By Jim Brown
The 2016 Carolina/California Leagues will play their mid-season game on the West Coast this year. It will be held on June 21st at The Diamond, Home of the Lake Elsinore Storm (San Diego). The roster was recently released and is chock-full of UTR pitchers. Of the 21 pitchers announced, 13 have the qualifying criteria to be Under the Radar. There were a few surprises, as only five UTR Organizational All-Stars made the list, with two owning the 2016 “Ones the Watch” tag. But most of the names mentioned here should be familiar to you, if you having been following our daily posts. The home team tied for the most picks, along with the Cubs’ Myrtle Beach squad garnering three selections. Overall, looking at both staffs, it should be an entertaining game.
From the Carolina League:Ryan Brinley (Potomac – Washington)
- Tracking close to 2500 pitchers each season, occasionally you will run across one that is “sneaky good” and Brinley fits that bill. The 27th round pick in 2015 from Sam Houston St (Tex) so good last season, that he made it across 3 levels, spending most of his time at LoA Hagerstown. The Nationals may have a low-round steal on their hands. I say sneaky good, because the 23 year-old right-hander never qualified for mentions on my daily spreadsheets last year. This was mainly due because he didn’t strike out many hitters, only 16 over 31.1 innings. Not to make excuses, I focus my in-season work on the starting pitchers, but after seeing that Brinley only walked one batter last season, how did I miss those control numbers. He’s at again this season, in walking only four in 22.1 innings, but the good news is that he’s missing more bats (24 K’s).
- Clifton is the first of two All-Star pitchers that I tagged as “Ones to Watch” for 2016 and he is proving that worthy so far. Drafted out of high school in 2013 in the 12th round, the 21 year-old has taken a workman like approach in moving through the Cubs system. He was named 2016 Top NL UTR Pitcher for May, on top of his UTR-OAS (#4 TPS .095) after the end of the 2015 season. This will be his second All-Star selection, as he was on the roster for the Northwest League in 2014. The following season, he led LoA South Bend in strikeouts with 103 over 108 innings. One thing that I’m watching, is during his first full season last year and through 10 starts this season, the right-hander has become an extreme flyball pitcher. His FB rate over that time averages at 64% but so far no damage done with a 0.5 HR9 (9 HR) rate in 160.2 innings. Granted, Clifton throws in a pitcher’s league with home games in a pitcher park. But its a stat worth watching.
- If you watched the MLB draft recently, it was probably mentioned that the Cubs went heavy on arms this year. Of their 36 picks, they drafted 27 pitchers in what could become a war chest of talent in several years. Just watching the big club, we know the bats are already in Wrigley…just image a bevy of solid arms behind Jake Arrieta….scary! Some of those pitchers have been highlighted here at UTRMinors, such as Duane Underwood (before becoming the #1 Cubs prospect), aforementioned Trevor Clifton, Paul Blackburn, and Jen-Ho Tseng. Hedges’ name could easily be included in that list. He was taken in the 26th round back in 2014 out of Azusa Pacific College (CA) where he displayed pinpoint control and a decent slider. He had a successful pro debut in the bullpen with the AZL Cubs and was moved into the rotation the following year in LoA South Bend. Before getting touched up on June 17th, the righthander went 3-0 with a 1.27 ERA and only three walks over 28.1 innings. He doesn’t strike out many (47 in 73 IP), so the 23 year old could make a nice fit back in the bullpen.
- At 24 years old, this 16th round pick (2014) can hear his developmental clock ticking while in HiA. Cooper is making it count this season though, as he leads the League in strikeouts with 95 in 77.2 innings of work. The White Sox are in no hurry to push the righthander, as his 13 starts this season are the first of his short career. He made a total of 59 relief appearances since being drafted between Rookie Great Falls and LoA Kannapolis, with a stint at Winston-Salem last year. Getting the K isn’t new for Cooper, as he struck out 76 over 52.1 innings in 2015 which earned him the 2015 Organizational All-Star tag.
- Grimes is having a breakout season thus far and its something that this writer didn’t see coming, as he scored in the bottom 1/3 amidst Oriole pitchers in my system. It tends to happen and I always take a hard look at those pitchers before naming my Ones to Watch list. Drafted in the 18th round in 2014, the righthander was previously taken in the 4th round by the White Sox back in 2010. The 24 year old held strong on his commitment to Georgia Tech and refused the top money by not signing. He was named Carolina League Pitcher of the Month and also the Top NL UTR Pitcher for May on this site. He went 5-1 with a 1.12 ERA, giving up 5 earned runs over 40.1 innings.
