Struggling MLB Prospects Closest to Being Demoted a Level

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2013

Struggling MLB Prospects Closest to Being Demoted a Level

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    When you hear that a prospect has been demoted, it usually brings about a negative connotation. Players are always supposed to be moving forward, so when they start moving back, there can be some thought that things aren't working out. 

    It's similar to you or me starting a new office job, doing so well that we force a promotion from the bosses, then struggling to adapt to the new surroundings and responsibilities that we get pushed down the ladder. 

    But not every demotion is a bad thing. Some teams play hard and fast with prospects, especially those loaded with tools, bumping them up a level or two before they are capable of handling it. 

    A great recent example of an aggressive promotion that didn't work was Rymer Liriano of the San Diego Padres. He has four above-average or better raw tools (power, speed, arm strength, glove) and was pushed to High-A as a 19-year-old in 2010. 

    Liriano struggled, hitting .220/.291/.320 in 14 games, prompting the Padres to push him back to Low-A in 2011. He found his groove as a prospect after the demotion, hitting .319/.383/.499 with 12 home runs and 65 stolen bases in 116 games. 

    Unsurprisingly, Liriano's prospect status soared as he put all his tools on display in a league that he had already played the previous year (and was still very young to be there when he repeated it). 

    The 2013 season is still very young, so the odds of a team throwing up their hands and demoting a prospect now is highly unlikely—and unwarranted. But we will talk about some players who need to turn things around, or run the risk of being sent down a level to fix a few things. 

    Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted. 

Ronny Rodriguez, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    2013 Stats with Double-A Akron (Thru April 15)

    AVG OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR R K BB SB
     .237  .237  .368  9  0  1  1  3  11  0  0

    What isn't working

    Rodriguez is one of Cleveland's trio of top shortstop prospects, along with Francisco Lindor and Dorssys Paulino. His ceiling isn't as high as the latter two, but there is plus power in his body and swing. He hit 19 home runs as a 20-year-old in High-A last season. 

    The problems with Rodriguez, as evidenced by his stat line and when you watch him play, is the lack of polish to his game and being unable to find a way to make things work. 

    Never one to have a great approach at the plate, Rodriguez's pitch recognition is still lacking heavily. He steps up to the plate and wants to swing, no matter where the ball is. That kind of approach can work in the low levels of the minors, but when you hit Double-A, pitchers with better command and advanced stuff are going to eat you alive. 

    One thing working in Rodriguez's favor is, because Paulino is with Cleveland's Low-A team in Lake County and Lindor is at High-A, the team can't move him down and keep him as an everyday player at his current position. 

    Of course, there are doubts about his ability to remain at shortstop. Rodriguez made 28 errors in 80 games at the position last year. He also played 45 games at second base and one at third, so there are options for the Indians if/when the time comes to move him. 

Courtney Hawkins, OF, Chicago White Sox

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    2013 Stats with High-A Winston-Salem (Thru April 15)

    AVG

    OBP

    SLG

    H

    2B

    3B

    HR

    R

    K

    BB

    SB

     .176

     .222

     .529

     6

     0

     0

     4

     6

     22

     2

     2

    What isn't working

    The White Sox finally showed a willingness to leave their comfort zone in last year's draft when they took Courtney Hawkins with the No. 13 overall pick. He is a project, but there is a ceiling he can hit that no one else in the system can match. 

    Hawkins boasts plus raw power, good athleticism and a strong throwing arm that projects to play in right field. 

    Always seen as an aggressive franchise, Chicago pushed Hawkins to High-A for the start of the 2013 season after he played in just 59 games last year (38 of them at the rookie-level Appalachian League).

    In a lot of ways, Hawkins' stat line to start this year is indicative of what everyone expected from him early in his career. He is showing plus raw power in games with an approach that will need refinement before we can talk about him reaching his full potential. 

    Hitting the panic button would be a gross overreaction, but it is going to be a slow process before Hawkins makes an impact. The way he is being pushed, the White Sox seem to want him in the Windy City sometime next year at the age of 20. 

    Prospects tell you when they are ready, not teams. Hawkins has a lot of adjustments to make if he wants to stay at High-A all year. 

Jonathan Schoop, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

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    2013 Stats with Triple-A Norfolk (Thru April 15)

    AVG

    OBP

    SLG

    H

    2B

    3B

    HR

    R

    K

    BB

    SB

     .128

     .227

     .205

     5

     0

     0

     1

     2

     9

     3

     0

    What isn't working

    Baltimore was surprisingly aggressive with its top two prospects last year—Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado, promoting both late in the season as the team made its push for the postseason. 

