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John Sickels' Prospect Mailbag: Did the Twins hit with Miguel Sano?

John Sickels

John Sickels writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Dipping into the mailbag…

D.J. from Long Island writes: “What can you tell me about Chase Whitley? He’s pitching great in the New York-Penn League. Can he help the Yankees' bullpen in the future?”

Whitley was drafted in the 15th round this year from Troy University in Alabama. That’s not a high draft slot, but there are some things to like here. He has a 90 MPH sinker, clocked as high as 92 at times, and he has an outstanding changeup. His breaking ball is below average and needs to be sharpened, but the fastball/change combination has resulted in a 0.79 ERA, with a 32:9 K:BB in 23 innings so far for Staten Island, with just 11 hits allowed.

Whitley was also a position player in college and is a very good athlete, so there could be some untapped upside here as he turns to pitching full-time. He’s 21 and will need to show well in full-season A-ball next year. Lots of guys do great in the NY-P then struggle at higher levels. But Whitley does deserve to be on the radar, and he could be a nifty middle reliever eventually.

“Bad Jim” from Lexington, Kentucky, asks: “What’s your take on Nolan Arenado in the Rockies farm system? My cousin saw him play this year and says he looks like a future star.”

It has been a tale of two seasons for Arenado, so I guess it depends on when your cousin saw him. He hit .352/.392/.546 in his first 27 games for Low-A Asheville, but fell into a slump and has hit just .197/.229/.356 in his last 33 games. His overall line is now .267/.304/.442, which isn’t super-impressive for the Sally League, but he’s only 19.

Arenado was drafted by the Rockies in the second round last year, from high school in El Toro, California. Most scouts are high on his future bat, rating his hand-eye coordination and contact ability very strongly. There’s some disagreement about how much home-run power he’ll develop, but he has obvious natural strength in his 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame. He makes contact and has a low strikeout rate, just 31 whiffs this year in 240 at-bats, but he’s impatient and has drawn just 14 walks. He has the tools to be a good defender but is still working on his footwork.

Given his youth, there is plenty of time for him to develop into the player that scouts project, a guy who can hit .300 or so with at least average power. So far he hasn’t played well enough to fulfill that, but he hasn’t played badly enough to discount it, either. I’d like to see more walks out of him, but the low strikeout rate is a good marker.

Steve C. from Albuquerque writes: “Did the Twins sign a winner with Miguel Sano? He’s tearing up rookie ball. Should I draft him?”

Well they spent $3.15 million on him last year, so they better hope he’s a winner. So far he’s looked good in the Gulf Coast Rookie League, hitting .288/.318/.475…the power is impressive in that context. Scouts remain extremely high on his offensive potential, projecting huge power and at least a solid batting average. Miguel Cabrera comparisons crop up. But Sano will need to get the strike zone under control: he has three walks and 26 strikeouts in 80 at-bats. He is also very rough with the glove; he has a horrific .786 fielding percentage at third base.

Keep in mind that Sano is only 17 years old. The fact that he’s showing this kind of power at such a young age against pro pitching is an excellent sign, even if his plate discipline needs a lot of work.

As for if you should draft him, it really depends on your league context. Even an optimistic assessment wouldn’t have Sano in the majors for another three or four years, and most fantasy leagues don’t have that kind of time horizon. If you are in a situation where it pays to invest in guys five years away from productivity, then sure, Sano is a guy to target.

Mark T. from Leesburg, Florida, asks: “I’m a big Phillies fan and I remember a couple of years ago they drafted a player named Zach Collier who was supposed to be very good. But I haven’t heard much since then. What happened?”

Collier was drafted in the supplemental first round in 2008, out of high school in Chino, California. He’s very athletic and was supposed to develop into a speed/power player, perhaps similar to current Phillies top prospect Domonic Brown. Alas, it didn’t happen last year; he hit just .226/.280/.336 last year in the New York-Penn League and .218/.275/.319 in the Sally League. Scouts say his plate discipline collapsed, he lost confidence, and he had significant problems with his swing mechanics. He hasn’t played at all in 2010, out with a wrist injury.

Collier doesn’t turn 20 until September, and while it is way too soon to give up on him, he’ll have a year of injury rust to work off in 2011. At this point it is best to be cautious in our expectations. He still has all the tools that made him an early pick, and the Phillies have shown some skill in helping this type of player develop. We’ll see. The wrist was bothering him some in 2009, and I don’t think we’ve gotten a fair read on his actual talents yet due to that factor.