With the All-Star break just around the corner, it’s a good time to take stock of farm systems around the league. Many teams are being rewarded this season by fantastic performances by young hitters and spry hurlers. Pete Hodges fills us in on the pitchers you need to know in his Futures game pitching preview.
The MLB All-Star Futures Game will feature some of the best prospects that baseball has to offer. Many will have an impact on the game for years to come. However, there are a select few that could have a serious effect on the league this season. Teams desperate to get an extra push for the playoffs, or to get kids a taste of MLB to help their 2017 transition, will call up these future stars sometime over the next two and a half months, and now is your chance to learn about them.
Nate Smith – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Starting Pitcher
Smith is a left-handed starter destined to pitch in the back-end of rotations for a decade and then some. He posseses a fastball that sits at 90-91 mph, a changeup with just enough drop to induce ground balls, and two breaking balls (slider and curve) that he can throw for strikes. None of those pitches are plus pitches, but the combination will get Smith to the majors. He is a classic innings-eating, back-of-the-rotation, cliche machine. Smith has managed a 3.99 ERA in the PCL this season, which is actually impressive, and his 7.32 K/9 and 2.47 BB/9 shows that he has the necessary control to be a big-league pitcher.
2017 Road to The Show: The picture in Los Angeles is anything but clear, however, expect Smith to be competing for a starting spot in the rotation, or as a piece on the move in an offseason trade.
Alex Reyes – St. Louis Cardinals – Starting Pitcher
The right-handed starter began the 2016 season continuing his 50-game suspension that started during the Arizona Fall League. That suspension was levied for failing a second random drug test and shows that the soon to be 22-year-old has some room for maturation.
However, there was no rust on the right-hander as he struck out eight in his return to baseball on May 22 over four scoreless innings. He has continued striking out batters at a ridiculous 13.28 K/9 which compensates for his 4.35 BB/9. In his 41 ⅓ innings this season, he has posted a 4.35 ERA, but has been struck a little unlucky with a .333 BABIP against.
Reyes features a high-90s four-seamer with the ability to touch and, at times, go over 100-mph. However, the four-seamer tends to flatten out. So Reyes added a two-seamer late last season that will hopefully lead to more ground balls. His 12-6 curveball is his feature swing-and-miss pitch which Dan Farnsworth of Fangraphs called “nearly unhittable when he’s hitting spots, which regresses only to being impossible to consistently square up when he isn’t.” Reyes’s changeup has the potential to miss bats, but certainly will induce ground balls.
Road to The Show 2016: It is unlikely Reyes will crack the Cardinals rotation this season. However, the uncertainty at the back of the bullpen could lend itself to a boost and Reyes’s strikeout abilities are perfect for that role. With the New York Mets only 2.5 games ahead in the Wild Card standings, Reyes could play a similar role to that of Adam Wainwright circa 2006.
Road to The Show 2017: With Jaime Garcia set to be a free agent in 2017, the path is clear for Reyes to enter Opening Day as the number five starter in what will be a strong rotation.
Joe Musgrove – Houston Astros – Starting Pitcher
Musgrove is a mountain of a man, standing at 6’5”, 255 pounds. The righty’s development has been slowed by multiple injuries throughout his time in the low minors, but he seems to have turned a corner over the past two years. This season with the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies Musgrove has posted an undeniably impressive 1.20 BB/9 along with an 8.20 K/9. His 4.60 ERA is likely a factor of his higher than usual .320 BABIP, which can be explained in part by playing in the PCL, and likely because of some bad luck. Musgrove is a groundball pitcher by trade, and has regularly posted BABIPs below .300.
Musgrove already features a plus fastball that he throws in the 91-94 mph range. His changeup is a work in progress that may top out as league average, although his arm mechanics during the offering are deceptive. Musgrove’s slider is likely to be an average major-league pitch as well, although he has the ability to spot it in the same locations as the fastball.
2016 Road to The Show: The Astros rotation seems to be rounding into form with the return of Lance McCullers, however, Mike Fiers has been shaky. Jeff Luhnow showed last year that he will not shy from making trades so anyone can be on the move. Musgrove could also be valuable out of the bullpen as he has shown this year that he can strikeout batters and will not walk many.
2017 Road to The Show: With Doug Fister on a one-year contract, expect Musgrove to be competing for a spot in the Opening Day rotation.
Adalberto Mejia – San Francisco Giants – Starting Pitcher
In his third stint with the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels, Mejia was able to lower his walk rate to an impressive 2.22 BB/9 while increasing his strikeout rate to 8.03 K/9 from 6.79 and 2.77, respectively, during his earlier stints in AA. Those improvements led to his promotion to the Triple-A River Cats where he has continued putting up those numbers with a 9.25 K/9 and the same 2.22 BB/9. His ERA in the PCL is 4.81 which is fueled in part by the offense-heavy league, a high BABIP (.357), and likely adjusting to the new competition.
Mejia’s fastball sits in the 91-93 range and he has displayed some command issues in the past, which has held him back. He throws a slider in the low-80s that features late break. Mejia is unafraid to throw the slider in any count as he is confident in his ability to keep it in the strike zone. His changeup can, at times, be devastating as he can throw it with the same arm speed he uses with his fastball. He also demonstrates the ability to locate the pitch.
2016 Road to The Show: The Giants are sitting atop the NL West but their rotation is weak beyond Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. Jeff Samardzija isn’t going anywhere, but Matt Cain is on the disabled list and Jake Peavy is no spring chicken. While Albert Suarez has filled in admirably, I doubt Bruce Bochy wants him taking the bump come October. If Mejia can show that he can effectively get AAA batters out while out pitching fellow prospect Clayton Blackburn, he may receive the call if there’s an emergency in San Francisco.
Jeff Hoffman – Colorado Rockies – Starting Pitcher
Drafted in 2014 with the 9th overall pick, Hoffman went straight to the disabled list as he was needed Tommy John surgery. If his UCL was not torn then he would likely have been selected first overall. When he returned in 2015, his velocity returned with him, but his strikeouts did not. Though this concerned some, it appears he may have just been trying to consistently find the strike zone and just getting comfortable on the hill.
Hoffman, in just his second year pitching professionally, started 2016 with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes. Through 17 starts, the right-hander has posted a 4.06 ERA in the offense-heavy Pacific Coast League with a 9.06 K/9 and 3.11 BB/9. Those numbers paint a picture of a different pitcher compared to a 6.49 K/9 and a 2.34 BB/9 last season. So while facing stiffer competition, Hoffman has made a concerted effort to miss bats and has been successful
2016 Road to The Show: Any day now.
When will Jeff Hoffman get the #Rockies call-up? "I'm not sure when. But he's pretty close," Walt Weiss said. First time he's measured it.
— Nick Groke (@nickgroke) June 29, 2016
2017 Road to The Show: He’ll be a part of the Opening Day rotation unless injured or traded.
Jharel Cotton – Los Angeles Dodgers – Pitcher
Cotton has had an interesting professional career. He has bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen as the Dodgers don’t seem to know his role. This is likely because Cotton doesn’t have the best stuff in the world, and he doesn’t have a healthy looking delivery. His three-quarter arm slot comes with a stiff-arm release that leads to inconsistent results. Cotton throws a four-seam fastball that sits at 92-94 mph, a changeup with heavy-split action, and a curveball in the high-70s.
He started the 2016 season in the rotation with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers. After four starts (two good, two bad), Cotton was moved to the bullpen where he was found success until his sixth appearance – and first save opportunity – when he allowed six runs, walked three and threw his first two wild pitches of the season. He was then moved back to the rotation, where he re-found success. Over his 47 innings since rejoining the rotation, Cotton has an ERA of 3.06, a K/9 of 10.53, and a BB/9 of 3.06.
2016 Road to The Show: The Dodgers rotation is a mess and could use help (considering that they traded for Bud Norris), and every team needs help out of the bullpen. This also means that Cotton could see his first big-league action in another city as the Dodgers are likely to be buyers.
2017 Road to The Show: If he isn’t moved by the deadline, then Cotton could be fighting for a spot in the rotation. However, it’s hard to predict, as the Dodgers – even with a sparse free agent pool in 2017 – could still splash the pot and sign R.A. Dickey or Edwin Jackson.
J.T. Chargois – Minnesota Twins – Relief Pitcher
After missing 2013 and 2014 because of Tommy John surgery, Chargois returned to baseball in 2015 demonstrating that he could still top 100-mph to the delight of Twins fans everywhere. The 25-year-old has quickly moved through the Twins’ system and received a cup of coffee in June that he promptly spilled all over his lap.
The fireballer entered the game against the Boston Red Sox with his team down 10-4. Chargois managed to get two Red Sox out with two men on before any runs crossed the plate, but five would score before manager Paul Molitor would save him from himself. His line for that dreadful outing was ⅔ inning three hits, two walks, a wild pitch, and five runs.
As you can tell from that line, control has always been the one thing holding Chargois back. However, this year it had seemed that he had that problem under… control. The righty currently sports a 1.99 BB/9 while striking out 11.91 per nine innings in AAA. Both those numbers are improvements from 2015 when his BB/9 was 4.68 and his K/9 was 9.94. The one thing Minnesota fans can hope for is that Chargois just had first-time jitters, and that his next MLB appearance will be free of those.
2016 Road to The Show: Chargois could get the call anytime the Twins have a need for an extra right-handed reliever, or feel that the righty is ready.
2017 Road to The Show: Expect Chargois to break camp with Minnesota and spend the season at the back end of the bullpen for a very exciting Twins team.
Next up, we’ll discuss the hitters that could impact the 2016 season from the MLB Futures All-Stars Game.
Pete Hodges has written about the call up of a top prospect, an odd tradition, Leo the Lip.
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