A strong first half can position a prospect for big things. Conversely, a poor one can torpedo his season line and set back his development. In this piece we highlight one prospect from each group at each position at the approximate midway point of the minor league season.
Any player who appears in the 2015 Prospect Handbook is considered for the first-half stud category, but we limited the pool of first-half dud candidates to only those players who ranked among the Top 10 Prospects in his organization.
♦ First-Half Stud: Kyle Schwarber (Cubs)
The fourth overall pick in 2014 more than justified the Cubs’ belief that he owned the best bat in his draft class. Schwarber hit .320/.438/.579 at Double-A Tennessee in the first half to rank third in the minors with a 1.017 OPS and receive a brief June callup to Chicago to serve as DH in interleague play.
Also: Tom Murphy (Rockies) and Stryker Trahan (Diamondbacks)
♦ First-Half Dud: Justin O’Conner (Rays)
The 2010 first-rounder broke through with the bat in 2014, but he has given back that progress—and more—this season at Double-A Montgomery. O’Conner still hits for power, but an undisciplined hitting approach led to a .204/.228/.341 batting line that included a 69-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also had not addressed concerns about his receiving and blocking.
Also: Reese McGuire (Pirates) and Francisco Mejia (Indians)
♦ First-Half Stud: A.J. Reed (Astros)
Reed hit .331 and launched 18 homers and 17 doubles-plus-triples in the first half to produce a .612 slugging percentage that led all minor leaguers. Even after deflating his statistics to account for the high Class A Lancaster (and California League) boost, his production still compares favorably with any first baseman.
Also: Casey Gillespie (Rays) and Josh Bell (Pirates)
♦ First-Half Dud: D.J. Peterson (Mariners)
Despite producing 31 home runs at two levels in 2014, Peterson has not addressed concerns about his ability to drive the outside pitch by scuffling to a brutal .207/.288/.326 batting line with just four homers at Double-A Jackson in the first half. In the process he pushed his big league ETA back to 2016, at the earliest.
Also: Christian Walker (Orioles) and Matt Olson (Athletics)
♦ First-Half Stud: Tony Kemp (Astros)
First in batting average. First in on-base percentage. Last in height. That pretty much sums up the 5-foot-6 Kemp’s first half, in which he hit .361/.452/.416, mostly at Double-A Corpus Christi. He also stole 20 bases in 30 tries while drawing more walks (39) than strikeouts (30).
Also: Rob Refsnyder (Yankees) and Alen Hanson (Pirates)
♦ First-Half Dud: Avery Romero (Marlins)
A third-round pick in 2012, Romero’s career has unfolded in fits and starts, and after hitting .320 in 2014, his progress definitely slowed at high Class A Jupiter this season. He hit .256/.303/.293 with just five extra-base hits in the first half, while his defensive efficiency at second base also had deteriorated.
Also: Alex Yarbrough (Angels) and Forrest Wall (Rockies)
♦ First-Half Stud: Ryan McMahon (Rockies)
Rockies prospects who graduate from low Class A Asheville to high Class A Modesto, as McMahon did this season, face a dramatic shift in home-park contexts. So even though he went deep just six times in the first half, McMahon batted .293/.381/.478 with evident power based on his 32 extra-base hits and .193 isolated slugging percentage.
Also: Richie Shaffer (Rays) and Eric Jagielo (Yankees)
♦ First-Half Dud: Hunter Dozier (Royals)
For a batter lauded for his simple swing and line-drive approach, Dozier’s strikeout rate of 28 percent is more alarming than his .215/.287/.355 batting line at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. The Royals say the 2013 first-rounder’s confidence has taken a hit, leading him to press for results.
Also: Rio Ruiz (Braves) and Garin Cecchini (Red Sox)
♦ First-Half Stud: Carlos Correa (Astros)
Before he was the top rookie shortstop on the planet, Correa served as the top shortstop prospect on the planet—and arguably the No. 1 prospect overall. He sailed through two levels of the minors this season, batting .333/.405/.597 with 10 homers and 24 doubles-plus-triples, doing most of his damage at Double-A Corpus Christi.
Also: Orlando Arcia (Brewers) and Corey Seager (Dodgers)
♦ First-Half Dud: Domingo Leyba (Diamondbacks)
The D-backs have asked a lot of Leyba in 2014, pushing him to high Class A Visalia at age 19 and asking him to play shortstop every day for the first time as a pro. While he doesn’t have any one explosive tool, he’s a fundamentally-strong player who has a much higher natural talent level than his .225/.250/.271 batting line would indicate.
