Announcement: Described by Michael Salfino of The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Sports as “an insightful and often contrarian viewpoint to prospect rankings,” The 2017 Prospect Digest Handbook is now on sale! Check it out here!
|1. Francis Martes, RHP|
|Born: 11/24/95||Age: 21||Bats: R||Top CALs: Matt Wisler, Nick Adenhart, David Holmberg, Arodys Vizcaino, Jenry Mejia|
|Height: 6-1||Weight: 225||Throws: R|
Background: Pop Quiz Part 1: Since 2006 how many 20-year-old pitchers with at least 100 innings in any Class AA level have fanned 25.0% of the total batters he’s faced? The answer: Three – Phil Hughes in 2007, Chris Tillman in 2008, and Francis Martes last season. Pop Quiz Part II: How many 21-year-olds have accomplished that feat since 2006? The answer: Six – Tyler Clippard (2006), Gio Gonzalez (2007), Michael Bowden (2008), Jesse Biddle (2013), Henry Owens (2014), and Josh Hader (2015). So just to recap, there have been eight pitchers under the age of 22 to throw 100+ innings and post a K% north of 25.0% over the past eleven seasons. And the last time a 20-year-old accomplished that feat before Martes was eight years ago.
Needless to say, the flame-throwing right-hander’s 2016 campaign was quite noteworthy.
Built like Gibraltar with a thick lower half, Martes made 25 appearances for the Corpus Christi Hooks last season, 22 of which were starts, throwing a career best 125.1 innings with an impressive 134-to-47 strikeout-to-walk ratio to go along with 3.30 ERA and a strong 2.73 FIP. For his career, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound right-hander has averaged 8.6 K/9 and just 3.1 BB/9 with a sub-3.00 ERA.
Projection: Here’s what I wrote about him in last year’s book:
“Without a doubt the single biggest riser in Houston’s system and in the conversation for all of the minor leagues, Martes went from relative obscurity to becoming one of the best teenage arms around. Big, BIG time arm with the uncanny ability to find the strike zone on more than a consistent basis, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more talented teenage arm outside of the Dodgers’ Julio Urias or Boston’s Anderson Espinoza. Simply put, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Martes is the best prospect you’ve likely never heard of. Yet. Legit front-of-the-rotation caliber upside as long as he can avoid the injury nexus. Given his relative youth he’s likely headed for an innings limit around 130.0 next season.”
Seems to me it was spot on. And, really, there’s nothing else that needs to be said. But I’m going to anyway…
Among Martes’ 22 starts, he walked more than three hitters just three times and fanned more than seven 10 times. He’s equally dominant against lefties and righties. And he only surrendered four total dingers last season. Just. Flat out. Dominant.
Even though he’s big league ready today, he likely won’t get the call until the Super Two deadline passes.
Ceiling: 5.0- to 5.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2017
|2. Kyle Tucker, OF|
|Born: 01/17/97||Age: 20||Bats: L||Top CALs: Jason Martin, Manuel Margot, Troy Stokes, Jorge Bonifacio, Andrew McCutchen|
|Height: 6-4||Weight: 190||Throws: R|
Background: If one Tucker’s fun, why the hell not double down and grab another one in the draft? Preston, who’s older brother Kyle has received a couple extended looks at the big league level, was taken with the fifth overall pick two years ago out of H.B. Plant High School in Tampa, Florida – home to, among others, Mychal Givens, John Hudek, and Hall of Famer Wade Boggs. Anyway, the younger Tucker took to full season ball like a fish to water in 2016, hitting a solid .276/.348/.402 with 19 doubles, five triples, six homeruns, and 31 stolen bases (in 40 attempts). His overall production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the Midwest League average by 19%, the fourth best showing by a teenager in the league. Houston aggressively pushed him up to High Class A in mid-August for another 16 games – albeit a scorching hot 16 games; he slugged .339/.435/.661 with a 188 wRC+ in 69 trips to the plate.
