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Minor League Barometer: Navigating the Tradewinds

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.

A slew of prospects were dealt at the MLB trade deadline. We had already seen the Detroit Tigers trade two of their better prospects to bolster their bullpen in the Joakim Soria deal. Pitcher Jake Thompson, one of the prospects dealt, is a particularly exciting get for the Texas Rangers. The 20-year-old is already at Double-A, having more than held his own at High-A before the promotion and subsequent trade. Thompson notched a 3.14 ERA and 79:25 K:BB ratio in 83 innings in the Florida State League.

Meanwhile, the Giants parted ways with a pitching prospect to land Jake Peavy, giving up Edwin Escobar. The 22-year-old lefty is highly thought of despite his 5.11 ERA at Double-A this season. Escobar has shown strikeout stuff with 96 punch-outs in 111 innings. If he can figure out how to keep the ball in the ballpark (16 home runs surrendered in 2014), Escobar should re-emerge as a top-flight hurler.

And just before the deadline Thursday, middle infielder Nick Franklin was dealt to the Rays as part of a three-team trade that sent David Price to the Tigers and Austin Jackson to the Mariners. Franklin, who hit .294 with 47 RBI and nine home runs in 279 at-bats this season at Triple-A Tacoma, will begin his Rays career in the minors but could be called up soon.

The Rays also received shortstop Willy Adames from the Tigers in the Price deal. The 18-year-old hit .269/.346/.428 for Low-A West Michigan this season.

How will these prospects fare in their new homes? Stay tuned to find out. In the meantime, here are some noteworthy nuggets to ponder in the "Three Strikes" portion:

1. Mark Appel was promoted to Double-A for the Astros in an extremely aggressive maneuver. Appel is getting the bump up despite posting a 9.74 ERA in 44.1 innings for High-A Lancaster. Appel allowed seven earned runs in two of his final three starts at that level. The 23-year-old righty did notch a 40:11 K:BB ratio over that span, but opposing batters hit a robust .372 against him. His Double-A debut went much better, as he allowed two hits and four walks while striking out four over five scoreless innings.

2. The Dodgers failed to open a spot for Joc Pederson by trading Matt Kemp or another outfielder. The Orioles' non-move had the opposite effect for uber-prospect Dylan Bundy, whose return is imminent.

3. Brian Johnson gets virtually no publicity despite finding little resistance since entering the Boston Red Sox organization as a first-round pick in 2012. The University of Florida product has mowed down the competition since being promoted to Double-A this season, posting a 2.13 ERA and 74:25 K:BB ratio through 84.2 innings. Opposing batters are hitting just .219 against him. In his last start on July 25, Johnson fanned 12 batters over seven innings, allowing just one solitary hit.

Let's see who else has been helping or hurting their cause in this week's Minor League Barometer.

UPGRADE

Francisco Lindor, SS, CLE -
Lindor has always been a tricky rank on most prospect lists, because he profiles as a much better actual player than fantasy player. His slick fielding and ability to make contact puts him in the elite prospect category, but he doesn't project to hit for much power, and his speed on the base paths is above average but not spectacular. Still, Lindor is already at Triple-A at just 20 years old and should be able to hit .300 at the MLB level. He's off to a hot start for Columbus, slashing .370/.433/.630 with two home runs, four RBI and a stolen base through seven games. Lindor is just below fellow top shortstop prospects Carlos Correa and Addison Russell from a fantasy perspective, but not by much. Likewise, if his power stroke starts to come around, that could change the analysis as well.

A.J. Cole, P, WAS -
Cole's ability to pound the strike zone while getting swings-and-misses has always made him an intriguing prospect. He's looked the part of a frontline rotation anchor the last year and a half as well. In 2014, Cole has compiled a 2.83 ERA and 85:18 K:BB ratio in 101.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. His control has been pristine lately; Cole has not walked a batter in each of his last three starts for Triple-A Syracuse, a span of 20 innings. Cole picked up the victory in all three of those outings. he has also managed to limit the home run ball this season as well; after yielding at least 14 dingers in 2012 and 2013, Cole has surrendered just four home runs thus far in 2014. Despite being just 22, Cole could make his MLB debut before the year is finished. He will likely compete for a rotation slot in 2015.

