Ask BA: Heaney Headlines Southpaw Prospects

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Of the 13 players getting Biogenesis-related discipline today, only one still qualifies as a prospect: Mets outfielder Cesar Puello. He ranked No. 77 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list entering 2011 before leveling off the next two seasons. He has rebounded in 2013, putting up .328/.405/.550 slash stats with 16 homers and 24 steals in Double-A at age 22.

Puello, who now must serve a 50-game suspension, is one of the top position prospects in a Mets system that’s light in that regard. He has impressive tools, including above-average speed, raw power and arm strength, though he still must make more consistent contact.

I’d guess that New York will welcome him back after his suspension, because it needs outfielders and he could crack the big league lineup by the end of 2014. I also wouldn’t attribute his strong season solely to performance-enhancing drugs, because his name surfaced in connection to Biogenesis in March and I’d assume he made certain to stay clean afterward.

Who are the top five lefthanded pitching prospects in baseball, with ceiling as the primary consideration?

Jim Kubinski
South Bend, Ind.

The best lefty prospect in baseball isn’t a professional yet. North Carolina State’s Carlos Rodon is the favorite to go No. 1 overall draft, and he looked spectacular in his final Team USA outing of the summer. But he’s not eligible if we only consider pros, and neither are Tony Cingrani, Martin Perez and Tyler Skaggs, all of whom exhausted their prospect eligibility this season.

When I was compiling my top five, the lack of quality lefthanders in the minors became apparent. I like all five of these guys, but a top 10 would have been a stretch:

1. Andrew Heaney, Marlins
Slider and command are his best attributes, owns 34-inning scoreless streak.
2. Max Fried, Padres
Best high school southpaw to come out of the draft since Clayton Kershaw.
3. Henry Owens, Red Sox
Control needs refinement but he gets swings and misses with his fastball, breaking ball, changeup.
4. Danny Hultzen, Mariners
Reclaimed his polish this year but shoulder issues have sidelined him since June 27.
5. Jesse Biddle, Phillies
Not overpowering but misses bats with his fastball and curveball.

Mets righthander Noah Syndergaard has been dominant since being promoted to Double-A, posting a 1.98 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts versus just 2.0 walks per nine innings. He ranked 23rd on Baseball America’s Midseason Top 50 Prospects list. Could he rank significantly higher if he keeps this up? Despite posting better numbers at a younger age, he never has been ranked as highly as Zack Wheeler. Does Syndergaard have less upside but simply posts better numbers because he’s more polished? Syndergaard received a BA Grade of 60/High in the 2013 Prospect Handbook. What would you give him now?

Izzy Hechkoff
New York

Syndergaard’s Double-A performance is in line with how he has performed since the Blue Jays took him with the 38th overall pick in the 2010 draft. He now has gone 21-11, 2.47 as a pro, with a 309-78 K-BB ratio in 281 innings. Toronto may rue the R.A. Dickey trade that cost it Syndergaard and the game’s best catching prospect (Travis d’Arnaud) more than the Giants regret the Carlos Beltran deal that sacrificed Wheeler.

I was going to write that Syndergaard never generated quite the buzz that Wheeler did at the same stage of his career . . . but that’s not true. Wheeler was 19 when he signed as the No. 6 overall choice in 2009, and he ranked No. 49 on BA’s Top 100 Prospects list the next spring. Snydergaard was just 17 when he was drafted, and after his age-19 season in 2012 he ranked 54th on the Top 100.

So at a similar age, Syndergaard and Wheeler were equally well regarded. Wheeler dropped to No. 55 after his abbreviated pro debut as a 20-year-old, while at the same point Syndergaard jumped to 23rd on our Midseason Top 50. His performance shows no sign of slacking off, so I’d expect that Syndergaard will rank somewhere in the same range in our next Top 100—considerably higher than Wheeler was at the same stage.

Syndergaard’s stuff seemingly continues to get better while he maintains his advanced feel for pitching. He has pitched more regularly in the mid-90s this year, and he also has added power and consistency with his breaking ball. His future looks just as bright as Wheeler’s, and his superior pitchability makes him a better bet to succeed. I’d enhance Syndergaard’s BA Grade to 65/Medium.

What are your thoughts on White Sox righthander Erik Johnson? What is his realistic ceiling? He has excellent numbers this season in both Double-A and Triple-A, but it seems he isn’t talked about much.

Alan Johnson
Chicago

Newly acquired outfielder Avisail Garcia will lose his prospect status as soon as he gets one more big league at-bat, after which Johnson can make a legitimate claim to being the White Sox’ top prospect. The top starter on California’s 2011 College World Series team, he signed for $450,000 as a second-round pick that summer. He has gone 16-7, 2.35 with a 190-61 K-BB ratio in 203 pro innings, and the only thing that has slowed him down was a mild bout of shoulder fatigue at the start of 2012.

Johnson’s realistic ceiling is No. 3 starter. His best pitch is a lively 90-96 mph fastball, and his top secondary offering is a mid-80s cutter/slider. He also throws a curveball and a changeup, and he possesses solid control. The White Sox system gets little publicity because it’s one of the worst in baseball, but Johnson is a legitimate prospect deserving of more attention.

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