“Pop-up guys” is a scouting phrase that is used this time of year to refer to players in which the general public has little to no knowledge, but are now considered legitimate prospects for the first-year-player-draft. Since I primarily scout players already in professional ball, I’m going to profile 13 players that are my professional “Pop-up guys”.
This list is a combination of players that are already on the prospect landscape but have jump substantially in status or are not yet household names and should be. It should be noted that we are not necessarily high on all these players but each has made substantial noise in the early going of the season.
PLAYERS YOU SHOULD ALREADY KNOW
Mookie Betts (Bos, Double-A, 2B)
Mookie Betts was ranked as my number 79 overall prospect entering 2014 and technically is not a “Pop-up” guy. However, based on what he has done in Double-A, he’s a name that needs to be discussed…daily…if not hourly.
He has been in a word – sensational. In 150 at-bats, he has a slash line of .393/.462/.607 with an 13K/17BB strikeout-to-walk ratio. His streak of reaching base in 71 straight games finally ended on Saturday May 17th. When Betts was asked about the streak, he simply said he would start a new one. You know what? Nobody would be surprised if he did it again.
The performance has not just been statistical in nature as he’s demonstrating an impressive approach at the plate while making hard contact to all fields. While he does have six home runs to-date, his size and swing path point to a 10-12 home run prediction at the highest level.
In most organizations, there would be cries of when Betts will be promoted to help the major league club. However, this is Boston and they have some guy named Dustin Pedroia playing second base and is signed for the next six years. So, Mookie is blocked and needs something to change for him to see the major leagues. That might have began on Sunday May 18th as Betts started at center field for the Portland Sea Dogs. I’ve him play in the outfield there during batting practice, but it appears that the Red Sox may now be formalizing that. Of course, that begs the question of how long will it take for him to learn the position. Yeah, that’s a real good question…
Clearly, Betts is a must own in all Dynasty League formats and has a chance to be a Top 20 prospect by years-end.
Joey Gallo (Tex, High-A, 3B)
I was never that high on Joey Gallo as I believed the swing and miss would be so great that his prodigious power would be left at Batting Practice. So far this year, Gallo has silenced his critics as he shorten up his stroke without losing his plus-plus power. The result is a minor league leading 17 home runs and a 68% contact rate.
Yes, the 68% contact will not translate into a .300 plus batting average, but he has excellent plate discipline that should provide a .330-.350 OBP to go along with a .240-.250 batting average with the potential to hit 40 or more home runs annually. That will play more than enough.
While his 6-foot-5 frame would indicate that his ultimate position is not at third and is instead as a power hitting right fielder, I wouldn’t rule third out. He’s athletic and has decent foot work and a plus arm.
While I missed on Gallo, I’m trying to right the ship and get onboard. I do worry on how well he will hit in the upper minors, but the adjustments he has made in the Carolina League are indeed impressive. As a fantasy option, that kind of power in Rangers Park – I’ll let you fill in the blank…but it’s very, very good.
Trevor Bauer (Cle, Triple-A, RHP)
Another guy I wasn’t high on, particularly after he lost his velocity last year, was Trevor Bauer. But give Mr. Bauer some credit, he re-worked his delivery over the winter and is back to hitting the mid-90’s with his fastball and so far this year, has been dominate. In 46.0 innings, he has a 44K/14BB strikeout-to-walk ratio and has limited the opposition to 36 hits.
He never lost the secondary stuff and therefore his strikeout rate remained high throughout his struggles. However, his violent delivery coupled with his fear of attacking hitters; probably because of his lost velocity, drove his pitch count high with walks and ineffectiveness. However, that seems to be a thing of the past and the pitcher that won the Golden Spikes Award after the 2011 season, has his career in high gear.
Bauer made one start this year in Cleveland and was equally dominate and should spend the remainder of the year in the big leagues with a chance to be very, very good. He should be owned in all fantasy leagues.
Hunter Harvey (Bal, Low-A, RHP)
I ranked Hunter Harvey as the number 59 prospect in the minor leagues entering the season and was ridiculed by many as being overly optimistic on the teenage from North Carolina. However, after seven starts in which he’s posted a 3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio with 19 hits in 39 innings, the rest of the industry is starting to see that Harvey has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter and also move quickly.
