League Top 20 Prospects

2012 Eastern League Top 20 Prospects Chat With Matt Eddy

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Matthew Eddy: Thanks for sending your Eastern League questions. Let's get started.

    Ben (Leland Grove): A bit surprised not to see Trevor May this year. Is command his own worst enemy? If not, what else does he need to work on?

Matthew Eddy: Phillies RHP Trevor May was one of the final cuts from the list, so that's a good place to start. As you probably know, May led the EL with 151 strikeouts (but also 78 walks) and flashed three major league-caliber pitches at times. He generates terrific power on his curveball, peaking near 80 mph, and his changeup took a step forward this season. The case against May continues to be his command, because his max-effort delivery can make executing his offspeed pitches a challenge. Most scouts see his future in the bullpen, where his fastball velocity would play up, his command would be less of an issue and he could keep hitters guessing with a varied arsenal.

    Lisa (San Francisco): How far did Gary Brown's stock drop since this time last year?

Matthew Eddy: Giants CF Gary Brown still has the type of tools to profile as a starter — plus or double-plus range and speed — but his struggles at bat this year make it fair to question his offensive ceiling, and whether he can be a first-division player. With his hot steak at midseason, Brown showed that the ability to hit is present, so don't write him off yet.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Do you believe Anthony Rendon will start 2013 back in Harrisburg, or could the Nats fast track him to Syracuse? Did he impress those you talked to during his limited amount of playing time in the EL?

Matthew Eddy: Given Rendon's extensive injury history, his struggles at Double-A this year (.162 in 21 games at the end of the year) and the fact that the Nationals' infield appears set for the next season or two, I'd expect Rendon to begin 2013 back in Harrisburg. He's the real deal, and health permitting he could be in Washington at some point late next season or in 2014.

    Eric (Baltimore): Do you believe Machado will shift back to SS next season?

Matthew Eddy: Yes, I believe Machado will be Baltimore's regular shortstop at some point in the next two seasons. This will be a fun storyline to follow. The conservative course of action would call for the Orioles to start Machado as shortstop with Triple-A Norfolk next season, then look to trade J.J. Hardy in July (he's under contract through 2014) and install Machado at short in Baltimore. Of course, if they don't acquire another third baseman, and Machado looks ready to contribute, they might just keep him at the hot corner until they trade Hardy. Much like keeping Mike Trout out of center field deprived the Angels of some of his value, keeping Machado off shortstop will reduce his value.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Just how close was it for the top pitcher's spot on this list between Wheeler and Cole? That ranking will likely raise a few eyebrows among your subscribers.

Matthew Eddy: This was the most difficult call to make with the EL rankings, and I went back and forth with the decision. After polling about a dozen scouts, managers and front-office execs, I settled on Mets RHP Zack Wheeler as top pitching prospect in the EL. The consensus opinion was that while Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole's fastball and slider grade out a tick above Wheeler's, those surveyed felt that Wheeler had a higher probability of reaching his ceiling as a front-line starter. He command his fastball better and can get outs with the pitch even in hitter's counts. They also pointed to the fact that Wheeler has improved dramatically just in the past year — adding a slider and a changeup and improving his control — while Cole is largely the same pitcher he's been since first being drafted out of high school. Some even said they wouldn't be surprised if Cole turned out to be an all-star closer.

    Tim (Manhattan): How would you rank the relievers of the Eastern League? Montgomery/Olmsted/Rondon/Black etc?

Matthew Eddy: You hit on the top four, plus Harrisburg RHP Hector Nelo has premium arm strength and probably will get a shot with some big league team at some point. Tigers RHP Hector Rondon made the EL Top 20, and scouts like him as a future closer candidate. Among the others, I'd bet on Yankees RHP Mark Montgomery having the brightest future (good low-90s velo, tough slider), followed by Pirates RHP Victor Black (sinkerball reliever with swing-and-miss slider) and Red Sox RHP Mike Olmsted (a bit of a sleeper with mid-90s velo, but slider needs work).

    Zach (MN): What is Aaron Hicks' ceiling? And, could you see Hicks or Arcia making the big league club out of Spring training provided the Twins make a few roster moves to strengthen their lack of organizational depth in pitching by trading good players with great contracts, like Span and Willingham, at a position of relative depth (thus freeing up a few OF spots to compete for and adding a few arms) and expediting the start on their massive rebuilding process? Or would this hinder their development in your opinion? Thanks for the chat!

Matthew Eddy: The comp for Twins CF Aaron Hicks that made the most sense to me was Dexter Fowler. Both are tall, lean, athletic, switch-hitting center fielders who can run and defend. Both also are natural righty hitters, and if Fowler turns out to be a sensible comp, then Hicks may not fully mature as an offensive player until he's about 26 — or three years from now. At any rate, Hicks will go on the 40-man roster next month, and I'd expect him to spend most, if not all, of 2013 with Triple-A Rochester. On the other hand, RF Oswaldo Arcia might get a look in the second half next season. He'll be on his second minor league option in 2013, and with his advanced hitting approach he ought to make a relatively smooth transition to the majors.

    Dave (Akron, OH): Hi Matt! Thanks for the chat. Did any Akron Aeros garner any consideration or mention? Not many bat prospects, I know, but a they seemed to have a handful of very good arms like Salazar, House and some bullpen prospects.

Matthew Eddy: LHP T.J. House lacks a standout pitch, but he's lefthanded and throws enough strikes to get a chance with somebody at some point. The top prospects on Akron might turn out to be SS Juan Diaz or RHP Loek Van Mil. Diaz is a tall, lanky player with good hands, defensive actions and raw power. He might get a look as a utility type or backup, but the ceiling doesn't appear to be too high. The 7-foot-1 Van Mil's pitches grade out well, but he just doesn't miss enough bats to feel confident he'll be a high-leverage reliever.

    Phil (Levittown NY): If Zack Wheeler gets off to a hot start next year will the Mets promote him to the big leagues?

Matthew Eddy: Hard to say what the Mets will do now that their Triple-A affiliate will be in Las Vegas instead of Buffalo. We saw that RHP Matt Harvey really benefited from his time with the Bisons prior to making his big league debut this year, but New York may accelerate Wheeler's timetable a bit to avoid exposing him to the Pacific Coast League for too long.

    Steven Alengakis (NYC): Hi Matt. Are Melky Mesa, Corban Joseph, or either of the Almontes on Trenton viewed as anything more than second-division regulars/reserve players? Whast kind of impression did they make on EL managers and scouts?

Matthew Eddy: CF Melky Mesa can do many things — run, throw, defend, hit for power — to help his team win a single game, but over the course of a season he might not make enough contact for his tools to play or profile as a first-division starter. CF Abe Almonte is a plus runner, defender and astute baserunner who probably will be somebody's fourth outfielder some day. RF Zoilo Almonte doesn't really have a separating tool, but his raw power will earn him a look or two. The best prospect with Trenton, and one of the final cuts from the EL list, is RHP Brett Marshall, a groundball-oriented starter with a good sinker and feel for his slider and changeup. He doesn't light up a radar gun, but he spots his fastball to both sides, runs his slider up to the mid-80s and has good arm speed on his change. Phillies RHP Jon Pettibone received more attention because of his youth and 6-foot-5 frame, but Marshall is a similarly-skilled pitcher.

    Tim (Pittsburgh, PA): Has Chris Herrmann's defense improved enough to the point where he could be a reliable back-up catcher to Joe Mauer in Minnesota?

Matthew Eddy: Yes, Twins C Chris Herrmann could forge a long career as a backup/occasional starter in the big leagues. He's a lefty hitter with some pop and some feel for the strike zone, which combined with his solid defensive tools make him a pretty solid backup, maybe along the lines of George Kottaras. Or maybe a bit better.

    Greg (London, ON): Did Robbie Grossman get any support amongst scouts? Does he project to be a starting OF at the major legue level?

Matthew Eddy: Scouts generally liked what they saw from Altoona CF Robbie Grossman (he's now an Astro after begin included in the Wandy Rodriguez deal), though they didn't think the glove (in CF) or the bat (on an OF corner) were loud enough to play every day for a first-division club. He's athletic, has command of the strike zone and a smidgen of power, so expect Grossman to settle in as a part-time player.

    Chris (Boston, MA): Were there any Fisher Cats close to making the top 20?

Matthew Eddy: In addition to CF Jake Marisnick, the best bet among Fisher Cats to make an impact in MLB is probably Blue Jays RHP John Stilson, a 2011 third-round pick who signed late and jumped to Double-A at the mid-way point of his debut season. The delivery isn't textbook, but he throws hard (93-95 mph) and backs it up with a changeup and curve that grade as at least average. He may get a look in the Toronto rotation initially, but don't be surprised if Stilson settles in at the back of the bullpen.

    Phil (North York): Looking strictly at the numbers, it doesn appear Jonathan Schoop had a great season. However, it appears that he was one of the youngest players in the league. Was this factored in to his top 20 ranking?

Matthew Eddy: Yes, Orioles 2B/SS Jonathan Schoop's youth made it easier to overlook a pedestrian batting line of .245/.324/.386, though he did crack 14 homers as a 20-year-old middle infielder in a pitcher's league. More than one observer thought he his offensive ceiling could make him an impact second baseman in the big leagues.

