Thursday, February 22, 2018

Beyond the Top 30: Left 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 (plus their 2018 Prospect Handbook) to denote those players who are currently considered Top 30 type players in the Astros system. Once FanGraphs weighs in 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]

[NOTE: Almost all of these players have appeared at multiple outfield positions. For the most part, these lists are based upon the primary position the player appeared at in the 2017 season.]

LEFTFIELDERS IN THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Ronnie Dawson - July 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Ronnie Dawson (L/R) - MLB #15, BA #21, FG #23
Ronnie Dawson, the Astros 2nd round draft pick in 2016 out of The Ohio State University, opened a lot of eyes in the second half of the 2017 season, mine included. Check out my interview with Dawson from last summer to see what his coaches and teammates have to say about him (SPOILER: They really like him!). After a tepid April and May at the plate (.213/.295/.343), Dawson broke things open, hitting .314/.401/.490 the rest of the way, peaking in July with a gaudy .373/.448/.618 batting line. In 129 games (116 with Low A Quad Cities and 13 with High A Buies Creek), Dawson collected 26 doubles, five triples, 14 home runs, 67 RBI, 88 runs and 18 stolen bases (11 caught stealing). He walked 59 times to 110 strikeouts, improving on his walk-to-strikeout rate drastically in the latter part of the season (16BB:44K in April/May and 43BB:66K from June on). Dawson has good bat speed, athleticism, power potential and surprising speed on the bases; his hit tool against his fellow lefties is a work in progress. He is a solid, if unspectacular, defensive player who provided errorless defense in his time in left field in 2017. Dawson, who will be 23 in May, is ranked #21 in the Astros system by Baseball America going into the 2018 season and was ranked #30 by MLB Pipeline's 2017 postseason list (they have not released their 2018 rankings yet).

J.J. Matijevic (L/R) - BP #11+, FG #24, MLB #25, BA #26
Coincidentally, Matijevic was another 2nd round pick by the Astros (as compensation for those cheatin' Cardinals!), selected in 2017 out of the University of Arizona. I'm listing Matijevic as a leftfielder simply because that's where he played all but one game in his inaugural season. He was drafted by the Astros as a second baseman, but it is doubtful that he would ever flourish at that position. More likely than not, Matijevic, who is more known for his offense than his defense, will play either left field or first base as his career unfolds. Offensively, Matijevic is expected to build on the work he did later in his college career which propelled him into an elite group of college hitters. Both his hit tool and raw power are ranked as above average while his defense lags behind. In his first professional season, he tailed off later in the season, ending with a .228/.290/.384 line with 14 doubles, seven home runs and a surprising 11 stolen bases (considering scouts find his speed to be "underwhelming") in 53 games with short season A Tri-City and a final six games with Low A Quad Cities. He was ranked #26 by Baseball America in their 2018 Prospect Handbook, #16 by MLB Pipeline in their 2017 postseason ranking and in Baseball Prospectus's "Next 10." Matijevic turned 22 in November.

Note: I included the highly ranked Yordan Alvarez in the first base write-up (see the link at the bottom), but he is as likely to end up in left field as at first base, depending on where he shows the most value in the system.

LEFTFIELDERS BEYOND THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Alejandro Garcia - April 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Garcia, one of the Astros Cuban signings in 2015, had an uneven season in 2017. After hitting only .202/.244/.325 in 42 games with AA Corpus, he was promoted to AAA Fresno on June 1st and managed a .269/.312/.356 in his 50 games at that level, despite really fading down the stretch. He had an overall .235/.278/.341 line with 18 doubles, two triples and four home runs in 92 games as compared to his .291/.323/.365 line in 2016 in 94 games (26 games at High A, 51 games at AA and 17 games at AAA). One of the biggest differences between his 2016 and 2017 campaigns was his ability to hit against left-handed pitching. In 2016, Garcia hit .337/.352/.488 against lefties vs. .220/.281/.354 in 2017. Adding to his on-base woes, Garcia rarely walked in 2017 (nine walks to 45 strikeouts in his 92 games). It looks as though his 2017 season might have been a bit of a fluke down season for him (here's his FanGraphs page), so I'll be keeping an eye on him in 2018 to see which Alejandro Garcia shows up.
Key: Consistency! Also, learn that walks are not a bad thing.

Jon Kemmer (L/L)
Kemmer, the Astros 21st round pick in 2013 out of Brewton-Parker College in Georgia, saw his fifth professional season come to an abrupt stop in early August when he was hit by a pitch, resulting in a broken bone in his hand. In his 87 games with AAA Fresno, Kemmer hit an overall .299/.399/.533 with 17 doubles, three triples, 16 home runs, 57 RBI and 44 walks to 95 strikeouts. He was particularly productive in June and July, hitting .362/.486/.652 in 41 games. Kemmer, an aggressive hitter, does have some swing-and-miss in his game (26.5 K%), but when he connects, his power really shows. He had a .234 ISO for 2017 and a 10.1% XBH rate and he can hit the ball with power to all fields. Kemmer is a solid defender in left and can play right as well, but his average arm and his fringe average speed will keep him out of center field. Kemmer has had a couple of injuries that have cut into his playing time, but he has shown that he is a capable power producer in the high minors. At 27 and going into his sixth professional season, he really doesn't have much left to prove in the minor leagues and should get his MLB opportunity in 2018, but his best opportunity may very well be by way of a trade to another organization in which he isn't blocked by so much talent.
Key: Fine-tune both his defense and offense to get the most out of his abilities, and stay healthy! Good reps now will definitely help him later as he waits for the call.

Others to Watch:

Wilson Amador (R/R)
Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 for $400,000, Amador was ranked as the #24 international prospect at the time, but an elbow injury that required surgery to repair a growth plate fracture reduced his expected $875,000 bonus by more than half. At the time of his signing, he was cited for his "athleticism and raw tools," particularly his plus arm and plus speed. But he will be entering his fifth professional season in 2018 and has yet to play more than 64 games in a season or any higher than rookie league Greeneville. He showed some progression with the bat over the 2017 season, ending with a .270/.308/.356 line, but he will have to move much more quickly at this point to avoid being left behind. He turned 21 in December.

Kendy Moya (S/R)
I know absolutely nothing about Moya that I can't find on his stats pages, but there are a couple of things that can be found there that intrigue me. For one, he's a switch-hitter who hits more or less equally well from both sides of the plate (more power from the left and higher average from the right). Secondly, his walk-to-strikeout ratio (49 walks to 59 strikeouts) tells me that he's a fairly disciplined hitter. For the 2017 season (his second in the DSL), he hit .241/.400/.327 with eight doubles, three triples, one home run and he stole 12 bases (five caught stealing) in 62 games. Although he played the majority of his games in left, he also played at short, second, third and in right field so he may be a player who ultimately better fits as a utility player. Again, nothing earth-shaking about Moya, but enough to pique my interest. Moya turned 19 in December and certainly needs to be challenged to tougher competition than the DSL in order to see what he can do.

Previous Posts:
Shortstop
Second Base
First Base

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