Prospect Profile: Domingo Acevedo

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Domingo Acevedo | RHP

Background

Acevedo was signed out of the Dominican Republic in November of 2012 for the bargain bin price of $7,500. And that price isn’t the most suspect aspect of the signing, either. Rather, what stands out the most is that Acevedo signed at roughly 18-and-a-half years old, two-plus years after we see most players signed via international free agency. There is precious little information out there as to why he was signed so late, comparatively speaking, but the simplest explanation is often the best – meaning that Acevedo simply wasn’t viewed as much of a prospect between when he first became eligible back in 2010 and when he put pen to paper. To wit, he never cracked Baseball America’s top-thirty international prospects, nor was he mentioned in any of their write-ups prior to making his professional debut.

Update – Commenter Chip found out that Acevedo did not start playing baseball until he was 16 due to family commitments. I suppose that means that I was technically correct in saying that he wasn’t much of a prospect prior to signing, if only because he wasn’t an actual baseball player for all that long.

Pro Career

Acevedo was already 19 by the time he made his professional debut in 2013, when he spent the entirety of the season in the Dominican Summer League. He was a few months older than the average player at the level as a result, and he performed like a men among boys. Acevedo allowed a 2.63 ERA (1.95 FIP) in 41.0 IP, with a 24.2% strikeout rate against just 6.2% walks.

The Yankees sent Acevedo to the Gulf Coast League in 2014, but it was essentially a lost season. He tossed just 15.1 IP across five starts due to a variety of arm issues (which may be best described as dead arm), missing the better part of seven weeks after the calendar turned to July. There were reasons for optimism nevertheless, as he hit triple-digits in that limited action, and posted a 31.3% strikeout rate and 2.14 FIP.

It was on the heels of the abbreviated 2014 season that Acevedo first started appearing in the consciousness of Yankees fans and writers, and it’s not difficult to see why; after all, he was a towering 6’7″ figure that could throw a baseball 100-plus MPH. That’s enough to, at the very least, pique one’s curiosity.

Acevedo was assigned to Low-A Charleston to open 2015, and made one appearance before injuries struck again. It was a simple matter of blisters, luckily, and he was back in action on June 24, albeit for Short Season State Island. He spent the remainder of the 2015 regular season at that level, pitching to a 1.69 ERA (2.85 FIP) in 48.0 IP, to go along with 27.2% strikeouts and 7.7% walks.

Acevedo was sent to the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time, and continue to impress in yet another small sample size. He tossed 12.0 IP across seven appearances (all in relief), allowing a 2.25 ERA in the hitter-friendly environs of the desert and striking out 22.0% of batters faced.

For all of this, Baseball America named him the third-best prospect in the New York-Penn League following the 2015 season, behind Andrew Benintendi of the Red Sox and Victor Robles of the Nationals.

Acevedo headed back to Charleston to open 2016, where he continued to dominate. He made eight starts at the level, pitching to the following line: 42.2 IP, 34 H, 7 BB, 48 K, 1.90 ERA, 2.02 FIP, 25.0 K-BB%. The Yankees promoted him to High-A Tampa in June, and it was more of the same – plenty of strikeouts (26.0%), low walk totals (7.2%), and solid run prevention (3.22 ERA) in 50.1 IP.

All told, Acevedo finished the 2016 season with a 2.61 ERA, 45.3 GB%, 5.9 BB%, and 27.2 K% in a career-high 93.0 IP. The only blemish on the season was his continued injury woes, as he missed time with leg and back maladies.

Scouting Report

When Acevedo first signed, he was about 6’6″ and a slender 190 pounds. He now checks in at 6’7″ and around 220 pounds (depending on the source – estimates range from 200 to 240), having filled out his gigantic frame with a fair bit of muscle. And, as one would expect from a pitcher of his size, he sits in the 95 to 97 MPH range with his fastball, and regularly flirts with the 100 MPH mark. Some scouts have clocked him as high as 103 on the gun, which elicits all sorts of strange feelings.

The fastball can run a bit true when Acevedo is trying to hit his spots, but it usually has a bit of late run to it. He controls the pitch quite well on the whole, pounding the strikezone and challenging hitters at the letters. Regardless, it’s a true plus-plus pitch that several scouts have thrown an 80-grade on.

Acevedo’s best secondary pitch is his mid-80s change-up, which has very good separation from his fastball and a bit of sink. He throws it for strikes with ease, and manages to pick up swings and misses, as well. It’s a solid average offering that flashes plus when he’s on the top of his game.

