Minor League Prospect Report: Aaron Northcraft, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Looking for a sleeper entering 2013? Keep a close eye on Atlanta Braves pitching prospect Aaron Northcraft. Although it may be easy to overlook a guy with a 3.98 ERA in High-A, there are all kinds of sabermetric sleeper markers with this one.
Northcraft is 10-11, 3.98 in 152 innings for High-A Lynchburg in the Carolina League. Of greater note is his 2.64 FIP. In his 152 innings, he's given up 143 hits, only four home runs, and posted an excellent 2.61 GO/AO ratio. He's also posted a 160/53 K/BB ratio and leads the Carolina League in strikeouts. The strikeout/ground ball combination stands out as a huge positive.
Northcraft is a 6-4, 225 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born May 28th, 1990. He was a 10th round draft pick in 2009 from high school in Santa Ana, California. His rookie ball debut was nothing special (4.50 ERA, 31/21 K/BB in 40 innings), but he's steadily improved each year in the low minors, boosting his K/9 ratio from 6.2 in '10, to 7.0 in '11, to 9.5 this year, all the while racking up large numbers of grounders. His walk rates have come down at the same time.
He doesn't burn the radar guns, and as a result he doesn't rank highly on most prospect lists, but he's clearly doing something right. He threw a no-hitter earlier this season, following some mechanical adjustments that improved the movement on his already effective sinker.
The Double-A transition in 2013 will prove highly interesting, but Northcraft bears close watching. He could end up as a sound inning-eating ground ball machine or an effective middle man. When sleeper-hunting, trend lines are critical, and Northcraft's are heading in the right direction.