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Minor League Barometer: The Last Days of Summer

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.

Technically, a 30-year-old should be long past the point of being called a prospect. However, in the case of Cuban defector Hector Olivera, an exception is made because he has only been playing in the United States for a short amount of time. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this season, then was jettisoned to the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline as the Dodgers bulked up for another postseason run. The Braves had been extremely interested in Olivera during the signing process, and reportedly came in second in the bidding. In the end the Braves got their man anyway, and he's now primed to make his MLB debut at third base as early as this week after rehabbing from a hamstring injury. Though he is not the prototypical phenom due to his age, Olivera has the size, athleticism, bat speed and advanced approach at the dish to impact the Braves upon arrival.

As the close of the summer and the minor league season is drawing near, this will be the final Barometer of the year. Let's take one last look at some prospects who have been turning up the heat.

UPGRADE

Tyler Glasnow, P, PIT – An ankle injury earlier this season limited Glasnow's innings, but he's back on the bump and as dominant as ever. In five starts since being promoted to Triple-A, the 22-year-old righty has a minuscule 0.99 ERA and over that span of 27.1 innings, he has a 34:15 K:BB ratio. Though the additional walks are worth noting, six of them came in one wild start at the beginning of August. Glasnow had arguably his best start at Triple-A in his last outing, when he tossed six scoreless innings. He scattered four hits and walked two batters while striking out nine. It will be interesting to see if the Pirates decide to promote him for the stretch run, as the back end of the Pirates' rotation featuring Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton and J.A. Happ has been subpar. Even if Glasnow doesn't hit the majors in September, he will almost certainly be vying for a rotation spot in spring training next year.

Alex Bregman, SS, HOU – The second overall selection in this year's draft has been raking recently. Already at High-A, the 21-year-old shortstop is hitting .385 with nine RBI and five steals over his last 10 games at Lancaster. That brings Bregman's overall slash line at this level to .317/.365/.433 through 25 contests. He has found little resistance since entering the minors, and the hit tool is obviously legitimate. The only issue for Bregman will be where he ends up playing in the field, as the Astros currently have some guy named Carlos Correa manning shortstop at the big-league level. The neophyte Correa is actually younger than Bregman, which is a scary thought.

Bobby Bradley, 1B, CLE – Bradley continues to show exceptional power for the Indians, bashing 26 home runs in 98 games at Low-A Lake County. He leads the Midwest League in home runs by 10 and has been scalding the ball recently, hitting .412 with four home runs and 11 RBI over his last 10 games. The strikeouts will always be there for the power-hitting Bradley, who has fanned 136 times in 2015. However, his ability to hit the ball out of the yard will mitigate the impact of the strikeouts a bit. The Indians are 13th in the American League in home runs; only the Athletics and the Royals have hit fewer home runs than the Tribe. Though the 19-year-old is still a ways away from making an impact in the majors, his addition would be a welcome sign for the offensively-challenged Indians.

Blake Snell, P, TB - Snell's meteoric rise will make him one of the top pitching prospects heading into the 2016 campaign. The frugal Rays are unlikely to bring him up in September and start his arbitration clock, but there is little else keeping him in the minors at this point in time. Snell began the year at High-A but is currently at Triple-A, and has been dominant throughout. He has a 1.31 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 121 innings across three levels in 2015 and his ERA through seven starts at Triple-A is 1.57. Over those starts, a span of 34.1 innings, he has posted a 45:8 K:BB ratio. Opposing batters are hitting a putrid .161 against the 22-year-old southpaw. It also appears that Snell's control issues are in the rear view mirror. While he was once viewed as a middle-of-the-rotation starter or even a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen, his upside is now that of a No. 1 or No. 2 starter.

CHECK STATUS

Nick Williams, OF, PHI – A breakout star this season, the toolsy Williams has shown no signs of slowing down since being dealt to the Phillies. The 21-year-old outfielder is batting .333/.358/.551 with three home runs, nine RBI and two steals through 18 games with Double-A Reading. For the season, that gives him 16 home runs, 54 RBI and 12 stolen bases. The Phillies are in full rebuilding mode, having dealt Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Chase Utley already this season. The Phils received a great haul from the Rangers in the Hamels deal, which included Williams. A current outfield featuring the likes of Cody Asche, Jeff Francoeur and Domonic Brown means that Williams will get his shot at an outfield slot as early as next season.

Gavin Cecchini, SS, NYM – 2015 has been a coming out party for Cecchini, a high draft pick who looked as though he would turn into no more than a utility infielder for the Mets. Instead, the 21-year-old shortstop is batting .317/.377/.442 with seven home runs, 51 RBI and three stolen bases for Double-A Binghamton. He has been even better of late, batting .366 over his last 10 contests. Questions remains for Cecchini, though. Have things finally clicked for him, or is this season an aberration? Prior to this year, the highest he hit at any level was .273. Likewise, while the Mets do not have anyone technically blocking his path at the big league level, the organization is extremely high on Amed Rosario, a teenaged shortstop currently nipping at Cecchini's heels at High-A who has much greater upside. Lastly, even with his boost in average this year, he still does not project to hit double-digit home runs or swipe double-digit bases. As a result, his fantasy impact may be minimal. It's been a superb season for the 21-year-old shortstop, but perhaps expectations should be tempered.

