Minor League Barometer: Bringing the Heat on the Farm

Minor League Barometer: Bringing the Heat on the Farm

This article is part of our Minor League Barometer series.

The St. Louis Cardinals are surprisingly struggling to begin the season, but there's a pitcher at Triple-A that could provide the necessary spark. That would be Alex Reyes, the 21-year-old flamethrower who missed the beginning of the year due to a marijuana suspension. Reyes has filthy strikeout stuff. Not only does he have a blazing fastball, but his off-speed offerings are dynamic, particularly his curveball and changeup. He fanned over 13 batters per nine innings between High-A and Double-A in 2015. Reyes has not missed a beat since returning from suspension. Through three starts, a span of 15 innings, Reyes has a 1.80 ERA and 26:7 K:BB. The Cardinals could promote Reyes as a shutdown reliever, a la Carlos Martinez. Or they might be better served simply waiting until the inevitable injuries to Adam Wainwright or Jaime Garcia. Either way, Reyes is a phenom with an extremely bright future, as long as he stays on the field and staves off any command issues
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Who else is bringing the heat? Here's the latest edition of the Minor League Barometer.

UPGRADE

Willson Contreras, C, CHC – The Cubs have the best record in baseball right now, and as such there is little reason to rock the boat when it comes to the composition of the big league roster. That being said, Miguel Montero is batting just .205 as the starting catcher, and career backup David Ross has been cutting into Montero's starts as a result. Kyle Schwarber

The St. Louis Cardinals are surprisingly struggling to begin the season, but there's a pitcher at Triple-A that could provide the necessary spark. That would be Alex Reyes, the 21-year-old flamethrower who missed the beginning of the year due to a marijuana suspension. Reyes has filthy strikeout stuff. Not only does he have a blazing fastball, but his off-speed offerings are dynamic, particularly his curveball and changeup. He fanned over 13 batters per nine innings between High-A and Double-A in 2015. Reyes has not missed a beat since returning from suspension. Through three starts, a span of 15 innings, Reyes has a 1.80 ERA and 26:7 K:BB. The Cardinals could promote Reyes as a shutdown reliever, a la Carlos Martinez. Or they might be better served simply waiting until the inevitable injuries to Adam Wainwright or Jaime Garcia. Either way, Reyes is a phenom with an extremely bright future, as long as he stays on the field and staves off any command issues
.
Who else is bringing the heat? Here's the latest edition of the Minor League Barometer.

UPGRADE

Willson Contreras, C, CHC – The Cubs have the best record in baseball right now, and as such there is little reason to rock the boat when it comes to the composition of the big league roster. That being said, Miguel Montero is batting just .205 as the starting catcher, and career backup David Ross has been cutting into Montero's starts as a result. Kyle Schwarber is done for the season. Manager Joe Maddon values defensive catchers, and rightly so, but if the Cubs need a change of pace, they will have to look no further than their own farm system. Contreras is a 24-year-old backstop and something of a late bloomer. He had a breakout campaign in 2015, hitting .333 with 75 RBI at Double-A. He has been even better in 2016. Contreras is slashing .335/.426/.584 through 46 games at Triple-A. He has already surpassed last season's home run total with nine blasts out of the ballpark and has been crushing the ball lately, collecting six home runs and 18 RBI in his last nine contests. Again, the Cubs offense has plenty of firepower, but if injury strikes, or management simply decides to go in another direction, Contreras could be the easy choice to assume the catching role for an already talented squad.

Mitch Keller, P, PIT - As if the Pirates needed another tantalizing arm for their rotation, Keller has taken Low-A by storm. A second-round pick in the 2014 draft, the Pirates have been cautious with Keller as he battled forearm issues. A high school arm needing time to develop in any event, Keller did not start full-season ball until this season. The patience has paid off thus far for the Pirates, as Keller has a 1.89 ERA and 64:5 K:BB through 57 innings. The control jumps off the page, as do the strikeouts. In addition, opposing batters are hitting just .184 against the 20-year-old righty. Keller will almost certainly be on an innings limit this season, and he is still a ways away from making an impact in the majors. However, Keller has clearly placed himself back on the prospect map.

Manuel Margot, OF, SD – Fellow outfield prospect Hunter Renfroe has also been playing well of late, and each brings something different to the table. Renfroe is a power bat, while Margot is a speedster. However, Margot is younger and has been on an absolute tear recently. Over the past 10 games, the 21-year-old is batting .409 at Triple-A, bringing Margot's slash line to .306/.368/.435. He has three home runs and 16 steals on the year and though the Padres have been sputtering as a team this year, the outfield has actually been one of the few bright spots. Matt Kemp has 13 home runs, Melvin Upton has enjoyed a resurgence, and even Jon Jay is hitting .300 in center. Still, the squad could sell off parts to start building for the future at any moment, meaning that it many not be long before both Margot and Renfroe get their shot.

Amed Rosario, SS, NYM – Rosario is unquestionably the shortstop of the future for the Mets. At just 20 years of age, he is being brought along slowly, but that should not diminish his skill set in any way. He is batting .301/.352/455 with three home runs, 31 RBI and 10 steals through 53 games at High-A St. Lucie. He is developing a power stroke, and has the size at 6-foot-2 to eventually reach double digits in home runs. He is also on pace to shatter his previous career high in stolen bases. Already considered a slick fielder, Rosario's improvement with the bat only furthers the notion that he will be a staple in the Mets infield for years to come.

