Prospect Pitcher Review: June 27th – July 3rd

Emerson Hancock vs Bobby Miller Part II fireworks, and plenty more...

Welcome to a roll-up-your-sleeves weekly video review of prospect pitchers. These aren’t the “best outings” of the week per se, but rather an attempt to keep abreast of prospects’ development, getting a leg up on our dynasty opponents. There was an offseason rank after a massive video review (link to offseason review series and rank list), but ranks aren’t our main focus. Watching, reporting, keeping tabs on investments, and catching new names.

Garrett Hawkins’ perfection through seven and Luis De Avila’s seven-inning no-hitter were two of the week’s big performances, but we already took a look at both this year and despite the great days, choose to look at other outings because the outings didn’t really move the dynasty value needle.

(Note: If you are on your phone, turn it horizontal to view the entirety of the game line tables.)

 

Tuesday 6/28

 

Nick Nastrini, High-A Great Lakes (LAD)

 

 

Nastrini’s draft stock dropped when he struggled to throw strikes during his final year at UCLA. The command of his high-90s fastball and changeup were there this outing, and the curveball came around after early struggles. Only Elly De LaCruz could handle him, registering two singles. Walks haven’t been a massive issue on the season, but they are a thing. This day, only two, one of which was on an automatic ball four for reasons unknown, and the other could’ve been called a swinging strike three. The nonsensical automatic ball four would turn into the lone run after a De La Cruz single and Austin Hendrick sac fly. Here’s said single via freakishly good hitting by De La Cruz:

 

Dayton’s popped up on several of our strikeout montages, as you’ll see several repeat offenders in this mash-up of the ten strikeout pitches:

 

Most of the day was bullying with the big fastball capable of much arm-side carry, and the equally lively changeup. The breaking ball tried getting involved but it didn’t get near the zone until later. Early on, fastballs were getting sent middle/middle and Dayton still couldn’t get on it, leaving much to be desired in way of sophisticated pitching. Nastrini exuded confidence in his secondaries during three-ball counts though, with some successful endings. This is a legit first-round caliber arsenal, like many Dodgers pitching prospects these days. They clearly target pitchers with high-end stuff and, evidently, worry about the ability to utilize these tools later. If Nastrini’s execution comes around, much like the story with Ryan Pepiot and Bobby Miller, there’s legit fantasy upside here, except those “if’s” might be tough to bet on. Not to mention the difficulty of sticking in that rotation. Over his last four starts (18.2 IP): 2.47 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 16.8 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, 61 S%.

SUNDAY UPDATE: Nastrini failed to get out of the second inning, surrendering six earned on five hits and two walks.

 

Forrest Whitley, Single-A Lafayette-rehab (Hou)

 

 

Expectations were low tuning into a single-A rehab start for the former top prospect whose career’s been struck down by injury and poor performance, but he impressed. The first four batters faced a fastball/changeup attack, neither of which were located particularly well, but he was throwing enough strikes. Some good fortune played into Whitley keeping Carolina’s top three hitters off base:

 

Whitely then started tossing in breakers and getting into a groove, striking out the final five. The execution was far from precise, but he was throwing strikes, avoiding wasted, non-competitive pitches. In what was his second rehab appearance (the first lasted two innings), Whitley emptied the whole bag of tricks; four-seamer, two-seamer, changeup, slider, and curveball. To boot, he gained whiffs and strikeouts with all of them. Here are the five strikeout pitches:

 

We didn’t get any velocity news, but this was once a profile argued by some to be the best arsenal in the prospect ranks. Dynasty value was long ago written off, before the last injury setback, because of a lack of faith in execution. For a man who hadn’t pitched competitively in so long, the command of several pitches wasn’t too shabby at all. The idea of a Whitely renaissance might not be crazy.

 

Wednesday 6/29

 

Justin Jarvis, High-A Wisconsin (Mil)

 

 

The 22-year-old has a full season of high-A ball under his belt split between 2021/2022, and the execution is headed in the right direction. A 4.97 BB/9 in 2021 needed improvement, and we might be getting there:

Jarvis walked three and had a hit batsman. Two of the walks came in the first inning, the first being a ten-pitch battle with Kyler Fedko after getting ahead 1-2. There were a few non-competitive offerings, but tip your cap. The second walk was a nine-pitch battle against Yunior Severino after again up 1-2. Sometimes you face the #3 and #4 hitters of a division title team and they aren’t pushovers. After the 29-pitch first inning, the only baserunners would be the hit batsman (breaking ball got away) and the other walk. The only hit and run came here:

 

Jarvis’ attack, at least early on, was strictly up/down with his fastball and curveball. Jarvis also offers a slider, but at times it’s hard to differentiate between the two. We didn’t get many looks at signs, and his curveball was giving fits early. Many would stay up or fly off, and he was visibly coaching himself on the mound. This is an example of the shape of said pitch:

 

A look at some typical misses this outing:

 

As the game moved on, he either found the feel or went to a different breaker. Here’s the full at-bat of his ninth strikeout:

 

The following look doesn’t represent the pitch mix well, as the fastball just happened to be the bigger strikeout winner, as the breaking ball(s)/fastball attack kept hitters off-balance. Regardless, here are all ten strikeout pitches:

 

Unsure if this changeup is utilized more during outings things aren’t going as swimmingly, but we did see a whiff off one:

 

Now one of the league leaders in strikeouts, Jarvis might be getting interesting. There’s still plenty of polish to go, and although the fastball more than did its thing this outing, I want to know more about it. If the two breakers can effectively give more diversity to the attack, and that changeup is as good as our one look, some tasty dynasty value may be cooking.

 

Thursday 6/30

 

Hunter Brown, Triple-A Sugar Land (Hou)

 

 

We’ve been saying if Brown can execute the breaking balls, there’s a legit MLB starter with plenty of fantasy appeal. Last check-in (5/20) the slider was used more than the curveball, and today was basically a 33/33/33 split. The slider’s getting firmer and harder, sitting 92.5 this day, compared to 91 on 5/20. No more high-80s. The slider is still the lesser of the executed breaking balls, with more than their fair share hung in bad locations this outing. Luckily none of them did any damage. Here’s a look at one early on:

 

This weapon adds a horizontal aspect to the more mature vertical four-seam/curveball already in place. It may also be a weapon easier for him to harness. It sure seems to be a point of emphasis and part of the reason, despite efficiency being roughly the same, the walk rate dropped from 4.5 per 9 to 3 per 9, the first seven outings to the last eight. The strikeouts have remained plentiful and consistent. Here are the seven strikeout pitches preceded by the at-bat plot via Savant:

 

There might not be a better learning environment for Brown and his quest to master spin and command it than Houston’s system. Brown’s trajectory is planting him amongst the best fantasy pitching prospects out there. Although most innings found a man getting on base, the Isotopes were no threat, and Brown’s knocking on the major league door.

 

Jeff Criswell, Double-A Midland (Oak)

 

 

I wanted to get eyes on the big righty with a full set of starter tools, including a fastball capable of upper-90s, slider, curveball, and changeup. Criswell appeared in the AFL last fall with so-so reviews and was top 10 ERA in the Midwest League before a promotion 6/17. This was his second double-A start and the first inning started off a struggle with this leadoff home run, a few walks, and a base hit. In Criswell fashion, he didn’t let it get away, only surrendering the one run:

 

The second run came across during a stretch of three consecutive hits in the third:

 

Criswell got more exciting as this day went on. Early was a sophomoric effort to establish the fastball with a few curveballs thrown in. The execution was lackluster and never got great. The stuff feels fine across the board, but nothing really pops. The only news we got on the velocity was one hit 94 mph, per broadcast. Some automatic balls as he took too long between pitches played into some inefficiency, but almost all his pitches were competitive. Here are the four strike-out pitches:

 

It’s fair to say Criswell feels like a vanilla prospect, but hey, vanilla can produce. There are enough tools here to get exciting if the execution can take a jump up a few notches. Criswell might be the type finding himself with a big-league chance relatively soon without much fanfare. Perhaps a guy to keep an eye on, but nothing more from me at this point.

 

Friday 7/1

 

Will Warren, Double-A Somerset (NYY)

 

 

Warren’s four-seam and two-seam fastballs can touch the mid-90s. The curveball and slider spins are upper-level. Reading offers a nice vantage point to watch the wiffle ball-like repertoire. After a couple of singles, a walk, and an error led to trouble in the first, Warren bowed his neck striking out the last two hitters and overwhelmed the rest of the way, with a couple harmless singles strewn in. Here’s a look at the strikeout pitches:

 

Since his promotion to double-A, I’ve caught Warren a few times, and he’s always impressed giving the best hitters in lineups fits. There’s a lot of action to corral, and he locates fairly well considering. Walks are a thing, but Warren isn’t a complete loose cannon. Over his last four double-A starts: 20.1 IP, 1.79 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 10.75 K/9, 4.48 BB/9, 64 K%, 16.8 P/IP. As the two-seamer and slider are relatively new pitches, the execution may be ahead of the curve. Kudos to the Yankess for identifying an arm they could unlock potential because that’s exactly what’s happened. In a dynasty value sense, the Yankee picture becomes even more muddled. Who is their best pitching prospect, and whose talent pushes through the crowd, gets the opportunity, and runs with it? Ken Waldichuk, Hayden Wesneski, Luis Medina, Randy Vasquez, Jhonny Brito, and now Warren…not to mention J.P. Sears, Luis Gil and Matt Krook are vying for chances (or more chances). I smell trade deadline chips, and arguments for all to get a big-league chance. Of the entire crowd, Warren might need the most polish, assuming Medina keeps his newfound form. (Medina had a rough outing this past weekend, snapping an impressive run.)

 

Xzavion Curry, Triple-A Columbus (Cle)

 

 

After a loud 2021, Curry’s quietly doing his thing this season, leading to the last promotion before the big one. Curry’s 93/94 mph fastball isn’t your every day 93/94 mph fastball. It gets on hitters fast, and we know it isn’t because the 5’10” Curry has crazy insane extension like some 6’7″ guy might. It’s about how the ball comes out. He pairs a slider and a big slow hook with the fastball, but it’s a heavy fastball attack. Curry also sprinkles in a changeup. Here’s a look at the nine strikeout pitches:

 

Curry’s attack played fairly well, only allowing this hard contact:

 

Curry executes pitches at a fairly high level, and the stuff is plenty good enough to play when executed this well. It’ll be curious to see what kind of opportunities are at the next level for him, but this day he took advantage of the one in front of him and reminded us there’s some fantasy juice in the Mighty Mouse of starting pitching prospects. Pitchers with these kinds of fastballs are really kind of just getting started in the majors, with perhaps Joe Ryan a good example, so, at least for me, trying to find a good case study on how such a profile might play out in the bigs is tough. I peg Curry as much more talented than Tommy Romero, but he too has a very heavy lean on a cousin of Curry’s type pf fastball.

 

Saturday 7/3

 

Jaime Melendez, Double-A Corpus Christi (Hou)

 

 

Melendez isn’t very big, listed at 5’8″, but his riding fastball sure can be. On this day it sat 94 mph, per the broadcast. Here’s a look at the ten strikeout pitches:

 

There’s a slider and a changeup too, but after a few misfired changeup tries early, it seemed to get scrapped. This was a heavy load of fastballs. The slider and curveball got tossed in here and there, but most weren’t competitive because of poor command. Here’s the full sequence of the last strikeout with a look at the slider:

 

That was the last at-bat of the day, and quite different looking than the rest of the day.  The riding fastball dominated. The only baserunner on the day came from an eleven-pitch walk to Dustin Harris. And the only hit:

 

This was top 10 caliber dominant, and not expected from a 6.26 BB/9 (58 S%) over his first 12 appearances guy. Perhaps the inability to command spin has been the issue, and a day the fastball dominated as such yielded better results? Is a new attack forming? Over the last two starts he’s gone: 11 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 2 HR, 22 K, 1 BB, 71 K%. A fastball capable of dominating, with two good, yet feral, breaking balls in the spin factory system of the Astros, at only 20 years old… presents, at the least, interesting dynasty attention.

 

Russell Smith, High-A Wisconsin (Mil)

 

 

The 6’9″ lefty recently returned from a few weeks off. TCU has produced some good lefties of late and the Brewers selected Smith 51st in the 2021 draft. The first few months of pro ball have been a mixed bag, with walks and hard contact being an issue in spots. Whether or not incorporating more sliders into the fastball/changeup attack plays into any of that or not, I don’t know, but this outing was a nice mix. After establishing his low nighties, fairly pedestrian fastball early, the big changeup weapon came out. And then the slider came out the hitters’ next look.  Smith did well throwing strikes and locating on one axis.  Other than back-to-back doubles allowed in the third, Cedar Rapids couldn’t square him up. Here’s the one that did the damage:

 

Here are the six strikeout pitches:

 

The Brewers have a mold here, not too dissimilar to Ethan Small, but this larger version might be polishing a more effective breaking ball. As an owner of deep league shares picked up in FYPDs, I was hoping for better production than a +5 ERA, 4 BB/9, and less than 10 K/9 by a big college program lefty paid a million dollars in A ball. If learning how to spin a more effective breaking ball is the cause of said production, I can live with it, but dynasty excitement isn’t bubbling yet. As a dreamer of what I had hoped Small was going to turn into, perhaps this was a desperate play to try again. Or maybe it happens?

 

Sunday 7/3
(Crazy good pitching dual fireworks in Tulsa)

Bobby Miller and Emerson Hancock’s Sunday rematch didn’t disappoint like Tuesday’s face-off did, whereupon Miller allowed five runs in 4.2 innings and Hancock gave up four in 4 innings. These were two top 10 caliber outings and perhaps the best pitching dual reviewed thus far in 2022.

 

Bobby Miller, Double-A Tulsa (LAD)

 

 

Miller’s fastball hit triple digits per Tulsa’s gun, while the changeup faded so much they fooled as curveballs at times. (I may still be fooled by some.) Miller’s arsenal is vast with the big fastball, a couple of sliders, a curveball, a cutter, and maybe even some two-seamers. This day the attack was primarily fastball, changeup, and slider…as far as I could tell anyway. The execution was leaps better than our last look 4/24. There were a few singles (one of which the runner was thrown out on the play) and walks sprinkled in the first four innings, but nothing close to a threat. In the fifth inning, a leadoff walk and an “error” left him with two on, and no outs. After a one-pitch pop-up, the runners stole third and second. He then proceeded to strike out the next two hitters denoted below in the ten strikeout pitches montage:

 

Miller’s 2022 hasn’t been as expected production-wise with a 4.45 ERA, excess walks at times, and, perhaps, a disappointing 73K in 62.2 IP, but there’s no denying the ace-caliber arsenal. Miller came with a possible deliver tag when drafted, and admittedly, I felt this season was starting to steer us that way. This start put a giant break on that idea. The high-90s fastball/changeup combo has the potential to be a top-of-the-charts MLB one-two punch. Even if Miller struggles to spin it, it might not matter all that much. Miller still getting plenty of dynasty value placed on him when we drop some ranks shortly here.

 

Emerson Hancock, Double-A Arkansas (Sea)

 

 

Hancock matched Miller’s production using a primarily two-pitch attack; fastball/breaking ball. Some may call his breaking ball a slider. I called it a curveball here because of the velocity. Hancock was all over the edges this outing with those two pitches and the few changeups were spotted nicely. After not surrendering a baserunner until the fourth inning, Hancock also ran into a threat in the fifth. After a leadoff single and a one-out single, Hancock found some good fortune when a breaking ball seemed to hit Chris Betts. Ruled a swing, Betts lost his mind and got tossed. Hancock got the strikeout (noted below) and then walked the bases full with two outs. Bowing his neck, he got a huge strikeout of Jeren Kendall. Here are the six strikeout pitches on the day:

 

The last time we saw Hancock (6/4) he left some questions about how well he could spin the breaking ball. Finally getting a real starter’s outing, he answered some of those questions. The breaking ball still got away on a few occasions, but all in all, it was on. This outing gave us a juxtaposition of two arms I wasn’t quite sure who to value more prior to. Both have significant dynasty value, and despite the great results by both, it’s hard to think Hancock is anywhere near Miller in terms of arsenal, but Miller’s inconsistencies are real. Hmmm…

 

PPL&R 2022 Top 10 Outings

(This season’s outings that WOW’d us or got us thinking about a player in a different, positive manner.)

Click for google doc housing lines of all minor league starts and extended relief appearances this past week. 

 

Graphic by Michael Packard (@artbyMikeP on Twitter & IG)

Nate Handy

Nate is an advocate of drafting more pitchers. Originally from the planet Eternia, he aspires to become the Master of the Prospect Universe....or just watch baseball, share observations, and have an enjoyable dialogue about this great game, particularly the young players trying to make the major leagues.

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