And then there’s the slider. Acevedo’s slider is a staggeringly inconsistent offering, in terms of both its velocity and shape. The discrepancy may be the fact that most scouts label the pitch as a slider, whereas Acevedo calls it a curve – so it may be a classification error of a sort. At its best, the pitch sits in the mid-to-upper 80s, with a sharp break that is closer to a cutter than it is a curveball. As is the case with his fastball and change-up, Acevedo consistently throws the pitch for strikes – it just doesn’t always look the same.

There are questions about his ability to command his offerings, due to his big velocity and bigger limbs, but he has made steady progress throughout his professional career. It’s the typical ‘command vs. control’ issue, but it’s promising to see Acevedo hitting triple-digits and maintaining sterling walk rates.

It’s also important to note that Acevedo does a surprisingly good job of repeating his delivery. He can get unbalanced at times, especially late in games, but his mechanics are far more advanced than most pitchers of his size and age – comparing his delivery to that of Dellin Betances at the same age, for example, is night and day. Nobody would call his mechanics perfect, yet there is room for optimism here.

2017 Outlook

If the Yankees follow their usual M.O., Acevedo will likely head back to Tampa to open the 2017 season. However, with continued success and a fewer nagging injuries, I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up at Double-A Trenton by Memorial Day. Acevedo, James Kaprielian, and Justus Sheffield could spend time in the same rotation this season (probably at Double-A), which would be an absolute blast.

My Take

Acevedo has several hurdles to overcome to reach ceiling, which may well be as a second or third starter. The fastball/change-up combination, above-average control, and mostly strong mechanics are encouraging, as is his ability to shake-off rust. However, his lack of a third pitch and injury history – even if his arm has been mostly fine since he returned to action in 2014 – is disconcerting. And, for that, he’s a divisive prospect, as evidenced by his ranking 15th on Mike’s Preseason Top 30 Yankees prospects, and 79th on John Sickels’ Top 200 MLB prospects list.

In short, there’s massive boom or bust potential here. I’d give him every opportunity to start, and rest assured that he has the tools to be a dynamic reliever if it comes to that.

Prospect Profile: Giovanny Gallegos

(Robert Pimpsner)
(Robert Pimpsner)

Giovanny Gallegos | RHP

Background

The 25-year-old Gallegos was signed by the Yankees for $100,000 in January of 2011. As per Baseball America, he was a part of a “package deal” with the Mexico City Red Devils, alongside Luis Niebla (now a member of the Rockies organization). The deal itself received little hype at the time, as is the case with most signings from the Mexican League. Gallegos underwent Tommy John Surgery before making his professional debut with the Yankees.

Pro Career

Gallegos finally made organizational debut in June of 2012, as a member of the GCL Yankees. He appeared in 12 games (four starts), and pitched to a 1.67 ERA in 27 IP. That ERA may sell his small sample size dominance a bit short, as he allowed just 22 base-runners and one home run in that time, while striking out 22. Gallegos followed that up by pitching for his hometown Yaquis de Obregon in the Mexican Pacific Winter League (LPW), where he struggled to the tune of an 8.44 ERA (albeit in just 5.1 IP).

He moved up to the short-season NYPL in 2013, where he spent the entirety of the regular season in the starting rotation. Gallegos made sixteen starts, and pitched to the following line: 65.1 IP, 71 H, 14 BB, 43 K, 4.27 ERA, 4.44 FIP. It was an uninspiring line, to say the least, but it was a full, healthy season that was once again followed by a stint in the LPW (he put up a 4.26 ERA in 6.1 IP).

The Yankees continued to move Gallegos up the ladder in 2014, and he spent the season with Low-A Charleston. The result was another middling season, as he posted a 4.57 ERA in 88.2 IP, spread over 29 appearances (six of which were starts). A silver lining was beginning to show, though, as Gallegos posted a 1.93 BB/9 for the second season in a row, which played a large role in his much better looking 3.45 FIP. He wrapped-up the 2014 calendar year pitching in the LPW, cruising to a 1.69 ERA in 16 IP.

Gallegos broke out in 2015, the majority of which he spent at High-A Tampa. In 53.1 IP at the level (all in relief), he had a 1.35 ERA, 26.9 K%, 3.5 BB%, and a 2.13 FIP. He ranked in the top-five in the Florida State League in ERA, FIP, K%, BB%, and K-BB%, and he didn’t allow an earned run in his last eleven appearances (or 17 IP). Gallegos floated between Double-A and Triple-A, too, posting a 3.72 ERA and 5.0 K/BB in 9.2 IP in the upper minors.

He struggled mightily in the LPW that winter, with an atrocious 10.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP in 9 IP. Thankfully, that did not carry over to 2016.

