Struggling Prospects Who Are Clearly Not Yet Ready for MLB
Baseball enthusiasts, like players, have tendencies.
Some players tend to perform better after the All-Star break than they do before it, while others tend to have far more success against left-handed pitching than they do against right-handed pitchers. For fans and pundits alike, we tend to wax poetic about our team's top prospects.
No matter how small the sample size may be, comparisons to current and former All-Stars are made, expectations are raised and...we wind up disappointed with the results.
From youngsters who broke camp with their respective clubs to those who started the season at Triple-A but weren't expected to stay there long, there's no shortage of prospects who, by way of their play, have proven that they simply aren't ready for prime time.
Here's a look at some of the more notable youngsters who clearly are not yet ready for major league action.
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats (Triple-A Iowa): 35 G, .201/.270/.396, 13 XBH (6 HR), 17 RBI
If we've learned anything about 21-year-old Javier Baez, it's that we shouldn't get too excited over a small sample size.
It was just over two months ago (two months and one day to be exact) that Baez was reassigned to minor league camp after hitting .310 with five home runs during exhibition play for the Cubs.
What came next was a myriad of awful: a painfully slow start (1-for-18), an ejection and subsequent heated confrontation with veteran catcher Eli Whiteside and an eight-day, six-game stint on the disabled list due to a sprained ankle.
Up until Thursday night, when he went 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and a home run against Round Rock, Baez was hitting below .200 on the season. Even after that performance, his batting average is a paltry .201, lowest among qualified hitters in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
He's still chasing pitches, as evidenced by his more than 34 percent strikeout rate, a number that would only increase against the more experienced and talented arms he'd face in the big leagues.
Defensively, Baez remains a work in progress, sitting with a team-high seven errors.
While Baez finally seems to be in the right place both mentally and physically, it's going to take more than a week's worth of action to show that he's ready for the next level.
Matt Davidson, 3B, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats (Triple-A): 39 G, .197/.256/.359, 13 XBH (5 HR), 14 RBI
Chicago GM Rick Hahn left spring training impressed with Matt Davidson, the 23-year-old third baseman that he had acquired from Arizona in exchange for closer Addison Reed during the offseason.
“I’m confident if we did need him at this point that he’d be fine at the big league level,” Hahn told the Chicago Tribune's Colleen Kane. “But it’s more about making sure he is totally equipped to succeed, and that’s probably not too far off in the offing.”
Two months later, Hahn is singing a different tune.
"It's not entirely rare where you see a guy who performs really well in the spring gets off to a poor start at his minor league affiliate," Hahn recently told Kane. "Matt wasn't quite where he was when he left camp, from a timing standpoint, offensively. We've been real pleased with the defense, but (not his offense) in the early part of the minor league season."
Davidson leads the International League with 59 strikeouts, on pace to shatter his career-high of 147 set with High-A Visalia in 2011. He's fanning nearly 40 percent of the time (37.8 to be exact), more than 10 percent higher than his career mark (27.6), and showing a severe lack of discipline at the plate.
He's further away from the big leagues now than he was at the end of spring training—and it's going to be some time before the White Sox can even consider him a viable addition to the roster.
Jake Marisnick, CF, Miami Marlins
2014 Stats (Triple-A): 45 G, .232/.284/.345, 11 XBH (3 HR), 16 RBI
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Jake Marisnick is struggling at the plate. After all, the scouting report on Miami's No. 3 prospect, per Baseball America (subscription required), was less than flattering when it came to his bat:
Marisnick earns plus grades in every tool but hitting. He succeeded at Double-A Jacksonville by staying back and working the middle of the field, but big league pitchers exploited his aggressiveness. Though he exhibits good bat speed, he lacks the hand-eye coordination of most high-average hitters. He also needs to work himself into better counts.
Acquired from Toronto during Miami's latest fire sale in 2012, Marisnick has cut down on his strikeouts (a career 22.9 percent mark is down to 16.8 percent in 2014), but he simply doesn't get on base nearly enough for him to take advantage of his above-average speed, his biggest asset.
