Checking In On The Next Wave of Top Prospects: National League Edition

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In January, I selected and profiled one player from each NL team to be the next breakout prospect for their organization, which can be seen here. At the conclusion of the minor league regular season, I wanted to check back in on each of these prospects and offer alternate prospects who grabbed headlines with noteworthy performances this season. Check out the previously published AL midseason edition here. And, make sure to visit the Real McCoy eBay store and exciting Real McCoy card breaks on Twitter brought to you by our esteemed head honcho Mark Nikolov!

Jhoan Duran, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks-Traded to Minnesota Twins

Duran really took a step forward this year, enough to be one of the centerpieces in the trade deadline return for Eduardo Escobar. In Duran’s 15 starts for Kane County (A, Midwest League), he had 71 K: 28 BB in 64.2 IP. He was a bright spot following the trade, as the first 6 starts in his Twins career for Cedar Rapids squad resulted in a sterling 2.00 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, and 44 K: 10 BB in 36 IP. I am even more excited for Duran to develop in the Twins system, and he could find his way into the edges of the Top 125 overall prospects in the game next season.

For the Diamondbacks, Jasrado Chisholm has emerged as one of the clubs’ top prospects, putting together a year that makes him look to be the future SS in the organization. Former Yankee farmhand Taylor Widener dominated AA with a blistering 11.5 K/9, and could help the big league team with perhaps a September bullpen stint in the pennant race, but more realistically a mid 2019 callup.

Jean Carlos Encarnacion, 3B, Atlanta Braves-Traded to Baltimore Orioles

Maybe this column should be called “next wave of prospects to be traded at the deadline,” because JCE was dealt as part of the Kevin Gausman trade to the Orioles. Before the deal, Encarnacion socked 10 HR, 57 RBI, 25 2B’s, and 7 3B’s in 97 G. The early days in the Orioles organization have been an adjustment, as he sported a 34 K: 3BB ratio and a .218/.240/.356 triple slash. Encarnacion gives the Orioles one of their new top prospects, and he could be an impact power bat in the confines of Camden Yards.

For the Braves, Drew Waters has really impressed this year, ranking among top 100 midseason lists with his excellent all around play. The switch hitter got rave reviews from Sally League guru John Calvagno (@SALNotes): “A fast bat with premium exit velos paired with stellar up the middle defense. Left handed he’s a terrific young hitter and definitely deserving of the #2 spot [behind Juan Soto in Sally League play this season], by a pretty good margin.” Waters should safely be owned in all dynasty baseball formats.

Charcer Burks, OF, Chicago Cubs

In 125 games at AA Tennessee (Southern League), Burks had a solid .330 OBP and has split time between LF and CF. Burks finished 74% successful in SB attempts (14/19), up from last season’s 57% mark.

For the Cubs, 19 year old catcher Miguel Amaya really blossomed in the system. The Panamanian backstop had 12 HR and an .342 OBP playing in the Midwest League. Amaya is emerging as one of the top offensive prospects for the Cubs and one of the better catching prospects in the game: a must own in deeper or two-catcher leagues at this point.

Michael Beltre, OF, Cincinnati Reds

Beltre split time between A and A+ this season, and all the while has kept his OBP around the .400 mark at .397 for the season. Beltre was also successful on over 80% of SB attempts (22/27), and ran into 5 HR and 8 3B’s.

While Beltre has been an excellent contributor in the Reds’ farm, Tony Santillan has emerged as one of the organization’s bright young pitching prospects with great results in his 11 starts so far in AA, in addition to Jeter Downs taking the next step this year in A ball, where he hit 13 HR to go along with 37 SB and a .351 OBP. Downs gets a bump in OBP leagues, as he could be a top flight option moving forward.

Breiling Eusebio, LHP, Colorado Rockies

Eusebio has missed most of the 2018 campaign due to injury, but the lefty had 11 K: 3BB in his 9 IP of work this season. He will be one to monitor upon his return to the mound.

For the Rockies, second baseman Garrett Hampson has been one to watch, as he started in AA and even has seen time in the MLB this year. Hampson’s hit tool, speed, and defense helps secure that he will be a fixture in the middle of the field for many years and be the successor to free-agent to be DJ LeMahieu.

Caleb Ferguson, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Ferguson is currently contributing to the Major League squad in the heat of a three team NL West pennant chase. Though primarily serving out of the bullpen for Dave Roberts, Ferguson has amassed 53 K in 43 IP and a low 1.14 WHIP, where his stuff is playing up in shorter stints. Ferguson also has 10 starts in AAA, dominating to the tune of a 1.53 ERA in 47 IP. He looks to be fit to stay in the bigs, where he will be one of many back of the rotation/bullpen arms that the Dodgers have currently constructed within their roster.

For the Dodgers, it has been the year of Gavin Lux, the club’s 2016 first round selection. Lux has made the jump to AA, where he lit the world on fire with a .324/.408/.495 in 28 games with Tulsa. Lux is certainly among the deep and talented crop of Dodgers prospect core, and is a good option for middle infield depth in your dynasty minor leagues if you missed out on many of the top options. He is a good piece to deal in dynasty if your window for competing is within the next couple of seasons because the Dodgers are very deep at the MLB level and are keeping down ready prospects such as Alex Verdugo.

James Nelson, 3B, Miami Marlins

While Nelson didn’t play to the level of his 2017 Marlins minor league player of the year status, he still projects to be an MLB contributor for the Marlins in late 2019 or 2020 and a talented hitter.

One of the more interesting seasons in the Marlins system came from Sean Reynolds, who looks like Joey Gallo-lite. Reynolds lead the New York Penn League in HR, RBI, BB, and K, while having a batting average of .193. The 6’7″ Reynolds also stole 13/14 bases for the Batavia Muckdogs in what was a truly intriguing year for the converted pitcher. Reynolds is a good dynasty name to monitor in deeper leagues, and Realy McCoy colleague Mark Firkins has also written extensively on the young slugger this season.

Kodi Medeiros, LHP, Milwaukee Brewers-Traded to Chicago White Sox

Add another to the trade deadline board! Medeiros boosted his value enough this season to be moved at the deadline for Joakim Soria. For the Brewers, Medeiros indeed turned a corner: serving primarily as a starter, he had a 3.14 ERA, and 107 K in 103.1 IP. Mederios faced some control issues after the trade, but overall, he figures to be a backend starter option in late 2019 for the White Sox. He was a good name to headline a deal for the effective, but older Soria.

In the Milwaukee system, it really has been all about Corey Ray this season. After moving lots of prospects in the offseason in trades, Ray really solidified his place as a former 1st round talent with an eye-opening 27 HR, 37 SB season. While the Milwaukee OF is still comically deep at this point, Ray nonetheless has emerged as a true top prospect talent who should contribute to the big league club next season.

Corey Oswalt, RHP, New York Mets

Oswalt has pitched well enough in the Majors this season to lose prospect eligibility as he stands at 50 IP. Oswalt hasn’t racked up a ton of K’s at the big league level, but has contributed out of the rotation and bullpen for the Mets. HR’s have been an issue, as he has surrendered 12 bombs, but Oswalt will continue to serve as a guy who can be a useful arm in the organization.

The Mets have had a big improvement in the farm system this year. A pair of middle infielders have really drawn some attention: Luis Santana and Shervyen Newton. Santana is somewhat limited defensively to 2B, but his hit tool has been fantastic. Newton has been a little more under the radar, but has the ability to stay as a SS and could provide great power and OBP from the position. The 6’4″ Newton could move to 3B and is a great name to circle for 2019 dynasty drafts or an end of season add in deeper leagues.

Victor Arano, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies

Arano has been a consistent bullpen option for Gabe Kapler’s Phillies in 2018. While there was a flicker of a chance he could be a closer this year, Seranthony Dominguez flew ahead of all of the bullpen arms in Philly to claim the top spot on the depth chart for saves. However, Arano has put together a solid season, where he has a 2.60 ERA and 55 K: 14 BB in 52 IP. Arano has 9 Holds and 3 Saves.

