Thursday, January 25, 2018

Beyond the Top 30: Third Base

As the old year fades away and the new season approaches, it's time to start looking at those players of interest who are beyond the Top 30. These players may not ever make a Top 30 list (or they may), but a combination of projections, actual results, incremental improvements and intangibles keep them in the mix as interesting players to watch. I am not including any players in these posts who have already made their major league debuts since, presumably, anyone reading my blog is already very familiar with those players.

Note: Many of the 2018 player rankings haven't been released yet so I will be using the MLB Pipeline postseason list, the Baseball Prospectus Top 10+ list and Baseball America's Top 10 list to denote those players who are currently considered Top 30 type players in the Astros system. Once FanGraphs weighs in, Baseball America publishes their Top 30 and MLB Pipeline posts their 2018 pre-season list, I will post a consensus top prospect list.

[UPDATES TO FINAL 2018 PRE-SEASON RANKINGS SHOWN IN RED.
BA= BASEBALL AMERICA, BP = BASEBALL PROSPECTUS,
FG=FANGRAPHS, MLB = MLB PIPELINE]

THIRD BASEMEN IN THE TOP 30

As noted above, I'm not including write-ups on any players who have made their major league debuts, but I would like to note that 3B J.D. Davis is currently ranked #9 by MLB Pipeline, #10 by Baseball America and in the "Next 10" by Baseball Prospectus. Former Astros Colin Moran was ranked #5, #9 and #9 by each of those respective sources prior to his trade to the Pirates. In addition, although I included Freudis Nova in my shortstop post, he has also spent time at third base and may very well end up at that position. Nova is currently ranked #10, #5 and "Next 10" by the same respective sources. Which brings us to ...

Joe Perez (R/R) - MLB #14, BA #15, FG #19
Perez is currently only ranked by MLB Pipeline at #17, but may very well be included in Baseball America's forthcoming Prospect Handbook since BA called him the best athlete out of the Astros 2017 draft class. Drafted in the second round out of Archbishop McCarthy High School (FL), Perez reportedly underwent Tommy John surgery in June and has yet to play in his first professional game. According to BA, he was a "legitimate two-way star" in high school, but the Astros drafted him as a third baseman where he is projected to hit for both power and average, using all fields and making good contact. Defensively, he has the arm for third base, but it remains to be seen whether or not his other defensive tools will be enough for him to stick at the position. It is unlikely that he will make his professional debut until late in the 2018 season. He will turn 19 on 8/12.

THIRD BASEMEN BEYOND THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Abraham Toro-Hernandez - August 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Wander Franco (S/R)
Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of Franco up to this point in his professional career. Originally signed by the Astros in July 2013 for $575,000, Franco has baseball in his blood. He has two brothers who are also named Wander Franco (as is his father), one of whom is currently in the minors of the Giants organization and one of whom signed with the Rays during the 2017 July international signing period and is ranked as their #8 prospect by MLB Pipeline. In addition, his uncles, Erick Aybar and Willy Aybar, have both played in the majors. That big signing bonus and baseball pedigree are the main reasons that I am including Franco on this list. One reason I am concerned, however, has to do with a July 2017 suspension for undisclosed reasons followed by a quick demotion to the Gulf Coast League for about a month. Before and after the demotion, Franco played in 64 games with Quad Cities, hitting .230/.285/.358. Those numbers are less than stellar, but those 64 games were his first career games played above rookie ball. Franco just turned 21 in October so there is definitely still time for him to live up to his early promise as a smooth fielder with good instincts, and an advanced hitter with developing power and an ability to hit to all fields. [Franco was released prior to the 2018 season.]
Keys: Continue to develop his line drive approach to all fields, refine his defensive abilities, stay out of trouble and prove that he can do all of that at the higher levels of the organization. With 2018 being his fifth season in the system, Franco needs to gain some real forward momentum in his development this year.

Sean Mendoza (S/R)
Mendoza, a 17-year old Venezuelan, may not stay at third base (he also played in the outfield and at second base in his first season), but he was solid defensively in his 23 games at the position in 2017. But it was his offensive contributions that really stood out, particularly for a 17-year old. In 63 games with the Dominican Summer League, he hit .301/.384/.342 with six doubles, one triple and 17 stolen bases to 10 caught stealing. He walked 27 times while only striking out 29 times. And he just got better as the season progressed. In 24 games in August, he hit .366/.418/.427 (including five of his six doubles). When he signed in July 2016, Oz Ocampo of the Astros saw Mendoza as "an athletic middle infielder with soft hands and solid actions" and lauded his speed, hand-eye coordination and ability to hit for contact. Mendoza won't be 18 until 6/2.
Key: Build on a very sold first season and use his speed to collect more extra base hits.

