Ray’s Ramblings: July 29th

Written by: Ray Butler

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Happy Trade Deadline Week! The next few days should, hopefully, be fairly ridiculous and a whole lot of fun. With the Futures Game and the release of my midseason top-200 prospect list, it’s been more than three weeks since the last Ramblings was published. Let’s make this one a good one.

  • IT’S BO BICHETTE WEEK! With Eric Sogard officially be traded away to Tampa Bay, Bichette will make his much-anticipated big league debut Monday night in Kansas City. I don’t feel like the Triple-A numbers are overly important here, but the 21-year-old is slashing .277/.336/.477 with 8 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 242 plate appearances this season. He boasts a slightly-above-average 29.9 Hard%.
    This is a big-fish promotion. Bichette ranked 4th in my midseason top-200, and he figures to immediately become valuable in mixed redraft leagues. Also of note, Bichette should take the helm at shortstop for the Blue Jays (despite being above average defensively at the position this season, Freddy Galvis will likely shift to second base alongside Cavan Biggio). The offensive profile doesn’t really strike me as one that struggles mightily upon being called to the big leagues, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the 21-year-old out-earn players like Jonathan Villar, Elvis Andrus, Corey Seager and Dansby Swanson ROS. With players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Cavan Biggio now slotting-in as everyday players in Toronto, the Blue Jays are well on their way to becoming one of the most fun teams in baseball.

In my very next tweet, I mention that Kristian Robinson’s (keeping the skillset in mind) improvement in strikeout rate as the season progresses reminds me of a similar improvement made by a former top prospect…

My pick for breakout prospect of the 2019 season, Robinson is now slashing .331/.406/.600 with 9 home runs and 8 stolen bases in 165 plate appearances for Short Season Hillsboro. His walk rate has increased lately (10.3%) while his strikeout rate has dropped (26.7%). In total, Robinson’s numbers are good for a 180 wRC+. That seems pretty good. As time rolls on, I begin to think the Diamondbacks may ‘count their winnings’ with Robinson developmentally and keep him in Short Season ball for the remainder of the 2019 season. In doing that, they would then hope Robinson would perform well enough in 2020 to end the season in the California League (with Visalia, who’s in High-A). I actually discussed this scenario with Chris Welsh off-the-air on a recent podcast (details on that below), and we seemed to be on the same page. The 18-year-old has certainly earned a promotion to full season ball, but don’t be surprised or disappointed if he simply continues to rake in the Northwest League. If he sticks in SS, it’s safe to say the Diamondbacks will be more aggressive with the teenager next season.

  • This past weekend, I joined Chris Welsh’s Prospect One podcast, where we debated Julio Rodriguez vs. George Valera and Deivi Garcia vs. Luis Patiño. I imbedded a link to the podcast below. Check it out! 
  • You know that meme where two Spidermen are pointing at each other? Everyone knows that meme, right? You’d likely never consider it from the outside looking in, but Oneil Cruz and Drew Waters, from a plate approach standpoint, is the prospect version of that meme to me, especially since both are now playing in Double-A. The more digging I did, the more I liked the comparison. Check it out…
Cruz Waters
AVG .306 .329
OBP .336 .373
SLG .522 .495
BABIP .382 .444 (lol)
BB% 3.6% 6.1%
K% 27.1% 25.9%

Some additional notes worth pointing out: Waters is actually younger than Cruz, and has posted those numbers at a level higher than Cruz has played at (though he was just promoted to Double-A Altoona). But with Waters likely sequestered to left field in Atlanta thanks to Ronald Acuña Jr. and Cristian Pache, Cruz certainly has a chance to be more valuable defensively at the big league level someday.
The comparisons between the duo are fun, but I’m going to focus on Cruz for the remainder of this write-up. The 20-year-old missed nearly two months earlier in the season with a foot fracture, but when you pull back the reins on qualification to all hitters with at least 140 plate appearances in the Florida State League this season, Cruz’s .522 SLG ranks third in the league. The two prospects who rank higher in the category are 23 and 22-years-old, respectively.
To my grave, I’ll worry about how Cruz’s (and Waters’, for that matter) current approach will translate to the big leagues. A high BABIP, high K%, low BB% life is a tough one to live in the MLB, and that profile often gets eaten alive out of the gate after a promotion. That’s certainly closer to affecting Waters than it is Cruz, but it’s important to keep in mind when evaluating the shortstop nonetheless. In all likelihood, changes will have to be made for sustained success to occur at the big league level. It’s that simple.
It’s still probably third base or right field defensively, but Cruz is four seasons into his professional career and still hasn’t moved away from shortstop despite his frame (6-foot-6, 175 pounds). The 20-year-old is extremely athletic for his size, and the longer we go with him at the 6, the more interesting the thought gets. As the sample in Double-A grows, Cruz remaining at shortstop into next season (next summer, specifically) would really add some legitimacy to him perhaps sticking at shortstop through at least the early stages of his big league career.
I’ll leave you with this: I’ll never forget the great John Calvagno, more than a year ago, comparing Cruz’s raw power to that of Rafael Devers in this write-up. Not everyone understood what that meant when John published in last June. Everyone understands it now.


Now, to this week’s meatiest feature….

  • Mike Soroka. Ian Anderson. Max Fried. Kyle Wright. Touki Toussaint. Bryse Wilson. Joey Wentz. Kyle Muller. Luiz Gohara. Kolby Allard. For two seasons now (three, if you exclude Wright), these are the names mentioned by Braves fans when asked about their abundance of talented, young pitching. And they’re not wrong. Each of the names listed above either have a fantastic pedigree, are posting great numbers in the minor leagues or are already logging valuable innings at the big league level. Perhaps a combination of those things. But I’d like to make a notion we officially add a name to that group. Tucker Davidson thoroughly impressed me during my first live look on Wednesday, striking out nine while allowing only one earned run in six innings of work for the Mississippi Braves. But ‘how’ Davidson went about accumulating the stat line is even more impressive than the stat line itself. The 23-year-old featured three pitches: a fastball that sat 92-94 mph and topped out at 96 (which he held deep into his outing thanks largely to a thick lower half), an easily-plus curveball that hung out in the 78-82 mph range, and a changeup (85-89) that was mostly thrown without any arm deceleration. The mechanics are clean, simple and repeatable. He’s a stretch-only arm who doesn’t have to rely on deception to get batters out. Oh…. did I mention this is all from the left side?

A glance under the hood of Davidson’s outing confirmed what my eyes told me. The southpaw induced 14 swinging strikes (14.4% of his 97 total pitches) while compiling a 32.0% CSW, a metric I believe plays/will play a critical role in evaluating pitchers both presently and in the future.
But the fun in Davidson’s profile doesn’t begin and end with a single outing in July. Here’s some of the left-hander’s underlying metrics and how they stack-up amongst qualified pitchers in the Southern League.

Davidson SL Rank
K% 28.2% 4th
SwStr% 11.1% 19th
K-BB% 18.0% 4th
GB% 50.0% 4th
FB% 27.8% 2nd

Excited yet? Davidson is inducing ground balls and suppressing fly balls, all while posting a K-BB% that would rank in the top-30 amongst qualified big league pitchers. He also appears platoon proof, as right-handed batters have actually had less success versus Davidson (.206 AVG in 271 plate appearances) than lefties (.243 AVG in 130 plate appearances).
At this point, you’re either asking yourself “why have I never heard of this guy?” or “why is this guy not any top-100 or top-200 prospect lists?”, and both are fair questions. For one, most of the public hasn’t yet realized just how much better the 23-year-old has been this season compared his previous three campaigns of professional ball.

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 8.32.22 PM

Other factors include the fact Davidson’s velocity has ticked-up a little this season (based on where Fangraphs had him sitting last season), and a reported arm-slot change has allowed his curveball to evolve from a 50 or 55 pitch (depending on who you ask) to a 60 or better offering. In my eyes, these changes have transitioned Davidson’s role from ‘solid, multi-inning reliever or spot starter’ to a pitcher who will definitively start meaningful games at the big league level.
Despite these drastic improvements, the left-hander still has some questions to answer. Some boxes to check, if you will. Davidson is shorter than his listed height of 6’2 (he’s either 6’0 or 6’1, my gut tells me it’s the former). He’s reportedly improved his physique since being drafted in 2016, but it’s hard to project additional height or solid weight being added to the frame in the future. Most importantly, the further development of Davidson’s changeup will play a critical role in determining if the southpaw can show flashes of a #3 starting pitcher at the big league level, or if he’ll simply settle-in as a backend starter with sneaky strikeout value. The pitch was too firm on Wednesday; I would love to see it eventually evolve into an 83-85 mph offering with the fade it sporadically displayed in his most recent outing. As you know, possessing a viable third pitch is crucial in the long-term success of a starting pitcher. So despite the 23-year-old’s fastball and curveball both being plus pitches, it might be the changeup (which is certainly below average currently) that plays the biggest role in the left-hander reaching his ceiling. The only run Davidson allowed in my look came via a two-out, left-on-left home run to the 8-hole hitter in Jackson’s lineup; he then allowed a left-on-left double to the opposing pitcher in the following at-bat. Eliminating these brief lapses will certainly help the left-hander continue his ascension.
I’ve seen Ian Anderson three times this season. I’ve seen Kyle Muller twice. Joey Wentz once. Jasseel De La Cruz once. From an individual-performance standpoint, Davidson’s outing last week was the best start from a Mississippi Braves pitcher I’ve seen this season. Of course the 23-year-old doesn’t have the stuff or the youth of Anderson. He doesn’t have the physical projection or the ceiling of Muller. But if I were to redo my midseason top-200 prospect list, Davidson would be included. He’s a name you should monitor closely, both in your dynasty league and as the trade deadline approaches. I certainly wasn’t the only one in the scouting section immensely impressed by Davidson’s outing last week.

  • 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!
  • A bold prediction: Lewin Diaz is firmly within rankers’ top-200 prospect lists before the end of the 2019 season. I had the 214th in my midseason ranks, which left him just off my actual list. Traded to the Marlins this weekend for Sergio Romo and Chris Vallimont, Diaz now plays for an organization in which 1) he has a clear path to everyday playing time at first base at the big league level, and 2) most of its position player prospects have taken a step forward offensively this season. But the 22-year-old doesn’t need much guidance on the latter point; he’s slashing .294/.336/.553 with 19 home runs and a 16.9 K% (5.9 BB%) this season. That’s good for a 156 wRC+, and it’s no fluke: Diaz’s current 33.3 Hard% is well above average amongst all prospects in the minor leagues. Every insider or journalist who’s well-sourced within the Marlins’ organization basically said the same thing shortly after the trade was announced: it was extremely obvious the Marlins coveted Diaz, to the point they were willing to also part with Vallimont (who is well-thought of within Miami’s front office) to acquire the first baseman.
    At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, it seems like Diaz is finally beginning to unleash the power that’s uniformly associated to a player of his size. In 79 High-A games last season (he missed a substantial amount of time with a thumb injury), Diaz’s ISO was a pedestrian .119. A season later, the metric currently sits at .259. That’s huge growth, and it certainly has a chance to continue trending upward.

Screen Shot 2019-07-28 at 11.06.52 PM

I’m not going to lie… I’m really starting to fall for the Marlins’ farm system. Sixto Sanchez, J.J. Bleday, Isan Diaz, Monte Harrison, Edward Cabrera, Braxton Garrett, Trevor Rogers, Kameron Misner, Nasim Nunez, Jose Devers, Nick Neidert, Connor Scott, Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr., Jerar Encarnacion and Lewin Diaz. There’s a ton of talent there, and it’s been a great season of development within the organization. It’s two or three seasons away, but Derek Jeter is truly building something in Miami.

Did you enjoy this article? Will it help shape your fantasy baseball decisions this week or for the rest of the season? Consider buying us a beer

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Featured image courtesy of the Buffalo Bisons

Leave a Reply