Minor League Roulette: Prospect notes for the week ending July 23

Luiz Gohara, LHP, Braves, Braves prospects
Luiz Gohara, LHP, Braves, Braves prospects

Feature Photo: Luiz Gohara, LHP, Braves

Minor League Roulette

With the non-waiver MLB trade deadline closing in quickly, organizations aren’t wasting time in making a move for the prospects they’ve been eyeing. From the White Sox continuing to add to their already-impressive haul of minor league talent through the acquisition of right-handed pitcher Dylan Cease and outfielder Eloy Jimenez, to the Cardinals commandeering the bat of Mariners right fielder and top prospect Tyler O’Neill, it’s clear that the 2018 season will feature lots of young talent in different places. Despite some uncertainty for minor leaguers during trade season, players are still focused on the task at hand and, a handful continue to make waves as the season rolls on.

From the Short-Season A Appalachian League through to the Triple-A level, here are the latest players who grabbed our eye from last week around minor league baseball.

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Players Who Stood Out for Emily


Austin Hays, RF, Orioles (Double-A Bowie, Eastern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 195 lbs.    B/T: R/R     Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21y, 8m
Season Stats: .315/.342/.577 36 H, 8 2B, 7 HRs, 23 RBIs (Promoted to Double-A on June 22)

A 2016 third-round pick out of Jacksonville, Hays seems to thrive when he advances up the Orioles’ farm system. After posting a 21% strikeout rate with four home runs in his stint with the Short-Season A Aberdeen IronBirds in 2016, Hays got off to a hot start at the plate this season, posting 16 home runs at High A Frederick and dropping his strikeout rate to 14%. Following his promotion to Double-A on June 22, Hays hasn’t lost any momentum, adding an additional eight home runs and dropping his strikeout rate by another 1.2%. Maintaining a career-high .278 ISO since his Double-A promotion, Hays recently had a 13-game hitting streak. He has above-average bat speed and the ability to drive the ball to all fields, two attributes that are only adding to his value at the plate. In the field, Hays has a plus throwing arm and above-average speed. The combination of tools have has him on pace for a future as an everyday right fielder.


Luiz Gohara, LHP, Braves (Double-A Mississippi, Southern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 210 lbs. B/T: L/L     Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 20y, 8m
Season Stats: 46.0 IP, 37 H, 15 ER, 18 BB, 49 SO, 2.93 ERA (Promoted to Double-A on May 10)

Originally signing with the Mariners in 2012 as an international free agent, Gohara came to the Braves in 2017 in a three-team deal that sent left fielder Mallex Smith to the Tampa Bay Rays and right-hander Drew Smyly to the Mariners in January. A three-pitch lefty, Gohara’s best offering is his fastball and its only gotten stronger of late, touching triple digits. He’s also showing a refined feel for both his slider and his changeup. Gohara’s challenge hasn’t been as much in his arsenal as it has been in his ability to maintain his body, and he’s still playing above his listed weight of 210 pounds. As his fitness has improved this year, his velocity has gone up and his command has sharpened. Since his promotion to Double-A in May, the 20-year-old Gohara has managed to boost his strikeouts-per-nine innings from 9.7 in High-A to 10.3 in Double-A. While his ERA took a bit of a jump in the transition out of the Florida State League, to 2.60 in Double-A from 1.98 in High-A, Gohara is now showing the Braves the stuff they can expect from him down the road, possibly as a solid number four starter. On Saturday, Gohara posted a career-high 11 strikeouts over six scoreless frames in an 8-0 win over the Biloxi Shuckers.


