The Asheville Tourist hitters were really, really, good in 2014. No reason to be more clever than that.
You don't win a baseball championship in any league at any level without contributions from a lot of guys, and Asheville was no exception. Their South Atlantic League championship came with so many standout performances that it was rare not to see one. Try not to get too excited, though.
Wait, what the hell am I saying? Of course you should be excited. Check this out.
Raimel Tapia (OF, 20): .326/.382/.453, 9 HR, 33 SB, 134 wRC+
The player I once called "a blank canvass you can dream on" is beginning to take shape in recognizable and tantalizing form.
Raimel Tapia, depending on who you ask, is either the most exciting position player prospect in the Rockies system or the recipient of far too much hype. One of the main reasons for hesitation is his unusual batting stance quirk: an exaggerated crouch that he regularly but not constantly employs.
The other primary criticism lies in his less than stellar on-base numbers which can be disconcerting for a skinny kid who has yet display consistent power. When seeing him in person, his approach reminded me of two other left-handed hitters and so I ran some numbers.
Player A: .326 BA, 6.5 BB%, 16.7K%, .382 OBP
Player B: .295 BA, 5.2 BB%, 10.8 K%, .343 OBP
Player C: .317 BA, 5.8 BB%, 14.7 K%, .369 OBP
Player A, you probably realized by now, is Raimel Tapia this year in Asheville. The other guys numbers are for their rather long MLB careers and so are not directly comparable but both were incredibly successful lead-off hitters who made up for a lack of walking by rarely striking out, much in the way Tapia has done thus far in his MiLB career.
Player B is Juan Pierre and Player C is Ichiro Suzuki. Both had unusual swings (especially Ichiro) and managed to make careers out of the thing that is Raimel Tapia's calling card; an ability to square up the baseball no matter where it's pitched.
Tapia has been given a projected 60 hit tool by most scouts and even a 70 by a few publications (which is rare and really good) and his .326 batting average was good for third best in the South Atlantic League
if he can take to Modesto next season in that league and in that park, it'll be time to start getting really excited.
David Dahl (OF, 20): .309/.347/.500, 10 HR, 18 SB, 133 wRC+
David Dahl had the year he needed to have. He stayed healthy and productive even through a promotion and after returning to Asheville for the playoffs.
He continues to display the proverbial five-tool set, providing production with athleticism and skill alike. Like Tapia (and the other comparisons I mentioned) Dahl doesn't walk a ton but doesn't strike out much either. That spiked a bit after his jump to Modesto but we will get to that when we discuss the Nuts season.
He walked at 5.5 percent and struck out at 15.4 percent in Asheville. Coaches praise his approach, willingness to take pitches, and hit the ball where it is pitched to all fields, which may manifest in better on base numbers as pitchers grow more selective with him at the higher levels.
Either that, or hopefully he will fall more into the mold of low walk, low strikeout guys who still give tough at-bats and know how to take a walk when they really need one.
Dahl's defensive prowess is the thing that keeps him over Tapia for now in my book (though Tapia is no slouch there) and also that he has shown an ability to hang at a tough pitchers park in Modesto. Next year will be a huge season for Dahl.
Correlle Prime (1B, 20): .291/.336/.520, 21 HR, 8 SB, 134 wRC+
Speaking of huge seasons, have yourself a summer Mr. Correlle Prime. The best name in the system also had arguably the best season of the season, showcasing the power necessary to stick at first base.
Prime has been steadily growing into his 6'7 frame and it showed this year with 21 home runs, good for third in the SAL, and 48 doubles which landed him in first place in the league. Correlle was arguably the best power hitter in the South Atlantic League in 2014.
And although he repeated Grand Junction a few times, he is still only 20-years old. Modesto is where power goes to die. If Prime can show any semblance of the extra base hit ability he exhibited this year in his next campaign, he may make a play for a top ten PuRP spot.
Ryan McMahon (3B, 19): .282/.358/.502, 18 HR, 8 SB, 137 wRC+
It's insane that Ryan McMahon is the youngest player on this list.
He started out gangbusters and cooled off a little bit mid-season, but wRC+ loves that he hit more home runs on the road than at home (and so do I) and scouts still consider him the guy with the most raw power on this roster. McMahon tied Correlle Prime for the league lead at 102 RBI and tallied one more double at 49.
McMahon was second in the SAL in OPS and reports on his defense remain positive despite a high number of errors. He has the athleticism to remain at third base and with some fine tuning he should be fine. I still wouldn't rule out a look in either right field or first base but Ryan's ability to boom with the stick will determine his future.
Wilfredo Rodriguez (C, 20): .310/.359/.399, 3 HR, 2 SB, 112 wRC+
He is who we thought he was; a singles hitting catcher whose getting better and better with the glove behind the plate. Wilfredo doesn't bring much power but he does bring consistency at the place. His .310 is not the product of hot streaks and slumps but of a guy with a solid approach who doesn't go long without putting the ball in play.
If he is never going to develop power, his defense will need to become his calling card in order to separate himself from the Rockies suddenly very deep catcher position prospects.
Jose Briceno (C, 22): .283/.336/.476, 12 HR, 8 SB, 125 wRC+
For a guy who came into the season as a very raw project player, Jose Briceno showed the kind of progress the Rockies were hoping for. Reports on his arm remain about as positive as they can get while the rest of his defense remains a work in progress.
Briceno was a real threat at the plate this year, backing up 12 home runs with 23 doubles and regularly coming through in clutch situations with men on base. In 91 games played he had 57 RBI, usually hitting late in the lineup.
Pat Valaika (SS , 21): .370/.407/.575, 4 HR, 12 SB, 168 wRC+
Pat Valaika was killing Low-A Asheville -- as the above numbers suggest -- through 34 games before he got the call to Modesto.
He didn't perform as well there (though few people hit as well in Modesto as they do in Asheville) but has pretty much shown that he is ready for the next level. It will be interesting to see how he handles the league in a likely repeat next year.
Michael Benjamin (2B, 22): .341/.385/.566, 12 HR, 25 SB, 161 wRC+
Benjamin doesn't have the pedigree or praise from scouts that other guys have, and while he wasn't old for the league, he wasn't young for it either at 22. Still his numbers this year were pretty damn impressive and was inarguably instrumental in bringing a championship to the Tourists.
He's got a real nice power and speed combo for a second baseman. He needs to be able to produce at the higher levels to win over prospect hounds though.
Jordan Patterson (OF, 22): .278/.359/.430, 14 HR, 25 SB, 121 wRC+
You just don't find too many 6'5 outfielders with cannon arms who can hit double digit home runs and steal 20+ bases. Jordan is still a bit raw for his age but his body-type, attitude, and numbers this year suggest he may be a late bloomer.
Like just about everyone else, he will need to prove it at higher levels and in less hitter friendly parks, but Patterson is an intriguing prospect in only his second year of professional ball who simply has too much raw talent to ignore.
Emerson Jimenez (SS, 19): .259/.276/.342, 1 HR, 16 SB, 70 wRC+
Jimenez did not have a great season at the plate but he is on this list because he is a defensive wizard and still only 19-years old. With all that in mind, those offensive numbers aren't terrible. I hope Jimenez repeats Asheville next season in attempt to allow his bat to catch up with his glove.