Farm Futures: California League Pitchers

Farm Futures: California League Pitchers

This article is part of our Farm Futures series.

Each Tuesday a standout performer from a recent game will be profiled here and then a snapshot of the success and failure of notable players in a specific league will be provided. This week the focus is on a recent performance by Dodgers pitching prospect, Jose De Leon, who might be the top pop-up prospect for dynasty leagues so far in 2015, followed by a look at what some notable pitchers in the California League have been up to so far this season.

Jose De Leon, RHP, Double-A Tulsa
7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 11 K on May 29 against Double-A Frisco

De Leon is this year's meteoric climber up his system's ranks and up prospect lists thanks to a major velocity increase over the winter. Much like what Daniel Norris and Luis Severino did last season, De Leon climbed from High-A to Double-A before the end of May, and it's conceivable he could end the year in the big leagues if he continues his current pace. He would have been the top pitcher to profile in the California League this week if he were still pitching there, as he still ranks fourth in the league with 58 strikeouts despite only logging 37.2 innings there before getting promoted to Double-A Tulsa.

In his last start for the Drillers he faced a potent Frisco lineup headlined by recent big-league call-up Joey Gallo, as well as top-50 prospects Nomar Mazara, Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro

Each Tuesday a standout performer from a recent game will be profiled here and then a snapshot of the success and failure of notable players in a specific league will be provided. This week the focus is on a recent performance by Dodgers pitching prospect, Jose De Leon, who might be the top pop-up prospect for dynasty leagues so far in 2015, followed by a look at what some notable pitchers in the California League have been up to so far this season.

Jose De Leon, RHP, Double-A Tulsa
7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 11 K on May 29 against Double-A Frisco

De Leon is this year's meteoric climber up his system's ranks and up prospect lists thanks to a major velocity increase over the winter. Much like what Daniel Norris and Luis Severino did last season, De Leon climbed from High-A to Double-A before the end of May, and it's conceivable he could end the year in the big leagues if he continues his current pace. He would have been the top pitcher to profile in the California League this week if he were still pitching there, as he still ranks fourth in the league with 58 strikeouts despite only logging 37.2 innings there before getting promoted to Double-A Tulsa.

In his last start for the Drillers he faced a potent Frisco lineup headlined by recent big-league call-up Joey Gallo, as well as top-50 prospects Nomar Mazara, Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro.

After setting up leadoff hitter Williams by getting him to chase a filthy changeup off the plate to move the count to two strikes, De Leon froze Williams with a fastball that caught the outside corner for his first punch out of the game. It was a deadly sequence.

The tide quickly turned for De Leon, as Alfaro took the first pitch he saw, a belt-high fastball on the outer half of the plate, out of the park on a rope to left field. It was plus power against plus power and the hitter won in convincing fashion. However, De Leon rebounded quickly, pulling the string on Gallo with that nasty changeup for his second strikeout of the game. Mazara then took a walk on an excellent at-bat, but De Leon then got Trevor Adams out on a routine fly to right field to end the first inning.

Preston Beck got the second hit of the game for the RoughRiders in the second inning by hitting a fastball on a flare that landed just fair down the left field line, which Beck stretched for a double. Luis Mendez went down swinging on De Leon's slider (which can have a slurvey look to it) and then Jake Skole was caught guessing as he watched a fastball right down Broadway to end the second inning.

In Williams' second look at De Leon he seemed resolute in only swinging at fastballs, but he he popped out to shallow left field on one in on the hands. De Leon quickly got Alfaro to ground out for the second out of the third inning, but then walked Gallo on five pitches, which resulted in Tulsa catcher Ali Solis visiting the mound to discuss the plan of attack against Mazara. After falling behind 2-1, he dropped in a slider for a strike and then after Mazara fouled off some high heat, De Leon notched his fifth punch out of the game on another heater up and in that Mazara swung through.

The 22-year-old hurler gave up another hit to Beck in the fourth frame but recorded two outs on weak contact and then Beck was gunned out trying to steal second base to end the inning.

