With the Top 40 itself now completed, we dive into the weeds this week to conclude with the annual look beyond the top 40. Though with the increased depth of the system, I’m not sure it’s really the weeds at this point.
Looking at the less heralded, under-the-radar players in the system is one of my favourite parts of this process. The players on this list generally fall into a couple camps: either those that I had significantly higher than Tom (the pref part), or were on the fringe and just got shuffled off the backend of the list (the just missed part).
In previous years, a lot of the names were speculative candidates who could plausibly make a big jump up the rankings next year. That’s not the case this year, as there were so many players already in full season I wanted to touch on even beyond the 10 highlighted below. It’s very promising and bodes well that the last few years have brought so many interesting players into the organization.
Touching briefly on my selections from last year, it’s notable that none made it onto this year’s list. Connor Panas didn’t follow up on his second half explosion in Dunedin, and Tom Robson retired after so many injuries. However, most of the rest (Maximo Castillo, Dom Abbadessa, Mc Gregory Contreras, DJ Neal, Maverik Buffo) would figure in the next 10 to 25 names and will show up over the next few days. None had a breakout 2018, and the infusion of depth crowded out any opportunity to move up.
Josh Winckowski, RHP, age 20 (DOB: 6/28/1998)
I had Winckowski 29th on my list (one spot above Elvis Luciano, by comparison), so he’s the headliner here. He was drafted in the 15th round of the 2016 draft out of high school in Florida, signing for $125,000. He stood out for getting lots of ground balls in his brief GCL debut, which also carried over when assigned to Bluefield for 2017. Those 12 outings were very uneven however; sometimes he absolutely dominated with strikeouts and weak contact, and other times he got shelled.
He moved up another level in the chain with Vancouver in 2018 and was simply much more consistent in posted a 2.78 ERA in 68 innings. He remained a ground ball machine around 55%, but a better strikeout rate, lower walk rate, and much less hard contact. It was shades of what Patrick Murphy did in the NWL in 2016, and to a lesser extent Ryan Borucki in 2014/15.
Winckowski’s fastball sits in the low-90s, and he’ll touch higher into the mid-90s. There’s a lot of movement obviously, hence all the ground balls. His main secondary is a slider, it has some downward depth, but when I’ve seen it it hasn’t looked like a real wipeout weapon. I’m interested to see what he does moving up to Lansing in 2019.
Demi Orimoloye, OF, age 22 (DOB: 1/6/1997)
Orimoloye was acquired in August at the waiver deadline in August for Curtis Granderson, having been drafted in the 4th round by Milwaukee in 2015. He was the prototypical projectable athlete at 6’4” / 225 pounds, with an above average arm, speed, and raw power. And of course he’s a Canadian, hailing from Ottawa. The question was his ability to hit and translate those tools to on-field production.
The early returns were underwhelming, in particular his 2017 full season debut in which he hit .214/.281/.351 with 139 strikeouts against just 38 extra base hits. There were some improvements repeating the level last year, cutting back the strikeout rate by 5.5% with a little more power. That relapsed upon a promotion to high-A. The odds are he doesn’t put it together, but he landed at 37th on my list simply on the upside if he does.
Jon Harris, RHP, age 25 (DOB: 10/16/1993), last year: 35th
After the freefall from 10th to 35th last year, Harris has fallen right out right out of the Top 40 after essentially repeating his disappointing 2017 in AA. For a little while in the middle of the season it looked like he might have figured things out with a run of good starts including a brief promotion to Buffalo, but overall it was still the same combination of low strikeout rate and issues with managing contact.
But here’s the thing: it’s not a case of his stuff has gone backwards since he was a consensus first rounder in 2015. It’s just that the yellow flags clearly identifiable at the time — solid four pitch mix, but nothing truly plus — have come to fruition. Even when successful at the lower levels, he wasn’t overpowering batters, and as he’s faced better and more experienced hitters moving up, they’ve made better contact. Perhaps he gets another shot in 2019, but barring significant unforeseen improvement, it’s hard to see him as a starter.
Where I’m more interested is what he could do in the bullpen. Six years ago, I examined how Scott Downs and Casey Janssen had emerged as bullpen aces from mediocre starters, and noted similarities with Brett Cecil in predicting his 2013 breakout. I’m not saying Harris belongs in that line, but it strikes me that he shares some of the characteristics — college draftee with significant pedigree, increasing contact issues. Put him in the pen, if the stuff ticks up and he pares back to his two or three best pitches, there’s potential. I think he’s being written off or overlooked prematurely, and I’d put him right at the back of my list at 40th.
