Does Cody Buckel have the yips?
Although the minor league season feels as though it just began, there are countless prospects who have already underperformed and have seen their prospect stock drop.
Because statistics from the 2013 season are based on a small sample size and, in theory, hold minimal value, it’s unfair to penalize a young or injured player.
That said, here’s a look at each team’s top prospect that is not living up to the hype so far this season.
2013 Stats (High-A): .243/.299/.414, 9 XBH, 4 SB, 19/6 K/BB (17 G)
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, De La Cruz enjoyed one of the best seasons of any player in Boston’s system in 2012. Appearing in 122 games between both Class-A levels, the then-20-year-old batted .307/.350/.533 with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. He also led the organization in hits (153), total bases (266), triples (8) and RBI (87).
Having played in only six games High-A Salem to conclude his full-season debut, De La Cruz is back at the level to begin his 2013 campaign. The 21-year-old outfielder has struggled so far, as he still tries to force his power all too often. While he’s noticeably become more comfortable using the entire field over the last year, the left-handed hitter still tends to get pull-happy. Until his approach matures, De La Cruz will likely continue to post ugly strikeout-to-walk rates.
2013 Stats (Double-A): 17.1 IP, 6.75 ERA, .312 BAA, 13/9 K/BB (4 GS)
A 6’6” right-hander selected out of East Carolina University in the third round of the 2011 draft, Wright, 23, has a deep, four-pitch mix but lacks a legitimate plus offering. His best pitch is an above-average fastball that if thrown on a consistent downhill plane will reach the mid-90s. He complements it with a slider and changeup that should both grade out as at least average offerings at maturity. And although he does have a curveball, it’s the least developed of his secondary offerings.
In his full-season debut in 2012, Wright jumped out to a hot start at High-A Frederick with a 2.91 ERA and 35/5 K/BB through his first eight starts. However, the right-hander struggled following a mid-season promotion to Double-A Bowie, as he registered a 4.91 ERA and .289 BAA with 45/17 K/BB in 62.1 innings.
Wright has the stuff and pitchability to at least be serviceable as a fifth starter in the major leagues, but first, he’ll have to improve both the quality and command of his secondary pitches.
2013 Stats (Double-A): .182/.281/.255, 10 R, 2 SB, 16/8 K/BB (13 G)
Plagued by off-the-field problems and injuries for the majority of his young career, Heathcott—the Yankees’ first-rounder in 2009—finally showed signs of putting things together last season at High-A Tampa. Although he was limited to only 65 games and spent the first half of the season recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, the now-22-year-old batted .307/.378/.470 with 17 stolen bases.
Due to his checkered medical history and lack of professional experience, it was surprising that the organization decided to bump him to Double-A for the 2013 season. That said, it’s certainly not a surprise that the left-handed hitting outfielder has struggled at the more advanced level.
While his bat speed and hand-eye coordination are both impressive, Heathcott’s pitch recognition development lags behind his peers. As a result, his raw approach has led to countless off-balance swings and weak contact, as evidenced by his high groundball rate (63.4 percent) and low line-drive rate (9.8 %). His tools and makeup are still promising, but there’s an overwhelming gap between his present ability and future potential.
2013 Stats (High-A): .187/.212/.295, 4 XBH, 18/2 K/BB (17 G)
Shaffer was regarded as one of the more advanced bats in the 2012 draft class, but slid to the Rays in the late first round due to questions about his power potential. A physically strong player with a wide-shoulder, a 6’3”, 210-pound frame, and a lean and athletic build, he posted an .893 OPS with 11 extra-base hits and 31/16 K/BB over 33 games during his professional debut for Short-Season Hudson Valley.
A right-handed hitter, Shaffer possesses advanced discipline, but he is still learning how to develop a consistent approach suitable for the major leagues. While I’ve always been a huge fan of his balanced swing, as well as his loose wrists and extension after contact, he seems to get too handsy at times, which hinders his power. He’s not as polished as most collegiate hitters selected in the first round typically are, but there’s no question that the Rays will thoroughly develop him over the next several seasons.
