FALL LEAGUE PROSPECTS CONTINUE TO IMPRESS

Every week for the next several editions of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD will be dedicated to scouting reports on some of the brightest stars currently playing in the Arizona Fall League.

For years and years, I have had the opportunity to scout players assigned to the Fall League by their respective teams. It is a form of “finishing school” for highly rated prospects.

For a complete understanding of the scout grading system I am using to provide a grade for each player profiled, please consult the first Fall League article in this series that ran Sunday, October 29, 2017.

Here are a few more reports on players I feel will have an impact in Major League Baseball in the coming years.

Bobby Bradley

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

BOBBY BRADLEY-1B-CLEVELAND INDIANS

Bradley was a 3rd round pick of the Indians out of Harrison Central High School in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft.

Still only 21, Bradley is making very good progress with his eyes on the prize of becoming the permanent first baseman in Cleveland when his development concludes.

The Indians first base situation this offseason remains in a bit of flux. Incumbent Carlos Santana, a Gold Glove nominee is a free agent. So is Jay Bruce, a player with limited experience playing the position. Edwin Encarnacion, primarily a designated hitter may well assume the role if Santana departs. Encarnacion has two more years on his current Cleveland contract. Or perhaps the Tribe will turn to third baseman turned outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall to take over at first. Regardless of who plays first base next year, the position may be open for Bradley by 2019, the date by which I believe he will be able to take over on a full-time basis.

Formerly sporting a frame that looked too thick in my observations, Bradley looks much more trim and fit this fall. He is moving better around first base and he looks much more agile and lithe. That’s a big improvement over the player I saw in the past.

Strong with good bat speed and a nice swing, Bradley can take pitches to all fields. Once more a pull hitter from the left side of the plate, Bradley has shown much better use of the entire field.

This past season Bradley played 131 games at Double-A Akron in the Eastern League. He hit .251, which is an improvement over his Class-A Advanced season in 2016 at Lynchburg in the Carolina League. He hit 23 homers this season, six less than last year. He also drove in 13 fewer runs, but he had 40 less plate appearances this past season.

The encouraging part for Cleveland has to be a reduction in Bradley’s seasonal strikeouts year-over-year from 170 to 122. He had 20 fewer walks, but he still shows improving plate discipline for a middle of the order power hitter.

Bradley is a below average defender at first base. So was Santana when he got his first chance at being a regular first baseman. He played and practiced his way to being good. That transformation could happen with Bradley as well.

Bradley is painfully slow and I see him as a potential base clogger. His lack of versatility is also an issue. He really is limited to playing first base at this point. Perhaps in the future, he can branch out to other positions, as did Santana as his career progressed.

I feel his home runs and batting average will improve with time and exposure to good pitching on a repetitive basis.

While I see many comparisons between Santana and Bradley, I still don’t think Bradley will be a “finished” major league ready player until 2019. Work must continue on cutting down the strikeouts, using the entire field, increasing his agility and range at first base and showing the power the Indians will expect from their first baseman.

Clearly, Bradley’s best tool is a potentially loud gap doubles and home run bat. That bat can carry him to a nice career. But like Santana, he may never hit for a high batting average.

Scouting Grade for Bobby Bradley: 50

Sheldon Neuse

Photo Credit: Jerry Espinoza

SHELDON NEUSE-3B-OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Pronounced Noise, Sheldon Neuse has really impressed me this fall. All he does is hit. Everything that is coming off his bat is loud. He’s been hitting .300 here in the desert.

Neuse was a 38th round pick by the Texas Rangers in 2013 out of Fossil Ridge High School in Keller, Texas. He chose to attend the University of Oklahoma instead, where he was used as a pitcher and third baseman. The Washington Nationals then chose Neuse as a third baseman in the 2nd round in 2016. The Nationals traded him to Oakland in the deal that sent both Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington this past July.

Neuse has a compact swing. His mechanics at the plate are advanced. He knows the strike zone, shows patience and good pitch recognition and makes solid contact.

Neuse is a clutch hitter. He hit a combined .321 in 490 plate appearances this past year playing for Class-A Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League (.291) Class-A Advanced Stockton in the California League (.386) and Double-A Midland in the Texas League (.373). It really is impressive that he had success at three levels in three different leagues.

Neuse takes pitches where they are thrown and he has enough power to take a pitch over the fence. He hit 16 home runs this past season to go along with 26 doubles and three triples. In addition to his prowess at the plate, Neuse stole 14 bases in 19 attempts.

Not very big by today’s standards for corner infielders, Neuse is only 6 feet tall. He carries 195 pounds on a strong and solid frame.

As a former pitcher, Neuse has shown that he has a strong and accurate arm from third base. He was capable of hitting the mid-90s as a pitcher. His arm serves him well at third base.

With the emergence of Matt Chapman at 3B for the parent Oakland Athletics, it makes projecting a role for Neuse a bit difficult. However, there are unmet needs in the Athletics system, and Sheldon Neuse could fetch players in trade that could help solve those unmet issues.

