MiLB players to watch in 2018

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Winter and the off-season is no more. The Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues are done playing. Spring training 2018 has come and gone. MLB and MiLB stadiums and fields have been prepared for the fans to enjoy again. Center Field by John Fogerty can be heard again. Baseball season,  IS –  FINALLY –  HERE.

As the 2018 season begins, I look back on the articles and players I have enjoyed researching and wrote about in the off-season. Here’s an update on their status. These up and coming players will start their seasons:

Mitch Garver – C (Minnesota Twins)

After an impressive season in AAA Rochester (International League), Mitch earned a call up to the big leagues last summer. He entered spring training as the solid choice to and will back up Twins established catcher, Jason Castro in 2018. Look for Mitch to take over catching duties when the Twins face an opposing lefty. The Twins are expected to adjust their line up against lefties, and spelling the left-handed hitting Castro follows the Twins logic.

Sam Perez – P (Miami Marlins)

2017 was a tale of two seasons for Perez. In 17 games for the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Carolina League), Sam posted a 2-1 record, 6.21 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and pitched out of the bullpen. He was assigned to the Batavia Muckdogs (NY PENN League) in June, started 14 games, went 4-2, with a 2.21 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and struck out 53 batters. How the Marlins will use Perez in 2018 is a mystery. Some Marlins officials project him as a high leverage pitcher with a good fastball, curve and change-up and suited for the 6th and 7th innings. Others describe him as a durable starter who eats innings, keeps the ball in the park, and will give a solid start every 5th day. Sam will start the season for Batavia in June where we will find out if he’s on the mound at the start of the game or get called out of the bullpen for relief.

Thomas Jones – OF (Miami Marlins)

The Marlins #26 prospect will stay in extended spring training and play for the Batavia Muckdogs (NY PENN League) when their season begins in mid June. Jones is arguably one of the best athletes in the Marlins system. He’s a speedy OF who played the majority of his games in CF last season in Batavia, but with his strong and accurate arm can also play the corners. With a year of NY PENN League experience behind him, expect Jones to improve on the offensive side. Jones has a good eye, takes walks, and can swipe bases. Time at the top of the order will probably be seen. He has a quick and level swing and Marlins scouts feel power should develop as Jones matures.

Kyle Nelson – RP (Cleveland Indians) 

Hard throwing Lefty relief pitcher Kyle Nelson will see more action in 2018 as he will be assigned to the Lake County Captains (Midwest League). Nelson is a guy who gets players out from both sides of the plate equally. With a blazing, spinning fastball and excellent off speed slider, Kyle isn’t just a lefty specialist, he is guy you call on to get outs in tough situations and get them out quickly. Dare I say that Kyle Nelson reminds me of another high-profile, Lefty relief pitcher, employed by the Indians, Andrew Miller.

Nolan Jones – 3B (Cleveland Indians) 

Currently the Indians #4 prospect, Nolan will look to continue his impressive batting with the Lake County Captains (Midwest League) in 2018. Captains manager, Luke Carlin, will be patient with Nolan and no doubt help him to improve his defensive skills at the hot corner, as this is only his second season at 3B. A full season of baseball in Lake County will give Nolan plenty of extra at bats and chances in the field to showcase his skills.

Logan Ice – C (Cleveland Indians) 

Logan will move up another level this year and play for the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League). A true defensive catcher, excellent at blocking balls, has a strong and accurate arm, and who pitchers trust and respect calling their games. At the plate, look more at Ice’s OBP than AVG. He’s got a little pop in his bat and can find the wall and gaps, but equally important, is smart enough to take walks and just get on base. Logan has caught for some of the Indians top pitching prospects in his short MiLB career. Playing in the High A Carolina League will get him even more of these opportunities. Logan Ice is the Indians #21 prospect.

Tristan McKenzie – P (Cleveland Indians)

Currently the #2 prospect in the Indians system, the potential is real for Tristan McKenzie to develop into a frontline MLB starter. The 2017 Carolina League Pitcher of the Year winner started 25 games for the Lynchburg Hillcats. He posted a 12-6 record, 3.46 ERA, kept opposing batters to a .203 AVG and struck out 186 batters in 143 innings. The Indians will place McKenzie at Lynchburg to start the 2018 season, but should he continue to meet the Indians expectations, a placement to challenge him further at AA Akron (Eastern League) could be in order.

