Toolshed: Prospects primed for improvement

Tribe's Mejia, White Sox righty Kopech have room to grow in '18

Francisco Mejia is a career .285 hitter over 431 games across six seasons in the Minor Leagues. (Cathryn Wood/Columbus Clippers)

By Sam Dykstra / | May 18, 2018 10:20 AM

The first few weeks of every Minor League season should come with the following warning:

It's going to be fine.

After an offseason of debating and ranking -- and then debating the ranking -- of some of baseball's premier prospects, it can feel like a letdown when some of the game's most promising players don't live up to the hype immediately after Opening Day. That doesn't mean there's reason to panic.

Take the case of top Padres prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. The 19-year-old shortstop was hitting just .177/.231/.333 with three homers over 24 games for Double-A San Antonio in April, leaving some to wonder whether he had finally met his match in the Texas League. (A .233 BABIP had a lot to do with that.) However, Tatis has looked much more like himself through 15 games in May, with a .344/.452/.705 line and five homers. As the sample expanded, the right-handed slugger was able to show off more of the power and hitting ability that have made him the No. 7 overall prospect.

With that in mind, here are some more Top 100 Prospects who still have rough numbers but could turn things around fairly quickly. (Note: all statistics are through Wednesday's games.)

White Sox RHP Michael Kopech, Triple-A Charlotte: Because of his high-90s heater and impressive breaking ball,'s No. 9 overall prospect has Chicago fans impatient for the day he makes his debut on the South Side. But the 22-year-old right-hander allowed eight earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings last Friday at home against Durham, causing his season ERA to jump from a solid 3.00 to a more worrisome 4.86 through seven starts. If excluding that stinker when considering his numbers seems like playing a game of selective evidence, consider that even with the uncharacteristic outing baked into his results, Kopech has still been better than his traditional numbers suggest. The 1.27 gap between his ERA and his much better 3.59 FIP is the seventh-largest in the International League, and his relatively low 65.7 percent left-on-base percentage should normalize over a larger sample, causing the ERA to drop. He's still striking out batters at an impressive clip of 29.9 percent. The 11.6 percent walk rate remains a worry, but, overall, one extremely rough outing isn't enough to drop the optimism tied with one of the game's best young fireballers.

Video: Michael Kopech fans the final of eight batters

Indians C/OF Francisco Mejia, Triple-A Columbus: The 22-year-old switch-hitting backstop entered 2018 with one of the Minors' most promising hit tools. On paper, though, he hasn't lived up to that potential in his first trip to Triple-A. As of Wednesday, Mejia was batting just .187/.248/.301 with three homers in 31 games with the Clippers. His 54 wRC+ is easily the lowest mark of his career for a Minor League stop. But that comes with just a .225 BABIP, well below his career mark of .321 over his seasons in the Minor Leagues. More hits should start falling in over the coming weeks, causing the slash line tide to rise soon enough. The Clippers don't seem overly concerned, as they continue to bat Mejia in the heart of the order.

Video: Mejia clubs two-run shot for Columbus

Tigers RHP Matt Manning, Class A West Michigan: Yes, Manning's having walked 16 batters in 20 2/3 innings plays right into worries about his control. It's also a decent contributor to his 5.23 ERA and 1.65 WHIP through five starts with the Whitecaps. However, all of the good parts of his profile are also still true. The Tigers' No. 2 prospect has struck out 36.2 percent of the batters he's faced, thanks to an impressive fastball-curve combo, and he's gotten swings and misses on 18.3 percent of the total pitches he's thrown, the fifth-highest rate among the 109 Midwest League pitchers with 20 innings or more this season. Add that together with the fact that his batting-average-against on balls in play is unluckily high -- .405 -- and it's easy to see why Manning's 3.50 FIP is much more palatable than his 5.23 ERA. It'd still be nice to see the 20-year-old right-hander pitch in the zone consistently, but there's no need to hit the panic button at this early stage of the season.

Video: West Michigan's Manning notches the backwards K

Brewers RHP Corbin Burnes, Triple-A Colorado Springs: There was always the possibility that Burnes, one of the pitching darlings of the 2017 season, could get shelled when he moved to the Pacific Coast League, and specifically to the thin air of Colorado Springs for his home park. Only one of those things has proven a legitimate concern. The No. 63 overall prospect has posted a 4.91 ERA over 36 2/3 innings with the Sky Sox -- a far cry from his 1.67 mark a season ago at Class A Advanced Carolina and Double-A Biloxi. On the road, however, he's been quite effective, with a 2.22 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 32 strikeouts and four walks over 24 1/3 innings. If we just took those numbers, everyone would believe the 23-year-old right-hander -- who has three above-average pitches in his fastball, slider and curve -- had picked up right where he left off. His numbers at Security Service Field have been another story. In Burnes's three starts at home, opponents are hitting .377 against him while he's allowed 14 earned runs in 12 1/3 innings for a monstrous 10.22 ERA. Because he can't change his home club, there's always a chance that Burnes's numbers will always look a little rough while he's with Colorado Springs. But don't be surprised if he twirls more than a couple gems on the road, and it should be in those outings that the Brewers primarily judge him.

Video: Colorado Springs' Burnes rings up ninth strikeout

Yankees RHP Chance Adams, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: This is a little easy to say about a prospect who struck out 10 over seven one-hit innings already this week, but it's worth pointing out anyway. Adams has been effective at almost every stop he's made in the Minors but has run into a bit of a roadblock in his return to the RailRiders. Even after Wednesday's gem, the 23-year-old right-hander has a 4.69 ERA through eight starts (40 1/3 innings). The last time his ERA was that high anywhere was June 23, 2016, after his second start with Double-A Trenton. But underneath that, there are signs that Adams is still very much a solid pitcher. He's striking out 24.9 percent of batters and walking 9.5 percent. Those are eerily similar to the 22.3 and 9.3 percentages, respectively, he posted over 115 1/3 innings with the RailRiders last season. The big difference this season? Homers. Adams is allowing on average 1.3 home runs per nine innings, almost double his 0.7 from Triple-A in 2017. Part of that could be serving up hittable pitches. But there might be some bad luck cooked in there as well. Of the flyballs Adams has allowed this season, 13 percent have gone over the wall for a homer. That's up from 7.3 percent over almost triple the sample size in 2017. The statistic xFIP, which works much like FIP but adjusts the home run output to equal 10 percent of flyballs are homers, actually shows that Adams is better this season with a 3.79 mark compared to 4.06 in 2017. There's some bending of the numbers there, but there are signs that the best of 2018 is still yet to come as things normalize for the Yankees hurler.

Video: Adams picks up 10th strikeout for SWB

D-backs 1B Pavin Smith, Class A Advanced Visalia: The D-backs grabbed Smith with the seventh overall pick in last year's Draft after he showed an impressive hit tool over his three years at the University of Virginia. From a statistical standpoint, that hasn't shown up yet this year, as he's hitting just .205 with three homers and a .666 OPS in 34 games. He has, though, undoubtedly been hampered by a .224 BABIP that's driven down his average, specifically. Otherwise, Smith looks a lot like the advanced hitter he was with the Cavaliers and last summer at Class A Short Season Hillsboro. He's got a near even 21/20 K/BB ratio, and his 14 percent walk rate has helped boost his OBP to .322. In fact, his 14.7 percent strikeout rate is third-lowest among California League qualifiers. It'd be nice, given his position, if Smith would start showing more than just average power, but otherwise, there shouldn't be too many complaints about his offensive performance through mid-May.

Video: Smith's single knocks in a run for Visalia

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More