I’ve been hooked on the Low-A West this season, especially the North division. The leagues’ top two teams, Fresno (Col) and San Jose (SF) just played a fantastic, first place-on-the-line series I could do a whole piece on. Those two squads are not your run-of-the-mill low-A teams. Lucky for you, I won’t, but instead, I’ll share some dynasty-related dives I’ve been itching to get off my chest.
In the North, Ezequiel Tovar, Marco Luciano, Noelvi Marte, Zac Veen, Robert Puason, Drew Romo, Luis Matos, Tyler Soderstrom, Bryan Buelvas, Jairo Pomares, and Grant Lavigne are some of the headline names. The South division has its fair share as well; Robert Hassell, Diego Cartaya, and A.J. Vukovich, but arguably the hottest bats in the league aren’t listed above. Some of the following players I’ve been paying close attention to all season, while others, I just started watching more closely, but all of them are stacking box scores. As we know, the real story isn’t told there, it’s told in the mud.
It’s important to note the new nature of minor league schedules this season. Teams play week-long six-game series and have far fewer opponents on their schedules. Hitters could be very familiar with the pitchers they see, especially in smaller leagues like this one, sometimes getting a starter twice in a week. The second start in a series has proven to be a much tougher outing for pitchers throughout the minor leagues. Minor league numbers always come with a warning label, but these have even more possible side effects. Prospectors are sifting through some unchartered murky waters this season. I did my best to try and present some clear looks.
Euribiel Angeles, MIF/3B, Lake Elsinore (SD)
19.2 years old (2.7 years younger than average Low-A hitter)
1% Fantrax Ownership
Angeles has been a regular topic of mine this writing season, but it’s time to dig in more as the young Dominican is putting up some of the most impressive numbers in all of baseball, currently riding a 20 game hit streak whereupon he’s batting .486 with a 10.8% strikeout rate. He has 12 multi-hit games in this span. Furthermore, this streak isn’t really a streak at all, but rather his season as a whole. Since May 18th he’s batting .401.
A somewhat new name in this rising-from-the-dead season and still vastly unowned, there could be giant dynasty profit to be had. The clear-cut headline with Angeles is bat-to-ball skills with the propensity to hit it where they aren’t, and a great sense of situational hitting. The generic cautionary narrative will be he’s a “slap-hitter”. It’s of course not that simple though.
This league is a tale of two divisions. In terms of “good baseball,” there is a lot more of it in the North division, particularly defense, base-running and pitching. There is no question Angeles’ numbers get a boost from the inadequate defense. Angeles has also benefited from some small ball singles. The following walk-off single is a decent example of the kind of cheap hit that will get some bombastic applause:
(vs Elvis Alvarado 6/25)
Some subpar contact, but it got the job done. There is definitely more of this in Angeles’ 2021 run, but it’s also far from enough to discount the good, which there has been plenty. The man puts the ball in play and good things happen. Angeles can put the bat on the ball in any count, against any pitch, against either handed-pitcher. I’m going to spare us the drop of a gazillion gifs of good hitting on his part and try to sum it up with a few particularly impressive games at the plate:
Here, his first look at John Swanda, he spits on a well-placed first-pitch fastball, has no problem throwing out a little bunt tease down 0-1, but gets a bum call. Down 0-2 he gets a mistake fastball over the middle, doesn’t try and do too much and laces one up the middle:
(1st AB vs John Swanda 6/18)
That first at-bat is pretty typical Angeles, and he’s fun to watch the second and third times against a starter. Not sure if he was hunting a first-pitch-breaking ball below, but he didn’t get one first at-bat, and the ease which he puts this where he does impresses me, whether it was an in-pitch adjustment or not and regardless if it was a good pitch or not:
(2nd AB vs John Swanda 6/18)
Third look, he waits for the fastball, puts it where he wants, and hustle-doubles it:
(3rd AB vs John Swanda 6/18)
He made three for three look mighty easy there. Sure, he got good pitches to hit and hit them. That’s a plus, not a knock. Angeles added another hit his 5th at-bat of the day. But let’s get a look at some tougher stuff to handle:
(1st AB vs Sam Carlson 6/25, Jordy Barley SB)
Carlson’s clearly content challenging him with breaking balls and did well to get a chase 1-1, but the ability to adjust mid-pitch, as I think he was looking for a fastball, and get “just enough” are impressive. Yet, this at-bat is really a preface for the impressiveness of the second chance at Carlson:
(2nd AB vs Sam Carlson 6/25)
I feel good guessing Angeles went up there thinking about sabotaging a first-pitch fastball, thinking there’s no way he gets four breaking balls in a row. Well, he did, and the mid-pitch adjustment (on a very tough pitch) ended in better contact this time. Put bat on ball, and Angeles may be the best teenager doing so right now.
