BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD: INVESTING IN FARM FUTURES

I’ve mentioned before that evaluating prospects is very subjective. The value of a prospect is in the eye of the beholder. Just like some people like vanilla ice cream, others like chocolate. None are wrong to follow their preferences.

Prospects come in all sizes and shapes. Some were born stateside, others were born in a foreign country. Of course, their background has a great deal to do with the progress they have made honing baseball related skills. Talent always carries the day. If a prospect can play, a baseball scout will find him. Probably in most corners and places in the world a scout is looking for talent. Refining raw skills is the task of the team’s development department.

In this edition of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD, I am going to share my thoughts about my five top prospect development programs in baseball. Again, this takes into account the talent level and depth of the organization. In their farm system-not at the major-league level.

For purposes of this exercise, I will include those prospects recently promoted to the major leagues as prospects. For example, players such as Rafael Devers, Yoan Moncada and Rhys Hoskins fit that background. There are many others.

The order of my five top farm systems is not really of consequence. In fact, the teams could be interchangeable. The fact that they have great prospects on the horizon is what matters to me as I check out the minor-league landscape.

In each case, I will highlight a few of the players that force me to include them in my rankings. My scouting grade (20-80 scale) accompanies their name and position.

No, 5- NEW YORK YANKEES- (this easily could have been the Houston Astros. It was a very close call).

The Yankees have used prospect players in trades recently (see Blake Rutherford for example) but they still have the best overall prospect in the game. At least in my estimation, the team deserves recognition for having a solid farm system despite improvements made at the major-league level by utilizing prospects in trades.

GLEYBER TORRES-INF-(GRADE 65) Agile and mature beyond his 20-years, Torres is a terrific player. Very athletic, he can play anywhere among 2B, SS or even 3B.

Now disabled due to Tommy John surgery, it remains to be seen if Torres returns with the same agility and spark that he had before the surgery. Of course, some players react differently than others to season-ending surgery.

Torres was far and a way the best player I saw in the Arizona Fall League last year. In my rankings, I placed him ahead of highly touted White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada.

Torres was at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre prior to his surgery. He was hitting .309 and many people felt he was on the cusp of being promoted to the parent club when it was determined he needed elbow surgery.

CLINT FRAZIER-OF-(GRADE 55) I have said many times before that when Frazier shook my hand when I first saw him in the summer Arizona League he almost broke my hand when we shook. He’s that strong. His forearms are like those of Popeye. His bat speed is marvelous. But I think the Yankees promoted him before his development was complete. I think he will eventually hit 30 home runs. I think he’ll strike out an incredible amount.

He isn’t a great defender in the outfield, but he’s getting better.

Frazier is the type of hitter that can break up a game with one late inning swing of the bat. He is very strong and very powerful. But it will take time for Frazier to learn how to handle breaking pitches. Currently, he “jumps” at pitches and is not patient. Once he becomes more selective, his terrific bat speed will take over.

Frazier will eventual fit nicely with Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez as a core group of middle-of-the order power hitters for the Yankees to build around.

JUSTUS SHEFFIELD-LHP (50)- Like Frazier, Sheffield came to the Yankees from the Indians in the trade for pitcher Andrew Miller. Not huge by today’s standards, the 5-foot-11 lefty has some giddy-up in his arsenal. His fastball is above average and he also has a repertoire that includes a slider, a curveball and a changeup. He will be a much tougher pitcher to hit when he masters the changeup, a pitch that is probably the toughest to learn.

Sheffield has been plagued by command and control problems, an issue that is very common with young left-handed pitchers. A starter his whole career, Sheffield will be pitching in the Arizona Fall League.

I’m not sure where Sheffield will wind up as part of the Yankees future rotation. I don’t think he has the consistent velocity or the one or two quality pitches to serve at the top of the rotation. However, he’ll be somewhere and he’ll help defuse left-handed hitters in The Bronx.

I probably have a less favorable grading and forecast for Sheffield than many analysts.

