Feature Photo: Rogelio Armenteros, RHP, Astros
Minor League Roulette
There are only a couple of weeks left in the regular season, and many players will leave their respective farm systems to head to the majors as rosters expand to 40 players beginning on September 1 (2080’s Lisa Winston will be all over those call-ups, BTW, continuing her Debutantes Ball column).
This week, Emily has her eyes on a couple of players who can be found in Florida, and Jared has notes on a few hidden gems. We also check in on two significant names promoted up the chain for the White Sox, a team that needed four pitchers to complete a no-hitter, and how teams from across the minor leagues are readying for Monday’s solar eclipse.
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Players Who Stood Out for Emily
Sandy Baez, RHP, Tigers (High A Lakeland, Florida State League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 180 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 23y, 4m
Season Stats: 88 2/3 IP, 88 H, 38 ER, 24 BB, 92 SO, 3.86 ERA
At 23 years old, Baez has the look of a pitcher for whom the pieces are beginning to fall into place. Originally signing with the Tigers in 2011 out of Juan Baron, Dominican Republic, Baez battled an oblique injury that set him back nearly a month during the 2017 season. Since the start of June, however, right-hander hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in 10 of his 11 starts. Baez touts a mid-90’s fastball known to reach triple digits with late life, and he works in a two- and four-seam variation, an above-average slider that generates a good deal of swing-and-miss, and a changeup that sits at average. After struggling with command during his debut with Class A West Michigan in 2016, Baez has settled into a healthier, more dominant pace since June, tossing 7 ⅔ scoreless on Saturday with one walk, matching his career-high 11 strikeouts. It was Baez’s second 11-strikeout game since June. With health issues fading in the rear-view mirror, Baez should be in consideration for a move to Double-A Erie in 2018, moving towards a number four/five starter ceiling, with a middle-relief profile as his floor if durability issues come back into play.
Bryse Wilson, RHP, Braves (Class A Rome, South Atlantic League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 225 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 19y, 3m
Season Stats: 118 IP, 90 H, 31 ER, 30 BB, 120 SO, 2.36 ERA
Selected as one of several big arms in the 2016 MLB Draft, Wilson was the Braves’ fourth-round selection (#109 overall) last year. The former high school football player works off his mid-90’s fastball as his go-to offering, mixing in a serviceable changeup that he is still gaining a feel for, and an average slider that could land above-average as it develops. Wilson is able to throw all three offerings for strikes. Wilson cruised through his debut with the Gulf Coast League Braves in 2016, striking out 10.0 per nine innings and allowing just two earned runs over 26 ⅔ innings of work. Through the 23 starts of his 2017 Class A debut with Rome, Wilson has produced a slight drop in his BB/9 rate, from 2.7 in 2016 to 2.4 this season. In three of his last four outings for Rome, the 19-year-old worked a stretch of 18 ⅔ scoreless innings, including a single-game career-high 11 strikeouts in a 4-0 win over Augusta August 8. At a stocky 6’1”, 225 pounds, Wilson doesn’t fit the typical profile of a starting pitcher, and there’s little physical projection remaining despite his youth. As he continues to gain a feel for his off-speed offerings, Wilson looks to have a long-term future as a middle reliever thanks to his relentless ability to attack the strike zone. He has a strong chance to be tested at High A in 2018.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays (High A Dunedin, Florida State League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 200 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 18y, 1m
Season Stats: .328/.445/.488, 41 H, 6 2B, 4 HRs, 21 RBI’s (Promoted to High A on July 10)
Unlike many players who struggle to maintain their success when making the leap from Class A to High A, Guerrero Jr. has picked up in the Florida State League right where he left off during his time in the Midwest League. Signed by the Blue Jays during the 2015 international signing period, Guerrero has quickly displayed a natural feel for driving the ball gap-to-gap through a combination of raw power and barrel control. His plate discipline shows through, with an ability to draw a walk almost as often as he strikes out, which isn’t often for a power hitter (14.8 strikeout percentage since his promotion). Over his last three games with the Dunedin Blue Jays, Guerrero has knocked a home run in each, collecting a combined six hits, a double and six RBI’s. Defensively, the Blue Jays are keeping Guerrero at the hot corner for now, where he has made nine errors since coming to Dunedin. Guerrero has below-average speed and range, but his arm has developed into above-average strength, and there is still talk of a possibly transitioning the bat-first profile to the outfield if he ultimately flatlines in his development on the dirt.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Matt Morales, SS, Royals (Rookie Idaho Falls, Pioneer League)
Ht/Wt: 5’11” / 170 lbs. B/T: S/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 20 y, 4m
Season Stats: .304/.337/.380, 28 H, 7 2B, 13 RBI’s
Entering the Royals’ system as a later round selection in the 2017 draft, Morales has just 20 games under his professional belt, but the 20-year-old is already making an impact in the Pioneer League. Morales currently owns a seven-game hitting streak, and he has hit safely in 15 of his first 20 pro games, including finishing 5-for-5 with five RBI’s for the Chukars last Wednesday. The switch-hitting shortstop out of Palm Beach State doesn’t generate a great deal of power from his thin frame, but his natural athleticism has allowed him to find success in scattering the ball to all fields. On the opposite side of the ball, Morales has soft hands, an above-average arm and plus speed that allow him to cover a good deal of ground at shortstop, though he has made seven errors over his 20 games, Morales will need to rely on his athleticism in developing more consistent fielding actions as he acclimates to the speed of the pro game.
