Announcement: For my analysis – including Ranking the Top 250 Prospects, Ranking the Farm systems, and in-depth commentary for over 900 minor leaguers – check out my book, The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, now available on Amazon!
For an explanation on the CAL, the Comparison And Likeness prospect classification system I derived, click here.
1. Kevin Ziomek, LHP
|Born: 03/21/92 Age: 23 Height: 6-3 Weight: 200 B/T: R/L|
|Top CALs: Miller Diaz, Sean Manaea, Bud Norris, Steven Matz, Tyler Thornburg|
Background: Detroit has honed in on older arms over the past several years, but no draft better epitomizes the club’s mantra better than 2013, when the franchise selected seven consecutive collegiate hurlers. And after dealing off their two first round picks that year – Jonathon Crawford and Corey Knebel – the big lefty out of Vanderbilt remains the highest selection in the club’s draft class. Ziomek, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound southpaw, overcame some problematic control to cap-off his three-year career on a high note: he tossed 119 innings with 115 strikeouts, 40 walks, and a tidy 2.12 ERA.
Detroit grabbed Ziomek with their second round pick, 58th overall, and sent him to the Midwest League in 2014 after a quick crash course in the NYPL during his debut. His control issues resurfaced early last season – he walked 37 in his first 66.1 innings of work – but settled down and finished the year by posting an 82-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his last 56.2 innings. Ziomek finished the year with the second most punch outs in the Midwest League, with 152.
Projection: Prior to the 2013 draft, when I slapped a first/second round grade on him, I wrote:
“Along with the impressive K-rate (8.89 K/9) is the fact that it’s come against a difficult schedule, something not every lefty can boast. Once adjusted for park and schedule – thanks to CollegeSplits.com – Ziomek’s peripherals are even more impressive 9.29 K/9 and 2.88 BB/9. He’s not an elite prospect, but he’s right up there with Gonzaga’s Marco Gonzalez.”
Ziomek, if not for the early season control issues, would have likely been pushed up to High Class A. He now enters his age-23 season as a high round pick and zero experience above the Midwest League. I originally evaluated Ziomek as having a 2.0-win ceiling. But if the control proves to be an above-average skill, I’d bump that up slightly. He’s a potential #4-type arm. And CAL’s a fan, linking him to Sean Manaea, Bud Norris, and Steven Matz.
Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2017
2. Buck Farmer, RHP
|Born: 02/20/91 Age: 24 Height: 6-4 Weight: 225 B/T: L/R|
|Top CALs: Justin Rayborn, Pete Perez, Bryant Cotton, Donald Julio, Corey Davisson|
Background: Bringing life to every 1970s high school stoner’s yearbook quote – what a strange journey it’s been. Farmer received the courtesy late draft selection coming out of high school and headed off to instate Georgia Tech, where he would spend his first three seasons as one of the Yellow Jackets’ most productive hurlers. Then coming off of back-to-back seasons in which he combined to post a 221-to-68 strike-to-walk ratio in 215 innings, the 6-foot-4 right-hander slid all the way down to the Brewers in the 15th round in 2012.
With nothing really to lose, he headed back to college for his senior year and turned in another Farmer-like campaign: he made 17 starts, tossed 113.1 innings, punched out 122, walked 34, and posted a career low 2.79 ERA. This time the Tigers grabbed him in the fifth round and sent him to the New York-Penn League for 32.0 more innings.
Weird enough, sure, but Farmer’s story doesn’t end there. He rattled off 18 dominant starts with West Michigan, got bumped up to Class AA for another pair of starts, was then promoted to Detroit for a spot start, got demoted to the International League for a game, bumped back up to Detroit for what turned out to be one-plus inning of craptastic work, demoted back down to Class AAA for a game, and was then brought back up to the big leagues for a final three innings.
You know, just your typical thrice-drafted, Midwest League-dominating, yo-yoing between Class AAA and the big leagues story with a Class AA twist.
Projection: This one I nailed. I think. After getting bypassed over, and over, and over again as a junior, I pegged Farmer as a Fifth Round or Later grade and wrote,
“It’s a bit surprising that Farmer lasted until the 15th round last season given a rather lengthy track record of strong peripherals. According to CollegeSplits.com, once his numbers are adjusted for home ballpark and strength of schedule they become even more impressive: 10.45 K/9, 2.39 BB/9, 2.47 ERA, and a 3.15 FIP. He also generates a lot of contact handled by infielders too.”
And then I summed it up by concluding,
“A red flag for the senior, however, is the amount of extra-base hits he’s allowed: 19 doubles, one triple, and four homeruns. He looks like a backend starter, maybe a good relief arm.”
Farmer, in brief stints with Detroit last season, flashed a low- to mid-90s fastball, something I wouldn’t have guessed given his draft slippage. The control’s solid and he missed a lot of Midwest League bats. Still sounds like a backend starter to me.
Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player
Risk: Low to Moderate
MLB ETA: Debuted (three different times) in 2014
3. Austin Kubitza, RHP
|Born: 11/16/91 Age: 23 Height: 6-5 Weight: 225 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Armando Rodriguez, Murillo Gouvea, Steven Matz, Garrett Richards, Marc Rzepczynski|
Background: Analytically speaking, I was incredibly high on the big right-hander out of Arm Shredder U. – also known as Rice University. Kubitza, a 6-foot-5 Texas-born hurler, bypassed the option to enter pro ball as a seventh round pick coming out of high school, opting instead to head to one of college baseball’s better programs. Kubitza stepped in and dominated from the beginning. Sliding directly into the Owls’ rotation as a true freshman, he made 15 starts, posted a 2.34 ERA, and finished with a team-leading 102 punch outs in 100.0 innings of work. And then the sophomore slump hit. Hard.
Despite seeing a modest uptick in his ERA during his second season (2.34 to 2.70), Kubitza’s walk rate ballooned to nearly double that of his previous season, jumping to a below-average 4.28 free passes per nine innings while his K-rate declined by one full punch out. Needless to say, Kubitza, the 2011 Conference USA Freshman of the Year, had more than a few questions hovering about.
The big righty responded – sort of. He fanned a career best 134 without surrendering a homerun, though he barely managed to trim his walk rate (3.96 BB/9). Detroit would eventually grab him with their fourth round pick and push him to the Gulf Coast before bumping him all the way up to Lakeland for eight games.
Last season, now firmly entrenched in the Midwest League, Kubitza teamed with Jonathon Crawford, Kevin Ziomek, Buck Farmer, and Jonathan Maciel to form one of the minors’ best – and deepest – rotations. Kubitza finished the year with a 140-to-43 strikeout-to-walk ratio while posting a 2.99 FIP.
Projection: Damn. I pinned some high expectations on the former Rice hurler prior to the draft, writing:
“There’s some concern with Kubitza’s ability to throw strikes and his walk rate has worsened in each of his three seasons, going from 2.16 BB/9 to 4.26 BB/9 to 4.32 BB/9. He’s clearly got front of the rotation potential, but there’s a decent amount of risk because of his control problems. Still, though, he’s allowed just 11 extra-base hits and the ability to miss bats looks like a premium.”
What can I say? I was smitten. Kubitza isn’t going to be a front-of-the-rotation-type arm, but he does have some potential to round out a club’s staff, potentially peaking as a good #4. You do have to wonder if all the innings he’s totaled so far – he’s tossed 446 since his age-19 season – will eventually catch up to him.
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2017
4. Derek Hill, CF
|Born: 12/30/95 Age: 19 Height: 6-2 Weight: 195 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Zach Sullivan, Bryan Peterson, Abraham Almonte, Dalton Pompey, Lane Thomas|
Background: The first prep player taken by Detroit in the draft’s opening round since 2010, when they tabbed Nick Castellanos with the 44th overall selection. Hill comes from the hallowed halls of Elk Grove HS, home to 22 draft picks since 1970 but has produced just one big leaguer (right-hander David Hernandez). The 6-foot-2 toolsy center fielder had a less than auspicious debut between his work in the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues, hitting a combined .208/.296/.295 while racking up 45 punch outs in just 197 plate appearances.
Projection: As debuts go, Hill’s work last season is certainly a disappointing one. He flashed decent pop in the Gulf, where he struggled before inexplicably getting sent up to short-season ball, and showcased above-average speed.
Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell
MLB ETA: N/A
5. Joe Jimenez, RHP
|Born: 01/17/95 Age: 20 Height: 6-3 Weight: 220 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Gavin Dlouhy, Lester Oliveros, Cody Kukuk, Justin Wright, Shane Dawson|
Background: Owner of one of the best arms in the entire system, Jimenez signed out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy for a paltry $100,000. Since then he’s cobbled together two small sample sizes of pure nastiness – in 44.2 innings between the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues, Jimenez has fanned 65 and walked 12 en route to totaling a 1.81 ERA. Last season, he worked exclusively out of Connecticut’s bullpen, where he posted an impressive 41-to-6 strikeouts-to-walk ratio.
Projection: Granted, it’s two small sample sizes, but he’s been utterly dominant. And as far as initial returns on an investment, Jimenez has rewarded the club with more than enough hope. You’d have to assume that given the dominance and ease, the Tigers would think about moving him into the rotation down the line.
Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell
MLB ETA: N/A
6. Kyle Lobstein, LHP
|Born: 08/12/89 Age: 25 Height: 6-3 Weight: 200 B/T: L/L|
|Top CALs: Jeff Locke, Scott Diamond, Erasmo Ramirez, Zach McAllister, Simon Castro|
Background: It’s hard to believe that the Rays grabbed the 6-foot-3 southpaw out of high school in the second round nearly seven years ago. Needless to say his 2014 MLB debut was easy to root for. Lobstein spent the first four years of his professional career chugging through the minors before the Mets grabbed him in the Rule 5 draft to only turn around and sell him to the Tigers later that day. And after posting some promising peripherals in Tampa’s system – at least enough to suggest that he’d have a Major League future – the big-lefty-that-could plugged right along over the last two seasons. He now has 218.0 solid innings logged in the International League and another 39+ in the Detroit.
Projection: Lobstein’s the ideal fit for the big spending Tigers. With a team laden with expensive veterans, the soon-to-be 25-year-old southpaw is a cheap back-of-the-rotation option that can be plugged in at a moment’s notice if any of the club’s top five – Justin Verlander, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Shane Greene, and Alfredo Simon – fault or succumb to injury.
Lobstein works with a fringy upper-80s fastball, which is easily dismissed given the league-wide upward trend of velocity, but he compensates with a three solid secondary pitches and a good feel for the strike zone. CAL likens him to a trio of backend options: Jeff Locke, Scott Diamond, and Zach McAllister.
Ceiling: 1.0- to 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2014
7. Steven Moya, RF
|Born: 08/09/91 Age: 23 Height: 6-6 Weight: 230 B/T: L/R|
|Top CALs: Greg Golson, Victor Roache, Gerardo Rodriguez, Quincy Latimore, Willy Garcia|
Background: “Massive power potential, Moya, who hasn’t topped 100 games in any of his five professional seasons, has averaged 21 homeruns per 600 plate appearances since 2011. Again, he needs to stay healthy.” – The Top 25 Breakout Prospects for 2014 as part of The 2014 Prospect Digest Annual. Moya, who was my #16 prospect on the breakout list last season, finally stayed healthy and had one of the biggest breakout seasons among all MiLB’ers last year. The massive 6-foot-6, 230-pound Puerto Rican-born right fielder slugged .276/.306/.555 with 33 doubles, five triples, 35 homeruns, and swiped 16 bags in 20 attempts. His overall production, per Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the Eastern League average production by 31%. The offensive explosion earned Moya a brief – and I do mean brief – look at big league life as a September call up. Moya also continued to batter minor league pitching – he hit .289/.327/.544 with another five dingers in the Arizona Summer League.
Projection: I wrote this in last year’s book:
“Massive raw power, tops in the system, Moya has totaled 33 doubles, eight triples, and 21 homeruns in 144 games over the past two seasons. And that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. The problem is his inability to put the ball in play and his abhorrence to the walk, though he’s made major strides in the last two years. There’s a chance he develops into a decent #5/#6-type hitter.”
Well, Moya finally tapped in his massive raw power and he continued his abhorrence to the free pass as well as battling contact issues; he walked just 4.2% and whiffed in 29.3% of his plate appearances last season. The lefty-swinging Moya has – surprisingly – handled fellow southpaws relatively well in his career. But, again, the K-rate has been trending in the wrong direction for years and he’s made zero improvement in his low walk rates. There’s certainly big league value here, but there’s a ton of risk. Luckily, he’s only entering his age-23 season.
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2014
8. Dixon Machado, SS
|Born: 02/22/92 Age: 23 Height: 6-1 Weight: 170 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Didi Gregorius, Sean Kazmar, Jose Garcia, Jorge Flores, Marwin Gonzalez|
Background: The Venezuelan-born shortstop was already in the midst of his best offensive season to date in the Florida State League, where he was batting .252/.348/.333 (yes, that constitutes his best offensive season), before the club bumped him up to Erie and he actually improved his offensive output over a sample size nearly double the plate appearances. In 342 trips to the plate for the SeaWolves, Machado hit an impressive .305/.391/.442 with a surprising amount of pop to go along with his steady eye at the plate. His overall production, which topped the league average mark by 23%, was the 15th best among MiLB shortstops with at least 400 plate appearances. Not bad work for a career .237/.319/.302 hitter.
Projection: Very, very tricky. On one hand, Machado has never performed even close to the level he showed last season, but has a history of solid contact and walks rates while facing older competition. On the other hand, nothing really screams “fluke” about his work in 2014. The BABIP, .325, was higher than his previous totals, but it’s not outrageous compared to the league average. And the same thing can be said about his power spike (.118 ISO). And CAL thinks he has a chance to develop into a decent hitter, something along the lines of a 90 wRC+, which could in turn push him close to league average status with good defense.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: Late 2015/Early 2016
9. Javier Betancourt, 2B/3B/SS
|Born: 05/08/95 Age: 20 Height: 6-0 Weight: 180 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Kike Hernandez, Juan Santana, Kean Wong, Marco Hernandez, Gioskar Amaya|
Background: The multi-talented infielder, who dabbles in music as well as playing a variety of positions, had a strong debut showing in the Venezuelan Summer League three years ago, hitting .333/.391/.455. Betancourt followed that up with a nearly identical line the following year when he batted .333/.379/.441 in his stateside debut in the Gulf Coast League. As for 2014, well, the 6-foot, 180-pound, piano-playing infielder failed to hit for first time in his career. Betancourt finished the year with a .269/.307/.344 triple-slash line with 18 doubles, three triples, six homeruns, and nine stolen bases en route to tallying an 87 wRC+.
Projection: Betancourt, like a lot of teenagers moving into full season ball, struggled over the duration of the year. And his production over the first four months – he batted .290/.324/.364 in 485 plate appearances – is far more indicative of his true level of talent. His production of the final 28 games, .190/.240/.267, more or less wrecked his overall stat line.
As far as the individual skills he’s showed, the bat is solid average with some potential to develop into an above-average tool, the power and walk rate are both lacking, and he doesn’t run very often. Betancourt’s a potential fringy big league everyday regular. If the pop takes a step forward he starts to move up the prospect charts. Another breakout candidate.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2017
10. Zach Shepherd, 3B
|Born: 09/14/95 Age: 19 Height: 6-3 Weight: 185 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Matthew Duran, Adam Coe, Johermyn Chavez, Jay Nilsson, Keury De La Cruz|
Background: Signed out of Sydney, Australia, in 2013 for $325,000, Shepherd didn’t make his debut until last season in the Gulf Coast League. In 201 plate appearances, the 6-foot-3 third baseman from Down Under hit an impressive .301/.373/.497 with 12 doubles, five triples, four homeruns, and five stolen bases en route to topping the league average offensive production by 46%, the sixth best showing in the Gulf among all qualified teenagers.
Projection: A very promising start to his professional career. Shepherd showed a good eye, above-average pop, and a solid, well-rounded offensive toolkit. And despite his relative youth, he’s ready for the Midwest League.
Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell
MLB ETA: N/A
**All Stats Courtesy of FanGraphs**