Yesterday, Kiley and I ranked the prospects who graduated in 2017. As part of the that re-evaluation exercise, I came across a subset of players whom I thought merited a deeper dive. Many prospects “graduate” off of prospect lists but remain unfinished developmental projects who get bounced to and from Triple-A for an extended period of time. Others get hurt at an inopportune time and virtually disappear for years.
Nobody really covers these players in a meaningful way; they exist in a limbo between prospectdom and any kind of relevant big-league sample. To address this blind spot in coverage, I’ve cherry-picked some of the more interesting players who fall under this umbrella — players who have either made relevant changes or whose profiles have changed based on relevant info we could only have learned with a big-league sample.
As far as Future Value grades for this group are concerned, they look like this:
Now, on to the reports.
Francis Martes, RHP, Houston Astros
Martes’s stuff is nasty enough that he’s very likely to play a significant big-league role even if he never develops starter’s command, and Houston obviously has a recent history of finding ways to maximize what guys with fringey command — like Lance McCullers and Brad Peacock, for example — are able to do. Martes sits 95-99, while his mid-80s curveball features a spin rate around 2600 rpm. Curveballs with that combination of velocity and spin are rare. Jose Fernandez, Ariel Hernandez, and Yordano Ventura are all recent peers by that criteria. Scouts think it could be a 70 curveball.
Martes was athletic enough to merit command projection in the minors, but we haven’t seen him need to work efficiently for a while because he was bullpen’d last year. We also don’t have many recent looks at the changeup because of the move, and he’s trending away from a starter projection. Nevertheless, he should still be an effective big-league something because his stuff is so good.
Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Glasnow began the year in the majors and labored through 12 starts, during which he surrendered 12 home runs and 30 walks in just 54.1 innings before he was sent back to Indianapolis in early June. There, Glasnow began pitching exclusively from the stretch and was utterly dominant. In 15 starts, Glasnow struck out 140 hitters in just 93.1 innings and walked 32 batters. He made three throwaway appearances with Pittsburgh late in the year, but none represented good evaluation opportunities, as Glasnow hadn’t pitch for two weeks in his first appearance and then pitched in an unfamiliar bullpen role in his final two.
From a stuff perspective, Glasnow remains promising. His four-seam fastball has natural cut, his two-seamer has some sink, and the two of the run together in the 92-98 mph range. Glasnow’s fastball averaged 94 mph in the big leagues but has an effective velocity of 97 mph due to extension. His 77-82 mph curveball has an above-average spin rate and continues to elicit plus grades from scouts, although he often doesn’t find himself in counts where it’s effective. His upper-80s changeup has progressed enough that it’s a viable third offering; often Glasnow’s best chance of throwing a strike with something other than his fastball.
Stat-based projections are in dispute. Systems like ZiPS and Steamer, which fold Glasnow’s dominant minor-league numbers into his 2018 projections, are optimistic about his immediate future. They have his 2018 output projected at 1.3-1.9 WAR with an ERA just under 4.00. xStats, which projects based on a player’s batted-ball profile, is skeptical of Glasnow. League-average launch angle is about 11 degrees. Glasnow’s batted balls averaged 14 degrees of lift and xStats considers him hittable, projecting opponents’ wOBA at .352 next year (league average was .321 in 2017) based on Glasnow’s batted-ball data from 2017.
Glasnow’s mechanical tweaks upon demotion upped his strike-throwing percentage from 61% to 65%. League average is 63% both for starters and relievers. It looks like a minimalist approach from the windup has provided at least a partial remedy to Glasnow’s strike-throwing woes, but there might be something about the angle at which his pitches cross that plate that makes him more hittable than his stuff would suggest to the naked eye. Based on the quality of Glasnow’s stuff, we still think he has a chance to be an effective fourth starter or late-inning bullpen arm, but there are a lot of potential pitfalls here, especially for a 24 year-old.
Miles Mikolas, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Mikolas exhausted rookie eligibility in 2012 but has been refining his stuff in Japan before the Cardinals inked him to a two-year deal this offseason. He has a naturally cutting fastball in the low 90s, an average slider and curveball, a fringe changeup, and above-average command. Reports coming out of Japan indicate his command and sequencing have really matured and he now profiles as a solid fourth starter.
Jurickson Profar, UTIL, Texas Rangers
Profar was an advanced teenager (he debuted at age 19 all the way back in 2012) but has never been especially toolsy. His physical attributes remain mostly the same as they did when he was a prospect, except that the intervening years have also been marked by injury and growing discontent. He’s a capable defensive shortstop with an above-average arm and 45 speed, but there’s not much consensus about his bat right now. Some still think he could be a 50 or 55 hitter (if he were given regular playing time) with 45 power, which, at shortstop, is still pretty valuable. Others think his left-handed swing is long and has holes that big-league pitchers have exploited and will continue to.
Texas manipulated Profar’s service time by neglecting to call him up in September, so he’s not eligible for free agency until 2021. Elvis Andrus has an opt-out after this season, but considering what’s happening on the free-agent market right now, he may not use it. A path to regular playing time for Profar likely goes through third base (because of Adrian Beltre’s age and expiring deal) or second base (because of Rougie Odor’s performance) if he even has one with Texas at this point. He’s out of options and has played all four infield positions as well as left field, so he’s a switch-hitting utility man for now. The number of scouts who think that that’s his ceiling is growing.
