Chris Mellen (Baseball Prospectus) gives thoughts on O’s Minor Leaguers
Recently, Baltimore Sports and Life (BSL) Orioles Analyst Jeff Long wrote about Baseball America’s Top 10 Oriole Prospects, and a sustainable future.
In addition to his work with BSL, Long is also a contributor to Baseball Prospectus (BP). BSL has reached out to Long’s BP Colleague Chris Mellen for his take on the Orioles Minor League system.
Our thanks to Mr. Mellen for taking the time to provide his insights.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
BSL: Going into ’14, the Orioles system was ranked in the upper-third by most. It was understood that the system was top-heavy. During the year, Gausman and Schoop ascended to the Majors; and Rodriguez was traded. The O’s did not have a 1st round pick, and no premier International talent was added. Heading towards ’15, the system remains heavy at the top with Bundy and Harvey. I’m anticipating consensus rankings placing the O’s system into the lower-third. Do you agree?
Mellen: Yes. I would agree. It was a very top-heavy system entering this past season and the expectation was that it could fall quickly in status with some graduations of those front names. The next tier of prospects was a bit on the thin side, some players that draw interest and can/did take some strides forward, but lower ceilings and projections as a group. Obviously, Bundy and Harvey are an attractive one/two punch at the front of the system, with some staggering between the two in terms of ETA to reaching The Show.
BSL: Bundy didn’t throw an inning in ’13. He threw 41.1 innings in ’14. (103.2 in ’12). What’s the max amount of innings you think he can throw in ’15? 130? If the O’s want him to potentially be available to the ML team at some point during the year, how should he be used in the Minors to begin the year? Very limited pitch count? Push the start of his season back? I’m guessing after another off-season of rehab, that we see a full return of his stuff this year. Is this overly optimistic on my part?
Mellen: I don’t think it is overly optimistic on your part to expect a full return of Bundy’s stuff this coming season, but I think there’s still some level of caution and “wait and see.” It’s never a slam dunk. Reports from end of the season on the right-hander did indicate that the fastball velocity was starting to creep back into prior range and the secondary stuff was getting sharper. In terms of innings, that’s actually a really good question considering the relative limited experience to begin with prior to the surgery. I feel we’re looking at something close to the 130 inning marker as you suggest. He could be more limited in outings up front in the season to 3-5 innings, and then as things start to warm up and get a little deeper into the season, the training wheels start to come off some to ramp him into being able to contribute at the ML level.
BSL: Soon to be 20 year-old Hunter Harvey impressed during his first full professional season. His year ending early in July due a strained flexor mass. In August the O’s announced they were confident Harvey will avoid surgery. If the O’s were just being cautious with the young prospect – and he’s back on a mound healthy to start ’15 – would you anticipate him finishing the year at AA Bowie?
Mellen: I see a good chance that can happen. I’m extremely high on Harvey. Absolutely loved the arm when I saw him after he signed and reports all season passed along to me prior to the injury were big. It’s an arm that already shows a very lively fastball that can work up in the mid-90s and a tight breaking ball. The change-up needs continued refinement, but he shows feel and the ability to turn that offering over as well. So, yeah, if he’s healthy and all system’s go, a taste of Double-A is not out of the question.
BSL: Chance Sisco impressed with his offensive performance in the South Atlantic League. Have you heard any reviews on his defense behind the plate? What will you be looking for him, as he moves to the Carolina League?
Mellen: First, I’ll be looking for similar reports on the bat this year in the Carolina League and for his adjustment process to be relatively smooth. It’s a tough league given it’s a smaller one, with more opportunity for opposing arms to make quicker sequence changes because of the relative frequency they play each other. Opinions on Sisco’s hit took were as high as it having the potential to play up to a plus level (280-.290 regular batting average output). It’s big that the hit continues to scout and develop in that direction because the power in more in the below-to-fringe-average area.
In terms of defense, the reports on the positive side highlight that it is improving and has taken some steps forward certain areas. On the negative side, there are some thoughts that things are not going to be able to get to an average level. The main issue surrounds the present footwork. I feel that you give Sisco as much time and leeway to develop behind the plate. Footwork can be cleaned up and he’s a fairly athletic kid. He could move out to another position. Developing as a catcher defensive can look fairly ugly in the early career and then a lot more polished as that experience starts to kick in.
BSL: Questions remain about his upside, but Christian Walker controlled what he could control with the numbers he put up at AA and AAA this year. Do you think he has the ability to become a first division starting 1st baseman in the Majors? Does he have the athleticism to get time time in LF at the ML level?
Mellen: For your second question, I suppose it is possible he could be tried in left field, but I personally see him as a first baseman all of the way and know a lot of others who do as well, which isn’t necessarily a kiss of death or anything like that. He’s going to make the plays he can at first and won’t hurt you at the position. It’s on the limited side, but passable for sure. As far as your first question, I see a first-division player in the majors over the long-haul as a reach and not really in the skill set. It’s a lower ceiling player, but one at the end of the day who can play somewhere along the lines of an average regular over the course of the career. In a vacuum that sounds on the bland side, especially at first base, but consider the current construct of the team. There’s an All-Star out in center field in Adam Jones and a player at third, Manny Machado, who has all of those ingredients as well. Look behind the dish as another example with Matt Weiters, and he produces above-average at the position (when healthy), and is a two time Gold Glove winner. Everyone wants All-Star caliber players at every position, but in reality when constructing a team there’s a balance and a player like Walker, who can chip in production, can serve as a good complimentary piece hitting down in the order with the right roster composition.
BSL: Cuban import Dariel Alverez just turned 27. To me, he looks like a potential reserve OF at the ML level. Am I selling him short?
Mellen: From everything I’ve gathered on the player as well, I’d say your assessment is right along those lines. Possibly play up as a second-division type, but we’ll have to see how things translate over the long-haul.
BSL: Zach Davies has incrementally moved-up from Delmarva to Bowie the last 3 years, and generally has performed well. He further opened some eyes in the Arizona Fall League. Do you see him as having starting ability in the bigs?
Mellen: Davies has been a nice story in that he’s been able to show as something of a diamond in the rough as a former 26th round pick. The pitchability is a strength, along with his mature approach to the craft and ability to pound all four quadrants of the zone with strikes. But, the fastball is on the pedestrian side and despite the solid command of the pitch to go along with some sink, he walks a fairly fine line when it comes to elite competition, and I’m talking about the type all players eventually see if they reach the bigs. There’s potential as a back-end type if he can push everything to its ceiling, but in all likelihood it’s probably more realistically an arm that profiles as a reliever in the long-run. That’s not to say he can’t get to the majors and make some starts in the early career, but there’s a lot of pressure on the stuff and consistently of execution night in and night out in the role.
BSL: Mike Wright, Parker Bridwell, and Branden Kline each have their own supporters. I see 3 arms with some talent, that all project as relievers. Which of the 3 do you like best? If you also see them as future relievers, do you let them continue to start in ’15; or make the conversion to the ‘pen now? (Seeing how quickly they can knock on the ML door in that capacity.)
Mellen: Wright in my eyes right now lines up as the best. Mainly because there’s still some room for him to reach the majors as a starter, maybe get a chance there to see if it will work or something will click. I know it wasn’t that pretty for him this year, but reports from the end of the season mentioned how he was starting to find some consistency. Bridwell and Kline, for me, are arms that will reach the bigs as relievers, if things go right for them.
BSL: I don’t want to bury a 20 year old, but Josh Hart’s 2014 was horrible. Selected 37th overall, he’s an important player for this system. A year from now, will he be on the fast-track to being forgotten, or will he have earned a spot among the O’s Top 10 prospects?
Mellen: Statistically the season wasn’t great for him, but when you step back and look at it from a developmental standpoint you hope he learned something from it. This year will be big for him to start showing some progress forward, mainly which I will believe will be driven by him relaxing and getting more comfortable in the box. Chatter from Instructs indicated there was some increased comfort and belief in his skills. Development comes in all shapes and forms, along with at different speeds. I’m not ready to bury the player either and am expecting more to show in 2015.
BSL: Yastrzemski earned attention for more than his name, with play that saw him move from Low A to AA during the year. I thought it said something about the system as a whole, that one of the players the O’s are currently most enthusiastic about, struggled with plate discipline at the lowest full-season level and was still advanced. O’s Director of Player Development Brian Graham compared Yastrzemski to Nate McLouth. Do you see that comparison?
Mellen: That’s an interesting comparison. McLouth had a couple of good seasons, and then hasn’t been able to get a lot of extended action since 2009 for a variety of reasons, outside of the year he was a regular for Baltimore recently. I don’t see the type of power from Yastrzemski to get into the mid-twenties for homers, but he does some things well on the field, and despite not really having a carrying tool puts a blend of a package together. The makeup gets high marks as well. It’s a lower ceiling, but a guy who does have a chance at carving a role out in The Show, likely as a fourth outfielder type.
BSL: One international signing the O’s had in 2014 was of the young Jomar Reyes from the Dominican Republic. Reyes showed well as a 17 year-old in the Gulf Coast League. What have you heard about him?
Mellen: Reyes is interesting. There’s some thunder in the stick and he is already filling into his frame. Good present strength as well. The bat is obviously a ways off and this is going to be built from the ground up, but the potential is there to develop into a run producing type. The chances on sticking at third base have been mixed from what I have heard. Most are “wait and see” on it, citing being a bit stiff with his actions and slower with his first step. If the bat explodes over the long-run then a move across the diamond isn’t a huge hit in value, but it is very early. Intriguing player for sure and one to keep an eye on potentially starting to make some waves over the next couple of years in this system.