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2015 Midwest League First Half Prospect Review

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The Midwest League All-Star festivities are going on in Peoria, Illinois this week meaning we have reached the halfway point of the 2015 Midwest League Season. Lets take a look at some of the top performers on both offense and pitching so far this year. These are listed in no particular order. Looking at upside alone there seems to be a lack of high upside players in this years Midwest League, but perhaps I’m just saying that because in 2013 we got spoiled with Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and a 16 year old Julio Urias. (*Note: on the field perfomance at this point in the season doesn't dramatically affect anyone's status as a prospect or non prospect)

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Hitters

Jacob Nottingham: Catcher/First Baseman, Quad Cities River Bandits (Houston Astros), Born April 3, 1995. The Astro’s sixth round draft pick in 2013 out of Redlands High School in California. MLB.com listed him as the Astro’s 25th prospect pre-season. This guy is absolutely raking this year to a slash line of .330/.387/.560 with 10 home runs, that’s a .946 OPS, .431 wOBA and 173 wRC+ for a 20 year old catcher in full season ball, not bad. I would defiantly expect some second half regression, as his .388 BABIP looks slightly unsustainable. I saw him play back on June 4th and he showed some pretty good pitch framing ability behind the plate, although he could’ve been a little more discrete about it. This guy’s definitely interesting if he can stick behind the dish (even part time), but a lot of people see him moving to first-base full-time where I don’t think the he will hit enough to play everyday, despite what his numbers early this year might say.

Casey Gillaspie: First Baseman, Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays), Born January 25th, 1993. He was the Rays first round draft pick of Wichita State last June. Early this season he has done what most good college bats should do in the Midwest League. He’s a switch hitter and has hit to a slash line of .283/.364/.539, which is a .903 OPS. He leads the Midwest League with 16 home runs. After seeing him play on two occasions back in May I came away very impressed by his power potential (it has a chance to be plus at the Major League level). Power isn’t the only thing he does well as he has typically shown very good strike zone judgment according to many reports. This guy is a pretty legitimate prospect being ranked pre-season in the Rays organization as the 10th prospect by Baseball America, eight by Baseball Prospectus, ninth here at Minor league Ball and fifth by MLB.com. He has a strong chance at being solid contributor on a Major League team.

Stryker Trahan: Catcher/outfielder, Kane County Cougars (Arizona Diamondbacks), Born April 25, 1994. Diamondbacks First Round Draft pick in 2012 out of Acadiana High School in Lafayette, Louisiana. At one point he was a top prospect in the Diamondbacks organization, but he has seen his stock slip considerably over the last couple seasons. MLB.com still had him at 14th on their preseason list. He put up a slash line of 254/.296/.531 with 11 home runs in 50 games with Kane County this year before being promoted to High-A Visalia on June 11th. The Diamondbacks sent him back to the Midwest League this year after he hit a underwhelming .198/.264/.367 in 95 games last year. Last summer I was able to catch a couple of his games and he looked absolutely lost on both sides of the ball. This early season Midwest League breakout won’t change my evaluation from last summer, in which I called him an organization depth guy.

Gleyber Torres: Shortstop, South Bend Cubs (Chicago Cubs), Born December 13, 1996. This is the first international signee to make this list and deservedly so. Torres has performed very well as an 18 year old this season in the Midwest League as an hitting .312/.381/.390 for a .770 OPS, .363 wOBA and 128 wRC+. He’s even recently been added to MLB Pipelines top 100 prospect list. By all accounts Torres has a very advanced approach at the plate for someone his age and has average to above average potential on all the tools all the way across the board. This is the first guy on this list I haven’t actually seen in person so I’m going to try to make that a priority in the second half.

Michael Gerber: Right Fielder, West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers), Born July 8th, 1992. Drafted in the 15th round out of Creighton last summer by the Tigers. So far this year in the Midwest League he’s hitting .335/.405/.476 which is an .881 OPS, .401 wOBA and .153 wRC+. In a very weak Tigers farm system he wasn’t ranked that highly by any major publication this offseason, MLB.com currently has him ranked as the Tigers 29th prospect, but I would expect to see him more highly thought of in both mid-season lists and this upcoming offseason.. I have seen Gerber on six occasions already this year and I have been pretty impressed with what I’ve seen. His ability to use the whole field is pretty remarkable. I really don’t think his upside is that high but, he’s definitely an under the radar guy to keep an eye on.

