Farm Futures: Spring in Springdale

Farm Futures: Spring in Springdale

This article is part of our Farm Futures series.

The last few days I have been in Springdale, Ark., sitting on an excellent Double-A series between the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (a Kansas City Royals affiliate) and Frisco RoughRiders (a Texas Rangers affiliate). In addition to getting a chance to watch and speak with some of the best talents in the minor leagues, this served as a perfect way to write in depth about some prospects without focusing on the small samples we have to work with in April. Included are notes about a potential breakout from Jorge Bonifacio, Nick Williams' improved approach and Jake Thompson's hot start thanks to a new focus on being less-reliant on his slider.

Northwest Arkansas

Miguel Almonte, RHP, 22

Almonte was brutal in his first two starts of the year, allowing six earned runs on seven hits, four walks and three hit batsmen across five total innings. Prior to Almonte's third start of the season Monday, pitching coach Jim Brower said the young righty's stuff was fine in the first two starts, but he had been in and out of his mechanics and was trying to do too much and throw too hard. He was struggling to locate his fastball, which allowed hitters to sit on his offspeed stuff. Brower also intimated that some of Almonte's struggles could be attributed to the pitch calls from 22-year-old catcher Santiago Nessy, who might be slightly behind Almonte in terms of development relative to his position.

In the start I got to see

The last few days I have been in Springdale, Ark., sitting on an excellent Double-A series between the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (a Kansas City Royals affiliate) and Frisco RoughRiders (a Texas Rangers affiliate). In addition to getting a chance to watch and speak with some of the best talents in the minor leagues, this served as a perfect way to write in depth about some prospects without focusing on the small samples we have to work with in April. Included are notes about a potential breakout from Jorge Bonifacio, Nick Williams' improved approach and Jake Thompson's hot start thanks to a new focus on being less-reliant on his slider.

Northwest Arkansas

Miguel Almonte, RHP, 22

Almonte was brutal in his first two starts of the year, allowing six earned runs on seven hits, four walks and three hit batsmen across five total innings. Prior to Almonte's third start of the season Monday, pitching coach Jim Brower said the young righty's stuff was fine in the first two starts, but he had been in and out of his mechanics and was trying to do too much and throw too hard. He was struggling to locate his fastball, which allowed hitters to sit on his offspeed stuff. Brower also intimated that some of Almonte's struggles could be attributed to the pitch calls from 22-year-old catcher Santiago Nessy, who might be slightly behind Almonte in terms of development relative to his position.

In the start I got to see Monday, Almonte had corrected all of these issues and was completely dominant. He gave up just one hit, a sharply hit comebacker from Nomar Mazara, while issuing zero walks and striking out five over four innings against the best lineup he had faced all season. Fastball location was the key, as he was painting the corners and barely had to rely on his offspeed stuff. When everything is going right, Almonte features what Brower considers to be a top-of-the-rotation arsenal, featuring a mid-to-high 90s fastball with a changeup that comes in looking like a splitter and a curveball that he can throw in any count, both of which grade out as plus pitches. The stadium gun was reading Almonte's fastball at 92 miles per hour for most of the night, but he was probably sitting closer to 94 mph. He will be capped at four innings or 60 pitches per start in the early going, but could finish the season at around 140 innings if the rest of the year goes smoothly. I think Almonte will probably settle in as a No. 3 starter, with No. 2 upside that will hinge on improved consistency with his command. Look for him to debut in the Royals' rotation in early 2016.

Hunter Dozier, 3B, 23

Since his debut midway through last year at Double-A, Dozier has had a difficult time adjusting to more advanced pitching. He said that he started to chase offspeed stuff away when he moved up from High-A, and since then he has seen a steady diet of junk and has yet to make the necessary adjustments. Manager Vance Wilson also said Dozier is working through some mechanical issues at the plate, which coupled with the issues with his approach have led to an underwhelming start to 2015. He is hitless in his last three games (10 at-bats) and has six strikeouts over that span, leading to him getting a day off Tuesday in the series finale.