Daniel Mengden, RHP, Oakland Athletics
Had Mengden not missed much of last year with a stress reaction in his rib cage, he may have been hotly pursued by playoff teams. He can really pitch. His fastball velocity was down a tick, but it’s still an average offering, and Mengden has above-average command of it. He attacks hitters in on their hands early and then works the slider down and to his glove side against both lefties and righties while supplementing it with a dying changeup against lefties. The next time through the order, he hits you with a heavier dose of breaking balls, including a rainbow curveball, which is slow but has enough depth to compete in the zone if a hitter is waiting to ambush one. Everything is average or a tick above. If he’s healthy, he looks like a league-average starter, comfortably so if his 2016 velocity returns.
Andrew Heaney, LHP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Heaney had Tommy John in July of 2016 and didn’t return to MLB action until mid-August of 2017. He was 88-92 with the fastball as he rehabbed up through the minors, but it was mostly 91-93 in the big leagues. He’s thrown what used to be a trademark curveball less and less as it’s lost some snap over the last few years, but it plays up against lefties because of Heaney’s slot, and it’s effective when located to the back foot of righties. He’s working with three average pitches right now, although perhaps the fastball is a little above when you factor in his handedness. He struggled to locate last year, but that’s not uncommon for someone coming back from TJ. Heaney’s delivery is a little less upright than it used to be, and he’s changed his position on the rubber, so there are other new elements to which he’ll require time to adapt. But just on stuff he looks like a back-end starter right now.
Bryan Mitchell, RHP, San Diego Padres
San Diego acquired Mitchell (and Chase Headley’s contract) from the Yankees in exchange for Jabari Blash. Mitchell was squeezed out of a deep pitching staff in New York, but he has big-league stuff, including a running mid-90s fastball and plus-flashing curveball. The curveball is hard, in the mid-80s, and has well-above-average spin. It also has slurve shape, though, and plays down because of it. He should have an opportunity to throw a lot of big-league innings this year and might just be a minor tweak away from a breakout.
Cody Reed, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
Reed had a disappointing 2017, walking 19 hitters in his 17.2 big-league bullpen innings and 60 hitters in 106.1 minor-league innings, mostly as a starter. Reed’s stuff was mostly intact compared to his promising 2016. His fastball averaged about 94, touched 97, and his mid-80s slider remains an above-average pitch.
What changed for Reed was his arm slot. After his initial demotion to Triple-A, Reed raised his arm slot from something just beneath three-quarters to something just above it. It helps explain his suddenly untenable control, as he was learning new mechanics on the fly. Reed is undoubtedly looking more and more like a long-term reliever, and his original arm slot is (somewhat unfortunately) better suited for that role than his new one, but he deserves a little more time to try to figure things out with the new delivery. There’s a small chance he becomes an inefficient fourth starter, but it’s more likely he ends up in relief.
Dalton Pompey, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Pompey sustained a concussion during last year’s WBC. It was his second in two years, and the post-concussion symptoms plagued him for months. When he was finally able to return, he tweaked his knee and dealt with nagging knee issues for much of the rest of the season. Toronto’s outfield depth chart is crowded above Pompey now that the Jays have added Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, and Curtis Granderson to a group that already included Anthony Alford and Kevin Pillar.
Pompey has an option year remaining and Toronto will probably take advantage of that, so we may not see him for an extended big-league stint until 2019 unless he gets a change of scenery. Because much of Pompey’s ability is founded in his speed, a change of scenery isn’t really feasible until the industry has seen him play and is comfortable with his speed/health.
Charlie Tilson, OF, Chicago White Sox
Tilson tore his hamstring in 2016 then missed all of 2017 dealing with stress reactions in his right foot and navicular bone. He was back in action during the 2017 Arizona Fall League but was extremely rusty and constantly late on hittable pitches. He deserves more time to return to form, but early looks in the fall weren’t great.
Amir Garrett, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
Garrett’s 2017 issues stemmed largely from poor fastball command. In addition to walking over 12% of big-league hitters he faced, Garrett threw a lot of center-cut fastballs that got hit a long way. He surrendered an incredible 23 home runs in just 70.2 big-league innings. That rate is going to regress independent of Garrett’s skillset, and he’s never had issues surrendering an unusually high number of home runs before, but Garrett is still going to need to find better command to keep meriting looks as a starter. He still hasn’t been playing baseball full time for very long (2017 was Garrett’s fourth season free of basketball), which is a reason to remain patient in this regard, but he turns 26 in May and, if he comes out this spring and looks erratic, baseball is going to start impatiently checking its collective watch.
Garrett’s slider has less spin on it than any other big-league pitcher’s slider except that of Ariel Miranda, but he uses it heavily and it appears to be effective, eliciting a 20% swinging-strike rate — above league average — in 2017. Garrett’s fastball averaged about 92 last year (it was harder late in the season), and he struggled to throw competitive changeups. His stuff is just okay, and while I projected on Garrett’s offspeed stuff and command heavily in the past because of his two-sport background, we are getting to the point where he need to see some actual movement.
The Reds changed Garrett’s position on the rubber after he was sent to Triple-A, and we didn’t get much of a look at him in the majors after he came back up, so perhaps there’s still a tweak here or there that can help Garrett resurface as a potential inning-eating, mid-rotation arm. For now, he looks more likely to be a two-pitch bullpen lefty.
Henry Owens, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Owens, now 25, was claimed off of waivers by two organizations this offseason (Arizona and then Los Angeles) after continuing to struggle to find the strike zone as a starter in 2017. Owens is 25 now, and he walked a batter per inning last year, but he also drastically altered his arm slot mid-season, which may have caricatured his already disconcerting control. Boston sent him to the Arizona Fall League, where he was 88-91 with a plus changeup. There’s a chance he can beat lefties with the new arm slot and beat righties with the changeup, but he desperately needs to throw strikes this spring.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.