This week’s edition of Prospect Buzz features a relatively equal mix of young toolsy athletes and game-savvy polished guys. Exciting young guns like Nolan Arenado and Anthony Gose are propelling their stock into the top-tier while even more toolsy Donavan Tate and Andrew Brackman continue to disappoint. Soft-tossing lefty Robert Erlin continues to put any doubts about his (tabbed) low ceiling to rest with two more sparkling pitching performances while supposedly polished hitter Derek Norris is watching far too many strikes–and opportunities– pass him by.
Despite hitting over .300 in each of his first two professional seasons and improving his OPS — .755 in ’09– more than 100 points– to .858– in his sophomore campaign, Rockies ’09 second-round draft pick Nolan Arenado didn’t draw much consideration as a top-five third base prospect heading into ’11. Now twenty years old and playing in the California League, Arenado simply refuses to be ignored. After finishing up a ten game tear at the plate when he hit .368 with 3 home runs, 4 doubles and a 1.111 OPS, the young third baseman’s triple-slash line has soared to .310/.354/.490. His bat has continued to improve in every month this season and after he hit a combined .271 during April and May, Arenado has caught fire and he’s managed a .358/.394/.526 in June and a .407/.448/.815 line though 27 July at bats. His sweet swing and plate vision allow him to make consistent, hard contact and he’s struck out just 30 times in over 300 at bats this season– giving him a K% of 9.8%.
While he’s a slow runner with heavy feet, Arenado is a decent athlete with a strong arm and improving defensive fundamentals at third base. As a former shortstop, he has soft hands and solid body control despite a thick lower half. Now that he’s sharpened his footwork and polished his throwing mechanics/accuracy, the phenom has improved his fielding percentage from .899 in ’09 and .936 in ’10 to .955 this season. Questions about his glove prior to the season have pretty much quieted and he has the look of a solid Mike Lowell-type big league third baseman.
Heading into this season, Gose was considered an exciting-yet-raw five-tool talent who still needed plenty of coaching before he could even dream of reaching his astronomical potential . Since his debut with the Phillies organization in ’08, Gose’s plus-plus wheels, flashy athletic ability, Mike Cameron-esque glove and above-average raw power have garnered him plenty of attention despite his annually lackluster performance. Before (what appears to be) his breakout ’11 campaign, Gose sported a .698 OPS through 1061 career at bats and he’d been caught stealing 56 times in 170 stolen base attempts (33% of the time). This year, as a twenty-year-old playing against older, more seasoned Eastern League competition, Gose has improved nearly every aspect of his game. He’s hit .395, belted four home runs and stolen six bases in his last ten games and while he’s still batting just .261 on the season– primarily due to a frigid April–, he tops the league in stolen bases (39) and has already matched his (previous) career homerun total (9).
Though he was already considered a premium defensive weapon in centerfield, Gose seems to have finally realized his offensive potential. He’s harnessed his impact wheels and has been caught-stealing just 10 times in 49 attempts after he was thrown out a league-leading 32 times last year. He still strikes out a lot, but his batting eye has improved allowing him to better tap in to his raw power at the plate and his speed on the basepaths. It’s certainly becoming more and more easy to see why Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was so determined to acquire Gose from the Astros last summer.
Twenty-year-old, 5’11″ soft-tossing Rangers southpaw Robert Erlin continues to turn heads with his lights-out pitching performances. Even with his pedestrian fastball velocity and an unimposing stature, Erlin manages to boast stat lines that scream future ace. He’s far more than a (future) fifth starter or trick-pitch middle reliever (a la Daniel Herrera)– period. Erlin has dominated his consistently older competition at every one of his minor league stops. After bursting on the scene in 2010 with a 2.12 ERA, an absurd 125/17 K/BB ratio and a Sally League All-Star nod, Erlin has continued his dominance into the Carolina and Texas leauges this season. After he posted a 2.14 ERA (good for third in the league) with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans to begin the season, Erlin hit a minor bump upon his promotion to the Texas League. He’s more than righted himself however, after he was tagged for 18 hits, 3 home runs and 10 earned runs over 9 2/3 innings in his previous two starts, Erlin has struck out twenty batters in his last 12 2/3 innings pitched. He struck out 14 in his start against Corpus Christi on June 26th and he’s now punched out (a combined) 106 batters while he’s walked just 11 in 96 innings pitched.
Because his fastball tops out around 90-91 and generally sits in the 87-89 range, Erlin hasn’t drawn a top prospect label from the scouting community– until now. His polished delivery and pitchability along with his left-handedness, impressive poise and above-average command of three pitches give him a solid future as a reliable number-three starter in the big leagues. He’s a smart, competitive pitcher similar in style and repertoire to Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy.
Recently selected to the 2011 Futures Game, Rays pitching prospect Matthew Moore is entrenched in the most dominant stretch of any pitcher in the high-minors. After he threw a complete game no-hitter on June 16th, Moore nearly threw a second no-no three starts later on July 6th. He’s allowed just 9 hits and 14 baserunners over his last 28 innings pitched while he’s punched-out 33.
Overall, Moore is 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 96 innings pitched. His .90 WHIP and the fact that he’s improved his K/BB ratio (4.81) more than a point for this third straight season provide obvious evidence that he’s done a fine job of working on his previously suspect fastball command and pitching mechanics. Those that believed Moore was just a future AL mid-rotation starter with big strikeout totals and an inefficient approach will have to eat their words. Moore has grown into a more complete pitcher with ace potential that spans well beyond fantasy relevance.