But what about the lack of extra-base hits? Are we talking about a “slapstick” prospect here? We have to ask these questions, and for me, a prospect this young of age, with these kinds of contact skills might just need to show power a few times to get my buy-in. Back in early May, when I first wrote about Angeles in McLovin It, he was sitting on two home runs after a week, showing more of this kind of contact:
(vs a good pitching prospect in Brent Killam 5/13)
200+ at bats later, he’s only added one more home run:
(vs Jack Kochanowicz 7/1)
Prudence plays a big part in this for me. A hitter needs to have the bat-to-ball skills before he can hit home runs. Angeles’ age, body type, bat skills, and history of showing some pop have me betting on more home runs later. As a friend likes to say, this stuff is like predicting the weather a month in advance…but it sure is a nice day out today if you ask me. The 1% Fantrax ownership is criminal in my opinion. If you have room for a high ceiling teenager, Angeles is a fantastic free addition. Low-A placement for him is getting quite laughable. I’m sure there is a plan being enacted by the Padres, but the young man is literally getting a hit every other at-bat, so whatever this test was, I think it’s over.
UPDATE: Angeles went one for five with a triple Tuesday night (7/13) to extend his hitting streak to 20 games.
Angel Solarte, LF, Lake Elsinore (SD)
20.3 years old (1.6 years younger than average Low-A hitter)
0% Fantrax Ownership
This young Venezuelan might be the second hottest-hitting prospect in Lake Elsinore, but it’s early in his full-time role. Perhaps a fringy add to this list, but I dug in for a look after he hit .298 since every day left field duties, circa 6/18. He’s currently manning the nine-hole, and a remarkably bad left fielder I don’t want to pick on too much. Defense can be drastically improved upon with work. Calling a young prospect a plus defender is great, but labeling one a bad defender of the future is probably unfair…noteworthy, but not something to be locked in as truth-to-be. Jose Abreu was a bad first baseman and became plus at the major league level. Shoot, Curtis Terry can play a fine first base now…anything’s possible. I’ll point out some Solarte in left field as we go.
A look at the stat sheet during Solarte’s current run looks nice; batting average around .300, two home runs, 18 runs batted in, 10.5% strikeout rate in a small 57 at-bats. Here’s his two home runs:
(vs Justin Courtney 6/19)
(vs Julio Goff 6/29)
Notice the counts there? 0-0 is Solarte’s count. He’s been a very aggressive first-pitch hitter and to his credit, it’s working, but he needs to be more dynamic in these regards. Sabotaging and pulling first pitches is one thing, but there aren’t many samples of two-strike hits, nor damage the other way. Matter of fact, I found only two examples of each, and half of the two-strike hits were quite fortunate:
(vs Garrett Lawson 7/3)
Solarte has come up big in some tough spots, but there isn’t much to warrant an aggressive dynasty move here. We’ll keep an eye on him for now and see if there’s a more dynamic hitter when the first-pitch strikes start going away.
UPDATE: Solarte went two for five with a triple and RBI 7/13.
