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!
A special note: Thoughts and prayers go out to Yordano Venutra’s family and all those impacted by his tragic passing. When my fiancée and I made uot yearly baseball stadium tour a couple years ago, I made sure to plan our KC trip around Ventura’s start. It was always a pleasure watching him throw.
|1. Matt Strahm, LHP|
|Born: 11/12/91||Age: 25||Bats: R||Top CALs: Stephen Kohlscheen, Dan Merklinger, Nelvin Fuentes, Ryan Thompson, David Rollins|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 185||Throws: L|
Background: “The lanky lefty is a definite candidate for Breakout Prospect of the Year in 2016.” – The 2016 Prospect Digest Handbook. Needless to say, I was betting big on the former Neosho County Community College hurler with a Tommy John surgery already on his resume. So how’d I do? Well, let’s just let the numbers tell the story: among all Class AA arms with at least 100 innings last season, the then-24-year-old right-hander finished with the second best strikeout-to-walk ratio (19.8%), the fourth best strikeout percentage, and the 14th best walk percentage. Oh…and then there’s his time with the Royals in the second half: 22.0 IP, 30 punch outs, just 11 walks, and a sparkling 1.23 ERA while totaling nearly a win above replacement.
Projection: Here’s what I wrote in last year’s book:
“The lanky lefty is a definite candidate for Breakout Prospect of the Year in 2016. Despite missing so much time due to the injury and subsequent rehab work, Strahm looked like a potential mid- to back-of-the-rotation caliber arm. He missed a ton of bats, showed much improved control – especially when the club moved him back into the rotation – and he was able to grab the ball every fifth day without any signs of slowing down.
And here’s just a glimpse of his 2015 dominance: In his first five appearances with the Blue Rocks, Strahm fanned 36 in just 21.1 innings, or just about 15.2 K/9. At the very least he looks like a taller version of Tim Collins. But Strahm’s ultimate ceiling is quite higher”.
He just spent his debut doing a fine impression of a pre-surgically repaired Tim Collins.
As for the future, well, he looked like a strong candidate to capture the fifth spot in the rotation out of Spring Training but the front office went out and got Nate Karns, so it looks as if he’ll be relegated – and wasted – as a one-inning pitcher. I still think he looks like a mid-rotation caliber arm; hopefully, he gets the chance to prove it.
Ceiling: 3.5-win player
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2016
|2. Josh Staumont, RHP|
|Born: 12/21/93||Age: 23||Bats: R||Top CALs: Sean Newcomb, Blake King, Wilson Rivera, Kevin Whelan, Tommy Kahnle|
|Height: 6-3||Weight: 200||Throws: R|
Background: Pop Quiz #1: How many double-digit strikeout performances did Staumont have in 2016? The answer: four. Pop Quiz #2: How many additional games did he punch out at least seven batters? The answer: 10. Pop Quiz #3: How many times did he walk at least four batters in a single game? The answer: 13. So for those counting at home, of his 29 total appearances: Staumont struck out double-digit batters in nearly 14% of his games; fanned at least seven in a smidgeon more than 48% of appearances and, of course, he walked at least four hitters 45% of the time. The Royals grabbed the big right-hander in the second round out of Azusa Pacific University two years, 64th overall, after he averaged more than 14 strikeouts per nine innings for the small-time school.
Last season Staumont split his time between the Carolina and Texas Leagues, totaling 123.1 innings with a mind-warping 167 whiffs, a mindboggling 104 walks, and a 4.23 ERA.
Projection: Oh…where to begin? Well, let’s start by measuring his production against some of his peers. Among all minor league hurlers with at least 120 innings last year, Staumont finished with:
- the fifth best strikeout percentage, 28.9%
- the best strikeout rate, 12.03 K/9
- the worst walk percentage, 17.6%
- the worst walk rate, 7.33 BB/9
- So let’s add a little more context – this time from a historical perspective. Since 2006, here’s a list of pitchers that met the following criteria (minimum 120 IP):
- Walk percentage of at least 17.0%: Staumont, Andy Oliver, Ismael Guillon, and Nevin Griffith.
- Walk rate of at least 7.0 BB/9: Staumont, Andy Oliver, Ismael Guillon, Nevin Griffith, and Tyler Sample
Obviously, it’s going to come down to his ability – or inability – to find the strike zone consistently. There is a sliver of a silver lining: over his final 22.0 innings he posted a downright impressive 34-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has legitimate, once-in-a-generation caliber potential. But there’s a whole helluva lot of risk, make no mistake about it.
