Developing prospects without a minor league season, a real challenge for MLB organizations

MLB and the players association are still negotiating for the return of major league baseball in 2020. Whether they can hammer out a deal remains to be seen, but for now, big leaguers are in wait and see mode.

The landscape is considerably less optimistic for minor leaguers, though. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the season, just like MLB, was canceled indefinitely, but while an MLB season remains possible, if not likely, MiLB will likely not play any games this year.

That means young players in need of live action reps won’t have the possibility of getting them this year. Hundreds of minor leaguers lost their jobs as teams want to cut costs because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who kept their jobs will lose important development time and reps with no season to play.

The New York Yankees and Mets are doing everything they can to help their prospects hone their skills and improve their games.

“One of the players reached out and said, ‘Can I hit off a tee?’ We said, ‘Yeah, dude!’ ” Kevin Reese, the Yankees’ senior director of player development, said recently in a telephone interview to Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. “ ‘Ted Williams used to pick up pebbles and hit them with a broomstick. That may be all we have access to, but if it helps you work on your hand-eye coordination, awesome.’ ”

Prospects represent the future capital of an MLB club. “This is the research and development side of the organization,” said Jim Duquette, the former Mets general manager and Orioles vice president of baseball operations, currently a broadcaster on MLB Network Radio. “It’s one of the most important aspects of the organization, and every year is precious.

“As we know there’s a very short timeline in an athlete’s career when you can take advantage of their peak season. You take one out, you miss one season of live game action, it impacts guys.”

What are MLB teams doing to help their young guns improve?

The Mets, according to Jared Banner (the club’s executive director of player development) are looking to provide their players “with safe ways” to improve “until we can get back on the field again.”

The Mets use Zoom conference calls with the development staff and prospects, which include one-on-one discussions to keep track of their activity. Reese said that the Yankees “produce videos” for their players, which according to Davidoff can be of the “pump-up” variety as well as instructive.

“We’re doing whatever we can to make players more aware of what they need to work on,” Reese said. “Hitting, strength and conditioning, mental — each of those departments have broken into groups. We have our Double-A hitting coach [Ken Joyce] working with our Double-A-ish hitters.”

If you think MLB players have been affected by the outbreak, think about minor leaguers, too. At least big leaguers could return to play next month. Prospects will likely spend many more months losing not only money, but also valuable playing and development time.

New York Yankees Prospects: Albert Abreu

New York Yankees, Albert Abreu

One of the top New York Yankees pitching prospects has seen his stock drop since last year. Before last season began, many thought that Albert Abreu would be one of the Yankees prospects that would be pushing his way towards the majors. When Abreu is on and healthy, he possesses three above-average pitches that would all play well at the Major League level. He has a fastball that can top out in the triple digits, he has a knee-buckling curveball, and he possesses a change-up that really keeps batters off balance. There’s a reason that the Yankees were really excited when they acquired Abreu from Houston in the Brian McCann trade. However, consistency and health have been big issues for Abreu.

Injuries & Consistency

For Abreu, the biggest problem has been his ability to stay on the mound. Since the 2016 season, Abreu has never pitched more than 100 innings in a season. Last year, he came close with 96.2 innings, but a nagging bicep injury kept him from reaching the 100 innings mark. Before the bicep it was his shoulder and his elbow that have given Abreu issues. 222.2 innings in three seasons is not what the New York Yankees have wanted to see from one of their top prospects. Another problem Abreu has had is with his consistency. With missing so much time, Abreu at times appears to be pressing on the mound. Combine that with his arm delivery that causes control issues, and Abreu has really struggled at times. In 2019 which saw Abreu spend his entire season with AA Trenton, Abreu went 5-8 with a 4.28 ERA but with an alarming WHIP of 1.614. The walks and hits were both high and the strikeout numbers didn’t counter them to the point that you’d want to see.

Something to Prove

Whenever we kick off the 2020 season, I want to see Albert Abreu really pitch with conviction. In watching him a few of times over the last couple of seasons, he appears to be throwing more than he seems to be pitching. The extra time that players are given could be a blessing in disguise for a guy like Albert Abreu. He can spend more time focusing on his mechanics and sharpening a few things up. Abreu could be in for a really good second half of the season. Many think Abreu could crack the MLB roster before the seasons over pitching out of the bullpen. If Abreu does transition to a reliever to fill a need for the Yankees, he has plenty in his pitching repertoire to be a dominant reliever out of the pen. As stated above, his upper 90’s fastball mixes extremely well with his off-speed pitches. I’m not ready to give up on Albert Abreu, and he is definitely a prospect to keep your eyes on in 2020.

