Welcome to another edition of The Kids Are Alright. This week it's all about power: a pair of power hitters and a power closer. If you're looking for power from your corner infield positions, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim third baseman Kaleb Cowart or Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Hunter Morris might be right for you. If you're in need of a hard-throwing closer, Pittsburgh left-hander Justin Wilson could fit the bill.
Hunter Morris, 1B, MIL - Don't you love topical stories? Hunter Morris became a hot commodity this week and it's not even his own doing. Brewers first baseman Corey Hart is having knee surgery and will be out until May. This is Hart's second knee surgery in as many years. Suddenly the first base situation in Milwaukee looks bad. Or does it?
Morris exploded last year with a big year in Double-A Huntsville, leading the Southern League with 28 home runs, 113 RBIs, 158 hits, 294 total bases, 74 extra base hits, and a .563 slugging percentage. He narrowly missed the Triple Crown by finishing fourth with a .303 average. This comes after a good 2011 season in Advanced-A Brevard County with 19 home runs.
He can clearly hit. He slugs the beejesus out of the ball, racking up homers and doubles. He hits well against all pitching. The rest of his game has ranged from average to poor. He can't play any position other than first, with unsuccessful attempts at outfield and third. He's a slow runner (but surprisingly an okay base stealer) and has historically bad defense with disappointing footwork and range (although he has good arm strength). His plate discipline has improved somewhat, but he still fits the classic power hitter mold of a guy who will hit a ton and strike out a ton. He generates strength from his hands and has average bat speed.
I read some poor reviews about Morris, most of them from an Astros blog. I decided to ignore the former divisional bias and see about Morris for myself. I watched a video of Morris at Huntsville on Youtube. Morris' swing is fairly solid. He stays back well on the ball and gets good extension on balls outside. His swing can break down badly on curveballs. His swing plane is level.
In a nutshell, Morris will do everything a fantasy owner needs from a power hitting first baseman. He improved a lot on defense with only six errors in 136 games last year and is slowly improving his plate discipline by taking more walks. He also finished strong last year, playing much better in the second half.
Like I said above, Hart's out for the first month or so. Mat Gamel is a bust if I ever saw one and he's the immediate option the Brewers have at first. That leaves Morris as the top choice for first base this year in Milwaukee. Barring a terrible spring or a catastrophic injury, he should win the job for Opening Day.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, LAA - Cowart enters the 2013 season as the Angels' top prospect. He earned the mantle by producing a breakout year in 2013, playing well in both the Angels Class-A affiliates. He started the year in Class-A Cedar Rapids and finished in Advanced-A Inland Empire in the California League, where I got to see him play for a few months.
Cowart has plus power potential even with an imbalance in his switch-hitting skills. He struggles with his left-handed swing, although he produces power just fine from both sides of the plate. He makes up for what he lacks as a hitter with great bat speed and overall he's a quick learner with a patient approach at the plate. He draws walks like a pro. His strikeouts to walks ratio in Inland Empire was 67/45. Cowart is still raw on defense and most of his errors are due to his tendency to rush and try to do too much. He has a plus-plus arm thanks to his days as a prep pitching standout. In fact, Baseball America named the former two-way threat their high school player of the year in 2010.
Cowart improved by leaps and bounds in 2012. It was a big year for him to break out of the previous two sub-par seasons he spent in rookie level Orem. He's only 20 and has a lot of room to grow yet.
The Angels have placeholders at third base right now: Alberto Callaspo and Andrew Romine. Callaspo is serviceable and Romine profiles as a backup for the rest of his career. Luis Jimenez is another good third base prospect, but his ceiling is much lower than Cowart's. At best Jimenez would get a year in Anaheim before Cowart arrives, likely in 2014 if his current progress continues.
Guys, it's Anaheim. Orange County. Not Los Angeles. That always bugs me. I was born there. I should know.
Anyway, a final note about Cowart and the future Angels lineup. Cowart could be a better overall player than Hunter Morris, with better defense and plate discipline and comparable power. Think of a lineup with Cowart, Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols. Scary.
For more on Cowart, read this piece I did on him last year for milb.com:
Justin Wilson, LHP, PIT - Wilson gets top billing among a Pittsburgh system that has a few promising relief arms due to his plus fastball. He throws 92-94 MPH and has reached 96-99 in relief. Think Billy Wagner for Wilson's ceiling, especially if Wilson ever gets his slider under control.
Wilson has had success both as a starter and more recently as a closer. Despite his past exploits as a starter - winning the 2010 Eastern League Most Valuable Player and the EL title the same year for Double-A Altoona and a College World Series title with Fresno State in 2008 - Wilson stumbled as a starter in 2011 in Triple-A Indianapolis. He lacks command and consistency with his secondary pitches - changeup, curveball and slider - but the fastball remains his greatest weapon even with a slight dip in velocity after his Major League debut last August. Pittsburgh tried him out in the bullpen to address Wilson's problems with his secondary pitches as well as lackluster arm action. It's working thus far.
Right now Wilson is ahead of the other Pirates relief prospects, former first-rounders Bryan Morris and Vic Black. Morris also made his Major League debut with the Pirates in 2012, but he's had a history of inconsistency. Black just wrapped up an outstanding year in Altoona, saving 13 games and striking out 85 batters in 60 innings. Black is still a year or two behind and both Black and Morris are righties. It's hard to bet against a hard-throwing lefty with a good fastball like Wilson.
If you're wondering about Stetson Allie, he converted to third base in June so he's out of the picture here.
Wilson will be 26 this season and has 518 2/3 innings over four minor league seasons under his belt. He's on the older side for a prospect but if you're a glass is half full kind of person like me, I prefer to see it as a young guy with a lot of experience, which would make him the right closer candidate.
Jason Grilli is closing games for the Pirates in 2013. He's 36 and will strike a lot of people out and not do much else. I remember him as just that way back when he was in the Giants system in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Maybe Grilli is good for another year. Maybe not. Once he falters, Wilson should get the call. If your league counts holds, keep an eye on Wilson as a set-up man.
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