The minor league regular season is over, and with only the playoffs left, the hardware for league awards has been handed out. The upper minors league MVP and Most Valuable Pitcher awards feature an interesting collection of players, and just one, John Ely (Most Valuable Pitcher in the Pacific Coast League), is no longer rookie eligible (thus he won’t be included in the article). Though just one player has lost his rookie eligibility, not all award winners are created equal in terms of future projection. In the last Future Rookies of 2012, I’d like to highlight the players who were recognized as the best in their respective leagues.
MVP: Hunter Morris, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers, 23 years old
Morris is saddled with the burden of proving he can hit enough to be considered a true prospect thanks to his position on the diamond. First base isn’t a premium defensive position, and top prospect lists will hold that against him (rightfully so). Thankfully for Morris, he did a pretty darn good job of hitting the ball this year. In his third professional season, he broke out, besting 20 home runs for the first time in his career and more than doubling his walk rate from 3.4 percent in High-A in 2011 to 7.0 percent in Double-A this year. His walk rate remains low for a first baseman, but his strikeout rate (20.5 percent) is relatively good for a power hitter, and the improvement is at least a start. Coming into the year, Morris ranked as the Brewers 14th-best prospect in the 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, the 19th-best prospect on Kevin Goldstein’s list at Baseball Prospectus, and nestled right in between those ranks at 17th on John Sickels’ list at Minor League Ball. His big season should vault him up all offseason Brewers prospect lists. His stock is up, no doubt, but temper expectations as there is still work to be done, and the bar is set very high at first base.
Most Valuable Pitcher: Brandon Maurer, SP, Seattle Mariners, 22 years old
At no point this season was Maurer even the most celebrated prospect in his own team’s rotation, as he opened the year with Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen as rotation mates, but that doesn’t mean he had zero buzz coming into the season. Maurer is a tall right-handed pitcher (6-foot-5) with a fastball that can hit the upper-90s, and enough control that he has a sub-three BB/9 (2.8 BB/9) for his professional career. That’s usually enough to get some attention, and he hovered around the Mariners top-20 prospects in all major outlets heading into the year. Five seasons into his career, he has just one year in which he’s pitched over 100 innings, that coming this year. His lack of innings speak to his trouble staying healthy, and explains the durability concerns that have prompted some to project him in a late-inning relief role as opposed to starting. Baseball America says that he backs his fastball with a slider, change-up and curveball, all of which get potential average or better future grades. That repertoire is plenty good enough for a starter, so expect the Mariners to continue to develop him in that capacity as long as he remains healthy and proves capable of handling the work load. Considering how well he pitched in Double-A this year, a major league debut sometime next year doesn’t seem out of the question.
MVP: Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals, 20 years old
I’ve typed countless rosy things about Taveras throughout the year. There is a ton to like here, and he is one of the best offensive prospects in all of baseball. He profiles as a middle-of-the-order bat, and what he did playing most of the year as a 19-year-old in Double-A, after skipping High-A, is remarkable. If you own him in dynasty and keeper leagues, congratulations, you have keeper gold. If you don’t, good luck in acquiring him, but expect to pay through the nose for his services.
Most Valuable Pitcher: Barret Loux, SP, Texas Rangers, 23 years old
Loux’s tale is an interesting one. He was selected sixth overall in the 2010 draft by the Diamondbacks, but after failing a physical, he was eventually granted free agency by Major League Baseball, and the Diamondbacks were awarded a supplemental pick in the following year’s draft. Loux signed with the Rangers, and made his professional debut last year for High-A Myrtle Beach, starting 21 games and totaling 109 innings pitched. With a history of shoulder and elbow issues, it’s promising to see him getting innings under his belt and staying in tact, but he’ll need to continue to do so to shed durability concerns. Loux throws a low-90s fastball that he can reach back for a bit more on. His secondary offerings get mixed reviews depending on the source. Most outlets project him as a back-end-of-the-rotation type, limiting his fantasy appeal and upside.
Most Valuable Player: Darin Ruf, 1B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies, 26 years old
The first thing that should set bells off in your head is Ruf’s age. He is 26, and while he played almost the entire year as a 25-year-old, that’s old for the Double-A level. Prior to this season, he had hit 29 home runs in over 1,300 minor league plate appearances. Comparatively, he hit 20 home runs in the month of August this season. Breakouts happen, but the important thing is finding out if the scouting reports match the performance explosion. In the case of Ruf, they don’t. Goldstein and Jason Parks discussed Ruf on one of the final Baseball Prospectus Up and In podcasts, and the story remains the same: Ruf is a mistake hitter. As the mistakes become fewer and fewer moving up the ladder, these type of prospects end up getting exposed. He was recently promoted to the major league club, and he should get some starts in left field and could spell Ryan Howard at first base if he needs a day off. When asked about finding playing time for Ruf, manager Charlie Manuel responded with this laughable quote: “They found a place for Killebrew. They found a place for Babe Ruth.” Ruf isn’t Killebrew or Ruth, and it remains to be seen as to whether or not he can stick in the majors. Owners in NL-only dynasty/keeper leagues can take a look at Ruf if they have an open roster spot, but others should pass.