Projection: He can certainly fill a stat sheet with tons of extra-base pop and above-average speed. The lefty-swinging outfielder also handled lefties and righties without a hitch as well. But perhaps the best news is his plate discipline against much older pitching: he posted an 81-to-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio. A year-plus into his development and there’s very little red flags, if any, with tons of room to grow.
Ceiling: 3.5- to 4.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2019
|3. David Paulino, RHP|
|Born: 02/06/94||Age: 23||Bats: R||Top CALs: Yohander Mendez, Javier Solano, Cesar Cabral, James Pugliese, Matt Garza|
|Height: 6-7||Weight: 215||Throws: R|
Background: Here’s what I wrote about the right-hander when I named him among the Top 25 Breakout Prospects for 2016: “Acquired from the Tigers as part of the Jose Veras trade a couple years ago, Paulino missed much of the 2013 season and all of the following year with – now everyone say it with me – Tommy John surgery. But the 6-foot-7 right-hander came back strong as he made stops in three different levels. Expect big, big things from him in 2016.” So did the towering beanpole from the Dominican Republic come up with a big, big season last year?
Yeah – or, well, he was putting up big, big numbers through the first couple months but a team-imposed suspension derailed what could have been a magical year. Despite having just 67.1 innings of experience above the Gulf Coast League, Paulino opened the year up with Corpus Christi in Class AA. Through his first 13 starts, the lanky right-hander looked absolutely untouchable – he threw 58.0 innings, fanned 66, and walked just 11 en route to piecing together an impeccable 1.86 ERA.
Then the suspension hit. And the whole thing seems a bit…murky. According to reports, Paulino violated team policy – an undisclosed team policy, by the way – and would miss about five weeks of action. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, as reported by the Houston Chronicle, was nothing major and the young hurler wouldn’t be an extended period of time. Five weeks later he found himself back in the Gulf Coast League for a couple tune-up starts before moving onto the Texas League and eventually making stops in Class AAA and Houston. It’s all very…interesting. No other details have surfaced.
Anyway, Paulino would finish his minor league season by averaging 10.6 strikeouts and just 1.9 walk per nine innings to go along with a 2.00 ERA. So, yeah, I think that qualifies as a big, big thing.
Projection: Here’s what I wrote for his in-depth analysis in last year’s book:
“Primed for a breakout in 2016, Paulino’s control bounced back without missing a beat as he returned from surgery. There’s a whole lot to like about the lanky right-hander: size, projection, power arsenal, dominating strikeout totals, and surprising control – especially for a 6-foot-7 pitcher. Paulino’s innings will likely be capped around 100 or so, but he should spend some significant time in Class AA. In terms of potential ceiling, he’s still a bit of wild card, but I like his odds to develop into a mid-rotation arm.”
So let’s revisit this, shall we? Was his innings capped around 100 or so? Check; he threw 97.0 innings all year, which genuinely makes me believe that in-season suspension was just a way to cap his workload so the club could use him down the stretch. Is he a potential mid-rotation arm? Absolutely, with more upside – something along the lines of, maybe, a good #2.
During his call up to The Show, Paulino flashed a pretty standard four-pitch mix: low- to mid-90s fastball, 80 mph slider, a slower curveball, and a hard changeup.
Look for him to start the 2017 season back in Class AAA, as another way to govern his innings, before making a big impact with the club in early June.
Ceiling: 3.0- to 3.5-win player
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2016
|4. Forrest Whitley, RHP|
|Born: 09/15/97||Age: 19||Bats: R||Top CALs: N/A
|Height: 6-7||Weight: 240||Throws: R|
Background: With the 17th selection in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft, the Houston Astros select Forrest Whitley, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound right-hander out of Alamo Heights High School, San Antonio, Texas. Whitley had a very promising debut between both rookie leagues, strikeout out 26 and walking six in 18.2 IP.
Projection: Per the usual, there’s not a whole lot to go off of – but what data we do have is quite impressive. Whitley pounded the strike zone with a strong regularity, especially considering his size, with a huge ability to miss bats. Those could push him towards the front end of a big league rotation in three or four years.