Matt Foley – C (NY Mets) 

The little engine that won’t quit, Matt Foley, vowed to return to spring training with the Mets organization with a work ethic and determination to advance his career. Playing mostly in the Gulf Coast League the past three seasons, Matt will stay in extended spring training and report to the Brooklyn Cyclones of the NY PENN League when play begins in June. Matt looks to build on his 2017 season where he batted .290 and proved he is a defensive gem behind the plate. Look for this 40th round pick (2015 – Marlins) to give you 100% effort, 100% of the time, and surprise you at the ballpark with his natural abilities.

Royce Lewis – SS (Minnesota Twins) 

The Twins #1 prospect will begin his 2018 season with the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Midwest League). Lewis earned a promotion to Cedar Rapids in August last season and proved he belonged. In 18 games he batted .296, scored 16 runs, and blasted his one Midwest League HR in his first game. Look for Royce to continue hitting for good average and driving the balls to the gaps for extra bases. Derek Jeter is who he inspires to be. Lewis has a good work ethic and aspires to improve his defense and replicate his hero. There’s no doubt that Lewis will be an exciting and fun player to keep an eye on this season.

Nick Gordon – SS/2B (Minnesota Twins) 

The Minnesota Twins #1 pick in 2014 and current #4 Twins prospect will begin his 2018 season with the Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern League). In 2017 for AA Chattanooga, Nick batted .270, with 9 HR’s, 29 doubles, and 66 RBI’s. A SS through most of his career, Nick will be shifted over to 2B for the majority of his playing time this season. Nick is a very quick infielder with excellent range and a good throwing arm. With Brian Dozier the Twins current 2B, expecting to become a free agent after this season, the shift to 2B for Gordon could be his path to the big leagues.

Emmanuel Tapia – 1B (Cleveland Indians)

Last year’s Midwest League Masher, “Manny” Tapia will move up another level to the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League). Manny led the Midwest League in home runs (29) and RBI’s (71) last season. A powerful, Dominican player who can definitely not just hit for power but also average. Look for Manny to improve his pitch recognition, lay off out of the zone pitches, and take some walks. Still somewhat new to 1B, Manny is a hard worker who will take any extra fielding practice he can get and wants to improve all facets of his game.

Ulysses Cantu – 1B (Cleveland Indians)

Strong and athletic are the two perfect words to describe Cantu who will advance to the Lake County Captains (Midwest League). There’s no doubt Cantu has all the tools of a good, professional hitter. He sees the ball well from the pitcher, recognizes pitches, and rarely gets fooled. Where he’ll play on the field in 2018 is a little bit of a mystery. A catcher by trade, who can play 3B but due to all of the Indians prospects there, was shifted to 1B. A 6 foot, righty, first baseman doesn’t translate well. If Cantu’s bat can do the talking, a position will be found for him.

Austin Wynns – C (Baltimore Orioles) 

Austin was assigned to the Norfolk Tides (International League) on March 25th and will begin his first full season at the AAA level. The textbook definition of a catcher; a career .994 FPCT, throws out would be stealers, calls an excellent game, handles his pitchers with respect, and is a natural leader on the field and clubhouse. A decent hitter, who is smart at the plate, structured and disciplined, and gets the job done. Placed on the 40 man roster by the Orioles to protect him from the November rule 5 draft, Austin should be the 1st catcher called up to the O’s should something happen to Caleb Joseph or Chance Sisco.

Chance Sisco – C (Baltimore Orioles)

The Orioles top prospect is ready for the majors. All he has done at every level in the minors is hit for high average, drive in runs, hit doubles, and get on base. In his first full spring training with the big league club, Chance did nothing but impress. He batted to the tune of .429, with 2 HR’s and 10 RBI’s in 35 AB. Look for him to learn the craft of being a solid defensive backstop from veteran catcher Caleb Joseph and ex MLB catcher (now Coach) Einar Diaz.

