I’ve mentioned it before on the site. One of the greatest aspects of being affiliated with the Sweet Spot network is the collaboration that takes place with the other writers. Harper Gordek, who is ironically my bosses brother-in-law, writes Nationals Baseball and was kind enough to give us the rundown on the prospects we received in the Tom Gorzelanny trade.
Graham Hicks was projected to be a lefty starter when drafted out of high school 2+ years ago. He had the right build and a good fastball. Unfortunately, he hasn’t developed with the speed you want to see. While in the past two seasons he has worked his way up through rookie and low A-ball, neither were impressive showings. In A-ball last year he improved across the board with fewer hits and walks and more strikeouts than in low A, but all that did was get him to a 1.6 WHIP and a 5.00+ ERA. There was some talk that another unimpressive showing in A-ball this year and a change to relief pitcher might be in order. At 21 this year there is still time for him to improve but there’s a lot that needs to be done before he’d seriously be considered on track for the majors.
AJ Morris was a draftee that a lot of people were excited about having a fantastic senior year at Kansas State. Since he came out of college it was assumed he would dominate the lower the lower minors and move up quickly, but he was merely good and a 23 year old good starter in high A is nothing special. Figuring that he didn’t have enough pitches to hack it as a starter, the Nats began converting Morris to a reliever where he showed some promise. He’s probably ready for a AA stint as a reliever, but if the Cubs want to try him again as a starter you’re looking at a 24 year old A-baller.
Michael Burgess is the “key” to the package and is the biggest gamble to give up on for the Nats. He’s got great power (usually among the leaders in his current league) and a fantastic arm, but he hits for a low average (think .250) and more disturbingly strikes out a ton. The Nats organization has been working on him shortening his swing for 4 seasons now with minimal results. He’s also got a stocky body type that may not age well. Last year, after mostly repeating his fair high a-ball performance from the year before, he was bumped to AA to see what he could do. He responded with a nice little 20 game run, the average climbing up over .280, but the strikeouts remaining high. The Nats sent him to the Arizona Fall League to see if there was really a change and he responded with a .244 showing, with only 4 walks and 2 homers all the while striking out roughly every 3 at bats. It was pretty much exactly what the Nats didn’t want to see. The feeling from most in the system at this point is that if Burgess shortens his swing it’ll hurt his power which is where his value lies but if he doesn’t shorten his swing he’ll get eaten alive in the high minors and majors.
Conclusion: If you want to look at the brightside, the Cubs got three prospects in the deal, none of which are throw-aways. They all still have the potential to impact the major league team. On the other hand, there’s nothing particularly special about these prospects. The Cubs probably have 2-3 guys like Burgess and handfuls of guys like Morris and Hicks already in their system. Hicks is too young and too far down in the minors to know where he’s going to end up, but Morris should manage to be a major league reliever (if the Cubs go that route), and Burgess might just be able to hold that average up so he’s a useful lefty power bat off the bench. Expecting anything more than this would be overly optimistic.