This week’s Future Rookies is filled with Double-A prospects. All four prospects are relatively new to the Double-A level, having been promoted within in the last month, and they’ll each face the challenge of the upper minors for the first time.
Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners, 21 years old
The Mariners spent their first-round pick on advanced college hitting prospect Mike Zunino, who proved quickly that he was too talented for a Short-season league assignment. Zunino hasn’t slowed down after jumping multiple rungs on the minor-league ladder. He has reached base in all five games with Jackson, and hit a home run in each of his last two games. Back in early June, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik revealed that Zunino will probably play in the Arizona Fall League. This isn’t a shocking revelation, but if Zunino plays well down the stretch, and follows it up by impressing in the AFL, he could find himself in the majors sooner rather than later.
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals, 22 years old
The knock on Rendon entering the 2011 amateur draft was his ability, or more accurately his inability, to stay healthy. Most prospect outlets considered Rendon the top position player in last year’s draft, but alas, his health concerns caused him to slip to the Nationals, who selected him with the sixth overall pick. It didn’t take long for the injury bug to rear its ugly head and bite Rendon in his first professional season. He suffered a partial fracture to his left ankle (he had surgery for torn ligaments in his right ankle while in college) in just his second game back in April which has sidelined him much of the year. He made rehab stops in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and the Short-season New York-Penn League, before rejoining High-A Potomac. It didn’t take long for him to prove ready for a bump to Double-A Harrisburg.
His numbers are awful thus far, but the important thing is that he’s healthy and playing. Rendon is a member of the Nationals’ 40-man roster, and September roster expansion is just around the corner. With that in mind, Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson was asked about the possibility of Rendon being called-up, to which he responded that it’s a possibility. It’s unlikely they’ll have any interest in thrusting him into a pennant race if he’s still hitting like this, but if Rendon heats up as August winds down, it is worth noting that a call-up isn’t completely out of the question. Like Zunino, Rendon could be headed to the AFL following the season, where he’d look to make up some of the at-bats he lost due to injury. With Ryan Zimmerman locked up to a long-term contract through 2019 with a club option for 2020, it remains to be seen where Rendon’s defensive home is if he isn’t used as a trade chip.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox, 19 years old
With splashy major-league debuts from Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and, most notably, Mike Trout, it is important to remember that what they’ve done and are doing isn’t the norm. With that warning out of the way, Bogaerts is putting together a very impressive season as a 19-year-old. His stellar play in High-A earned him a promotion to Double-A, where he has not endeared himself to opposing Eastern League pitchers. Bogaerts has recorded hits in eight of nine games with Portland, including four straight multi-hit efforts to start his Sea Dogs’ career, and two more in his last two games. He’s not simply piling up slap singles either, as nine of his 14 hits have gone for extra bases, comprised of three home runs and six doubles. Most expect Bogaerts to be forced off shortstop, but his bat gets good enough future projection grades from those in the know to expect him to be a fantasy asset wherever he plays on the diamond.
Jameson Taillon, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates, 20 years old
The 2012 season started with two stud pitching prospects in the High-A Bradenton rotation. The duo was split up when Gerrit Cole was promoted to Double-A Altoona in June. Taillon has followed suit less than two months later, and once again joins Cole in a minor league rotation. Last year the Pirates had Taillon focus on his fastball, and his 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook write-up approximated that the Pirates had him throw roughly 80 percent fastballs. Many expected that with the reins loosened this season, Taillon’s numbers would explode. That hasn’t exactly happened. His 7.1 K/9 on the year isn’t indicative of the bat missing power pitcher he’s expected to become. Not all is doom and gloom, and the stats are only a tiny part of tracking a prospect, albeit the easiest and most misleading part to track. Taillon remained a top-50 prospect on Baseball America’s midseason update, Kevin Goldstein’s for Baseball Prospectus, and John Sickels for Minor League Ball as well. Sickels was the most aggressive ranker placing him 10th on his list.
Interestingly, while Taillon has posted a better ERA after the All-Star break at 2.98 (his pre-All-Star-break ERA was 4.52), his walk and strikeout rates have gone backwards. In 67.2 innings pitched prior to the All-Star Break, he walked just 17 batters (2.26 BB/9) and struck out 62 (8.25 K/9). Since the All-Star Break, he has pitched 57.1 innings and walked 20 batters (3.14 BB/9) and struck out just 36 batters (5.65 K/9). It would be good to see him get back to missing bats at the Double-A level, but all-in-all, 2012 has been a fine season for Taillon thus far.
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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