I was planning to do this update at the beginning of May but, oh well. Here we are at the middle of May and some prospects are performing better than others. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, nor am I going to look at players that I’ve previously ranked in a top prospect list. I’m going to be a little more selective and talk about players that I’ve either seen in person or I’ve taken an interest in. Today, those prospects who are having a bit of a rough go of it.
Struggling Up A Level
It’s sometimes really difficult to figure out if a player is going to be able to succeed at the next level up in baseball. From level to level, players are a bit more savvy, a bit more matured, more prepared and better at executing their game plans consistently. While some say that High-A to Double-A is the biggest jump, being able to move up the ladder is essentially an individual thing that players have to adapt to. Some have a seamless transition while others either take some time to adapt and yet others will flame out. Here are some players who are playing at a new level and have struggled a bit.
Boyd is the only who has moved up from the High-A level to Double-A mid-season this year for the Jays and the transition hasn’t gone well for him yet. I have noticed that when Boyd was completely chewing up the Florida State League, everyone was identifying him as a legitimate prospect but since he’s struggled in the Eastern League, those Boyd supporters have gone quiet. Sure, Boyd has gotten into trouble in New Hampshire but he’s still adapting to a far more difficult league for pitchers. Interestingly, his strikeout rate has gone up in Double-A while his walk rate has risen too. What tells me that his struggles are just a blip on the radar is his astronomical .543 BABIP which is just as unsustainable as his .239 BABIP from Dunedin. With a larger sample size, Boyd’s ability to throw 89-91 mph heat with good location and two solid offspeed pitches for strikes will level things out and I think, by the end of the year, he’s going to have some solid Double-A numbers.
Dawson started his season a bit late after being held back for extended spring training and has only made three appearances with the Lansing Lugnuts after pitching with Advanced-Rookie Bluefield and Short-Season-A Vancouver last year. Dawson is still striking out batters at elite levels (11 K/9 so far) but he’s also walking far too many (6 BB/9). It’s interesting that so many of the Blue Jays’ pitchers who have moved up to Lansing are struggling, primarily with their control. I don’t want to make too much of it because I think the Blue Jays have an excellent pitching coach there in Vince Horsman. My take on Horsman’s philosophy is that he wants to work, first and foremost, on fastball command and the young pitchers with whom he’s working need to find that first.
Labourt obviously wasn’t able to find his command as he kept pitching and was sent back to extended spring training after 20 walks in 14 innings. I wasn’t particularly impressed with what I saw from Labourt in spring training and obviously he has some things to work out before he gets back to competition.
Struggling At the Same Level
This is obviously the biggest sign of worry for players and fans alike. If a player is returning to a level that he’s already played at and either continues to struggle or takes a step back, the biggest concern is that he has hit his ceiling. Have these players done that?
Sometimes you struggle so much for so long, the team decides to convert you into a pitcher. Last year, it was Justin Jackson and this year, it’s C-Ram. Ramirez impressed with his power in BP and his cannon in right field but his futility so far this season against live pitching (.176/.250/.242) has earned him a step back (to extended spring training) and a step up (on the pitcher’s mound).
Patterson is back in Dunedin after spending most of last year in Lansing (after an early demotion) and things aren’t looking good as he’s hitting .189/.267/.365. The news isn’t all horrible: his 10.5% walk rate is around his career averages and his 24.4% strikeout rate is actually the best in his career since his first year in Rookie ball in 2011. The big question is what to do with the slugging first baseman/DH; he’ll be 26 this season and the clock is working against him.
The Torontonian is having a very rough start to his season and has just been activated off the DL. Hopefully, whatever injury he has is responsible for his .182/.275/.284 line in 102 plate appearances.
I’ve taken some flack for my high ranking of Andy Burns in the past. The criticism is fair but I don’t really regret my ranking. He is still an explosive defensive player at third base and, in his Age-23 year, probably isn’t finished improving. I am, however, at somewhat of a loss to explain his fairly lengthy slump to start 2014 in New Hampshire (hitting only .203/.272/.308). His batting average has tended to sit about 40-50 points below his BABIP, which is sitting at .253 right now which, for a player with his speed, is probably a function of a little bit of bad luck. What really concerns me is the fact that his strikeouts are up (to 22.3% this year from 18.9% in his time at the same level in 2013) and his power is down (a .105 ISO in 2014, down from .166 at the same level in 2013). Obviously Burns is off to a poor start to the season but I don’t think he should be written off.
Hobson was someone that I really felt would have a good year this year and there are definitely things he’s doing well. Hitting for power isn’t one of them and, if we’re going to be realistic about what Hobson is going to be expected to provide a team, power is necessary. Hobson is suffering from the same BABIP disease that he had last year, sitting at .216 BABIP which has made his batting average a paltry .209. His once-mighty bat has only hit two home runs this season, in about a third of the plate appearances that he had last year (when he hit 19 home runs). He’s also only hit five doubles, two years removed from setting a Lansing record with 43 of them in 2012. On the plus side, he’s walking more than twice as much as he did last year (12.9% in 2014 and 6.0% in 2013) and striking out substantially less (11% in 2014; 16% in 2013). Looking at Hobson’s batted ball data (what limited data we can find on minor leaguers, thanks to MLBfarm.com), he’s hit 46 ground balls, 35 fly balls, 20 popups (an extremely high amount) and 14 line drives. Has he made some adjustments to his swing that has sapped his power? It’s certainly a disturbing trend and we hope that he can start adding more thump.
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