The Verdict on Two Breakout Prospects: Thompson and Musgrove
As part of our never ending quest to identify top prospects before our leaguemates, here are a couple of starting pitchers that you may want to put in your offseason acquisition plans. The first one is a guy you have probably heard of. His stock has been up and down but is way up in some circles right now. The other guy is a target for those of you who play in deeper leagues, but he also has the potential to be a shallow league target in the near future.
Jake Thompson, SP, Phillies
Everyone agrees that Thompson is a good prospect, but there is quite a bit of disagreement on just how good he can be. Some people see a good middle-of-the-rotation starter. Some see an elite high-leverage reliever or closer. Some scouts are even starting to project him as a possible ace starter. Judging by the mid-season prospect lists from all the major websites, Thompson is ranked in the 40-50 range of overall prospects, which is exactly where he was prior to the season. But some intriguing recent reports have mentioned Thompson as one of the best five pitchers in the minors. Hmmm, let’s take a closer look…
Thompson was selected in the 2nd round by the Tigers in the 2012 draft. He was traded mid-season last year to the Rangers for Joakim Soria. Thompson was traded again this year, this time to the Phillies as part of the Cole Hamels deal. Since moving to the Phillies’ AA squad in Reading his surface numbers have been great, and that could be why his recent reports have been so glowing. If you look deeper at his peripherals though they aren’t quite as awe-inspiring.
In the first half of this year prior to the Hamels trade, Thompson put up a 4.72 ERA with 78 strikeouts and 30 walks in 87.2 innings at AA Frisco for the Rangers. The ERA was bad but the strikeouts and walks were pretty good if not great. Those are solid ratios for a 21 year old in the upper minors. After the trade Thompson has put up a gaudy 1.80 ERA in 45 innings for Reading. That looks spectacular, but his 34:12 strikeout to walk ratio is the same as his ratio for Frisco. A cynic would say that his lucky .256 BABIP and 88.2% Strand Rate are the reasons why his post-trade ERA looks so good. On the flip side, his .330 BABIP and 66.0% Strand Rate pre-trade were major reasons why his ERA was high at Frisco. So while it might seem that Thompson has taken a major step forward statistically in the last 6 weeks, actually he hasn’t.
Thompson has a slightly plus fastball, a plus sinker and a plus slider, but still needs to develop a decent changeup. His stuff is widely considered electric. He has great size (6’4″, 235 pounds) and an ideal pitcher’s frame. His fluid mechanics are unusually refined for a player of his age and size. He gets good downward plane on his deliveries. Watching him pitch, you can see why scouts project him so highly despite his rather ordinary statistical profile. Thompson is a “don’t scout the stat line” type of pitcher. His control still wavers and he has yet to put up elite strikeout totals, but I think he will improve his stats as he gains experience and hones his craft. His ceiling is high.
Thompson is nearly ready for the big leagues and his opportunity could come soon. The Phillies certainly do not have a boatload of good starting pitchers blocking his path into their major league rotation. He is likely to reach the major leagues early next season despite his youth and lack of AAA experience. His sketchy control could lead to some unpleasant outings early in his career, but his long-term outlook is very bright. Thompson is likely to get quite a bit of attention as a sleeper fantasy pick this offseason. I think his current perceived value in the fantasy community lags behind his true value at the moment, but that is likely to change quickly this winter as he starts to receive a lot more hype. If you can acquire him now or as soon as trading re-opens in your league I would advise making a move to obtain him for your team. His purchase price is only going to grow the longer you wait. Verdict: I have him ranked at #43 on my personal top 150 prospects list. I recently bumped him up 10 slots. Even though he is likely to reach the majors very soon, I view him as more of a “long view” option in terms of him being ready to actually be inserted into fantasy starting lineups. I expect him to struggle at first before eventually becoming a very good fantasy starting pitcher. If you can afford to stash him on your major league bench for a while before actually using him then I recommend you acquire him now while the price is low.
Joe Musgrove, SP, Astros
Musgrove is the definition of a true breakout prospect in that he is a guy that was completely off the radar before this season. He hasn’t exploded onto the prospect charts just yet but he is on the verge. He was a supplemental 1st round pick way back in 2011 by the Blue Jays and was traded to the Astros the following year. Prior to this season Musgrove had gotten very little attention, mostly because he had thrown very few innings in his first four minor league seasons. He has been held back in instructs and rookie levels until finally getting a shot at full-season ball this year. That is why he has never been on a top prospect list before.
In his limited stints in the lowest levels of the minors, Musgrove consistently delivered very high strikeout rates and extremely low walk rates. Musgrove started this year in low A ball and was quickly promoted to high A ball. He started some games and relieved in some games. His strikeout rates were good and his walk rates were fantastic. At mid-season he was promoted to AA Corpus Christie, now as a full-time starter. His strikeout rate dipped a little but he still refused to walk anyone. Often we see pitchers’ walk rates spike when they reach Double A where they start to face much more skilled hitters with advanced pitch recognition and plate discipline. Musgrove didn’t skip a beat.
Across those three levels this year, Musgrove has delivered a 1.88 ERA with 99 strikeouts and only 8 walks in 100 innings. That means he put up 9.0 K/9 and 12.3 K/BB ratios! Great numbers for a 22 year old in his first campaign at the full-season levels, including 8 games at AA. His total stat line for his full minor league career looks like this: 2.86 ERA with 233 strikeouts and 31 walks in 252 innings. That’s awesome. Unlike Thompson, Musgrove definitely is a “scouting the stat line” sort of prospect.
Musgrove throws hard, sitting in the mid-90s and occasionally higher. He has a plus fastball, a promising tight slider, a solid curveball and an undeveloped changeup. He is a very big human at 6’5″ and 255 pounds. When you watch him he doesn’t really jump out as a major prospect. He doesn’t grade out with high marks, but he doesn’t have any big flaws that would make you disregard his chances either. He is not going to blow hitters away and I would expect his strikeout rates to be around league average in the major leagues. If he can maintain his excellent command and control as he climbs the ladder and reaches the major leagues then he could certainly become a reliable fantasy starting pitcher. He doesn’t project as an ace but you don’t have to be Clayton Kershaw to have good fantasy value, especially in deep leagues.
Musgrove didn’t make any of the big mid-season top prospect lists. He has been mentioned by FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel a couple times, although not in glowing terms. He is a bit like Ben Lively was last year. Now with the Phillies, Lively garnered some excitement last year with unexpectedly great strikeout and walk rates and ERAs in the Reds system despite uninspiring scouting reports. Lively has taken a step back this year, but sometimes this type of profile does take the next step and become a truly valuable starting pitcher. Guys like Jacob deGrom, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh come to mind. I am not saying Musgrove will become as good as they are now, but rather that those guys were never highly rated as prospects when they were in the minors. Musgrove is by no means a sure thing to become a fantasy relevant prospect, but he is a guy that can be acquired for next to nothing right now yet has realistic potential to help your team in a couple years. If you are looking for a promising prospect who has fallen through the cracks then take a flyer on Musgrove. Verdict: I have Musgrove ranked 125th on my personal top 150 prospects list. He is a guy who could get some buzz this winter and get some attention on a few major top 100 lists next spring. That would boost his trade value in fantasy leagues tremendously. Get in on the ground floor and watch your investment grow.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Are there any other players you would like some advice on? Got any potential breakout prospects we should discuss?