Are we finally ready for The Maikel Franco Show in Philadelphia? With the Phillies sitting in the basement in the NL East and thinking of selling off parts following the All-Star break, there seems no better time than the present for the Phillies to start the youth movement. Franco has shown signs of life the last few weeks after a horrific start to the 2014 campaign. Over his last 10 games for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Franco is slashing .348/.375/.630 with one home run and 11 RBI. The 21-year-old has slugged nine extra-base hits during that time period as well. Incumbent Cody Asche is batting .271 in July, but doesn't have the upside of Franco. As a result, Franco could be headed for the big leagues to infuse some life into the Fightin' Phils.
Next up, the weekly "Three Strikes" segment:
1. Although he was passed over by uber-prospect Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates middle infield prospect Alen Hanson has been regaining some mojo recently. Hanson is slashing .389/.450/.639 with two home runs, five RBI and two steals over his last 10 games for Double-A Altoona. Overall, the 21-year-old is batting .283/.321/.454 with 10 home runs, 48 RBI and 18 steals through 88 games.
2. Some recent promotions to take note of include Corey Seager of the Dodgers to Double-A, Christian Walker of the Orioles to Triple-A, Luke Jackson of the Rangers to Double-A and Christian Binford of the Royals to Double-A.
3. We're about a month or so away from the Joc Pederson era in Los Angeles. Although he likely didn't help fantasy owners as expected this season due to a crowded outfield for the Dodgers, Pederson is a surefire bet to get added to the squad when rosters expand in September.
Let's take a further look at the prospect landscape in this edition of the Minor League Barometer.
Julio Urias, P, LAD - It's hard to overstate how impressive Urias has been thus far in his brief professional career. As a 16-year-old in 2013, Urias burst onto the scene with a 2.48 ERA and 67:16 K:BB ratio in 54.1 innings at Low-A. The southpaw won't turn 18 until August, but he has more than held his own in the hitter-friendly confines of the California League in 2014. Urias has a 3.44 ERA and 58:25 K:BB ratio through 52.1 innings for High-A Rancho Cucamonga. Although he has been on a short leash throughout the year, Urias has been even better over his last 10 outings, posting a 2.05 ERA and 34:12 K:BB ratio. He'll certainly be on an innings limit for at least the next season or so, but it's not a stretch to say he could make his MLB debut before he turns 20. The Fernando Valenzuela comparisons will continue for the foreseeable future.
Henry Owens, P, BOS - At this rate, Owens is going to enter the 2015 campaign as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. The 21-year-old lefty has been obscene over his last 10 starts at Double-A, notching a minuscule 1.28 ERA and 70:22 K:BB ratio during a span of 63.1 innings. Opposing batters are hitting a putrid .183 against him. Owens continues to walk a few too many hitters, but his swing-and-miss stuff is undeniable. Owens has fanned 111 batters in 105.2 innings this season after striking out 169 hitters in 135 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2013. The lanky Owens hasn't had an ERA above 3.00 at any level since 2012. Owens and Urias are arguably the top two left-handed pitching prospects in the game heading into next season.
Teoscar Hernandez, OF, HOU - With George Springer and Jonathan Singleton in the big leagues, Domingo Santana on the cusp of the majors and Carlos Correa shelved for the the season, the Astros will have some unfamiliar names among their top prospects. Hernandez should be near the top of the list. Although he has certainly taken advantage of the elements in the California League, the 21-year-old outfielder has shown the total package for the Astros. Hernandez is slashing .293/.379/.562 with 16 home runs, 71 RBI and 27 steals in 82 games at High-A Lancaster. He has been scorching over his last 10 contests, hitting a robust .342/.452/.688 with two home runs, eight RBI and four thefts over that span. His plate discipline is still a work in progress, but he has already drawn more walks in 2014 than he did all of last season. As long as his strikeouts continue to decline, Hernandez has the power/speed combo that makes him an extremely intriguing phenom.
Andrew Velazquez, SS, AZ - The D-Backs recently promoted a young shortstop corps in Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius to the big-league level. Velazquez is much further from The Show, but at just 20 he has enjoyed a breakout 2014 season. A seventh-round pick in the 2012 draft, Velazquez is slashing .306/.386/.461 with six home runs, 40 RBI and 40 stolen bases through 90 games for Low-A South Bend. He has been even hotter over his last 10 games, slashing .372/.438/.512 with one home run, six RBI and seven steals over that span. As long as he can minimize his strikeouts (17 over that span and 88 on the season), he should climb up the prospect rankings.
Wilmer Difo, 2B, WAS - Signed out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year-old, Difo has hit the ground running in his first year of full-season ball for the Nats. Now 22, Difo is batting .308/.345/.446 with eight home runs, 62 RBI and 31 steals through 94 games at Low-A Hagerstown. Difo has shown a superb ability to make contact; though he has drawn just 21 walks, he has also fanned just 38 times in 390 at-bats, an astoundingly low rate, particularly for this age and level. Interestingly, he hit just .217 last season overall and .263 the year before, so it remains to be seen if Difo has finally turned the corner, or if this season is an aberration. As a result, take a wait-and-see approach with Difo and see how he fares at the higher levels.
