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LL’s Mid-Season 2019 Top Prospects Update: Tier Four (pink)

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Pink is the color of our questions, it turns out

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed it: with new additions to the farm system and some improvements to familiar faces, we decided the All-Star Break was a good time to re-evaluate the farm system rankings we did back in the off-season. Read all about our methodology in the introduction to this series, and catch up with any other articles in the series you might have missed in the main article hub.

We’re going to set aside Tier Six (orange), also known as The Field, for now, as that’s the largest body and we want to take the most time on it. Today we examine what we’ve labeled Tier Four (pink tier in the spreadsheet). If you missed Tier Five, you can find that here. For those of you more used to a traditional Top 30 list, these are players who would be in the back third of that list, approximately. To be broad: these are players whom we like, but also question: either we haven’t seen them enough; or we have and feel they have a major adjustment to make to catapult themselves into Top Prospect status; or they have recently made that adjustment and now we’re curious to see if it will stick.

The Arms:

RHP Isaiah Campbell - AZL (Reserve list), 21y, 11m

We haven’t, and won’t, see Campbell pitch this year, but he still comes with a lengthy CV thanks to a deep College World Series run with Arkansas. Campbell might well be better than a back-of-the-rotation starter, and it’s a good bet that he is, but the stuff on paper isn’t overwhelming, so we’re playing it safe until we see him throw some pro pitches. It’s worth noting that Campbell, who has professed a love for science and data, might take off in the Mariners’ analytically-minded system, especially with getting to spend extra time at data central in Peoria. -KP

Erik Swanson - AAA, 25y, 10m

The “middle” piece in the James Paxton return has had a difficult time adjusting to the West Coast. The PCL has proven a challenge for Swanson, though the same can be said for most pitchers, this year in particular. In his work with the big league squad he’s shown strike-throwing skills and good velocity, but struggled to put hitters away or miss bats. A hamstring injury has had him on the shelf recently, but the sooner he returns the more he can work to find a pitch that can pair with his excellent fastball. There’s still an innings-eating machine in there, but the trial run showed the flaws more than the feature, and we have adjusted his place in the system accordingly, as a back-end starter, until he shows otherwise. ~JT

Juan Then - A- , 19y, 5m

When Juan Then departed the system back in 2017 in the Nick Rumbelow trade (heavy sigh), he was little more than a teenager with an easily-punnable name, good numbers in the DSL, and a dream. This time his balance on the scales was a household name in Edwin Encarnacion, a tribute to the improvements Then has made in his time in pinstripes. We haven’t been able to fix our eyes upon him yet but Then has come out strong in the NWL, striking out over 30% of batters while walking just 5%. There’s a strong possibility Then jumps a tier or even two in our next assessment of the farm system as he continues to pack weight on to his wiry 6’1 frame. The puns, we are sad to report, show no sign of abating. -KP

Ljay Newsome - A+, 22y, 8m

Perhaps there was no bigger beneficiary of Gas Camp than Ljay Newsome, who struggled last year in A+ after dominating the Midwest League. He returned to the level this year with a few extra ticks of velocity plus his trademark pinpoint command, and as a result is currently leading all of MiLB in strikeouts. He’s fresh off a career-first complete game effort, and a spot start in Triple-A in which he struck out ten in 5.2 IP suggests he might be able to translate this to the upper minors. We’ll know more once he gets an (overdue) promotion to AA. -KP

The Bats:

Infielders

Joe Rizzo - A+, 21y 3m

What to do with a bat-first prospect who doesn’t hit? That was the worry with Joe Rizzo the past couple years, as the 2nd round pick from 2016 struggled to set himself apart in Low-A Clinton or his first crack at Modesto. Still quite young, he’s looked vastly improved at the plate in his third full pro season. Rizzo has a true spray tendency, helping him to his .301/.361/.447 line. His hands are quiet and he consistently takes the pitch where it’s pitched.

MiLB

The drawback to this approach is it caps the diminutive Rizzo’s power. The 5’9 Rizzo has added some strength and his ISO reflects it, but it’s a high-wire act to be a defensively limited player without much pop. Rizzo’s spent most of his time at 3B, with some work at 2B and 1B sprinkled in. His effort to improve is top-notch, taking extra work at new positions to try and make it work, but scouts are fearful of his arm at 3rd and his footwork at 2nd. If he keeps hitting like he is he’ll find a spot, but that’s a lot of pressure on his bat already. ~JT

Outfielders

Braden Bishop - AAA, 25y, 10m

Put opposing pitchers on an ice floe and tell them the only way home is to stop hitting Braden Bishop. A swing change in 2017 led to an improved profile for the defensively gifted speedster. 2018 showed more of the same, with solid numbers in AA trending towards an AAA call-up. An errant fastball to the hand ended those hopes about one year ago, and despite a rocky first 24 PAs, Bishop would be playing full-time right now were it not for a lacerated spleen suffered from another HBP. With no timetable for return yet and a few OF prospects nipping at his heels, Bishop is sidelined during what should be a time for him to sink or swim on the field. When healthy, Bish remains at least a 4th OF with starter potential depending on his bat. ~JT

Dom Thompson-Williams - AA (Arkansas), 24y, 2m

At the outset of the season this could’ve been where both Jake Fraley and DTW fit in. Fast forward three and a half months and Fraley has continued clobbering while Thompson-Williams has stagnated a bit. He’s not been a mess, but the breakout 2018 has merely led to a middling first crack at Double-A. Many lefties succeed in Dickey-Stephens Park where their righty counterparts fail, but DTW has actually hit more oppo than to his pull side. Spray is all well and good, but it seems to be coming at the expense of quality pow pow. Still, a hot second half should get DTW to Tacoma, and with his speed and respectable defense at three OF spots, he’s still got time to make an impact in the bigs. ~JT

Fringy inclusions:

We mentioned yesterday that Ljay Newsome is a bit of a stretch for this tier based on staff votes, but his dominance of the California League, peppered with a successful spot appearance at Triple-A, makes it hard to keep him out. It’s arguable he could move up even further by the end of the year if he gets a good, successful run in AA, but we’re being cautious.

Fringy exclusions:

If Sam Carlson was just a little further along in his rehab, he’d show up here as an opening salvo. As it is, we will continue to anxiously anticipate the Golden Gopher’s pro debut. As we mentioned yesterday, Ricardo Sanchez and Sam Delaplane were narrowly rounded down but wouldn’t be amiss among this group. While Noelvi Marte—another case of being held down solely by unfamiliarity—was the nearest cutoff to this group on the higher end, Kyle Lewis collected an alarming amount of votes to wind up in this tier. We want to believe, but the groundball rate is making it hard.