2016’s Biggest Prospect Surprises – So Far (Part I)

Well, we’ve finally reached the point – or at least we’re quickly closing in on it – where small sample sizes are no longer an issue as many full season prospects have already eclipsed the 200-plate appearance mark in 2016. I thought it’d be a good time to examine some of the biggest surprises up to this point – both good and bad.

So, without further ado…


Dylan Cozens – Here’s what I once wrote:

“He’s going to blow up one day. Just out of the blue people are going to take notice. Thirty- to 35-HR power, good plate discipline and double-digit stolen base ability. Watch. It could take two or three years, but he’s going to start shooting up the prospect charts.”

Well, about two-and-a-half years later Dylan Cozens is doing just that – blowing up. Through his first 58 games in Class AA, the former second round pick is slugging .277/.354/.571 and already tying a career-high with 16 homeruns. His overall production has topped the league average mark by 59%. By the way, he’s on pace for more than 40 dingers in a 162-game schedule.


Willy AdamesI’ve long been on the Adames bandwagon. First ranking him as Detroit’s top prospect halfway through the 2014 season. Then following that up by listing him as the #83rd best MiLB’er in 2015 and then as #61 this year. Well, he’s continued his rapid rise through the minors. This season he’s mashing to the tune of .280/.380/.493 with 19 doubles, two triples, seven homeruns, and a 151 wRC+. Once again, prorating those numbers across a full 162-game schedule: 54 doubles, six triples, 20 homeruns. As a 20-year-old. In Class AA.


David PaulinoOne of the guys I listed in this year’s book as a potential Breakout Prospect in 2016, Paulino has…well, done just that. Breakout. The 22-year-old right-hander is sporting an impeccable 54-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 48 innings with Houston’s Class AA affiliate.


Casey GillaspieMy favorite collegiate bat in the entire 2014 draft class, Gillaspie is making up for lost time – his season ended after just 77 games last year – as he’s slugging .299/.423/.524 with 15 doubles and nine homeruns to go along with a spectacular 172 wRC+. The best part: he’s walking nearly 18% of the time. The best part II: he’s fanned in fewer than 21% of his plate appearances.


Cody ReedAfter noting that he looked like the second coming of Koufax in his eight starts with the Reds after his mid-season swap from Kansas City, Reed has…well, looked nearly as unhittable as he’s made the successful jump from Class AA to the Class AAA. The big lefty is sporting a 58-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 58.2 innings. With the Reds’ rotation clearly hurting Reed’s incessant knocking on the big league door is only growing louder.


Steven MoyaProving you can teach old dogs new tricks, Moya has – for some reason – shaved nearly 8% off of his strikeout rate as it’s dropped down to a very reasonable 22.5%. Now if we could teach him some patience… Still, though, Moya has launched 12 homeruns in just 42 games en route to hitting .308/.341/.610. Yeah, that power will play.


Jorge BonifacioHere’s what I wrote in 2014:

Bonifacio’s power is still largely untapped, but it has the potential to develop into 20+ homeruns down the line. He’s consistently topped the league average offensive production by about 20%, despite playing against much older competition.”

Well, the former enigmatic slugger is now on pace for a career high 27 homeruns. Bonifacio’s struggled the past two seasons – likely because he was suffering from a broken hamate bone, which tends to sap a hitter’s power longer than you would expect.


Nick DelmonicoBack from the dead – literally. I, like nearly every prospect chatterbox, had long given up hope for the former sabermetric darling who once posted a 126 wRC+ as a 20-year-old in High Class A. Since then, though, it’s been disappointingly short seasons as he’s battled possible combustion. Delmonico made quick work of Class AA this season, hitting .338/.397/.676, and has looked reasonably strong in 15 games in Class AAA.


Peter O’BrienNot to be confused with the former Indians and Mariners first baseman, O’Brien on pace for a career season in 2016, already slugging 17 dingers in just 50 games. Overall, he’s slugging .337/.362/.683 with a 171 wRC+ in the offensive inflated PCL.


Sam HentgesA fourth round pick out of 2014, Hentges’ season looks – on the onset – quite disappointing. He’s sporting a disappointing 6.71 ERA and he’s averaged more than a gopher ball per nine innings. That’s not even considering the fact that he’s uncorked nine wild pitches through his first 12 games. But here’s the good part: the soon-to-be 20-year-old monster southpaw is averaging more than 11 punch outs per nine innings – the eighth best total among all minor league pitchers with at least 50 innings under their belt.


