A Minors Obsession

Minor League Midseason Surprises

While the midseason point for the Major Leagues is still a few weeks away, the midseason mark for the minor leagues is happening right now. Triple-A plays 144 games, so they still have a few games left to technically reach their midseason mark, but Double-A, Advanced-A and Low-A are all on their All-Star breaks and have completed the first halves of their 140-game seasons.

This week I wanted to look back at the first half and talk about some of the surprise performances. It won’t necessarily be outstanding performances, as in some cases we expected guys to perform quite well (like Jesse Winker), but good performances from guys that may have broken through or really established themselves for the first time.

Carlton Daal

The Curacao native has established himself as the top shortstop prospect in the system with his performance in the first half of the season. The right handed hitter has posted a .314 average to go along with a .360 on-base percentage and a .354 slugging percentage for the Dayton Dragons so far. The 20-year-old has also stolen eleven bases without being caught. He has some tools to work with, which I wrote about at my site on Friday. Offensively he has been a rather big surprise, coming into the 2014 season with just 21 games played as a professional. Defensively he has had some struggled though, posting a .905 fielding percentage so far.

Sebastian Elizalde

The Reds went a unique (to them) route to acquire the outfielder last season as they signed him out of the Mexican League where he had been playing since he was 18-years-old. After signing he underwent Tommy John surgery and didn’t debut until the start of 2014. He has split his time in the outfield and at first base, though his time at first has been more out of necessity for his team than a reflection on his defensive abilities. Offensively it’s hard to ask for anything more from the 22-year-old as he has posted a .311 average to go along with a .439 on-base percentage and a .503 slugging percentage for Dayton. He has 41 walks and just 48 strikeouts on the season. While he is slightly old for the league, for a guy making his debut stateside, he really jumped out for his performance.

Beau Amaral

The center fielder has already seen time at three levels this season, beginning in Dayton before jumping up to Pensacola for two weeks to fill in for an injured player. He has spent the last five weeks in Bakersfield. Overall this season he has hit .315 with a .369 on-base percentage and a .478 slugging percentage. He already has 18 doubles, seven triples and two home runs. In more than twice the amount of plate appearances last season he managed just 23 extra-base hits. He has also added 20 steals on the season and has scored 45 runs.

Bryan Anderson

A former draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals way back in 2005 under Walt Jocketty, the organization brought in the former Top 100 prospect (2008) for one last look. The 27-year-old has seized the opportunity. He has split his time between Pensacola and Louisville, where he has split his time behind the plate leading to just 150 plate appearances this year. He has made them count though, hitting .323 between the two stops with a .403 on-base percentage and a .600 slugging percentage. Anderson has smashed eight home runs with 18 walks and 25 strikeouts.

Kyle Waldrop

The 22-year-old outfielder is repeating the Advanced-A level with the Bakersfield Blaze and has done much better the second time around. Waldrop is hitting .359/.409/.516 on the season with 20 doubles, a triple and six home runs. His walk rate has jumped up from 5.9% in 2013 to 7.8% in 2014 and he has lowered his strikeout rate from 22% to 19%. Marginal gains in both categories have helped him improve his overall offensive output.

Carlos Gonzalez

The right handed reliever celebrated his 24th birthday last week with the Bakersfield Blaze, but despite his birthday it was a rough week as he allowed the first two runs of his season on June 7th and June 9th. The closer had begun the season with 27.1 shutout innings, spanning 23 games, before allowing a run of any kind. His ERA currently sits at 0.57 on the year with just seven walks and 34 strikeouts. While he is repeating the level, he has been a very different pitcher, cutting his walk rate from 5.2 walks per 9.0 innings pitched down to just 2.0 and raising his strikeout rate from 7.6 to 9.8 per 9.0 innings pitched.

Ben Lively

The 2013 4th round draft pick of the Reds dominated in Billings last year in limited action and got one start to end the year in Dayton. He was pushed to Bakersfield to begin this season and has dominated the league, posting a 2.28 ERA in 79.0 innings to go with a 10-1 record, 0.92 WHIP, 16 walks and 95 strikeouts. He will start the Carolina League vs California League All-Star game tonight for the California League. While I had Lively ranked as the #10 prospect in the system coming into the year, what he has been able to do in the incredibly hitter friendly California League has been incredible.

