As most of you know, I spend a lot of time in the South Atlantic League, specifically out in Rome and Hickory. There was a lot of fantastic talent to come through last season. This year is shaping up to be equally exciting.
There are plenty of players on everyone’s radar. There a few players on nobody’s radar that will break out at some point this season. That’s the beauty of Low-A ball.
Here are three in particular I am looking forward to watching.
Leody Taveras, OF, Hickory Crawdads.
(A lot of movement in his swing, but the recognition of the strike zone should make him a good on base presence - video courtesy of FanGraphs)
Taveras signed out of the Dominican Republic at 17 years of age for $2.1-million. The speedy, switch-hitting outfielder had a very good debut. He proved too much for the Gulf Coast League, hitting .385 with a .467 on base percentage over 11 games and headed to the Arizona League.
He finished the season in the Northwest League and slashed .271/.324/.366. He didn’t show much game power (one combined home run) and not many extra base hits (21 in 306 at bats), but this is a freshly-turned 18 year old. There is a lot to like.
He has the true makings of a big league center fielder with 60 grade speed and anywhere from a 55 to 60 grade arm. He is six-foot-one and 170 pounds, so while there was not much power last year, he certainly has the frame that could one day provide some. He seems to hit righties a bit better, but has sound mechanics and pitch recognition from each side of the plate, making a lot of contact all over the field. He has a tendency to keep the ball on the ground, which should play well with his speed.
It’s still early in his development, but this could be an exciting year for Taveras. He has true five-tool talent.
Jason Groome, LHP, Greenville Drive
(Pretty smooth delivery, repeats it well, and throws strikes. What's not to like? video courtesy of Sox Prospects)
Groome arrived to the big leagues amongst a lot of fanfare, although not all of it was positive. He made news by transferring from Barnegat, New Jersey to the IMG Academy back to Barnegat, and it turn he got suspended. That brought some negative reviews about makeup and maturity, but they may have been undeserved.
He also made a name for himself with his arm, most memorably by throwing a 19-strikeout, seven-inning no hitter.
There is really not much to dislike about Groome. He’s six-foot-six and 220 pounds… and 18 years old. He has a mid-90s fastball and an even better, plus-curveball that is tight in its delivery. His changeup has been seldom used and needs much refining. It has been noted since high school that it seemingly has a natural sink to it, which could lead to it being a deceptive pitch should he harness it.
Groome didn’t do too much after the draft, pitching just 6.2 innings across the GCL and NYPL, striking out ten and walking four. He could one day be a strong No. 2 in Boston, even an ace. He may be held back in extended spring training, but we can hope he sees his way to the Sally this year.
Ian Anderson, Rome Braves, RHP
(video courtesy of Baseball America.)
Like Groome, Anderson is just 18 years old. He also has a big frame, standing at six-foot-three and 170 pounds. The young righty has the chance to anchor the staff of the reigning SAL Champion Rome Braves with some big shoes to fill.
Last season, the Rome Braves had a rotation that featured four former first round picks, and this season there could be three more. Anderson is the most exciting of the bunch, hailing from high school in New York. The Braves selected him third overall last season and signed him to a $4-million bonus, keeping him away from Vanderbilt. He went on to make five starts in both the GCL and Appy League. He struck out 36 and walked 12 over 39.2 combined innings.
He has a mid-90s fastball that seemed to dip in velocity, both into his starts and as the season progressed. He has a nice changeup, and a curvy-slider that have potential, but are still inconsistent. He combined for a 2.30 ground out to air out rate. As long as he keeps the ball on the ground, he’ll be able to work his way through inconsistencies in his command throughout his teenage years.
Anderson has mid-rotation potential, with some seeing his ceiling as a No. 2. Where he fits in to a Braves organization stacked with some of the best pitching talent in baseball is a question mark. This season could help answer that.