The new year in prospect land always begins with the Rookie Career Development Program, held last weekend. Be sure to check out all the interviews we did with prospects from your favorite organization.
And keep sending your questions in. Only you can make Pipeline Inbox a success.
What does the future looks like for Reds outfielder Phillip Ervin?
-- Corey A., Hamilton, Ohio
To say that Ervin's pro career path has been uneven would be a bit of an understatement. The 2013 first-round pick had a huge junior season at Samford University, and he was one of the more intriguing college bats because of his power-speed potential. When Ervin finished his summer debut with a .989 OPS, everything seemed heading in the right direction.
Then the 2014 season happened, when Ervin struggled mightily in the Midwest League. He did manage to steal 30 bases, but he finished with a .237/.305/.376 line. A wrist injury during the offseason had thrown Ervin off and altered his mechanics at the plate. While he had a combined .726 OPS in 2015, he did hit the 30-steals mark (34 to be exact) again and showed some more power with 14 homers. Ervin also made it to Double-A and then went and got some work in during the Arizona Fall League.
At this point, it's hard to know exactly what Ervin's future is. While too much stock can be placed in certain statistical markers, he does need to be more consistently productive. Ervin still has the upside to be an everyday outfielder, probably in left. But at his current trajectory, he might be more of a fourth outfielder.
Got any good Major League comps for A.J. Reed? And what do you think is a reasonable impact for the Astros in 2016?
-- Jerry S., Houston
Reed's first full season went well beyond expectations as the former two-way Kentucky standout hit his way to Double-A and finished the year with a .340/.432/.612 line. He led the Minors in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage and was in the top five in batting average and on-base percentage.
I saw Reed in the Arizona Fall League, but I'm pretty sure he was out of gas after his first full season. He also only had 46 plate appearances, which is a pretty small sample size, so I'm not counting his .711 OPS against him (He still drew six walks, to his credit). Guys like Reed -- 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds who hit from the left side -- don't grow on trees. One comp I've heard in terms of his strength is Ryan Howard. But Reed has the chance to be a better pure hitter than the Phillies' first baseman. Another comp I like is Jim Thome. The Astros would be thrilled to get that kind of run production from Reed in the future, and perhaps that's not far-fetched.
The only things keeping Reed from making an impact in Houston are time and perhaps Jon Singleton. Reed doesn't need that much more time in the Minors, but he does only have 205 at-bats above Class A ball to date. Giving him a couple of months at the upper levels wouldn't be a bad thing. Singleton was once a top prospect who lost his way for a bit, but he was productive in Triple-A last year. If he starts off 2016 well, the Astros can let Reed get some more development time. If Singleton falters, you can start the clock. Seeing Reed settling in as Houston's first baseman in the second half sounds about right.
Who is a better prospect: Josh Bell from Pittsburgh or Greg Bird from the Yankees and why?
-- Ian B., Flanders, N.J.
Technically, Bird is no longer a prospect because of his time in the big leagues, but since he's still very much in the "trying to establish himself" mode, I'll allow it. Bird certainly did some nice things with the Yankees and came up with some big home runs down the stretch in 2015. He's always had tremendous plate discipline and raw power, though injuries have somewhat kept him from being a consistent run-producer. That said, I think Bird has the chance to be a solid big league regular.
Bell, on the other hand, has the chance to be an All-Star. It might pain Yanks fans to hear it, but Bell's ceiling is that of a plus hitter with plus power, a switch-hitter who will hit in the middle of the Pirates' lineup in the near future, so he gets the edge here. Keep in mind that when we compare prospects, we're looking at potential -- what we think they will be five years down the line. It's by no means a guarantee, but we see Bell as a better bet here, which is why he's firmly in the Top 100.
Assuming the Indians don't make any more offseason moves, how does the Tribe's farm system look for 2016?
-- Kenny K., Elyria , Ohio
I think it's safe to say things are looking up down on the farm for the Indians these days. We haven't done our organizational rankings yet, but just looking at what the Tribe has currently is as strong a crop as I've seen in a while. I think it all starts with the two outfielders at the top of the rankings, Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier. Zimmer reached Double-A in his first full season and played in the Futures Game. Frazier made some fantastic adjustments and had a huge second half of 2015, then was one of the more interesting hitting prospects in the Arizona Fall League. Be sure to head to Akron to see them in 2016.
But it goes beyond that. A couple of young 2014 draftees, Bobby Bradley at the plate and Justus Sheffield on the mound, had outstanding full-season debuts as teenagers. The Indians added another fine left arm when they got Rob Kaminsky at the Trade Deadline in the Brandon Moss deal. Mike Clevinger has put his Tommy John surgery behind him and looks like the prospect he was a few years ago. And you have to really like how aggressive they were in the 2015 Draft, rolling the dice with Brady Aiken, but also getting high-ceilinged pitchers like Juan Hillman and Triston McKenzie.
Is it the best system in baseball? No. But it's come a long way, and there's some exciting young talent coming in back of future star Francisco Lindor.