Friday, February 9, 2018

Beyond the Top 30: Center Field

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.


CENTERFIELDERS IN THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Myles Straw - August 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Gilberto Celestino (R/L) - BP #7, FG #10, BA #20, MLB #23
Much has already been written about Celestino, who is ranked #15 in the MLB Pipeline 2017 postseason list and #7 by Baseball Prospectus. He will also likely be ranked in the upcoming Baseball America Prospect Handbook as he was ranked #19 by that publication last year. Celestino was signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2015 for a $2.25 million bonus (plus a $275,000 college fund) and will turn 19 on February 13th. Celestino appeared in 59 games with rookie level Greeneville in 2017, hitting .268/.331/.379 with 10 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 10 stolen bases (two caught stealing) and eight outfield assists (seven of those in center field). He walked 22 times to 59 strikeouts. To summarize what has been written about Celestino, he lacks any one plus-plus tool, but his baseball IQ, aptitude, work ethic and instincts make all of his projected average to above-average tools play way up.

Drew Ferguson (R/R) - MLB #17
I'm including Ferguson as a centerfielder since he played more at that position than right or left in 2017, but MLB Pipeline which has him ranked at #26 finds his range at center to be "fringy" and feels that he would be better suited to right or left. A 19th round draft pick out of Belmont University in 2015, I see the 25-year old as a solid utility outfielder. Ferguson spent the first 84 games of his season with AA Corpus Christi, hitting .292/.390/.426. He was promoted to Fresno on August 1st where he slashed a less robust .223/.304/.320 in his final 29 games of the season. Overall, he collected 25 doubles, nine home runs, 41 RBI, 66 runs scored, 18 stolen bases (six caught stealing) and seven outfield assists (five of those from left field and two from center); he walked 57 times to 98 strikeouts. Much like Celestino, Ferguson's tools play up because of his great baseball IQ, with his hit tool being his strongest asset.

Myles Straw (R/R) - BP #11+, BA #17, MLB #21, FG #28+
Straw is currently ranked #20 on the MLB 2017 postseason list and in the "Next 10" by Baseball Prospectus. I fully expect him to debut in the 2018 Baseball America Prospect Handbook as well (ahem, I'm still waiting for my copy BA!). Straw was a 12th round pick in 2015 out of St. Johns River Community College (FL); he just turned 23 in October. Straw spent all but 13 games of his season with High A Buies Creek, hitting .295/.412/.373 at the level prior to a late season promotion to AA Corpus Christi. The speedy outfielder collected 38 stolen bases (nine caught stealing), 17 doubles, seven triples and one home run in his 127 games. He also walked (94 times) more than he struck out (79 times). Straw's speed is plus-plus and is enough to overcome an, at best, average arm and lack of home run power. He makes good contact with excellent plate discipline.

Kyle Tucker (L/R) - BA #2, BP #2, FG #2, MLB #2
Tucker tops the list with a #15 and #17 overall top prospect designation from Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, respectively, and has been ranked #2 in the Astros system behind Forrest Whitley by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. Tucker, who turned 21 last month, split his 2017 season between High A Buies Creek (48 games) and AA Corpus Christi (72 games), hitting a combined .274/.346/.528 with 33 doubles, five triples, 25 home runs, 90 RBI and 21 stolen bases (nine caught stealing); he walked 46 times to 109 strikeouts. Drafted in the first round in 2017 out of H.B. Plant High School (Florida), scouts loved his swing from the start and expected him to develop more power. That power output was evident when Tucker went from hitting nine home runs in 2016 to hitting 25 home runs in 2017 in a roughly equivalent number of games. Rodney Linares, the 2017 Manager of the Corpus Christi team noted that, although Tucker has a somewhat unorthodox swing and approach (BP calls Tucker somewhat stiff and passive-aggressive at the plate), he has very good bat-to-ball skills and power. Defensively, Linares lauded Tucker's arm, but held that his accuracy was sometimes questionable. And, although Tucker has been a good base stealer thus far, that is expected to diminish at the higher levels, particularly as he fills out his frame, and that already appears to be the case. Tucker played in 110 games in the outfield in 2017 - 54 (CF), 37 (RF) and 19 (LF); he may very well spend more time in right field in the future and I personally like him better there than in center.

