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 a rank this offseason after a massive video review (link to offseason review series and rank list), but ranks aren’t our main focus now. Watching, reporting, keeping tabs on investments, and catching new names.
(Note: If you are on your phone, turn it horizontal to view the entirety of the game line tables.)
Tanner Bibee, High-A Lake County (Cle)
|An impressive first look from yet another Cleveland fastball success story.|
Bibee’s been putting up lines all season, and repeatedly passed over in this series. The 2021 fifth-rounder has the look of another Cleveland success story drafting an arm with secondary feel and coaching up the fastball. Bibee’s draft knock was lack of swing and miss stuff, but as you can see, the story might be changing:
Bibee’s put up video game-like numbers over six High-A starts as a 23-year-old, including 45 strikeouts in 27.2 innings. A slower start to his pro career in terms of level is understandable concerning the work put in trying to garner more whiffs as he stayed behind the scenes in 2021, but this challenge feels conquered. Bibee was tallied giving up three hits, but there were really four:
An odd scoring play I don’t fully understand which didn’t credit Gray a double because Sabato failed to touch third base coming around. An appeal ended the inning with no runs registering. After this first inning, it was smooth sailing for Bibee who used a well-mixed, in any count, three-pitch offering (there were a few good-looking changeups, but not a substantial part of the attack). As was the case during the two walks and a few other at-bats, Bibee didn’t relent when competitive pitches didn’t go his way, finding himself down 2-0 or 3-0. None of the offerings came off the table as he battled back every time.
Bibee displays several traits I want to value in dynasty, namely the ability to throw multiple secondaries with precision. We will see how the work put in gaining swing and miss stuff plays as he moves along, and how many arms he can pass up in a loaded system, but there’s a lot to like here; a budding full kitchen sink arsenal and skills to optimize it. Put him in another organization and there’s more dynasty value, but if that was the case, he probably wouldn’t be this good either.
Ben Peoples, Single-A Charleston (TB)
|Another late-round Rays prospect (2019 22nd round) is producing results.|
Curious to see what the Rays have cooking here, it felt like a familiar story. Peoples serves up a heavy dose of fastballs hitters’ bats struggle to touch. The velocity was 91-94 mph per the broadcast, but all the bats swinging underneath it leads to assuming this pitch’s metrics underneath the hood explain an illusion to hitters’ eyes. A look here illustrates some natural cut to it:
Some sleuthing didn’t expose multiple signs going down, one indicating a cutter and one indicating a fastball. Perhaps Peoples plays with movement within the fastball, as there were looks suggesting such a thing or it’s just inconsistent? Regardless, he fills up the top of the zone with his heater and Augusta couldn’t square him up. There was a breaking ball tossed in more the second time through the lineup and there was an unremarkable changeup spotted once, maybe twice. Here are two of his seven strikeouts, the bottom example got Peoples out of his sticky third inning, the lone speed bump of the day:
The 21-year-old has the feel of a younger Tommy Romero/Graham Ashcraft type, which is a promising real-life proposition, but not the profile we’re loading up with dynasty value. Maybe the comparison isn’t completely fair, as Peoples did seem to locate his big weapon better than they might, and he has a more attractive secondary weapon than those two. The breaking ball had some moments, but it’s safe to call it an inconsistent offering at this juncture. The Rays might get something out of this, just not laying down my dynasty bets at this point.
Frank Mozzicato, Single-A Columbia (KC)
|The under-slot seventh-overall pick’s pro debut gave a glimpse of what could be.|
Mozzicato’s mid-90s fastball induced pop-ups and whiffs, looking like an offering capable of playing well up in the zone against higher-level hitters. The highly touted curveball froze a few hitters, but in all, executed poorly. A changeup came out the second or third pitch of the game, but we didn’t get many more. Mozzicato had an inconsistent zone to work with, and there were some questionable calls during his three walks. Mozzicato wasn’t wild by any means, but he didn’t locate particularly well either. Despite his catcher pleading to get the fastball down at times, it ended up egregiously off-target, high arm side too often. During the second inning with runners in scoring position, Mozzicato did well getting out of it, capped off by a strikeout of Myrtle Beach’s best hitter:
(K vs. Pete Crow-Armstrong)
This is where some of my new and old rules for valuing pitchers get tested. Without putting too much into his first three pro innings, the richly talented teenager probably has a long way to go. Is the upside so great, that we value him substantially more than so many of the arms we’ve seen this year, barely owned in dynasty leagues, like a Tanner Bibee from yesterday? Feels like a much wiser move for the Royals than for us, but the young talent has to be noted.