Gabby Guerrero, OF, SEA -
The nephew of former MLB great Vladimir Guerrero, Gabby is having a season that his uncle would certainly be proud of. The 20-year-old outfielder has taken advantage of the friendly confines of the California League, slashing .308/.347/.454 with 12 home runs, 71 RBI and 14 steals through 100 games for High-A High Desert. The one red flag is the lack of plate discipline; Guerrero has walked just 26 times this season while fanning 104 times. Then again, free-swinging seems to run in the family, and it didn't seem to hurt Vlad all that much. I'm not saying Gabby projects as anything close to the player that his uncle was, but the younger Guerrero has still done enough to warrant keeping on your radar.

Cory Spangenberg, 2B/OF, SD -
Concussion issues shelved the 23-year-old Spangenberg for more than two months earlier this season, but he appears to be rounding into form for the Padres. He is scorching lately, batting .457/.490/.630 with six RBI and four stolen bases over his last 10 games at Double-A San Antonio. Overall, Spangenberg is hitting .354/.388/.491 with one home run, 11 RBI and 12 stolen bases through 38 games at this level. It is worth noting that he has played center field recently, which does hurt his value a bit considering his lack of power and the lack of depth at second base. However, Jedd Gyorko has struggled at the dish this season, and the Padres even traded for journeyman Yangervis Solarte to fill some of the void at both second and third as well. The Padres also traded Chris Denorfia on Thursday, which could potentially open a spot. If Spangenberg continues to rake, the Padres will have to seriously consider finding a place for him somewhere.

CHECK STATUS

Kyle Crick, P, SF -
There's no denying Crick's penchant for strikeouts. The 21-year-old righty continues to baffle opposing hitters, averaging more than a strikeout per inning at Double-A Richmond this season. However, Crick may even baffle himself sometimes, as it is possible even he doesn't always know where the ball is heading. Despite accumulating 98 strikeouts in 81.2 innings for Double-A Richmond, Crick has also issued 51 walks over that time. He has managed to limit the overall damage to the tune of a 3.09 ERA, but one has to wonder if he'll be burned by the free passes as he hits Triple-A and ultimately the majors. Crick has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last seven starts, but has walked at least three batters in five of those seven outings. Crick is electric, but control problems have plagued him throughout his time in the minors. it remains to be seen if he will be able to get away with the wildness.

Adam Engel, OF, CHW -
Engel is an under-the-radar type prospect having a decent season for the White Sox. A 13th-round selection out of Louisville in the 2013 draft, Engel has shown speed and emerging power in his first taste of full-season ball. He has been seeing the ball well recently, batting .357/.438/.571 with one home run, five RBI and four stolen bases over his last 10 games for Low-A Kannapolis. Overall, the 22-year-old outfielder is batting .256/.340/.425 with six home runs, 27 RBI and 26 steals in 65 games. Naturally, Engel comes with some questions; he has fanned 78 times this season, and he may not be able to hit for average at the higher levels. Likewise, despite having a decent frame at 6-foot-1, 215, Engel's power stroke may be fully developed at this point. Still, his speed looks legit, and there does appear to be some talent here.

Cody Kukuk, P, BOS - The 2010 High School Player of the Year in Kansas, Kukuk finally appears to be tapping into his potential. Over his last three starts at High-A Salem, the 21-year-old southpaw has allowed just one run while striking out 22 batters. His overall stat line is less than impressive at this level, though was largely caused by a stretch of three atrocious outings in mid-June. Kukuk has a 5.52 ERA and 64:46 K:BB ratio in 58.2 innings at this level. A seventh-round pick in 2011, Kukuk has tantalizing strikeout potential but also trouble finding the plate as witnessed by his numbers. If he can ever figure out his mechanics, Kukuk could emerge as a dangerous pitching phenom for the BoSox.

