Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Setting expectations for recent call-ups
By Keith Law
Teams that like to delay promoting top prospects until the point in the year when it's late enough to avoid giving the player a shot at Super 2 status in arbitration can breathe easily now, as we're well past that date, as shown by recent and imminent call-ups of four prospects -- Wil Myers, Zack Wheeler, Mike Zunino and Gerrit Cole -- who appeared on my top 25 update in late May.
With Myers and Wheeler debuting Tuesday night, here are my thoughts on those four guys as well as three others we might see in the majors in the next month or so.
Zack Wheeler, RHP | New York Mets
Although expectations have been set sky-high by the remarkable stuff shown by Matt Harvey, Wheeler, once the superior prospect in my opinion, has a decent gap to close just to catch up to his fellow Met.
A scout I spoke to who saw him recently said that Wheeler's curveball, once a plus pitch in my view, was just average for him as Wheeler was throwing both a curveball and a slider and seemed to be caught between the two of them. Harvey's slider has been the main difference-maker for him, as he came out of college more of a fastball-changeup guy who threw both breaking balls but wasn't consistently plus with either of them. Wheeler might get there at some point, but unless the Mets thought his curveball wasn't plus, it doesn't make sense to me to try to get him throwing both pitches unless he showed natural feel for the new pitch (the slider).
He still has plenty to recommend him, as he works with plus velocity and fills up the strike zone, with just 12 walks in his past eight starts, but I'd like to see him settle on just one breaking ball so he can miss bats in the majors the way he has done in the minors so far.
Wil Myers, OF | Tampa Bay Rays
I saw Myers in April and was a little concerned about his swing mechanics, especially the soft front side, where he rolled over his front foot through contact, pulling his whole body in that direction regardless of where the pitch was. Since then, the Rays have worked with him on maintaining a firm lower half during rotation and contact and on improving his hitting plan at the plate.
Myers has always been a high-walk hitter, but not always as disciplined as you would expect given the stat lines, something that became more apparent this year in Triple-A, where pitchers with some big league experience could get him to get himself out at the plate. He's been on a tear of late, with 10 homers in his past 104 plate appearance (dating to the start of a four-game series in Scranton), a .354/.385/.760 line in that period and a declining strikeout rate.
The sample is too small to be anything more than "a good sign" at this point, but, combined with some mechanical adjustments, there's more reason to believe he can contribute for the rest of the year, probably with a .250-.260 average but 15 or more homers, than there was a month ago.
Mike Zunino, C | Seattle Mariners
I was floored when the Mariners recalled Zunino last week, and I wasn't the only one -- several front-office executives told me they were similarly shocked because Zunino wasn't playing well enough to be recalled and, worse, because it flew in the face of the long-term interests of the franchise.
Starting Zunino's service-time clock prematurely might not matter in the long run; if he came up now or in September, and never goes back down (not a given), it wouldn't affect his free agency. But they put him on the 40-man roster before they needed to do so, a decision that can't be undone; he's there for years now, potentially precluding them from making other moves now or even during the winter. Worse, given that he didn't show any indication he was ready in Triple-A -- after hitting four homers in his first five games, he hit .213/.283/.409 until his call-up, with 53 strikeouts in 184 PAs -- there's a real chance he's not-ready enough that recalling him will stall his development. You can't risk screwing up a player of his potential or pedigree like this, especially when you still have the full six years of control remaining.
That's a long way of saying that I'm not that sanguine about Zunino in the short term -- his difficulty making contact in the PCL, a generally hitter-friendly league, doesn't bode well for his ability to do that against big league pitching. If he doesn't suffer from the early promotion, he still has All-Star potential down the road, a catcher who should hit for 20-homer power and plenty of average, but this was the wrong move for the franchise from a business and a baseball perspective.
Gerrit Cole, RHP | Pittsburgh Pirates
Cole has top-of-the-rotation stuff with a good delivery and plenty of athleticism to repeat everything, checking all of the boxes required for someone to project as a legitimate ace, someone who could lead a solid big league rotation, or qualify as a top-20 starter in the majors. His results have never matched the scouting reports, though, and if you've seen his first two starts, you have seen the two major reasons why, as he has fanned a total of three batters.
First, hitters see his four-seamer way too well. Cole has thrown 129 fastballs so far, and hitters have swung and missed at just 10 of them -- despite the fact that Cole hasn't exactly faced any powerhouse lineups so far. Worse, he has thrown just nine changeups in two starts, even though that is and has long been his best pitch, with incredible arm speed to deceive hitters and to make the four-seamer more effective because hitters won't be able to cheat on it so easily.
I still think Cole has enormous upside in the long run, but the Pirates have had their hands on him for two years and, through two starts, he does not appear to be any better than he was when he first signed. If nothing else, they need to alter his pitching plan to use more changeups and two-seamers and fewer four-seamers, especially within the zone.
Possible near-term call-ups
Jonathan Singleton, 1B | Houston Astros
Singleton was suspended for a second violation of the CBA's "drug of abuse" provision -- he tested positive for marijuana, a drug for which players on the 40-man roster are not tested and that has nowhere near the potential harm to the player or to his team that, say, driving while intoxicated might have. That aside, Singleton is back from his ridiculous 50-game layoff, showed enough in 11 games in Double-A (where he spent last season) for the Astros to bump him up to Triple-A, where he has gone 3-for-8 with three doubles so far.
The Astros' incumbent first baseman is 35-year-old Carlos Pena, hitting .225/.338/.369 while a shadowy figure wearing a baseball cap and holding a scythe stands over his shoulder. Singleton could top that line in the second half this year, with a little more average and pop.
Yordano Ventura, RHP | Kansas City Royals
Ventura throws a legit 100 mph as a starter -- more like 95-100, but triple digits are pretty uncommon outside of bullpens and the occasional seven-day rotation in college. If he were taller, I'd have him as a potential No. 1 or 2 starter, but Ventura's lack of height (he's 5-foot-11) translates to some fly ball tendencies that likely will make him a little more homer-prone in the majors than you'd like.
Regardless of Ventura's future role, however, if the Royals remain competitive -- even just by hanging around .500 into August -- they could bring him up at any point to help their bullpen the way David Price helped the Rays in 2008.
Anthony Ranaudo, RHP | Boston Red Sox
I'm stretching a little here to discuss Ranaudo, as it's not clear that he'd be the next pitcher recalled if the Red Sox need another starter. I loved Ranaudo at LSU, even though he did not have a huge fastball, because hitters didn't see the ball out of his hand at all and he could miss bats with the curveball.
An elbow issue messed with his junior year, dropping him out of the top 10 on my 2010 draft rankings and into the second round in the real world, and his career seemed to stall out after a shoulder injury and a groin strain wrecked his 2012 season. This year, his stuff is more than back -- he's been 92-95 consistently with a plus-plus curveball, hard in the low to mid-80s, and he's back to his old aggressive dare-you-to-hit-this mentality on the mound, as well.
I don't expect the Red Sox to rush him, but, at some point, they'll have to try someone other than Allen Webster to fill a hole in the rotation.