It would be nice for every level of the farm system to be stuffed with premium talent, but with Reading and Lehigh Valley loaded and Lakewood sporting two young high upside players, there was only so much blue chipping to go around. That is not to say that Clearwater is as barren as it was back in 2014, when it started the year as, arguably, the worst team in the minors. The talent on the 2015 Threshers is of the more quiet variety, led by players such as Carlos Tocci, Scott Kingery, and Thomas Eshelman, who do the less flashy things on the field. What the Threshers do have is a lineup of players who are tough outs, a rotation that will keep it in games, and a lights-out bullpen. There might not be many must-watch games this year, but the Threshers should be in a position to defend their FSL North title this season.
Top Hitting Prospect: Carlos Tocci
This will be Tocci's 5th professional season, and he will not turn 21 years old until August. In many ways, Tocci is the same player he has always been: A great defender in center field who is physically underdeveloped. This offseason, Tocci added a little more strength, like he has done every year since signing, which should allow him to hit the ball harder this year. He has a great feel for contact and, despite his lack of physicality, hit 4 home runs last season while playing in poor hitters' parks.
Top Pitching Prospect: Thomas Eshelman
Coming up with comps for a pitcher like Eshelman is a difficult task because we only remember those with his profile that succeeded, and many of them are among the most unique players to play the game. Eshelman lacks impact stuff in the same way that pitchers like Severino Gonzalez and David Buchanan lack impact stuff. He will pitch with a fastball in the low 90s and will mix in offspeed pitches, but nothing is going to wow you; what Eshelman was able to do in college was put those pitches wherever he wanted to. That kind of command works at every level, but with each level up on the way to the Majors, the margin for error shrinks. He will need to be precise all the way to the Majors to have a future, and along the way he will need to improve his secondary pitches to have any true impact potential.
Two Others to Watch: Malquin Canelo and Elniery Garcia
Canelo is actually the less well-regarded of the Threshers' middle infield pair, but he might be more interesting. Canelo emerged in 2013 as a light-hitting, all-glove shortstop in Williamsport, then proceeding to spend the next two years waiting his turn behind J.P. Crawford. Canelo is a quick-twitch athlete with good bat speed, and he has added the strength to turn that bat speed into some impact at the plate. In the field, he is a great, if unconventional, defender at shortstop and profiles to stick at the position long-term. Sound familiar? It is a profile that resembles Freddy Galvis, but Canelo has a chance at a bit more impact in his bat, which could leave him short of being Crawford-type special at shortstop, but an everyday player at the position just the same.
Garcia is similar in many ways to Tocci and Canelo in that he is not a large fellow and lacks both in current size and future projection. But, like the other two he has the secondary skills to offset his shortcomings. He has reportedly bulked up a little bit this offseason and add a little but to his 89-92 mph fastball, which should help him have a little more room to survive when he has shaky control. He matches the fastball with an above average to plus curveball and an average - though improving - changeup. Garcia has good feel for the strike zone, and as a lefty, he doesn't quite need the velocity of his fellow righty starters. He does not have ace-level upside, but he could be a back-of-the-rotation arm, or a bit more if the velocity increase holds true.
The number in parentheses next to a player's name indicates their rank in my Top 50
Gabriel Lino (47), Chace Numata, Joel Fisher
Gabriel Lino finished last year in AAA, but sharing a system with Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro earned a him two-level demotion just to get at bats. Lino is still young enough that this reassignment does not represent a death sentence for his career. Numata has a strong arm and potentially decent glove, but he lacks impact with his bat. Fisher is an org catcher who can help provide value on the minor league level.
Malquin Canelo (18), Zach Green, Scott Kingery (15), Kyle Martin (48), Drew Stankiewicz, Mitch Walding
Joining Canelo up the middle is 2015 second-round pick Kingery. Kingery is, in many ways, the prototype second baseman, with a plus hit tool, plus-plus speed and sneaky power in his bat. He is a converted center fielder who has taken well to the infield. This year will be about proving that his down numbers in Lakewood were fatigue-related. Green was a former high pick who has missed much of the last two years due to injury, but the 1B/3B has good power and the Phillies like his work ethic. Kyle Martin was the Phillies' fourth-round pick as a senior out of South Carolina, and is a hulking left handed first baseman with good power, but some swing-and-miss proclivity. Walding is another big bonus third baseman who has never lived up to either his bonus or his pregame BP looks. Stankiewicz is a utility infielder who can make a ton of contact, but has no power and lacks the glove to play shortstop everyday.
Herlis Rodriguez, Cord Sandberg (44), Carlos Tocci (11)
Rodriguez put up great numbers in Lakewood, but scouts were lukewarm on him, so he will need to show that he is better than the raw tools. Sandberg was supposed to be a toolsy, raw outfielder, but the tools aren't really there. He has good strength, but does not tap into his raw power, and his approach still needs work. In the field, a weaker than expected arm has moved him to left field, and there is a lot of debate about how good his glove really is out there. This group initially included FSL home run leader Andrew Pullin, but the 22-year-old recently announced his voluntary retirement from pro ball.
Thomas Eshelman (21), Ranfi Casimiro, Elniery Garcia (30), Matt Imhof, Will Morris, Tyler Viza
Joining Eshelman and Garcia are 3 of the other members of the Lakewood rotation and a former second-round pick. Casimiro is a giant at 6'8", and while his fastball is not overpowering (low 90s), he is difficult to square up for batters. His control and secondary pitches took huge steps forward in 2015. Viza is a back-end starter in the making with a solid three-pitch mix and the ability to pound the strike zone. Morris was a ground ball machine for Lakewood in the second half, but does not miss enough bats to have a good chance at a future in the rotation. Imhof missed most of 2015 due to an arm injury, and even when he was on the mound his velocity was down and his command was off. At his best, in college, Imhof would fill the zone with a deceptive fastball and solid breaking ball. He made improvements to his changeup after signing in 2014, but it remains to be seen which version will pitch this season.
Victor Arano (24), Joey DeNato, Matt Hockenberry, Jairo Munoz, Miguel Nunez, Alexis Rivero (40), Jesen Therrien
The bullpen should be an area of strength for the Threshers this season. Arano moves full-time to the bullpen, a role he was dominant in this winter. He will show a fastball in the mid 90s to go with a plus breaking ball. Speaking of mid-90s heat and a plus breaking ball, Rivero was able to dominate the South Atlantic and Florida State Leagues with that combination last year. Therrien has seen his stuff regress, but he still put up big numbers for the Threshers last year. Nunez is a giant righty who is finally feeling comfortable in the bullpen and has shown improved control and secondary pitches. DeNato, Hockenberry, and Munoz were very strong for the BlueClaws' bullpen last year. DeNato is a tiny lefty who relies on throwing strikes and mixing up his pitches, while also featuring the nastiest pickoff move in the system. Munoz has found second life in the Phillies org and shows a plus fastball with movement to go along with a good breaking ball and developing changeup. Hockenberry is the last product of the Temple baseball program and features a solid fastball and hammer curveball.