Brandon Nimmo, OF, NYM -
Nimmo has posted interesting numbers since being promoted to Double-A Binghamton. On the downside, he is batting just .217 in 36 games since the promotion. However, his plate discipline has remained stellar; the 21-year-old has drawn 25 walks over that span. At High-A earlier in 2014, he drew 51 walks in 62 games, leading to a .448 OBP. Another odd twist is that he has already slugged five home runs in 36 games at Double-A, besting the four dingers he hit at High-A. The nine total home runs and 12 total steals between the two levels are career highs. As a result, he may not have the greatest fantasy appeal when he eventually reaches the big leagues, but could certainly be a serviceable asset. If he can pull his average up and/or continue his power surge, Nimmo will become a more highly recommended fantasy product.

DOWNGRADE

Chris Anderson, P, LAD -
It's been a slightly maddening season for Anderson. At times, Anderson has looked every bit the part of a future rotation anchor. He started the season on fire, hit a rough patch in May, but has settled down since. The 22-year-old righty has fanned 102 batters in 96 innings for High-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2014. However, his control has been spotty at best. He has walked at least three batters in each of his last five starts, including an astounding seven walks in his last outing July 26. Still, Anderson somehow managed to allow just one run in five innings in that start. He gets away with the lack of control due to his superior stuff; Anderson has a big fastball with sink, a devastating slider and an emerging changeup. But the inability to locate has cost him a 4.75 ERA, though the California League could also have something to do with that as well. Anderson is still a stellar pitching prospect for the Dodgers, but there is undoubtedly room for improvement.

Nick Delmonico, 3B, MIL -
Once upon a time, Delmonico was a highly touted first-base prospect for the Baltimore Orioles. He was traded to the Brewers in 2013 in the deal for Francisco Rodriguez. A sixth-round pick in 2011, Delmonico reached double-digits in home runs in each of his first two seasons in the minors, but failed to hit above .249 at any level. In 2014, he was at least batting .262 for High-A Brevard County, but the 22-year-old had hit just four home runs in 37 games. He had also been punched out 34 while drawing seven walks over that span. After battling some personal issues at the beginning the season as well as a move to third base, Delmonico was recently slapped with a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a banned amphetamine. Although he is still just 22, Delmonico's star has clearly fallen. It remains to be seen how or if he now figures into Milwaukee's future plans.

Robert Stephenson, P, CIN -
Walks continue to plague Stephenson, whose upside is undeniable but has had a difficult 2014 campaign. Keep in mind that he is just 21 and already at Double-A. However, he has walked 60 batters in 107.1 innings. Stephenson has had two seven-walk games in his last eight starts. Over his last 10 outings, Stephenson's ERA is 5.29 and he has issued 33 free passes. A BAA of .213 has kept his overall numbers respectable, but at some point the abundance of walks is going to come back to haunt him. Stephenson is an elite pitching prospect, but the Reds should be smart about pushing him any harder, as he clearly has some kinks to work out.

Austin Hedges, C, SD -
I've never been as high on Hedges as others, particularly from a fantasy perspective. Although catching is such a shallow position, and hedges has been pushed rather quickly through the system, he still hasn't shown nearly enough promise with the bat to warrant the attention he receives. He is a superior defensive catcher who calls a great game, but his hitting is lagging well behind. He has hit a particularly rough patch over his last 10 games, hitting just .167 with 11 strikeouts. On the year, the 21-year-old backstop is slashing .236/.279/.356 with six home runs and 40 RBI in 92 games for Double-A San Antonio. Hedges has accumulated 68 strikeouts and just 18 walks during that time period. His average has dropped in each of the last three seasons for the Padres. A truly odd statistic is that the right-handed hitter is batting just .187 against left-handed pitching this season. He has had 91 at-bats against southpaws in 2014, so while the sample size is a bit small, it isn't astronomically minute. Hedges has had a curious season with the bat to say the least.