A Minors Obsession

The 2014 Minor League season: Who improved their stock the most?

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.

The Pitchers

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.

28 thoughts on “The 2014 Minor League season: Who improved their stock the most?

    • Daal showed an ability to hit and to play shortstop. Look around the big leagues right now at the shortstop position. It’s a disaster in the big leagues. Shortstops that can hit are incredibly valuable.

  1. Given the premise of the article there are obviously other players in the Reds system who were highly rated to start the year and many of them will remain so in 2015. But of these six the most advanced appear to be Waldrop and Lorenzen. If you had to guess, are they Future Reds? Or trade bait for upgrades to the big club? I’d also love to know how you think the Reds system ranks against other teams, and whether you think that improved or regressed in 2014.

    • Lorenzen is a future Red. Waldrop, I don’t feel as confident. Even with his season, I still think he is going to be behind both Winker and Rodriguez when it comes to the one available outfield spot on the Reds roster. Maybe they keep him in AAA for three years until Bruce has his contract expire, he will only be 25 at that point, but it would be a surprise to see that kind of move.

      The farm system is up from the middle-of-the-pack range last year. It’s still pitching heavy, but it’s very plentiful with pitching and in the Top 10 IMO based on how a normal Top 10 system looks. Someone wrote a national article the other day talking about how the Reds farm system was not good compared to the rest of the division…. horsecrap. The Cubs have the best system in baseball. But the Reds can hang with the rest of the division, easily.

      • I don’t know, Doug. The Pirates and Cubs both have much more top tier talent than the reds do. Both of those teams will have 5-7 guys in the top 100 lists. The reds will have 2, unless someone is really high on Lorenzen or Yorman. The Cardinals still have quite a bit of talent in their farm as well, despite all the prospects they have graduated in the past year and a half.

        The best you can say about the reds farm right now is that they have good pitching depth. But Stephenson is the only elite pitching prospect they have. The rest are considered to be middle to back of the rotation guys, from the scouting reports I’ve read. Lorenzen looks like a nice groundball pitcher, and that’s good for GABP, but he doesn’t miss many bats. Garett may have the second highest ceiling, but he still has a long way to go.

        The reds just seem like all their prospects are either guys with big tools and mediocre production, (like Yorman, Stephenson this year, Ervin), or guys with mediocre tools and good production, like Lively, Moscot, Mejias-Brean, Waldrop. But the farm systems that are in the top half of the league usually have at least one or two guys that combine the big tools and the big production. The Cubs and Pirates both have several guys like this. I don’t know as much about the cardinals prospects, but they have ranked significantly higher than the reds in all the rankings I have seen over the past year. You know more about the reds prospects than probably anybody that doesn’t actually work for the team. But if you are saying that the reds farm is as good as the pirates or cardinals or that the reds have a top ten system, then you are disagreeing with every national guy that I have seen. I hope you are right, but I would like to see you at least defend this position instead of just saying that all the other rankings by national guys are just wrong.

        • Winning has lead to low draft picks. Actually, it looks like the reds have gotten better value for the slot than other teams. Stephenson was 27th pick and is the best pitching prospect of his draft. Winker and Lorenzen were picked in the 30-40’s as compensation and have been as good as top 15 picks. Travieso only looked bad given we passed on Wacha (who Baseball America predicted the reds would draft), but he may end up nearly as good.

        • I never criticized the reds drafts. I was just stating that I think the farm is pretty mediocre and that what Doug is saying, especially about the reds matching up with the pirates farm that was rated number one by baseball America earlier this year, goes against what every national guy that I have seen has said. Also, while the reds made a good pick in 2011 with Stephenson, to say that he is the top pitcher in that draft is not right. Archie Bradley is always ranked higher than Bob Steve and he was 2011. Jose Fernandez was in that draft and he has already had major league success. Dylan Bundy and Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray have been rated higher than Stephenson as well. Alex Meyer in that draft too. All these guys were drafted ahead of Stephenson and the reason he fell to 27 was because there was so much pitching.

        • I think there’s a chance we could see 4-5 Reds on Top 100 lists. Stephenson, Winker and Lorenzen are locks. Lorenzen was a top 50 guy at BP at midseason along with Stephenson. Garrett, Romano, Travieso, Rodriguez all have the right stuff to be in the 75-100 range of a list. Rodriguez got votes last year in the BA top 100, but was on the outside looking in overall. He’s been much better this season than he was last year.

