Feature Photo: A.J. Reed, 1B, Astros
Minor League Roulette
Prior to the minor league regular season wrapping up and playoff matchups being set, there was plenty of action to note in the final week of the season. Emily and Jared take a look around multiple organizations, highlighting pitchers from the Red Sox, Orioles, Pirates, and Padres. There are also a pair of second basemen who caught Emily’s eye, and Jared takes a look at a first baseman in the Astros’ farm system who looks ready to mash at the major league level.
There was also a perfect game thrown in the Class A Midwest League, and this week we’re reading a piece on another Midwest League team that is setting attendance records.
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Players Who Stood Out for Emily
Daniel Gonzalez, RHP, Red Sox (High A Salem, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 6’5” / 180 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21y, 1m
Season Stats: 34 1/3 IP, 24 H, 5 ER, 6 BB, 31 SO, 1.31 ERA (Promoted to High A on August 25)
Gonzalez hasn’t been in the Carolina League for long, but in his first two outings for the Red Sox, he has already made an impact. Working a three-pitch mix, Gonzalez has not allowed a run over a combined 14 ⅓ innings for Salem, allowing seven hits, walking one and striking out 16. Gonzalez doesn’t have a high-octane arm, with his fastball reportedly topping just shy of 90 mph. He mixes in a fringe-average curveball and a changeup, and he is able to throw all three of his pitches for strikes. Gonzalez averaged roughly seven hits allowed per nine innings with Class A Greenville, but he did a decent job keeping runners at bay with just 2.6 BB/9. Since making the transition to the Carolina League, Gonzalez has again dropped his walk rate, this time to 1.5 BB/9 over his first 34 ⅓ innings. The 21-year-old will need to finish strong with the High A Red Sox in order to be considered for another promotion in 2018.
Zac Lowther, LHP, Orioles (Short-Season A Aberdeen, New York-Penn League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 235 lbs. B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21y, 1m
Season Stats: 50 ⅓ IP, 35 H, 10 ER, 10 BB, 66 SO, 1.79 ERA
A 2017 second round competitive balance selection by the Orioles, Lowther has found success with a fastball that sits comfortably that sits in the high 80’s and occasionally gets into the low 90’s. A product of Xavier University, Lowther utilizes a deceptive delivery and late life that adds value to low-end heater, and adds in an above-average curveball and fringy changeup that can get to average with some sharpening. All three offerings have an ability to miss bats. Sitting second overall in strikeouts for Aberdeen, Lowther isn’t likely to add velocity as his 235 pound frame is filled out, but the deception of his arsenal has left hitters scratching their heads with 11.8 SO/9 and 1.8 BB/9 over 50 ⅓ innings. Short-season success aside, Lowther’s arsenal will need to have sharp command and deception to be successful as he advances, but for now, the results give him plenty of reason to be encouraged.
Kevin Josephina, 2B, Braves (Class A Rome, South Atlantic League)
Ht/Wt: 6’0” / 170 lbs. B/T: S/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 20y, 5m
Season Stats: .249/.284/.315, 105 H, 13 2B, 1 HR, 34 RBIs
It’s been a gradual climb for Josephina since signing as an international free agent in 2013. The 20-year-old Curacao native played Rookie ball from 2014-2016, finally making the move to Class A ball in July 2016. Returning for a second look at Class A in 2017, Josephina has matched pace with last season’s results, and hitting safely in 10 of his last 13 games with the Class A Braves, including a four-hit and five-hit night. Josephina boasts above-average speed that has contributed towards his 13 doubles on the year, but he struggles to hit the ball out of the infield with a quiet .066 ISO and just one home run this season, and sports nominal 19.5 percent AJstrikeout rate. Josephina’s defense at second base is a work in progress. He moves better to his left than his right and lacks accuracy with his throws, and he has 23 errors over 116 games. If Josephina’s hit tool can carry the load, it should buy the youngster some time to polish his defense, but the glove will need to improve for him to keep moving up the system.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Jared Young, 2B, Cubs (Short-Season A Eugene, Northwest League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 185 lbs. B/T: L/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21y, 8m
Season Stats: .257/.313/.338, 35 H, 6 2B, 1 HR, 15 RBIs
Over two collegiate seasons at Connors State College and then at Old Dominion, Young’s presence at the plate was undeniably eye-catching. Young hit .367 with 1.021 OPS over 58 games in his final collegiate season, prior to his 15th-round selection by the Cubs this summer. Young has found similar offensive success in his debut run with Eugene, hitting safely in his last five games, including four-hit games in three of those five outings. He’s struck out 19.5 percent of the time this season, but he shows solid barrel control and a good eye at the plate to get on base consistently. Young’s overall power hasn’t crept up to the .200+ ISO he generated in college, but he has still managed eight extra-base hits since joining the Emeralds.