2013 Stats (Low-A): 12 IP, 12.00 ERA, .365 BAA, 9/8 K/BB (4 G)
Arguably the top prep left-hander in the 2011 draft class, Norris showcased impressive pure stuff in his professional debut last season, but also registered an 8.44 ERA with 58 hits allowed and 43/18 K/BB in 42.2 innings.
The source of his control and command issues stem from inconsistent mechanics, not to mention a lack of feel for repeating his delivery and release point. While Norris should have at least an average three-pitch repertoire at maturity, his overall feel needs considerable refinement in the low minors before moving up the ladder.
Considering that he’s already behind the developmental curve, it will take Norris longer than originally expected to reach the major leagues.
2013 Stats (Low-A): .167/.221/.306, 6 XBH (2 HR), 28/4 K/BB (20 G)
An outstanding athlete at 6’4”, 180 pounds with raw but loud tools, Starling should have no problem sticking in center field, thanks to his plus-defense profile that includes above-average arm strength and range.
In his long-overdue professional debut last summer, Starling batted .275/.371/.485 with 20 extra-base hits and 70 strikeouts in 53 games in Appalachian League. Although the right-handed hitter boasts above-average raw power to all fields—with slightly more to his pull side—the amount of swing-and-miss in his game (70 strikeouts in 200 at-bats) is disconcerting, as is his inability to make in-game adjustments.
At the plate, he has a tendency to bar his front arm, which leads to a long swing. Furthermore, Starling’s bat head travels through the zone on the same plane, regardless of pitch-type or location. And due to the fact that his bat-to-ball ability and pitch recognition are both fringy, the toolsy outfielder’s chance at developing an average-or-better hit tool is suspect.
Starling is one of the more naturally gifted position players in the minor leagues, but now he just needs to make swift adjustments and hone his specific skills.
2013 Stats (Triple-A): 20.1 IP, 4.43 ERA, 3.00 GO/AO, 19/7 K/BB (4 GS)
A former first-round draft pick out of Missouri, Gibson missed the end of 2011 and most of the 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. He returned to pitch at three levels, including Triple-A Rochester, and showcased the same advanced command and strikeout potential as he did before the surgery. And although he turned in a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time, the right-hander was sent back to Triple-A to open the 2013 season.
At 6’6”, the right-hander’s fastball works in the 88-94 mph range and will sometimes scrape a few ticks higher. Perhaps more importantly, Gibson’s size allows him to throw the pitch on a solid downhill plane and still command it to both sides of the plate. That said, he still needs to develop a more consistent feel for living down in the zone.
Meanwhile, Gibson throws his slider with consistent tilt, as it’s an above-average offering. A changeup rounds out his arsenal and represents another quality secondary weapon with excellent speed differential and fastball-like arm speed.
He still profiles favorably as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, but he’ll have to make ongoing adjustments, as he hopes to secure a spot in the Twins’ big-league rotation by the end of the season.
2013 Stats (Low-A): .098/.217/.118, 3 SB, 26/8 K/BB (16 G)
The first position player selected by the Tigers in the 2012 draft, the highly athletic Schotts batted .310/360/.452 with the organization’s rookie-level affiliate before a late-season promotion to High-A Lakeland for one game.
At 5’11”, 180-pounds, Schotts has above-average bat speed with the potential to be a well-rounded hitter. His swing is balanced and fluid, and he has a feel for using the entire field. While he’s not a physical player, he possesses tons of forearm strength with quick-twitch wrist muscles that generate more power than his size suggests.
Schotts’ greatest asset is his plus-speed, which makes him a threat for extra-bases, not to mention a successful basestealer. He should always pose an extra-base threat.
The Tigers shifted Schotts to center field after he spent his amateur career at shortstop. While his tools project favorably at the position, he’s being forced to adapt to the new position at a more advanced level.
2013 Stats (Low-A): .246/.333/.304, 13 R, 2 XBH, 23/9 K/BB (20 G)
Entering his third consecutive season in the Midwest League (Low-A), Rodriguez continues to showcase an intriguing blend of above-average defense and speed. Last season, the 20-year-old posted a .744 OPS with 11 home runs, 24 stolen bases and 133/50 K/BB in 117 games.