No. 4- ATLANTA BRAVES

This is a franchise that has collected pitching prospects the way I collected baseball cards as a kid. I would stockpile my cards and then sort out my “stars” from my “commons”. For now, I think the Braves are sorting out their pitching inventory. Recently, however, position players are gaining as much attention in the Braves organization. Some of the brighter lights include:

RONALD ACUNA- OF (GRADE 60) pronounced Ah Coon Ah. Acuna isn’t very big at 6-foot-0 and 180 pounds. He has a balanced skill set highlighted by excellent speed and defense as an outfielder. He has an above average hit tool, but he lacks power at the young age of 19.

As he matures and develops physically, it is likely Acuna will add power to his toolbox. That would just be a bonus. For now, however, the Braves have a highly regarded outfielder with terrific range, an above average arm and an ability to steal bases on offense.

Currently playing at Triple-A Gwinnett, Acuna will be playing in the Arizona Fall League where I will get to see him continue his development against higher quality pitching than he has seen to date.

OZZIE ALBIES—2B/SS (GRADE 55) Albies has been referred to as Jose Altuve “light”. That really isn’t fair, because few players can come close to matching Altuve for a complete skill set. Listed at 5-foot-9, that may be generous. Whatever his actual height, he isn’t tall, that’s for sure. He’s scrappy with some pop in his bat.

His .285 batting average earned Albies a promotion to the parent Braves club where he has held his own against the best pitching in the world.

Albies can really fly. He is a 70 runner, which means he is in a very rare group of players that can steal a base almost at will. He lacks experience in base stealing, but the middle-infielder will improve in that area over time. And, oh, by the way, he can really hit. He should be a high average hitter for the Braves as he matures.

Albies packs a great deal of punch in that slight frame. He will continue to develop power as he matures. Still only 20, the sky may be the limit for his tools.

Albies is a much better than average defender, with the Braves having the capability of using him either at shortstop or second base. It is not unreasonable to think he could play center field in the future. His arm strength is above average.

The only issue with Albies is his lack of power.

KOLBY ALLARD-LHP- (GRADE 55) One of the left-handed pitching options for the Braves, Allard has an above average fastball/curveball combination. He is a quality-starting pitcher and has the upside to pitch in the top part of the rotation.

His fastball/curveball combination are both above average pitches that he can use at any point in the count. His third pitch, a changeup, isn’t quite as advanced as his fastball and curveball duo. However, he has control and command of all three pitches.

Not overpowering at 6-foot-1, Allard has suffered back issues in his past. He is now beyond them and pitching at Double-A.

In addition to Allard, there are other lefties in the Braves system like Joey Wentz and Luiz Gohara. However, the guy I am looking forward to seeing regularly in the Fall League is lefty Max Fried. He was traded by the Padres and has been hurt in the past. Look for a good future for Fried.

No.3-MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Taking a page out of his former Astros employer’s playbook, Brewers general manager David Stearns has done a fine job of reconstructing his roster. He is not afraid to take chances and he has compiled some very good prospects to put his team in a good position to contend in the future.

Lewis Brinson

Photo Credit: John Mazurek

LEWIS BRINSON-OF-(GRADE 60) Whenever trades are discussed, Lewis Brinson’s name usually comes up. Tall and thin, Brinson can really play exceptional defense. He can run, he can hit and his power is emerging.

Brinson can close quickly in the outfield. He takes long strides and can get to most balls hit within his area code.

Brinson has all the makings of a star. It will take some time for him to adjust, and he will have to play day in and day out to get the most of his skills.

When I saw Brinson in the Fall League he seemed to gain confidence and get better as the season went on. The biggest difference from day 1 and the end of the league in November was the gap power he displayed. He’s a winner.

LUCAS ERCEG-3B-(GRADE 50) For me, 3B Lucas Erceg has the type of hit tool that can be impactful at the major-league level. He is, however, only 22 and his time will come.

Tall and thin for a 3B, the 6-foot-3 Erceg is a left-handed hitter, making him even more valuable.

A very complete player, Erceg is playing at Class-A Advanced Carolina. He has lots of time remaining in development. He can also play shortstop and probably some at 1B.

We will be seeing Erceg in the Arizona Fall League as he may get opportunities to play several positions in the Arizona desert.

Erceg has excellent hitting mechanics and I really enjoy watching him attack the ball with the barrel of the bat by using a fluid, consistent stroke at the plate.

COREY RAY-OF- (GRADE 50) – I can certainly understand why some are disappointed with the lack of production this season from Ray. The outfielder is a high ceiling player that scouts have touted for quite some time. He is only hitting .240 with 7 home runs as of this writing at Class-A Advanced Carolina.

