Monday marked the last day of the regular season for the four full-seaon league teams. The Billings Mustangs regular season continues through Thursday and the Arizona League Reds season is now complete. With the regular season basically at the end of the line for everyone, it’s time to take a look back at the players who improved their stock the most during the 2014 season with their performance and progression of their baseball skills. Today I want to highlight three pitchers and three position players who did the most during the season to move themselves up the prospect map.
Amir Garrett | The left hander came into the season ranked as the 14th best prospect in the system according to my own rankings. He got his first taste of spring training this year after spending the spring playing college basketball in past years. He sat out the 2013-2014 year at Cal State Northridge after transferring from St. Johns, leaving him time to play baseball in the spring. Garrett notes in an interview posted below that having the time in spring training and in general just more time on the mound has helped him. The 22-year-old left hander spent the entire season in the Dayton Dragons rotation where he posted a 3.64 ERA in 133.1 innings to go along with 51 walks and 127 strikeouts. He also announced in early August that he would be giving up basketball to focus solely on baseball moving forward.
He has always had the raw stuff, but the 2014 season saw him take the stuff and find more and more consistency with it and just as important, he was able to throw strikes with it. In the first two seasons of his career he walked 39 batters in 77.2 innings. In 2014 the lefty walked just 51 batters in 133.1 innings and the walk rate was actually stronger as the season progressed. Garrett will need to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to be protected from the Rule 5 draft in December, and a lefty with his stuff would no doubt be taken, so look for him to be added at some point in November.
Sal Romano | Another pitcher from the Dayton Dragons pitching staff cracks this list. The right hander entered the year ranked 24th in the system by my rankings but will see a significant rise after his 2014 campaign with Dayton where he posted a 4.12 ERA in 148.2 innings with just 42 walks and 128 strikeouts. The year before, also spent entirely with Dayton, Romano walked 57 batters with just 89 strikeouts in 120.1 innings pitched. As I noted in an article a three weeks ago, he has turned projection of his stuff into reality this season and become one of the more interesting arms in the entire farm system. Coupling the step forward in his stuff and the drastic improvements in his control and he will be one of the highest risers in the system when the offseason prospect rankings come out during the offseason.
Michael Lorenzen | The Reds supplemental 1st round draft pick from the 2013 season has made the transition from part-time college closer to professional starting pitcher at Double-A look easy. Of course there was a giant bump in the road of that transition last fall when the right hander went to the Arizona Fall League to begin the switch from reliever to starter. Things were ugly. Lorenzen posted an 11.42 ERA in 17.1 innings while allowing 29 hits, walking 12 batters and striking out just five opposing hitters.
All of that went by the wayside when 2014 came around. The Reds were aggressive in their placement of the newly minted starting pitcher, sending him all of the way up to Double-A. It turns out that they knew exactly what they were doing as the righty posted a 3.13 ERA in 24 starts that spanned 120.2 innings pitched with 44 walks and 84 strikeouts. Going from a reliever to a starter and holding your own would boost your stock on its own, but performing that well as a starter at a high level while also showing outstanding stuff and control? While he entered the season as the 8th best prospect in the system his overall value has pushed him well up national lists and up the Reds rankings as well.
The Position Players
Aristides Aquino | The season is still ongoing for Aquino as he plays for the playoff bound Billings Mustangs, but the outfielder has taken the Pioneer League by storm with his power output in 2014. The 20-year-old is currently hitting .292/343/.584 with 23 doubles, five triples and 16 home runs. He leads the league in doubles, is second in home runs and also in the top 10 in triples. Aquino is also fourth in the league with 19 stolen bases.
Two years ago the season he has now could only be viewed as a fantasy type of dream as he was hitting .197 and slugging .280 in the Dominican Summer League as an 18-year-old. Fast forward two years and he has gone from an incredibly raw, but toolsy player to one of the top sluggers in the Pioneer League. There is still some work to do with his plate discipline and pitch recognition skills, but he has put together a very strong season that will surely move him up from his preseason ranking of 17th within the Reds system.
Kyle Waldrop | Like Amir Garrett, Waldrop put together a big season right before he becomes Rule 5 eligible if left unprotected. The corner outfielder began the season in Bakersfield where he hit .359/.409/.516 in the first half before earning a promotion to Double-A Pensacola for the second half. He didn’t slow down much, hitting .315/.359/.517 for the Blue Wahoos to put together a 2014 total line of .338/.385/.516 with 37 doubles, four triples and 14 home runs.
While there wasn’t one big improvement for Waldrop to lean on and point to as a reason why he had taken a step forward, there were several small improvements he made in 2014 that all added up to the overall improvement. He improved his career walk rate, cut down on his career strikeout rate and his power remained the same as it had been in the past and even improved in the second half despite going from a hitter friendly park and league to a park in Double-A that saps power for left handed hitters. Entering the season ranked as the 26th best prospect in the system he will find the ranking next to his name quite a bit higher this offseason.
Carlton Daal | The shortstop entered the season ranked as the 35th best prospect in the system and only had 75 total plate appearances as a professional, all coming from the 2013 season. Despite his lack of experience the Reds sent Daal to the Dayton Dragons where he was the starting shortstop nearly every day until he hurt his wrist and went to the disabled list in late July. At the time of the injury he was hitting .296/.334/.351 in 370 plate appearances.
Offensively he has some improvements to make, but there is a little bit of projection in his bat when it comes to the power and he understands the strikezone well. Defensively there are some concerns as he made 39 errors in 93 games, posting a .911 fielding percentage. A lot of the errors came on throws, but the issue isn’t arm strength related so it is a correctable issue. He shows good range and is quite athletic, so sticking at the position shouldn’t be a problem as long as he can cut down on the throwing errors some. In a system that is devoid of shortstops ahead of him, showing life with the bat and some defensive abilities move him up the system rankings quite a bit.