Ceiling: Too Soon to Tell
MLB ETA: N/A
|5. Franklin Perez, RHP|
|Born: 12/06/97||Age: 19||Bats: R||Top CALs: Luiz Gohara, Anderson Espinoza, Phil Bickford, Mike Soroka, Gerson Moreno|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 197||Throws: R|
Background: Brilliant as an 18-year-old dominating the Midwest League competition last season. The Venezuelan-born right-hander made 15 appearances – 10 of which were starts – throwing 66.2 innings while average 10.1 strikeouts and just 2.6 walks per nine innings.
Projection: Let’s delve into the numbers a little more, shall we? Among Midwest League arms with 50 innings under their belts last season, Perez was the only 18-year-old. He tied for the 14th best strikeout-to-walk percentage, 20.2%, and finished with the fourth lowest FIP, 2.36, trailing only three pitchers who were at least three years his senior.
Consider this little nugget: The last time a pitcher under the age of 19 threw 50+ innings with a strikeout percentage of at least 27.0% in either Low Class A level was Julio Urias in 2013. And that feat has been accomplished just five other times since 2006: Taijuan Walker (2011), Jordan Lyles (2009), Madison Bumgarner (2008), Tim Collins (2008), and Brandon Erbe (2006).
As for Perez, well, the young right-hander has the build and potential to help fill out the front part of a big league rotation. If he can stay healthy, which is no certain task for a teenage arm.
Ceiling: 3.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2019
|6. Derek Fisher, OF|
|Born: 08/21/93||Age: 23||Bats: L||Top CALs: Brett Jackson, Marc Wik, John Tolisano, Zoilo Almonte, Lance Ray|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 205||Throws: R|
Background: Bringing the rare combination of power and speed, Fisher was one of only two players in the Class AA level to swipe more than 20 bags and bash more than 15 dingers in 2016; the other being Phillies platoon masher Dylan Cozens. Houston grabbed the former University of Virginia slugger at the end of the first round in 2014 after a solid collegiate career; he batted .281/.369/.456 with 30 doubles, 12 triples, 17 homeruns, and 17 stolen bases in 155 games with the Cavaliers. Since then, the toolsy outfielder has been a consistent – and I do mean consistent – hitter throughout the minors. His Weighted Runs Created Plus totals have been between 124 and 159 at every stop along the way. Last season, the lefty-swinging outfielder hit .245/.373/.431 with a 132 wRC+ in 102 games with Corpus Christi and he followed that up with a .290/.347/.505 showing (with a 124 wRC+) in 27 games with Fresno in Class AAA.
Projection: Here’s what I wrote prior to his selection in the 2014 draft:
“There’s basically two-plus seasons of data to work off of – including his performance in the Cape last summer where he posted the best strikeout-to-walk rate of his career at 20-to-25, so there’s a little more leeway in terms of actual projection.
Fisher’s never going to hit for average, probably peaking around .265 or .270 in the big leagues, but there’s 25-HR pop in his bat with at least a solid-average eye at the plate. Again, though, he’s not likely to show any significant pop until at least the end of 2014 and more likely at some point early in 2015.
And, granted, it’s a pretty small sample size, but it looks like he’s going to be susceptible to those “trendy” defensive shifts that are popping up more and more, according to his spray charty [on PoinStreaak.com] last summer.
In his peak season(s), Fisher could be a potential borderline All-Star thanks to the power shortage currently happening in the majors. At the very worst, he’s a good bench bat.”
It still looks spot on for the most part. The bat is average-ish, maybe a tick below, but he has a patient eye at the plate with, again, 20/20 potential. He also handles lefties incredibly well also. The only red flag thus far: his strikeout rate ballooned to nearly 29% in Class AA last season. Defensively, he’s far better suited as a corner outfielder rather than someone in center.
Finally, he’s probably not a borderline All Star, but he could be a very reliable league average starter.
Ceiling: 2.0-win player
Risk: Low to Moderate
MLB ETA: 2017
|7. Garrett Stubbs, C|
|Born: 05/26/93||Age: 24||Bats: L||Top CALs: N/A
|Height: 5-10||Weight: 175||Throws: R|
Background: Barely on the draft radar entering his senior year at the University of Southern California. Of course, hitting .228/.346/.279 as a sophomore and following that up with a .mediocre .287/.382/.310 showing as junior certainly doesn’t help. But something clicked for the 5-foot-10, 175-pound, lefty-swinging backstop. Namely, he started hitting. And nearly a year-and-a-half later he’s still hitting. Stubbs discovered his power stroke during his final campaign with the Trojans, setting career bests or tying previous highs in nearly every single offensive category. He mashed .346/.435/.434 with 15 doubles, one triple, one homerun, and 20 stolen bases in 27 attempts.
Houston grabbed the rocket-armed backstop in the eighth round two years ago, 229th overall.
And after a mediocre debut – he batted .263/.369/.305 between Tri-City and Midwest Leagues – Stubbs once again exploded. He ripped through High Class A – admittedly a bandbox – and performed even better with Corpus Christi. Overall, he finished the year with an aggregate .304/.391/.469 triple-slash line with 22 doubles, one triple, and 10 homeruns – yes, 10, which is eight more than he slugged in 194 college games – and 15 stolen bases.
Remember that rock-arm I briefly mentioned? Well, Stubbs threw out 26 of 53 potential runners, or just over 50%. And that, my friends, is how a catcher keeps a job at a big time baseball school despite swinging a wet noodle for the better parts of three years.
Projection: OK. Yes, a lot – but not all – of his production was courtesy of the Lancaster Bandbox. But consider this: last year he hit .239/.357/.401 on the road. Throw in his ability to decimate a team’s running game, and it doesn’t take a lot of squinting to see a league average or better catcher.
But let’s dig a little deeper…
Stubbs’ walk rate, 11.4%, ranked 12th among all stateside minor league backstops with 350 trips to the plate. Again, that’s out of every single MiLB catcher with 350 PA last season. And his overall production, 126 wRC+, made it into the top 20 as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to look up one season and see Stubbs put together a 2.5-win season, largely on the back of his defensive work, but his offense might surprise some as well.
Finally, his .330-ish BABIP last season doesn’t seem out of whack either, thanks to his speed. Meaning, he might – just maybe – be able to repeat league average offensive showings.
Ceiling: 2.5-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
MLB ETA: 2017/2018
|8. Daz Cameron, CF|
|Born: 01/15/97||Age: 20||Bats: R||Top CALs: N/A
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 185||Throws: R|
Background: Dipping into the MLB bloodlines for the second time in the same draft, Houston grabbed the son of supremely underrated and undervalued center fielder Mike Cameron with the 37th overall pick two years ago. And after a bit of an underwhelming professional debut between the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues in 2015, Cameron, who hit .251/.353/.309 between the leagues, came out of the gates last season in a blaze of…disappointment. He started out the year batting just .143/.221/.221 with an abhorrent 33-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first 87 trips to the plate. Then he missed a rather sizable amount of time, about six weeks, and then popped up with the Tri-City ValleyCats in the New York-Penn League in mid-May. And over the course of his next 19 games, the toolsy center fielder batted a respectable .278/.352/.418 with three doubles, one triple, a pair of long balls, and eight stolen bases. A broken finger, the result of an inside fastball, knocked him out for the year in early July.
Projection: Roughly a year-and-a-half into his professional career and we still don’t have an idea of the type of prospect foundation Cameron is working with. He was pretty terrible in his stint the Gulf Coast team but looked solid in the Appalachian League. Then last season he was really terrible with Quad Cities, but looked solid with in Tri-City. It looks like he’s sporting a similar toolkit as his dad, but, again, it comes in glimpses – nothing more.
