Organization All-Stars Odds & Ends: Royals

Christian Binford top Royals right-handers with 139 punchouts. ( John Owen/Northwest Arkansas Naturals)

Christian Binford topped Royals right-handers with 139 punchouts. (John Owen/Northwest Arkansas Naturals)

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com

The Royals Organization All-Stars were published Monday, featuring the top performers at each position in the club, but there were a few players that just missed the cut. With that in mind, here are the honorable mentions and bonus insight from Royals director of player development Scott Sharp.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

First base — Ryan O’Hearn, Idaho Falls (64 games): From the time he went 5-for-5 in his professional debut, the 21-year-old impressed in his first season. After leading the Royals with a .361 average over 64 games and smacking 13 homers with 54 RBIs, the Sam Houston State product was crowned the Pioneer League Most Valuable Player.

“He’s got bat speed and he’s got strength. He’s got the ability to use the entire field, he hits the ball very well,” Sharp said. “All those things in my opinion should translate to him being productive as he moves through the Minor Leagues.” (more…)

Minoring in Twitter: Catching up with Kris Bryant, J.P. Crawford’s dog, other top prospects

By Danny Wild / MiLB.com

I thought we’d check in with some No. 1 prospects this week. For example, Phillies top dog J.P. Crawford really likes his gigantic Game of Thrones direwolf dog:

Game of Thrones trivia: Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) adopted her direwolf, Lady, after Season 1:

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Dylan Bundy is still Baltimore’s top prospect, and he’s just staying cozy and warm in front of his really nice stone fireplace and decorative table balls:

Byron Buxton, the oft-injured Twins top prospect, shows off his current injury (and his child): (more…)

When age is just a number

Patrick KivlehanBy Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

Today over at MiLB.com, I have a long look at the young baseball career of Cubs outfielder Jacob Hannemann, who passed on a pro contract to spend two years on a Mormon mission trip after high school but quickly reestablished himself as a legit pro prospect in short order on his return. What interested me about Hannemann is he’s remarkably unique. He focused more on football in high school and went into his freshman year at BYU with roughly 75 competitive games’ worth of experience even before taking two years off. And yet, he was so athletically gifted, he was a Freshman All-American and got drafted by the Cubs.

Age relative to league has become an important barometer in prospect evaluation. There’s only so much information analysts and fans can glean from statistics and scouting reports. An organization’s decision to aggressively promote a teenager (think Raul Mondesi or Carlos Tocci) can signal something to outsiders about that organization’s view of the player, specifically his makeup. Evaluators will reference a player’s age relative to the competition, taking pressure off younger players to perform when pushed and creating skepticism around impressive performances from players too old for their level of competition.

But not every player who’s old for their level is necessarily a non-prospect. Hannemann is a good example of this, as he started 2014 as a 23-year-old in Class A, but also entered the year with perhaps the least baseball experience of any position player in that league. He’s not alone either. Here are a few other prospects who were older than the competition in 2014, but whose age isn’t as much a red flag as it might be:

Mariners 3B/1B/OF Patrick Kivlehan: Kivlehan started the 2014 season as a 24-year-old in the Class A Advanced California League, where he was more than a year older than the average player. A 2012 fourth-round pick, Kivlehan played four years of football at Rutgers before giving baseball a go following his senior season. He hit .392 with 14 homers and earned Big East Player of the Year honors. Just over two years removed from being drafted, Kivlehan is looking like a worthy investment after hitting .295 with 20 homers between High Desert and Double-A Jackson in 2014. Kivlehan turns 25 in December, but could challenge for playing time in Seattle as soon as Opening Day.

Red Sox RHP Simon Mercedes: At 6-foot-4, Simon Mercedes has an imposing presence on the mound and a fastball every bit as big. And yet, in two years with the Red Sox, the 22-year-old has only recently reached the full-season level, logging 85 frames with Class A Advanced Salem in 2014. The reason is that Mercedes was forced to sit out a year by Major League Baseball after reportedly lying about his age to pen a $400,000 contract with the Giants in 2011. In March 2012, he signed on with Boston for $800,000, pitched with Class A Short Season Lowell in 2013 and showed off a notable fastball-curveball combination with Salem in 2014.

White Sox RHP Adam Lopez: Lopez is one of the more unique players in the Minor Leagues. He was already 22 when Chicago drafted him in the 21st round of the 2012 Draft out of the Virginia Military Institute. In 2013, the team sent him to Class A Kannapolis, where he dominated out of the bullpen and forced his way into the rotation, striking out 129 batters in 99 1/3 innings. Chicago had visions of putting him on the fast track to the Majors from there, but then he had offseason knee surgery and some elbow issues that held him out of the first half of 2014. At this point, Lopez is a 24-year-old with seven innings at the Class A Advanced level to his name, but the stuff is still there for the hurler to emerge as a Major League hurler.

