Now that we have our overall list of top prospects it’s time to take a look at some guys who missed the list, but might be a bit underrated based on the parks in which they played in 2016. You might want to call them sleepers, though it may be that there are no sleepers in leagues where teams carry hundreds of prospects on their combined rosters. There are just guys who haven’t completely developed yet or maybe haven’t developed enough to grab our attention.
In this post, we’ll look at three pitchers and three hitters who had good performances partially hidden by home parks that worked against their success.
Miguel (Michael) Hermosillo, OF, LAA
In something of a breakout season, Hermosillo had good success at two levels in 2016. He finished at High-A Inland Empire in the Cal League. We all think of the Cal League as a hitter’s league and in many instances it is. Five parks skew heavily in favor of hitters in the ten team league with Lancaster and High Desert being almost Coors-like.
Inland Empire, though, is the toughest hitter’s park in the league, depressing hits, runs and HR by as much as 38%.
Hermosillo did begin the season in a hitter’s park in Burlington in the Midwest League, but he carried his success over to the Cal and posted an OPS of 1.004 in his Inland Empire home games. Certainly, this was a small sample size, but it is enough to pay attention to. Hermosillo bears watching in 2017.
Johan Camargo, 2B, ATL
The switch-hitting Camargo was an international signing in 2011 and he had good success as he started his pro career, but he hit a serious speed bump upon his introduction to full season ball in 2014. He continued a generally normal progression through the minors based on his considerable defensive skills, but he fell off the prospect radar to a large extent, particularly in the deepening Braves’ system.
Then came 2016. The numbers are not eye-popping, but they were accumulated in the Southern League with a home park that is the most extreme in the league at depressing hitting across the board. Playing at age 22 for the entire season, Camargo put up his best full season offensive campaign. His 4 HR and 36 XBH were career highs.
Looking behind the basic numbers it seems Camargo may have become a believer in the increasing popular approach of trying to hit the ball in the air more often. After averaging about a 1.9 ratio of ground balls to fly balls for his first three seasons, he lowered that to 1.6 in 2015 and all the way to 1.27 in 2016. This is the approach that led to breakouts by Keon Broxton and Matt Joyce, among others in the last year and that is used by guys like Josh Donaldson as well. While Camargo will never have that kind of power, hitting it in the gaps in a more neutral environment could make him a very useful middle infielder.
Jose Pujols, OF, PHI
Pujols was a 2012 international signing out of the Dominican and his career in rookie and short season ball was pretty nondescript but playing in Lakewood in the South Atlantic League in his first foray into full season ball, Pujols hit 12 HR in a home park (and another 12 on the road) that depressed HRs by over 45%. This is after having hit a total of 20 HR in his previous 840 career ABs.
That comes with a low average and some swing and miss, but that kind of power improvement in such a severe environment for it is kind of exciting. It’s also kind of exciting that Pujols seemed to improve his selectivity in the second half. He improved his walk rate by about 80% in his last 240 AB.
Pujols is deservedly not in our list of prospects, but normal progression would have him in the Florida State League this season where Clearwater is a more neutral hitting environment. Then, AA Reading is a haven for HRs. When/If Pujols gets there in late 2017 or for the 2018 season, the results could be pretty awesome.
Peter Lambert, P, COL
No one needs to be reminded how difficult it has been for the Rockies to develop or acquire pitchers who can be successful in Coors Field. A good fantasy approach is to never have a Rockies’ pitcher anywhere near your staff. There are two reasons, though, to pay attention to Lambert. He could get traded and become immensely more interesting or he could be ‘the one’. He certainly showed the possibility this past season at Asheville. The Sally League has parks that are all over the map as hitting/pitching environments, but Asheville is the most extreme hitting environment in the league. The park has a 1.814 factor for HR over the last three seasons, meaning it increases HR by 81.4% over the league average.
In spite of this, Lambert had a stellar season in the league and he especially shined at home. He posted an overall ERA of 3.92, but a mark of 3.20 in 14 starts at home. He allowed just 3 HR in those home starts over 70.1 IP. That is all quite impressive until you hear the most amazing part and that is that he does not turn 20 until April of this year. He’s not regarded as a top flight arm, but he is seen by scouts as a reliable strike thrower with decent stuff. This is definitely a pitcher you want on your radar.
Lachlan Wells, P, MIN–
Wells is another in the line of Twins’ signings out of Austrailia. The fruits of that effort have not been plentiful to this point, but there are some rays of hope. Wells signed in 2014 and spent time in 2015 in rookie ball. He then started 2016 in extended spring, but was sent to the full season Midwest League in June. The Cedar Rapids ballpark skews just slightly toward hitter friendly across the board.
The 19 year old lefty pitched exceptionally well. He’s just 5’8” tall, so he’ll have to grow a bit and gain some durability, but he has a developing arsenal including a low 90s fastball and a plus changeup. His breaking balls both need a bit of polish, but the slider has shown flashes of being a potential plus pitch as well.
With 12 starts and an ERA of 1.77, Wells put down a foundation upon which he can build.
Jose D. Rodriguez, P, LAA–
Signed out of Venezuela in 2012, Rodriguez spent three seasons in rookie ball before making his full season debut in 2016 in the Midwest League at age 20. His 27 starts there were quite successful. The park in Burlington is hitter friendly and Rodriguez put up a sparkling 2.34 ERA in 69.1 IP at home. Though he is 6’2” he is rather slight and he has been improving his velocity since signing. That was the reported reason for his having spent so long in rookie ball and extended spring over his first couple of seasons. He still does not throw particularly hard, but he throws quality strikes with three pitches and he did manage 7.86 K/9 in 2016 against just 2.19 BB/9.
Rodriguez has work to do to be a solid MLB starter, but he has a path to that and there is not a lot more that you can ask for in a system like that of the Angels.
These are just a few players who could see their prospect stock jump a bit if they can continue to build on their 2016 successes. The intent here was to focus on guys who were in the lower minors and not on our top 209 list published earlier. There are some guys closer to the majors who could have been included like Nick Pivetta, who quite likely will see time in the Phillies’ rotation at some point in 2017 and Steven Duggar, who may have reestablished himself in the second half of 2016 when he went to the pitcher’s paradise in AA Richmond and continued his offensive breakout.