Minor Leaguers Make Good Impression
ALSO: ACUNA'S RETURN SHOULD SPARK ATLANTA REVIVAL
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Did you know…
Incoming Hall of Famer Minnie Minoso was once traded for Early Wynn, also a member of the Hall . . .
All-Star Game has gone extra innings 13 times, including both 2017 and 2018 . . .
There are three pitchers named Gray in the majors: Sonny with Minnesota, Jon in Texas, and Josiah in Washington . . .
Washington shortstop Lucius Fox is one of the few Bahamians ever to reach the majors . . .
Through the first week of 2022, the Arizona Diamondbacks compiled a team batting average of .130, worst in the majors . . .
Atlanta shortstop Dansby Swanson, a free agent this fall, is hurting his financial future by leading the majors in striking out.
One Month In, These Minor-Leaguers Have Impressed
By Benjamin Chase
The minor league baseball season began a few days ahead of the Major League Baseball season, which means we have three full weeks of play and many players are establishing themselves as players to watch in 2022.
Let’s take a look at a pitcher and a hitter at each level that has started the season well with underlying indicators that the early performance could be sustainable. One caveat - no player mentioned here was on a top 100 for MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, or Baseball Prospectus before the 2022 season. (All statistics mentioned through Tuesday, April 26)
Hitter: Cal Mitchell, Indianapolis
Mitchell was a second-round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of high school in 2017, and he’s progressed up the Pirates system with plenty of tantalizing athleticism, but never quite putting it all together. He’s opened the season with a 160 wRC+, posting a walk rate of 11.3% and a strikeout rate of 12.9% while flashing power and speed. There will certainly be openings on the Pirates roster as the season moves along, so Mitchell should get a chance to show himself as the season moves along.
Pitcher: Jon Heasley, Omaha
The Kansas City Royals over the last three years have drafted college pitching heavily, and Heasley was an example of that, being selected out of Oklahoma State in the 13th round in 2018. He’s the type of pitcher who simply wants the ball on the mound and that “bulldog” mentality has pushed him ahead of many others who were drafted higher. Heasley works with a heavy mid-90s fastball and a curve that falls off the table, generating plenty of ground ball outs. When he is really going strong, you see it in a high rate of contact going to the opposite field due to hitters not picking up the ball well out of his hand, and his 39% opposite-field contact rate is the highest of his pro career at this point.
Hitter: Jacob Amaya, Tulsa
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a knack for taking an unheralded prospect and turning that player into a productive major leaguer. Amaya may be the latest in that mold. He was an 11th-round selection in 2017 out of high school that has progressed slowly through the system. Amaya is a high-intelligence player on the field both at the plate and in the field with excellent defense around the infield. He’s worked to tap into above-average raw power while not sacrificing contact, and he’s threaded that needle this season, as evidenced by nine of his 15 hits going for extra bases, but also more extra-base hits than strikeouts on the season.
Pitcher: Brandon Walter, Portland
Walter had Tommy John surgery in his time at Delaware in college, and that hurt his draft stock, falling to the Boston Red Sox in the 26th round in the 2019 draft. He was still completing his rehab during the pandemic year and worked hard in that time, with the results evident as Walter was a completely different pitcher in 2021. Stepping up to the upper minors has not shifted his success as Walter leads all of Double-A in FIP to open the season, showing extreme control that was his calling card in college but now featuring a hard sinker that comes in 93-95 MPH and pairs with a sweeping slider and a changeup.
Hitter: Masyn Winn, Peoria
Winn was a legitimate top prospect in the 2020 draft as a hitter or a pitcher, and when the St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in the second round, they initially announced him at both positions. Winn has played shortstop only as a pro, however, and many evaluators saw his skills as quite raw at the position and the plate, expecting him to take some time to grow into his raw tools. That growth happened quickly as Winn lept forward this season in his ability to make strong contact, and it’s resulted in a drop in his ground ball hit rate from 50% to 35% while also reducing his strikeout rate from 26% in 2021 to 14% this season.