Last year saw Gallegos earn his place on the Yankees 40-man roster (thereby avoiding the Rule 5 draft), owing to his 1.27 ERA in 78.0 IP between Double-A and Triple-A. His overall numbers look somewhat video game-y, as he had more strikeouts (106) that hits, walks, and home runs combined (70). The lone blemish on his season was a 36.53% ground ball rate, which had precious little impact on the bottom line.

Scouting Report

Gallegos is a 6’2″, 210-pound right-handed batter and thrower, with a surprisingly well-rounded arsenal. His fastball sits in the 92-95 MPH range with a bit of run, and his above-average mid-70s curveball is his go-to secondary pitch. He’ll also throw a high-70s slider and low-80s change-up in longer outings, and both pitches can flash average when he’s on.

As one would suspect based upon his numbers, Gallegos has well above-average command and control. He attacks hitters within the zone, and does a fine job of painting the corners (particularly on the inner-half). That applies to all four of his offerings, as well, though upwards of ninety-percent of his pitch selection revolves around the fastball and curve.

Gallegos’ inability to find consistency with his slider and change-up led to the Yankees removing him from the rotation, and the results support that decision. And that doesn’t just apply to the numbers, either, as his velocity sat in the 87 to 89 MPH range as a starter, which simply isn’t enough without a ton of sink and a couple of plus off-speed pitches.

2017 Outlook

Gallegos is on the 40-man roster, and there’s every reason to believe that he will be afforded an opportunity to make the team’s roster in Spring Training. (He will play for Mexico in the WBC, however.) The bullpen may well have upwards of three slots open to competition, and I’d be shocked if he didn’t at least follow in the proud tradition of shuttle riders of Yankees past. I suspect that we’ll see a fair amount of Gallegos in the show this year.

My Take

If Gallegos ends up being a competent reliever, he may well represent a steal for $100,000 a half-dozen years ago. I don’t think that he has the profile of a light’s out reliever that could fill a set-up or closer role, but I do see him as more capable than the fungible sorts that the Yankees churn through with gusto. The fact that he has averaged better than one and two-thirds innings per outing as a reliever could prove immensely useful to this year’s team, too.

Prospect Profile: J.P. Feyereisen

(MLB.com video screen grab)
(MLB.com video screen grab)

J.P. Feyereisen | RHP

Background
Feyereisen, who turned 24 yesterday, grew up in River Falls, Wisconsin, which is about 30 miles from downtown Minneapolis. In his four years as a varsity player at River Falls High School, he was named to several All-State and All-Conference Teams, and was named the State Tournament Most Valuable Player as a senior.

Despite his high school success, Baseball America did not rank Feyereisen among their top prospects from Wisconsin — a state not exactly known for producing baseball talent — prior to the 2011 draft. He went undrafted out of high school and wound up at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a Division III school.

Feyereisen made six starts and five relief appearances as a freshman, throwing 40.2 innings with a 2.66 ERA. He struck out 37 and walked 17. After the season he pitched for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League, a collegiate summer league, where he allowed three runs in 8.2 innings.

As a sophomore in 2013, Feyereisen threw 77 innings across a dozen starts and one relief appearance at UWSP, striking out 59 and walking 28. He had a 2.69 ERA and was named the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year. The Pointers advanced to the Division III College World Series that year.

Feyeresen returned to the Rapids Rafters for summer ball, which is when he got his first exposure to full-time bullpen work. He saved eleven games and made the All-Star Team after throwing 31 innings with a 1.16 ERA and 38 strikeouts. Baseball America ranked Feyereisen as the eighth best prospect in the Northwoods League that summer.

During his junior season at UWSP Feyereisen made eight starts and four relief appearances, throwing 62.1 innings with a 3.75 ERA to go with 45 strikeouts and 13 walks. Baseball America ranked Feyereisen as the best Division III prospect in the 2014 draft class and the 464th best prospect overall. He was the No. 2 prospect in Wisconsin.

The Indians selected Feyereisen in the 16th round (488th overall) and signed him to an $80,000 bonus. He became only the third junior to be drafted in UWSP history, joining former Red Sox farmhand Cody Koback (tenth round in 2011) and two-time All-Star Jordan Zimmermann (second round in 2007).

Feyereisen was traded to the Yankees as part of the Andrew Miller trade last summer. Feyereisen, outfielder Clint Frazier, lefty Justus Sheffield, and righty Ben Heller came to New York in the four-for-one swap.

Pro Career
Cleveland never bothered to try Feyereisen as a starter. They grabbed him in the 16th round and moved him to the bullpen immediately. He made his pro debut with the club’s Short Season NY-Penn League affiliate, where he threw 17 innings without allowing a run. Feyereisen struck out 24 and walked one. Zoinks.

