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Written by Ben Wilson Photos by MiLB.com
Two Up, Two Down is a new feature here at Real McCoy Minors that takes a look around the minor leagues to identify prospects outside of the biggest names and highest rankings whose recent play on the field warrants our attention. We all know someone like Braves OF prospect Ronald Acuña has done other-worldly things this year in the minor leagues, so this feature instead brings other names from the edges and into the spotlight. This is not a deep dive by any means, but quick hits on guys who should see some change in their rankings industry-wide based on their performance.
Eric Filia, OF, Seattle Mariners
To say that the exciting Mariner had a brilliant AFL is an understatement: Filia finished the Fall league season hitting .408/.483/.605 and batting in the cleanup spot for the championship Peoria Javelinas team. Sandwiched between two premier Braves RH bats in the lineup (3B Austin Riley and OF Ronald Acuña), the LH batting Filia brought an approach at the plate that was brimming with confidence: I compared the feel and stance in the box to Nick Swisher and Carlos Gonzalez on Twitter during Saturday’s title game. In the outfield, Filia wrangled two impressive highlight plays: first robbing Washington OF Victor Robles of extra bases with a full-length dive in the right-center gap, than going back to the wall to take extra bases away from Houston OF Kyle Tucker.
Even though Filia is outside of most top 100 prospect lists, the 25-year-old former 20th round pick was in discussion for the league MVP among the game’s top-flight prospect names. Filia’s performance is not unheralded, though: it comes as a culmination of two very solid professional seasons. Among the most impressive areas: the very low K rate for his career (7.5%) and BB/K rate (105 BB/64 K), reflecting a highly polished approach. Finally, on top of being a stand-up player on the field, Filia was a stand-up guy too, winning the sportsmanship award in the AFL for “unselfishness, hard work, and leadership” (Perry Cohen, MLB.com). Filia has been an on-base machine and a good run producer, and there is every indication that he can be a productive big league bat and dirt dog for the Mariners in the future.
Sean Murphy, C, Oakland Athletics
We continue our glorification of the AL West by highlighting a really talented young backstop in Murphy. Murphy impressed in the AFL for the Mesa Solar Sox by getting on base at a .413 clip and for his defensive nuances as a catcher. All indications are that the Athletics have their catcher of the future in Murphy: he is lauded for his pitch framing skills and gunning down would-be stolen base attempts at a 33% rate through his professional career. What impresses me most is his fundamentals behind the plate, particularly for a tall (6’3”) catcher. He has soft hands as a receiver which help get more called strikes (he goes to the spot instead of tracking pitches, thereby avoiding pulling them out of the zone), and the pop positioning is textbook. As a hitter, Murphy’s comps to organizational mate 3B Matt Chapman are pretty apparent, albeit with slightly less power. Even though he did not hit a HR in the AFL (it is not unreasonable to suggest that playing over 100 games behind the dish this year took a toll, either), he hit 13 HR to go along with 18 doubles in 98 games between A+ and AA ball and earned a spot on the Cal League All-Star squad in the process. MLB analyst and former MLB GM Dan O’Dowd compared Murphy to former Seattle Mariner All-Star C Dan Wilson during the AFL title game broadcast, which would certainly be a positive outcome for Oakland in Murphy. While Oakland will certainly be patient with Murphy’s development, the foundation is a strong one to build on for the catcher.
Henry Owens, P, Boston Red Sox
The path has been on an unfortunate decline for the 36th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Owens has seen time with the big club in Boston, making 11 starts in 2015 and and 5 starts in 2016. Though no longer prospect eligible, the 25 year old Owens has had mixed results in the high minors. The control has all but abandoned him the last two seasons, where he has served up 101 BB in 159.2 IP in 2016 (MLB and AAA), and 115 BB in 126 IP in 2017 (AAA and AA). On the positive, both the K numbers and hits against numbers are quite good. However, a pitcher with trouble finding consistent command is hard pressed to find a spot in the rotation or bullpen. While the Red Sox may hope that the 6’6″ lefty becomes an Andrew Miller type reliever, they still have time in that regard: Miller’s became a full time reliever in his age 27 season with Boston.
In the AFL, he has been victimized by the long ball, serving up 5 HR, and overall allowing 21 ER in 21.1 IP. I wonder if the AFL was the organization’s barometer to see how he would respond to the challenge of good minor league competition. If that is the case, Owens future in Boston remains very much up in the air.
Bobby Bradley, 1B, Cleveland Indians
The big bopping prospect for the Indians has always impressed with raw power in the minor leagues, and finished this past season with 23 HR for the Akron Rubber Ducks (AA). He cut his K rate from 30% in 2016 to 22% in 2017, but the AFL has been a different story for Bradley. In 74 AB for the Glendale Desert Dogs, he has piled up 32 K (43% K rate) and only 2 BB. The triple slash of .230/.260/.365 has left quite a sour taste in our mouths coming off of the 2017 campaign that saw positive progress in his game, and an improved athletic physique according to reputable evaluators. It will be interesting to see if Bradley’s recent performance will affect what Cleveland does with their 1B situation: free agent Carlos Santana is already garnering great interest from suitors, and they will likely want to avoid putting a fielding glove on Edwin Encarnacion in and past his age 35 season.