Since June is the time for handing out report cards, here's a mid-season one, with some leagues having just wrapped up the All-Star break.
Players that made their professional debut in short season Class-A New York Penn League in 2013 have gone on to enter into their first full seasons. In reviewing the following players, a few things were factored in, and some things need to be clarified. With starting pitchers, this might still seem like an early point. It’s a smaller sample size than everyday players. Still, in that time they’ve been able to work on a lot mechanically and get more comfortable. I’ve included just one player that had made their pro debut the previous season (10 games started). Also, the players reviewed are not necessarily top prospects, or even top in their team’s system, but players I find interesting. Finally, I saw every one of the players reviewed in 2013, while covering the league. However, this review is statistically based, without seeing any of the players where they’re playing this season.
In reviewing their numbers, comparatively, we get an idea of the adjustments they made and how they’ve progressed at this still early stage of development.
LJ Mazzilli – Mets 2013 fourth rounder Mazzilli exhibited a ton of patience at the plate in his first season of pro ball. That plate discipline, combined with an uncomplicated swing led to impressive results. Through seventy games, he finished with 76 hits, 12 doubles, and 104 total bases for a .278/.329/.381 line at Brooklyn for a 114 wRC+. He also showed himself to be a solid defender at second base.
This season has been a continuation of that success. His consistent results for the Savannah Sand Gnats of the South Atlantic League led to his selection to the All-Star Game (he was an NYPL All-Star select as well), after hitting .292/.363/.429, wRC+122 in 66 games, with 45 RBI, and 29 walks. Mazzilli, a graduate of the University of Connecticut, was promoted from the SAL to the Florida State League, hitting .308 with eight hits in seven games for St. Lucie in June. He could still develop more power and, so far, has shown the kind of consistent contact that marked his debut season.
Conrad Gregor – Another mid-season promotion this year, Gregor was one of the most solid Penn League performers in 2013. Also like Mazzilli, he was a fourth rounder (Astros) and the two forged very similar paths. Gregor finished 2013 with 78 hits through 74 games, 34 RBI, and 37 walks, .289/.373/.385, wRC+135. The Vanderbilt product displayed quick hands throughout that season, often looking advanced for the league. He hit .298/.407/.410, wRC+136, with 48 hits and 28 RBI in the Midwest League, and has been just as productive in the High-A California League. Through 25 games for Lancaster he’s got 38 hits, 13 walks, with six home runs, and just eight strikeouts at .400/.475/.686, wRC+202. Gregor has raw power and should see an increase in those numbers this season and next, as his power develops a bit more.
Trey Mancini- First baseman Mancini’s last appearance in Short-A was a single in the NYPL playoffs, as the Aberdeen IronBirds lost the league title to the Tri-City Valley Cats. Aberdeen wouldn’t have been in the playoffs without Mancini. His last few weeks were a steady drive of timely hits and impact production. He’d finish the season hitting .328 with a .382 OBP, with 84 hits, 18 of them doubles, 35 RBI, a .449 SLG and was named Topps NYPL Player of the Year.
This season he’s been named a South Atlantic League All-Star, put up a .317/.357/.422 mark, wRC+118, with 85 hits, and 42 RBI. The Orioles 2013 eighth pick out of Notre Dame led the Big East in hitting (.389) expressed having "a chip on my shoulder" last year coming in due to doubts about his ability. His ability to balance an aggressive and patient approach with excellent pitch recognition proved he was ready for short-season and he’s advancing this year at an impressive pace.
Chris Kirsch – Lefthander Kirsch seemed to figure out exactly who he was in the second half of the Renegades season. In his final two starts for Hudson Valley he didn’t allow a run and allowed only five hits. The 2012 14throunder out of Lackawanna College led the league in games started (16), was second in the league in innings pitched (82). He struck out just 46, but is a ground ball pitcher. He debuted for Princeton in 2012 (16 innings pitched, 10 games with an 8.10 ERA), and commented in 2013 on the struggles he’d had adjusting, noting his "lack of command" in early July.
His adjustments within the season improved his command and this year he’s held his spot in the Bowling Green rotation with a 3.32 ERA, though his FIP is not as nice at 5.11. The Hot Rods faced a two-week losing streak, but Kirsch remained solid in almost every outing. In his last seven starts he’s allowed eleven walks, and in five straight starts he gave up just one free pass in each one. In his past three starts, he’s allowed only one earned run in 17 innings.
He was part of the outstanding pitching that carried the team through that difficult stretch of losses. Though the Rays have entertained making him a reliever, he’s proven so far that he has the arsenal to start with a low-90s sinking fastball, slider, and changeup. He used to work mainly with a curve but scrapped that for the slider last year, which seemed to help since his control got better with it. His fastball has great heavy sink.
He could be promoted to High-A before the season is over, but it would be surprising to see him repeat the Midwest League in 2015.
Zac Reininger – Reininger finished his debut season with an ERA of 1.00 for the Connecticut Tigers. Through 27 innings of work and 16 appearances, he walked just six batters. He also finished with 32 strikeouts and a league leading 10 saves. The switch hitting (hey, another asset) righty has been solid this season in the Midwest League. With 15 games under his belt, he’s struck out 25 batters in 26 innings and, again, kept the free passes to a minimum (7). He has a 2.77 ERA and a 3.03 FIP.
Reininger, an eighth round pick by the Tigers in 2013 from Hill Junior College in Texas, developed his changeup more last season and credited that pitch for attributing to a more well-rounded arsenal. The Tigers opted to move him to the bullpen upon drafting him, despite being a starting pitcher his entire college career. He’s proven himself to be a weapon out of the bullpen and it’ll be interesting to see if he can continue that success against more advanced hitters in High-A and Double-A.