It’s June. While the summer temperatures are heating up, so are some of minor league baseball’s best prospects.
But what about those prospects who seem to still be looking for another gear. Here are three of baseball’s top 20 prospects who are underperforming to start 2018. Keep in mind, this is not to talk about a prospect being a bust, nor saying that they were over-ranked heading into the season. It is simply a look at some rough starts to the 2018 season (*Rankings will be based on our own John Sickels Top 175).
Michael Kopech, RHP, Chicago White Sox (No. 15)
Kopech has sometimes looked like he was more power than control as he climbed the ladder with a career 4.78 walks-per-nine. He dazzled everyone with a fastball that has hit 105, but he was also able to get by blowing younger, less-advanced hitters away with his heat.
Kopech’s stuff is nasty, but control is still an issue, walking Triple-A batters at a 6.06-per-nine rate in 2018. Overall, his numbers aren’t impressive, sitting at 2-5 with a 5.20 ERA (although a 3.98 FIP shows this is rather unlucky), 1.44 WHIP and a .216 batting average against. He’s also hit nine batters, which cannot be a good feeling.
Kopech will always light up the stat sheet with top velocity and strikeouts, but everything else needs to catch up. His slider is a nasty offering and ahead of the game in feel, but could still land more successfully in the strike zone. To be fair, Kopech has added a two-seamer to his repertoire since joining the White Sox and it seems to have successfully leveled his ground ball to fly ball rate, both roughly at 39 percent. It is also highly likely that he is still adapting to new tweaks to his mechanics since joining a new team. There’s no denying Kopech’s stuff, it’s just a matter of when it all comes together at once. Then, watch out.
Hunter Greene, RHP, Cincinnati Reds (No. 18)
It’s hard to get down on an 18-year-old with Greene’s natural stuff making his full-season debut, especially as one of the youngest players in the league. That said, his 2018 got off to a rough start.
Greene has been victimized in the early going by being fairly hittable. Not only are opposing hitters batting .299 against him, an unlucky .409 BABIP is not doing any favors to the young righty. Though Greene’s mechanics have long been praised as smooth and easy, it is the deception he lacks that has been a problem, which likely accounts for these high averages. John mentioned this in the preseason:
...velocity reports from high school with a 95-102 MPH fastball, and that velocity comes easy; shows potential with both slider and changeup; both need more work but could be plus with more repetitions; good secondary pitches will be critical because Greene’s easy delivery, while reducing stress on his body, doesn’t provide much deception; athleticism, makeup, work ethic, intelligence, and mound presence are all big positives; all told, he has all the tangibles and intangibles to be a top flight ace pitcher but needs to refine the secondaries and show how he handles a workload.
Greene is a work in progress with undeniable talent. These speed bumps were likely expected and perhaps picking up his first career win to start June can help him turn the corner. Though he is not going deep into ball games, he has allowed just six runs over his last five starts spanning 23.1 innings. His 11.8 strikeout-per-nine rate certainly leaves a lot to get excited about.
Francisco Mejia, Utility (?), Cleveland Indians (No. 19)
Mejia was once seen as the catcher of the Indians future, but the backstop has played a few positions since the end of 2017. Where he winds up is still a question mark, but it was always his bat that was his key to a big league future.
Mejia’s bat was put on notice after his remarkable 50-game hitting streak in 2016. After continuing to produce last season as the Eastern League Rookie of the Year, Mejia made it to Cleveland for a few uninspiring at bats.
Thus far, the 22-year-old switch-hitter has put together a .229/.283/.368 slash line with just a .651 OPS. What’s most surprising is his strikeout and walk numbers. While he never walked at a high rate, his 5.8 percent is the lowest it’s been since he’s started his run as one of the top catching prospects in baseball. Paired with that, his 20.6 percent strikeout rate is the highest it has been since 2015.
He still seems to generate more power against righties as a lefty and more contact against lefties as a righty. He appears to be coming out of the early slump, having hit in 12 of his last 13 games (which shows how much worse he was doing a month ago) with half the games coming in multi-hit fashion.