One of the great things about this time of year is not only the beginning of the regular season, but all the prospect lists being published. There are many, many sites out there that do their own version of a Top 50/100/125/150/175 Prospects list, but I have found many prospect hounds give more weight a certain few lists.
For me personally, I like to use seven websites to reference prospect rankings - this wonderful little place run by Mr. John Sickels, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB Pipeline, Keith Law from ESPN, FanGraphs, and the new 2080 Baseball.
By using more than one list, it gives you a better understanding of players by giving you differing views. Since FanGraphs hasn't released their list, and I do not have ESPN Insider access right now, we'll leave those two lists off for now. Let's take a look at five players who have been given lofty expectations by way of being highly ranked, that might not be able to meet them.
RHP Jorge Lopez, Milwaukee Brewers, 23 years old
2080 - UR (Unranked), Baseball America - 59, Baseball Prospectus - 71, MLB.com - 57, John Sickels - 35
Photo courtesy of Benny Sieu/USA Today Sports
When you look at the scouting report for Brewers right hander Jorge Lopez, it reads quite nicely. There's the lively fastball that sits 92-94 and can bump up to 97, a wicked 12-6 hook, and a deceptive change up with solid command of all three pitches. By all accounts, he's got the components to be a solid mid-rotation arm. When I saw him in the Southern League finals, he showed a slight pause in his delivery as he finished bringing his leg up before coming to the plate. This definitely adds to his deception, but also can throw his own timing out of whack and miss his spots.
He broke out in the AA Southern League last year with a 2.26 ERA, 8.6 K/9, and 3.3 BB/9, but he was the beneficiary of a low BABIP (.259), and excellent work by the bullpen after him with an 83.5% strand rate. Those familiar with BABIP and strand rate know that those are two values likely to regress. I do not think home runs will be Lopez's bugaboo, mainly because of his strong history of keeping the ball on the ground, but things can change when half your starts are in a homer happy park like Miller Park, or even AAA where he'd have to pitch in Colorado Springs.
Now 23, Lopez looks to begin the year in AAA, but is likely one of the first to get called up in case of injury or ineffectiveness to their starting five. While I think he's going to be a serviceable starting option, I do not think he's going to be a #2 or #3 starter like many others do.
RHP Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks, 23 years old
2080 - 44, BA - UR, BP - 48, MLB - 72, JS - 95
Photo courtesy of Archie Bradley's Twitter (@ArchieBradley7)
Oh, Archie Bradley. An enigma for sure to all Snakes fans after being so highly touted throughout his minor league career. Once thought to be a potential ace, the former 7th overall pick in the 2011 draft has scuffled the past two years. He still features a dynamite 1-2 punch with his 92-96 mph fastball that features late life and a hard breaking curve in the low 80's. The command, however, has continued to slip and he has not made much progress with either his change up or cutter, the latter which was scrapped for regular season action.
He began the 2015 campaign by struggling in the big leagues, posting a 5.80 ERA in 35.2 innings of work (eight starts) with almost as many walks (22) as strike outs (23), and just as many earned runs (23). On top of getting drilled in the face by a 115 mph comebacker off the bat of Carlos Gonzalez in his fourth start and running into issues with his shoulder (tendinitis), Bradley was out of commission from June to mid August. Upon his return, the results were decent with a 2.13 ERA, 29 punch outs and 10 walks over 25.1 innings.
There are still major red flags, and I do not see Bradley having much success in the rotation. Most of the time relievers don't crack top prospect lists, and I believe that's where his future lies. Perhaps the move to the pen will improve his aim, because his control and command are the only thing holding him back from being a lights out closer.
CF Anthony Alford, Toronto Blue Jays, 21 years old
2080 - 49, BA - 25, BP - 44, MLB - 42, John - 79
Photo courtesy of Kyle Castle/Lansing Lugnuts
This is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down. Not really, I'm watching Fresh Prince and wanted everyone to finish that song in their head. Anthony Alford spent his first three years of pro ball playing sparingly as he was also playing college football for Southern Miss and Ole Miss. He didn't turn his attention to baseball full-time until the end of the 2014 season, where he dropped the pigskin for good and played in 36 games down under in the Australian Baseball League. He showed off his excellent speed which plays in center field as well as on the bases. A year later, scouts and front office officials were thoroughly impressed by how well he performed against older competition. With a compact, direct stroke to the ball, Alford sprayed the ball all over the diamond with great bat speed as well as an impressive eye.
Last year was his first full season stateside, splitting his season almost evenly between Toronto's low and high A clubs. He started the year in the Midwest League, hitting .293/.418/.394 with a 143 wRC+ and 12 stolen bases. After a late June promotion to the Florida State League, he finished the year strong with a .302/.380/.444 line, a 153 wRC+, and 15 more steals. A composite .298/.398/.421 line is nothing to scoff at, especially from a player with as little game experience as Alford had.
Some scouts believe he has a special package of high end physical tools and impressive instincts. Nobody can argue the former as he is built like a brick shithouse at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds and is absolutely shredded. In other words, this is the kind of player that can play ball and sell jeans. In my eyes, Alford did indeed have a great year, but it was only his first full year. In most cases, I prefer to wait until a player can repeat a season like that before vaulting him into Top 50 status. I get that he could wind up being an excellent top of the order hitter with great defense in center. My gut is telling me that won't be the case though. All the evidence points to a good chance of a very productive starter, but I still can't shake the feeling Alford won't reach that level. Call it my version of one of John's "unsubstantiated predictions".
RHP Robert Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds, 23 years old
2080 - 78, BA - 32, BP - 30, MLB - 35, John - 25
Photo courtesy of Tony Gutierrez/AP
Holy inverted W (or as some like to call it, a "M"), Batman! Robert Stephenson, or as I like to call him "Bob Steve", has been around for what seems to be forever. The 27th overall pick from the 2011 draft has seen his prospect sheen dull with uninspiring results the last two seasons. He really struggled in his first taste of AA in 2014, and he was sent back to the Southern League to start 2015.
Fourteen solid starts and 78.1 innings later with a 3.68 ERA, Stephenson was on the plane to AAA Louisville. Before he grabbed his boarding pass, he posted a 10.2 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, and just 6.1 H/9, largely from an unsustainable .249 BABIP. Once he had finished the year with 10 more starts in the International League, that BABIP rose 57 points, and he allowed two more hits per nine innings. He also saw drops in his strike out, walk, and home run rates (8.3 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, and 0.3 HR/9, respectively). His ERA rose to 4.04 across those 55.2 AAA innings, as did his WHIP from 1.23 to 1.40.
As you can tell from the strike out numbers, the stuff is still dynamic. I've long been a fan of Bob Steve, especially his nasty deuce with insane break and knee-buckling ability. Now that he's toned his fastball down to the 92-95 mph range instead of 95-99, he has a better idea of where it's going. It also has picked up a little more life on it. He's also made strides in adding a true third pitch by going back to an old grip with his change up that features good downward movement with similar arm speed to his fastball. This is all a great template to work from, but useless when the ball doesn't find the strike zone enough.
While Stephenson isn't completely screwed, his inability to find the plate will seriously hinder his ability to maximize his potential. Most see a #2 with Stephenson which could absolutely happen with a few mechanical tweaks on his part, namely keeping his plant leg strong, but until something clicks I'll temper my enthusiasm. I think Stephenson is likely to be a member of a starting rotation for a long time, just more towards the middle than the top of it.
1B Dominic Smith, New York Mets
2080 - 93, BA - 79, BP - 86, MLB - 51, John - 118
Photo courtesy of Dominic Smith's Twitter (@TheRealSmith22)
I will be the first to admit that I have always been the low man on Dominic Smith. His uninspiring first run through full season ball in 2014 confirmed my feelings he was an overdraft by the Mets back in 2013 as the 11th overall pick. When you have that kind of pedigree and are limited to first base, you need to MASH. Smith has yet to show that particular ability.
His 2015 season was spent with St. Lucie in the Florida State League, amassing 497 plate appearances and hitting to the tune of a .305/.354/.417 line and 133 wRC+. He drew 35 walks to 75 strike outs along with 33 doubles and six round trippers. The six bombs were a career high and brought his career total to 10 in over 1,200 trips to the dish. Still, it's a nice season for a 20 year old in a pitcher friendly league.
I feel like Smith's 2014 season lowered the expectations on him, especially in what to expect in the over-the-fence power department. Scouts and other pundits rave about his ability to barrel the ball up and spray line drives, but all mention his swing is not geared for home runs. The only way he can improve in that particular category is to fundamentally change his swing and try to become a completely different hitter. A .300 hitter is nice to have in any lineup, but without power and severe defensive limitations, I can't see him being a starter for long and can't really see him forcing out Lucas Duda. On top of that road block, the Mets are more willing to spend on free agents now. Potential targets include players like Edwin Encarnacion, Wilin Rosario, Mitch Moreland, and Mark Trumbo.
It's not to say that either of these five players are likely to completely flame out before making the big leagues. I think they could all spend time there, but I don't think they will make as much of an impact as others seem to think. Out of these five do you agree any of them or all will fall short? Share your opinion in the poll below.