The Expendables

If you’re wondering why my first two prospect features have been named after Hollywood B movies, it’s because the prospects I plan on discussing are not of the primetime variety (at least not yet). B movies are by definition unheralded, less-publicized, intended as a second feature on a double bill. The same also seems to hold true of some prospects.

If you’ll recall in Part I of the feature called “The Other Guys” we talked about the types of prospects other teams would want to be the throw-ins (the third or fourth pieces in a larger deal). However depending on the team in question some prospects may be more expendable than others. In other words, if you take a team with deep and talented system you might be able to find a pretty nice young player in the lower rungs of the minor league ladder, but if you’re trading with one of the more talent barren organizations you might be better off seeking polish and utility over boom-or-bust upside.

For this reason the prospects I’ve selected as my throw-ins for the American League Central run the gamut from raw high-risk, high-reward players to high-probability, low-ceiling guys.

American League – Central

Cleveland Indians

Preston Guilmet
Position: RHP
Height/Weight: 6’2″ 200lbs
Born: July 27, 1987 (Age 26) rank: NR
(IL – 2013) 49ap 20sv 5-4 1.68era 64.1ip 43h 14bb 72so

Minor league relievers are the quintessential trade throw-ins. Like a bad infomercial cliche – you buy one set of steak knives, and they’ll throw in a minor league reliever for free. The same seems to hold true in baseball. Even the really good relief prospects simply don’t have the value to be the centerpieces of a trade (unless you’re dealing with Alex Anthopolous).

Cleveland doesn’t have a deep enough system to consider any prospects disposable, but what they do have in abundance are intriguing young relief pitchers. The pipeline of relievers on their way to Ohio is extensive: Austin Adams, Trey Haley, Scott Barnes, Rob Bryson, Preston Guilmet, Chen Lee, Bryce Stowell, Shawn Armstrong, Bryan Price, Zach Putnam, the list literally goes on. Is it any wonder that Cleveland was 9th in both reliever FIP and innings pitched in 2013. They have so many relievers that they’ve almost reached the point of just giving them away. The rest, like Stowell, Guilmet, and Lee, are left to get overripe in the minors.

Now if you want a reliever from the Indians in a trade you’re probably hoping for the next Vinnie Pestano or Cody Allen. It was a tough choice for me between Guilmet and Price, but in the end I went with the younger Guilmet since Price was already a throw-in prospect, acquired with Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone for Victor Martinez. Getting back to Guilmet. Two things I look for in a reliever, besides stuff, are fastball command and a swing-and-miss pitch, and Guilmet has both. Throwing from an extreme over-the-top angle (think Josh Colmenter) Guilmet’s arsenal features a high-80s to low-90s fastball that he locates well down in the zone and a nasty strikeout-inducing splitter. Guilmet is not going to be a star by any means, and there are probably guys with better stuff or potential in the system, but he is a sabermetric darling with a high probability of actually being a useful piece for a major league team.

Detroit Tigers

Devon Travis
Position: 2B
Height/Weight: 5’9″ 183lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Born: February 21 1991 (Age 22) rank: 12
(IL – 2013) (FSL – 2013) 237pa .350/.401/.561 10hr 34rbi 11(2b) 2(3b) 18bb 32so 8sb 1cs

Minor league second baseman are pretty much an island of misfit toys as far as baseball prospects go; not enough range or arm to play shortstop and not enough power to profile at third base. Because of this Travis will likely always be slightly undervalued despite the fact that he’s just continued to perform at every level he’s played. I first took notice of Travis prior to the 2012 draft when I ranked him as the 5th best college second baseman available. In my scouting writeup at the time I said the following about him:

“[A]n ideal blend of patience and pop…has a short stroke and a pro-type approach at the plate…excellent bat speed and the ball jumps off his bat, producing above average power for an infielder…Travis also shows above-average speed along with plus defensive tools at second……one of those players that seems to do everything well.”

Travis has pretty much been all that and more for the Tigers since they took him in the 13th round that year. He has very good bat speed and a short swing that help him catch up to good velocity. Despite his being undersized he has some pop in his bat as well generating a lot of it from his strong lower-half. While Travis is not considered a burner, his speed plays up both in the field and on the base paths thanks to good instincts. Defensively, Travis is as solid as it gets. He has quick hands in the field, and makes excellent transfers.

He’s a little bit older, but I see some similarities between Travis and Red Sox prospect Mookie Betts. I’m sure there are people who will tell you that every team has a Devon Travis-like prospect in their system, but I really believe he’s going to be more than an afterthought when it’s all said and done. He’s actually even ranked a little higher than where I typically like my “sleepers” but the Tigers system isn’t exactly flush with prospects so that’s to be expected.

Chicago White Sox

Rangel Ravelo
Position: 1B
Height/Weight: 6’2″ 210lb.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Born: Born: April 24, 1992 (Age 21) rank: NR
(CARL – 2013) 347pa .312/.393/.455 4hr 53rbi 27(2b) 2(3b) 40bb 46so 4sb 1cs

Ravelo must be used to being overlooked by now. A former high school teammate of Orioles superstar Manny Machado, for a while he must have felt like the only time scouts ever looked his way was when he was standing right beside Manny (though as a third baseman that was likely all of the time). Nevertheless, taken in the 6th round of the 2010 draft Ravel was considered an “overdraft” by Chicago though 187 players (9 of them third basemen) were taken ahead of him.

