2018 Carolina League Top 20 Prospects Chat

Image credit: Khalil Lee (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

DR (Baltimore): 

    Is the Lowther omission due to him being primarily a deception/command guy, and concerns over how he’ll get more experienced hitters out?

J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. Thanks for coming out and we’re glad you are enjoying our League Top 20 prospect lists. We’ll keep rolling these out for the next couple of weeks all the way down to the AZL and GCL. With Lowther, his omission is because he’s a deception/command guy whose stuff often tails off in the middle innings of games. There is zero doubt that his fastball has extreme deception and plays above its radar gun readings but there are games where his fastball is sitting 86-88 in the middle innings. It’s hard for anyone to break into the big leagues and have success as a starter sitting in those registers, no matter how good the command and deception is.

Cubs (Internet): 

    What went wrong with Aramis Ademan’s season? Certainly he was ranked highly in the system due to it being a weak system, but this has to be a step back for him, right?

J.J. Cooper: Ademan’s season derailed quickly. He just looked overmatched all season to the point where scouts who were getting their first look at him asked why he was so highly regarded coming into the season. That said, a lot of it seemed to revolve around him being physically overwhelmed by the speed of the game in a bigger, stronger, faster league. He seemed to be worn out not all that long into the season and it didn’t get better. There are still some tools there and the feel/understanding of the game is OK, he just has to get stronger.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): 

    Ernie Clement hit a solid 346 with twice as many walks as strikeouts. Of course that’s a lot better than he did at his other two stops this summer in lower and higher levels. Does he project as a big leaguer, maybe as a utility guy if not more?

J.J. Cooper: I’d actually be surprised at this point if Clement is not a big leaguer. Debated long and hard about including him on the list. Clement is a all-hit, no-power middle infielder who has one of the largest gulfs between hit/power as you will find, but some of that is based around his approach. While most hitters now emphasize getting to their power, Clement’s setup and swing is all geared to getting to contact. He can actually hit the ball harder than his 2 HRs in nearly 600 pro at-bats would indicate. He most likely ends up as a useful 2nd division/backup middle infielder, but there is reason to think he can stay at shortstop and he makes tons of contact. Those two things together make for a useful big leaguer. And with the way EVERYONE finds more power in the majors these days, he could end up bumping that 20 power grade up a little bit as he matures.

Dan (Wilmington): 

    What do you make of Chase Vallot’s season? Another lost year due to injuries mixed with poor performance (though he hit better in Idaho Falls). Is he even a “prospect” still?

J.J. Cooper: Vallot always faced skepticism because he’s a poor defensive catcher, but for him to have a path to the big leagues he has to hit. He didn’t do that this year, and while he’s posted solid OBPs, he’s never mashed to the levels expected of a true 1B/DH before this year. At this point he’s facing an uphill battle as the best assignment he can hope for next year is likely a return to Wilmington for a third time. He’s going to have to really hit and hope a third time is the charm. When the Royals Top 30 rolls around, I’m not so sure he’s going to be on it.

Elliot (Youngstown OH): 

    JJ, I know relievers don’t usually make the Top 20s, but I wonder what you think of James Karinchak. He zipped through three levels and was very impressive in his Carolina stop. Could he advance a couple more steps and be working in the back of the Cleveland bullpen by this time next year?

J.J. Cooper: There were some very good RPs in the league this year. You are very correct that it is hard for a reliever to crack a Top 20, but here are some names to remember. Karinchak–92-95 mph fastball that grades as at least plus and an above-average curveball. He and Dalbert Siri (see below) could reach Cleveland in 2019 or early 2020. Dalbert Siri (teammate of Karinchak)–Mid-90s fastball, and the fastball because of deception. Hitters just do not see it. Doesn’t have a true second pitch yet, but the fastball could be really special. Emerson Martinez (Down East)–Fastball-changeup-cutter combo where all three are promising. Jairo Beras (Down East) — conversion from outfield has a big arm and not a lot else just yet, but there is a massive amount of arm speed there. Velocity is all over the map because he’s working on smoothing out his delivery, but he’ll touch high 90s at his best. C.D. Pelham (Down East)–Great FB/SL combo, as you probably all know because he was in the Futures Game and in the majors now. Anthony Gose (Down East)–Pretty much a fastball velo guy right now, but former big league OF can throw 95-97 from the left side. James Borque (Potomac) — Big-time fastball (upper 90s) and a hammer curveball. Could move fast. Ronald Pena (Potomac) — Upper 90s/100 mph fastball, developing slider that flashes average. Carlos Acevedo (Potomac) — Heavy 91-95 mph sinker.

Rob (Alaska): 

    I love top 20 season! Great stuff, and quite a bold statement today that Anderson Tejeda and Leody Taveras have flipped outlooks. Can you say more about this? Thanks!

J.J. Cooper: It was hard to find anyone who watched both of them in the Carolina League who thought Taveras was the better prospect. I’m not promising we’ll have them lined up this way for sure when the Rangers Top 30 comes out, but for this league (using league context), it’s hard to not put Tejeda far ahead. Tejeda had an excellent season. He’s a SS who can stay at the position (he has an outstanding arm) and he has legit power. It will be interesting to see a further development. In instructs he’s working on hitting righthanded against lefthanders. That’s actually his natural side (he also throws righthanded), but when he was working out as an amateur he had a sore wrist that prevented him hitting from his right side. He’s never gone back to RHH until now. That could be a useful development as Tejeda’s OPS was nearly 400 points lower against lefties than righthanders last year. Plenty of Taveras questions here, so I’ll talk about him in another question.

Tyson (DC): 

    What is the consensus opinion on Nationals Ben Braymer? Threw a no hitter this year in Potomac and started and relieved.

