For every prospect in a system who successfully makes the majors, many others never get there. Even prospects with a great pedigree have a high chance of failing to reach to major leagues. We conclude our weekly series on prospect prognostication by examining four players that we believe will fail to live up to expectations this year.
Kyle Kubitza, Third Baseman
I hate to identify Kubitza as a potential bust this season, because I really do appreciate his solid defense, ability to walk, and power. Kubitza, the Braves’ 3rd round draft pick, had a very promising 2013 campaign at Lynchburg, posting a .260/.380/.434 line to the tune of a 130 wRC+. Now, granted, Kubitza was old for the level at which he played as a 23-year-old in high-A ball, but he certainly merited praise considering his strong offensive and defensive performances.
So, why am I identifying Kubitza as a potential bust candidate this season? Kubitza’s strikeout rate was a rather dreadful 25% in high A ball in 2013, which isn’t something that portends well for his ability to make contact in the future, especially considering his age. Making the step up to AA pitching, in my opinion, will likely but augment Kubitza’s contact problems and decrease his value as a prospect in the upcoming season. His hands have a bit of a hitch during his trigger that makes it tough for him to quickly take his hands toward the ball and adjust, and he also seems to have issues with staying balanced during his swing, which are the main factors that lead to his strikeout problems, in my opinion.
I would certainly love to be proven wrong, as there is a lot to like about Kubitza’s power from the left side at the plate, as well as his defensive abilities at the hot corner. He must make adjustments in 2014 as he climbs up the organizational ladder and show that he can cut down on his propensity for striking out without greatly sacrificing his ability to draw walks in order not to take a step back as a prospect this coming season. If the contact problems remain in 2014 and beyond, as I expect them to, Kubitza’s talents could never come to fruition at the major league level.
- Ian Morris
Aaron Northcraft, Right-Handed Starting Pitcher
Aaron Northcraft threw 137 innings in Double-A Mississippi, followed up with 18 innings for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the AFL this fall. Pitching in his age 23 season, is performance was pretty much league average across the board.
However, my concerns with Northcraft lie with his ability to get hitters out as he advances levels because of his fringe stuff. Labeled as a command/control pitcher, I fear he won’t bring enough to the table command wise to allow his low 90’s sinker and sweeping slider to miss enough bats. In a couple starts I watched (via MiLB.tv) this past summer, as well as one of his AFL starts, I walked away unimpressed with his ability to command the strike zone. Even giving his disastrous AFL start a pass, I don’t see him projecting into a major league caliber starter.
Another issue that Ethan brought up in the prospect rankings is the ability for LHB to see the ball quite well out of his hand, with contact rates to support this. In his minor league career, he’s posted a 1.09 K/BB (absolutely terrible) v. LHB compared to a 4.66 v. RHB. We’ve seen guys like Sean Gilmartin fall into the trap of being too hittable, stunting their growth in Triple-A, so this season will be a huge test for Northcraft in Gwinnett. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’ll pass.
- Andrew Sisson
Juan Jaime, Right-Handed Relief Pitcher
In many ways, Jaime’s 2013 season was successful. Playing in the Southern League, the big right-hander struck out 70 batters in 42 innings of work, limiting opponents to a paltry .201 batting average while allowing only one home run all season. He also flashed a swing-and-miss fastball in the Arizona Fall League against some of the stiffest competition in all of minor league baseball, whiffing 15 batters in just over 10 innings of work.
The knock on Jaime, however, continues to be the horrid command and control. While he possesses preternatural arm strength and max-effort mechanics that allow him to pump it in the upper-90s and touch triple digits, the 26-year-old Dominican struggles to throw strikes, displaying a walk rate approaching 15 percent in the Southern League and allowing free passes to seven batters in merely 10.1 innings of work in the AFL. Coupled with what has been hyperbolically described as one of the worst breaking pitches in the upper minors, Jaime’s control issues do not bode well for his major-league future.
The strength of his right arm will continue to keep him around in the minors, but at 26 years old, Jaime doesn’t have much time left to figure things out. In my mind, Jaime ends up as the pitcher version of a Quad-A slugger, one who can throw high-octane gas but never learns how to truly harness his stuff.
- Ethan Purser
Edward Salcedo, Third Baseman
It pains me to list Salcedo here, it really does. I've always been a big believer in his set of tools, but there comes a time where prospects have to start translating tools into skills, and so far Salcedo hasn't done that. Salcedo has an impressive collection of tools, but his calling card has always been his raw power; he possesses as high a power ceiling as anyone else in the system. The problem is that he can't make enough contact to utilize it.
An inability to make consistent contact dooms more power-hitting prospects than anything else (see: Johnson, Cody). So far in his professional career, this has been the case with Salcedo, who hasn't been selective enough with breaking stuff. Put bluntly, he can't hit it. He also can't lay off it particularly well, which makes a rough 1-2 punch. If pitchers know you can't resist a breaking ball, and that you can't hit it very well, they sure as hell aren't gonna give you many fastballs.
The final nail in his coffin is that plate discipline is one of the hardest things to teach a hitter. This isn't to say he can't learn it, just that the odds are stacked against him. Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope: Salcedo is still young, and has been pushed aggressively. He still has a chance to figure things out. Unfortunately, the chances of that aren't very promising.
- Daniel Simpson