Prospects Report: Jimmy thing in Milwaukee?
The minor leagues are beginning to run low on potential impact names for 2014, but there are still opportunities to act. Our Scott White talks up Milwaukee's Jimmy Nelson.
At the height of the steroids era in 2000, when hitting a home run was akin to blowing one's nose, Jose Lima surrendered 2.2 home runs per nine innings, setting a major-league record.
So far through 13 starts this season, Marco Estrada has surrendered 2.3 home runs per nine.
Granted, he's done OK in spite of the record pace, posting a not-so-terrible 4.56 ERA, a quality 1.22 WHIP and an above-average 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. And of course, record paces, especially for records of a bygone era, tend to normalize over time.
|1.||Taijuan Walker, SP, SEA||73|
|2.||Alex Wood, RP, ATL||61|
|3.||Javier Baez, SS, CHC||50|
|4.||Andrew Heaney, SP, MIA||49|
|5.||Archie Bradley, SP, ARI||42|
|6.||Noah Syndergaard, SP, NYM||36|
|7.||Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC||35|
|8.||Byron Buxton, OF, MIN||34|
|9.||Danny Salazar, SP, CLE||34|
|10.||Maikel Franco, 3B, PHI||31|
For those reasons, not to mention his mostly favorable history with the Brewers, you'd figure he'd have the chance to work through his struggles and get back to being the pitcher everyone drafted him to be.
"I don't know," manager Ron Roenicke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after Estrada's latest start -- a six-run effort -- Monday at the Mets. "We'll have to talk about it."
T-t-t-talk about it?
That's a scary development for a pitcher owned in 90 percent of Fantasy leagues -- one who has, in all but shallower formats, done more good than harm for his owners this season. But it could pay dividends in the long run. See, the Brewers' top prospect, at least according to Baseball America, is not only a starting pitcher, but one putting up insane numbers in the most hitter-friendly of leagues at an age (25) when some minor-leaguers begin rethinking their life choices.
With Kyle Lohse pitching like an ace, Wily Peralta making big strides, Matt Garza signed to a long-term deal and Yovani Gallardo too entrenched to remove, the Brewers may look at these struggles from Estrada and think, "If not now, then when?"
Of course, it's not a given Jimmy Nelson would replace Estrada. The Brewers recently called up Mike Fiers, who had his 15 minutes (or more like 15 starts) of fame before his sudden and complete collapse back in 2012. He was putting up impressive numbers at Triple-A Nashville as well, but that's nothing new for him. At 28, he's something of a Quadruple-A player and may be destined for a mopup role.
Plus, the Brewers kind of tipped their hand already when they called up Nelson for a spot start May 25 at Miami. And he seized the opportunity with 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Since then, they've probably been looking for excuses to begin the Nelson era.
Which isn't as exciting as the Archie Bradley or Dylan Bundy era. The top prospect in the Brewers system might only be the third- or fourth-best prospect in others. But with the strides Nelson has made over the last two years, he could be one of those prospects destined to exceed the scouting reports.
After all, his stuff was never in question. He throws a mid-90s fastball, a two-seamer with good sink and what Baseball America describes as a "power slider" -- the kind that generates swings and misses. He's the ideal hybrid of a groundball pitcher and a strikeout pitcher, which explains his consistently low ERA in the minors.
His problem was always control, but in 71 2/3 innings, he has issued only 21 walks for a rate of 2.6 per nine innings. That's especially impressive in the Pacific Coast League, where the threat of a beat down causes even the most consistent of strike-throwers to pitch off the plate (see Montero, Rafael).
The result in Nelson's case is a 7-1 record, 1.51 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. And again, that's in the Pacific Coast League, where Marlins backup catcher Jeff Mathis, he of the career .311 slugging percentage, hit 21 homers back in 2005.
And if that's not enough to win you over, keep in mind Nelson is also eligible at relief pitcher thanks to his stint in the bullpen as a September callup last season (where he also pitched well, in case you wondered). In Head-to-Head points leagues, where a quality starting pitcher typically outscores the average closer, he could be a game-changer.
Which isn't to say he won't factor in other formats, but again, he's no Bradley or Bundy. If you expect an immediate ace, you're sure to be disappointed.