Josh Rojas (L/R) - FG #28+
I am in total agreement with Baseball America who cited Rojas as the best late round pick in the Astros 2017 draft. Drafted in the 26th round out of the University of Hawaii, he could prove to be a real steal. Rojas skipped short season A completely and ended up hitting a home run as his first professional hit at Low A Quad Cities. Although he was solid defensively at third base, he can also fill in nicely at second, and play short stop and left field in a pinch. Because of this, his value may eventually be as a utility player, but he showed enough power potential in 56 games (5 doubles, 5 triples and 10 home runs) to be considered at the hot corner. For the season, he hit .261/.319/.478, including hitting .333 in a four-game fill-in stint with AAA Fresno at the end of the season. I was really impressed with what he accomplished at a level that most 2017 draftees weren't even challenged to in their first season.
Keys: Work on driving the ball, including using more of the opposite field, and work on plate discipline (19 walks to 46 strikeouts).

Abraham Toro-Hernandez (S/R) - FG #22, MLB #29
Toro was supposed to transition to catcher in 2017, but only played 15 games at that position as compared to 42 at third base so for purposes of this write-up, I still consider him a third base prospect. Toro peaked in July, hitting .315/.431/.607 in 26 games (21 at Tri-City and 5 at Quad Cities). His transition to Quad Cities was not a particularly smooth one and he managed only a .209/.323/.463 line in 37 regular season games at the level (as compared to .292/.414/.538 in 32 games with Tri-City), but Toro came through in the postseason, hitting .314/.400/.571 in nine postseason games as Quad Cities took the Midwest League crown. There is a lot to like about Toro. He is described as having great hands, a great arm, great defensive versatility, good power potential and "elite plate discipline" (40 walks to 51 strikeouts for the season). Toro is very athletic and has exceptional intangibles as well ... a leader on the field and in the clubhouse who speaks French, English and Spanish fluently. Yes, I'm a fan. If that's not enough, he also profiles as a true switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate. Toro was drafted in the fifth round in 2016 out of Seminole State College (OK) and just turned 21 on 12/20.
Key: Refine his approach at the plate to show that he is capable of facing the more and more experienced pitchers he will encounter at each level.

Others to Watch:

Randy Cesar (R/R) - FG #28+
Originally signed by the Astros for $100,000 in July 2011 out of the Dominican Republic, Cesar will be entering his seventh season in the Astros system in 2018. Unfortunately for the 23-year old, that means that 2018 is a make-or-break season for Cesar as he will become a minor league free agent at the end of the season. He has been a solid albeit unspectacular player, particularly the last two seasons, but the fact remains that he has yet to play a single game above High A.

Yeuris Ramirez (R/R)
Ramirez didn't have a particularly good season at the plate (.219/.397/.337) in 57 games in his second season with the Dominican Summer League, but he showed enough improvement during the season and enough of a hint of developing power (10 doubles, 1 triple and 3 home runs) in his age 18 season that I plan to keep an eye on him in 2018 when he will presumably graduate to the Gulf Coast League. He turned 19 on 11/28.

Adrian Tovalin (R/R)
Tovalin was one of the weaker third basemen on this list, defensively speaking, but it is his bat that got him drafted. A 16th round draft pick in 2017 out of Azusa Pacific University (CA), Tovalin is pretty much a boom-or-bust prospect. Baseball America described him as having "massive pull power with little effort," but the question is whether or not he can cut down on the strikeouts that go with that power. Tovalin hit .218/.294/.396 with six doubles, one triple, nine home runs and 20 walks to 65 strikeouts in his first 54 professional games between Greeneville and Tri-City. He will be 22 next month.

Previous Posts:
Shortstop
Second Base
First Base

3 comments:

  1. Perez looks like a Very interesting prospect. Looks like the Astros have some real options for the future.

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    1. Thanks! I always appreciate your comments. I hope I have the opportunity to see Perez in person this year, but probably won't if he starts playing too late in the season. We'll see!

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  2. I hope you get that opportunity. I respect your opinion because you do see the players in person. Also you often talk to them and see how they interact with their teammates. Keep up the good work Jayne.

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