Most Valuable Pitcher: Chris Heston, SP, San Francisco Giants, 24 years old
The Eastern League has provided me the opportunity to rip out hearts and crush prospect dreams. Sorry, Chris Heston. Like Ruf, Heston is more suspect than prospect. His age isn’t a concern, but like with Ruf, the stats don’t tell the whole story. Heston is a right-handed starter that throws his fastball in the mid-to-high-80s. Sickels goes in depth about Heston’s repertoire here, and notes that he backs his fastball with three solid secondary pitches and is aided by very good command. In addition to his ability to throw strikes, Heston helps his own cause by keeping the ball on the ground (52.1 percent groundball rate over the last two seasons combined). At best, it sounds as if Heston’s ceiling is a back-end-of-the-rotation arm capable of eating innings. Innings eaters have little value in fantasy, so pass on Heston.
Pacific Coast League
MVP: Adam Eaton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks, 23 years old
Eaton has turned in a tremendous season and is getting a look for the Diamondbacks. He just missed cracking the Diamondbacks top-10 prospects in the 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, ranking 12th, and on Goldstein’s list ranking 11th. Write-ups heading into the year talked about Eaton being a bit of a tweener, and suggested he may end up a fourth outfielder as opposed to an every-day regular. Keith Law recently wrote for ESPN that Eaton has improved his defense substantially, and his ability to stay in center field as an average defender increases his value greatly. His bat now profiles as a plus with him sticking at a premium position as opposed to being a little light for a less challenging corner outfield position. Eaton has plus speed that he effectively uses to steal bases (80.4 percent success rate combining his totals at each stop), makes a ton of contact, walks at a high rate and has enough pop to project low-teen home run totals in the bigs. The Diamondbacks outfield is crowded, but it’s not hard to envision them unclogging it in the offseason. Eaton isn’t a blue-chip fantasy baseball prospect, but he has a good chance at being useful in large mixed leagues as soon as next year.
MVP: Mauro Gomez, 1B/3B, Boston Red Sox, 28 years old
Gomez came into the season looking an awful lot like a Quad-A slugger. He didn’t reach Triple-A until the age of 26, and he has bounced around a bit, playing for the Rangers in 2009 and the Braves in 2010 and 2011 before joining the Red Sox this year. He has seen time at third base for the Red Sox, but he’s not a third baseman, he’s a first baseman. Sickels described him as a mistake hitter in The Baseball Prospect Book 2012, acknowledging his big pop and propensity for swinging-and-missing, though his strikeout rate hasn’t been alarmingly high in the upper minors. In June, Bradley Ankrom passed along some interesting quotes as part of a What Scouts Are Saying column at Baseball Prospectus. To summarize, dismissing Gomez completely may be a mistake, as he is a power hitter that is capable of making some adjustments. Still, the ceiling is rather low, and the chances of Gomez failing with extended exposure remains. The rest of the month may serve as a showcase for Gomez, as the Red Sox house-clearing included dealing Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers. James Loney is a free agent at the end of the season, and the pickings look to be slim in free agency. File his name away in AL-only leagues if he plays well down the stretch, and monitor the offseason happenings for the Red Sox, but don’t go overboard.
Most Valuable Pitcher: Tyler Cloyd, SP, Philadelphia Phillies, 25 years old
Earlier in the season, Goldstein lauded Cloyd’s ability to pitch, but noted he doesn’t have much stuff in his Minor League Update. According to Brooks Baseball PITCHf/x data, Cloyd is averaging just over 87 mph on his four-seam fastball, and a couple ticks below that on his two-seam fastball. He adds a cutter (or possibly a slider), a curveball and a change-up to the mix. Is this enough to make him a solid back of the rotation option? Law doesn’t think so. He hasn’t done a good job of inducing ground balls in the minors over the last couple seasons, and his rate has plummeted even further in three big league starts (23.1 percent groundball rate). He struggled to miss bats in Triple-A (5.89 K/9), and coupled with his flyball tendency looks like a toxic pitcher to trot out at Citizens Bank Ballpark. An e-mailer recently asked me what I thought of Cloyd, and I responded that I tend to avoid unproven low-velocity right-handed pitchers and make them prove me wrong. Rarely has that approach failed me.
Josh is a graduate of SUNY Cortland's Sport Management program, and an aspiring fantasy writer. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad. You can also follow his work at The Hardball Times and follow him on Twitter (BChad50).
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