- Evan Phillips is another pitcher coming from no-where, but doing his damage out of the bullpen. The 21 year old righty has been flipping from set-up guy to closer, but has been dominate in both roles. He’s posted a 2-1 record with a 0.99 ERA, allowing only 3 ER over 27.1 innings.
- The California League has their own dominate relief pitcher in Blueberg. The 2015 Organizational All-Star has converted 10 of his last 10 save opportunities and hasn’t allowed an earned run since April 23rd. Though that’s a 21 inning stretch, its nothing new to the 23 years old righthander who was selected in the 24th round in 2014. In 2015 with LoA Fort Wayne, Blueberg went 28 innings without allowing a run. The only glaring difference from last season to 2016 is that Blueberg has cut-back the free pass from 2.4 to o.9 ( 3 walks over 30 IP)
- Padres loved Wieck and so did I. The only problem for the Padres was that the now 24 year old lefty reliever was with the New York Mets, who drafted him in the 7th round in 2014. He wasn’t there for long, as the Mets threw him in as PTNL in a trade that sent Alex Torres to New York. My problem stemmed, that after a great debut in 2014 with short-season Brooklyn (1.40 ERA in 16 appearances), which came on the heels of his work in the Oklahoma City University bullpen and earned him a 2014 OAS mention, the Mets threw him into the rotation to begin 2015. His numbers were pedestrian, at best, and the Padres kept it status quo after trade. The wheels came off when Wieck was promoted to Lake Elsinore in early July, in posting a 5.21 ERA in 11 starts. He’s back in the bullpen and earning an All-Star spot with his teammate Colby Blueberg.
- Lamet makes the roster, but wont be playing along-side Wieck in earning a promotion to Double-A San Antonio. This progression plays right in the hands of my system, as Lamet was my Padres pick for 2016 “One to Watch”. Signed as an International free agent in 2014, the soon-to-be 24 year old had a heck of start to the 2016 season. One in which during a 5 start stretch, the righthander only gave up 1 ER in 29 innings, along with 8 walks and 30 strikeouts. In fact, he only allowed two runs or fewer in 9 of his 12 starts and was named Top UTR NL Pitcher for April. Though he lacks experience, it was time to take the training wheels off and send him to face the advanced hitters in Double-A. So far, that’s not going well. In 2 starts, Lamet has allowed 8 ER in 9.2 innings.
- Herb is another HiA pitcher from out-of-no-where. Getting his first shot in a pro rotation in 2015, the 29th round pick in 2014 threw up stats that didn’t jump off the screen. This year their screaming in the improvements of 6.1 K9 in 2015 to 9.9 so far this season, to go along with a 2015 1.83 K/BB rate leaping to 3.19 in 2016. All this translated as one of the best pitchers in the Mariners system, in being named Top UTR AL Pitcher for April and narrowing missing May’s mention to Francisco Rios. Herb has touched double-digit K’s three times this season, including a career-high of 11 back on April 30th.
- 20 of the 30 Giant’s top prospects listed by Baseball America are pitchers, and Rodolfo Martinez’ name does not appear on that list. The International signee from 2013 is out to change that when the list appears for 2017 edition, as he leads all HiA relief pitchers with 19 saves. The 22 years old native from the Dominican Republic has only allowed 1 earned run in his last 13. 1 innings (14 appearances).
- Here is a kid that epitomes under the radar. His name constantly appears in my daily spreadsheets and has made multiple mentions on the site. Yet, for some reason, you think that he would be in Triple-A by now. Not the case…..he’s only in his 3rd season with the Rockies organization and he lost all of his debut year after getting injured in facing only 3 batters. He did however, recently receive a promotion to Double-A to the Hartford Yard Goats (Love that team name). The 24th round pick in 2014 was a 2015 LoA All-Star while at Asheville and a 2015 UTR Organizational All-Star. The 24 year old posted a 0-1 record, with 10 saves in 26 innings and walking seven with 36 strikeouts.
Next up…..I will rundown the All-Star pitchers LoA Midwest and South Atlantic Leagues. These leagues will play their games on June 21st.