Rays LHP Grayson Garvin: I detailed Garvin’s remarkable track record prior to the 2014 season here, but to recap: The Rays’ drafted Garvin 59th overall in 2011, but dramatically reduced his signing bonus when a physical revealed an abnormal bone growth in his left elbow. Sure enough, his UCL gave out in 2012, and he had the growth and UCL repaired. Garvin returned at the end of 2013, and in 2014, pitched a full season on a very strict pitch count. Now he’s 25 with 20 career starts at Double-A, but the kid gloves could come off in 2014, and Garvin could still make good on the hype that surrounded him heading into the 2011 Draft.

Blue Jays OF Anthony Alford: Like Kivlehan, Alford’s ascent to pro ball was slowed by college football. Alford was recruited to play quarterback at Southern Miss, but still signed a contract with the Blue Jays after they selected him in the third round of the 2012 Draft. Alford agreed to play baseball in the summer and football during the school year, starting five games for Southern Miss as a freshman before transferring to Ole Miss for 2013. After sitting out due to eligibility rules, Alford appeared in four games this fall before the Blue Jays negotiated a new deal to buy him off the football field. In 2014, Alford played just 14 games between Rookie-level Bluefield and Class A Lansing while turning 20 in July.

Arizona Fall League wrap-up: Bird, Winker shine; Bradley, Nimmo falter

Winker Bird

By Sam Dykstra/MiLB.com

The Arizona Fall League slate officially came to a close Thursday afternoon, and now we begin our long, slow trudge into the harshness of winter the offseason can begin in earnest, at least as far as we’re concerned in Prospect Land. But before we move on, consider this to be one final look back at the good, the bad and one unfortunate incident in the 2014 AFL season.

GOOD

Greg Bird, Yankees/Scottsdale – As New York’s No. 11 prospect according to MLB.com, Bird was a notable name entering the fall circuit but not really a headliner either. No matter. The 22-year-old first baseman tied for the league lead with six homers and finished with a .313/.339/.556 line and 21 RBIs in 26 games with the Scorpions. The left-handed slugger, who has hit 34 homers in his first two full Minor League seasons, will likely climb the Yankees ranks this offseason — Baseball America has already pegged him No. 4 in the system — before attempting to climb through the system, starting in Double-A Trenton, in 2015.  (more…)

Minoring in Twitter: Decker, Barfield slug it out

By Danny Wild / MiLB.com

barfield decker

Fans so far are lining up behind Jeremy Barfield Cody Decker when it comes to their favorite Minor League personalities on Twitter based on our poll question on the MiLB.com homepage. Barfield had been leading with 43 percent of fans, but once we actually told Cody about the poll and his low vote totals, suddenly things turned around. Here’s how the poll looked around 3 p.m. on Nov. 13:

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But then something amazing happened. About an hour later, Cody called upon the wildly popular El Paso Chihuahuas for help:

 

(more…)

Cardinals Organization All-Star Outtakes

A common theme throughout our St. Louis Cardinals Organization All-Stars story, which rolled out today on MiLB.com, was the number of players who had earned this year’s honor after a position change in their careers. Catcher Carson Kelly and outfielders Tommy Pham, Rowan Wick (pictured) and Stephen Piscotty all began their Cardinals careers at different positions from their current ones, and that list doesn’t include 2014 draftee Danny Diekroeger, who settled in at third base after playing around the infield while at Stanford.

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St. Louis Player Development Director Gary LaRocque and Double-A Springfield manager Mike Shildt had more to say on that topic, the loss of former top prospect Oscar Taveras and more on additional prospects in the system. (more…)

Interview Outtakes: Rangers shortstop Michael De Leon

By Ashley Marshall / MiLB.com

Our long-form feature on Texas Rangers’ teenage shortstop Michael De Leon dropped on MiLB.com this morning. Here are some more quotes about De Leon from the people who know him the best in the organization.

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Rangers’ director of international scouting Gil Kim on De Leon’s growth:

I’ve known Michael since he was 14 years old. He had trained with Valentin Monero, who is a very established trainer in the Dominican. But everything starts with Danilo Troncoso, who is our area scout in the East. And he brought Mikie to our attention when he was 14, and I’m sure he has been watching him since he was 12 or 13. He started taking us to [academy director] Valentin [Moreno’s] place for tryouts and insisting on him. Danilo had always told us that he had a different spirit about him. He had a different type of confidence and he knew how to play the game. They’re now some of the reasons why he’s advancing so rapidly through the system, because of his energy, because of his confidence, because of his love for playing the game. They stuck out in Danilo’s mind and they were evident right away when we got to watch him play. (more…)

Minoring in Twitter: Best Halloween costumes from the Minors

By Danny Wild / MiLB.com

CNN made Justin Jackson a minor celebrity by featuring his Tupac Halloween outfit on the CNN.com homepage:

Ryan Verdugo declared himself a “Beerfest character,” although he wasn’t totally sure. “A Bavarian I guess,” he said. He was like, this year, I’m totally wearing suspenders. With shorts. Done.