Braden Olthoff, High-A Tri-City (LAA)
|The Angels are getting great production out of another 2021 draft arm. This one is an entirely different animal though…like a sloth.|
Running stat filters to identify guys pitching efficiently, Olthoff’s been popping at the top of these lists all season, and it was time to end the procrastination. Olthoff is a big human, 6’4″ 240 pounds they say. Yet his mound feel isn’t what you might expect. The delivery is a simple one; an easy step and here it comes. Olthoff can get decent velocity on his arm-side run fastball (low to mid-90s), but the name of his game is slowing you down a few different gears, good luck squaring up all the late swerve. Per Olthoff’s m.o., Vancouver got a heavier dose of the three secondaries (slider/curveball/changeup) than they did the fastball. Here’s his last batter of the day, illustrating a good sense of the attack:
(K vs. Trevor Schwecke)
From a fan perspective, Olthoff is a lot of fun to watch, but as a dynasty prognosticator, it feels fair to ask how this will play for the 23-year-old as he meets more skilled hitters. This was a great seven-inning shutout performance, but man he sure lived on big chunks of the plate. Hard to not think more advanced hitters used to good secondaries doing more damage than Vancouver hitters did here:
Olthoff will most likely have to walk a fine line with his arsenal, and the precision is going to need a step up or two. Until then, Olthoff is a fun name to watch, but staying stingy with you minor league roster spots feels warranted. The other side of this bill was interesting too…
Chad Dallas, High-A Vancouver (Tor)
|The 2021 fourth-rounder continued dominating Northwest League lineups with his budding mastery of spin.|
Dallas’ thick 5’11” physique doesn’t fit the classic mold of a starting pitcher, but his advanced ability to spin breaking balls and execute them at a high level makes for an interesting profile. There’s a curveball and a slider that may not be labeled correctly in our video below, but the point is, for three innings, Dallas was spotting them where he wanted at a ridiculous clip for a high-A pitcher. At age 21 he’s proving too much for this level of hitter, sporting a 1.59 ERA over six starts. The Blue Jays seem intent on keeping his pitch counts low, so he hasn’t gone deep into games, having only gone over 68 pitches twice. Dallas’ four-seamer can touch the mid-90s, sitting lower 90s. He also tosses in a cutter. The attack is clearly about breaking balls though. Proving to be adept at inducing groundballs, the strikeouts haven’t come in giant bunches, but as you can see, he’s capable of whiffs:
(K vs. Francisco Del Valle)
Above was his last batter of the game, getting out of the only threat. The execution started to get loose at this point, but prior, all the breakers went to their spots. The skill to spin it and spot it keeps me intrigued, but only on a watchlist level, longing to see how the attack plays against upper levels and further along in outings. Glad to have caught him though, as he’s off to a great 2022 start.
Cristian Mena, Single-A Kannapolis (CWS)
|The 19-year-old Dominican has jumped onto the full-season scene with a swing and miss curveball leading the way.|
The 6’2″ Mena has racked up 47 strikeouts over six starts (32 innings). He’s done so throwing strikes at a 66% clip. This, along with a sub-2 ERA and sub-1 WHIP is turning heads. The first time through, Fayetteville got a heavy dose of curveballs. As the day moved on, the pitch mix grew, incorporating a two-seam fastball Mena seemed to be feeling, using it to gain backdoor strikes on righties, and even finishing off a hitter with one. Mena also mixed in a slider, but it was clearly not as favored as the curveball. Mena’s four-seam fastball came out early but took a back seat down the stretch. Per the broadcast, it was coming in at 91/92 mph. Here are all eight strikeout pitches on the day:
Impressive highlight reel. Mena’s efficiency doesn’t come from stellar execution though. Mena does well to throw strikes and get chase, but he missed spots all day, often to the opposite side of the zone than his catcher blatantly pleaded for. Mena also picked off two runners, which helped. There was hard contact as Mena left balls over the plate and the better Fayetteville hitters saw the breaking ball more. This hard contact didn’t do much damage though. Some soft contact, as middle infielders were unable to get throws off fast enough, led to a few cheap hits. All in all, five hits felt deserved.
