We're about a month into the minor league season, and with it we are also seeing some prospects from within my top 100 who have struggled out of the gate. Let's take a brief look at four prospects that have not played well so far, and what might be next for each of them.
Jon Gray (Rockies) - Gray is currently at AAA Albuquerque, complete with a 7.75 ERA, a 5.16 FIP, and 47 hits allowed in 33 innings pitched. The performance from start to start has been up and down, allowing 10 hits in two starts, two home runs in a different start, and even a seven earned run loss. The PCL is known as a bit of a hitters' league, especially his own home park of Albuquerque, so the five home runs allowed aren't necessarily a huge concern. Add in that he's fairly unlikely to see a .378 BABIP continue when he's posting a 51% groundball rate, and we should start to see some improvement naturally. The Rockies' rotation remains a bit of a mess, so if Gray can string together a few good starts in a row I think he still could be up by the All-Star break. CONCERN LEVEL: Low, but if you can get close to full price I'd be ready to divest of Coors Field.
Robert Stephenson (Reds) - Stephenson has been extremely inconsistent in his second go-around at AA Pensacola. and specifically struggling with his command from start to start. This remains one of the key things that Stephenson needs to work on in his development toward the majors. Between the current struggles and the emergence of rookies Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, and Michael Lorenzen, I don't know if we see Stephenson this season except as a potential September call up. I wouldn't look to trade him away at this point though, as I do believe he can rebound as the season progresses. CONCERN LEVEL - Medium, as there does not appear to have been a lot of positive progress yet.
Henry Owens (Red Sox) - You know, I originally thought at the start of the season that Owens would be one of the first call ups should the Red Sox rotation struggle. That assumes though that Owens wouldn't have his own struggles with his command, walking 25 over his first thirty-one innings. With that though, his last start was much better, walking just one and allowing just three hits over six shutout innings. He has likely been passed in the short-term by Eduardo Rodriguez should the Sox need a starting pitcher, but could still be up later in the season. CONCERN LEVEL: Low to Medium, contingent on how his next couple starts go.
Jesse Winker (Reds) - Winker is hitting just .222/.329/.320 on the season with two home runs and four stolen bases at AA Pensacola. There are positive signs though, as he has posted a similar line drive rate to last year according to MLBFarm.com, and he's still walking over 10% of the time while striking out just 14%. What has increased though is his groundball rate, up from 44% to 61% so far this season, which is an outlier that concerns me a bit. I'm not ready to advocate trying to sell Winker just yet, as he's still just 21 years old at AA. We'll check back in on him in a month, and I think we start to see the numbers improve overall. CONCERN LEVEL: Medium, due to the significant increase in groundball rate
Patience is key with all four of these prospects, as these early struggles can potentially lead to discounted trades if you're not careful. I do think that all of them will be fine as the season progresses, but if there's an owner in your league who is getting antsy based on a month's worth of games, see what you can do to ease their anxiety.