Ray’s Ramblings: April 29th

Written by: Ray Butler and Mac Squibb (@SquibberStats)

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Incredibly honored to have staff writer Mac Squibb join me for this week’s Ramblings. There’s absolutely no reason to not be following him on Twitter, and you should also check out his personal, baseball-oriented site: macsquibb.com. This week, he’ll be attacking the MLB players featured in this article (Jorge Polanco, Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon) while I focus on the MiLB prospects you’ll read about below.

I’d like to think we brought plenty of fire this week.

  • If you’re looking to catalog the prospects who have raised their stock in the first month of the regular season, Leody Taveras has to be close to the top of that list. Thru 100 plate appearances in his age-20 season, the outfielder is slashing .311/.380/.411 with a home run and 5 stolen bases in 23 games as he repeats High-A in the Carolina League. The relevance of the sample isn’t based on the numbers alone; instead, it’s just really nice to see some statistical improvements for a player who’s posted a wRC+ of 96 and 85 the past two seasons respectively. The .456 BABIP thru the first month will obviously fall quite a bit, but Taveras is 1) elevating the ball more so far in 2019 than any season in his young career, and 2) utilizing an all-fields approach (as he’s done historically) that can lead to a high BABIP for a plus runner (as long as the quality of contact is there). From a real-life perspective, the 20-year-old is so solid defensively that offense that’s simply slightly above average might make him an All Star at the big league level. From a fantasy standpoint, I look at the 6’1 frame and dream of a player that develops league-average power to pair with above average hit and run tools. It’s a world I want to live in. Following two lackluster seasons, I finally balked and moved Taveras outside of my top-100 prospects before the season began; it could be short lived if he continues the torrid pace he’s currently on.
  • For his career, Jorge Polanco has had a fly ball and line drive exit velocity of 89 mph, which is 3 mph below the league average. This season, Polanco has dramatically improved that mark, increasing his fly ball and line drive EV to 93.6 mph; not coincidentally, he’s already hit five home runs. Polanco also has eight Barrels this season in 92 plate appearances, which is crazy considering the fact his career best (season long) is 11 Barrels in 544 plate appearances. That large improvement in exit velocity has lead to an xBA (.312), xSLG (.619) and xwOBA (.417), all of which are in the 90th percentile or better thru the first month of the regular season. It’s worth noting that Polanco currently has a ground ball percentage of just 17.9%, which is certainly unsustainable. However, the improved exit velocity alone should be enough to elevate Polanco’s value a large amount moving forward.
  • If you haven’t done so already, you should really grab a Prospects 365 t-shirt. A small portion of proceeds will be donated to 4MOM, and it’s a fantastic way to support a site that works tirelessly to enhance your baseball and fantasy baseball experience. All purchases come with free shipping. Snag yours today!
  • 19-year-old Jarred Kelenic is ripping apart Low-A pitching, slashing .329/.427/.573 with 4 home runs (already 15 RBI) and 4 stolen bases thru 21 games (96 plate appearances). That’s a 190 wRC+ for those of you keeping count at home. After you check out the gaudy counting stats, the next thing you’ll probably notice is that the outfielder has struck out in 22.9% of his plate appearances early this season. But never fear: while that number may be a little high for our liking, it’s also important to note Kelenic has an attractive 13.5 BB% in the same sample. He’s also struck out only four times in his last six games, so the whiff rate has been trending in the correct direction as of late. And while I haven’t seen Kelenic live this spring, with >36% of his plate appearances ending with a walk or strikeout, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear he’s a tad on the passive side at the dish. If I’m right, it’s nothing we should be worried about; a prospect with Kelenic’s pedigree should be able to make necessary, refining adjustments throughout their development. I ranked the 19-year-old inside my top-30 prospects for the 2019 season, and I fully expect him to become one of the best prospects in baseball sooner rather than later.
  • Jason Heyward is off to one of the hottest starts in baseball and owns the 17th highest highest wOBA (.426) given 50 plate appearances. Although the results didn’t reflect it, Heyward actually got off to a similar start in 2018.

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While his xStats for 2019 indicate that he’s been over-performing, the .379 xwOBA would represent a 47 point increase over his previous career high. Outside of the three listed months, Heyward’s launch angle has never been above 12° during the Statcast era. His improved results when hitting the ball in the air supports what many call the “Flyball Revolution”. It’s worth noting that Heyward’s launch angle and overall production decreased after May last season.

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Heyward’s hot start can also be explained by an improvement in plate discipline, which has lead to what would be careers bests in BB% (16.7%) and K% (11.9%).

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  • Daulton Varsho has 4 home runs, 3 stolen bases and an .861 OPS thru 69 plate appearances in Double-A early this season. That’s pretty nice. I was lucky enough to get the open face of his most-recent blast, a mammoth blast that was an undoubted home run as soon as it left the bat. Enjoy!
  • If your main focus when stat line scouting a prospect is batting average, you’re likely missing out on the early-season success Geraldo Perdomo. A 19-year-old shortstop who made his debut in my prospect list this preseason, Perdomo has slashed .258/.417/.364 with a home run and 5 stolen bases thru 20 games (84 plate appearances). That’s good for a 136 wRC+, which is notable for a teenage prospect who just completed their first month of full season ball. A switch hitter with the defensive prowess to remain up-the-middle throughout his career, Perdomo tinkered with his swing mechanics this offseason in hopes of accessing more power. Prospects Live was all over the alteration this spring.

It remains to be seen how much of an effect the changes will make in Perdomo’s power profile over the course of an entire season, but I am impressed he was able to make the changes without sacrificing his contact rate (17.9 BB%, 17.9 K% so far). At 6’2, 184 lbs. with a plate approach advanced beyond his years and adequate defensive skills, Perdomo has a lot of the necessary ingredients to become a future impact prospect; it was that thought that landed the shortstop in my prospect obsession list for the 2019 season. I expect the 19-year-old to become a known commodity throughout the prospect world before the end of the 2019 season.

  • If you haven’t checked out both editions of last week’s Ramblings, you really should. The MLB version features thoughts on Matt Chapman, Julio Urías, Matt Strahm, Marcus Semien and Daniel Vogelbach. The MiLB version has notes on Drew Waters, Vidal Brujan Grayson Rodriguez, Jazz Chisholm, MJ Melendez and more. Make sure you’re up to speed on the recent work that’s been published on the site. 
  • Both Adalberto Mondesi Jr. and Whit Merrifield were drafted within the top-100 players this preseason while teammate Alex Gordon fell outside the top-450. Gordon is far from a flashy player and is certainly past his prime, but he’s shown he still has some life left in him during the first month of the regular season. In 2018, Gordon had his best fly ball and line drive exit velocity, but did little to take advantage of it by also having his lowest Pull% on fly balls. This year, Gordon has maintained his exit velocity and raised his Pull% to his career average, which has lead to five early home runs.

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Gordon has also hit third in 24 of the Royals’ first 28 games this season, which is the optimal spot for accumulating runs and RBIs. Gordon’s resurgence into fantasy relevance in 2019 certainly seems sustainable, just don’t expect him to be the best player on your roster by the end of the season. 

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  • Our John Stewart recently profiled Padres outfield prospect Tirso Ornelas, using his patented musical twist to hammer home his points. You should really check it out.
  • Underrated prospect alert: Devin Smeltzer, LHP for the Twins’ organization currently pitching for the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos (he was traded from the Dodgers in the Brian Dozier deal last summer). I had the opportunity to watch the 23-year-old live on Sunday, and I came away thoroughly impressed. I went into his outing blind, meaning I was not aware of his track record, 2019 statistics or arsenal. Listed at 6’3 195 lbs., Smeltzer featured a four-seam that sat 85-87 mph (it topped out at 90), a plus, mid-70s curveball that induced multiple strikeouts in 0-2 counts, a high-70s changeup with good sinking movement and an average, low-80s slider. For what he lacks in premium velocity, Smeltzer makes up for in pitchability. He’s able to locate his fastball in all four quadrants and elevates the pitch to induce whiffs—he gets the most out of worst pitch. Being a southpaw helps, but the 23-year-old also held runners well, becoming more deliberate with traffic on the base paths. Lastly, there’s some funkiness to the mechanics. Like, big time funkiness. I’ll post the video from my look later this week, but I’ve embedded some Baseball Census video from an outing in the 2018 Arizona Fall League below to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. Smeltzer’s final line in my live look was 5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K. The season-long numbers match what my eyes told me: thru his first five starts, the left-hander has compiled a 30 IP, 19 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 33 K output. That’s good for a minuscule 0.60 ERA and 0.73 WHIP. Thanks to a deep repertoire, right-handed hitters are actually faring much worse (.165 AVG) versus the 23-year-old than left-handed hitters (.240 AVG) so far this season. The lack of velocity will keep Smeltzer excluded from prospect lists, but he’s someone who you should be adding in deep dynasty leagues. At minimum, I think he can be a multi-inning reliever at the big league level. At best, Smeltzer becomes a back-end rotation arm whose curveball, changeup and fastball command lead to more strikeouts and viability than you’d think at first glimpse. He’s someone I’ll be keeping my eye on moving forward.

You may also remember Smeltzer from this video that made the rounds last season….

  • I was told this weekend that Alex Kirilloff is ‘within a week or two’ from returning to game action. The Twins outfield prospect is yet to play in a game this regular season after suffering a wrist injury during Spring Training. There’s no word yet on whether Kirilloff will make his 2019 debut with High-A Fort Myers or Double-A Pensacola, but my money is on the 21-year-old taking the majority of his cuts this season against Southern League pitching. Let’s hope we see Kirilloff back in action before schools let out for summer.


Follow staff writer Mac Squibb on Twitter! @SquibberStats

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Featured image courtesy of photographer Ben Sandstrom and MiLB.com

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