Michael Lorenzen

The right handed pitcher has less experience on the mound than any other pitcher in full season ball within the Reds system. He threw about under 45.0 innings in college as a reliever and had a handful of innings last year after being drafted, also as a reliever. The Reds decided they wanted to try him as a starting pitcher and it has paid off in a big, big way so far. He has posted a 2.41 ERA for the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos in 71.0 innings, allowing just three home runs on the year to go along with a 60% groundball rate. He has 21 walks and 47 strikeouts on the year, and while the strikeout rate is lower than you would like to see, this is his first ever season as a starting pitcher and he is doing it in Double-A with elite stuff.

Ismael Guillon

After a disastrous 2013 season that saw the left hander walk 95 batters in 121.1 innings it is a big surprise to see him back in Dayton with a 3.17 ERA over 65.1 innings with just 27 walks to go along with 69 strikeouts. His walk rate has dropped from 7.0 batters per 9.0 innings pitched down to 3.7 walks per 9.0 innings pitched. His home run rate has also dropped off significantly. Guillon allowed 14 long balls last season and has given up just three in 2014. Already on the 40-man roster, it’s a big season for him and he has stepped up thus far.

Daniel Wright

The 2013 10th round pick stumbled a bit out of the gate last season, posting a 5.91 ERA for Billings, though he did show good peripherals while there. This season he has split his time between Dayton and Bakersfield where his ERA has dipped to 2.71 in 69.2 innings over 11 starts and three relief appearances. He has walked just 10 batters and has struck out 56 opposing hitters.

22 thoughts on “Minor League Midseason Surprises

  1. doug – any good comp for Waldrop with any recent reds players?
    also, given Lively production, will he be promoted after the all-star game? or is Pensacola too congested for him?

    thanks. good stuff.

  2. Here’s hoping that Daal continues his ways and can climb up the organizational ladder with some speed to replace Cozart when his time is up in a few years.

    Great stuff, Doug. Thanks.

  3. The Old Cossack doesn’t know what to make of Bryan Anderson’s 150 PA this season. Anderson has never produced numbers like he is pounding out this season and the past 2 seasons in AAA were abysmal disappointments. I’m not sure where or if Anderson fits into any plans for the Reds organization, but if he continues to produce an OPS>.900, he may force some serious rethinking.

  4. Jesse Winker won the HR contest last night at the Cal vs. Carolina All-star game festivities. He has to be the Reds #1 position player prospect now. Seth Mejias Brean might be #2. Winker and Lively should be in Pensacola soon.

  5. I know the focus of this article is positive surprises, but I was surprised by Phil Ervin’s slow start. It looks like he’s been hitting a lot better so far this month (.310/.383/.476) after back-to-back sub-600 OPS months.

    • I’m hoping that Thomas Neal and Ervin both had the same malady during the 1st 2 months of the season and are well on their way to a full recovery now. I think Ervin was probably still recovering from his wrist injury and should put himself in line for a late season promotion with a solid 2nd half. The Old Cossack also expected to see Phil Ervin mentioned in the article as a significant (negative) surprise.

    • I believe Ervin had an offseason wrist surgery. I do know his rookie season was ended early by a wrist injury. Probably why it took awhile for him to come back around.

  6. Looks like the organization has a huge log jam of prospects stuck between bakersfield to pensacola to louisville. Seems to me some clearing and demotions at louisville is about to go down. No way winker doesnt wind up ending season at louisville.

    • Some clearing at Louisville has already begun with the release of Nelson. Hopefully Rey Navarro will also see a promotion to Louisville, along with Silverio (already promoted). With the season Marquez Smith has had and his prior experience at AAA, Smith should bypass Pensacola and get promoted directly to Louisville.

      • I was thinking that of winker but wahoos website lists both winker and smith as additions. If they get hot though i don’t expect either one will be there at the end of the season. Certainly both of these guys deserve to be at spring training next year for a serious big league evaluation.

  7. I’m more surprised that Winker is still in A+. .317/.426/.580 with 40 BB/46 K. Not sure there’s anything more he can prove at that level of baseball. He’s hitting for AVG, shows a great walk to strikeout ratio, and for is hitting for power. That’s almost skipping AA worthy numbers. Bring him up to AAA. If he keeps raking, he could be an excellent Sept callup. Or earlier if the Reds are actually still in the race and the extra bat could help in say 45 days or so.

