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Minor Matters: Catching Up with the Pack in the Pros

Buchanan and Mazzoni look more and more like they will soon get a shot in the Show.

Mazzoni got to pitch for the big club in spring training.
Mazzoni got to pitch for the big club in spring training.

BTP recently noted the stellar (if BABIP inflated) season of Jake Buchanan and the signings of 2013 draftees Josh Easley and Anthony Tzamtzis, both of whom recently got their professional careers going in the rookie level Gulf Coast League. Let's take a look at how those three have fared since last we met and also look at the Pack pros drafted in the 2011 and 2012 classes.

Buchanan's best attribute, his refusal to walk anyone, has continued in AAA. In 11 innings over two starts, the finesse righty has yet to yield a free pass. He's given up nine hits and fanned 11 after a career-high nine K performance in his second AAA start. Buchanan has never averaged more than 6.2 K/9 at any level of the minors; if he can maintain this newfound ability to miss bats, we have ourselves a genuine prospect here. Unfortunately, that 9.0 AAA K/9 thing is likely just a bit of small sample size noise.

Easley has made fairly easy work of rookie league batters, as a polished college reliever should. In three innings spanning two outings, Easley has allowed one earned run on two hits while striking out five. He has yet to issue a free pass. Tzamtzis is being Tzamtzis. He gave up a run on two hits, a walk, and a wild pitch in an inning of work in his only outing. Hey, at least he didn't hit anyone. And he even had a chance in the field and successfully recorded an out rather than uncorking a wild throw into the stands.

Chris Diaz and Cory Mazzoni got off to a late start due to injury, but both are back in action and playing well. Diaz is batting .267/.333/.400 so far, good for a .733 OPS after he had a difficult time adjusting to wood in his first pro season (.567 OPS). Granted, he only has 35 at bats, but if he can maintain a .700 OPS the slick-fielding middle infielder has a shot at a utility role someday. After a brief rehab stint for the Gulf Coast Pirates, Diaz is now at SALLY affiliate West Virginia.

Mazzoni's 4-3 record and 4.38 ERA are not overly impressive on the surface, but his components suggest that he is pitching much, much better at AA Binghamton than his ERA indicates. Mazzoni is fanning 10.2/9 while walking just 2.6, giving him an outstanding 3.89 K/BB ratio. His ERA is inflated because opponents are hitting .364 on balls in play and Mazzoni has just a 56.5% strand rate. Basically, that means that nearly half of the runners reaching base against him are scoring; normally, pitchers strand 70-72% of all runners. Mazzoni's FIP is 2.75, and that number definitely more accurately reflects how well he is throwing the ball. If he was getting good luck rather than bad luck, his ERA could well be around 2.00 right now. Mazzoni is a legitimate threat to break into the Mets' rotation in 2014.

Ryan Mathews is rather old for the Midwest League, but his numbers at Beloit cannot be ignored. He is hitting .250/.347/.442 with nine homers and 37 RBI. He has a very healthy 12.2% walk rate and a respectable-for-a-power-hitter 21.9% strikeout rate. He is creating runs at a rate 20% better than the league average. If he can maintain that level of production as he climbs the ladder, Mathews may well carve out a career as a platoon corner outfielder/DH/pinch hitter type.

Unfortunately the development of two other former Pack righty sluggers is not going so well. After a huge 2012 season (.934 OPS; 155 wRC+) at hitter-friendly Asheville, Harold Riggins appears to have been exposed at Modesto of the California League. Riggins has already racked up 130 strikeouts; he's returning to the bench with bat in hand in 38.6% of his plate appearances. Even with good luck when he does make contact (.361 BABIP), Riggins has a triple slash line of .227/.341/.430 in a league that is very conducive to offense. He does have 13 home runs and is producing runs at four percent above the league average rate, but that is simply not good enough for a 23-year-old first baseman still in A ball.

Collegiate walk machine Pratt Maynard is at Rancho Cucamonga, also in the California League, where he is hitting just .206/.306/.325. He has been only adequate defensively (25% CS rate and three passed balls in 36 games). His walk rate is a solid 11.7%, and he has been rather unlucky (.228 BABIP), but it is hard to imagine Maynard as anything more than organizational catcher depth at this point, though catchers do have a tendency to develop more slowly than other position players. Maynard did miss a couple of weeks with an injury and has just two hits and eight strikeouts in six games since his return; perhaps he will knock the rust off and get hot enough to remain on the Dodgers' radar as a prospect.