Continued from Part One.
6. Carson Fulmer
2016 MiLB - Birmingham/Charlotte: 21 GS, 103 IP, 96 H, 56 BB, 104 K. 12.2% BB, 22.7% K.
2016 MLB: 8 G, 11.2 IP, 12 H, 7 BB, 10 K. 13.2% BB,18.9% K.
Last year's ranking: #2 Midseason: #1
Fulmer was rushed to the majors. It may have slowed his development but it was a defensible decision at the time. And there's the possibility that his failure at the major league level made him more receptive to some mechanical adjustments he made after being demoted.
Even before the mess that was his major league call-up, he'd had a pretty erratic season at Birmingham. The 23-year-old started off the season with some rough outings, righted the ship for a few starts, then (to mix metaphors) fell off the rails again for a time before straightening things back out in his final starts before being brought to the majors. The main issue was inconsistent control and it unfortunately followed him to the major league bullpen, where his unsightly strikeout and walk rates resulted in a trip to Charlotte.
There, in four starts, it seems like Richard Dotson and Fulmer might have found something. Once again, the mantra was "stay tall", which for Fulmer meant toning down his rather ridiculous leg kick. This allowed him to maintain better posture and stay on top of his four seamer, which too often flattened out, and generally better control his pitches. With as inconsistent as he's been in his pro career, one can see why he's always been a divisive player -- if you see him on his good days, he looks like a guy who can start, but if you see him on bad days you wonder how he ever made the majors.
I'm still not optimistic about his long-term role being in the rotation. He's going to need to show a lot more consistency with his tweaked mechanics before I'll buy into it. He certainly, though, is developing a repertoire that would work well starting. As often magically happens to White Sox pitchers, he's added an upper-80s cutter to compliment his low 90s heater and I'm pretty impressed with it. And his changeup looks promising, too. Unfortunately, his curveball seems to have taken a step back, though that may just be a consequence of changed mechanics. If he can consolidate his control gains, with the way bullpen usage is trending, Fulmer might be a good candidate for the Andrew Miller-type role. Obviously he's not going to be as good as Miller but he's got the competitiveness to want the ball in high-leverage situations and the repertoire to handle both lefty and righty hitters.
Long-term role: High-leverage reliever. ETA: Already arrived but mid-June for good.
7. Zack Collins
2016 MiLB line - AZL White Sox/Winston-Salem: .244/.396/.435 in 164 PA. .405 wOBA. 20.1% BB, 28.0% K.
2016 AFL line - Glendale Desert Dogs: .227/.393/.500 in 28 PA. 21.4% BB, 28.6% K.
Last year's ranking: NA Midseason: #3
Collins is a guy who, at least at this early stage of his pro career, is going to be controversial. If you believe that he can be even a passable catcher, there's a huge amount of upside to go along with a decent floor. If you don't think he can be a catcher, the upside is slashed and the floor drops out from under him. As you can probably guess from his ranking, I'm very skeptical of his ability to stay behind the plate. And I'm about to drop a comp to a former White Sox catcher that will allow someone to take either horror and/or solace from it.
Collins has some things in common with Tyler Flowers, the prospect. Both are tall catchers, with Collins listed an inch shorter than Flowers at 6'3". Both are considered offense-first with many questioning whether they're potential major league catchers. At High-A in the Carolina League, they posted similar numbers. And Collins is viewed similarly as Flowers after their High-A seasons on most prospect lists (with the exception of Baseball America), around the bottom quartile of top 100 lists. Of course, there are some notable differences. Collins bats left-handed. Last season was his pro debut while Flowers had multiple years of experience. He also is a year younger at 22.
It's the physical attribute that most concerns me. It's difficult to be a tall catcher. It ordinarily makes it harder to block pitches and to quickly release throws (e.g., Flowers). Some argue they're more likely to get injured. Crucially, though, in today's game, it makes framing more difficult because it's harder to get the low strike. But then see Flowers, who developed into a good defensive catcher despite his problems blocking and throwing runners out because he's an excellent pitch framer and excels at getting the low strike. And while he rated as a good framer in the minors he didn't develop the low-strike skill until he was in the majors - meaning the White Sox have some experience in developing a big catcher's framing in the traditional weak spot. There's also talk that MLB wants to raise the strike zone, so while in today's game getting the low strike may be difficult for a tall catcher, in tomorrow's game it may be easier. (We can speculate about robot umps eliminating the framing skill but that's too far out in the future to consider.) And, even before teams understood the value of framing, the White Sox were able to sufficiently improve Flowers' "traditional" catching skills enough to stick at the position if he'd developed even an average bat.
That last point can cut both ways here, though. Flowers' bat never developed because he has a serious deficiency: the second-highest strikeout rate in MLB since his debut. And Collins, too, has a whole lot of swing-and-miss in his game. His swing is long-ish and it resulted in a 28 percent strikeout rate. There's no way to describe that other than really bad. Sure, he had really high walk rates to go with it but those can be deceptive in the low minors. And, yes, the power was impressive but some of that was attributable to a ballpark that's friendly to left-handed power hitters (granted, new Comiskey is, too). But if you're not making enough contact, those two categories can see precipitous declines in the upper levels and particularly in the majors.
