Ray’s Ramblings: April 23rd

Written by: Ray Butler

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Sample sizes are getting a little larger…..

  • Prospects like Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Michael Kopech get a lot of the White Sox prospect national attention, and rightfully so; however, something I’ve been extremely excited to follow early this season has been the play of three outfield prospects in High-A Winston Salem: Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and Blake Rutherford. I’ve been a fan of Basabe for awhile. Following a 12 HR/25 SB campaign as a 19-year-old in Low-A Greenville, I ranked Basabe (who was acquired by the White Sox organization as a piece of the Chris Sale trade last offseason) as my 93rd overall prospect prior to the 2017 season. The outfielder was rather underwhelming last season, totaling only 5 HR and 17 SB with a .320 OBP in High-A (though it’s worth noting he played most of the season with a torn meniscus). Basabe is repeating the level to begin the 2018 season (I ranked him 197th in my latest top 200 prospect list), and he’s already scored 12 runs, hit 2 home runs and stolen 2 bases. He’s slashing .339/.443/.627 with a 15.5 BB% and modest 22.5 K%. Even with a little regression, he should reascend on prospect lists. I ranked Rutherford 152nd on my top 200 prospect list prior to this season. The power numbers still aren’t what White Sox fans want to see, but Rutherford is slashing .364/.403/.491 with 6 R, 0 HR, 10 RBI and 10 SB. The White Sox remain adamant that Rutherford’s power will eventually develop, and they’ve certainly got time on their side (Rutherford doesn’t turn 21 until May). Adolfo has never made an appearance on a prospect list of mine, but what he loses to Basabe and Rutherford in the stolen base department, he makes up for with insane raw power. Adolfo slugged 16 HR as a 20 year old in Low-A last season, but the sketchy hit-tool flexed its muscle with a moderate .264 AVG and 31.5 K%. Thru 79 PA this season, both of those numbers have improved. Adolfo is currently slashing .314/.380/.528 with 9 R, 3 HR, 14 RBI and a 26.6 K%. Of course it’s not optimal, but it is a noticeable improvement. If he can simply keep his strikeout rate where it’s at, his power will earn him on a spot on prospect lists soon. It should be noted that Adolfo is currently playing through an elbow injury, and it looks like it could end his season prematurely. All three outfielders in Winston Salem have the skillset to be impact big leaguers someday, and all three are off to a fantastic start this season. I suggest bookmarking the Dash on MiLB First Pitch app to continue tracking their progress.
  • Indians SP prospect Triston McKenzie in reportedly progressing well in his throwing program, and he’s recently begun to increase his workload in preparation of making his 2018 debut. I spoke with a well-connected source about a potential return date for the right-hander; I was told that the Indians are hoping the 20-year-old returns to game action sometime in early-to-mid May (barring setback, of course). McKenzie is currently on the disabled list after experiencing forearm discomfort during minor league spring training. Once activated, McKenzie is expected to enter the rotation in AA Akron (alongside Shane Bieber, who’s been a popular name so far this season). I ranked McKenzie as the 29th-best prospect in baseball this preseason.
  • It feels like nobody is paying attention, but we’re in the midst of a Mitch Haniger breakout. Before this blog was a thing, I was all-in on Haniger breaking out last season. And to be fair, Haniger was pretty dang good in 2017 (though he missed quite a bit of time with injuries), slashing .282/.352/.491 with 16 HR and 5 SB. But Haniger has been on another level so far this season, already smacking 7 HR to go along with 22 RBI and 10 runs scored. He’s slashing .314/.390/.671 in 82 plate appearances. The strikeout rate is a tolerable 20.7%. Haniger retooled his swing prior to the 2016 season, but he needed a trade to Seattle following the 2016 season before he was given the playing time to truly broadcast his offensive skills. Health is a huge factor for Haniger, but for now he’s healthy and absolutely raking. If he can stay healthy, he might earn himself an All Star appearance.
  • On Sunday, it was reported that Dodgers SP Julio Urias still hasn’t pitched from a mound. I wrote about Urias last week and simply wanted to follow-up since we have new information. I don’t think the news that the 21-year-old hasn’t yet thrown off a mound is concerning or alarming, but with each passing week, I become more convinced we probably won’t see the southpaw until the beginning of next season. If he can return this season genuinely healthy and sharp, I hope I’m wrong.
