Former TinCaps Fried, Hedges, Renfroe, and Wisler on Top Prospects Lists

As we wade through the chilly, snow-filled days of February, we look outside and cringe–ice-covered sidewalks, snowbanks taller than the elementary school children that stand next to them, waiting for the bus to arrive…if there is school that day.

But fear not, friends, as of today, February 4th, Opening Day for the 2014 season is just 58 days away, and the warmth of summer nights at the ballpark is not far off. And to get you a bit closer, at least in your mind, to the baseball season, I present good news: three former TinCaps were recently named to MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects List. They are:

#24 Catcher Austin Hedges

#43 Left-handed Pitcher Max Fried

#78 Right-Handed Pitcher Matt Wisler

Both Hedges, who is regarded by many as the top defensive catcher in Minor League Baseball, and Wisler, came through Fort Wayne in 2012. Fried was here for all of 2013.

As you read these rankings, keep in mind that the standard scouting scale runs 20-80, with 20 being the worst and 80 being the best. Here’s what MLB.com had to say about each player.

HEDGES:

“Scouting Grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 40 | Arm: 65 | Field: 65 | Overall: 60

Even coming out of high school, Hedges was known as an elite defender behind the plate. He may be the best defensive catcher in the Minor Leagues, and he has shown he has the tools to impact the game on both sides of the ball. He reached Double-A San Antonio in 2013, his second professional season, and ended the year with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.

Hedges is the complete package behind the plate, with quiet hands, good footwork and a strong arm. He is not an all-glove, no-bat player, however. His balanced swing produces line drives to all fields and he has good raw power. Like most catchers, he is a below-average runner.

Hedges still has room to develop on both sides of the ball, but he is well on his way to reaching his projection as an everyday catcher in the Major Leagues.”

Hedges hit .279 with 10 home runs in Fort Wayne in 2012, and won a Texas League title with San Antonio in 2013.

Hedges hit .279 with 10 home runs in Fort Wayne in 2012, and won a Texas League title with San Antonio in 2013.

FRIED:

“Scouting Grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 65 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50 | Overall: 60

Fried was teammates with Lucas Giolito in high school, and when injury befell Giolito in their senior season, Fried became the top high school pitcher selected in the 2012 Draft. He spent his first full professional season in Class A Fort Wayne, where his 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings ranked second among starters in the Midwest League.

All three of Fried’s pitches project to be at least Major League-average offerings. His fastball sits in the low 90s and routinely touches 95 mph. Scouts believe there is still projection in his wiry frame. His power curveball is his best offspeed pitch, and his changeup has improved since his amateur days.

Fried has a good pickoff move and earns high marks for his athleticism. He has had some control problems as a professional, but he should be able to straighten those out as he gets more experience.”

Making all but one of his scheduled starts for the TinCaps in 2013, Fried showed off why he's one of the best left-handed prospects in all of Minor League Baseball.

Making all but one of his scheduled starts for the TinCaps in 2013, Fried showed off why he’s one of the best left-handed prospects in all of Minor League Baseball.

WISLER:

“Scouting Grades: Fastball: 60 | Curveball: 45 | Changeup: 60 | Control: 60 | Overall: 55

Due to his Ohio State commitment, Wisler was a difficult sign in the 2011 Draft. But the Padres went well-above slot to get a deal done with their seventh rounder and are now reaping the benefits. He reached Double-A San Antonio as a 20-year old in 2013 and is one of the fastest rising pitching prospects in baseball.

Wisler throws his fastball in the low- to mid-90s with good movement. His slider is his best secondary pitch and he also throws a changeup and curveball. He commands all of his pitches very well, walking 2.2 batters per nine innings in his first two full Minor League seasons.

Wisler earns praise for his poise and work ethic. He has already pitched his way onto the fast track and has the Padres excited to see how good he can be.”

Wisler dominated the Midwest League in 2012, finishing third in ERA with a 2.53 mark.

Wisler dominated the Midwest League in 2012, finishing third in ERA with a 2.53 mark.

—-

The MLB.com rankings did not include 2013 first-round draft pick Hunter Renfroe, taken 13th overall out of Mississippi State University by San Diego, who played with the TinCaps this year, but Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com did address that in a Q&A:

“One of the things I love the most about doing these rankings is the passion fans show for certain organizations or specific players. Invariably, we get a lot of “How could Prospect X not be on this list?” kind of comments. Patrick, to be fair, seems to be just asking for an explanation.

I don’t think Renfroe is that far off. I could have mentioned him in the question above, but I knew this one was coming. And I did include the Padres’ 2013 first-round pick in my Beyond the Top 100 discussion on my blog. If Renfroe gets off to a good start in his first full season, I could easily see him climbing into the Top 100 as the year progresses.

The tools are definitely all there. I think everyone just wants to see how it translates to the pro game — against more advanced pitching — before completely buying into Renfroe as a Top 100 guy. There have been some questions about his bat, whether he’ll hit enough for his other tools to come into play, but a solid first full campaign should quiet those doubts.”

Over on ESPN.com (Insider Subscription Required $$$), Keith Law did put Renfroe in his Top 100. Here’s how his rankings and analysis panned out:

#33 HEDGES

“The minors’ premier defensive catcher is one of the best bets on the list to have a long MLB career, although it remains to be seen what kind of role he has. His glove will keep him playing as long as he’s healthy, regardless of whether or not he hits, but he has the raw power to become an impact bat for the position as well.

Hedges is as natural and smooth a receiver as any in the minors, with one of the strongest and most accurate arms as well. At the plate, he’s reduced his stride and is more balanced than he was a year ago, still showing big-time rotation and loft in his swing, but his power wasn’t evident on the field this year, only in BP, although some of that may have been a hangover from getting hit on the left hand with a pitch in early May. His contact rates are very strong for a hitter so young, as he was well below the Cal League median for strikeout rate despite being the second-youngest position player in the league after Addison Russell, so it’s about getting into better counts to drive the ball, not an inability to hit.

He’s ranked here because I see 20-25 homer power potential with a .250-.260 average, which, with plus defense, would make him an All-Star.”

#39 WISLER

“The Padres’ seventh-round selection in 2011 had a solid full-season debut in 2012, but last year was his coming out party as he improved in just about every possible way, from stuff to command to confidence on the mound.

Wisler works with two plus pitches already, a fastball at a legit 93-96 mph and a slider that’s a grade 60 or a 70, working consistently in the bottom of the zone and showing no fear when attacking hitters on the inner half or even when falling behind in the count. The main knock on Wisler is his delivery, as he doesn’t use his lower half as much as he should and he pronates his pitching arm late, with his front foot already touching the ground. That leads to some inconsistency in his slot, but he hasn’t had any trouble yet with command or control, only with his feel for his changeup, which he can’t turn over properly when his arm drifts down.

He’s an 80-grade competitor and a diligent worker, giving him a better chance than most pitchers to reach his ceiling, which for him is a No. 2 starter who can handle 200-plus innings a year.”

#48 FRIED

“Fried had a good but not ideal first full year in pro ball, showing improved stuff and staying healthy but struggling more with command than anyone might have anticipated.

He worked in the low 90s all year but showed he can reach back for 96 when he needs it, and both his curveball and changeup will show plus, with the curveball a solid 65 or 70 on the 20-80 scale. Fried is extremely athletic with a loose if slightly long arm action, taking a good long stride toward the plate and turning over his pitching hand in plenty of time to bring it forward. He can repeat his delivery, but has a habit of nibbling as if he didn’t have power stuff, trying to be too fine when he should try to blow a hitter away with velocity or a curveball breaking down and away from a left-handed hitter.

He’s very competitive with great makeup, so no one doubts he’ll make this adjustment in time and cut his walk rate as he moves up; he’ll have to do so to continue to project as a future No. 2 starter.”

#94 RENFROE

“Renfroe had two nondescript seasons at Mississippi State before breaking out in the spring of 2013, which helped push him to the top half of the first round of the draft once he had some results to go with his plus power and speed tools.

He is broad-shouldered with a solid build and has the plus-plus power you’d expect from a guy that size. His swing is very rotational, with a good stride into the ball and excellent follow-through to generate all of that power. He lifts his back foot off the ground at contact, which isn’t ideal since it means he’s hitting entirely off his front foot, something a few good big league hitters have done but that most don’t.

He’s a plus runner with a strong arm and should be an excellent defender in right, saving up to 10 runs per season between his glove and his arm. The question on Renfroe, and it’s a significant one, is his pitch recognition and the resulting trouble he has making contact; he doesn’t pick up spin that well, and pitchers can change speeds on him to get him off balance, all of which (plus fatigue) seemed to catch up to him in his very brief time in low Class A last season.

Right now, he projects as a low-average, power-speed guy, a No. 5- or 6-hole hitter who adds a lot of value on defense and on the bases — but he’ll have to improve his contact rates to get there.”

Renfroe played in 43 games during his debut season of 2013, 18 of those in a TinCaps uniform.

Renfroe played in 43 games during his debut season of 2013, 18 of those in a TinCaps uniform.

Having watched each of these players, I agree more with Law’s analysis than with MLB.com’s. I don’t have the expertise to evaluate players like scouts do, but I certainly think Law’s notes on Hedges’ receiving ability, Wisler’s competitiveness and Fried’s accuracy are spot-on.

Whatever value you give to these rankings (20? 80?), it’s a good sign that former TinCaps are being recognized on a national level. It means that future MLB talent is funneling through Fort Wayne and at a rate higher than it does in most other minor league cities. The Padres place a high value on having their prospects play at Parkview Field because of the large crowds, which simulate a big-league envionrment, the great facilitiy, and the high level of play in the Midwest League. Dating back to 1999 when Fort Wayne began its affiliation with San Diego, Renfroe is the 26th supplemental first round or first-round pick of the Padres to be sent to Fort Wayne.

And remember…Opening Day 2014 at Parkview Field is just 58 days away!

MUSICAL GUEST

Of Monsters and Men…take it away!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me at Couzens@TinCaps.com or on Twitter @MikeCouzens.

MCsig

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