While multiple players are seeing success early in their MLB career or early in the minor league season, a number of top prospects have had a rough start to the 2017 season.
Taking a look around the Call To The Pen top MLB prospects list from January, it is notable that many prospects have been off to a tough start to open 2017. We’ll take a look at 8 of the top 35 that are off to notable rough starts, starting with the guy in the headline photo for this post…
Swanson was the 1A of the Braves face of the franchise in their move to their new stadium this season along with veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman. While Freeman has really taken a huge step toward being a superstar, Swanson has shuffled at the plate in his first full major league season.
The #4 prospect on our preseason list, he is the only member of the top 10 in that list to appear on this post, though multiple members of that top 10 have been injured and/or not yet played in 2017 to either succeed or struggle.
Swanson is currently hitting .150/.225/.220 with 2 home runs and a stolen base, with a 9% walk rate and a 24.3% strikeout rate. This after posting a .302/.361/.442 line in his 38-game MLB audition last fall for the Braves.
While some have noted his strikeout rate as a concern, it should be noted that Swanson had nearly identical walk and strikeout rates last season in the major leagues (9%, 23.4%) and a similar walk rate with an expected 5% lower strikeout rate in AA last season (9.3%, 18.8%).
The real big reason behind this is evident. Swanson is currently sporting a .181 BABIP. While Swanson is not a guy who will likely hit 30 home runs, he does hit the ball hard on a line, and that has typically led to a .310-.330 BABIP. His .383 BABIP from last season was higher than would be expected, but the .181 is tremendously low, and it would not surprise at all to see him kick up soon with balls bouncing more his way.
In the offseason, the Chicago White Sox made a big pitching acquisition when they shipped away outfielder Adam Eaton for pitching prospects Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning. Lopez has held well in AAA Charlotte, and Dunning has had an impressive season, already earning a promotion on the season.
Giolito, on the other hand, has shuffled badly. The #12 prospect on CTTP’s list entering the season, Giolito struggled with mechanical issues that came up in the Washington system. There were many positive reports in spring training, but very erratic performances overall.
Those erratic performances have become the norm as Giolito will have 2-3 dominant innings in an outing, but one inning will be a complete mess. That has led to a season line of 23 1/3 innings on 5 starts, with a 7.33 ERA and 1.67 WHIP, posting a 12.8% walk rate and 25.7% strikeout rate.
While the walk rate is a career high and is something of concern for certain, it is notable that Giolito’s xFIP is currently 3.98, shaving nearly 3.5 runs off of his ERA due to a variety of factors outside of his control. That said, the walk rate will certainly make those other issues outside of his control hurt much worse.
The White Sox are working to help Giolito reach both the elite velocity and the elite movement he was once able to achieve on his pitches. The former is a challenge still, but the latter has come back to some degree, giving some positive signs that he could see further success as the season wears on.
Considered the future double play partner with Swanson, most figured it was just a matter of when the 20 year-old would ascend to the major leagues, not if, in 2017. After all, he’d won a batting title in AA at age 19 and was one of the elite prospects in the game, rated #13 in CTTP’s preseason list.
Instead, Albies started well, but he’s fallen flat since, and at this writing, he’s hitting .252/.274/.393 with a home run and 8 stolen bases. More concerning are two other numbers – a 3.5% walk rate and a 24.6% strikeout rate. Both of those numbers are nearly twice the worst rate posted in his career before this season.
Albies does have a contact-oriented approach, and he’s likely never going to be a guy to walk 15% of the time, but his contact skills from both sides of the plate should allow for him to keep his strikeout rate closer to the low teens and his walk rate near ten.
One positive on the season has been that he has shown tremendous skills on the bases, going nearly all of April before he was caught on the base paths for the first time on April 30th.
Of course, then there was this very interesting video from Braves legend Chipper Jones on Albies’ readiness for MLB:
Glasnow earned a rotation spot out of spring training, and he’s seen some of the struggles that come with a young pitcher in the major leagues.
The #14 prospect on CTTP MLB prospect list before the 2017 season, Glasnow has thrown 20 2/3 innings for the Pirates, accumulating a 6.97 ERA, 2.13 WHIP, 15.5% walk rate, and 20% strikeout rate.
While the walk rate is not incredibly surprising based on his past, it has been very surprising to see his strikeout rate so low as he does have stuff that moves tremendously from his unique slot, coming from 6’8″ tall.
There are a few positive signs for Glasnow. His xFIP is 5.51, which while it’s not great is still a run and a half lower than his current ERA. He’s also seeing a .373 BABIP and a 60.2% left on base rate, which is extremely low (league average is usually more in the mid-70s range).
Glasnow, to his credit, has been working well with coaching, and the Pittsburgh staff is well-known for working with their pitchers to find ways to maximize their talents, but so far the results have not been great.
