The Oakland A's swung for the fences with the acquisitions of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Not only did the A's give up one of their best young outfield prospects in Billy McKinney, but they sent phenom Addison Russell to the Cubbies as well. Russell is among the top 10 prospects in baseball. Chicago is stockpiling impressive minor league infield talent with the likes of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and now Russell. Like Baez and Alcantara, Russell is a shortstop by trade, but could have to find a new position due to the glut up the middle for the Cubs. It will be interesting to see which players the Cubs decide to move, both position-wise and perhaps via trade.
Let's see who is featured in this week's "Three Strikes" section, for better or for worse:
1. The dreaded curse of the Minor League Barometer strikes again. After singing the praises of White Sox outfield prospect Courtney Hawkins last week, the 20-year-old slugger went on the disabled list with a concussion. Fortunately, it's not considered serious, and he should be back shortly.
2. Watch out for the return of pitcher Dylan Bundy to the Orioles following the All-Star break. He was arguably the top prospect in the game prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery. However, the O's could be cautious with Bundy and ease him back into action.
3. This is not usually the forum to discuss unsigned prospects, but could the Astros let No. 1 overall selection Brady Aiken go unsigned? There have been conflicting reports about a ligament issue in his pitching elbow. There is some sort of precedent for this type of move; Mark Appel went back into the draft in 2013 after not being signed by the Pirates in 2012.
The prospects keep on rolling in this week's Minor League Barometer.
Lewis Brinson, OF, TEX - Brinson was simply crushing the ball for Low-A Hickory, which earned him a promotion to High-A Myrtle Beach. The 20-year-old outfielder batted .405/.476/1.000 with seven home runs and 12 RBI over his last 10 games at Low-A before being promoted. Although he missed time due to a quad injury early in the year, Brinson found his groove upon his return. Overall, he slashed .335/.405/.579 with 10 home runs, 28 RBI and seven steals in 43 games. Brinson still fanned 46 times in 43 games, but that is actually an improvement over last year's stunning numbers. In 122 games at the same level in 2013, Brinson was punched out a staggering 191 times. He's got some speed, too, so as long as his plate discipline continues to get better, Brinson is an extremely intriguing prospect for the Rangers.
Raimel Tapia, OF, COL - Last year, it was shortstop prospect Rosell Herrera who tore up the competition at Low-A Asheville for the Rockies. In 2014, Tapia has taken the baton. The 20-year-old is batting .325/.378/.454 with six home runs, 51 RBI and 19 steals through 79 games. Tapia has been even better over his last 10 games, hitting .400/.462/.486 with five RBI and two stolen bases over that span. The Rockies are hoping that he will be able to put some muscle on his 6-foot-2 frame, which should increase his power numbers. Although he has fanned 63 times in 79 games, Tapia's ability to make contact is still extremely advanced for his age. With future home games at Coors Field, Tapia is a prospect to watch for the Rockies. Also keep an eye on teammate David Dahl, who is more highly-touted than Tapia and is hitting .465 over his last 10 contests.
Lucas Giolito, P, WAS - Although the Nats certainly have to be thrilled with the production of outfielder Michael Taylor at Triple-A, perhaps the most welcome sign in the minors for Washington this season has been the consistency and durability of Giolito. Undergoing Tommy John surgery essentially right after he was drafted in 2012, Giolito is pitching in his first full season for the Nats. He has been as good as advertised, posting a 2.74 ERA and 72:24 K:BB ratio through 65.2 innings for Low-A Hagerstown. His peripheral statistics are excellent as well, with a 1.35 GO:AO ratio and opposing BAA of .196. He has the size and stuff to become a rotation anchor, but the fact that he has taken the ball every fifth day in 2014 without incident is the biggest takeaway for the soon-to-be 20-year-old Giolito.
Darnell Sweeney, SS, LAD - Sweeney doesn't get much pub in the prospect-rich Los Angeles system. However, he had 48 steals in 134 games at High-A in 2013, slashing .275/.329/.455 with 11 home runs and 77 RBI in the process. A bump up to Double-A hasn't altered his trajectory, as Sweeney has already matched last year's total of 11 home runs while hitting .313/.402/.506. He hasn't shown quite the same level of thievery (just nine steals in 87 games), though he has improved his contact rate a bit. After fanning 151 times in 134 games last season, Sweeney has struck out 76 times in 87 contests. He also has drawn a career-high 49 walks as well. He may be blocked by Hanley Ramirez and Alex Guerrero, but is certainly worth keeping on your fantasy radar, as the 23-year-old can impact the box score in a multitude of ways.
Sean Coyle, 2B, BOS - The obvious question for Coyle is where will he actually play once he reaches the big leagues. Dustin Pedroia is the current second baseman for the Red Sox, and Mookie Betts is a phenom at the same position who has been forced to learn the outfield due to the presence of the Laser Show. However, the more interesting question for Coyle is can he keep up his torrid hitting display this season. Coyle is .343 through 63 games for Double-A Portland. His batting average is nearly 100 points higher than his average in any of his three preceding seasons in the minors. One explanation is his BABIP, which is higher than .400. For those non-sabermetricians out there, the MLB average is usually about .300. In other words, this type of luck is unsustainable. Now, that doesn't mean Coyle isn't appealing in other ways, as he also has 11 home runs, 47 RBI and 12 stolen bases this season. Coyle has indeed shown double-digit ability in both categories. However, it would be a mistake to assume that Coyle has all of a sudden turned into a surefire .300 hitter due to one incredible season.
Daniel Palka, 1B, AZ - A third-round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2013, Palka leads the Midwest League in home runs with 17 this season. The 22-year-old is slashing .255/.332/.486 with 67 RBI through 84 games for Low-A South Bend. On the downside, the Georgia Tech product has fanned 96 times over that span. Still, the strikeouts are certainly less of a concern for a power hitter like Palka. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if he will be able to hit for average at the higher levels. Likewise, his future position is also in question due to the presence of perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt locked up at first for the foreseeable future. The D-Backs are surely glad to have the depth, but Palka may not be put on the fast track to the majors as a result.
Alex Reyes, P, STL - Reyes won't turn 20 until late August, but he has the chance to be a special pitcher. He has a plus-fastball, dynamic curveball and emerging changeup. His mechanics are stellar, and he is still growing, in both size and maturity. He has experienced the usual pains that come with being a teenage pitching phenom, though; Reyes hasn't had the greatest control this season. He has 45 walks in 66 innings for Low-A Peoria. However, the electric stuff is evident, as Reyes has fanned 79 batters over that span, and opposing batters are hitting an anemic .198 against him. He won't hit the big leagues for at least a few years, but that is probably best for the Cardinals, as Reyes can put on a few more pounds of muscle and continue to hone his craft. If his control improves, St. Louis may have another ace on its hands.
Corey Black, P, CHC - A lesser-known Cubs prospect, the 22-year-old Black came over from the Yankees in the Alfonso Soriano trade last season. Black has averaged more than a strikeout per inning since being drafted in the fourth round in 2012. However, he has battled control issues the last two years. In 2013, Black notched a 3.93 ERA and 116:55 K;BB ratio in 107.2 innings at High-A. Black has managed to limit the damage even further at Double-A in 2014, posting a 2.72 ERA. Still, he has a 75:44 K:BB ratio in 76 innings, and one has to wonder whether the abundance of free passes will come back to haunt him at the higher levels. Black has gotten away with the walks by keeping the ball down; he does not allow a lot of home runs, and has induced more ground balls than fly balls throughout his brief minor league career. Opposing hitters are also batting just .200 against him. Nevertheless, he must bring down his walk total if he wants to succeed at the higher levels.
Jesse Biddle, P, PHI - Biddle has been placed on the temporary inactive list for the Phillies, receiving what GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. termed a "mental break" from pitching. Perhaps both the pressure of being a top prospect as well as the frustrations of a down season have gotten to the 22-year-old southpaw, who has a 5.03 ERA and 76:40 K:BB ratio in 78.2 innings for Double-A Reading. On the mound, Biddle has been undone by control issues as well as the long ball. Biddle has served up 11 home runs this season, including six in his last three starts. He allowed a staggering 10 earned runs in just three innings in his last outing. Hopefully Biddle can get his mind right away from baseball, which will allow him to succeed once he returns to the diamond.
Tyler Naquin, OF, CLE - Naquin broke his right hand on June 27 and had surgery almost one week later, sidelining him indefinitely. One of the better contact hitters in the Cleveland system, Naquin was batting .313/.371/.424 with four home runs, 30 RBI and 14 steals in 76 games before the injury. Naquin profiles as more of a gaps hitter than a power hitter, as seen by his home run total. However, he was having a breakout season otherwise prior to the injury, on pace for career highs in batting average and steals. It remains to be seen if he will return in 2014. The Indians don't exactly have the most imposing outfield outside of All-Star Michael Brantley, particularly with the recent injury to speedster Michael Bourn. However, Naquin certainly doesn't appear to figure into the big league plans at this point.
Hunter Morris, 1B, MIL - Morris suffered a non-displaced fracture of his right forearm and is expected to miss more than a month for the Brew Crew. Morris had a breakout season in 2012, hitting .303 with 28 home runs and 113 RBI at Double-A. He moved up a level in 2013 but regressed a bit, batting just .247 for Triple-A Nashville. Still, he slugged 24 home runs and knocked in 73 runs. This season had been a mixed bag as well prior to the injury; Morris was slashing .274/.316/.444 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI in 78 games. Even ignoring the injury, Morris hasn't quite shown the same power in 2014, and continues to struggle with plate discipline. He fanned 62 times while drawing just 16 walks in 78 games, not the type of statistics you want to see from a corner infielder. The Brewers have Matt Reynolds and Lyle Overbay sharing duties at first base, so they would have loved for the 25-year-old Morris to grab the reins and take hold of the starting first-base job. However, Morris may not be the answer for Milwaukee.
Mason Williams, OF, NYY - It's safe to say Williams has lost his prospect luster. Once considered one of the top outfield prospects in baseball, his average has been on a steady decline since a breakout 2011 campaign in the Short-Season New York-Penn League. The inability to make solid contact has been the ultimate downfall for Williams, though, as he does not strike out a ton and has enough patience to draw some walks. Off-field issues and inconsistency marred his 2013 campaign, and 2014 hasn't been much better for the 22-year-old. He is slashing just .211/.290/.283 through 80 games for Double-A Trenton. Williams does have 18 stolen bases, but has shown limited power with three home runs and almost no RBI production with 18. He has been even worse over his last 10 contests, hitting just .163 over that span. Fellow Yankees outfield prospects Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin have also been disappointing for the Bronx Bombers at Double-A this season, making it even more crucial that the Yankees obtained Jacoby Ellsbury in the offseason and also signed Brett Gardner to a long-term extension.