It’s that time of year again, the time to look back at the minors and see who broke out, who fizzled and who’s fulfilling their promise. To make this digestible, I’ll break this into four pieces: the Rookie Leagues in two parts (DSL D-backs and AZL D-backs, the Missoula Osprey and Hillsboro Hops), A-Ball (Kane County Cougars and Visalia Rawhide) and the Upper Minors (Mobile BayBears and Reno Aces). We’ll identify top producers and top prospects while highlighting a surprise or two. This is a lot to cover, so let’s just get started.
DSL D-backs (Dominican Summer League)
- 35-37 – 4th (out of 6) in Boca Chica City Division
- DSL D-backs Roster
Most Productive Hitters
Making a second go at a rookie league isn’t a good sign, but Yan Sanchez improved significantly in 2015. He led the team in steals (29), finished second in total bases and decreased his strikeout rate while increasing his walk rate. At 6’2″, he’s tall for a shortstop but presumably has the athleticism to stay there for the time being. Gotta love big kids who can handle tough defensive positions.
First baseman Gerson Jimenez led the team from an overall offensive standpoint. But at 20 with three trials in the DSL, his stock is non-existent. Still, his plate discipline was impressive and and he was second on the team in homers (2) and third in triples (3). Those are underwhelming totals, but this is the DSL, things are a little funky.
Another 20-year old, outfielder Frank Polanco, showed a nice blend of power, speed and plate discipline. He notched a team-high six triples while walking nearly as often as he struck out.
Most Productive Pitchers
Franklyn Soriano led the way for the pitching staff. The 6’2″ lefty was third on the team in innings while striking out almost 11 batters per nine and walking only 2.5 in that same span. His 1.09 WHIP suggests he was hard to hit, as well. At 19, this was his debut season and he now finds himself in Arizona in Intstructs, a good sign for him as a prospect.
Relief arm Silvestre Berroa made 20 appearances, striking out 57 in 47 innings while walking just 13. That kind of dominance is good to see from an 18-year old lefty making his debut. At 6’0″, he may be a little short to start, but given that the vast majority of his appearances were multi-inning in nature, that’s not out of the question. He should come stateside in 2016.
Fellow reliever and DSL D-backs closer Nestor Ramirez was more good than great, but despite the lack of an elite strikeout rate, he was incredibly hard to hit. He allowed only 29 hits and walked just six in 39.1 innings while notching 10 saves. At 19, the 6’4″ righty was making his professional debut in 2015.
When it comes to the DSL, ages and bonus figures are everything. The names above have a chance, but they won’t get the same kind of chance as the players who have been heavily invested in. That’s just how it goes.
Mailon Arroyo and Remy Cordero were the biggest splashes for this club at $350,000 each. Arroyo, a 17-year old third baseman, actually led the team in home runs (5) but struck out over 27% of the time and hit just .201. Fellow 17-year old Cordero had similar struggles, striking out 36% of the time and hitting just .196. Arroyo is a switch hitter while Cordero bats from the left side and plays the outfield. Neither had the year they were expecting, but remain strong prospects who’ll need a lot of coaching.
Juan Araujo also signed for $215,000 and managed to survive the league at 17. The outfielder led the team in doubles (23) and hit a pair of homers. He struck out plenty, but not at the alarming rate as those above. He could come stateside in 2016.
6’5″ lefty Roberto de Leon ($150,000) was ineffectively wild after signing for six figures. The 17-year old struggled with his control but showed an ability to generate a lot of strikeouts. 6’5″ righty Jhoan Duran (bonus unknown) was effective for a 17-year old, finishing second on the team in innings pitched. He managed to keep his walk rate effective but didn’t generate the kinds of strikeouts one might hope for. At 17, however, there’s a lot of time and effective 6’5″ pitcher is a nice thing to have.
The struggles of some of the top prospects are concerning. The biggest investments didn’t pan out in their first year and that’s a bad sign. Players who succeed out of the DSL are generally guys who dominate in their first showing as the attrition rate is unbelievably high. A need to repeat the level, even for a 17-year old, is a red flag more often than not.
AZL D-backs (Arizona Summer League)
- 25-30 – 3rd (out of 5) in the AZL East
- AZL D-backs Roster
Most Productive Hitters
Shortstop Alvaro Rondon was the team’s leading hitter, but at 24, he’s as non-prospect as a non-prospect gets. He was a full five years older than a lot of the competition (six years older in some cases).
Arizona’s 19th-round pick from the 2015 draft, Jacy Cave, had a nice debut. He hit for the most power on the team, notching eight extra-base hits in 31 games. He was also second on the team in steals with seven. Looks from Instructs suggest he’s still very raw, however.
Most Productive Pitchers
Luis Madero made his stateside debut for the AZL squad in 2015 and led the team in innings while posting a 0.99 WHIP. He didn’t walk many and was extremely difficult to, but only notched 46 strikeouts in 54.2 innings. The 6’3″, 18-year old righty put his second successful campaign together after a solid debut in the DSL last year.
Fellow 6’3″ righty Emilo Vargas was equally as impressive as he and Madero shared nearly equal stat lines. Vargas bounced around at the end of the season to help fill holes in the Missoula and Visalia rosters with mixed results. The fact that he got the call to fill those holes might tell us something about how the team views him.
20-year old right-hander Luis Castillo was effective out of the bullpen. His 0.95 WHIP in 32.1 innings was excellent thanks to only six walks and 25 hits.
Catcher Jose Herrera had a very strong showing, although his season was delayed thanks to a foot injury. He played in just 24 games but earned recognition by Baseball America as the 19th-best prospect in the league for his catching and the improvement of his bat.
Herrera possesses advanced catching skills for his age, with good hands and pitch-framing techniques. With an arm that grades as at least above-average, he produces plus pop times of 1.86 seconds on throws to second base, and he gunned down more than 30 percent of basestealers in both of his pro seasons.
Scouts noted that Herrera’s bat is starting to come along, with an easy swing from both sides of the plate, and he should develop more power with age.
Hulking outfielder Francis Martinez made his much-anticipated debut in the AZL this year. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan as his contact issues didn’t allow him to get to his power. He struck out 35% of the time and hit just .198. In Spring Training, he showcased a long swing and a bat wrap that’s going to need to be reigned in for him to make consistent contact. You can’t teach size and strength, however, and Martinez has both. At just 18, he’ll likely take another shot at the AZL next year with hopes for a midseason promotion.
Luis Madero and Emilio Vargas both showed enough to put themselves on this list and both are physical enough specimens to suggest that there’s projection left. Neither put together the strikeouts to prove they’re power arms, but the limited walks and hits tell us that both know how to pitch. How that translates up the chain is anybody’s guess.
An interesting prospect is 19-year old right-hander Chester Pimentel. He’s 6’5″, right-handed and made 19 appearances in his debut season. He signed for $115,000 in the 2014 signing period. Unfortunately, he proved far too hittable and might have been better served to begin his professional career in the DSL.
These levels are thin. There isn’t much to rave about for two key reasons: the D-backs didn’t do much in the 2014 international signing period when they signed Yoan Lopez, which was a massive blunder, and the team didn’t pluck any high schoolers of note (that are healthy enough to play) in the 2015 draft. That results in a very bare system down low and this is going to be a major problem moving forward.
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