Written by: Ray Butler
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The Ramblings are a day late this week, but I feel confident you’ll agree it was worth the wait. Before you dive in, you should check out my debut on Prospect One, a podcast hosted by the renowned Chris Welsh. We chatted about Brendan Rodgers, Nate Pearson, Jazz Chisholm and much more. Early in the podcast, Chris also takes some time to wisely lay out some thoughts on recent happenings on ‘Prospect Twitter.’ Believe me when I say it’s well worth the listen.
I hope you enjoy this week’s Ramblings as much as I enjoyed writing them.
- It’s been a tell of two months for Esteury Ruiz, a 20-year-old Padres prospect who seems to be getting a hang of the California League after a rough April. In the first month of the regular season, Ruiz slashed .218/.258/.276 with 0 HR and 10 SB in 95 plate appearances despite touting an adequate .345 BABIP. The rates were also poor; the infielder posted a 5.3 BB% and 34.7 K% in the first 22 games of the 2019 season. Since the flip of the calendar, Ruiz has basically been a different player, slashing .324/.366/.649 (despite a ‘meh’ .286 BABIP) with 4 home runs and 2 stolen bases in just 42 plate appearances (with a 7.1 BB% and 14.3 K% to boot). Google Maps tells me a drive from my hometown to Lake Elsinore, California is only 28 hours, but I haven’t gotten the chance to see Ruiz live to see if he’s made a mechanical adjustment early in the season that’s led to such rapid improvement so quickly. I can say it’s been awfully nice to see the 20-year-old’s wRC+ creep closer to league average (it currently sits at 91) after such a horrific first month of the regular season. The California League is notoriously kind to hitters, but context is always important. Despite being 2.5 years younger than his average competition in the CL, Ruiz is currently on pace to hit 14 home runs and steal 43 bases (projecting to the 493 plate appearances he finished with last season). Not too shabby. Even when he made his debut in my top-100 list last midseason, I cautioned readers about Ruiz’s defensive shortcomings (he currently plays most of his games at second base, but some scouts think he’ll eventually shift to either third base or the outfield). The sketchy glove skills are still evident in 2019, but Ruiz is still at a place in his development that he doesn’t get nicked too badly on fantasy-focused lists like mine. The 20-year-old was my 92nd-ranked prospect this preseason, and I’ll be hard-pressed to not move him up in the midseason edition if he continues to progress like he has in the first two weeks of May.
Standing at the #Padres complex, I mentioned to a manager that I was intrigued by Esteury Ruiz.
The manager smiled, “Oh, you mean baby Alfonso Soriano?” pic.twitter.com/jRHB5aU89M
— Emily Waldon (@EmilyCWaldon) March 27, 2019
- You won’t find the name Jordan Balazovic on any already-published top-100 or top-200 lists. Heck, you won’t even find him on some Minnesota Twins team prospect lists. But make no mistake about it: The 20-year-old right-hander has been one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball so far this season. After a hilarious, brief stint in Low-A (four starts, 20.2 IP, 39.8 K% and 2.18 ERA), Balazovic was promoted to High-A Fort Myers. Thru two starts in the Florida State League, the right-hander has posted an impressive 1.50 ERA with 22 strikeouts (four walks) in 12 IP. For the season, the 20-year-old is up to 55 strikeouts in 32.2 IP with a 1.92 ERA. Get the picture? I wanted to know more about his mechanics, so I checked Fangraphs’ write-up in their Twins prospect list and did as much video-studying as I could (I won’t get to see him live until he reaches Double-A). The article and videos tell the same story: Balazovic certainly doesn’t have the most clean, conventional mechanics in baseball. However, that only matters if a pitcher is often injured or struggles to throw strikes. Early in his professional career, Balazovic has not struggled to throw strikes (6.2 BB% in his full season career) and has remained injury-free. So far, so good. It should be noted that ESPN’s Keith Law ranked Balazovic third in his 2019 Twins prospect list. That’s above Brusdar Graterol and Trevor Larnach, folks. What’s more, the right-hander also ranked 102nd on Law’s overall list. Tip of the cap to you, sir. I’m still not ready to place Balazovic that high on my personal list, but I would think he’s a heavy-favorite to debut in my top-200 this midseason. If everything breaks right, he could challenge Graterol for the top-ranked Twins pitching prospect on most industry lists by the end of the regular season.