J.J. Cooper: There’s a lot to like here. His velocity ticked up as the season went along (touching the mid-90s at his best) and his breaking ball is a plus pitch.

DH (PA): 

    Luis Robert has missed a bunch of time. How much has that hurt him? Sounds like significant concerns but still a high ceiling. What kind of player is likely?

J.J. Cooper: That’s a fair assessment. There was a lot of rust, which is understandable, but there also was less polish than expected. Scouts thought he would have been better staying in Kannapolis, which is not something anyone expected when the season began. And while he has the tools to be a very good center fielder one day, he is going to need to put in a lot of work to get there, as he right now takes some bad routes.

DH (PA): 

    Are there clear tiers in this top 20? How does this league compare to the FSL and Cal league?

J.J. Cooper: Normally, the Carolina League has been a tick below those other two leagues largely because of size (less teams equals less prospects). But the switch of two teams from the Cal League to the Carolina League has helped even that out. It’s a solid but unspectacular year for the Carolina League this year. We gave it 2 stars, which means we saw it as a little less than average for the league.

Malik (Brooklyn): 

    Alex Lange or Cory Abbott going forward? I have to admit that Abbott surprised me quite a bit this season.

J.J. Cooper: Can make the argument for Abbott, which surprises me too. Abbot has a fastball/slider combination that could be pretty solid coming out of the pen. It was harder to find pro scouts who were enamored with Lange. Pro scouts aren’t giving him credit for what he did in college. They are watching what he is now and what he often is now is a pitcher throwing a below-average fastball with a reliever’s delivery as a starter. If he can find 3-4 mph that was often missing this year, he may project as a reliever, but I had multiple reports that he was sitting 88-90 this year. His secondary stuff, delivery and command aren’t good enough to make up for a 40 fastball.

Brian (Davenport): 

    Jonathan Arauz was as good in the MWL as he was bad in the Carolina league. Any idea what caused his struggles? What do you expect for him going forward?

J.J. Cooper: His numbers were terrible with Buies Creek but even as he was struggling, evaluators liked his defense. Even those scouts who doubted his bat thought he could be a utility infielder because of his glove. I do think he’s a better hitter than he showed in Buies Creek. He has an understanding of the strike zone and his swing isn’t awful.

Bored Lawyer, Esq. (East Coast): 

    What led to Rutherford/Gonzalez getting the nod over Basabe?

J.J. Cooper: It’s close. Not a lot of separation there. I found a guy or two who prefered Basabe. Basabe is probably the safest bet to be a big leaguer, but is most likely to be a fourth outfielder. Rutherford is the kind of well-rounded player who sometimes ends up exceeding projections because of his feel/understanding of the game. He’s a better hitter than slugger, but he hits a lot of solid line drives. Scouts think of him as a guy with a lot of 50s. Gonzalez and Basabe have more defensive versatility, but a little less bat.

Barry (Georgia): 

    Is Leody Taveras ever going to live up to the hype he had or has his prospect dimmed considerably?

J.J. Cooper: He’s quite young so I’d say this can be considered a mulligan. Guys have bad years, which definitely fits a description of Taveras’ season. He was still an excellent defender, one of the best in the league in CF. He still knew how to tell a ball from a strike. But there was just zero whip in the bat. When he hit the ball, nothing happened. And he was beaten by fastballs that haven’t beaten him in the past. He probably needs to come back to the league next year and try again.

Tyler Ivey (TX): 

    Was I close to the list? I had an outstanding year.

J.J. Cooper: Yes, he wasn’t far off. Plus curveball and enough fastball. The delivery isn’t easy, but he finds the strike zone and can locate his curve and his fastball.

Dusty (Colorado): 

    I could see the Rangers going all in on a Wander Javier trade to build for the future. If that’s the case, where would Wander Javier rank on this list? 1 or 2?

J.J. Cooper: I am both annoyed by and admire your persistence.

Joe (Chicago): 

    What are your thoughts on two Chicago SS prospects that did not make the list: Aramis Ademan and Laz Rivera?

J.J. Cooper: I wrote about Ademan above, so let’s cover Rivera. He profiles more as a utility infielder than an everyday shortstop, but he plays shortstop well enough to be a true utility which means he can play shortstop in more than just an emergency role.

Chris (DC): 

    Darwinzon made it over Salem rotationmates Bryan Mata (numbers not great, but just 19) and Tanner Houck (improved once he went back to the two-seam, but maybe hurting his long-term projection). What did you hear about them and were they close to being ranked?

J.J. Cooper: By multiple accounts, Mata needs to get stronger. Scouts saw Houck as a future useful reliever. Neither was that close to cracking the 20.

Cubs Fan (NC): 

    Bailey Clark was solid in a long relief role until he got hurt…and then finished strong and is headed to AZ fall league. Does he look better as a starter/long reliever…or would the FB/Slider combo be worth a shot as a closer type?

J.J. Cooper: I thought he was a reliever going back to his days at Duke. Nothing has really changed since then on that assessment from my reporting/what I’ve seen. He’s a potentially useful reliever, but as you noted, health is a key part of being a successful pitcher.

Jake (State Farm): 

    Ronnie Dawson’s numbers were underwhelming in the Carolina League but is there anything to like there?

J.J. Cooper: Yeah. Better defender than expected. His swing is very geared to hitting the ball out of the park, but he needs to make more solid contact to make that work. Buies Creek does slap down balls to the power alleys, so that is a cause for hope with his lack of power.

J.J. Cooper: Thanks everyone. Sorry I only have an hour, but we have a book to send to the printers and a magazine (Rookie/SS league Top 20s) that is rounding into form. Thanks again to our subscribers as you make this all possible.

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