Every MLB Team's Top Prospect off to the Worst Start in 2014
One of the great disadvantages to playing professional baseball is that the structure of the season is such that a bad day can turn into a bad week very quickly, leading to inevitable questions about what's wrong with someone.
Minor leaguers are under an even more intense microscope because fans have heard and read so much about a lot of these players for so long that facing non-MLB competition is supposed to be a breeze.
Unfortunately baseball, regardless of the level, doesn't work like that. Hitters and pitchers have to adjust all the time, especially in the minors, so a slow start in the middle of April shouldn't be misconstrued as a sign of things to come.
Instead, for the 30 players on this particular list, take the critique of their early season performance as constructive criticism. All of the players have talent and will get better as the year moves along, but they just need time to get in the swing of things.
Here are the top prospects in each organization that are off to a bad start.
Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Player: Stryker Trahan, C (Low-A South Bend)
Stats: 9 G, .171/.184/.343, 2B, 3B, HR, 8 RBI, BB, 12 K
Being a catcher in professional baseball is hard enough, but when you factor in that Stryker Trahan doesn't turn 20 years old until the end of April and is playing in a full-season league, it makes it easier to accept his slow start with the bat.
Trahan doesn't look the part of a traditional catcher due to a large 6'1", 215-pound frame, and it shows at times behind the plate. He's got big raw power, but he has issues showing it in games because of poor strike-zone command.
Player: Christian Bethancourt, C (Triple-A Gwinnett)
Stats: 6 G, .167/.167/.167, 3 RBI, 9 K
At this stage of development, you know what to expect from Christian Bethancourt. He's an outstanding defensive catcher, one of the two best in the minors (San Diego's Austin Hedges is the other), who can step onto a 25-man roster right now and challenge Yadier Molina for a Gold Glove.
The disappointment comes with Bethancourt's bat. There was hope that last year's .277/.305/.436 line in Double-A was the product of improvement instead of just repeating the level. Triple-A is proving that's not the case, though the glove will still get him to Atlanta very soon.
Player: Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP (Double-A Bowie)
Stats: 2 GS, 1-1, 7.20 ERA, 10 IP, 13 H, 3 BB, 7 K
The best thing to be said about Eduardo Rodriguez's start to the year is that at least he's consistent. The Baltimore Orioles lefty has allowed four earned runs over five innings in each of his first two starts, though the second one saw him punch out five along the way.
Rodriguez lacks a dominant pitch but has a deep, effective arsenal and controls everything well. He's got to refine the command and avoid leaving the fastball up to be effective, but the 21-year-old has all the makings of a solid No. 3 starter.
Boston Red Sox
Player: Bryce Brentz, OF (Triple-A Pawtucket)
Stats: 10 G, .139/.279/.250, 2B, HR, 7 RBI, 7 BB, 10 K
Bryce Brentz has Triple-A outfielder written all over him, which is unfortunate because there are tools that can get you excited. The 25-year-old has well above-average raw power that has played in minor league games at times, notably in 2011 when he had 30 homers across Low-A and High-A.
A poor approach, low walk rates, high strikeout totals and below-average running speed limit Brentz's ceiling. He's a solid player to have in a system, but he isn't going to be on a 25-man roster for any sustained period of time.
Chicago White Sox
Player: Chris Beck, RHP (Double-A Birmingham)
Stats: 2 GS, 1-1, 7.20 ERA, 10 IP, 13 H, 2 HR, BB, 3 K
A pitcher like Chris Beck has to be on point with his stuff to generate weak contact, because there's not enough velocity on the fastball or spin on the off-speed stuff to miss a lot of bats. He had success mixing four pitches last year, posting a 3.07 ERA across two levels despite having just 79 strikeouts in 146.2 innings.
It's been a different story so far this year for Beck, a second-round pick in 2012. He's still not missing bats, but is compounding matters by leaving pitches over the plate that opponents aren't missing.
Player: Javier Baez, SS (Triple-A Iowa)
Stats: 8 G, .154/.214/.423, 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K
There was some hope in Chicago that the Cubs would add Javier Baez to the 25-man roster after he slugged .604 in spring training, but the 21-year-old is showing why more seasoning in the minors is necessary.
In addition to the high strikeout totals, which included an 0-for-9 start to the season, Baez caused a stir after getting ejected from a game following a check swing. There's no cause for concern with his long-term prognosis, but this experience in Triple-A is important.
Player: Phil Ervin, OF (Low-A Dayton)
Stats: 8 G, .176/.216/.265, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 12 K
Phil Ervin parlayed a strong junior year at Samford into the No. 27 pick last June. He's got some offensive skills, notably a compact line-drive swing, but lacks the power to be an impact hitter and speed to be a center fielder.
