(Photo credit to the Salt River Field’s website, seen here)
The Peoria Javelinas are composed of players from the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, and Toronto Blue Jays.
I’ll admit, I had no idea what a “javelina” was prior to diving into Peoria’s roster. Thankfully, Wikipedia provided everything and more, citing the essential distinction that javelinas are often confused with “razorbacks”- no, not Dallas Kuechel, Andrew Benintendi, or David Wright.
While upper echelon of prospect talent has eluded some of our other Arizona Fall League previews (Salt River, Scottsdale, Mesa, Glendale, Surprise), the Javelinas are stuffed with bats that deserve columns solely their own accomplishments.
Ronald Acuna and Kyle Lewis headline the Javelinas’ outfield, two players I have ranked inside my top 35 overall prospects with discernable tools present at multiple levels. Acuna has a case as the consensus number one overall prospect in baseball heading into the 2018 season, as the 19-year-old’s value inexplicably appreciated at each of the three levels he touched during 2017. His biggest tool that hasn’t manifested in-game is his power, which earns above-average future grades from most scouts, but hasn’t shown to the naked eye.
This stems from the term “power” and its perpetual misuse. The “power” displays that catch viewer’s eyes are those relating to the longball, but the 31 doubles Acuna hit in his 2017 campaign speak to the power tag for obvious reasons. Younger than most college baseball players, Acuna’s development into a potential big league star will be watched closely by all in Peoria; to say he’s the star of the league is a statement rooted in truth.
Three years older, and two years behind Acuna in development is a Mariners’ prospect hoping to the stigma around so many other promising talents that have tried to bust through the ceiling of Seattle’s system. (See, Danny Hultzen (Virginia), DJ Peterson (New Mexico), Mike Zunino (Florida), etc.). Lewis possess a smattering of question marks that hold back aggressive rankings of the 6-foot-4 outfielder. His swing-and-miss tendencies at lower levels leave something to be desired, but still holding a walk rate around 10% speaks to the 70-grade future raw power Eric Longenhagen gives Lewis, and pitchers likely fear. There is extra movement in his swing that scouts will want to see ironed out before buying in, but in terms of ceiling, few players possess the offensive upside Lewis has in his bat alone.
Three years at Mercer University for Lewis brought a total of 39 home runs, with almost half coming in his senior year, where he posted an OPS of 1.266 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio shaved by one-third from 2015 to 2016.
Most appealing for his potential is how much Lewis has adjusted his swing to fit the lower minor leagues. Watching tape of him at Mercer shows just how much he has quited a noisy swing. Hailing from a University in Georgia that has pushed 74 players to the Major League level, Lewis shortened his leg kick considerably when comparing his college reps to the lower levels of the Mariners’ system. On top of that, Lewis cut out an exaggerated hand roll that brought his barrel towards the pitcher before advancing into his load – think Victor Martinez and his signature hand height.
With quick improvements and the retention of his power, Lewis’ development track is promising, and one – like Acuna – I can’t wait to see pan out in Arizona for the next month. It’s amazing to me that all that can be said and I still have his torrid campaign with the Orleans Firebirds of the Cape Cod League and Golden Spikes award, in my back pocket.
Michael Chavis – like Lewis – also played ball in Georgia prior to breaking onto the prospect scene. He won the Boston Red Sox’s award for Offensive Minor League Player of the Year, posting a .388 OBP in 250 plate appearances with High-A Salem, and mashing another 14 home runs with his midseason promotion to Double-A Portland. Chavis’ question marks exist in whether his plate discipline will advance enough to prevent a strikeout rate north of 25% in the majors, especially knowing his hit tool grades out as merely average at its peak.
Playing time is an entirely separate issue for Chavis, who mans third base well, but not at a level that can overcome the potential Rafael Devers emits from the left-handed batter’s box. That makes a move to a corner outfield spot possible – we’ll find out soon if he can dance with a combination of JBJ, Mookie, and Benintendi – as well as shared time at designated hitter. A role that Hanley Ramirez currently occupies once again raises the question of his bat’s productivity, and whether it’s enough to garner consideration for that role so early in his career.
Just to show how deep the Javelinas’ offense is, I’ve touched on what many would consider their three best hitters, and haven’t mentioned the Canadian Josh Naylor, Julio Urias’ sure-handed brother Luis Urias, once forgotten catcher Alex Jackson, and the younger Gurriel brother, Lourdes.
While it’s enticing to mull over swings, let’s leave our four other bats and focus on two pitchers, yet another Atlanta Braves’ starter and one extremely large human being who hopes to hurl north of the border in the coming years.
Touki Toussaint was drafted 16th overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2014 MLB Draft, with a curveball that graded out as one of the best pitches of any prospect. Potential – as we all know – often doesn’t fill out, and Toussaint has had trouble honing his control; walking 10%+ of the batters he faces on multiple occasions, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio that can’t push towards average. At 21-years-old, it’s so hard to push a talent like this to the bullpen, but if a legitimate third pitch (currently his changeup) doesn’t develop soon, management will push Toussaint to take his 80-grade curveball – yes, 80-grade – to the bullpen. His use by the Peoria Javelinas will be as a starter, but the storyline is his control. No matter what happens in Arizona, come 2018, Toussaint will still be a righty with an 80-grade name.
When we think of height in a starter, leverage and strikeouts come to mind. Extension, arm slot, and the “downhill effect” are all reasons for scout’s affinity to taller pitchers. T.J. Zeuch is 6-foot-7, 225lbs and oddly enough, hasn’t posted staggering strikeout numbers with the Blue Jays’ High-A affiliate. Zeuch’s motion reminds me of another tall pitcher, Mihael Wacha, for his over-the-top slot. With a quick move to the mound from the stretch and manageable control, Zeuch feels like a high-floor starter, with multiple pitches should maintain their effectiveness through the minors. I’m most impressed with how Zecuh is able to escape the trap a lot of starters of his size fall into: failure to repeat his delivery. As Longenhagen mentions, Zeuch also earned the highest selection of any University of Pittsburgh player when he was drafted 21st overall in the first round of 2016’s draft.
Other notable pitchers include Henry Owens, the Red Sox southpaw, and Max Fried – yes, another promising Braves’ starter.
Peoria is slated to play its first game today, Tuesday the 10th, against the Glendale Desert Dogs.
Taking one team to the championship? I’d lean on the Javelinas’ bats outperforming any and all pitching staffs they face.