At just 19 years old, and reportedly already making strides in way of execution, Mena’s a name to know and perhaps even one to speculate on in the deepest of leagues. If a later season check-in reveals Mena not just throwing strikes, but landing his curveball with intent like Chad Dallas does, it changes the dynasty value significantly for me. A nice foundation to grow on here, with hope the fastball adds juice as he matures.
Caleb Kilian, Triple-A Iowa (ChC)
|Kilian (#18) is nearing an MLB debut, but this outing exposed some undotted “I”s and uncrossed “T”s.|
Kilian’s power stuff, good execution, and finesse made him one of the fastest-rising pitching prospects of 2021. The four-seam fastball is the keystone of his attack, and there’s been some question over where it currently stands. Wonder how the Columbus hitters would answer that?:
The four-seamer was upper-90s all outing, more than doing its thing. Kilian throws a few varietals of the fastball, capable of getting on a hitter’s hands, or sinking it, and these offerings come in 91-93 mph. The curveball is a drastic change of pace for hitters, far and away his secondary of choice this outing. This wasn’t the cleanest-looking Kilian I’ve seen by any means. The secondary stuff wasn’t executed well, especially the curveball, but it was getting tighter as the day progressed. A walk and a double ended his day at 80 pitches, and those two baserunners came around to score after an error. Despite the sloppiness, Kilian still produced a shutdown outing.
Kilian is still knocking off rust and building up, but the profile is an exciting one with an arsenal capable of logging innings and strikeouts at the highest level. Our fantasy hopes are well served with Kilian putting the finishing touches on in Iowa. This day’s version isn’t what I want to see in the majors. There’s also some finishing polish to be applied, like not giving runners free bases, which he did several times.
Wilmer Flores, Double-A Erie (Det)
|The 21-year-old 2020 undrafted free agent more than impressed during his double-A debut.|
Listed at 6’4″ 225 pounds, the Venezualan who played a year of junior college ball looks the part of a starter with a well-commanded arsenal capable of generating whiffs. The curveball was the out pitch accounting for six of his seven strikeout pitches:
There’s a four-seam fastball capable of hitting mid-90s, but the 91 mph cutter was used as frequently, if not more. A changeup came out on a few occasions and may have accounted for the other strikeout. Here’s a better look at the arsenal:
(K vs. Sebastian Espino)
(K vs. Will Robertson, disregard that extra look at Espino’s K)
Flores cruised through this debut, surrendering a first-inning double on a cutter landed middle/middle. The only other base runner came via a walk, and because of a failed attempt to steal third, he only faced 16 batters in five innings. The biggest takeaway is his stuff can play at this level. A healthy three-pitch mix kept New Hampshire off balance to the degree throwing strikes over the middle of the plate did well. As Flores moves along and lineups see him more, it’s fair to question if he’ll get away with similar pitch locations. Flores was so good hitting the plate, it’s hard to think he can’t get more specific with his intent and execute well. With an intriguing arsenal and the ability to repeat the breaking ball feel, there’s a nice foundation to lay down dynasty bets. How much so will depend on how intricate he can get splitting the plate when we catch him down the road.
