Out of a dead season, some new monsters should appear. An unprecedented time for dynasty owners, in which I and others, like Prospect 1’s Chris Welsh, believe speculating on players like never before may serve us well. Last week we checked in on players making jumps in the lower levels. This week I turn to the upper levels, looking for players finding success against the toughest competition they’ve faced yet. After three-plus weeks, the line between a breakout and merely a hot start is blurred, but we’ll try and decipher what we can.
Owen Miller, one of my personal favorite prospects, made his MLB debut 5/23. Plans were to use this piece to gush on the amazing start he had in Columbus, but that feels late now. Miller, promoted to triple-A after the lost pandemic season and a run in spring training, proved more than competent, parlaying it into more.
Alek Manoah and Vidal Brujan have been destroying the competition, deserving of whatever climb in prospect ranks they get. Manoah’s jumping from high-A in 2019 to triple-A and putting up video-game numbers, looking every bit the part of a major league starter. While Brujan’s added power to his game, some, including yours truly, were skeptical initially, but he’s pounding on the major league door.
C.J. Abrams has more than affirmed his standing as one of the top prospects in baseball. Abrams too showing off more power, making work of double-A pitching after low-A in 2019. And Wander Franco is, of course, doing Wander things at his new level, triple-A. Any day now, right?
But there are plenty of other prospects finding success at new heights, it’s just more subtle. And after the lost season, it seems to me anyone paying close attention will have plenty of reasons for new opinions on players. Here are some players impressing, and dang it…I’m opening this thing with a Wisconsin prospect one way or another…
Alec Marsh, SP, NW Arkansas (Royals AA)
23.0 years old (2.2 years younger than level)
Thru 5/24: 3 GS, 16 IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 27 SO, 4 BB
9% Fantrax ownership
Marsh, another ascending player from the land o’ cheese, was handed one of the largest promotions in minor league ball jumping to double-A after 2019 rookie ball. Perhaps the biggest reason…some newfound high cheese. Marsh’s fastball velocity has increased just like instruct reports claimed, and it looks lively. Like some of us post pandemic, Marsh is looking a little thicker these days, but unlike most of us, his secondaries have taken form:
Not the greatest video, I know, but this is a nasty changeup followed by a curveball to Nolan Gorman. The breaking ball has looked better, differentiating from his old “slider” which is now playing more like a slutter. (Stick-with-it play by Bobby Witt Jr.)
Marsh also mixes in a 2-seam/sinking fastball:
Marsh’s 23rd birthday, above, dueling Ryan Pepiot may have been his best pro outing. He went six and gave up four earned runs, but those all came from one rough patch in the fourth inning after getting squeezed, and then giving up a run of the only real hard contact allowed…walk/single/double/home run. Marsh bounced back quickly, perfect outside of the rough patch, striking out 11 and walking just the one. He was handed the loss but it felt like a big win in his development.
Marsh skipping several levels in an organization rich in arm talent is noteworthy, and the stuff looks well improved across the board. If Marsh is able to find the requisite consistency, he’s well on his way to the majors. There’s absolutely no reason to think this isn’t headed in a great direction. Monster Marsh? Maybe, but there’s still plenty of work to be done and production to sustain at high levels.
Speaking of NW Arkansas and Monsters…
Nick Pratto, 1B, NW Arkansas (Royals AA)
22.6 years old (2.6 years younger than level)
Thru 5/24: 75 PA, 6 HR, 3 SB, 1.119 OPS, 15 SO, 15 BB, (20%/20%)
13% Fantrax ownership
ATTACK OF THE ZOMBIE PROSPECT!
Pratto had quite the night 5/21, abusing Kyle Leahy the first two and Jacob Patterson for the third. The dirt around Pratto’s prospect grave started to shift this spring and he seems fully undead now. I’m not totally sure what the change has been, but watching his hips here is interesting. I know folks like to mention a swing change, but not so sure it looks all that different from 2019, other than some pre-pitch hip waggles…maybe a more concerted effort to get his hips through, which appears forced? I’m no swing expert though. This isn’t the Pratto version that hit .191 with 9 HR in high-A.