The Indians assigned Feyereisen to their Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League to begin 2015, his first full pro season. He allowed two runs in 16.2 innings while striking out 25 and walking six. Feyereisen was quickly promoted to High-A, and he finished the season with a 2.08 ERA (2.51 FIP) in 47.2 total innings. His strikeout rate (30.1%) was excellent, his walk rate just okay (8.1%).

Feyereisen opened 2016 with Double-A Akron and had a 2.23 ERA (3.04 FIP) in 40.1 innings that featured lots of strikeouts (33.1%) and lots of walks (11.8%). The Yankees sent him to Double-A Trenton after the trade, where he threw 18 innings. All told, Feyereisen had a 1.52 ERA (2.76 FIP) in 34.0% strikeouts and 11.3% walks in 65 Double-A innings in 2016.

The Yankees sent Feyereisen to the Arizona Fall League after the season for a little extra work. He allowed five runs (four earned) with 18 strikeouts and seven walks in 14 innings for the Scottsdale Scorpions last fall.

Scouting Report
Feyereisen is built solidly at 6-foot-2 and 215 lbs., and after working at 89-91 mph as a starter in college, he now sits 94-96 mph as a reliever and even touched 100 mph in 2016, according to Baseball America. PitchFX data from the AzFL says Feyereisen averaged 95.3 mph and topped out at 96.8 mph during his 14-inning stint. (That was at the end of a long season and fatigue may have been a factor.)

A mid-80s slider is Feyereisen’s second pitch. Despite his strikeout rates, the slider is not a reliable put-away offering yet. He’s still working to gain consistency with the pitch. He also throws a changeup but very rarely uses it. Feyereisen was sent to the AzFL specifically so he could continue to work on his secondary pitches.

Feyereisen is a strong kid with a good delivery that has some herky-jerkiness to it. His control is just okay and his command is below average. Feyereisen is very much a “here’s the ball, try to hit it” guy with a big fastball at this point, and to his credit, he’s fearless on the mound and a hard-worker off it.

2017 Outlook
After spending a full season at Double-A and having plenty of success, an assignment to Triple-A Scranton is in the cards to begin the upcoming 2017 season. The Yankees are bringing Feyereisen to Spring Training as a non-roster player and that’s not in any way a surprise. A Triple-A reliever is a call-up candidate, so the team is giving Joe Girardi and his coaching staff a chance to get to know Feyereisen this spring. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason and it’s very possible he’ll make his MLB debut at some point this summer.

Miscellany
Relief prospects are unlike every other type of prospect out there. They put up ridiculous minor league numbers that make you believe they’re ready to be setup men and closers at the big league level, but the fact of the matter is most of them are airing it out for an inning at a time and dominating overmatched minor leaguers, many of whom won’t a) sniff the show, and b) face the pitcher again that series and have a chance to adjust. It’s hard to separate the stats from the potential, I know it is, but it’s necessary.

That isn’t to say Feyereisen isn’t a good prospect. He’s a solid relief prospect who will undoubtedly pitch in the big leagues at some point, perhaps as soon as this year, and I think he has a chance to carve out a nice career as a middle reliever. The velocity is great, but the lack of a reliable secondary pitch presently holds Feyereisen back from high-leverage work. Hopefully he improves his slider and proves me wrong. For now, I see a possible middle reliever who relies on his fastball, and considering he was the fourth piece in the trade, that’s a pretty nice return.

Prospect Profile: Nestor Cortes

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Nestor Cortes | LHP

Background

Cortes (22-years-old as of December 10) was born and raised in Hialeah, the sixth-largest city in the state of Florida. He attended Hialeah High School, which is at least semi-well-known for winning back-to-back state titles in baseball in 2001 and 2002, and for being the alma mater of former Yankee Bucky Dent, the knuckleballing Charlie Hough, and Gio Gonzalez (who transferred after his junior season). Cortes was no slouch in high school, and was named a Louisville Slugger Pre-Season High School All-American and a Florida All-Region 1st Teamer by Perfect Game USA heading into his senior year, and winning the Most Outstanding Player award in the prestigious Sunshine Classic a few months later.

The Yankees drafted Cortes in the 36th round (1094th overall) in the 2013 draft, and bought him out of a commitment to Florida International. The best player drafted at that position is probably Mark Johnson, who batted .232/.338/.402 (95 wRC+) over parts of seven seasons, amassing 1.4 fWAR along the way.

Pro Career

Cortes made his professional debut at the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League, and performed fairly well. He pitched to a 4.42 ERA (2.26 FIP) in 18.1 IP, allowing 22 hits and 5 walks while striking out 20. Cortes returned to the GCL in 2014, and improved across the board to the tune of 31.2 IP, 35 H, 5 BB, 38 K, and a 2.27 ERA (2.09 FIP). He appeared in just 21 games (five of which were starts) over those first two years, as the Yankees brought him along slowly.

