What are the Dodgers going to do with Joc Pederson? Los Angeles already has four outfielders for three slots at the big-league level. Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford expect to play every day, despite that being virtually impossible. On top of that, the 21-year-old Pederson is off to a torrid start at Triple-A Albuquerque. Through his first five games, young Joc is 8-for-17 (.471) with three home runs and two stolen bases. The Dodgers can afford to be patient with Pederson, and the injury history of the above players means that Pederson will be an excellent insurance policy. However, if the pitching staff continues to battle injury as well, L.A. could also look to deal him for some rotation help. A surplus of talent at any position is a good problem to have, but could make for some interesting roster maneuvering as the season progresses. And Pederson may be caught in the middle.
Let's move on to this week's "Three Strikes" segment:
1. Archie Bradley fired five shutout innings in his Triple-A debut for the Diamondbacks on Sunday. With Randall Delgado getting lit up in his first start for the D-Backs, it may not be long before Bradley sees the big-league rotation.
2. Keep an eye on Minnesota hurler Alex Meyer. The 24-year-old will start the season in Triple-A, but the Twins MLB rotation has been simply awful to begin the 2014 campaign. As a result, the 6-foot-9 righty may get his chance to strut his stuff shortly.
3. Dodgers pitching prospect Julio Urias tossed four scoreless innings for High-A Rancho Cucamonga last week. He allowed just one hit, fanned five batters and walked four. Did I mention he's only 17?
With the 2014 season off and running, let's look at who's up and who's down in this week's Minor League Barometer.
Robert Stephenson, P, CIN - Arguably the top prospect in the Reds organization, and one of the better pitching prospects in the game, Stephenson was scintillating in his season-opening start for Double-A Pensacola. The 21-year-old righty fanned a career-high 11 batters in just five innings Saturday. He allowed zero runs, walked one batter and allowed one measly hit. The flame-throwing righty has been dominant at nearly every stop in the minors. In 2013, Stephenson posted a 2.99 ERA and 136:35 K:BB ratio between three levels. If he continues pitching this way, it's going to be hard to keep him down in the minors. In any event, he could be a mainstay in the Cincinnati rotation as early as next year.
Aaron Sanchez, P, TOR - Sanchez is another top-notch pitching prospect who opened his 2014 campaign with a stellar outing of his own. Sanchez also tossed a one-hitter in five innings for Double-A New Hampshire. The 6-4, 200, righty walked two batters while striking out five. Although Marcus Stroman is technically ahead of Sanchez on the depth chart, Sanchez is viewed as a better overall prospect due to his size and ceiling. If the 21-year-old can fine-tune his control a bit (he walked 40 batters in 86.1 innings at High-A in 2013), it could be lights out for the opposition. It is also worth noting that Sanchez has never pitched more than 100 innings in a single minor league season, so his arm strength will have to be worked up as well, and he could be on an innings limit even when he reaches the big leagues, likely sometime in 2015.
Mookie Betts, 2B, BOS - Betts burst onto the scene in 2013, showing plate coverage and discipline with a slash line of .314/.417/.506. Likewise, Betts showed surprising pop; despite his 5-9, 160, frame, the 21-year-old hit 15 home runs and knocked in 65 runs between Low-A and High-A. Betts also possesses above-average speed, as witnessed by his 38 thefts in 2013. He's off to a fast start in 2014 as well, batting .474 (9-for-19) with a home run and a stolen base through his first for games at Double-A. A position change may be in order at some point, as some guy named Dustin Pedroia mans second base for the big club. However, like Pedroia, Betts is showing that his size may not be a factor in his future potential.
Jace Peterson, SS, SD - Peterson has picked up right where he left off last season for the Padres. Through six games for Double-A Tucson, the 23-year-old shortstop is 10-for-24 (.500) with one home run, five RBI and two steals. Peterson enjoyed a career year in 2013, hitting .303/.382/.454 with seven home runs, 66 RBI and 42 steals in 113 games at High-A. Peterson has above-average speed, stellar plate discipline and the ability make contact. In fact, Peterson has nearly as many walks as strikeouts in every season in the minors since entering the San Diego organization in 2011. His advanced approach at the dish should allow him to succeed at the higher levels, if he won't have much power.