This is one I'd really like to be proven wrong on, but I don't see a catcher at all and I'm not at all sure the bat will be that impressive on the other side of the defensive spectrum.
Long-term role: Average-ish first baseman or designated hitter. ETA: 2019.
8. Zack Burdi
2016 MiLB line - AZL/Winston-Salem/Birmingham/Charlotte: 26 G, 38 IP, 23 H, 20 BB, 51 K. 13.0% BB, 33.1% K.
Last year's ranking: NA Midseason: #6
Burdi was never going to require much development time to be able to play in the majors. On a competitive team, he likely would've made his debut already and/or would be a strong candidate for Opening Day. He has two pitches that project as plus or better if he can rein in the walks some. The almost 22-year-old's elite fastball velocity brought the scouts to the yard but his slider kept them there. The righty works from the extreme third base side of the rubber and is murder on right-handed hitters as his low 3/4 slot and quick delivery to the plate add meaningful deception. And his upper 90s fastball gets some very nice arm side run in on them, too. His upper 80s slider can be scintillating and I've seen him throw it as both a sweeping offering and with some harder bite. Somewhat amusingly for a guy everybody pegs as a reliever, he's got a changeup that is useable (or course the real issue with him being a starter is not repertoire but delivery and an already loose command profile). Anyway, it probably won't feature often but, as the flipside to righties not getting a good look at him is lefties do, it's a nice bauble to have.
How far his command in the zone progresses will dictate his bullpen role. If he doesn't locate his fastball down, he can get hittable, particularly against left-handed hitters. Similarly, he has real trouble locating his slider to his arm side. The over 15% walk rate he put up in the high minors isn't good enough but, with added reps, I'd expect he can sufficiently lower it.
Long-term role: High-leverage reliever. ETA: Early 2017.
9. Spencer Adams
2016 MiLB line - Winston-Salem/Birmingham: 27 GS, 163 IP, 179 H, 31 BB, 100 K. 4.5% BB, 14.4% K.
Last year's ranking: #3 Midseason: #2
This is really a make-or-break season for Adams. He'll turn 21 shortly after the season starts and it's coming time for the 2014 second rounder to make good on his projections. The righty has always been among the youngest pitchers (if not the youngest) in his league. This provided a very good justification for the lack of sizzle in his statistics. And he's managed to handily accomplish what is often a very difficult task for a high school draftee: gradually increase innings to 150+ without any health-related setbacks.
However, that strikeout rate is shocking. Out of high school, there were reports that Adams touched 96. Now, it's a good day if his fastball sits above 90 - though it should be noted that he now mainly throws a two-seamer. His low 80s slider has the coveted two-plane break when it's right and is easily an average pitch now and projects plus. The changeup doesn't inspire confidence in me and, given that he works for the White Sox and already has a pitch to contact profile, developing a cutter to get in on the hands of lefties seems like a natural fit. While he's added some (good) weight since being drafted he still has a thin frame so it's still reasonable to think that he might add a couple ticks to his fastball but, even still, he's going to need to be a good contact manager to stay in the majors.
But a pitch-to-contact profile leaves a starting pitcher extremely susceptible to the long, high-pitch-count inning that forces a starter from the game. A lot of Adams' value is likely to come from his ability to throw a lot of innings, so he'll need to develop a repertoire that reduces that susceptibility. He also needs a good defensive team, particularly on the infield, to unlock that value.
Long-term role: Below-average starting pitcher. ETA: 2018.
10. Luis Alexander Basabe
2016 MiLB line - Greenville/Salem: .264/.328./.452 in 474 PA. .352 wOBA. 8.6% BB, 25.5% K. 25 for 30 in stolen bases.
Last year's ranking: NA Midseason: NA.
If you're a tools whore like me, it seems you have to like Basabe. He's "only" got four tools but it's plenty to dream on. Most notably, he has above-average speed that should be very useable on both the basepaths and the outfield. While his route running needs improvement, his speed can cover for mistakes and his arm is also above-average. He has raw power from both sides of the plate.
Ah, but there's always a rub. And, unfortunately, that's the hit tool. A 25-percent strikeout rate is not good in A-ball. Now, the Venezuelan has some valid excuses. Basabe came late to baseball, reportedly only playing for a few years prior to signing at 16. He's also a switch-hitter and that ordinarily means a longer development curve on offense. Some also suggest that his left-handed power is far ahead of his right-handed, as he hit 11 of his 12 homers from the left side, but I think some of that is a function of Greenville's stadium which aids lefties and suppresses right-handed power.
He'll start the season at Winston-Salem and he'll be someone to keep a close eye on throughout 2017. The most-likely reasonable scenario for a player like Basabe is that he never quite makes good on those tools and ends up a part-time player. Then again, if he does, there's a significant amount of upside as an above-average center fielder.
Long-term role: Fourth outfielder. ETA: 2019.
Most of you know that I eschew numeric lists in favor of groupings, which I think more accurately display the difference, or lack of difference, in value amongst players. If someone wants to re-order my numeric rankings while remaining within the same player grouping, I'm not going to argue with them. So here's that.
- Group 1: Moncada.
- Group 2: Giolito, Kopech.
- Group 3: Lopez, Hansen.
- Group 4: Fulmer, Collins, Burdi.
- Group 5: Adams, Basabe and a few others.