Gabriel Quintana, 3B, SD - Another hitting prospect flying under the radar, Quintana was also signed out of the Dominican Republic as a teenager. At High-A Lake Elsinore, Quintana has been surging lately to the tune of .364/.391/.705 with four home runs and 12 RBI over his last 10 games. Overall, Quintana has slugged 14 home runs and knocked in 60 runs. While Quintana looks to have emerging power, the 21-year-old's plate discipline is a huge red flag. In 89 games at this level, Quintana has fanned 110 times while drawing just 18 walks. Quintana did hit .307 in 88 games at Low-A last season, but his average likely will continue to decline until his patience at the dish improves. Still, Quintana is young and has plenty of time to hone his craft as he ascends the minors.
JaCoby Jones, SS, PIT - A third-round pick out of LSU in 2013, Jones is having a sensational season for Low-A West Virginia. Jones is hitting .300/.368/.497 with 15 home runs, 49 RBI and 14 steals through 84 games. Jones has sizzled over his last 10 games, hitting a superb .486/.524/.838 with four home runs, nine RBI and one stolen base over that time. Despite being drafted as a rather polished college bat, the 22-year-old still needs to work on his plate discipline, though. Jones has fanned 91 times in 84 games, while drawing just 26 walks. He also does not have a surefire spot in the field, having spent time at second base and shortstop, while his future position may be in the outfield. Still, the power/speed combination makes him an intriguing prospect and one who should turn some heads if he continues to shine.
Sean Manaea, P, KC - Manaea has been talked about for years already due to his size and strikeout stuff, but hasn't quite lived up to that star hype. Once pegged as the No. 1 overall selection for the 2013 draft, he slipped to the No. 34 pick in that draft due to an inconsistent and injury prone season at Indiana State. He certainly hasn't been bad by any stretch of the imagination since entering the minors. The 22-year-old southpaw has fanned 91 batters in 70.1 innings at High-A this season, his first taste of professional ball. However, he has also walked 39 batters over that span, and allowed about one hit per inning. As a result his ERA is 4.48. The control issues are really the main concern, though. Manaea has walked at least four batters in four of his last seven starts, including five free passes in his last outing July 16. He has barely scratched the surface of his potential but remains a work in progress for the Royals.
D.J. Davis, OF, TOR - The No. 17 overall selection in the 2012 draft, Davis has struggled mightily in 2014. Although he won't turn 20 until later this month, Davis is batting just .212/.271/.326 through 88 games at Low-A this season. Not only has Davis been unable to get on base consistently, but his stat line has also been devoid of home runs and stolen bases too. Drafted as a superior athlete out of high school, Davis has just six home runs and nine stolen bases in 2014. Perhaps even more curious, Davis has been caught stealing 13 times. It is clear that Davis's baseball skills have not caught up to his raw talent just yet.
Dorssys Paulino, SS, CLE - Paulino and Royals teenage prospect Raul Mondesi Jr. surprised many by more than holding their own as hitters at Low-A in 2013. Mondesi has struggled in 2014, albeit at High-A, while Paulino has stayed at Low-A but suffered a similar fate. The 19-year-old shortstop is batting .230/.295/.329 with two home runs, 24 RBI and three stolen bases through 75 games. He has been even worse over his last 10 contests, hitting just .176. Paulino is on pace for a worse season across the board despite not being promoted. Meanwhile, teammate Clint Frazier, a much more highly touted 19-year-old, is batting .439/.500/.829 with four home runs and nine RBI over his last 10 games. The Indians were obviously taking things extremely slow with Paulino anyway, but certainly would have preferred at least some signs of improvement this season.
Rico Noel, OF, SD - Remember Noel? He swiped 90 bases in 2012 at High-A, drawing comparisons to Billy Hamilton. However, that's where the comparison should have ended, as Noel does not have the plate discipline nor the hitting acumen that Hamilton possesses. Now a 25-year-old at Triple-A, Noel has just 18 steals in 68 games. He is also batting just .243. Noel has never had any power, with a total of five home runs since entering the minors in 2010. He also fanned over 150 times in that "breakout" season of 2012, which should have been a major red flag. With his speed suddenly disappearing, Noel is nothing more than organizational depth for the Padres.
Cody Buckel, P, TEX - It's been quite a fall from grace for Buckel, who was once considered one of the top arms in the Texas system. In 2012, he posted a 2.49 ERA and 159:48 K:BB ratio in 144.2 innings between High-A and Double-A. However, in 2013 he appeared to come down with Rick Ankiel Syndrome; in other words, he completely lost the plate. In 10.2 innings, mostly at Double-A, he walked an astounding 35 batters. Yes, you read that correctly. His ERA was 21.09. Yes, you also read that correctly. In 2014, Buckel is back at High-A, with slightly better and yet similarly awful results. In 28.1 innings, Buckel has a 31:36 K:BB ratio and 8.89 ERA. He's been moved to a relief role in a last-gasp attempt at saving his career. Buckel is 22 and just two years removed from being arguably the best pitcher in the minors for the Rangers, so this has been a strange turn of events to say the least.