MINORS: 2013 Slow Starters

Last week we took a look at about a dozen prospects poised for a breakout in 2013. Most of these players were young and at the beginning of the year were not on our HQ100. This week, we take a look at handful of high profile prospects who have either gotten off to a slow start or have struggled to make the necessary adjustments. In some cases, these players have been pushed aggressively by their organization and will likely figure things out as the season progresses. In other cases, players have simply not lived up to expectations and might need to be re-evaluated should the trend continue.

 

The Chicago Cubs Brett Jackson (OF) definitely has failed to make an adjustment. He struggled to make consistent contact throughout 2012 and was particularly exposed in his big league debut, hitting .175 with 59 K in 120 AB. There was some hope that Jackson might be able to tweak his approach in the off-season and that a strong start might land him a full-time job with the rebuilding Cubs, but so far there is no sign that a breakout is imminent. Through 19 games with Triple-A Iowa, the former first rounder is hitting just .219 with 24 K in 69 AB. Jackson is still just 24, but will need to show something soon to remain in the Cubs long-term plans.

A year ago, the Chicago White Sox Courtney Hawkins (OF) had an impressive debut, posting an .804 OPS at three different levels.  As a result, the Sox figured the talented Hawkins was ready for the challenge of full-season ball and assigned him to High-A Winston-Salem (Carolina League). A month into the season, and it looks like the 19-year-old Hawkins is in over his head. In 77 AB, Hawkins has struck out an alarming 45 times and is hitting just .182. He does have 7 home runs and a .468 slugging percentage, but Hawkins clearly needs to make better contact. Hawkins then went on the DL this week with a shoulder injury. Despite the disappointment, he is simply too talented to give up on.

The Rangers Mike Olt (3B) hasn’t looked the same since he struggled in the majors last August. Olt hit 28 home runs in 354 minor league AB, but then looked over-matched in the majors, hitting .152 in 33 AB with the Rangers. Olt has been slow out of the gate this year and is hitting .139 with 32 K in 72 AB. The latest word from the Rangers is that Olt is scheduled to have his vision checked and is out of action pending the results. Olt demonstrated solid offensive potential and decent plate discipline in the past, so a wait-and-see approach probably prudent here.

Bubba Starling (OF, KC) was the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft and was a three sport star in high school. He had a solid pro debut in ’12, hitting .275 with 10 home runs in 53 games in rookie ball. At 6’4”, Starling's swing can get long at times and he has struggled to make contact for Low-A Lexington. After 25 games the 20-year-old OF is hitting .198 and has struck out 34 times in 91 AB. Because he played high school ball in the Midwest, Starling is a bit more raw than other prospects his age and he should make the necessary adjustments as he gains experience, but this slow start has to raise a few concerns as he is not young for this level of competition.

The Rangers Cody Buckel (RHP) has been an unmitigated disaster this spring. Buckel, started the year at #91 on our Top 100 prospect list after a nice breakout season in ’12, but has been unable to throw strikes at Double-A Frisco. After 5 starts, Buckel has logged just 9.1 IP and has given up 28 walks and 21 earned runs for an ERA of 20.25 and a WHIP of 4.07. Buckel is the third youngest player in the Texas League so this could just be a matter of lost confidence, or a flaw in hs mechanics.

Unfortunately for the Giants Gary Brown (OF), 2011 is looking more and more like a career peak that had more to do with the cozy hitting environments in the CAL than anything else. That year Brown hit .336/.407/.519 with 34 doubles, 14 home runs, and 53 SB. Last year, Brown looked much more pedestrian in the more neutral environs of the Eastern League and this spring he has looked completely over-matched at Triple-A Fresno. Through 26 games 24-year-old Brown is hitting .173 with 1 HR and 1 SB. Long-term, Brown remains an interesting player due to his speed and solid defense, but he will need to hit and get on base to have value and that is looking less and less likely.

Not every hitter finds the California League to be a hitting haven. The Rockies Trevor Story (SS) socked 69 extra base hits at Low-A in 2012, but hasn’t looked like the same hitter this spring. Through 23 games for High-A Modesto, the 20-year-old SS is hitting .143/.242/.238 with 37 whiffs in 84 AB. It will be interesting to see how Story responds to his early season woes as he had developed into one of the better power/speed SS prospects in the NL.

Yes, the Tigers Bruce Rondon (RHP) still has significant long-term potential, but for anyone who invested heavily on the assumption that Rondon was a lock to take over as the Tigers closer this could be a disappointing season. While Rondon can overpower hitters with his 100 mph fastball, the reality is that his control and command are well below average. While the same was true of the Braves Craig Kimbrel when he was in the minors (5.7 Ctl while in the minors compared to 3.4 in the majors), Kimbrel proved he could make the necessary adjustments prior to taking over as closer while Rondon is still very much a work in progress.

Injury Update:
Lucas Giolito (RHP, WAS) has resumed throwing off the mound as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Giolito, the 16th overall pick in the ’12 draft, had surgery in August and will miss the entire 2013 season. Prior to the injury, Giolito sported a fastball that topped out at 100 mph and a plus, plus curveball. Assuming a full recovery, Giolito should be on the fast-track to the majors as the Nationals continue to take an aggressive approach in the draft.

2013 Draft Scouting Report:
If Stanford’s Mark Appel isn’t the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, that distinction is likely to fall to Oklahoma right-hander Jonathan Grey. At 6’4” 240, Grey has an ideal power-pitching frame and is already physically mature. The 22-year-old attacks hitters with a power arsenal that includes a 95-97 mph fastball, a mid-80 slider that has nice late break to it, and a decent change-up. Grey commands his fastball well to both sides of the plate, but needs to be more consistent with the slider and change-up. He keeps the ball down in the zone and has the potential to be a legitimate #1 starter if his off-speed offerings become more consistent. On the year, Grey is 8-1 with a 1.10 ERA, 15 BB/98 K, and a .152 BAA in 81.2 IP.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.