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Minor League Barometer: Walker's Not According to Plan

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.

The future is now for the Chicago Cubs, as top prospect Javier Baez made his MLB debut earlier this week. Baez just happened to slug the game-winning home run in the 12th inning to give the Cubs a 6-5 victory Tuesday. Baez is the second elite phenom to join the big club this season, as Arismendy Alcantara was promoted earlier this summer. With Starlin Castro having a bounce-back season, Anthony Rizzo showing superstar potential, and Addison Russell and Kris Bryant poised to make an impact shortly themselves, the Cubs' stocked farm system could finally be paying some dividends. It remains to be seen where all of the middle infielders will play in the future, but it's an excellent problem to have for the win-starved Cubs.

One, Two, "Three Strikes:"

1. A change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for Jake Marisnick. Sent from the Marlins to the Astros as part of the Jarred Cosart deal, Marisnick didn't really have a spot in an outfield with Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich in front of him. He'll have no such problem with the Astros, particularly since George Springer is on the disabled list. Consistent at-bats will finally be available for Marisnick.

2. Michael Taylor's Triple-A debut was a success for the Nationals on Monday. The multi-talented outfielder went 2-for-2 with an RBI and a stolen base for Triple-A Syracuse. Taylor has been one of the breakout stars of 2014, hitting .313/.396/.539 with 22 home runs, 61 RBI and 34 steals in 98 games at Double-A before the promotion.

3. The Phillies haven't been shy in promoting their top pick from the 2014 draft, Aaron Nola. The former LSU ace had little trouble at High-A Clearwater, posting a 3.16 ERA and 30:5 K:BB ratio in 31.1 innings before a bump up to Double-A. At this rate, Nola could vie for a rotation spot right out of the gate in 2015.

As we enter the dog days of August, let's look at some more prospects in the news in this week's Minor League Barometer.

UPGRADE

Lewis Thorpe, P, MIN -
Considering he is just 18, Thorpe has been ultra-impressive for the Twins this season. Already in Low-A, the Australian southpaw has more than held his own with a 4.53 ERA and 50:23 K:BB ratio through 47.2 innings. If not for the outrageous last two seasons of fellow teenager Julio Urias, Thorpe would be getting much more publicity. Thorpe has actually grown in height since being signed by the Twins, while putting on significant weight as well. Thorpe is now 6-foot-2, 215, a much more durable frame than when he was inked by the Twinkies. As a result, his fastball, which once sat in the high-80s, can now touch 95 mph. Thorpe's secondary pitches need some work, but his changeup has plus-potential. All in all, Thorpe's future looks extremely promising. It would certainly be worthwhile to file his name away.

Domingo German, P, MIA -
German made a splash at the Futures Game last month, striking out Joey Gallo and Kris Bryant and then getting D.J. Peterson to ground out in one perfect frame for Team World. In contrast to the above-referenced Thorpe, German has been brought along slowly by the Fish since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2009. However, the patience could be starting to pay off, as German is having an excellent season for Low-A Greensboro. The 21-year-old righty has a 2.66 ERA and 102:19 K:BB ratio through 108.1 innings for the Grasshoppers. German's control has been stellar, and he has been able to keep the ball down with his sinker to the tune of a 1.47 GO:AO ratio. In addition, he has not allowed an earned run in four of his last five outings. Next season will be a pivotal year for German, and if he starts the season off showing similar success, he could finally be moved quickly through the organization.

Steven Matz, P, NYM -
With so much focus on Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, it's easy to forget about Matz, who has continued to rise in the Mets organization. Since being promoted to Double-A, the 23-year-old lefty has notched a 2.85 ERA and 44:10 K:BB ratio through 47.1 innings. Matz gets plenty of ground balls as well, posting a 1.40 GO:AO ratio at this level. Matz was drafted in the second round in 2009, but the Long Island product had a rough recovery from Tommy John surgery and didn't pitch for the Mets until 2012. Since that time, he has added a curveball to his sneaky fastball and an emerging changeup. The work on his secondary pitches has taken Matz to the next level, thrusting him to the forefront of the organizational depth chart.

Trea Turner, SS/OF, SD -
We've profiled another hitter from the 2014 draft who hit the ground running following his signing in Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs, and Turner has had similar success since inking his name to a contract with the Padres. The No. 13 overall selection in this year's draft, Turner has made his way to Low-A, where he is scalding hot. The 21-year-old out of North Carolina State is batting .466/.520/.670 with two home runs, 12 RBI and eight steals through 21 games for Low-A Fort Wayne. His speed is legitimate, and while he may not profile as a home run hitter, Turner does have 10 doubles and a triple at this level as well, giving him 13 extra-base hits in 21 games thus far. San Diego does have Everth Cabrera at shortstop, but second and third are far from solidified at this point. Although Turner may not see the bigs until 2016, he's going to gain a lot of followers prior to that time if he keeps hitting this way.

CHECK STATUS

Ryan Brett, 2B, TB -
Brett seems like the quintessential Joe Maddon/Tampa Bay Rays player. He has plus-speed, a bit of pop and a scrappy mentality at the dish and in the field. In 91 games for Double-A Montgomery this season, Brett is slashing .306/.350/.454 with seven home runs, 34 RBI and 24 steals. The 22-year-old has been even better in his last 10 contests, hitting .425 with three RBI and a stolen base. Brett has shown the ability to hit for average throughout his brief professional career, but it remains to be seen if he will have enough power and speed to make an impact in fantasy circles. The seven home runs are a career high. He'll also need to take a few more walks at the higher levels. However, if Brett sticks at second base, that will certainly help his cause due to positional scarcity.

Tyler Wilson, P, BAL -
In a system with names like Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Hunter Harvey, sometimes it's tough to get noticed as a starting pitcher. Yet Wilson is a 24-year-old hurler for the O's who has had his way with upper-level hitters in the minors this season. He started the year in Double-A, notching a 3.72 ERA and 91:22 K:BB ratio in 96.2 innings. Wilson then received a bump to Triple-A, where he has nearly matched his previous productivity. In 42 innings at Triple-A Norfolk, Wilson has a 3.21 ERA and 35:14 K:BB ratio. Despite a steady march toward the big leagues since being a 10th-round selection out of the University of Virginia in 2011, Wilson remains under the radar due to his age and his penchant for giving up the long ball. Wilson has allowed at least 14 dingers in each of the last three seasons, a red flag considering Baltimore plays plenty of games in home run hitting havens like Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Rogers Centre. Still, Wilson will be difficult to ignore if he keeps putting up solid numbers for Baltimore.

Jake Cave, OF, NYY -
The Yankees have a crowded outfield over the next couple of seasons with Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and perhaps even the recently acquired Martin Prado. In other words, it could be hard for anyone, including, Cave, to crack that rotation. Still, Cave has proven he can hit for average during his brief time in the minors. After missing 2012 due to a knee injury, Cave hit .282 in 115 games at Low-A in 2013. He started the 2014 season at High-A, batting .304 in 90 games before being promoted to Double-A. The 21-year-old hasn't stopped hitting, slashing .319/.397/.507 through 17 games with the Trenton Thunder. So why is Cave not an upgrade? He hasn't shown much power, and his speed on the base paths looks only average for a center fielder. Cave hit two home runs last season while swiping 18 bases. In 2014, he has four home runs and 10 steals. Cave could still figure into the Yankees' future plans, but he may not be much use for fantasy owners.

Matt Barnes, P, BOS -
Barnes has been inconsistent for the Red Sox over the last year or so, but the sudden dearth of talent in the big-league rotation in Boston could make him a viable option. Anthony Ranaudo and Allen Webster have already been called up to Fenway, and Barnes could be the next in line for a promotion. Barnes was dominant in his last start for Triple-A Pawtucket, tossing seven scoreless innings Saturday. The 24-year-old righty walked two batters while fanning 10. Still, Barnes' overall line is mediocre, as he owns a 4.45 ERA and 75:38 K:BB ratio in 93 innings this season. Regardless, Barnes may end up getting a tryout in Boston before the year is through, as the Red Sox have shipped out Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy in recent weeks.

DOWNGRADE

Taijuan Walker, P, SEA -
It's safe to say 2014 hasn't gone as planned for Walker. He was arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball heading into this season, but a shoulder injury put him on the shelf for a better part of two months to begin the year. He's been shuttled between Triple-A and the majors since his return, with mixed results. In three starts for the M's, the 21-year-old posted a 3.60 ERA and 14:13 K:BB ratio in 15 innings. Oddly, his stat line has been even worse at Triple-A, where he has been battered and bruised over his last two starts. Walker's last outing was particularly atrocious, as he surrendered eight runs on eight hits in just 2.1 innings Monday. The PCL has not been kind to Walker, who has allowed 10 home runs in his last 10 starts. Seattle has been pondering whether to bring him up for the stretch run as they steam toward a possible playoff berth, but the M's might think twice due to Walker's recent struggles.

Matt Davidson, 3B, CHW -
Davidson has been a frequent downgrade this season, as his star has fallen rapidly since being traded to the White Sox. Once viewed as the third baseman of the future for Chicago, Davidson has floundered at Triple-A Charlotte. His average sits below the Mendoza Line at .198. Davidson has fanned 132 times in 104 games for the Knights. The 23-year-old power hitter has been even worse over his last 10 games; Davidson isn't even batting .100 over that span. There's not much else for the White Sox to do except let Davidson attempt to work out the kinks. Perhaps some time away from the game in the offseason will serve him well, as the mental aspect of such a prolonged slump must be wearing on the 23-year-old. Don't give up on Davidson just yet, but it's clear he's not considered the prospect he once was.

Nick Kingham, P, PIT -
Just a temporary downgrade for Kingham, who remains an excellent pitching prospect for the Bucs but has had a rough time recently. He began his stint at Triple-A with four-straight quality starts, but has faltered since. Kingham has allowed at least four runs in five of his last six starts. That included a six-run beating on July 5 and a seven-run slaughter on July 24. It appears that Kingham's penchant for base on balls has returned; the 22-year-old righty has walked nine batters over his last three outings. Breaking down the numbers even further, Kingham has really struggled pitching out of the stretch. Kingham has a 9.14 ERA with runners on base and a 13.86 ERA with runners in scoring position at Triple-A. The sample size is still a bit small (62.1 innings), but it is certainly something to keep an eye on as Kingham attempts to ascend to the majors.

Tommy Joseph, C, PHI -
The days of viewing Joseph as a top-flight prospect have come and gone. Injury and inconsistency have marred his time in the minors. A second-round pick of the Giants in 2009 out of high school, Joseph smacked 16 home runs at Low-A in 2010. He followed that up with a standout year at High-A, hitting .270 with 22 home runs and 95 RBI. Since then, however, Joseph's stats have been trending downward. He came over to the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade in 2012 and ended up batting .257 with 11 dingers across Double-A. He barely played last season and into 2014, as he couldn't shake concussion-type symptoms. A wrist injury subsequently cropped up, and he will now undergo surgery and miss the remainder of the season. He's still just 23, but the former power-hitting phenom looks to be falling into the prospect abyss.