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Minor League Barometer: Primed for an MLB Debut

Jesse Siegel

Jesse Siegel

Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

This week's edition of the Minor League Barometer is going to start a little differently. Instead of an introductory paragraph or two focusing on a couple players or a specific team, here are some random opinions regarding certain players, teams, the state of the minor leagues and rankings. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

1. Byron Buxton is the No. 1 prospect in baseball entering 2014. George Springer is the No. 2 prospect in baseball entering 2014. With apologies to Dylan Bundy, the two best pitching prospects in the minors are Archie Bradley and Taijuan Walker.

2. Noah Syndergaard, and not Travis d'Arnaud, will end up as the best player the Mets received in the R.A. Dickey trade.

3. Some of my favorite lesser-known prospects: Jose Berrios (Twins), A.J. Cole (Nationals), Erik Johnson (White Sox), Matt Szczur (Cubs).

4. Micah Johnson is not as good as his statistics at Low-A indicate.

5. If you take out the Twins, the AL Central has the worst collection of farm systems. And it's not even close.

There you have it. Five statements that are each bound to insult somebody, somewhere. What else is taking place just over the minor league horizon? Let's take this magical journey together. Read on to find out who has the golden ticket.

UPGRADE

Marcus Stroman, P, TOR -
Stroman was relegated to the sidelines for the first 50 games of the season after testing positive for a banned supplement. Since his return, he has shown the form that made him a first-round selection out of Duke in 2012. Stroman has a 3.77 ERA and 33:9 K:BB ratio through 31 innings for Double-A New Hampshire. Although he pitched out of the bullpen in limited action in 2012, Stroman has become a starter this season and has excelled. He has been particularly hot recently, allowing just one earned run in each of his last four starts while posting a 20:6 K:BB ratio over that span. Although questions remain as to whether he can dominate at the big-league level despite his 5-foot-9 stature, Stroman already seems to be answering his critics.

Andrew Heaney, P, MIA -
Heaney missed about two months due to a strained lat suffered in spring training, but the No. 9 overall pick in the 2012 draft has been absurdly productive in his first go-round at High-A. The 22-year-old lefty has a minuscule 1.23 ERA and 35:10 K:BB ratio through 25.1 innings. Opposing batters are hitting a putrid .189 against him. Heaney commands three plus-pitches and could be pushed rather quickly through the system due to his college background and easy delivery. He may not have the overpowering fastball, but his curveball and changeup should make him effective at the higher levels.

Cody Martin, P, ATL -
Martin has picked up where he left off in 2012. The 23-year-old righty posted a 2.82 ERA and 71:27 K:BB ratio through 67.1 innings this season before being promoted to Triple-A. His first two starts at Triple-A have been sensational; the 6-2, 225, righty is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA and 13:2 K:BB ratio through 14 innings. Control is Martin's calling card; he throws four pitches at any time in virtually any count, though he has relied on his two-seam fastball lately. A former reliever, Martin's stock continues to rise, and he could vie for a rotation slot in 2014.

Jarred Cosart, P, HOU -
Cosart has battled command issues this season for Triple-A Oklahoma City, but it shouldn't be long before he gets the call to the big club. He had one of his best starts of the season in his last outing, tossing six scoreless innings. Cosart scattered four hits but, more importantly, did not walk a batter. He punched out eight batters for the game. Cosart's peripheral numbers are also stellar; batters are hitting an anemic .197 against him, and he has gotten a bevy of ground balls to the tune of a 2.54 GO:AO ratio. A few more trips to the mound like this, and Cosart's live arm will be primed for his MLB debut.

CHECK STATUS

Stephen Piscotty, OF, STL -
Piscotty was drafted as a third baseman but will hone his craft in the outfield at the higher levels. He parlayed a decent High-A debut into a promotion to Double-A last week. The 22-year-old slashed .292/.348/.477 with nine home runs, 35 RBI and four steals in 67 games. Piscotty's issues are two-fold: he has to deal with depth ahead of him in the outfield that includes uber-prospect Oscar Taveras, and he does not possess one great, standout tool. He is solid across the board, which certainly gives him value, but his upside is limited. Piscotty may be consistent, but his potential for fantasy stardom looks low.