    By virtue of Machado no longer having prospect eligibility, 21-year-old Jonathan Schoop became the most talented position player in the system. Schoop boasts good bat speed, above-average raw power and a solid glove and arm strength for third base. 

    Last year in Double-A, he didn't exactly tear the cover off the ball, hitting .245/.324/.386 in 124 games. The Orioles promoted him to Triple-A this season, but the issues with his swing and pitch recognition have led to a slow start. 

    The move up was a bit puzzling, since Schoop needed to prove he could hit the advanced pitching at the Double-A level before taking the next step. You hope to see the tools start to show up in games, but the team might want to pump the breaks with its star infielder before he gets in too far over his head. 

Dellin Betances, RHP, New York Yankees

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    2013 Stats with Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre (Thru April 15)

    W-L

    IP

    ERA

    H

    R

    ER

    HR

    K

    BB

     

     

     0-1

     4.2

     15.43

     7

     8

     8

     0

     4

     

     

    What isn't working

    Dellin Betances had, however briefly, reached the top of the mountain two years ago when he made it to New York late in the season. He appeared in two games for the Yankees and gave up two earned runs in just 2.2 innings, but at least he made it to The Show. 

    That would be as good as things get for Betances, who posted an ERA of 6.44 with 144 hits allowed and 99 walks in 131.1 innings pitched. He hasn't fared any better this year, with an ERA over 15.00 and nearly twice as many hits as innings pitched. 

    Moving Betances down would seem to be a waste of time, as he already conquered Double-A in 2011 when he had a 3.42 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 105.1 innings. He's just a pitcher in desperate need of some success. 

    There is nothing wrong with Betances' stuff. He just has no idea where anything is going out his hand. His delivery is a mess and needs to be overhauled, somehow. Any hope of him turning into a starter is all but gone, though there could be a chance he can salvage a career as a reliever. 

    But something has to change as soon as possible. It might already be too late for the 25-year-old. 

Tommy Joseph, C, Philadelphia Phillies

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    2013 Stats with Triple-A Lehigh Valley (Thru April 15)

    AVG

    OBP

    SLG

    H

    2B

    3B

    HR

    R

    K

    BB

    SB

     .222

     .250

     .370

     6

     1

     0

     1

     1

     9

     1

     0

    What isn't working

    Tommy Joseph has always been a prospect with more power than hitting ability. As you know, if you can't hit the ball, it is hard to hit home runs. He was bumped up to Triple-A this season after a pedestrian .257/.317/.399 in 108 games last year. 

    Average and on-base percentage are never going to be hallmarks of his game, so you hope that he can make enough contact to tap into above-average raw power and play enough defense behind the plate. 

    If there comes a point when Joseph has to move from catcher to first base, his stock takes a huge hit. He has the arm strength and accuracy to make throws behind the plate to second, but he isn't a great athlete and has problems blocking and receiving. 

    Until Joseph shows that he can hit the ball enough, show his power in games and make adjustments behind the plate, it is hard to justify his presence as a starter at the highest level of minor league baseball. 

Tim Beckham, SS, Tampa Bay Rays

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    2013 Stats with Triple-A Durham (Thru April 15)

    AVG

    OBP

    SLG

    H

    2B

    3B

    HR

    R

    K

    BB

    SB

     .148

     .250

     .148

     4

     0

     0

     0

     4

     4

     1

    What isn't working

    Even though we look back at the Rays taking Tim Beckham over Buster Posey with the No. 1 pick in 2008, everyone had the Georgia high schooler at the top of draft boards at the time and thought he would be a star. 

    Things have not turned out well for the Rays or Bechkham. Two years ago, there was some hope that he was starting to put things together. He hit .271/.328/.408 between Double-A and Triple-A. The numbers weren't great, though it did provide hope he could turn into a big leaguer. 

    Now, after a pedestrian 2012 season when he hit .256/.325/.361, Beckham is really scuffling in Durham. He is not hitting for any kind of power—small sample size taken into account—and has struck out nine times in 27 at-bats. 

    Beckham likely won't turn into anything more than a backup infielder, at best. His development is regressing a bit, to the point where the Rays could make a decision to push him back down for a few weeks in order to let him have success and work on his swing.