Players Who Stood Out to Jared
A.J. Reed, 1B, Astros (Triple-A Fresno, Pacific Coast League)
Ht/Wt: 6’10” / 275 lbs. B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 23y, 11m
Season Stats: .258/.357/.519, 119 H, 22 2B, 33 HRs, 97 RBIs
Reed hit two home runs last Tuesday and one more the following night to push his season total over 30, making this the second season in his professional career in which he’s surpassed that mark. In 2015, Reed hit 34 long balls, and the hope is that he can finally translate that power to the major leagues. The Astros recalled Reed for brief visits in 2016 and in 2017, but so far he has struggled to hit for average in the majors. While Reed hit three home runs during his 2016 stint in Houston, it took him over 120 plate appearances to get there. The University of Kentucky product was Houston’s second-round choice in 2014, and at some point he will need to prove he can produce at the plate at the major league level in an extended look, but he is still young enough that more development time in the Pacific Coast League next season might be in order.
Mitch Keller, RHP, Pirates (Double-A Altoona, Eastern League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 195 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21y, 0m
Season Stats: 34 2/3 IP, 25 H, 12 ER, 11 BB, 45 SO, 3.12 ERA (Promoted to Double-A on August 4)
Keller has risen through the Pirates’ ranks very quickly in 2017, passing through three levels this season. He started in Short-Season A West Virginia in the New York-Penn League and then bypassed the South Atlantic League for a stop in High A Bradenton in the Florida State League before his promotion to the Eastern League a month ago. Pittsburgh’s second-round choice in 2014 wowed on Friday with 11 strikeouts over six innings pitched in a 6-5 win over the Harrisburg Senators. Keller walked only one batter and gave up three hits on the night. 2080’s Mark Shreve got a look at Keller in August, and he noted the impressive two-seam and four-seam fastballs that hit the mid-to-upper 90s. Shreve also highlighted the 11-to-5 curveball as Keller’s best secondary pitch, so much so that Keller did not throw his changeup more than a couple times in that outing. You can read Shreve’s full report on Keller from his in-person look at the pitcher here, and video here.
Daniel Johnson, CF, Nationals (High A Potomac, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 5’10” / 185 lbs. B/T: L/L Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 21y, 9m
Season Stats: .304/.358/.475, 48 H, 12 2B, 5 HRs, 19 RBIs (Promoted to High A on July 24)
Johnson, a fifth-round selection out of New Mexico State last June, has so far demonstrated no trouble with adjusting at the plate as a pro. After hitting .265/.312/.347 for the Short-Season A Auburn Doubledays in the New York-Penn League last summer, Johnson has hit at least .300 at both Class A and High A this season. His plus hit tool was on full display in his 88 games with Hagerstown earlier this year, where he posted an .890 OPS and hit 17 home runs and 16 doubles. That has translated into the High A Carolina League thus far, as well. Through 39 games, he has gone out of the park five times to go along with his 12 doubles and .304 average at the plate. Johnson’s power is somewhat of a surprise, given that he was more of a gap-to-gap hitter in college and hit only one home run while with Auburn in 2016. However, the added tool makes Johnson’s profile more intriguing. Even without it, Johnson projects to be a dependable fourth outfielder with sturdy defense, and enough speed to earn his keep on a major league roster. If he can keep hitting for power like this, his stock will continue to rise.
Here’s a Player to Watch
Jim McDade, RHP, Padres (Class A Fort Wayne, Midwest League)
Ht/Wt: 6’5” / 190 lbs. B/T: L/R Age (as of April 1st, 2017): 24y, 4m
Season Stats: 67 1/3 IP, 71 H, 29 ER, 4 BB, 61 SO, 3.88 ERA (Promoted to Class A on August 8 for 2nd time)
At 24, McDade is on the older side for the Midwest League, but his SO:BB numbers are hard to ignore. He spent the season going back and forth between Fort Wayne in the Midwest League and Tri-City in the Short-Season A Northwest League, but at either level, McDade has struck out far more batters than he walked. In 13 2/3 innings at short-season ball this season, he did not issue any walks. McDade was an undrafted free agent signing out of Millersville University of Pennsylvania last June, and it could be that the Padres have stumbled onto a gem. After signing, McDade pitched 34 innings for the AZL Padres and struck out 27 while only walking six batters. Given his age and near-elite control numbers on the mound, McDade would see a true test if he were promoted to High A Lake Elsinore in the California League next season, but because of his relative lack of pedigree and limited pro innings, keep an eye out for the right-hander to start 2018 Midwest League before moving up.
Key Minor League Transactions
- On Friday, the Brewers promoted third baseman Lucas Erceg from High A Carolina to Triple-A Colorado Springs for the Pacific Coast League playoffs. The Sky Sox will face the Memphis Redbirds in the first round this week.
- Here’s a look at all of the players promoted to the majors with the September roster expansions. You can check out our weekly coverage of players making their major league debuts right here.
Notes of Interest
- Phillies’ prospect Rhys Hoskins (1B/LF) received recognition for his outstanding 2017 season by becoming only the 16th player in International League history to simultaneously claim the league’s Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. As if that wasn’t enough, Hoskins added to his resume by hitting more home runs at the major league level over his first 20 games than any other player in history.
- Diamondbacks’ pitching prospect Connor Grey threw the first perfect game in Kane County Cougars’ history on September 1. Against the Clinton LumberKings, Grey needed 100 pitches (70 strikes) to go all nine innings, striking out eight in a 5-0 win.
What We’re Reading
- Danny Knobler of Bleacher Report highlights the Class A Dayton Dragons’ 18-year sellout streak. The Midwest League team’s record is unmatched, even at the major league level.