One of the best parts of covering a minor league system is finding and highlighting breakout players as they are breaking out. Likewise, one of the toughest parts of the job is identifying those breakout players before that break out arrives. Every system has a few of those players every year, and all too often it is the players we aren’t expecting who put together that surprisingly good seasons. Still, there are things we can look for that indicate breakout candidates. For today’s Prospects’ Progress we will take a look at two players that are very high on my list of 2013 potentials.
The Top Prospects List season is underway, and mine is in the works. It is coming, but this isn’t it. This series does not rank anything; it takes a hard look at players in the system and how they improved (or didn’t) in the 2012 season.
Zeke DeVoss, 2B
The Cubs took DeVoss in the third round in 2011, and he did not disappoint in his professional debut. Assigned to Short-Season A Boise, the infielder spent nearly half his time on the bases as he put up the improbable line of .311/.458/.386. His 14 steals in 38 games were pretty good too. All he needed to do in 2012 was show that his 2011 was no fluke.
It is hard to call a .382 season OBP disappointing, but in the case of DeVoss it almost is. The problem isn’t the OBP, the problem is that OBP is his only standout statistic. His season line of .249/.382/.370 is more contradictory than strong, and it is a contradiction that extends through the rest of his numbers.
On the good side, he walked at the extremely impressive rate of 14.1%. He also struck out 20.3% of the time. That is just too high for a guy who slugged .370. He stole 35 bases, but he did it in 51 tries. That is not a great success rate. He showed a fair bit of pop by smacking six homers and seven triples, but again, he only slugged .370. We don’t expect a lot of power out of a second baseman, but when a guy like Logan Watkins, who is only 11 months older, is slugging .422 in Double A, I think it is fair to be unimpressed by DeVoss’s power.
That said, I’m not down on this guy. A 14.1% walk rate is impressive. This is a guy who clearly understands the strike zone and that is something a player can build on.
The ingredients are here for a breakout 2013 campaign. We know he can command the strike zone, has enough speed to take advantage of his time on the bases, and has just enough power to take advantage of his speed. This past August we got a glimpse of what DeVoss can do when he puts it altogether. Over 26 games in August he posted the line of .323/.446/.495 with three triples, two home runs, and six stolen bases. I don’t expect that kind of production over a full season, but I would not be surprised if he came closer to that performance than his 2012 season average.
Long term, DeVoss has his work cut out for him. He is a quality second base prospect, but he is only the fifth best at that position in the farm system (at best), and the major league job is held by a Gold Glove winner. Prospects don’t have a much tougher road to the majors than that. I think DeVoss could move into center field if it became necessary, but he would not exactly top the charts at that position either. Still, the combination of plate discipline and speed set him up nicely for some success. If he can build on those tools to fashion a break out 2013 first half, he could be an attractive sweetener in some mid-season trades.
Austin Reed, RHP
This is not the first time I’ve predicted a breakout season for Austin Reed. In February of 2012, as Reed was coming off a rough 2011 campaign that featured a 6.08 ERA and a SO/BB of 1.44 in Boise, I commented during a phone call with Brett that I thought Reed was going to have a very good 2012. My reasoning then, and my reasoning now, centers on his GO/AO of 2.33 with Boise in 2011. That’s fantastic. But could he keep it up?
The Cubs sent Reed to Peoria for the 2012 campaign, and they also moved him out of the rotation and converted him into a full time reliever. Reed responded with a 3.65 ERA, a 1.61 GO/AO, and a 2.04 K/BB. Those are good numbers, but they are not quite what I was expecting. On paper this guy looks like a very good ground ball pitcher who has the ability to reach back for a strikeout when he needs it. The repertoire needed to produce that result should put him well on his way to minor league dominance, and so far that has eluded him.
That said, he really did have a good 2012. He raised his K/9 to 7.2 from 5.1, cut his H/9 to 9.8 (still high for my taste) from 11.6, and pitched 11.2 innings in July without giving up a single earned run. Everywhere I look I see progress and potential and indications that this guy could surge up the charts Whitenack-style next season.
I very much hope that Reed is returned to the starting rotation. Ground ball pitchers are valuable anywhere, but a starter is typically more valuable than a reliever, and I think Reed has a ceiling that is worth maximizing. I would not put Reed on any Top Prospects list right now, but he definitely a name to watch closely throughout the 2013 campaign.
Despite my hopes, it is too early to say whether his eventual home lies in the rotation or in the bullpen. Regardless of his final job description, if Reed develops like I think he can, he will be in the majors one day.