But in the same way Marcus Stroman mattered to Fantasy owners when he got the call, Nelson matters now.
The recent run of top prospects being called up to the majors has been impressive. Jon Singleton, Oscar Taveras, Eddie Butler and Gregory Polanco are just a few elite prospects recently making their major-league debuts. However, one name many were anticipating might be called up around this time was Astros starting pitcher prospect Mark Appel, but unfortunately that hasn't happened.
When the Astros drafted Appel with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft after a storied career at Stanford, the script read: "Future ace with potential to move quickly through the minors." Alas, Appel's career hasn't gotten out of neutral, as his progress has stalled.
It seems shortly after Appel was drafted, there was talk about the college hurler being the first prospect from the first round of last year's draft to make his MLB debut. Heck, some even believed he might get a callup late last season as a reliever. It didn't happen, and now Appel can't even become the first 2013 first-rounder to make his MLB debut since Tigers reliever Corey Knebel, who was the last pick in the first round (39th overall), snagged that honor when he was promoted in late May.
So what happened to Appel's storybook path to the majors? Well, he is having a Murphy Law's type of season, where it seems everything that can go wrong has gone wrong.
It started in spring training when Appel was sidelined by an appendectomy. When he was finally ready to pitch for Class A Lancaster in early April, the right-handed hurler struggled with the organization's tandem pitching schedule -- where the team uses an eight-man rotation and two starters pitch every four days.
After struggling to adjust to the tandem schedule, Appel was shipped to extended spring training for a month. He finally rejoined the Lancaster rotation May 31, but it didn't get better -- actually, it got a lot worse. Appel, as he characterized it as the worst start of his career, got lit up for 10 runs on 10 hits (three home runs) and one walk in 1 1/3 innings.
Appel finally revealed to the coaching staff that he was pitching with pain in his right thumb, which was later diagnosed as tendinitis. After another layoff, this one much shorter, Appel is ready to resume pitching, but he carries a shocking 11.93 ERA into his start Thursday against Rancho Cucamonga.
"Having the confidence of knowing that you're the first overall pick in last year's draft, you should be the top of the top right now, and I mean, it's humbling," Appel told The Houston Chronicle. "This game is very humbling. But it's a good thing, because it'll give me that drive, that desire, that, motivation to continue working, to continue to be faithful, both to God and to my teammates, my coaches, myself, the things that I need to do. I'll come back and I'll respond."
Appel and Knebel were the book-end picks of last year's first round, and thus far have had very different starts to their pro careers. In the spirit of this year's MLB draft, which took place last week and saw the Astros take another pitcher (prep standout Brady Aiken) with the No. 1 overall pick, we felt it was a good time to check in on five other 2013 first-rounders to see how they are progressing.
Jon Gray, SP, Rockies
Affiliate: Double-A Tulsa
2014 stats: 6-3, 3.66 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 56 strikeouts, 16 walks, seven home runs and 7.3 hits per nine innings in 12 starts (64 innings)
With the way the Rockies' starting pitchers have been dropping like flies, you would assume we would have heard rumblings about Gray being in the mix for a potential promotion to the majors. But there hasn't been much talk about the No. 3 overall pick from last year's draft. While Gray has a pretty strong line at Tulsa, it's disappointing to see him striking out just 7.9 batters and giving up 1.0 home runs per nine innings. Gray, much like Appel, was viewed as a pitcher that could potentially move quickly through the minors given his college pedigree. That still appears to be in the cards for Gray, but a promotion doesn't seem imminent. Gray combined to throw 163 2/3 innings between college and the pros last year, so innings shouldn't be a major issue in 2014. Gray toiling in the minors probably has more to do with him just not being ready. Though, it wouldn't be shocking if the Rockies used Gray's power arm out of the bullpen later this summer, following a script the Cardinals and Rays wrote with Adam Wainwright and David Price, respectively, at the beginning of their MLB careers.
Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres
Affiliate: Class A Lake Elsinore
2014 stats: .292/.366/.550/.916, two triples, 15 home runs, 18 doubles, 50 RBI, 39 runs, 25 walks, 78 strikeouts and nine stolen bases in 65 games
There was some concern about a learning curve for Renfroe after he hit just .212 in 18 games following a promotion to Lake Elsinore last season. However, the 13th overall pick in 2013 is doing a good job silencing his critics this season, as a promotion to Double-A appears forthcoming. Renfroe is still striking out at a high rate, but he said his plate discipline is improving and he's seeing the ball a lot better. You might argue that we have to take Renfroe's numbers with a grain of salt because he plays in the hitter-friendly California League. However, Lake Elsinore's home field is one of tougher parks to hit home runs in the California League, especially for right-handed sluggers. While Renfroe said the park has taken a few home runs away from him, he's still batting .285 with a .469 slugging percentage in 34 home games. Renfroe projects as a .270 hitter with 25-home run potential at the major-league level. Those numbers project comparably to Hunter Pence. Though, Pence doesn't strike out as much as Renfroe, which is the one area he needs to continue to improve.
Hunter Harvey, SP, Orioles
Affiliate: Class A Delmarva
2014 stats: 3-4, 3.13 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 69 strikeouts, 26 walks, three home runs and 6.6 hits per nine innings in 12 starts (60 1/3 innings)
Renfroe is not the only 2013 first-round pick with the first name Hunter having success in 2014. Harvey, who is the son of former major-league reliever Bryan Harvey, was lauded for his advanced mechanics and baseball IQ coming out of high school. He's been very impressive thus far in his pro career, posting a 2.73 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 20 starts. He is also striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings. While his command (3.9 BB/9 in 2014) can get away from him at times, Harvey does a great job keeping the baseball in the park (he's allowed just three home runs in his career) and on the ground. Harvey's fastball and curveball are considered plus pitches and he projects as a frontline starter. He still needs to develop his changeup, but the No. 22 pick from last year's draft is off to a promising start and could be a prospect we start talking about a lot next season.
D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners
Affiliate: Class A High Desert
2014 stats: .306/.359/.553/.913, one triple, 13 home runs, 17 doubles, 54 RBI, 41 runs, 18 walks, 56 strikeouts and five stolen bases in 56 games
It's great to see Peterson thriving in 2014 after his first pro season was cut short last August when he suffered a broken jaw after getting hit by a pitch. Sometimes players never recover mentally from such a traumatic injury, but not only has Peterson bounced back, he's putting up huge numbers. Peterson was considered one of the best power bats, if not the best, in last year's draft. The 12th overall pick has done nothing to hurt his reputation. He's slugging .553 through 111 pro games, and he's not an all-or-nothing slugger. Peterson also sports a .305 average and .362 on-base percentage. In college, he drew more walks than he had strikeouts in his last two seasons at New Mexico. While he hasn't shown that same kind of plate discipline as a pro, he's still putting up gaudy offensive numbers. Peterson's primary position is third base, but he's beginning to play more at first base and DH, so there seems to be multiple paths to the majors. He'll likely progress to Double-A shortly, and if he doesn't make his MLB debut late this season, he'll be a prospect we talk about next season in the same breath we have talked about George Springer, Oscar Taveras and Gregory Polanco this season.
Kohl Stewart, SP, Twins
Affiliate: Class A Cedar Rapids
2014 stats: 1-3, 2.62 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 38 strikeouts, 17 walks, one home run and 6.4 hits per nine innings in 11 starts (55 innings)
Stewart passed up the chance to succeed Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M to pursue a baseball career after the Twins took him with the fourth overall pick in last year's draft. Thus far, the decision looks wise, as the right-handed hurler has held his own in the low minors. He has a 2.28 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 18 career outings (15 starts). Stewart's strikeout rate has dropped significantly from 10.8 to 6.2 batters per nine innings, but there's no cause for concern this early in his career. It's more impressive to see Stewart showing strong command (career 2.5 BB/9) and not yielding many hits (career 6.2 H/9). He's also given up just one home run in 75 innings and doing a good job of keeping the baseball on the ground (53.1 percent groundball rate, per StatCorner.com). Stewart's out pitch is his power slider. His low-to-mid-90s fastball is also an asset. He's working on refining his curveball and changeup, but the scouts feel he could develop four above-average pitches. The Twins usually don't rush pitching prospects, so it might be a while until Stewart makes a Fantasy impact, but he projects as a frontline starter and worth stashing in long-term keeper formats.
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