Moore’s dominance isn’t anything new. He’s led the minor leagues in strikeouts since 2009–amassing 509 in that span– and he’s struck out more than 12 batters per 9 innings pitched over his career. His lows-to-mid 90s exploding fastball and his unhittable spike-curve give him the best stuff among left-handed pitching prospects while his fearless/aggressive approach on the mound suggests he’ll have an exciting career as a flashy number-tw0 starter in the big leagues.
After he signed a $4.55 million dollar big league deal with the Yankees following the 2007 Draft, 6’10″ righthy Andrew Brackman would lose much of his next two seasons to Tommy John surgery. When he did makes his professional debut in 2009, his control was downright offensive. He issued 76 free-passes while posting 2-12 record and a 5.91 ERA over 106 innings in the South Atlantic League.
In 2010 however, at age 24, Brackman seemed to have turned a corner in his development and he would improve his K/BB ratio from 103/76 (in his debut) to 126/39 while also lowering his ERA over two full runs to 3.90. He worked with Yankees coaches to improve his mechanics, approach and he developed a nice two-seam fastball to complement his explosive four-seamer.
The wheels seemed to have fallen off in 2011. Brackman rests at the bottom of the International League in nearly every pitching category, and his command has completely disappeared. After he walked 42 batters in 52 innings and allowed 6.75 earned runs per 9 as a starter Brackman was banished to the bullpen. Since he was exiled to the ‘pen, things ha
ve only gotten worse for the super-sized righty, culminating with an ugly appearance on June 26th when he allowed five earned runs before recording an out. He’s now allowed 17 earned runs in 11.1 innings as a reliever and at least one runner has crossed home plate in each of his last six appearances.
While he still throws a heater that can reach the 96-97 mph range, and his nasty curveball shows plus-plus potential, pitching at AAA, Brackman looks further from the MLB than ever. This December he will turn 26 years old, (likely) before ever pitching
a single inning in the big leagues. His four-year MLB contract will come to a close with him unraveling and it’s hard to be optimistic about his future as a big league arm at this point.
Selected third overall by the Padres in the ’09 draft, after signing for $6.25 million toolsy outfield prospect has done his best impression of Matt Bush through his first three seasons playing professionally. After a sports hernia– suffered just days after signing his gaudy contract– Tate has had serious difficulties staying on the diamond. A stomach virus, sprained shoulder and a broken jaw– shattered in an ATV crash in December, 2010– and a laundry list of ailments have limited him to just professional 90 at bats heading into his 2011 debut in the Northwest League in June.
After Tate flashed his phenomenal athletic talent by batting .294 with 9 extra base hits and seven stolen bases through 90 at bats this past June, he was once again sidelined. This time however, injuries weren’t the culprit. Tate was suspended for 50 games after he tests positive for a “drug of abuse,” violating the MLB’s drug policy. Though he was given credit for 25 games served already, Tate will be forced to miss even more development time. Yikes.
Nationals catching prospect Derek Norris isn’t in the dire situation that Brackman and Tate are, but the continued downward trend in his offensive production are certainly cause for concern. After he posted two straight seasons with an OPS above .900 in .08 and ’09, Norris’s hitting stats dipped in the pitcher friendly Carolina League last season– though he still managed a promising .838 OPS and 89 walks despite his .235 batting average.
So far in 2011, while catching in the Eastern League, Norris’ output has continued to dip. After he finished the first month of the season with a .125 batting average and .466 OPS Norris was barely able to keep his head above water through June. Now that he’s finished up a ten game span where he’s batted just .152 and struck out 12 times in 33 at bats, Norris’s batting average resides at an unsightly .208. His strikeout rate continues to rise for the fourth consecutive season, now peaking at 34.4%. While he does have 12 homeruns in 229 at bats, his BABIP has also continued to dip and is now at .234– a career-low. Of course, the better Eastern defenses that Norris is now facing has a lot to do with his plummeting BABIP, but it could also be a sign that his conservative approach at the dish is beginning to do more harm than good.
Because he is blessed with gobs of raw power, Norris chooses to work the count and rely on his batting eye and thunderous bat to produce runs. Now that he’s become even more selective these past two seasons, however, he’s been putting himself in difficult counts far too often. Instead of waiting for a good pitch to hit, Norris is becoming too content on waiting for a walk. The end result? He’s more apt to be forced into swinging at a tough outside pitching when he falls behind savvy Eastern League pitchers.
The fourth overall selection in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft, Christian Colon signed with the Royals for $2.75 million last June. Because he signed so early in the summer, Colon was able to play in 60 Carolina League games before the end of the 2010 season. While his .278/.326/.380 2010 triple-slash line wasn’t anything to write home about, Colon showed enough promise at a premium defensive position– shortstop– to be considered a top prospect. Now over 600 plate appearances into his professional career, Colon continues to underwhelm however– and instead of improving with more experience under his belt– his production at the plate has stagnated. In his past ten starts, Colon is batting just .184 and he’s managed just two extra base hits– both doubles– in his last 56 at bats. In fact, he’s grounded into nearly as many double-plays (11) as he’s had extra-base hits (12). Colon’s also showing some odd reverse platoon splits, and he’s batting just .156 with a .486 OPS against southpaws.