When news of Starling Marte‘s PED suspension came out, many national writers looked to the prospect rankings and saw that Meadows was considered a highly-regarded prospect and was in AAA, and the conclusion was made that he’d be the choice to take Marte’s place.
The next level of research would have revealed that Meadows really hasn’t had all that much success in AAA, not in 2016 in his time at the level, nor in 2017 after a late start due to injury.
CTTP’s #17 prospect before the season, Meadows is currently hitting .198/.253/.275 with a home run and 3 stolen bases. He’s posting a career-low 6.1% walk rate and a 20.2% strikeout rate this year for AAA Indianapolis.
The upside is that currently, Meadows is carrying a .239 BABIP in AAA, and he’s posted a .300+ BABIP at each level, which is not surprising given his high level of athleticism. However, that is nearly identical to his .236 BABIP in 2016 in his time in AAA, so there could be more of an issue with the quality of contact that he is getting at the level.
Meadows certainly had a ridiculous high level of talent, and his biggest issue thus far has never been on the field, but his injuries keeping him off of it. If he can stifle that part, he could get things turned around as balls start to bounce his way. Hopefully it’s before Marte returns so he can get some run at the big league level.
Adames was given a shot in the spring to fight for the second base job with the MLB club, but he would have had to blow the team away in order to do that, and he didn’t do that, getting sent down to the Durham Bulls in the AAA International League.
While Adames has acquitted himself fairly well in his range defensively at shortstop for Durham, his hands have been a struggle, and even more concerning has been his bat, as he’s slashing .222/.317/.356 with one home run and two stolen bases.
To his credit, CTTP’s #18 prospect has been near career norms with a 12.5% walk rate and a 20.2% strikeout rate. His approach at the plate in a number of views has been excellent, which is why his results have been surprising this year.
Adames has posted a .288 BABIP, and while for a number of players, that would be a solid number or just a hair low, Adames typically posts .340+ BABIPs with his line drive approach, and that could predicate some improvement around the corner, especially in his power numbers, specifically his gap power numbers.
Adames will be a guy definitely in the Rays’ plans for their MLB club, but whether he gets his bat going will determine if he has a shot to show his skills at the MLB level in 2017 or not.
O’Neill has received plenty of notoriety recently for his build, as he has a very heavy focus on his training, leading to a well-developed physique that has been noted by multiple prospect sites and podcasts reviewing the minor leagues.
When he won the Southern League MVP in 2016, he really put his power corner outfield bat on the map for those who still were not aware of who he was. However, the opening of the 2017 season may have many questioning whether O’Neill may be much too high at #30 at our preseason list.
O’Neill got the promotion up to AAA Tacoma this season, and he’s opened with a .180/.252/.330 line with 3 home runs and 4 stolen bases. He’s posted a 9% walk rate and a 29.7% strikeout rate on the year.
The strikeout rate is high, but it’s always been fairly high for O’Neill, so that’s not surprising. The notable number is that he has posted a .231 BABIP thus far in the season, and while O’Neill is a guy who isn’t well over .300 like Adames or Swanson, he’s still around .300, so that’s a significant dip compared to norms.
O’Neill was noted for his improved conditioning coming into the season, and his stolen base rate has shown it, as has his improved work in the outfield. If he can get the balls to start falling, he could push for some major league time this season in Seattle with power being something not prevalent in the Mariners lineup this season.
One of the truly elite shortstop defenders in the minors, many were willing to defend Crawford as an elite prospect even if he wasn’t a legit fantasy baseball prospect as his bat got exposed in the high minors in 2016.
With some heavy concerns on the bat, CTTP was one of the lowest on Crawford, having him ranked #35 overall compared to a top-20 slot for most ranking services (#12 Baseball America, #7 MLB Pipeline, #4 Baseball Prospectus, #5 Keith Law, #27 John Sickels – the closest to my low spot).
Those concerns have been shown to be legit as Crawford is slashing a .153/.280/.188 line in AAA with 2 stolen bases. His typical good eye is showing through with a 14.9% walk rate, though he’s also posted a career-high 22.8% strikeout rate.
Many will point to the .210 BABIP as a reason to feel comfortable that Crawford will bounce back, on top of Crawford’s typically high walk rate. However, from viewing Crawford multiple times this season, the bat has been getting knocked out of his hands frequently, and this could be more than simple luck and more legit poor contact on balls turning into outs frequently.
What has been noticed is that Crawford has seemed to let his offensive struggles begin to affect his normally elite defense. While pure error numbers are a bad way to evaluate fielders, especially in the minors, his errors this year have been notably a lack of concentration that has not been normal for him before, and he’s making them at nearly twice the frequency as he did in AAA in 2016 this season.
The offense and defense struggles could mean Crawford spends at least this season in AAA if not the start of 2018 as well, even though the Phillies are certainly not in any push for competitiveness in 2017.