For the Phillies, Spencer Howard has had a dominant season pitching in the South Atlantic League. The 2017 2nd Round pick capped off a breakout year as he completed a postseason no hitter, an outstanding achievement on what was a solid season for a young pitcher. Expect Howard to be a popular choice moving up rankings next season for starting pitching prospects.

Jason Martin, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

With the Pirates trading away Austin Meadows, an outfielder who was once thought to be a potential franchise cornerstone, Martin suddenly has become one of the prominent outfield prospects in the high minors for Pittsburgh. While there is certainly other OF talent with the emergence of Cal Mitchell and the drafting of Travis Swaggerty Martin thrived this year at AA by slashing .325/.392/.522 in 68 G. Martin somewhat struggled upon his promotion to AAA, but should be on track to take over a vacant outfield slot with incumbent Corey Dickerson a pending free agent.

Jordy Barley, SS, San Diego Padres

The Padres have so much talent in the low to mid minors, it is drool-worthy to think about what the future could hold in Southern California in a few years. The 18 year old SS has taken some important developmental steps this season, including a torrid streak in early July where he had a 10 game on base streak.

There are many San Diego prospects to highlight, but 2018 was really a year in the Padres system for two guys who were acquired in previous trades. Pitcher Chris Paddack, acquired from the Marlins and fully recovered from TJ Surgery, put up ridiculous video game numbers and looks to be a rotation force moving forward. 2B Esteury Ruiz, acquired from Kansas City, has drawn comparisons to a young Alfonso Soriano, was 1 SB short of the 50 mark while swatting 12 HR at A level Fort Wayne. Kudos to AJ Preller.

Sam Wolff, RHP, San Francisco Giants

Wolff primarily was a AA Richmond Flying Squirrel, and pitched as a middle to late relief arm with mixed results. Wolff surrendered 36 H in 27.1 IP, which was a bit of a concern, but only allowed 1 HR. Wolff had the K’s working as he set down 38 against a reasonable 16 BB, and locked down 5 SV.

The Giants system has taken somewhat of an upturn on their modest ranking heading into the season, particularly because of the drafting of their now top prospect C Joey Bart, who has so far looked like the second-coming of Buster Posey. One of the most improved hitters in the system was middle infielder Jalen Miller, who put it together as a Cal League All-Star with 35 doubles, 14 homers, and 11 steals and a .276/.321/.434 in 123 G. Miller is somewhat of a deeper league option at this stage, but could emerge as a more prominent name with a hot start in 2019.

Alvaro Seijas, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

Seijas had a respectable first go in full season ball in his age 19 season. Seijas particularly performed better in the second half, which is a testament to the adjustments and development he made during the season. July saw Seijas produce a 3.38 ERA over 4 starts and 21 IP, with 21 K: 13 BB. It was the only month where he allowed fewer hits (19) than IP.

The Cardinals had a true breakout from young slugger Elehuris Montero, who some have hailed as one of the best hitting prospect in the system since Albert Pujols and the late Oscar Tavares. Between two levels, Montero blasted 16 HR and 37 doubles, and sported an impressive .315/.371/.504. Montero looks like a middle of the order force who should be owned in all dynasty formats at this juncture outside of the most shallow leagues.

Taylor Gushue, C, Washington Nationals

Gushue earned an All-Star nod in the AA Eastern League this season, and the 24 year old backstop looks ticketed for the nation’s capital at some point during 2019. While he ultimately may be an offense-first backup, Gushue has the chance to emerge at a position which has been a real headache for the Nationals at the big league level.

One to watch in the Nationals system is New York Penn League All-Star Jacob Rhinesmith. Rhinesmith was the Auburn Doubledays’ team MVP this season, leading the squad in R and RBI, and was 7th overall in the league in H. Rhinesmith is not quite a dynasty asset outside of deep leagues, but he could make a nice midround selection for 1st year dynasty drafts and overall looks like a solid hitter in time in the Nationals system.

 

The End of the MiLB Season

1280px-MiLB_logo.svgWritten by Mark Firkins

If spring gets me excited for baseball and summer brings out my passion for the game, what does fall bring? Fall brings, hmm… well, fall brings mixed emotions. The season offers plenty of exciting baseball. In the minors, if you’re still playing in September it means your team has had a good season and has made it into the playoffs in your league. It also means if you’re fortunate enough to be on the 40 man, that MLB rosters have expanded and it’s a possibility you get a call up to the big league club.

Labor Day and Fall are also a sad time for me. My two hometown teams, The Rochester Red Wings (AAA affiliate of the Twins) and The Batavia Muckdogs (A affiliate of the Marlins), wrap up play Labor Day weekend. Neither team will qualify for post season play this year. Which means that on Tuesday, September 4th, I start the all too long countdown until I see live baseball again in Western New York. It will be 7 months until I once again visit Frontier Field and take in the view of Kodak HQ and the skyline of downtown Rochester. It will be more than 9 months until Batavia, the NY PENN League, and quaint Dwyer Stadium opens and I find myself sitting in the summer sun, past the visitors dugout by first base.

No more dollar hot dogs nights. No more $1 Genesee Beer on Thirsty Thursdays. No more seeing AAA players so close to the major league level and wondering which players will make the big league club next season. No more watching first year players in short season rookie ball. It really is bittersweet and cruel to have the season end on Labor Day before summer officially ends September 21st. September offers some of the finest weather in these cities. There’s still plenty of warm days with gorgeous, clear blue skies. Nights offer a crisp and comfortable coolness, perfect for jeans, hoodies, and your favorite cap. I get it though. Kids are back in school, families (my own included) have to get back into a routine, high school sports and activities take over, and it’s time for young players to go back home, and/or prepare for fall and winter league baseball.

I look back at this past season as a season of firsts and personal success for me. This was my first year as a MiLB writer and one that included press privileges at the above named facilities. In Rochester, I was able to view the game from the press box above home plate, watch batting practice on the field, walk the outfield grass and warning track pregame. I wandered the stadium concourse and seating bowl and could sit in just about any open seat, getting any view I needed, and get up close to see the logos and brands of bats players were using (more on that in a future article). In Batavia, I was provided the opportunity to meet and interview 4 different players (which are all available to read in my older posts). I watched freshly drafted prospects develop into professional players in 3 short months. I saw players improve their swing, fielding, and pitching, game after game. Unfortunately, I also saw players get sent back to the Gulf Coast League and even released shortly after the season began, but that’s also part of the business and game. I connected with Jeremiah Jackson, an exciting top prospect drafted by the Angels this past June. Although we were thousands of miles apart, he playing in the Arizona Rookie League and me travelling through New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio all summer, I was able to check in on his progress, look at the box scores regularly, and see plenty of video clips of his play posted on social media.

I attended 42 NY PENN, Eastern, and International League games combined in 7 different cities. I viewed some of the most gorgeous baseball skies and sunsets that can be seen. I viewed some of the funniest promotions and on field contests for both kids and adults to play. I ate some of the best food and treats one can possibly enjoy, honestly, does anything taste as good and beat ballpark food? I feel fortunate and blessed to have seen players ranging in age from fresh out of high school to seasoned MLB veterans play the game with such passion, joy, and pure enthusiasm. I met up with old friends and fellow travelling baseball lovers, including Malcolm MacMillan from theballparkguide.com  who I met up with twice this season. Malcolm is one of baseball’s travelling authorities on ballparks/stadiums, their scenic views, host city and the food they all offer. I made new connections, both in person and through my twitter account who followed along with me on my journeys and I now consider friends.

I witnessed Sean Reynolds of the Batavia Muckdogs crush 17 home runs this season, twice as many as the next closest player in the league. On three occasions I watched a no hitter go into the 7th inning. One game featured pitchers from both teams taking their no no’s into the eighth only to be spoiled by a solo home run from one team and a bunt single from the other.  On July 22nd, the Batavia Muckdogs and Mahoning Valley Scrappers combined for 32 hits, 24 runs, 4 errors, and used 10 pitchers to complete a game. On August 30th, these two teams met again for a double header. Game one ended in a 2-1 Scrappers win, with each team recording 5 hits. Game two had the Muckdogs on top 1-0 with each team combining for 5 hits total. Two games featuring excellent pitching and defense performances from both clubs, keeping hits and runs to a minimum.

