Alec Asher (RHP, Frisco RoughRiders)
If you’re a big fan of Colby Lewis, you should pay attention to Alec Asher. Texas’ 4th round pick in the 2012 draft, Asher has never put up the truly staggering numbers needed to be regarded as a top pitching prospect, though solid ERAs at both Spokane and Myrtle Beach ensured he spent only one season at each stop.
Currently, Asher has his worst ERA of his professional career, a 4.24 mark resulting from two back-to-back poor outings on the road in late April. Since those games, though, Asher has turned in several solid games, going 7.0 innings in his last three starts. On May 3rd, Asher pitched what was likely the best game of his career, going 7.0 innings and allowing no runs on four hits. He leads the team in innings pitched, and is tied with Luke Jackson for the lead in strikeouts, putting up a 42:11 strikeout to walk ratio. The only area in which Asher has shown a worrying tendency is in giving up homers, already allowing eight in his 46.2 innings this season, as compared to the 10 total he allowed in 2013. This increase could be due in part to the change in park factors between Myrtle Beach and Frisco, and if permanent, would only serve to solidify his likeness to Colby Lewis.
Asher’s repertoire looks mostly the same, with his low-90s fastball that he can usually spot fairly precisely, a mid-80s slider, and a low-to-mid 80s changeup that is still improving. He has added, or re-started using, a curveball, but it is usually his weakest pitch, and the one most susceptible to finding bats.
Asher will never be one of the most exciting pitchers in the game, but with his improving command of all four pitches, as well as his current durability, he could have a long career. Every team needs a number four starter, and Asher could fill the role of an inning-eating, in-the-ballgame-keeping back end of the rotation dude nicely.
Nick Williams (OF, Myrtle Beach Pelicans)
Last season, Nick Williams was touted as one of the best pure hitters on a powerful Hickory Crawdads squad, an outfielder with a bat that projected to be very impressive. So far this season, the 20-year-old hasn’t yet lived up to the title.
Though his hitting has improved in the month of May, Williams is still hitting only .268/.322/.418 with a painful 42 strikeouts through 34 games. The bat speed and pitch recognition are still there, but Williams uses a large leg-kick to begin his swing process, which means he has to decide that he’s going to swing sooner than hitters with calmer motions. Against low-A pitchers, this was no problem, as they’re not as experienced with changing speeds, but Williams has struggled against high-A pitchers and their more advanced repertoires. Recently, Williams has been showing signs of adjustments, but with the likes of Gallo and his massive improvements in the lineup with him, Williams will need to show major signs of life to have what would be considered a successful year. If he can make what looks like necessary changes to his hitting mechanics, Williams will be able to use the phenomenal bat speed to its full potential, and he could break out as a top prospect.
Defensively, Williams received decent reviews in the outfield last season, where his speed made up for somewhat inexperienced reads on balls in left field, his primary position for most of 2013. It was expected that he’d be able to move back to his natural center field position this season with the move to Myrtle Beach, and he has, but is still spending more time at other positions than one would think. If Williams can spend more time in center and use his speed as an additional weapon, rather than the only tool allowing him to make plays, the defensive upside could offset any offensive issues that continue.
Williams will likely stay in Myrtle Beach this entire season, refining his approach to more advanced pitching and working on his defense. If the recent upturn turns out to be permanent, he could easily see Frisco in 2015 at the age of 21.
Evan Van Hoosier (IF/OF, Hickory Crawdads)
Evan Van Hoosier was Texas’ 8th round pick in the 2013 draft, a college pick out of that suddenly booming baseball state, Nevada. Though he was a college pick, Van Hoosier is only 20, a year under the South Atlantic League average, and there’s a possibility he could see Myrtle Beach this season.
Van Hoosier is currently hitting .353/.409/.588 with low-A hickory while playing a mix of second base and outfield. That slash line is good enough for first/second/first on the fairly raw team, and while regression is likely, Van Hoosier has good enough instincts and ability at the plate that it’s unlikely he’ll fall to disencouraging numbers. He isn’t without power, either, a contact hitter who can reliably sting balls to the gaps, and could reasonably hit 8-14 homers in later years, while walking a decent amount, and his speed makes him dangerous on the basepaths.
Defensively, Van Hoosier’s best chance lies at second, where he’s athletic enough to make good plays, and experienced enough to add value rather than just filling the position. When he’s not playing second base, Van Hoosier is picking up experience in the outfield, where he is still very raw. His speed could allow him to become an okay backup center fielder, but where the bat is excellent for a second baseman, it doesn’t quite play for the corners. If he is to make it to the bigs, it will mostly likely be as a good hitting, speedy second baseman, who can play a little center field when needed.
Currently, Van Hoosier projects as a “second division” second baseman, a bench player on a playoff team, but the kind of athlete a team wants on the bench. The fact that the Rangers, until recently, relied on a mixture of Donnie Murphy and Josh Wilson to fill their injury-opened second base hole, proves that there is always the chance for a decent second baseman with at least one other position. Van Hoosier could easily fill this sort of role for a team in the future, and is talented enough to stick around in professional baseball for a long career.