Severino Gonzalez, P, PHI - Gonzalez had a superb 2013 campaign. Between three levels, he amassed a minuscule 2.00 ERA. Over 103.2 innings, the 6-1 righty posted a 119:22 K:BB ratio. Opposing batters hit just .234 against him. Control is Gonzalez's greatest asset. His first start in 2014 went well, as he allowed one run on four hits in five innings for Double-A. Reading. The 21-year-old walked one while fanning three. The chief concern for Gonzalez will be his thin frame; he does not weigh more than 160. Likewise, he needs to develop a third pitch to go with his fastball and breaking ball. It also remains to be seen if he can make up for the lack of speed on his heater with pinpoint accuracy. Nevertheless, he knows how to pitch and is definitely worth a flier in deeper keeper leagues.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, LAA - Last year was a season to forget for Cowart. Considered arguably the top prospect for the Halos, he scuffled to a slash line of .221/.279/.301 with six home runs, 42 RBI and 14 steals in 132 games at Double-A. He also fanned 124 times over that span, while drawing just 38 walks. Cowart is repeating this level to begin 2014, but is off to a much better start. Through six games, the 21-year-old is batting .381/.462/.619 with one home run, eight RBI and three stolen bases. His plate discipline also appears improved, with as many walks (4) as strikeouts (4). It is still early, and the sample size is small, but it appears that the young slugger is on his way back into the top prospect discussion.
Eric Jagielo, 3B, NYY - A polished college hitter out of Notre Dame, Jagielo has homered in three straight games for High-A Tampa. The 21-year-old has a power stroke designed for the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium, but his plate discipline has been a bit underwhelming to begin the season. Jagielo has fanned 10 times in six games thus far. Likewise, he has just six hits on the season, and three are dingers. Jagielo remains one of the better hitting prospects for the Yankees, but it doesn't seem like he'll make his way to the big club until 2016 at the earliest.
Trevor Bauer, P, CLE - Will Trevor Bauer finally make his mark this season? A combination of immaturity and lack of control has stunted the 24-year-old Bauer's once promising career. Bauer was called up for a spot start Wednesday and fared pretty well for the Tribe. Despite getting tagged with the loss, he allowed just one earned run on four hits in six innings for the big club. Bauer walked just two while fanning eight. He made one start in the minors before Wednesday, and also allowed just one earned run in six innings. Bauer compiled just two walks but nine strikeouts. He will return to the minors after his one outing in the bigs but looks like the top option should anyone in the Indians rotation suffer injury or inconsistency.
Addison Russell, SS, OAK - One of the top hitting prospects in the game, Russell has a torn right hamstring and will miss at least a month. The 20-year-old slashed .269/.369/.495 last season, mostly at High-A. He also totaled 17 home runs, 60 RBI and 21 stolen bases. Russell had two big games for Double-A Midland before suffering the injury, too. He was 5-for-7 with one home run, two RBI and one steal prior to going on the shelf. The Athletics likely will be cautious with their prized phenom, so don't be surprised if Russell isn't back until June at the earliest. This injury also all but guarantees Russell won't see the big leagues this season.
Jorge Soler, OF, CHC - A right hamstring injury will shelve Soler for at least the early part of April. The Cuban defector also missed the last three months of the 2013 season due to a stress fracture in his left leg. While the Cubs do not appear to be overly concerned with the current injury, Soler's checkered medical history at least warrants some concern. The 22-year-old played just 55 games in 2013, batting .281/.343/.467 with eight home runs, 35 RBI and five steals for High-A Dayton. He did play in the Arizona Fall league following his recovery from the stress fracture, but was mediocre at best. He will return to action in Double-A soon, and remains one of the better prospects in the Chicago system, but it would be foolish to simply ignore the injury red flags.
Jesse Biddle, P, PHI - Biddle has been roughed up in his first two starts of the season for Double-A Reading. The 6-5 lefty has allowed eight runs on 15 hits in just 10.1 innings. The 22-year-old has walked just three batters and fanned 11, but opposing batters are hitting .333 against him to begin the year. Biddle battled command problems in 2013, punching out 154 batters but walking 84 in 138.1 innings en route to a 3.64 ERA at the same level. Biddle has been compared to Andy Pettitte, but has a long way to go before he reaches that potential.
Jorge Alfaro, C, TEX - It's still incredibly early, but Alfaro is struggling to start the 2014 season. The 20-year-old backstop is just 4-for-21 (.190) with eight strikeouts in six games at High-A Myrtle Beach. He does not yet have a home run or an RBI. Alfaro had a breakout year in the power department in 2013, smashing 18 home runs and knocking in 61 runs in 113 games, mostly at Low-A. On the downside, however, Alfaro fanned 122 times over that span. He is considered one of the better catching prospects in baseball, but Alfaro has not hit above .265 the last two seasons, and his issues with plate discipline remain a concern.