Pitchers

Ryan Williams: Starting Pitcher, South Bend Cubs (Chicago Cubs), Born November 1, 1991. Drafted in the tenth round out of East Carolina last year. He posted a very impressive 1.17 ERA, a 2.30 FIP, a 6.75 k/9 and a 2.11 BB/9 in 9 games (8 starts after being used as a reliever in college) before being promoted to Double-A Tennessee on June 3rd. Williams is a ground-ball pitcher and is always pitching around the strike zone. Williams isn’t a guy who will overpower anyone, but can still be very effective. He reminds some people a little of current Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks. In Double-A Williams has posted a impressive 2.53 ERA and 2.56 FIP in (small sample alert) 21.1 innings. Although unlikely, there have been conversations about him helping the Cubs at the major league level at some point later this year.

Jeremy Null: Starting Pitcher, South Bend Cubs (Chicago Cubs), Born September 27, 1993. Drafted in the 15th round last year by the Cubs out of Western Carolina. Another Cubs prospect (this system is still loaded even after graduating Bryant, Russell, Soler, Baez and Alcantara, I know insane right?) that has pitched to a 2.33 ERA, a 2.66 FIP, a 6.58 K/9 and a .55 (!) BB/9. He has performed well enough to be named one of the starting pitchers for the Midwest League all-star game. Jeremy Null entered the Cubs top 30 list on MLB Pipeline when Bryant became ineligible in late May. Null’s arsenal includes a fastball, curveball and a change-up. According to reports his fastball is usually 88-91 t93 but plays up due to good command. His curveball has shown good movement and his change is developing. I don’t think the upside here is insane as I see his absolute ceiling as a back-end of the rotation pitcher at the Major League Level

Spencer Turnbull: Starting Pitcher, West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers), Born September 18, 1992. Drafted in the second round last year by Detroit out of Alabama. He has posted an impressive 2.67 ERA, a 3.47 FIP, a 7.69 K/9 and a 4.71 BB/9 this year in 57.1 innings. He’s rated as a top ten prospect in a very weak tigers system by many publications. I watched Turnbull pitch back in April and he worked 92-94 t96 with good life on his fastball (clearly his best present offering). He also featured a slider around 71-73 touching 76 and a bad change-up around 85-86. The slider has slightly above average potential while the change-up currently lags far behind. For me he looks like a reliever long term.

Brent Honeywell: Starting Pitcher, Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays), Born March 31, 1995. Drafted in the competitive balance round last year by the Rays out of Walters State Community College in Tennessee. Honeywell has pitched to a 2.91 ERA, a 2.46 FIP, a 10.52 K/9 and a 1.66 BB/9 in 65 innings. He was ranked as the Rays Fifth Prospect by Baseball Prospectus, the Eight by Baseball America, Sixth by MLB.com and fourth here at Minor league Ball. I watched Honeywell back in May and he had a fastball that was 92-94 t95, a change-up that flashed plus potential around 83-84, a curveball in the high 70’s and a screwball that also flashed plus in the low 70’s. He showed below average control this start, but I liked what I saw. I can see him pitching at the back-end of a major league rotation one day.

Joe Jimenez: Closer, West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers), Born January 17, 1995. He was signed as an un-drafted free agent back in 2013 out of Puerto Rico and it looks right now like the Tigers got an absolute steal. He is the only reliever to appear on this list, but he is very deserving. He has a 1.69 ERA, a 2.24 FIP, a 14.77 (!) K/9 and a 2.53 BB/9 through a relatively small sample of 21.1 innings this year. I have seen him on a couple of occasions this year and basically Jimenez is a guy with a completely overpowering fastball that is usually around 95-97 t98 w/ good life. Jimenez uses this pitch to completely overpower Midwest League Hitters and I’d say he uses it somewhere between 90-95% of the time. The rest of the time he throws a slider around 79-81 that flashes plus potential. I do want to see him start using more off-speed pitches and maybe incorporating a change-up every now and then. To me it looks like he has a legitimate chance to be a second-division closer. You can read more about my thoughts on him if you 'd like here.