Jairo Pomares, RF, San Jose (SF)
20.9 years old (1.0 years younger than average Low-A hitter)
9% Fantrax Ownership
The young Cuban is by far our prettiest name here, but he’s streaking with the best of them and the 9% ownership rate interests me. Pomares joined San Jose 6/28, and he’s more than fit into the power-ladened lineup slashing .326/.379/.686 with seven home runs, and 16 runs batted in, in just 22 games, which included an eight for eight start to the last Fresno series. The looks we’ve gotten aren’t the greatest and the sample size small, so I won’t go GIF heavy here with tons of thoughts, but here is the look encapsulating a lot of my current take:
(vs Braydon Fisher 6/24)
The GIFs may not translate well, but Pomares’ body language exuded surprise when the ball came off the bat, as he didn’t seem to square it all that well and it went a reported 411 feet. The exit velocities and ease of charge getting put into the ball are remarkable. During his eight for eight streak, six or seven of the balls were reported to have 100+ mph velocities by the announcer, and they looked it too. There’s some big-time power in this bat, and spending the second half of the season trying to decipher how much hitter is there interests me. I’m still assessing how to appropriately value him. I know he has a reputation of being streaky and his current strikeout rate is 34.8%. Is he good at guessing, or adjusting mid-pitch? Can he hit for average consistently, or just out there to murder balls? I know the at-bat above was a two-strike, slow it down, defensive deal, and the result was nutso.
UPDATE: Add another HR to the tally 7/13.
Daniel Montano, COF, Fresno (COL)
22.3 years old (0.4 years older than average Low-A hitter)
1% Fantrax Ownership
I can’t give a San Jose guy some love without quickly getting a Grizzly in here. From a pure fan perspective, I’ve loved Montano all season, but his recently broken 18 game hitting streak whereupon he hit .409 (22.7% strikeout rate) got me thinking more seriously about a major league prospect. During the streak, nine (of the 27) hits went for extra bases. Here is the lone home run:
(vs Prelander Berroa, who throws legit heat, 7/6)
I think there is more slugging than meets the eye with Montano. The Grizzlies as a whole have a one-through-nine keep the train moving approach. There are players throughout the lineup I tend to think sacrifice big swings for the betterment of the team; Zac Veen, Grant Lavigne, and Ezequiel Tovar, the heart of the lineup, aren’t focused on the long ball and it may run through the rest of the team. Here’s a fun home run Montano hit earlier this season…off the San Jose bus to add a little insult to injury:
(vs Austin Reich 5/23)
Montano hits to all fields and is getting more and more comfortable in any count.
(vs Grant Judkins 6/19, after two Ks first two ABs)
Sparing you my personal speculation on what the frustrating Rockies may do with the slightly old-for-level prospect, the 2015 international signee is at a precarious point in his career where the Rockies could lose him. My hope is a promotion soon, maybe even skipping a level, or he sticks in Low-A to be freed by another organization this offseason. Regardless, as dynasty owners, I’m not sure we need to roster Montano, but depending on where he ends up playing and if the offense comes with it, he could be a sneaky good free asset. If I had to bet right now, I think Montano gets at least a cup of coffee at some point and has enough skill to worry some players about their roster spot. He’s a good hitter. It would be nice to see just how good one of these days.
UPDATE: Montano went one for three with two walks and an RBI 7/13.
Robert Perez, 1B, Modesto (SEA)
21.0 years old (0.9 years younger than average Low-A hitter)
0% Fantrax Ownership
Another young Venezualan, Perez has me surprised at the lack of buzz over him, not even landing on large organizational lists I’ve seen. In 2019, Perez started the season in Triple-A, as an 18-year-old. He appeared in 19 games there going 16 for 64 (.250), hit three home runs, but struck out at a 37.5% clip. He was sent down to lower levels, where numbers were unremarkable…worse than triple-A actually, but he’s checking off boxes for me when it comes to the crazy world that is projecting power hitters. Here are his three home runs as an 18-year-old in triple-A:
(HR vs Jerry Keel 5/31/19)
(HR vs Dillon Overton 6/1/19)
(HR vs Akeem Bostick 6/18/19)
Inside-the-parker! Did you see that coming? But in seriousness, look at my man today:
We are talking about some real beef here, and the listed 6’1″ 170 pounds cracks me up. Even more laughable is the current season’s home run total of six. Perez, who produced a good amount of hard contact without results most of the first half, not launching the ball well, feels due for some regression in the power numbers and albeit a small sample, the last 48 at-bats could very well be the opening chapter of a monster second half and said regression…or it’s another tease like we had mid-May. Regardless, I’m keeping Perez on the front burner rest of the season, having actually picked up a few shares already.