Ceiling: 5.0- to 5.5-win player
Risk: High to Extreme Highly
MLB ETA: 2017/2018
|3. Meibrys Viloria, C|
|Born: 02/15/97||Age: 20||Bats: L||Top CALs: Hamlet Marte, Hidekel Gonzalez, Carlos Perez, Robert Stock, Luis Cruz|
|Height: 5-11||Weight: 175||Throws: R|
Background: Earned the 2016 Ralph Nelles Award which goes to the Pioneer League Most Valuable Player. And, man, he was valuable. The lefty-swinging backstop absolutely battered every spherical orb hurled his way, slugging a jaw-dropping .376/.436/.606 triple-slash line with a mind-boggling 28 doubles, three triples, and six homeruns while topping the league average mark by 59%. Oh, yeah, he also threw out 34% of would-be base stealers as well. For his career, Viloria is sporting an impressive .315/.391/.454 triple-slash mark.
Projection: Let’s put the power-packed catcher’s production into perspective, shall we? We shall…
Consider the following:
- He led the Pioneer League with 28 doubles, four more than runner-up D.J. Peters.
- Here’s a list of player to hit at least 28 doubles in the Pioneer League since 2006: Viloria, Taylor Lindsey, Brian Cavazos-Glavez, Roberto Lopez, Luis Jimenez, and C.J. Retherford. The only two teenagers being Viloria and Lindsey.
- Here’s a list of teenage backstops to post a 150 wRC+ in the league since 2006: Viloria and Julian Leon.
Now, the Pioneer League is an incredibly hitter-friendly league and plenty of players have experienced a lot of success. But, damn, very few guys have cobbled together a season like Viloria did. We might be looking at one of the best catching prospects in baseball, though that comes with a whole lot of risk given the level.
Ceiling: 3.0- to 3.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2019/2020
|4. Scott Blewett, RHP|
|Born: 04/10/96||Age: 21||Bats: R||Top CALs: Zachary Fuesser, Stolmy Pimentel, Nick Travieso, Mike Foltynewicz, Carlos Pimentel|
|Height: 6-6||Weight: 210||Throws: R|
Background: Kansas City grabbed the big, Redwood-like right-hander out of New York high school in the second round three years ago. Blewett, who stands an imposing 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds, had a shortened season in the Sally in 2015 when he didn’t make an appearance until the end of May. And once he did get going that season, the production wasn’t all that spectacular: he posted a 60-to-24 strikeout-to-walk with a 3.96 FIP in 81.1 innings of work. So it’s not surprising that he found himself back with the Lexington Legends for another go-round. This time, though, the results were markedly better. In 25 starts, Blewett threw a career high 129.1 innings with 121 strikeouts and 51.
Projection: It was nice to see a big uptick in his swing-and-miss ability. But on the other hand the downturn in his control wasn’t extraordinarily promising. Blewett looks like a nice backend starter with a little bit of upside thanks to his frame and remaining projectability. CAL ties him to Mike Foltynewicz, which seems like a best case scenario in terms of upside.
Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2017
|5. A.J. Puckett, RHP|
|Born: 05/27/95||Age: 22||Bats: R||Top CALs: Kyle Fernandez, Travis Turek, Armando Bastardo, Dan Reynolds, Danilo Alvarez|
|Height: 6-4||Weight: 200||Throws: R|
Background: Fun Fact: For the first time since 1990 the Royals didn’t own a selection in the draft’s opening round. The club selected the Pepperdine product with their first pick, which came in the second round. Puckett, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander, was absolutely stellar during his junior season with the Waves. In a career best 99.1 innings, he posted a stout 95-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio with an absolutely absurd 1.27 ERA as he went 9-3 with the West Coast Conference club. After his selection with the 67th overall pick, the Royals allowed the right-hander to dip his toes in the Arizona Summer League for a brief crash course in minor league baseball before promoting him up to the Sally for the remainder of his debut.
He would throw 51.2 innings with Lexington, fanning 18.1% and 7.3% of the hitters he faced en route to tallying a 3.66 ERA and a 3.96 FIP.
Projection: Puckett’s the quintessential safe collegiate arm with a low ceiling and high floor. Outside of his work with Pepperdine the previous three seasons, he also turned up in the Cape Cod following his sophomore season. In 20.2 innings with the Chatham Anglers he fanned 18 but walked 11 to go along with a 3.48 ERA. He looks like a #4/#5-type arm.
I imagine the club will put him on the Eric Skoglund Plan: High Class A in 2017 and Class AA the following year.
Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player
MLB ETA: 2018/2019
|6. Chase Vallot, C|
|Born: 08/21/96||Age: 20||Bats: R||Top CALs: Daniel Rams, Gary Sanchez, Kyle Skipworth, William Swanner, Kellin Deglan|
|Height: 6-0||Weight: 215||Throws: R|
Background: It was said, I’m sure, that the key to good communication is brevity. So I’m going to sum up the former supplemental first round pick’s 2016 season as short and succinctly as I can: lots of homeruns and even more strikeouts. Now for the long version: Vallot, the 40th overall pick in the 2014 draft, opened the year up on a hot streak with the Lexington Legends, hitting an impressive .287/.393/.531 with 11 doubles and eight homeruns in just 43 games of work. But he hit the DL for a couple weeks and after a brief rehab assignment in the Arizona Summer League he made his way back up to the Sally – where he hardly resembled himself. Over his final 39 games with Lexington he batted a disappointing .202/.338/.388.
Projection: For those counting at home Vallot fanned 35.8% of the time and posted a promising .217 Isolated Power in Low Class A. But even before his season when to Crap Town after the injury, he was still sporting a 34.7% whiff rate. On the positive side, he posted a slightly higher K-rate during his debut in rookie ball two years ago, so it’s a decent sign that it didn’t go haywire as he moved up a level.
The power has a chance to be a game changer, but he needs to make more consistent contact. Period. High upside, high risk.
We’ve seen some guys – like Nick Williams – shave significant points of their early career strikeout numbers. And other prospects – like Joey Gallo – who just never figured it out. It’s hard to say which group Vallot’s going to fall into at this juncture.
Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2019
|7. Miguel Almonte, RHP|
|Born: 04/04/93||Age: 24||Bats: R||Top CALs: Dan Cortes, Shawn Morimando, Paul Clemens, Wade Davis, John Gast|
|Height: 6-2||Weight: 210||Throws: R|
Background: To put it mildly: the wheels completely fell off the freakin’ bus for Almonte last season as the once fast-rising prospect got demoted from the Pacific Coast League down to the Texas League. And things started off poorly with his first start of the year – it lasted all of one out and five runs – and quickly spiraled out of control. When the dust settled the man blessed with a mid- to upper-90s fastball posted a poor 72-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a craptacular 5.92 ERA. Those numbers, by the way, are far, far off from is career norms: 8.6 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9.
Projection: As I’ve always stated, I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. And, boy, I was wrong about Almonte in last year’s book when I ranked him as the top prospect in the Royals’ system, writing:
“Almonte has shown the not-too-common combination of swing-and-miss ability with low walk totals. For his career, he’s averaged 8.6 strikeouts and just 2.7 walks per nine innings. He showed a dominant mid- to upper-90s fastball during his brief – and admittedly disappointing – stint in Kansas City. He complemented with a curveball and hard, low-90s changeup. The Royals are chock full of pitching at the big league level, with the rotation currently featuring Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Kris Medlen, Danny Duffy, and Chris Young, and the bullpen is ridiculously deep with power arms; so Almonte probably won’t see a whole lot of action unless a rash of injuries break out. I’m a big, big fan of the burgeoning right-hander – a power arsenal with the ability to maximize his potential as a mid- to upper-half of the rotation starter.”
So what the hell happened? No, seriously. What. The. Hell. Happened?
The short answer: the YIPS. The long answer: the YIPS. If I’m completely honest with myself – and the reader as well – I have no idea if Almonte is going to rebound permanently – even though he seemed to recapture some of his old magic in Northwest Arkansas’ bullpen. Fingers firmly crossed for the now star-crossed right-hander.
Ceiling: 2.0- to 2.5-win player
MLB ETA: Debuted in 2015
|8. Eric Skoglund, LHP|
|Born: 10/26/95||Age: 24||Bats: L||Top CALs: Simon Castro, Jake Junis, Jesse Beal, Ryan Merritt, Michael Antonini|
|Height: 6-7||Weight: 200||Throws: L|
Background: If you could say one thing about the 6-foot-7 lanky lefty it’s this: the dude can handle aggressive promotions with a relative amount of ease. The Royals pushed the former third round pick straight into High Class A after a debut in which he tossed just 23.0 innings in the Pioneer League and he responded by posting an impeccable 66-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 84.1 innings of work in an injury-shortened 2015. But the lack of minor league experience – as well as an undisclosed elbow injury that ended his season in early July – didn’t stop the front office from bumping the former University of Central Florida product up to the minors’ toughest challenge: Class AA. Skoglund responded in kind. In a career best 156.1 innings, the big southpaw posted a solid 134-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 3.45 ERA and a 3.85 FIP.