New York Yankees Prospects: Oswald Peraza

New York Yankees, Aaron Boone

Well, there’s not going to be any New York Yankees baseball to talk about for a while due to opening day being pushed back due to COVID-19. However, just because the baseball has temporarily stopped, doesn’t mean we have to stop with the content here on ESM. With that in mind, I’ve decided to take a dive into a lot of the Yankees top prospects and will be releasing a number of articles over the next couple of weeks discussing the Yankees farm system. While there are certainly some names that stand out to most Yankees fans (Jasson Dominguez, Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, etc) there are a number of really talented guys that Yankees fans should be keeping their eyes on. Many Yankees fans have been worried lately about the ability of Gleyber Torres when it comes to the shortstop position. There is no questioning Gleyber’s ability at the plate, but more his ability to make the defensive plays expected out of a top shortstop. Well, there’s a prospect that is coming up the Yankees system currently that would be a great long-term shortstop for the New York Yankees. A prospect that could slide into the SS position in a couple of years which would allow Gleyber to switch to the position he’s clearly more comfortable in, second. That prospect’s name is Oswad Peraza.

Outlook on Peraza

Peraza was signed as an international free agent by the Yankees back in 2016, and he made his pro debut back in 2017. Since making his debut, Peraza has shown a lot of scouts why he’s now currently ranked as the fourth best prospect in the Yankees system. The smooth shortstop from Venezuela impacts the game on all sides of the ball. He’s very quick and stole 23 bases in just 65 games in 2019. Peraza is very smooth on the defensive side of the ball as well. He’s got solid range and can deliver easy and smooth throws from deep in the position. Peraza also swings the bat very well, and has a good amount of pop from the shortstop position. Many think Peraza could be a guy who could hit about 20-25 HRs a year in the big leagues if he continues down the path that he’s currently going. On big thing for me in watching Peraza last year was seeing his strikeout numbers go down. In 29 more games last year, Peraza struck out four fewer times. He’s seeing the ball better, and I think you’ll see his offensive numbers continue to tick up. Peraza has all the tools to be an impact player at the MLB level, but he’s still got a lot of developing to do before we see him there. Whenever we start playing games this year, Peraza is going to be a prospect that a lot of fans need to keep their eyes on.

Shortstop Moving Forward

The New York Yankees are going to be looking at long-term solutions at Shortstop. I really do not think the organization envisions Gleyber Torres there long-term. Maybe the Yankees go out and make a big splash when it comes to their future SS, say a Francisco Lindor. Or maybe they try to keep their cost down and produce their next SS internally which would likely mean Peraza will eventually get a shot. Time will tell on that front, but Peraza is definitely a prospect I have my eyes on.

New York Yankees Prospects: Estevan Florial

New York Yankees, Estevan Florial

A few years ago, the New York Yankees envisioned Estevan Florial as their star center fielder of the future. Florial had incredible speed, above-average power, and a very good arm from center. He had/has all the makeups of an all-star centerfielder. Many thought he would be on the fast track to the majors during his time in the minors. When the Yankees needed starting pitching over the last few years, Florial was often a prospect that many teams would ask for. However, New York never showed any interest in dealing with him. Brian Cashman has believed that Estevan Florial would live up to the hype. However, that has yet to happen.

Up & Down

Florial does in fact have all the tools, but he has had a lot of bad luck when it comes to injuries over the last few years. He’s broken bones in his wrist the last couple of years which has hindered his ability to play. Florial became one of the top prospects in the New York Yankees system after an incredible 2017 where he hit .298 and stole 23 bases. Florial also showed off his great defensive ability in 2017. The one big drawback to Florial in 2017 was pitch recognition. In 110 games, Florial struck out 148 times. I will say that those struggles are nothing out of the ordinary by a guy who is still cutting his teeth in the professional ranks. Many thought that Florial would be able to iron out those issues over the next couple of years. The problem is that Florial has had wrist issues that have caused him to miss significant chunks of the last couple of seasons. Florial played 84 games in 2018 then played 74 games in 2019. Last year was a very difficult year for Florial that still saw his strikeout numbers remain high, but his batting average dipped below .240. Florial really never seemed like he could get his timing right after the injury to his wrist. The last few years have been very frustrating for Estevan Florial, but maybe 2020 could be the time to turn the corner.