    • Doug posted an article a few days back showing that Winker is actually advancing through the farm system slightly faster than Votto with better numbers.

      • Votto was a 24-year-old rookie. A part of what took Votto so long was the guy had no position. He played LF, C, 3B, RF, and 1B in the minors. Have to have a position you can play before you can advance in the minors in the NL.

    • Here is the full report direct from Pensacola ( where i spent 4 years in the service) :
      PENSACOLA, Fla. – The Blue Wahoos will look much different when the second half of the Southern League season opens play on Thursday, June 19th. Most notably, Gulf Breeze product and Cincinnati’s 2013 fourth round pick Ben Lively. The right-hander headlines a list of seven call-ups from Bakersfield that will join the Wahoos to start the second half as Pensacola looks to improve on its fifth place first half finish.

      Lively, drafted last year out of the University of Central Florida, was named the starter of the California League All-Star game after leading the league in nearly every pitching category through the first half. He was the league leader in ERA (2.28), wins (10), strikeouts (95) and WHIP (0.92). He was among the leaders in opponent batting average (3rd, .201) and innings pitched (79). Lively began the season allowing just one run over his first five outings. Entering the season he was ranked as the Reds No. 12 prospect according to MLB.com.

      The Blue Wahoos will also get the addition of 2012 first round pick and Reds No. 3 prospect Jesse Winker. He was hitting .317 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI over 53 games in the Bakersfield outfield. He ranked among the league leaders in batting average (8th), on-base percentage (3rd, .426), slugging percentage (3rd, .580) and home runs per at bat (2nd, 1/15.77). With the addition of Winker, the Blue Wahoos now have four of the organization’s top five prospect on the roster. The others are Robert Stephenson (No. 1), Michael Lorenzen (No. 3) and Carlos Contreras (No. 5).

      Joining Winker in the outfield will be Kyle Waldrop and Marquez Smith. Waldrop was Bakersfield’s top hitter with a league-best .359 average. He was also among the league leaders in doubles with 20. Smith is returning to Pensacola where he played in 21 games a year ago. He was the team leader in home runs with 15, good for second in the league, and RBI with 67 while hitting .298 for the Blaze.

      The bullpen will get the addition of RHP Carlos Gonzalez. He had a tremendous first half out of the Bakersfield bullpen with a 0.57 ERA. He ranked third among California League closers with 15 saves.

      Other additions include infielders Ryan Wright and Seth Mejias-Brean. Wright, a fifth round pick in 2011, spent most of his time at second base and hit .311 with eight home runs and 41 RBI. Mejias-Brean, drafted in the eighth round in 2012, has spent most of the year at third base with a .300 average and 11 home runs and 45 RBI.

      To make room for the additions, Justin Freeman, Rey Navarro, Steve Selsky and Juan Silverio have been transferred to Triple-A Louisville. Mikey O’Brien was transferred to Single-A Bakersfield. Ray Chang and Josh Fellhauer will both begin the second half on the disabled list with undisclosed injuries. Left-handed reliever Lee Hyde was released by the organization.

      • Pensacola plays in the AA Southern League. The northern-most team and city in the Southern league are the Tennessee Smokies in Kodak, TN. It is just about 20 miles east of of Knoxville, TN. Kodak is about 10 miles from Pigeon Forge. Pensacola only plays there once a year. This year it will a 5-game series on July 31-Aug. 4 (Thr-Mon).
        As the article states, “the Blue Wahoos now have four of the organization’s top five prospect on the roster.” And might have 6-7 of the top-10 prospects when July 31 rolls around.
        The Reds are on the road in Miami on this weekend.
        Might be a good opportunity to get away to the Smoky Mountains for a baseball getaway, a weekend family getaway, or whatever and catch a couple of the games in that 5 game series. The ML trade deadline is July 31. Could be a nice potential RLN mini gathering. There’d be lots of baseball to talk about and watch.

  8. Sorry for the lack of replies today guys. I had a whole lot of personal stuff to take care of today and didn’t spend much time at the computer at all.

    • Doug you are awesome man. I apologize if my Pensacola post was in advance of anything you were going to write about. You have a far greater insight than anything I could come up with. Speaking of which, now that Pensacola is the team stocked with talent what is going to be the triggers to advance the AA outfield up to AAA, and what happens to the guys already at AAA? Surely they are going to have to make room for all of that talent either by demoting or flat out releasing guys right?

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