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House of Shlain: Falling Prospects

Nick Shlain

Nick analyzes prospects for RotoWire and focuses on the Midwest League during the season.

Last time I wrote about prospects on the rise and about how good Kevin Gausman and Lewis Brinson are. It was easy. Here I will identify a few prospects who have seen their stock fall. We'll start with a pair of Padres who injured their elbow ligaments.

OF Rymer Liriano & RHP Casey Kelly, Padres - Do the Padres get the second Tommy John surgery half off or something? Yikes. This is a crushing blow to the Padres' system as Jedd Gyorko remains the only prospect in the system with both considerable upside and the chance to contribute something to the major league club this year. Austin Hedges, Max Fried, Joe Ross, and Matt Wisler are all years away from making their MLB debuts. I like to think there's a Padres homer in a dynasty league somewhere who had been sitting on Liriano and Kelly for years, though.

I don't think there's a ton to note with Kelly's injury other than the fact he relies so much on command that it'll really be something to watch for when he comes back. Adam Wainwright returned from the same surgery last season with his usual command. Hopefully Kelly will be able to do the same and realize the potential the Red Sox saw all the way back in 2008 that made him a first-round pick, but that's the absolute best-case scenario. He had elbow inflammation a year ago at this time so that's really what this is: surgery delayed. He's way down for me until we see him on a mound again and that won't be until next year at the earliest.

Liriano is obviously a bit of a different case because he is a hitter. Signed by the Padres for $300,000 in 2007, he has always been regarded for his tools and turned in a tremendous performance in the Midwest League in 2011. Liriano hit .319/.383/.499 as a 20-year-old and took home MVP honors over many other talented prospects including Billy Hamilton, Jake Marisnick, and Oscar Taveras. Liriano was higher on my list than Kelly before either had surgery and he was still higher than Kelly even after he had surgery and before Kelly's bad news. I'm considerably higher on Liriano, but that's not to downplay the seriousness of his injury. This definitely is a major setback for a player with tremendous tools who lacks feel for the game and instincts. Liriano needed the reps this season to take the next step and he won't get any of those reps. It really stinks. I feel for the player and there's definitely some post-hype sleeper potential when he gets back, but again that won't be until next year.

RHP Chad Bettis, Rockies - The long and short of it is that Bettis didn't pitch at all last year because of a triceps injury and it remains to be seen if he can be a starter again. As a late-inning reliever with his stuff (assuming it returns) he'll still have value for the Rockies, but he's just a monster health risk at this point. The Denver Post reports that he's being stretched out as a starter this spring, but even if he was able to stay healthy as a starter his lack of an average changeup will certainly limit his upside. I was a fan of his awesome fastball-slider arsenal before last season, but I doubt he ever stays healthy and effective enough for the rotation and that's why I don't have him in the top 200.

RHP Bruce Rondon, Tigers - Rondon is what he is. He's a guy with a 100 mph fastball and no command profile or experience. Just because the Tigers might be foolish enough to open the season with him as the closer doesn't mean you have to do the same. This is not a good bullpen at all and that's precisely why the Tigers are even considering going down this road with Rondon.

If I have to bet on one guy from this bullpen then I'm going with Al Alburquerque, who has a 1.59 ERA in 49 games with the Tigers over the last two seasons. He's the reliever in the Tigers' bullpen with the most upside if he were to grab the job, but Jim Leyland and the Tigers are yet to commit to using Alburquerque in high-leverage situations. Injuries have also slowed Alburquerque as recovery from offseason elbow surgery limited him to just 13 innings in 2012. He's the best of a bad bunch as Octavio Dotel (lefties), Joaquin Benoit (lefties, deep flyballs), and Brayan Villarreal (control, durability) all have warts of their own. Still, Alburquerque kissed the ball, is there any doubt this guy can handle the moment?

Even in a keeper or dynasty league, I'm not very high on Rondon at all. Leyland has said that the Tigers are still undecided about handing Rondon the job or if he'd even be on the roster if he's not named the closer, but take that with a grain of salt and don't believe a word of it. He'll very likely be the opening day closer and I still don't think that scenario is going to lead to a ton of success for him this year. He's not ready. His stock is inflated because of the hype and the chance he gets the job, but I just don't see it. I'd rather have a good closer on a bad team than anybody from the Tigers' bullpen. In a keeper league, I'd much rather have Mark Montgomery or Cody Allen than Rondon.

SS Hak-Ju Lee, Rays - I don't mean to pick on this guy, he's a solid real life player, but I see him going too early in some keeper drafts. The bat is nothing, no power at all, but he has speed and plays quality defense. He's still going to play at Triple-A this year which essentially makes him a year away. I feel like he's a guy I'm going to wait on in a keeper draft.

OF Aaron Hicks, Twins - Here's another guy where if I'm driving the bandwagon I'm absolutely pumping the breaks. Hell, I'm turning around. I don't like that the Twins have named Hicks the Opening Day center fielder because I generally don't like when players skip Triple-A before coming to the majors. In this particular case, Hicks really could use the reps down there even if it's just for the first two months of the season. He's been in the minors for a long time, but he hasn't really played that well outside of last year when he was old for Double-A. It's a confusing decision to me. Center field at Target Field will still be there in June and it's not like the Twins are even going to sniff contention. I'm hanging onto him in keeper leagues, but I'm upset he's taking up a spot on my active roster now instead of just being a solid minor league keeper.