Each year after we publish our preseason Top Prospects List, we publish a pair of follow-on articles we call the “Next Wave”. One covers position players (which we covered last week), the other covers pitchers (this article). These are prospects who didn’t make our top 30, but who are nonetheless worth keeping an eye on.
You may be asking yourself, “Are there really prospects worth watching who aren’t even among a single team’s top thirty guys?” If you are, I’ll answer with an illustration.
Looking at pitchers, among the names we covered in our 2014 edition: one reached the majors, two are now in our current Top 30, and another three received votes and just missed the current list. In other words, at any given time, there are at least a handful of players in the system that aren’t on anyone’s top prospect lists that will climb their way into the picture at some point during the year.
Who will jump out from under the radar in 2015? Here are 13 possibilities…
LHP Brian Clark was the last pitcher out of our Top 30, and would be ranked 32nd if we went that deep in our list. Drafted in the 9th round in June, Clark has a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, a slider that drew raves in pre-draft looks, a 2-seam sinker and a change-up. The big lefty handled the hitter-friendly Pioneer League effectively in his draft year as a 21 year old: 3.35 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.6 BB/9, 9.7 K/9 in 15 games (9 starts). He’s likely to continue as a starter in 2015, probably with Class A Kannapolis for his age 21/22 season, though the development of his change-up will dictate whether he ends up starting or relieving long-term.
Another lefty, Jefferson Olacio has been the poster child for extremes between potential and execution. On the one hand, he’s a 6’7″ lefty who can bring mid-90’s heat and breaking pitches that flash huge movement, while pitching very young for level. On the other hand, his mechanics (and resultant velocities) are wildly inconsistent, he’s got control issues, gets hit hard when he leaves pitches without movement, and seems to show up each spring with an entirely different body. In 2014 he was moved out of the rotation to the bullpen for A+ Winston-Salem (58 K, 65 H, 31 BB in 55.2 IP), was promoted to AA Birmingham anyway (13 K, 19 H, 8 BB in 14.1 IP), and struggled mightily in the Arizona Fall League (4 K, 14 H, 9 BB in 8.1 IP). Focusing on a couple pitches as a reliever is the right move at this point, and ideally he should be back at Advanced A, though he could return to AA.
Claimed off waivers from the Dodgers, lefty Onelki Garcia is a bit of a mystery and has an unusual back story. He missed most of 2014 due to an elbow surgery (non-TJ) and knee injury, but his stuff has intrigue: a low-to-mid 90’s fastball with good movement, a curveball that Baseball America called the best in the LAD system in 2012, and a change-up. He did see the majors in 2013, though for just three games out of the bullpen. It’s hard to say what role he’ll be in or where he’ll be assigned, though AA or AAA are the best bets, likely as a reliever.
Another pitcher who missed most of last season due to injury, RHP Adam Lopez has garnered significant prospect attention at times, including MLB.com ranking him as high as 11th in the White Sox system in 2013. Keith Law mentioned him as a guy to watch just recently as well. Lopez has strong command of a fastball runs 91-94 (T95) with some late tail, a slider in the 83-85 range with lots of 2-plane movement, and a change-up that started looking very effective in 2013. Given he’s now 25 with just 7 innings above Class A, this 6’5″ righty should spend time at AA at some point in 2015 if he’s going to stay on the prospect track (though he may have to start the year at A+).
Sticking with the intriguing-arms-after-injury theme, Brandon Brennan missed the latter half of 2013 and a big chunk of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery and recovery. Drafted in the 4th round by the White Sox, Brennan was considered raw coming in, having just one year of college ball under his belt. The pitch repertoire is similar in some ways to Chris Beck, relying heavily on a sinking fastball in the low to mid 90’s, and his slider that has plus potential. He did look pretty strong this past season in his return to action, pitching across Rk, A and A+: 2.94 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, 6.5 K/9 and a nice 2.16 GO:AO in 14 starts (67.1 IP). Going into his age 23/24 season, this righty probably opens the year in Winston-Salem’s rotation, but he could be in Birmingham.
6’8″ RHP Kyle Hansen made the transition from starting to the bullpen for 2014, and the move agreed with him. He posted strong overall numbers with Advanced-A Winston-Salem (1.33 WHIP, 8.4 H/9, 3.5 BB/9, 9.1 K/9) including a very strong final month at that level (15.2 IP, 10 H, 0 R, 8 BB, 18 K), and was promoted to AA for a brief 4 game appearance to end the season. Hansen has a fastball that usually hits mid-90’s when working in shorter relief stints, a low-80’s slider with lots of tilt and a low-mid 80’s change of pace. The St. John’s product should be in AA Birmingham’s bullpen to open his age 23/24 season, and his profile hints at the possibility of a high leverage reliever or closer in the future.
Right-handed starter James Dykstra fell out of our Top 30 Prospects list this time around after getting hit hard in Winston-Salem, but that doesn’t mean he’s off the radar. After 16 dominant starts with Kannapolis (2.64 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 82:10 K:BB in 99 IP), the 2013 6th rounder was promoted to Winston-Salem and got hit around a bit (4.89 ERA, 12.3 H/9), but his peripherals were still quite strong (6 BB, 46 K) in 53.1 innings. The strikeout and walk numbers, as well as the strong ground ball rates (GO:AO above 2 in both stints), didn’t go away so he may adjust and recover quickly. Dysktra uses two heavy fastballs (4S 91-94, 2S 88-91) that hitters tend to pound into the dirt, a change and a slurvy breaking pitch. Look for the 24-year old to return to Winston-Salem’s rotation to open 2015.
Recently acquired as the PTBNL from the Gordon Beckham trade in August, RHP Yency Almonte had been among the top 20 prospects in the Angels’ organization as recently as pre-2013 according to Baseball America. His fastball runs in the low 90’s with some arm-side run, and he adds a slider with late snap and a change-up he’s still working to master. Last season he missed some time due to a couple minor injuries, and his results in the short-season Midwest League were pedestrian: 4.93 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 6.9 K/9 in nine starts. The potential is better than the numbers, and it’s not clear if the Sox will continue starting him or move him to the pen, but he should be in Kannapolis to start 2015 as a 20/21 year old in his first full-season assignment.
Thaddius Lowry has a tantalizing pitch repertoire: a fastball that’s been as high as 97 in short outings, a slider that has shown good late break and a splitter, all thrown from a tall, strong frame. He’s been pitching quite young for level (was 19 in Class A) and the numbers indicate he’s focused on learning command and control at this point: a nice 3.0 BB/9 rate, but just 4.4 K/9 in 17 starts (after staying in extended ST through mid-May). The hope is he goes from thrower to pitcher, and his future may lie in the bullpen. He’d likely benefit from repeating A-ball (where he’d still be a couple years below average age for the league), but the Sox may push him up to A+.
Lefty Aaron Bummer was picked up in the 19th round of the 2014 draft, but his $100,000 bonus was more in line with an 11th round pick. In appearances in the Cape Cod League his fastball ran low 90’s touching 94, and he showed unusually good deception with his delivery. In his pro debut at age 20, Bummer mowed down hitters for Great Falls: 22 IP, 18 H, 6 ER, 6 BB, 28 K, all in relief. A starter in his last college season, Bummer likely returns to that role in 2015 at Kannapolis. But he could be used as a lefty specialist, as he did strike out more than a third of the LHB he faced last season while walking just 2 of 31.
Drafted three rounds ahead of Bummer, another LHP Ben Brewster had a brief but impressive rookie campaign going from rookie ball through Class A to A+: 24.1 IP, 15 H, 4 ER, 12 BB, 28 K, 2.28 GB:FB combined. Brewster’s fastball just scrapes 90, but he’s got an unusual delivery that gives him a very extended release point that makes the velocity play up a bit. While in the bullpen his final year at Maryland, his BAA was a miniscule .132. Also his middle name is Woolverton which is pretty awesome. Look for Brewster to continue working as a reliever, likely with A+ Winston-Salem as a 23 year old to start 2015.
Right-handed starter Terance Marin has ridden a roller coaster in the past year. He opened the season with two ugly starts (10 runs in 1 IP), was released, went to an indy ball team and re-tooled his grips and delivery. The Sox re-signed him in June and put him right back in Winston-Salem, where he posted a 3.76 ERA, just 1.9 BB/9 and struck out 58 in 69.1 innings. He was promoted to AA Birmingham for a couple late season starts, then went to play winter ball in Mexico. He helped lead Mexico to the Caribbean Series finals with some strong performances, and reports from the series indicated his fastball was now sitting 92-94, touching as high as 96. Marin is 25 now and at 6’1″ and (according to him) just 155 pounds, he’s got a small frame. But he’s also obviously made some positive tweaks, and should be pitching with AA Birmingham to open the season.
Jeffrey (or JB) Wendelken came over as the “last” piece in the Peavy deal, and the White Sox converted him to starter work in 2014 (as they like to do with key relievers who need polish). The results in that role were mixed, as he got hit pretty hard (11.2 H/9), but his fielding-independent peripherals were strong (33 BB, 129 K in 145.1 IP). The idea was not to get results though, it was for Wendelken to improve his secondary pitches and get him more work. JB’s fastball runs low 90’s but can touch 94 in shorter outings, he’s got a very good change-up with good movement, but his breaking ball was slurvy and in need of work when we saw him in late 2013. Look for Wendelken to start 2015 as a still young-for-level 22 year old at AA Birmingham, probably back in a relief role where his likely future lies.
Finally, meet tall righty Tanner Mendonca, signed last offseason after being released by the Twins. Minnesota’s 17th round pick in 2013 pulled off one of the most dramatic statistical turnarounds you’ll ever see. In 2013 in rookie ball, in 23.1 IP: 37 BB (yikes), 23 K. In 2014 at rookie ball again, in 21.1 IP: 6 BB, 41 K (mercy!). That cartoonish K rate may not just be luck or age for level either – Mendonca has a fastball that hits 98 with movement and a hammer curve. On the down side, he did walk a bunch of guys in his brief 2-game look a Kannapolis, and one year in short-season rookie ball isn’t enough to say the control issues are gone permanently. Tanner will likely open 2015 at Kanny again, for his age 22/23 season.
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