12/20/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Pipeline Inbox: Can Hamilton's bat back up his speed?
Mayo answers readers' questions and ranks the game's best pitchers under 6 feet tall
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
We at MLBPipeline.com are looking at the calendar and, like everyone else, counting down the days of what's been an exciting 2013. We know that '14 has plenty in store for all the fans of prospects out there.
We are hard at work putting together our new Top 100 Prospects rankings, which will come out in January. That list will be preceded by our Top 10 by position lists and followed up by our Team Top 20s. Scouting reports, grades, multimedia clips for 600 players -- It's hard to beat.
For now, to whet the appetite, here is our penultimate Inbox for 2013. All questions at least partially pertain to potential Top 100 prospects. Here are five stocking stuffers to help you prepare for the big move to 2014.
Have a question about prospects?
E-mail your query to MLBPipeline.com reporters Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo for possible inclusion in a future Inbox column. Letters may be edited for brevity, length and/or content.
Has Boston's Henry Owens shown enough yet to be considered for the top 25 in your top 100 list for 2014?
- Dave D., Cape Cod, Mass.
Currently, Owens is No. 52 on our 2013 Top 100, and I'll be the first to admit he's under-ranked given the year he had. The lefty didn't turn 21 until July, made it to Double-A and finished second in all of the Minor Leagues with 169 strikeouts. He also topped all Minor League pitchers with a .177 batting average against. His 2.67 combined ERA and 1.13 WHIP are nothing to sneeze at, either.
The tall, lanky lefty has filled out since being a supplemental first-round pick in 2011, allowing him to add some velocity and become more consistent, though he still needs to work on his walk rate as he hits the upper levels. Final positioning in the new Top 100 has yet to be determined, but rest assured, Owens will move up. Whether he cracks the Top 25 remains to be seen, but it's safe to answer "yes" to your question about whether he's in the conversation. He's one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the game, for sure.
I am a huge fan of three great prospects: Clint Frazier, Austin Meadows and Aaron Judge. Who do you feel will be the best all-around player? And who has the most power?
-- Alan S., Frankfort, Ill.
Among the three outfield prospects taken in the first round of the 2013 Draft, two are from the Georgia high school ranks and the other is from Fresno State. The Frazier-Meadows comparisons will likely go on in perpetuity, seeing as they were from neighboring high schools and were taken four spots apart in the top 10 of the Draft. Frazier is about bat speed with more power than you'd expect from a guy of his size. A very aggressive hitter, Frazier will have to tone his approach down some to tap into his power.
Meadows has a more advanced feel for hitting than his Georgia counterpart, with a smooth left-handed swing coming from a tall and athletic frame. He, like Frazier, had a solid pro debut, showing more extra-base pop than people thought they'd see right away. Many feel he'll grow into a bit more power, even if that tool doesn't measure up to Frazier's.
Judge is a beast -- a 6-foot-7 physical specimen, with as much raw power as just about anyone in the Class of 2013. He wasn't able to make his Yankees debut in 2013 because of a quad injury, but he'll unleash his bat on the pro ranks in '14. He tapped into that power more consistently as a junior, but he was still a bit up and down.
That said, Judge has the most pure raw power, but maybe Frazier gets the slight edge in the belief he'll tap into his power more consistently, tone down his strikeouts and be a slightly better all-around hitter of the two. When all is said and done, however, I see Meadows as the best all-around player in terms of how all of their tools will play at the highest level.
Everybody says that Billy Hamilton will be a great player if he can hit enough. But can he? Last year in Triple-A his OBP was .308. Is he just a faster version of Eric Young Jr. Or is he a 150-SB version of Brett Gardner?
-- Boruch K., Queens, N.Y.
That's the $64,000 question regarding Hamilton's stock: Will he hit enough to put that ridiculous speed and basestealing ability to use? I'm still a believer that he will. I even wrote about it in a Perspectives piece back in October.
Hamilton is never going to be mistaken for a middle-of-the-order hitter. He's not going to fill out and add power as a dimension to his game. But he understands he needs to put the ball on the ground, spray it to all fields and bunt. Yes, his OBP in 2013 wasn't great, though it improved in the second half of the season by 24 points (his numbers across the board were better as he adjusted to Triple-A). Keep in mind, Hamilton had played just 50 games above A ball before jumping up to Triple-A for last season. He also had a .410 OBP in '12, and before you say that's an inflated number because he was in the California League and racked up infield hits, he walked 86 times in 2012 across two levels.
Give him some time to adjust, and he'll get on base enough to put those legs to use as a dynamic leadoff hitter. I'm not sure 150 steals will happen again, but would anyone in Cincinnati be too upset if he were Brett Gardner?
Is Mason Williams going to be ready for the 2015 season?
-- Pepe R., Linden, N.J.
Williams is one of the more enigmatic prospects in baseball, and you're likely to get varied opinions on him depending on who you talk to and when they've seen him play. He has tremendous raw tools, but he hasn't always put them into consistent use on the field.
There likely was hope that Williams, along with some of the other Yankees' top prospects (Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin) would take a step forward in 2013 and be ready to contribute at some point in '14. Williams ended up making it to Double-A in '13, but only for 17 games, though he added 22 Arizona Fall League games to his resume.
The 2014 season is a big one for Williams. There comes a point where raw, toolsy prospects need to start showing they can perform. Williams is still just 22, but I think he's at that point now. If he can take the step forward many had predicted in 2013 just a year later, then I think he'll be ready to contribute in some fashion in '15. And while I'm not expecting this, if he hits the ground running in Double-A in '14, who's to say he can't see the Bronx before season's end? He'll have to convince some doubters along the way, though.
Who are the best pitching prospects under six feet tall?
-- Greg, Cincinnati
Ahh, the undersized pitcher, especially those of the right-handed variety. So persecuted in the world of baseball. Every year, there are players who are under-ranked on lists, undervalued in the Draft and generally under-appreciated because they don't fit the mold.
Perhaps we have the same bias here. In our current Top 10, the three pitchers -- Taijuan Walker, Archie Bradley and Jameson Taillon -- are all 6-foot-4 or taller. That doesn't mean there aren't some very talented "undersized" pitchers out there. I did a quick survey of all of our team Top 20 lists, pulling out any organizational Top 10 guy listed at 6-foot-1 or shorter, given that it's not uncommon for a pitcher to be listed at a generous height. Here's how I would rank them, loosely (not based on the current Top 100), with three things coming to mind: 1. There are likely some 6-foot-and-under guys who'll move up lists in 2014; 2. Many of these pitchers have had some injury problems, feeding into the stigma of guys their size; 3. Lefties don't get knocked as much for being too small.
1. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Orioles
2. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays
3. Julio Urias, LHP, Dodgers
4. Trevor Bauer, RHP, Indians
5. Rafael Montero, RHP, Mets
6. J.R. Graham, RHP, Braves
7. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Cubs
8. Manny Banuelos, LHP, Yankees
9. Marco Gonzales, LHP, Cardinals
10. Rob Kaminsky, LHP, Cardinals
11. Adam Morgan, LHP, Phillies
12. Daniel Corcino, RHP, Reds
13. Nolan Sanburn, RHP, A's
14. Michael Blazek, RHP, Brewers
15. Martin Agosta, RHP, Giants
16. John Gast, LHP, Cardinals
17. Zach Davies, RHP, Orioles
18. R.J. Alvarez, RHP, Angels
19. Cody Buckel, RHP, Rangers
20. Mitch Brown, RHP, Indians