CHECK STATUS

Vicente Campos, P, NYY – Campos signed with the Seattle Mariners in 2009, and was part of the infamous Jesus Montero/Michael Pineda trade in 2012. Campos battled elbow problems, ultimately undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing the entire 2014 campaign. He was woeful upon his return mid-season, and a once-promising future appeared to be falling by the wayside. Yet from the depths of despair, Campos may have just resurrected his career. Starting the year at High-A Tampa in 2016, Campos posted a 3.32 ERA and 56:23 K:BB in 59.1 innings. That resulted in a promotion to Double-A. He allowed one run in 5.2 innings in his debut at this level Thursday, scatting five hits while fanning six batters. Campos still struggles with control at times; he walked four batters in that first outing at Double-A. However, the fact that the 23-year-old is back on the mound and having some success is a victory in itself. If he can continue to sharpen his command and develop those secondary offerings, the big-bodied righty may find himself in the big leagues one day after all.

Jon Harris, P, TOR – Harris had a disappointing debut last season following his selection in the first round of the draft. He went 0-5 with a 6.75 ERA in the Short-Season Northwest League, as opposing batters hit .318 against him. He also walked 21 batters in 36 innings. A clean slate for the 2016 may have been just what Harris needed, though. He has rebounded with a 2.36 ERA through nine starts for Low-A Lansing. The 22-year-old righty has fanned 39 batters over that span while surrendering just one home run in 42 innings thus far in 2016. Still, control problems remain a concern. Harris does have 17 walks already, and the additional baserunners will almost certainly come back to haunt him at the higher levels. Harris has not come quite as advertised, but he has been better this season and still could figure into Toronto's plans.

Kyle Freeland, P, COL – Freeland has not necessarily been bad, but his production does not scream future rotation anchor. Freeland's lack of strikeouts over the past year is a bit disconcerting, particularly for a pitcher drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft. His development of a third pitch to add to his arsenal has been slow. Opposing batters are not quite having as much trouble hitting him as hoped. This is a red flag for any pitching prospect, but one that has increased significance for a hurler that will play his future games in the thin air of Colorado. Freeland has also been unable to stay healthy, as he battled shoulder and elbow ailments last year, limiting him to just nine starts in 2015. Therefore, the sample size is small for Freeland, who has barely pitched 150 innings since entering the minors. Perhaps he should be cut some slack, but the on-field results have not been promising thus far for such a high draft pick.

Daniel Palka, OF, MIN – Palka continues to hit despite seemingly not being taken seriously as a prospect by many pundits. Palka hit a pair of home runs in back-to-back games for Double-A Chattanooga last week, pushing him into the lead in home runs in the Southern League with 11. The 24-year-old has hit at least 22 home runs in each of the last two full seasons, including 29 bombs at High-A in 2015. Palka's detractors cite that he has been a bit old at every level he has appeared thus far, plus he has a penchant for striking out too much. He had 164 strikeouts in 129 games a season ago, and has been punched out 63 times in 50 games at Double-A this year. In addition, Palka does not have a true position on the field, alternating between the outfield and first base. Still, he has maintained a decent average while showing the ability to hit home runs since entering the minors.

DOWNGRADE

Alex Verdugo, OF, LAD – A temporary downgrade for Verdugo, who was recently placed on the DL with a hamstring ailment. Verdugo had been enjoying a stellar season prior to the injury, slashing .287/.344/.456 with seven home runs, 26 RBI and two steals in 46 games at Double-A. While the statistics may not seem all that impressive, it is important to note that Verdugo just turned 20, making him one of the youngest players at this level. In other words, he had been more than holding his own against older, more experienced competition. Verdugo may only be scratching the surface of his potential. That being said, the injury will likely halt any whispers of him seeing the majors this season.

Sam Travis, 1B, BOS – The Red Sox will eventually need a real first baseman, as Hanley Ramirez is playing out of position and David Ortiz is retiring after this season. Travis seems to fit the mold, and likely would have made his MLB debut this season. While Travis is not considered a power bat, his hit tool is above average, and the presence of the Green Monster should only aid his right-handed, line-drive hitting approach. However, the 22-year-old suffered an ACL injury last week, necessitating surgery and effectively ending his 2016 campaign. Travis was hitting .272 with six home runs and 29 RBI in 47 games prior to getting hurt. He should still vie for the starting first base job in 2017, but the path will be even more difficult as he also rehabs the injury.

Joe Gatto, P, LAA - Not to be confused with third baseman Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers, Gatto is considered one of the better arms in the Angels' talent-starved system. However, his first crack at full-season ball has been a nightmare. Gatto has a bloated 7.42 ERA in 11 starts at Low-A Burlington. Opposing batters are teeing off, hitting .315 against the 20-year-old righty. Walks have also been a concern, as Gatto has issued 28 free passes in 47.1 innings. Gatto lives down in the zone induces a bevy of ground balls, but is clearly missing his spots and having trouble keeping runners off the bases. A second rounder in 2014, Gatto is still young and has time to turn things around.

Erick Fedde, P, WAS – The upside of Fedde is enticing, but injuries continue to temper the excitement. He was the No. 18 overall selection in the 2014 draft despite undergoing Tommy John surgery the month before he was picked. Fedde returned to make 14 starts in 2015, with six coming at Low-A Hagerstown. He posted a 4.34 ERA and 23:8 K:BB in 29 innings to end the season. Despite the lack of innings, Fedde was bumped to High-A to start the 2016 campaign. Though he did notch a 46:10 K:BB in 45 innings, Fedde was slightly more hittable than expected. Opposing batters hit .270 against him, and he allowed five home runs in nine starts. Thereafter, he experienced some soreness in his oblique muscle and was sent to the DL. The Nats will almost certainly be cautious with Fedde. He has a live arm with massive potential, but is already 23 and has pitched just 109 innings in the minors.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.
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