Alex Murphy – C (Baltimore Orioles)

Drafted as a catcher in 2013, The Orioles asked Alex to learn and play some first base in 2016 and 2017. He did just that and will now call that home for the Frederick Keys (Carolina League) to start the 2018 season. Murphy is just fine with that, “anyway to get to the big leagues” is his attitude. Murphy is a strong right-handed batter with power to all fields. Since learning first base, Murphy has seen a spike in his home runs, bashing 27 of his 35 in 2016/17. With the Orioles thin on first base prospects this may be the perfect opportunity for Murphy and his attitude to succeed.

Will Benson – OF (Cleveland Indians) 

1st round pick in 2016 and current #7 Indians prospect, Will Benson will play a full season of baseball for the Lake County Captains (Midwest League). Benson lead the NY PENN League in home runs last season and will look to build his offensive capabilities at the next level. Benson has all of the tools you need in an OF, speed, strong arm, alertness, and agility. Benson played most of his games in RF last year but can and probably will learn to play all three OF positions this year.

Conner Capel – OF (Cleveland Indians) 

Capel moves up another level of baseball this season and is assigned to the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League). Conner brings a little bit of everything to his game; good arm strength and can play all three OF spots equally well, has speed and can steal bases, at the plate features a smooth left-handed swing, good batter’s eye, and decent power (22 HR’s & 61 RBI’s in 2017). Currently ranked #12 on the Indians prospect list, watch for Conner to continue his success and development in the Carolina League in 2018.

Mitch Longo – OF (Cleveland Indians)

Mitch pummeled his way through the Midwest League’s pitchers last season showing a slashline of .361/.431/.530  – He covers the entire plate and strike zone with his swing and places the ball in all parts of the field. Mitch has excellent speed and stole 20 of 21 bases. Longo’s speed and arm strength make him a natural fit for RF, where he played all of his games defensively last season. Mitch earned a late season call up to the Lynchburg Hillcats (Carolina League), impressed in his short stint there, and will be assigned to for the 2018 season. Mitch ranks #27 on the Indians prospect list.

Zack Littell – P (Minnesota Twins) 

Zack Littell will begin his second season in the Twins organization with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern League). Zack has done nothing but impress in his short time in AA baseball. He has gone 19-1, with a 2.21 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. He is a RHP with excellent command, rarely gives up a walk, and has finesse. His pitch arsenal features a cut fastball, flashy curveball, and deceptive change-up. Zack gets ahead early in the count, mixes his pitches well and produces a lot of ground ball outs. Zack Littell is currently the #15 prospect in the Twins system.

LaMonte Wade – OF (Minnesota Twins) 

Wade will begin another season with the AA Chattanooga Lookouts (Southern League). Since being drafted in the 9th round in 2015, Wade has performed above average at every level he’s played. Through three MiLB seasons, Wade shows a .295 AVG, .404 OBP, 24 home runs, and has stolen 27 bases in 34 attempts. Wade’s alertness and speed has played him defensively mostly in CF and LF. Launch angle and leverage are key buzz words you’re hearing from successful MLB batters lately. The Twins want to teach those mechanics to Wade and see the results turn into more power and HR’s. LaMonte Wade currently places #13 in the Twins prospects rankings.

Jim Curtis – RP (Minnesota Twins)

Curtis will look to build on the success he had at AAA Rochester (International League) last season and start the year there. The Twins brought in some quality veteran arms in Addison Reed, Zach Duke, and Fernando Rodney to replace retired closer Glen Perkins and traded away reliever Brandon Kinztler. If Curtis produces similar results at AAA like he did last year, there’s no doubt that his services will be one of the first called upon, should the Twins bullpen need some help. Curtis currently is ranked as the #21 prospect in the Twins farm system.

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Spring Time in AAA Rochester

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“Baseball, it happens every Spring.” I’ve seen that phrase on posters, social media posts, and captioned on photographs with beautiful blue sky, green grass, and Rawlings baseballs lying lazily somewhere near a base line of a freshly prepared spring training field. To me, that phrase means a little bit more. Living in Western New York, near the shore of Lake Ontario, winter hangs around a little longer. We get teased by some mild weather days in March, only to be brought back to reality by a fresh round of snow and ice the next few days. Then the process repeats, sometimes until April (even May, don’t laugh, I have experienced snow on Mother’s Day).