Here’s what I like most; he’s not trying to just slug. He’s only hitting around .085 with two-strikes on the season, but he’s getting more controlled when behind in the count, with all of his two-strike hits having come during his current hot streak where he’s batting .354 with a 29.2% strikeout rate and having hit four of his season’s six home runs since 6/25. Those kinds of ratios play for me. His two-strike swing has a very different feel to it than earlier in the season, and you gotta love the clutch factor in the first one:
(vs Jason Reynolds 6/27)
(vs Jose Mora, EV 100+ off the CF wall, 7/8)
Perez’ pitch recognition seems to be getting better as well, and it’s at a point I think it’s kind of good, which is more than enough when talking about a play at a big-time power lottery ticket:
(HR vs Jorge Labrador 6/20)
Swing mechanics aren’t my forte, but this doesn’t seem too shabby to me:
(vs Blair Calvo 6/11, 109 mph, 431 ft)
This was a nice, albeit it a little lucky, clutch RBI single off a tough pitch:
(PH RBI 1B vs Keegan Collett 6/25)
Here’s a well-struck missile our old friend Angel Solarte makes the double easy for Perez:
( vs Ruben Galindo 6/27)
The worst part of digging on Perez is the parks he plays in most, including his own, go 2021 Home Run Derby on us and don’t follow the moonshots. But try and enjoy anyways as these were laced!:
(vs Daniel Palencia 7/7)
(RBI 1B vs Kumar Nambiar 7/11)
(HR vs Kumar Nambiar 7/11)
Profiles like Perez’ are tough to hit on, but all things considered, if I want to add a little beef to my minor list, and have a free one as good as Perez out there, I’m riding along, at least for a little while. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if, like the Nut’s announcer says every Perez at-bat, the home runs start coming in bunches.
UPDATE: In what may have been Perez’ best day as a “hitter”, he went two for three with a walk. The two hits were singles up the middle and opposite field he didn’t try and do too much with and he spit on a pitch for the walk. 7/13
Alberto Rodriguez, RF, Modesto (SEA)
20.8 years old (1.1 years younger than average Low-A hitter)
0% Fantrax Ownership
The player to be named later in the Taijuan Walker trade, Rodriguez is on a nice statistical tear himself. Since 6/16 he’s hit .297 with 12 of his 22 hits going for extra bases. The young Dominican has moved into the three-hole behind Noelvi Marte, which has provided him with some better RBI opportunities and he’s made good with 17 of them in 19 games. Rodriguez grew up with Marte in Cotui, DR, so that’s fun. Signing for 500M back in 2016, he doesn’t lack international pedigree either. With high contact skills and some juice in the bat, the Mariners have themselves a nice offensive prospect here. He’s impressed me while tuning in on Marte this season, particularly some two-strike hitting:
(vs Levi Thomas 6/22)
(vs Carlos Guarate 6/22)
Some bad base-running there. Needed to be aware Joshua Mears has a legit arm from right field. Rodriguez hits to all fields with what is probably more of a line-drive swing:
(vs Carlos Guarate 6/26)
He does tend to get under the ball too much when going opposite field:
(vs Ruban Galindo (Angel Solarte weak arm) 6/27)
And he is capable of hard contact, having hit four home runs on the season, but I don’t think any have been broadcast:
(2B 103 mph EV vs Kumar Nambiar 7/11)
Rodriguez is a prospect to keep tabs on, but I’m not rushing to pick up speculative shares…yet anyways. I probably should be more excited, but he feels like why I never drafted Micheal Brantley high when I probably should have many years. He’s good, but doesn’t get me super excited, which is more a knock on me than him.
UPDATE: Rodriguez went one for four with three strikeouts 7/13.
