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Inbox: Which prospects are early surprises?

May 18, 2017

It's very easy this time of year to get singularly focused. We have weekly mock drafts coming out, we're working on expanding our Draft prospects list to a Top 200 and I'm flying back from spending time with top Draft prospect Hunter Greene as I put together this week's Pipeline

It's very easy this time of year to get singularly focused. We have weekly mock drafts coming out, we're working on expanding our Draft prospects list to a Top 200 and I'm flying back from spending time with top Draft prospect Hunter Greene as I put together this week's Pipeline Inbox.
So it's understandable to get all Draft, all the time, right? Even the past few editions of this feature have been very Draft-centric, which is certainly fine. But leave it to the fine folks on Twitter to switch gears this week. For whatever reason, the call for questions brought in a vast majority of responses about Minor League prospects. I don't want to ignore the Draft completely, but for this week, the focus is shifted back largely to the guys already in the pro game.
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Perhaps the first thing to note when answering a question like this is that it's dangerous to draw too many conclusions from a month and change of a Minor League season (I clarified with Tim on this one because "pop-up" often means in the Draft, but he meant pro prospects). With that disclaimer out of the way, there definitely are some guys who have started the 2017 season out like things are clicking.
Picking just one hitter and one pitcher will obviously leave some players worthy of praise out of this discussion, but the first hitter that comes to mind is Arizona's Marcus Wilson. When the D-backs took him in 2014, they knew he was raw and would require patience. Wilson finally got a taste of full-season ball last summer and this year, still only 20, he has been dominant in the Midwest League. The toolsy outfielder is currently fourth in all of the Minor Leagues with his 1.089 OPS. He leads the Midwest League in slugging and OPS, is second in on-base percentage (perhaps the most encouraging sign) and batting average. Wilson is No. 21 on the D-backs' Top 30, which now looks like a gross under-ranking.
On the mound, I think I'm going to stay in the same organization (Can you tell I do the D-backs' Top 30 every year?). Jon Duplantier was a third-round pick in last year's Draft after an injury-riddled career at Rice (which doesn't exactly have a good track record of healthy pitchers). Arizona is clearly taking his development slowly, but he's going to have to get promoted from the Midwest League soon, one would think. Duplantier leads the Minor Leagues in WHIP (0.69), is second in batting average against (.142) and ERA (0.74), while posting an 11.9 K/9 ratio vs. just two walks per nine. A big test will be a move up a level, but if he stays healthy, he has a chance to be a much more legit pitching prospect in the near future.

While I haven't been able to see Perez, the Rangers' No. 15 prospect, in person, it's been hard not to notice the start to his official pro career. Texas gave him seven figures to sign last September, so the Rangers clearly believed in his offensive ability. So far, Perez has proven them right.
Perez's biggest tool is his power, and he has eight home runs and eight doubles for a .600 SLG, which is good for third in the South Atlantic League. There were some who worried a bit about the hit tool, but his short stroke has worked just fine. Perez is second in the South Atlantic League in average and has drawn plenty of walks while playing both outfield and both infield corners. He's 21, so I wouldn't say he's old for his league, especially when you consider the lack of experience and not just his age. Perez will be more legit if he keeps doing this as he moves up, but it's a very encouraging start.

Let's play a little game, shall we? Here are some career walk rates in the Minor Leagues:
A. 6.2/9
B. 6.5/9
C. 3.6/9
D. 3.2/9
E. 4.4/9
The last two, I'll tell you right up front, are Lucas Giolito and Tyler Glasnow. C is Clayton Kershaw, who was brought up in the Twitter thread that ensued after this question was posed. A and B? That's Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson.
Now, not for a minute am I saying that Giolito and Glasnow will be Ryan and Johnson. I'm just using them to point out that walk rate early in a career is not necessarily an indicator of future success, especially for big guys who throw hard.
Now, it is a little concerning that Giolito's command has gone in the wrong direction lately and he's struggling as much as he is right now, but his walk rate is lower than Kershaw's was in the Minors. And sure, it would be better if Glasnow had better control in Pittsburgh. But Giolito is 22 and Glasnow is 23. Glasnow isn't technically a prospect anymore (he graduated off our lists after going past 50 innings), and if the strike zone woes continue, they won't have prolonged success, but there is time for them to figure it out.

Had to sneak in one Draft question, and figured I might as well have it be one about the team in my hometown. Picking at 12, it's possible the Pirates would look at Alex Faedo out of Florida. That's right around where he could end up going. That said, I don't think Faedo would be the primary target. The Bucs have gone college hitter in each of the past two years in Will Craig and Kevin Newman, but had gone high school position player in the first round the previous Drafts to that. I'm beginning to think Craig was an anomaly. Look at the Pirates' recent history: Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire in 2013, Cole Tucker in '14, even Newman in '15. All were up-the-middle players and all were fairly athletic, including McGuire behind the plate. I'm thinking Pittsburgh will look for the best athlete with tools available, be it a high school or college player. With how it's looking right now as I work on our next mock Draft, and it's still early yet, that could be someone like Jeren Kendall out of Vanderbilt, who has swing-and-miss, but also has tools and makeup aplenty.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.