CENTERFIELDERS BEYOND THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

In his first season after signing out of Venezuela for $300,000 in July 2017, Abreu hit a healthy .286/.377/.345 in 34 games in the Dominican Summer League (and a robust .440/.533/.560 with two outs and runners in scoring position!). According to Oz Ocampo, Astros Special Assistant to the GM, Abreu shows an advanced approach at the plate as well as defensively in center field. Abreu is also said to be a plus runner (seven stolen bases to four caught stealing in his 34 games) with a good arm and nice intangibles. He will be 19 on 6/24.
Keys: In a crowded field of talented outfielders, Abreu will need to work hard to stand out both defensively and offensively. Listed at 6'0" 180#, I would expect Abreu to generate more power as he develops. At a minimum, with his reported speed, he should be able to collect more extra base hits than the five doubles and one triple he had in 2017.

Jake Meyers (R/L)
Meyers batting line for his 42 games with short season A Tri-City was a lackluster .207/.289/.304, but he was definitely heating up toward the end of the season, hitting .313/.377/.513 over his final 15 games, including three of his four doubles and all three of his season home runs. Drafted in the 13th round in 2017 out of the University of Nebraska where he was a two-way player, Meyers is said to be a plus runner (11 stolen bases and two caught stealing) whose speed and above average arm translate well in center field. Meyers will be 22 on 6/18.
Key: Show that he can catch up with and master pitching at the professional level.

Juan Ramirez (L/L)
Ramirez originally signed with the Tigers out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 for $185,000 and came to the Astros after the 2017 season as the PTBNL in the Justin Verlander trade. In his second professional season for the Gulf Coast League Tigers in 2017, Ramirez hit .301/.385/.362 in 42 games. He walked 20 times to only 14 strikeouts and stole 11 bases (seven caught stealing). On the smaller side (Baseball-Reference has him at 5'9" 160#), Ramirez is known more for contact than for power (six doubles and two triples in 2017), but at the time of his signing Baseball America thought he would grow into more power. They also noted that his above average arm could land him in right field. Ramirez will be 19 in April.
Keys: Ramirez is said to have good baseball instincts and he will need to use those to help him get the most out of his average speed and below average power.

Ramiro Rodriguez (L/L)
I am definitely a fan of Rodriguez (at least on paper since I've never actually seen him play), so much so that I named him my Short Season Player of the Year for 2017. Rodriguez was absolutely dominant at the plate while also providing solid defense. Rodriguez spent the vast majority of his season with the Dominican Summer League with a mid-August promotion to the Gulf Coast League. In 58 games, Rodriguez hit .335/.440/.500 with 11 doubles, three triples, five home runs, 24 RBI, 37 runs scored and eight stolen bases (seven caught stealing). He walked 30 times to only 23 strikeouts. Rodriguez signed with the Astros in October 2015 out of Panama.
Key: Rodriguez will be 20 in February and, as good as he was in the DSL, I would like to have seen him play in more than nine games in the States at this point. He should be challenged to higher levels of competition in order to see what he can really do.

Others to Watch:

Yefri Carrillo
Signed during the July 2nd international signing period in July 2017 out of Venezuela for $300,000, I haven't found much information about Carrillo yet, even his age [UPDATE: Carrillo turned 17 in January.], but since he didn't play in 2017, he will likely be 17 going into the 2018 season. Oz Ocampo called Carrillo a legitimate five-tool player with a "great frame and plus athleticism," citing a 70 arm, plus speed and fielding, and a solid bat with power.

Yimmi Cortabarria and Franklin Pinto
I know even less about these two players, both of whom signed in July 2017 for $300,000 out of Venezuela and neither of whom have yet played, but I will be watching them both in the new season. [UPDATE: Cortabarria was 17 in January and Pinto will be 17 in late April.]

Andy Pineda (L/R)
2017 was mostly a season of regression at the plate for Pineda, but he still showed enough promise to be included as a New York-Penn League Mid-Season All Star. Based on his past performance, I can still see him as a solid 4-tool player (lacking power), but going into his fifth season, he will need to catch up to higher levels of pitching and do so much more quickly. Pineda turned 21 in November.

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Second Base
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