Like a lot of baseball fans, I stare at the calendar and count down the days until opening day of baseball season. I live for that opportunity to sit outside and watch live baseball again. For me, that day comes around the first weekend in April. That’s when my hometown Minor League team, the Rochester Red Wings begins play. As stated, Rochester weather in April can be fickle. I’ve been to opening day in my winter gear and sat through snowflakes. I’ve gotten sunburn in shorts and T-shirts on those rare summer-like days. I’ve been to a game in every type of weather in between. The Red Wings have an excellent opening day promotion, their 50 degree guarantee. If the opening pitch temperature is under 50 degrees, your ticket is good for a free admission to any other game in April or May. I have received that “free” ticket offer at a 90% rate.

The Red Wings are the AAA affiliate (International League) of the Minnesota Twins, one step away from Major League Baseball. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a lot of great Twins prospects and MLB stars. Denard Span, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, Francisco Liriano, Johan Santana, and Byron Buxton are some of the more notable alumni of the Red Wings.

The Minnesota Twins do an admirable job of drafting and developing their players. They are also very wily on recognizing players put on waivers from other organizations, claiming them, and unearthing their success. While I’m excited to see the entire team in action soon, I am especially intrigued to see the following players in a Red Wings uniform.

John Curtiss – Relief Pitcher

John CurtissWith his tall 6′ 4′ frame, downward angle, and fastball that ranges 95-98 mph, it’s clear that the back-end of the bullpen is where Curtiss’ future lies. He has also developed a slider that’s a true out pitch that misses bats. In 2017 Curtiss spent time in AA Chattanooga and AAA Rochester. In 49 innings pitched he posted a 2-0 record, 1.28 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, kept opposing batters to a minuscule .135 AVG, and converted 19 of 20 save opportunities.

The Twins added some quality veteran arms to their bullpen for the 2018 season (Addison Reed, Fernando Rodney, and Zach Duke) which will allow Curtiss to experience a full season at AAA and/or get ready for his call to Minnesota. It wouldn’t be any surprise if John Curtiss one day is the Twins valuable set up man or even closer.

LaMonte Wade – OF

LaMonte WadeWhen a 9th round pick continually performs at every level he’s assigned to, you have to take notice and start believing that this player is legit. Drafted in 2015, Wade has played his way up the Twins Minor League ladder. In 3 seasons of minor league ball, Wade has posted a .295 AVG, with 44 doubles, 12 triples, 24 home runs, and walks more than he strikes out. He has good bat speed that translates into a high average.

The Twins want to teach Wade to leverage the ball more, add a little extra power and some home runs. He has decent speed and can play all three outfield spots. LaMonte Wade could be that surprising player who can become an everyday guy; best suited for left field or be a solid, productive fourth or platoon outfielder.

Zack Littell – Starting Pitcher

Zack LittellZack Littell is the type of pitcher that maybe you call “in demand”. He’s been traded twice, first from his original team the Mariners, then to the Yankees after the 2016 season. The Yankees then traded him to the Twins for Jaime Garcia at the trade deadline in 2017.

Littell features an average fastball in the low 90’s. He also throws a flashy curveball as his secondary pitch and has developed a quality change up for a third offering. Zack’s success is largely due to his ability to get ahead early in the count and show good command. He mixes his pitches well and produces a lot of ground balls.

The past two seasons Littell has pitched extremely well at the AA level. In 2017 he posted an outstanding 19-1 record, 2.12 ERA, and 1.12 WHIP. Littell rarely gives free passes as shown by his 2.2 walks per nine innings ratio thus far in his minor league career. The Twins are no doubt excited to have Littell in their system for a full season and knocking on their big league door someday soon.

Frontier Field will soon be open. The sights, sounds, and smells of the ballpark will fill the air. Baseball will be played at 1 Morrie Silver Way and Spring in Rochester will officially begin.

