After we publish each of our twice-annual Top Prospects lists, we post a pair of follow-up articles we call the “Next Wave.” One covers position players (published yesterday, here is the link), and this one covers pitchers. These are prospects who didn’t make our most recent 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 dozen we covered just six months ago, four are now on the Top 30 list. Combined with the list we made before last season, a couple of them have even reached the majors. In other words, at any given time, there are a handful of arms in the system that aren’t on anyone’s top prospects list that show up on the radar as the year goes on, and some even end up helping the Major League club.
Who will jump out from under the radar this time? Here are a dozen possibilities, in no particular order:
Andre Wheeler (L): Wheeler rode a strong season in Kannapolis last year into the 19th slot in our offseason Top 30. But the lefty has been moved to a relief role, and his numbers at Winston-Salem have been decent but a step back from 2014. He’s still got a good lefty reliever’s starter kit: low to mid-90s fastball he locates well, and a slider that can be devastating at times. While he’s more or less average age for level, because he was an in-college conversion from the outfield he’s a little more raw than his age indicates. 2016 in AA will be a key test for him.
Luis Martinez: Another hurler that was on our offseason list (#23) but has dropped out, Luis Martinez skipped the DSL and went straight to stateside rookie ball in 2014. We finally got a look at his stuff this year – and scouts we chatted with were not impressed, at first. That makes his early performance in Class A (7.82 ERA, nearly as many BB as K in 1st 9 games) understandable. But after some adjustments with Pitching Coach Jose Bautista, Martinez’ fastball jumped from 89-91 to 91-94, his command improved dramatically and the breaking stuff sharpened – which showed in his performance after (1.91 ERA, much lower walk rate in the next 8 starts). The Venezuelan righty is still just 20, and his talent gives him substantial upside.
Yency Almonte: Acquired in exchange for a couple months of Gordon Beckham, Almonte has jumped onto the radar this season. We’ve watched him live twice in May – he’s got a low 90s fastball with nice movement and a slider with good bite around 83-85, but he sometimes overthrows both and they flatten at higher velocities. Like Martinez he has benefited from Bautista’s tutelage, as he kept getting better at Kanny and was promoted to Winston-Salem. His change-up is a work in progress and he needs more consistency, but there’s potential here for a back end starter’s profile if it all comes together.
Blake Hickman: It’s not public just how much the Sox knew when they drafted him, but after signing for slightly below slot in the 7th round, Hickman went down for Tommy John surgery. While he’s out the rest of this year and part of next year, his talent before the injury was seen as well above that 7th round level. The converted catcher has a mid-90s fastball and a sharp slider, though he’s struggled to maintain velocity and consistency deep in games as he works up to full time pitching strength. This Chicago area product (Simeon HS) is anxious to get back on the field, but we won’t get a first look until 2016.
Robin Leyer: This wiry Dominican has a fastball that is plus for velocity (runs 94 to 98) and movement (nice arm side tail), and he commands it well, as seen in this piece. But the rest of his arsenal is marginal, which is why it surprised some to see him in a starting role this year. But this is S.O.P for the White Sox with key relief prospects – start them for a year or two to learn consistency and pitching (versus throwing), then move back to the pen later. Leyer is a 22-year old holding his own in AA, which is hard to do with one (even very) good pitch. He could help the big club’s bullpen as soon as 2016 if he can make just one of his offspeed pitches an average offering.
Michael Ynoa: Acquired along with Jeff Samardzija in the trade with Oakland, Michael Ynoa was once an elite pitching prospect who just hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Amazingly still just 23 years old, he’s put up good numbers in A+ so far (9.4 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 8.8 H/9). But he’s only pitched 31.2 innings as he missed time in April and May to minor injuries, and he’s currently throwing only every 5 days or so. The promise of that heavy mid-90s fastball and plus curve mean he’s still on the radar, but he is also eligible for the Rule V this offseason so the White Sox may need to make a tough decision here.
David Trexler: Mr. Trexler was the definition of a pop-up prospect. Drafted in the 17th round and signed for a mere $1,000, this right-hander leapt onto the radar last year when some mechanical adjustments suddenly had him throwing 92-96 on the heater with two above average off-speed pitches – thus putting him at 25th on our offseason Top Prospects list. Just as that was unexpected, Trexler’s relegation to the bullpen at Kannapolis and good-but-not-great numbers (9.3 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, 1.48 WHIP) as a 24-year old in the SAL caused him to drop off our latest list. That said, the flash of talent he showed means David Trexler is still a name to keep in the back of your mind, and he may go back to starting in the future.
Yosmer Solorzano: Solorzano was signed in 2014 for $100,000, skipped the DSL and started play stateside with the AZL club this year. Despite being 18 and in his first year of pro ball, this Dominican righty has been throwing strikes (2.7 BB/9), keeping hitters at bay (.247 BAA), and generating a ton of ground balls (ridiculous 2.33 GO/AO). The strikeout rate isn’t great (5.6 K/9), but given his age, experience and level, he’s been quite effective. He’s got a heavy fastball that was in the low 90’s as a 17-year old, but we don’t have much other information on him yet.
Peter Tago: A Rule V minor league phase pickup this past December, Tago was once a hyped pitching prospect with a big fastball and no command. Now under the teachings of White Sox pitching coaches, he’s gone three levels (A, A+, AA) in 2015, posting a walk rate less than half his previous averages (down to 3.5 BB/9) while striking out 10.8 per nine innings. Improved delivery and command, and dropping the curve in favor of a slider and cutter, Tago is suddenly looking like a legitimate future bullpen option.
Terance Marin: Another prospect resurrected, Marin was (deep breath)… Undrafted, signed, was good in the pen, struggled starting, was released, pitched in indy ball, learned a cutter and new grips, was re-signed, excelled starting, was loaned to a Mexican League team, came back to AAA this year, threw 31 straight scoreless innings as a starter to open his AAA career, and was then sent to the Charlotte bullpen where he now works. He’s been OK as a reliever and it is awfully tough to know what to make of him in terms of a future role, but he throws strikes, has a fastball that touches mid-90s and an effective cutter. He could see Chicago this year or next.
Nolan Sanburn: Acquired in exchange for Adam Dunn‘s last gasp, Nolan Sanburn came to the club with an electric fastball, a curve that flashes plus, and shoulder issues that had made him a reliever. This year in Birmingham he struggled results-wise, went on the DL in May, came back for two games in early July (the second of which walking all four batters he faced), and has been back on the DL since. The potential on his two primary pitches makes him a guy that, if he can stay healthy, could be a force in the bullpen.
Onelki Garcia (L): Finally there is 26-year old AAA reliever Onelki Garcia. This lefty’s path to the majors has taken more odd turns than a crooked cab driver, but none of that changes that he is probably the next southpaw up for the pen in Chicago if a need arises. He’s striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings, and he compliments a low to mid-90s fastball with an above average to plus curveball. The core results have been just OK this year and he walks a few too many batters, but his profile fairly screams Dr. Cooper Fix ’em Special.
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