Elite Prospects Take Final Steps At Triple-A

Dave Dombrowski isn’t afraid to trade prospects. He proved that over 14 years as general manager of the Tigers and has reaffirmed that reputation with the Red Sox since 2015. No matter how lofty the expectations, minor league prospects in Dombrowski’s farm system can expect to hear their names in trade rumors.

When the Tigers needed an ace in 2014, Dombrowski pried lefthander David Price from the Rays for lefty Drew Smyly and teenaged shortstop prospect Willy Adames. Then last offseason, with the Boston rotation seeking a No. 1 starter, Dombrowski submitted the top bid for White Sox lefty Chris Sale. That package was fronted by the reigning Minor League Player of the Year, Yoan Moncada, as well as righty Michael Kopech, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and righty reliever Victor Diaz.

Moncada ranks as the No. 1 prospect in the game, and Adames is six spots behind him at No. 7 overall. Both players rank among the youngest—Moncada, 22, is roughly three months older than Adames, 21—in the Triple-A International League.

Moncada has stood out for a long time, both for his tools and the $62 million the Red Sox committed to acquire him out of Cuba before the 2015 season. While learning to play third base last season, Moncada rocketed from high Class A to the major leagues in a matter of months. At Triple-A Charlotte this year, he’s focusing on sharpening his skills at second base in the hopes that the next time he gets called up it will be for good.

“He’s very solid right now (at second base),” said Charlotte manager Mark Grudzielanek, a longtime big league second baseman. “I’m getting him to move his feet a little bit and change up a few things around the base—shorten him up, tighten him up and make him a little bit quicker. But there are some things there. His raw tools are all there.”

Of course, Moncada does most of his head-turning when he’s at the plate. Built like a linebacker, Moncada combines strength with elite bat speed to create prodigious raw power. It hasn’t translated into high home-run totals in the minors yet—he has hit 31 in 244 minor league games. That lack of manifest power was evident at Double-A Portland last year, too, when his hitting coach Jon Nunnally noted a reason in Moncada’s swing that might be causing the disparity between his raw power and what shows up in games.

“It’s just a matter of him getting extension through the baseball,” Nunnally said. “He would cut some of his swings off and (the ball) would just get a lot of top spin, so the ball just wasn’t carrying. But once he started getting through the baseball for a little bit more extension, his back side and everything would get through. The ball just started jumping off his bat.”

The most tantalizing offensive prospects in the game are those who have potential as threats at the plate and on the basepaths. Moncada fits that definition perfectly. Besides the well above-average raw power, he also has been one of the most prolific base burglars.

Moncada has 107 steals and been caught just 17 times in the minors. His plus speed only rounds out what is a tantalizing tool package.

“He has all the tools,” Grudzielanek said. “(He’s a) switch-hitter, he can run, he’s just got to grow a little bit. He’s got to get a little more experience, a few more reps.”

While Moncada was a polished, nearly ready major league commodity when the White Sox pulled the trigger on the trade in 2016, the same couldn’t be said for Adames.

Adames was just 18 years old and in the midst of his full-season debut at low Class A West Michigan when the Rays dealt Price to Detroit. The Tigers signed Adames out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, two years before trading him.

Unlike the White Sox, the Rays were taking a gamble on a raw player with potential who might turn into something special down the line.

“He had a projectable body back then, and you could see there would be growth in it,” Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. “Certain guys, they’re not going to grow the way you like, and certain players you can see will. He had that body when he first came to us, so that was a wonderful attribute. His arm’s gotten better. Everything’s gotten better on him.”

But the Rays’ attraction to Adames went beyond his physical tools. They also took into account his work ethic, the way he interacted with players and the way he carried himself. They were struck by how mature Adames was at just 18 years old.

The same is true today. It’s plain to see how at ease Adames is in Triple-A even as one of the league’s youngest players. During one game, a little girl with seats next to the Durham on-deck circle asked Adames to get a hit for her. He didn’t get the hit, and used his next time on deck to playfully apologize.

“In the next at-bat (I told her) ‘Oh you put so much pressure on me,’ ” he said. “I was just having fun.”

The character the Rays saw in Adames also showed up in how he reacted to early struggles in Triple-A. Through the first two months at Durham, Adames hit just .230/.309/.344 with two home runs. Instead of dwelling on his struggles and perhaps burrowing himself into a deeper hole, Adames worked diligently in the batting cage and the video room with his coaches to make adjustments.

“Willy has skill and really good intangibles. He’s coachable,” Lukevics said. “His attitude’s good. His aptitude’s good. He’s always willing to work.”

Premium prospects will be dealt at the trade deadline this year. Sometimes those prospects are blocked in an organization by an established and productive major league veteran, and sometimes the player in return is too good to pass up with a potential spot in the playoffs on the line.

When it’s time to pull that trigger, the team dealing away the major league star has to be absolutely certain the prospect they receive in return is going to impact their future. The White Sox and Rays are confident that Moncada and Adames fit that bill, and those players are only one step away from proving them right.

Comments are closed.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone