Ray’s Ramblings: August 19th

Written by: Ray Butler

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

A combination of the beginning of a new school year and dealing with strep throat has really limited my writing time here lately, but I was able to sit down this weekend and develop one of the meatiest Ramblings of the season. Though my free time has been extremely limited as of late, the fantastic staff here at P365 has completely had my back. This past week alone, Shelly Verougstraete published her scouting notes on a recent look at Heliot Ramos, Joey Bart, Sam Hjelle, Zac Lowther, Dean Kremer and more. You can check that out here. John Stewart has also been at hard throughout the last week, profiling Travis Demeritte and his speculative value in dynasty leagues moving forward. Check that out here.

We’re rolling here at Prospects 365, and I hope these Ramblings serve as a kick-start to your week. Enjoy!

  • Assuming good health and no other unfortunate surprises, I’m completely buying-in to Spencer Howard being an impact big league pitcher throughout most of the 2020 season. I won’t lie to you: I figured I would take notes on Howard’s outing from last Friday night (I watched via MiLB TV, Reading is 13.5 hours away from my house for crying out loud) and I’d be able to tout the right-hander’s continued Double-A success in these Ramblings. Don’t get it twisted, MiLB TV isn’t the same as a live look, but there are worse ways to spend a strep throat-ridden Friday night than watching Howard duke it out against Clarke Schmidt in Eastern League competition. Well, that aforementioned assumed success didn’t happen. Howard gave up five hits and four runs in five innings of work, walking three and striking out three in the process. By all accounts, it was a rough night for the 23-year-old. He only accumulated a 25.9% CSW and 11.1 SwStr%. His defense didn’t help him, and Howard became visibly frustrated at times throughout his five innings of work. The fastball velocity waned a little in the latter stages of the outing (his FB sat 95-97 T98 in the first inning, but was 91-92 T94 in his final inning). Simply put, I picked the wrong outing to highlight before featuring a pitching prospect in the Ramblings.
    Despite this, there’s something beautiful about the fact Howard’s worst outing of the season features a line of 5 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 3 K. If that makes your ears perk up, it’s for good reason. A shoulder injury caused the 23-year-old to miss a chunk of the current campaign, but in 13 starts this season, Howard has compiled a line of 59.1 IP, 38 H, 15 ER, 13 BB and 81 K. That’s a 2.28 ERA with an astounding 35.8 K%, 5.8 BB%, .182 BAA and 2.30 FIP. The IP sample certainly isn’t as large as that of other top pitching prospects, but relatively speaking, those are jaw-dropping numbers that stack-up against those of any pitching prospect in baseball.
    Thankfully, there’s nothing in Howard’s profile that should make you less of a believer after fanboying/fangirling the numbers. All four of the right-hander’s offerings—which includes a fastball, changeup, slider and curveball—flash above average or better. He suppresses home runs, and he’s increased his GB% by six percent this season (38.4% in 2018, 44.4% in 2019). The fastball is truly explosive, and while the pitch is capable of missing bats below the belt, it’s genuinely elite with eye-opening ride when located at the top of the zone. The slider is probably Howard’s best secondary pitch currently, but some evaluators will argue the changeup is slightly better depending on the look you get.
    Shoulder injuries are always terrifying when we’re dealing with pitching prospects, and Howard’s ‘soreness’ caused him to miss more than two months early this season. There’s a good chance the Phillies were extremely precautious with their prized right-hander, but it’s something worth monitoring over the next calendar year and longer. There’s also a chance the 23-year-old would already be a big leaguer had he remained healthy for the entirety of the regular season. In my mind (and barring an unforeseen injury), Howard will pitch in Arizona Fall League before logging meaningful innings with the Phillies during Spring Training next season. He’ll almost certainly open the 2020 campaign in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but if all breaks well, he’ll take the ball every fifth day for the Phillies by July 1st next season.
    I foolishly ranked Howard 171st this preseason. I regret the undersell. I was wrong. I’d like to think I righted the ship this midseason, bumping the 23-year-old to 64th in my top-200. Barring a late-season collapse, I imagine the right-hander will slide somewhere in the #50-range by the end of 2019. He’s a top-15 pitching prospect in all of baseball, and the world will know his name this time next season.
  • Is Kris Bubic the best pitcher at any level of baseball? That’s not for me to say, but the left-hander has developed somewhat of a cult following on Twitter (hey, Rhys) this season, all while becoming one of the more intriguing, underrated pitching prospects in baseball. You’re not ready for these numbers. In 23 starts this season between Low-A and High-A, Bubic has posted a spectacular line of 132.1 IP, 88 H, 33 ER, 37 BB, 174 K. Want more? How about a 34.3 K% and 7.3 BB%? Or a .189 BAA? Or a 0.94 WHIP and 2.24 ERA? In his first full season of professional ball? Those are hilarious numbers, regardless of age, level or repertoire.
    I discussed the arsenal a little in my scouting notes from last month’s Futures Game, but it’s important to know that each of Bubic’s three offerings plays up a touch thanks to unique (see: funky) mechanics. The fastball sits in the low-90s and can touch 95, but the viability of the pitch is increased thanks to excellent extension and the natural fact Bubic is left-handed. The 22-year-old is also able to hold his velocity deep into outings thanks to a lower-half that, god help me, is thicker than a snicker. The southpaw’s worst pitch is definitely his curveball, which is almost certainly a below-average offering currently. However, he has been able to induce swings and misses this season when he buries the pitch in pitcher’s counts. Bubic hangs his hat on his changeup, a pitch I believe could finalize as a plus-plus offering. The offering sits around 80 mph and often falls off the table with tremendous fade. In my opinion, it’s currently (and easily) one of the best changeups in the minor leagues.
    The pitch is in no way a curse, and it’s certainly not unfortunate that Bubic possesses such a weapon in his arsenal. However, Low Minors Changeup Syndrome is certainly a thing (trademark pending), and the pitch could be a large reason the left-hander has dominated both Low-A and High-A this season. The numbers you read about a few paragraphs ago aren’t invalid by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ll get a much better idea of how Bubic’s arsenal might play at the big league level once he’s promoted to Double-A. Once he’s pitching in the Texas League, we should be able to see if the fastball can truly be viable against advanced hitters. Maybe it becomes a 55? We’ll also see if the current lack of an average third pitch deeply hampers the profile (or, conversely, if the curveball takes the next step in value this offseason). Perhaps most importantly, we’ll see how much the gaudy K% fluctuates when Bubic faces lineups that are better equipped to fend-off great changeups.
    Remember the steam Ljay Newsome gained in the early months of the 2019 regular season? Equipped with a plus changeup (his best pitch), Newsome struck out 30.4% of the batters he faced in the Cal League (100.2 IP) before being promoted to Double-A. Since getting bumped to the Texas League, Newsome’s K% has plummeted to a putrid 14.2% (4.86 K/9) in six starts. Bubic is a better pitcher than Newsome and won’t suffer such a drastic decline in strikeout rate, but the comparison goes to show the uphill battle that changeup-leaning pitchers face in transitioning from High-A to Double-A. Joey Cantillo, another current top-200 prospect, will face the same challenge at some point next season.
    In my eyes, Bubic currently profiles as a mid-to-low end SP4 at the big league level. I have talked to evaluators and scouts who think he’s less (SP5 or a reliever). I have not talked to anyone who’s graded him as a SP3 or better.
  • Really enjoyed jumping on the Prospects Live Fantasy Baseball Show and talking recent promotions, disparities between rankings and recent dynasty league trades. You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the imbedded tweet below. 
  • The season-long numbers don’t quite point to this, but Amed Rosario is in the midst of a long-awaited breakout. In a vacuum, the 23-year-old has been outstanding since the start of July, slashing .358/.399/.520 with 3 home runs and 5 stolen bases (14.6 K%) in 158 plate appearances. Rosario’s 144 wRC+ in that span ranks 28th amongst qualified big league hitters.
    But this is about way more than small sample success. From last season to this season, the shortstop has made substantial gains in his Barrel%, Exit Velocity, Launch Angle, xBA, xSLG, wOBA and xwOBA. He’s increased his Hard% by nearly ten percent (32.1% in 2018, 41.2% in 2019), which, in turn, has helped his BABIP grow by 36 points this season.
    After another multi-hit game on Sunday, Rosario is slashing .291/.329/.452 with 12 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 500 plate appearances (120 games) this season. The season-long 105 wRC+ is a 20-point gain from last season (23.5%). The shortstop has admitted he hasn’t changed much mechanically, but his confidence has increased at the plate thanks to mental development and maturation. Statistically, the maturation is probably best witnessed in his two-strike success, with Rosario hitting .225 with two strikes this season compared to .180 in the same situation a season ago.
    The numbers still aren’t superstar-ish quite yet, and his prolonged affinity to hit the ball on the ground (48.0 GB% this season, which is actually a two-percent improvement from last season) will continue to damper his power output and predictive analytics such as xSLG. However, it was apparent very early in Rosario’s big league career that his offensive development was going to be a slow burn. A development that would take multiple seasons and north of 1000 plate appearances before we truly see what the shortstop would be capable of offensively. We’re now multiple seasons and north of 1000 plate appearances into Rosario’s big league career, and we’re finally starting to see legitimate offensive skill output from the former top prospect. A similar jump from this season to next season (meaning a 20-point gain in wRC+) would mean Rosario is suddenly a top-5 offensive shortstop in baseball. Even if 10-point gain would you’re probably starting him in 10-team redraft leagues. Let’s not forget Rosario is still just 23-years-old, and assuming he’s anything close to a finished product (especially with his aggression and top-tier bat-to-ball skills) would be nothing short of foolish. With the growth we’ve witnessed this season, it’s hard to question there’s eventual .300/20 HR/25 SB upside in this profile. A current buy-low window doesn’t (or shouldn’t) exist, but make plans to inquire on his availability in your dynasty leagues this offseason. A prospect aside to end the write-up: I’ve gone on record saying Cristian Pache’s offensive development at the big league level will resemble that of Rosario’s throughout the first seasons of his MLB career.
  • Since featuring Yuli Gurriel in the Ramblings over a month ago, the infielder is slashing .386/.428/.780 with 13 home runs, 39 RBIs and a 9.4 K% in 32 games (138 plate appearances). I’m not saying, I’m just saying. 

*extreme Joker voice* aaand here. we. go.

  • An interesting trend for Luis Medina as the regular season hits the home stretch…

Two days after that tweet, the Yankees bumped Medina to High-A Tampa, and the 20-year-old will likely finish the season pitching in the Florida State League.

Medina was topping out in the mid-90s well-prior to his signing with the Yankees as a 16-year-old back in July 2015 (for a $280,000 signing bonus). It’s never—ever, ever, ever—been about the stuff for the right-hander. Four seasons after signing a professional contract, Medina (now 20) possesses a fastball that tops out in triple-digits, a power curveball that’s a true out pitch and a changeup that’s gone from flashing above average to flashing plus in 2019. Instead, the right-hander’s shortcomings stem from command flaws. In my preseason top-200, I described Medina’s command as “at such an infantile stage that it hasn’t moved on to solid food yet.” I ranked the athletic right-hander 199th at the time, though he didn’t make the midseason edition. For a huge chunk of the 2019 season, it appeared as though Medina’s command shortcoming hadn’t improved whatsoever—to the point it was completely obstructing the rest of the profile. In the 20-year-old’s first 14 starts of the season, he walked 55 batters in 58 innings pitched. 55 batters. 58 IP. That’s a ghastly 8.5 BB/9 and 18.9 BB%.
Medina has made six starts since the original 14-start sample, and the subsequent numbers can be seen in the embedded tweet above. It’s just six starts, but it’s easy to see the otherworldly upside when the command doesn’t hold him down. It’s hard to know whether his last six starts are simply an anomaly—meaning we’ll likely see some negative regression in his first few starts in the FSL—or if Medina has made legitimate strides in clearing the biggest hurdle of his development.
I’ve never seen Medina pitch live, but it should be noted that most scouts and evaluators who have seen him in-person believe the command issues do not originate from mechanical inefficiencies. Here’s an excerpt from his report on Fangraphs:

“Medina’s issues aren’t physical — his delivery is fine and his arm stroke is clean. Instead, the problem appears to be mostly mental. He’ll throw well in the bullpen, only to have things snowball for him in game situations. One source described his issues as stemming from a need for greater mental maturity and to not be so hard on himself, which are exactly the kinds of traits that come with general social maturity.”

In a recent MLB Pipeline Inbox, Jim Callis published that a club official told him Medina has looked ‘more comfortable’ on the mound recently than he has in the past. The write-up on the 20-year-old also included this nugget:

“He hasn’t dialed back his stuff at all — he averaged 97 mph during seven shutout innings Tuesday night — and hasn’t made any mechanical changes.”

If anything, it’s encouraging that Medina doesn’t possess a blatant mechanical abnormality that tampers his command. And before you spin the above quotes into an argument that Medina is a head case (in other words, spinning it into something it’s not)—please remember what you were doing when you were 20-years-old. Instead of creating a garbage take, let’s instead take solace in the fact Medina was nearly two years younger than his average competition in the South Atlantic League. He’ll be around three years younger than his average competition in the Florida State League. The right-hander has an abundance of time to develop both physically and mentally. He’s in a good organization to reach his potential in both facets.
D.L Hall has a BB% of 15.6% this season. Medina’s 2019 BB% currently sits at 15.7%. Hall has the benefit of being left-handed, but Medina’s raw stuff is probably better (albeit less expansive and marginally). Medina is also seven months younger, though his command issues are currently profound enough that it negatively impacts both his K% and ERA more so than it does for Hall (though the more-indicative xFIP has Medina at 4.25 and Hall at 3.58 [a much smaller gap than ERA] this season). When you add everything up, is there really such a difference in the two that one is a top-50 prospect in baseball while the other currently sits outside the top-200? If Medina can continue this run of success for the remainder of the regular season, it’ll be interesting to see the disparity between the pair’s rankings this offseason and next preseason.
One more thing before we move on and hit the home stretch of this week’s Ramblings. If these gains are real and Medina carries the momentum into next season, he’s likely to be one of the more talked-about pitching prospects in baseball next season. And when people talk about him, they’ll likely lead-off with the fact the right-hander possesses one of the better fastballs in the sport. It’s true the 20-year-old’s heater is probably a 65 or 70-grade offering, but its potential strikes me as more of a better version of Dustin May’s fastball than that of Justin Verlander or Gerrit Cole. Wtf am I talking about, you might ask? In most reports I’ve read, Medina’s fastball often has arm-side run with sinking motion. As the right-hander ascends to the upper levels of the minors and (hopefully) the big leagues, the pitch is likely to produce a ridiculous amount of soft contact. Broken bats galore. However, I don’t currently see the offering as an elite swing-and-miss pitch versus elite competition. Instead, the Yankees will likely work with Medina on refining what should be a deadly FB/CB tunneling combination, the latter of which should produce the bulk of the 20-year-old’s future strikeouts. I could also see the organization tinkering with Medina’s fastball grip or release point in hopes of the pitch gaining ride and further viability at the top of the zone. Of course, in doing so, they’ll want to make sure they don’t tinker with any legitimate gains the right-hander has made in the command department this season.
As you’ve read, there’s an absolute ton to consider and ponder when evaluating Medina’s 2019 performance and future outlook. I don’t have to tell you that the floor is that of a reliever, and there’s certainly a chance the command never evolves to a place that allows the right-hander to start against big league competition. But for the optimists, I’ll leave you with this: for the vast majority of starting pitcher prospects, a 90th-percentile outcome means said prospect finds a way to stick in the SP4-range with moderate fantasy viability throughout the bulk of their big league career. This is not the case for Medina. A 90th-percentile outcome for Medina likely means he’s become the best pitcher for the New York Yankees, one of the best pitchers in the AL East and one of the first names you think of when debating the very best pitchers in all of baseball. I hope that helps you understand the genuine upside here.

  • If you haven’t gotten around to it yet, make sure you check out my latest Ramblings. It features write-ups on Aristides Aquino (!), Clarke Schmidt, Lance Lynn, Gabriel Rodriguez, Michael Harris and more! Check it out here
  • Under the radar heater alert: Let’s talk about Kyle Seager. After homering on both Saturday and Sunday, the third baseman now has seven long balls in his last 15 games, slashing .358/.433/.792 in the process. The surge has been much needed, seeing as Seager is still only hitting .242 (with a .312 OBP) for the season following Sunday’s game. The wRC+ for the season is above average (110), but Seager is still available in 39% of Fantrax leagues. It feels like the third baseman has been around forever, so would it surprise you to know he’s only 31? Seager hasn’t been legitimately good since 2016, and it’s doubtful he returns to the form that led him to posting a 134 wRC+. But we’re unashamed of riding the waves here at P365, and Seager should offer sneaky value in redraft leagues at your 3B, CI or UTIL positions in the coming weeks. With the fantasy season beginning to dwindle, there’s a chance he retains legitimate value for the duration of your league’s regular season and playoffs.
  • Our Tyler Spicer has been tweeting a ton of valuable dynasty league data via cluster analysis lately, using the #Cluster365 tag to keep everything in one place with a simple Twitter search. One player Tyler has discussed both in conversations with me and on his feed is Jeferson Espinal, a 17-year-old outfielder in the Diamondbacks system. As Prospect Live’s Eddy Almaguer made mention of in a blurb for another prospect in this fantastic article (that also discusses Espinal), it’s extremely encouraging and fairly telling when a Dominican Summer League prospect gets promoted in the middle of the summer. This recently happened for Espinal, who made his Arizona League debut last week.
    As Tyler makes mention in the tweet below, speed is the calling card for the 17-year-old. It’s a legitimate 80-grade tool, and Espinal has stolen 23 bases in 51 games this season. He’s also hit two home runs, which, believe it or not, could probably be considered ‘ahead of schedule’ for a prospect who’s so raw and unrefined offensively. Espinal’s 6-foot, 180 pound frame is said to be extremely quick-twitch and projectable, and the premium speed and above average defensive tools give him a solid chance of sticking in center field. Of less importance, the 17-year-old is slashing .346/.399/.444 with a 22.2 K% and 136 wRC+ this summer. Most of that came from the DSL, so it’s probably wise to take those numbers with a grain of salt. However, the combination of the parts here means you can likely make a valid argument Espinal should be added in any league that rosters 300 prospects or more. Oh, and make sure you’re following Tyler on Twitter. Big things to come in the near and distant future.

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