It’s no secret that my sons Thomas and Travis are my main travelling partners and witnesses at most of these games. Thomas has been away at college and this summer had the opportunity to take a job in the Adirondacks (5 hours away, northeast of Rochester, NY) that fit well into his field of study, Environmental Science. He was home for only a brief period at the beginning of summer but we did manage to squeeze in a few Rochester Red Wings games together. Travis attended just about all other games with me, kept score, tracked down some foul balls as souvenirs, and was my road warrior, travelling the I-90 through New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Although his name didn’t appear in the writing credits, he certainly helped and collaborated with many of the articles I have posted.

Labor Day, September 3, 2018 is now upon me. It’s the last game of the season for the Batavia Muckdogs. Our family tradition is that everyone goes to the first and last game of the season. This means my wife and daughter will join Travis and me (Thomas is moved back into the dorms and at school). We’ll be some of the first fans into Dwyer Stadium when the gates open at noon. We’ll enjoy lunch pregame, wander the small concourse for a while, take a good look around, then take our seats around 12:45. The game will start at 1:00 and end around 4:00. We’ll have our family picture taken by an usher after the game in front of the dugout, soak in the view one last time, then be the last ones to leave the stadium. It won’t be until June 2019 when we’re allowed back into Dwyer, 9 long months.

The MiLB season began for me on a raw, bitter cold, 34 degree April night, covering a Rochester Red Wings game. It will end on a steamy, humid, 91 degree September day, watching a Batavia Muckdogs game. I have so many notes and ideas for future articles thanks to all of the games and players I’ve seen this 2018 season. You can be sure that in the off season I will be busy putting it all together for you to read and enjoy. Thank you to the staff at the Rochester Red Wings and Batavia Muckdogs for being such gracious and hospitable hosts; allowing me access to their press box, stadium, field, and players for me to interview. Thank you to my family for understanding what the love of this game means to me and why I do what I do during baseball season. HUGE thanks to you, my Real McCoy Minors audience and twitter followers who have read, liked, retweeted and shared my articles for others to enjoy!

For now it’s goodbye Minor League Baseball. I understand you need to take a break. I’ll impatiently be waiting for your return next spring (try to do a little better job with opening day weather though? PLEASE). Thanks again MiLB, I guess it’s not really goodbye, it’s until we meet again, next April.

Pitching Prospects and Teammates: Cameron Mingo & Alex Royalty

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Written by Mark Firkins

Baseball is said to be a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a sport whose season begins in February with spring training and the fall classic now ends in November. However, any fan of the minor leagues knows that summer and the season goes by way too quick. This is especially true if you’re a fan of and follow the NY PENN League. Their season begins in mid June, ends Labor Day, and plays 75 games. While the season may be short, the talent and play on the field is excellent. Most players are fresh from the June MLB draft and/or promoted from the parents club Rookie Leagues; The Arizona, Appalachian, or Gulf Coast Leagues.

With 14 teams in 3 divisions, you’re bound to catch the same teams and players with regular frequency. I have been fortunate to attend 24 NY PENN League games so far this season, 14 of them featuring the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Cleveland Indians). My faithful travel companion and youngest son Travis (14) is usually by my side at these games. He’ll act as my score keeper, second pair of eyes, and someone knowledgeable to bounce ideas off of. Without telling each other we decided to each pick out a few players that impressed us, pay a little more attention to, keep notes on and compare our findings. After our 8th or 9th Scrappers game we shared our findings. Amazingly, as if we read each others minds we each had picked two of the same players.

Even more remarkable, our notes and comparisons were unbelievably similar for these two players. We each chose Pitchers, Cameron Mingo (RHP) and Alex Royalty (RHP).

Here’s what we found together:

Cameron Mingo pitched for Princeton in the Ivy League and was signed by the Cleveland Indians as an undrafted free agent in August 2016. In his 2 seasons he has pitched in the Arizona, NY PENN, Midwest, and Eastern Leagues (rookie to AA level). He has logged 140 innings pitched, a 4.00 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 89 strikeouts, and rarely gives up the long ball.

He features a sinking fastball that regularly sits in the low 90’s and one that registers plenty of ground outs. Mixed with a slider and curve ball, Cameron keeps plenty of batters off balance and guessing at his offerings.

At 6′ 4″ and 185 lbs. Cameron is a lean figure on the mound. The first time I saw his pre game bullpen warm ups and then in game action, there was something about him that was all too familiar to me. Not surprising, as sometimes I feel we share a brain, Travis had the same reaction. Cameron’s stance on the mound, arm angle, wind up from the stretch, delivery and stature on the field is remarkably similar if not identical to Indians Pitcher, Josh Tomlin. Coincidence? Maybe. However Josh Tomlin is the Indians longest tenured player, well respected in the organization, and even shared the bullpen and played with Cameron in Mahoning Valley in 2017 when he was on a rehab assignment there. While I’m sure it’s more of a coincidence, being compared to Josh Tomlin can only be viewed as high praise.  I can certainly see Cameron filling and playing that same role in the Indians organization.

Alex Royalty was drafted in the 8th round this past June. A college product from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, Alex earned many collegiate honors including the 2017 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Pitcher of the Year and 2018 CAA All Tournament Team.

Drafted in June and after a brief 4 game appearance in the Arizona League he was promoted to the Scrappers. He has started 5 games in the NY PENN League, and is on a relatively low pitch count for now as he gets stretched out and prepared for longer appearances later in August and the fall. Through 5 games he has pitched 15 innings (exactly 3 innings each game), owns a 2.40 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 16 strikeouts.

Travis and I once again compared notes and again, wrote down the same thing, curveball. Alex heavily relies on and uses the curveball to get hitters out. We saw him pitch a few weeks ago on July 22nd. He logged three innings, threw 47 pitches total, 38 which were off speed and/or a variety of curveball. While I’m not an expert at identifying pitches, I was definitely able to tell the difference in some of Alex’s. He throws the classic straight curve that breaks down and away from right handed batters. He throws the 12-6 curveball that features plenty of top spin and breaks from the batters shoulders to ankles. Alex also featured a slightly faster pitch with excellent tailing action that I assumed to be a slider.

After his exit in the 3rd inning Alex headed for the bullpen along with Scrappers pitching coach Jason Blanton. I wandered down to that area of the field to see what he might be doing after his impressive start. After some arm and leg stretches, Alex and coach Blanton each held a ball, compared grips, and the coach appeared to be showing him something with his legs. Alex then threw 15 more pitches in the bullpen. I was able to hear the pitching coach tell him what to throw and yell out “knee up!” telling him to get his left knee/leg higher in his wind up. Of the 15 bullpen pitches thrown? You guessed it, curveballs.

Travis and I have viewed plenty of other players from many teams that we each have notes for, ideas on and plan on collaborating together for future articles. I always tell him, every one of these players we see has a story, has a dream, has something to offer to the game of baseball, and one day, one of them will make their MLB debut, and we’ll be able to say, we saw them play in the NY PENN League. Cameron Mingo and Alex Royalty are the boys of summer that we remarkably found similarities together for this article. A pitching style and comparison to an established Major League pitcher belongs to Cameron. An impressive, hooking curveball graces Alex. As summer winds down and Labor Day is only a few short weeks away, our chance to see some of the games youngest talent is unfortunately coming to an end. Have Travis and I possibly spotted future MLB players in our corner of the baseball world? As we do for every minor league player we’re fortunate enough to see in action, we certainly hope so.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

Marlins Catching Prospect: J.D. Osborne

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Marlins Catcher OsborneWritten by Mark Firkins Photo by Twitter

J.D. Osborne was drafted by the Miami Marlin in 2017 in the 22nd round. He is off to an impressive season debut in the NY PENN League and with the Batavia Muckdogs. Through 44 games he is batting .350 with 7 doubles, 1 triple, 2 HR, 18 RBIs and a .414 OBP. He has spent most of the season as a catcher but has also played first and third base.

