The Minor League season kicked off last Thursday and a number of the MiLB's best talents are off to scintillating starts.
First, we'll dig into the weekend's best starting pitching performances. Then, onto the hitters. Enjoy!
(All Stats Current Through Sat. 4/12/15)
Carlos Rodon starred in his first minor league start of the season, building off a strong spring training (17 2/3 innings, 3.06 ERA, 21 SO, 5 BB) striking out a career high nine batters over five innings. After the start, Rodon told The Charlotte Observer his "fastball command was real good" but "his slider wasn't at its best...(and) the changeup was a lot better." This is excellent news for fantasy owners because fastball command and the development of a third pitch have been the knocks against Rodon. His slider draws unanimous praise -- it's been anointed an 80-grade offerning at various points. Given his past commnand issues, many observers thought Rodon would start his major league career in the bullpen (a la Chris Sale). But, if he continues to limit walks and miss bats, it's more likely he enters the White Sox rotation relatively soon (of note -- White Sox Director of Player Development Nick Capra said he'll only pitch between 100-120 innings this season). It's one start, but make sure that index finger has reached peak quickness, because it may not be long before you will need to click the "add" button next to Rodon on your waiver page.
While Rodon's outing is the most relevant for fantasy owners, it wasn't the weekend's best. That honor goes to Jose De Leon, a 22-year old pitcher in the California League. Heading into 2015, De Leon is the Dodgers' sixth-best prospect (according to Baseball America). The 2013 24th round pick wasn't considered much of prospect until he posted video-game like numbers in Rookie Ball and the Midwest League (2014: 77 innings, 2.22 ERA, 119/21 SO/BB). His breakthrough has been credited to losing a considerable amount of weight, all the while improving his mechanics. He now pairs a mid 90's fastball with a hard-biting slurve that gets an ample amount of whiffs. If De Leon continues to dominate the California League -- one of the minors' toughest pitching environments -- he'll become a name on the tip of every prospect-guru's tongue.
Ran 24th-round pick Jose De Leon up to No. 6 on the Dodgers prospect list this year. Struck out 10 of 17 batters faced tonight. He's legit.— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) April 10, 2015
At Double-A, the Twins' Jose Berrios dominated the Montgomery Biscuits (Rays) for 6 1/3 innings, striking out 11 hitters and walking just one. Depending on who you talk to, the short righty is potentially a front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher or a bullpen ace. Personally, I bend towards the former -- based purely on video and scouting reports -- because (a) I think he has plus mechanics and (b) he's 20, and has already achieved success in the high minors. In fact, he's pretty much been the youngest player at every level he's played. The Twins aren't expected to do much this year, so even if Berrios is ready, he'll probably get a full-year of seasoning in the upper minors before making his debut.
I'm told Rays Hi-A LHP Blake Snell was up to 97 mph tonight w/improved command, leading to 10K/0BB over 6 IP. Building on a breakout spring.— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) April 10, 2015
Two pitchers in High-A had double-digit strikeout games: Blake Snell (Rays) and Alexander Reyes (Cardinals). According to Baseball America, Snell is the Rays' 9th best prospect heading into 2015; but he may have already increased his projection significantly. Fangraphs' Kiley McDaniel tweeted out that Snell hit 97 mph with his fastball last week, which is three full miles per hour faster than his previous top. Snell is already 23, so he could be in for an early-season promotion if he continues to dominate the Florida State League. Alex Reyes, on the other hand, was both Jekyll and Hyde in his opener. Dr. Jekyll recorded 10 punchouts in less than five innings; Mr. Hyde walked three hitters and allowed four earned runs. The well-built righty boasts one of the minors' best fastballs, often approaching 100 mph with it. It's paired with a sharp 12-to-6 curveball that he uses as an out pitch. It's a very sexy package, but he'll need to rein in the command/control to continue as a starter.
It took Kris Bryant 12 at-bats and three games to hit his first home run at Triple A, validating the Cubs decision to start him in the minors. Jokes aside, Krush Bryant will most likely be in the majors in but another week, and he hasn't cooled off much since leaving Arizona (see below).
Something's cooking in Double A Chatanooga (Twins) this spring, although it may not be fit for consumption just yet. Jose Berrios did his piece, but let's check in on Berrios's teammates, the Twins' top two prospects, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Unlike Berrios, Buxton and Sano offered a mixed bag over the weekend. Both hit home runs, but they also struck out a combined 14 times in 28 PA (um, 50%). Rust is understandable, though. Sano missed the entire 2014 season with Tommy John Surgery and Buxton missed most of the season with a wrist injury, concussion and a dislocated finger during the Arizona Fall League. The good news is both are healthy and in the upper minors, on what appears to be the most talented team in the minors.
In Corpus Christi, two Astros prospects are off to hot starts: Carlos Correa and Teoscar Hernandez. Correa's already hit five doubles in three games and GM Jeff Luhnow told MLB Network Radio that he and system-mate Mark Appel could be lifted straight from Double A to the majors if they're deemed ready. Teoscar, though not as highly-regarded as his teammates, collected extra base hits this weekend too -- two doubles and a home run. Hernandez can play all three outfield positions and he continues to rake, like he has at every level, he could displace a struggling Jake Marisnick or Colby Rasmus as some point this season. I recently ranked him the 8th-best stolen base threat in the minors.
Luhnow on Carlos Correa and Mark Appel "we're not gonna hesitate to bring them straight up from double-A if the need arises"— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) April 9, 2015
Top-100 prospects Manuel Margot (Red Sox) and Ryan McMahon (Rockies) were excellent too. Margot -- who checked in at No. 5 on my Top-10 dynasty stolen base threats -- flashed his plus stealing ability, going 3-for-3 and nabbing two bases in his 2015 High-A debut. As Baseball Prospectus's Jeff Moore put it in his Minor League Update, "(Margot) is yet to ascend to a level in which he’s not the most talented player on the field, and he may not have found it in Salem either." He's likely to face his first true test at Double A Portland at some point this summer. Ryan McMahon, who checked in as our No. 9 power-hitting prospect a few weeks ago, began his assault on the Cal League this weekend, hitting two doubles, a triple and home run in Modesto's first away series in Lake Elsinore. McMahon is poised for a huge season at High-A, but try not to fall too in love with the numbers because Cal League can be deceptive.
Until next week.