Jordan Wicks, High-A South Bend (ChC)
|The 21st pick in last June’s draft (#44) utilized his enticing arsenal to retire the last 12 he faced.|
A personal target this FYPD season hasn’t put up eye-grabbing numbers at a level one might suspect he should. The first time completing five innings this season felt like a good time to check in. Wicks’ attack looked a little different than expected, which might be a good thing. Wicks’ big weapon and what appealed to me most is a fantastic changeup. The offering was sporadically thrown this day, as the subtle hard slider took the front of the secondary stage. Here are Wicks’ eight strikeout pitches on the day:
When it came out, the feel for the changeup seemed fine, leaving wonder if using the slider more as an attempted swing and miss pitch was a purposeful endeavor. Either way, using game reps to work the arsenal is a plus in my book. Wicks’ fastball gets up to mid-90s, and the slow hook isn’t used often, but as you saw, it can do some things. The early innings were rough execution-wise, often missing arm side. After starting off the second inning double/walk/single, facing bases loaded with no outs, Wicks buckled down getting a sac fly/strikeout/groundout starting off his run of retiring 12 in a row. Wicks found himself deep in counts in all but his final inning, as his execution was loose.
My suspicion is some weaknesses are being worked on and/or polish is being applied, playing into the lackluster season numbers. We’ll be checking in later to see how the slider and changeup usage is looking, as dynasty hopes remain high. There’s a lot of arsenal here paired with a high pitching acumen capable of ascending quickly. First look at a heavy FYPD target, and so far so good.
(TGIF…what a relief. Or should we say starter?)
Hunter Brown, Triple-A Sugarland (Hou)
|Our offseason #32 once again teased starter potential with four perfect innings and a new trick.|
The 23-year-old is putting up numbers in the hitter-friendly PCL; 46 strikeouts over 33.1 innings with a 2.43 ERA. The big four-seamer leads the way, much like it did the first five or six batters of this outing. Brown has a great tool in the curveball, but the command of it has always been inconsistent/elusive, much like it was this outing. The slider has never impressed during my viewings, but to start his third inning, one of the hottest hitters in triple-A came up to the plate, Kevin Pillar (.390 BA over the last two weeks plus), and the slider flashed over a nine-pitch battle:
Brown’s dynasty value hinges on a secondary commanded well enough to pair with the big fastball. Brown may never get there with the curveball on a consistent basis, but with two big weapons, chances are twice as good a feel for one is there any given day. Brown is still young for the level while proving the stuff can play in a sloppy manner, as he went four perfect against a good Oklahoma City lineup while loosely commanding all of it. Even though we know this road often ends as a major league reliever, there are still too many teases to give up yet.
Connor Phillips, High-A Dayton (Cin)
|The Player To Be Named Later in the Winker/Saurez trade showed he’s far from an after thought.|
Top 10 ALERT! Phillips’ high-90s fastball/slider combination is disgustingly nasty. The Mariners took Phillips 64th during the 2020 draft and made him a million dollar arm. The story is supposed to be Phillips can’t harness well enough to be a starter, but this outing showed signs he can execute his best pitch(es) well enough. Quad Cities’ lineup doesn’t pose the greatest threat, but the stuff was good enough to play against major league hitters right now. No need to mix pitches when the breaking ball does this (there were all fastball strikeouts as well):
Phillips may have missed his spot (or not induced the chase he wanted) with pitch #3 above, but he immediately paints the edge with #4. The glove-side edge of the plate was Phillips’ money spot with the slider all dominant game long, even against lefties:
Above isn’t a guy hucking two nasties up there, letting them land where they may. Phillips is pitching, intentionally splitting the plate/zone apart and putting offerings where he wants. He wasn’t perfect but exuded better execution than some similar type profiles pitching in the bigs as we speak.
Phillips is said to throw a changeup on occasion, but I’m not sure I saw one this outing. He didn’t need one. More interesting was watching the incorporation of another potential whiff weapon:
Phillips was dominant, only allowing decent contact when he left a few fastballs down in the zone. A leadoff triple in the sixth was followed by Phillips only missed attempting to back-foot a lefty with his slider, leading to a hit-by-pitch. Tyler Gentry did well to poke an RBI single through the infield whereupon bad defense led to an extra run. As you saw, Phillips shut the door, striking out victims #12 and #13 to end his day.
Maybe we caught the 21-year-old on a good day, maybe not. Regardless, I’m tossing a good chunk of dynasty value on, considering swapping out the end of my minor specs if he’s on the wire.