He has a powerful, level swing and makes hard contact with the ball. For a catcher he has decent speed and gets around the bases quickly and efficiently. On defense he has a strong arm, shows leadership and confidence on the field

J.D. Osborne jogged out the Batavia Muckdogs clubhouse, greeted me as if we were old friends who hadn’t seen each other in years and powerfully shook my hand with his huge muscular arms. There’s no doubt he takes his training seriously and hits the weight room often. He was energetic and appeared to be thrilled to talk with me and do an interview. J.D. is definitely a fun person to be around and enjoys life as a professional baseball palyer.

MF: This is your first season in the NY PENN League, what are some of the biggest challenges you’re facing?

JD: I played college ball in Division II, so the velocity from the pitchers is a little higher than I saw at school ball. I’m still making some adjustments with the guys who throw 95 mph or more.

MF: You’ve played third base, first base, and catcher so far this season. All physically and mentally demanding positions to play, how do you prepare yourself for such diverse roles?

JD: I take my reps daily at all of those positions. I catch bullpens and work on my blocking and receiving. I take fielding practice and ground balls at both third and first almost every day as well. I just stayed mentally prepared, focused, and always ready for wherever I’m needed on the field.

MF: You’ve been very consistent at the plate all season and over the past three weeks your bat has really come alive. Did you make any adjustments or change anything in your approach at the plate?

JD: No, my approach to hitting has always been the same. I go to the plate looking for a pitch that I know I can put in play. I’ve been taught to never deviate from the plan.

MF: Speaking of hitting, what type of bat do you swing?

JD: I love Old Hickory bats, they just feel so comfortable with my swing. I have used some Mark Lumber bats as well, they’re a Canadian maker of really good bats.

MF: You’re from Whitby, Ontario, Canada, almost directly across Lake Ontario from where we sit. You’ve spent the past few years down in Florida playing for Polk State College and then the University of Tampa. Now you are playing in the Marlins organization, that’s a lot of Florida connections. Is there anything truly unique that you miss from Canada?

JD: I miss the people from home and good authentic poutine. There’s a restaurant back home I really miss called Jimmy Guaco’s, THE BEST burritos ever, man do I miss those!

MF: There’s such a diverse mix of international players on your team and in the league, what are some of the obstacles you guys face together?

JD: Communication is a big issue. I don’t speak Spanish and a lot of the guys I catch for do. So we’re learning to communicate with each other with our signals. Even though we haven’t learned each other’s language yet doesn’t mean we don’t understand each other. They know on mound visits that I’m trying to make sure we’re on the same page and that I’m supporting them and have their back.

MF: Tell me something different about learning and playing the game in Canada?

JD: We play it a little more aggressively, maybe you want to call it a hockey mentality when we run the basses or slide into a base or home.

MF: Who in the Marlins organization has been a positive influence or given you some great advice?

JD: All the coaches here in Batavia are so supportive, positive and want you to learn and succeed. I couldn’t ask for a better first year manager than Mike Jacobs. He has so much experience and knowledge to share and offer. We all feed off one another and learn so much together.

MF: In your limited free time away from baseball what do you like to do?

JD: I just started playing the guitar about a year or so ago. I’m learning and watching YouTube videos to help me. I’m getting pretty good.

MF: Who are some of your favorite athletes?

JD: Brett Lawrie in baseball. #16, Darcy Tucker for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I loved that guy.

MF: Favorite MLB Ballpark?

JD: I saw a lot of games at the Sky Dome now the Rogers Centre

MF: Favorite song or music heard in the ballpark?

JD: Anything Michael Jackson, Rock with You by MJ

MF: What’s better day games or night games?

JD; Either is great, I just want to play.

MF: Spring or Fall baseball?

JD: Spring baseball

MF: Favorite ballpark food?

JD: Hot dog, loaded

MF: Why is it called the foul pole?

JD: Um… I’m not sure, you got me (shrugging and laughing). It’s fair and in play. Weird.

Chatting with a baseball player is always enjoyable but talking with J.D. was downright fun. He has a powerful energy to him that’s infectious and definitely carries out into his game. You can tell that same energy transfers into his swings at the plate and while wearing the tools of ignorance.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

Jo Adell Is On The Move

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jordon-adell-2017-bmWritten by Mark Nikolov Photo by Baseball America

The Los Angeles Angels farm system is currently looking very strong. Former first round Draft pick Jordon Adell, in particular, has been absolute beast in the California League. Adell is currently ranked number 11 on the Baseball America LIVE Top 100 Prospect list. He’s proved to be a true five tool talent in the Cal League, batting .290 with 12 homeruns and nine stolen bases in only 238 plate appearances. Not too bad for a teenager in pro ball.

Adell recently got the call to Mobile, Alabama to test his skills for the AA BayBears. In his first performance he did not disappoint. He went 2-for-4 with a bomb and three runs. Some may have thought that moving Adell up to Double A was an aggressive move considering his young age (19). Adell, however, is not your average 19 year old. He has a reputation for being a player with integrity and high moral character. Apparently this is something that the Angels look for when they draft.

As far as graphing (autograph seeking) goes, don’t think you can take advantage of him because he’s a good guy. He will often times personalize and loop your name in together with his, making it difficult to resell an item. Last I heard he was in between one per and two per autographs a person. Often times he will not sign at all. Baseball is a business first for these guys and they realize that the more they sign the less value their signature has.

Back when Adell was in high school I sent him two cards via TTM (through the mail) and he gave me two nice signatures in return. I’m very grateful to him for that. I sent the cards to BAS (Beckett Authentication Services) and they came back clean. I suspect that Jo will not be signing TTM anymore, especially with all the fame and popularity that seems to be coming his way.

Look for continued coverage of the Angels farm system in the coming weeks. The Halos have a lot of young talented players right now that could eventually form the nucleus of a World Series team #TeamAdell.

Follow us @REALMcCOYMINORS on Twitter for more MLB prospect news and updates. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League team issued sets and autographed cards.

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Batavia Muckdogs OF – Michael Donadio

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648097354-612x612Written by Mark Firkins Photo by Getty Images

Michael Donadio was selected by the Marlins in the 30th round in 2017. He played in the Gulf Coast League in 2017 and made his debut in the New York Penn League with the Batavia Muckdogs on June 15, 2018.

He has appeared in 31 of the 38 games played so far this season. He currently features a .288 AVG, 8 doubles, 4 HR, and 20 RBI. He has a quick hard swing. Makes solid contact that makes the ball jump off the bat and find its way to outfield quickly.

A natural Left Fielder, but he can also play Center and Right Field when called upon. Through 336 defensive innings played between the GCL and Batavia, Michael has a perfect 1.000 FPCT.

We sat down in Dwyer Stadium recently and talked about Long Island, life in the minors, and of course baseball.

MF: You’re a NY born and raised player from Long Island. You played your college ball at St. John’s in Queens. You’re now playing on the opposite side of the state in Western NY. Have you had to make any adjustments to life in a small town and a with a small community minor league team like Batavia?

MD: The game is no different. I have the same mentality playing here as I have no matter where else I’ve ever played. Play hard, work hard and give 100% every day. Long Island has their small towns too and where I’m from isn’t that much different.

MF: The NY PENN League has teams in Staten Island, Hudson Valley, Brooklyn, and Connecticut.  Unfortunately Batavia has few games scheduled in those parks this season. It would have been nice from your family’s perspective to have caught you in action there. Have they made the trip down the Thruway to visit you here?

MD: Yeah, those locations would’ve been within an hour or so from home. It’s about a six, seven hour drive for them to visit me here, depending on the traffic on the Island, New York City/New Jersey, but they came up to see my debut a month ago and hopefully they’ll get back again before season’s end.

MF: You’re from Long Island, went to college in Queens, so, I have to ask, growing up were you a Yankees or Mets fan?

MD: I was more of a Mets fans. My dad is from Queens and that’s where the Mets are. My mom’s side of the family are all Yankees fans, so we’re split in half on our NY teams.

MF: Everyone gets along during the holidays when the subject of baseball comes up?

MD: Oh yeah, there’s the good natured teasing, but everyone loves their NY teams.

MF: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a new minor league player?

MD: The every day grind. You practice for a few hours each day, a game each night, then you have the bus rides home or to the next city.

