Written by: Michael Schneider (@mikecschneider)
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Comings and Goings
There were several notable prospects who were not on Opening Day rosters due to service time considerations that were called up in the last couple of weeks.
Jo Adell LAA (RF) -made his major league debut on August 4th. Adell is a consensus top five prospect in baseball. He missed a couple games with a minor quad injury shortly after being promoted, but he should be the Angels’ primary starting right fielder going forward. Adell is twenty-one years old and projects to be a power hitter. He was the tenth overall pick in the 2017 draft out of high school where he was considered an exceptional athlete who could take a while to develop. However, Adell had a strong season in 2018 where he reached Double-A. After missing a couple of months at the beginning of 2019, Adell starred in forty-three games at Double-A Mobile before earning a promotion to Triple-A Salt Lake City on August 1st, leaving him at the cusp of the majors entering 2020. Here we are.
Kris Bubic KC (LHP) -never pitched above High-A before he was a surprise call up by the Royals, Bubic made his MLB debut on July 31st. In three starts, Bubic has pitched 15.0 innings, allowing nine earned runs on 14 hits and four walks while striking out 15. I profiled Bubic here.
Monte Harrison MIA (CF)- huge physical tools with a questionable hit tool. Harrison has tremendous power and speed potential but has struck out 31% of the time in his minor league career. Harrison was a second-round pick (50th overall) in the 2014 draft by the Brewers out of high school. He has slowly progressed up the minor league ladder. Prior to the 2018 season, Harrison was part of the Brewers package traded to the Marlins for Christian Yelich. After striking out 215 times in 2018 for Double-A Jacksonville, Harrison reduced his leg kick before the Arizona Fall League and has shown better results. Harrison was having perhaps his best season in 2019—posting a .851 OPS in fifty games with Triple-A New Orleans—when he hurt his wrist and missed two months. He returned for the final six games of the season. Harrison stole 20 bases in 22 attempts in fifty-six games in 2019, and he has an eighty four percent success rate for his career. Harrison likely was left of the Marlins Opening Day roster due to service time considerations, which subsequently allowed him to avoid the Marlins COVID-19 outbreak. Harrison made his major league debut on August 4th and should play a role on the Marlins for a foreseeable future. True to form, the outfielder has struck out in a whopping 55% of his 20 plate appearances so far this summer.
Spencer Howard PHI (RHP) – one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, Howard debut was delayed a bit as a result of the Phillies COVID-19 scare from their opening series against the Marlins. Howard struggled some in his debut on August 9th and again on August 15th before exiting his appearance early with an apparent blister. Despite the early shortcomings, the right-hander should return to the Phillies’ rotation once the blister subsides. Howard was the Phillies’ second round pick in 2017 out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He spent 2018 with Lakewood in the Sally League where he was significantly better in the second half the season. Despite missing a couple months in 2019, he was dominant in seven starts in the Florida State League and six starts with Double-A Reading. Howard was also very impressive in the Arizona Fall League which established him as an elite prospect who was close to Major League ready. Howard just turned 24-years-old, and he has four pitches that have the potential to be above average. Don’t let a lackluster debut sour your long-term outlook on the right-hander.
Nick Madrigal CHW (2B) – the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft from Oregon State, Madrigal made his MLB debut on July 31st. He had four hits in his third game but separated his shoulder on August 4th, putting him on the injured list for the foreseeable future. Perhaps generously listed at 5’8”, Madrigal has a strong hit tool with middling power, good defensive skills and some speed. In his only full season as a pro, Madrigal played at the three highest levels of the minors, where he had a .377 OBP with thirty-five steals while striking out just 3% of the time.
Nate Pearson TOR (RHP) – was called up and made his MLB debut with five shutout innings against Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals on July 29th. Pearson is a big power pitcher that has top-of-the-rotation upside. Endurance and efficiency are his biggest question marks. Pearson, who will turn 24-years-old later this month, was the 28th overall pick in 2018 draft out of junior college and the Blue Jays have handled Pearson quite carefully since. Pearson missed most of the 2018 season but starred in the Arizona Fall League. The right-hander was dominant at the three highest minor league levels in 2019, and the Jays were letting him work a bit deeper into games later in the season. Since debuting, Pearson has logged 12.1 IP in three starts, posting a 5.11 ERA and disappointing 3.6 K-BB%. Pearson has thrown his fastball and slider 88.6% of the time and is averaging 96.1 mph on his fastball.
Luis Patiño SDP (RHP) – has an electric arm and has moved quickly through the Padres minor league system while shooting up prospects rankings since being an under-the-radar international signing in 2016 out of Colombia. Patiño was outstanding as an 18-year-old in full season ball in 2018 for Fort Wayne in the Midwest League. He was just as good in 2019 for Lake Elsinore in the California League before finishing the season with two starts in Double-A. Patiño was among the most impressive players in the 2019 Futures Game with an upper-90s fastball and explosive slider. Patiño was called up on August 4th to pitch out of the bullpen and made his debut the following day.
David Peterson NYM (LHP)– the 20th overall pick in the 2017 draft, Peterson had a relatively disappointing minor league career prior to debuting in Flushing. The southpaw was called up on July 28th due to several injuries on the Mets pitching staff. Peterson has pitched reasonably well in four big league starts, boasting a 42.6 GB% and 17 strikeouts in 21.2 IP. The left-hander’s strength is a sinking low nineties fastball and a plus slider.
Daulton Varsho ARI (C-OF) -Varsho was called up on July 30th, but at this point he is strictly a reserve who has accrued only 14 plate appearances in two weeks. In 2018, he was limited to eighty games with Visalia in California League due to a hamate injury, but he had a big year in 2019 for Double-A Jackson where he hit .301 with 18 home runs and 21 stolen bases. The jury is still out of whether Varsho has the arm strength to stick at catcher, but he does have the athleticism to play other positions, including the outfield and second base.
There were a couple of notable players who were sent down recently.
Bryan Abreu HOU (RHP) – heading to the season, Abreu was probably ahead of Cristian Javier on the Astros pitching depth chart. However, Abreu struggled with his command and—despite the Astros pitching injuries—he was sent down on August 6th. In 3.1 innings, Abreu allowed only one hit, but he walked seven and hit two batters.
Leody Taveras TEX (CF) – it was a surprise that Taveras made the Rangers Opening Day roster, but he only got one at bat before being sent down on July 28th. Taveras is a skilled player but needs more time in the minors.
Rookie Hitter Spotlight: Luis Robert CHW (CF)
Background-The Cuban born Robert was the last high-profile international signing before the rules were changed and team were restricted to a hard-international spending cap. The White Sox signed the then-19-year-old Robert in May 2017 to a $26 million bonus. Robert’s career started slowly due to a thumb injury, which limited him to 78 games total in 2017 and 2018. However, Robert dominated the three highest levels of the minor leagues in 2019, showing a tremendous power and speed combination. Robert entered 2020 as a consensus top five prospect; when he signed a long-term contract in January, it meant he would be the White Sox starting centerfield from day one of the 2020 season.
Observations – I watched all of Robert’s at bats thru August 7th. For an aggressive hitter, Robert has a decent idea of the strike zone. He is prone to swinging at high fastballs but does a good job of laying off sliders from right-handers that are outside and low. Robert has great bat speed but swings and misses as much as any hitter I have ever seen. While he is going to strikeout a lot and will not walk much, he will battle and make the pitcher work at times. Robert walked 28 times in 128 games in the minors in 2019, but that number jumped to six walks in his first sixteen major league games. He is clearly extremely strong and the ball jumps off his bat when he connects.
Robert has great speed with immediate acceleration. It is apparent that stolen bases will continue to be a big part of Robert’s game, especially in the first half of his big league career.
When I saw Robert in the minors and from what I have seen in 2020, I like the way Robert carries himself on the field. Robert plays with a quiet intensity. He runs out every ground ball and—with his speed—there were two instances where Robert hit a routine ground ball to shortstop where the fielder (Francisco Linder and Orlando Arcia) had a split second delay in making the throw to first. Robert ended up with a pair of infield singles.
Robert will have certainly have at-bats and games where he looks overmatched, but there are few players with his physical skills. Robert’s wide-spanning skillset means he’ll continue to positively impact the White Sox even when he endures dry spells at the plate.
Statcast– On his first major league pitch Robert laced a single to left with an exit velocity of 115.8 miles per hour. “Welcome to the show”, indeed.
While we have yet to hit the one-month mark since Opening Day, Robert’s defense Statcast is impressive. He is in the 76th percentile for Outfield Jump which measures “How many feet did he cover in the right direction in the first three seconds after pitch release?” which—when combined with Robert’s speed—is likely why he is in the 99th percentile for Outs Above Average.
Not surprisingly. Robert is in the 98th percentile in sprint speed.
When Robert hits the ball, his Statcast number are solid. He is in the 62nd percentile for exit velocity and 82nd percentile for barrel percentage. However, Robert is among the worse in the league with a 1st percentile Whiff% and 10th percentile K%. My naked-eye observation of Robert having good judgement of the strike zone was not supported by Statcast, which shows Robert with a chase percentage of 45.5%, which is well above the league average of 28.2%.
Rookie Pitcher spotlight: Dustin May LAD (RHP)
Background – The Dodgers selected May in the third round of the 2016 out of high school in Texas. He has stayed healthy and progressed smoothly through the Dodgers system to this point. After pitching in the AZL after signing in 2016, May spent most of 2017 with Great Lakes in the Midwest League before finishing the year with a couple of appearances with Rancho Cucamonga in the Cal Leagues. In 2018, May made seventeen starts for Rancho Cucamonga before getting promoted to Double-A Tulsa for the final six starts. May began 2019 with Tulsa and was promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City in late June. After just five starts in Triple-A, May was promoted to the majors on August 2nd. May made four starts and ten relief appearances for the Dodgers in 2019.
Heading into 2020 May was considered one of top close to major league ready pitching prospects in baseball. The Dodgers resisted trading the right-hander multiple times the past few seasons, particularly in the Manny Machado trade prior to the 2018 deadline. May was not initially on the Dodgers Opening Day roster, but when Clayton Kershaw was placed on the injured list prior to the first game, May ended up being the Dodgers’ Opening Day starter.
Observations – I watched May’s first three starts against the Giants on July 23rd, at Houston on July 29th and at San Diego on August 4th. The right-hander has a sinking fastball that is in the upper nineties, occasionally reaching a hundred miles per hour. He gets a lot of movement, including tailing in on right-handed hitters. May also has a cutter that he throws in the low to mid-nineties that breaks away from right-handed hitters. These are two nasty pitches, but the lack of a third pitch limits May in the strikeout department and against orders the second or third time thru. He has a curveball that he does not throw much. May had some success with the pitch in spots against the Giants but not in the other two games. Jake Cronenworth homered off the curveball for the Padres on August 4th.
In the Giants game, left-handed hitters Mike Yastrzemski and Tyler Heineman had success against May. He struggled with efficiency in the Astros game because he did not have an off-speed pitch to put away professional hits like Michael Brantley and Yuri Gurriel, who were able to at least foul off May’s power pitches. May had more success against the younger Padres.
May has a great arm and will have some success with his current arsenal. However, for May to become an elite pitcher, he will likely need to develop a quality off speed pitch that he can throw at an increasing rate as his outings progress.
Statcast – May throws his fastball and cutter about 87.3% of the time. He is among the hardest throwers in baseball and has a high spin rate. The average speed on the sinker/ two seam fastball is 97.8% which is the highest in baseball among starters. His average spin rate on his cutter of 2,713 is only exceeded by Trevor Bauer, Corbin Burnes, Walker Buehler and Tyler Chatwood. Surprisingly, only Garrett Richards has a higher average spin rate on the curveball. However, May’s vertical movement is middle of the pack with his horizontal movement being better.
May’s percentile rankings are positive for exit velocity (79%), hard hit percentage (78%) and barrel percentage (45%). The whiff percentage in the 13th percentile shows how much he is a pitch to contact guy despite the great stuff.
A Closer Look
There are several under the radar rookie relievers that have pitched very well to begin 2020 and have moved into high leverage bullpen roles.
Peter Fairbanks TB (RHP) – a tall right-hander who was a ninth-round draft in 2015 from University of Missouri. Fairbanks returned from his second Tommy John surgery in 2019 and began the year in High-A with the Down East Wood Ducks. However, he pitched so well the Rangers brought him up to the majors in June. The Rays traded top prospect Nick Solak for Fairbanks in a surprising deal in July. The right-hander has struggled in the majors but has posted some interesting statistics. This season, Fairbanks has struck out 14 batters in just eight innings, but he has a 1.75 WHIP due to being in the bottom three percent of hard-hit percentage. However, Fairbanks is averaging 97.2 mile per hour on his fastball and is in the 97th percentile of Whiff% amongst pitchers.
Jonathan Hernandez TEX (RHP) -a 2013 international signing by the Rangers who was primarily a starting pitcher prior to being called up to the majors at the end of 2019. Hernandez has impressed as a reliever and opener, where his stuff played up in shorter stints. Hernandez’s performance in spring training prior to the shutdown and then in summer camp created buzz. The right-hander has continued his strong performance in the early season. In nine games, Hernandez has posted a 1.64 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 11.0 IP. He has yet to allow a home run this summer, which is also nice.
Jordan Romano TOR (RHP) – the Blue Jays don’t boast many local players, but the organization appears to have struck gold with a tenth-round draft choice in 2014. Romano, who grew up in a Toronto suburb, signed for just $25,000 and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015. After working his way back in 2016 and 2017, Romano got off to an exceptional start in 2018 for Double-A New Hampshire before tapering off as the season progressed. He was selected by the White Sox in the Rule 5 draft after the 2018 season but did not make the team and was returned to the Blue Jays. Romano had a poor season in 2019 before being converted to a reliever. At 27-years-old, he made the Blue Jay Opening Day roster in 2020. Romano has an odd pre pitch ritual of couching down before standing back up and throwing. He is throwing exclusively a fastball and slider. The pair have a .094 and .178 xBA, respectively.
Josh Staumont KC (RHP) – a 2015 second round draft pick who has walked 322 batters in 413.2 minor league innings but might have the nastiest raw stuff in baseball. Staumont is averaging 98.6 mile per hour on his fastball and has a spin rate of 2,999 on his curveball. In nine games, the right-hander has struck out 17 in 8.2 innings pitched while posting a 1.04 ERA. If Staumont can keep his walk rate around 4.5 per nine innings, he can be an elite reliever.
I think it’s safe to say the Cubs broadcasters were impressed by Royals reliever Josh Staumont (sound on) pic.twitter.com/KyyD0NPqqV
— Jesse Newell (@jessenewell) August 4, 2020
Cole Sulser BAL (RHP) – a thirty-year-old rookie who graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from an Ivy League school (Dartmouth). Sulser was a 25th round draft pick of the Indians in 2013 who has benefited from obtaining data from pitching technology. Sulser has primarily been a reliever since returning from his second Tommy John surgery in 2016. The right-hander has put up nice numbers the last couple of years. After striking out 38.3% batters in 2018, Sulser was traded to the Rays where he struck out 89 batters in 66 IP. The Rays called up to the majors in September ,where he threw 7.1 scoreless innings. However, the Rays tried to sneak past Sulser past waivers while setting their playoff roster, and the Orioles claimed him. A recent outing really dampered the 2020 numbers, but he’s a reliever to keep an eye on moving forward nonetheless.
Rookie of the Year American League Chances
Robert and Lewis have clearly separated themselves from the pack.
Luis Robert 35%
Kyle Lewis 25%
Nick Solak 15%
Jesus Luzardo 10%
Nate Pearson 5%
Jo Adell 5%
Evan White 2%
Randy Dobnak 2%
Brady Singer 2%
Kris Bubic 1%
Sean Murphy 1%
Austin Hays 1%
Yoshi Tsutsugo 1%
Clarke Schmidt 1%
James Karinchak 1%
Rookie of the Year National League Chances
There are no standouts at this point.
Dustin May 20%
Spencer Howard 15%
Dylan Carlson 10%
Nico Hoerner 10%
Andres Gimenez 5%
Carter Kieboom 5%
Gavin Lux 5%
David Peterson 5%
Luis Garcia 5%
Shogo Akiyama 2%
Monte Harrison 2%
Kyle Wright 1%
Sam Hilliard 1%
Mauricio Dubon 1%
Edward Olivares 1%
Follow P365 Prospect Analyst Michael Schneider on Twitter! @mikecschneider
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of photographer Mark J. Terrill and the Associated Press