Prospect Previews: Week Five
Welcome to the fifth and final edition of “Prospect Previews” as we get set for the 2014 baseball season, which is a mere eight days away. This week, a look at five more players who might make an impact on the 2014 TinCaps. In case you’ve missed any of the first four weeks, here’s all you need to get caught up:
From last week–a good story from MLive.com on TinCaps Manager Michael Collins and West Michigan Whitecaps Manager Andrew Graham, both from Australia, who have known each other since childhood and will face off against one another 19 times this season in the Midwest League:
“The two have been baseball ambassadors and played and managed in the Australian Baseball League, which is supported by Major League Baseball.
Graham, 31, played catcher for Australia in two World Baseball Classics, was an assistant coach for the Sydney Blue Sox and, for the past three seasons, has managed the short-season Class A Connecticut Tigers.
He was drafted in the 19th round by the Tigers in 2003, and reached as high as Toledo in 2007.
Collins, 29, managed Canberra Calvary of the ABL for two seasons, and also played those two seasons, winning the batting title in 2010-11. In 2012-13 the team won the Claxton Shield as ABL champs.
Collins spent 10 seasons in the minor leagues, reaching Triple-A in 2009 and 2010 seasons. He managed San Diego’s affiliate in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2013.
The ABL 40-game season runs November to February with games Thursday through Sunday.
That will be a far cry from the 140-game season awaiting the two in the Midwest League this season. And even further from their youth, when the two first squared off in junior programs in neighboring Canberra and Sydney.
They will meet for the first time Friday, April 25, when the Whitecaps host the TinCaps for a three-game series.
“At this point, we aren’t talking like we used to,” Collins said. “But I dare say we’ll get together for a couple dinners and maybe a few beers during the season when we play each other.”’
Also of note is that as the Padres go through spring training and trim their roster, both at the Major and Minor League levels, there are cuts to be made. One of those cuts, as announced by the Padres on Friday, was the release of pitcher Tyler Hale. I wrote of Hale last week:
“If…Tyler Hale finds himself in Fort Wayne–a likely option considering he played in Eugene and Arizona last year–he’ll be one of the oldest players on the roster.”
Realistically, that’s never a good sign–you don’t want to be the oldest player on a Midwest League roster unless you’re an MLB rehab player. Happy trails, Mr. Hale.
Although he wasn’t originally drafted by the Padres, there’s something San Diego likes in the former Rangers farmhand. Cowgill, who played for three years at the Virginia Military Institute, was selected in the 23rd round of the 2012 draft by Texas, but was released May 17 of 2013, and signed by the Padres not long afterward.
From a Q&A on VMIKeydets.com, Cowgill describes his experience of his first pro season:
Q: Coby, you played with three different teams in this, your first professional season. First off, can you tell us something about each location, about each level you played at (positives, lessons learned, etc)?
A: I began my professional career in Spokane, Washington playing for the Spokane Indians. It was my first time ever spending an extended period of time on the West Coast; the only other time I had been there was when we played at Oregon State my sophomore year. Spokane is much different than Virginia, the people, climate, wildlife, but the mountains did remind me a bit of Lexington. In Spokane, I was fortunate enough to live with my Aunt and Uncle who live in nearby Idaho, about 20 minutes from the ballpark. It was a blessing in disguise because I had not seen them in quite some time, and it was nice to reconnect and spend some time with them. The ballpark and fan base in Spokane was unlike anything I had ever been a part of; they love Indians baseball, which made it very exciting to go to the ballpark each night. Unfortunately my time in Spokane was cut short due to an injury and I was reassigned to Surprise, Arizona.
In Arizona I rehabbed my shoulder for two weeks and eventually joined the AZL Rangers team. Arizona was unlike any place I had ever been, it was unusual to be surrounded by desert as far as you could see, with the only grass on the ball field or golf course. Not to mention the heat, just imagine a blow dryer being blown in your face constantly, I definitely missed the cool breezes. The craziest weather of all had to be the random dust storms that blanketed the air with red clay, yet we still played through them. After about a month in Arizona, I got the call to return to the East Coast.
With about three weeks left in the regular season I joined the Hickory Crawdads, meeting up with them on the road in Hagerstown, Maryland. I was very excited to get to A-ball because I was back healthy and ready to compete against the highest level of competition so far in my young career. Hickory was a nice change from Arizona; I missed playing in stadiums in front of crowds every night, plus my family was able to see me play professionally for the first time. During my time as a part of the Crawdads I got the first taste of a playoff race, despite falling just short and returning to the VMI shortly after the completion of the regular season.
After being signed by the Padres last summer, Cowgill spent some time in extended spring training and was then assigned to short-season Eugene. He began his time there as a reliever, but as the season wound down, he ended up in the starting rotation for seven games.
