This third installment of my series previewing the 2014 Midwest League season focuses on the Peoria Chiefs, the South Bend Silver Hawks and the Great Lakes Loons. You can find the previous two installments here and here.
The Peoria Chiefs roster includes six players ranked by Baseball America among the top 30 prospects in the St. Louis Cardinals organization: RHP Alexander Reyes (No. 7), catcher Carson Kelly (No. 11), OF Kenneth Peoples-Walls (No. 18), INF Juan Herrera (No. 20), OF C.J. McElroy (No. 24) and catcher Steve Bean (No. 28).
The Baseball America Prospect Handbook says Reyes is “the raw clay that the Cardinals covet. He has two plus pitches and a third in development, scouts say. He starts with a fastball at 92-95 mph that will consistently hit 97 … [and] has a hard curveball with two-plane break and precocious feel for a changeup, but he’s only now learning to ‘pitch soft,’ as one scout said.” He struck out 27 percent of the batters he faced in the Appalachian League last year.
Kelly started last season with the Chiefs, but was bumped down to short-season ball after batting only .219 in 43 games. He fared better in the New York-Penn League, where he batted .277 in 70 games. He played third base the past two seasons, but now is transitioning to catcher.
Herrera and McElroy also played with the Chiefs last season. Herrera batted .271 in 23 games. McElroy, son of former big-league pitcher Chuck McElroy and nephew of Milwaukee Brewers All-Star Cecil Cooper, batted .240 and drove in 23 runs in 58 games. (Incidentally, Cooper also played in the Midwest League. He batted .336 with 3 HR, 39 RBI and 28 SB in 114 games with the 1970 Danville Warriors.)
The South Bend Silver Hawks roster includes 10 players ranked by Baseball America among the top 30 prospects in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization: RHP Braden Shipley (No. 2), RHP Aaron Blair (No. 5), C/OF Stryker Trahan (No. 8), INF Daniel Palka (No. 17), catcher Michael Perez (No. 20), LHP Daniel Gibson (No. 21), RHP Geordy Parra (No. 22), and infielders Joe Munoz (No. 26), Jamie Westbrook (No. 27) and Andrew Velazquez (No. 28). Two of those players, Shipley and Parra, will start the season on the disabled list.
All four pitchers on that list (Shipley, Blair, Gibson and Parra) each pitched a few games for the Silver Hawks during the tail end of the season. Two of the position players, Perez and Velazquez, spent a significant chunk of the 2013 season with the Silver Hawks.
Perez batted .247 with 2 HR and 14 RBI in 46 games with the Silver Hawks. Baseball America calls him the best defensive catcher in the Diamondbacks’ farm system, noting that “he threw out 43 percent of base-stealers thanks to an above-average arm and good footwork behind the plate.”
Velazquez batted .260 and drove in 16 runs in 65 games with the Silver Hawks.
The Great Lakes Loons roster includes five players whom Baseball America ranked among the top 30 Los Angeles Dodgers prospects: OF Jacob Scavuzzo (No. 15), 1B Justin Chigbogu (No. 18), RHP Zachary Bird (No. 21), INF Jesmuel Valentin (No. 22) and RHP Victor Arano (No. 29).
Of those five prospects, two played with the Loons last year. Bird went 2-5 with a 5.10 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 60 IP, and Valentin batted .212 in 33 games. Both players were 18 at the start of last season.
Valentin is the son of former major-league shortstop Jose Valentin, who managed the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2012-13 and is now the San Diego Padres’ first-base coach.
Two other sons of former major-leaguers also are on the Loons roster. Infielder Dillon Moyer is the son of longtime MLB pitcher Jamie Moyer, and RHP Greg Harris is the son of former MLB pitcher Greg Harris.