Yency Almonte, RHP, Rockies (Double-A Hartford, Eastern League)

Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 205 lbs     B/T: S/R     Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 22y, 9m
Season Stats: 69.1 IP, 53 H, 17 ER, 29 BB, 64 SO, 2.21 ERA

Starting out as a 17th-round pick in in 2012 and signed to an over-slot bonus by the Angels, Almonte was traded to the White Sox in the spring of 2015. He spent one season in the Chicago system before landing with the Rockies in a trade that sent Tommy Kahnle (RHP, Yankees) to Chicago in November 2016. Almonte began the 2017 season on the Double-A Hartford DL and was activated on June 23. He is only now getting the chance to flash his stuff in his 14 games so far this season. Almonte has an upper-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider that flashes plus, and a developing changeup. On Saturday, he threw seven scoreless innings, allowing five hits and striking out seven in a 5-0 win over the Portland Sea Dogs. His strikeouts-per-nine innings has jumped to 8.4, a significant improvement from the 5.7 in 2016. Almonte’s been used almost exclusively as a starter, and he profiles a potential middle-of-the-rotation role if his control can settle in at average, but he’s regressed to 3.7 BB/9 this year from a more starter-like 3.0 per nine innings last year. If it continues to be an issue, he could still settle into a valuable relief role down the road with the effectiveness of his fastball/slider combination in shorter stints.


Here’s a Player to Watch

Carl Chester, OF, Rays (Rookie Princeton, Appalachian League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 200 lbs.     B/T: R/R       Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21y, 3m
Season Stats: .345/.455/.462 39 H, 6 2B, 4 3B, 12 RBIs

When the Rays acquired Chester as their 2017 12th-round pick, their hope was that his hit tool would transfer over from his three seasons of hitting .260-plus with the University of Miami, and Chester hasn’t disappointed. Chester brings a compact build to the plate, and he generated 32 doubles and 11 home runs during his run with the Hurricanes. Thus far as a pro, Chester has displayed patience at the plate, striking out just 8.9% of the time for Princeton while having a 14% walk rate and 10 extra-base hits (six doubles and four triples). Chester has hit safely in all but seven of his first 28 pro games, including finishing 5-for-5 with a double, triple and a pair of RBIs on Sunday in an 8-4 win over the Kingsport Mets. He then followed up by getting on base in all five plate appearances the next day, going 2-for-2 with three walks in a 10-4 win over the Greenville Astros. While Chester’s pop may not be of the over-the-fence variety (.089 ISO), his hard contact and consistency at the plate hint at a possible call up the ladder before the season comes to an end.


Players Who Stood Out to Jared


Dakota Mekkes, RHP, Cubs (High A Myrtle Beach, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 6’7” / 252 lbs.      B/T: R/R     Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 22y, 5m
Season Stats: 20 2/3 IP, 10 H, 0 ER, 10 BB, 24 SO, 0.00 ERA (promoted from Class A South Bend on June 10)

In his 51 2/3 innings pitched this season between Class A South Bend in the Midwest League and High A Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League, Mekkes has given up only two earned runs. Two. The Cubs selected Mekkes in the 10th round from Michigan State University last year, and in his first taste of professional ball in 2016, he posted a 2.12 ERA in 20 innings pitched. Built like a Big Ten tight end or power forward, Mekkes is roasting Carolina League batters thanks to a deceptive delivery and the ability to change opposing hitters’ eye level. He hits the low 90s with his fastball, but it can sneak up on batters thanks to his style of delivery, playing the pitch up. Mekkes is putting up exciting numbers as he rockets through the Cubs’ system, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the move to Double-A when it comes, perhaps by the end of this season.


Eloy Jimenez, OF, White Sox (High A Winston-Salem, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 205 lbs.    B/T: R/R       Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 20y, 5m
Season Stats: .301/.378/.543, 56 H, 11 2B, 10 HRs, 42 RBIs

Since being traded from the Cubs in the deal that sent him, along with right-hander Dylan Cease to the White Sox in exchange for Jose Quintana (LHP, Cubs), Jimenez is hitting .452. After leaving Saturday’s game early due to a pitch he fouled off of his foot, Jimenez returned to the Winston-Salem lineup to go 5-for-6 with a home run, a double and three runs batted in on Sunday in an 11-10 win over the Salem Red Sox on Saturday. Jimenez projects to be a power-hitting corner outfielder, and even in a stacked White Sox farm system, he is among the best of the bunch. At only 20 years old, his athletic frame can take on more muscle, and there is time for him to develop his other tools, though his power bat is the carrying tool at this point. Even if the other four tools don’t improve significantly, Jimenez still has potential to a productive outfielder for Chicago in a few years.