The Indians clearly believe that Rodriguez has room to improve in regards to his contract rate and plate discipline. Somewhat undersized at 5’11”, 160 pounds, the outfielder still has room to develop physically, and could start to move quickly if he continues to improve.
2013 Stats (High-A): .164/.230/.491, 9 H (6 HR), 37/5 K/BB (16 G)
The No. 13 overall selection in the 2012 draft, Hawkins is the definition of a high-risk, high-reward prospect. With a collection of above-average-to-plus tools, the outfielder’s power potential and present arm strength profile favorably as a big-league right fielder.
However, after posting an .804 OPS in his professional debut last season across three levels, Hawkins has been painfully overmatched at High-A Winston-Salem to begin this season. Of the nine hits that he’s amassed in 16 games, six have left the park.
Meanwhile, the fact that he has struck out 37 times in 55 at-bats is reason to worry. At this stage in his promising young career, allowing him to work through his struggles at this level seems more likely to impact his overall development. In my opinion, he should have been demoted to Low-A—which certainly isn’t a knock on the big man—after the second week of the minor league season.
2013 Stats (Double-A): 9 IP, 12.00 ERA, .258 BAA, 9/22 K/BB (4 GS)
An undersized right-hander with a deep arsenal and torque-oriented delivery that draws comparisons to Trevor Bauer, Buckel was impressive last season between High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Frisco.
Considering that Buckel has always showcased above-average command—especially in regards to his fastball—since entering the Rangers’ system, it’s perplexing that the right-hander has suddenly lost his feel for the strike zone—and I’m not just talking about a few too many walks here and there.
Buckel has walked at least five batters in each start at Double-A Frisco to start the season and shows no signs of turning things around anytime soon. Therefore, assuming that his problems stem from something mechanical—it almost seems as though he’s developed a case of the yips—don’t be surprised if he winds up back in extended spring training if the problems persist.
2013 Stats (Double-A): .187/.228/.307, 5 XBH (2 HR), 17/3 K/BB (18 G)
Drafted by the Red Sox in 2009 and traded to the A’s prior to the 2012 season in the deal that sent Andrew Bailey to Boston, Head torched California League pitching with a .382/.433/.715 triple-slash line and 47 extra-base hits (18 home runs) in 67 games. He then received a late-season promotion to Double-A where he batted .272/.338/.404 and had his plate discipline challenged for the first time in his career.
The 6’0", 215-pound right-handed hitter sets up with his hands cocked forward, which helps him generate bat speed and create a favorable point of contact. While he does exhibit a sense of barrel control, Head’s swing can be long on the back side, which makes him susceptible to quality velocity on the hands, and it also detracts from his plus raw power.
Back at Double-A to open the season, Head’s inconsistent approach and lack of timing in the early going has limited his overall production.
2013 Stats (Double-A): .167/.267/.212, 3 2B, 20/8 K/BB (19 G)
Coming off a breakout campaign in 2012 between both Class-A levels, Cowart has struggled through his first three weeks at Double-A this season with a .523 OPS and 17 strikeouts in 17 games. He’s showing signs of life, though, as he’s 8-for-25 (.320) over his last seven games.
The 6’3” switch hitter has excellent bat speed from both sides of the plate. His left-handed swing developed in a big way last season, and he showcases plus-raw power. His natural right-handed swing is more consistent and direct to the ball, though.
His plate discipline also vastly improved last season, and it gives him a chance to hit for average at higher levels. He just needs to prove that his approach can be more consistent and sustained over the course of an entire season.
2013 Stats (Triple-A): 16.1 IP, 6.61 ERA, 17/10 K/BB (4 GS)
Even though Paxton is regarded as a slow starter, the 6’4” left-hander has been one of the more inconsistent pitching prospects in the game. Although he’s able to hold his velocity deep into games, the 24-year-old has stabbing arm action on the backside that impedes his overall command.
