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Diamondbacks Minor League Review: Missoula Infielders

The Missoula Osprey won the Pioneer League Championship thanks in part to some terrific performances from the infield. There's a couple of potential Major League prospects on this list but they still have a long way to go.

The Missoula infield made up the heart of the Osprey batting order with Pedro Ruiz hitting 1st or 2nd, Jake Lamb batting 2nd or 3rd, and Michael Perez usually hitting 3rd or 4th. Perez is the most exciting prospect of the bunch and he lands in the Top 10 of my prospect rankings. Jake Lamb was a bit of a revelation and we'll be watching to see if he's a fast riser because he is on the older side for the level having played at Washington. But he showed some game this year. And Andrew Velazquez looks like a potential impact player for a middle infielder worth keeping an eye on. Here's all the relevant infielders who finished the season in Missoula.

C Michael Perez, 20, .293/.358/.542
Plus Stat: .900 OPS Minus Stat: 30% K-Rate
Acquired: 2011 Draft - 5th Round
Perez only got a cup of coffee as a professional last year after being drafted in the 5th round out of Puerto Rico. But he burst onto the scene in a big way this year while posting some outstanding hitting peripherals and demonstrating some excellent defensive skills. He didn't play a lot of catcher in high school so we were curious how he would handle the position. He had 7 errors on the year, allowed just 4 passed balls and threw out 52% of attempted base steals. He'll be staying at catcher and that makes him an extremely valuable prospect going forward. The team did not over-work him as he was given plenty of days off as the last thing they wanted to do was burn out their young exciting catcher. In 225 at bats Perez hit 10 homers and drove in 60 runs while posting a .900 OPS, all while playing the most demanding position on the field. The main knock on him is his contact rate as he struck out almost 30% of the time. That will need to get fixed. But that's just about the only knock on him so far. He'll be moved up next year and the club surely has to be excited about his future potential. He could go all the way.
2013 Projection: Low A South Bend
Ceiling: Major League

3B Jake Lamb, 22, ,329/.390/.539
Plus Stat: 36 XBH in 67 Games Minus Stat: None
Acquired: 2012 Draft - 6th Round
Happy birthday to Jake Lamb who turns 22 today. As good as Michael Perez hit in his first real professional season Jake Lamb was even better, manning the hot corner for Missoula all year and being Mr. Clutch down the stretch and through the playoffs. Lamb probably was a little under-appreciated going into the draft because he made some hitting changes in college that sapped him of all his power. The Dbacks nabbed him in the 6th round, worked on his swing and the power was back by the time he got to the second half of the season. Overall he had a tremendous season posting a .930 OPS with 9 home runs and 57 RBI and showed some defensive ability as well, being a former shortstop. Perhaps most importantly, his K-rate of 16.7% portends of more good things to come. He could be a fast riser and I'm projecting he skips right over Low A and gets sent to Visalia, on a track similar to Adam Eaton and Paul Goldschmidt. I'm not prepared to say he's a sure-fire major leaguer but this kid has some ability so don't be surprised if he continues to perform.
2013 Projection: High A Visalia
Ceiling: Major League

2B Pedro Ruiz, 21. .313/.418/.418
Plus Stat: .418 OBP Minus Stat: 32 Errors
Acquired: 2010 Dominican Free Agent
There are some things to like about Ruiz, mostly on the offensive side of things. He posted a .418 OBP and stole 20 bases, good stuff for a middle infielder. On the downside he doesn't have any power to speak of and his defense is still pretty scary with 32 errors in 64 games. It got so bad down the stretch that the Osprey moved Andrew Velazquez to SS for the stretch run just to take some pressure of Ruiz. I don't see enough from his season to think he's got a big ceiling, but he'll be useful organizational depth in the infield up through the higher minor league levels. He's a nice little player and I'll refrain from totally writing him off for now.
2013 Projection: Low A South Bend
Ceiling: AAA

SS/2B Andrew Velazquez, 18, .289/.371/.440
Plus Stat: 22 SB in 43 Games Minus Stat: 25% K-Rate
Acquired: 2012 Draft - 7th Round
Velazquez started out in the AZL rookie league and was literally tearing the league up until he sprained his ankle on an inside-the-park home run in July and missed a couple of weeks. He didn't really get his fire back the rest of the year after that. But he did get promoted to Missoula and while he didn't tear it up there he did hold down the SS spot through the pressurized stretch run and on through the playoffs. The scouts raved about his natural fielding instincts heading into the draft and while he did pile up a few errors this year he did fine for his 1st professional season before even turning 18 in mid-July. He has terrific speed with 22 steals in 43 games and is also a switch-hitter. Next to Chris Owings, Velazquez might have the most upside of any middle infielder in the organization.
2013 Projection: Low A South Bend
Ceiling: Major League

1B Rudy Flores, 21, .302/.388/.430
Plus Stat: .388 OBP Minus Stat: 27% K-Rate
Acquired: 2012 Draft - 21st Round
Flores had a solid year in his first professional season, unfortunately solid seasons in rookie ball don't zoom you up the prospect list. He played 1B all year and didn't show enough power to make him an exciting 1B prospect. He managed a respectable .819 OPS and was a reliable player hitting in the 6th and 7th spots, but there shouldn't be any illusions about his future. He's middle-of-the-road stuff.
2013 Projection: Low A South Bend
Ceiling: AA

2B Daniel Pulfer, 22, .285/.348/.395
Plus Stat: 10.7% K-rate Minus Stat: 15 XBH in 200 AB
Acquired: 2011 Draft - 19th Round
Pulfer played all of 2011 for Short Season Yakima and didn't earn a promotion off that effort and landed in Missoula for 2012. He had a solid season as baseball seasons go and was a steadying influence on some of the kids. But he's not much more than that. He may advance another level or two but that's about it. A decent middle infielder that may have a better future as a coach than a player.
2013 Projection: Low A South Bend
Ceiling: High A

1B Tyler Bream, 22, .272/.330/.420
Plus Stat: 20% K-rate Minus Stat: .750 OPS
Acquired: 2011 Draft - 42nd Round
Tyler is the son of former Pittsburgh Pirate star Sid Bream and if you click on the link and look at his picture you'll notice he looks just like him too. Not much was expected of Bream after being drafted in the 42nd round in 2011 and he's probably done a little more than expected in that he's still playing professional ball. He's a decent player for the level but there's no exciting future for him like his father's. He was a nice bat at the bottom of the order for an exciting Missoula team so we'll give him that.
2013 Projection: Low A South Bend
Ceiling: High A

C Yosbel Gutierrez, 19, .322/.428/.470
Plus Stat: .897 OPS Minus Stat: 11 Errors
Acquired: 2010 Venezuelan Free Agent
After two non-descript seasons in the Dominican Summer League, Gutierrez came to the U.S. and actually had a darned good season. The problem for him is that Michael Perez was on his team and that limited his opportunities. But on the days he did play he was awfully good. His K-rate was much better than Perez at a little over 18%, he slugged .470, he threw out 41% of base stealers, etc., etc. The challenge for the Dbacks will be finding a place for him to play. The system used to be devoid of quality catching, now it's overflowing, particularly at the lower levels. He's also younger than Perez, so if they find a place for him to play, I'll be interested to see if he can repeat those kinds of numbers.There's a lot to like here based on what he did this season.
2013 Projection: Short Season A Hillsboro
Ceiling: AAA

SS Adam McConnell - Low-level backup.

C Kevin Dultz - Low-level backup

1B Kyle Koeneman - Low level backup.