A former 1st round draft pick, Ray has a nice combination of speed and power that should blossom as he grows within the Brewers system. He is very capable of breaking out at any time.

Only 5-foot-11, Ray will have to use his speed and compact frame to make an impression on the brass and move ahead in a crowded Brewers organizational outfield.

Outstanding left-handed pitcher JOSH HADER has graduated from the farm system and is now pitching for the parent Brewers. He could be an outstanding member of the team’s pitching staff for years to come.

I believe my grade and evaluation of Ray to be a bit lower than many analysts.

No. 2- PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

I have been singing the praises of this team’s prospect depth for the past two to three years. They are loaded at virtually every position with the exception of pitcher. They have some pitching prospects, but their position depth is much more exciting.

MICKEY MONIAK-OF- (GRADE 55) Moniak was a 2016 1st round draft pick and the first player taken overall. He is a 6-foot-2, 185 pounds left-handed hitting outfielder with a combination of a superb hit tool and well above average speed. Still only 19, he hasn’t developed power to speak of.

Moniak is scuffling at Class-A, but his hard barrel of the bat contact should be very evident sooner than later.

Moniak has the type of bat control and bat speed that allows him to take the ball from foul pole to foul pole. Getting on base and using his speed to steal bases, Moniak should add value to the Phillies future lineup from a pure on-base percentage perspective.

Moniak will have to be patient as he continues to add depth and strength to his frame. The Phillies can wait, as they have options for the outfield throughout the organization.

SCOTT KINGERY-2B-(GRADE 55) Kingery is a very professional hitter and should add tremendous value to the Phillies lineup from the 2B position. He has power and speed as well as an above average hit tool. So everything a team wants offensively from a player can be delivered by the 5-foot-10 Kingery.

He is an above average defender, but he doesn’t have the strongest arm, making playing him at second base and not shortstop or third base almost a must. Limited versatility may be the only negative in his profile.

Kingery is the type of player that can take hold of a position and keep it for years to come. It shouldn’t be too long until we see him somewhere in the Phillies newly revamped batting order.

JORGE ALFARO- C-(GRADE 55) Alfaro can really hit. He was deemed a bit immature when he first arrived on the scene with the Texas Rangers as an international free agent. The Rangers needed pitching badly and traded for the Phillies Cole Hamels, with Alfaro part of the package in return.

I believe in Alfaro’s bat. He is doing very well as part of the Phillies parent club now, but it remains to be seen how much playing time he will receive.

A Top 10 catching prospect in all of baseball, Alfaro has more power in his bat than we have seen to date. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Alfaro is likely finished growing. He has turned 24 and is now at the point where his career should be blossoming in the very near future.

Defensively, Alfaro has an extremely strong arm behind the plate. He is a good defensive catcher, but there is room for improvement in his game management and footwork, Overall, he is very promising.

The Phillies have promoted 1B RHYS HOSKINS who has already hit 11 home runs and driven in 25 as a major-league player. His start has been red hot and there is little left for him to prove.
He will be an amazingly strong middle-of-the order hitter.

No. 1- CHICAGO WHITE SOX

There are so many terrific prospects in this organization it is difficult for me to single out a few. Some I have discussed before on this site. Others I will profile a bit below.

The White Sox are putting themselves in a position to contend for a title year after year. It will take some more time and some more patience, but with pitchers like Michael Kopech and Reynaldo Lopez, the team could skyrocket.

DANE DUNNING- RHP- (GRADE 50) Dunning was a 1st round draft pick of the Washington Nationals who came over in the deal for center fielder Adam Eaton. He may be the lowest rated in that haul that included pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez who is now with the big-league club.

Dunning has an above average fastball, an above average slider and an above average changeup. He has average command and control.

Dunning is pretty far down the line in the White Sox prospect pecking order. He is surpassed by a host of pitchers that include Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease. But most teams would love to have a former 1st round draft pick (29th overall in 2016) in their prospect-pitching stable. So if the White Sox want to move him along in another deal, they can fetch plenty.

Signed out of high school, Dunning is finishing his season at Class-A Advanced after being promoted from Class-A Kannapolis in May. In four starts for that team, he had a .069 ERA. Not too shabby and worthy of his promotion. He has started 21 games at Winston-Salem and is doing well.

