RotoWire Partners

Minor League Barometer: Norris is Back on the Prospect Radar

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.

Now that George Springer has been called up to the big leagues, who will be the next top prospect to get promoted? It appears that the Pirates may wait on giving Gregory Polanco a shot despite his torrid start, in order to limit his service time. There's no place for Joc Pederson to play for the Dodgers, and Javier Baez is struggling for the Cubs at Triple-A Iowa. Perhaps a pitcher? It could be Archie Bradley, the Diamondbacks flamethrower. The starting rotation has been flat-out awful for Arizona, while the 21-year-old Bradley has fanned 20 batters in 20.1 innings for Triple-A Reno. While he got roughed up a bit in his last start, and his control still isn't great, the D-Backs may have no choice but to give Bradley a shot shortly. Their record is a putrid 6-18 entering Thursday, and they have the worst team ERA in baseball at 5.58. We may see Archie to the rescue in Arizona sooner rather than later.

Here is this week's segment of "Three Strikes:"

1. Some underrated NL pitching prospects currently at Double-A: Danny Winkler (Rockies), Jon Moscot (Reds), Ivan Pineyro (Cubs), Brent Suter (Brewers).

2. Jonathan Singleton has been white-hot for the Astros lately at Triple-A. Over his last 10 games, the 22-year-old lefty is slashing .366/.438/.854 with five home runs and 12 RBI. Top prospect George Springer already up in the big leagues, and Singleton may not be far behind. Jesus Guzman, Marc Krauss and Chris Carter have been abysmal sharing the position thus far in 2014.

3. The Orioles haven't had much luck with homegrown pitching prospects over the years, and recently Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy have been unable to make immediate impacts as hoped. However, keep an eye on 19-year-old Hunter Harvey. The 2013 first-rounder has been dominant during his brief time in the minors, including a 0.86 ERA and 23:9 K:BB ratio through 21 innings for Low-A in 2014.

Who's up? Who's down? This week's edition of the Minor League Barometer beckons.

UPGRADE

C.J. Cron, 1B, LAA -
Questions regarding Cron's power and plate discipline haunted him in 2013, when he had a decent, albeit unspectacular season at Double-A. While he hit .274 and knocked in 83 runs, he walked just 23 times in 134 games and saw his home run total nearly cut in half from the season before. Hitting in the friendly confines of the California League to begin the 2014 campaign, Cron is sizzling for Triple-A Salt Lake. The 24-year-old slugger is batting .319/.372/.625 with four home runs and 18 RBI through 18 games. Perhaps even more importantly, he has already drawn five free passes and is on pace to shatter last season's career-high of a paltry 23 walks. The biggest issue for Cron may be finding a place to play at the big-league level with Albert Pujols blocking his path, though the presence of the DH certainly helps his cause. Nevertheless, Cron is third in the PCL in total bases and appears to be back to his power-hitting ways.

Daniel Norris, P, TOR -
A second-round selection in 2011, Norris had an abysmal 2012 season and was immediately written off. However, he was better in 2013 at Low-A, flashing strikeout potential along with the ability to induce ground balls. He has been lights-out through three outings in 2014 at High-A Dunedin. The 6-foot-2 southpaw, who turns 21 this week, has notched a 0.60 ERA and 17:3 K:BB ratio through 15 innings. Opposing batters are hitting a putrid .200 against him. As long as Norris continues to maintain his control (he walked 46 batters in 90.2 innings in 2013), he should make his way back onto the pitching phenom radar.

Vincent Velasquez, P, HOU -
A second-round selection in 2010, Velasquez missed all 2011 due to Tommy John surgery. Since his return, however, he has been one of the better prospects in the Houston system. Still, he flies under the radar in an organization filled with top-flight prospects like Carlos Correa, Mark Appel and the recently promoted George Springer. In 2013, Velasquez fanned 142 batters in 124.2 innings, mostly at Low-A. To start the 2014 campaign at High-A, he has been dazzling as well. Through five outings, the 6-foot-3 righty has a 1.29 ERA and 23:7 K:BB ratio. Over a span of 21 innings, opposing batters are hitting an anemic .108 against him. Velasquez featured a mid-90's heater, stellar changeup and decent curveball. He has been able to get plenty of swings and misses. He should be getting more publicity than he's currently receiving.

Stephen Landazuri, P, SEA -
Sleeper alert! Landazuri did not get any credit in 2013 due to his 4.63 ERA in 116.2 innings at High-A. However, he was faced with the difficult task of pitching in the hitter-friendly California League, and his peripheral numbers were good despite the slightly high ERA. He posted a 115:32 K:BB ratio at that level along with a 1.78 GO:AO ratio. The 22-year-old righty is off to a quick start in 2014 for Double-A Jackson, with a 1.00 ERA and 21:3 K:BB ratio through 18 innings for the Generals. Opposing batters are hitting just .131 against him, and Landazuri has once again been a ground ball machine to the tune of a 1.91 GO:AO ratio. The ability to keep the ball down has worked to his advantage, particularly due to his rather small frame (6-feet, 175-lbs). Landazuri is a pitcher to watch for the M's, as he has been aggressively pushed through the system but has maintained success throughout.

CHECK STATUS

Ryan McMahon, 3B, COL -
Last year, the Rockies had one of the fastest risers on the prospect map in pitcher Eddie Butler. Colorado could have a similar situation with McMahon, who has bashed eight home runs already through 18 games for Low-A Asheville. McMahon was studly in the Pioneer League in 2013, hitting .321/.402/.583 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI in 59 games. He hasn't missed a beat thus far in 2014, as the 19-year-old is slashing .317/.425/.767. Though he has fanned 19 times on the season thus far, he has shown an even more improved ability to see pitches and take a walk. The Rockies do have Nolan Arenado at the hot corner at the big-league level, but too much depth at a position is never bad thing, and McMahon is still at least a few years away from making an impact at the big-league level.

James Ramsey, OF, STL -
The 24-year-old Ramsey is off to a hot start for Double-A Springfield, slashing .324/.429/.606 with five home runs, 14 RBI and two stolen bases through 19 games. Ramsey clubbed 16 home runs last season despite hitting just .265, mostly at Double-A as well. He drew 65 walks, but also fanned 121 times. On top of the strikeouts, the real issue for Ramsey is that the Cardinals are flush with outfielders ahead of him in both the Majors and minors. This includes an entire outfield at Triple-A of prospects ahead of him. This trio includes Oscar Taveras, one of the top hitting prospects in all of baseball, hot-hitting Stephen Piscotty who has shifted to the outfield from third, and former Angels prospect Randal Grichuk, who is also off to a stellar start for the Redbirds. Ramsey would likely be in Triple-A or perhaps even the Majors on a lesser club, but in St. Louis he'll be forced to bide his time at Double-A for now.

Jacob Scavuzzo, OF, LAD -
As if the Dodgers need yet another outfielder. Scavuzzo is another player who has parlayed success in the Pioneer League last season into early positive returns in 2014. However, unlike McMahon, who was a second-round pick in 2013, Scavuzzo was a lowly 21st rounder in 2012. However, he put himself on the map in 63 games last season, hitting .307/.350/.578 with 14 home runs, 52 RBI and three steals. Interestingly, Scavuzzo has just one home run through 18 games for Low-A Great Lakes this season, but has already stolen seven bases. Nevertheless, Scavuzzo is slashing .310/.424/.437 over that span, showing better plate discipline than a season ago. If he can consistently hit for average and show some sort of power/speed combo, the 20-year-old Scavuzzo could skyrocket up the prospect charts.

Ben Lively, P, CIN -
There has to be some regression to the mean at some point for Lively, right? The 22-year-old righty has fanned 33 batters while walking just one in 23 innings for High-A Bakersfield. Yes, you read that correctly. His ERA is a minuscule 0.39, and the opposition is hitting an abysmal .105 against him. Lively may not be a fluke, though, as the fourth-round pick from UCF in 2013 posted a 0.88 ERA and 56:13 K:BB ratio in 41 innings last season in the Pioneer League. He basically skipped right over Low-A, and as a polished college pitcher has not found any resistance thus far. Scouts worry about his mechanics, but he pounds the strike zone with four pitches. As long as his arm holds up, he could be a hurler to watch.

DOWNGRADE

Maikel Franco, 3B, PHI -
For a brief moment during spring training, it felt as though Franco had a shot to grab the starting third base job. Then he hit .184, was sent back down to Triple-A, and has continued to struggle. Through 19 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Franco is batting .153/..228/.181 with four RBI and 17 strikeouts. He has yet to homer this season, after hitting 31 dingers in 2013. The sample size is too small to get worried just yet, but the 21-year-old clearly needs some more seasoning after his breakout campaign in 2013. The Phils also have the luxury of having another prospect in Cody Asche manning the hot corner for the time being as well, though Asche has not been much better, hitting .196 for the big club.

Dominic Smith, 1B, NYM -
The Mets are really hoping that Smith will be their first baseman of the future. A rollercoaster relationship with Ike Davis recently ended with a trade to the Pirates, and neither Lucas Duda nor Josh Satin seem cut out for the full-time job at first. The sweet-swinging lefty Smith is just 18 years of age, but the Mets decided to let him start the 2014 campaign in Low-A, a slightly aggressive maneuver. He hasn't found his footing yet, hitting just .175/.242/.175 through 16 games. He has just 10 total bases and has not driven in a run. Smith remains raw, and a bit of a project, so New York will have to be patient with him. He won't make it to the big leagues for at least 3-4 years.

Alen Hanson, SS, PIT -
For a time at the beginning of last season, Hanson and fellow Pittsburgh prospect Gregory Polanco were neck-and-neck for the title of best hitting phenom in the organization. Then Polanco took off, becoming the clear-cut top hitting prospect in the organization, and he appears to be on the precipice of a promotion to the Majors. Meanwhile, Hanson remains at Double-A after a decent, albeit unspectacular 2013 season. Hanson hit .274/.329/.427 with eight home runs, 58 RBI and 30 steals between High-A and Double-A. His speed is legitimate, but the 16 home runs hit in 2012 were likely a fluke. Also, it remains to be seen if he can hit for average at the higher levels. He has not hit above .255 in 50 games at Double-A thus far between the last two years, and has battled strikeout problems too. Hanson hasn't completely lost his prospect luster, but it doesn't appear he will be a star either.

Phil Ervin, OF, CIN -
Ervin was dynamite during his brief time in the minors in 2013, part of which was even interrupted by injury. In 46 games between the Pioneer League and Low-A, he hit .331/.425/.564 with nine home runs, 35 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Ervin hasn't been nearly as effective in the early going of 2014, though, batting just .213/.290/.279 with seven RBI and three steals through 16 games back at Low-A. He has accumulated 17 strikeouts over that span. Ervin isn't the biggest outfielder, so there will always be knocks about his size. He has been able to overcome that “deficiency” for most of his baseball playing career, but it remains to be seen if his power will translate at the higher levels. In reality, his speed will likely play better than his power as he ascends through the ranks. With Billy Hamilton in center field at the big-league level, though, where does that leave Ervin?