Hits and misses from our preseason ‘Prospects to Watch’
By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com
It’s time to hold us accountable. Perhaps that’s a term we should be hearing in Washington right now. Instead, I’m talking about us here at MiLB.com. Before the season, we gave you our lists of 10 Prospects to Watch in each full-season league based on our projections for what was the then-to-come campaign.
Then, 2013 happened.
Admittedly, some of these we were right on, although we can only take some of the credit for that. Many of the game’s top prospects went above and beyond our expectations with fantastic performances at the plate or on the mound. And then, as tends to happen, some others went the other way and underperformed against our expectations. Them’s the breaks, as they say.
Here I’ll break down players that fit each description from our preseason Prospects to Watch lists.
Biggest Hit: Wil Myers, Durham/Tampa Bay — I’ll admit I wasn’t putting myself on any ledges by putting Myers as the top player to watch in the IL, although I will add Billy Hamilton could have gone there instead after his record-setting 2012 on the basepaths. Myers had his ups-and-downs in his first season in the Rays farm system, but a stellar June pushed him to finish with a .286/.356/.520 slash line with 14 homers and 57 RBIs over 64 games before he got his first call-up in the middle of the month. He never looked back, posting a slash of .293/.354/.478 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs in 88 games for the AL Wild Card-winning Rays. The 22-year-old right fielder should compete with Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias for the AL Rookie of the Year award.
Biggest Miss: Trevor Bauer, Columbus/Cleveland — Like Myers, Bauer found himself in a new organization and a new Triple-A circuit at the start of the year. After being traded from the D-backs to the Indians last offseason, the 22-year-old right-hander had a chance to crack the Tribe’s rotation out of Spring Training before he was optioned to Columbus. (It should be noted, however, his first start of the year was with Cleveland as he filled in for Scott Kazmir.) He struggled with command in both the IL (5.41 BB/9 in 22 starts) and the Majors (8.47 BB/9 in four starts). His ERA and FIP (4.15/5.08 in Triple-A, 5.29/7.05 in the Majors) predictably suffered as a result. Given his age and potential, there’s still reason to believe he’ll be a serviceable starter in the Majors. It might just take a little longer than previously imagined.
Hit: Taijuan Walker, Jackson/Tacoma/Seattle — After spending his age-19 season with Double-A Jackson in 2012, it was obvious that Walker would be moving up to Tacoma at some point this season, and he did just that in late June. The 6-foot-4 right-hander posted a 2.46 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.29 K/9 for Jackson before being promoted to the PCL, where he was almost equally impressive given his age with 3.61/1.41/10.05 numbers. The Mariners liked what they saw enough to give him a Major League shot starting in late August, and Walker rewarded that faith with a trio of solid performances. He could very well be in line to rejoin the M’s rotation come next spring.
Miss: Mike Olt, Frisco/Round Rock/Iowa — There were reasons to be high on Olt entering this season. His 28 homers in 2012, his .398 OBP. A move to the hitter-friendly PCL. Instead, the third baseman struggled mightily out of the gate with a .139 average and just one homer in 72 at-bats spanning 20 April contests. He missed time due to eye issues and, although his numbers did improve, they still didn’t jump off the page. Olt was traded to the Cubs in the deal that sent Matt Garza to Texas. He finished his year with Triple-A Iowa, where he batted .168 with three homers and eight RBIs in 131 at-bats and 39 games. All in all, it was a lost season for the third baseman.
Hit: Anthony Rendon, Harrisburg/Syracuse/Washington — Xander Bogaerts and Jameson Taillon, both top prospects in their respective organizations, would be quality choices here, but if you were watching Rendon, like my colleague Danny Wild told you to, then you’d know the rocket-like season he had. The 23-year-old put up a slash of .319/.461/.603 in 33 games for Harrisburg before moving up to Syracuse in June. He stayed there all of three games before getting the big call to Washington. He spent time at second, third and even some shortstop for the Nats and slashed .265/.329/.396 with 23 doubles, seven homers and 35 RBIs in 98 contests.
Miss: Dylan Bundy, N/A — This isn’t a knock against Bundy, nor is it one against our list. When our Prospects to Watch article was put together, Bundy was experiencing “mild elbow stiffness” and was believed to be returning early in the season. Then, he underwent Tommy John surgery in late June and there went his season. Again, this isn’t a black mark. He just wasn’t a Prospect to Watch because you literally couldn’t watch him pitch in 2013.
Hit: Yasiel Puig, Chattanooga/Los Angeles (NL) — As if I was going to put anyone else here. “The Wild Horse,” as named by Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully, torched the Southern League with a .313 average, .982 OPS, eight homers and 37 RBIs for Chattanooga before getting called up to the Dodgers and becoming a rookie sensation. He finished with a .319 average, .925 OPS, 19 homers and 42 RBIs and earned a reputation for his cannon arm in right field over 104 games for the NL West champions.
Miss: Taylor Jungmann, Huntsville — The Brewers’ first-round pick from the 2011 Draft moved up to Double-A for the first time and failed to particularly impress. His 4.72 BB/9 and 12.3 walk percentage were both third-worst in the league, and his 4.84 FIP was worst among qualified pitchers. The 6-foot-6 right-hander hopes to work out the kinks in his command when he takes the mound in this year’s Arizona Fall League with Surprise.
Hit: George Springer, Corpus Christi/Oklahoma City — You probably know the deal here. Not only did Springer use his strength to smash the ball this season (.303/.411/.600, 37 homers, 108 RBIs), he also used his speed to swipe 45 bases. He fell three homers shy of becoming the first member of the Minors’ 40-40 club since Len Tucket hit both marks in 1956.
Miss: Cody Buckel, Frisco/AZL Rangers — They call it Steve Blass Disease, after the Pirates hurler who inexplicably lost his command on the mound in 1972. After issuing 48 free passes over 144 2/3 innings in 2012, Buckel walked 28 and allowed 27 runs (21 earned) in just 9 1/3 frames to start the year with Frisco before the Rangers decided to put him on the shelf. He didn’t return to game action until August, when he walked seven and allowed four runs in 1 1/3 innings during a pair of appearances in the AZL.
Hit: Archie Bradley, Visalia/Mobile — In the end, Bradley’s stay in the Cal League wasn’t very long, but he certainly left a mark. The D-backs’ top prospect posted a 1.26 ERA and struck out 43 in 28 2/3 innings for the Rawhide. Upon making the biggest jump in the Minors to Double-A ball, he continued to put up nice numbers, including a 1.97 ERA and 119 strikeouts over 123 1/3 innings. His 1.84 ERA and 162 punchouts on the season were third and fifth among full-season Minor Leaguers respectively.
Miss: Trevor Story, Modesto — The Cal League is where hitter’s stats usually become inflated. That wasn’t the case for Story, who saw his numbers drop across the board in 2013. (It should be noted he did play in a hitter-friendly atmosphere in Asheville last season.) Still, he batted just .233 in 130 games with the Nuts and struck out 183 times, third-most in all the Minors.
Hit: Garin Cecchini, Salem/Portland — The No. 7 Red Sox prospect enjoyed nice seasons in his first two years in the pros before really breaking out in 2013. He was especially dominant in Salem, where he put up a .350/.469/.547 slash line in 63 games. The third baseman continued to reach base in bunches in Portland and finished with a Minors-best .443 OBP and career-best .915 OPS.
Miss: Courtney Hawkins, Winston-Salem — The 19-year-old outfielder was pushed back to Class A Advanced ball for his first full season after reaching the level at the end of 2012. Though he exhibited some nice raw power with 19 homers, he struggled to make contact, striking out 37.6 percent of the time for Winston-Salem. He only put up a .178/.249/.384 slash line as well and is likely to head back to the Dash next season.
Hit: Javier Baez, Daytona/Tennessee — I was really tempted to put Miguel Sano in this spot because of the fantastic season he had, and yet I think Baez took such a leap forward this season that I went with him instead. Baez posted a .294 average, .888 OPS and 16 homers in 2012 but struggled in the FSL. Here’s what my colleague Jake Seiner wrote about him in the preseason: “The maturing of his approach from last year to this year is one of the league’s most interesting storylines.” What followed was a .282 average, .920 OPS and incredibly 37 homers (including four on one night) from the 20-year-old shortstop. Whether he sticks at that position will be another thing to watch in 2014. In the meantime, Cubs fans have plenty to be excited about in their top prospect.
Miss: Mason Williams, Tampa/Trenton — It wasn’t a banner year for the Yankees’ No. 2 prospect. First, he was arrested for DUI in late April. Then, his overall numbers for the year weren’t exactly anything exciting. He slashed .261/.327/.350 in 100 games with Tampa and went 15-for-24 on the basepaths. He moved up to Trenton for a 17-game stint and put up a .153/.164/.264 line in that short span. Williams possesses plenty of athleticism, and that could lead to better results in the future as he continues to develop. They just didn’t come this year.
Hit: Byron Buxton, Cedar Rapids/Fort Myers —Plenty of ink has been spilled about Buxton’s big 2013 season, so let’s just look at what he told MiLB.com about his goals in an offseason Q&A last year. “Just work hard, keep swinging the bat well, take advice, listen and my performance hopefully will take me where I want.” Hopefully he wanted something along the lines of a .334/.424/.520 slash line, 49 extra-base hits, 77 RBIs, 55 steals and stellar defense because that’s what he got in an amazing first full season.
Miss: Roberto Osuna, Lansing — There were plenty of reasons to be high on Osuna coming into the season. The big one was that he was making his full-season domestic debut as an 18-year-old after two years in the Mexican, Appalachian and Northwest Leagues. Now, it might be time to pump the brakes. The 6-foot-2 right-hander had a solid April before tearing part of his UCL in his throwing elbow. He returned in June but struggled before finishing the year with a 5.53 ERA over 10 starts. Osuna didn’t pitch again after July, and it’ll be interesting to see if the elbow concerns linger into next season or if Tommy John surgery becomes a real option.
Hit: Joey Gallo (Hickory/Arizona League), Lucas Sims (Rome) — If you’ll so allow me, I’m going to split this spot. Sims was downright stellar in his first full season, posting a 2.62 ERA, 2.81 FIP, 1.11 WHIP and 10.34 K/9 for Class A Rome. Meanwhile, Gallo led all Minor Leaguers with 40 homers and placed among the best in slugging (.623) and OPS (.961). Quite the year for a pair of 2012 first-rounders.
Miss: David Dahl, Asheville — You can put this under the same category as Bundy. I mean no slight to the Rockies’ No. 2 prospect by putting him here. I just meant to point out that there wasn’t much to watch from the outfielder in 2013. He missed most of April after being sent to extended spring training for disciplinary reasons, and he only played in nine games upon returning before tearing his hamstring and missing the rest of the season. Dahl, the 10th overall pick in the 2012 Draft, will hope to start anew in 2014.