Victor Labrada, CF, Modesto (SEA)
21.5 years old (0.4 years younger than average Low-A hitter)
0% Fantrax Ownership
The young Cuban is going to round out our Modesto threesome here, but the dynasty appeal is far less to me than the others, but before getting into him, I wanna editorialize lower-level stolen base numbers quickly; they barely matter at all in my opinion. Labrada is a horrible base runner right now and has 22 stolen bases. How’s that? Pitchers at this level are typically pretty easy to steal on, which Labrada takes advantage of over and over:
(vs Duilio Ochoa 6/22)
Well there were two stolen bases that speak absolutely nothing to how Labrada projects as a major league base swiper. That was a very nice two-strike hit though. Here’s two more steals that aren’t major league steals:
(vs Noel Vela 6/23)
Lake Elsinore finally caught on the next day (another two-strike hit, making just hard enough contact):
(vs Jesus Lugo 6/24)
and again a few days later:
(vs Keegan Collett 6/27)
Labrada isn’t slow, but I’m sure not a spectacular burner-type, which kinda goes to show you, perhaps not too different than a hitter guessing at the plate, you can hack your way into steals in A-Ball. Plus they are young. If you’re a 20-year-old not stealing bases in Low-A, we know you are slow and not stealing bags ever. If you steal 40, what’s that really say? You can move some, ok, great.
But I digress. We are talking streaks here and Labrada is definitely on one, hitting .320 since 6/22 as Modesto’s centerfield leadoff man. But unlike Angeles, I’m fine slapping the “slapstick” prospect on Labrada. The bat to ball skills are great from the left side, and ok from the right. He strikes out 28% of the time, and slugging projection feels unlikely given his 5’7″ (?) frame and seemingly mediocre bat speed. He hit his only home run to right-center I’d love to see, but it wasn’t broadcast. I wonder if it was an inside-the-parker. And to put a cherry on top of my skepticism, he’s 21.5 years old with less time for the hope of power to come. But again, you can’t deny his ability to hit plenty of singles and things:
(vs Jason Reynolds 6/24)
(3B vs Carlos Guarate 6/26)
These are the deepest balls I’ve seen him hit:
(vs Ruban Galindo 6/27)
(RBI 2B vs Jose Garcia 6/23)
Maybe I’m too harsh, but Labrada is a pass for me as there are far too many more attractive speculative types out there…
UPDATE: Labrada went two for four with two singles 7/13.
Eddys Leonard, SS, Rancho Cucamonga (LAD)
20.7 years old (1.2 years younger than average Low-A hitter)
0% Fantrax Ownership
We need to get excited again, and this young Dominican fits the bill. Since 6/8 Leonard has hit .371, slugging .695 with 12 multi-hit games, seven home runs and 28 runs batted in over 25 games. He’s another criminally unowned prospect in my opinion. Harder to get a convicted opinion on Leonard than it is some North division prospects, as his home games aren’t televised and there are more untelevised stadiums in the South, but I’ve seen enough to grab some speculative shares while they are still free.
Leonard is listed at 6′ 160 pounds, but he’s thicker than that and stronger than he looks. Here is a 426 foot shot (per broadcast) in San Jose, where there have not been a lot of road team home runs:
(HR vs Ryan Murphy 6/27)
Good hitters show up against good pitching, and Leonard does that. Kyle Harrison is probably the best starter in the league right now, and Leonard has faired well against him, handling the 96/97 mph fastball and plus breaking ball. Leonard is the only hitter to take Harrison deep this season:
(111 mph EV, 409 ft HR vs Kyle Harrison 6/24)
A nice two-strike his prior at-bat:
(vs Kyle Harrison 6/24)
As odd as it may sound, the Rockie’s organization in this league has a pitching staff rivaling San Jose’s as the best in the league. Leonard has faired well against them too:
(vs Sam Weatherly 6/29)
(vs Sam Weatherly 7/4)
(vs Mike Ruff 7/2)
Loved the in-pitch adjustments those last two. On a day DiPiazza was dealing, Leonard had two of Rancho’s three hits. Here is one of them:
(vs Mike DiPiazza 6/30)
Leonard has proven to be a very tough out, and I’ve been impressed with some of his hitting down in the count or with two strikes:
(HR vs Nick Thwaits 6/8)
The last Thwait pitch above feels pretty typical of this league to me. It was almost a good pitch and will get a lot of these hitters, but to the good ones, it’s a cookie. To be a good hitter, you have to eat the cookies, and as a guy who watched plenty of Yermin Mercedes this season, a hitter can be broken by not goobling meatballs.
