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MiLB Player & Pitcher of the Week: April 5-9

Looking at the best performances from MiLB's first week of the season.

With 120 teams and 5,000+ players spread through four levels (not to mention the Dominican Summer League and the renamed Complex leagues in Arizona and Florida), keeping up with minor league performances can be difficult. If you wait until end of season wrap-ups, a breakout prospect may no longer be available. You can scout stat lines all year, but that can be tedious and it’s difficult to keep an eye on every tweet of a new highlight. But fear not, intrepid dynasty league manager: Welcome to Pitcher List’s MiLB Player and Pitcher of the Week!

This is a weekly column where I’ll select one hitter and one pitcher who performed outstandingly in the prior week. Not only will you get a name, but also we’ll dive into what powered their results and where their future value stands.

Let’s kick things off with our Player of the Week for the first week of the season:

 

Player of the Week: 1B Christian Encarnacion-Strand, MIN, High A

Stats: (3 games) – 10-14, 2 doubles, 3 HRs, 15 RBI, 1 for 2 SB attempts

There were several candidates who started the season with a bang but I kept coming back to Encarnacion-Strand. CES jumped on the radar last year putting up an impressive slash line at Low-A Fort Myers, including a 70% contact rate and a Max EV of 110 mph. With the promotion to High-A for 2022, Encarnacion-Strand started the campaign showing not only power but also an early decrease in strikeouts. The first game of the season got things started right as he hit two home runs, including a grand slam, and knocked in 9 RBI on the night. Encarnacion-Strand is labeled as a 1B/3B, but at 224 lbs. as a 22 year old, he seems to be a lock for the right side of the infield.

Here’s a tweet of his grand slam:

You’ll notice the bat speed to a first-pitch fastball that wasn’t in a terrible location. There’s still a ways to go before we can safely put CES in a 50 FV range; becoming a 1B-only prospect always puts more pressure on the bat, and we have to see if there’s enough of a hit tool to accompany his power. But for the time being, you definitely want to add him to your watchlist.

 

Honorable Mention: SS Zack Gelof, OAK, AA

Stats: (3 games) – 9-16, 2 HRs, 6 runs, 8RBI

You may recognize Gelof’s name as the 2021 draftee who ended up playing three games in Triple-A to finish his first ever pro season, going 7-13 with three runs and 6 RBI. Well, he’s back, this time having been formally promoted to Double-A Midland, and he’s still tearing the cover off the ball. Can he be a major league shortstop defensively? Unclear. Can he be a major league everyday player? Offensively, all signs are pointing to yes. He has a good eye for making hard contact and excellent barrel control to execute that approach. Gelof is an essential grab and stash … if he’s still available.

 

Pitcher of the Week: SP Ryne Nelson, ARI, AA

Stats: (2 starts) – 8 IP, 2 ER, 8 hits, 1 BB, 13Ks

Nelson picks up where he left off in 2021, now in the hitter friendly environment of Triple-A Reno. Lack of control and command appeared to have Nelson on the path to late-inning setup or closer material until he did a sharp 180 degree turn last year. So far, Nelson continues to deploy all of his pitches to generate a 29% CSW on the young season with a K-BB% of 36.4%. Yes it’s early in the year, but if he’s continuing to sharpen his command and control in a volatile environment (and overall hitter happy league), it stands to reason that Nelson may be close to a complete product.

A 3-2 slider to an experienced prospect like Shea Langeliers? Nelson keeps it low in the zone, but more importantly, it’s thrown to mirror the fastball. If this pitch breaks horizontally like a traditional slider, it’s not nearly as potent. But by commanding his putaway pitch well, it looks like a knee-high fastball that forces Langeliers to commit until it falls off the table at the last moment. If Nelson can make short work of more hitters like this, he’s in Phoenix by late May, easily. The ceiling is probably an SP3, but I’ll admit that’s mostly because I am conservative with pitchers so I hesitate to call almost anyone a true ace. At this point based on talent and proximity, Nelson should be a positive addition to any dynasty team regardless of league size.

 

Honorable Mention: P Royber Salinas, ATL, Low A

Stats: (1 starts) – 4.1IP, 1ER, 3 hits, 2 BB, 11Ks

Salinas began his career in 2019 as a reliever only before Atlanta began building him up into a starter. With his frame (6-foot-3, 205 lbs.), he definitely is hearty enough to log starter’s innings. The question becomes whether he is efficient enough. His start on April 8 for Low-A Augusta was a great way to answer that. 75 pitches while facing 18 batters over 4.1 innings may not look like much, but considering it was the season opener, it’s telling that they let Salinas go that much. It’s a fastball/slider combo only, which is standard reliever fare, but keep an eye on this space in case Salinas shows up again.

 

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

LaMar Gibson

A lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan that still hasn't forgiven Jeffrey Maier, Tony Fernandez, the 2014 Royals, or Edwin Encarnacion...and has no interest in doing so in the foreseeable future. You can read more of LaMar's thoughts by subscribing to his free monthly newsletter, Inside Fastball, for all things prospects.

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