Paxton’s fastball is crisp in the low-to-mid-90s—it should become a plus-pitch with improved command—and he can reach back for 96-98 mph in shorter stints. His curveball is an easy plus-pitch with a tall shape and sharp break, and he’ll also work in a changeup that flashes at least average potential.
2013 Stats (Triple-A): .231/.277/.333, 6 XBH, 18/5 K/BB (20 G)
Already on the Astros’ 40-man roster, Villar is still very raw across the board. The 21-year-old appeared in only 86 games last season after fracturing his hand punching the clubhouse door. Overall, the switch-hitting shortstop has the potential for a solid-average hit tool with above-average power relative to the position.
Villar is a toolsy and athletic shortstop who’s still too raw, relative to his experience. While he showcases plus-range and arm strength that will keep him at the position for the foreseeable future, Villar offers inconsistent and sometimes sloppy defense.
2013 Stats (Double-A): .174/.237/.275, 5 XBH, 4 SB, 16/6 K/BB (17 G)
Selected in the first round of the 2010 draft, Lipka is now in his fourth year in the Braves’ system and has yet to reach Double-A. While his overall development has been slowed by injuries—including a hamstring injury that prematurely ended his season in June—Lipka has also endured his share of struggles at every stop.
His biggest asset is his above-average (formerly a plus) speed on both sides of the ball, especially in the outfield were he showcases impressive range in center field. His bat has shown signs of life at times over the last two seasons, and his contact rate and on-base skills will need to keep improving in order to climb the organizational ladder.
2013 Stats (Triple-A): .250/.429/.472, 6 XBH, 8/12 K/BB (12 G)
d'Arnaud would have likely served as a September call-up in 2012 had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury in June. Regarded as the top catching prospect in the game, the 24-year-old was traded to the New York Mets this offseason in the R.A. Dickey deal.
At 6’2”, 190 pounds, the right-handed hitter has above-average bat speed and should be focusing on driving the ball to the right-center gap.
2013 Stats (High-A): 20 IP, 4.95 ERA, .286 BAA, 18/4 K/BB (4 GS)
Acquired by the A’s from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez trade prior to the 2012 season, Cole struggled mightily at High-A Stockton with an 0-7 record and a 7.82 ERA. He was ultimately demoted to Low-A Burlington.
However, the 6’4” right-hander has a projectable frame with the ability to add strength, especially to his lower half and core. Boasting a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid-90s with natural sink, Cole also throws a curveball that flashes plus-break when thrown with consistency. Furthermore, his changeup has noticeably improved since last season, and he has a better feel for the pitch than his breaking ball.
2013 Stats (Triple-A): 13.1 IP, 8.10 ERA, .220 BAA, 15/10 K/BB (3 GS)
A first-round selection of the Dodgers in 2008, Martin was acquired by the Phillies last summer in the deal that sent Shane Victorino to Hollywood. While the 23-year-old has always showcased a live arm with a deep (but unpolished) arsenal, he’s never quite been able to harness his pure stuff. However, the right-hander took a step in the right direction in 2012, as he posted the first sub-5.0 BB/9 rate of his career in his first full-season at the Double-A level.
Moved up to Triple-A Lehigh Valley for the 2013 season, Martin has left his plus-fastball up in the zone too often, which in turn has led to excessive hard contact and free passes. He’ll always miss bats with a plus-fastball and three fringy-to-average secondary offerings, but it may take some time for him to put it all together and reach the major leagues.
2013 Stats (Low-A): 17.2 IP, 4.08 ERA, .175 BAA, 18/15 K/BB (4 GS)
Brice made his full-season debut in 2012 after back-to-back years in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Overall, the 6’4”, 205-pound right-hander registered a 4.35 ERA and 10.0 K/9 in 109.2 innings at Low-A Jupiter. While his stuff has always been impressive and capable of missing bats, Brice’s 5.6 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9 rates last season leave considerable room for improvement.
The 20-year-old’s mechanics are still inconsistent and sloppy, as he rips open with his front side and has yet to learn how to utilize his lower half. However, he still boasts a legitimate power arm that yields a plus-fastball that sits in the low-to-mid-90s and will top out around 96-97 mph.