          You and I have very differing opinions on guys like Lorenzen, Travieso and Romano. Two different evaluators I’ve heard from this year said that they prefer Lorenzen or Romano to Stephenson (one each said it about one of those guys). I don’t agree with that, but these are guys that get paid by MLB teams and they said it. A majority would still take Stephenson, and I’m with them, but it certainly shows that they have legit level arms. I have Travieso right there with those guys. I don’t think Garrett has the second highest ceiling in the system, but am very high on him. He’s in that same group with the other Dayton guys. My guess is, you have been reading old scouting reports because a whole lot has changed on that group from Dayton and Lorenzen since the start of the year…. or you are just reading scouting reports at the wrong places (like MLB.com).

          The last time national publications came out with farm system rankings was last offseason. Those rankings mean about as much today as the ranking of JJ Hoover as a bullpen arm that came out at the same time. Absolutely nothing.

        • My info is not old, Doug. Most of what I know about the reds farm comes from your site. And I recognize that quip about mlb.com was an insult. Whatever. Here’s the thing, Doug. Baseball is a competitive game. Your team is judged by how many times they outscored other teams. Most of the new stats we use compare a players performance to their peers and league average. To judge how good the reds farm is, you can’t just look at the reds farm. You have to compare it to its peers. You said it stacked up to the other nl central teams, besides the Cubs. On the midseason top 50 at BA, the pirates had 5 guys and the reds have 2, Winker and Stephenson. They will both probably still be in the top 50, but Stephenson had a disastrous second half since those rankings, and Winker struggled in Penaacola and then got hurt. Not criticizing those guys, and I know the mitigating factors about the park in Pensacola, just stating the truth. Marc Hulett at Fangraphs has a top 10 prospect at every position except he combines lf and rf for corner outfield, and a top 20 for right handed pitchers. He just did these lists, and I don’t think he’s got to the left handers yet. But there are 90 players total on those 9 lists, and again only 2 reds. Winker no. 5 corner outfield and Stephenson no. 8 rhp. There are multiple positions that the Pirates or cubs have 2 players on and the reds only have 2 total.

          You said a national writer said that the reds farm couldn’t hold up with most of their nl central rivals. You called that horsecrap. But everything I’ve read in the past year from John sickels, Marc hulett, Keith law, and others seem to support this conclusion. I just asked you to back up that assertion. Instead, you insulted me and gave me some anonymous scout tidbit about Sal Romano. I mean, he’s really young and gets a lot of groundballs, but do you really think he is elite?

        • TCT, If you read something as an insult, I either typed something poorly or you read something wrong, because nothing was meant as an insult unless me suggesting the info you had gotten was wrong is an insult, because all I was trying to say is that the info you had is indeed wrong.

          Marc Hulet at fangraphs, nice guy, but his info isn’t exactly the best out there. It’s why they’ve gone out and started paying several other prospect writers to be featured guys there instead of just promoting him up the ladder. Maybe he is right and I am totally wrong, but for now I’m going to hold onto my case.

          Keith Law – Haven’t read any of his stuff.

          Sickels updated his Top 75 six weeks ago. Stephenson was the highest rated non-Cub prospect from the Central. The Pirates had two guys in the top 50 and three in the top 75 on his list. The Reds had two guys on the list, both in the Top 35. Toss in Lorenzen who was a BP midseason Top 50 guy and well, I would say it’s easy to argue the two, at the top are pretty similar given that information, if not a better look for the Reds. The Cardinals have 3 guys in Sickels Top 75. Taveras is no longer a prospect, so drop him. Now they have two left, both on the outside of the Top 50 and looking in.

          And as I said, Sal Romano has an elite arm. I fully believe that.

        • If they crack my Top 40, I would be surprised. It seems the Brewers are eating the entire contract for Broxton which means they probably aren’t giving up anyone of note.

  2. I am very excited about Amir Garrett once he has settled on one sport, baseball. The sky is the limit for him. He will soon be mentioned in the same breath as Stephenson and Lorenzen. It’ll be interesting to see where he starts out next year, whether in Bakersfield or Pensacola.
    Waldrop is a very nice player. A good hitter and defender. He’s a big guy that has the frame to add a little bulk. With Winker’s wrist injury, Waldrop moves ahead of him for now.

