The Blue Jays are the only squad with more than one prospect featured this week. They have a return visitor to the column who is joined by a fresh face. That theme carries over to the other prospects highlighted, with some being familiar names to regular readers, and others making their first regular season visit to Future Rookies.
Casey Crosby, SP, Detroit Tigers, 23 years old
Crosby’s stuff has always been much better than his performance, and the biggest reason for that is injuries and poor control. He has been healthy this year, and while his 4.6 BB/9 is still high, it is an improvement over last year’s 5.3 BB/9 at the Double-A level. His control has been at its best of late. In his last two turns, he has pitched a combined 15 innings and issued only one walk. That’s right, just one free pass allowed in his last two starts. He hasn’t had to sacrifice strikeouts for the improvements either, as he struck out 16 batters in those two starts. Keep an eye on Crosby and see if these two starts snowball into something more than a blip on the radar.
Derek Norris, C, Oakland A’s, 23 years old
At this point in the season, Norris’s gains to his strikeout rate are looking very much real. Last season Norris struck out in 27.7 percent of his plate appearances, helping contribute to a ghastly .210 batting average. This season, he has nearly shaved that rate in half, cutting it down to 14.4 percent, and his batting average has benefited greatly. He has had to sacrifice walks for his improvement, and his OBP has actually dropped, but the change has to be considered a positive. If he is able to regain some of his walk rate while maintaining his gains in making contact, he could become one of the better offensive catchers in baseball.
Travis d’Arnaud, C, Toronto Blue Jays, 23 years old
Speaking of catchers that have a chance to be amongst the best hitters at their position, d’Arnaud certainly qualifies. I mentioned last week that he had been sizzling in May, but little did I know how hot he would get. Since then, he has had four multi-hit efforts, smacked four home runs and piled up 10 RBI. In his last ten games he is hitting .465/.500/1.070. What I want to know is, what is the encore going to be this week?
Anthony Gose, OF, Toronto Blue Jays, 21 years old
Nothing like teammate d’Arnaud in offensive profile, Gose has earned his time in the limelight nonetheless. This speedster has put a dreadful April in which he hit .216/.298/.284 behind him by hitting .366/.444/.554 in May. He has done that, in part, by cutting way back on the strikeouts. He struck out a whopping 33 times in 102 at-bats in April. In May, he has struck out just 18 times in 101 at-bats. Gose has been even better in his last 10 games, striking out five times in 41 at-bats.
He continues to demonstrate the ability to draw walks, something that bodes well for accentuating his greatest tool, and his most fantasy friendly skill. Gose is a burner, and anything that helps him get on base is reason for excitement. He has 20 steals, and just four caught stealings. In May, he has 10 steals in 11 stolen base attempts. The next hurdle for Gose will be figuring out southpaws. He is hitting .146/.300/.171 against left-handed pitching.
Yasmani Grandal, C, San Diego Padres, 23 years old
Grandal continues to hit. The switch-hitting catcher has hit .486/.545/.676 with more walks (six) than strikeouts (five) in his last 10 games. He didn’t hit a home run in that stretch but did club seven doubles. The bat isn’t the question, though, and concerns about his defense remain. I have yet to read any consensus on his defense improving, and the numbers would suggest he has remained neutral, or even regressed slightly. His passed ball-per-game rate is roughly the same, but his caught stealing rate has slipped from 34 percent last year to 29 percent this year. There is more to catcher defense than stolen base success rate, and part of his poor success rate could be the result of a pitcher working slowly to the plate. Regardless, until there are more positive reports about his defense circulating around the internet, caution is probably in order.
Zack Wheeler, SP, New York Mets, 21 years old
To my knowledge, there aren’t any whispers of Wheeler being on the verge of a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo, but if he continues at this rate, it won’t be long until he moves up. His strikeout rate is high, as usual, but it is his passable 4.14 BB/9 that provides the most optimism. If you toss out a six-walk, five-inning start on April 24, that rate drops to 3.32 BB/9. Obviously the start happened, so pretending it didn’t isn’t the wisest decision, but as he moves further away from the start, it is probable his walk rate will drop below 4.00 BB/9.
Digging deeper into the numbers, it should be noted that the bulk of Wheeler’s walks have come against left-handed batters. He has walked 15 of 84 left-handed batters faced, compared to six walks in 98 right-handed batters faced. When he isn’t walking lefty batters, they aren’t having much success hitting him (.194 batting average against). Once he starts finding the zone more often against them, he’ll be that much closer to putting it all together. Until then, the platoon split should be filed away in the memory bank.
Nick Franklin, SS, Seattle Mariners, 21 years old
I looked at Franklin a couple weeks ago, and since then, he has upped his slash line across the board. He hasn’t added anymore home runs in that time frame, but he has swiped five more bags. Franklin, a switch-hitter, has been much better from the left side against right-handed pitching than from the right side against left-handed pitching. That is a continuing trend from last season. As it stands, his bat plays well for a middle infielder.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves, 22 years old
Simmons fielding prowess gets the bulk of the headlines, but he has done a fantastic job with the bat in his first exposure to Double-A. He’s controlling the strike zone, and is a tough batter to strikeout. He has already hit more home runs this year than last, but his 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook write-up suggested his power will come in the gap form, and not be of the fence clearing variety. He has increased his stolen base efficiency while continuing to be active on the bases, a fact that will help him be more than a hollow batting average option in fantasy games.
Danny Hultzen, SP, Seattle Mariners, 22 years old
Hultzen’s ceiling, which is well below that of his fellow pitchers from the 2011 amateur draft class, remains unchanged, but he is beginning to pitch at the high level many expected from the polished southpaw. He has walk issues early in the season, which were surprising, but those have all but vanished in his last couple of starts. He pitched 13 innings in his last two turns combined, walking two and striking out 20 with just two earned runs allowed. Extending back another start, he has allowed only two earned runs in his last 20 innings pitched. Many expected Hultzen to move through the minors quickly, and he has done little to change those expectations.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros, 20 years old
Prospect write-ups have often lauded Singleton’s understanding of the strike zone and his raw power. His knowledge of the strike zone has led to high walk rates in spite of his youth, but his raw power hasn’t resulted in more than 14 home runs in a season. The naturally strong first baseman seems to be figuring things out this year, especially lately. He has hit four home runs in his last 10 games, and with nine home runs on the season, is well on his way to setting a new single season best. The left-handed batter is being tied up by his same-handed counterparts, hitting a paltry .196/.281/.314 with zero home runs against lefties. Conversely, he is slaughtering right-handed pitchers with a line of .381/.481/.690 and all nine of his home runs coming against them. He flashed improvement against left-handed pitchers after joining the Astros last year, and additional exposure to them could be all he needs.
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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