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

7, 8, & 9 – The Outfield

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Will Benson – OF (Cleveland Indians)

Will BensonThe Indians were definitely targeting Benson’s offensive abilities when they drafted him with their #1 pick (14th overall) in 2016. The 19 year old has everything that scouts drool over.  A 6′ 5″  – 225 lb – powerful build. A combination of bat speed and physical strength that translates into raw power from the left side of the plate. The ability to pull the ball to the short corners of RF. And, for as tall as he is, the rare combination of speed and agility.

In his Pro debut season in 2017, Will Benson played for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the NY-PENN League. It was definitely a tale of two seasons for Will. In his first month of the season, from June 9th – July 16th, his slashline was .169/.244/.296 – However, from July 17th – September 6th, Benson raked to the tune of .275/.399/.575

Benson connected for just one home run in his first month but smashed nine over the final months to lead the NY-PENN League with 10. Like all young hitters Benson struggled with strikeouts, swinging and missing almost 30% of the time. He did make up for that by walking 16% of the time as well.

The Indians can take their time with Benson and allow him to develop his hitting. He may be a project, but all the ingredients are there for Benson to develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter. Some scouts and reports view Benson as the most exciting teenage prospect the Tribe has had since Grady Sizemore, with the potential to become a 30 home runs/20 stolen base player.

Conner Capel – OF (Cleveland Indians)

Conner CapelCleveland’s 5th round pick in 2016, Conner Capel showed scouts everything they wanted to see – speed, alertness, versatility, power, and instinct. On the offensive side, Capel’s bat heated up as the weather did in Northeast, Ohio. Assigned to Lake County of the Midwest League in 2017, Conner overcame a slow start and improved with each month throughout the season showing impressive tools. In June he was deservedly named Midwest player of the week for going 12-25 with 3 home runs, 2 doubles, a triple, and 8 RBI’s. He finished the season with 22 home runs, 61 RBI’s, .478 SLG, and led the Indians farm system in runs scored with 73.

Capel showed he could hit the ball out of the deepest part of the parks with his clean, left handed swing, strength, and bat speed. While his climb in power resulted in more strikeouts, he showed maturity in recognizing spin and making plenty of hard contact.

Capel has above average speed and strong instincts which identify him as an ideal baserunner and defender in center field. He swiped 15 bases for the Captains and was always a threat to score anytime he got on base. He has the arm strength to play any OF spot and saw time in all OF positions in 2017, playing 26 games in LF, 24 in CF, and 67 in RF.

The 2018 season could be a big year for Capel as he’s expected to debut with the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats of the Carolina League. If he continues to make strides in his development, Capel can continue to surge up the Indians prospect rankings.

Mitch Longo – OF (Cleveland Indians)

Mitch LongoMitch Longo is from Mayfield, Ohio – not too far away from Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians. Drafted in the 14th round in 2016, Mitch has done nothing but torture minor league pitching. In his two minor league seasons he has batted to the tune of a .349 AVG, with a .411 OBP, 29 doubles, and 43 RBI’s.

In 2017 he played his first full season at Lake County – Midwest League, where he posted a .361/.431/.530 clip and earned a late season call up to High A Lynchburg, where in 5 games he went 9-16 and scored 8 runs. Add to all that the fact that he has a decent K/BB rate of 1.52, stole 20 bases in 21 attempts, and suddenly you have a very impressive and exciting 14th round pick.

What’s Mitch’s secret to his fast start in the minor leagues? An open batting stance that creates leverage on the ball and a swing that stays over the whole plate and in the strike zone. This allows him to cover both sides of the plate and use the entire field. There’s a little pop in his bat, though it’s mostly to the gaps and not over the fence. Longo has all the tools of a leadoff hitter. He hits for high average, he’s fast, he doesn’t strike out a lot, and he draws walks.

Longo’s speed also suits him well in RF, where he played all of his games defensively last season. He has good arm strength and is a natural fit for the position. Longo got a taste of High-A Lynchburg at the end of last season, and he figures to start there again in 2018. If he continues to hit and run, he could be in Double-A at some point in 2018. And once you make it to Double-A, you’re just one phone call away from the majors, which for Mitch is almost home.

