Minor League Barometer: Now or Never for Souza

Minor League Barometer: Now or Never for Souza

This article is part of our Minor League Barometer series.

The inaugural 2015 Minor League Barometer will look at prospects expected to impact their respective major league clubs this year. This is not a list of top prospects, nor is there any sort of rhyme, reason or order. In future Barometers, we will dive deeper into the recesses of the minor leagues to pluck hidden gems or find the next great, under-the-radar star. However, for the purposes of this week's article, the bigger, more notable names will come into focus.

Without further ado, let's see who is primed to make a splash this season out of the minors.

UPGRADE

Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC - Bryant punished the baseball in spring training, yet he won't make the big club out of camp. Still, he has the baseball world buzzing, and it is only a matter of time before the Cubbies bring him to Wrigley for good. He slashed .425/.477/1.175 this spring, bashing nine home runs and knocking in 15 runs in 40 at-bats. Bryant's numbers have been other-worldly since last season, though. Between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014, Bryant hit .325/.438/.661 with 43 home runs, 110 RBI and 15 steals in 138 contests. Mike Olt is only keeping the hot corner warm for Bryant, who could get called up before May 1. Even with less than a full season in the bigs, though, expectations will be extraordinarily high for Bryant.

Joc Pederson, OF, LAD -
Last season was torturous for fantasy owners with Pederson on their roster, as the

The inaugural 2015 Minor League Barometer will look at prospects expected to impact their respective major league clubs this year. This is not a list of top prospects, nor is there any sort of rhyme, reason or order. In future Barometers, we will dive deeper into the recesses of the minor leagues to pluck hidden gems or find the next great, under-the-radar star. However, for the purposes of this week's article, the bigger, more notable names will come into focus.

Without further ado, let's see who is primed to make a splash this season out of the minors.

UPGRADE

Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC - Bryant punished the baseball in spring training, yet he won't make the big club out of camp. Still, he has the baseball world buzzing, and it is only a matter of time before the Cubbies bring him to Wrigley for good. He slashed .425/.477/1.175 this spring, bashing nine home runs and knocking in 15 runs in 40 at-bats. Bryant's numbers have been other-worldly since last season, though. Between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014, Bryant hit .325/.438/.661 with 43 home runs, 110 RBI and 15 steals in 138 contests. Mike Olt is only keeping the hot corner warm for Bryant, who could get called up before May 1. Even with less than a full season in the bigs, though, expectations will be extraordinarily high for Bryant.

Joc Pederson, OF, LAD -
Last season was torturous for fantasy owners with Pederson on their roster, as the outfielder never really got a chance to play despite insane numbers at Triple-A. Young Joc slashed .303/.435/.582 with 33 home runs, 78 RBI and 30 steals for Triple-A Albuquerque en route to being named the Pacific Coast League Player of the Year. Pederson barely sniffed the field during his cup of coffee with the contending Dodgers last September, but 2015 will be different. Matt Kemp was jettisoned to the Padres, opening a spot in center field for Pederson. He will receive everyday at-bats from the start in Los Angeles this time around. Pederson has had a hot spring to boot, hitting .389/.421/.796 with six home runs, 12 RBI and two steals in 54 at-bats.

Jorge Soler, OF, CHC -
The Cubs have arguably the best farm system in baseball. The above-referenced Bryant, shortstop prospect Addison Russell and slugger Kyle Schwarber, among others, give the Cubbies a plethora of young talent to brag about. Unlike Bryant, Soler will start the season in the big leagues. The Cubs have penciled him into right field after he had a smooth transition to the bigs in 2014. Soler hit .292/.330/.573 with five home runs and 20 RBI in just 24 games with the club toward the end of the 2015 campaign. He has picked up this spring where he left off, batting .333/.380/.600 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 45 at-bats. With consistent at-bats, underrated power and a solid eye at the dish, Soler has the chance to make his presence felt at Wrigley immediately.

