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. Aaron Nola, RHP
|Born: 06/04/93 Age: 22 Height: 6-1 Weight: 195 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Polin Trinidad, Lester Oliveros, Guido Knudson, Stephen Fife, Rudy Owens|
Background: Armed with the organization’s highest draft pick since it selected Gavin Floyd at #4 in 2001, Philadelphia reached into the collegiate ranks and grabbed LSU right-hander Aaron Nola, one the draft’s most polished pitchers who’s widely expected to move quickly. Nola, who was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in the 22nd round coming out of high school, was a three-year member of the Tigers’ rotation, finishing his collegiate career with 332 innings, 345 strikeouts, an amazingly low 52 walks, and a 2.09 ERA. And his lengthy list of accomplishments and awards rivals that of anyone in recent memory:
- 2012: First-Team Freshman All-American (Collegiate Baseball; Perfect Game), Second-Team Freshman All-American (Baseball America), Freshman All-SEC, NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team
- 2013: First-Team All-American (Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, ABCA, Perfect Game, NCBWA), National Pitcher of the Year Finalist, SEC Pitcher of the Year, Corbett Award Winner (Best Amateur Athlete in Louisiana)
- 2014: National Pitcher of the Year (College Baseball Foundation), Golden Spikes Award Finalist, First-Team All-American (Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, ABCA, Perfect Game, NCBWA), SEC Pitcher of the Year, First Team All-SEC, SEC All-Tournament Team
The Phillies’ front office pushed Nola, whose older brother, Austin, was drafted by the Marlins in the fifth round in 2012, directly into the Florida State League and, unsurprisingly, he handled the transition with aplomb: 31.1 innings, 30-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a 3.61 FIP. The organization promoted him to the Eastern League at the beginning of August for five more starts, where he would once again prove stingy with the free passes (1.88 BB/9), though his strikeout total plummeted (5.63 K/9).
Projection: The front office had to be grinning ear-to-ear as Nola was bypassed by the Cubs, Twins, and Mariners. Prior to the draft I wrote,
“Love him. Nola isn’t overpowering, per se, but he takes pitchability to the ultimate extreme. Absolute workhorse with the potential to not only move quickly through the minor leagues – he could be the first starting pitcher from this year’s draft class to make it to the big leagues – but has the potential to be a very good #2/#3-type arm.”
“Above-average to elite control/command. An above-average ability to miss bats in the collegiate ranks, though that will be downgraded to average in the professional levels, somewhere around 7.0- to 7.5-K/9. During his peak years think Tim Hudson-esque.”
Ceiling: 4.0 to 4.5-win player
MLB ETA: Late 2015
2. J.P. Crawford, SS
|Born: 01/11/95 Age: 20 Height: 6-2 Weight: 180 B/T: L/R|
|Top CALs: Manny Machado, Tyler Pastornicky, Jorge Polanco, Derrik Gibson, Gavin Cecchini|
Background: With the trade of longtime shortstop – and future Hall of Famer – Jimmy Rollins, the front office not only recognized (finally) the need to rebuild, but also paved the way for Crawford, the 16th overall pick out of Lakewood HS in 2013. After an impressive pro debut, one that saw him dominate in the Gulf Coast and earn a 14-game stint in the Sally, Crawford opened the year back with the Lakewood BlueClaws where he, once again, proved to be among the level’s best. The lefty-swinging shortstop hit .295/.398/.405 with 16 doubles, three homeruns, and 14 stolen bases en route to topping the league average offensive production by 32%. The club then promoted him to High Class A in mid-June, where he hit .275/.352/.407.
Projection: There’s an awful lot to like about the promising young shortstop – above-average plate discipline, strong contact skills, speed, solid-average power potential, and outstanding performances against much older competition. But he’s not without a red flag: the lefty-swinging Crawford owns a career .253/.346/.346 triple-slash line against LHs, though he did fare better last year (.246/.346/.364). Crawford’s a potential top-of-the-line table-setter who could man the position for a decade-plus.
Ceiling: 4.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2016
3. Jesse Biddle, LHP
|Born: 10/22/91 Age: 23 Height: 6-5 Weight: 220 B/T: L/L|
|Top CALs: Cody Scarpetta, Jeurys Familia, Brad Hand, Chris Withrow, Dan Cortes|
Background: Promising young left-handed starting pitchers who can miss an inordinate amount of bats in the middle levels of minor leagues tend to be worth their weight in gold – even if they don’t exactly find the strike zone with a ton of regularity. And Biddle, who fanned 151 in 142.2 innings in High Class A in 2012 and followed that up with 154 punch outs in 138.1 innings in the Eastern League the next year, looked like the type of hurler who could eventually sign a nine-figure deal in his future. And then it all went to hell.
The Philadelphia-born first round pick battled personal issues – I’m hesitant to use the term “mental” do to the unfair stigma associated with it – and was shutdown in late June to gather his thoughts and refocus. At certain points throughout the year Biddle still offered glimmers of hope – on back-to-back starts in late April he fanned 11 and 10 while walking a combined two batters – but the overall numbers are a tad disappointing: 94.1 innings, 92 strikeouts, and 51 walks.
Projection: Biddle took a month off to recoup and returned in late July for just 15.2 innings. And at the time of the break he was quoted by Jim Salisbury as saying, “I’m miserable out there. I’m very unhappy. And I don’t know why. Nothing feels fluid on the mound, nothing feels natural.” He’s flirted with top-of-the-rotation potential and still has plenty of youth on his side. Here’s hoping the young southpaw recaptures some of his magic.
Ceiling: 3.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2016
4. Maikel Franco, 1B/3B
|Born: 08/26/92 Age: 22 Height: 6-1 Weight: 180 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Wilmer Flores, Josh Vitters, Mike Moustakas, Blake DeWitt, Lonnie Chisenhall|
Background: When I originally rolled out CAL, the Comparison And Likeness prospect system I devised, I penned an article for Beyond The Box Score entitled, Maikel Franco: High Bust Potential. The crux of the piece was quite simple: despite some strong – and at times dominant – performances from the Dominican-born corner infielder, CAL was hinting at a rather low ceiling. For example, here are his top comparables through each age:
- Age 18: Brian Schales, Austin Anderson, Jomar Reyes, Hyeong-rok Choi, Carson Kelly
- Age 19: Jeimer Candelario, Carson Kelly, Janluis Castro, Michael Almanzar, Avery Romero
- Age 20: Wilmer Flores, Josh Vitters, Aderlin Rodriguez, Nolan Arenado, Mike Moustakas
- Age 21: Wilmer Flores, Josh Vitters, Mike Moustakas, Blake DeWitt, Lonnie Chisenhall
Among the 20 comps (including repeats) there’s one – Nolan Arenado – above-average big league regular and another player, Lonnie Chisenhall, who has flirted with that at some point in his career.
Franco blew up in 2013, hitting a combined .320/.356/.569 with 36 doubles, three triples, and 31 homeruns between the Florida State and Eastern Leagues. And then he fell flat on his face in Class AAA last season, hitting .257/.299/.428 while posting a below-average 97 wRC+. Of course, that’s before he looked absolutely pitiful in the big leagues: .179/.190/.214 with a laughably small 6 wRC+ in 58 plate appearances.
Projection: To be completely fair to Franco, he put together three strong months, but a pair of pathetic ones more or less wrecked his overall numbers. He posted OPSs above .800 in May, July, and August and sub-.500 marks in April and June. While Franco’s power is an above-average, sometimes plus-skill, the actual hit tool has hovered between sub-par and decent. He rarely walks. And, apparently, would lose to the little old lady next door in a race. He still has a chance to develop into a 2.5- to 3.0-win player, but he definitely won’t be a star.
Ceiling: 2.5- to 3.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2014
5. Tom Windle, LHP
|Born: 03/10/92 Age: 23 Height: 6-4 Weight: 215 B/T: L/L|
|Top CALs: Michael Watt, Esmil Rogers, Brian Flynn, Diogenes Rosario, Steven Upchurch|
Background: Part of the bounty received from the Dodgers for dealing iconic shortstop Jimmy Rollins this offseason, Windle entered pro ball as a little used pitcher – in terms of his career usage in college. Windle, a second round pick out of the University of Minnesota, spent the majority of his first two years with the Golden Gophers working out of the bullpen. It wasn’t until his junior campaign that head coach John Anderson moved him into the rotation fulltime, and the results were, well, good enough to convince LA to use a high pick on him. Windle spent the 2014 season with Rancho Cucamonga, where he tallied 111 strikeouts, 44 walks, and finished with an unimpressive 4.53 FIP in 139.1 innings.
Projection: Prior to the 2013 draft I wrote,
“He’s got size and some projectability left. And his control took a pretty noticeable step forward [in 2013]. Plus, he tossed just 41.1 innings in each of the two previous years, meaning far less wear and tear than the normal collegiate starter. You do have to wonder, however, if fatigue will eventually become a problem in the next year or two. He could be another low ceiling/high floor guy nabbed in the second and third rounds.”
I originally pegged him as a 2.0-win player, and he’s done nothing to convince me otherwise.
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2016
6. Ben Lively, RHP
|Born: 03/05/92 Age: 23 Height: 6-4 Weight: 190 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Doug Brandt, Jordan Zimmermann, Matt Garza, Aaron Blair, Ian Kennedy|
Background: A very savvy deal for a front office that isn’t typically noted for them, the Phillies flipped the aging – or ageless? – Marlon Byrd for the 6-foot-3 right-hander. Lively, a 2013 fourth pick out of the University of Central Florida, had one of the better debuts in recent memory. He tossed 41 innings, most of which were spent in the Pioneer League, while racking up 56 punch outs and 13 free passes while posting a laughably low 0.88 ERA. Well, Lively continued to mow down hitters while splitting time between the California and Southern Leagues last season. He finished with 171 punch outs and 52 walks in 151.0 innings of work.
Projection: In last year’s book I wrote,
“Not entirely sold on the above-average control just yet. But he could develop into a solid back-of-the-rotation hurler, maybe peaking as a #4 if the control holds up.”
CAL remains a huge, huge fan.
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
MLB ETA: Late 2014/Early 2016
7. Matt Imhof, LHP
|Born: 10/26/93 Age: 21 Height: 6-5 Weight: 220 B/T: L/L|
|Top CALs: Jhonatan Ramos, Daniel Oliver, Alex Woodson, David Baker, Wilmer Font|
Background: Not only did Philadelphia grab Nola, who finished tied with the third most punch outs in DI last season, but the organization also drafted Imhof, who ranked seventh in DI with 124 strikeouts. Imhof, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound southpaw out of Cal Poly, really blossomed over his final two collegiate seasons, totaling 219 strikeouts, 73 walks, and a 2.60 in 201 innings. Philly tabbed the big left-hander with its second pick, 47th overall, and pushed him to the Gulf for a game, then the New York-Penn League for three appearances, and finally promoting him to full season ball. In total, he posted a 40-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 42.1 innings.
Projection: Prior to the draft I wrote,
“Not blessed with the same type of arm as fellow southpaws Carlos Rodon and Brandon Finnegan, Imhof, nonetheless, rates fairly high up the prospect charts. He’s tall and projectable thanks to his lean 6-foot-5 frame.”
“[He], obviously, has an above-average ability to miss bats, though that’s likely to hover near the league average in the professional ranks. His control is decent, not great. But he’s also shown an ability to dominate against some of the better international competition. A solid- mid-rotation-type arm.”
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2017
8. Severino Gonzalez, RHP
|Born: 09/28/92 Age: 22 Height: 6-1 Weight: 153 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: A.J. Cole, Johnny Cueto, Joe Wieland, David Holmberg, Robbie Erlin|
Background: I was incredibly high on wispy right-hander entering the year, writing: “Owner of some of the best control in the minor leagues, Gonzalez, who walked just nine hitters during his first 135.1 career innings in the Venezuelan Summer League, made stops at three different levels – Low Class A, High Class A, and Class AA – en route to establishing himself as a legitimate #2-type starting pitcher.” The Panamanian-born hurler finished the 2013 season with 119 strikeouts, just 22 free passes, and an even 2.00 ERA. Well, Gonzalez took a noticeable downturn in his full season in the Eastern League in 2014. While he still showed his fantastic ability to pound the strike zone, his strikeout percentage plummeted to just 17% as his ERA and FIP spiked (4.59 and 4.60, respectively).
Projection: Now to be fair, CAL links Gonzalez to some pretty solid arms: A.J. Cole, Johnny Cueto, Joe Wieland, and Robbie Erlin. But my initial analysis pegging Gonzalez as a #2 caliber starting pitcher was a bit…ambitious. Given his age, history, and rapid rise, it wouldn’t be surprising to see his strikeout rate bounce back next season. A solid #3/#4-type arm.
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
MLB ETA: Late 2015/Early 2016
9. Andrew Knapp, C
|Born: 11/09/91 Age: 23 Height: 6-1 Weight: 190 B/T: B/R|
|Top CALs: Jeff Dunbar, Dane Phillips, Adam Martin, Elvin Soto, Adrian Nieto|
Background: The 53rd overall pick out of the University of California two years ago, Knapp underwent the dreaded Tommy John surgery during the offseason and was relegated to designated hitter for the opening months. The club, for reasons not entirely clear, pushed him directly into the Florida State League, where he struggled (coming off of a major surgery) as he hit .157/.222/.205. He was then demoted to the Sally and his offensive numbers turned around: .290/.354/.438. Obviously, his work behind the plate – he threw out just 19% of would-be base stealers – needs to be looked at with a grain of salt at this point.
Projection: Prior to the draft two years ago I wrote,
“Knapp, a switch-hitter, showed some blossoming power during his sophomore campaign, slugging 21 extra-base hits. It’s now developed into a solid-average skill with the potential to be 12 to 17 homeruns down the line. He couples that with a decent eye at the plate, though his walk rates will likely be average or slightly below in pro ball. Defensively, he’s nabbed 65% of would-be base stealers.”
I wrapped it all up in a neat little bow,
“He’s not going to be a star and his bat profiles as league average. But he’s the type that could carve out a long career as a solid big league regular that’s capable of adding value on both sides of the ball.”
Obviously, the TJ tainted a lot of his work last season. I originally graded him as a 2.0-win player, but now I’d mark him down as a fringy everyday guy.
Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: Late 2017/Early 2018
10. Zach Eflin, RHP
|Born: 04/08/94 Age: 21 Height: 6-4 Weight: 200 B/T: R/R|
|Top CALs: Sean O’Sullivan, Eduardo Rodriguez, Kyle Ryan, Jonathan Martinez, Chris Volstad|
Background: The 6-foot-4 right-hander has been passed around like sweet potatoes at the family Christmas dinner table this offseason, first being sent from San Diego to Los Angeles as part of the Matt Kemp deal and then passed to Philadelphia as part of the Jimmy Rollins swap. Eflin, the 33rd overall pick in 2012, breezed through his first exposure to full season ball two years ago, and then handled the California League well in 2014, where he would finish the season with a 4.02 FIP while averaging 6.54 K/9 and just 2.18 BB/9.
Projection: The 6-foot-4 right-hander saw a noticeable spike in his groundball rate in 2014, going from just under 39% in two years ago to over 50% last season. If he can maintain that rate – or something close to it – it would be a pretty big developmental step given his lack of strikeouts. He’s a potential backend starting pitcher.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: Late 2016/Early 2017
**All Statistics Courtesy of FanGraphs**