If we start seeing more of the following from Leonard, the ceiling rises significantly:
(vs Tanner Propst 7/3)
Leonard his hitting .183 with two strikes, but the approach has been better during this stretch. I like where that is headed. I haven’t seen enough yet to answer questions I have about opposite-field power. Clearly, he is strong enough, but I’m not sure if he’s hitting balls hard the other way. For me, that’s important when it comes to how I value him. Leonard is hitting .366 against lefties and .270 against righties, which is great and fine, but I wanna see how he handles right-handed pitching as he progresses.
Rancho has more good bats than lineup spots right now, and the fact Leonard is solidifying himself as their three-hole hitter says a lot. Give Leonard the deserved Dodger prospect boost too. You can argue from a current production standpoint, Leonard belongs in the company of the esteemed Low-A West shortstops, but he does feel significantly rawer than Tovar, Marte, and Angeles, and I’ve seen barely enough of him defensively to speak on anything there. In a deep league, if he’s still out there, it’s a no-brainer speculative add for me. This is an exciting young player with plenty of fantasy appeal.
UPDATE: Leonard went two for five with a double and an RBI 7/13.
Jorbit Vivas, 2B, Rancho Cucamonga (LAD)
20.3 years old (1.6 years younger than average Low-A hitter)
1% Fantrax Ownership
Saving my hardest take for last, the short-statured Vivas, a 2017 signee from Venezuala, conflicts and surprises me every time I tune in, but you can’t deny the impressive streak he’s been on. Since 6/8, he’s hitting .333, slugging .537 with four home runs and a minute 9.3% strikeout rate. He’s an aggressive first-pitch hitter, which can help keep the strikeouts down, but he’s no slouch when behind in the count either. On the season, Vivas is batting .216 with two strikes, but that number is rising. As you progress through Vivas’ year, you wonder if the two strike and opposite field approaches could be better. You can sense it in there but it didn’t show up as much as you’d think, but as of late, there’s been some good stuff:
(vs Anderson Amarista 7/3)
Amarista threw some pretty good pitches there and I loved what Vivas did. Side note: Amarista might be the unluckiest pitcher, in terms of good pitches with bad results, I’ve seen this year. It’s hard not to feel bad for him to be honest. Whether the following was intentional or not, a nice inside out result:
(vs Tanner Propst 7/3)
Some nice in pitch adjustment:
(vs Adolfo Ramirez 6/25)
Just missed a two-strike big fly on what I imagine wasn’t a very good pitch:
(vs Ty Weber 6/27)
If you tune into just one game, you could easily come away thinking Vivas’ bat lacks some pop, but the pull-side power is in there:
(GS vs Connor Lehmann 6/8)
(vs Anderson Amarista 7/3)
Another thing to note in regards to numbers in this league is the propensity for “piling on” to occur, especially in the South division where the bullpens can be really, really bad. Rancho in particular, with their league-leading power numbers, tend to really pour it on during mop-up time. Here was a Vivas’ hit capping off a six for six night…against a position player in the ninth inning:
(vs Zack Mathis 6/8)
To speak more on the depth of Rancho’s lineup, despite Vivas’ hot run here, he’s gone from two-hole hitter to mostly fifth in the order. The biggest hurdle for Vivas might be his lefty/righty split. He’s hitting just .206 against lefties on the season, but that number improving is playing a role in his current streak. Vivas is a second base prospect to keep an eye on and one who may be making the largest in-season strides than anyone on our list. I’m not rostering him yet, but if the lefty split stuff comes around and I find myself with a spot to fill, he’ll be on my shortlist.
UPDATE: Vivas went two for five with an RBI 7/13.
Appreciate the read. I went much longer than I had planned. Best of luck!
Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG)