“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.
WE SAW THIS COMING
Ozhaino Albies (SS, Atl, Low-A)
Ozhaino Albies got a ton of helium over the off-season and despite being a young 18-years-old (he turned 18 in January), the Braves challenged him to a full season assignment in Rome. He hasn’t disappointed slashing .307/.366/.393 in 34 games.
Albies calling card is his ability to make contact with an approach that is beyond his years. He has plus speed that combined with his ability to get on base, makes him an ideal top-of-the-order hitter. Currently there is very little power in the diminutive shortstop, but he has plenty of bat speed that should eventually allow him to hit 5 to 10 home runs as he matures.
If you’re worried about Albies being blocked at shortstop, don’t. First, he’s at least two to three away from the Braves having to make a decision and his defensive ability will easily transition to second. In fact, the profile reminds me of another diminutive second baseman playing in South Texas.
Alex Reyes (RHP, STL, High-A)
I aggressively ranked Alex Reyes number one on the St. Louis Cardinals Top 10 in hopes that his control would improve to justify the ranking. While there is still work to be done, he’s shown at time the ability to throw strikes over the course of an entire game. While the 5.09 BB/9 rate would make you question that statement, it’s more about his mechanics breaking down than something fundamentally wrong with his delivery.
The athleticism is clearly there and once his control catches up, Reyes has the stuff to make him a top-of-the-rotation mainstay. He has a powerful fastball/curve ball combination that has dominated Florida State League hitters throughout the early going. While his fastball sits 94 to 96 MPH, he can ramp it up to the upper nineties when needed. The results have been impressive. In 35.1 innings, he’s given up 19 hits while striking out 58.
In addition to the Cardinals working on Reyes control, they have also been working with him on his change-up. The early results have been encouraging with one source telling me that the arm speed between his fastball and change-up is hard to distinguish. The scout threw a future 60 plus on the offering.
It’s going to come down to Reyes ability to control his arsenal. If he can’t, he could wind up in the pen with an arsenal to be a dominate closer. However, the Cardinals will continue to work with him and given his athleticism, I think he’ll remain a starter, and if it comes together, it could be very special.
Orlando Arcia (SS, Mil, Double-A)
Everyone is talking about three minor league shortstops that could make significant impact to their teams this year or next. Of course, those players are: Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Corey Seager. However, I contend that 20-year-old Orlando Arcia is not that far behind the “Big Three” and deserves more attention.
As one of the youngest players in the Southern League, Arcia has been impressive; posting a .901 OPS in 36 games. His 10K/11BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in 133 at-bats is quite impressive and demonstrates Arcia’s ability to make contact. While he’ll have below average power, he should be able to hit five to eight home runs at the highest level with plenty of doubles. Arcia is not a burner but has excellent base running skills with the ceiling of 25 to 30 stolen bases.
Arcia is not the far away from making his big league debut. Of course, the Brewers already have a young shortstop under team control in Jean Segura. However, Arcia is a better defender and I could easily see the Brewers moving Segura to second base in 2016 once Arica is ready to make his big league debut.
Brett Phillips (OF, Hou, High-A)
Brett Phillips is a baseball player. He’s going to be the guy on the front of the media guide (oh wait that’s Jose Altuve), ok…back of the guide, because he’ll quickly become a fan favorite. He plays the game with tons of energy and is literally all over the field. That said, Phillips also has plenty of tools. In fact, you can argue that Phillips is a five-tool player with the only tool that might not be above-average is his power.
Phillips has a short compact swing that is built for contact. He’s been more aggressive this year with only eight walks in 147 at-bats. However, his 82% contact rate and .885 OPS shows the kind of hard contact he’s been making. While he has plus speed, it’s not shown up on the bases as he’s only four out of nine in stolen base attempts. What he has shown is five home runs in 35 games. While some of that is likely Lancaster-induced, it does show the potential that Phillips has long-term.
The Astros are aggressively promoting players and this will have a trickle down affect throughout the organization. That should be good news for Phillips as he should see Double-A in the second half with a chance to see Houston in 2016. He could also be an interesting trade chip if the Astros remain competitive through the summer.
Edwin Diaz (RHP, Sea, High-A/Double-A)
Taken in the third round of the 2012 first year player draft, Edwin Diaz convinced the Seattle brass that he deserved a promotion to Double-A after completely dominating the California League. In seven starts, he struck out 42 while walking nine and posting a 1.70 ERA. He did avoid the brutal southern circuit on the Cali League that includes the difficult pitching environments of Lancaster and High Desert. That said, he was arguably the top pitcher in the league and deserved the promotion.
While it was only one outing, Diaz pitched poorly. His control that had been so good in High-A vanished and when you put players on base, they have a tendency to score. It was one outing, so I’m not worried and neither are the Mariners.
Diaz has good stuff as his fastball hits the mid-90’s regularly but generally sits 92 to 94 MPH. His slider is his primary out-pitch, although he’s throwing a lot more change-ups and consequently the pitch has taken a major step-up. While the arsenal is good, what makes Diaz effective is his low three-quarters delivery. Batters, particularly, right-handed batters do not pick up the delivery well. While there is deception, many times pitchers with a lower delivery wind up in the pen. I doubt the Mariners will make that decision this year or next as they will continue to develop him as a starter.
PLAYERS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT
Jose De Leon (RHP, LAD, High-A/Double-A)
As of this writing, Jose De Leon has just been promoted to Double-A. It was clearly well deserved as the 6-foot-2 right-hander from Southern College was nearly unhittable in his 37.2 innings in the California League posting a 1.67 ERA with a ridiculous 58K/8BB strikeout-to-walk ratio. While you do expect a college pitcher to be effective against High-A batters, it does come as a surprised given De Leon’s 24th round selection in the 2013 first year player draft.
De Leon was an effective college pitcher, posting a 3.50 ERA and over a strikeout an inning. However, he struggled with his control at times and walked over 3.50 per nine. The stuff was ok with his fastball tapping out at 93 to 94 MPH with fringy secondary pitches. Two years latter, he’s developed better mechanics which has allowed his fastball to tick up a grade with much improved secondary pitches. The fastball now routinely sits 92 to 94 MPH with a lot of natural sinking movement.
For more information, read my first hand scouting report.
Chih-Wei Hu (RHP, Min, High-A)
Chih-Wei Hu is one of those players I love to write about, primarily because nobody has heard about him. Signed out of Taiwan by the Twins in 2012, Hu has made impressive strides this year to completely dominate the Florida State League. In 35.0 innings, he’s given up 23 hits while striking out 36 and walking only six.
Hu is a sturdy 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds with a three, perhaps a four pitch mix if you separate his change-up from his splitter. His fastball sits 91 to 93 MPH but when he needs something extra, can dial it up to 95 MPH. Despite being only 6-foot-1, he does get decent plane on the pitch and is able to locate it in the bottom half of the zone. He throws an 11 to 5 curve ball that grades out as above-average because he’s able to effectively throw it for strikes. His money pitch is a plus, perhaps double-plus change-up/splitter. It’s the pitch that had Florida State League batters swinging and missing with regularity.
The potential warning sign for Hu is that the prospect landscape is littered with young pitchers who dominated the lower minors with a plus change-up, only to fail once they are promoted. However, the splitting action that he gets on the change-up is really hard to pick-up and after seeing him live, I think it will play once promoted to Double-A. When will that be? You have to think very soon.
I’ve added Hu to all of my Dynasty Leagues and suggest you do the same. People are always looking for sleepers…well, here you go.
Blake Snell (LHP, TB, High-A/Double-A)
What’s been the more impressive stat this year, Manny Margot going 68 plate appearances before striking out, or Blake Snell pitching 46 innings without giving up a run? It’s a tough call, but as of this writing Snell has still yet to give up a run and has been one of the more talked about prospects over the past two weeks.
I was on Snell when he was drafted in the Supplemental first round in 2011 and added him to all of my Dynasty Leagues. Of course, I grew weary of the slow roasting process the Rays employ with their prospects and dropped him last year. Clearly a bad move but the performance really wasn’t there as well. Snell always had a good arm with a sinking fastball that creates a ton of ground ball and a plus slider that can get plenty of swings and misses. What’s improved in 2014 is Snell’s feel for pitching, including his pitch sequencing. He has a game plan on the mound, studies batters tendency and is making the necessary pitches.
Snell will eventually give up runs and the control is still not plus, or even above average. However, with his improved pitchability and plus work ethic, he has a chance to be a solid mid-rotation starter. When will he make his way to the majors? It’s the Rays, so it will be at least 2016, if not 2017.
PLAYERS I’M GETTING TO KNOW AND SO SHOULD YOU
Dustin Peterson (OF, Atl, High-A)
Better known as the younger brother of Seattle prospect D.J. Peterson, Dustin is showing signs of growing into a legitimate major league prospect. Traded as part of the deal that brought Justin Upton to the Padres, the Braves quickly moved Peterson off the dirt and into the outfield after committing 38 errors in 301 chances in 2014.
He’s likely a left fielder and therefore he’s going to have to hit to make it to the majors. He has the swing path, size and bat control to profile as an above-average hitter with above-average future power. He’s also shown a more patient approach so far this year, walking 14 times in 120 plate appearances while striking out 21 times.
He did start off hot last year as well before posting a pedestrian .635 OPS in the Midwest league. It’s for that reason that I would put Peterson on my radar with a potential pickup in late June for deep Dynasty League only.
Jake Bauers (1B, TB, High-A)
Jake Bauers made my “Kids that can really hit” article last year and guess what…he can really hit. Now part of the Rays organization, Bauers has a 21K/19BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in 143 plate appearances. He’s also doing it as the second youngest player in the Florida State League.
I compared Bauers to a James Loney type of player with the big question around how much power he will develop. It’s still an open question, but so far he’s slugging .459, which is good for tenth in the league with four home runs.
Brent Honeywell (RHP, TB, Low-A)
While most prospect watchers have noticed what Tampa Ray farm hand Blake Snell has been doing this year, they might be overlooking how effective Brent Honeywell has been in Low-A.
Selected in the Supplemental Second Round of the 2014 first year player draft, Honeywell has been very effective in his 38 innings in Bowling Green. He’s struck out 46, walked a mere seven batters while giving up 20 hits. While he’s a college pitcher, albeit junior college, his stuff is too advanced for Low-A hitters and he needs to be promoted to High-A to see how his stuff will play to more advanced hitters.
I do have some concerns about his arsenal. While he has a quality 91 to 94 MPH fastball with an above-average, if not plus slider, he pitches up in the zone as is evidence by his 0.93 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio. This might work in the lower minors, but it could eventually catch up to him, particularly as his velocity settles as he matures.
BACK ON TRACK (KIND OF)
Trevor Story (SS, Col, Double-A)
I had a chance to see Trevor Story play multiple times across 2013 and 2014 and it wasn’t good. He really struggled picking up spin and the pop that I had heard about, just wasn’t there. I did like the athleticism and his ability to pick-it at short, so I did not write him off, but he fell off my Top 100 list.
Promoted to Double-A, Story has had a resurgence this year. The power that scouts thought would develop is in fact starting to emerge. In the early going, he’s slugging .615 with five home runs in 35 games in the Eastern League. He’s also added six stolen bases. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he’s still striking out a lot. In 129 at-bats, he’s struck out 41 times for a 69% contact rate. Through the magic of Batting Average of Balls in Play, his batting average is .349, but it comes with an unsustainable .465 BABIP.
I’m still torn on Story. I think the upside is a 20 home run, 15 stolen base, shortstop but it could come with a .240 batting average and a sub .300 on base percentage. If that happens, he will struggle with playing time with a Danny Espinosa type of career on the horizon. That’s a good player, but not an impact player.
Mason Williams (OF, NYY, Double-A)
I’ll admit that I gave up on Mason Williams in my Dynasty League. I’d seen him so many times that I grew weary of the lack of energy and tools that just seem to be wasting. After seeing him twice this year, I’ve started to come around and think that he still has a chance to be a regular contributor at the major league level.
Williams still has the tools that I fell in love with several years ago. He has plus speed, can really go get it in center field, with a decent approach that’s always allowed him to make good contact. He showed improved bat control and improved energy in all aspects of the game. What is still missing is the ability to make hard contact. In fact, in 32 games, he has five extra base hits. He has strength, it’s just that his swing lacks incorporating his lower half.
That said, he makes this list because he was once an elite prospect and I think he’s showing signs of life.