Also: Deven Marrero (Red Sox) and Matt Reynolds (Mets)
The 10th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Conforto showcased a broad offensive skill set as he advanced to Double-A Binghamton in the first half. He batted .308/.388/.506 with nine home runs, 21 doubles-plus-triples and a selective strikeout-to-walk ratio of 43-to-31.
Kepler signed for $800,000 out of Germany in 2009, and now six years later that acquisition is bearing fruit for the Twins. Still just 22, Kepler quickly reached Double-A Chattanooga this season and hit .330/.400/.532 with 30 extra-base hits, 12 steals in 15 tries and a sterling 29-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Also: Mark Zagunis (Cubs), Mike Gerber (Tigers), Domingo Santana (Astros) and Billy McKinney (Cubs)
As with many struggling prospects listed here, Renfroe encountered his first roadblock at the Double-A level, and now he must adjust his hitting approach to get back on track at San Antonio. Texas League pitchers have found a hole in Renfroe’s swing, holding him in check with a 24 percent strikeout rate and batting line of .244/.308/.378 with just five home runs.
Fresh off an Arizona Fall League batting title, Winker entered the season appearing as if he had recovered fully from his 2014 wrist injury—but he sure hasn’t hit like that’s the case. Winker hit a mere .248/.352/.349 with three home runs at Double-A Pensacola in the first half, even though he’s been healthy aside from a minor foot injury.
Also: Austin Wilson (Mariners), Gabby Guerrero (Diamondbacks), Mike Papi (Indians) and Alex Verdugo (Dodgers)
♦ First-Half Stud: Bradley Zimmer (Indians)
Zimmer’s name peppers the Carolina League leaderboard as the 2014 first-rounder has had no trouble adjusting to full-season ball in a tough league for hitters. He batted .300/.399/.488 with nine home runs and 27 steals in 31 tries at high Class A Lynchburg.
Also: Brett Phillips (Astros) and Byron Buxton (Twins)
♦ First-Half Dud: Teoscar Hernandez (Astros)
While Astros organization-mates Carlos Correa, Tony Kemp, Brett Phillips and A.J. Reed have seen their prospect value skyrocket in 2015, Hernandez has gone in the opposite direction. He hit just .203/.254/.316 at Double-A Corpus Christi in the first half as his walk rate (5.2 percent), strikeout rate (26.8 percent) and isolated slugging percentage (.118) all regressed from 2014 levels. Hernandez may have five fringe-average to average tools, but he lacks a carrying tool to secure him regular play.
Also: Albert Almora (Cubs) and Rosell Herrera (Rockies)
An unheralded lefthander coming into the season, the 24-year-old Boyd made quick work of Double-A and advanced to Triple-A Buffalo in mid-June, going 7-2, 1.26 in 14 first-half starts. The Blue Jays say the 2013 sixth-rounder tops out at 94 mph, throws a plus changeup and two average breaking balls. Boyd mixes them well enough to have recorded 8.6 strikeouts and 1.9 walks per nine innings in the first half.
Matz didn’t back down from a tough assignment to the Pacific Coast League, going 7-4, 2.19 through 15 appearances at Triple-A Las Vegas. The lefthander led the league in both ERA and strikeouts in the first half, recording 94 in 90 innings. Matz can reach back for mid-90s velocity and throw two quality offspeed pitches for strikes.
Nola pitched with uncanny command for a 22-year-old righthander in the first half as he made quick work of Double-A competition and advanced to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in mid-June. He locates a live mid-90s fastball and fine secondary pitches to befuddle opposing batters. He went 8-3, 1.76 in 13 first-half starts, striking out 7.3 per nine innings and allowing a 0.89 WHIP.
A 46-inning scoreless streak kicked off a breakthrough season for Snell, who went 7-2, 1.22 through 13 first-half appearances as he advanced quickly to Double-A Montgomery. He added a curveball to his three-pitch mix to give him another offering with different shape and velocity. The addition bolstered Snell’s bottom line because not many starters had a lower ERA or more strikeouts (88) through mid-June.
Also: Jose De Leon (Dodgers), Stephen Gonsalves (Twins), Sean Newcomb (Angels) and Alex Reyes (Cardinals)
Home runs haven’t been the problem for any of the pitchers listed here. Instead, they’re all allowing too many baserunners and not striking out enough batters to navigate all that traffic without the occasional big inning. Their first-half WHIPs say it all: Hursh (1.80 in 63 innings), Kolek (1.49 in 57 innings), Shipley (1.53 in 72 innings) and Stewart (1.49 in 54 innings). All four have first-round pedigrees and are capable of turning things around quickly, so stay tuned.
Also: Spender Adams (White Sox), Mark Appel (Astros), Henry Owens (Red Sox) and Tom Windle (Phillies)