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MiLB Players Watch-List: NL East

In part 5 of my MiLB watch-list, I’ll take a look at the NL East.


Atlanta Braves

Before I start I just have to say that the Braves farm system is loaded with young pitching. Their future on that front is very very bright.

1. Ozhaino ‘Ozzie’ Albies SS/2B
And after saying that, of course, I’ll start with a hitter. It’s another one of MLB’s plethora of potential future all-star shortstops, only this one might have to switch to second base – Ozzie Albies. After the Braves acquired Dansby Swanson, it was clear that either him or Albies will have to move to the neighboring position. Since Swanson was older and a #1 pick, he was deemed to be ready and has become the everyday shortstop, subsequently converting the 20-year old switch-hitting Curacao native into a second baseman. Not that it will change anything. Albies has been excellent defensively and was seen first and foremost as a defensive shortstop when he joined the Braves minor league system in 2014. That proved to be true. What was unexpected is how quick his bat developed. It’s the actual reason why he has moved so fast through the ranks and is already playing in Triple A. He does not have much power, but the combination of eye coordination, bat speed, theft ability and defensive prowess makes him as exciting of a prospect as you will find. Fantasy-wise, he might never be a top-tier contributor, yet if his average holds up at the highest level (and I think it will), he will be a great option to settle for after the best 2B/SS are off the draft board. Ozzie has had a relatively slow start to this season (.252 avg, 28K/5BB), albeit with 9 stolen bases, but that’s nothing to worry about since Atlanta has had a plan all along. That’s why they signed Brandon Phillips in the off-season and can now afford to be patient. Anyway, Albies will be a Brave before the end of the season, and it could happen much sooner if Phillips were to land on the disable list.

[the_ad id=”384″]2. Sean Newcomb LHP
Newcomb is one of the more frustrating starting pitching prospects in the minors. He has ace stuff which he just can’t get the handle off. It seems like one of those things where you know how to throw the ball, you know exactly where you want to throw it, but your hand just doesn’t want to listen. The aim is off. The same issue has followed him for three years now. Add a couple of DL trips and it’s clear what has been holding him back. After he got traded from the Angels to the Braves, I really thought his location problems will get fixed by one of the best pitching trainers in the league. Although there have been signs of improvement, the overall impression is that time is running out. I compare him to Blake Snell, who’s also a lefty and has had the same exact walk issues. I believe Snell will eventually solve the riddle and reach his maximum potential, and I feel the same way about Newcomb. He’s had a decent start to the season with a 3.08 ERA in 5 starts, 35K, 15BB, .212 avg against and, like always (career 1.31 WHIP), a 1.37 WHIP. He should be the first Braves pitching prospect to get a chance to crack their starting rotation this season. Expect a high ERA and WHIP, possible short outings and plenty of strikeouts. Translation – expect a matchup based pitcher. For what it’s worth, I’ll be taking my chances with him.

3. Lucas Sims RHP
The story is similar with Sims. A former first round pick, the righty has tremendous upside (that of #2 starter), yet he can’t sort the mechanical part of his delivery, resulting in too many walks. For example, he finished last season with 92 walks in 141 innings pitched. Just to compare, the pitcher with the most issued walks in the majors last season was Jimmy Nelson (86 BB in 179.1 IP). So yes, it’s an issue. Looking at it from a different side though, he has reached AAA at the age of 22 despite the walks. It provides reasons for enthusiasm. This season’s start has been good – 5 games started, 2.83 ERA, 28K, 6BB, .176 avg against, 0.84 WHIP. He’s had streaks of good quality starts before and they were usually followed by one terrible one, which would create a domino effect that causes him to spiral down. Then he would pick himself up and repeat the process all over again. So, at this point, it’s waiting to see whether he figures things out. If he does, Sims could leapfrog Newcomb on his way to a promotion. If he doesn’t, he could make a couple of not fantasy worthy spot starts towards the end of the season. A player to watch regardless.

Miami Marlins

[the_ad id=”693″]1. Drew Steckenrider RP
The Marlins farm system is weak. As a consequence I find myself writing about a reliever, and no one else. Drew Steckenrider was drafted as a starter, but a Tommy John surgery on his elbow impeded his development. He was instead moved to the bullpen, partially to protect his arm and partially because of his fastball-slider combination. The decision was a good one as he has progressed nicely to the point where he’s on the verge of joining Miami. 2016 was Drew’s best minor league season with a 2.08 ERA, 14 saves, 71K, 19BB, .141 avg against and 0.85 WHIP in 52 innings pitched. He did struggle somewhat after his AAA call-up but has been better there in 2017. Steckenrider has pitched in 10 games so far, holding a 1.88 ERA with 16K, 6BB, .157 avg against and 0.98 WHIP. At 26 he has nothing left to prove in the minors and should be promoted in the very near future. He should follow the footsteps of Kyle Barraclough in becoming a solid major league bullpen arm.

