I seem to be in a tropical storm frame of mind these days (probably has something to do with the view out my window), so for today’s Prospects’ Progress I decided to pull two names from rain out capital of the farm system. That’s right, we’re going to Daytona. Bring an umbrella.
If you were a regular reader of our Minor League Daily Reports during the season, at least one of these names should be quite familiar to you. The other one is a trade acquisition that you have probably forgotten about altogether. Both are interesting players, though, and both could be in the majors sooner than we might expect for a guy who spent the season dodging rain drops in Florida.
To recap, Prospects’ Progress is regular series that considers a couple of players from the Cubs’ farm system and looks at how they progressed during the 2012 season. It is not a top prospects list or a ranking system; I’ll get to those things later in the winter.
John Andreoli, OF
I don’t think Andreoli was on anyone’s radar coming to the seasn. The Cubs drafted in him out of Connecticut in the 17th round in 2011, but his selection made little more than a ripple in a draft class full of much bigger splashes. He made it to Peoria for eight games that season and finished with a 2011 minor league OPS of .440. Given that lackluster (and brief) appearance, I don’t think it is any surprise that virtually no one gave him much thought as the 2012 season began.
And then the Cubs sent him straight to Daytona. That is a challenging assignment for a guy just entering his first full season a professional, but Andreoli handled it easily. Encouraging news, but is he a legitimate prospect?
He just might be. We are likely another year or so from knowing for sure, but so far I like what I see.
Andreoli, who turned 22 in June, finished a full season in the pitching friendly Florida State League with a line of .289/.402/.376. In 496 trips to the plate he walked 75 times and struck out 89 times. Those numbers are good for a walk rate of 15.1%. That is crazy high, particularly for a player in the FSL. Clearly this is a guy who understands the strike zone and is willing to take pitches to get on base.
He was pretty good once he got on base as well. His 55 steals led the league by a wide margin, and they came with some room for improvement. He was caught 20 times (also tops in the league). At this point in his career it reasonable to think his success on the base paths will only improve as he refines his leads, reads, and gains more experience. If Andreoli reaches the majors, it is not hard to imagine him stealing 40+ bases on a regular basis. And with that nice OBP and gaudy walk rate, it is not hard to imagine him reaching the majors.
The downside is his power. As in, he has none. A SLG of .376 is nothing to write home about even for the FSL (he ranked 67th). I suspect he has more power than showed up this season (after all, he is 6’1″, 215 lbs), but I don’t think long balls are ever going to be a big part of his game. If he can produce just enough to force opposing outfielders to play him honestly, I’ll be content.
Due to their similar backgrounds, levels, and numbers, the comparison of Andreoli to Matt Szczur is all but inevitable. However, I think the better comparison might be Tony Campana. Andreoli reached Daytona at a younger age than Campana, posted a much better OBP (.402 vs .335) and finished with the same number of steals (although Campana did wrack up his steals in somewhat fewer games). Andreoli might… might, I say… turn out to be a bigger, stronger, more patient version of Campana. A career line of .270/.350/.400 with 40+ steals a season seems like a very real possibility with this guy on the high side. That’s not a bad thing at all.
But first Andreoli has to prove he can produce at Double A. Tennessee is his next destination, and we will be watching to see if he can continue to get on base at an elevated rate. I think the move to the Southern League should help his power totals as well, if only slightly. I expect that Andreoli will be featured at the top of the Smokies’ lineup for much of 2013, and I think he will do quite well there. A September call up in 2013 is probably too aggressive, but I would not be surprised to see him in Chicago sometime in the second half of 2014.
A.J. Morris, RHP
Morris was the other guy who came back to the Cubs along with Michael Burgess in the Tom Gorzelanny trade. His inclusion was somewhat unusual in that he had already been effectively shut down for the 2011 season due to an arm surgery. Rumors suggested that the Cubs, still under Hendry at the time, were impressed enough with what they had seen before that injury that they insisted on his inclusion regardless of his health. So Morris became a Cub.
One year later, he finally took to the diamond in a Cubs’ uniform… a Daytona Cubs’ uniform. At age 25 he was one of the oldest pitchers in the Florida State League, but that does not matter much in the case of pitchers rehabbing from surgery. All we really needed to see in the 2012 season was a healthy pitcher. Success would have been nice as well, but the primary goal was health. Could Morris prove that he is still capable of pitching regularly out of the bullpen for the Cubs one day?
Not only did he show he could, he might have put himself on a fast track to the majors. In 52+ innings pitched for Daytona, Morris gave up 36 hits, 15 walks, and 1 home run. Florida State League hitters batted just .189 off him with fairly even splits between left and right handed hitters. Most remarkably, his GO/AO was a stunning 2.00. On top of all that, he was getting better as the season progressed. Hitters were not adapting to Morris; Morris was improving as he regained his feel for pitching.
Very good ground ball pitchers who do not walk many batters tend to do quite well as major league relievers. That description fits A.J. Morris perfectly. On paper he looks like exactly the sort of guy you want coming out of the bullpen with runners on the corners and one out in the seventh inning of a one run game. He is not ready for the majors quite yet, but he may not be far away.
Look for Morris to travel up to Tennessee next season. He will have a harder time repeating those fantastic walk and GO/AO numbers in the Double A Southern League, but, if he can do it consistently through the first half of the season, do not be surprised if he is moved to Iowa. And if he continues to throw strikes and earn plenty of ground ball outs at the highest level of the minors, don’t be surprised if he is in the Chicago bullpen in September.
2013 is a key year for Morris. We know he is healthy and that he can dominate younger levels of the minors. Now we need to see how he measures up against the best prospects in game. If he does well, he could be a fairly cheap option for the middle of the Cubs pen sooner rather than later. On the other hand, there are plenty of teams in baseball who could be interested in acquiring a guy like Morris. The Cubs have a lot of potential bullpen arms coming up behind him. I would not be surprised to see the Cubs include Morris in a deal for some upgrades at other positions this winter.