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Tools of Ignorance

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Baltimore Orioles Catching prospects Chance Sisco, Alex Murphy, & Austin Wynns

Andy Etchebarren in the 60’s & 70’s, Rick Dempsey in the 80’s, Chris Hoiles in the 90’s, and Matt Weiters in the 2000’s. The Baltimore Orioles always seem to have a decade long plan at Catcher that produces offensively, has good defensive tools, earns the respect and has a good rapport with their pitchers.

The Orioles must have been looking to find that future long-term backstop in their 2013 draft when they picked 4 catchers through 10 rounds. The Orioles selected Chance Sisco in the 2nd, Jonah Heim in the 4th, Alex Murphy in the 6th, and Austin Wynns in the 10th. Jonah Heim was traded to Tampa in 2016 to get Steve Pearce back. That leaves Sisco, Murphy, and Wynns as their top home-grown catching prospects.

Chance Sisco – Catcher


Currently ranked #1 on the Baltimore Orioles prospect list and #45 overall by, Chance Sisco has done everything to impress offensively. Through five minor league seasons he has batted .311, with 98 doubles, 25 home runs, and 206 RBI’s. A lefty hitter, with a fast, level swing that makes a lot of quality contact. Sisco has excellent discipline at the plate and utilizes the whole field, as displayed in his very notable 98 doubles. While there is a little over the fence power, he has shown at all minor league levels that he will most likely hit for average and take a walk, as shown in his .390 OBP.

There are minor concerns with Sisco on defense. Passed balls and errors were an area where he had some troubles earlier in his career. Improvements is his blocking, receiving, and game calling have lessened that issue. The area of defense that needs the most improving is his ability to throw base runners out. While Chance has an accurate arm, it may not be the strongest or fastest getting the ball down to second base. Would be runners advanced at a 70% success rate. Working with and learning from former catcher and current O’s coach Einar Diaz, who in his playing days threw out runners 51% of the time could be exactly what Chance needs. At only 23 years old he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do just that.

Alex Murphy – Catcher


Alex Murphy grew up in Monrovia, Maryland, not far away from the Baltimore Orioles minor league affiliates, and within an easy day trip to Camden Yards. It was a dream come true and an opportunity for him to chase his goals and dreams. A chance to be like Steve Johnson and Steve Clevenger and play for his hometown Orioles.

A big, strong, right-handed batter, with good bat speed and power to all fields, is how most scouts and Orioles staff have described Alex Murphy. In his five minor league seasons he shows a .251 AVG, 84 doubles, 35 home runs, 172 RBI’s, and a .331 OBP. Alex has shown a spike in power over his past two seasons, hitting 27 of his 35 homers in 2016 and 2017. Murphy is the guy you want up to bat with RISP. He hits .327 when there’s a chance for an RBI. Defensively, Alex is solid. He owns a career .988 FPCT and throws runners out at a 40% rate. He shows decent ball blocking skills and has few inconsistencies.

During instructional league workouts Murphy was asked “what do you think you need to improve on?” Like most of his game thus far, his answer? “Consistency, not getting too high or too low with hitting, try to stay in that middle plateau all season. Same with catching. Stay solid behind the plate.”

Murphy played some first base in 2016 and 2017 and there may be some plans for him to play there more in the future. Alex is fine with that, “anyway to get to the big leagues is the way I look at it.”

Austin Wynns – Catcher


Of the three catchers mentioned so far, Austin Wynns is the only player with collegiate experience, playing for Fresno State. While his offensive numbers don’t exactly jump out at you, they are admirable. Through his five minor league seasons, he has posted a .269 AVG, with 79 doubles, 20 home runs, 169 RBI’s, and a .336 OBP. He may not be the catcher who will hit 20 homers, but he is a smart, structured hitter and will get the job done.

Wynn’s greatest asset is behind the plate. He owns a remarkable .994 FPCT, rarely lets a ball get by him, throws out 48% of runners attempting to steal, and knows how to call games. At age 27, Austin definitely has the maturity over most of his minor league teammates. It also makes him a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. Young pitchers love having him behind the plate. This is not just a guy flashing fingers and signals, he reads the hitters and is making decisions on the next pitch.

Although he has played most of his career no higher than AA, the Orioles must see value and a future for Austin, as they protected him from the Rule 5 draft last November and added him to their 40 man roster.

Former star catcher Matt Weiters departed after the 2016 season. The O’s split catching duties between Wellington Castillo and Caleb Joseph in 2017. Castillo was a 1 year deal and is now with the White Sox. The Orioles traded the Brewers for one time SF Giants (2nd round pick in 2011) prospect Andrew Susac. Caleb Joseph would appear to be the O’s top catcher in 2018. The question is who among these others will fill and learn the role of MLB back up catcher until it’s their time?

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Scoop & Stretch – Highlighting First Base Prospects from the Cleveland Indians

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North-East, Ohio. A hot bed of Cleveland Indians baseball. Within a 2 hour drive of Cleveland you have 4 of their 6 MiLB affilliates; AAA – Columbus Clippers, AA – Akron Rubber Ducks, A – Lake County Captains, and A – Mahoning Valley Scrappers. A drive to these ballparks will find you traveling through the Rust Belt and Steel Mill towns, Amish Country, a beautiful mix of old architecture and modern design, and cities that have reinvented themselves and are once again thriving.

I have had the pleasure of taking a road trip through this part of Ohio every summer for 35 + years now from my home in Western NY. I never tire of the scenery, landmarks, ballparks, and great baseball I am treated to at any one of the stops I make. This past summer was no different as I visited Lake County and Mahoning Valley (along with Cleveland, many, many times)

Emmanuel Tapia – 1B (Cleveland Indians)

642268At 6′ 3″ – 215 lbs, Emmanuel Tapia is a powerful figure that looks more like a linebacker than baseball first baseman. The Indians signed “Manny” as an International free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2013. He has acclimated and grown within the Indians system playing through their Dominican Summer League, Arizona Rookie League, Mahoning Valley – NY PENN League, and the 2017 season at Lake County – Midwest League.

Raw power and an extremely hard swing are the best ways to describe Manny’s approach to the plate. He led the Midwest League in home runs (29) and RBI’s (71) in 2017. Though, he unfortunately led the league in strikeouts as well with 180 (in 461 AB). As stated, Tapia is a big, strong player, who no doubt can hit the ball far. There is plenty of room for growth if he can minimize the strikeouts, add some base hits & average, and take some base on balls when offered. He is certainly capable of more average. In past seasons he has hit as high as .315 (2014) and .286 (2015). Manny is patient with himself and knows this is a process. He knows he needs to learn to put himself in a better position to hit.

Originally a Left Fielder in the Dominican Republic, Tapia was shifted to and is still learning first base. A dedicated, hard working player, he is one of the first players to the field every day. He works with the coaches and takes extra fielding practice any chance he can get. 2017 Lake County Captains manager, Larry Day, was quoted often saying “Manny is making steady progress as a first baseman, he’s eager, he’s such a hard worker.”

With the excitement of his powerful hitting and progress at fielding, it will be interesting to see where the parent club, Indians, place Tapia to start 2018. A start at Lake County again or an advance to Lynchburg of the Carolina League? We’ll soon find out as spring training approaches.

Ulysses Cantu – 1B (Cleveland Indians)

668784A 6th round pick out of Boswell, Texas High School in the 2016 draft, Ulysses Cantu is an interesting player for the Indians. Cantu was drafted as a Third Baseman.  However, little opportunity to play or develop there exists, as the Indians are well stocked with other third base prospects at all levels (see my previous post about Nolan Jones).

Cantu is a 6′ righty, first baseman, which may not be the ideal profile. The Indians no doubt looked at Cantu’s bat tools first. He has good balance at the plate, manages the strike zone, recognizes pitches and rarely gets fooled. Cantu’s swing is quick and compact. He squares the ball up on the barrel with ease. Ulysses is incredibly strong (he trains cross-fit) and above average power can be seen in his bat.

The Indians are most likely concentrating on developing Cantu as a hitter first and will worry about where he fits in defensively later. Third base is his natural position and where his size fits him best. He does have experience in high school as a catcher and the Indians could possibly explore that, but that might take a toll on his bat.

