MINORS: Teams to watch at Double-A and Triple-A

Continuing our minor league preview, this week we look at Double-A and Triple-A teams with the most exciting prospects. As Jeremy Deloney noted in his column on the lower minors last week, the teams with the best prospects will not necessarily have the best records. This is especially true at the Triple-A, where some of the game’s top prospects are getting additional seasoning or waiting for the Super Two arbitration deadline to pass.

DOUBLE-A

SOUTHERN LEAGUE

Jacksonville Suns: Affiliate of Miami Marlins

Prospects of note – Christian Yelich (OF), Marcell Ozuna (OF), Jake Marisnick (OF), Mark Canha (1B), Adam Conley (LHP), and J.T. Realmuto (C).


Analysis – With top prospects Yelich, Ozuna, and Marisnick, Jacksonville has the most talented OF in the minors. Yelich started the season as our #12 prospect and is already making that ranking look conservative. He hit .364/.451/.818 this spring and should make his MLB debut later this summer. Marisnick (#51) struggled a bit in 2012, hitting just .249, but he looked fine this spring and has the potential to hit for power with good speed and plus defense. Ozuna has the best power in the system and hit 24 home runs a year ago. The Suns will have the organization’s #6 prospect in Adam Conley, who is a projectable lefty, but the offense will be what makes this team worth the price of admission.

Chattanooga Lookouts: Affiliate of Los Angeles Dodgers


Prospects of note – Yasiel Puig (OF), Joc Pederson (OF), Zach Lee (RHP), Aaron Miller (LHP), Onelki Garcia (LHP), and Chris Reed (LHP).

Analysis – The Lookouts have five of the Dodgers' top six prospects and the circuit's most talked-about player, Yasiel Puig. The 22-year-old Puig defected from Cuba and was rewarded with a 7-year, $42 million deal. Puig tore the cover off the ball in his pro debut last year and then hit .517 with 3 home runs in spring training. Puig is joined in the OF by Joc Pederson, who has the potential to be a 20/20 player in the majors. On the mound, Miller and Lee make an impressive 1-2 punch, though neither one has had a true breakout yet. Reed struggled when moved up to Double-A last year (4.84 with 20 BB in 35.1 IP) and might be better suited in a relief role, but he does have a mid-90s fastball. Garcia is a little-known Cuban defector who projects well with a good low-90s fastball.

Mississippi Braves: Affiliate of Atlanta Braves


Prospects of note – Alex Wood (LHP), J.R. Graham (RHP), Aaron Northcraft (RHP), Christian Bethancourt (C), Edward Salcedo (3B).

Analysis – While Jacksonville and Chattanooga have some of the most exciting OF prospects, the Mississippi Braves might have the most well-rounded squad. J.R. Graham is the Braves' #4 prospect and just missed our Top 100 list. Graham was a closer in college, but now has a good three-pitch mix and was 12-2 with a 2.80 ERA in ’12. Northcraft doesn’t get much attention, but the 6' 4" right-hander struck out 160 last year and has above average stuff. Wood was the Braves’ second round pick in 2012 and will make the jump from Low-A to Double-A. This well-stocked staff will be handled by Bethancourt, who is one of the best defensive backstops in the minors. Salcedo remains very raw, especially on defense, but has legit big-league power.

TEXAS LEAGUE

Arkansas Travelers: Affiliate of Los Angeles Angels


Prospects of Note – C.J. Cron (1B), Kaleb Cowart (3B), Taylor Lindsey (2B), Randal Grichuk (OF), and Nick Maronde (LHP).


Analysis – The Travelers have one of the better and more balanced line-ups in the minors and start the season with the Angels’ top five prospects. Their 3-4-5 hitters combined for 61 home runs a year ago and are poised to lead a potent offense. Cowart is a strong, athletic 3B with good power and solid plate discipline. At 20, he is the youngest in the group and spent just a half season at High-A. Lindsey and Grichuk (drafted one slot ahead of Mike Trout) have been making slow, steady progress through the system. They project as solid major league regulars, but don’t really have star potential. Cron has the best power in the system, but is limited to 1B defensively and posted a 0.24 EYE in ’12. As a right-handed, 1B-only guy, he will have to mash to have value in the majors. Maronde played at four different levels in ’12 and was lights-out at all of his stops. The University of Florida lefty throws tons of strikes and could be used as either a starter or a reliever once he reaches the majors.

