The Next Wave: Position players who just missed 2015 Top 30

via MiLB.com and Great Falls Voyagers

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 (like this one), the other covers pitchers (who we’ll cover next week). 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 position players, among the baker’s dozen 2014 entries we covered: two reached the majors, another three went on to be on a Top 25 list during that season, and yet another four received Top 30 votes on the current list. In other words, at any given time, there are a handful players in the system that aren’t on anyone’s top prospects list that show up on the radar as the year goes on.

Who will jump out from under the radar in 2015? Here are eleven possibilities…

Infielder Jake Peter was literally the last guy out of our top 30 – he’d be ranked 31st if our list went that far. Drafted in the 7th round in June, the scouting reports talked of a very strong arm (some thought he’d be drafted as a pitcher, as he’s hit mid-90’s from the mound), good speed and athleticism. Then he destroyed Pioneer League pitching (.388/.444/.759 and just 13 K in 179 PA) and was double-promoted to A+ as a 21-year old (a less stellar .580 OPS in just 23 games). Defensively, reports on his play at second base were positive, and he also played some shortstop. Peter could start 2015 at either Kannapolis or (more likely) Winston-Salem at either middle infield position.

Outfielder Jason Coats has been in the just-missed category on basically every list since we’ve published since he started his pro career. In 2014, Coats was the heart the Dash offense (.291/.350/.487 in 476 PA) with a rare combination of  power (15 HR, 35 2B) and contact (13.7% K/PA) before a late season promotion to AA (hit .265 in 19 games). He’s a strong defender on the corners with some speed and a good arm, but he’s also been playing a little old for level (was 24 this past season). If he performs well at AA (and/or AAA) in 2015 as a 25 year old, you’ll start hearing his name more often.

A 2012 prep pick in the 7th round, catcher Jose Barraza struggled in a tough assignment to the Appy League as a 17-year old, then missed all of 2013 recovering from TJ surgery. Returning to action as a 19/20 year old with the AZL White Sox this past season, Barraza appears to have made a leap with the bat, posting a .287/.355/.463 line with 5 HR in 38 games. That was tempered though by a very high 40.8% K/PA rate. Barraza is raw on both sides of the ball but has a strong arm and significant LH power potential, and may spend one more year in rookie ball in 2015, or possibly be in Kannapolis before his 21st birthday.

Jared Mitchell is still in the system, and through early 2014 his story was unchanged: lots of walks, low averages and a ton of strikeouts. But he did seem to turn a corner in 2015. After his third demotion to AA he posted a .299/.367/.561 line (including 10 HR in just 39 games) with an uncharacteristically reasonable 22.3% K/PA rate. Promoted back to AAA, Mitchell cut a nice looking .274/.376/.442 slash, and more impressively “just” 33 K in 135 PA. Is the now-26 year old finally ready to make a case for the majors? His speed may not be what it was, but he’s still a strong defender across the outfield.

Johan Cruz was signed for $450,000 in 2012, and was considered one of the best shortstops among that year’s DR prospects. While the defensive abilities and potential are strong, the bat was considered further behind, which makes his 2014 season encouraging. As an 18 year old he handled DSL with ease (.329/.424/.471, 17.5% K/PA) and was promoted state-side to the AZL where he struggled a bit (.179/.273/.256) but made some contact (20.2% K/PA) in 23 games. As an 18-year old on his first try at US pro ball that’s fine, but he’ll probably be back in rookie ball again for a full season in 2015.

Outfielder Antonio Rodriguez also got a mid-six-figures bonus in 2012, and has strong tools: an athletic 6’4″ frame, strong arm, plenty of speed for all three outfield positions and significant raw power from the left side. Rodriguez played the full year with AZL in 2014, where he hit .257 with 4 HR and 9 2B in 179 PA as a 19-year old. The peripherals weren’t great (26.3% K/PA, 5.0% BB/PA) but also aren’t out of hand for a player at his age and level. Rodriguez could be with Great Falls to gain some polish, but given the relatively encouraging results he’s more likely to open the year in full-season ball with Kannapolis in his age 19/20 season.

The Sox took Nick Basto as a shortstop in the 5th round in 2012, but his star faded quickly. The Florida prep draftee was moved off shortstop in 2013 when he wasn’t able to handle the position, struggled at his new home at third and hit .228 with no game power and walk rates in the territory of 5% in his first two years. Then in 2014 he was promoted to A+ Winston-Salem and suddenly improved at the plate, posting a .263/.313/.387 with 7 HR in 87 games playing 3B and in the outfield. Having missed some time he took an open slot in the AFL and played first base during his time there. It’s hard what to make of Basto at this point as he doesn’t seem to have a permanent defensive home, but he’s still going to open 2015 barely 21 years old so he’s worth keeping an eye on.

Draft watchers were taken aback when the Sox grabbed Jake Jarvis in the 10th round this past June, as he was considered by some as unsignable, and further they thought he’d be taken as a pitcher. Little was known of his hitting abilities, and we only got a glimpse with his short 30-game stint in the AZL playing second base: .221/.363/.263, 8.9% BB/PA, 26.8% K/PA. He’s very athletic and obviously has a strong arm, but we’ll need to see more of him before we can make a good assessment.

Outfielder Mason Robbins had struggled a bit in college ball after being named Mr. Baseball in Mississippi in 2011, allowing the Sox to grab him in the 25th round in 2014. But playing both corner OF positions in Great Falls as a 21-year old, Robbins posted a nice combination of contact and power: .304/.335/.470, 7 HR, 43 K in 242 PA. The Pioneer League is offense-friendly and Robbins’ walk rate (4.5%) wasn’t great, but the results and his background are encouraging enough at his age to make him a player to watch, likely at Kannapolis.

Michael Suiter is also an outfielder drafted this past year and was taken one round ahead of Robbins, but this one works from a different set of tools. Suiter’s game is about getting on base (.410 OBP with Kansas, .100 Iso OBP with AZL Sox in 2014), and speed. A report from post-draft camp in Arizona indicated he was the fastest man there, and he did steal 14 bases in 17 attempts in his pro debut. This Hawaii native made good contact (15.4% K/PA) and surprisingly was tied for 2nd on the team in HR (4). Turning 23 right around opening day, Suiter will probably be Kannapolis’ center fielder to open the season.

2014 4th round pick Brett Austin was the battery mate of top prospect Carlos Rodon at NC State, and signed for $450,000 (slightly below the $485,000 slot value). Scouting reports and college results suggest his hit tool and ability to get on base are his carrying attributes offensively, with power and speed not likely to play up much. This catcher skipped rookie ball to go straight to Class A Kannapolis as a 21 year old, and struggled a bit offensively with the tough assignment: .245/.314/.314, 26.4% K/PA. He had some issues defensively as well, but it’s too early to talk about moving him from behind the plate and we only got a brief look at him. Austin would probably benefit from repeating at Kannapolis for his age 22 season, but he could be at A+ Winston-Salem.

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