Looking at his numbers between being a reliever and a starter, he fared quite well in the rotation:
Reliever: 10G, 17.2 IP, 10BB, 18K, Groundball-to-Flyball ratio 2.56-to-1
Starter: 7G, 37.1IP, 10BB, 44K, Groundball-to-Flyball ratio 1.92-to-1
If Cowgill ends up with the TinCaps (he’ll be 23 on Opening Day), he looks like a viable option at starter or out of the bullpen.
A telling sign for many foreign-born prospects is how they play in their first season coming over to the United States. The transition from either the Dominican Summer League or the Venezuelan Summer League is a Grand Canyon-sized leap in talent, and the transition is never an easy one, and talent is not guaranteed to translate from one league to another.
For Jimmy Brasoban, his transition to the United States was a positive one, although it included his fair share of struggles. The righty, who was 19 for the majority of last year, spent his entire season in Eugene’s starting rotation. The one number that jumps out is that he allowed 10 home runs in 58.1 innings, but the rest look good for a first US season:
2-3, 4.17 ERA, 13GS, 58.1 IP, 44H, 33R, 27ER, 39K, 23BB, .212 AVG Against
He was named a Northwest League All-Star following the season, and was among Padres pitchers selected to go to the prospect mini-camp prior to Spring Training this year. Here’s what Padres blog MadFriars said about his season, calling him their top prospect from that club:
“The teenaged hurler from the Dominican had ups and downs in his first stateside campaign, but his filthy slider has the makings of a true plus pitch. As he gets more familiar with commanding the pitch in the zone, his strikeout totals should go up and ERA drop. “
From conversations and observations I’ve had in the last few years, it seems like pitchers can survive in the Midwest League on two pitches. Most of them get by with a fastball and some form of a slider or curve. The challenge lies, once they reach this level, in developing that third pitch–usually a changeup–into one they can comfortably throw in a variety of situations. If Brasoban has two pitches down, he looks like he’ll be a fit for the TinCaps.
According to this extremely detailed analysis of draft results, more than 70% of players selected in either the first or supplemental first round of the MLB draft will make it to the major leagues. This means that as a first-round or supplemental first-round pick, almost any team would have agreed that that player had a chance to reach the majors.
Picking a round number, lets go back five years and look at San Diego’s first-round and supplemental first-round draft choices, and see where those players have reached:
Year – Player Name – (Highest Level Reached)
Allan Dykstra – (Double-A)
Jaff Decker – (MLB)
Logan Forsythe – (MLB)
Donavan Tate – (Advanced-A…It’s a long story)
Karsten Whitson – Did not sign
Cory Spangenberg (Double-A)
Joe Ross (Fort Wayne)
Michael Kelly (Fort Wayne)
Brett Austin – Did not sign
Jace Peterson (Advanced-A)
Max Fried (Fort Wayne)
Zach Eflin (Fort Wayne)
Travis Jankowski (Advanced-A)
Walker Weickel (Fort Wayne)
Hunter Renfroe (Fort Wayne)
Let’s take a closer look and just talk about the 2011 class.
Spangenberg, who missed six weeks with concussion symptoms in 2012, is on track for Triple-A this season. Ross, who spent this last year in Fort Wayne after being limited to just six starts because of injury in 2012, looks like he’ll start 2014 in Lake Elsinore. Peterson, who tore up the basepaths in the Cal League with Lake Elsinore last year, should also advance, making his way to Double-A.
That leaves just Kelly as the lone member of the class who’s yet to advance at the same rate as his 2011 peers. At the center of his issues has been just one thing: walks. I think this question from a Matt Eddy chat on Baseball America’s website sums up Kelly’s standing quite well:
"AddyMac (Nashville, TN): Is Michael Kelly now considered close to an ORG guy? He continues to show above average velocity and a lot of spin on his breaking ball. His control, command, arm action, and repeating his delivery still seem to hold him back.
Matt Eddy: You hit the nail on the head with 2011 supplemental first-round RHP Michael Kelly. He has the raw stuff to succeed in relief if he can improve his control to say 40 or 45, but he’s not really close to that level after a walk rate of 7.5 BB/9 in 2013.”
When “AddyMac” uses the phrase “ORG guy”, that means “organizational guy”–or a player that teams don’t see as someone with major league potential, but rather someone who can nicely fill out a roster in the minors.
In two seasons as a pro, Kelly has worked 115.0 innings and has walked 90 batters. He’s made two stints with the TinCaps, and neither have been great statistically:
2012: 0-2, 7.53 ERA, 7 G, 14.1 IP, 18 BB, 14 K
2013: 2-1, 5.00 ERA, 15 G, 18.0 IP, 12 BB, 16 K
Control will be the optimal phrase for the former supplemental first-round pick in 2014. All is not lost, but the control must be there soon for Kelly.
