Pipeline Inbox: AFL prospects bring intrigue
Jonathan Mayo responds to fans' questions about baseball's future stars
The Arizona Fall League is in the homestretch, but there's still plenty of interest in who's playing there. As a result, the first three questions in this week's Inbox cover AFL participants.
After that, we cover an interesting lefty prospect vs. lefty veteran comparison as well as a sneak peek at who might be coming from the Far East.
Everyone's focusing on the stop, drop and roll by Jake Bauers, but he seems like a solid all-around player. What's his ceiling?
-- Jason T., Clearwater, Fla.
In case people don't know what Jason is talking about, take a look at the Vine MLB created. So Bauers won't be holding a baserunning clinic any time soon. What he can do is hit. Originally drafted out of high school by the Padres in the seventh round of 2013 Draft, Bauers was acquired by the Rays in the three-team deal a year ago that sent Wil Myers to the Padres.
Now ranked No. 23 on Tampa Bay's Top 30 Prospects list, Bauers split the year between the Class A Advanced Florida State League and the Double-A Southern League, all at the age of 19 (he turned 20 in early October). He hit a combined .272/.342/.418, setting career highs in extra-base hits, home runs and slugging percentage.
Bauers' ceiling is tied largely to how much power he develops over time. He has an advanced approach at the plate, draws walks and doesn't strike out much. Bauers should hit for average as he progresses. If the pop continues to come, then he could fit the profile as an everyday first baseman at the big league level. Interestingly, Bauers has been playing the outfield exclusively -- mostly right -- in the Arizona Fall League. That, at the very least, gives him some positional flexibility, giving the Rays options to get his bat into the lineup.
Kyle Farmer is having a pretty good AFL season. Will we see him with the Dodgers in February?
-- Sal G., Los Angeles
By February, I'm guessing you mean big league camp for Spring Training? Farmer is not on the 40-man roster, so it's not automatic, but I'd be surprised if he didn't get an invite.
The No. 24 prospect on the Dodgers' Top 30, Farmer is indeed having a fine AFL campaign, hitting .304/.333/.536 over 56 at-bats. He's hit two home runs and leads Glendale with 13 RBIs. Farmer also continues to see time both behind the plate and at third, and that kind of flexibility never hurts.
It seems likely that Farmer is headed to a career as a backup/utility type. If more power comes, perhaps he can be a regular behind the plate. The 25-year-old could use his AFL experience to springboard into Spring Training next year and perhaps his first big league callup in the regular season at some point in 2016.
Lucas Sims has had a pretty good Fall League. Will he play in Atlanta in 2016?
-- Aaron K., Cumming, Ga.
"Pretty good" is a fair assessment for Sims, the Braves' No. 7 prospect. In 11 innings, the right-hander has a 2.45 ERA, allowing three earned runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out 11. I actually wrote about Sims and what he was learning in the early stages of his AFL experience.
Sims is making up for lost innings in 2015 after he was on the Carolina Mudcats team that was in a serious bus accident in May, forcing him out of action. It is encouraging that Sims is continuing to miss bats in Arizona, something he started to do again during the regular season after not missing as many bats as expected in 2014. It's obviously a small sample size, but Sims' reduced walk rate in the AFL is encouraging as well.
Sims still has a ways to go from being just a thrower with velocity to a complete pitcher. While he did reach Double-A this past season, I think he needs a full season of innings before he's ready for Atlanta. Could things click and Braves fans see Sims in the second half or September 2016? Sure. But 2017 seems a much safer bet.
The most common comparison I hear with Sean Newcomb is Jon Lester. How do the two southpaws compare?
-- Mick E., Corona, Calif.
If everything comes together for Newcomb, seeing him become Lester-esque is certainly feasible. Of course, Lester wasn't Lester when he first got to the big leagues, so there's time for Newcomb to improve in certain areas to become a more complete starter.
The two left-handers certainly are similar from a body-type perspective, both big and strong, with workhorse-like builds. Both are imposing presences on the mound. When both are effective, they keep the ball down, inducing some ground-ball outs as well as keeping the ball in the park more often than not.
Newcomb throws harder than Lester ever has. Lester has a plus cutter, however, a weapon not currently in Newcomb's repertoire, though Newcomb, the Angels' top prospect, does have three Major League average or better offerings.
The biggest thing separating the veteran from the prospect is command. Newcomb walked five per nine innings in 2015, his first full season of pro ball, though his stuff was good enough to get him to Double-A. That will have to improve for him to follow in Lester's footsteps. It is important to point out that Lester himself had the same control/command issues early on, walking 3.8 per nine in his Minor League career (4.8 at the same age Newcomb is now). The Angels certainly hope history will repeat itself.
Who in your opinion will make a bigger impact or is more highly regarded, Byung Ho Park or Kenta Maeda (when he's posted)?
-- Steve R., Grand Haven, Mich.
This is, as one scouting executive I talked to about the query, an apples vs. oranges argument. Some of it might come down to what a team likes: a power-hitting position player or a starting pitcher. Some of it might be a matter if you believe Park's pop will translate from Korea to the big leagues, though Jung Ho Kang's success in 2015 probably helps in that area.
Clearly, the Twins believe in Park's ability to swing the bat. They won the bidding to negotiate to sign the corner infielder, a reported $12.85 million fee. They, and I'm sure many other teams, might feel his power potential will have more impact.
That said, don't forget the old axiom, "You can never have enough pitching." Maeda will likely get a higher posting fee and garner more interest from teams, perhaps partially because teams have a better feel for Japanese pitchers than Korean hitters. The max posting fee for a Japanese player is $20 million.