Unless the Cincinnati Reds can get Ervin's uppercut swing under control, he's going to turn into a career minor leaguer who occasionally appears in MLB games.
Player: Tyler Naquin, OF (Double-A Akron)
Stats: 9 G, .200/.263/.286, 3 2B, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 13 K
Tyler Naquin's numbers have gone down each time he's been bumped a level, going from a .758 OPS in short-season ball two years ago to .739 across High-A and Double-A last year. That's not an accident, as the former first-round pick's only above-average tool is arm strength.
He's got the ability to hit a lot of doubles with a compact swing, but he doesn't have the punch for more than 10-12 homers. The 22-year-old already swings and misses a lot (134 strikeouts in 528 at-bats last year), and it should only get worse the higher he moves up.
Player: Jonathan Gray, RHP (Double-A Tulsa)
Stats: 2 GS, 0-1, 12.15 ERA, 6.2 IP, 12 H, 2 HR, BB, 6 K
The No. 3 pick in last June's draft, Jonathan Gray had a solid first start with Double-A Tulsa, throwing six innings and allowing four runs (three earned) while striking out five. But his second start was...forgettable.
Gray lasted only two-thirds of an inning, allowing six runs (all earned) on seven hits with one strikeout. That just goes to show how fickle the game of baseball can be, because there's nothing wrong or different with Gray's stuff or mechanics. It's just one of those days at the office, unfortunately.
Player: Jonathon Crawford, RHP (Low-A West Michigan)
Stats: 2 GS, 0-1, 8.22 ERA, 7.2 IP, 9 H, HR, 4 BB, 8 K
It's a good thing the Detroit Tigers have a great MLB team, because there's very little to be excited about on the prospect front. Nick Castellanos was that player, but he's graduated to the big leagues.
Jonathon Crawford is the top pitcher in the system, but he has a violent delivery, no third pitch and below-average command that suggests a future out of the bullpen. You can see from his early season numbers that not much has improved following an offseason of work with MLB coaches.
Player: Domingo Santana, OF (Triple-A Oklahoma City)
Stats: 10 G, .243/.300/.378, 5 2B, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 15 K
There's not a bigger boom-or-bust player at the top of the Houston Astros' system than Domingo Santana. The 21-year-old has huge raw power that's materialized in games (48 homers the last two years), but a poor approach and long swing will cause problems against advanced pitching.
Santana's early season struggles are indicative of those issues with the swing, though it's nothing to be too concerned with right now because of his age. He's young for Triple-A and has shown enough at every other level to think a turnaround is imminent.
Kansas City Royals
Player: Bubba Starling, OF (High-A Wilmington)
Stats: 10 G, .103/.239/.231, 2 2B, HR, 4 RBI, 6 BB, 15 K
We've reached a point where it's best not to expect much from Bubba Starling. He's entering his third minor league season, still in A-ball and he's never shown the baseball acumen needed to translate raw tools into performance.
That's not to say that giving up completely on Starling is a wise move, because there's a reason he was the No. 5 pick in a loaded 2011 draft, but suddenly expecting the light to go off will lead to disappointment.
Los Angeles Angels
Player: Jose Alvarez, LHP (Triple-A Salt Lake)
Stats: 2 GS, 0-1, 8.38 ERA, 9.2 IP, 11 H, 2 HR, 7 BB, 4 K
The Los Angeles Angels acquired Jose Alvarez from Detroit in March, hoping the left-hander could stick in their rotation or at least give them another option out of the bullpen.
Instead, Alvarez has looked overmatched in two Triple-A starts, allowing six walks in his first start and eight hits in his second. Granted, the Pacific Coast League is very friendly for hitters, but the free passes are a sign of bigger issues.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Player: Chris Anderson, RHP (High-A Rancho Cucamonga)
Stats: 2 GS, 0-1, 5.06 ERA, 5.1 IP, 8 H, 5 BB, 6 K
Chris Anderson was able to bounce back from a disastrous first start (0.2 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 0 K) to pitch a little better his next time out (4.2 IP, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K). It's still troubling to see a college pitcher taken in the first round struggle to find the strike zone as often as Anderson has, dating back to his brief stint in the Midwest League last year (24 walks in 46 innings).
The Los Angeles Dodgers could have a quality mid-rotation starter in Anderson, who can touch 95-96 mph with the fastball and has a good slider, but the command has to improve dramatically to get there.
Player: Trevor Williams, RHP (High-A Jupiter)
Stats: 2 GS, 0-2, 10.80 ERA, 5 IP, 9 H, 3 BB
The good news for Trevor Williams is that he managed to record an out in his second start of the year, allowing him to register an ERA after giving up two runs on three hits without recording an out April 3.
Despite making it through five innings on April 8, Williams is still looking for a strikeout after walking three hitters and allowing six hits and four earned runs. He was drafted out of Arizona State on the strength of a deep arsenal and an ability to throw strikes.