Cantu played the 2017 season for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (NY-PENN League). He played 53 games at his new position, first base, and posted admirable numbers. On defense, he posted a .987 FPCT – converting 457 out 463 chances and was on the receiving end of 39 double plays. He hit 53-209 at the plate for a .254 AVG, with 10 doubles, 4 home runs, 25 RBI, and 17 BB.

Ulysses Cantu is still a very young player. He’ll turn 20 in May 2018. There’s plenty of upside in all aspects of his game. The hits, average, and power will all increase as he continues to see more professional pitching. Patience and time will find him a defensive home or even a future as a DH.

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Flashing the Leather – Highlighting SS/2B Prospects Royce Lewis and Nick Gordon

sportsSlammers_confessor_Lara_signs_with_Minnesota_Twins_t750x550Written by Mark Firkins  Photos by

The Minnesota Twins have one of the most dynamic 1-2 punches of middle infielders who can handle balls hit up the middle, as well as use their bats and speed.

Nick Gordon – SS/2B (Minnesota Twins)

624503Does the last name and position look familiar? That’s because this is Dee Gordon’s younger brother and oh yeah, his father Tom pitched his way to 138 Wins and 158 saves in his MLB career.

A 1st round draft pick by the Twins in the 2014 draft, Nick has progressed through the Twins farm system in perfect steps. He has advanced his way through Rookie Ball in Elizabethton (2014 – Appalachian League), Cedar Rapids (2015 – Midwest League), Ft. Myers (2016 – Florida State League), and Chattanooga (2017 – Southern League).

Through 4 MiLB seasons he carries a very consistent .281 AVG. Like his brother, he slashes the ball down the lines or into the gaps for plenty of extra bases, 81 doubles and 25 triples so far. While not known for his power, he showed a little bit of extra pop in his bat in 2017 by connecting on 9 HR. A patient and disciplined hitter as well, drawing 53 BB at AA Chattanooga last season and 126 thus far in career. Certainly capable of stealing bases, he has swiped 68 over his four seasons in the minors.

Gordon has played the majority of his games at SS but has played 2B as well (a permanent shift to second could be in his future). He is a quick and slick fielding player with excellent range and a strong arm. Errors have been a bit of a concern as he has committed 69 and carries a .960 FPCT. However he has turned an impressive 253 double plays in 373 starts.

With Jorge Palonco most likely to serve as the Twins SS in the future and veteran 2B Brian Dozier eligible for free agency after this season, it would seem that Nick Gordon’s call to the Twins would come as a second baseman.

Royce Lewis – SS (Minnesota Twins)

668904Another 1st round pick by the Twins with very high expectations, Royce Lewis was the top high school position player in the 2017 draft. He has all the tools worthy of a #1 pick, especially his bat.

He started his pro career with the Gulf Coast Twins last summer and played 36 games at Shortstop. He carried a .271 AVG, walked more times (19) than he struck out (17), of his 36 hits 9 went for extra bases, and stole 15 bases in 17 attempts. His defense in rookie ball was excellent, converting 124/128 chances.

He was promoted to the Twins Midwest League affiliate, the Cedar Rapids Kernels on August 12th and made quite the impression in his first game. He went 4-5 at the plate with one RBI, one stolen base, and scored twice. He appeared in 18 games for Cedar Rapids, playing SS in 17. He finished the Midwest League season going 28-71 (.296 AVG), with two doubles, a triple and a home run. His defense stayed right in line with his GCL numbers, converting 77-80 chances.

He is extremely athletic on both sides of the ball. While he may not profile as a home run guy, there is plenty of extra base ability in his swing, sending line drives into the gaps, then using his speed to take extra bags, as well as steal them. There is no concern with his glove, it’s his arm and throwing accuracy that needs to be watched. Of his seven errors, six were throwing.

Royce Lewis is a young and exciting player to keep your eye on. The Twins will be patient, yet not afraid to challenge their #1 pick. The 2018 season will most likely see Royce start at Cedar Rapids. If he continues his impressive all around play a trip to Fort Myers in the Florida State League would be in order.

“It’s (shortstop) a premium position. I can show my leadership skills, take control of the game. It’s what I love about it. I want to play the position Derek Jeter played. Except I want to be Royce Lewis.” – Orange County Register

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