Thursday, February 15, 2018

Beyond the Top 30: Right 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.

[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.]

RIGHTFIELDERS IN THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Carlos Machado - August 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Carlos Machado (R/R) - BP 11+, FG 28+
At this point, Machado is noted as a top prospect on only one list, that of Baseball Prospectus who has him as one of their "Next 10." And, although Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw played a considerable number of games in right field in 2017, Machado is the only listed prospect for whom right field was his primary position. Machado was originally signed by the Astros in August 2014, and 2017 was his third professional season. He did have good success at the plate in 2017, hitting a combined .324/.387/.462 with six doubles, four triples and two home runs between 33 games in the Gulf Coast League and eight games with rookie level Greeneville, but personally I feel that he should have been challenged to higher levels at this point in his development. BP really likes his hit tool and feel for hitting, but tempers their enthusiasm by saying that Machado will either need to hit at an elite level or develop more power in order to be successful. Machado will be 20 in June.

RIGHTFIELDERS BEYOND THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Carmen Benedetti - July 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Benedetti got off to a slow start in his second professional season in 2017, hitting only .219/.306/.281 in April for Low A Quad Cities, but he made adjustments and by July, he slashed .402/.492/.523 in 28 games, leading to an early August promotion to High A Buies Creek. For the season combined, he hit .268/.341/.415 with 27 doubles, one triple and five home runs. He walked 60 times to 68 strikeouts in 92 games. Benedetti was drafted in the 12th round in 2016 out of the University of Michigan where he was a two-way player. His strong left arm translated into 11 outfield assists in 2017, six of those from right field. Benedetti's plus defense, good on-base skills, great gap power (and plus-plus baseball name) make him one of my favorite follows on this list. He turned 23 in October.
Key: Honestly, Benedetti just needs to keep doing what he's been doing as he climbs the ladder to the higher levels of the organization. With just a little added strength to his already strong frame, I can see some of his gap power translating to more home runs, adding to an already solid portfolio of skills.

Gonzalez signed with the Astros out of Venezuela in July 2016 and played his first professional season in 2017. In 59 games in the Dominican Summer League, he hit .226/.355/.249. Gonzalez really showed improvement as the season progressed, finishing with a .302/.446/.302 line in 16 games in August. At the time he signed, he was lauded for his ability to hit for contact, baserunning instincts, plate discipline and ability to hit to all fields. Gonzalez didn't exhibit much in the way of power (four doubles were his only extra base hits), but he did show really good on-base skills, decent baserunning (11 stolen bases; 8 caught stealing) and solid defensive abilities (no errors in 43 games in right plus six outfield assists, four from right). Oh, and he did all of that at the ripe old age of 17. He will not turn 18 until May 27th.
Key: At his age, the only thing he can really do is keep working, keep listening to his coaches/trainers and have fun!

Corey Julks (R/R)
Drafted in the 8th round in 2017 out of the University of Houston, Julks didn't have the best professional debut, hitting only .176/.311/.235 in 32 games for Tri-City, but he did manage to steal nine bases (two caught stealing) and walk 18 times to only 19 strikeouts. In Baseball America's annual draft report write-up, they called Julks one of the best athletes in the Astros 2017 class, citing his strength, speed and raw power. Prior to the draft, Julks was #500 on BA's Top 500 draft list, but some scouts were concerned about his bat path. All of this tells me that Julks is a work in progress and 2018 will likely be pivotal in defining Julks as a player.
Key: Hone in on the type of player he wants to be and work toward that goal.

Chas McCormick (R/L)
McCormick is one of my "intangibles guys," one whose baseball skills will play up because of his work ethic, intensity, team mentality and other non-baseball skills. McCormick was a senior sign out of Millersville University (PA) in the 21st round in 2017; he held the college record for hits, runs, RBI and triples, and his college coach called him "unbelievably clutch." That translated into a first pro season in which McCormick hit .298/.355/.399 with nine doubles, one triple, two home runs, 22 RBI, six stolen bases (four caught stealing) and 15 walks to only 20 strikeouts in 51 games (the majority of which were at Low A Quad Cities). He also hit .382/.447/.618 with two outs and runners in scoring position. And in nine postseason games, he hit .371/.465/.457 with one double, one triple and seven walks to three strikeouts. Defensively, he was errorless in games at all three outfield positions for the season. He will be 23 on April 19th.
Key: Since McCormick wasn't a top draft pick and, as a senior sign, presumably didn't have a big signing bonus, he doesn't represent a huge financial investment on the part of the Astros. The harsh reality of that is he will have to work twice as hard as higher ranked players to continue moving forward in the organization. But, personally, I think he is up to the job.

Luis Payano (R/R)
The main reason that I'm including Payano on this list is because he was the highest paid international player signed by the Astros in the July 2012 signing period, with a $500,000 pay day, and the Astros will give him every chance to succeed. My main concern with Payano is that he will be entering his 6th season in 2018 and has only played 24 games as high as Low A and has averaged only 46 games per season thus far in his career. In 44 games in 2017 (20 at Tri-City and 24 at Quad Cities), he hit a combined .248/.306/.441 with 11 doubles, one triple and five home runs, peaking at the end of the season (.292/.370/.458 in 21 games in August). At the time he was signed, Baseball America liked Payano for his above average arm, good bat speed and running ability, but thought his raw tools were ahead of his skills. Personally, I have enjoyed watching Payano play. He plays all out and possesses an infectious personality. I would really like to see him succeed.
Key: Payano, who will be 22 on May 12th has to be challenged to higher levels of competition and he will have to show that he is up to the task. And all of that needs to start really accelerating.

Stephen Wrenn (R/R)
Wrenn, drafted out of the University of Georgia in the 6th round in 2016, is definitely one of the stronger defensive players on this list. In 60 games in right field, 45 games in center and 15 games in left in 2017, he was charged with only one error while contributing eight outfield assists. Wrenn hit a combined .258/.332/.365 in 125 games between Quad Cities (42) and Buies Creek (85). It took him a while to catch up with High A pitching, but he did so nicely at the end of the season, hitting .301/.378/.336 in 30 games in August and September. According to Baseball America, Wrenn's swing is geared more for contact than for power and he is a plus runner. His 2017 results reflect that as he collected 17 doubles and six triples to go with his seven home runs, and stole 18 bases (seven caught stealing). He walked 50 times to 112 strikeouts, but his strikeout rate improved in the latter part of the season. Wrenn turned 23 in October.
Key: Work to get the most out of his speed. I can see him collecting more stolen bases, doubles and triples as he finetunes his running game.

Others to Watch:

Bryan de la Cruz (R/R)
Much like Luis Payano, my main concern with de la Cruz is that he hasn't progressed far enough in the system at this point in his career. He ended the season with a decent (but very limited) showing at Quad Cities, but going into his fifth season in 2018, he will need to move much more quickly. He turned 21 in December.

Patrick Mathis (L/L)
Drafted in the 22nd round in 2017 out of the University of Texas, Mathis was hampered by a leg injury in his final year at UT. He put up less than spectacular numbers in his first season, most of which was spent at rookie level Greeneville, but keep an eye out to see what he can do when/if he's completely healthy in 2018. He will be 22 in March.

Ronny Rafael (R/R)
Rafael signed for 1.5 million in July 2014, but after three seasons, he has yet to show that his bat is up to the challenge. Rafael turned 20 in October.

Previous Posts:
Shortstop
Second Base
First Base

1 comment:

  1. I have high hopes for Wrenn and Benedetti. If Wrenn cuts down the strikeouts he looks like a stud.

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