While Dozier's fantasy stock in undoubtedly down due to the swing-and-miss that has been a major part of his profile since he arrived at Double-A, there are reasons to continue to bet on his tools. He hit an absolute monster homer to the opposite field in Monday's batting practice, and still has so much untapped in-game potential in that department. He also boasts about a 12.5 percent walk rate dating back to the start of last season, which should lead to some extra leniency from the Royals' coaching staff with regard to his propensity to strikeout. Dozier is a very impressive physical specimen, and everything he hits is hard, which is why his BABIP has been unusually high throughout his pro career. In leagues where more than 100 prospects are rostered, don't give up on this guy just yet. He's an adjustment or two away from really taking off.

Jorge Bonifacio, RF, 21

Bonifacio was the most impressive offensive player I saw in this series. He had a pair of doubles in Monday's game, and hit his fourth home run of the year in Tuesday's game.

A lot of people wrote Bonifacio off after a disappointing 2014 campaign at Northwest Arkansas, but in his second crack at the level he has already matched the four homers he hit in 566 plate appearances in just 53 this year. To put it plainly, Bonifacio's power is finally starting to show up in games. Manager Vance Wilson said Bonifacio's .238 average is a bit misleading, as he has been hitting everything hard, and that seems to check out given his .250 BABIP. One thing that I found a little surprising was that Bonifacio has sneaky speed. He looks like a typical power-only DH type, with wide shoulders and an unimpressive lower half, but he may have 45-grade speed, which could lead to some years when he steals eight-to-10 bases in the majors.

I think he will have major issues with junk down and away from righties, but that's not uncommon among right-handed power hitters. Fortunately, he has shown the ability to hit for power against both righties and lefties, and I'm not willing to say he'll need to be platooned just yet, though it's definitely a possibility. Bonifacio started the year outside my top-200 prospect rankings, but when I update the list, not only will he be ranked, but he could be up inside the top-150. This is a guy to grab now in deeper dynasty leagues if he was dropped after last year.

Brandon Finnegan, LHP, 22

After pitching out of the bullpen for the Royals during their run to the World Series last year, it may get lost on some that this is still going to be Finnegan's first full year in pro ball. I didn't get to see him pitch on this trip, but he bounced back nicely from a rough first outing with four scoreless innings of one-hit ball against Midland last week. Command has been an issue in the early going, as he still walked three in that game, and has five walks in seven innings so far this year to go along with six strikeouts. However, the walks are not too big of an issue just yet, as his stuff is good enough to dominate at this level as long as when he misses, he misses low (Finnegan measures in at just 5-foot-11). Both Finnegan and the coaching staff were pleased with his stuff so far. He is working with a strong four-pitch mix featuring a two-seamer, a four-seamer that can touch 97 mph, a slider and a changeup. The main focus has been to dial back his effort, as he was working at max-effort out of the bullpen in Kansas City last year, but the early results have been promising. He should slot into the middle of the Royals' rotation in early 2016.

Frisco

Nomar Mazara, RF, 19

Unfortunately, I only got to see two at-bats from Mazara on this trip. He left Saturday's game after getting hit by a pitch on his toe and was then held out Sunday and deployed at DH Monday, only to be pulled halfway through the game as his toe was still a little painful, leading to him being held out again Tuesday. However, what I saw was impressive. Mazara was the only player to get a hit off Miguel Almonte on Monday, showing off his plus hit tool, which I think could get to plus-plus territory. Mazara said he is not concerned about the fact that he hasn't hit one over the fence yet this year because his power didn't really get going until the warmer months in 2014 and he still finished with 22 homers across stops at High-A and Double-A as a 19-year-old. It's actually better from a fantasy perspective to see his hit tool hogging all the limelight right now, because we already know he has plus-plus raw power. Given his age, there is little doubt that will start to show more in games in the coming years.

While he turns just 20 on Apr. 26, someone I spoke to in the Rangers' organization thinks Mazara could be the first of the four elite hitting prospects on the Frisco roster to reach the big leagues because he has the fewest flaws at the plate and there are no questions about his defense in right field. He is hitting a BABIP-fueled .382 right now, but that should still settle in around the .320-.330 range, and if he can overcome what appears to be a minor toe injury and stay hot, I wouldn't rule out a late-2015 call-up to The Show.