Even after turning pro Ravelo has failed to garner much love from the scouting community, despite displaying a very good feel for hitting and a far-too-mature approach for his age. For a 21-year-old in High A, he posted a remarkable 11.5bb% to 13.3k% (major league average is about 7.5 to 19), showing not only the ability to make contact and limit strikeouts, but also the willingness to take the walk.

Ravelo can hit the ball no doubt about it, but what hurts his stock and what ultimately puts him on my list is his lack of discernible power. In parts of four minor league seasons he’s hit all of 7 home runs. This is concerning for his overall profile especially now that Chicago has decided to move him from third to first base, where the offensive standards are much much higher. Simply put right handed hitting first basemen who don’t hit for much power aren’t going to be valued very highly. That’s what makes him the perfect throw-in candidate in a trade for some astute team. 21-year-olds with hitting ability like Ravel’s don’t grow on trees, and at his age and with his 6’2″ frame, one could easily gamble that the power (often the last tool to develop in a young hitter) eventually comes around.

Personally I don’t think Ravelo’s ever going to hit for more than average power (10-15 homeruns), but what separates him from another all-bat guy/little power guy like infielder Wilmer Flores of the Mets is his plate discipline, and the fact that it looks like he might have some defensive chops after all even if they are at first base.

Minnesota Twins

Felix Jorge
Position: RHP
Height/Weight: 6′ 2″ 170lb.
Born: January 2, 1994 (Age 19) rank: 20
(APPY – 2013) 12gs 2-2 2.95era 61ip 56h 18bb 72so

In my analysis of the American League East in Part I of this feature, I discussed the types of trades that involved star level players like James Shields, or (*cough*) R.A. Dickey; trades that yielded a return of multiple, (three sometimes four) prospects. While there’s no mathematical formula to how such a transaction will break down, more often than not that third or fourth piece in the trade will be a prospect currently in a short season league. In the R.A. Dickey trade that player was Wuilmer Becerra, a rookie ball outfielder who most Mets fans knew little about

Now we’ve called that type of player a throw-in thus far for want of a better word, but it is important to understand that the term is not meant as an evaluation fo the player’s talent or likelihood of success but is more matter of circumstance. The players involved are raw and unpolished in most cases, and simply do not have the track record to be anything more than a sweetener in a trade; an extra inducement. Having said that, it’s not at all unusual for that third or fourth prospect to end up being the best of the bunch when it’s all said and done. For all intents and purposes Travis D’Arnaud was considered by Phillies fans to be the third best prospect in the Roy Halladay deal , and D’Arnaud would go on to be a headliner himself in the R.A. Dickey trade.

I say all this in a round-about way to describe Twins prospect Felix Jorge, who I consider to be exactly this type of player. Jorge has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he’s still far away from that at present. With a long wiry build and a loose easy delivery that portends a future increase in velocity. Right now shows excellent command of a fastball at 90-92, but one can easily envision that pitch sitting in the mid-90s as he continues to get stronger. He compliments the heater with two averages pitches in his curveball and changeup, which also project to get much better. What separates Jorge from other toolsy pitchers with a lot of projection, is his advanced feel for pitching and his mental makeup, which is said to be off the charts. It suggest that he should be able to make the most of the tools he has, which is not true of all young players. In many ways Jorge reminds me a little of Blue Jays prospect Alberto Tirado, and like Tirado at just 19 years of age he still has a long way to go. Any team that wants him in a trade would likely have to wait for a while for the the acquisition to bear fruit, but the payoff could be huge in the long run.

Kansas City Royals

Christian Binford
Position: RHP
Height/Weight: 6’7″ 217lb.
Born: December 20, 1992 (Age 20) rank: NR
(SAL – 2013) 23gs 8-7 2.67era 135ip 129h 25bb 130so

A 30th round pick of the Royals out of high school in 2011 Binford certainly passes the eye test as far as pitching prospects go. He’s got a large durable frame that can look intimidating to a hitter out there on the mound. However Binford’s tools (see what I did there) are not quite what you’d expect for someone his size. He is not going to overwhelm you or overpower you with stuff, preferring to get by on sheer guile along with his trademark pinpoint control.

That’s not to say Binford’s stuff is entirely lacking or substandard of course. He shows excellent command of three potentially average pitches; a fastball in the 89-93mph range with excellent downward plane, a wrinkle slider that uses to stay off the barrel or as a chase pitch, and a diving changeup that is perhaps his best chance at an above-average offering. At his age and with his build it is certainly possible that Binford could add a few mph down the line, but he doesn’t have a classically projectable frame, or a particularly quick arm and if there are any gains they will likely be minimal (maybe 2 or 3 mph). A team acquiring Binford will simply have to accept him for what he is: a finesse righty, and a very good one at that.

Binford has a bulldog mentality on the mound and he’s an excellent competitor. He just loves to pounds the strike zone, and go after hitters, throwing from a 3/4 arm slot that just gives right handed batters fits. Scouts project him to be a back end starter at the next level, but I think he could eventually transition to the bullpen where his stuff would play up, and his impeccable control would be even more of an asset (think Casey Jannsen). That would be very good value for a 30th round pick or a throw-in player in a trade I would think.

The R.A. Dickey Effect
Fielder for Kinsler, and Big Contract Hot Potato

Author: Allan Quatermain

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  1. Prospect Showdown: American League West | Toronto Blue Jays Blog - […] hopefully in advance of next week’s winter meetings. If you’ll recall in Parts I and II of my feature …

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