Here's a look at some top performers for 2015 in the Double-A Eastern League.
Joe Gunkel- RHP, Bowie Baysox, Baltimore Orioles, Born December 30th, 1991:
Joe Gunkel, the Red Sox 18th Round pick in 2013, was recently traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Alejandro De Aza and is doing well for the Bowie Baysox. With a 1.35 ERA and opponents hitting .214 against, Gunkel has finally hit his stride and is close to a promotion. But what is baffling is the very low strikeout and walk rates in his time with the Baysox. Now striking out only 4.95 and walking .9 batters per nine innings, he seems to be a ground ball, finesse pitcher.
But oddly, in a similar time span earlier this year with the Portland Sea Dogs, he struck out 10.8 batters and walked 3.93 per nine innings. I don't really know what to conclude until he has pitched more innings. Although he is doing well now, it is more than likely that his LOB% of 90.4% will revert to league average, and that his ERA will subsequently go up.
From what I have seen, he has mostly relied on deception thanks to his low arm slot, and a solid slider. With Gunkel's average stuff, high effort delivery, and lack of confidence in a third pitch, it would probably be for the best if the Orioles moved him to the bullpen permanently.
Aaron Nola- RHP, Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Philadelphia Phillies, Born June 4th, 1993:
Similar to Matt Boyd, Aaron Nola had a torrid start to the season in Double-A and was quickly promoted. Unlike Matt Boyd, this was expected of Nola. Drafted seventh overall in the 2014 draft by the Phillies, Nola was expected to be a polished college right hander, although several were worried about his small stature. What no one expected was his quick rise from college to Triple-A in a year. He reminds me of Matt Boyd, with a plus fastball and very good command of it, although Nola's curveball and change-up are better, both having the chance to be plus. He works in the 91-94 range, touching 97, with natural running action that moves in on right handed hitters.
His curveball is a very good pitch thanks to a very low 3/4 arm slot . Right handed hitters don't realize it is going in the zone until too late, because it is hard to see. I am not as high on his change-up as others, feeling it is very hittable and doesn't sink as much as it should. When I first saw his mechanics, I was a little worried, but as I watched more, they are surprisingly simple, although unconventional. He has been great in Double-A this year, after a little bit of a worrying decrease in strikeouts last year in Double-A. If he can be just as dominant against lefties as he is against righties, he could be a #2/3 starter. More realistically, he is a #3/4 starter.
Michael Conforto- Left Fielder, Binghamton Mets, New York Mets, Born March 1st, 1993:
Michael Conforto, a power hitting left fielder, is raking in the Eastern League, hitting .346/.448/.568 for the Binghamton Mets in 22 games. That said, Conforto probably cannot keep up this pace, as he has an unsustainable .433 BABIP. He shows good plate discipline and maturity beyond his years. Although he is extremely patient, he is also able to jump on mistake pitches. He has a short, compact swing, although it can get long on breaking balls. He has good raw power, although in games he has more gap power.
I am not as high on his ability to make contact, since he doesn't always recognize breaking balls and tends to make weak contact on them. He also has trouble turning on inside fastballs, especially ones with higher velocity. He isn't bad in left field, but he isn't good either. His speed is well below average. I see him as a solid regular, with a .265/.350/.480 slash line.
Kelby Tomlinson- 2B/SS, Richmond Flying Squirrels, San Francisco Giants, Born June 16th, 1990:
Kelby Tomlinson, a projected utility infielder, is hitting .323/.387/.426 in Double-A, currently leading the Eastern League in average. He is a reliable defender, hustles all the time, has good speed and uses it well on the base paths. He has good plate discipline, walks at a decent clip, doesn't have trouble with breaking balls and is athletic. What isn't to like about him? Many people said: his lack of power.
This year he has developed gap power and is seventh in the league in doubles. He does have trouble catching up to fastballs and it's a rare day that he pulls a fastball, thanks to a slow swing. Although this will limit his average, if he continues this progression, his ceiling is a regular on a second division team, hitting with a slash line of .250/.310/.370. Most likely he will become what John Sickels projected in his 2015 Baseball Prospect Book--a solid bench asset.