Players Who Stood Out to Jared
Jahmai Jones, OF, Angels (High A Inland Empire, California League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 215 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 19y, 9m
Season Stats: .339/.391/.508, 40 H, 9 2B, 3 HRs, 12 RBI’s (promoted from Class A on July 20)
The Angels’ farm system currently does not have a lot to dream on right now, but Jones — the Angels’ 2015 second-round pick – is worth some goodwill. He has the potential to be a quality leadoff hitter for the Angels in the next few years, and he has already experienced a high level of success at a very young age. Jones was promoted to the Cal League a couple of weeks before turning 20, after putting together a strong season at Class A Burlington in the Midwest League, where he slashed .278/.332/.435 with nine homers, 18 doubles and a 32:63 BB:SO rate. Jones currently has a hitting streak that goes back to July 26 and that includes seven multi-hit games. He has limited baseball experience because he devoted a great deal of time in high school to football, but Jones already has a good approach at the plate and a simple, compact swing. Since the Angles moved him to the outfield from the middle infield after drafting him, Jones has shown maturity on defense that belies his years. He’s a player to watch heading into 2018.
Rogelio Armenteros, RHP, Astros (Triple-A Fresno, Pacific Coast League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 215 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 22y, 10m
Season Stats: 45 1/3 IP, 36 H, 12 ER, 16 BB, 60 SO, 2.38 ERA (Promoted from Double-A on July 2)
Armenteros is a pure strikeout machine. Since moving up to the Pacific Coast League, he has struck out over a batter per inning. While he was still in the Double-A Texas League, he was averaging nearly two strikeouts per inning. These numbers are up from his first two seasons as a pro, but as the 23-year-old has built experience in the minors, he has continued to get better. The 2015 international signee out of Cuba has been promoted at least once in both of his full seasons in the minor leagues, so his development path has been quick thus far. Armenteros has three above-average pitches, a fastball, curveball, and changeup, but he also throws a slider, and he’ll mix in a two-seamer as well. As long as Armenteros can avoid durability issues and maintain his mechanics, he is a safe bet to get a look on the Astros’ staff, probably sometime in 2018. In the meantime, he’ll keep mowing ‘em down in the Pacific Coast League.
Khalil Lee, OF, Royals (Class A Lexington, South Atlantic League)
Ht/Wt: 5’10” / 170 lbs. B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1, 2017): 18y, 9m
Season Stats: .244/.348/.445, 98 H, 21 2B, 16 HRs, 59 RBI’s
The Royals selected the then 17-year-old in the third round of last year’s draft. After he hit .269 in 49 games with the Royals’ Rookie Arizona League affiliate in 2016, Lee was assigned straight to full-season ball, with Class A Lexington. He was decent at the plate in the first three months this season, but Lee hit just .157 in July. Through his first 15 games in August, however, Lee has bounced back, hitting .333 with three home runs and five doubles. Lee was a successful pitcher in high school, but the Royals opted to develop him as a hitter after drafting him, and it’s a move that has paid off nicely so far. Lee has power at the plate, and he can hit the ball to his pull side on line drives and make solid contact to the opposite field as well. Lee is still very young and very far away from reaching the majors. He will need time to develop in the Royals’ system, but in the meantime, he is worth going to see in person in the South Atlantic League while he is still there.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Tristan Gray, 2B, Pirates (Short-Season A West Virginia, New York-Penn League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 185 lbs. B/T: L/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 21y, 1m
Season Stats: .273/.342/.462, 39 H, 7 2B, 4 HRs, 25 RBI’s
Gray was a mid-round draft pick this June’s draft, but he has wasted no time in making noise in the Pirates’ system. In the New York-Penn League All-Star game early last week, Gray won MVP honors for his two-RBI night. For the Black Bears, he has been a steady presence in their lineup since the season began in late June. As strong as he has been at the plate – both in college at Rice University and in his brief pro career – Gray has been a sterling middle infielder, as well. For West Virginia, he has played primarily at second base, but in the past couple of weeks, Gray has also been getting regular starts at shortstop, a position he played regularly in high school and college. With his profile as a reliable defender already in place, Gray could be one to watch to rise through the Pirates’ system briskly if his bat continues to develop quickly.
Key Minor League Transactions
- The Chicago White Sox made two significant prospect promotions a few days apart, sending outfielder Eloy Jimenez to Double-A Birmingham in the Southern League on August 15, and then announcing on August 18 that right-handed flamethrower Michael Kopech, who finished up his Double-A campaign at Birmingham by allowing 17 hits and two earned runs – and a dominant BB:SO rate of 5:59 – over his last five starts (35 IP), was headed to Triple-A Charlotte in the International League to cap off his impressive year.
Notes of Interest
- A quartet of Brewers pitching prospects combined for the first no-hitter in Biloxi Shuckers (Double-A, Mariners) history last Monday.
- The Gulf Coast League produced a marathon game on Saturday, when the GCL Tigers West and the GCL Pirates went 15 innings, combining for 33 hits with the Tigers finally managing to come out on top, 12-9.
What We’re Reading
- MILB.com’s Benjamin Hill writers about what minor league teams are doing to prepare for Monday’s solar eclipse.