After getting his pitch count in order in the third and fourth innings, De Leon was back to missing bats with regularity in the fifth, setting up Mendez and Skole on changeups early in the count and getting swinging K's on high fastballs for back-to-back strikeouts. Williams then flied out to left field to end the frame.

Alfaro barely missed his second homer of the game to start the sixth inning, but he was just a tad out in front of a fastball from De Leon. Indeed, just from watching this outing, it seems like De Leon could have reverse platoon splits as his stuff seems to give lefties more fits than righties, but maybe that was just Alfaro being awesome and having plus bat speed. His numbers were fairly similar against righties and lefties at High-A, but so far he has given up zero runs on two hits in seven innings against lefties while giving up four earned runs on four hits (two home runs) in six innings against righties at Double-A. It's a small sample size, but as he faces better competition with above-average bat speed, I could see this developing into a legitimate trend.

Gallo and Mazara marked two more strikeouts for De Leon to close out the sixth inning, as both lefty sluggers went down swinging on high fastballs. It was impressive for De Leon to still be able to use his fastball to great effect late in the game when his pitch count was approaching 80.

De Leon closed out his night with a swinging strikeout against Drew Robinson on his best slider of the day and then got Beck to fly out to right for the final out of the seventh inning.

In dynasty leagues that allow in-season pickups, De Leon should already be owned, and in leagues that do not allow in-season prospect adds, he figures to be on the short list of the first players taken in drafts next season.

He has the body (6-foot-2 and 190 pounds), the pitches and the control to be a legitimate major-league starter, and his 77:12 K:BB ratio in 50.2 innings across High-A and Double-A should have fantasy owners swooning. The pitch mix is highlighted by a mid-90s fastball that has late life and a changeup that graded out as plus-plus in last Friday's start. He did not pound the strike zone in that start, but he threw strikes when he needed to and was getting hitters to chase outside the zone with ease.

Given his age and ability to go deep into games (he threw 92 pitches against Frisco), De Leon is the most exciting Dodgers pitching prospect for single-season leagues as well. Julio Urias may be up in September, but he will still be handled with kid gloves. De Leon, on the other hand, could be seen by the Dodgers' brass as a bonafide weapon to add to the rotation mid-season. Another reason the Dodgers may opt to rush De Leon is that velocity spikes such as his can often be a precursor for Tommy John surgery, so it makes sense to get his production at the big-league level if they believe he is ready.

Minor League Roundup: California League Pitchers

Sean Newcomb, LHP, High-A Inland Empire
3.32 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 22 K, 11 BB through 19 innings

It's a pretty weak crop of pitching prospects remaining in the Cal League after graduations by De Leon, Edwin Diaz, Michael Feliz and Frank Lopez, but even if those four were all still at High-A, Newcomb would still rate as the most exciting pitching prospect in the league. The 21-year-old lefty has a 2.36 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 67 strikeouts in 53.1 innings across Low-A and High-A, putting him in good position to crack the top-50 of the midseason top-200 list. While Newcomb may not be a strong WHIP contributor, he has the potential to be a major asset in strikeouts, ERA and wins, given the offense that should support him once he gets to the big leagues. Look for the Angels to continue to push him aggressively as long as he can post reasonable walk rates.

Keury Mella, RHP, High-A San Jose
3.05 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 36 K through 38.1 innings

Mella is my favorite pitcher in the Cal League thanks to an electric fastball, plus command and a dreamy future home ballpark. He was ranked as the Giants' top prospect in the preseason, and while Kyle Crick, Tyler Beede and Mac Williamson have all had good starts to the season, Mella has done nothing to lose that designation. The only knock on the 21-year-old righty is that he has never pitched 100 innings in a season as a professional. That should change this year if he can stay healthy. For this reason it would be a bit surprising if the Giants were aggressive in promoting Mella past High-A this year, but a 2016 or 2017 debut in the big leagues could be well worth the wait. Unless there are other RotoWire subscribers in your dynasty league, Mella is probably still available and now is the time to grab him.

