GCL Braves/Rookie Danville/Hi-A Lynchburg
2011 stats: 1-3, 3.49 ERA; 49.0 IP, 49 H, 13 BB, 32 K in 7 starts and 7 relief appearances over 3 levels.
The Braves selected Talley in the 28th round of the 2011 draft out of the Citadel where he was named the 2011 Southern Conference Pitcher of the Year and earned honors after his regional appearance in the 2010 College World Series. The 6’6’ 225 lbs. southpaw was also drafted by Arizona in 2010 (25th RD), but decided to stay in school to pursue his degree in civil engineering. Talley’s stats at the Citadel were respectable, and would have had a superb senior season sans poor fielding and run support from his fellow teammates. He collected 21 career victories in 62 appearances with the Bulldogs that included 235 career strikeouts, four complete games and a pair of shutouts. Though he possesses an average fastball, his stuff projects and he has the athleticism for a big kid. The philosophy of the Braves is one of the reasons I chose Talley as my pre-season choice. With a spot start at Hi-A after spending most the season with the GCL Braves, it’s unsure where the he will land in 2012. I would expect a possible crack at a rotation spot at Lo-A Rome, an expectation based on the fact the way the Braves handle their arms and the maturation of the 22 year old.
Short-Season Jamestown/Hi-A Jupiter
2011 Stats: 4-3, 3.29 ERA, 76.2 IP, 80 H, 7 BB, 71 K in 15 starts over 2 levels
While doing my pre-season picks, there is usually that one pitcher that I select, that once you take a closer look at his age/level, you begin to question why he was ever selected. Last year, it was the LA Dodgers RHP Red Patterson as the UTR pre-season pick. Which, by the way according to my UTR/TPS Tracking System, he finished #1 amongst Dodger starting pitchers. Additionally, John Sickels at minorleagueball.com mentions Patterson as a sleeper for 2012. The Marlins Matt Neil falls into the previous category at 25 years old. The 29th pick out of BYU in 2011 has caught up to Patterson already, as he saw a late season promotion to Hi-A Jupiter from S-S Jamestown. The great story about the 6’ 6” 225lb Neil is that he stepped away from baseball after high school to fulfill his Mormon mission. Upon his return to BYU in 2009, it only took him two years to get back in the groove. Neil racked up a ridiculous 10.1 K/BB rate last season over hitters that were, on average, 4 years is his junior. But considering his extended absences from pitching, I believe it should have placed him on a level playing field. Neil does have a four-pitch mix with a plus four-seam fastball (89-92 mph), circle change, a decent slider, and curve. Neil should start the 2012 season back at Hi-A Jupiter and should be on the fast track to get to AA Jacksonville by mid-season.
NEW YORK METS
2011 Stats: 7-9, 3.58 ERA, 138.1 IP, 140 H, 63 BB, 90 K in 21 starts and 7 relief appearances.
Ryan Fraser has enjoyed success, both personally and organizationally, since being drafted by the Mets (16th Rd) in 2010 from the University of Memphis. After being the stalwart of the Tigers staff, Fraser was assigned to the bullpen with the Brooklyn Cyclones to limit his innings. The 6’ 3” 195lb. right-hander helped guide the short-season Cyclones to a New York-Penn division title and a runner-up finish in the NYP League Championships by picking up 12 saves over 26 appearances. Its was back to the grind of starting in 2011, as Fraser was assigned to the Lo-A Sand Gnat rotation, where he went on to lead the staff with 138.1 innings and a shot at the South Atlantic League title, but ended with another runner-up finish. The versatility of Fraser might be his ticket to push his way through the system. The 23 year old is capable of throwing heat, touching 97 out of the pen at Brooklyn and then bringing it down to 92-94 as a starter in Savannah. Fraser has another decent offering in a power slider, which been termed more as a slurve with a tight spin and break. He needs to improve on his upper-80’s change-up if Fraser wishes to remain as a future back-of-the-rotation type starter. Fraser should find himself at Hi-A St. Lucie in 2012, but any promotion may depend on whether he’s in the bullpen or the rotation.
2011 Stats: 67.2 IP, 2.79 ER, 64 H, 23 BB, 46 K in 13 starts
As with the Marlins’ Matthew Neil facing batters much younger than he, Lino Martinez is on the other end of the spectrum. Pitching in the same league (New York-Penn) as Neil, Martinez faced more experienced hitters at the adolescent age of 18. Adolescent may have been a poor choice to describe the 6’0” 160lb. left-hander out of Venezuela, as Martinez showed maturity on the hill and already has a good feel for pitching. Therefore, the best word to describe the international signee from July 2009 would be pitchability. Starting his pro career with the Gulf Coast League in 2010, Martinez showed decent command with a 7.8 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 rates and a 4.93 ERA, but a 3.06 FIP over 34.1 IP in 11 appearances. The Phillies took notice and promoted him to short-season Williamsport for 2011, where his peripherals dipped somewhat, but his ERA had improved to 2.79 in 13 starts. Martinez isn’t flashy, nor will he overpower hitters. His fastball sit in the high 80’s and the curveball is his best pitch, which rates as above average. Of course, as he fills out his frame, he will add velocity with a consistent arm slot and downhill plane to the plate. Martinez, who turned 19 shortly after the short-season ended, is athletic and shows lots of projection. The system lacks left-handed pitching and with Martinez destined for Lo-A Lakewood for 2012, he could be labeled as a premium lefty prospect. The Marlins need to rush the 25 year-old Neil, but Philadelphia has nothing but time with their youngster.
2011 Stats: 10-10, 4.32 ERA, 143.2 IP, 144 H, 54 BB, 108 K in 26 starts
As I was creating my UTR/TPS spreadsheets, I was pleasantly surprised to see Demny’s name near the top. You see, as I’m tracking the minors throughout the season, I will have analyzed each box score and recorded the daily stats of over 1200 pitchers. Of course, one will begin to see those pitchers putting together a decent season during this process. The majority of the other pitchers, will have to wait until the season is over to see how they shakeout on my spreadsheets. Demny has ranked near the top the last three years on my National’s list of minor league pitchers. Probably the best thing that I like about the 2008 6th round pick from Blinn (TX) College is that he seemed so inconsistent over that period, but yet crops-up as one of the better pitchers in the Nats system, a true UTR candidate. In fact, not once was Demny in consideration for a weekly UTR mention in 2011. I actually thought I was on to something, until the Baseball America Prospect Handbook arrive at my door and there’s the 22 year-old 6’ 3” 220 lb Demny cracking the Top 30 at #29. Demny’s starts may show inconsistency, but it could be that he’s tooling with his pitches, which are showing improvement every year. He throws a low 90’s fastball that can top out at 96 mph, a potential plus slider, and a promising curve. It just hasn’t “clicked” for Demny in regards with command and control, but I believe 2012 holds promise for the July 2009 UTR Alum. With most of the right-handed arms gone due to trades and the Rule 5, its time for Demny to set sights on AA-Harrisburg this season and becoming an innings-eating #4 or #5 starter in the Capital sometime in 2014.
2011 Stats: 4-4 3.22 ERA, 67.0 IP, 64 H, 20 BB, 77 K in 14 starts
Thank you Boston Red Sox’s. Just as I was putting the finishing touches on my Cubs UTR Breakout for 2012, you decided on the Theo Epstein compensation pick, Aaron Kurcz. Great pick Boston, you wont be sorry. I express my appreciation because I was actually torn between two pitchers, so their pick settled my own internal dispute. As I am a firm believer that things always work out, so Boston’s decision gives me the opportunity to showcase a young pitcher that I believe was a year away from making this feature. The Cubs are making inroads into the Far East, and along with my UTR partner Marc Hefferan’s selection of Pin-Chieh Chen, Yao-Lin Wang both could quickly become successful products of that venture. Signed in 2009 at 19 years-old, Wang was hurling a fastball with a top speed of 94 mph for the Taiwanese National Team. He made his pro debut in June 20 with the AZL Cubs and later joined the Boise Hawks when their season got underway. He struggled in his first year mainly in part that he tried to succeed too quickly, in addition to the culture adjustment needed for the 6’0” 180 lb right-hander. He returned to Boise in 2011 and chewed-up the hitters in the Northwest League with an almost 4:1 K:BB ratio. My belief that Wang was a year away stems from the question of what a full season against more advanced hitters at Lo-A Peoria will hold for the recently turned 21-year old. Wang is also getting mixed appraisals amongst scouts, as some rate his stuff as fringy while others looking for him to be a quality long-term starter. Stranger things have happened, with a reason of course, so let’s see if the Kurcz departure brings Wang to forefront at the right time.
Rookie Billings/Lo-A Dayton
2011 Stats: 8-2, 3.01 ERA, 80.2 IP, 81 H, 26 BB, 65 K in 14 starts and 2 relief appearances over 2 levels
Stalin Gerson is another pitcher who is facing younger hitters, but yet I find as an intriguing prospect posed for a possible breakout in 2012. Having been in the Reds system since signing in 2007 as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic, Gerson hasn’t been able to gain traction recently, getting lost amongst other prospects like 2011 UTR’s Daniel Corcino and Daniel Renken. With a projectable frame at 6’4”, the right-hander started his career by spending two years in the DSL where sported at 3.47 ERA and 104 strikeouts over 119.2 innings. Gerson’s first stint stateside in 2010 was with the Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer League and was met with moderate success. His peripherals held somewhat steady, but he gave up too many hits (10.9 H/9) and home runs (1.1 HR/9). Gerson began to emerge in 2011, though he got a late start to the season after spending time in extended spring training. He was bounced between Dayton and Billings, but finished an otherwise successful season with the Lo-A Dragons. He continued to offer-up too many hits and home runs by leaving his low 90’s fastball up in zone. He has an average change-up and his curveball is a work in progress, which with improvement will dictate his success through the system. Look for Gerson to breakout at Hi-A Bakersfield in 2012, by coming out of the bullpen with the occasional spot start.
Lo-A Wisconsin/Hi-A Brevard County
2011 Stats: 10-7, 5.28 ERA, 133.0 IP, 143 H, 50 BB, 114 K in 25 starts and 1 relief appearance over 2 levels
Issues with signability slipped Ross to the 8th round of the 2010 draft, as teams hedged that Ross might return to LSU where he would have been the staff ace for his senior year. But already winning the College World Series the year prior, as a sophomore, might have swayed the 6’ 2” 200lb righty to quickly sign with the Brewers. Ross dominated from the rotation and the bullpen in his debut season with the rookie league Helena Brewers with a 2.70 ERA and ringing up 52 K’s over 46.2 innings. He didn’t miss a beat in 2011 while in the Lo-A Wisconsin rotation, throwing a complete game in one of his 12 starts and earning All-Star honors in the Midwest League. The hitters caught up to him when he was promoted to Hi-A Brevard County in late June 2011, as he gave up 3 or more earned runs in 9 of his 13 starts. Ross struggled as FSL hitters teed up on his low 90’s fastball, which virtually has no movement. Ross needs to concentrate on not trying to be a strike thrower, but to use his excellent mechanics and pitchability to finesse hitters. He possesses a plus slider that has a late, tight break which has been described as nasty and a much improved change-up that received comps from this pitching coaches. If the 23 year-old can earn a promotion in 2012 to AA Huntsville and concentrate working around hitters and limiting mistakes, he might project as an innings-eating #3 star.
Short-Season State College
2011 Stats: 5-3, 3.79 ERA, 71.1 IP, 77 H, 15 BB, 39 K in 15 starts
Labeled as the best late round pick by the Pirates out of the 2011 draft, Benedict lived up to that billing early on with the State College Spikes. The 30th-round draft choice from Western Carolina retired all nine batters he faced in his professional start on June 19th, striking out two in the home opener. He went on by giving up just 3 earned runs in 18 innings over his first four starts. A booming first impression isn’t anything new for the 23-year-old, as he surprised Pirate pitching coaches by throwing low 90’s heat during the instructional league. The highs of early season successes were short-lived, as Benedict fell hard over his next five starts. The big bodied (6’5” 220lb) righty became unglued by giving up runs in bunches, 23 earned runs over 23 innings of work. Even though the defense of the Spikes was very suspect in 2011, most of that chaos fell upon Benedict by surrendering 38 hits over that period. A couple bright spots during that time were that Benedict’s command didn’t suffer (13K/6BB), and only one home run was served. Benedict bounced back in the end, giving up four earned runs in 30.1 innings over his last six starts. Mostly a sinkerball pitcher, Benedict also offers a cutter and change-up that he pitches to contact, which generated a decent GB rate of 55%. Benedict will spend 2012 in the rotation at Lo-A West Virginia.
ST LOUIS CARDINALS
Lo-A Quad Cities
2011 Stats: 13-7, 3.03 ERA, 127.2 IP, 103 H, 13 BB, 93 K in 22 starts and 1 relief appearance.
Anthony Ferrara was one of the top high school arms in the state of Florida who should have went within the top 100 picks of the 2008 draft. Instead, he slid to the 7th round (215) where the Cardinals were more than happy to pull him off the board. The main reason for the slip were the concerns of a shoulder injury Ferrara suffered during his junior season, which later required a visit to the infamous Dr. James Andrews. Uh-Oh, that spells trouble and sends a cold chill thought-out the scouting circles. Ferrara was initially diagnosed with tendonitis, but Dr. Andrews seen it as a muscle imbalance and placed the young left-hander on a strength and conditioning program. Area scouts didn’t need to worry, as Ferrara never lost a tick on his 90-plus fastball during the recovery. The 22 year-old progressed through two seasons of rookie ball and a 2010 stop at short-season Batavia, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. He found himself in the rotation at Lo-A Quad Cities where he led the club in wins (13) and innings pitched (127.2) on their way to the 2011 Midwest League Title. Ferrara generates a lot of groundballs with his four & two seam fastball, to go along with a change, curve, and slider. Oddly, he had more success against right-handed batters (.262 BA) than with lefties (.287). Something to watch with Ferrara in 2012, as he joins the staff at Hi-A Palm Beach, would be for a slight regression, as his 2011 BABIP (.262) is 100 points lower than that of 2010. But hopefully, that will be another misdiagnoses.
2011 Stats: 3-4, 2.63 ERA, 61.2 IP, 58 H, 17 BB, 61 K in 13 starts
It looks like this will be the last Breakout that I get to write on the AL bound Stros. So pardon me if I first mention a pitcher that didn’t make my selection, but was tops on my UTR/TPS List, Carlos Quevedo. I just couldn’t get a read on Quevedo, but he will be curious to watch in 2012 with the Hi-A Lancaster JetHawks. Kyle Hallock, on the other hand, was probably the most balanced pitcher in the Astro’s farm system, and possibly the New-York Penn League, as a whole. Fresh off a trip to the 2011 College World Series with the Kent State Golden Flash, the 10th round pick smoked thru his first 6 starts with the Tri-City ValleyCats. The 2011 MAC Pitcher of the Year only gave up 8 ER over 34 innings while striking out 34 and walking only six. In 12 of the 13 starts with Tri-City, the 6’ 2” 185 lb left-hander only surrendered 2 earned runs or less and pitched at least 5 innings in 9 of those starts. The 23 year old is not a power pitcher, but is crafty in finessing hitters with several reliable pitches and exceptional control. His fastball runs in the high 80’s, but does occasionally touch in the 90’s as he works both sides of the plate. He also possesses a power slider with sink, a decent change-up, and a breaking ball that he’s looking to improve on its sharpness. Hallock is a study of the game, as he constantly looks to make adjustments to get quality strikes early in the count and learning from the hitters he’s faced and their tendencies. Hallock should see Lo-A Lexington to start 2012 and then join Quevedo at Lancaster sometime later.
AZL D-Backs/Hi-A Visalia/S-S Yakima
2011 Stats: 4-6 3.07 ERA, 67.1 IP, 62 H, 17 BB, 56 K in 14 starts over 3 levels
One has to wonder how far Yiomar Camacho would have progressed last year if it hadn’t been for a lost season back in 2009 due to Tommy John surgery. With a year or so to fully recover from a TJ injury, Camacho did rebound quickly and had a solid 2010 season in his second DSL stint. Though his numbers were pedestrian, the right-hander was named to the All-Star team. The 2007 non-drafted free agent was one of the most advanced arms that the D-Backs had coming out the Dominican League. The Venezuelan shredded the Arizona Rookie League to start 2011 when he struck out 36 batters, walked only four, and gave up a meager five earned runs over 32.2 innings. Posting those numbers, coupled with his live arm, the organization decided to challenge him with a promotion to Hi-A Visalia. Challenged he was, as he only lasted 3 innings, giving up as many runs than he did in the 6 starts overall in AZL. A drop to short-season Yakima followed and Camacho struggled, averaging over a hit per inning (9.3 H/9) and a K/BB rate of 1.58 over 31.2 innings. The 22 year-old does have the repertoire to be a solid prospect and could be become a compelling future starter for the D-Backs. Camacho throws a low- 90’s fastball, a devastating curve, and an advanced change-up. Is it possible that the spot start at Visalia did more harm than good? Could have…. as I should be projecting the 6’ 1” 172 lb Camacho to begin 2012 with his debut at Visalia, instead of Lo-A South Bend.
AZL D-Backs/Hi-A Visalia/S-S Yakima
2011 Stats: 7-3 4.18 ERA, 125.0 IP, 135 H, 51 BB, 103 K in 22 starts
Since 1975, there have been 11 pitchers drafted from the University of Hawaii that have made it to the Show, the last being Dusty Bergman (6th Rd) in 1999. Since his time on the mound with the Anaheim Angels, 11 other pitchers have been drafted before Josh Slaats’ named was called during the 5th round in 2010. Numbers usually don’t lie and these show that Slaats’ chances to play in Colorado are slim. To improve his odds, the 23 year-old went up against the best competition by playing and succeeding in the Cape Cod League. It paid off as Baseball America named Slaats as one of the top right-handers coming into the draft. He signed late and only got to start eight games with short-season Tri-City. He went 1-3 with a 1.95 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 32.1 innings with the Dust Devils. He struggled at Lo-A Asheville to start 2011 in which he needed to take time off to work on his pitches. Slaats returned after a two-week hiatus, but his pitching from the year before didn’t, as the South Atlantic League hitters shelled him for a .342 BA. From a start on June 27 until the end of the season, the 6’5” 225 lb righty showed his old form, going 6-2 with a 2.76 ERA and lowered the hitter BA by 100 points. Slaats has three average or better pitches in a low 90’s fastball with good command, a sharp breaking slider that he uses as his out pitch, a curve, and a work in progress change-up. Slaats should be in the rotation at Hi-A Modesto, where he’ll be a step ahead of fellow Warrior Alex Capaul (2011 43rd Rd) who just missed the pre-season UTR breakout for Arizona.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Hi-A Rancho Cucamonga
2011 Stats: 11-5 4.33 ERA, 139.1 IP, 156 H, 52 BB, 126 K in 21 starts and 5 relief appearances.
The West Coast definition of “under the radar” could be Matt Magill within the Dodger farm system. With nearly half of their top 30 prospects being pitchers, ten of those ranked in the first fifteen, Magill didn’t stand a chance to have the bright light of Dodger Blue shone upon him. Granted that “under the radar” is the stigma when ones drafted out of high school in the 31st round in 2008, but Magill has succeeded over four levels. He led the minor leagues in batting average against (.194) in 2010 while finishing the year ranked amongst those other Dodger prospects with a 9.6 K/9 rate, which still didn’t garner respect. It became apparent while researching Magill, that respect wouldnt come until he proves his worth against AA hitters. For me that’s an unfair assessment, as Magill will be 22 throughout the 2012 season, which is age/level appropriate for AA. So the experience gained as he starts the season with Chattanooga will be invaluable for the young right-hander. A projectable pitcher, I believe Magill will hold his own in AA using his potential plus slider that shows good tilt and late break. His 88-90 fastball could use more velocity, which should come as Magill fills his 6’3” 190 lb frame. The early successes came without Magill flashing a decent change-up, though scouts do say its shows promise. If he can improve that pitch to relate with his slider, plus the development time for Magill, he could steal some of the spotlight from those other Dodger prospects in the next two years.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Short-Season Eugene/Lo-A Fort Wayne
2011 Stats: 2-1 0.64 ERA, 42.0 IP, 25 H, 12 BB, 71 K in 35 relief appearances
Two years ago I wrote about a future dominate closer chosen by the Padres in the later rounds of 2008. It took Brad Brach a full season at Lo-A Fort Wayne before catching my attention, but it was evident then, that his path to the bullpen in San Diego was inevitable. Brach completed that journey last season making nine appearances with the Padres and is listed as a middle reliever on the 2012 depth chart. Whether he works his way into the closer role at some point, is yet to be seen. But he better work quickly, because in the 5th round of the 2011 draft, the Padres found another dominate relief pitcher in Kevin Quackenbush. Difference between them is that the 23 year-old Quackenbush showed more dominance then Brach while at Fort Wayne and he arrived there in his first pro season. How dominate? In 42 innings between his two stops, the 6’3” 215 lb right-hander only surrendered 3 earn runs. The product of the University of South Florida did receive a MLBDC mention on August 17th when he was selected as the UTR relief pitcher performance of week. Quackenbush’s repertoire is all about the fastball, a 90-95 heater that has angle and deception. He throws it so effectively that he rarely needed to resort to his secondary offerings, a power slider and change-up. He may find that the old adage “live by the fastball-die by the fastball” holds true, so he’ll need to rely more on those pitches as he moves up the ladder. Quackenbush should start the season at Hi-A Lake Elsinore.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
2011 Stats: 10-10 2.55 ERA, 169.2 IP, 143 H, 30 BB, 107 K in 25 starts with 5 relief appearances
Of my UTR/TPS reports for the 2011 season, Shawn Sanford was one of three pitchers to finish on top of his teams’ respective list, the others being Red Patterson (LAD) and Carlos Quevedo (HOU). Both didn’t qualify, as Patterson was already a pre-season choice for the Dodgers in 2011 and Quevedo’s peripherals didn’t dictate a possible breakout season. The other NL pitchers were either ranked prospects or disregarded due to their age/level. I thought with Sanford on top, he was going to be one of my easier pre-season choices, until I saw the 2.55 ERA accompanied by the 3.36 FIP and .259 BABIP. This raises a flag that 2012 could be a season of regression for the right-hander. But further research painted a picture of a very mature 23 year-old with a make-up of guts, grit, and determination. His compelling story is too lengthy to mention in this medium, but should be further researched. The 2009 13th round pick was used as a swingman throughout his three years at U. of South Florida (194 IP) and the first two years as a pro, where he threw 62.1 innings. It looked as though Sanford’s career track would be that of a middle reliever, which still might be the case. But to be thrown into the rotation at Lo-A Augusta and rack-up 169.2 innings shows that Sanford is capable of anything. Sanford is a finesse pitcher that uses a low 90’s sinker and host of other off-speed offerings that almost pulled off a perfect game back in August. Sanford will take his intangibles and durability to the hitters in the California League this season with Hi-A San Jose.