Max Castillo, Triple-A Buffalo (Tor)
|It wasn’t just Tiedemann impressing at a new level in the Jays’ organization this Friday.|
Castillo’s impressed over six double-A starts. Take away an April 23rd blow up, and we’re talking four runs over 24 innings with 29 strikeouts. Throw in a dominant seven-inning triple-A debut and the big man’s making a name for himself. The 23-year-old’s horizontal fastball/changeup/breaking ball attack is well commanded. Here’s a look at his eight strikeout pitches on the day:
Listed 6’2″ 280 pounds, Castillo doesn’t have the prototypical starter’s build but he sure does have the starter’s ability to make his best pitch, which is his changeup. At least this outing he did. Some casual views earlier this season led me to think the breaking ball was his better of the secondaries, but perhaps I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Simply by way of age and production at the triple-A level, Castillo has some level of dynasty juice. But how much? I can’t say I have a good feel at this point.
Hayden Juenger, Double-A New Hampshire (Tor)
|The college reliever’s nasty arsenal and budding pitch ability are turning heads as he transitions to starting.|
Add another budding arm to the Blue Jays’ system. A sixth-round pick from Missouri State, the former reliever is stretching out as a starter. There’s a three to four pitch mix to be excited about. There weren’t any velocity readings for us, but the fastball is said to get as high as 98 mph. There may be a few varietals of fastball going on as well. Here’s a look at the stuff:
This isn’t the prettiest line, but it’s the budding ability to use a rich arsenal worth paying attention to. Juenger started off the game striking out the side, mixing offerings while throwing strikes over the middle of the plate with all of them. This probably isn’t how you want to start a game against major league hitters, but it illustrates just how good the stuff might be, and his ability to have feel for multiple offerings. His initial trouble came on first-pitch fastballs (below). As a reliever coming into a game, you might get away with such a thing, but as an attack the second time through a lineup as a starter, it’s unwise. You saw Juenger getting more intricate with locations as the outing wore on, but in total, he’s still growing as a starter. The ability to harness his arsenal gives reason to think he’s got it in him. Here’s the trouble leading to four runs, which isn’t unsettling stuff:
This is a Toronto project going well. When thinking about the two ends of the pitching spectrum; cheat-code type stuff, and the ability to put the ball where you want, Juenger is glimpsing both ends of the spectrum. How far it goes, who knows, but this could be a hotter name in a relatively short time. Juenger is in double-A at 21-years old, still learning how to start. Over 25.1 innings, he’s struck out 33 with a 1.18 WHIP. Not bad for a guy just getting going.
Brandon Knarr, High-A Wisconsin (Mil)
|Knarr notched his league-leading 6th win doing what he’s been doing all season…taking the bat out of hitters’ hands.|
Knarr is the definition of a crafty lefty, and that’s not a knock. From the pitch grips, to pitch decisions, locations, the pace he works, knowledge of contemporary pitching, and pressure he puts on hitters, he drips with positive aspects of his craft. His current manager, Joe Ayrault, pegged him as a future pitching coach. An undrafted free agent out of the COVID 2020 season from division II Tampa, is limited in stature, listed at 5’10”, but he’s physically stout. With six wins in eight starts, a 1.17 ERA, .91 WHIP and 55 strikeouts in 46.1 innings, he may be having the best statistical season amongst the crowd of Gordon Greceffo, Gavin Williams, Connor Phillips, Tanner Bibee, Brent Headrick, and the rest of the Midwest League. Knarr’s fastball/knuckle-curve/split-change (forkball?) mix is a lot of fun, and he maximizes it. Here’s a closer look at the split-change grip and the seven strikeouts from this outing:
The fastball velocity wasn’t available to us, but I believe it sits high-80s and is the biggest hurdle in front of dynasty love. It does miss bats at this level though. South Bend barely hit a few hard ground ball singles. This lineup didn’t have a chance.
One has to imagine Knarr will be on his way to double-A soon, as he’ll be 24 in June. The secondaries show teeth and he can pitch, but is this nastiness going to translate at the higher levels? Knarr will get every ounce out himself and those are great guys to bet on, there’s just so much talent out there and not enough dynasty bucks.
Ben Kudrna, Single-A Columbia (KC)
|The $3M Kansas prep’s pro debut gleaned a prototypical foundation for the Royals to groom.|
The Royals’ 2021 draft plan was to sign two prep arms with their first two picks. An interesting proposition for an organization coming out of years of heavy draft investment in college arms which hasn’t gone all that swimmingly, at least as of now. The lefty, Mozzicato, had his turn Wednesday, and Saturday was the local kid’s pro debut. With a 6’3″ frame and fastball capable of hitting the high-90s, Kudrna fits the prototypical mold. The fastball was hitting 95 to 98 mph per the broadcast. The changeup was the most used secondary and the one located best. The breaking ball was erratic. It was nine up, nine down until Pete Crow-Armstrong laced a single to centerfield to lead off the fourth. PCA would go on to score after a wild pitch/advance on a groundout/wild pitch. Kudrna was pulled before the fourth ended because of a pitch limit. Here are the five strikeout pitches:
Watching these high-profile teenage arms, the raw talent is blatant. The fastball, almost by itself, is capable of perfectly getting through a lineup at this level. The command doesn’t need to be good, just earn strikes level. No need to get too wild defining Kudrna after his first 4+ pro innings, but for our dynasty purposes, it’s clear you have an attractive piece of clay in the hands of an organization that hasn’t done well with more advanced pieces of clay in the recent past. A pitcher still needs to be grown here. When we’re deciding to invest in a raw, further away teenage arm, it might equally be a bet on the organization’s ability to help him get there. Recognize and note the talent, but I’m hesitant to put many eggs in this basket yet. Scroll up and look at the talent above, never mind the articles of weeks past. This is why I have a hard time valuing big teenage draft arms for dynasty. Let the organizations buy the tantalizing seeds while we peruse and shop the seedlings.
Jared Shuster, Double-A Mississippi (Atl)
|The 2020 first-rounder bounced back from his lone ugly outing of the season and looks pointed in the right direction.|
(A storm in my hometown of Narnia blew up my technology on a day chuck full of outings I wanted to take in, of course. I managed to get the first three innings of this outing.)
Mississippi’s broadcast, especially for lefties, stinks, so we weren’t getting great visuals anyways. Shuster didn’t make our offseason cut, but over eight starts (42 innings) he’s sporting a 2.14 ERA, .860 WHIP, and 43 Ks. That’s after giving up three earned runs while failing to get out of the first last turn. Shuster’s profile is that of your classic soft-tossing lefty. He gained draft helium when his velocity ticked up, but it’s since come back down to high 80s/low 90s. Production stunk his first go at double-A last season, but it may have provided a nice buying or scooping opportunity. This is more of a deep league angle, but I’m on the prowl for profiles capable of logging efficient quality MLB innings while keeping runs off the board. It’s more than fair to question Shuster’s strikeout upside, but I don’t question is his low pitch counts per inning, his ability to induce weak contact, specifically ground balls, and his ability to execute pitches. Quality starts are an endangered stat, but the cheap chase for them here entices. The cherry on top is the changeup has a chance to be one of the better ones in the game. It’s double-A ball against a questionable hitter, but you don’t see this often:
(K vs. Thomas Dillard on four changeups)
The nature of the contemporary hitter is going to get you some strikeouts, but Shuster isn’t completely void of a swing and miss pitch. Of course, you don’t want to load up your rotation with these types, but one or two may serve us well. There’s still work to do, but Shuster has size, repeatability, and displays the requisite precision to sustain himself at the highest level. More looks at the stuff are required, but Shuster’s on the dynasty rise for me. There’s sensibility in staking a claim here over one of the many feral electric young guns out there. Soft-tossing lefties haven’t done as poorly in a fantasy sense as their reputation has it (link). The tricky part is knowing the difference between a Shuster, an Olthoff, and Knarr.
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.)
Someone asked about updated ranks. I don’t have any updates, but I’ll share my running sheet here. Keep in mind these are only players I have reviewed and written about: link
Link to google doc housing lines of all minor league starts and extended relief appearances this past week.
Graphic by Michael Packard (@artbyMikeP on Twitter & IG)