It was in 2015 that Cortes first sprung into the consciousness of the more prospect-inclined Yankees fans, as he was borderline dominant in the Appalachian League. His 2.26 ERA was fourth among pitchers who tossed at least 30 IP, and his 63.2 IP were third in the league. He also racked up 9.3 K/9 against just 1.4 BB/9 and 6.8 H/9. As a result of his strong production, Cortes was named an Appalachian League All-Star after the season.

Cortes had what some would call a breakout season in 2016, splitting his season between Low-A and High-A, and making cameo appearances at Double-A and Triple-A. He made short work of the South Atlantic League, posting a 0.79 ERA (2.48 FIP) and 5.00 K/BB in 68.1 IP. The brilliance continued at High-A (albeit in just 28.0 IP), as he managed a 3.21 ERA (2.25 FIP) and 7.75 K/BB. All told, Cortes threw 108.1 innings of 1.53 ERA ball, with 4.79 K/BB.

Cortes also spent time in the Arizona Fall League in 2016, appearing in 6 games and throwing 7.2 IP. His 4.70 ERA and 7.04 BB/9 were ugly, but he struck out 10 batters in those innings, and didn’t allow a home run in the bandboxes and dryness of the desert.

Scouting Report

I won’t bury the lede here: Cortes is optimistically listed at 5’11” and 190 pounds. He is a solid, strong, and athletic 5’11” and 190 pounds – but it’s difficult for many to overlook his comparatively slight build.

Cortes works with a four-pitch arsenal, and is generally described as a ‘pitchability’ or ‘finesse’ southpaw as a result. His fastball sits in the upper-80s to low-90s range (reaching 93 at its best), and he has strong command of the offering. The difference between his fastball and his mid-70s change-up helps him pick up whiffs, as he does a good job of repeating his delivery and release point on both pitches. He also throws a low-to-mid 70s curve and a slider in the upper-70s.

It’s largely a command and control profile, but his fastball and change-up play up a bit due to the natural deception in his delivery. Cortes hides the ball well in his wind-up, which helps to alleviate the issues presented by his shorter frame. Preventing batters from picking up the ball for an additional split second or two mitigates the extra distance between his release point and home plate when compared to the average 6’2″ or 6’3″ starting pitcher.

2017 Outlook

Cortes will probably open the season back at High-A Tampa, though I wouldn’t be shocked if he was give a shot at Double-A; it may well depend on how he performs in the Spring. The Yankees willingness to bounce him to Double-A and Triple-A in times of need and his time in the Arizona Fall League may indicate that they’re going to be aggressive. Barring an injury or poor performance, he’ll end up at Double-A by the time the Summer roles around.

My Take

There have been some strange comparisons made with Cortes already, ranging from Manny Banuelos (both are short lefties, get it?) to Ramiro Mendoza (as he, too, bounced between starting and relieving – though Mendoza was a sinkerballer, and Cortes … isn’t). The truth is that Cortes is going to face an uphill battle finding success in the Majors, if only because the track record of success for pitchers of his build and stuff is minimal.

That being said, the Yankees are always in need of left-handed specialists, and prefer those that could handle righties in a pinch. Cortes’s deception should make him a nightmare to face for lefties, and his command and fringe-average stuff could help him be competent against opposite-handed hitters. The bullpen feels like his ultimate role, in short – but they should give him a chance to ply his trade against upper-level hitters nonetheless.

Prospect Profile: Jonathan Holder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Jonathan Holder | RHP

Background
Holder, now 23, is from Gulfport, Mississippi, where he earned several All-State Team selections at Gulfport High School as a two-way player. He hit .383/.455/.723 with eight home runs in 30 games as a senior while going 8-1 with a 1.36 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. Despite that performance, Baseball America did not rank Holder among the top 40 prospects from Mississippi or the top 200 prospects overall for the 2011 draft, and he went undrafted out of high school.

Holder instead followed through on his commitment to Mississippi State, where he took over as closer for the Bulldogs almost immediately. He started his college career with a 27.1-inning scoreless streak, longest in school history, and he finished the season with a 0.32 ERA in 28.1 innings. Holder struck out 30, walked five, and saved nine games. Not surprisingly, he was a Freshman All-American.

After the season, Holder suited up for the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod League. He had a 1.99 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 22.2 innings against basically the best college players in the country. The Cape is for the cream of the crop. The best of the best. Wareham won the league championship that year.