Cubs outfielder Anthony Giansanti was a bloodied, decaying zombie, but a zombie who still knows how to tie a neat bowtie:

Padres prospect Cory Spangenberg better have walked around the entire night in this exact pose, ripping open his shirt — otherwise he just looks like a dude coming home from the office:

The Gordon brothers, Nick (Twins) and Dee (Dodgers) swapped jerseys on Halloween in a unique but somewhat lazy concept. Surely one of our Minoring in Twitter readers dressed up this October as their father, Tom “Flash” Gordon, right?

The Arizona Fall League’s Salt River Rafters posed for a Halloween team photo:

Let’s dissect. I see Superman and Batman, Luigi (of Super Mario fame),  a cowboy (Woody?) in spandex pants, Peter Pan, the Grim Reaper, a banana and probably my favorite costume so far, some guy dressed as the late Kim Jong Il. Other guys here, I’m not so sure about … a ping pong player? A dude in a bike helmet? Someone in a sombrero? There’s one guy wearing yoga pants, a cup and a camo shirt? And the guy next to him is in red fuzzy pants? The one guy in the back in the burka is kind of funny — I thought initially he was a ghost wearing sunglasses — but again, Kim Jong Il gets my vote, I’m dying to know who that is:

kim jong il

More from Arizona, here’s the Scottsdale Scorpions:

Obviously we have another Spiderman, plus Santa, Snow White, Randy Johnson and a full-size bikini model. But come on, that is a weak Mr. Met costume.

Moving on, here’s the AFL’s Mesa Solar Sox:

I don’t even know where to start with that one. I see two guys riding inflatable monkeys… a viking… someone in jeans and a tank top? I guess the skeleton guy gets some points for just going with a classic look.

I can see the whole concept in this photo, but otherwise, if you’re just walking around in a sweater vest like that… I dunno:

D-backs Minor Leaguer Dallas Newton had this combo to offer:

Travis d’Arnaud‘s mask kind of makes you uncomfortable just looking at it:

Yankees prospect Peter O’Brien is outed as Salt Rivers’ Peter Pan:

I think this was a 2013 costume, but he tweeted, so it counts:

Princess Peach makes an appearance:

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Another weird trio:

Cardinals prospect Mike O’Neill shows off his ball-spinning skills:

For those who forgot already, he’s channeling Will Ferrell from 2008’s Semi-Pro:

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Colin Walsh revealed, however, that an entire team of Jackie Moons was out in force on Halloween night. Apparently they don’t sell jerseys of other Flint Tropics players:

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Cubs prospect Addison Russell with one of the most terrifying looks of Halloween 2014:

Here’s Jake from State Farm and Flo from Progressive:

Blue Jays prospect Dalton Pompey went as Aunt Jemima, best known for her maple-flavored high fructose corn syrup and pancake mix. His teammates, unidentified, appear to be sunglasses-wearing blonde women in yoga pants and Ugg boots holding pumpkin spice lattes, and honestly, you have to admit these guys pull off the yoga pants pretty well:

Athletics outfielder Jaycob Brugman has sort of but not quite an adorable family photo:

Braves right-hander Alec Grosser. Boo this man:

More superheroes:

Reds slugger Donald Lutz didn’t actually have ceiling fan blades coming out of his mask (I think):

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Tony Thomas with a classic, iconic character:

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Not really a scary costume, but it involved multiple people:

Cameras were rolling for this behind-the-back catch and Batman-themed celebration in the Arizona Fall League:

The D-backs — and we’ll allow Major Leaguers here for now — were hard to beat:

The Albuquerque Isotopes’ front office dressed up, and no one went with a Breaking Bad character? Really?

This dog is just confused about that cloudy wallpaper behind him:

Asheville took a family photo but didn’t invite Mr. Met (I don’t blame them):

Frederick second baseman Jermone Pena basically wore the same thing the Fresno Grizzlies debuted this summer:

Kevin Pillar and his wife went as boxers, or more realistically, they put on hooded bath robes and used some of Mrs. Pillar’s eye shadow for a quick Halloween solution:

Allan Dysktra, the reigning Triple-A All-Star Home Run Derby champion, got his house dressed up:

Frank Viola III, released by Toronto at the end of this season, earns a spot here for this one:

Oakland righty Tanner Peters found a mermaid, and that apparently was his costume — standing next to her:

Yeah seriously, what’s up with this?

In non-Halloween breaking news, Joe Gatto took to Twitter to make his long-awaited public announcement that, finally, he’s growing out his hair:

Want to get trash-talked by a baseball player?

Indians No. 2 prospect and first-round pick and generally extremely talented athlete Clint Frazier was not able to get an offseason job as a part-time sales associate at a local athletic store. Wow.

Rockies left-hander Christian Friedrich shows the lineup at Game Stop when the new Call of Duty went on sale. A guy who appeared in 16 Major League games last season for Colorado, standing in the back of the line in a dark strip mall parking lot at midnight:

Finally, Todd Van Steensel keeps the streak alive!

Chipotle Tweets of the Week

A weak showing from players declaring their Chipotle love this week despite the Mexican chain offering $3 burritos after 5 p.m. on Halloween. I had high expectations, but we’ll have to settle for Rangers infielder Seth Spivey (no relation to Junior), who asked a simple but polarizing question:

Seth, this may be before your time in the Minors, but I myself asked this very same bold and important question to every single Minor Leaguer back in 2012 when we conducted player polls. Simple: In-n-Out or Chipotle?

Chipotle won with 66 percent of the vote.

Oh wait, what’s that? Pirates 2014 first-rounder Cole Tucker has made a shameless attempt to be featured here? Fine:

Good year, disappointing results for Reds’ Stephenson

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com

At the start of the 2014 season, perhaps no player seemed more likely to end up on the year-end Reds Organization All-Stars list (published today with full comment by Reds director of player development Jeff Graupe) than Robert Stephenson. Having turned 21 in February, he already had an admirable collection of accolades.

He was drafted out of a Northern California high school in 2011. He’d been among Cincinnati’s 2013 Organization All-Stars and a midseason All-Star in the Midwest League, and entered this year ranked as the No. 19 prospect in all of baseball.

And, indeed, he did show strokes of brilliance over his first crack at Double-A. He struck out 11 in his season debut, and in 10 of his 27 outings he allowed one earned run or fewer. Still, he was saddled with a 7-10 record and a 4.74 ERA. What went wrong?

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Michael Spooneybarger/MiLB.com

“The walk numbers need to come down,” said Reds director of player development Jeff Graupe.

Stephenson led the Southern League with 74 walks — but he also had more strikeouts (140) than any other hurler in the circuit.

“If you look at the list of names [on the SL strikeout leaderboard], that’s an impressive feat,” Graupe said. “I think he’s going to be coming into 2015 with an improved appreciation for what it will take to be successful in the long term.”

Though some of his stats might be disappointing, the Reds front office insists it’s not disappointed in the way the year went for Stephenson.

“Double-A is a great challenge for a lot of these guys,” Graupe said. “Getting up there as a 21-year-old and having some adversity isn’t a bad thing.”

Graupe and his colleagues were pleased, most of all, with the way Stephenson handled himself and the mental adjustments he made along the way.

“We definitely were,” Graupe said. “Robert learned a lot this year. This was a learning experience for Robert. He learned how to bounce back from adversity if he does struggle, and anybody is going to have some struggles at some point.”

The All-Time Arizona Fall League Team

Trout Stanton

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com

Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford (Maryvale, 2001) was inducted into the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame on Tuesday, and Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is scheduled to join him during his own induction ceremony Wednesday. Since welcoming its first class in 2001, the AFL Hall of Fame includes 36 former players and managers who have gone from the national pastime’s unofficial finishing school to success in the Majors.

That got us thinking — if you were to take into account the 1,200-plus players who have plied their trade in the AFL since its inception in 1992 and form the best possible team, what would that look like? Consider this our attempt at an answer.

Catcher

Mike Piazza, Sun Cities, 1992

What he did in the AFL: .291, 3 HR, 23 RBI

What he did after: 12-time All-Star, 10-time Silver Slugger, 427 career home runs, .308 career average, 143 OPS+

Piazza’s unlikely climb from 62nd round pick in 1988 to Major League legend wasn’t quite complete when he suited up for Sun Cities in AFL’s inaugural season, but it was well on its way. After batting .350 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs between  the Dodgers’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates, he played in 21 games as a September call-up before getting some additional work in the AFL. The sport got to see him on the big stage the following year, when he won the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year award with a .318 average, 35 homers and 112 RBIs. He finished his career with 427 homers, 396 of which came as a catcher — most ever among backstops.

Runners-up: Jonathan Lucroy (Peoria, 2009), Joe Mauer (Team USA, 2003), Buster Posey (Scottsdale, 2009), Jason Varitek (Peoria, 1995, 1996)  (more…)

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