Unfortunately, Williams is throwing too many hittable strikes that opponents aren't missing.
Player: Mitch Haniger, OF (Double-A Huntsville)
Stats: 9 G, .206/.270/.529, 2 2B, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 8 K
There's a book on Mitch Haniger that is getting exploited the higher he climbs in the minors. A mediocre .250/.323/.396 line at High-A last season showed that the 23-year-old had work to do, despite a solid approach and bat-to-ball skills.
So far this season, Haniger hasn't adjusted well to the advanced pitching, despite the power numbers. Milwaukee's 2012 first-round pick has to prove that he is capable of going with pitches and stop selling out for power, or else his slash line won't get much better.
Player: Travis Harrison, 3B (High-A Fort Myers)
Stats: 9 G, .167/.265/.200, 2B, RBI, 4 BB, 8 K
Things aren't all bad for the Minnesota Twins farm system right now, even with Miguel Sano out for the year after Tommy John surgery. Their best prospects, excluding a not seriously injured Byron Buxton, have handled their early season assignments well.
Travis Harrison is the one exception, scuffling in High-A with no extra-base hits through April 11. That's not what you want to see from a player whose best attribute is the bat and controlling the strike zone. The 21-year-old has the ability to hit for average and power, but pitchers are taking advantage of a limited player.
New York Mets
Player: Dominic Smith, 1B (Low-A Savannah)
Stats: 9 G, .176/.200/.176, BB, 4 K
It's hard to punish a 2013 draftee playing in a full-season league who doesn't turn 19 until June, but Dominic Smith came into professional baseball as having an advanced bat. So far, he hasn't looked the part.
Smith hasn't hit much of anything yet, though a .333 OPS against lefties (in just six at-bats) is problematic. He's got a great, easy swing with balance throughout and excellent bat control, so don't expect this slump to last very long.
New York Yankees
Player: Tyler Austin, OF (Double-A Trenton)
Stats: 6 G, .240/.259/.240, RBI, BB, 6 K
There's been a lot of good news early this season for the New York Yankees' system. Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams are hitting well, while Manny Banuelos has been effective in two abbreviated starts coming back from Tommy John surgery.
Unfortunately, the good vibes haven't found Tyler Austin. He's never going to be a big power hitter, but a really quick, short swing through the zone has always made hitting for average easy. The bat has the ability to play at any level, though the early portion of this season isn't showing it.
Player: Michael Ynoa, RHP (High-A Stockton)
Stats: 3 G, 0-1, 20.25 ERA, 2.2 IP, 4 H, 4 BB, 5 K
After making it through a season healthy and, at least in Low-A, effective, expectations were rising for international bonus baby Michael Ynoa for the first time since the Oakland Athletics gave him $4.25 million in 2008.
That optimism has quickly given way to frustration, as Ynoa's proving that his 7.71 ERA in the California League to end 2013 wasn't a mirage. He's still got a quality fastball, usually 91-93 mph, but rarely knows where it's going and doesn't have the secondary stuff to offset it.
Player: Jesse Biddle, LHP (Double-A Reading)
Stats: 3 GS, 0-2, 5.02 ERA, 14.1 IP, 19 H, 2 HR, 5 BB, 17 K
Jesse Biddle's inflated ERA isn't encouraging, nor are the 19 hits he's allowed in 14.1 innings. But there are some positives to take away from the left-hander's early season starts. He's got a 17-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, for example.
Throwing strikes was a huge problem for Biddle last season (82 in 138.1 innings), so the fact that he isn't issuing free passes is a good sign. Unfortunately, it seems to be coming at the expense of command, as evidenced by all those hits allowed.
Player: Jameson Taillon, RHP (Triple-A Indianapolis)
This isn't a performance-based problem, since Jameson Taillon hasn't pitched this year. Instead, it's just a case of how fragile the development process can be.
Here we have a 22-year-old who made it to Triple-A last season and would have ended 2014 in the big leagues, barring any health issues. Unfortunately, as has been the case with so many notable arms early this year, Taillon's elbow flared up and Tommy John surgery will cause the star prospect to miss the entire season.
It also puts Taillon's future in doubt, as no one knows how his elbow will respond after going under the knife and if the stuff will be the same.
San Diego Padres
Player: Hunter Renfroe, OF (High-A Lake Elsinore)
Stats: 10 G, .225/.311/.425, 2 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 5 BB, 17 K
Hunter Renfroe was drafted out of Mississippi State based mostly on his loud tools, including plus-plus speed and raw power, because he wasn't a very refined hitter. That's not a good thing for a college junior, who should have polish if he's going to be a top-15 pick.
