Feature Photo: Ibandel Isabel, 1B, Dodgers
Minor League Roulette
We’re not sure how the year is moving as quickly as it has been, but already teams are beginning to secure second-half playoff berths and before you know it, the minor league postseason will be upon us. In our latest Roulette, Emily reviews a few 2017 draft selections and two southpaw pitchers to watch for, and Jared places his primary focus on several short-season names who are quickly making strides with their respective organizations.
The regular season will wrap the second week of September. The combination of minor league postseason play and major league roster expansions guarantee plenty of excitement still to come before we close the book on the 2017 season.
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Players Who Stood Out for Emily
Jeren Kendall, OF, Dodgers (Class A Great Lakes, Midwest League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 190 lbs. B/T: L/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 21y, 2m
Season Stats: .214/.287/.369, 22 H, 3 2B, 1 HR, 14 RBIs (Promoted to Class A on July 25)
A pure athlete with double-plus speed and a potential five-tool future, Kendall, unsurprisingly, landed on the 2017 MLB Draft radar early in his career at Vanderbilt. Selected as the Dodgers’ first-round pick (#23 overall), Kendall’s strikeout percentage for the Commodores caused concern and dropped the outfielder a bit lower in the first round than originally expected. Kendall began his debut with a five-game stint with Rookie-level Ogden in the Pioneer League, slashing .455/.455/.727 with 10 hits, five runs and seven RBIs. Following his promotion to Class A Great Lakes in July, Kendall’s pitch recognition stuttered, and his strikeout rate doubled, from 13.6% to 27.2%. Kendall put his 70-grade speed on display Saturday with the Loons, posting an inside-the-park home run. While he works to polish his pitch recognition skills, Kendall can rely on his quick-twitch raw athleticism and full arsenal of above-average tools. He will most likely begin next season with Great Lakes, but should see High A Rancho Cucamonga as early as the All-Star break.
Austin Gomber, LHP, Cardinals (Double-A Springfield, Texas League)
Ht/Wt: 6’5” / 235 lbs. B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1, 2017): 23y, 4m
Season Stats: 137 IP, 111 H, 52 ER, 49 BB, 129 SO, 3.42 ERA
Selected out of Florida Atlantic University as the Cardinals’ 2014 fourth-round pick, Gomber returned to Double-A Springfield for a second season this year, with the Card’s giving him a bit of additional developmental time to decrease his dependence on his above-average heater and develop some trust in getting hitters out by sequencing his effective secondary arsenal. Locating a low-90’s fastball with precision, Gomber mixes in plus curveball that he delivers with shape and miss bats with, as well as a below-average changeup. Over his last six outings for Springfield, Gomber has allowed just three earned runs over a 33 ⅔ innings of work. While his walks per nine have moved up from 2.3 BB/9 in 2016 across High A and Double A to 3.2 this year, Gomber’s improved sequencing is still generating a consistent 8.4 SO/9, and he is starting to have the look of a pitcher versus a thrower. If the control can hold at average, a trial run at the Triple-A level in 2018 should be next up.
Andrew Summerville, LHP, Cardinals (Short-Season A State College, New York-Penn League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 195 lbs. B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1, 2017): 21y, 6m
Season Stats: 49 ⅔ IP, 35 H, 9 ER, 19 BB, 43 SO, 1.63 ERA
A product of Stanford, Summerville entered the Cardinals’ system as a 12th-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. Featuring a fastball, slider, curve and changeup, Summerville was praised for his command at Lakeside (Wash.) High School, and it translated to a successful freshman campaign at Stanford, posting 9.2 SO/9, second only to former collegiate teammate and Padres’ 2016 first-rounder Cal Quantrill (#8 overall). Summerville began his pro career with three relief outings for the Spikes before transitioning to a spot in the rotation. Summerville’s walk rate jumped up midseason, but has recently found the zone with regularity, walked just three batters in his last three starts and 20 ⅓ innings pitched, while striking out 15. In his most recent start on August 25, the 6’3” southpaw tossed a seven-inning shutout, his first as a pro, with seven strikeouts. Although his current 3.4 walks per nine is not ideal, Summerville’s 1.63 ERA and 6.3 H/9 over 49 ⅔ innings of short-season work lends plenty of optimism heading into 2018.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Sam McMillan, C, Tigers (Rookie GCL Tigers West, Gulf Coast League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 195 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 18y, 3m
Season Stats: .291/.440/.436, 32 H, 5 2B, 3 HRs, 25 RBIs
The Tigers took the gamble of investing a $700,000 over-slot bonus for the 18-year-old catcher out of Suwannee High School (FL) as their 2017 fifth-round pick, and assigning him to the GCL Tigers West club for his debut. At the plate, McMillan has decent bat speed and barrel control, and while his sturdy build gives him a below-average run tool, he’s able to get out of the box quickly. In the GCL this season, McMillan has flashed enough game power to leave the yard, but his typical contribution of late has come by way of singles and doubles, including three multi-hit games over his last six with the Tigers West. Behind the dish, McMillan has good instincts, but his below-average arm may harm his overall defensive value. He’ll benefit from some added time at the complex to begin 2018, with a return to Short-Season A probable in 2018.