    Doug, what can you tell us about two of the Sept. call-ups INF/OF Jake Elmore and LHP Ryan Dennick??

  3. Do you see anyone skipping a level next year? Maybe Travieso straight to AA to avoid the hitters league in Bakersfield. Actually I think they are ending that affiliation, am I right?

    • Their affiliation with Bakersfield is up at the end of the season, and there are more than a few Advanced-A teams that will be available, but that also means other teams will be looking as well. Even if the Reds wind up elsewhere, I’ve already heard talk about some of the Dayton guys perhaps skipping up to AA next year.

      • Thanks, Bakersfield has been the white elephant gift that teams have been trying to avoid for years. The reds, not being a west coast team, got the white elephant last time around. Lets hope they plan ahead this time so their hitters dont have to hit into the sun!

        • I’d love to see them just get out of the Cal League entirely. I’d prefer to see them avoid the Florida State League as well. Get a team in the Carolina League where the hitting environment is normal. The normal start times would be nice too.

  4. All those guys certainly had great seasons. Lively is another one who rose through the system this year and performed well. He hit a bit of a bump in Pensacola but appeared to make some adjustments. In my personal (just for fun) rankings he was the second biggest riser after Lorenzen, although I likely had him ranked slightly lower than some coming in. Also, Daniel Wright, Beau Amaral, and Rey Navarro raised their stock through the season. None will really rise through the rankings, though they may be in the conversation to crack the back end of the rankings. But all three showed they could contribute in the future if they continue to put things together on the field.

    And not for nothing, but Travieso certainly secured a top 5 spot with his strong year, hopefully silencing some of the doubters. YRod as well bounced back from an injury induced slump and solidified himself as a top prospect, seeming to finally put all those tools to good use consistently.

    Unfortunately there were a few stock hits, but nothing overly alarming yet. Ervin had his share of struggles after a quick start to his professional career. He bounced back from June on, for the most part, but I would like to see more from him moving forward. Hopefully he can start in Bakersfield next season and find a groove to get his confidence flowing. Chad Rogers went from being one of the better starting pitchers in the upper minors last year to really struggling in a relief role this year, as well as being dropped off the 40-man. KJ Franklin also struggled to get much going this year, and while he’s young, he’s certainly in serious danger of being passed up (if he hasn’t been already) by guys like Sparks andLaValley.

    • I’m sure if some others were writing this, they would have Travieso on their list…. but I was the highest person around on him after last season, so while he did move up in my rankings, I already had him pretty high on my list.

  5. A wrist injury helped derail Ervin. They are about the worst injury a hitter can have and a hitter’s struggles in trying to return from one should be heavily discounted in my opinion. I’m wishing Daal all the best in his recovery.

    • Very worried about Ervin, especially after Blandino had little trouble adjusting to Dayton fresh out of college. I hope we eventually see him healthy and hitting much better.

  6. I’m with you on your assessment of Daal and Waldrop. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll stick at SS. With Waldrop, like you I’m a little skeptical—his splits were really severe at Bakersfield in a modest sample size.

    Let’s face it, the farm system evaluators generally don’t have the most intimate knowledge of all 30 teams. I’m not worried in the least about where we rank. That said, the last couple drafts have left me a little wanting. There were a couple pretty big whiffs in the early rounds (Gelalich, Rosa). Fortunately, the sleeper picks have shown promise.

  7. Doug thanks as always for interesting and informative assessments. I think there’s always a tendency to over value the players you see most often and know best (Jocketty and his ex-Cardinals perhaps?) but I feel like you are consistently as objective as a biased observer can be (meaning you’re evaluating Reds prospects as a Reds fan) and I really appreciate that you’re always so generous with your time and insights. Good stuff as usual. Thank you.

  8. Doug, Thanks for the report and as always appreciative of you scouting out the Reds for us. You go to the games we cannot and you talk with the coaches, the players, and the scouts. You are probably just as informed as a paid scout on the state of players in the Reds farm system. I tend to lean more on stats than you do but that is only because I am not there to see some of these guys in person and even if I did I wouldn’t necessarily know what to look for. The guy who slammed you on here is simply negative about the Reds and wants to paint a doom and gloom pitcher for all the Reds fan so I am hoping that his comments are not taken offensively. 99% of the people who read your writings are impressed with the in depth knowledge and study you bring to it. The other 1% would probably be better served being a Cardinals or Pirates fan.

    Keep up the good work!

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