  • I really feel like we were ahead of the industry on what we’ve seen from Yasmani Grandal this season. The switch-hitter was the only catcher I listed in my 2018 high-value player list. Prior to this regular season, Grandal was known as a switch-hitting catcher who was below-average as a right-handed hitter facing left-handed pitching. Grandal worked on his swing and approach this offseason in effort to improve his performance against southpaws. So far, it’s been mission accomplished. In 23 PA vs. LHP this season, Grandal is slashing .421/.522/.632. He hasn’t yet homered against a southpaw (he has 3 HR as a LHH vs. RHP), but the numbers alone are extremely validating of Grandal’s tweaks. Also encouraging is that Grandal has played in 16 games so far this season. Austin Barnes? 5 (as a catcher). Remember when Barnes was going to usurp the catching position from Grandal ‘once and for all’ this season? That was fun. Let’s hope Grandal’s impressive numbers continue as we near the second full month of the regular season.
  • Don’t let the slash numbers fool you: I’m liking what I’ve seen from Pavin Smith so far this season. His GB% and LD% is down, his FB% is up. His Pull% is up. Why don’t I care about the AVG or OBP yet? Smith’s BABIP is a hilarious .171 thru 63 plate appearances. I’ll care if he’s still slashing .161/.254/.286 in June or July. Spoiler alert: he won’t be. Smith has fantastic plate discipline, and I think there’s a good shot he posts double-digit BB% each season as he progresses through the minor leagues. Fangraphs has graded Smith with 50-future GamePower and 60-future RawPower, so the potential to hit for above-average power is certainly there. Mechanically, Smith employs a small leg-kick that allows him to be quick to the ball. It’s a repeatable movement that allows him to cover the entirety of the strike zone while not succumbing his timing to offspeed pitches. You can watch Smith’s first home run of the season right here. Smith was my 103rd-ranked prospect this preseason, and despite what some of the numbers say, I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen so far.
  • The Cardinals are 13-8 and are playing good baseball despite slow starts from both Marcell Ozuna and Matt Carpenter, but their rotation outlook is an absolute mess. Barring injury, Carlos Martinez and Luke Weaver seem like locks. Michael Wacha’s velocity and strikeouts are down and his walks are up. Miles Mikolas is the shiny new toy in the toy-box. Adam Wainwright is a Redbird legacy and getting paid $19.5 million this season. Prospects Jack Flaherty (currently in AAA Memphis) and Alex Reyes (who will reportedly be activated from the DL by the end of May) are almost certainly better options than Wainwright and Mikolas/Wacha, but how will it actually play out? It makes sense for the Cardinals to go to a six man rotation that includes Flaherty (until Reyes is activated), but GM John Mozeliak was recently quoted as to saying he’d rather shrink the Cardinals rotation than expand it. Wainwright went on the DL on Sunday due to elbow inflammation, but instead of inserting Flaherty into the big league rotation, the Cardinals will instead move their remaining starters up a day, meaning St. Louis won’t need a fifth starter until Saturday (Flaherty seems like a solid candidate for that spot start). It’s a mess, and I don’t trust any of the Cardinals’ decision makers to make any solid decisions. If we get to June and everyone is healthy, the rotation should undoubtedly consist of Carlos Martinez, Luke Weaver, Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty and either Wacha or Mikolas. I’d also be fine with a six man rotation to help limit innings for Weaver, Reyes and Flaherty. Most importantly, I just want the Cardinals to be run competently. Is that too much to ask for?
  • Brendan Rodgers was one of my prospect obsessions heading into the season, mostly because I think his offensive skillset is generally underrated since he’s been ranked amongst Ronald Acuna, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Eloy Jimenez on prospect lists this season. After an amazing 5-5 performance on Sunday, Rodgers is slashing .300/.323/.533 with 7 R, 3 HR, 11 RBI and 2 SB in 63 plate appearances. He only has two walks (he’s always possessed one of the more aggressive approaches amongst notable prospects), which concerns me as he begins to approach his big league promotion window. The microscopic 3.2 BB% is something to monitor throughout the regular season. If it stabilizes near that number, what will the strikeout rate look like? What will the triple slash look like? If pitchers have to mostly throw in the zone to get Rodgers out, he could be a .300 AVG/25 HR big league middle infielder and a stalwart in one of the best lineups in baseball.
  • Willy Adames got on the board Sunday with his first HR of the season, a grand slam in AAA Durham’s 10-0 victory over Lehigh Valley. I’ve never been too bullish on the shortstop prospect, but I genuinely feel bad for him. He’s a 10 HR/10 SB/.350 OBP, major league-ready prospect who’s currently blocked by Adeiny Hechavarria. The Rays resigned Hechavarria in the offseason to ensure Adames would be blocked. I guess when you have the chance to keep a shortstop with a lifetime .292 OBP and 72 wRC+ in your starting lineup, you have to do it. I gave up on understanding the Rays’ management a long time ago, so I’ve got no light at the end of the tunnel for you. Thru 63 PA, Adames is slashing .300/.413/.440 with 9 R, 1 HR, 11 RBI and 1 SB in AAA. His BB% is up over five-percent early this season (Adames has finished with a double-digit walk rate every season since 2014). I’ve always viewed Adames as a solid but unspectacular fantasy asset with a high floor, but that high floor seems to continue growing. Maybe he’ll get a shot in the big leagues before 2020?
  • Speaking of a high floor, let’s talk about the most requested player of the week. Alex Verdugo is slashing .300/.317/.500 thru 63 plate appearances. He has 9 R, 3 HR and 14 RBI. The slash numbers for Verdugo a little peculiar compared to his past strikeout and walk rates, so I expect the OBP to improve relatively soon. So why the heck is he not an everyday starter in the Dodgers’ outfield? The answer is frustrating. Statistically speaking, Verdugo wasn’t all that impressive in a 25 PA sample last September with the Dodgers. But the next part is just as important. According to reports, Verdugo arrived to the ballpark late on at least one occasion before a home game. Other reports suggest that last season, Verdugo exhibited a poor work ethic and attitude. Quite honestly, it seems like he left a bad taste in the Dodgers mouth during his cup of coffee last September. Recent interviews I’ve read suggest that Verdugo has worked to make himself a better teammate and harder worker. Manager Dave Roberts was complimentary of Verdugo’s ‘maturity’ during Spring Training, including when Verdugo was optioned to minor league camp. Don’t think for one second that work ethic, attitude and body language don’t play a role in an ETA for a prospect. We all know about the Dodgers outfield situation. Yasiel Puig isn’t going anywhere, but it *feels* like both Joc Pederson and Matt Kemp could be nearing the end of their rope with the Dodgers. The complexity is furthered when you consider that Andrew Toles was productive in the big leagues last season, yet he’s biding his time in AAA Oklahoma City too. So hypothetically, the Dodgers could decide to demote/DFA/trade Pederson or Kemp without it affecting Verdugo whatsoever. I ranked Verdugo 45th in my preseason top 200 prospect list, and I love the skillset he brings to the table; I also understand that he has one of the more frustrating paths to big league playing time in the minor leagues. I know you’re running out of patience with the Dodgers and Verdugo. I can sense it. People tweet me on a daily basis wondering about Verdugo. But…. #Patience, folks. Verdugo is 21 years old. Talent will find a way, even if it takes an eventual trade to a different organization.
  • Your weekly Ten Pack of under-the-radar players worthy of your consideration as you prepare your mind for waiver wire moves this week (in no particular order): Christian Villanueva, Ryan Flaherty, Chad Bettis, Andrew Cashner, Jarlin Garcia, Yonny Chirinos, Jeimer Candelario, Harrison Bader, Matthew Boyd, Hyun-Jin Ryu.
  • A rolling list of dynasty prospects worthy of adding or keeping an eye on (in no particular order): Jeisson Rosario, Corbin Martin, Daulton Varsho, Griffin Canning, Anthony Kay, Bryce Conley, Jose Suarez, Gerson Garabito, Josh Lowe, Jonathan Hernandez, Tirso Ornelas, Brandon Waddell, William Contreras and Jasseel De La Cruz, Tony Santillan, Zac Lowther, Jalen Beeks, Cionel Perez, Connor Wong, Yasel Antuna, Trey Supak, Michael Hermosillo.
  • Hot take of the week: Major League Baseball should implement a new rule, and here it is: By rule, all check swings must be appealed to the first or third base umpires. Take it completely out of the hands of the home plate umpire. There would still be a mistake made every now and then, but we’d finally do away with a home plate umpire haphazardly deciding a batter went around when, in fact, they didn’t. Have a great week!

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Featured image courtesy of True Blue LA

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