Under-The-Radar Prospects in the AL East

Posted: February 18, 2014 in by Freddy Berowski

The American League East has been a power house over the last decade plus, with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, all in the mix for Post Season berths. The Orioles, whose core of Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Manny Machado, were all built through the farm system, as were the Rays core of Longoria, Price and Moore. The Yankees have taken the opposite approach and are largely built around hired guns, whereas the Red Sox have employed a combination. The Jays right now, are in a state of flux, not knowing which way they are going, having traded away some of their best prospects in recent years in an attempt to win now.

One of the diamonds in the rough in the Jays system is first baseman L.B. Dantzler. Drafted in the 14th round of the 2013 draft, the 22-year-old exceeded expectations last year, posting a .302/.385/.504 slash line in 269 plate appearances split between Rookie League and Low-A. A pull hitter, Dantzler’s power rates a 60+ on the 20/80 scale. Dantzler is a converted third baseman and can field the position well. His compact frame gives him good lateral movement. Despite the fact that he strikes out a lot, he still gets on base at a good clip and can hit for average and power. 2014 is an interesting season for Dantzler. If he replicates what he did last year at High-A and Double-A, he will immediately become a player everyone will be watching in the Jays’ system.

With Derek Jeter announcing his retirement effective the end of 2014, one of the things that many fans are left wondering, is who the Yankees have coming up through the system to replace him. The Yankees do not have a top- 10 shortstop prospect, so it is likely, at least in the short term, that the Yankees will look outside the system to fill the hole next off-season. Other than Jeter, every starting position this year will be filled by someone who was developed outside the system (with the possible exception of Brett Gardner if he wins a starting job). This is a far cry from the formula that won them four of five World Series titles in the late 90s. At shortstop, 2013 fourth round draft pick Tyler Wade is a name to keep an eye on. At only 18 years of age, Wade is at least three years away from sniffing the big leagues. He hit well in rookie ball and showed good speed, but struggled a little bit in a brief stint at Low-A Staten Island. Wade profiles well as a top of the line-up hitter, with speed, and is a sleeper to keep an eye on, especially playing in New York.

Red Sox hurler Simon Mercedes has what one scout describes as “a real arm”. The 22-year-old Dominican hurler signed with the Sox in 2012 and pitched in one game. He spend the entire 2013 campaign throwing mostly in relief for low-A Lowell. He excelled against NY-Penn League hitters striking out nearly a batter an inning. A two pitch pitcher, with a plus fastball that hovers in the mid-90s, and plus curveball, the 6’4” 220 pounder has the tools needed to succeed in the big league bullpen. Look for him to begin at High-A in 2014 with a chance to reach Triple-A by the end of the season. I project Mercedes to be an impact arm in the back of the Sox bullpen and could be ready to see big league competition by late 2015.

Acquired by the Rays in the Wil Myers- James Shields trade, very little was known about Leonard in prospecting circles at the time. After the trade, Rays fans knew more than most. Drafted out of high school in 2011 by the Royals, Leonard struggled in his first season in the Rays franchise last year. He runs well for a big guy, and fields first base well. He has a nice fluid swing and can hammer fastballs. The big question is how he handles breaking pitches and that is what he struggled with in 2013. At only 21 years old, he still has a year or two to work out those kinks. If he can learn to at least handle breaking pitches (maybe not drive them but at least handle them), he could profile as a solid, second division, big league regular or right handed part of a platoon.

The Orioles took Stephen Tarpley in the third round of the 2013 draft out of Scottsdale Community College. Previously drafted out of high-school in the 11th round by the Indians, Tarpley chose college over the Tribe. Tarpley stands 6’1” and is a lean 180 pounds and throws three plus pitches with good command- a fastball, slider and change-up. As he works his way up the system over the next few years and continues to refine his pitchers, he will open more and more eyes. He has the ability to strike out a batter and inning and has good enough control to not walk a lot of guys. I think Tarpley will end up earning a call to the big leagues sometime in 2016, and should be a solid middle of the rotation pitcher for the Orioles for some time.

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