Experienced college pitchers tend to dominate the lower minors (particularly in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League) and West Michigan Whitecaps righthander Spencer Turnbull is no exception. He is 8-2 with a 2.95 ERA in 15 starts with the Whitecaps this season, and was named a Midwest League All-Star. West Michigan had several other starters put up similar numbers in recent years, so Turnbull's stats aren't jump-off-the-page noteworthy, but his recent performance may be. Turnbull has just one loss since May 1, and is 5-0 with a 2.41 ERA in his last six starts. He has 35 strikeouts and has limited opponents to a .293 slugging average in his last 39 2/3 innings. He still has yet to allow a home run this season.
There are still wrinkles for him to iron out, though. Turnbull has allowed 70 hits in 79 1/3 innings this year, a somewhat unflattering number given his experience relative to the rest of the league. He has walked 12.2 percent of the batters he has faced this year, resulting in a 1.40 WHIP. Turnbull had similar command issues in college, walking 85 batters in 183 1/3 innings in his sophomore and junior seasons at the University of Alabama.
When you think of a prototypical Tigers pitching prospect, Turnbull is who you picture in your mind. At 6'3" and 215 pounds, he's big. He pitched in the SEC, throws hard into the later innings, and picks up a fair number of strikeouts. He projects to be a back-end starter, but will need to further develop his secondary pitches to stay in the rotation. Based on his recent numbers, he's off to a good start.
Advanced-A Lakeland: Raph Rhymes, OF
At 39-52, the Lakeland Flying Tigers have had a rough season. They are tied for last place with the Brevard County Manatees, and their -63 run differential is dead-last in the Florida State League. They have lost eight games in a row and are 4-13 in July. There aren't many bright spots on the roster, especially on the pitching side of things.
One positive note is the recent play of outfielder Raph Rhymes, a 15th round pick out of LSU in 2013. At 25, Rhymes is very old for High-A ball, and his .223 batting average and .658 OPS this season aren't impressive by any means. However, Rhymes hit .303/.395/.470 with seven extra base hits in June, nearly matching teammate Dominic Ficociello's .889 OPS for the month. Rhymes has cooled off so far in July, but is still demonstrating a fair amount of plate discipline. He has a .346 on-base percentage since June 1, and has walked in 12.1 percent of plate appearances this season.
Double-A Erie: Chad Green, RHP
If you think Lakeland is having a rough season, you might want to gloss over what Erie is doing. The SeaWolves are 36-55, good enough for last place in the Eastern League's Western Division. One of the major issues has been right-handed starter Chad Green. A standout in the Whitecaps rotation last season, Green has been anything but in 94 2/3 innings for Erie this year. The Tigers challenged both him and Austin Kubitza with aggressive promotions, but neither has been able to stay afloat. Kubitza, a Rice product, is 5-7 with a 5.51 ERA.
Green, meanwhile, dropped to 2-13 (!) with a 5.04 ERA after he was rocked for nine runs on 10 hits in last night's loss to the Akron Rubber Ducks. Luckily for him (and his ERA), only three of the nine runs were earned. An 11th round pick out of Louisville in 2013, Green probably isn't long for the rotation as he progresses through the farm system. The win-loss record and ERA are ugly, but he has maintained a 2.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 3.71 FIP is more indicative of his true talent level, and a move to the bullpen could see him add velocity.
Triple-A Toledo: Daniel Fields, OF
Things have not gone well for Daniel Fields since making his major league debut in early June. Fields went 1-for-3 with a double in that game, but has hit just .160/.305/.179 in 128 plate appearances with the Mud Hens since returning to Toledo. Fields has been victimized by a .243 BABIP and has 20 walks during this stretch, but has struck out 36 times.
Fortunately, Fields has started to perk up. After hitting just .137 in June, Fields has 11 hits in 47 July at-bats, good enough for a .234 batting average. His walk totals have remained high, and he has shown a fair amount of power, with 27 extra base hits in 344 plate appearances this season. Is this enough to earn him a chance at a fourth outfielder job next season? That depends a lot on how the rest of the major league roster is constructed, but a strong finish to the season wouldn't hurt his chances.