August is upon us with some major publications and other esteemed prospect hounds dropping new rank lists. With three good months of minor league ball behind us, it’s a great time to have a little prospect state-of-the-union. Which prospects have made the biggest gains, and conversely, fallen most? Both an easy and tricky question, here are 20 prospects whose 2021 has shown things, for better and worse. (If I hadn’t dropped 5000 words and 5o gifs on Jose Miranda last week, he’d be included here, but no need to get into that again. Link.)
Not all gains and falls are created equally. A player going from top ten caliber to top five is a huge jump in my opinion, even if it’s just a few number change on a list. A player not on top 400 or 500 lists suddenly showing up in top 100s is a huge jump as well, but not as big a gain as ten to five in my book. Lots of things to consider, but I feel good about my selections here. Over 100 players made my shortlist for this, which is here (link) if curious, but in the end, here are five risers I think most will agree with, five risers probably gaining faster for me than most, five fallers most will probably agree with, and five fallers slipping faster for me than most, I think:
Five We Are All Probably Fading
(We’ll do some bad news first.)
Mackenzie Gore, RHP, Padres (Triple-A)
71% Fantrax Ownership
Gore was considered by most the top pitching prospect in the game heading into 2020…an extremely tough moniker to live up to. Most don’t, and Gore isn’t either. He and his big leg kick haven’t looked real comfortable on the mound for a bit now:
A triple-A 5.85 ERA coupled with a 5.4 BB/9 and less than one strikeout per inning aren’t due to lack of stuff, but lack of the required command.
(vs Bryan de la Cruz 5/24)
When I postulated trading Gore for Johan Oviedo and whatever else you can get (which would have been substantial) this past offseason (On The Farm pod with Kyle Brown), I didn’t think Gore would fall this much in the eyes of rankers, but here we are. Gore has gone from top of the list, to fringe top-100. Is Gore a complete bust? Hard to claim that, given the stuff, but I can’t help but wonder if quieting things down would help him achieve better repeatability, thus command. But I’m far from an avid 2021 Gore watcher and I’ll leave this kind of speculation to them.
Asa Lacy, LHP, Royals (High-A)
39% Fantrax Ownership
It makes sense to me 45% of our list are first-year pros we didn’t get to see in 2020. A lot of “pseudo-blind” speculation was required, and calibration happens. Lacy seems to have disappointed the majority as much as I thus far, pitching to a 5.19 ERA with 7.10 walks per nine…in high-A. Reading into minor league pitching numbers is tough, and tuning in hasn’t answered many concerns for me either. Watching Lacy at Texas A&M, one couldn’t deny the stuff and strikeout upside, but you also noticed a difference in his follow-thru between fastball and breaking ball…faster upper half and more reach to the dirt when throwing the fastball: (#35)
Complete game, 3-hit, SHUTOUT.
Highlights from Asa Lacy and the squad's win in today's first of two from Blue Bell Park.#FamilyF1rst #GigEm pic.twitter.com/gkjHDt0RgH
— Texas A&M Baseball (@AggieBaseball) May 4, 2019
No one seemed concerned with this, most importantly the Royals, so I wasn’t either. The Royals still seem fine with this, as it continues today. Maybe too subtle here, and it’s just warmup throws, but I tried to show the difference in pace he comes at the plate. One delivery is faster to home:
A pitch gets away here 0-2, but there’s more pace in the upper half of said pitch:
(vs David Hamilton 7/8)
Maybe this is mountain out of a molehill, but it makes me wonder. Pro hitters might be able to pick up on such changes in motion, telegraphing pitches. Or maybe there’s more trying to place the ball instead of letting it rip? Perhaps one of you can tell me not to worry, but as of now, I am. This is something noticeable every time I tune in.
It’s not all gloom though. The stuff is still nasty, which the 13.69 K/9 points toward, there’s just cleanup needed before Lacy gets held in the esteem he was.
(vs Thomas Dillard 7/8)
Aaron Sabato, 1B, Twins (Low-A)
21% Fantrax Ownership
A little further down the big ranks, Sabato hasn’t lived up to the hype some touted, including yours truly. One of my favorite college players from the 2020 draft is struggling to a low-A clip of .185/.370/.290 with four home runs and a 32.5 K%. An ACC player drafted in the first round struggling like this in Low-A warrants real concern. Hard to tell the whole story as only his first week of pro ball has been broadcast. It was a lot of swing and miss like below. At the time, it worried me not at all, but it seems to have not gotten better. Ooof
(vs J.C. Flowers 5/7)
Nolan Jones, 3B/COF, Indians (Triple-A)
41% Fantrax Ownership
Jones’ first crack at triple-A has come with some expected growing pains, but I’m not sure many of us saw the swing and miss coming at this rate. The strikeout rate of 31.2% isn’t the shocker, nor deal-breaker for me, but the number of WHIFFs I catch might be.
(vs Pedro Payano 6/29)
At only twenty-three, a good feel for the strike zone, an all-fields approach, and running into more power outcomes, there’s plenty to like. Some are staying bullish on him, but as a whole, he’s fading. Whether we are right or wrong in doing so, I concur this feels more like a potential nice MLB hitter than some sort of monster at the plate, and that was not my feeling, nor many others heading into the season.
Geraldo Perdomo, SS, Diamondbacks (Double-A)
25% Fantrax Ownership
After the lost 2020 season, 2021 felt like it was coming with answers in regards to the 21-year-old’s offensive game. A shot at the upper-levels seemed in order, and we’d get to see how the bat plays. Then the Diamondbacks gave him a surprising 10 game look in the majors leaving us to wonder if the bat was significantly more ready than thought. It wasn’t. Perdomo’s trying to figure things out in double-A, scuffling to a .151/.305/.204 1 HR season. Perdomo has five extra-base hits on the season. Here was his last one:
(vs Layne Henderson 6/27)
Hard contact isn’t coming, but he’s still exuding a great feel of the strike zone. The Diamondbacks are giving him some tough tests and I’m far from done with this story, but if 2021 was supposed to help answer questions about the offense…it seems to have delivered them. There’s good reason to give pause to the dream Perdomo is a rising young star.
Five Big Risers I Think We All Agree On
(Some good news.)
Bobby Witt Jr., SS/3B, Royals (Triple-A)
63% Fantrax Ownership
Starting in spring training, Witt’s 2021 has been fantastic and broadly talked about. Witt hit .295 with 16 home runs in 244 at-bats his first double-A try and after a short adjustment to triple-A, isn’t missing a beat there either, hitting .291 with three home runs in 55 at-bats. The power and hit-for-average upside have been on display, and the 21-year-old, in my opinion, is making a real case for consideration as the new #1 prospect in the land after Wander Franco and Jarred Kelenic graduations. A little more on that later, but for now, here’s my favorite Witt gif of the season, or should I say lady in yellow gif:
(vs Jacob Patterson 5/21)
The 2019 #2 overall selection is knocking on the major league door, and his bat may be the readiest of all the prospects making a bid for the new #1.
Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles (Double-A)
43% Fantrax Ownership
Rodriguez has improved the command of his devastating arsenal and ascended to the new #1 pitching prospect on some lists. Again, a scary moniker to hold. It’s easy to see why when you get a good look at his upper-90s fastball and sharp slider both breaking late.
(K vs Riley Greene 7/18)
(K vs Spencer Torkelson 7/18)
(K vs Dillon Dingler 7/18)
There’s a pretty dang good curveball in there too, he doesn’t use as much:
(vs Kerry Carpenter 7/18)
And a changeup usually looking significantly behind the others the rare times I’ve seen one thrown:
(vs Riley Greene 7/18)
I have zero issue with anyone speculating Rodriguez might end up the best pitching prospect out there, but I’m not there until command gets better. The improvement is undoubted, but there’s still too much reliance on bullying hitters with the plus plus stuff at double-A, where I think he needs to be, for me to go all-in right now. Still too much wildness in and outside the zone I think hurts him more against better hitters. The results have been outstanding, but in terms of pitching to development, he leaves much to be desired when I tune in. He can get a lot of these hitters out blowing his fastball by them three times, and he does. The fastball/slider combo has overwhelmed most hitters when I’ve watched. I can’t help but feel he wastes opportunities to challenge himself more by throwing different pitches in different counts or working on the changeup more. There could very well be a bigger plan in place, but if you’re wondering if Rodriguez is major league ready, I’m stamping a huge warning label on that. He’s still a huge 2021 gainer to me, but there’s more work to be done.
But you know there is a legit dude here when Spencer Torkelson is asking for a scouting report from leadoff hitter Riley Greene. As a pitcher, you know you’re offering up some concerning stuff when this happens the first inning:
Reid Detmers, LHP, Angels (MLB)
40% Fantrax Ownership
This year’s FYPD college arm left out by many in the Asa Lacy, Max Meyer, Emerson Hancock tier, has opened many eyes. Part of the added appeal has been an uptick in fastball velocity even the loudest Detmers touts didn’t foresee coming, including yours truly. Many felt Detmers would be the first of the bunch to debut, which came to fruition last weekend, going 4.1 innings and giving up six earned, mostly due to some poorly spotted fastballs against the A’s. The combination of added on-field appeal and underestimated initial speculation has Detmers ascending to one of the top pitching prospects in baseball territory. Detmers will probably always carry a “lack of fantasy upside” tag with him, but he’s shaken that for some dynasty owners.
(K vs J.J. Bleday 5/18)
(A look at the curveball for swinging strike three vs Nick Lovullo 5/18)
(K vs Luis Castro 6/20)
Detmers came mighty close to an immaculate inning during his lone triple-A start, first inning:
Detmers will have plenty of adjusting to do at the big league level and the number of big-league strikeouts to be had is a real question, but, at least for me, he’s another example of how terms like “floor” “safe” “inning-eater” “soft-tossing lefty” “lack of strikeout upside” are tossed around as knocks a little too frequently. Lots to still prove, but the young lefty is on a nice trajectory right now.
Garrett Mitchell, OF, Brewers (Double-A)
35% Fantrax Ownership
Another first-year pro starting to put concerns to rest, Mitchell has hit more home runs in 164 pro-at-bats than he did his entire UCLA career (6), which seemed his biggest knock. Still my favorite choice of the 2020 draft to become a legit five-tool major-league asset, more of the dynasty world seems to be hopping on that train. He’s currently adjusting to double-A ball, hitting .208 with two home runs in 72 at-bats. Here’s a decent display of opposite-field power for his first double-A home run:
(vs Faustino Carrera 7/14)
Jordan Walker, 3B, Cardinals (High-A)
25% Fantrax Ownership
Now I’ll eat some crow. Walker’s stock has risen more than any prep bat of the 2020 draft after demolishing low-A pitching to the tune of a .374 average, 1.162 OPS with six home runs in 99 at-bats, and tales of huge exit velocities. The unfortunate part was none of these at-bats were broadcast, but we finally started getting some looks after promotion to high-A where he’s gotten going after an adjustment. Walker’s currently hitting .277 with two home runs. The strikeout rate has jumped to 27% since promotion, but we are talking about a small 83 at-bat sample where visible improvement in these regards is showing. Here is some nice two-strike hitting during his first taste of high-A:
(vs J.J. Goss 7/6)
Walker is big, athletic, and powerful, proving to be more of a hitter than I gave him credit for. Walker has some folks dreaming mighty large, attaining top 40 (or better) overall prospect clout. Maybe we should’ve given more credence to Walker being Perfect Game’s top 2020 prospect for a long time? We just don’t see 6’5″ high school kids with long arms pan out very often. In a sense, Walker needs to prove to be a unicorn…and he’s been doing that his first pro season.
Five Risers Jumping More In My Eyes Than Most
Nolan Gorman, 2B/3B, Cardinals (Double-A)
40% Fantrax Ownership
While I’m eating crow, Gorman may not have made a huge jump for those who already believed, but he’s proving my skepticism very wrong. Maybe not jumping up huge on lists, reaching triple-A after putting together his most impressive statistical pro season his first double-A try, Gorman’s proving to be a better hitting prospect, where some, like myself, thought of him more of a sophomoric slugging type. Gorman is still a pull heavy hitter and will have to battle shifts like the one below, but his approach is much more controlled than I thought it would be:
(vs Alec Marsh 5/21, Bobby Witt off the deflection)
21 years old, seeming to adjust to triple-A pitching as we speak, Gorman’s proving to be worthy of the first crack at the middle-of-the-lineup dream St. Louis has been hunting with high draft capital for several years now.
Nick Yorke, 2B, Red Sox (Low-A)
14% Fantrax Ownership
Yorke may have been the prep bat version of Garrett Mitchell of the 2020 draft. Lack of power was the knock. Yorke has only hit three balls out of the park this debut season, but he’s proven, to me at least, there’s some juice in there. And since getting the good part of the bat on the ball needs to happen to hit home runs, I feel real good about the first step. The one against Edwin Urena here flashed some strength I didn’t think was in there:
(vs Edwin Urena 7/2)
(vs Griffin McLarty 7/6)
With maybe the prettiest looking swing of all the 2020 draft bats, often looking simple and effortless, paired with contact and approach skills lauded by some as the best of the class, I think Yorke is getting underestimated still. I don’t want to do that. Yorke just slashed .358/.448/.519 in July, and could be a candidate for a promotion soon. Impressive debut for a kid who won’t turn 20 until April.
Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Rockies (High-A)
8% Fantrax Ownership
A young, further-off prospect heading into 2020 has proven some offensive juice many questioned. The physical development has started to match the swing and approach, which we started talking about in early May (link). I didn’t think I’d see Tovar hitting opposite-field home runs like the one below when I first saw him as a skinny kid in Grand Junction:
(vs Levi Thomas 7/28)
Tovar has intangibles in spades, a glove to play shortstop at the major league level, and an offense that went .309/.346/.510 with 11 home runs, 54 RBIs over 72 low-A games, as a 19-year-old. He made his high-A debut last night, two days after his 20th birthday and went 1 for 5 batting second.
If the bat continues to develop like this, there is a legit major league ballplayer here, one of which I threw caution in the wind and called a top 100 prospect on Chris Welsh’s Prospect1 podcast. A few other prospect hounds seem to agree with me, but there is still a long way to go, as there are still tweaks being made at the plate. Tovar is still criminally under-owned despite going from 0% to 8% Fantrax ownership since May. Is there a chance I find myself writing about Tovar as I did Perdomo above? Yes, but I’m riding this train until then.
Shane Baz, RHP, Rays (Triple-A)
45% Fantrax Ownership
Baz has jumped from a top 100 caliber prospect to top 20ish for some after dominating most of his seven 2021 double-A starts and pitching to even better results over five triple-A starts; currently holding a 1.96 ERA, 12.91 K/9, 3.13 BB/9. I’ve been impressed to the point I’m not sure Baz isn’t the best pitching prospect in baseball. Baz’ fastball/slider/curveball/changeup arsenal offers plenty of strikeout appeal, but it comes with fewer worries this paranoid pitching prospector has over others. Baz’ arm action is crazy, offering up big stuff from a simple delivery. To boot, his ability to get out of some trouble makes me feel like there is some Zac Gallen (healthy) in him regarding the ability to hunker down and keep runs off the board. This inning against Pensacola may have been my favorite:
Lewin Diaz starts things off with a solo home run:
(vs Lewin Diaz 7/15)
Then a couple more fastballs end up singles:
(vs Isan Diaz and then Lewis Brinson 7/15)
Then he loses Chad Wallach after being up 0-1 (with some help from a bad call):
(vs Chad Wallach 7/15)
He gets a flyout to left and help from a Josh Lowe laser beam to keep the runner at third:
Mows through a batter:
(vs Joe Dunund 5/17)
Then has the stones to throw a breaking ball 3-2 with the bases loaded and get the inning-ending strikeout, holding the damage to one run:
(vs Justin Twine 5/17)
There’s just another level of calm and control, thus trust with Baz than some of the other pitchers we’ve mentioned here and those in the conversation for that #1 spot. I’m not sure he’s gaining that kind of praise, but I’m on board.
Drew Romo, C, Rockies (Low-A)
3% Fantrax Ownership
The Fresno Grizzlies have been my favorite minor league watch this season and Romo continues to prove himself offensively. The Rockies claimed there was more offense than advertised, and I believe them. A fantasy catcher is a tricky deal, but Romo’s creeping into a young tier of catchers who might just head up an offensive catcher renaissance. Proving to be more advanced from the left side where he’s batting .336 with a .837 OPS, he’s shown pop from the right side as well:
(vs Kumar Nambiar 6/20)
Striking out at only a 14.8% rate, there’s been plenty of contact and damage done to think there’s a budding bat here to pair with all the catching skills needed to grow into a viable major league backstop. Romo plays the game hard which is hard to not like.
Five Players Fading More In My Mind Than Most
Nick Gonzales, 2B, Pirates (High-A)
35% Fantrax Ownership
The big question surrounding Gonzales’s draft stock was the level of competition he faced in college. I’m not sure he’s squashed those concerns. Far from crossing him off my list, I’m tempering my faith in the bat some after an OK .270 with six home run debut in high-A. My biggest concerns are the 30.9% K rate, struggles against righties, and seemingly poor approach with two strikes. He’s currently batting .170 with two strikes, but more so, I just haven’t been impressed with his ability to put the bat on the ball when down. Here’s a couple of looks against one of the best (and underrated) pitchers he’s faced, who happens to be a former Big 12 pitcher like the one’s we wondered how he’d have faired against:
(vs John Doxakis 7/2)
Not a doomsday deal here, just gonna need to show me plenty more before I buy-in.
Austin Hendrick, OF, Reds (Low-A)
28% Fantrax Ownership
I don’t know if Hendrick is fading for others, but he’s not faired as well as I expected. Robert Hassell and Austin Hendrick were the two prep bats I coveted most from the 2020 draft, and that story’s changed for me. I’ve only got eyes on him for four at-bats, as he was injured after his first start in Bradenton (the only broadcast stadium in his league), and the rest has been stat sheet scouting, which isn’t what I had hoped for. Here’s the one ball in play we got to see from him:
(vs Adrian Florencio 6/13)
Currently slashing .209/.399/.378 with four home runs and a 36% strikeout rate, it’s probably what a lot felt it would look like early, but I thought there was a better hit tool than most believed. Maybe there still is, but with all the young batters showing out this year, he has to take a big hit in my evaluation, at least for now.
Micheal Toglia, 1B, Rockies (Double-A)
21% Fantrax Ownership
Toglia is another hitter we haven’t gotten to see many at-bats of. Matter of fact, here is the one extra-base hit you’ll find in the archives:
(vs Nick Avila 5/28)
For right or wrong, Toglia took a dip for me before even taking the field when Colorado assigned him to High-A, a repeat level after the dead 2020. He did make his double-A debut last night going 0 for 3 batting fifth, but the soon-to-be 23-year-old who hit .237 in high-A and is probably at least a few years away doesn’t feel like the prize prospect of the system like I was speculating coming into the season. The switch hitter has a total of five extra-base hits from the right side (3 home runs) and only 12 total doubles or triples. For a hitter lauded as an all-fields hitter, he sure has an all-or-nothing feel to him. The 17 home runs (plus a future’s game bomb) point to the power and will get dynasty owners excited, but he’s hitting far too many ground balls and wasting too many at-bats to get me excited. Throw in a 27.6 K% and I’m backing off here. Perhaps I had overestimated the former first-round pick from UCLA to start with, but this feels far from where I thought it’d be.
Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners (Double-A)
54% Fantrax Ownership
This isn’t going to be popular, but after riding the Rodriguez train as the next #1 prospect, trusting the projection side of things along with everyone else, I’m getting off here. I’m more than comfortable calling him a top three or four prospect, I’m just not going all-in while most everyone else seems to be, thus making him a “faller” of an odd sort. The forever question prospectors face is that of projecting a player will be better than another player, who seems to be better now, at the end of the day. I think a lot of folks are doing that with Rodriguez and I’m not ready with the likes of Bobby Witt Jr., Spencer Torkelson, and Adley Rutschman out there. Yet anyways.
I won’t push back if you claim Rodriguez’s athleticism and raw abilities at the plate are better than the others, but I will argue he and his truthers may be putting too much faith into that. His approach isn’t as sophisticated as some others and he gets out of control at the plate far more than I like. Every time I watch him, there are at least three swings that drive me bonkers. They look like these:
The 0-1 swing here:
(vs Guillermo Zuniga 6/29)
The 1-1 swing here:
(vs Justin Hagenman 6/29)
There’s too much swing hard in case you hit it and eyes looking at the left-field stands for me to feel like this is a can’t miss. Of course, what he’s doing as a 20-year-old in double-A; slashing .280/.410/.500 with three home runs in just 50 at-bats is incredibly impressive and he’s far from a finished product. But much like a top-pitching prospect and his crazy-good stuff getting touted as the best bet, I don’t want to bet the heaviest on raw ability alone. I need the cerebral stuff to click with it and the other options don’t lack raw ability enough to have a projection-type profile ahead of them for me. I can’t help but think there is a significant wall coming, whether it’s in the upper-levels, the majors, or maybe he is gifted enough to ride this into years of MLB success similar to a Javier Baez, but I don’t like putting money on that. I need more maturity at the plate first. Jo Adell may be our most recent example of folks putting a lot of weight on the athleticism trumping other concerns, and that took a step back before moving forward. (He had a great 2021 debut for the Angels last night.)
Do I feel super great going against the consensus here? No. Am I crazy to wonder if all my friends have gotten a little too caught up here? I don’t think so. Do I want the charismatic, uber-talented young man to become a superstar? You bet. We need to realize we’ve gotten super spoiled with some amazing young talent the last handful of years and if you drop Rodriguez in the bigs today, it most likely doesn’t go well, whereas it might go fine for others, and that counts when we are talking this stratosphere of prospect rank in my book.
Here’s a two-strike double I have mixed feelings about, but he’s such a freak, it turns into great stats.
(vs Ryan Pepiot 6/29)
(Throw tomatoes if you must…I get it.)
Micheal Busch, 2B/1B, Dodgers (Double-A)
26% Fantrax Ownership
While watching some Rodriguez, I decided I want nothing to do with Busch, who was already falling out of my favor. Like the Driller’s announcer said, “it’s no secret, you pitch him away”. Here’s a nice muscled single on two strikes:
(vs Alejandro Requena 6/29)
And here’s a ground out on a full count with the bases loaded, two outs, going with gave him a better chance, but he doesn’t seem to ever do that.
(vs Ryne Inman 6/29)
A .164 batting average against lefties in double-A, in that organization, smells like platoon material at best.
Photos by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire & Photo by Rob Schumacher/The Republic | Feature Image by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)
“Every time I watch him, there are at least three swings that drive me bonkers. “, every time I watched Julio in Everett, he did this :) https://twitter.com/EricGKnowles/status/1393061102221594632?s=20
:) I love the passion. You should be excited.