September 29, 2014
Monday Morning Ten Pack
Breakout Candidates for 2015
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Jhoan Urena, 3B, Mets (Short-season Brooklyn)
Having spent the last three seasons in the lowest levels of the organization, the 20-year-old is not only ready for his first full-season assignment, but also seemingly poised for a breakout onto the national scene. Urena sneaks up on you, mostly of his bad body. Peel the onion, though, and you find flashes of loose hands and impressive bat-to-ball ability. Urena also demonstrates an advanced approach for his age that bodes well for when he makes the jump to the South Atlantic League next season. It remains to be seen whether Urena can stick at third, he has progressed there. Urena’s a player to keep an eye heading into 2015, and one who can start making noise as a rising hitter within the lower levels of the system. –Chris Mellen
Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals (Complex League GCL)
A two-way prep standout, Flaherty spent most of last summer being viewed as a future third baseman as a pro. Over the course of the high school season this spring, however, the former North Carolina commit won scouts over as a command righty featuring four pitches projecting to average or better. The Cardinals believed in the profile on the bump enough to pop Flaherty with the 34th overall pick and bestow a $2 million signing bonus.
On the development side, Flaherty’s combination of athleticism, feel, easy mechanics (and ability to repeat them), and aptitude provide a stellar foundation. His arsenal is already advanced for a prep arm, and it would be in no way surprising to see an uptick in velocity and a half-grade or better bump in the secondaries as he continues to add strength and refine his execution under pro instruction. While Flaherty was not often listed among the top impact high school arms in the draft class, there is a real chance he sets the pace for his contemporaries, starting with a loud full-season debut in 2015. –Nick J. Faleris
Thairo Estrada, SS, Yankees (Short-season Staten Island)
The Venezuelan shortstop has an advanced feel for the game with an adept approach in the field and at the plate. While he did not receive a full season of playing time with Staten Island, he is likely advanced enough to begin next year with Low-A Charleston in his age-19 season. Estrada has a strong chance to stick at shortstop. His footwork is fluid and fleet, displaying plus range. His instincts and baseball IQ are high, and he was repeatedly able to improvise on plays that required above-average arm strength. At the plate, Estrada shows an uncanny ability to barrel pitches, showing a clean bat path through the zone with above-average bat speed. There are slight timing issues still with his footing and ability to stay balanced, which will be my only concern moving forward. I believe Estrada has the package to provide average to plus tools across the board, outside of power. With such an advanced approach, it will not shock me to see a promising performance at Low-A next season. In a shallow Yankees system, this will be a great boost. –Tucker Blair
Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox (Complex League GCL)
I wrote up Devers in a previous Ten Pack, but with our breakout topic for this week, I thought he was worth mentioning again. Devers tore up the GCL despite being just 17, hitting .312/.374/.484 with 17 extra-base hits in 42 games. Devers' ability is clear: He has plus bat speed and a strong frame that allows him to drive the baseball without over-swinging. He has the tools to stay at third base and will remain at the hot corner for as long as his still-developing body allows. Devers showed he was comfortable driving the ball and embraces the role of run-producer. He has the ability to go the other way, and once he focuses on using the whole field more consistently, he's going to absolutely take off. That last part is when his breakout season will occur, and there's no reason for it not to be next season. He showed flashes of doing it in the GCL, and it should be a point of focus for him and the Red Sox this offseason. Once he does, his power numbers will jump and he'll have the offensive production to handle any position. –Jeff Moore
Jeffry Fernandez, RHP, Red Sox (Short-season Lowell)