Players Who Stood Out to Jared
Oliver Nunez, INF, Royals (Short-Season A Burlington, Appalachian League)
Ht/Wt: 5’10” / 170 lbs. B/T: S/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 22y, 2m
Season Stats: .317/.388/.416, 64 H, 8 2B, 2 HRs,s 18 RBIs
After spending two seasons with the Royals’ Dominican Summer League affiliate, Nunez gave the club a taste of what he is capable of in the Arizona Rookie League last season, posting an OPS of .748 in 27 games. This year, Nunez is in the Appalachian League, and he is thriving at the plate. The infielder has hit steadily above .300 since his June 22 debut with the Burlington Royals, and last Tuesday he hit for the cycle, capping off the accomplishment with a 9th-inning home run in a 13-3 win over the Bluefield Blue Jays. Nunez does not have a lot of power, but because he can play anywhere in the infield, he has notable potential value as he develops at the plate. This season’s offensive performance, even if a pretty small sample size, is an encouraging sign for someone who profiles best as a utility infielder as he moves up in the Royals’ system.
Ryan Lillie, RHP, Marlins (Short-Season A Batavia, New York-Penn League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 210 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 20y, 11m
Season Stats: 28 IP, 33 H, 15 ER, 5 BB, 23 SO, 4.82 ERA (Promoted from GCL Marlins on July 8)
Selected out of UC-Riverside in the fifth round of this year’s draft, Lillie is already being tested in the New York-Penn League. His first few appearances were a little bumpy, but last Wednesday, Lillie pitched two innings and struck out seven (yes, that’s seven) Mahoning Valley batters. Lillie is a converted catcher who profiles as a bullpen arm going forward, especially because he can get strikeouts (7.6 SO/9) while showing double-plus control (1.8 BB/9). His mid-90s fastball is his best pitch, but he has a potentially plus slider to pair with it, and the hard/hard mix should work as an effective reliever. The Marlins took a chance on him – Lillie’s numbers in college were not particularly impressive – but the raw talent is undeniable.
Justin Yurchak, 3B, White Sox (Rookie Great Falls, Pioneer League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 204 lbs. B/T: L/R Age (as of April 1, 2017): 20y, 7m
Season Stats: .355/.462/.517, 61 H, 11 2B, 5 HRs, 21 RBIs
It’s hard to stand out in the newly stacked White Sox farm system, especially as a 2017 12th-rounder, but Yurchak’s red-hot bat is hard to miss. After Chicago called his name this June, the third baseman signed very shortly afterward and got right to work in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. Yurchak is hitting .541 in his last 10 games, including a 5-for-5 night — three doubles, a single, and a home run — against Billings on Friday. He has always impressed with his hit tool, going back to when he hit .295 in the Cape Cod League a summer ago, and Yurchak has also shown off a propensity to draw walks at a very high rate (35/26 BB/SO rate over 213 plate appearances). A product of SUNY Binghamton, Yurchak played his freshman year at Wake Forest before transferring, and he is the highest position player drafted in SUNY Binghamton’s history. Look for him to continue his success at the plate in the South Atlantic League in 2018.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Ibandel Isabel, 1B, Dodgers (High A Rancho Cucamonga, California League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4” / 225 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21 y, 9m
Season Stats: .262/.330/.499, 107 H, 14 2B, 27 HRs, 81 RBIs
In his last 10 games, Isabel is hitting over .330, including a two-homer, eight-RBI effort on Friday night in a 12-6 win over Lake Elsinore. Isabel has loads of natural power, and while he has had no trouble connecting for home runs at each level since the Dodgers signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2013, Isabel has found even more success in the California League. Isabel’s defense at first base can be a little wobbly at times, and this year he committed 17 errors by the end of July to give him the lowest fielding percentage among California League first basemen, but he has since fielded the position cleanly, raising his fielding percentage from .973 to .979 over the past month. There is no question that Isabel can hit like a corner infielder, but he has been error-prone for a few seasons now, so his defense will need to develop so that it doesn’t inhibit his advancement in the system. This is his first full year in a full-season league, so there is room to be patient with him. Look for Isabel to start 2018 with Double-A Tulsa in the Texas League.
Key Minor League Transactions
- The Padres took a gamble on top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., bypassing High A and promoting the 18-year-old shortstop to Double-A San Antonio. Tatis is 2-for-17 over his first five games with the Missions.
Notes of Interest
- A postgame scoring change gave Nate Orf (2B, Brewers) the first cycle for the Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox since Dexter Fowler (OF, Cardinals) did it in June, 2010.
What We’re Reading
- For Baseball America, Peter Gammons writes about MLB’s need to invest in college scholarships for the sake of better player development.