    Ben (Philly): I'm curious where Tyson Gillies fell as this list was getting cut down? He performed nicely at the plate when healthy.

Matthew Eddy: Phillies CF Tyson Gillies shows promising tools and skills, though his erratic behavior (including a run-in with a team bus driver this year that resulted in a suspension) and injury history (especially to his lower half) cause many to question whether he can reach his ceiling. Gillies has terrific speed and could be a disruptive force as a leadoff hitter if everything breaks right for him.

    James Arnott (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada): Does Brian Goodwin make it to Washington prior to April 2015. Does he project more as a big league regular or as an all star?

Matthew Eddy: I don't know if I'd throw a future all-star tag on Nationals CF Brian Goodwin, but his bat ought to play as a quality regular, provided that he sticks in center. He could raise his prospect profile significantly with a strong season in Double-A next year, and I'd expect him to do just that.

    James Arnott (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada): Is Jackie Bradley going to be the starting centre fielder for the Red Sox in April 2014 or not? If not, what is his ETA?

Matthew Eddy: All signs point to Yes. With no setbacks in 2013, then CF Jackie Bradley could succeed Jacoby Ellsbury in Boston if/when the latter departs as a free agent after next season.

    Angelo (Philly, PA): Hi Matt, With Ruiz having such a great year and facing free agency next year do you think Joseph will spend this year in AAA and then take over as the starter in 2014 or will Phil sign Ruiz to an extension and then Joseph becomes his caddy for a few years ?

Matthew Eddy: The Phillies state publicly that Tommy Joseph, Sebastian Valle and Cameron Rupp all will compete for starting catcher jobs at Triple-A and Double-A next year. I wouldn't necessarily expect any of that trio to log meaningful time in the big leagues until 2014, however. Joseph may receive a second-half callup next year to caddy with Carlos Ruiz, as you say, and even in 2014 the Phillies may elect to pair him with a veteran catcher on a one-year deal.

    Mick (Chicago): Does Jeff Kobernus have to go to a different org to get a chance?

Matthew Eddy: That's entirely possible. With the Nationals, 2B Jeff Kobernus would fall after Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon on the depth chart. Some scouts believe he could be a fringe-average starter at second base, with much of his value derived from his on-base skills, speed and basestealing acumen. Kobernus doesn't generate any power because his swing features no separation, and his defensive actions can be stiff, so he's not a slam-dunk starter at the keystone.

    DH (Pittsburgh): Do you suppose Castellanos is in the OF for good? He's losing enough development time that it may be difficult to move him to 3B even if the position did open up. Right? Seems like the move decreased his value.

Matthew Eddy: By shifting Castellanos to an outfield corner, the Tigers seem to be tacitly saying that they believe his bat will be ready for the bigs well ahead of his defense at third base. (The Royals and Nationals made similar shifts with Wil Myers and Bryce Harper, moving them from catcher to the outfield in order to facilitate their offensive development.) As to Castellanos, he'll continue to learn to play right field in the Arizona Fall League and in spring training, and if everything clicks for him he could be ready for Detroit in the second half next year. The Tigers have proven repeatedly that they're not an organization afraid to challenge young players — see Avisail Garcia, Jacob Tuner, Rick Porcello, Ryan Perry straight out of the draft, etc.

    Cy (western Mass): Hi Matt, Drake Britton: legit prospect or tease? Thanks

Matthew Eddy: By ranking him ahead of other talented prospects such as Yankees RHP Brett Marshall, Phillies 1B Darin Ruf, Phillies RHP Trevor May and Pirates RHP Kyle McPherson, I'm betting that Red Sox LHP Drake Britton will forge a productive big league career. Whether that's as a mid-rotation starter or as a set-up reliever, I can't say, but his late-season strides encouraged the Red Sox — and other organizations, too. Four-pitch lefties with velocity and size, like Britton, typically can find work in the big leagues. I've set aside his performance in the Carolina League and come to terms with the fact that few pitchers develop in a linear fashion, and with lefties, sometimes there are no rules.

    Andrew (Minneapolis): Any buzz around Orioles RHP Mike Wright? He didn't have a great ERA upon promotion to the Eastern League, but does he have a major league future regardless?

Matthew Eddy: This is a good place to close. Yes, Orioles RHP Mike Wright did generate some prospect buzz despite a 4.91 ERA over 12 starts. The 2011 third-rounder from East Carolina made a big jump to join the Baysox in his first full season, so his struggles are understandable. Wright's sinker/slider mix ought to play as at worst a reliever, but his makeup, control and arm strength give him a chance to start.

Matthew Eddy: Great questions today. Thanks for your interest in Baseball America and the Eastern League Top 20 Prospects list.