Prospect Stock Watch: Polanco, Marte start hot
By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com
Once a week this season, we’re going to break down the prospects who have done the most to move the needle on their prospect stock, mostly highlighting players on the rise, but also pointing out a few who are struggling against expectations.
Pirates OF Gregory Polanco: Polanco performed well in Major League Spring Training this year, so it isn’t much of a shock that the athletic outfielder would hit well returning to Triple-A Indianapolis. But what he’s doing is fairly absurd, regardless of his talents/skills. Polanco is hitting .465 with a 1.255 OPS. The left-handed hitter has struck out just four times in 47 plate appearances (8.5 percent) and, as Tyler Maun noted, he’s put together a nice hitting streak to begin the year, too.
“There are certain situations that I’m looking for, some key situations that he needs to be in,” Indianapolis hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo told Maun. “He needs to face guys that throw 97, which he did last night, and turned the ball around and pulled it for a double down the line. It’s things like that when you’re looking for potential matchups that are going to be in the Major Leagues and how he handles them.
“Whether he succeeds or not, it’s how he adjusts to them that’s key. Those situations will happen. They’ll come about, and depending on who we’re facing, the better the competition is, the better it is for him.”
Mariners SS Ketel Marte: Seattle is already overcrowded with middle infielders at the Major League level, but that didn’t stop them from being hyper aggressive with Marte, jumping the 20-year-old to Double-A after just 86 at-bats at Class A Advanced High Desert.
Marte’s bat has been up to the challenge. The switch-hitter is hitting .372 with just six strikeouts in 43 at-bats. He’s ripped a pair of doubles and put together an impressive 4-for-5 outing for Jackson on Friday night.
“A lot of stuff is going right for him,” Generals hitting coach Mike Kinkade told MiLB.com’s Robert Emrich. “He’s able to cover the whole plate. They haven’t really found a spot that they can throw to him to expose him. He’s able to put the barrel outside and inside. He’s a hard worker — something away was giving him a little trouble, he goes in and works on it.”
The toolsy Dominican — a runner-up in our offseason D-List series at short — has committed just one error at short through seven games, as well, improving his fielding percentage 27 points from a year ago to .969.
White Sox OF Courtney Hawkins: Hawkins’ first full pro season couldn’t have gone much worse, with the 2012 first-rounder (13th overall) batting .178 with 160 strikeouts in 103 games after an aggressive promotion to Class A Advanced Winston-Salem. Despite Hawkins’ struggles, Chicago had the outfielder stick it out with the Dash. Now, after getting an offseason to relax and reflect, the mega-toolsy outfielder has returned to the Carolina League and given pulse to what was a fading prospect heartbeat.
The sample is small, obviously, but it’s impossible to ignore Hawkins’ performance — a .316/.357/.658 triple slash, three homers, four doubles and even an improved, if still underwhelming, strikeout rate (from 37.6 percent in ’13 to 31.0 percent in ’14).
As Hawkins told MiLB.com’s Tyler Maun, he had no choice but to use his 2013 struggles as a lesson for dealing with failure and frustration. Now, Hawkins is showing signs of coming out the other side of those failures a better player, which, if it holds, would make for a remarkable turnaround and a strong testament to Hawkins’ makeup.
“What I’ve learned wasn’t just from Winston,” Hawkins said. “Just for my career in general and baseball in general, what I did last year is going to help me, as far as me learning. It helps me through every day.”
Reds RHP Ben Lively: The 2013 fourth-rounder dominated in the Rookie-level Pioneer League last year after signing — a task the Central Florida product should have been ready for given his college history.
Jumping to the California League in 2014, Lively has continued to dominate, working an 0.82 ERA with 13 strikeouts and no walks over 11 innings. He’s allowed just five hits, including one homer, and has limited opponents to a single homer.
Lively was nearly perfect in his Cal. League debut April 6 and followed that with five scoreless frames at San Jose on April 11. Cincinnati’s No. 13 prospect features a deep arsenal for a young pitcher. The 6-foot-4 right-hander throws four pitches and can control them all — the biggest test for Lively may be if his stuff is good enough to out-pitch more advanced hitters in the upper Minors going forward.
Red Sox CF Manuel Margot: Colleague Sam Dykstra tabbed Margot as his breakout prospect in the Red Sox Prospect Primer, and the toolsy Dominican outfielder has rewarded Dykstra for his confidence. We knew the outfielder could run — he proved that by swiping 18 bases in 49 New York-Penn League games last summer.
What was unclear was how much power the 19-year-old could pack. At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Margot has some wiry strength but doesn’t look the part of a power hitter by any means. And yet, Margot has already belted three homers — two more than in all of 2013 — while posting a .265/.306/.559 triple slash. Two of those blasts came against Charleston on April 9.
“He’s got gap power right now,” Class A Greenville hitting coach Nelson Paulino told Dykstra, “but he is strong and he has really quick hands. Overall, he’s under control. He knows how to be patient up there, take his pitches and not try to do anything extra.”
Cardinals SS Aledmys Diaz: St. Louis penned the Cuban middle infielder to a four-year deal in early March, partially as medium-to-long-term insurance for Jhonny Peralta — the team’s biggest offseason signing. The book on Diaz was that he could handle shortstop defensively, but there were questions about how much utility he’d pack with his stick.
Diaz has done as much as a player can do with nine games to alleviate those concerns. The 23-year-old is batting .375 with a .656 slugging percentage and 1.039 OPS. He put together consecutive four-hit games last week, including a very impressive 4-for-7 performance that included two doubles, two steals and a go-ahead, extra innings home run.
Oakland SS Addison Russell: The Athletics’ top prospect has had a tough time getting out of the gate to start 2014, first suffering a hamstring strain in the Cactus League, then landing on the disabled list with a hamstring tear last week. Russell will miss at least a month, according to the A’s.
Pirates RHP Jameson Taillon and Luis Heredia: Taillon’s 2014 season was ended without throwing a pitch due to Tommy John surgery. Heredia, meanwhile, was placed on the disabled list Monday morning by West Virginia after exiting his start Saturday with shoulder discomfort.
Colorado RHP Jon Gray: The third overall pick in the 2013 Draft has had a rocky start in Double-A. Over 6 2/3 innings, he’s allowed 12 hits — including two homers — with a 12.15 ERA. There’s still plenty of time for the fire-balling right-hander to adjust, obviously, but it’s not a good initial sign that a pitcher with Gray’s stuff would prove so hittable at the Double-A level.
Pirates OF Willy Garcia: Garcia has been aggressively promoted through the Pirates system despite mediocre numbers — specifically strikeout rates. Last year, he struck out in 32.1 percent of his at-bats with Class A Advanced Bradenton, and he’s only struggled more with Double-A Altoona. In 34 plate appearances, Garcia has struck out 16 times for a 47.1-percent strikeout rate, leading to a .121 average for Pittsburgh’s No. 11 prospect.