. Hall, a 14th-rounder in the 2016 draft, also impressed in the Short-Season A New York-Penn League last year, smacking nine home runs and 19 doubles in 195 at-bats for Williamsport. Hall also pitched for Dallas Baptist University before the Phillies drafted him, but given the way he has been hitting, Philadelphia will understandably be keeping him with a bat in his hands. Hall is not yet on the list of top prospects in the Phillies system, but continued hitting like he’s shown in the last few weeks should grab some eyeballs heading into the second half of the season.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Jay Groome, LHP, Red Sox (Short-Season A Lowell, New York-Penn League)
Ht/Wt: 6’6” / 220 lbs. B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 18y, 8m
Season Stats: 11 IP, 5 H, 5 BB, 14 SO, 1.64 ERA (On rehab assignment as of June 19)
Groome started the season with Class A Greenville, but in his first start of the season, he was pulled in the second inning after giving up nine runs, and had a lat injury and landed on the disabled list, costing him two months of the season. Now healthy, Groome is back on the mound for the Spinners on a rehab assignment, and he’s off to a solid start. Most recently, Groome tossed five scoreless innings, striking out six and allowing only two baserunners, both on walks. Groome, who still won’t turn 19 years old until late August, already heaves his fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s, and he mixes in a an above-average curveball that can flash plus, along with an average but projectable changeup to round out his arsenal. There’s plenty of time for Groome to develop, but after the time he missed due to injury, Groome’s early results with Lowell should leave Boston fans encouraged that he is getting back on the right developmental track.
Key Minor League Transactions
- After suffering a horrific collision into the shallow wall along the right field line in Chicago during his major league debut with the Yankees, outfielder Dustin Fowler was placed on the 60-Day DL after rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee. With Fowler out for the year, the Yankees called up left fielder and top prospect Clint Frazier from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to take his place. Frazier was hitting .256 with 42 RBIs for the RailRiders at the time of his promotion, and faired a bit better in his debut July 1, knocking a double, a home run, and scoring twice. In fact, their were FOUR Yankee debuts this week, covered by Melissa Lockard in our weekly Debutantes Ball column!
Notes of Interest
- Cleveland Indians first base prospect Bobby Bradley connected for three homers on Tuesday night to lift the Double-A Akron RubberDucks over the Erie Seawolves. Bradley drove in seven runs in the 10-4 win.
- Double-A Hartford fans took in a terrifying moment during the Yard Goats contest against Portland on July 1 as Rockies top prospect and shortstop Brendan Rodgers took a pitch to the head in the fifth inning. Rodgers reportedly stayed on the ground for several minutes and was able to walk off the field under his own power. He was back in the lineup the next day
- As the reinvention of Tigers outfielder-turned-left-handed pitcher Anthony Gose continues, as does his success in the High A Florida State League. With a total of 9 1/3 innings under his belt, Gose has remained perfect in his last four outings for the High A Flying Tigers, fanning eight over five innings in relief. Gose will be looking to follow in the footsteps of other position players who converted to pitchers years into their professional careers, notably Kenley Jansen (RHP, Dodgers) and Sean Doolittle (LHP, Athletics).
What We’re Reading
- When it comes to judgment calls, major league umpire John Tumpane made the best possible one. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Stephen J. Nesbitt gives us the powerful retelling of what occurred on the Roberto Clemente Bridge, when Tumpane saved a woman’s life.
- Amy Mortiz of the Buffalo News has a quietly well-done piece on the life of minor league couple Megan and Ben Rowan (LHP, Blue Jays) as they struggle to make do with jobs on both coasts, all within the constraints of his minor league salary and her teaching job.
- Confirming what many had suspected for a long time, the New York Mets came clean about the fact that Tim Tebow isn’t there just for his baseball skills. And despite the reasoning behind Tebow’s spot in the Mets’ system, Tebow shouldn’t have fans rooting against him, David Moulton of the News-Press writes.