Projection: Here’s what I wrote about him before the 2014 draft:
“Skoglund has the one thing that can’t be taught – size. Standing 6-foot-7 and barely an apple slice over 200 pounds, he still has plenty of room to fill out. Decent strikeout numbers, though they’ll decline in the middle levels of the minor leagues. He’s a nice back-of-the-rotation option down the line, someone in the mold of Brian Tallet early in his career or Brian Flynn, who is currently working his way through the minors.”
The punch out rate has held quite firm. But he still profiles as nice backend starter.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2017
|9. Hunter Dozier, 3B/RF|
|Born: 08/22/91||Age: 25||Bats: R||Top CALs: Patrick Wisdom, Alex Liddi, Edward Salcedo, D.J. Peterson, Jarek Cunningham|
|Height: 6-4||Weight: 220||Throws: R|
Background: Back from the dead – or at least he picked himself off of the prospect scrap heap – after a resurgent showing in 2016. Dozier, whom the club took with eighth overall pick in 2013, jogged his way through the low levels of the minor league without so much as breaking a light sweat. But Class AA, as it always does, proved to be quite the challenge for the former Stephen F Austin State University slugger. Dozier stumbled mightily during his first – and second – taste of the Texas League, hitting just .209/.303/.312 in the second half of 2014 and then an equally disappointing .213/.281/.349 a year later. But the third time proved to be a charm. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound third baseman finally figured out the minors’ most difficult challenge, slugging .305/.400/.642 with eight doubles and eight homeruns in just 26 games at the start of last season. His overall production with Northwest Arkansas topped the league average mark by a whopping 97%. Kansas City bumped him up to the final stop in early May where his bat hardly slowed: he slugged .294/.357/.506 with 36 doubles, one triple, and 15 homeruns with a 126 wRC+. Dozier also got a brief eight-game sampling of the big leagues at the end of the year as well.
Projection: Solid tools across the board without owning a true standout tool. Not surprisingly, his once dominant walk rates plunged to slightly better than average totals once he hit Class AA. He doesn’t run all that often. And last season marked the first time since his debut showing in the Pioneer League that he flashed above-average power. Meaning: I’m not entirely sold on it becoming a reliable, repeatable skill.
The Royals currently have Mike Moustakas locked in at third and the entire outfield is already set. So Dozier’s going to have to outhit Cheslor Cuthbert to earn the starting nod at DH. In terms of big league upside, Dozier looks like a .260/.320/.400 type hitter.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2018
|10. Donnie Dewees, CF|
|Born: 09/29/93||Age: 23||Bats: L||Top CALs: Dave Sappelt, Tyler Massey, Casey Craig, Yasiel Balaguert, Luis Domoromo|
|Height: 5-11||Weight: 180||Throws: L|
Background: It’s taken awhile but we’ve finally found a high round collegiate bat taken by the club that hasn’t morphed into an uber-prospect. And the funny this is, Dewees has performed solidly, almost as expected, and yet it’s almost a disappointment. Anyway, the University of North Florida product had a solid, better than average showing in the Midwest League, hitting .282/.337/.414 with 15 doubles, 12 triples, three homeruns, and 17 stolen bases. The club bumped him up to High Class A in late July and he maintained status quo, hitting .289/.339/.423 with another 10 doubles, two triples, two homeruns, and 14 stolen bases.
Overall, he finished his first full season with an aggregate .284/.338/.416 triple-slash line.
Projection: Per the usual, here’s what I wrote prior to his selection in the second round:
“Obviously North Florida’s level of competition doesn’t stack up to an elite team like LSU or UCLA, but Dewees’ production in the Cape last summer helps alleviate some of those concerns. Solid plate discipline, surprising power, and speed. If Dewees can stick in center field – which isn’t a certainty – he could become one of the better prospects in this year’s draft class. Otherwise, he’s a strong candidate to be a better-than-average regular.”
One season later and it looks like I may have been a little too optimistic on his ceiling. While the speed is better than advertised in college, which means he’s likely to stick in center field, he just wasn’t that impressive as a polished collegiate bat in the minor leagues. Average patience, average pop, OK hit tool – it’s a recipe for an average player.
Ceiling: 1.5-win player
MLB ETA: 2018
Author’s note: A special hat tip the following websites for the use of the their statistics – fangraphs, baseballreference, baseballprospectus, statcorner, and ClayDavenport.com