Tyler O’NeillSure, the Jackson Generals’ home ball park tends to inflate offensive numbers, but O’Neill has slugged nearly identical home/away triple-slash lines during his first taste of Class AA action (.333/.395/.596 vs. .331/.393/.581). The slugging outfielder, who’s sporting a ridiculous 176 wRC+, has also trimmed his punch out rate down from more than 30% in 2015 to 23.5%.


Amed RosarioWell, I certainly didn’t see this one coming – at all. After swinging a wet noodle for the majority of his minor league career, the 20-year-old shortstop’s offense has finally turned the corner in his do-over in High Class A. Rosario’s hitting .296/.347/.439 with career highs in overall production, 131 wRC+, and homeruns (three).


Ryne StanekFINALLY! After failing to live up to the hype that surrounded him since high school, the former Arkansas Razorback is missing bats with the best of ‘em in his repeat of Class AA. And the distances have been dramatic: he averaged just 5.98 K/9 in 16 games in the Southern League, he’s upped that mark to over 10 K/9 through his 63.1 innings of work this year. I’m still not convinced he’s going to stay in the rotation, but he’s certainly helping to change that perception.


Austin SlaterA fast-rising player in the mold of Matt Duffy, the former eighth round pick got off to a scorching start in Class AA in 2016, slugging .317/.413/.490 before earning a promotion to Class AAA. He’s poised to make some noise in Frisco before the end of the year.


Eloy Jimenez A big time amateur free agent signing a couple years ago, Jimenez has basically been a league average bat over his first two years in the minors. This season, however, he bashing – at the ripe ol’ age of 19 – a robust .318/.362/.512 with a mind-boggling 158 wRC+. Prorating his counting stats over a full 162 games: 47 doubles, three triples, 24 homeruns. Yeah…that’ll play.


Yu-Cheng ChangThe young shortstop really struggled in his first taste of full season ball last year, hitting a subpar .232/.293/.361. But Chang has hardly resembled the light-hitting middle infielder as he moved up to the Carolina League; he’s batting .275/.349/.495 with 16 doubles, four triples, and seven homeruns in 51 games. Not bad for a 20-year-old…


Drew Ward After pegging the lefty-swinging third baseman as a candidate to repeat High Class A thanks to his struggles in 2015, Ward did just that – though with much better results: .313/.415/.545 with 14 doubles, nine homeruns, and a 171 wRC+.


Austin VothI’ll just leave this right here: 2.84 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 8.81 K/9, 1.99 BB/9. At some point you would expect Voth’s production to…stop. But it hasn’t. Unfortunately, he’s buried under a star-studded MLB rotation.


Phil BickfordOne of the favorite players in the draft last June, Bickford, surprisingly enough, fell to the 18th overall pick – where the Giants happily snapped him up. And he’s proving to be quite the value in Low Class A: 53.0 IP, 2.32 FIP, 2.89 ERA, 62 K, and 14 BB.


Trevor CliftonAnother player I mentioned as a potential breakout prospect in this year’s book. Clifton, as a 21-year-old making his first stop in High Class A, is sporting a 57-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52.0 innings. Yeah, that’s a breakout.


Ronald GuzmanOvershadowed by Nomar Mazara, who was signed at the same time on the international market, Guzman’s hardly looked like the prospect that was given a $3 million bonus for the four seasons of his career. But something has clicked in the hulking first baseman’s bat in 2016; he’s slugging .311/.377/.539 with 11 doubles, three triples, and a career-high-tying nine homeruns. His overall production has topped the league average mark by 57%.


Jorge Mateo Anointed the heir apparent to Derek Jeter’s throne, Mateo’s proving that his 21-game stint in High Class A last season was no fluke. Through his first 261 plate appearances this season, the speedy shortstop is slugging .286/.345/.440 with five doubles, a career high-tying eight triples, five homeruns, and 24 stolen bases. His overall production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, has topped the league average offensive mark by 33%.


Josh Ockimey The slugging 20-year-old first baseman had a bit of a coming out party in 2015 when he batted .266/.349/.422 with a 128 wRC+. This season he’s upped the ante – quite a bit. He’s bashing to the tune of .284/.419/.505 while topping the league average offensive production by 65%. The best part? He’s sporting a 57-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio through his first 241 cards.


Josh HaderNot exactly overpowering, the lanky, rail-thin lefty has average more than 11.5 punch outs per nine innings as he’s spent time between Class AA and Class AAA. Hader’s knocking – loudly – on the Brewers’ big league door so it shouldn’t be too long before he’s up twirling gems in Milwaukee.


After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.