— Tom Froemming (@TFTwins) April 6, 2019
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- Monday afternoon, it was announced the Indians were promoting outfield prospect Oscar Mercado to the big leagues. The 24-year-old has been a top request to be mentioned in the Ramblings for a few weeks now, so what better time than the week he makes his MLB debut? Mercado was traded from the Cardinals to the Indians last season for prospects Conner Capel and Jhon Torres; on paper, it was an acquisition that made quite a bit of sense for both sides. Here’s a screenshot of Mercado’s minor league career to this point. You’ll quickly notice… one of these things is not like the others (h/t Fangraphs).
When you notice such a drastic improvement in slash numbers and other fantasy-relevant counting stats, it immediately becomes paramount to answer the question ‘how?’ How has a player been able to basically double his ISO from one season to the next? How has the same player been able to increase his wRC+ nearly 30 points in the same amount of time? First, let me steer you in the direction of this awesome piece written by staff writer Mac Squibb on projecting prospects with power potential (you can read it here). The premise of the article is simple: even with a small stature and un-elite exit velocities, hitters can maximize their power potential by increasing their fly ball pull percentage (see: Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, who just so happen to be members of the same organization Mercado was traded to last season). Compare Mercado’s batted ball profile from last season to this season, especially FB% and Pull% (h/t Fangraphs).
The increase in FB% and Pull% certainly tell part of the story, but those aren’t cover-to-cover increases by themselves. It also appears Indians coaches worked with Mercado this winter on unlocking his lower half in his swing ($), which would obviously add power to a profile when executed correctly. At the end of Spring Training, general manager Mike Chernoff lauded the outfielder for his commitment to the alterations. The changes have obviously paid dividends in Triple-A so far this season, and, if sustainable, there’s no reason to think Mercado can’t become a 15-20 home run player at his peak at the big league level. When you consider the fact he’s an above average runner (37 stolen bases last season, 14 stolen bases in 30 games this season), we suddenly have an ultra-intriguing call-up on our hands. As you can tell, I’m extremely ready to see what Mercado can do when given everyday at-bats at baseball’s top level. If you have an outfield need in a deep league, you should be sprinting to the waiver wire to add the 24-year-old.
In his first at-bat tonight, #Indians prospect Oscar Mercado launches his second #SpringTraining 💣 to extend their lead vs. the #Dodgers. Here’s Mercado on the @Indians‘ 2019 Top 30 Prospects list: https://t.co/8BNtXSLHot pic.twitter.com/BxYOaKNUb7
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 7, 2019
- I know I’m tooting my own horn here, but I’m glad I’ll be on the right side of history when it comes to Yandy Diaz and Franmil Reyes. Both made my preseason high-value active player list (Diaz made the list to the dismay of many Twitter followers and Reddit users), and staff writer Mac Squibb also touted Reyes in one of the most popular articles published on the site this preseason. Diaz already has 9 home runs and a 139 wRC+; he’s in the midst of becoming a case-study on believing players with elite exit velocities and low launch angles can eventually connect the dots without sacrificing any critical facet of their game. The 27-year-old is quickly becoming a staple of a very underrated Rays lineup. Reyes has 11 home runs and a 123 wRC+; the rates and slash numbers aren’t optimal, but there’s 40+ power in that bat. I also love the fact he’s hitting 2nd in the Padres’ lineup—opposing teams can’t pitch around him because he’s protecting Manny Machado and Eric Hohahahahaha. He’s protecting Manny Machado. From a batted ball standpoint, I actually think Reyes has been a bit unlucky so far this season; I could see the AVG and OBP finalizing at .270 and .320 respectively. Both should obviously be owned in your fantasy league, but there’s no shame in shooting your shot with a trade offer to one of your league mates, especially before Reyes’ on base skills positively regress.
Franmil Reyes likes to celebrate his HRs. When you hit one this far, I guess a little celebration is in order. pic.twitter.com/eIfiEhR8XY
— Troy Hirsch (@troyhirschfox5) May 30, 2018
- Last week, staff writer Adam Ehrenreich released his updated top-10 prospects in redraft leagues for the 2019 season. You’ve probably already read it, but if you haven’t, you can do so here.
- Mariners pitching prospect Ljay Newsome almost made last week’s edition of the Ramblings, but I’m glad I waited for this week’s version instead. Let’s get this out of the way first: Newsome is a 22-year-old currently pitching in High-A (he’s repeating the level after accumulating 138.2 IP in High-A last season). And yes, his version of High-A is a California League that favors hitters over pitchers, but it’s somewhat difficult for me to make definitive statements about the predictive nature of Newsome’s 2019 performance until he gets the nod to Double-A Arkansas. Now that I’ve rained on your parade, let’s talk about the positives; so far this season, there are many for Newsome. Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen made my ears perk-up when he wrote about Newsome in April. You should read the report yourself, because it’s basically everything you want to read about a prospect as unheralded as Newsome. Velocity? Way up. Movement? Up. Mechanics? Cleaner. The results have been evident statistically: Newsome has compiled 45.2 IP, a 35.8 K% (63 strikeouts) and a 2.56 ERA thru eight starts this season. Just as good, he’s posted a 2.8 BB% (0.99 BB/9) so far. To compare, the right-hander finished with an unsavory 4.87 ERA and 20.7 K% in 138.2 IP at the same level last season. A small-portion of Newsome’s improvements can be chalked up to repeating a level. Most of his improvements are due to increased velocity, increased fastball movement and better mechanics. The 22-year-old is undersized (5’11) and his fly-ball rate (56.1% this season) gives me pause, but I’ll be monitoring Newsome moving forward. If he can post similar numbers following a promotion to Double-A (it should happen soon), watch out. Rotographs’ Alex Chamberlain included Newsome in the latest edition of Peripheral Prospects.
Congratulations Ljay Newsome. This is his 60th strikeout this season; he’s the first pitcher in Minor League Baseball to get to that mark. Yay Ljay! pic.twitter.com/WCJmhHqKm3
— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) May 12, 2019
- I won’t keep you long, but I wanted to point out Lazaro Armenteros’ unique start to the 2019 season. Thru 33 games and 145 plate appearances, the 19-year-old (he turns 20 later this month) is slashing .233/.366/.475 with 8 home runs and 4 stolen bases. Then you realize he’s walked at a 16.6% clip and struck out at a 41.4% (!!!) clip. The sum of the parts leads to a 142 wRC+, which certainly seems to (rightfully) diminish the importance of batting average and not striking out. The outfielder obviously has a ton of work to do, but he did make the back-end of my top-200 this preseason. I’ve referred to Jazz Chisholm as the ‘all or nothing king’ thru first month of the 2019 season, but an astounding 46.9% of Armenteros’ plate appearances have ended with a home run or strikeout. As I said in my prospect list, the growth was never meant to be linear here, and the leg kick you see below is likely the main ingredient in the massive swing-and-miss issues we’ve witnessed thus far.
Oakland A’s OF Lazaro Armenteros hit his 8th home run of the season yesterday. Same amount he had all of last season. Turns 20 at the end of this month playing in A+. Not hitting for avg and striking out around 40% of the time. Plus side: Drawing walks and hitting for power. pic.twitter.com/fSamk1roe2
— tyler j. spicer (@tylerjspicer) May 13, 2019
- On Sunday, staff writer John Stewart released his profile on Braves prospect Austin Riley. Before you ask: of course it has John’s prototypical, music theme. You can read the profile here.
- The haters will cringe at this Yoán Moncada tweet from the weekend….
Yoán Moncada is becoming everything you wanted him to be, yet no one’s talking about it: .285/.338/.500 with 7 HR and 2 SB in 157 PA this season. 125 wRC+.
Current 26.8 K% marks a 6.6 percent decrease from last season to this season. All contact rates are up.
— Prospects 365 ⚾️ (@Prospects365) May 10, 2019
Since this tweet, Moncada has furthered this notion. He’s now slashing .289/.349/.528 with 9 home runs and 4 stolen bases (175 plate appearances). The strikeout rate sits at 26.9%, which is a 6.5 percent decrease when compared to his 2018 campaign. The 135 wRC+ is everything we dreamt Moncada would become when evaluating him as a prospect from 2015-2017. I know the responsibility of prospect evaluators is to basically maintain tunnel vision with both eyes on current prospects, but I don’t see the harm in the industry collectively making a toast for the progress we’ve seen from the 23-year-old so far this season. I wrote about Moncada and inconvenient patience last season, and it’s been awesome to see some of the things I wrote in the article come to fruition before our very eyes early this season. Keep on keeping on, Yoán. If you project his production thru 40 games to the 650 plate appearances he compiled last season, Moncada would finish with 33 home runs and 15 stolen bases with a .349 OBP. Seems decent to me, especially for a player the industry sees *a lot* of pushback on.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) May 14, 2019
- Remember Aramis Ademan? You know, the prospect I ranked 90th prior to last season while including him in my 2018 prospect obsession list? Whatever happened to him, you ask? Ademan slashed a paltry .207/.291/.273 last season, totaling only 3 home runs and 9 stolen bases in 114 games (452 plate appearances). That was good for a cringeworthy 64 wRC+, which basically left the shortstop as an afterthought heading into the 2019 season. VIP members know I ranked the 20-year-old 241st in the VIP-edition of my 2019 prospect list, which was basically me making a conscious effort to say “I’m not completely writing you off yet.” And thank goodness I didn’t, because the early returns from the shortstop this season have been absolutely delicious. Sure, he’s repeating High-A in the Carolina League, but he’s already matched the 3 home runs he’s hit last season in only 113 plate appearances. He’s currently slashing .267/.405/.456 with a 141 wRC+, which is a far (and more pleasant) cry from the numbers he posted last season. Ademan is elevating the ball much more this season (46.8 FB% this season compared to 34.5% in 2018), so the power gains appear legit. He’s also walking a higher rate (8.4 BB% last season, 16.7 BB% this season), which helps his stock all the more. It’s easy to disregard improvements made by a player repeating a level (see Ljay Newsome above), but it certainly seems as though Ademan has made meaningful, sustainable improvements to his offensive skillset. If I’m right, he’ll play quite a few games at Double-A Tennessee this summer as a 20-year-old (and I’ll get a few live looks at him). In everything I’ve ever written about him, I’ve included the fact that every scouting report I’ve ever read on Ademan specifies that he possesses 80-grade makeup. That’s perhaps a quality that can’t be quantified in fantasy value, but it seems relevant for a player who’s currently proving that patience in evaluation can lead to us enjoying the fruits of our labor. With an emerging offensive skillset and above-average defensive tools in tow, Ademan should reappear on my top-200 list this midseason.
Aramis Ademan BP, Spring Training, 3/19. Definitely feeling some optimism about his year ahead. Expect he’ll be far more comfortable. pic.twitter.com/Fh7z5Lxrpf
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) March 20, 2019
- Want another scarcely-rostered pitching prospect this week? Let’s talk about Jose Soriano. The 20-year-old is basically the definition of an ongoing project, possessing plus athleticism in his 6’3, 170 lb. frame. He’s only accumulated 77.2 IP of full season ball (31.1 of which has come this season), and the surface numbers don’t exactly scream “ace in the making”. Sure, Soriano is currently sporting a 1.72 ERA with a 24.6 K% this season, but he’s also walked 5.7 batters per nine innings (15.4 BB%) and has benefitted from batted ball luck (.263 BABIP). But just know this: Soriano has the ceiling of a top-of-the-rotation starter. His most-recent start speaks to the potential: 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 K versus Low-A competition nearly two years younger (on average) than himself. While Soriano’s fastball tops out in the high-90s, his curveball is currently his best offering. He also commands the latter better, and the fastball command (or lack thereof) is the main culprit in the lackluster walk rate. He still has a ways to go (vast command improvement, development of a third pitch, etc), but I like the way the K%, BB% and GB% are currently trending. If high-risk, high-reward pitching prospects arouse you, Soriano should be squarely on your radar moving forward. Don’t mind me, I’m just writing about him now so I can tout it later this season when he’s gaining popularity throughout the prospect world.
- If you haven’t checked out last week’s Ramblings, you should do so now. I covered thoughts on Brendan Rodgers, Rafael Devers, Wander Javier, Zac Gallen, Josh VanMeter, Nicky Lopez and Spencer Turnbull. My large adult son Rafael Devers is up to a .336/.408/.456 slash with a 132 wRC+ (2 HR and 5 SB thru 41 games and 170 plate appearances). Nicky Lopez is finally a big leaguer. Read about them and the others here!
- I’m not going to categorize him in the same category as Balazovic, Newsome or Soriano because I think he’s a tier or two lower, but I’m still intrigued by Bo Takahashi. The 22-year-old Brazilian has been on my radar since last season when I noticed him missing a ton of bats in High-A. The numbers haven’t quite been as good since he was promoted to Double-A (the poor ERA this season hides a more-acceptable xFIP), but I liked what I saw last week in my first live look a week ago. Takahashi features a plus curveball that, in my eyes, was undoubtedly his best pitch in the look I got. He throws two variations of the pitch, one that sits 79-81 and another that sits 74-77. He used the latter more often and mostly in plus counts, inducing multiple swings-and-misses throughout his outing. The right-hander’s fastball topped out at 92 and comfortably sat at 88-91. He was able to elevate the pitch for a strikeout, then hit an arm-side spot for another K later in the outing. A changeup and slider round-out Takahashi’s four-pitch arsenal, the former of which was utilized often versus LHB. Other than the lovely curveball, perhaps the most problematic facet of Takahashi’s pitchability is the tempo. The quickness in which he worked was visibly aggravating for opposing hitters, leading to timeouts and rushed set-ups multiple times throughout the right-hander’s 5.2 innings of work. It was easily one of Takahashi’s best starts of the young season: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 7 K. For the season, the right-hander sports a 5.00 ERA (3.76 xFIP) with a 21.9 K% (8.7 K/9) and 7.6 BB% (3.0 BB/9) in 27.0 IP. The mechanics in my look were clean but not effortless, which leads me to my summation. The 22-year-old has two things working against him as he eyes the upper minors and a hypothetical, potential big league debut: he lacks optimal size (6’0, 197 lbs.) and premium velocity. However, I do think Takahashi can eventually carve a big league role as up-and-down depth for a rotation or (my preference) as a multi-inning reliever who’s viable one time thru a big league order thanks to a superb curveball, a fastball that plays up in smaller outings and a changeup that keeps hitters off his non-elite heater. He’s no Devin Smeltzer (who, by the way, is killing it in Triple-A), but don’t be surprised if we eventually see Takahashi play a role for the Diamondbacks at the big league level.
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Featured image courtesy of photographer Joe Santry and MiLB.com