Down the Homestretch: Short-Season Leagues

Akeel Morris is one of many raw arms in Kingsport

The short-season leagues are where it all begins. While it is easy to get caught up in numbers, a season for players at these levels are often not defined how one fills the stat sheet. Instead, it's about improvements. With the depth of the short-season rosters, this list could get very long, but the chosen focus is on those who have already made impressions or could soon make a first one.

Rafael Montero: Montero has already left an impression in the organization during his first season that has taken him from the Dominican Summer League to Kingsport. The 20-year-old right-hander blitzed through the DSL and the Gulf Coast League, showing good poise and feel of three pitches including a low to mid-90s fastball. He's still bit of a raw commodity, but will need to show better pitchability with his repertoire. That's definitely the focus as he will likely have more eyes on him in 2012.

Akeel Morris: Morris, like Montero, is a hard-throwing right-hander who need some polish – specifically his command. Morris has struggled with his release point at times which has caused his fastball and breaking ball to fly on him. It's an ongoing process with Morris, one that will likely continue through the fall and into camp next season, but he has a great opportunity to build momentum with the last two weeks of his season with Kingsport.

Domingo Tapia: The hardest thrower of them all in Kingsport, Tapia has reportedly topped out near or at the century mark (100 mph) with his fastball this season. Now, velocity is all well and good but if it's not backed up with a secondary pitch or shows at least some movement, being able to throw a ball through a wall does not do much. The 19-year-old is definitely a guy to keep an eye on, but he remains a project as coaches work to add depth to his game.

Juan Urbina: The 18-year-old left-hander hasn't put together the season many expected from him (6.69 ERA, .314 OBA). However, the numbers do not represent the potential in Urbina. Like his Kingsport teammates, Urbina battled with mechanical consistency and staying on the attack. Even at the rookie level, lacking both can run a pitcher into trouble. He's put together comparatively better starts over the last two weeks, and the hope is that more will continue through the end of the year.

Greg Pron: Pron, the Mets' 42nd round pick in the 2011 Draft, has been Kingsport most reliable run producer (.319, 7 HR, 27 RBI, .385 OBP, .903 OPS). As a first-year player, you take all the positive production and consistency you can get. Behind the numbers, his season is showing that he's having very good at-bats and reps and is remaining consistent. That being said, while he has hit for power at this level, my comment about his season is to remain cautious. At 22 years old (23 in January), Pron [b]may[/b] just be another example of a mature college player feasting on rookie league pitching. I think expectations should be tempered until Pron sees more advanced pitching.

Jeff Glenn: Glenn was drafted in the ninth round of the 2009 Draft, but spent the previous two seasons in camp and the GCL pretty much growing as a baseball player. It was this season that Glenn, 19, finally got a chance to put his skills to the test. He has shown a good blend of power and contact to go with a 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame that is getting stronger. Glenn entered the organization has a project, but he is now taking the steps to make himself a catching prospect worth watching – something that is very much needed at the short-season level.

Jack Leathersich: Leathersich has certainly caught attention this season having struck out nearly two-thirds of the batters he's faced (16 K in 7 IP). He has displayed good fastball velocity from the left side with the ability to pound the strike zone and induce a high rate of ground balls (4-to-1). The 2011 fifth round pick's performance with Brooklyn shouldn't be overstated, but Leathersich has shown no signs of slowing down during his first summer and has set himself up nicely for 2012. He was finally dinged for his first earned run on Aug. 11 in his sixth appearance.

Daniel Muno: The 2011 eighth round pick has been Brooklyn's most consistent hitter this season, putting up a .341 average and .938 OPS in his first summer. Muno has shown very strong contact skills, limiting his strikeouts and displaying a very good eye at the plate. He is a fairly polished player who played at a large collegiate program (Fresno State). Muno is generally on the favorable side of matchups in this league, so there is little reason to suspect he will slow down before the end of the season, setting up what should be a more telling year in 2012.

Travis Taijeron: Taijeron, like Muno, is a well-developed college player who is enjoying the fruits of being on the right side of matchups. That has led to a .303 average, eight home runs, 38 RBIs, 50 hits, a .400 OBP and .958 OPS. He has struck out nearly a third of his at-bats (53 K in 165 AB), so trimming that ratio in the closing weeks would be a positive, but at the very least the Mets found a very athletic outfielder has shown power (8 HR in Brooklyn is no small feat) -- definitely something to build on.

Javier Rodriguez: Rodriguez was sent to Savannah to begin the year in large part because he didn't need another three months in Extended Spring Training, and he needed to see more advanced pitching. A struggle in the South Atlantic League turned into a later spot in Brooklyn, where Rodriguez has put together a solid though hardly a standout season. For a young outfielder who is in his fourth year in the organization, numbers actually do play a role and to his benefit, Rodriguez has put together good peripherals. I have never been too high on Rodriguez, but considering his history as a raw product out of a Puerto Rican academy, he may ultimately prove to be a late bloomer. A flourish to end the year would lend more confidence to support that notion.

Zachary Dotson: Dotson finally got back on the mound this week, throwing 2/3 of an inning in the Gulf Coast League. It has been a long, trying career so far for the left-hander who has dealt with suspension and nagging elbow issues. He missed most of the season to date building up arm strength and getting healthy enough to return to the mound. With so few weeks left in the season, expectations should be tempered. At the very least, it's about staying healthy and maximizing every pitch and every inning.

Michael Fulmer: Fulmer made his first professional appearance and while it was a shaky one that last just 2/3 of an inning, getting the 18-year-old compensatory first-round pick on the mound was an important first. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Fulmer has all the look and base tools to be a very impressive prospect for this system. His few first weeks as a professional need not be anything more than a quick crash course as he prepares for a likely invitation to the Instructional League.

Tyler Pill: Pill is in Brooklyn where he should be after a quick stop in the Gulf Coast League. Pill entered the organization having used four pitches during his time at Cal-State Fullerton. For now, the focus should be on his top three pitches -- fastball, curveball, changeup (he also threw a splitter in college -- making sure he can mix all three boosted by good fastball command. If he can do that, he should be off to St. Lucie next season given his pedigree as a product of a major collegiate program.

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