Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Our first preview of the Florida State League features a couple of loaded rosters, and two that will suffer from gaps in talent throughout their big league systems.
Brevard County Manatees
Parent Club: Milwaukee Brewers
An early favorite to take the league title, he most talented collection of players in the Brewers’ minor league system can be found on the Brevard County roster to start this season.
The Manatees pitching staff will be among the strongest in the FSL this season. Lefty Jed Bradley and right-handers Jorge Lopez, Tyler Wagner, and Damien Magnifico will lead the pitching staff for Milwaukee’s High Class-A affiliate this season. It will be Bradley’s third attempt at the Florida State League, where he has compiled a 4.94 ERA in 36 starts the last two seasons after being selected in the first round of the 2011 draft. Lopez, 21, looks to rebound from a somewhat rocky 2013 in Wisconsin, where he posted a 5.23 ERA in 117 innings. Wagner was great in the Midwest League last season, earning ten wins and holding hitters to a .236 batting average in 149 innings as he continues to transition to a starting role.
Outfielder Tyrone Taylor has the tools of a future leadoff hitter, and will hold the role for Brevard County this season. In 2013 he compiled a line of .274/.338/.400 in the Midwest League. Just 20 years old, Taylor has power (eight home runs in 2013) and speed (19 stolen bases) and a knack for extra base hits. The 2012 second round pick collected 33 doubles and two triples last season, and now has seven doubles in the first six games of 2014. Slugger Victor Roache, who had 22 home runs last season in Wisconsin, will join Taylor in the outfield.
At 19 years old, infielder Orlando Arcia will be one of the youngest players in the Florida State League. His numbers have not been overly impressive (.251/.314/.333 last year), but he lost all of 2012 due to injury and played 120 games in a full-season league as a teenager in 2013, which is quite rare. Expect him to primarily second base, but split some time at shortstop with fellow prospect Yadiel Rivera – a defensive specialist – who is set to repeat the FSL this year.
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Parent Club: Philadelphia Phillies
At the beginning of 2014, it appears that there will be many players on the Clearwater roster with an opportunity to prove they are worthy of prospect status, but very few will enter the season with that distinction.
There are few big name prospects slated to start the season on the Clearwater pitching staff. Reliever Daniel Child, a 2013 18th round pick, had a strong pro debut, posting a 1.45 ERA in 19 innings across 15 appearances split between the GCL and FSL last season. Lefty Yoel Mecias could join the rotation late in the year as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Like the pitching staff, there are few players on the Threshers roster at the start of 2014 that would be considered among the Phillies’ top prospects. It is possible that outfielders Carlos Tocci and Dylan Cozens and shortstop Roman Quinn may see time in Clearwater this year, but the trio will start the season in Lakewood.
Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Parent Club: Chicago Cubs
The Cubs won the Florida State League in 2013 behind a talented group of prospects, particularly on the pitching staff. This year, there are more hitters than pitchers that are considered among the system’s top prospects aiming for a repeat championship.
The Daytona pitching staff was loaded last season, but the big names like C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson and Corey Black have moved on. A talented group of pitchers will also start the year in Low Class-A, with Paul Blackburn, Dillon Maples and Tyler Skulina possibly positioned to join the Dayton roster later this season. That leaves a bit of a gap for the Cubs in 2014, but Zach Cates will be interesting to watch as he transitions to the bullpen.
A trio of young hitters will make the Cubs lineup one of the most intriguing in the league. Outfielder Albert Almora, who turns 20 this month, would be the top prospect in several other systems, but flies a bit under the radar at the moment for Chicago. He struggled with injury last year, but hit .329/.376/.466 in 61 games in Kane County. Expect him to hit well in Daytona and finish the year in Tennessee.
Infielder Jeimer Candelario also played in the Midwest League as a teenager in 2013, where he received 500 at-bats in 130 games, primarily at third base. The switch hitter put together a line of .257/.346/.396. First baseman Dan Vogelbach is one of the more interesting first base prospects in the game. He has big power and compiled 19 home runs and 76 RBI split between Kane County and Daytona last season.
Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Dunedin Blue Jays
Parent Club: Toronto Blue Jays
There will certainly be some excitement in Dunedin this year, but could be even more later if any members of the talented crew in Lansing proves worthy of a promotion.
Lefty Daniel Norris is the biggest name among Blue Jays’ pitching prospects slated to spend the season in the FSL. He tossed five shutout innings in Dunedin last season after posting a 4.20 ERA in 86 innings for Lansing. Soon to be 21, Norris struck out 25.1% of the hitters he faced in 2013. Right-hander Justin Jackson was once a top prospect as an infielder, and continues his transition to the mound for Dunedin in 2014.
Outfielder Dwight Smith, Jr. got the Blue Jays off to a great start this season by taking Cole Hamels deep twice last week. He has 13 hits in the season’s first six games after posting a line of .284/.365/.388 with seven homers and 25 stolen bases in Lansing last year. Fellow speedster Dalton Pompey will join him in the outfield for Toronto’s High Class-A affiliate.
Mandatory Credit:David Manning
-USA TODAY Sports
Lakeland Flying Tigers
Parent Club: Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are one of the dominant forces in the American League, but still have some intriguing prospects coming through the ranks. A few will spend 2014 on the roster of the Flying Tigers.
Twenty-year old right-hander Jake Thompson, thought by many to be the best pitching prospect in the Tigers’ system, will headline the pitching staff. The big (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) starter has been impressive in 24 appearances the last two seasons, posting a 2.82 ERA. So far, he has struck out 25.4% of the hitters he has faced and walked 9%. Calvin Drummond will see plenty of action out of the bullpen for the Flying Tigers, and there is a solid staff in West Michigan, including Jonathon Crawford and Jeffrey Thompson that could see time in Lakeland this year.
There is a bit of a talent gap in the Tigers system that will be felt this year in Detroit’s High Class-A affiliate. As far as position playing prospects go, there are few slated to start the season in Lakeland. Shortstop Dixon Machado and outfielder Jeff McVaney will start 2014 in the Florida State League.
Parent Club: New York Yankees
One of the strongest teams in the league could be Tampa, which boasts a solid collection of bats and some talented pitching as well.
Rafael De Paula made eleven appearances, including ten starts, in Tampa last season. The hard throwing right-hander struggled in the FSL, posting a 6.06 ERA in 49 innings after a mid-season promotion from Charleston, where he excelled. Now 23, De Paula will attempt to regain form and prove ready for Double-A and beyond. He has struck out nearly a third of all the hitters he has faced as a professional to this point.
The Yankees infield will be one of the best in the FSL in 2014. Thought by many to be a future first baseman, slugger Peter O’Brien will handle most of the catching duties for the Yankees’ High Class-A affiliate this season. He hit 22 homers and drove in 96 runs between Charleston and Tampa last year.
Prospects Eric Jagielo and Angelo Gumbs will handle third and second base, respectively. Jagielo, 22, hit .264/.376/.451 in 2013 primarily in Staten Island, and proved worthy of a jump to the FSL. While the prospect shine has dulled a bit on Dante Bichette, Jr. and Cito Culver, the pair will have an opportunity to work their way back into the mix in a talented lineup that also features outfielder Jake Cave.