With Mississippi State the following year, his sophomore season, Holder threw 54.2 innings with a 1.65 ERA. He struck out 90, walked 17, and tied the SEC single-season record with 21 saves. Holder was a First Team All-American and a finalist for the Stopper of the Year award, which goes to the best reliever in college baseball each year. He struck out a dozen in 9.2 innings with Wareham after the season.

During his junior season Holder saved seven games with a 2.22 ERA in 52.2 innings. He struck out 71 and walked nine. All told, Holder had a 1.59 ERA with 191 strikeouts and 31 walks in 136 innings at Mississippi State. He and Jacob Lindgren formed the best setup man-closer tandem in college baseball in 2014. (Lindgren was the setup man, Holder the closer.)

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Holder as the 11th best prospect in Mississippi and the 286th best prospect overall for the 2014 draft. The Yankees selected him in the sixth round (182nd overall) and signed him quickly for a $170,000 bonus, below the $237,600 slot value.

Pro Career
Following the draft, Holder made a pair of quick tune-up appearances with the rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees before being moved up to Short Season Staten Island. All told, he had a 3.96 ERA (3.01 FIP) with 22.1% strikeouts and 8.4% walk in 36.1 total innings. Holder threw 89 innings between college and pro ball in 2014.

The Yankees, as they’ve been known to do with relief prospects, moved Holder into the rotation in 2015, his first full pro season. And he pitched really well too. In 118 total innings, almost all with High-A Tampa, Holder had a 2.52 ERA (2.85 FIP) with 18.7% strikeouts and 5.2% walks. It seemed like the conversion took, but alas.

Last season the Yankees moved Holder back to the bullpen full-time, and good golly, he destroyed the minors. He threw 65.1 innings while climbing from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton, and in those 65.1 innings he had a 1.65 ERA (1.30 FIP) with 42.4% strikeouts and 2.9% walks. In his final Triple-A outing, Holder struck out 12 of 13 batters faced as part of a four-inning save that clinched a postseason berth for the RailRiders.

That performance — not just the four-inning save with Triple-A Scranton, the entire season — earned Holder a September call-up. He allowed five runs in 8.1 innings with the Yankees, striking out five and walking four. Not the best big league debut, but that’s okay. Last season was an overwhelming success for Holder overall. No doubt about it.

Scouting Report
Big and physical at 6-foot-2 and 235 lbs., Holder is a three-pitch reliever. He sits 92-94 mph with his fastball and will touch 96 mph, and the pitch has a little sink too. His cutter typically hovers around 90 mph. Holder’s put-away pitch is a big breaking mid-to-upper-70s curveball. The separation between his fastball and curveball is pretty substantial. Here’s some video:

Holder also has a changeup left over from his days as a starter, though he doesn’t use it much in relief at all. He’s a fastball/cutter/curveball guy nowadays. Holder is a classic bulldog on the mound and an extreme strike-thrower. His fastball command is quite good as well. He likes to pitch up in the zone with his heater to get swings and misses.

The Yankees pulled the plug on Holder as a starter not because of the results, those were excellent, but because his stuff backed up big time. His fastball sat closer to 90 mph as a starter and he couldn’t hold that velocity into the middle innings. Some guys are just made for the bullpen. That’s Holder.

2017 Outlook
It’s not often I write a prospect profile about a guy who has already played in the big leagues. Holder debuted last September and he’ll come to Spring Training with a chance to win an Opening Day bullpen spot. In all likelihood, he’ll ride the shuttle all season and go back and forth between Scranton and the Bronx. That’s how pretty much every reliever breaks into the show.

My Take
I love Holder relative to his draft slot, though I’m not sold on him as a high-leverage reliever at the big league level. These days 92-94 mph is not overpowering velocity, and he’s a max effort guy who puts just about everything he has into his fastball to get to that velocity. Also, the curveball is good but not great. It’s not a David Robertson curveball, for example. That’s okay! Holder is a big league caliber reliever and hey, once upon a time I didn’t think Robertson could be a high-leverage guy, so don’t listen to me. Either way, we’re about to see a whole lot of Holder going forward.

Prospect Profile: Dustin Fowler

(The Times-Tribune)
(The Times-Tribune)

Dustin Fowler | OF

Background

The 22-year-old Fowler was born and raised in Cadwell, Georgia, a town with a population of under 500 during his formative years. He attended West Laurens High School a few miles down the road, where he split his time between baseball, wrestling, and football through his junior season. His high school career took off once he focused on the best sport of the three, and he won the All-Middle Georgia GHSA Baseball Player of the Year Award in his senior season. He batted .598 that year, with 8 home runs and 39 RBI.

Baseball America ranked Fowler as the 22nd best prospect from Georgia heading into the 2013 draft (a class headlined by Clint Frazier), though he did not crack the BA 500. The Yankees took him in the 18th round (554th overall), and gave him a well over-slot $278,000 signing bonus to buy him out of a commitment to Georgia State University.

