Pipeline Inbox: As playoffs progress, AFL approaches
As Major Leaguers decide a champ, prospects get ready to display future
The playoffs are underway, with many a former prospect involved. Many fans, both of involved teams and not, are keen to hear about what lies ahead, with plenty of questions about arms and bats to go around.
The Arizona Fall League kicks off on Tuesday. Be sure to check out all the action on MLBFallBall.com. In honor of the start of that season, there's a question in this edition of the Pipeline Inbox, as well.
Have a question about prospects?
E-mail your query to MLBPipeline.com reporters Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
It's been over two years since the Rays had a historic amount of picks at the beginning of the 2011 Draft. While it's too soon to completely write off careers, it seems disappointing that at most, one of their picks from that Draft will be appearing in top 100 lists this offseason. Is it fair to start wondering if they failed to make the most of this opportunity?
-- Scott L., Philadelphia
I'm going to start with your first assessment, that it's too soon to completely write this class off. Because it is. You can't really evaluate a Draft two years after it occurred. But we can take a closer look at that large crop of players and see how everyone is progressing.
The Rays had 12 picks through the first two rounds of that Draft, 10 in the top 60 picks. It was an opportunity, many thought, to really build out what was an already rich farm system. One thing that was a challenge, it's important to remember, is that the Rays only had so many dollars to work with, so they had to be careful with their choices.
The top pick in that class for the Rays is the one Scott refers to as being the lone one on top 100 lists: Taylor Guerrieri. The right-hander, who recently had Tommy John surgery, is No. 28 on MLB.com's Top 100 list.
Other than Guerrieri, it's true that no one from this dozen has really turned into an elite prospect, at least not yet. Ironically, it's the "safer" college players I think you could make a better argument about not living up to expectations. First-rounder Mikie Mahtook has been just OK, having spent the year in Double-A. Grayson Garvin and Kes Carter have battled injuries, not exactly something an organization can predict. Granden Goetzman has been a high schooler who's had trouble staying healthy, as well.
For the others, it's just too early to tell. Including Guerrieri and Mahtook, there are six players from the 2011 Draft class in the Rays' Top 20. Three of them -- Blake Snell, Jake Hager and Brandon Martin -- are only 20 years old. A guy like Jeff Ames is a bit older, got off to a slow start, but looks like he's starting to put things together. In general, I'd be leery of passing judgment on any Draft class until four or five years have gone by.
Could you possibly throw out a Top 15 list for this years AFL? Easy to pick Top 10, so I wanted to see your second-tier players.
-- Walt B., Plano, Texas
Even with some changes (Javier Baez, Danny Hultzen, sorry to see you go), there's a lot of exciting talent heading to Arizona for the Fall League. We'll be sure to do a top 20 performers at the end, but in terms of who the top 15 might be as of right now, here's a quick list:
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
2. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates
3. Addison Russell, SS, A's
4. Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Blue Jays
5. Albert Almora, OF, Cubs (Taxi Squad)
6. Jorge Soler, OF, Cubs
7. Alex Meyer, RHP, Twins
8. Austin Hedges, C, Padres
9. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs
10. Mason Williams, OF, Yankees
11. Alen Hanson, SS, Pirates
12. Kyle Crick, RHP, Giants
13. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
14. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Marlins
15. Jorge Alfaro, C, Rangers
Whatever happened to Dorssys "Dropped off the face of the Earth" Paulino? Are there reasons to hope?
-- Stephen P., Windsor, Mass.
Maybe he fell off your Earth, but he hasn't fallen off of ours. Paulino is still ranked as the No. 4 prospect on the Indians' Top 20 list and is No. 94 overall on the Top 100. Maybe his overall numbers weren't overwhelming -- .246/.297/.349 -- but you can't judge him just based on that.
The Dominican shortstop, who received a seven-figure bonus when he signed in July 2011, spent all of the 2013 season at age 18. And he did it in the full-season Midwest League as the youngest position player in the circuit (as of Opening Day). Cleveland doesn't shy away from pushing their young infielders aggressively, and Paulino jumped from the Rookie Level Arizona League in 2012 (with a brief 15-game stop at the end of that season in the New York-Penn League) up to Lake County -- no small feat. It's only natural that his numbers would take a hit.
Perhaps more important to notice is how Paulino handled the adversity. He hit .222/.273/.312 in the first half of the season, but he improved that to .267/.318/.380 in the second half. He improved his average every full month of the season, and his OPS in August was the highest of the year.
Do you expect Jon Singleton to take a step forward and show that he can be a middle-of-the-order bat people expect?
-- Eduardo M., Houston
In a word, yes. The Astros clearly think so, adding him to the 40-man roster on Wednesday.
Singleton certainly didn't have the kind of year to inspire much confidence, first sitting out with a 50-game suspension due to a positive drug test, then not really putting up the kind of numbers he has in the past. He did show some signs of life in August. While he still only hit .250, he did show the on-base skills that have stood out previously (.400 OBP) and drove in 19 runs for the month.
Singleton has shown the ability to hit for average and power, as well as get on base. He also spent the entire 2013 season as a 21-year-old playing at the upper levels of the Astros' system. I expect him to get a nice long look next spring, and even if he begins the year back in Triple-A Oklahoma City, there's time, and he has all the tools to be that middle-of-the-order hitter you're hoping for.
Aside from past health issues, why is it that many evaluators continue to have reservations about Anthony Ranaudo's future as a first division Major League starter?
-- Dave D., Cape Cod, Mass.
I wasn't sure those reservations existed, especially after the 2013 season he had. Ranaudo did, after all, pitch at two levels, reaching Triple-A, and finished with a 2.96 ERA and .219 batting average against across 140 innings. That might have been the most important thing, as the right-hander showed he could stay healthy and what he could do performance-wise if he could stay away from the disabled list.
I quickly polled a few in the pro scouting world, and while one did say his team didn't see him as a future starter -- they worry about his delivery and consistency -- the rest believe he will be. One felt that the questions surrounding Ranaudo were all health and durability related. If he continues to stay on the mound, the scout thought, there's no reason to think he won't be a starter in the big leagues. Perhaps some of the hesitation is because they want to make sure he can repeat what he did in 2013 in terms of taking the ball every five days for an entire season.
While there may have been relative consensus from this group about Ranaudo's ability to start, they did think his ceiling was somewhat limited, viewing him more as a No. 3 or 4 starter in the future.
What do you think is Onelki Garcia's upside? Does he project to have a good enough third pitch to be a starter? Does he have enough command, control and stuff to pitch in the late innings for a contending team?
-- Justin L., New York
The Cuban defector ended up being a third-rounder in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, getting his feet wet that summer, then making a beeline up the organizational ladder all the way to the big leagues in his first full season. He began the year as a starter in Double-A, though he only went more than four innings once. He moved into the bullpen in late May after a month on the disabled list, mostly to be ready in case the Dodgers needed his electric left arm to help out in the bullpen. The No. 8 prospect on the Dodgers' Top 20 list shelved working on developing his changeup and focused largely on his fastball and breaking ball, with much success.
Los Angeles could stretch him back out and see if he can start, but given how effective he was in relief (10.7 K/9, .176 batting average against) and how he struggled a bit with command (5.1 BB/9), he might be suited for the bullpen in the long term. He does have the chance to have two plus pitches, so stuff-wise he could be a late-inning guy. His walk rate did drop a bit when working in relief in the Minors. If he can keep that under control, he could see work in high-leverage innings.