MF: Have the Marlins brought in any ex MLB players or roving instructor coaches to teach and give you any extra guidance as a young player?

MD: Our coach Mike Jacobs has a lot of MLB experience and is one of the most positive influences on all of us. His message is pretty clear. Believe in yourself and play the game the way you did that got you here. Don’t change anything about your game now because you’re in a pro league.

MF: There are so many diverse pitching styles and with young pitchers on a smaller pitch count early in the season, there’s frequent pitching changes. What adjustments do you make or what do you go up there looking for facing a new pitcher every few innings?

MD: I don’t make too many adjustments. No matter who’s pitching I go up there looking for the fastball over the plate.

MF: You’ve been very consistent at the plate and I’ve seen you hit the gaps and with a little power this season. What brand of bat do you like?

MD: Tucci Lumber. Some of my past coaches in summer ball introduced me to that brand. I’ve had good luck and success with them, no need to look at any other type.

MF: You’ve played all three OF spots this season. Do you favor one and why?

MD: I played all 4 years in college in LF and most of my games here have also been there as well. I can play all three, but I’m most comfortable with the view, throw and angle of left.

MF: It’s tough on the minor league road. The bus rides, travel schedule, long days at the field. In your limited free time what do you enjoy doing?

MD: I love fishing. I haven’t had much time around here to do any, but when I’m home I go to the Long Island Sound and fish for Blue Fish, Bass, anything to relax and catch some fish.

MF: Some fun and quick questions for you, ready?

MF: Favorite sport other than baseball?

MD: Football, the NY Giants

MF: MLB park you’d LOVE to play in some day?

MD: Ooh, I should say something else but I’m going to say Fenway Park, it’s about as legendary as it gets.

MF: Day games or night games?

MD: It’s cooler at night, both temperature and under the lights

MF: Spring baseball or Fall baseball?

MD: Spring

MF: Favorite ballpark treat?

MD: Cracker Jack

MF: Favorite song you’ve heard play in the stadium?

MD: It’s cool they play Sweet Caroline here in the 8th

MF: Do you have any baseball superstitions?

MD: None

MF: A debate I’m stirring up between pitchers and hitters, why is it called the foul pole?

MD: That’s good, I don’t know, it’s in play, it should be the fair pole, but that doesn’t sound right. Why, what do pitchers say?

Michael Donadio is proving that no matter where you’re picked in the draft, first, last or somewhere in between, if you work hard, practice hard, listen to and learn from your coaches, the game will find a place for you. Michael’s aggressive approach at the plate and impressive defensive play should find him climbing the organizational ladder and stay in the starting lineup for many seasons to come.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

Marlins 1B prospect – Sean Reynolds

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SeanSean Reynolds was picked by the Marlins in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. Through 2 1/2 professional seasons he has split time between the Gulf Coast and NY PENN Leagues. He has slugged 13 HR, 15 doubles, 5 triples, and 59 RBI. I was fortunate enough to witness him pound his 7th and 8th home runs of this season on Sunday July 22. He hit both shots to almost the same spot, directly into the power alley of RC field, right at the scoreboard.

Sean was an interesting choice and draft pick by the Marlins. They saw him blast baseballs 400 feet in high school. They also saw him throw a 7-0 record, strike out 73 batters in 57 innings, a 1.23 ERA as a pitcher and reach back and throw the ball 92 mph. At 6′ 7″ he’d be the ideal fit as the Marlins tend to favor tall athletic pitching prospects. It was his bat though that Marlins vice president of scouting, Stan Meek,  liked the most about Sean. He is quoted as saying “We like the bat, there’s power in it. He’s an aggressive kid and makes good contact. There’s definitely a chance for him to be developed as a power hitter.”

His size, swing and defensive style have been compared to Richie Sexon and John Olerud, good company to be compared with.

I sat down with Sean after his batting practice session on Saturday, July 21st. His 6′ 7″ frame towered above me. His long extended arm pointed downward toward me as we shook hands. He was friendly, enthusiastic, and open to talk about his role and development within the Marlins organization, the Batavia Muckdogs, and the minor leagues.

MF: I think the Marlins saw two possibilities in you when they drafted you in 2016. One, the player we’re seeing now, first baseman with an aggressive swing, power and pop in his bat, good OPS and hitting stats that continue to climb. What a lot of fans might not know is that you were a very good high school pitching prospect as well. Did the Marlins ever take a look at you as pitcher?

SR: They knew I could pitch and some scouts talked to me about that possibility, but the Marlins saw me for what I really am. A 6′ 7″ first baseman with a power lefty swing. They’ve developed me as hitter and saw my future more as a hitter than on the mound.

MF: You bat left but throw right. Is this something natural you’ve always done?

SR: Hitting is the only thing I do as a lefty. Everything else I do is right handed. My dad said when I was 2-3 years old I picked up a wiffle ball bat and started swinging it as a lefty. No one ever tried to change that about me, so I’m a lefty at the plate.

MF: What brand of bat are you using?

SR: Right now I’m swinging Old Hickory maple bats. But I do have some Victus, Rawlings, and Homewood Bats as well. I like a bat with a thin handle and big barrel and when I pick one out I know when it feels just right in my hands.

MF: This your second summer in Batavia and the NY PENN League. You’re now playing against some fresh rookies and some players with 2-3 years of professional experience. What are some of the challenges you’re still facing?

SR: With that fresh talent, there’s always good fresh arms. You’re a pro if you’re here. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new player and this is your first taste, it’s pretty much an even playing field.

MF: Nothing is easy in baseball, especially the minor leagues. However after two seasons now in Batavia have you found it easier to adjust to life in Western NY and life on the road?

SR: The bus trips aren’t that bad. Our longest trip is around 6 1/2 hours, most are shorter drives. The buses certainly weren’t made for guys like me (6′ 7″) to get comfortable on and stretch out. Life in this area is good. It’s a small city but it has everything you need and the community has been very welcoming of us.

MF: After a long day of instruction, practice, then a game, what do you do to relax in your limited free time?

SR: I catch up on my sleep when I can. I love to listen to music.

MF: What kind of music would I find on your phone?

SR: I like a little of everything. Country, classic rock, some oldies, I love just about anything from the 60’s, 70’s & 80″s

MF: What’s some of the best advice you’ve been given by someone in the Marlins organization?

SR: Our manager, Mike Jacobs has been a great influence and example for us to follow. He knows how to teach, has a lot of stories and experience. He’s got recent MLB experience and finished his career with 100 home runs. He always tells me it’s a results based game. He’s a big advocate that when you’re in slump or missing the ball, to remind you not to panic and don’t try to make big adjustments to your approach at the plate. He’ll say the hits will come and that good swings will turn into hits.

MF: Who was your favorite baseball player as a kid?

SR: David Ortiz. My parents lived in New Hampshire for a while before moving to California. My sister lives in Boston, so there was a lot of Red Sox influence when I was younger.

MF: Then I think I know the answer to this, what is your favorite MLB Ballpark?

SR: Oh yeah, Fenway Park

MF: Favorite ballpark food or treat?

SR: Hot dogs – Fenway Franks

MF: What’s better spring baseball or fall baseball?

SR: Fall ball. If you’re still playing in the fall that means you’ve had a good season and you’re part of the post season.

MF: Day games or night games?

SR: Night games. There’s nothing like playing under the lights. The crowds are bigger and the atmosphere has a little more energy to it.

MF: A silly question, yet a baseball one, would you rather sing the National Anthem or dance with the team mascot?

SR: (laughing) I’m not much of a dancer, so I’d rather sing.

MF: A debate I’m stirring up between pitchers and hitters. Why is it called the foul pole?

SR: Ooh, good question, I don’t know, is there a right answer? It’s a home run if you hit it, I’ve never been asked that before.

Sean Reynolds’ offensive stats have continued to climb as he gets more at bats, sees more pitches and faces righties and lefties on a regular basis. His defense is excellent. With his long legs and tall frame, he easily stretches and scoops low throws and turns them into outs. He is vocal on the field and in constant communication with the coaches in the dugout and relays info to the outfield. As I witnessed, Sean is always trying to improve his swing. After BP and before the game he was working individually with Batavia hitting coach, Jesus Merchan then with manager Mike Jacobs. Jacobs was also a first baseman who had the uniqueness of throwing right and batting left. It’s no surprise that Sean respects and looks to his manager for guidance and help to advance his career in baseball.