Nick Williams, LF, 21

Williams talked to me a lot about a new approach he is working on at the plate, and through 12 games, that approach certainly seems to be working. After posting a K-rate just south of 30 percent between stops at High-A and Double-A last year, he has more than cut that in half through 48 plate appearances this year, and his other numbers are superb. His 6.8 percent walk rate would easily be the best of his career in a full-season league, and his .356/.396/.556 slash line speaks for itself. Williams says he wants to stick to his plan at the plate no matter what the results are, but that should be easy to do given the early-season returns. His plan is to see more strikes and lay off almost all breaking balls and any borderline fastballs until the count gets to two strikes. The book was out on Williams at the end of last year with him flailing at almost everything he saw at Double-A and in the Arizona Fall League, but if he can prove to opposing pitchers that he has made an adjustment, he should start seeing less junk, which will allow his elite hit tool to continue to shine. He hit a very impressive home run Tuesday that looked like a double in the gap in right-center but it just kept carrying and went out in one of the deepest parts of the ballpark.

When asked if he could envision himself hitting 30/30 one day, his response was one that should make his owners in dynasty leagues giddy. "I think I could do 30/30 for sure," Williams said. "Thirty stolen bases I should be able to do easily, the 30 homers, it'll come." This makes sense considering he also said his favorite current player to watch is Carlos Gonzalez who has gone 20/20 on four occasions and came four steals shy of 30/30 in 2010. Of course, talk of feats like going 30/30 are extremely premature, but Williams has tools to make good on his word if his adjustments at the plate stick. Look for him to be playing left field for Texas sometime in 2016.

Jorge Alfaro, C, 21

From what I saw, Alfaro might have the most tools on the Frisco roster, yet he also probably has the least polish. That should be expected of a 21-year-old catcher at Double-A, as it would be enough responsibility to hold his own at the plate, let alone working on his receiving and game-calling skills. Alfaro isn't just fast for a catcher, he has legit plus speed, as six of his seven hits this year have been doubles, and half of those were of the hustle variety. That said, Alfaro's power potential surpasses all of his other offensive tools. Those who have seen much more RoughRiders batting practice sessions than I say that when Joey Gallo isn't trying to put on a show, Alfaro's BP power is unmatched on the team. This is a catcher who could hit 30 homers with 15-20 steals at the major league level one day. However, that day is likely at least a few years away.

He has a whopping 12 strikeouts in just 29 at-bats this season. There have been times in the past where his K-rate has spiked to uncomfortably high levels and then he has gotten it back down under 25 percent, so there's no need to panic yet, but it's clear that there is a lot of refinement left for Alfaro in all aspects of his game. Still, this is a top-3 catching prospect in dynasty leagues, and his offensive ceiling is unmatched at the position.

Jake Thompson, RHP, 21

I missed Thompson's turn in the RoughRiders' rotation, but he has gotten off to an excellent start thanks, in part, to an effort to be less reliant on his wipeout slider. Thompson says he has been using his changeup a lot more than in past seasons, and he has also been throwing his four-seamer more than ever. Jorge Alfaro says the plan is to save Thompson's slider for strikeouts. This will not only keep hitters off balance, but it could prevent or delay an injury, as some research shows that sliders are the toughest pitch on a pitcher's elbow. He has a 1.80 ERA with seven strikeouts and one walk through 10 innings, and he should finish with a little more than 150 innings this season. Thompson should slot into the middle of the Rangers' rotation sometime in 2016.

Missing In Action:

Raul Mondesi, SS, 19 - Left the Naturals after just one game with a lower-back strain but is getting at-bats at extended spring training in Arizona and should be back with Northwest Arkansas in the next 10 days, according to manager Vance Wilson.

Sean Manaea, LHP, 23 - Is recovering from a left oblique strain and just started throwing bullpens in Arizona. He is likely a couple weeks away from joining the Naturals' rotation, and the team wants him healthy for the second half in case the Royals have need of him.

Joey Gallo, 3B, 21 - Is recovering from a minor procedure to remove a bone from his left ankle and could rejoin the RoughRiders in a week.

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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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