Ryan Gold, catcher, age 21 (DOB: 10/10/1997), last year: 24
Gold was run up on last year’s list on the back of a .302/.382/.482 line in Bluefield. That was mostly my doing, and in hindsight probably too aggressive (as I discussed last week, this tends to be my blindspot). He was a midseason addition to Lansing, but the production slipped to .264/.308/.346. That’s not disastrous by any means, but the power drying up was disappointing. He’ll return to Lansing, he’s still young, there’s just a lot of really interesting players at the backend and he got lost in the shuffle.
Zach Logue, LHP, age 23 for most of 2019 season (DOB: 4/23/1996)
Logue was drafted in the 9th round of the 2017 draft out of the University of Kentucky, where he had an up-and-down career (at one point their Friday starter). He had a strong pro debut in 2017, mostly with Vancouver, moving to Lansing in 2018 and quickly earning another promotion to spend the last three months in Dunedin. All told, a 3.15 ERA over 154 innings across the two levels.
The question is the underlying stuff, and how it’s going to translate to higher levels. I think FanGraphs put it well in saying he was 60 control of 45 grade stuff. He gets good run on his fastball, but it’s mostly high-80s scraping 90-91. He’s very good at mixing and matching a slurvy breaking ball and changeup to keep batters off balance. He throws strikes, but when he misses in the zone, he gives up hard contact. The results can’t be ignored, but even the profile is difficult. The stuff is pretty marginal for a starter today, but it’s not a traditional reliever profile either, lacking a true plus pitch — sort of a poor man’s Thomas Pannone.
Cobi Johnson, RHP, age 23 (DOB: 11/6/1995)
Johnson was a late round draft pick in 2018, going in the 30th round. Don’t let that deceive though — he was ranked very highly out of high school in the 2014 draft, but went to Florida State. He never really got on track there, and dealt with injuries including missing 2017 with Tommy John surgery. He had a successful 2018 in the FSU bullpen, and signed for a healthy $125,000 bonus.
He was absolutely dominant for Vancouver, a 1.73 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 26 innings. More significantly, in the handful of televised games, his stuff looked absolutely electric — 92-94 fastball, swing-and-miss breaking ball, and a good change-up too. The quality of a three pitch mix almost made me wonder if they try starting him again? Otherwise, he could move quickly, wouldn’t surprise me if he started in Dunedin.
Cal Stevenson, OF, age 22 (DOB: 9/16/1996)
Stevenson appeared to be a classic money saving “senior sign”, a $5,000 bonus in the 10th round last year out of the University of Arizona. His numbers in his pro debut were just stupid. A .645 OBP in 31 GCL plate appearances. Another 53 walks (over 20%) en route to a .359/.494/.518 line with Bluefield. I had ticketed him for Vancouver after the draft, and was actually really surprised he didn’t at least spend most of the season there, a level of competition that would have been at least more on par with the Pac-12 whereas the Appy League is probably a step down.
It’s tempting then and would be easy to dismiss the numbers, but they’re not actually huge outliers. In his two years at Arizona, he walked 83 times (17%) against just 52 strikeouts. He hit for a good average, showed gap power. He showed better speed, 20/21 in stolen bases than he did on college, so he’s got range in the outfield. It’s not crazy to invoke a parallel to Kevin Pillar (his career, certainly not the plate discipline). Like Pillar, he’s going to have to prove it level-by-level, starting likely in Lansing.
Maximo Castillo, RHP, age 20 for most of 2019 season (DOB: 5/4/1999)
Castillo repeats on my list after a pretty successful full season debut as a teenager in 2018 with over 130 innings pitched. The 4.52 ERA reflects quite of a bit of ups and downs, and has fastball velocity varied from the high-80s to low-90s, but he has a pretty good looking curveball.
Sean Wymer, RHP, age 22 for 2019 season (DOB: 3/19/1996)
It’s pretty crazy that Wymer, a 4th round pick who was an almost consensus top 100 draft pick and had a solid debut, wouldn’t have made the list even if we went to 50. He got touched up some in Vancouver hence a 4.84 ERA, but struck out 34 batters in 35.1 innings against just 7 walks. In the near term, he’ll work as a starter in Lansing, but had better results in college as a reliever.
Graham Spraker, RHP, age 24 for 2019 season (DOB: 3/19/1995)
Spraker is a wild card pick here. He was a 31st round pick as a Division II senior, and dominated in his pro debut in Bluefield. The results weren’t quite as spectacular in 2018, a 3.26 ERA in 91 innings after missing time, and his strikeouts fell way down (17%). I’m including him because I really like his slider — I’d put him in the pen, go fastball/slider, and there might be something there.