ZACH COLLINS- C (GRADE 50) Collins is one of the highly rated catching prospects in baseball. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, he is very well proportioned and has average catching skills.

He’s got average skills across the board when both his offense and defense are considered. While he doesn’t have one above average tool, he plays a position of need. He will be a solid catcher once his development is complete. He has some power potential.

Collins, like Dunning a former 1st round draft pick came from the University of Miami. He is now playing at Double-A Birmingham after a mid-August promotion. He hit only .223 at Class-A Advanced Winston-Salem, which was less than expected. He is hitting better with the higher classification Birmingham team.

I saw Collins catch in the 2016 Arizona Fall League and I was impressed with his handling of pitchers and his mechanics behind the plate. He didn’t hit much in the league, but he put the ball in play.

LUIS ROBERT- OF- (GRADE 55) Other than Yoan Moncada, nobody has been paid more than Robert on the international market. Like Moncada, Robert comes from Cuba.’

Listed as only 20-years-old, Robert is hitting over .300 with his Dominican Winter team. Once he comes stateside we will be able to get a much better feel for his game.

Robert is said to have electric bat speed, as he hit .401 in the Cuba Series Nacional in 2016.

While the White Sox have concentrated on pitching in their roster revamping trades, they have added tremendous position players as well when Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Blake Rutherford are considered. Rutherford is an exciting prospect that came from the New York Yankees in the deal for Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. He will be a tremendous asset to the new White Sox outfield picture.

BUNTS:

While the White Sox are soaring, it is quite possible the Tigers are first in line when the doors open at the home improvement store. Their reconstruction has begun. It actually began with a miscalculation. They traded Cameron Maybin early in the offseason and then put the brakes on their rebuild. What? Yep, it was a costly mistake as they limped through the season with lame ducks J D Martinez, Justin Verlander and Justin Upton quacking in the clubhouse. But all three of them are now gone. In their place are younger men waiting for an opportunity to play.

Chances are the roar of the tiger will be heard again, but for now at least, the cats are mere cubs.

Daz Cameron

Photo Credit: Doug Hall

The Astros finally got the starting pitching help they needed when they traded for the Tigers Justin Verlander and all the financial baggage that includes. They yielded solid C prospect Jake Rogers, ranked right0handed pitcher Franklin Perez, and ranked outfielder Daz Cameron to get Verlander. To my way of thinking it was a complete steal in favor of the Tigers. Yes, the three are prospects, but each was formidable in a very good Houston farm system.

The Angels really helped themselves by getting slugger Justin Upton and his huge contract. He is signed until 2021 but he has an opt-out clause after this season. He has not indicated his intentions to the Angels.

Big 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher Grayson Long is the player that was sent to the Tigers along with a player to be named later for Upton. Long was pitching at Double-A Mobile at the time of the trade. He had made 23 starts and had a 2.52 ERA.

The thought of Mike Trout, Upton and Albert Pujols hitting in the Angels lineup is exciting for Angels fans. But yet again, the Angels have traded the commodity they can least afford-a prospect pitcher.

The Angels also moved Cameron Maybin to Houston and added second baseman, Brandon Phillips. The Angels send C Tony Sanchez to Atlanta.

Bernie Pleskoff

October 1, 2017 is the deadline to register for our fantastic trip to Cuba January 19-26, 2018.

If you are interested in joining us on this trip of a lifetime please contact me at BPleskoff@aol.com for all the details and pricing.

The trip would be a fantastic holiday gift for someone you really care about. Or, perhaps this is a bucket list item for you.

Whatever your reasons for joining us, you will be very glad you decided to visit Cuba before the pricing gets way out of hand.

Join me in a ride in a fantastic purple 1956 Chevy.

I sincerely hope you will join me in aiding those in Texas and the Gulf Coast states who are suffering from horrible, horrible flooding. Many have lost everything.

I chose to give to the American Red Cross at RedCross.org. You may wish to donate through another outlet. The system or organization you choose is not important. Donating and helping is all that matters.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff.

About The Author

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. In addition to his BERNIE'S BASEBALL WORLD column, he's a scout/analyst for FanRag Sports.com. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff