Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Top prospects whose stock is falling
By Keith Law
Trevor Bauer is not showing the velocity that made him the No. 3 overall draft pick.
I've been asked recently about a number of prospects having disappointing years, especially players who were on my preseason top 100 list but missed my midseason top 50 rankings due to poor performance coupled with negative scouting reports. I've talked to a number of pro scouts over the past few days about these players to get some updated takes on their futures and whether any of these players' ships have sailed already.
This omits players who will fall from their 2013 rankings due to injury, including Dylan Bundy (Tommy John surgery), Taylor Guerrieri (same), Casey Kelly (it's like an epidemic), Rymer Liriano (we should just quarantine the Padres), Tyler Austin (wrist), Adam Morgan (shoulder) and Hak-Ju Lee (ankle). I'm also giving a pass to Courtney Hawkins, who was promoted too aggressively, starting the year in high Class A at age 19 when he probably belonged in extended spring training, yet who still has a very high ceiling if he can recover from a year when he'll be lucky to strike out in only 40 percent of his plate appearances.
While Didi Gregorius hasn't exactly lit up the National League, so far he's provided a better return to Arizona than Bauer has to Cleveland, which is more a function of how bad Bauer's been since the trade.
Bauer has two major issues -- his velocity is way down, and he can't make an adjustment when it's clear that he can't locate near the strike zone. Bauer was still sitting in the 92-93 range in his few outings in the majors, but in Triple-A he has been more in the 89-90 range, which, for a guy who hit 97 mph regularly in college but never had great life on the fastball, is a serious problem.
Just three of his 350 fastballs thrown in the majors this year clocked in above 94 mph, and one of those came in above Michael Young's forehead. Add to that his severe trouble locating the fastball, especially when he's working at the higher end of his velocity range, with more than half of his fastballs 92 and up coming in belt-high and above, and you've got a recipe for ... well, Trevor Bauer's 2013 season.
Bauer needs to hit the reset button, and probably to let the Cleveland coaching staff help him do it, or else he's a future fifth starter at best.
Starling was one of the most athletic high school prospects I've ever seen, but he's been an enormous disappointment in pro ball, looking "lost at the plate" with "no approach or feel" according to one of several scouts I talked to about him, none of whom wrote him up as even an average regular.
He can still run and he's playing solid defense in center field, but he's a train wreck at the plate, with no silver linings to be found unless you want to find hope in him improving his contact rate in the second half while having less success when he makes contact. He just turned 21 on Sunday and doesn't look ready for a promotion to high Class A, so he's well behind where the fifth overall pick of the 2011 draft should be on the development curve.
Sanchez was just promoted to Double-A Trenton after a so-so first half-plus in high Class A Tampa, hitting for just moderate power (although the Florida State League in general dampens power) and a .315 OBP. This was contrary to earlier rumors that the Yankees wanted Sanchez to catch their better prospect arms in high Class A.
His main problem is, and has been, his effort level, with one scout calling him "lazy" and another saying he was "playing like he's on major league rehab." I do think his raw power will emerge more now that he's out of Tampa, but he'll need to show more energy behind the plate, where his receiving lags behind his throwing, and more discipline at the plate to fulfill his All-Star promise.
Cowart is the one player on this list for whom I received some positive comments from scouts during this exercise. His year at the plate has been abysmal, hitting .217/.281/.304 for Double-A Arkansas, worse against right-handed pitchers (which is bad, as there are a lot of them around the majors), showing no improvement as the year has gone on.
He's loading very late, and his timing has been off consistently -- something the Angels' player development staff should notice and look to fix -- leading to his poor results on contact this year. He's still a plus defender at third with an 80-grade arm (on the 20-80 scouting scale), and he's added some strength this year which should help him increase his power slightly if and when he improves that timing element. The Angels need to clean this one up, as he remains the highest-ceiling hitting prospect in the system.
Purke hasn't been the same since TCU overused him his freshman year in college, although a delivery that put too much stress on his shoulder to begin with didn't help his cause. Back from shoulder surgery that ended his 2012 season, Purke is now working with just an average fastball for high Class A Potomac, 89-93 on his best nights, and is struggling to command the pitch. Scouts I talked to pegged him as a reliever at best, between the loss of velocity, the arm slot and swing, and lack of command.
Buckel came into the year as a low-ceiling but apparently high-probability prospect who threw strikes with an arsenal of solid-average pitches, but no projection or wipeout pitch. Unfortunately, he now has the yips, also known as The Thing, and sometimes called Steve Blass Disease (although that term is falling into disuse as people forget that Blass was Patient Zero).
The prognosis isn't great -- he walked 28 in 9 1/3 innings at Double-A this year before being sent to extended spring training -- as few guys who've had that problem have been able to recover their previous command or control, probably because the causes of the yips are still not well understood. It could be an underlying injury, but in Buckel's case that doesn't appear to apply, leaving his future very cloudy.
Corcino posted a 3.01 ERA in Double-A last year with 126 punchouts and 65 walks in 143 1/3 innings, giving no indication that he'd flop to a 5.76 ERA through 111 innings this year with just 72 strikeouts and 55 walks at Triple-A.
Scouting reports coming back are consistent -- he's been reduced to just one solid-average pitch, his 88-94 mph fastball, with the changeup and slider both going backward. He's also struggled to make any kind of adjustment, although I'm not sure what adjustment he could make that could make up for the fact he doesn't have an off-speed weapon to get hitters out. At this point he looks more like a reliever than a starter, and that even assumes the fastball will play up in shorter stints.
I was a real skeptic on Story's bat when he was coming out of high school in 2011, tabbing him as a potentially plus defender at shortstop who'd need work to develop into any kind of hitter. All he did from the moment he signed through the end of last year was hit, and I ranked him in my overall top 100 last winter, only to find out that the Rockies decided that he needed to hit for more power and remodeled his swing to resemble Troy Tulowitzki's.
While his numbers last year were inflated by the hitter's haven that is low Class A Asheville, he still had an isolated power of .193 on the road, very good for a 19-year-old middle infielder in the Sally League, so I'm not sure why the Rockies felt they needed to tinker with his swing. The results have been hideous -- a .219/.290/.362 line with 148 strikeouts in 446 plate appearances for high Class A Modesto.
At age 20, he has time for someone to try to undo what's been done to his mechanics, but it's time to scrap that plan and let Story go back to what worked for him before 2013.