With Marcell Ozuna playing excellent defense in center field for Miami and holding his own at the plate, Marisnick faces an uphill battle. It's going to take a significant improvement at the plate—and a subsequent fall from grace by Ozuna—for him to emerge as anything but a fourth outfielder anytime soon.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2014 Stats (Triple-A): 5 GS, 1-4, 5.18 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 24.1 IP, 26 H, 12 BB, 23 K
Dave Duncan has forgotten more about pitching than most people can ever hope to know, so when he speaks, it's wise to listen.
Unfortunately for Archie Bradley, Arizona's top prospect who has been sidelined since late April with an elbow strain (h/t Arizona Republic), listening is apparently something that he struggles with.
"Pitchers he's (Duncan) helped produce numbers and are All-Stars and everything," Bradley recently told the Republic's Zach Buchanan. "You just take it in stride. Obviously what he said has some meaning to it, but at the same time — agree to disagree. I think my pitches are good. Obviously, they need some work."
What did Duncan say to garner such a response?
"He still has a lot to do to be a legitimate guy to consider for the major-league rotation," Duncan told Buchanan. "He has decent control of his fastball. At times, he's above average in velocity. At times, he's average in velocity. So there's no consistency there with his velocity. His breaking ball is very inconsistent, and he virtually has an unusable change-up."
I'm not taking issue with Bradley's confidence in his abilities—a player who doesn't believe in himself is a useless player.
But whether it's due to his elbow issue or something else, Bradley hasn't been good thus far—and with Duncan's longtime friend and confidant, Tony LaRussa, now seemingly calling the shots in Arizona, the opinion of Arizona's roving pitching guru carries far more weight than it previously did.
Bradley not only has to get healthy, but he's going to have to perform well enough to earn Duncan's blessing before he finds himself facing major league batters.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats (Triple-A): .235/.314/.367, 14 XBH (4 HR), 18 RBI
Coming off of a 2013 campaign that saw him hit .320 with 31 home runs and 103 RBI while splitting time between High-A and Double-A, Maikel Franco was expected to compete for Philadelphia's starting third base job in spring training.
Instead, the 21-year-old struggled, hitting only .184 with a .409 OPS, and he found himself at Triple-A to start the season. Between his numbers last year and Philadelphia's lack of high-end options at the position, that wasn't supposed to be a lengthy stay.
"Maikel Franco, I hope he gets to the point where he's ready to help us at the big-league level, but right now he's not," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said earlier this week on Comcast SportsNet's Philly Sports Talk.
While Cody Asche has begun to heat up, hitting .417 (10-for-24) with five runs scored and six RBI over his last seven games, the Phillies have gotten little in the way of production at the hot corner, at the plate or in the field.
Philadelphia's third basemen are hitting a combined .223/.311/.363 with five home runs and 17 RBI while posting a minus-22.0 UZR/150 and minus-3 DRS with their gloves. None of those numbers are pretty, and they speak to the importance of Franco finding his way at Triple-A sooner rather than later.
"We truly expect him to be [ready] at some point," Amaro said. "And when he is, I hope he forces our hand."
Marcus Semien, IF, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats (MLB): .213/.276/.333, 3 HR, 17 RBI
When Chicago activated Connor Gillaspie from the disabled list earlier this month, the team's corresponding roster move should have been to send Marcus Semien down to the minors.
It wasn't, and White Sox manager Robin Ventura defended the decision to keep the versatile 23-year-old around to CSNChicago's Dan Hayes:
Sem can play quite a few positions. There’s enough for him to be in the mix and get him some opportunities to still be up here and get at-bats and help us win. I think he deserves to be up here the way he’s been playing.
When Chicago made that decision on May 7, Semien was hitting a .213/.267/.346 slash line, three home runs, 16 RBI and 45 strikeouts in 146 plate appearances. He's made only 14 plate appearances since then and, as you can see from his numbers, continues to scuffle at the plate.
That's not doing Semien, who has looked overmatched at the plate with a 31.9 percent strikeout rate, any favors.
Semien needs regular playing time, something he simply cannot get at the major league level.
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