Four P-Nats Named To BA’s Carolina League Top 20

Ok, so maybe it’s a little easier to place multiple players in an eight-team league, but that should shouldn’t diminish the distinction of four Potomac Nationals making the Baseball America Top 20 Prospects List — A.J. Cole (#10), Michael Taylor (#12), Robbie Ray (#16), and Billy Burns (#19).

Like last year’s contingent of Suns to get the BA badge of approval, three of the four P-Nats were promoted to the next level, led by the two pitchers, with the older of the two position players going last.

Alright, fine, you’ve probably already skipped ahead to see what the folks in Durham had to say, going from highest to lowest, beginning with #10, A.J. Cole…

Cole can command his fastball to both sides of the plate and the pitch can be explosive coming out of his long, lanky frame. The fastball, however, is the only pitch he throws with any consistency. He’s still inconsistent with a slurvy curveball, though he did begin to show better feel for it by the end of the season. His changeup remains a work in progress. One scout suggested Cole should abandon the curveball for more of a power slider.

This matches up well with what I saw in Woodbridge, but when Cole racked up W’s in three of his first four starts, such naysaying seemed out of place. Not to mention, the similar success shown by Robbie Ray after his promotion.

Taylor began to tap into his power at the plate but still isn’t disciplined enough in his approach to drive balls with regularity. At his best, he has the bat speed to turn on fastballs and the strength to take breaking balls to the opposite field. Yet he is susceptible to chasing fastballs up in the zone and curveballs off the plate. If he makes the necessary adjustments, Taylor has all-star potential. If not, he figures to be a 4th outfielder [like] Justin Maxwell.

Last year, Taylor couldn’t correct either flaw (bolded) and this year the weaknesses would come and go. No doubt he’ll be challenged with AA in ’14, but those are the kind of holes that pitchers can consistently exploit at the next level.

Ray attacks hitters with a 90-94 mph fastball and has the arm strength to add more velocity down the road. His slider grew from more of a slurvy pitch to a power one with good depth that could turn into an above-average offering. He showed feel for a changeup to keep hitters off-balance. Ray still struggles with his command at times and gets in trouble when he leaves pitches up — his nine home runs in just 84 innings were the 11th most in the league.

Quite frankly, had Ray been a righty or a year or two older, I’d have dropped him from the ’13 Watchlist — that’s how bad he looked in ’12. But after making some serious adjustments to recover from that debacle, there’s reason to hope that he can refine his game further in ’14.

Burns excels at working counts and putting the ball in play as a slap-and-dash hitter. He’s more than willing to put the ball on the ground and beat throws to first base. The natural righthanded hitter began switch-hitting in 2012, but he hit a respectable .312/.418/.383 in 266 at-bats from the left side in the CL. One scout suggested that Burns could be more of a line-drive hitter if he incorporated his powerful legs into his swing.

In his last month or so in Woodbridge, Burns certainly did appear to be working on trying to hit balls into the gaps, but with mixed success (a fair amount of weak flyballs). Given that small-ball skills — aside from speed — have fallen out of favor lately, this is Burns’s next challenge to meet if he’s to proceed beyond AA.

Quite a gap between the next BA Top 20 post for which a National may be named — next Thursday for the International League. It looks like they’re saving the Eastern League for last, on the 14th. Next up: perhaps a morning reading post before we begin following the Arizona Fall League.

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of Potomac is his home base as a season-ticket holder, but he has visited every affiliate north of Florida at least once, with multiple trips to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.

6 thoughts on “Four P-Nats Named To BA’s Carolina League Top 20”

  1. peric-

    Yes, that really seems possible, and I have to admit it seems utterly asinine. Riggleman really doesn’t have a track record to warrant being hired, and the way he left the Nats really ought to be a black mark which should fade really slowly.

  2. What do they mean when they say, “The fastball, however, is the only pitch he throws with any consistency. He’s still inconsistent with a slurvy curveball, though he did begin to show better feel for it by the end of the season. His changeup remains a work in progress. One scout suggested Cole should abandon the curveball for more of a power slider.”

    It certainly can’t be referencing his command, which has been pretty stellar throughout his career. His BB/9 sat just above 2.00 this season. He’s also very good at getting batters to miss, with a K/9, near 10.00. Sure, his fastball might be good, but players can’t succeed at AA with just one good pitch.

    I know you’ve talked about Cole laboring through some starts, but you really can’t argue with the results. He put up a 4.58 K/BB ration, which is the top 25 best amongst all minor league SPs.

    Starting pitchers with only one good pitch simply cannot succeed in A+ and especially AA, never mind put up elite numbers. But Cole has. What gives?

    1. Command is a subset of control and is often confused as a synonym for it and cannot be measured easily or simply by statistics (SAVE IT NERDS). To put it bluntly, control is simply the ability to throw strikes — the guy that gets two strikes within three pitches on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that also includes the guy that throws fat pitches on 0-0 and 0-1 that batters swing at, which can be hidden by a good defense or good luck.

      Command is how those strikes thrown: on the outside corner, under a batter’s elbow, etc. Most importantly, it’s a pitch that would be a called strike more often than not (can’t ignore the umpire factor here). It’s being able to throw a given pitch to a given spot with intent – and yes, it’s judgment call, but that’s what scouts do.

      At Potomac, Cole could get ahead 0-2 with the heat and then even up the count after missing with a couple of offspeed offerings then get an out when he went back to his fastball. The problem with that is that he needed five pitches instead of three of four. Take a look at some of Cole’s pitch counts in Harrisburg and you’ll see that he didn’t conquer that tendency: none of his 100+ efforts got him into the 8th.

      One of the things I look for from a pitcher is what he does when he starts doing that — does he *always* go back to the heat? Will he throw a changeup on a 3-1 or 3-2 count? The good ones don’t give in, or even better, don’t *always* go for the strikeout.

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