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April 17 Prospect Watch: Joc Pederson dominating Triple-A

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

Now that the season is more than 11 days old, teams can call up prospects and have their free agency pushed back one year. If they want to avoid Super Two status -- Super Two players are arbitration-eligible four times instead of the usual three, so they earn higher salaries early in their careers -- they'll have to wait until late June or early July. Clubs will soon start calling up their top prospects and more than a few will wind up having an impact on the various pennant races. Here is this week's prospect update.

Called Up

OF George Springer, Astros: Had the 24-year-old Springer accept the team's unprecedented seven-year, $23 million contract offer over the winter, he would have been on the Opening Day roster. He rejected the offer and instead opened the year in Triple-A, where he hit .353/.459/.647 with four doubles, three homers and four steals in 13 games. The Astros called Springer up on Wednesday and he went 1-for-5 with a walk and two strikeouts in his first MLB game. ZiPS projects him to hit .237/.319/.439 with 26 home runs and 27 stolen bases in 2014, a line that substantiates his contact issues -- Springer struck out in 26.4 percent of his minor league plate appearances, which is way high for an elite prospect. That said, his power and speed are very real, plus he plays a mean right field. There are not many high-end players like Springer throughout history, guys with every tool but the contact tool. Springer is a unique prospect and it's really tough to know what to expect from him at the next level.

Hot Starts

2B Mookie Betts, Red Sox: Most MLB second basemen are failed shortstops, and there are very few true second base prospects in the minors. Betts is the best of the bunch, and he went into Wednesday's action hitting .450/.500/.725 with six doubles, one triple, one homer, four steals, five walks and five strikeouts in 10 Double-A games. That comes after hitting .314/.417/.506 with 36 doubles, 15 homers, 38 steals, 81 walks and 57 strikeouts between two levels of Single-A. Betts, whose real name is Markus, has strong defensive skills to pair with his exciting offensive potential. Dustin Pedroia is signed long-term and it's easy to say Betts is trade bait, but it's a little too early to worry about how he fits long-term right now. He doesn't even have a full year at Double-A under his belt.

LHP Andrew Heaney, Marlins: Heaney was the ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft, and he lived up to the hype by pitching to a 1.60 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 95 1/3 innings last summer. He is off to a great start this season, allowing just three runs in his first 17 1/3 innings (1.56 ERA) with 16 strikeouts and three weeks. All three runs came in his first start two weeks ago. Heaney is an advanced pitcher with three pitches (low-to-mid-90s fastball, wipeout slider, solid changeup) who spent three years at a major college program in Oklahoma State, so he isn't long for the Double-A level. I expect him to be promoted to Triple-A within a matter of weeks, which puts him in line for a big league call-up in the second half.

OF Joc Pederson, Dodgers: Pederson was included in last week's Prospect Watch and I just couldn't leave him off this week. He went 4-for-4 with a double and two home runs on Tuesday night, raising his season batting line to .442/.564/.884 with four doubles, five homers, four steals, 12 walks and nine strikeouts in 12 Triple-A games. He went into Wednesday's game leading the minors with a 1.447 OPS. Pederson is a two-way player with power, speed and defense (three-way player?), but because of the big league outfield logjam, he might not be anything more than a prime piece of trade bait for the Dodgers. I fully expect Los Angeles to ask about David Price at some point, either at the trade deadline or next offseason, and Pederson sure would make one heck of a trade package centerpiece.

Not So Hot Starts

RHP Cody Buckel, Rangers: There is something very wrong with Mr. Buckel, who was one of the top pitching prospects in the game as recently as 14 months ago. After pitching to a 2.49 ERA with a 159/48 K/BB in 144 2/3 innings in 2012, he walked 35 batters in 10 2/3 innings last season, and was sent to extended spring training for a mechanic overhaul. The results? Ten walks in his first five innings of 2013. That includes six walks in a one-inning outing last Thursday. Buckel has a hard low-90s fastball and a wide array of offseason pitches, but his stuff is irrelevant at this point. He has extreme control problems -- we're talking about basic strike-throwing here, not painting the corners -- the kind that derailed Steve Blass and Rick Ankiel years ago.

RHP Kevin Gausman, Orioles: Gausman, the fourth overall pick in the 2012, made his big league debut last season and had a 5.66 ERA in 47 2/3 mostly relief innings. The O's assigned him to Triple-A to start this year so he could essentially serve as the sixth starter, but his first three starts have gotten progressively worse: 4 2/3 scoreless innings, three runs in four innings, then four runs in three innings. Not a disaster but not great either. Gausman has nasty, nasty stuff and I expect him to be just fine in a few weeks. Just fine and with the Orioles at that.

SS Yadiel Rivera, Brewers: Milwaukee has one of the consensus worst farm systems in baseball, but the speedy and slick-fielding Rivera is one of their most exciting youngsters. He is not much with the bat though, putting up a .241/.300/.314 batting line in 129 Single-A games last season. Rivera has followed that up with a .200/.245/.311 batting line and 10 strikeouts in 12 games at the same level in 2014. Repeating a level and performing worse is usually bad news. Good glove shortstops tend to stick around for a very long time, but they also have to hit their way out of Single-A first.

2014 Draft Stock Rising

SS Michael Chavis, Sprayberry HS (Marietta, Ga.): This draft is rich in pitching and a little short on bats. Chavis has emerged as one of the top prep hitters in the class, a physically strong right-handed hitter with a quick bat who seems to hit everything hard. His defense and arm are strong as well, though odds are in favor of him moving to third base down the line. Chavis is listed at 5-foot-10 and 200 lbs., so he is pretty much maxed out physically and that works against him. High school stats mean nothing -- he's hitting .627/.698/1.156 with six doubles and seven home runs through 17 games this spring -- but Chavis has jumped up draft boards because more and more people believe in his bat and overall two-way game. He's gone from a potential second or third rounder to a candidate to go in the back half of the first round these last few weeks.

2014 Draft Stock Falling

OF Derek Fisher, UVA: Coming into the spring, you could have made the case Fisher was the best college bat in the draft class. His left-handed swing is quick and comes with legitimate 30+ home run potential, though there is some concern about his ability to recognize breaking balls. Fisher is a good athlete but not much of an defender, and since he's already relegated to left field, his bat will have to carry him. Fisher is hitting .333/.393/.451 with four doubles through 14 games this spring, but his season is on hold due to a broken hamate bone in his right wrist. He suffered the injury sliding into a base recently and is not expected to return until mid-to-late May, just before the draft. Fisher came into the spring as a projected top 15-20 pick, but he is now expected to slide into the back half of the first round or the early second round, likely to a team with an extra pick.

The 2014 amateur draft will be held from June 5-7. The full draft order can be found at River Ave. Blues and is still subject to change pending the free agencies of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales.

 
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