Where are they now? Former top prospects now in MLB
The following is an excerpt from this week's Pipeline Podcast, in which Tim McMaster, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo discuss former top prospects and how they are now faring in the Major Leagues. To listen to the show in its entirety, go to the MLB Pipeline Podcast page.
McMaster: Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, they are longtime Pipeline guys, prospects who spent a long time in the Top 100 and both of them at some point were in that top spot -- No. 1 -- and they have both finally graduated. So it's almost like we need to have a moment of silence as they've both graduated. The difference being Moncada graduated as the No. 1 prospect in baseball and Giolito at the time of graduation was kind of heading in a different direction, Jim, but they both say goodbye to the lists. When we do this sort of thing, I mean, you guys get a little tired of talking about these guys eventually, don't you?
Callis: I don't know if I'd say tired of talking about them, but definitely tired of ranking them. I mean, an example from a couple of years ago -- and I still believe in him and his defense alone makes him a good big leaguer -- was Byron Buxton, where he just barely qualified for the list again heading into 2016. I think he was a couple at-bats short. I still believe in Byron Buxton, but I know Jonathan and I talked that September saying it'd be really nice if he went over 130 at-bats because you run out of things really to say and everybody knows you're going to rank him. And I think it's the same thing with these guys.
Moncada, you know it's funny, Moncada is up over the Mendoza Line, but I hear from people who are a little incredulous that we believe in Moncada -- yeah, you probably do too, Jonathan -- oh, he strikes out a lot. Yeah, you know, he needs to cut his strikeouts, but the other thing to remember is this guy is 22. You ask people for comparisons. You hear Robinson Cano with more speed. Maybe he doesn't have Cano's pure hitting ability, but he's got the power and he's faster, and I think he's going to be a good second baseman. You also hear him compared to like an SEC defensive back if he was like a senior playing college football. He's built like that, I mean, he's ripped and the guy's still really gifted.
Giolito, I'm glad we don't have to rank him again because frankly, I don't know where to rank him. The thing that's been encouraging for the White Sox is he's pitched pretty well in his five big league starts since he came up at the end of August. He was up and down in Triple-A. At times he looked good, and at other times he didn't. It's just, it's tough. If you talk to scouts about him like Jonathan and I do, two years ago this guy, Giolito, was as good as any pitching prospect in baseball. I think we had him ranked as the best pitching prospect in baseball. And now you hear from a lot of scouts, and I never heard this in 2015, but now you hear it all the time now when you ask scouts about him, there's just a lot of questions as to whether he has the athleticism to repeat his delivery enough to get the most out of his stuff on a consistent basis.
You know, his year has been so up and down in Triple-A and now in the big leagues that there are times where you're like man, I'm ready to wash my hands of him a little bit, but then he goes on a roll. But I mean, three of his last four starts in the big leagues he gave up four runs in six innings his first start and given up five earned runs in four starts since then, but three of his starts have been quality starts. Just last night, 6 1/3 innings, one run. He had 10 strikeouts in seven innings against the Rays about 10 days ago, so there's still something in there. And you know, I'm curious to what Jonathan says, but I still subscribe to the fact that two years ago you could argue he's got as good of a fastball and as good of a curveball as anyone in the Minor Leagues and he's only 22, so I'm not ready to give up on him, even though a lot of scouts I've talked to are kind of down on him.
Mayo: They were. He definitely went in the wrong direction for quite some time and there are any number of explanations as to the "why," and I think the change of scenery helped. In terms of the repeating of the delivery, we'll have to wait and see. My understanding is he's gone back to something much closer to what he did at the very start of his career than what he had done previously, sort of what he had worked to, changed to. Those changes didn't seem to take. So whether that leads to longterm success or not, we'll have to see. He seems more comfortable in what I've seen of him in the big leagues than previously. He did slide in the Top 100 based on his performance during the season, which was very up and down. I'm glad we don't have to rank him anymore.
Having gotten to know him over the years -- a couple of Futures Games, some FanFest appearances with us -- he's an easy guy to root for and he's smart. Maybe that gets in his way, too, in terms of how thoughtful he is. Sometimes you just have to turn that part of your brain off and go out and compete. And hopefully what he's doing right now down the stretch for the White Sox is more a sign of what he's going to do. I love nothing more than to "get it wrong" with a guy in that direction. Like to look back and say, "Boy, maybe we shouldn't have knocked him down into the, I think, it was into the 60s when we did our re-rank." I hope that's the case with him.