New York Mets

1. Amed Rosario SS/2B
For me, Rosario and Albies are mirror images of each other. Pretty much everything I wrote about Albies goes for Rosario as well. And if I missed something, you can read my colleague’s article and get an even clearer picture of who he is and who he can be. The 21-year old right-handed batter has always played against older competition (again like Albies) and it hasn’t rattled him a bit. He was great through two levels last season (A+ and AA) and has continued the trend in AAA this season. Amed is hitting .381 with .432 OBP and .495 SLG and 7 stolen bases, doing everything he can to earn a promotion. The Metropolitans are unlikely to rush him, but that doesn’t change the fact he’s an injury away from becoming a major league regular.

2. Dominic Smith 1B
Smith is the Mets version of Josh Bell. He has always been able to hit, but the power hasn’t been there. Being a gap hitter is never bad, yet as a first baseman, you’re expected to hit home runs. Smith’s 14 HR in 2016 were a career best. Like Bell, he doesn’t strikeout often, can draw walks and is usually around the .300 batting average (I’m referring to Bell’s MiLB stats). I had my doubts about the 21-year old (as I did with Rosario). Now, I’m convinced they are both good players. I don’t know how much fantasy value they’ll have, but what I do know is I won’t bet against them. As a left-handed 1B, it’s not going to be easy for Smith to succeed. The Mets don’t have a long term solution at the position, so one thing’s for sure, he’ll get a chance. Unlike Duda, Dominic’s splits show he can hit both righties and lefties, signifying he’s not a just a platoon player. He’s not one which much upside. He’s one with a high floor.
This duo’s promotion may be exactly what the Mets will need to make a playoff push during the second half of the season.


Philadelphia Phillies

1. Jorge Alfaro C
Alfaro has been on my radar for a long time. I loved his makeup from the get-go and thought that if he can tone down on his swing and become more consistent defensively, he could become a perennial all-star. While playing for the Rangers affiliates I saw a Mike Napoli 2.0 of sorts. It’s fair to say he hasn’t blossomed into the player I thought he would be. Injuries have had their share into the struggles, however, the main reason is he hasn’t been able to adjust his overly aggressive approach. Now with the Phillies, the strikeout rates remain very high despite the satisfying average (especially for a catcher). He has constantly hit for power with 18 HR in 2013, 17 in 2014 and 15 in 2016 (he missed a large chunk of 2015 with an injury) and that same strong arm works great behind the plate when throwing out base-stealers. The 23-year old is in Triple-A and is currently batting .318 with 3 home runs, 25 K’s and only 2 walks. I personally can’t wait for Alfaro to join the big leagues. He has much more potential and fantasy appeal than any of the Phillies catchers (Rupp and Knapp). Some experience, a few tweaks here and there and we might be looking at a top 5 fantasy catcher for years to come. It’s still not out of the question he fulfills my initial projections of becoming an all-star, though I do think the more likely future is that of a Russell Martin type of offensive-minded backstop, which is no way a bad one.

2. Rhys Hoskins 1B
The 5th rounder from Sacramento State was a relative unknown when he broke out in a big way last season. Together with Dylan Cozens, they formed a dynamic duo which wrote one of the stories of the season in 2016. Crowds would gather wherever they played and many were left in awe of the show they put up while fighting for the MiLB home run crown. Cozens won out with 40 HR compared to Hoskins’ 38, but Hoskins is the one who appears to be the real deal. Yes, the season totals were bloated by a hitter’s environment, so many are skeptical, however, unlike Cozens (whose minor league numbers are highlighted by a low average and loads of strikeouts), Hoskins has always been a good hitter. For example, in 2015 he hit 17 home runs and batted .319 with 99 K’s and 55 walks. He already has 7 bombs in the new season to go with a .337 average, 16 K’s and 14 walks. In general, his career K to BB ratio is approximately 2:1, which is exceptional, especially for a first baseman. I like this guy a lot. I think he’s better than Tommy Joseph and at 24 he’s ready to prove it as well. So, I hope opportunity comes knocking soon.

Honorable mention: Roman Quinn OF
I was going to include Quinn in the watch-list initially. Then I thought about it more thoroughly and realized that despite the fact he’ll probably play for Philly this season, he simply doesn’t have enough fantasy value (other than steals).

Washington Nationals

I was going to write about Rafael Bautista here. However, he got called up and like Quinn above, he really doesn’t have much fantasy value other than stolen bases.
For a team that’s setting offensive records, it’s not much of a concern that they have very few prospects who could come up and help the team. As championship contenders, they should be able to easily acquire all the help they need via trades.

That concludes the NL East. The final part of the series will be dedicated to the AL East.

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