There has never been a Jeffry in the major leagues. (Is that because everyone else spells their name correctly? Probably, but that's a subtopic for Sandwich Prospectus.) Fernandez, with his live arm and ideal pitcher's body, has a chance to be the first to reach the big-league plateau. Like plenty of young hurlers, the Dominican right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2013. The numbers are extremely unassuming, as he's a 21-year-old who hasn't yet pitched above short-season ball. However, he has the potential for two plus pitches and a third that flashes. Fernandez's fastball averages 95 and he has touched 98 with some life. The ball comes out of his hand easy. He likes to work the offering down in the zone, with impressive angle. The slider ranges anywhere from 83 to 88 and is thrown with tight spin and late bite, showing two-plane movement and garnering swings and misses. Those two pitches encompass most of his arsenal, but the changeup shows promise due to near–10 mph velocity separation and very good sink. His command and control profile isn't superb, but it could be average or solid-average in time. In fact, I've seen industry reports that tab Fernandez as a very high-end starter, with a realistic role as a solid no. 4. As a relatively unknown commodity with a big-time risk profile due to injury, the Red Sox may be careful with Fernandez. However, file this name away and check back throughout 2015 as the stuff and advanced age may force Boston's hand and accelerate the development plan. –Jordan Gorosh
Franklyn Kilome, RHP, Phillies (Complex League GCL)
Kilome is tall and lanky, standing 6-foot-6 and “tipping” the scales at just 175 lbs. To say there is room for growth and projection would be an understatement. His fastball sits comfortably in the 90-91 range, so it's not hard to see him pumping mid-90s in a year or two as his body matures and gains strength. His secondaries are still very much works in progress, but he does show feel for them, especially his changeup, which he's flashed to be a potential future 50 pitch. The real weapon in his arsenal is his sinker, which is already a heavy groundball machine. The sinking action causes fits for batters. He can miss bats with it and even when contact is made, it's usually weak as the ball swallows up the barrel. Kilome's delivery is low-effort and clean. He shows the ability to repeat while showing off a pretty quick arm. Kilome is only 19 right now so there is still a lot of risk, but on the mound he stays cool and calm even when he doesn't have his best stuff. He has the size, command of his pitches, mound presence, and an advanced feel for pitching that are the ingredients for a kid about burst on the prospect scene. –Chris King
David Dahl, OF, Rockies (High-A Modesto)
Dahl's 2014 body of work was extremely impressive given his lost 2013 due to injury. He responded well to a late-season promotion. He left one of the best teams in the minors and joined one of the very worst in the dog days of summer, but despite an initial slump he was able to put up a respectable line. He features elite physical tools that are beginning to be transferred to the diamond. He spent most of 2014 as a leadoff hitter but profiles more as a no. 2 or 3 bat. Dahl loves to hunt strikes early in the count and often seemed to struggle reconciling his natural aggression with the duties of a leadoff hitter. Thanks to his outstanding makeup, look for Dahl to ensure this offseason is a productive one. –Ryan Parker
Nick Longhi, OF, Red Sox (Short-season Lowell)
Longhi had a high-school career that was like two phases of the moon. During the summer and fall he was a dominant presence on the showcase/tournament circuit. He batted cleanup for FTB Mizuno, one of the top travel teams in the country. He dominated the 2013 Area Code Games, registering six balls over 106 mph exit speed per Trackman. He slammed four home runs at one Perfect Game tournament. The rest of the year Longhi played for Venice (FL) High School, one of the top high school programs in the country, but didn't experience the same level of dominance. In fact, Longhi hit around .300 with one home run his senior season, leaving scouts to wonder what happened and causing him to drop from high-round consideration to the 30th round, where the Red Sox selected him and paid him a bonus of $440,000.
Venice teaches a style of hitting that puts overwhelming emphasis on an inside swing path that aims to hit the ball on the ground and to the right side of the field for a right-handed hitter like Longhi. The problem was that the 6-foot-2, 205 pounder can't hit that way. He has exceptionally strong hands and forearms (he might be the best golfer in all of professional baseball because of it) and the Venice hitting style, which can be very successful for some, simply didn't work for him. It slowed down his bat and kept his hands, and perhaps more importantly, his mind, from trying to drive the ball.
Given the freedom and encouragement in professional ball to use his strength and natural bat speed, Longhi made the Red Sox New York-Penn League team in Lowell as an 18-year-old and returned to his accustomed level of dominance. He hit .330/.388/.440 as one of the youngest players in that league last summer before his season ended after 109 at-bats due to a thumb injury from a baserunning mishap. He didn't hit a home run in that time but reports say that his batting-practice power has been impressive, especially for his age.