Corpus Christi Hooks: Affiliate of Houston Astros


Prospects of Note – George Springer (OF), Jonathan Singleton (1B), Asher Wojciechowski (RHP), Domingo Santana (OF), Nick Tropeano (RHP), and Jiovanni Mier (SS).


Analysis – The Astros and their fans are in for a long season with their move to the competitive AL West, but the good news is that help is on the way. Three of the organization’s top four hitters will play at Corpus Christi in ’13, though the club will be without top prospect Jonathan Singleton as he sits out the first 50 games for violating the league’s drug policy on using a banned substance (marijuana)for the second time. Springer and Santana clubbed 24 and 23 HR respectively a year ago, but will need to prove they can hit outside of the CAL. Mier was the 21stoverall pick in the ’09 draft and has been a huge disappointment so far. Still just a 22-year-old, he will need to do something soon to stay in the organization’s long-term plans. Tropeano and Wojciechowski are mid-rotation types with good command, and solid seasons could get them to Houston by September.

EASTERN LEAGUE

Bowie Baysox: Affiliate of Baltimore Orioles


Prospects of Note – Dylan Bundy (RHP), Kevin Gausman (RHP), Mike Wright (RHP), and Xavier Avery (OF).


Analysis – The Eastern League may not have many elite prospects, but the Bowie Baysox do have two of the minors’ best pitching prospects in Bundy and Gausman. Bundy will start the season on the DL, but has resumed throwing and should return soon. He might not be in Bowie for long, though, as he remains the best pitching prospect in baseball. Gausman was the 4thoverall pick in the ’12 draft and comes after hitters with a mid-90s sinking fastball and a plus curve. Wright doesn’t have the upside of Gausman or Bundy, but uses a sinker/slider mix to keep the ball down in the zone. Avery has the tools to hit for power and steal plenty of bases if he can make more consistent contact.

TRIPLE-A

INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE

Louisville Bats: Affiliate of Cincinnati Reds


Prospects of Note – Billy Hamilton (OF), Neftali Soto (1B), Tony Cingrani (LHP), and Daniel Corcino (RHP).


Analysis – The Bats feature several interesting pitching prospects, including Cingrani and Corcino, and perhaps the game’s most exciting player in Billy Hamilton. Hamilton stole 155 bases in ’12, but still needs to prove he can play CF and hit major league pitching. His slash and dash approach leaves some skeptical about his ability to get on base, but once there he is electrifying and can impact a game with his speed. Cingrani continues to refine his breaking ball and scouts and analysts who saw him struggle at Rice have yet to lower their expectations. In 40 minor league starts, Cingrani is now 14-6 with a 1.63 ERA, 60 BB/273 K with a 0.93 WHIP in 209.2 IP. In two starts this year, Cingrani has given up just three hits and three walks while striking out 21 in 12.1 IP and has yet to give up an earned run. Corcino often gets compared to Johnny Cueto, and not just because of his size. He has a good 90-94 mph fastball, good slider, and decent change-up. Soto has tremendous power, but needs to make more consistent contact to realize his potential.

Durham Bulls: Affiliate of Tampa Bay Rays


Prospects of Note – Alex Colome (RHP), Jake Odorizzi (RHP), Chris Archer (RHP), Mike Montgomery (LHP), Hak-Ju Lee (SS), Tim Beckham (2B), and Wil Myers (OF).


Analysis – With the off-season additions of Odorizzi and Myers, the Bulls have four Top 100 Prospects (Myers #3, Odorizzi #36, Archer #63, and Lee #87) and six of the Rays’ Top 15 prospects—not to mention former first overall pick Tim Beckham. Lefty Mike Montgomery has plus raw stuff, but has really struggled to find the strike zone over the past two years, going 10-22 with an ERA close to 6.00. Odorizzi and Archer may be called up by mid-season. Beckham has been moved to 2B to make way for Lee, who is the better defender. On most nights, all eyes will be on Wil Myers, the #3 prospect who hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 HR in 2012. He will start the year in Durham to work on his defense, but could be the next big call-up and might be the best hitter still in the minors.

Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs: Affiliate of Philadelphia Phillies

Prospects of Note – Darin Ruf (OF), Tommy Joseph (C), Cody Asche (3B), Tyson Gillies (OF), Jon Pettibone (RHP), Tyler Cloyd (RHP), Justin De Fratus (RHP), Ethan Martin (RHP), and Adam Morgan (LHP).

Analysis – Lehigh Valley has seven of the Phillies’ top 15 prospects. With Ruf and Joseph, they should challenge for the IL lead in home runs. Ruf launched 38 HR while hitting .317 with a .660 SLG% in 2012. Gillies can seem like the best player on the field with speed, defense, plate discipline, and a bit of power, but he needs to stay healthy and out of trouble. On the mound, Lehigh Valley has a nice mix of power and finesse. De Fratus has had difficulties staying healthy, but is one of the better relief prospects in the minors and has a career ERA of 3.18 with a 4.6 Cmd ratio. Morgan and/or Cloyd could be in the Phillies rotation by mid-season, if not sooner. Morgan is a 23-year-old lefty with a career 3.11 ERA and 4.0 Cmd ratio. Cloyd made six starts in Philly last year, posting a 4.91 ERA, but was lights-out in the minors, going 15-1 with a 2.26 ERA.

Pacific Coast League

Tacoma Rainers: Affiliate of Seattle Mariners


Prospects of Note – Danny Hulzten (LHP), James Paxton (LHP), Mike Zunino (C), Nick Franklin (SS), Carlos Triunfel (SS), and Alex Liddi (3B).


Analysis – On any given night, the Rainers could have the best battery in the minors. Tacoma features four of the Mariners’ top five prospects, including Top 50 prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and backstop Mike Zunino. Hulzten, the 2nd overall pick in the 2011 draft, struggled when promoted to Triple-A last year, but the lefty has good command of three plus offerings and has gotten off to a nice start in ’13 (2.45 ERA with 3 BB/14 K). Paxton is another lefty with three solid offerings, though he can occasionally struggle with command. Zunino was the top catcher taken in the ’12 draft and his 2012 pro debut was even better than anticipated (.360/.447/.689 with 13 HR in 161 AB). He is 8-for-21 with 4 HR already this year. Franklin looked over-matched at Triple-A after a mid-season promotion and has started the year on the DL. He may move to a new position once he returns if the M’s try to get both players consistent AB.

Reno Aces: Affiliate of Arizona Diamondbacks

Prospects of Note – Didi Gregorius (SS), Chase Anderson (RHP), Tyler Skaggs (LHP), Randall Delgado (RHP), Chris Owings (SS), and Matt Davidson (3B).


Analysis – For the first part of the season, the Aces will have some interesting players to watch. Didi Gregorius started the season on the DL, and once he is 100% the D-backs will likely move former first rounder Chris Owings to a new position. Owings had a nice breakout in ’12, hitting .290 with 17 home runs, but he also struck out 132 times and is just an average defender. Slugger Matt Davidson (23 HR at Double-A in ’12) currently mans 3B, so Owings could move to 2B. When Patrick Corbin won the 5th starter job in Arizona, Skaggs and Delgado were sent to Triple-A. Both have above-average stuff, with Skaggs likely to be recalled sooner. Anderson isn’t overpowering, but has good control and a nice three-pitch mix. When Adam Eaton recovers from his elbow injury, he will likely rehab in Reno and then switch places with either A.J. Pollock or Alfredo Marte in Phoenix.

Las Vegas 51s: Affiliate of the New York Mets

Prospects of Note – Jeurys Familia (RHP), Zack Wheeler (RHP), Travis D’Arnaud (C), and Wilmer Flores (SS).


Analysis – If you visit Vegas and watch baseball, you can see some of the best prospects in the NL—if you hurry. The retooling Mets will likely call up most of their top prospects by June if not sooner. Wheeler and D’Arnaud are both among our Top 15 prospects and have All Star potential. Wheeler features a mid-90s heater that tops out at 98 mph and is complemented by a power slider and a decent change-up. D’Arnaud hit 16 home runs in just 279 AB last year before tearing a ligament in his left knee. He returned to hit .343 in 35 AB this spring. Familia has been somewhat of an enigma, but has electric stuff if he can stay healthy and throw strikes. Flores had a breakout season in 2012 (.300 BA with 30 doubles and 18 home runs), but his best position is 3B. He’s playing 2B now and could be a nice mid-season callup with a possibility of becoming the long-term 2B solution for the Mets.


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