2020 Outlook

The 2020 season is going to be delayed to the COVID-19 breakout, but once the season starts, Florial should be a guy that all fans are looking at. He’s looking to bounce back and stay healthy after the last two rough seasons. Florial still has excellent speed and good pop for a centerfielder. What I’m looking for this year is his pitch recognition. I want to see if Florial is able to get those strikeout numbers down. The problem for Florial being a high strikeout guy, is he doesn’t counter those strikeouts with huge power like Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. Florial has good power, but it’s nothing that is elite. If he can get the batting average back up, cut down on his strikeouts, and stay healthy, Florial has the talent to move through the system very quickly. Florial was considered the center fielder of the future for the Yankees just last year. That is no longer the case with the kid from Mars taking over that distinction. Florial can play with a chip on his shoulder this year, and I believe he can bounce back to prove that he is still one of the brightest prospects in the New York Yankees farm system.

New York Mets’ Prospect Profile: Kevin Smith

New York Mets, Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith is the prospect who came out of nowhere in 2019 to become one of the New York Mets‘ top-10 prospects.

Kevin Smith was a nondescript seventh-round pick for the Mets in 2018. A big lefty standing at 6 foot 5 inches and 200 LBs Smith always had a starters body, but there were questions about his stuff and delivery.  However, the Mets saw an advanced approach and ability to get batters out that others didn’t see.

They started Smith in Brooklyn with the Cyclones shortly after drafting him. He dominated the league with ease. He posted a 0.76 ERA, 2.43 FIP, 10.7 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9. He was clearly no match for the young international player and other college players at the level.

That wasn’t enough for Smith to be placed in the top-30 prospects for the weak New York Mets’ system at the beginning of the year though. Still, the Mets saw his domination and decided to up the ante in a big way in 2019. They had Smith skip A ball and go straight to A+ ball in St. Lucie. Smith responded with a phenomenal 17 starts in St. Lucie.

In those 17 starts Smith posted a 3.05 ERA, 2.63 FIP, 10.7 K/9, and 2.5 BB/9. He again showed that he was clearly better than the competition at that level. With that performance, Smith got the attention of the media scouts. He made his debut on the Mets’ top 30 prospects at the midseason report. He was now a top 15 prospect in the Mets’ system.

He had gone from another mid-round pick to a legitimate pitching prospect with his dominant performances.  However, questions over his ability to start long-term still loomed large. He tried his best to address those issues when he was promoted to AA Binghamton.

Smith made six starts for Binghamton as the season wound down. He put up a 3.45 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 8.0 K/9, and 4.3 BB/9. The ERA and FIP were good for Smith who showed he could continue to limit home runs and that lefties can’t touch him. However, the cracks in his game as a starter really began to show in AA. That didn’t matter much to the media scouts though, by the end of the season Smith was a top-10 Mets’ prospects for many outlets.

Smith has a three-pitch mix. He throws a fastball that sits low-90s but has a high spin rate that allows the velocity to play up. His best pitch is his slider that bites late and is particularly effective against lefties. It’s his go-to strikeout pitch and he relies on it often. Lastly, Smith throws a changeup that he has worked hard to turn into an average pitch. He mostly uses it against righties to get them off his slider.

Smith throws from a low three-quarters arm slot with a long extension that makes him hard to time. His funky delivery has given minor leaguers fits. AA is where hitters are going to stop being fooled by his delivery and that started to show in 2019 when his Ks dropped drastically and his BBs shot up.

While the Mets have stuck with Smith in the rotation there is reason to believe that Smith’s future is in the bullpen. Smith bounced from starter to the bullpen often in college for Georgia. So, he has experience coming out of the bullpen. More important though is his lefty righty splits. Lefties can’t hit Smith at all slashing .207/.271/.233, he’s just unhittable for them due to his funky delivery and his great slider. That’s not the case for righties who slash .268/.330/.385 against him.

Those numbers aren’t a concern right now, but they show a clear split that might cause issues in the major leagues, which could force Smith into the bullpen. That wouldn’t be the worst thing. Smith’s fastball and slider combo would play up in the bullpen, and his funky delivery would be that much harder to time up. He could be a very effective multi-inning reliever.

Whatever he’s a starter or a reliever Smith looks destined to reach the New York Mets in 2020. He’ll likely start the season in AA building on his short stint there at the end of last season. It’ll be interesting to see if the Mets put Smith in the bullpen in an effort to fast track him to the major leagues or keep him in the rotation in an effort to create more starting pitching depth.

New York Mets Prospect Profile: Andres Gimenez

Andres Gimenez is the only top 100 prospect close to the majors in the Mets‘ system. Look out for him to make an impact in 2020.

Andres Gimenez is a top-100 prospect in baseball. Almost every single prospect ranking site can agree on that. He came into last season ranked by many as the Mets’ top prospect ahead of Pete Alonso. That’s how highly thought of Gimenez was. With a strong season he would likely have been regarded as a top-30 prospect in baseball right now.

Sadly, he didn’t have the strong season many hoped for. He struggled in his first prolonged stay at AA in 2019. He slashed just .250/.309/.387. It was an incredibly disappointing year that was marred by injury. However, a quick look at Gimenez’s slash line isn’t a fair evaluation of him.

In the second half of the season Gimenez was markedly better hitting .271/.313/.425. The low OBP is an issue, but it was a new one this year. Prior to this season Gimenez ha never had an OBP under .340. The question is whether or not this is a new trend. There is reason to believe it is.

Gimenez had a career-low walk rate in 2019, but it’s not that surprising. He’s seen his walk rate drop at every level he’s gone too. Gimenez also had a career-high strikeout rate. That one is a little surprising. His strikeout numbers have been up and down throughout his minor league career to this point. The high K-rate and low BB-rate is bad news, but hopefully one that can be mitigated.

Over the second half of last year, Gimenez struck out just 17.3% of the time. A huge drop from his season average of 21.3%. It was clear that Gimenez was getting better as the year went along. One reason for that is that Gimenez was playing a large chunk of the early season injured. After he went on the IL and came back he was refreshed and became a different player.

Gimenez carried over that play over to the Arizona Fall League. Gimenez slashed a staggering .371/.413/.586, a slash line that won Gimenez the AFL batting title.

On top of Gimenez’s emerging bat is his excellent base running ability and defense. Gimenez is one of the best defensive SS in all of minor league baseball. He is thought to have a potential gold glove caliber glove. There is no question that his defense will be above average at SS at the very least.

Gimenez is also an accomplished base stealer. In the last two seasons Gimenez stole 66 bases. The last time a Met stole 30 bases in a season was Eric Young Jr. in 2014. Gimenez could change that and add a dimension the Mets lineup has lacked for years.

Andres Gimenez will likely start the year in AA again, but it’s possible he starts in AAA. Either way he is expected to make his MLB debut in 2020. However, there is no immediate spot for him on the roster with Amed Rosario at SS and Robinson Cano at 2B. The Mets are going to need to figure out how to make room for one of their top prospects because he’s coming.

New York Yankees: Analyzing the top three prospects for 2020

New York Yankees, Deivi Garcia

The New York Yankees are known for their strong farm league system. Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, and many more have emerged from the Minor Leagues to becoming Major League stars.

YES Network posted the New York Yankees Top-10 Prospects for 2020. There are a few names on this list that we could see coming up to the big leagues next season.

1. RHP Deivi Garcia

Unsurprisingly first on the list, Deivi Garcia is the top-rated prospect in the Yankees organization. At just 20 years old, there’s already talk that he could potentially make a jab at the Yankees’ starting rotation next season.

He finished his 2019 season with unimpressive numbers, but he holds a high impression on the Yankees. Throwing a fastball in the upper 90s, he also features a sharp curveball; and when I mean sharp, I mean he has a spin rate that’s comparable to some of the premier pitchers in the Major Leagues.

General manager Brian Cashman has already said that he’s willing to take a look at Garcia as a potential candidate for next season’s rotation. Even though this is a little bit of a long-shot, Garcia will definitely be considered for a bullpen role.

2. OF Jasson Dominguez

Even though the New York Yankees have one of the best, if not the best, outfields in all of Major League Baseball, 16-year-old Jasson Dominguez has put a though into Cashman’s and Boone’s head for the outfield of the future.

Reported by MLB Pipeline as the top-ranked international prospect in the MLB, Dominguez already looks the part. “Dominguez is the cream of the crop in this year’s class, and one of the best international prospects available in years,” said MLB Pipeline’s Jesse Sanchez. “The 16-year-old Dominican is strong and athletic and has a mature body for his age. Think a teenage Mike Trout.”

To be comparing a 16-year-old to Mike Trout is something serious, and the kid has some serious talent.

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3. RHP Albert Abreu

Finishing his 2019 season in double-A with the Trenton Thunder, Abreu remains one of the top pitching prospects in the Major Leagues. Credited to a 4.28 ERA in 23 games during 2019, Abreu still has a few things he needs to work out but is progressing nicely.

At 24-years-old, he’ll most likely find himself in triple-A next year if he does well.

New York Mets Prospect Profile: David Peterson

New York Mets, David Peterson

The Mets are desperate for starting pitching depth, and it’ll be up to David Peterson to provide it.

David Peterson is one of the Mets’ top prospects. He ranks in the Mets’ top 10 on every major prospect site. Some of that has to do with his draft prestige. Peterson was the Mets’ first-round pick in 2017 out of Oregon University.

Peterson is now 24 years old, but will not turn 25 until September. He’s a big kid, standing at six feet six inches tall and weighing in at 240 pounds. He’s a lefty, which helps him get the most out of his limited velocity and breaking pitches.

Peterson’s fastball sits high-80s to low-90s but gets a ton of movement. Peterson relies heavily on his sinker that breaks down and in to lefties. It’s his go-to pitch and he gets great results out of it for the most part.

Peterson’s go-to out pitch is his slider, which tends to sweep rather than dip. Meaning that his slider is more horizontal than vertical. It makes for a good contrast to his sinker and tends to get batters off balance when it’s on. The issue is that when it’s off it can become very flat and very hit-able.

Peterson also throws a changeup and a curveball, but neither of those two pitches are very good. They’re both average or fringe-average pitches. Neither being relied on to get outs often. The changeup is the better of the two pitches as it should be. If Peterson is to succeed in the majors his changeup will be key. His changeup is going to be key to getting right-handers out since it’s a harder pitch to pickup then his fastball or slider is. That’s true for all lefties.

Where Peterson really shines is his control. He has above-average control of all of his pitches, though his fastball command, in particular, is special. He is able to command the pitch to all four quadrents while getting the sink he wants most of the time.

That control of his sinker is one of the reasons that Peterson is one of the most recognizable ground ball pitchers in the minor leagues. Peterson’s career ground ball rate is over 60% and that’s been his issue so far.

Peterson has never been a strikeout pitcher. Last season at AA Peterson struck out 9.47 batters per nine innings. That’s the highest it’s been since he pitched in A- Brooklyn.

That means for the most part the ball is getting put in play against Peterson. He’s very similar to Marcus Stroman in that way. The defense in the minor, especially the infield defense, is never good. the fields themselves are usually on turf or not kept up to MLB standards. That makes it hard for even good defenders to make plays in the minor leagues.

That’s why each of the last two years Peterson’s FIP has greatly outproduced his ERA. Last season Peterson had a 4.19 ERA, but his FIP was 3.19 and his XFIP was 2.91. That shows that Peterson was pitching well, but his defense was letting him down more times than not.

Normally that would be great for a minor league prospect. It would mean that when they get to the majors they’ll outperform their minor league numbers because of a better defense. However, that won’t be the case for Peterson.

The Mets had the second-worst defense in the majors last season. That would not fit well with Peterson’s pitching style. Yet, despite everything Mets’ GM Brodie Van Wagenen named Peterson among the pitchers he expects to contribute to the team in 2020.

Peterson will start the year in AAA, it’ll be his first season there. He’s certainly a prospect to watch, as he’s the only top pitching prospect in the Mets system close to pitching in the majors.