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Top 10 Crosscutters prospects

September 23, 2011 - Mitch Rupert
Gauging the potential of prospects at the level of minor league baseball played in the New York-Penn League is difficult. It’s sort of like guessing how much snow we’ll get for the winter in July.

There’s so many variables that can change between now and the four or five years it could take for a prospect to not only reach the big leagues, but also just to become a legitimate prospect. But that’s what’s fun about covering the Williamsport Crosscutters and that’s what’s fun for fans who sit in the stands on a nightly basis.

Trying to project future potential is enjoyable. A .300 batting average in the NYPL doesn’t mean someone is going to be a Major League all-star. But an average under .200 doesn’t necessarily mean a player is destined for a corporate job.

A lot of times at this level it’s easy to pick out who the best players are. The game just seems to come easier to them. Watch Kyrell Hudson play center field and you can safely make the assumption that he has a world of potential to advance through the Philadelphia Phillies’ system on his defense alone. In fact, after making likely the play of the year early in the summer, diving on the warning track to take away an extra-base hit, Cutters manager Mickey Morandini said Hudson could probably play center field in the big leagues right now.

And sometimes you get a player like a Carlos Alonso who is just a grinder. He works hard every day and may not have the raw natural talent of some of the players who kept him off the field in his short time with the Crosscutters, but succeeds at every level he plays.

So what we’re doing here is projecting. It’s based on watching a lot of baseball, including batting practice and infield/outfield practice. It’s funny when you think about a Major League Baseball team’s minor league system. They put all kinds of time and money into scouting, cross-checking of prospects before the draft, scouring the netherwolrds of the United States, Latin America, Canada, Australia and Europe to find one player who some day can turn into an Albert Pujols. If a team gets four or five Major League players out of a draft of almost 50, it’s considered a successful draft.

So what we’re presenting to you here is not gospel. It’s a guess. An offseason trip to the weight room can have as much of an effect as an offseason trip to the operating table.

What we’re going to present you with today is a look at the top five position players and pitchers to play for the Crosscutters this past summer. You’re going to read a lot about people with projectable frames (room to grow into a Major League body, or fitting the mold for his position), pitchability (a pitcher’s knowledge of how to pitch) and pitch recognition (recognizing off-speed pitches and not flailing at them). Not to mention soft hands, quick feet and quick bats.

I’ve always placed more emphasis on everyday player prospects more than starting pitcher prospects and starting pitcher prospects over relief pitcher prospects. So you’re not going to see the likes of an Austin Brough, a Juary Gomez or a Gabriel Arias on these lists just because quality bullpen arms are much easier to come by than quality position players and quality starting pitchers.

So let’s get to it. We’re going to break down my opinion of the Top 5 players to play for the Crosscutters this year and we’ll provide you with a list and a note about the Top 5 position players and pitchers.

Top 5 overall players

1. PERCI GARNER, RHP, 6-foot-3, 225 pounds

Are you surprised by this? Yeah, you’re probably not the only one. I know what the argument I’ll be presented with by fans who follow the Phillies’ minor league system. He’s a college player in his second season of professional baseball playing in a league that isn’t really age appropriate. But let’s eliminate his 2010 season from memory since it lasted just four innings before the Ball State product was shut down with indications that he was on the way to structural damage in his right shoulder. But after suffering through two strains of his right oblique to start the New York-Penn League season, Garner returned with a vengeance. He made three relief appearances and four starts after his month-long stint on the disabled list for his second oblique strain. He showcased three plus pitches with a mid-90s fastball (both two-seam and four-seam), a breaking ball and a change-up. His stuff probably translates best to higher levels. My guess is because of his age (he’ll be 23 in December) and ability he’ll start the year in Clearwater’s rotation. Not a bad rotation with Garner, Jesse Biddle and Austin Wright, huh? And his potential to climb the organizational ladder, and climb it in a hurry, is why he’s my No. 1.

2. MAIKEL FRANCO, 3B, 6-foot-1, 180 pounds

Anybody who has followed my on Twitter, or read my recaps from the Crosscutters’ season in the Sun-Gazette knows how highly I think of Franco. Those who were shocked to see Perci Garner as my No. 1 prospect were shocked only because they expected Franco to be No. 1. Those Phillies minor league fans in Lakewood are bound to argue with me quite vehemently about this ranking. But the tools to go along with him being a 19-year old are just too overwhelming to ignore. He has an innate ability to absolutely swing out of his shoes early in the count when he thinks he’s getting a fastball, and dialing down the swing to serve a breaking ball into center field for a base hit. The two home runs he hit in Williamsport are nothing to raise eyebrows about, but the power is there in his swing and will blossom as he gets older and rises through the system. Consider this, too. He led the Crosscutters in RBIs despite spending nearly a month in the middle of the season with Lakewood. He hit better than .400 with runners in scoring position. Can you say clutch? Defensively the glove isn’t anything close to a question. The only problems he has defensively is occasionally taking too much time, rushing a throw and throwing wildly. But that’ll happen less and less frequently as he understands his abilities in relation to the speed of the game.

3. KELLY DUGAN, OF, 6-foot-3, 195 pounds

Kelly Dugan learned how to hit professional pitching this year. And that made the stress fracture in his back that stole the final month of his season all the more disappointing. A simple adjustment in his swing changed the course of his season offensively. The change, perpetuated by hitting coach Jorge Velandia and manager Mickey Morandini, allowed Dugan to create more of a loading mechanism in his swing. Instead of serving base hits the other way, and occasionally driving a ball through the hole between first and second base. The small swing adjustment allowed Dugan to not only develop more power to the pull side, but also to the opposite field. No, his two home runs aren’t going to make you think he’s now a power-hitting outfield prospect the Phillies’ farm system needs. His batting average fell to .284 after playing the final two weeks of his season with the stress fracture in his back. But between making his swing adjustment and his injury, he went through a stretch where he hit .364 with 10 RBIs, an OPS near 1.000 and a slugging percentage over .500 while playing for 13 consecutive days, something usually unheard of with the Crosscutters. Defensively Dugan was much improved this year with potentially the strongest arm of the three Cutters’ all-star outfielders. Obviously, Dugan needs to develop more power in his swing. Maybe getting on Freddy Galvis’ offseason weight-lifting plan would help. But the solid contact is there. I expect to see him in Clearwater early in the season.

4. AARON ALTHERR, OF, 6-foot-5, 190 pounds

Altherr said all the right things after he was demoted to Williamsport following a disastrous start to his season in Lakewood. He knew his mechanics were fine, he knew he had the ability to play well as a professional, it was all about restoring confidence in himself. And he did that up until the final two or three weeks of the season when he became visibly fatigued, but tried to play through it. He played 71 of Williamsport’s 76 games and was second on the team with 25 stolen bases - behind just Kyrell Hudson. He showed a bit of power leading the team with five home runs, including hitting one in three consecutive games in Brooklyn in early August. His final .260 batting average wasn’t much to take notice of, but he hit just .174 over his final 10 games (he was hitting .278 before that point). His biggest problem came in recognizing breaking balls - which explains his struggles in Lakewood against more talented pitching. But throughout the season he showed the tools that had Baseball America list him as the Phillies’ 10th-best prospect. His defense is phenomenal, especially with having the ability to play all three outfield positions. He’s got a future as a top-of-the-order hitter who probably won’t hit for much power, but could be a high on-base hitter if his pitch recognition improves and he can work more walks.

5. LINO MARTINEZ, LHP, 6-feet, 160 pounds

There was nothing inherently impressive about Martinez and the way he pitches. He doesn’t have a plus pitch - although his curveball is probably the closest to an above average pitch. He doesn’t have great size to make him an intimidating presence on the mound. But Martinez does have three key things going for him. 1) He’s young ... Martinez turned just 19 on Sept. 17. So he’s far ahead of the game in terms of being in an age appropriate league. 2) He’s left-handed ... The Phillies addressed the problem of a lack of left-handed pitching in this year’s draft, but the emergence of a player like Martinez, who was already in the system will be big for the Phillies’ minor leagues. 3) He’s got great pitchability ... For being so young, Martinez has a great feel for actually pitching, not just throwing. His biggest problem came this year when he tried to miss bats. If he establishes his 87-89 fastball, he can become dangerous with his change-up to right-handed hitters and his slider to left-handers. When he began to nibble on the corners is when he would fall behind in counts and end up having to give in to a hitter’s count with a fastball that isn’t exactly overwhelming. With age and proper weight training, he’ll likely be able to add a more consistent tick or two to his fastball, but he’ll still need to pitch to contact. The Phillies can take their time with him in allowing him to progress through the minor league system.

So there’s a look at the breakdown of the Top 5 prospects to play for the Williamsport Crosscutters this year. Below is a breakdown of the Top 5 positional players, Top 5 pitchers, and the overall Top 10. Feel free to send me what you think is a proper list if you disagree. Let the debating begin ...

Overall Top 10 1. Perci Garner - Three plus pitches, including overpowering velocity with the fastball. Big, strong frame, could climb quickly through system.

2. Maikel Franco - World of talent both offensively and defensively, needs to be harnessed and improve pitch recognition.

3. Kelly Dugan - Showcased the contact ability that power will develop from, but needs to find a way to stay healthy.

4. Aaron Altherr - Numbers took a hit with a rough final two weeks as he fatigued, but has all the tools to be a Top 10 prospect

5. Lino Martinez - Great pitchability while still learning how to within his abilities, not flashy, but effective.

6. Kyrell Hudson - Pure speed is still his best asset, and Morandini said he could play centerfield in the big leagues right now, needs to be more consistent.

7. Austin Wright - Small sample size in Williamsport, but has a Major League curveball with a plus fastball ... And he’s left-handed.

8. Adam Morgan - Clearly ready to jump a level, if not two. Change-up and breaking ball are deadly if he spots his fastball inside. Ran fastball as high as 94.

9. Mike Nesseth - First season following Tommy John surgery was a success despite rough finish. Slider is sharp, needs to improve command of fastball.

10. Harold Martinez - Line drive, gap-to-gap hitter who will occasionally run into a homer. Needs to develop more power to be a top-notch third-base prospect.

Top Cutters positional prospects 1. Maikel Franco 2. Kelly Dugan 3. Aaron Altherr 4. Kyrell Hudson 5. Harold Martinez

Top Cutters pitching prospects 1. Perci Garner 2. Lino Martinez 3. Austin Wright 4. Adam Morgan 5. Mike Nesseth Mitch Rupert covers the Williamsport Crosscutters for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.

 
 

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