 

Bryce Howe – Batavia Muckdogs Pitcher

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1Written by Mark Firkins

It’s no secret that I attend as many games in the NY PENN League as I possibly can. While I will travel to other ballparks throughout the season, the Batavia Muckdogs and their home, Dwyer Stadium, is an easy drive for me. Being a short season A league that starts in mid June and ends Labor day, your chance to see some of the games’ young bright stars is brief and summer (as we all know) always goes by too quick.

When I was offered the opportunity to sit down with some of the Miami Marlins’ prospects and interview them, I jumped at the opportunity. The day was Saturday, July 21st. The game was scheduled to start at 7:05 and I was invited to arrive at the stadium at 4:00 to watch batting practice, bullpen warm ups, fielding practice, and walk around the outfield grass and warning track to take some photos from a different view. Players would be available for me to interview after they cooled down, grabbed something to eat, and changed into their game uniforms.

Around 5:00 I was introduced to Muckdogs Pitcher, Bryce Howe. Bryce was selected in the 18th round of the 2017 draft. Bryce looks nothing like most of the pitchers the Marlins have drafted over the past few years. The Marlins tend to favor tall, lean pitchers who have a feel for the slider and curve early in their careers. Bryce is 6′ 2″ – 250 lbs and resembles a middle linebacker more than a baseball player. He is a classic power pitcher who works the corners and pounds the strike zone early with his fastballs. In his 1 1/2 seasons with the Marlins organization Bryce has pitched 61.2 innings, has a 2.63 ERA and has struck out 46.

We sat down in the picnic grove area of the ballpark next to the Muckdogs clubhouse and bullpen area. We shook hands, exchanged greetings, had some pleasant small talk and then began our interview. Bryce was extremely pleasant and gracious. He was very descriptive with his answers and offered personal stories to add to my questions.

MF: Tell me what it’s like being a minor league pitcher in the Marlins organization?

BH: It’s awesome. I’m being taught so much and really developing as a player. The Marlins minor league pitching coordinator, Chris Michalak has put together such a great program and philosophy for me and other pitchers to follow.

MF: Can you share what their philosophy or strategy is for you?

BH: They want me to pitch for early contact and try to get outs in three pitches or less. The pitching coach here, Jason Erickson is great to work with and so supportive of all the talent we have here.

MF: You started the season at Greensboro in the South Atlantic League. You started a few games, pitched middle relief, and even closed/saved a few games there. Here in Batavia you’ve started and have been used in those middle innings situations. What’s the strategy and how do you prepare yourself for such different roles?

BH: So what the Marlins are doing here is having me start one game every 5 days, then another starting pitcher relieves me in the middle. Then in 5 days someone else starts and I piggyback or relieve the middle innings on his start. I look at it as I’m the next starter in that game and I prepare myself pregame as a starter even though I’ll be down in the bullpen and entering and pitching the middle innings. In Greensboro I was filling any role that they needed. I wasn’t on a regular schedule or routine like I am here.

MF: You’re pitching against some young players who may be using a wood bat for the first time in their career. Do you find that to be in your advantage?

BH: Maybe at first there might be some advantage, but if they were good enough to get drafted or placed here, they must know how to hit and play the game.

MF: Who has been the biggest influence on your baseball career?

BH: I’ve had so many great coaches in high school and college, but my dad was my first coach. He’s always encouraged me, coached me in youth leagues, and you can’t get better support than that of your dad and family.

MF: I’m a baseball equipment geek and I always ask the hitters what bat they swing. You don’t get that opportunity too often so I’ll ask what brand of glove goes on your hand?

BH: I like Easton gloves. I’ve used them all through college and now as a pro. I like how they feel and how the ball fits into the palm when I’m getting ready to put my grip on it.

MF: I was watching BP today and then heard a small roar from the players on the field and saw a pitch go over the left center wall. That was you.

BH: Yeah (laughing), I’ll take a few swings with the bat every few days. I haven’t game hit since high school, but I can still swing and enjoy taking my cuts. I’ll work with the pitching machine when I can and lay down some bunts and work on that.

MF: Who’s bat did you use in BP today?

BH: That was my catcher, JD Osborne’s bat. That hit felt perfect the moment I made contact.

MF: You’re from the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. Played your high school and college ball there as well at Oral Roberts University. There’s really no easy way to get from Tulsa to here. Has any of your family made it here to visit and see you play yet?

BH: My dad has made the trip here and my girlfriend has been to visit as well. When I was in Greensboro my Grandparents were able to see me play there. I’m hoping my dad can see me on one of our road trips at some point this season, I know he’s trying to coordinate something.

MF: Ready for some quick, fun, and mostly baseball questions?

BH: Go for it.

MF: Favorite athlete?

BH: Josh Beckett as a ball player. I love golf and love Tiger Woods.

MF: Do you play golf then?

BH: Not lately of course, but I do and can shoot in the high 70’s mid 80’s

MF: Impressive, you’d have to spot me 25 or so strokes.

MF: Favorite MLB Ballpark?

BH: There’s something special about the Green Monster and Fenway Park.

MF: Favorite game/promotion you see the kids playing between innings?

BH: In Greensboro they have those giant inflatable Sumo Wrestling suits and have the contestants Sumo wrestle. Although after seeing that guy take off his shirt last night and dance for his dinner to the song “All the Single Ladies”  – that was something I’ve never seen before and thought that was crazy awesome.

MF: Favorite ballpark food or treat?

BH: A hot dog with mustard and onions.

MF: Would you rather sing the National Anthem or dance with the team mascot?

BH: Sing the Anthem

MF: Day games or night games?

BH: Under the lights at night.

MF: Let’s get a pitchers point of view on this: Why is it called the foul pole?

BH: Yeah, it’s a fair ball, home run if the ball hits it. At least it stops the ball from going farther. If it’s the foul pole and a ball hits it maybe it should be a foul ball for me and a strike on the batter.

Bryce Howe was a pleasure to interview. He was confident, humorous and not shy at all to talk. He has a very positive and upbeat attitude, knows the road to the show is a long one and is willing to put in all the work to succeed. In 1 1/2 season he’s pitched in the rookie Gulf Coast League, NY PENN League, and South Atlantic League. He’s confident in the Marlins pitching philosophy and the coaching staffs guidance. His Oklahoma country smile tells you he loves this game and the game is loving him back.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

 

 

20 Questions with Jeremiah Jackson

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JJ Blog photoWritten by Mark Firkins Photo by Twitter.com

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremiah Jackson, the June 2018 2nd round draft selection by the Los Angeles Angels.

Jeremiah is an exciting young Short Stop from Mobile, Alabama who by his sophomore year of high school had committed to playing college baseball at Mississippi State. However, when the Angels came calling with the 57th overall pick in the 2018 draft, Jeremiah knew it was time for his professional debut.

He’s best described by most scouts and publications as an all around complete player. He features an athletic build and is smooth defensively. He has good range, a strong arm and quick hands making him an ideal double play man at SS. He gets good extension when swinging the bat, makes solid contact, and hits to all parts of the field. He flashes full power when he sees his pitch.

Jeremiah was very polite and personal on the phone. He was polished and honest in his answers about his new life in professional baseball. The following interview took place on Wednesday, July 18th.

MF: Congratulations on your selection by the Angels. They have one of the finest development, training, and coaching staffs in baseball. I can see you excelling in their environment.

JJ: Thank you, it’s a dream come true. I’ve always admired the Angels and now I get to call them my team and hopefully one day my teammates. I am blessed to be in the same organization as Albert Pujols, Upton, Trout, and so many other baseball greats.

MF: You just dropped a few, but can you tell me some of the other big names the Angels have brought into camp and you’ve been introduced to?

JJ: I’ve met so many great people. Jose Molina, Alexis Gomez. I was invited to Anaheim and was introduced to everyone, Mike Scioscia, Eric Hinske, Pujols, Trout, Kinsler, Upton, everyone, my head was spinning meeting everyone being so young.