A.J. Reed, 1B, Astros (Triple-A Fresno, Pacific Coast League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 275 lbs.      B/T: L/L        Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 23y, 11m
Season Stats: .248/.338/.487, 84 H, 18 2B, 21 HR, 69 RBI

Through Saturday, Reed had hit in five straight games, and he had homered in four straight. Last Thursday, Reed clubbed two homers and drove in five runs against the Las Vegas 51’s in an 18-5 rout. There are certainly flaws in Reed’s approach at the plate — he has 100 strikeouts in 339 at bats so far — but he has shown that when he clicks at the plate, he is capable of putting his team on his shoulders for several games. As 2080’s Nick Faleris noted last May, Reed needs to work on avoiding falling behind in the count because that is often when he struggles the most. Given the power in his bat, Reed has Astros fans understandably anxious to see him in Houston again after he got a 45-game look in the middle of last season. There’s still development to be done as he continues to work on his plate discipline, so Reed is not likely to leave Fresno anytime soon, and he’ll benefit from the consistent at-bats he’ll have there for the time being.


Here’s a Player to Watch

P.J. Conlon, LHP, Mets (Double-A Binghamton, Eastern League)
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 192 lbs.       B/T: L/L       Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 23y, 5m
Season Stats: 115 IP, 112 H, 47 R, 31 BB, 91 SO, 3.68 ERA

The few days’ rest from the Eastern League All-Star break appears to have done Conlon some good. He had struggled some throughout June, but upon return from the break, Conlon has two consecutive quality starts. Conlon held the Double-A Akron RubberDucks to only three hits in seven innings on July 18 in a 13-0 win, and then on Sunday, he tossed 6 1/3 innings of five-hit, one-run ball while striking out five in a 3-1 win over the Harrisburg Senators. In the Mets’ 2017 Pref List, 2080’s Dave DeFreitas noted Conlon’s ability to use his command to get outs despite not having overwhelmingly strong stuff. His fastball is his best pitch, averaging in the low 90s with sterling command.


Key Minor League Transactions

  • Indians prospect and catcher Francisco Mejia is considered day-to-day after suffering a right hip strain on Saturday at Double-A Akron.
  • The Yankees sent INF/OF Rob Refsnyder to the Blue Jays in exchange for Double-A first baseman Ryan McBroom. Refsnyder will report to Triple-A Buffalo, and McBroom will be reporting to Double-A Trenton.
  • After having his professional debut cut short last season to just 30 games with a torn right ACL and torn meniscus, Mariners 2016 top pick and outfielder Kyle Lewis has played in only 16 games this season. He played two games with High-A Modesto earlier this season, but Lewis tweaked his knee and had to return to Arizona for rehab. He returned to the Modesto lineup on Thursday and has bounced back in a big way, slugging three home runs and driving in seven runs in his last three games for the Nuts.


Notes of Interest

  • Mets shortstop prospect Amed Rosario was reportedly hospitalized on Saturday in Memphis, dealing with a stomach issue. Rosario hasn’t played since July 17.


What We’re Reading

  • Sports Illustrated’s Mike Rosenberg profiles MLB umpire Joe West and his 5,000-game career. A read that will have you looking at West, and maybe major league umpires in general, a little differently.
  • Andrew Gould of Bleacher Report has the wild story behind the $600 Uber ride taken by a group of Mariners minor leaguers from Phoenix to Albuquerque to make their game on time.