The arsenal is impressive with a fastball that sits 92-94 MPH and a plus hammer curve that is already a weapon. He still needs to work on his change-up and command, but the mechanics suggest that both should improve with repetition.
I expect the Orioles to move Harvey to High-A during the second half and given his advanced arsenal, I would expect him to continue to dominate. If all goes according to plan, he could start 2014 in Double-A and be poised to be one of the best pitching prospects in the game. I continue to be all-in.
PLAYERS FIRMLY ON THE RADAR
Alex Reyes (Stl, Low-A, RHP)
Alex Reyes was listed as our 2014 emerging prospect for the St. Louis Cardinals and while he’s been inconsistent, he’s shown flashes of being a top-of-the-rotation talent.
The arsenal is impressive with a fastball that he can comfortable run up into the mid-90’s with a curve ball that has improved from last year. The mechanics still have a ways to go and explains his bouts of wildness; but he’s athletic and I always bet on the athlete.
The Cardinals will likely go slow with the New Jersey native and I would expect him to spend most, if not the entire season in Low-A. The Cardinals will focus on harnessing his arsenal as well as working on his change-up. Given his progress, Reyes has a chance to sneak in the back half of our 2015 Top 100 prospect list.
Dalton Pompey (Tor, High-A, OF)
Being drafted in the 16th round of the 2010 draft, Dalton Pompey hasn’t enjoyed the uber prospect status that many others have in the Blue Jays organization. In 2014, that changed.
Pompey is already considered an elite defender, winning the minor league gold glove for his play in center field in 2013, but his bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline have taken a noticeable step-up this year. In 145 at-bats, he has a 30K/17BB strikeout-to-walk ratio with a slash line of .331/.406/.483. He’s also hit three home runs and stolen 17 bases while being caught but one time. While the swing lacks leverage, he does have strength in his 6-foot-1, 170 pound frame and 10-15 home run power is not out of the question once he fully matures.
Michael Lorenzen (Cin, Double-A, RHP)
Coming out of college, many thought that Lorenzen would be drafted as an outfielder as that was his primary position in college. However, the Reds loved his arm and how he handled the closer duties at Cal State Fullerton and moved him to the bump.
He spent his entire first year in the minor leagues as a reliever, closing four games along the way. The Reds decided to move him to the rotation to start the 2014 season and so far, it’s worked. In 46.2 innings, he’s posted an impressive 2.51 ERA with 31 strikeouts and 14 walks while giving up 40 hits; and doing it in Double-A. He’s primarily a two-pitch pitcher with a plus fastball that he can run up into the mid-90’s and a hard slider that generates plenty of swings and misses. He’ll need to continue to work on his change-up in order to neutralize left-handed batters.
The arsenal as it stands today, still screams bullpen but we have received reports that his change-up has improved. From a fantasy standpoint, it doesn’t matter. If he doesn’t succeed in the rotation, the arsenal will play very well as a closer down the road.
Gabriel Guerrero (Sea, High-A, OF)
It’s hard to write about Gabriel Guerrero and not mention that, yes, he is related to that other Guerrero. In fact, his game has a lot of the same free-swinging attributes that Vladimir’s game had. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. He does have great hands and premium bat speed like his famous uncle, but will he be able to hit the ball off his shoe-strings? Not likely.
While his five home runs in High Desert is not all that impressive, the bat speed and swing path suggest that he could eventually hit 20 plus home runs. There will be strikeouts and less than a 10% walk rate, but he should also sting the ball enough to prop his batting average with a high BABIP.
I’m not ready to call Gabriel Guerrero a potential star, but he’s definitely somebody to put on your radar. The real test should come in the second half when he will likely be promoted to Double-A.
Ben Lively (Cin, High-A, RHP)
Ben Lively has the most impressive stat line in baseball in 2014. In 48.2 innings, he has a 61K/5BB strikeout-to-walk ratio with a 0.74 ERA and 0.66 WHIP. He’s given up a measly 27 hits! The problem is he ceiling is likely a number three starter or more likely, a back-of-the-rotation starter.
He is dominating through a funky delivery but not plus stuff. The fastball sits 92-93 MPH with just average secondary pitches. Because of the funk in the delivery, he is able to get away with living up in the zone. Will this play as he moves to the next level? Not likely but you never know.
I would be a seller of Lively in a Dynasty League, playing up the crazy 12.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Teoscar Hernandez (Hou, High-A, OF)
I had a chance to scout Teoscar Hernandez during opening day weekend in Lancaster. Besides Carlos Correa, he was the best player on the field that also included 2013 first round pick, Hunter Renfroe. He has an intriguing power/speed combo that has allowed him to slug .528 through 39 games with five home runs and 12 stolen bases.
This season, he has become more aggressive at the plate but that has not stopped him from working 20 free passes in 159 at-bats. His swing can get long at time so there will likely be swing and miss in his game. However, as he fills out, it’s not crazy to project him to hit 20-25 home runs and steal double digit bases. From both a fantasy and real-life baseball, that should play just fine.
Josh Hader (Hou, High-A, LHP)
While highly touted prospects, Vince Velasquez and Lance McCullers have anchored the Houston High-A Lancaster pitching rotation, it’s been left-hander Josh Hader who has the best pitching line of the three.
Hader is a lot of arms and legs coming at you with a fastball that sits 90-92 MPH but plays up given his low three-quarters delivery. He does throw a curveball but given the angle from which he pitches, he could be better served to introduce a slider into the arsenal. He does have a tendency to lose his release point, but when he’s on, he can be very difficult to square up.
Prospect361 stepped out when making Josh Hader their 2014 emerging prospect and he’s done just that. His upside is a number three starter or a very nasty lefty specialist reliever. He’ll probably be moved to Double-A before the end of the season and could see time in Houston in late 2015.
Since we are talking about the Houston Astros organization, I’ll briefly touch on the 2014 number one overall prospect, Mark Appel. It’s been a disappointing season for the 22-year-old right-hander. He started the season late after having his appendix removed and then he just did not pitch well in the Astros two pitcher format (two starters pitch four innings every fifth day; one starts on the first rotation and then the two pitchers switch the next time out). Wisely, the Astros pulled him back to Extended Spring Training to put him on a schedule in which he’s more comfortable. I would guess he’ll work every fifth day once he returns to competitive action.
Appel has the stuff to be a solid number two pitcher in the big leagues. Has Jonathan Gray and Hunter Harvey passed him in the draft class? Probably, but fans and fantasy owners should not get discouraged as once Appel returns to action, he could move very quickly.
Peter O’Brien (NYY, Double-A, C)
While everyone is marveling, and rightly so at the tremendous home run totals by Joey Gallo and Kris Bryant, Peter O’Brien is right there in the mix with 14 bombs. In fact, after hitting 10 in 30 games in the favorable pitching environment of the Florida State League, he was recently promoted to Double-A and has already hit four homes in six games. Even more impressive, all four have been at Arm and Hammer Park in Trenton; one of the more difficult places in the minor leagues to hit a home run.
Since Trenton is “my home park”, I will lay eyes on him before June and will write-up a full scouting report. The reports I have received have not been favorable on his catching ability, but the raw power appears to be for real. It’s unclear whether he could move to right-field. One thing that is clear – he’s a New York Yankee, so that means he’ll likely see New York from the visitor’s dugout.
Jake Thompson (Det, High-A, RHP)
The Detroit Tigers minor league system ranked as one of the bottom five in all of baseball, and if we were to re-rank the organization today, they would still be the case. However, 20-year-old Jake Thompson is doing his best to push the Tigers minor league system into relevancy. He’s been one of the more impressive performers in 2014, striking out 41 in 45 innings while walking only 13. That’s helped him to post a 1.80 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP
The stuff is good, not great with a fastball that sits 90-92 MPH with a slider that could be a nice out pitch. Despite the early success, for me, this profile is one of a back-of-the-rotation starter. It’s a similar profile to Brandon Maurer, Erik Johnson, and Dan Straily. Fantasy owners will get excited and start snatching him up, but I would hunt elsewhere.