This week Future Rookies is jam-packed with prospects. A couple of Cubs that were recently promoted are featured. The Twins are well represented too, with a pair of outfielders playing well at the Double-A level.
Tyler Skaggs, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks, 21 years old
Skaggs isn’t striking out better than a batter an inning in the Pacific Coast League like he did in the Southern League, but he is pitching very well. When asked on Twitter recently, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus said he thought Skaggs could hold his own in the majors at this point, so his good play goes beyond the numbers. He is showcasing his trademark control, walking few batters with a 2.81 BB/9, and it hasn’t been at the expense of being hittable, as his hits-per-nine has actually gone down from 8.1 H/9 in Double-A to 7.8 H/9 in Triple-A. Baseball America ranked Skaggs the most favorably of the major prospect outlets, listed as the seventh best prospect in the minors in their midseason Top-50. Patrick Corbin was recently recalled for a start, Trevor Bauer has gotten a few turns and Skaggs is the next in line.
Brett Jackson, OF, Chicago Cubs, 24 years old
Jackson has some interesting skills, providing pop and speed while showing an ability to draw walks throughout his minor league career. The elephant in the room is Jackson’s jaw dropping strikeout rate. Last year he posted a 29.8 percent strikeout rate in 215 plate appearances for Triple-A Iowa. That rate went up this year, to 33.8 percent in 467 plate appearances with Iowa. To put how staggering that rate is in perspective, Adam Dunn has the highest strikeout rate amongst qualifying batters at 33.9 percent, so he is essentially Dunn’s prodigious strikeout equal. Jackson doesn’t posses Dunn’s power, though, few do. Fantasy owners and Cubs fans alike should expect some struggles out of the gate. Long-term, he has a nice skill set that will play well in fantasy baseball so long as his hit tool isn’t his undoing.
Josh Vitters, 3B, Chicago Cubs, 22 years old
Vitters is enjoying a breakout this season. Scouting reports still mention his hand-eye coordination and ability to barrel baseballs being a blessing and a curse, as he still doesn’t walk much and insists on trying to hit everything. That said, his walk rate has climbed from 4.7 percent at Double-A in 2011 to 6.6 percent this year in 2012, which is an improvement. He’s not considered a premium defender, but his glove is good enough to suggest he can stick at the hot corner. At third base, his projection of hitting for a solid average and above average power makes him an intriguing dynasty league and deep keeper league option. He should get regular at-bats at third base the rest of the year with little competition for playing time, but expecting instant success is probably unwise.
Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins, 22 years old
Hicks is quietly putting together a very nice line in the Double-A Eastern League. His tools excite prospect hounds, and seeing him actualize them with on-field performance is excellent. He had a solid April in which he hit .273/.347/.477, but followed it up with a clunker of a month in May where he hit .220/.330/.330. Hicks has rebounded from his ugly May, slashing .305/.402/.502 with five home runs, and 18 extra base hits overall, in 224 plate appearances since the start of June. His plus speed has allowed him to steal 27 bases in 37 chances. There is a lot to like here. Hicks’s reduced walk rate potentially being a positive is a great example of stats not telling the whole story, especially with a prospect. Coming into the year there were questions as to whether Hicks was demonstrating a passive approach at the plate, as opposed to a patient one. If his slightly lower walk rate is an indication of him turning things loose at the dish more and being aggressive, consider it a good thing.
Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota Twins, 21 years old
Unlike Hicks, no one has accused Arcia of being passive at the plate. His bat is his calling card, and he got some attention from casual prospect followers by putting up video game numbers in Rookie ball back in 2010. He carried his gaudy numbers over to Low-A in early 2011, but his stats were much more pedestrian once he was promoted to High-A. The less impressive stats did nothing to hurt Arcia’s stock as a prospect, as he was doing fine and still was projected to hit as he moved up the ladder. Repeating High-A to start the year, Arcia improved his numbers across the board, more than doubling his walk rate, reducing his strikeout rate, and hitting for more power. There hasn’t been so much as a hiccup in his production moving up from High-A to Double-A. A strong finish to the year could put his Major League ETA at late 2013.
Robbie Grossman, OF, Houston Astros, 22 years old
Grossman got love from the sabermetric community last year by walking over 100 times in High-A, and reaching base at a .418 clip with some punch when he did swing the bat. His stock was up, but perhaps not as much as the number crunchers thought it should have been. His play was even more impressive after the season in the Arizona Fall League, where he kept walking at a high rate and demonstrated more power. Most agreed, Double-A would be a more telling test and answer some questions of what Grossman is and projects to be. He got off to a miserable start, hitting under .200 in March/April, and not much better than that at .230 in May. The bat came alive in June, as he hit .312 that month. He has continued to hit in July, even after being traded from the Pirates to the Astros. He goes from an organization with talented young outfielders in front of him, to one where the path to the bigs is much clearer. Grossman suffered a broken hamate bone in the AFL, so it’s possible his slow start was a result of still recovering. Players often times see their power sapped initially after returning from that injury, so there may be more power to come. There isn’t a star level ceiling here, but he has a chance to be a solid big leaguer, and one that can contribute in fantasy leagues. He gets a bump in value in leagues that use OBP.
Jackie Bradley, OF, Boston Red Sox, 22 years old
The Red Sox gambled on Bradley in the supplemental first round of the 2011 amateur draft, and they are being rewarded handsomely. Bradley came into the year ranked as the 10th best prospect in the Red Sox Organization by Baseball America. In their midseason Top-50 update he appeared at number 32. Quite the leap in ranking. He gets bonus points as a prospect thanks to his defense at a premium position, center field, which needs to be mentioned because that will not help him in fantasy leagues. His bat is plenty good too, though, and his plate discipline is outstanding. As a college sophomore he crushed the ball hitting .368/.473/.587 with 13 home runs in 242 at-bats. NCAA moved to less potent bats in 2011, and his numbers took a nose dive as a junior when he hit .247/.246/.432 with just six home runs in 162 at-bats. As you can see looking at the stats above, Bradley is looking a lot like he did when he turned heads as a sophomore. He isn’t the toolsiest of prospects, but he gets good enough reviews from the major outlets to suggest he can contribute a bit across the board, even if he doesn’t put up gaudy home run or stolen base totals. At this rate, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Bradley get his first taste of the majors late in 2013.
Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates, 21 years old
The repeating theme of this week’s Future Rookies is that numbers don’t tell the whole story of a prospect, and while Cole’s stats are nice, they don’t do his ceiling justice. Just take a listen to Jason Parks gushing about Cole in Episode 100 of the Baseball Prospectus Up and In podcast, and you’ll get a better understanding of why Cole was the top pick in the 2011 amateur draft. He has multiple plus pitches, an easy premium velocity heater, and a prototypical pitcher’s frame standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 220 pounds according to his Minor League Baseball player page. He is using his stuff to strikeout better than a batter an inning. He’s also pounding the strike zone with a 2.7 BB/9 across two minor league levels. Finally, he tops off the controllable trio of pitcher stats with a solid 47 percent groundball rate according to Minor League Central. If this is scratching the surface, sign me up for his services in the future in fantasy leagues.
Khris Davis, OF, Milwaukee Brewers, 24 years old
Because he has three minor league stops and under 200 at-bats this year, people get a pass for sleeping a bit on Davis’s .371/.471/.657 triple slash. In short, he’s crushing the ball. Davis needs to, though, as he’s a below average defender. He’s not the youngest of prospects, but as a 24-year-old in Triple-A, he’s young enough. Goldstein lauded Davis’s bat in his July 30 Monday Morning Ten Pack. The Brewers aren’t contending for the playoffs, so they could opt to see what they have in September, while also rewarding him for a big year in the minors if he continues to hit in the PCL this month.
Billy Hamilton, SS, Cincinnati Reds, 21 years old
In this week’s edition of Hamilton watch, we see he is now up to 125 stolen bases on the year. His speed is extraordinary, and he has a chance to single-handedly dominate a stat category. He has slowed down at the plate in his last 10 games hitting .231/.318/.282, but that hasn’t prevented him from swiping a dozen bases in that time frame. He probably won’t reach the majors as a shortstop, but it doesn’t matter, his astounding stolen base totals will play anywhere.
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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