Cody Ponce, P, MIL – A second round selection in this year's draft, Ponce has made a seamless transition from collegiate to professional baseball. He did not come from one of the elite college baseball programs either, but from Division II Cal Poly Pomona. Still, it appears that he has all the tools to succeed, starting with his 6-foot-6, 240 pound frame. Ponce can throw four pitches, led by a mid-90's heater as well as a cutter. While his off-speed offerings need some polish, his curveball had the ability to be stellar, and he can throw a changeup too. Injuries and perhaps the level of competition he faced in college pushed him down to the second round of the draft, but Ponce has the size, arsenal and smooth mechanics to vault up the prospect rankings. In 33.1 innings at Low-A, he has a 1.35 ERA and 28:6 K:BB ratio. He has pitched out of the bullpen in some instances, though that may just be a way to limit his innings. The 21-year-old has allowed one run or fewer in each of his last six outings for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

Sam Travis, 1B, BOS - Travis has certainly shown he can hit for average, but will he be able to hit for enough power to stick at first base? His advanced approach at the dish certainly makes him valuable in some capacity. A second round pick in 2014, has a career average of .308 since entering the minors. Currently, the 21-year-old is slashing .290/.363/.415 in 53 games since being promoted to Double-A. He has tallied almost as many walks (23) as strikeouts (26). The Red Sox currently have a vacancy at first base, as David Ortiz is nearly exclusively a DH at this point in his career. Travis Shaw is currently getting an extended look at first for the last-place BoSox. However, Shaw himself only has 11 home runs between Triple-A and the big leagues, although he did hit 21 home runs last season, so perhaps Boston is not solely looking for power at that position. Still, Shaw is 25 years of age while Travis is just 21 years old. In other words, Travis could still develop a bit more of a power stroke to add to his already superb eye at the plate.

DOWNGRADE

Sean Reid-Foley, P, TOR – The strikeout potential is evident for Reid-Foley, but so is the lack of control. The 19-year-old was recently demoted from High-A after posting a 5.23 ERA in eight starts. He walked 24 batters over his last 27.2 innings at that level prior to the demotion. Reid-Foley will attempt to right the ship back at Low-A, where he had staggering success in the early part of 2015. The right-hander posted a 3.64 ERA, fanning 83 batters in just 59.1 innings. Still, the teenager walked 41 batters over that span. While he was able to limit the damage at Low-A due to his standout strikeout stuff, Reid-Foley will not be as fortunate at the higher levels. The additional base runners certainly haunted him during his brief stint at High-A. He's still young, but he has some tinkering to do at this point in time.

Alen Hanson, SS, PIT -There was a time when Hanson was mentioned in the same breath as Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte. Those days have come and gone, though, as Hanson has not quite lived up to the hype since his breakout season back in 2012. He has been struggling of late, batting just .205 over his last 10 games. He has just six home runs this season at Triple-A, and it appears that the 16 home runs he hit in 2012 was merely an aberration. His .265 average is also his lowest for any one season since entering the minors in 2011. He is still just 22 years of age, and he does have above-average speed. However, Hanson has limited power, does not walk a ton, and has not hit above. .280 in three years. He is profiling more as a utilityman/light-hitting middle infielder than anything else.

Tyler Kolek, P, MIA - To a certain extent, the numbers speak for themselves for Kolek. He has a 4.44 ERA at Low-A in his first crack at full-season baseball. He has also posted a 76:57 K:BB ratio in 105.1 innings, meaning that not only is he not getting quite as many swings and misses as expected, but he loses the plate consistently. Granted, he is 19 years of age and just one year removed from high school. However, Kolek was drafted second overall in 2014 by the Marlins in part because of how hard he threw. Much about drafting high school pitchers is projection, but he already had the size and the fastball to make scouts drool. He was hitting triple-digits on the radar gun last year. Reports have been far different this year, though; not only has he been unable to locate his pitches, but his fastball is not even reaching 95 miles per hour. While velocity is not everything when it comes to pitching, he was drafted so high based on the fact that he was already full-grown as a teenager and hitting 100mph with his heater. Plenty of pitchers can throw 90 miles per hour; few can throw 100. If Kolek is not injured and simply unable to reach back and get those extra few ticks in velocity, he will have to become even more reliant upon location and mixing pitches. As seen with his strikeout-to-walk ratio, the development in that category so far has been underwhelming, to say the least.

Alex Jackson, OF, SEA – Another highly-touted prospect from the 2014 class, Jackson struggled so badly at Low-A that he was demoted to the Short Season Northwest League. The 19-year-old was a first round selection based upon his “can’t-miss” bat, but he has done a lot of missing in his first full year with the Mariners. In 28 games at Low-A to begin the year, Jackson hit a brutal .157 with no home runs. He fanned 35 times over that span and drew just six walks. His power has returned in 39 games with the Everett AquaSox though, and he has six home runs and 20 RBI during that time period. However, he is still batting just .237, with 51 strikeouts and 13 walks in those 39 contests. It is way too early to give up on Jackson, and his upside remains enormous. Nevertheless, this has certainly not been the debut he must have envisioned, and he won’t make his MLB debut for several seasons.