M.J. Melendez, C, NW Arkansas (Royals AA)
22.5 years old (2.7 years younger than level)
Thru 5/24: 61 PA, 6 HR, 1.060 OPS, 16.4 K%, 18.0 BB%
4% Fantrax ownership
Pratto isn’t walking the streets alone. Melendez may be undead too. Here he took Leahy yard right after Pratto. Melendez may be more of the prospect he was billed as several years ago. Considering his 45.5% strikeout rate during his 2019 high-A season, the improvement has been drastic. Was there some method going on in the Royals’ madness developing their young hitters who seemed to disappoint 2019? Melendez and his moving parts aren’t dead, but I’m more skeptical here than with Pratto. He is a catcher though, and less may be needed.
Tony Santillan, SP, Louisville (Reds AAA)
24.1 years old (3.5 years younger than level) *40-man*
Thru 5/25: 4 GS, 19.1 IP, 23K, 6 BB, 1.86 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
7% Fantrax ownership
Another former top-100 prospect looking undead. Santillan fell out of favor with rankers after he exuded some struggles in double-A, particularly a jump in walk rate. Santillan is one of three Reds pitching prospects included in this dive and we know the reputation the organization is gaining as a pitching machine. Santillan only gave up one run his first three starts, getting hit more his last. One thing to consider this minor league season is the six game series and how it could effect starters with back to back starts against the same team. I haven’t done a huge dive, but all the instances I’ve seen, the second turn has favored the hitters.
Santillan’s fastball is showing more late life, which isn’t surprising given the Reds. The walk rate through four starts is almost half it was in 2019 and at a higher level.
Santillan is looking physically strong as usual. Who is that ripping a single against a well-placed fastball?…
Lars Nootbaar, OF, Memphis (Cardinals AAA)
23.7 years old ( 3.9 years younger than level)
Thru 5/24: 61 PA, .300 BA, 4 HR, 1 SB, 1.026 OPS, 18.0 K%, 16.4 BB%
1% Fantrax ownership
A fellow Pitcher List dynasty writer, who I can’t recall, forgive me, turned me on to Nootbaar while putting together the Cardinal’s top 50 list. The former eighth-round pick out of USC has impressed nearly every at-bat. If he’s taking on monster form, he feels like the blob; a player who may stick around your watchlist until he’s suddenly in the bigs. Far from over-matched his early go in triple-A, he seems to have turned to more of an all-fields approach. I can’t speak too in-depth on his earlier pro career, as I didn’t note much, but most teams seem to be shifting him, yet he’s going with pitches.
Nootbaar hasn’t shown up on many lists, but I’ve seen a capable hitter with high contact skills, a sharp eye, and pop at the second-highest level. Kind of feels like a typical Cardinals hitting prospect…getting more out of unexpected places. It seems to me there should be players like this showing up, potentially worth a flier. You could probably do worse than some Nootbaar speculation.
Gabriel Arias, SS, Columbus (Indians AAA)
21.2 years old ( 6.6 years younger than level) *40-man*
Thru 5/24: 65 PA, .255 BA, 2 HR, .751 OPS, 21.5 K%, 13.8 BB%
14% Fantrax ownership
Like Nootbaar, Arias is giving me the blob vibes, add more prospect attention. Arias has been on a fast track since San Diego, given some spring training at-bats early, one of which occurred when he was still 17 years old. Jumping two levels from 2019, his early-season strikeout percentage has dipped. Such a young prospect not struggling here is a big gain in my opinion.
Far from washed out in a good triple-A lineup, athletic, strong, contact skills, and the defense to stick at shortstop, Arias has had a dream run of progress from a Venzezualan J2 signee in 2016 to one step away from the bigs in just five years (dead season to boot). The strikeout rate isn’t great, but it’s also better than the 26-ish% league average. If he can make more gains with the swing and miss, his prospect stock could reach a new level.
The numbers aren’t gaudy out the gates, but Arias has been a steady fast riser lauded for an all-around advanced game. The 21-year-old is more than holding his own in triple-A and could be carving out the first shot at an everyday MLB shortstop gig, first in a very long line of talented middle infield prospects.
(Double off Grant Gavin 5/13)
(Homerun off Jake Kalish and his jumbotron self 5/14)
Rodolfo Castro, SS, Altoona (Pirates AA)
22.0 years old (3.2 years younger than level) *40-man*
Thru 5/25: 72 PA, .292 BA, 2 HR, 1 SB, .838 OPS, 19.4 K%, 6.9 BB%
2% Fantrax ownership
Albeit a small cup of coffee (suited for six, appeared in one), Castro was the guy making a giant leap from A-ball to the bigs (0 for 3, 1 K his lone appearance). The Pirates had plenty of options for a major-league look, yet they chose Castro, which has my attention. Castro isn’t considered by many a highly touted prospect, yet he possesses a solid combination of hit, speed, power and defense. For now it looks he’ll be honing those skills atop the Altoona lineup, but I suspect we haven’t seen the last of Castro. The switch-hitting, potential MLB utility-type, is seasoning well, making gains in the swing and miss and defensive departments.
(Home run off Ofelky Peralta 5/7)
Jackson Kowar, SP, Omaha (Royals AAA)
24.6 years old ( 3 years younger than level)
Thru 5/25: 4 GS, 21.2 IP, 32 K, 7 BB, 1.25 ERA, 1.02 WHIP
30% Fantrax ownership
Kowar has the reputation of being the guy with a killer changeup, and it’s true, but he’s been getting plenty of results with his other stuff this new season. The following are the first four put away pitches of his ten strikeout performance against Iowa 5/22:
I had expressed concern over Kowar getting passed up a little in their system, but not now. Kowar deserves to be mentioned with the other hot minor league starters, and a debut may not be far. Every component of his arsenal has looked deadly at times, with the curveball looking the most improved.
Roansy Contreras, SP, Altoona (Pirates AA)
21.5 years old (3.7 years younger than level) *40-man*
Thru 5/25: 3 GS, 17.2 IP, 0 R, .57 WHIP, 27 K, 3 BB
19% Fantrax ownership and rising
Part of the Jameson Taillon return, Contreras has been a monster. The biggest gain; a drastically improved curveball devastating hitters. Even though the video is lacking in many ways, here is a look at the curveball sitting down Adley Rutschman:
Contreras has been getting the attention deserved, one of the fastest-rising starting pitchers this early prospect season. Already jumping several levels since 2019 low-A, more promotion could be had at this rate. MLB before the season’s end??
Cole Winn, SP, Frisco (Rangers AA)
21.5 years old (3.7 years younger than level)
Thru 5/25: 3 GS, 15.2 IP, 19 K, 4 BB, 2.87 ERA, 0.83 WHIP
17% Fantrax ownership
After injury delayed his pro debut and lackluster numbers upon a 2019 return in low-A, Winn started getting skeptical criticism, yet he’s probably right where a first-round prep pitcher should be at this point in his career; 21, carving up double-A lineups. Listed 6/2″ 190 lbs like he has been, Winn looks a little slimmer to me. He’s also using a modified wind-up I don’t recall from 2019. The curveball is as nasty as it’s been as Chandler Taylor can attest:
The development of the changeup will be key if Winn can take it to another level or not. Winn seems to be throwing more of them, but they’ve yet to garner the kind of swing and miss you’d want. More of them have found contact, albeit often not damaging, like the following, starting off Jake Suwinski with one here:
Winn’s promising start in double-A should start to erase some of the shade.
Drew Strotman, SP, Durham, (Rays AAA)
24.7 years old (2.9 years younger than level) *40-man*
Thru 5/25: 4 GS, 20.2 IP, 3.05 ERA, 24 K, 8 BB
3% Fantrax ownership
It’s probably irresponsible to exclude a Rays’ pitching prospect in a piece like this. Several others were considered, but Strotman is looking like a guy making a push for some MLB run. Strotman is jumping from high-A in 2019, putting up some gaudy numbers in Durham, passing up highly touted pitching prospects. A 2017 fourth-round pick out of St. Mary’s where he was a reliever, he hasn’t had an extensive pro run as Tommy John struck. It appears some monster gains have been had behind the scenes.
Strotman got blown up some 5/23 against Charlotte, but it was one of these second starts in the same series deals which, like I said, seem to heavily favor the hitters. Strotman still registered six strikeouts. Five days earlier he shut them out in six, striking out eight. Prior to this rough start, Strotman gave up one earned run through 17 innings with 18 punch outs.
Strotman can pitch to all quadrants and get batters out with an array of pitches.
He has a riding fastball, sitting mid-90s. Here he gets John Nogowski with it:
This looks like a running two-seamer he gets Nick Williams with:
A slutter he can get lefties and righties with, here against Seby Zavala:
Here against Nick Williams:
Williams has had a tough time with Strotman. Strotman also got him with a high curveball the first game. The curve backs up on Strotman sometimes but it’s been effective that way too.
Here’s a look at his changeup striking out Conor Capel:
The Rays pitching farm continues to produce. Strotman has the look of a fairly polished pitcher; not bad for a former reliever who wasn’t expected to be this far along already.
Jose Miranda, 2B/3B, Wichita (Twins AA)
22.9 years old (2.3 years younger than level)
Thru 5/25: 78 PA, .309 BA, 5 HR, .945 OPS, 12.8 K%, 6.4 BB%
2% Fantrax ownership
Miranda may have been a forgotten prospect on teams with Royce Lewis and Alex Kiriloff, buts he’s stepped into 2021 looking stronger and more polished as a hitter. Hitting at the top of Wichita’s lineup, manning both second and third base, he’s been steadily producing all month. Perhaps punished by some for not producing at a high level in high-A stints, but Miranda was just 20 and 21 years old in 2018 and 2019 runs. He made gains in 2019 but dropped off most Twins’ lists. Miranda has always been a high contact/low K-rate hitter, but didn’t do a lot of damage. Things look to have changed a bit now, as he’s producing some hard contact.
(Home run against Brandon Sittinger)
Hunter Greene, SP, Chattanooga, (Reds AA)
21.8 years old (3.4 years younger than level)
Thru 5/25: 4 GS, 21.2 IP, 1.69 ERA, 33 K, 8 BB, 0.89 WHIP
40% Fantrax ownership
I have been very skeptical of Greene, but he’s starting to look a little scary after two years away from game action. Taken second overall with the ability to hit triple digits, I wasn’t sure how much of a pitcher he could become. The fastball had a reputation of being hard and straight, but it looks less straight to me now:
I know the video and angle is lacking (improvements coming from what I can control), but the fastball looks to have a little run. None of Greene’s games have had good angles. I’d love to ask Greyson Jenista how that one looked to him.
Greene’s breaking ball has been getting plenty of swing and miss too and looking more like a curveball than a slider:
Greene is still raw, but with the Reds potentially helping get life on the big fastball, I may need to eat a little crow. There are still concerns though; I wonder if he slows down his body throwing the curve and change. And with many young bully-type pitchers, the pitch efficiency may concern, but Greene has been good so far:
|Total Pitches||Strikes||Innings Pitched|
Nick Lodolo, SP, Chattanooga, (Reds AA)
23.3 years old (1.9 years younger than level)
Thru 5/25: 3 GS, 15.2 IP, .57 ERA, .83 WHIP, 24 K, 5 BB
36% Fantrax ownership
For a player getting negative reports out of instructs, Lodolo sure has been good. Consider the low-A to double-A jump, he’s been great. Lodolo went seven and a third innings of one-hit ball 5/19 against a pretty decent Mississippi Braves lineup. Maybe I missed the boat, or maybe I’m not seeing this right, but I didn’t know Lodolo threw a slider. It’s been nasty to both right-hand and left-hand hitters. Here he got Brandon Shewmake and Trey Harris back to back on it:
Lodolo has gotten a knock for maybe not having the big put-away pitch, but did he find one? If so, look out!
Brian Rey, OF, Chattanooga, (Reds AA)
23.3 years old ( 1.9 years younger than level)
Thru 5/25: 1 for 7 with 4 K
1% Fantrax ownership
Rey earned a recent promotion to double-A after going 22 for 52 with six homeruns and a stolen base during his second stint of high-A ball. We’ll get to see if the former 13th round pick out of junior college is a true pop-up prospect to pay attention to or not. Rey is a strong man:
No fan out there ended up with the ball and plenty of them were seen pointing up trying to figure out where it went. Rey didn’t struggle with strikeouts in the lower levels, but he was sitting 20%+ this month. I’m skeptical of Rey, but that monster shot and his monster May run…maybe he’s worth looking at while watching the Lookouts?
Cornelius Randolph, OF, Lehigh Valley, (Phillies AAA)
24.0 years old (3.6 years younger than level)
Thru 5/25: 57 PA, .377 BA, 4 HR, 1.119 OPS, 21.1 K%, 7.0 BB%
2% Fantrax ownership
Randolph might be more mummy prospect than zombie because he’s felt dead for ages. The former 10th overall pick recently won Player of the Week after a ridiculous ten-game run, including a five-hit game. Randolph followed up with this homerun off Jerad Eickoff the next day:
I haven’t watched Randolph enough to know if or what the change here might be, but he’s insanely hot his first taste of triple-A. Randolph has never had overtly bad strikeout problems and gotten on base at a decent clip, but he’s never slugged to the magnitude he is now. With the Phillies’ current outfield, Randolph will get a crack at this rate. Too bad he’s probably limited to corner outfield and designated hitting.
Elvin Rodriguez, SP, Erie, (Tigers AA)
23.1 years old (2.2 years younger than level)
Thru 5/25: 4 GS, 19.1 IP, 1.40 ERA, 23 K, 7 BB, 0.78 WHIP
1% Fantrax ownership
Rodriguez was the player to be named later in the Justin Upton trade and someone I’ve never watched until this season. Rodriguez spent 2019 in high-A, but did make one appearance this spring training for the Tigers. Through his first three starts, he threw 14.1 scoreless innings, getting touched up for three runs by Birmingham his fourth start, another instance of two starts against the same team in the same week. Pitching for Erie, we get a good look at what he’s offering. This fastball got Will Benson:
This curveball got Benson earlier:
Another look at the curveball:
Initially I thought Rodriguez was throwing two different fastballs and a curveball, but a closer looks shows a changeup, not a running two-seamer. This is what I thought was a different fastball:
But looking closer it sure is a changeup grip:
Not sure how I feel about that pitch without knowing the velocity differential, but it sure does get some movement. The fastball and curveball have been his primary put-aways, and he’s gotten a lot of those. Rodriguez could very well be one of the pop-ups I expect to find this season.
Triston Casas, 3B, Portland, (Red Sox AA)
21.4 years old (3.8 years younger than level)
Thru 5/25: 75 PA, .328, 4 HR, .952 OPS, 24.0 K%, 9.3 BB%
39% Fantrax ownership
Casas has looked every bit the part of a number one prospect whilst getting his first taste of double-A. Enjoy this monster shot:
Josh Lowe, OF, Durham, (Rays AAA)
23.3 years old (4.3 years younger than level) *40-man*
Thru 5/25: 57 PA, .317 BA, 7 HR, 1.117 OPS, 29.8 K%, 3.5 BB%
30% Fantrax ownership
Lowe has been making hard contact after hard contact, but it has come with a 30% strikeout rate, which is what he’s done in the past. That rate will play fine if the power continues to make these kinds of gains. I wasn’t sure how Lowe’s approach would play moving up, but so far, more than good.
A Lesson in Patience
Monster and zombie jesting aside, sometimes we just need to let these guys grow into themselves. As noted, all of these guys are still rather young for their levels and it doesn’t surprise any veteran prospector some of these players have popped back up. It happens all the time. In fact, some are ahead of schedule:
Most of these guys were once thought to have a chance to be scary good, and now they’re doing it. At least May of 2021 they did.
Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG)