Alrighty, let's wrap up our look at the standout performances of 2013, by looking at those kiddos who stood out going into 2013, then didn't disappoint. These guys came into the season with expectations; 1st round draft picks, highly touted international signings, kids who had shown emerging skills at lower levels. In short, these are the kids who were near the top of the prospect lists last season, and continued to display the growth and skills that have kept them on pace to have big league careers.
Jorge Alfaro looked bigger in Spring Training. Gone is much of the baby fat around his jowls and mid-section, in it's place the jawline of a man and the strong abdomen of a catcher. Jorge has been on the radar since securing the largest signing bonus ever given to a Colombian-born player, $1.3 million, as a 16 year-old. You all know the dossier; tools out the wazoo, raw as the contents of the butcher's case. I still expect, given his cathedral ceiling, Jorge will be the #1 prospect on many offseason/preseason prospect rankings for Texas, as he did nothing to warrant being removed from a lofty position in 2013. Perhaps no development was more important than the fact that he caught 86 games this season. His previous high games caught was 36. Lots of passed balls (28) are indicative of growing pains, but a kid's gotta get reps there. Catching is hard as hell, and predicting the path for catching prospects might be second only to the uneven pavement in front of pitching prospects. Jorge hit .265/.338/.452 and still has pitch recognition issues, but he hit 18 homers and stole 18 bases. So he's still a 20 year old catcher with good power, speed, and a rocket arm. Steady as he goes.
In 2013, Luke Jackson pitched like a former 1st rounder who has good velocity and developing secondaries. As a matter of fact, he took enough steps forward this season to have warranted a spot in the "Ups" column I wrote a couple weeks ago, but he was a 1st rounder, and he has great makeup, and he has a mid-90's fastball, so he's also got expectations. The big development for Luke this season was his offspeed pitch. A changeup that grew and matured as Luke did in 2013 is an important piece for a kid who has mid-upper 90s cheese with his fastball. The CB was there too although there's still plenty of growth left commanding both of these secondaries. Another interesting occurrence happened in Luke's final game of the season when he was allowed to break out a previously shelved slider. He threw only one in that game, but in speaking with him about it, it seems like a pitch he was ready to welcome back to his repertoire. A usable slider would give him a second breaking ball and a pitch that might work very well given his delivery and the rest of his arsenal. Texas' top pitching prospect finished the season by making 6 appearances in Frisco and racking up 30K in 27ip while allowing a paltry 2ER, good for a 0.67ERA. Luke is likely to begin 2014 in Frisco, but if things continue on this path, the 22 year-old isn't likely to finish the season there.
Not sure if you've heard, but Joey Gallo can hit the shit out of a baseball. Any 80-grade tool is a sight to see, perhaps none more so than 80-grade power. Pop ups go over the fence, line drives go over the fence, end of the bat---goes over the fence. The 39th pick of the 2012 draft will always have power as his calling card and a record setting run through the Arizona Rookie League in 2012 was usurped by a monumental debut in full-season ball. Only a groin injury that cost him 36 games for Hickory kept him from inevitable destruction of more home run records. The injury also cost him a chance to wow the national media as Texas' selection to the Future's Game (a highlight also robbed from Jorge Alfaro who was on the DL with a cracked hand). Gobbles also continued to plug away at 3B even earning a nod as Baseball America's "Best Defensive 3B" in the South Atlantic League. Scouts I've spoken with are pretty mixed on his ability to stay there with a lot of it depending on how his body fills out as he glides past his current age of 19 (biggun' turns 20 in November). Yep, tons of Ks, a few walks and extra base hits, but all of that is back seat material. The homers and even the ubiquitous threat of a homer are what will keep this mammoth kid trudging towards Arlington.
Wilmer Font is a bit of a wild card for this slot, but I need to put the 23 year old Fontster Monster somewhere. Beginning the year in AA, Wilmer had a whopping 45K in 32 innings and a 1.41ERA, but also 24 walks. After his promotion to Round Rock, Wilmer issued a bit more of the same; 26K in 20 innings and a 0.45ERA in addition to 10 walks. I'm putting him in the "holding steady" column because he still is what he is. A guy with a + (borderline ++) FB, sketchy secondary command, and yet, still a guy I think the organization expects to figure into the bullpen plans in the next year or so (even got himself a couple of appearances in the bigs this season to go with his 3 from last year). Quite simply, Wilmer needs to throw his fastball for strikes, it often has late sink so he just needs to trust that it won't be crushed very often, and he needs to pick a secondary pitch and refine it. Midway through his time in Frisco, he mentioned that he had begun to throw a split/change and it was, for me, a pitch that showed a lot of promise. But most reports from Round Rock had him heavily, as in, like, 95% of the time, relying on the FB. It worked because he didn't give up runs, but that theory isn't likely to hold true in the three-tiered stadiums. He'll need a change of pace from the upper-90s, sinking fastball. Once that is solidified, he can/will be a weapon.
Near misses here: 1. Kellin Deglan continues to look like a kid who can be a backup big league catcher someday. Showed a little pop, called a good game. I was a little bummed that he continued to be platooned. The 21 year-old Canadian has yet to play 100 games in any of his first 3 full-season sets. 2. Lisalverto Bonilla flamed out in AAA as they toyed with using him as a starter, then finished spectacularly in AA. Following his demotion, the 23 year old former Futures Game invitee, working exclusively in relief, struck out 50 hitters while walking only 9 in 30.1ip. Back of the bullpen stuff if he can harness it. 3. Connor Sadzeck is a colossal kid (6'6" 225lbs) who spent 2013 learning how to pitch, rather than throw. He could always throw, but it would be 98mph and stand a good chance of being in your earhole. This year the focus was on sequencing, controlling a 2-seamer, using an offspeed pitch, and developing overall pitchability. The 21 year old started 24 games for Hickory and went at least 5 innings in all 24. For a kid who averaged 6.8BB/9ip in his first 15 professional starts for Spokane a year before, his season with the Crawdads represents significant growth.
So there you have it. 4 guys who came into the 2013 season highly touted, who performed well enough to enter the 2014 season even more highly touted. Forgive me if this column feels a little morose and not up to my usual whimsical standards, but I've watched the big league team play a few times this week. I need the winter leagues to crank up soon, so I can remember what it's like to evaluate and speculate about the future, 'cause the present ain't all that rosy. The future is bright though, as I've said, I still think of Texas as having one of the Top 10 systems in the game. There are impact bats in the lower levels and some starting pitchers moving into the upper levels. That's probably not going to deaden the blow you've just received while watching the big guys pilfer away a once impregnable playoff position, but it should help some of the pain subside. The club will be competitive and regardless of what happens at the top, the treadmill won't stop. More guys are comin'. Sometimes comparison is the source of all unhappiness, other times, you're thankful not to be an Angels fan.
As always, thanks for reading. Love Ya!