MF: My head would’ve been spinning as well in that group.

MF: What’s the best advice you’ve been given by someone in the Angels organization that you truly take to heart?

JJ: Everyone is consistent with their message. Work hard and be dedicated. You have to work to get to the next level, nothing is ever given. You have to go out and play every day as if it may be your last day.

MF: You’re playing with and against a great diverse mix of young professionals, new draft picks, international players, and some players with a year or two of professional experience. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced so far?

JJ: You’re right, the talent level is amazing. There are a lot of Latino players and we all have to learn to communicate with each other. We don’t all speak the same language so we have to get to know each other, learn each others signals, use our body language. It’s been an adjustment working together with the 2nd basemen on defense. I’m picking up and understand some Spanish and he’s learning English. We’re all growing together and getting to know each other out on the field together.

MF: Speaking of defense, tell me something about defense you’ve found challenging?

JJ: Working out that communication with my 2nd baseman has been the first. The game is speedier. I take a lot of reps with the defense coaches. I take about 50 reps in practice with the coaches hitting it as hard as they can.

MF: With such a deep and talented pool of pitching prospects on all teams and with young pitchers most likely on a smaller pitch count, you’re seeing 3-5 pitchers per game. Do you find hitters have the disadvantage facing so many frequent pitching changes?

JJ: The pitchers always have the advantage, no matter what level or how many pitchers you may bat against each game. They know what pitch they’re throwing, you don’t. I try to pay attention to the pitcher in his warm ups, read him and look for anything different in his delivery. Once I see a curve or change up I try to remember something in his wind up that I can use so I can recognize it the next time I see it. The coaches tell you what to look for in certain situations and certain counts. I always try to stay ahead in the count, be aggressive, and try not to get behind in a count giving the pitcher back the advantage.

MF: How hard of an adjustment has it been for you swinging a wood bat now in a professional league?

JJ: I’ve trained with a wood bat since high school. I’ve used it in the cages and during BP. I started training with wood very young in case this day ever came. It did and I’m so grateful that I decided to train that way.

MF: You’re batting .295 so far with some extra base hits and a HR. I’d say your training has paid off.

MF: What brands of bats do you prefer?

JJ: Right now my gamers are Marucci. I use an AP 5 model. I also have some Dove Tail and Victus bats that are 271 models that I like.

MF: Did you know that you are the first middle infielder from an Alabama high school to be drafted within the first three rounds of the MLB draft since 1982? Do you know who the 1982 pick was?

JJ: Bo Jackson was the last Alabama pick back then.

MF: Overall, what’s it like being a professional baseball player in the Angels organization?

JJ: Awesome. I play baseball for a living, an absolute dream come true. I love this game and I get to play and improve my game every day. I can’t thank the Angels enough for this opportunity.

MF: I’m an old school guy who still gets the most out of my writing by talking with the players, visiting the ballpark and seeing them in action. I still pay more attention stat lines like AVG, RBI, OBP, FPCT. What do you think about all of the new stat categories, sabr metrics, and technology that a computer can figure out about a player without ever seeing him play?

JJ: The game is always changing. All I can do is work hard and give my best every day. At the end of the game the numbers are what they are. Technology is great though. It has really improved my swing and allowed me to see and learn new things about that part of my game.

MF: In a lot of the minor leagues the players can’t afford their own apartments or can’t find short term rentals, and therefore live with host families in that community. What’s your living situation in the Arizona League?

JJ: The Angels provide us with two bedroom apartments. Right now I have just one roommate and that’s what I expected with an apartment like that. It was funny when I first got out here. I moved into my place and there were already two other players living there as well. So four of us shared a two bedroom unit. That didn’t last too long though. Those guys were promoted to A ball and now it’s just me and my teammate.

MF: You’re from Mobile, Alabama. A long way from home at a young age. What do you miss most about home?

JJ: My family & friends. I grew up in my Grand Dad’s and Mom’s house and they took good care of me. I’m on my own now so I’m responsible for myself. I have to make sure I get up on time, follow my schedule, eat right, and take care of myself.

MF: After a long day of practice, instruction, then a night game, what do you do to unwind and relax in your limited free time?

JJ: My days are long. I’m at the field most days around noon. We take fielding practice, bating practice, shower, eat, then get ready for our game which usually starts at 7:00. I don’t get home until around 11:30 and when I do, I usually shower then get my sleep and rest because I have to do it again the next day.

MF: Do you have any good luck charms, rituals, or baseball superstitions?

JJ: I used to. If I had a good game maybe I’d wear the same socks or compression sleeves again, but I’ve outgrown that. I work and play hard, what happens, happens out there.

MF: I’d like to ask you some quick and fun baseball questions. Answer as many as you can as fast as you can, ready?

– Favorite sport other than baseball?

Auburn Football

– Day games or night games?

Night games

– Spring baseball or Fall baseball

Spring

– Favorite ballpark food or treat?

Nachos

– Favorite MLB ballpark?

Angel Stadium

– Favorite baseball player?

Albert Pujols

– Why is it called the foul pole?

I don’t know, it’s a sight line for me. It’s fair if you hit it.

MF: Jeremiah, thank you for taking the time to speak with me and Real McCoy Minors. It was truly a pleasure chatting with you. Best wishes to you this season in Arizona and your future with the Angels. I hope someday our paths cross at a game and if they do I’ll be sure to introduce myself.

JJ: The pleasure was all mine. You guys do a great job. I look forward to meeting you someday.

Jeremiah Jackson. Professional, polite, mature beyond 18 years old, and hopefully one day in the near future; The Los Angeles Angels Short Stop, teammate of Mike Trout and his idol, Angels 1b/DH, Albert Pujols.

Please follow Mark Firkins on Twitter @thefirkster. Also, check out our eBay store for Minor League Baseball cards and autographed photos. Thanks!

Checking In On The Next Wave of Top Prospects: American League Edition

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In January, I selected and profiled one player from each American League team to be the next breakout prospect for their respective organizations (view article here). Six months later, I wanted to take the opportunity to check in on the status of each of these prospects and in certain cases, offer an alternate prospect or two in the organization who is grabbing headlines with their noteworthy performance this season.

Jhon Peluffo, RHP, Baltimore Orioles

Peluffo has pitched across two levels to begin 2018, yielding lots of contact (51 H in 36.2 IP), while the 21 year old Colombian hurler has struggled with a 26 K to 23 BB ratio.

The Oriole prospect taking the scene by storm is OF Ryan McKenna, Peluffo’s teammate for the Frederick Keys (Carolina League, A+). McKenna is second in the league in hitting with a .375 BA to go along with a .466 OBP and .557 SLG. Of McKenna’s outstanding 95 hits in 66 games, he has 18 doubles, 2 triples, and 8 HR, while adding 5 SB. McKenna is quickly proving to be one of Baltimore’s top prospects. 

Lorenzo Cedrola, OF, Boston Red Sox

Currently playing for the Greenville Drive of the Sally League (A), Cedrola is making a push for a promotion to High A with his impressive play thus far in 2018. While only 7/14 in SB attempts, Cedrola’s .315 AVG is good for 11th overall in the league. Other Sally Leaguers Seuly Matias (KC), Chad Spanberger (COL), Drew Waters (ATL) Oneil Cruz and Cal Mitchell (PIT) are grabbing most of the attention, but Cedrola is still putting together a solid season atop the Drive lineup. Gifted with an overall athletic profile, Cedrola should have no problem ascending through the Red Sox minor league system. While Cedrola might not have the name recognition across the game just yet, he has all of the tools to become the next gem in the Red Sox organization.

Aaron Bummer, LHP, Chicago White Sox

Bummer has pitched in 26 big league games for the South Siders, putting together a solid ERA of 3.26. The WHIP of 1.71 tells a different story, as he has surrendered 27 hits in 19.1 IP. While the 6 BB haven’t proven to be problematic, and the 21 K during those innings has been positive, Bummer finds himself behind fellow lefty Jace Fry in the White Sox bullpen picture. 

Of the two lefties, the 24 year old Fry is emerging as the more reliable choice thus far, where his 0.7 WAR so far in 2018 ranks him above other quality RP’s such as Brad Peacock (HOU) and Kenley Jansen (LAD). 

Luke Wakamatsu, SS, Cleveland Indians

Wakamatsu hasn’t quite put it together with the bat this season for High A Lynchburg, but a tough April has skewed his otherwise productive May, which he hit .258 AVG to go along with a .356 OBP last month. The switch hitter remains a promising talent in the stacked Indians prospect pool. 

Outfielder Will Benson has grabbed more headlines this season so far in the Indians organization, swatting 11 HR. The 14th overall pick back in 2016, Benson has an intriguing blend of power and speed, with contact questions still to be answered (31% K rate in 2018 is a slight improvement on last year’s 34% K rate). Another outfield prospect, George Valera, is on the brink of being the next big thing, and has impressed everyone in Extended Spring Training.

Gregory Soto, LHP, Detroit Tigers

Pitching out of the rotation for Lakeland (High A), Soto’s 12 starts have not seen the progress of his secondary offerings (curveball and changeup) with as much consistency as to silence the future bullpen labels that have been attached to him to this point. While Soto can flat-out bring it with the fastball and he has given up less hits than innings pitched, the Tigers would like to see progress on his 44 BB in 51.1 IP. 

For the Tigers, outfielder Christin Stewart has demonstrated he is knocking on the door of a big league job with 13 HR and a .349 OBP for the AAA Toledo Mud Hens. The Tigers are hoping that Stewart will develop into a middle of the order bat, where he will carry an offense-first profile wherever he ultimately lands defensively.

Jorge Alcala, RHP, Houston Astros

Alcala began the year at High A, and his sterling performance there earned him a promotion to AA. Alcala put together dominant outings as a starter and during bullpen days, netting more K’s per inning in 70% of his appearances. He limited contact and demonstrated excellent control, allowing more than two walks only twice. His latest outing at AA: 5IP, 1H, 1BB, 5K showed the kind of impact starter Alcala can be for the Astros. As the Astros make a run at a repeat championship, Alcala will surely be a name that rival organizations inquire about as they look to put the finishing touches on a roster poised for a deep October run.

Nicky Lopez, SS, Kansas City Royals

Lopez opened eyes during the Arizona Fall League by putting up a .383 AVG, and he picked up right where he left off this season. In 66 games at AA Northwest Arkansas (Texas League), Lopez has compiled a .327 AVG, good for 9th overall in the league, to go along with a .399 OBP. His 83 hits are good for tops among qualifiers. Lopez has knocked 7 doubles and 4 triples for extra base hits and is successful on 9/13 SB attempts. Lopez and Adalberto Mondesi look to be the future infielders up the middle for Kansas City as they rebuild their organization from within in the same mold as their 2014 AL Pennant run.

Trent Deveaux, OF, Los Angeles Angels

Deveaux has yet to log official professional games outside of Extended Spring Training, yet all reports this season are that Deveaux excites scouts with his advanced approach at the plate, top notch speed, and defense in centerfield. Deveaux should quickly take to the field and explode with popularity once he gains a wider level of exposure.

The Angels, for the first time in a little while, have a solid crop of prospects at the top of their rankings. Jo Adell, hardly a secret in the prospect world, is looking every bit as talented as when the Angels invested the 10th overall pick on him in 2017. Jahmai Jones is handling a move back to 2B, the position where he was originally drafted, very well. But the big breakout in the organization has been from LHP Jose Suarez. Suarez created quite a scuttle as he put up a 51K:8BB ratio in 29.2 IP at AA this year. Now at AAA, Suarez is knocking on the door of making an impact for the Angels at just 20 years old. 

Brusdar Graterol, RHP, Minnesota Twins

Graterol has quickly become more of a known commodity in 2018 due to a brilliant start for Cedar Rapids, sharing the field with high profile teammates Royce Lewis, Akil Baddoo, and Alex Kiriloff. Across 7 starts, Graterol has put together a 2.48 ERA and 0.94 WHIP, where he has limited walks (6) in 36.1 IP. Graterol has two starts with 9+ strikeouts so far this year, and looks destined for a consensus top 100 prospect billing by season’s end. 

Luis Medina, RHP, New York Yankees

The Yankees sit atop the AL East standings due in large part to the production they have received from the products of their farm system: Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Domingo German, and Jonathan Holder. Medina is on the brink of a 2018 debut for the Pulaski Yankees (Appalachian League, Rookie), after being limited to simulated game action so far. Scouts rave about his offerings and ability to miss bats, but command has been inconsistent to date. Medina has a ways to go, but a fast start to this season will surely vault him into the conversation along with other top Yankee prospect arms such as Albert Abreu and Chance Adams.

Will Toffey, 3B, Oakland Athletics

Toffey leads all qualifiers in the California League (High A) with a .455 OBP, where he has more BB’s (23) than K’s (22). Indeed, Toffey has lived up to the bill of an on-base machine so far in 2018 in a league scattered with bigger prospect names (Colton Welker, Connor Wong, Daulton Varsho, Gavin Lux, Evan White, Hudson Potts, and Heath Quinn among others). Toffey is one to continue to watch fly under the radar, while the A’s will be tremendously pleased that they have him as a productive bat to build towards a future big league spot. 

Mike Ford, 1B, New York Yankees (formerly Seattle Mariners at the time of the original article release)

Fresh off of a Rule 5 selection by the Mariners, Mike Ford was returned to the Yankees with the positional log jam at 1B in Seattle. Ford remains an intriguing on-base hitter but has struggled at the outset of 2018, where he has seen his K rate (20%) increase well above his MiLB career average of 14%, while simultaneously walking less (10.5% BB in 2018 versus a career average of 14.1%). Currently on the disabled list, Ford will need to see an uptick in productivity to be called up should Greg Bird continue to struggle or face injury. 

For Seattle, Seth Elledge has without doubt been a bright spot for the Mariners farm system, earning a Cal League All-Star nod by putting together a down right dominant campaign. In 27 IP, the reliever has allowed only 10 hits and 3 earned runs while amassing 39 K. 

Joe McCarthy, OF/1B, Tampa Bay Rays

McCarthy’s brother, Jake, was the 39th overall pick in the 2018 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Meanwhile, Joe has held his own this season at AAA Durham, putting up the highest OPS of his career (.863). McCarthy has seen time at 1B, LF, and CF this season for the Bulls, and should get a call up to Tampa Bay sometime in 2018. 

Kyle Cody, RHP, Texas Rangers

Cody has yet to pitch this season due to injury, and the Rangers are rightly being cautious as they have seen fellow top pitching prospect Cole Ragans fall victim to Tommy John surgery earlier this year. Cody still has the makings of a mid rotation workhorse, and may begin the year in High A Down East (Carolina League), where he left off last season, before advancing to a bigger developmental test in AA. 

Edward Olivares, OF,  San Diego Padres (formerly Toronto Blue Jays at the time of the original article release)

Olivares was traded to San Diego in Toronto’s acquisition of Yangervis Solarte shortly after New Years. Olivares is off to a good start in High A, albeit overshadowed by louder performances from teammates Hudson Potts, Buddy Reed, and pitchers Chris Paddack and Adrian Morejon. Olivares’ 73 hits are good for 5th in the league, to go along with 16 doubles, 5 triples, and 5 HR. His 9 SB in 12 attempts has been a positive improvement as well this year. Difficult to stand out in the Padres’ loaded system, Olivares has nonetheless had a solid start in his new organization. 

In Toronto, the Blue Jays have seen breakout performances from two middle infield prospects: Cavan Biggio and Kevin Smith. Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig, has broken out on one of the most viewed minor league teams this year in the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (AA), who feature Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Biggio in the middle of the lineup. In Smith, the Blue Jays had a hitter who produced a monstrous .355 AVG in Lansing (A) before being promoted to Dunedin (A+), where he has continued to hit everything thrown his way. The Blue Jays are boasting stud middle infielders at seemingly every level of their organization, and fill the fan base with optimism for perhaps a post-Josh Donadson era rebuild.