Aaron Sanchez, P, TOR -
Sanchez is going to shine in whatever role the Blue Jays decide to give him, whether it be as a starter or a reliever. For fantasy purposes, he is much more valuable as a starter, and he'll start the season in the Toronto rotation due to the season-ending knee injury to Marcus Stroman. In Triple-A last season, Sanchez pitched almost exclusively as a starter, posting a 3.85 ERA and 84:57 K:BB ratio in 100.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Although his control was a bit maddening at times, Sanchez is chiefly a groundball pitcher, which helps his cause. As a general rule of thumb, it is better to miss down in the strike zone than up. Leaving the ball up against major league hitters results in balls belted out of the ballpark. In any event, let's not forget that Sanchez was also dominant as a reliever when he was called up to the big club. In 33 innings, Sanchez posted a 1.09 ERA and 27:9 K:BB ratio out of the bullpen. Certainly success in the bullpen doesn't always translate to success in the rotation (see Joba Chamberlain), but Sanchez has the mental makeup and pitch repertoire to work well as a starter.

CHECK STATUS

Noah Syndergaard, P, NYM - While the news of Zack Wheeler undergoing Tommy John surgery likely sent most Mets fans into a tizzy, it could be a blessing in disguise for the progression and debut of Syndergaard. With Wheeler not in the fold for 2015, there is one less starting pitcher ahead of Syndergaard on the depth chart. While he will also have to battle fellow young hurlers Rafael Montero and Steven Matz, Syndergaard has the most upside in the trio. While his ERA was slightly high, Syndergaard did pitch in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He also still managed to strike out more than a batter per inning, notching a 145:43 K:BB ratio in 133 innings. Even with the walls moved in, Citi Field should be a much friendlier pitching environment than Las Vegas. He likely won't see the big club right away, but injury-prone starters like Jon Niese and Dillon Gee could mean that Syndergaard will see the field in Queens sooner rather than later for the Metropolitans.

Dalton Pompey, OF, TOR -
Teammate Devon Travis, the projected starter at second base for the Blue Jays, could have also made the list. However, Pompey has more upside in the fantasy realm. The 22-year-old outfielder was an extremely fast riser last season, ascending all the way from High-A to the majors in one year. Across three levels in the minors, Pompey batted .276/.367/.415 with nine home runs, 51 RBI and 43 steals in 113 games. He will start in center field for the Jays on Opening Day with Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera no longer on the club. The only question is whether Toronto rushed Pompey to the bigs. It takes a special breed of talent, like Mike Trout, to come onto the MLB scene and rake immediately. Cautionary tales abound, including recent top prospects like Aaron Hicks, who was given the starting job in center field by the Twins in 2013 at age 23, and responded by failing to hit over the Mendoza line for half the season. Even Mookie Betts wasn't really ready last season for the Red Sox. Pompey is a toolsy player with upside, but it may take him some time to get into the swing of things in Toronto.

Yasmany Tomas, 3B, AZ -
What should we expect from Tomas? For starters, the Diamondbacks are already unsure where to play him on defense. He was expected to start at third base, but his glove is not ready, and he also seen time in the outfield. Compound that with his mediocre spring at the plate, and there have been whispers that Tomas may even start the season in the minors. His big contract may force Arizona's hand, though the main competition for Tomas at third, Jake Lamb, is hitting .333 this spring. However, Lamb does not have the power potential of Tomas, who follows in the footsteps of Jose Abreu. Although Tomas is not as developed as Abreu, the upside is tantalizing, particularly with the season Abreu had in 2014.

Francisco Lindor, SS, CLE -
Lindor gets a bit of a bad rap for being an all-glove, no-hit prospect. While his glovework remains ahead of his hitting, Lindor was no slouch with the bat in 2014. Between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Lindor slashed .276/.338/.389 with 11 home runs, 62 RBI and 28 steals. While he is never going to hit for a ton of power, he is still just 21, so there is room to fill out and mature still. Likewise, he plays at an extremely thin fantasy position. It is important not to underrate his value in terms of positional scarcity. Only five shortstops in the American League stole 20 or more bases last season. Only one hit double-digit home runs. No shortstop in the American League hit more than 15 home runs in 2014. In other words, Lindor shouldn't be punished for his lack of power, particularly when compared to other MLB shortstops. If he can hit somewhere near .300 and steal 20-25 bases, he will be among the top shortstops in the American League. He should be up in Cleveland before the summer begins.