The problems with Renfroe's swing are vast, as he's very slow to start toward the ball and has length that limits his ability to catch velocity. You can see those problems haven't been resolved thus far, as the 22-year-old had 17 strikeouts in his first 40 at-bats.
It's still very early in Renfroe's career to get overly concerned, but there are enough questions that you can raise an eyebrow looking at the stat line.
San Francisco Giants
Player: Edwin Escobar, LHP (Triple-A Fresno)
Stats: 2 GS, 0-0, 7.27 ERA, 8.2 IP, 15 H, 3 BB, 11 K
If there's a pitcher you want to cut some slack, it's one stuck in the Pacific Coast League. Nothing in Edwin Escobar's minor league career suggested that he would fall apart this quickly. He is coming off a 2013 season in which he had 146 strikeouts and just 30 walks in 128.2 innings across two levels.
Escobar started the season on the road at Las Vegas, a notorious hitter's paradise, allowing 10 hits and five runs (four earned) in four innings. He settled down a bit in his second start, allowing just five hits with seven strikeouts and two walks in four innings.
Hopefully this is just the product of pitching in a hitter-friendly league and not the sign of some bigger problem, because Escobar's four-pitch arsenal and solid command put him on the cusp of an MLB job entering the year.
Player: Tyler Marlette, C (High-A High Desert)
Stats: 6 G, .190/.261/.190, RBI, 2 BB, K
The Seattle Mariners got a breakout season from Tyler Marlette in the Midwest League last season. He hit .304/.367/.448 with terrific bat control, discipline and defense behind the plate. About the only thing missing was over-the-fence power (he hit just six homers), but that should come in time, as the 21-year-old has plus bat speed and raw power.
Even with the poor slash line to start 2014, Marlette's one player whose performance doesn't match the numbers. He's not striking out and has maintained that keen eye in the batter's box. Expect those numbers to start moving up very soon.
St. Louis Cardinals
Player: Charlie Tilson, OF (High-A Palm Beach)
Stats: 9 G, .233/.267/.302, HR, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K
Charlie Tilson's ability to hit for average, get on base and steal bases makes him a prototypical leadoff hitter in the future. He doesn't have much power, with just 22 extra-base hits in 117 minor league games in 2012-13, so he has to make up for that in other areas to have an MLB future.
It's going to be harder for Tilson to succeed the further he climbs up the ladder due to the lack of power. Pitchers are going to challenge him with hard stuff to see if he can drive it. The 21-year-old can do it against A-Ball pitchers, but once he gets to Double-A, the limited power will hurt him.
Tampa Bay Rays
Player: Andrew Toles, OF (High-A Charlotte)
Stats: 10 G, .225/.311/.250, 2B, 5 BB, 8 K, 5 SB
Andrew Toles is a 21-year-old loaded with tools who hit a robust .326/.359/.466 at Low-A Bowling Green last season. Those numbers led to a lot of optimism heading into 2014, though it's important to remember that he is still refining all of those physical gifts.
You can see some holes in Toles' game early in the High-A season. He's struggling to drive the ball, with just one extra-base hit in 40 at-bats through April 13, and he is a mediocre 5-of-8 in stolen bases.
Player: Jorge Alfaro, C (High-A Myrtle Beach)
Stats: 9 G, .235/.316/.294, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 12 K
A solid defensive catcher with plus-plus arm strength and offensive tools that include plus-plus raw power and excellent bat speed, Jorge Alfaro's upside is huge. Unfortunately, the bat is mitigated by a poor approach and pitch recognition.
The Texas Rangers' 20-year-old backstop has to learn that breaking balls in the dirt are called balls, and it's hard to drive those pitches if you do make contact, unless you are Vladimir Guerrero. Hopefully this is just part of the learning experience, because Alfaro has superstar potential.
Toronto Blue Jays
Player: Alberto Tirado, RHP (Low-A Lansing)
Stats: 2 G (1 GS), 0-0, 5.40 ERA, 5 IP, 7 H, HR, 4 BB, 7 K
The only thing stopping Alberto Tirado from being a top-tier prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays' system is command and control, both of which should improve with age and refinement. He's just 19 years old, so there's time to get better.
Tirado has shown off both sides of the development curve in his two appearances. The young right-hander struck out seven in four innings April 4, then walked three in a one-inning appearance April 9.
Player: Brian Goodwin, OF (Triple-A Syracuse)
Stats: 10 G, .212/.333/.273, 2 2B, RBI, 6 BB, 13 K, SB
If you were judging Brian Goodwin on individual tools, he would look like a surefire MLB starter. The 23-year-old has an excellent eye at the plate, solid approach, fringe-average power, plus speed and above-average defense in center field.
For some reason, though, Goodwin is unable to put those skills to use at the same time the higher up the ladder he's climbed. After posting an .852 OPS in 2012, his line dropped to .762 last season and currently sits at .606.
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