Finding the Next Tyler White(s)
It’s early in the season, but the player with the third highest wRC+ in baseball has come from the unlikeliest of places. Tyler White, a 33rd round pick, has never appeared on a top prospect list and received little to no prospect hype; though that hasn’t stopped him from dominating pitchers early into his rookie season. Although White might not won’t continue to be one of the best hitters in the league, his stock has soared and he’s shown much more hitting ability than most gave him credit for. But as impressive as White’s debut has been, we probably should have expected it. After all, White has been a beast in the minor leagues since being drafted by the Astros, and his minor league wRC+ sits at a modest 158.
Though uncommon, there are enough examples of players who raked in the minors and continued that trend in the big leagues. A number of potential flaws prevented them from being heralded prospects, but good offense in the minors carried over to good offense in the majors. Since scouting the stat line isn’t always the preferred way to evaluate hitters, the aforementioned type of prospect can be overlooked. So today, I’ll be looking at some relatively unknown prospects that have hit in the minors to little fanfare. I may have lied when I said I’d be searching the next Tyler White, because none of these players happen to be first baseman that have a similar profile to White. But in the spirit of White’s hot start, let’s take a look at some offensive machines in the minor leagues.
Yandy Diaz – 3B, Indians
Yandy accomplished what just five major league hitters accomplished in 2015: he walked more than he struck out. With 78 walks and 65 strikeouts in 132 games, this is the second year in a row Diaz has managed this feat. The 24-year old is lacking in power and speed (and probably won’t reach double digits in either category) but he did hit seven home runs (though five came in a two week span) with eight stolen bases in Double-A last season. Diaz was a bit old for the level, but his background—defecting from Cuba at 23 in 2013—makes the age difference less of a concern. Diaz’s 6’2” frame could allow for more power growth, but even without it, he should find a way to hit for a high average with excellent plate discipline as a big leaguer.
Wynton Bernard – OF, Tigers
Bernard has one of the best stories in the minor leagues. He was drafted in the 35th round by the Padres, and served as a backup in the low minors before being released less than two years later. Soon, he was signed by the Tigers following an impressive open workout, and has done nothing but hit and run since then. He’s now stolen 88 bases over the past two seasons for the Tigers, and his batting average hasn’t dipped below .300 in the process. He doesn’t have a ton of power—hitting just 10 home runs over the past two seasons—but a package that includes a solid average and potentially 40 stolen bases is quite intriguing in fantasy leagues.
Taylor Motter – Literally everywhere (but mostly OF), Rays
A 17th round pick in 2011, Motter has now put up two straight impressive seasons in Double-A and Triple-A. He hit 16 home runs with 15 stolen bases in 2014, along with a .274 batting average, following it up with a 14 home run, 26 stolen base, .292/.366/.471 season in Triple-A last season. Motter saw his strikeout rate tick up to 17% last season, but it came with a bump in walk rate as well from 6.7% to 10.2%. Motter’s a bit old for a prospect at 26, and he’s unlikely to repeat his power/speed totals in the majors. Still, Motter does just about everything well and could be a solid all-around player. Plus, he played every position other than catcher last season.
Jamie Westbrook – 2B, Diamondbacks
Westbrook had a huge 2015, slugging 17 home runs with 14 steals and a .319/.357/.510 line in Double-A. The 20-year old struck out just 13.2% of the time, though a Salvador Perez-esque walk rate was a bit worrisome. Westbrook’s 5’9” frame probably doesn’t support 17 home runs in the big leagues, but the second baseman could hit both 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases as a big leaguer. Whether Westbrook reaches this ceiling will likely depend on his plate discipline, though there’s time for him to improve.
Mark Zagunis – OF, Cubs
A former catcher, 2015 saw Zagunis have a breakout season in his first full year since being drafted. Zagunis has average to above tools all around, including an impressive bat that allowed him to walk at a 15.6% rate in High-A last season. He will probably won’t get much further than the double digit plateau in home runs and stolen bases, but Zagunis should bring an excellent average and on base percentage to the table. The Cubs have also hinted the converted outfielder could return to catcher at some point, which would provide a huge boost to his overall value.
Mike Gerber – OF, Tigers
Possibly one of the biggest steals in the 2014 draft, Gerber has gone from a 15th rounder to one of the better outfield prospects in the Tigers’ system. Gerber has solid power and speed tools, which he showed off with 13 home runs and 16 stolen bases last season (along with a .292 batting average). He fell in the draft due to what was considered poor discipline, but the 16.6% strikeout rate and 8.4% walk rate he posted in 2015 were perfectly respectable. Gerber could start garnering some prospect hype this season, especially in a thin Tigers farm system.
Dom Nunez – C, Rockies
Though blocked on the organizational depth chart by Tom Murphy, Nunez could be good enough to force his way into the starting catcher role at some point. Although his defensive skills won’t help you in fantasy, it should allow for Nunez to see enough playing time for his bat to make an impact. Nunez struck out just two more times than he walked last season, and hit 13 home runs with a .282 batting average. His seven stolen bases probably won’t carry over to the big leagues, but Nunez is a good athlete. He’s far away compared to some other players on this list, but Nunez has an intriguing skillset and could see his power play up thanks to the Rockies’ home field.
Anthony Garcia – OF, Cardinals
Garcia had a slow start to his career (to say the least), spending his first four seasons in Rookie-Ball and reaching Double-A eight seasons after being drafted. Finally, Garcia saw a real breakout season in 2015 at Double-A, launching his walk rate to a career high and lowering his strikeout rate to a career low. Garcia also hit 11 home runs with a .285/.400/.476 line in 87 games, eventually moving up to Triple-A where he was solid in 64 at bats. Garcia is a more valuable fantasy prospect than real life one, given his fringy outfield defense and speed.
Jordan Patterson – OF, Rockies
Patterson exploded in 2015, hitting a combined 17 home runs and stealing 18 bases in 125 games between two levels. The outfielder slashed .304/.378/.568 in his first look at High-A before hitting .286/.342/.568 in Double-A, and headed straight to Triple-A this season where he’s raked in the early going. Patterson also stole 25 bags in 2014, and his 6’4” frame could allow for a solid amount of home runs in Colorado. His ultimate value will hinge on plate discipline, as the outfielder hasn’t been able to walk much in the minors.