DOWNGRADE

Byron Buxton, OF, MIN - While a scorching start to the season could see Buxton up with the big club by summer, the more likely scenario is that he spends the majority of 2015 in the minors, proving he is healthy and getting back on the productive track. His 2014 season was derailed by an assortment of maladies, most notably wrists injuries. Buxton hit just .240/.307/.395 with four home runs, 16 RBI and six steals in 31 games, mostly with High-A Fort Myers. The 21-year-old is still billed as Mike Trout-lite, and rightfully so. His tools remain off the charts. However, in terms of 2015 impact, Buxton may not be anything more than a September callup. He has only played one game above High-A.

Maikel Franco, 3B, PHI -
Franco got off to an awful start last season, which destroyed any chance of an early season callup. He spent the majority of the first two months of the season with a batting average below .200, and it tainted his overall numbers. By the end of the season he was hitting again, but it was still viewed as a subpar year. Franco batted .257/.299/.428 with 16 home runs and 78 RBI for Triple-A Lehigh Valley. When compared to his breakout 2013 season, though, Franco's fall can be viewed from a better perspective. In 2013, Franco hit .320 with 31 home runs and 103 RBI between High-A and Double-A. The issue with Franco is that even when he succeeded, he wasn't taking many pitches. He has walked just 30 times in each of the last two seasons for the Phillies. While he doesn't strike out a ton, the lack of walks can be accepted much more readily when you're hitting .320 as opposed to .257. The Phils are not expected to be good this season, and while in some eyes that would be an ideal situation to give Franco the third-base job and let him run with it, the club will likely instead let Cody Asche start the season at the hot corner and allow Franco to get regular at-bats at Triple-A. In sum, the Phils would like to wait and see which season was the aberration: 2013 or 2014.

Andrew Heaney, P, LAA -
Although spring training stats are always to be taken with a grain of salt, Heaney has been pummeled. In five starts, Heaney has a 9.00 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting .358 against him. His control has also been a tad suspect, as the southpaw has walked seven batters in 19 innings. Although he has fanned 16 batters in that span, Heaney has given up four long balls, and his command is clearly not where it should be. He likely will not be the Angels' fifth starter to begin the season. The top prospect for the Marlins last season before being dealt, Heaney also struggled in a small sample size of MLB starts in 2014. There are also concerns that he will not keep up his strikeout numbers in the bigs. Then there is the issue of when Garrett Richards returns from last season's gruesome knee injury. Richards could come back as early as mid-April, which would all but assure Heaney stays in the minors for the first month or two of the year.

Steven Souza, OF, TB -
This is just a gut feeling, as Souza has been one of the top deep sleepers targeted in fantasy drafts. He has been handed the everyday right-field job by the Rays but has had a poor spring. Souza is hitting just .122 with two home runs, eight RBI and 14 strikeouts in 15 games in spring training, battling a variety of small injuries. Contrast those numbers with his breakout 2014 season in the International League. Souza slashed .350/.432/.590 with 18 home runs, 75 RBI and 26 steals. In fact, Souza has batted at least .297 with at least 15 home runs in each of the last three seasons. So why the pessimism? Souza is solid across the board, he does not have one particularly standout skill or trait. He has decent pop, above-average speed and the ability to hit for average. Is he a star? Probably not. Will he hit .350? Definitely not. He is likely to be a better baseball player than fantasy player. At 25, he is also bordering on no longer even being considered a prospect. He will turn 26 at the end of April. If he starts the season slowly, he will fall off the prospect radar entirely. It's now or never for Souza.

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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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