Pro Career

Fowler kicked-off his professional career in the GCL, where he hit just .241/.274/.384 with zero homers and three steals in 117 PA (89 wRC+). He would then spend the entirety of an injury-abbreviated 2014 at Charleston, where he hit .257/.292/.459 with 9 HR and 3 SB in 272 PA (104 wRC+). The uptick power jumps off the page, as does the modest bump in OBP, thanks to Fowler’s walk rate jumping from 3.4% in 2013 to 4.8% in 2014.

Fowler broke out in 2015, batting .307/.340/.419 (114 wRC+ with 4 HR and 18 SB in 256 PA) in a return engagement with Charleston, and earning a promotion to High-A Tampa on June 22. His power sagged a bit in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, but he still batted .289/.328/.370 with a home run and 12 steals (111 wRC+) in 262 PA. His walk rate ticked up once at High-A, from 4.3% to 5.7%, which helped to mask the slip in power.

He earned a ticket to the Arizona Fall League after the 2015 season, and it was more of the same in the desert, as he slashed .279/.313/.410 with 2 HR and 7 SB in 65 PA. It’s an offense-happy environment, so his 96 wRC+ was actually a bit below-average, but he impressed nevertheless.

The 22-year-old’s ascent up the Yankees prospect list continued in 2016, as he performed admirably in a full season at Double-A. Fowler batted .281/.311/.458 for Trenton, with 12 HR and 25 SB (109 wRC+) in 574 PA, and drew praise for his continued refinement. His walk rate sagged dramatically, dipping to 3.8%, but it was mitigated a bit by his career-best 15.0% strikeout rate and well above-average .177 ISO.

All told, Fowler is a .279/.313/.429 hitter in 1,546 professional plate appearances.

Scouting Report

Most any report that you read on Fowler revolves around two things: his rawness, and his athleticism. The former is largely a product of his amateur career, as he was a three sport athlete for a few years, and played for a small school in a small division. And the latter is simply something that he oozes, with his 6’0″, 185-pound frame (he’s added about 15 pounds of muscle since signing with the Yankees) and well above-average to plus speed.

It isn’t just about athleticism for Fowler, though. He’s a left-handed hitter and thrower, with above-average to plus bat speed and the ability to barrel the ball anywhere in the strike zone. He also has average to above-average raw power, particularly to the pull side (hello, short porch), and he has been able to actualize that power in-game more often than many expected. Fowler’s approach at the plate may be best described as controlled aggression, and his ability to work the count remains his most glaring flaw as a prospect.

Defense is where Fowler truly shines, owing to his aforementioned speed and athleticism. He takes good routes in the outfield, accelerates quickly, and has the arm strength to stay in center long-term.

That speed and acceleration should make him an asset on the basepaths, as well. It has not as of yet, though, as he has been successful on just over 71% of his 95 career attempts, or right around the break-even mark. Fowler’s still just 22 (and a young 22, as his birthday was on December 29), so there is reason to hope that he’ll figure it out.

Baseball America ranked him ninth on the Yankees’ top-ten back in October, which says quite a bit given the team’s extraordinary farm system.

2017 Outlook

Fowler is set to open this coming season at Triple-A, where he’ll bounce between left and center. He’s not on the 40-man roster at this point, but he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next off-season, so this is an important year in his development. I expect to see him in Spring Training this season, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he spent a significant amount of time in the Majors this season (perhaps in some sort of carousel with Mason Williams and Jake Cave).

My Take

The walk rates are a red flag, as I worry that Fowler will be too easily exploited by pitchers who are more capable of painting the corners (as well as umpires who call more consistent strike zones). His tools are so obvious, though, and the praise is so universal that I hold out hope that he could be a league-average regular in center. There’s a great deal of work to be done, but he’s already at Triple-A, and it’s clear that the Yankees believe in him.

Prospect Profile: Jordan Montgomery

(Jason Farmer/Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Jason Farmer/Scranton Times-Tribune)

Jordan Montgomery | LHP

Background
Montgomery, who turned 24 last month, grew up in the relatively small town of Sumter, South Carolina, about 40 miles outside Columbia. He was a star at Sumter High School and was named 2011 Gatorade State Player of the Year after going 11-0 with a 0.38 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 74.1 innings as a senior. Montgomery tossed a seven-inning shutout in the state championship game that year.

Despite a stellar prep career, Baseball America did not rank Montgomery among their overall top 200 prospects or even their top 40 prospects in South Carolina prior to the 2011 draft. He went undrafted that year and instead followed through on his commitment to the University of South Carolina, where stepped right into the rotation and was teammates with former Yankees farmhand Tyler Webb.

As a first year player in 2012, Montgomery pitched to a 3.62 ERA in 74.2 innings spread across 13 starts and two relief appearances. He struck out 57 batters and walked only ten. That earned him a spot on the Freshman All-American Team. Montgomery threw eight scoreless innings against Arkansas to help put South Carolina in the College World Series Finals, where they lost to Rob Refsnyder‘s Arizona Wildcats.

The following season Montgomery emerged as the staff ace by throwing 79 innings of 1.48 ERA ball. He struck out 64 and walked 18. The Gamecocks did not advance to the College World Series in 2013, but Montgomery did keep their season temporarily alive by shutting out North Carolina in the Super Regionals. He allowed four hits in the game. Montgomery was named Gamecocks MVP and to the SEC Academic Honor Roll.

As a junior in 2014, Montgomery threw a collegiate career high 100 innings with a 3.42 ERA while striking out 95 and walking 29. He was again named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll. Baseball America ranked Montgomery as the fourth best 2014 draft prospect in South Carolina and the 120th best prospect in the draft class overall. The Yankees selected him in the fourth round (122nd overall) and signed him quickly for a full slot $424,000 bonus.

Pro Career
The Yankees took it easy on Montgomery after the draft and limited him to only 19 innings in his pro debut. He had a 3.79 ERA (2.30 FIP) with 20 strikeouts and six walks in those 19 innings split between the rookie Gulf Coast League and Short Season Staten Island. All told, Montgomery threw 119 innings in 2014.

The following season the Yankees assigned Montgomery to Low-A Charleston, but that didn’t last very long. He was promoted to High-A Tampa after only nine starts, and he remained with Tampa the rest of the season. Montgomery had a combined 2.95 ERA (2.61 FIP) with 24.1% strikeouts and 6.6% walks in 134.1 innings at the two levels in 2015.

This past season Montgomery started at Double-A Trenton, where he remained most of the summer. It wasn’t until early August that he was bumped up to Triple-A Scranton. He finished the year with a 2.19 ERA (2.91 FIP) with 22.7% strikeouts and 7.7% walks in 152 total innings. Montgomery set a RailRiders’ record with a 29.2-inning scoreless streak, and he got the win in the Triple-A Championship Game over El Paso (Padres).

Scouting Report
Montgomery is a big dude at 6-foot-6 and 225 lbs., and he’s been gradually adding velocity over the years. He sat in the mid-80s in high school, got up to 88-90 mph for most of his college career, then lived in the 90-92 mph range in pro ball in 2015. Last year his velocity climbed again, this time into the 93-95 mph range, and he held that velocity all season and deep into starts. How about that?

That 93-95 mph fastball is Montgomery’s straight four-seamer. He also throws a sinker that is more of a low-90s offering, as well as a cutter right around 90 mph. His best pitch is a sinking changeup in the low-80s. Montgomery also has a quality curveball, so he’s a true five-pitch pitcher. As you’ll see in this video, he throws from an extreme over-the-top arm slot:

Montgomery is a good athlete and he repeats his delivery very well for someone his size. He has no problem filling the strike zone and the guy never misses a start. He’s been healthy all throughout his amateur and pro career. The Yankees love that Montgomery has thrived in pressure games — SEC baseball is incredibly competitive — and that he’s a very diligent worker.

2017 Outlook
The Yankees will surely bring Montgomery to big league camp as a non-roster invitee this spring, and while I would bet against him winning an Opening Day roster spot, it’s all but guaranteed he’ll make his MLB debut at some point this summer. Montgomery will return to Triple-A for the time being and continue to fine tune things until his time comes. It’s important to note he is not on the 40-man roster yet, which could work against him. Others like Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera could get the call first.

Miscellany
I don’t mean this as a slight, but I didn’t think too much of Montgomery when he was first drafted. I thought maybe he could be a left-handed version of Adam Warren, a successful big program college starter who finds success as a big league swingman, but since then Montgomery has added a cutter and gained considerable velocity, improving his long-term outlook dramatically. He’s gone from swingman candidate to no-doubt starter in his two full pro seasons. It’s hard not to love that.

The only real concern I have about Montgomery is his arm slot, and whether it’ll lead to a big platoon split because right-handed hitters get a good look at the ball. Right-hander Josh Collmenter has a similar arm slot and lefties have hit him pretty hard over the years. Montgomery was actually more effective against righties than lefties in the minors this year, though I wouldn’t read too much into that. We’ll just have to see how his arm slot plays in the show when the time comes. For now, Montgomery is a near MLB ready workhorse southpaw, and good gravy do the Yankees need one of those.