Meanwhile, Brice’s curveball has sharp downward bite, though it’s an inconsistent offering for which he lacks a consistent release point. He also has a changeup that’s nothing special at the moment, but will be crucial towards his overall development in future seasons.
2013 Stats (Low-A): 14 IP, 5.79 ERA, .321 BAA, 9/5 K/BB (3 GS)
The No. 50 overall selection in the 2010 draft, Jenkins, 20, represents the next wave of high-ceiling pitching prospects in the Cardinals’ outstanding system, as he’s still multiple seasons away from reaching the major leagues with room to develop.
With a projectable 6’4” frame and lightning-quick arm, the right-hander will run his plus-fastball into the mid-90s with some weight. He complements the pitch with a changeup and curveball, though both offerings are raw and he lacks a feel for their respective release point.
While his pure stuff and physical projection offer plenty to dream on, the effort in his delivery is rather worrisome—which is why the Cardinals shut him down on two separate occasions last season.
2013 Stats (Triple-A): .221/.293/.309, 4 XBH, 13 SB, 13/7 K/BB (18 G)
Coming off a breakout season in which he shattered the single-season stolen base record (155 SB in 132 games) across two levels, it’s easy to overlook that the switch-hitter also showcased vastly improved on-base skills and made more consistent contact from both sides of the plate.
However, after moving from shortstop to center field prior to the start of the Arizona Fall League, the 22-year-old is still getting a feel for his new position, albeit at the highest minor-league level.
Hamilton will likely never post as high of a triple-slash line (.311/.410/.420) as he did last season, though his game-changing speed will undoubtedly help him to make an impact in the major leagues.
2013 Stats (High-A): 9.2 IP, 4.66 ERA, .270 BAA, 10/9 K/BB (3 GS)
The No. 15 overall selection in the 2011 draft out of Georgia Tech, Bradley is back at High-A Brevard County in the Florida State League after spending his entire professional debut there last season.
Since entering the Brewers’ system, the 6’4” left-hander has lost a few ticks on his fastball and showed fringy control and command of his entire three-pitch mix. His inability to miss bats and limit baserunners is especially worrisome, as Bradley allowed 136 hits with just 60/43 K/BB last season across 107.1 innings.
Set to turn 23 in late June, the southpaw has already experienced the same problems that plagued him at the same level last season. Still, he’s bound to enjoy more success during his second tour of the level.
2013 Stats (Low-A): .167/.250/.185, 11/4 K/BB (13 G)
A second-round selection last June, the Pirates decided to draft Mathisen as a catcher, despite his limited experience at the position as an amateur. His professional debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League was a success, as he showcased a promising hit tool and mature discipline. Mathisen’s defense behind the plate was a work-in-progress, as expected, as he used his plus arm to hose 36 percent of basestealers, but exhibited raw receiving and blocking skills with 10 passed balls in 24 games.
The 19-year-old’s ability to make adjustments, both at and behind the plate, was impressive, though he did see considerable time as the team’s designated hitter. That said, he’ll be forced to make strides on both sides of the ball at a more advanced level this season—never any easy task for a young player, especially one learning a new position.
2013 Stats (Low-A): .258/.288/.371, 5 XBH, 16/3 K/BB (14 G)
Another promising young hitter emerging from the lower levels of the Cubs’ system, Amaya shot up the rankings last summer by batting .298/.381/.496 with 12 triples, eight home runs and 15 stolen bases in 69 games for Short-Season Boise.
At 5’11”, 175 pounds, the 20-year-old is a solid-average defender with a strong arm and is capable of playing either second or third base. However, Amaya’s greatest asset is his above-average-to-plus speed that makes him an extra-base threat at the plate and menace on the basepaths.
Although he has the chance for an average or better hit tool, his age and size limit his future projection. Therefore, Amaya will be forced to make significant offensive adjustments as he ascends the Cubs’ system. If he doesn’t, Amaya may not even make it past Double-A.
