“Pop-up guys” is a scouting term 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 ten players that are my professional “Pop-up guys”.
This list is a combination of players that have once again regained prospect status or have truly “Pop’d-up” from a name to a player.
1. Rafael De Paula (RHP – New York Yankees)
Last week, I profiled Rafael De Paula, the 22-year-old Yankees farm hand that is leading all of professional baseball with a 15.66 K/9 and is second to 2011 first round draft choice Archie Bradley in total strikeouts across the minor leagues. While De Paula is clearly old for his level, the arsenal is legit and gives De Paula a top-of-the-rotation ceiling.
His fastball sits in the low to mid 90’s with a lot of arm side run while his slider, hard curve, and changeup all grade out as above average pitches with the curve having a chance to be a plus offering. The command is also very good but De Paula, as with most young pitchers, can lose his release point and become wild.
De Paula should move quickly through the Yankees organization and I fully expect him to be in High-A sometime in June and if all goes well, could hit Double-A before the end of the season. Given his arsenal and age, De Paula is a must add in all long-term keeper and Dynasty League formats as he could very easily make his major league debut sometime in 2014.
2. Garin Cecchini (3B – Boston Red Sox)
Ok I cheated a little with Garin Cecchini as he’s not really a “Pop-up” guy, but I think it’s safe to say that he’s having a breakout season. In 121 at-bats in High-A, the 22-year-old is batting .372 with a ridiculous 1.134 OPS.
I had a chance to see Cecchini when I scouted John Lamb and he went 3-4 with two stolen bases and an opposite field home run on a 85 MPH fastball that was middle-out. The home run was an impressive at-bat as he battled Lamb fouling off a number of pitches until he got a ball he could drive. He didn’t try to pull the ball, but instead went where the ball was pitched and showed excellent opposite field power. While I was impressed with both the hit-tool and power to all fields, it was the two stolen bases that I was both excited about and a bit confused.
Cecchini is not a burner, in fact, he’s only got average speed, but watching him on the base path was a real treat. The guy can flat out read a pitcher’s move and while not blessed with great speed, will be a threat on the base path at the highest level. In fact, I don’t think last year’s 51 stolen bases will be an outlier as he’s got 11 already this year.
Expect Cecchini to be promoted to Double-A later this year and to be make a big move on my 2014 Top 100 prospect list.
3. Rafael Montero (RHP – New York Mets)
Rafael Montero started popping up in the later part of 2012 as he was the New York Mets minor league pitcher of the year. However, it wasn’t until March that he started showing up in mainstream publications after an excellent Spring Training.
How good has Montero been so far in 2013? He’s sporting a 10.41 K/9, a 1.16 BB/9, which equates to an incredible 8.97 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Montero has an above average arsenal that consist of a 92-94 MPH fastball, an 86-87 MPH slider with a nice two-plane break, and a change-up that should work. While the arsenal is good, it plays up given Montero’s ability to pound the strike zone.
Standing 6-foot and weighing 170 pounds, Montero is not a physically imposing pitcher. In fact, some scouts worry whether he’ll be able to handle the workload of a starter. However, so far, Montero continues to dominate and could see New York by mid-summer.
4. Anthony Ranaudo (RHP – Boston Red Sox)
Signed in the supplemental first round in 2010 for $2.25 million, the Red Sox expected big things out 6-foot-7 right-hander Anthony Ranaudo. However, the wheels fell off in 2012 after an early season groin injury and he never got going. The stat line included a 6.69 ERA and a 6.45 K/9 and a 6.45 BB/9 (this is not a typo – they are the same)
Fully healthy, Ranaudo is back on the map as he’s been dominating in his second spin through Double-A. In 39.0 innings, he has 1.38 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 10 walks. The velocity is back up to the mid 90’s and once again, he’s flashing a plus curve and change-up.
Ranaudo has the pedigree, arsenal and pitching mechanics to be a solid mid-rotation starter or more provided he can stay healthy.
5. Erik Johnson (RHP – Chicago White Sox)
Taken in the second round of the 2011 draft, Erik Johnson is following up a good 2012 campaign with an even better 2013 season in the Southern League. In 45.1 innings, he has a 9.33 K/9 and a 2.98 BB/9 and there are whispers in the scouting community that Johnson might be on a fast track to Chicago.
Johnson has an above average arsenal that consist of a 91-93 MPH fastball that has plenty of sinking action but not as many ground balls as you would think. The slider is his swing and miss pitch with tight rotation and a two-plane break. He also throws a change-up that grades out as average but given some deception in his delivery, right-handed batters are not picking up the ball well, so his splits are very good.
Johnson’s pitching mechanics are good with clean arm action and good balance. He does get nice extension and this is adding some life to his fastball as well as creating some deception. It’s all adding up well for the right-hander as he has very good command and is able to pound the strike zone.
The White Sox have a history of aggressively promoting their prospects and Johnson may fall into this pattern. He’s nearly big league ready and has a number three ceiling.
6. Adam Brett Walker (OF – Minnesota Twins)
Adam Walker was taken by Twins in the third round of the 2012 draft after a standout career at Jacksonville University where he led the team in 2012 in batting average (.343), home runs (14) and was second in stolen bases (19).
