LHP, Daniel Camarena: He has been and probably will continue to be underrated simply because he doesn't throw particularly hard, sitting mostly in the 88-91 mph and because of his smaller 6-foot-0 stature. Like most pitchers his velocity will dip both below that range at times [he'll hit some 86s and 87s] and spike above it [he'll hit some 93s and 94s] on occasion, but for the most part the velocity remains big league average. What isn't average is the rest of his game, including both a curveball and a changeup that are plus big league pitches, and he has a cutter-slider combination that grades a tick above average. Throw in an ability to command pitches and paint corners, there's a high level of pitch-ability that gets ignored by many simply because he doesn't throw very hard and because of that he could one day surprise a lot of people.
RHP, Rookie Davis: At the opposite end of the spectrum is this 14th round pick back in 2011. He has size [6-foot-5] and brute strength [a fastball that can routinely hit 96 mph], but the secondary pitches continue to be a work in progress and so does the overall command and pitch-ability. It's not as if he doesn't have secondary pitches -- quite the contrary in fact seeing that he throws a curveball, cutter, slider, and changeup. However, none of them have become a plus secondary offering and often times it's led him to being a little predictable when he's not commanding his fastball. His season last year was bad enough [4.93 ERA in low-A] that already the majority of critics are running for cover and are quickly forgetting that he still has a considerable ceiling. He could slide into the 'highest ceiling' category still but could also fit in the 'jury is still out' group too given the amount of work that still needs to be done, and somebody with that kind of range can easily be overlooked.
RHP, Simon De La Rosa: Like Davis, this Dominican native has the stuff to be placed in the 'highest ceiling' category thanks to a plus fastball-plus breaking ball combination. He'll sit mostly in the 92-95 range with his fastball and he can pile up strikeouts with his breaking ball. However, while the ceiling is quite vast, there are some negatives that allow him to fly under the radar. The changeup has been and continues to be a work in progress and he isn't an ideal strike-thrower yet, walking 58 batters in his first 88 career innings. Throw in the fact he will turn 22 years old early in the 2015 season and he's coming off of a 4.43 ERA showing in the Gulf Coast League, few pundits realize he still has the chance to be special. A little longer in the tooth than most short-season league pitchers though, he will need to make quicker strides than most to retain his 'sleeper' status.
|GROWING STEADILY: Hebert has gotten stronger and better over the years. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
RHP, Jonathan Holder: Last year's sixth round pick out of Mississippi State University could be the 'sleeper' of sleepers given the fact that he's transitioning to the starting role after relieving in college and the fact that he isn't exactly a true power pitcher. He'll hit some 94s and 95s on occasion but sits 90-93 mph for the most part. What he lacks in plus velocity, however, he more than makes for with superb command of his fastball. Throw in a plus curveball to go along with an already average cutter-changeup combination, he has some significant long-term starting potential. Watch his progress closely because he's not nearly as raw as some would be led to believe.
RHP, Juan Jimenez: Imagine Simon De La Rosa with a much better and more consistent changeup and that's what the Yankees pretty much have in this Dominican native. While the breaking ball isn't quite on the same level, more above average than plus, he too will average mostly 92-95 mph with his fastball and the changeup is a quality big league pitch. The control is even a little better too. However, he has amassed just 38 innings in his first four professional seasons and hasn't exactly been the bastion of health. Stuff-wise he's got a huge ceiling; he just needs to stay consistently on the field to continue his development. At 21 years old, like De La Rosa he needs to start forcing his way up soon.
LHP, Justin Kamplain: With similar stuff, size, and overall pitch-ability, last year's 18th round pick out of the University of Alabama is pretty much a Camarena clone. The fastball velocity is more average than anything and although his curveball-changeup combination isn't quite on the same plus level as Camarena it is pretty close, but it's the overall advanced feel for pitching that could give him a real chance to sneak up on folks. He acquitted himself quite well in a late-season promotion to Charleston in his debut season last year and coming from the powerhouse conference like the SEC he won't be intimidated. The ceiling isn't very big but there's more than enough game to find an eventual big league role.
RHP, Jaron Long: This former undrafted free agent signing and son of former Yankee big league hitting coach Kevin Long could slide into the 'closest to the big leagues' category given the fact that there isn't a whole lot of projection left to his game and he already has Double-A experience. Sitting mostly 88-90 mph with three quality secondary pitches with little room to get better, he is what he is. What that is, however, is a superb strike-thrower of four average big league pitches, one who doesn't beat himself on the mound. The ceiling isn't very vast but there's some Chase Whitley-like potential here as either a middle reliever, long man out of the bullpen, or spot starter. He won't be a household name once he gets to the big leagues but he could prove to be an important part of a pitching staff if given the opportunity.