While it is always difficult to trade a player with a high hitting ceiling and upside that Neuse presents, it may be a viable option for Oakland. However, he isn’t the highest quality defender at third base and his versatility is rather limited. Even though he played shortstop in college, it doesn’t make much sense to try to use him at that position.

I would expect that the outfield, particularly left field might be a future option for the Athletics. He can hit enough for the position and he can probably hold his own defensively. It will be interesting to see how the Athletics deploy Neuse this coming spring.

There are a great number of teams that need to shore up their hitting. Sheldon Neuse is on display in Arizona for every team to evaluate. If they see the bat speed, the contact rate, the sweet, measured swing that I am observing, they will come away impressed.

Scouting Grade for Neuse: 50

Michael Chavis

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

MICHAEL CHAVIS-3B-BOSTON RED SOX

There is a reason Michael Chavis is rated so highly in the Boston Red Sox organization. He can play. He has a very good feel for playing baseball and he has some tools that should continue to develop.

At only 5-foot-10 and a solid 210 pounds, Chavis is a very powerful hitter. He has strong arms and legs and he doesn’t get cheated at the plate. Power is his best current tool. And more of that power should be on the way.

The Red Sox selected Chavis in the 1st round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia. Only 22, Chavis has advanced all the way to Double-A in the Red Sox organization. He played this year at Class-A Advanced Salem in the Carolina League (.318) and at Double-A Portland in the Eastern League (.250). In his 524 plate appearances, Chavis hit 31 home runs, with 14 of them coming off Double-A Pitching. He drove in 94 runs playing for those two teams. Chavis struck out only 113 times on his way to hitting a combined .282.

Some people feel Chavis reminds them of Jeff Bagwell when Bagwell was young and just starting in the Red Sox organization. While I don’t really do player comparisons, I see the wisdom of their thoughts. Both are on the short side and both have great power in their upper bodies and legs.

Chavis had a thumb injury in his past but he appears to be healthy and he doesn’t show signs of the injury during the Fall League.

Chavis was a shortstop in high school. Defensively, Chavis doesn’t have the quickest feet or the greatest range. He has a good enough arm to stick at third base but I don’t see him making above average plays that require him going quickly to either side. Clearly, it is his powerful frame and home run bat that will be attractive to the Red Sox going forward.

The Red Sox have similar limited range and lack of quickness at third base with outstanding hitting prospect Rafael Devers. While Chavis doesn’t have the advanced hit tool as Devers, he is similar defensively. It is within the realm of possibility that the Red Sox future could play Devers at first base and Chavis at third or maybe even at second base. Stranger defensive arrangements have occurred. The important factor is that Chavis has the bat that can stick on the big league level.

His home run power is very attractive and in all likelihood, that skill can carry Chavis to success at the major-league level.

SCOUTING GRADE FOR CHAVIS: 55

Lucas Erceg

Photo Credit: Ryan Morris

LUCAS ERCEG-3B-MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Erceg is among the most exciting hitters I am scouting in the Fall League.

Selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 First-Year Player Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, Erceg played his college ball at Menlo College in Atherton, California.

A left-handed hitter with good power, the 6-foot-3, 200 pound Erceg has excellent bat control and knows how to find the barrel of the bat against good quality pitching.

I have always been impressed with Erceg’s “feel” for hitting. Long and lean, Erceg has a very quick bat. He is athletic and quick on his feet.

Erceg has flown through the Brewers organization, having reached Triple-A in only his second season.

I really like the power potential in Erceg’s bat. He knows the strike zone well, and once he handles breaking balls a bit better he can become a real force at third base. Left-handed pitching this past season at either Class-A Advanced Carolina and at Triple-A Colorado Springs didn’t overwhelm him.

A former closer in college, Erceg has a very strong and accurate arm from third base. He has the range and agility to play either infield corner, but he profiles better at third than at first. He has played shortstop for the Brewers in his past during the instructional league. I don’t think that would be his best role.

There will likely be some strikeouts in his game as he sees better and better pitching moving forward. However, he has good enough hands to let the ball travel a bit, making it possible for him to spray the ball around the entire field rather than becoming exclusively a pull hitter.

I probably have a bit of a higher future evaluation of Erceg than many scouts. I see him as an impact hitter with a loud home run bat. I think he will be particularly dangerous in Miller Park, home of the Brewers.

Having completed only two seasons as a professional player, Erceg is hitting very well in Arizona. He is well over .300 as this is being written, and I doubt we will see much less from him as the season progresses.

SCOUTING GRADE FOR ERCEG: 55

Matt Thaiss

Photo Credit: Jerry Espinoza

MATT THAISS-1B-LOS ANGELES ANGELS

The Angels farm system is improving with time and some good draft picks. Still, however, in my estimation, there are very few Los Angeles Angels prospects that have the upside to become a quality major league regular. Matt Thaiss is among them.

The Boston Red Sox selected Thaiss in the 32nd round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft in 2013, He failed to sign, choosing rather to attend the University of Virginia. The Angels then drafted him in the 1st round of the 2016 draft, taking him as the No. 16 pick.

Thaiss has competed this year at Class-A Advanced Inland Empire where he hit .265 and then at Double-A Mobile in the Southern League. He hit .292 at Mobile with 14 doubles. He had one of his nine home runs at Mobile.

At 6-feet even, Thaiss has a solid frame at 195 pounds. A left-handed hitter, one might think he is a bit too small to play first base. But guys that can hit can play. I project Thaiss as a prospect that should be able to hit quality pitching.

I project his batting average and hit tool to be his best and most advanced skills. He can play average defense, but it is his hitting ability that will take Thaiss wherever he is going in the Angels organization.

A catcher in his past, Thaiss has converted to first base as a professional player. He is an adequate defender.

A natural hitter, Thaiss shows very good pitch recognition and advanced patience at the plate. He sees pitches well and is open to accepting a base on balls. His hitting mechanics are very sound, making him the type of contact hitter that will prolong a rally by putting the bat on the ball and finding holes in the defense.

Good eye-hand coordination and a measured swing have led to moderate strikeout rates in his first two seasons in the Angels minor league system.

Thaiss may yet find some surprising power from his well-proportioned frame. If the homers do come, that would be a pleasant addition to his resume’. However, I think he is more apt to be a singles and doubles hitter with good gap power.

Thaiss is still at least two years away from a role with the Angels. Ultimately, I project him as an average hitting regular player. He may find his way to either corner with his strong arm and good feel for the entire game.

SCOUTING GRADE FOR THAISS: 50

Thairo Estrada

Photo Credit: Jerry Espinoza

THAIRO ESTRADA-2B/SS/NEW YORK YANKEES

Estrada is an international free agent from Venezuela who signed with the Yankees in 2012.

Considered by most to be a defense-first player, Estrada is yet another fantastic Venezuelan middle infielder that we have seen playing in the major leagues since the days of Chico Carresquel, Omar Vizquel, Luis Aparicio and so many, many more. The country has given us magical defensive infielders.

Having stated Estrada is a defense-first infielder, he is raising some eyebrows and gaining attention for having a very good bat so far in the Fall League. His hitting is gaining as much attention as his defense. Maybe he has turned a corner. However, it should be noted that he has a career .287 batting average in parts of five minor-league seasons. So his tag as a good defender with a so-so bat may not be accurate or fair. I think he’ll do just fine at the plate.

When I first put eyes on Thairo Estrada I got a flashback to the tremendous defensive shortstops I had seen in the past during the Arizona Fall League. The most memorable was Didi Gregorius in 2012. He totally dazzled me with incredible range, a fantastic arm and great “feel” for playing shortstop. Among the best defenders was Alcides Escobar in 2005. The ball just disappeared in his glove. I am not saying Thairo Estrada is as good as Gregorius or Escobar. I am saying he is one very good defensive shortstop or second baseman. In fact, he grades as a grade 60 defender. Perhaps even a bit higher.

Estrada is smooth as silk, has an excellent arm and has good and accurate carry on his throws. He also has the ability to play any infield position other than first base.

Estrada is the type of player that will have to learn how to hit quality pitching over time. He is not the hitting prospect of a Gleyber Torres, the Yankees brightest prospect. But it must be remembered that players like Vizquel and even Didi scuffled for quite a while before learning how to adjust to the quality pitching they were seeing in professional baseball. That may yet happen with Estrada. Because of their depth, it isn’t likely Estrada will be able to break into the Yankees middle-infield any time soon, but he may be able to carve out a utility role if he can hit even moderately.

There is no denying his strength is with the glove. Critics have pointed to a lack of range with Estrada. To the contrary. I have seen him make some outstanding plays in the Fall League going both to his right and to his left. If they weren’t as deep in the infield as the Yankees, I don’t think most managers would hesitate to use Estrada at shortstop or second base on a daily basis. However, his best position may very well be at second base. He has less ground to cover there and it really is a natural home for him.

Regardless of which middle-infield position he plays, I believe Estrada will save his team runs with his defense. He is the type of infielder that can be a late-game replacement to strengthen the defense and hold a lead.

The Yankees are rich in middle-infielders. Ronald Torreyes is an excellent utility quality infielder. Torres is on the cusp of stardom, pending a full recovery from recent Tommy John surgery. And of course, Gregorius and Starlin Castro form an excellent duo up the middle as starters. Tyler Wade is on the 40-man roster as a shortstop. Perhaps Estrada would make a good trade chip to lengthen the Yankees roster at another position.

Still under the radar, I project Estrada to surprise on offense, play quality defense at second base or shortstop and become a very sound every day major league infielder.

SCOUTING GRADE FOR ESTRADA: 50

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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. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff