Rounding The Bases: Top 100 talk

By Sam Dykstra/MiLB.com

It was a big week on the MLB/MiLB.com family of networks as MLB.com’s Prospect Watch released its top 100 entering the 2014 season. Byron Buxton, Xander Bogaerts, Oscar Taveras, Miguel Sano and Archie Bradley — call them the usual suspects — made the top five.

Colleague Jake Seiner provided a worthy-of-your-time breakdown of the list on MiLB.com, and I’ll defer to that story as the piece you should turn to first. That being said, I do have some thoughts of my own.

And with that, let’s round the bases. . .

Top 100 analysis

First things first, the big winners — if you want to call them that — were the Red Sox (nine), Cubs (seven) and Astros (seven), who were the top three teams in terms of prospects placed on the list. For what it’s worth, the Astros actually placed first in terms of a points system, devised by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, with the Sox and Cubs falling in line respectively. None of that is a huge surprise, given we knew each of those three has built incredible prospect depth in their given systems.

As for “losers,” that goes to the Angels (zero) and Brewers (one). The Halos’ closest chance to crack the top 100 was probably Taylor Lindsey, who placed seventh among second basemen behind Devon Travis and Jonathan Schoop who also didn’t make the cut. Milwaukee had right-hander Jimmy Nelson come in at No. 83, although that might be a little too high given his control concerns and projection by some as a reliever rather than a starter. The A’s also placed only one player on the list, but that was No. 12 Addison Russell.

With all that in mind team-wise, here’s a quick hit list of players who caught my eye outside of the really big names.

Most underrated player on list: Rafael Montero, RHP, Mets – The 23-year-old right-hander moved up from No. 98 to 85 with the new rankings, but I think he could have gone higher. Any talk about Montero, who owns a plus fastball with an improving breaking ball and changeup, starts with his control after he allowed just two walks per nine innings between Double-A Binghamton (66 2/3 innings) and Triple-A Las Vegas (88 2/3 innings) in 2013 to go with an 8.7 K/9. His FIPs (1.88 and 2.87) were equally  impressive, especially considering his work in the Vegas and the PCL which are notoriously tough on pitchers.

I’m not saying Montero deserves a top-50 spot, but I’d take him over Nelson and Trevor Bauer (73) at this point. He could very well be a part of a Mets rotation by year’s end that already features hopeful youths Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia as well as the Tommy-John’d Matt Harvey. Other candidates: Kevin Gausman (31), Jorge Alfaro (39), Julio Urias (64)

Montero 2

Most overrated player on list: Allen Webster, RHP, Red Sox – If this was based on stuff alone, Webster would actually be much higher that his No. 46 placement. His fastball can be a buzzsaw, especially against right-handers, and the slider and changeup could worry hitters too. But the command. Ouch. He issued 3.7 free passes per nine over 105 frames with Triple-A Pawtucket, and that number predictably went up to 5.34 in the Majors over 30 1/3 innings. Red Sox fans hoping for change when Webster visited the Dominican for winter ball were disappointed to see he walked 10 batters in 17 2/3 innings and owned a 1.81 WHIP over that time.

Webster can get plenty of swings-and-misses in the Minors, but he’s yet to show the ability to get it over the plate against advanced (and more patient) competition. For that reason, he’s a little too high for my taste at No. 46. Other candidates: C.J. Edwards (42), Jake Marisnick (65), DeShields (66), Nelson

Webster 2

Biggest snub(s): Enny Romero/Alex Colome, P, Rays – Jake listed a few of his own omissions in the article above, but these are the two biggest for me. The Rays placed three — Jake Odorizzi (56), Hak-Ju Lee (84), Taylor Guerrieri (94) — in the top 100. Colome, who was at No. 82 at the end of 2013, was the first snub to come to mind. I understand durability concerns, especially given his elbow issues last year, but 2013 seemed to be a big breakout year for him, given his success in Triple-A and the Majors, before closing up shop in late June.

Romero, on the other hand, had control issues (4.6 BB/9) in the Minors that probably kept him out. But his stuff is considered top-of-the-line, and Baseball Prospectus’s Jason Parks actually put him at the top of the Rays list. You could make an argument that he should leapfrog Robbie Ray (97), who has slightly better command but not necessarily better stuff. Other candidates: Hunter Dozier, Bubba Starling, Brian Goodwin

Colome and Romero

Player who could have dropped off list: Mason Williams, OF, Yankees – Perhaps I’m just not as high on Williams (No. 75) as others. The center fielder didn’t have a good 2013, beginning with a DUI arrest in April and concluding with a .153/.164/.264 slash line in 72 Double-A at-bats with Trenton. Reports on his hitting abilities talk about a slap hitter, who should be able to benefit from plus speed that just wasn’t there last year. (The decrease in speed was a big reason why his BABIP dropped to .189 in Trenton.) Being only 22, time is still on his side obviously, and there is the potential for change there, although it is slipping. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong with a turn-around 2014. Until then, I don’t see Williams as a top-100 guy as it stands. Other candidates: Ray, Roberto Osuna (93), Edwin Escobar (95)

Williams

Player most likely to rise in 2014: Josh Bell, OF, Pirates – After a torn meniscus in 2012 stopped him from making a full-season debut in 2012, the switch-hitting Bell (74) came back healthy and strong in 2013, slashing .279/.353/.453 with 37 doubles, two triples, 13 homers and 76 RBIs in 119 games for Class A West Virginia. This upcoming season means another healthy year removed from that knee injury, and that means you can most likely expect even bigger numbers from Bell.

Some of the South Atlantic League All-Star’s 37 doubles will turn into homers as his strength builds, and his average and OBP are also likely to rise in his second year of pro ball. Don’t be surprised if he follows the footsteps of Andrew McCutcheon, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco as big-time outfield prospects in the Pirates system. Other candidates: Urias, Braden Shipley (79), Trey Ball (96)

Josh Bell 2

Trade evaluation

In the one big Minors-related move of the week, the Rays and Padres completed a seven-player deal with Logan Forsythe and Alex Torres headlining both sides of the deal.

At first blush, I like the Padres’ haul the most here. Torres can become a valuable left-handed piece of the San Diego bullpen, and those don’t come around too often. (Ask the Yankees who signed Matt Thornton to a two-year deal despite his struggles in Boston.) What’s more, they came away with the best prospect in the bunch in Jesse Hahn, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011 but owns an electric fastball.

Meanwhile, the Rays seem to pick up a bunch of spare parts that should provide little but depth, and that includes the light-hitting Forsythe, who will be a utilityman off their bench. Brad Boxberger could be a short-relief right-hander out of the bullpen. Matt Lollis could turn around his woes and do the same. Matt Andriese could hit his ceiling of a No. 5 starter, although that’s increasingly unlikely given the Rays’ depth of starting arms. Maxx Tissenbaum could continue his patient approach to the plate as he moves up the ladder.

There’s a lot of could’s there, and it would take more than one hit to make it worth dealing both Torres and Hahn.

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Quick Hits

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