Ceiling: 2.5- to 3.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2019
|9. Miguelangel Sierra, SS|
|Born: 12/02/97||Age: 19||Bats: R||Top CALs: N/A
|Height: 5-11||Weight: 165||Throws: R|
Background: Sure, it’s impressive enough that the 5-foot-11, 165-pound shortstop slugged 11 homeruns in the Appalachian League as an 18-year-old. But consider this: he did it in less than 150 trips to the plate. In fact, since 2006 no player has slugged more homeruns in 150 plate appearances or fewer in the league. One player, Kris Sanchez, did come close – he slugged 11 dingers in 154 PA – but he was six years older than the young shortstop. Sierra, who signed with the franchise in early July 2014, annihilated the rookie league pitching, bashing to the tune of .289/.386/.620 with 19 doubles, three triples, 11 dingers, and six stolen bases. His overall production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, topped the league average mark by a whopping 70%. The last time an 18-year-old with 140+ trips to the plate accomplished that was Angel Morales (Minnesota Twins) in 2008.
Projection: Just to kind of put that level of power production into context consider this: Miguel Sano, one of the minors’ most prolific power hitters over the past decade, slugged 20 long balls in 293 PA in the Appalachian League in 2011. Pro-rating Sierra’s work over that amount of plate appearances, he would have slugged 22 homers. Would he have done it? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s one helluva pace he was on.
Obviously, the power is a potential game-changer – at any spot on the field, let alone the shortstop position. Decent eye at the plate, but his swing-and-miss tendencies are already encroaching upon red flag territory. And that’s before you consider his terrible showing in the New York-Penn League across 25 games (.140/.216/.183).
Right now, Sierra’s a wild card – one with as high of a ceiling as any player in the system not named Francis Martes. But it comes with a tremendous amount of risk.
Ceiling: 3.5- to 4.0-win player
Risk: High to Extremely High
MLB ETA: 2020
|10. Teoscar Hernandez, CF|
|Born: 10/15/92||Age: 24||Bats: R||Top CALs: Sean Henry, Tim Smith, Jose Osuna, Reymond Fuentes, Brandon Jones|
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 180||Throws: R|
Background: Pop Quiz: Among all Class AA players with 500 trips to the plate in 2015, who finished with the worst overall production according to Weighted Runs Created Plus? The answer: Well, it was a trick question because Hernandez and former Royals first round pick Hunter Dozier tied with a horrific 75 wRC+. Hernandez’s struggles, though, really came out of nowhere – at least on the surface. He had strong showings in Low Class A, High Class A, and put together a 118 wRC+ in 23 games in first taste in the Texas League in 2014. But his BABIP tanked to a career low, .261, which didn’t help things as he batted .219/.275/.362 with Corpus Christi two years ago. Well, the BABIP came storming back in a big way in his third trip through the minors’ toughest challenge – his BABIP was .359 – as he slugged .305/.384/.437 en route to posting a career high 139 wRC+. Hernandez also passed the Class AAA test, hitting .313/.365/.500, before getting the call up to Houston. In 41 games with the Astros, he hit a below-average .230/.304/.420 with seven doubles and four homeruns.
Projection: First, here’s what I wrote in my book two years ago:
“[He] is a nice little prospect – he’ll flash above-average pop at times, swipe a surprisingly [amount] of bags, and will occasionally flirt with some impressive walk rates. But the overall package is far less impressive than the individual pieces, something CAL tends to agree with. The Dominican-born outfielder will get more than a few looks from big league clubs as a potential everyday guy, but in the end he’s going to find himself as a part-timer. Watch out for some swing-and-miss totals.”
And I followed that up with this in last year’s Handbook:
“Hernandez once again filled up the stat sheet while showing off a promising combination of power and speed. But all the holes in his bat were exposed in Class AA. I’m still sticking by the analysis from last year: he’s a toolsy, enigmatic part-timer.”
And just like that Hernandez went out and posted the lowest strikeout rate of his six-year minor league career (16.6%), but I need to see him repeat those levels before I’m completely convinced.
Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2016
Author’s note: A special hat tip the following websites for the use of the their statistics – fangraphs, baseballreference, baseballprospectus, statcorner, and ClayDavenport.com