The Astros called up their first big fish in George Springer. Does he have a viable shot at Rookie of the Year?
-- Tony M., New York
The short answer, of course, is yes. Now that Springer is up, he's going to play. He was in the lineup in right field for his Major League debut on Wednesday, notching his first hit in the process, and should get a very long look. The only reason he wouldn't stick around is if he has a lengthy stretch of adversity.
And it's hard to imagine he will. Will there be adjustments to make and some bumps along the way? Absolutely, but he's shown the ability to make them as he's moved up the ladder since being a first-round Draft pick in 2011.
Be warned, however, that there will be a good amount of swing-and-miss in his game. He struck out 161 times in 2013 and had racked up 15 Ks in 13 Triple-A games this year. But there's also going to be power and speed from the outfielder who nearly turned in a 40-40 season in the Minors last year and who carried a .302/.397/.562 career line to Houston.
There are other formidable Rookie of the Year candidates in the American League, from international imports like Jose Abreu of the White Sox and Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees to top prospects like Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox, Nick Castellanos of the Tigers and Yordano Ventura of the Royals. But if Springer does what most believe he's capable of doing, he'll work his way quickly into the conversation.
Where do you think Vincent Velasquez will end the season? The Astros' system is loaded.
-- Clifton I., Waxahachie, Texas
This question came on the heels of our first Pipeline Prospects of the Week, in which Velasquez, Houston's No. 9 prospect, was named top pitcher. All he did was toss nine shutout innings, allowing just one hit and no walks while striking out nine over two outings.
It sure is fun to talk about the Astros' system, isn't it? And with Springer coming up, there's a sense that the floodgates could start opening. Velasquez is interesting because he's a little under the radar, thanks to the combination of Tommy John elbow surgery that cost him the 2011 season and the addition of so many high-profile names to Houston's system.
Now that the surgery is firmly in his rear-view mirror and he topped 100 innings for the first time in 2013, he could start moving quickly. As you noted, Clifton, with a loaded system, there's no reason to rush the 21-year-old. But seeing him finish the year with a good amount of time in Double-A seems very reasonable.
When will you update the Top 50 Draft prospects? Which of Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek is the better prospect?
-- Michael V., Beaumont, Texas
It's getting to be that time, isn't it? The Pipeline crew is working on updating the list, and it will be expanded to a Top 100 list in the very near future. Eventually, we'll unveil our first-ever Top 200 list as we get closer to the Draft, which will be held June 5-7. So stay tuned.
Aiken, a lefty from Southern California, and Kolek, a right-hander from Texas, have emerged as the top two high school pitchers . I don't know that one has separated himself from the other at this point, and a survey of scouts might result in a split vote. But as of right now, both figure very heavily in the top 10 picks in the Draft. When the Top 100 comes out, they will both likely be in the top five, though the final rankings have yet to be determined.
I heard the White Sox may try Trey Michalczewski at catcher. What do you think of him?
-- John W., Lansing, Ill.
This was the first I had heard of such a potential move, so I checked in with some White Sox folks. As of now, there are no plans afoot to move Michalczewski behind the plate.
That's OK, because I think he has the chance to be a pretty good third baseman. The Jenks, Okla., native, taken in the seventh round of the 2013 Draft, had a so-so pro debut in the Appalachian League last summer, but there's a lot to like. A two-sport star in high school, Michalczewski got well above pick value to sign with the White Sox. He has the chance to hit for power and average from both sides of the plate. A shortstop in high school, he's moved to the hot corner and should be a very good defender there.
He's been compared to Chipper Jones because of his size and switch-hitting ability. I'm not saying that's who he's going to become, but he has the skill set to be a good player at third base for a long time. Don't be surprised if he shows up in the White Sox Top 20 in the very near future.
Between the California and Pioneer Leagues, which one would you consider to be most conducive for great hitting performances?
-- J.P.S., Springfield, Ill.
It's true that not all leagues are created equal. Both the California and Pioneer Leagues have well-deserved reputations as being hitter-friendly.
Determining which one is more conducive for hitters would take some exhaustive research, but we can take a quick look at some information, starting with MiLB.com's Ashley Marshall's look at park factors in short-season leagues and Class A Advanced leagues.
In the short-season piece, Marshall points out that the Pioneer League topped all of those circuits in runs per game from 2008-13, at 5.7. In the look at the Class A Advanced leagues, there's a handy-dandy chart comparing the leagues' runs-scored averages. Once again, the Pioneer League leads the way. The California League isn't far behind at 5.3 runs per game.
I dug up through a series I wrote back in 2008 called Factor Fiction. That didn't provide much, other than a trip down memory lane. But it should be noted that in the time frame looked at then, 2005-07, five of the top seasons in terms of OPS at a stadium were in the Cal League. But they were all Lancaster and High Desert, so it's a leap to go from that to a league-wide hitting endorsement.
I'll lean slightly to the Pioneer League on this question, while noting that in both circuits, scouts and prospect fans want to see what the prospect will do at another level to make sure he wasn't a creation of that hitter-friendly environment.