In Part One, I took a look at the four Lexington Legends selected to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game, this year. While these four are certainly deserving of the attention, there is more to this team than just the high-profile prospects; a great deal more, as it turns out. Here’s just a few more that deserve your attention.
Brewer Hicklen, OF
2018: .320/.380/.525 in 137 PA, 151 wRC+, 8.0% BB, 35.0% K
A personal favorite coming into the 2018 season, Hicklen has shown himself to be virtually what I expected. A plus defender in the field with outstanding speed and present gap power, Hicklen lost some time to football in both high school and at college, and still has some untapped potential. He’s more than a slash-and-dash hitter, since he does have some raw power that he has yet to show in games on a regular basis, but that should come along as the season progresses. He’s a fast-twitch athlete with quick hands and a level swing geared toward line drives, at the moment, and should generate more loft as he learns to be more selective at the plate. His BABIP is impossibly high (.486), but is somewhat reflective of previous limited appearances in rookie-level ball. He will certainly need to start utilizing the whole field, if he’s going to reach his offensive potential; he’s gone to left field 61.8% of the time in 2018, perhaps swinging for the fences, but his bat is far more valuable if he learns to go with the pitch and spray the ball around.
Travis Jones, LF-3B
2018: .296/.384/.432 in 245 PA, 136 wRC+, 6.9% BB, 20.4% K
Looking like he could eventually be seen as a late-round steal, Travis Jones is cut from similar cloth as Hicklen: an athletic, solid all-round player, with some room for growth. At 6’4”, 210, Jones is very quick for his size, demonstrating both the range to play left field and the quick-twitch reactions to handle third base. Coming out of the 29th round of the 2017 draft, Jones was seen as being a bit raw with an average tool set across the board. What helps him is his advanced base-running sense, and ability to make use of high-percentage steal opportunities. While most Royals-focused sites tend to talk a lot about Matias et al, Jones currently leads the team in hits (63), doubles (12), runs scored (40), walks (17), HBP (14!), and steals (also 14), while holding second place in RBI (31) and sixth in fewest strikeouts (50). Jones has a quick swing and typically a short swing path, especially on the back end, but can get a little long vs. advanced off-speed pitches (like a lot of Class-A batters). He is quick out of the box and isn’t afraid to take that extra base. He can certainly drive the ball deep into the gap, and I feel like he will demonstrate at least 12-15 HR pop this season, with the potential for average in-game home-run power as he advances. He’s a ground-ball hitter, at the moment (1.77 GB/FB ratio, 49.7 GB%), but with his size and bat speed he could become a legitimate power source if he can learn to put some loft on the ball.
Defensively, his better position at the moment is probably left field, though he has the versatility to handle all four corner positions. He is quick on his transfers and throws, enough to make what is considered average arm strength play up. In the outfield, he runs efficient routes and his straight-line speed appears to me to be slightly above advertised (also considered “average”). He is roughly age-appropriate for this league, though the Royals may push him if he continues to handle Class-A pitching as well as he has, so far.
Ricky Aracena, 2B-SS
2018: .243/.292/.350 in 119 PA, 82 wRC+, 5.9% BB, 14.3% K
Set aside the numbers, for a moment, and recall that when Aracena was signed in 2014 as an international free agent, his game and style of playing was compared favorably to Rafael Furcal. There’s good reason for this. Indeed, Aracena’s nickname is “Furcalito” (“little Furcal”), so it stands to reason that he would have some things in common with the former ML shortstop. Aracena has more than enough arm to play short, though he has spent much of the year at second with Jeison Guzman (we’ll get to him) and now Cristian Perez (ditto). He also covers plenty of ground and pairs that range with plus speed and quickness. Don’t let his size fool you into thinking that he can’t hit, either. He is stronger than his generously-listed 5’8”, 160-pound frame would suggest. Aracena has slowly been adding gap doubles power to his repertoire, and since he came into the season at age 20, he certainly has time to work on his offense.
One would like to see his line-drive percentage climb, considerably (18.3%), but I expect that to happen over the coming months. He can drive the ball to left or right, but has struggled vs. RHP in an admittedly-small sample size of AB (.209 in 78 PA, .333 vs LHP in 38 PA). While April was awful (.400 OPS in 36 PA), he managed a .765 OPS in May over 46 PA, and has thus far in June batted .367 with a .764 OPS in 34 PA.
Aracena has the speed to swipe 20-25 bags, easily, with more frequent appearances on base, and possibly more. As mentioned, like so many other players on this 2018 Legends team, he is young for the level (he turns 21 on October 2nd), and has time to improve his offense.
At the risk of stating the obvious, simply making more frequent, hard contact will do wonders for him, as his speed and quickness (see a recurring theme, here?) make him a nuisance on the bases.
Marten Gasparini, OF
2018: .231/.272/.331 in 185 PA, 71 wRC+, 4.3% BB, 29.7% K
Gasparini has now spent 280 games in full-season Low-A ball, starting with 111 games in Lexington back in 2016. Of course, he played shortstop back then, and that experiment was a dismal failure (48 errors in 107 games, 31 of those fielding errors). Certainly not “the second coming of Derek Jeter”, as he was called after being signed in 2013.
However, since being moved to the outfield in 2017, Gasparini has taken to the switch very well. He has worked at improving his routes and consistently makes strong throws back to the infield, and has always covered more than enough ground to play either left or center. Splitting time between left and center in 2017, Gasparini is now almost exclusively a center-fielder, where he has made several highlight-reel plays in only 42 appearances at the position, thus far.
Gasparini has always had the tools defensively to be a regular, and the minor-league rolls are littered with players who failed at short, only to excel in the outfield. An above-average arm, coupled with plus defensive skill and speed (in the outfield, of course), make him a valuable prospect despite the poor offensive showing over the past 2+ seasons. He was always young for A-ball, coming to Lexington in 2016 at age 19 and having only turned 21 as of May 24th of this year. He was also a very raw talent, growing up in Italy before being noticed by international scouts and moving to the Italian Baseball Academy at age 14 to begin working out in earnest. At the time, he was considered the finest European prospect since Max Kepler signed with the Twins in 2009.
Gasparini’s swing is still timing-based, but he is slowly beginning to show the ability to drive the ball, especially in a hitter’s count. Strangely enough, his splits at home vs. road are very far apart (.295 BA, .762 OPS in 24 home games; .141 BA, .398 OPS in 23 road games), and he continues to struggle vs. RHP (.204 BA vs. RHP in 123 PA, .259 BA vs LHP in 59 PA). The splits regarding hitting vs. lefties have always been higher for him, leading one to wonder how much better off he might be if he stuck to batting right-handed.
As mentioned earlier, Gasparini has easy-plus speed, and could be a 30+ steal guy if he could get on base with even average frequency. He is still very raw at the plate, especially when it comes to reading counts and pitch selection. At times, he looks overwhelmed and his swings will reflect that, but he’s starting to assert himself more often and drive the ball with confidence, an element that has been missing up to this point in his career.
I’ve been following Gasparini closely since he came to Lexington two years ago, and I still believe that he could put it all together. Defensively, he could progress to the higher rungs of the minor-league ladder, but his floor would be much lower without even modestly-improved offense. There’s enough potential remaining to make him a deep sleeper-type of prospect, but he’s likely going to be passed over by the likes of Michael Gigglioti and Vance Vizcaino, not to mention Travis Jones and Seuly Matias, so he’ll need to step up his game fairly soon.