If Longhi stays healthy and makes the Low-A Sally League next spring as he should, he'll have the opportunity to get around 400 full-season at bats before he turns 20 in mid-August. They're going to be loud at-bats, especially as he grows into his power stroke and continues to drive the ball. He's limited to corner outfield and first base defensively but has plus instincts and a 60 throwing arm that should help him be a dependable defender. But the bat is his carrying tool and it has a chance to be a very good one. –David Rawnsley, Perfect Game
Gleyber Torres, SS, Cubs (Short-season Boise)
In 2013 the Cubs were aggressive in the international free agent market as they completely blew out their pool money to acquire their targets. Torres and Eloy Jimenez were the two headliners from that class, with Torres commanding a $1.7 million bonus. He is a shortstop at present but, at 17, he’s still a raw product at the position. I think he has the athleticism to remain there but he will need to take to further coaching and instruction to stick.
Torres’ breakout potential is tied a bit to his defensive home, but his carrying tool will be his bat. He is short to the ball, with a quick and compact swing. He has a wide and open stance at the plate and he tends to get busy with his hands as he has an exaggerated bat wiggle. He maintains balance in his stance and follow through. He holds his hands high and the load is simple, as is the path his hands take through the swing. Torres will have to work on the little things afield and he’ll need to develop a plan at the plate, but the potential is there to break out in a significant way in 2015. He looks like a middle-of-the-diamond player on defense even if he doesn’t stick at short. –Mauricio Rubio
Jerad Eickhoff, RHP, Rangers (Double-A Frisco)
Eickhoff's numbers haven’t been particularly spectacular across his minor-league career, but his raw stuff and projection have allowed him to steadily climb the ladder. He could be poised to put up stats in 2015 that correlate with his solid peripherals. Eickhoff’s strongest pitch is his fastball, usually sitting 92 to 95 mph with life, though he’s touched 97 as deep into games as the seventh inning. He’s at his best when he commands his fastball from the get-go, which allows him to set up his three offspeed pitches: a solid curveball that is generally his most reliable secondary, an improving changeup, and a slider that flashed average throughout the year. But that command came and went, as Eickhoff struggled with walks at various points. However, he also induced swings and misses on a consistent basis, pairing his team-high number of free passes (52) with a team-high number of strikeouts (144). Eickhoff needs to work on his tendency to lose his composure during difficult innings; he tends to allow baserunners to pile up and turn into multiple runs allowed.
Though he had mixed results toward the end of the season, Eickhoff showed enough in 2014 that he’ll likely start in Triple-A Round Rock in 2015, unless an overcrowded rotation forces him back to Frisco. No matter where he starts, if Eickhoff breaks out, it will be because of the gradual maturation of both his approach and repertoire. –Kate Morrison
Bobby Bradley, 1B, Indians (Complex League AZL)
Even considering the first-base profile, which generally carries a lot of developmental risk due to the increased pressure on the bat fully developing, it was a slight surprise to see Bradley last all the way to the back third of the third round in this year’s draft, where the Indians selected him 97th. His value is tied solely to his bat, but the former LSU commit boasts one of the best hit/power combos of the class, utilizing a strong core capable of generating above-average bat speed and big pull-side power.
In his professional debut at the Arizona complexes, Bradley showed off his propensity for loud contact, taking advantage of the friendly hitting environs to hit .361/.426/.652. Throughout his rookie campaign, the powerful lefty bat displayed a more well-rounded approach and a higher level of comfort in trusting his compact swing and more fully working the entire field with hard contact than in past showings. In short, Bradley has already shown significant positive development and the heavy developmental lifting hasn’t even started yet. Looking ahead to next summer, the Midwest League will be a tough assignment (as it is for any young hitter), but Bradley has the juice and the feel to make a statement with a strong showing and an opportunity to establish himself as one of the more interesting bats in the minors. –Nick J. Faleris