Dillon Overton, LHP, High-A Stockton
2.98 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 39 K through 42.1 innings

It would not be unreasonable to argue that Overton is the top pitching prospect in Oakland's system, as the 2013 second-round pick has never posted an ERA above 3.00 or a WHIP above 1.15 as a professional. Granted, he only has 79.1 professional innings under his belt after undergoing Tommy John surgery the summer he was drafted, but it's good to see the surgery does not appear to have damaged his profile. At 6-foot-2 and 172 pounds, it would be nice for Overton to prove in coming years that his body can hold up over a full season. If he can take a step toward doing that in 2015, Overton could end up being ranked comfortably inside the top-100 heading into 2016.

Tyler Beede, RHP, High-A San Jose
2.24 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 37 K through 52.1 innings

The results in Beede's first full-season assignment have been impressive so far, but it is a bit concerning that he is not missing more bats as a high-pedigree 22-year-old at High-A. While he may not be getting the strikeouts one would expect from a college pitcher selected with the 14th overall pick last year, Beede's command profile is encouraging. He has issued just nine walks this year after walking seven in 15.1 innings between rookie and short-season ball in 2014 after getting drafted. While this is a mid-rotation profile all the way, that offers plenty of fantasy value when AT&T Park is the projected future home.

Chris Ellis, RHP, High-A Inland Empire
4.37 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 64 K through 55.2 innings

Ellis was ranked as the sixth-best prospect in the Angels' system for dynasty leagues in the latest organizational rankings, and while it is a weak system, he is still someone to keep an eye on. After only pitching in rookie ball after getting drafted in the third round last year, the Angels assigned the 22-year-old righty to High-A to start the season, completely bypassing short season and Low-A. This speaks to how they may plan to push him through the system. It would be nice if Ellis was preventing runs at a better clip, considering Inland Empire has the best pitcher's park in the Cal League, but all told he is handling an aggressive assignment quite well.

Blayne Weller, RHP, High-A Visalia
3.26 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 62 K through 58 innings

Weller was scooped up out of independent baseball by Arizona prior to the 2013 season, and he has been striking out more than a batter per inning ever since. Granted he is 25, as he should be after fizzling out of pro ball with the Twins at the beginning of the decade, but the 6-foot-5 righty should be monitored as he moves up the organizational ranks.

Antonio Senzatela, RHP, High-A Modesto
2.56 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 52 K through 56.1 innings

Senzatela struggled mightily to miss bats at short-season ball in 2013 (10.6 percent K-rate) and at Low-A in 2014 (14.8 percent K-rate). This year, however, the 20-year-old righty is striking out almost a batter per inning, so something has obviously changed. Considering it's only a quarter season of work and he is a Rockies pitching prospect, he should still be thought of as a fringe prospect, but at least now he is on the radar of those in super deep dynasty leagues.

Zachary Godley, RHP, High-A Visalia
2.10 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 62 K through 60 innings

Godley was a reliever all the way when he was in the Cubs' system, but after he was acquired by the Diamondbacks this offseason, they obviously saw something that led them to believe the 6-foot-3, 235-pound righty could start. So far the results have been excellent, but he is 25 years old, so we won't really know how he profiles as a starter until he faces more advanced competition.

Chase Johnson, RHP, High-A San Jose
2.68 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 45 K through 47 innings

This is by far Johnson's best season as a professional, but most reports still have him pegged as a reliever. Still, as a 23-year-old starter with a live fastball in the Giants' system, he's worth keeping an eye on.

Luis Ysla, LHP, High-A San Jose
10.27 ERA, 2.66 WHIP, 24 K, 19 BB through 23.2 innings

After getting tormented to the tune of 22 earned runs over 13 innings in his first five outings, Ysla has come out of the bullpen in his last five appearances to better results. It is unclear if this is a permanent deviation in the developmental plan, but it is safe to knock the 23-year-old lefty out of the Giants' top-10.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James Anderson
James Anderson is RotoWire's Lead Prospect Analyst, Assistant Baseball Editor, and co-host of Farm Fridays on Sirius/XM radio and the RotoWire Prospect Podcast.
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