2013 Stats: .154/.257/.246, 4 XBH, 29/7 K/BB (17 G)
Admittedly one of my favorite prospects in the game, Story emerged as one of the top shortstops in the minor leagues last season with an outstanding showing at Low-A Asheville. Playing in 122 games, he batted .277/.367/.505 with 18 home runs and 15 stolen bases, and paced the organization with 96 runs scored and 43 doubles.
Although his arm may be his only plus-tool, Story is a well-round player with an impressive blend of natural ability and baseball skills. That said, the 20-year-old still has considerable room to improve on both ends of the ball.
At the plate, his propensity to swing-and-miss—which led to 121 strikeouts last season—is his greatest weakness and has been the source of his early-season struggles. He’s still likely to put up big numbers in the California League, though his initial adjustment period may be longer than expected.
2013 Stats (Triple-A): .200/.264/.313, 14 R, 5 XBH, 3 CS, 16/6 K/BB (14 G)
The No. 24 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Brown’s prospect stock has continued to slide since the start of the 2012 season. Clearly benefiting from the hitter-friendly environments of the California League during his 2011 full-season debut, Brown batted .336/.407/.519 with 51 extra-base hits and 53 stolen bases in 131 games for High-A San Jose. He also led the league with 188 hits and 13 triples.
Since then, the speedy outfielder hasn’t come close to matching his 2011 performance while moving at a level-per-year pace through the system. Thanks to his plus-speed and excellent defense in center field, Brown still profiles as at least a big-league reserve. However, it’s a far cry from the top-of-the-order catalyst he once seemed destined to become.
2013 Stats (High-A): 20 IP, 5.85 ERA, .263 BAA, 26/11 K/BB (4 GS)
Few left-handed pitchers in the low minors have better pure stuff than Andrew Chafin. At 6’2”, 205 pounds, he relies mostly on an above-average fastball in the low-90s with late life to the arm-side, as well as a plus-slider that’s equally effective against right- and left-handed hitters.
In his full-season debut last year for High-A Visalia, Chafin’s control and command problems caused him to bounce between the starting rotation and the bullpen on several occasions. However, his ability to miss bats with ease was obvious, as the left-hander fanned 150 batters in only 122.1 innings.
Repeating High-A to open the 2013 season, it’s been more of the same for Chafin, as he’s allowed 21 hits and 11 walks through 20 innings. Although his control problems have persisted, he’s still missing plenty of bats. If he doesn’t begin to make adjustments this season and start moving up the organizational ladder, though, Chafin is a candidate to be fast-tracked to the major leagues as a reliever.
2013 Stats (Double-A): 15.1 IP, 4.11 ERA, .246 BAA, 11/12 K/BB (4 GS)
Garcia isn’t your standard 23-year-old pitching prospect. Having defected from Cuba in 2011, the left-hander was popped by the Dodgers in the third round of the 2012 draft. And while he made his professional debut last summer for High-A Rancho Cucamonga, it was only one start, spanning two innings.
At 6’3”, 220 pounds, Garcia has the size and stuff to emerge as a mid-rotation starter in the major leagues. In addition to a slightly above-average fastball that will touch 94-95 mph, he flashes a potential above-average-to-plus curveball with tight spin and good pace, as well as a slider that gives opposing hitters a different look.
Despite his lack of professional experience, the Dodgers decided to aggressively bump Garcia directly to Double-A Chattanooga. Therefore, it’s realistic that the southpaw will struggle this season as he adjusts to the more advanced competition. While he’s still missed bats at a favorable rate, his raw command could pose as a serious problem towards his overall development.
2013 Stats (Low-A): 11.1 IP, 7.94 ERA, .267 BAA, 7/6 K/BB (3 GS)
Although he battled triceps tendinitis for part of the spring, the Padres still selected Eflin with the No. 33 overall pick last June. However, the projectable 6’4” right-hander was limited to only seven innings in his professional debut before he was shut down in mid-July after contracting mono.
Already in possession of a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a potential plus-changeup, the 19-year-old will need to develop a third pitch as he moves up the ladder. It’s unfair to judge him so harshly this early into his young career, and I expect him to settle in as he gains professional experience, but he should still be dominating low-level hitters with his fastball-changeup combination.