LHP, Jordan Montgomery: Here's another former SEC standout southpaw whose better known for his secondary pitches than he is for lighting up the radar gun. Like Camarena and Kamplain he'll average mostly 88-92 mph with his fastball but at 6-foot-5 he will bump 93s and 94s a little more often, and there's a thought in the scouting community that it could be a sign of some more velocity potential coming. However, it's his plus-plus changeup that gives him a legitimate long-term chance and a slider that could become a a very good pitch too. He's probably going to sneak up on a lot of folks with that special changeup of his and don't be surprised if he makes quick work of minor league hitters along the way.
LHP, Caleb Smith: When it comes to pure stuff, this 14th round pick out of Sam Houston State University in 2013 might have arguably the highest 'ceiling' of any pitcher in this 'sleeper' category, thanks in large part to an array of pitches that generate great movement and given the fact that he shows good velocity with his fastball [sitting 91-94 mph]. He has three secondary pitches that either grade out as plus already [like his changeup] or have long-term plus potential, but because all of his pitches move so much it's fine-tuning the command of his pitches that will be the ultimate deciding factor in just how far his game goes. Watch out, he could be a real diamond in the rough.
Need To Make Their Move
RHP, Jose Campos: Acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the Michael Pineda trade, this Venezuelan native could fit in nearly any category right now. With three above average to plus pitches, stuff-wise he has one of the highest ceilings. And with [once] superb control of his pitches, despite the fact that he hasn't even made it to the high-A level yet he isn't all that far off from rapidly ascending the minor league ladder or being all that far off from being big league ready [he's already been on the 40-man roster]. However, as wildly talented as he is, the 22-year old has amassed just 111 innings over the past three seasons while dealing with elbow issues that eventually led to him missing the entire 2014 season with Tommy John surgery and now he's going to be on yet another innings-restricted season in 2015. That's not great news, especially considering it could take him a while to find his once superb command back. Finding enough immediate success and a quick enough track up the minor league ladder to get him re-signed as a minor league free agent next offseason is going to be a dicey proposition. It may take the perfect storm for Campos to find a long-term home with the Yankees.
LHP, Caleb Frare: This former 11th round pick back in 2012 immediately showed some signs as a potential 'sleeper' prospect with his 91-94 mph fastball, rapidly developing secondary pitches, and great makeup, but his career stalled nearly as quickly after needing Tommy John surgery in his first offseason. Two years and a couple of more freak injuries later and he still hasn't thrown a pitch in an official minor league game since his debut season. There's still a pretty significant ceiling in theory, especially given the fact that he's a lefty, but the 21-year old has to start making his mark soon.
The Jury Is Still Out
RHP, Matthew Borens: While there's a significant difference in height, Borens, standing 6-foot-8, already compares pretty favorably to Jaron Long as more of an advanced pitcher than actual thrower. Last year's 11th round pick out of Eastern Illinois University has five big league average pitches at his disposal and he can flood the zone with strikes. None of his pitches grade out as plus, however, so like Long he's going to have to pitch his way up the minor league ladder. There's some 'sleeper' potential if he keeps putting up numbers but for now he just has to continue to prove it on the mound.
LHP, Nestor Cortes: There's some viable 'sleeper' potential in this 36th round pick back in 2013 out of Hialeah Senior High School in Florida. In fact, he falls into the Camarena-Kamplain group as a smallish, crafty southpaw with an advanced feel for pitching. While both of his secondary pitches are above average with long-term plus potential, neither are quite on the level of Camarena's just yet and he'll also throw a few more mid-80s fastballs as he has yet to get his man strength. The numbers thus far have been very encouraging but the jury is still out as to whether or not that success can translate in the long-season leagues yet. For now he has a bit more to prove.
RHP, David Palladino: Drafted in the eighth round in 2013 as a long-term project, this 6-foot-8 monster has slowly begun ironing out the kinks in his delivery, improving the command of his pitches, and further bettering the movement he gets with them. He throws four pitches now with only the fastball being big league average [sitting mostly 90-92 mph] right now, but all of his secondary pitches show average or better long-term potential. There's still a lot of work to do to his entire game but there's also a considerable ceiling if things come together for him. Watch his progress closely.