Kyle Hendricks, P, CHC -
The Cubbies have some nice hitting prospects coming through the pipeline in Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, to name a few. But where are the pitching prospects? Hendricks is making a case for some recognition with his performance the last two seasons. Hendricks came over with Christian Villanueva from the Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal last season. In 2012, Hendricks posted a standout 123:18 K:BB ratio in 147.2 innings at High-A. He's continued that success at Double-A this season, notching a 2.38 ERA and 65:20 K:BB ratio in 83.1 innings. The 23-year-old righty is aided by his ability to get the ground ball (1.57 GO:AO ratio). He doesn't project as a future frontline starter, but the Cubs could use all the help they can get, and Hendricks has made a case to be the most MLB-ready pitching prospect in the organization.

Austin Hedges, C, SD -
As avid readers of the Minor League Barometer know, catching prospects do not curry favor in this court. Hedges is no exception, a player who seems as though he will be a much better actual player than fantasy player. His 2013 campaign has been checkered with a lower-leg injury suffered in a collision at home plate near the end of April. His strengths remain in his ability to call a solid game and field his position. In the batter's box, he's been mediocre at best. The 20-year-old is hitting .271/.339/.419 with two home runs and 20 RBI through 37 games for High-A Lake Elsinore. He is just 20 and playing the most difficult position in baseball, plus hitting .308 over his last 10 contests, so we'll cut him some slack for now. However, it looks as though his hitting potential is exactly that: only potential. He's a few years away from making any sort of impact with the bat.

Jake Buchanan, P, HOU -
Is success without strikeouts undervalued in the fantasy realm? With so much emphasis on the punchout, it's easy to forget about those pitchers who can play to contact and still be effective. The 23-year-old righty received a promotion to Triple-A after compiling a 2.09 ERA and 44:9 K:BB ratio in 82 innings at Double-A. Despite the lack of strikeouts, opposing batters hit just .226 against Buchanan. Keeping the ball down works wonders for Buchanan, who accumulated a 1.82 GO:AO ratio. Will Buchanan ever be the star of your fantasy squad? Probably not. However, there should certainly be a place on your roster for him, or at least pitchers of his kind. Sometimes, it's better to chase the overall results than strikeouts alone.

DOWNGRADE

C.J. Cron, 1B, LAA -
Where is the power? After bashing 27 home runs and driving in 123 runs in 2012, Cron's power stroke has been notably absent this season. He has just five home runs and 43 RBI in 72 games for Double-A Arkansas. While it is true that he played 2012 in the hitter-friendly confines of the California League, Cron's 6-4, 235, frame was supposed to be immune to environmental inconsistencies. His continued inability to draw a walk is also disconcerting; Cron has drawn just 10 free passes all season. He is still hitting .294 at this level, but the lack of walks combined with the lack of dingers raise some serious red flags.

Richie Shaffer, 3B, TB -
A collegiate bat drafted in the first round out of Clemson in 2012, Shaffer has a .299 OBP through 64 games for High-A Charlotte. He has also fanned 58 times while drawing just 16 walks over that span. He hasn't shown much power or speed, either, with five home runs and five steals for the Stone Crabs. It's easy to get ahead of ourselves and make rash judgments on prospects due to small sample sizes; the 22-year-old Shaffer has played less than 100 games in the minors. Still, his power has not come around as hoped, and his plate discipline has been woeful in 2013. He deserves some time, but clearly is in need of some seasoning if his supposed power bat is to come around.

J.C. Sulbaran, P, KC -
Even the strikeouts have abandoned Sulbaran, whose control issues are threatening to derail his career. The 23-year-old lefty has had a history of wildness despite averaging over one strikeout per inning in his career. However, he has also never had an ERA below 4.04 at any level. Sulbaran has a bloated 6.69 ERA and 24:21 K:BB ratio through 38 innings at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Sulbaran has even been relegated to the bullpen, working largely middle relief or long relief for the Royals' Double-A affiliate. It's safe to take the former starter off your prospect radar.

Jonathan Schoop, 3B, BAL -
Expectations for Schoop got thrown off-kilter when he was promoted simultaneously with Manny Machado for the first year or two of their careers. Most assumed that because they were linked in such a manner, that they were at least close in the prospect scheme of things. Machado, however, is a future star, if not one already. Schoop, on the other hand, will be lucky to make it as an everyday regular for the O's. He has been out since May due to a stress fracture in his back, but even before the injury he was never more than an average contributor. Schoop hit .245 last season at Double-A, and was hitting .268 at Triple-A before the injury. He has average power, and average speed. With Machado at the hot corner in the bigs, and J.J. Hardy bashing home runs at short, where is Schoop's future? Even if Hardy is jettisoned, Schoop can't be expected to match Machado's productivity. As unfair as it seems, Schoop's early ties to Hakuna Machado may end up being his downfall.