McMaster: I wonder if some of the struggles or number of struggles this year in Triple-A, I wonder how much he was just kind of, I know he was up in the Majors with the Nats last year, up and down a little bit, and then to spend most of this year back in the Minors, there had to be some frustration, and now he seems to be pitching better at the Major League level. Maybe he was able to kind of, "Okay, this is it. Finally, I'm back in the Major Leagues." And he's been able to turn it up a notch. But talking about guys you guys didn't give up on, and some times other people started to question, Jim, you mentioned him briefly, Byron Buxton, who was ranked forever, obviously, and you guys held onto keeping him at No. 1 for a long time when there was a lot of Kris Bryant talk, and obviously Kris Bryant is a great player, no doubt about that. It's taken Byron Buxton a long time. Probably plenty of reasons for that. Rushed originally, maybe, a lot of injuries, but over the last two months we are seeing what all of the hype was about. Jim, as someone who's ranked him highly, and you guys staying with that, how refreshing is it, how excited does it make you to see Byron Buxton doing what he's doing right now, which is stealing bases, hitting for power, playing Gold Glove outfield, just doing it all.
Callis: Yeah, I mean, I'm happy for him. I mean, part of what Jonathan and I do, you're going to be wrong sometimes. So I'm not necessarily sitting here pumping my fist going, "Take that!" You know, I knew Byron Buxton was good, but I'm happy for him. The thing to remember, too, about these guys, and you touched on it, he was promoted to the big leagues I think faster than he should have been given his injury-filled year. He had a breakout year in the Minors where he was drawing Mike Trout comparisons and then he was hurt the next year and then he spent most of the next year after that in the big leagues. And I think it was just a little too quick for him and he's starting to catch up. Is he ever going to draw a lot of walks and be a high on-base percentage guy? Maybe not. Do you wish he made a little more contact? Sure, but you know, I'm sitting here just looking at his Baseball-Reference page, he's already a five-WAR player this year. Granted, 3.1 of that WAR is on defense, but he's been a good offensive player, too. He's stolen 25 bases and only been caught once. There's that elite speed we knew he had.
He's starting to tap into the power with 14 home runs. He only has 11 doubles, which is kind of curious, but I think he's continuing to develop as a hitter. And I wouldn't be surprised if he developed into a, perhaps not maybe quite as much power, but into like a Mike Cameron-type player where he doesn't hit for high average, but he's still extremely valuable. He's going to hit for some power, he's going to be faster than Mike Cameron. I'm with you, I mean there are some good center fielders in the American League, but you see some of the plays he makes and he has a cannon arm, too. I mean, he probably should win a Gold Glove this year. He's having an OK offensive year, but it winds up being a tremendous overall year because of the value he brings on the bases and in the outfield and the guy is only 23. He's going to continue to get better.
McMaster: Yeah and for two months he was bad offensively. And since then he's been very good. It evens out, the average I think overall is like .250, but since the beginning of June it's been a lot better than that. Jonathan, when you think about Buxton, because of the injuries and he's still young and he's doing it in a pennant race, too, we should mention that with the Twins in the second Wild Card spot, but is he a guy that's going to continue to make some leaps here as far as improvement because of all the injuries that held him back?
Mayo: I think so. He's been forced to sort of develop in the big leagues and that often doesn't go well. To his credit, I think what's happened in the second half here is he's made adjustments. He's stayed on the field long enough to really start to figure things out and figure out what he needs to do to succeed. I think you're going to continue to see that. He's still so young, as you pointed out. So I think there's definitely more to come. I agree overall with Jim. I don't think he's going to necessarily be a guy who hits .320, but it wouldn't also shock me if he hits for a better average than Mike Cameron did. And I'm not taking anything away from Mike Carmeron. He had a tremendous career and if that's what Buxton ends up being, that's a really good baseball player. But I think that you might still see some more maturation in terms of his offensive approach that will help him sort of maximize what his ridiculous raw tools are.