Walker stands 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds and has a traditional right-fielder profile. He has 80-grade raw power and has started to demonstrate that in the pitcher-friendly Midwest league by hitting 10 home runs in his first 139 at-bats. As with many power-hitters, there is length in his swing and some swing and miss (75% contact rate). He also is very aggressive at the plate, walking only eight times so far in the young season.
Walker is yet another name in the Twins growing list of young prospects that already include two of the game’s elite prospects: Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton.
Once a top prospect, Reymond Fuentes was overmatched last year as a 21-year-old in the Texas League – but what a difference a year makes. Through mid-May, he’s making more contact, getting on base at a .414 clip and causing havoc on the base paths to the tune of 17 stolen bases.
Fuentes is a reminder that not all gifted athletes rip through the minors like Mike Trout and start producing as a 20-year-old at the highest level. Instead, it takes time to recognize off-speed pitches and to learn the nuances of the game. Fuentes is starting to figure that out and is still only 22-years-old. He’s got plus-plus speed, is short to the ball and should eventually develop double-digit power.
While it’s still early, I expect Fuentes to continue to progress this year and build on his early season success. This could result in a mid-season promotion to Triple-A or a cup of coffee in the majors.
8. Tyler Glasnow (RHP – Pittsburgh Pirates)
Tyler Glasnow is listed at 6-foot-7 and 195 pounds. Let that settle in for a moment….yep, he’s tall and lanky.
Drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, the Pirates knew they were drafting a project but Glasnow is already starting to show potential in his introduction to full-season ball. While the control still needs work, as is evident by his 5.70 BB/9, he has electric stuff that is generating plenty of swing and misses (12.60 K/9). His fastball sits in the low 90’s but can hit 94-95 and he’s demonstrating the ability to spin a curve.
His pitching mechanics need work, but you expect that with a kid who is 6-foot-7 and still trying to grow into his body. The timing is not consistent resulting in an inconsistent release point and therefore control problems. However, Glasnow is athletic and if the Pirates are patient, Glasnow might have star potential upside.
9. Rock Shoulders (1B – Chicago Cubs)
In the annual Moniker Madness tournament run by MiLB to find the best name in the minor leagues, the 2012 winner was Rock Shoulders. In case you’re interested, he bested Caleb Bushyhead in the semi-finals before edging out Rougned Odor to win the entire tournament (if you sense bitterness, yes…I voted for Odor).
Maybe using this as a springboard, Shoulders has gotten out of the blocks very well in 2013, posting a .315/.399/.577 slash line.
As a first baseman, Shoulders is going to have to hit in order to make it to the highest level. While there is power in his leveraged swing, there is also plenty of swing and miss as he has a 73% contact rate in his first 130 at-bats. However, the eight home runs in the cold Midwest league is impressive and while I doubt Anthony Rizzo will be looking over his Shoulder (see what I just did there…), Rock Shoulders could eventually be an extra bat in the major leagues.
10. Alex Wood (LHP – Atlanta Braves)
Alex Wood did not make my Top 10 Braves prospect list as I just didn’t believe in the pitching mechanics. They are in a word – “Odd”. It’s a funky, all arms and legs delivery that ends with Wood hoping backwards on his landing leg. I ran the tape over and over again and just didn’t know what to make of it. I was convinced that the funky delivery would work in college and in the lower minors, but once he made it to Double-A, he would be relegated to the bullpen.
So far, I’ve been proven wrong as Alex Wood has been very, very good in 2013. In 38.0 innings, he’s given up two earned runs. I’ll save you from running to get your calculator – that’s a 0.47 ERA. He also has a 10.18 K/9 and a 2.13 BB/9. Clearly, the deception is working but so is Wood’s arsenal.
His arsenal is good with a 92-94 MPH fastball that has some sink and produces a nice ground ball rate. He also throws an improving slider and a plus change-up that has nice deception and downward movement. While there is a lot of effort in his delivery, his release point is staying consistent, so the control that he is exhibiting should be sustainable.
If Wood continues to dominate Double-A, a mid-season promotion to Gwinnett should not be far behind and then he’ll be a phone call away from Atlanta. If he does get promoted, the funky delivery should work, at least for a while…
Bonus: Drew Granier (RHP – Oakland A’s)
Ok, I know what you’re thinking…I’ve heard of most of these guys. Well, let me pull one more guy that is way off the grid – RHP Dew Grainer. Drafted in the 32 round as a college senior from Louisiana-Monroe, he’s getting plenty of swings and misses in the California League (11.00 K/9).
His arsenal is fastball heavy, where he throws both a two and four-seamer that he can pump up to the mid 90’s when he needs something extra. His slider and changeup are average but are currently working for him.
There are some negatives. The first is he doesn’t have the ideal pitching frame at 6-foot and 180 pounds. Secondly, his control is average at best. That said, his mechanics are not terrible and more of his control problems seem to be stemming from the movement that he gets off his pitches.
Look, Granier doesn’t have a ceiling of an all-star performer, more like a middle reliever. But as a 32-second round flyer that the A’s drafted for organizational depth, that’s pretty darn good.