It was during the 2013 season that I spoke with Craig Wieczorkiewicz (aka @MWLTraveler), and asked him about players he remembered having struggled in the Midwest League, but who went on to MLB careers. The name that first came to mind was Mike Cameron, who spent 17 years in the majors.
If you look way back to the beginning of Cameron’s career, though, specifically the two seasons he spent with the South Bend White Sox in 1992 (managed by Terry Francona) and 1993, neither of them were jump-off-the-charts good:
1992: .228 AVG, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 37 K in 35 G
1993: .238 AVG, 0 HR, 30 RBI, 101 K in 122 G
Kelly can look to Cameron as inspiration in what might be year three in the Midwest League.
Coming out of fall instructional league (known in baseball parlance as “instructs”), things looked good for pitcher Tayron Guerrero:
“The most improved pitcher honor went to 21-year-old Tayron Guerrero. Guerrero is pushing 6-foot-8, has a big arm, as evidenced by the multiple occasions where he was clocked at 100 mph.
“He’s a huge kid, a super kid, with a really good arm,” Smith said. “His slider was improved and that’s going to be another weapon for him. He was throwing that 87-90 mph.”
Guerrero will likely be a part of Fort Wayne’s starting rotation in 2013.”
While Guerrero did end up in Fort Wayne in 2013, albeit as a reliever, his stay wasn’t long. He went on the disabled list on April 16th, just 12 days into the season, and didn’t make it back to the TinCaps roster the remainder of the season. His next active duty didn’t come until June 23rd with the Arizona League Padres.
It was an elbow issue that sidelined him for so long, and he finally made it to Eugene in July, with his first appearance coming on the fifth of that month. Guerrero stands at 6 feet 7 inches tall, and looks to have put on some weight since last year. In 2013, he was listed at a slim 189 pounds, however this year’s Padres media guide has the Colombian righthander checking in at 210 pounds, which hopefully means added muscle to help his body withstand the long baseball season. Guerrero can throw heat–his fastball can easily hit 95 or more on the radar gun–but the problem was he didn’t seem to know where it was going. If he straightens that pitch out, and adds a secondary pitch or two, he can be an asset for the Fort Wayne bullpen.
A quick peek at the 2013 draft class for the San Diego Padres reveals that their first three picks won’t be on the mound anytime soon, as they took two outfielders and an infielder. But their fourth overall selection, Bryan Verbitsky out of Hofstra University, is a likely candidate to find his way to the bump at Parkview Field not before long. Verbitsky was selected by San Diego in the third round last June, 86th overall, from a college team that finished the season 26-27 and 11-16 in the Colonial Athletic Association. They were no Mississippi State (Hunter Renfroe, national runner up) or UCLA. The Padres took Verbitsky, although never having worked him out individually, but having seen him as a starter and reliever:
‘”We saw him in both roles and we feel like he as all the ingredients to start,” said Padres assistant general manager Chad MacDonald.
At 6-foot, 205 pounds Verbitsky also played the outfield, but began to focus on his pitching with a consistent 90-mph fastball that he can get up to 97, along with a changeup and slider.”
Working with Eugene last season, Verbitsky made 14 appearances, all of them starts, and went 0-6, but don’t let the record fool you–Eugene’s record of 27-49 was the worst in the Northwest League. He worked 49 1/3 innings, allowed 42 hits, struck out 47 and walked 38.
Verbitsky, who not only went to school on Long Island (N.Y.) but grew up there, didn’t succeed at first as a pitcher:
“Verbitsky laughed at the disjointed way his career has come together, from not being able to throw a strike early on at Island Trees HS (to the point where his dad questioned his coach’s decision to make him into a pitcher) to now being the first pitcher the Padres selected in their draft class.
“I knew they had interest in me but it’s a pleasant surprise to see my name go up there so early,” Verbitsky said in a phone interview. “It’s definitely a surreal feeling, that’s for sure. It’s been an amazing run, honestly, and I’m very grateful for having this opportunity to be able to pitch for the Padres organization.”
BLOG PROGRAMMING NOTE
To those of you who have read the blog for the last two years, or any part of that time frame, really, I offer a sincere thanks. It’s a great pleasure for me to write about the TinCaps–and many, many other things– throughout the baseball season, and I hope that you enjoy reading the blog.
This year, I welcome John Nolan, who you will remember from TinCaps broadcasts last year, back to the broadcast team as the Broadcasting and Media Relations Assistant for 2014. John is going to be handling the daily blogging duties in this small corner of the internet this season. I think you will greatly enjoy John’s unique take on all things baseball and otherwise throughout the season. Opening Day, April 3rd, will be his first daily entry, and from there on out it’ll be his space to roam and cultivate. I will still post from time to time, but not with the same frequency as I have in each of the last two years.
Justin Timberlake…take it away!