Pitcher: Braden Olthoff, Tri-City
With the Los Angeles Angels investing their entire 2021 draft in pitching, there would certainly be some guys in that draft class that didn’t pan out, but the Angels were hoping for a number of arms to step forward ahead of their draft slot. To this point, Olthoff has shown to be one of those. He’s a “weird delivery” type that many scouts worry about, but he repeats the delivery well and doesn’t tax his arm with his abnormal motion, and the oddity makes his stuff hard for hitters to pick up. At the same time, he pounds the strike zone with an elite slider that he throws most of the time and a low-90s fastball that seems much faster to hitters. Olthoff may end up best used in a bullpen role, but to this point, he’s handled multiple times through the lineup well.
Hitter: Emmanuel Rodriguez/Kyler Fedko, Fort Myers
Looking at the Single-A leaderboard for wRC+ will show two members of the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels, and the two could not be any more different. Rodriguez was a top-rated international signing by the Minnesota Twins with extremely high-level baseball “feel” and plenty of raw skills as well. Those raw skills have exploded already, and my personal opinion is that Rodriguez could end up the Twins’ top-rated prospect by season’s end. Fedko is a guy that the Twins drafted in the 12th round in 2021 out of the University of Connecticut with the scouting report that he would need to hit as his athletic ability would not push him forward as a prospect. He definitely has hit in 2022, one of the more consistent hitters in Single-A this season so far, failing to reach base only in the Mighty Mussels’ opening game but reaching base in every other game he’s played, including reaching base multiple times in 12 of 15 games through Tuesday.
Pitcher: Royber Salinas, Augusta
The Atlanta Braves have had success producing pitchers in the last decade, but typically not flame-throwers. Salinas is the rare Braves arm that is built around power. He works with a fastball that touches triple digits and a hard slider, with a curve that he doesn’t use a lot. Control has been Salinas’ issue so far, and that showed up in his most recent start, but Salinas has struck out 10+ hitters in three of four starts this season, leading all of the minor leagues with 43 strikeouts.
Benjamin Chase is a newspaper reporter in small-town South Dakota who loves writing about baseball, especially prospects and the minor leagues. He has written or edited for multiple FanSided websites, Prospects Live, Baseball Farm, and now does most of work with his own site videobaseballscout.com. You can find him on Twitter @biggentleben.
Prediction: Braves Will Take Off Now That Acuna Is Back
By Dan Schlossberg
The best player in the National League has rejoined the lineup of the Atlanta Braves.
Ronald Acuña, Jr. was enjoying an MVP-caliber season when he tore his ACL while trying to catch a Jazz Chisholm liner at Atlanta’s Truist Park on July 10. Now healed from surgery to repair the injury, he’s been playing well — and even stealing bases again — at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Although the projected target date for his return was May 6, when the Braves open a homestand against the Milwaukee Brewers, the team moved up that timetable so that Acuña can participate in a four-game road series that starts Monday in New York against the fast-starting Mets. In fact, he returned last night, playing right field and batting first against the Chicago Cubs at Atlanta’s Truist Park.
Bedeviled by bad situational hitting and even worse relief pitching, the Braves looked like anything but World Champions during the first two weeks of the compacted season. They lost or split every series — even those against such weak sisters as Washington, Miami, and Cincinnati — and dropped 10 of their first 17.
Acuña is virtually certain to make a major difference.
“Next week will be big because I think he’s scheduled to go lengthy defensive games, like three out of four days, something like that,” Atlanta manager Snitker said last Friday. “At the end of next week they’ll have a really good read on probably where his body is.”
Getting him back in action should be the equivalent of signing the best free agent of recent vintage — or maybe any vintage.
Acuña will not only resume his erstwhile role as an elite leadoff man, with power and speed to burn, but will also shore up an Atlanta outfield that has been guilty of awful defense over the first few weeks — giving extended meaning to the term “April fools.”
A rifle-armed right-fielder blessed with both speed and range, he’ll be a breath of fresh air to Braves pitchers who had to cope with an early-season alignment of Marcell Ozuna, Adam Duvall, and Eddie Rosario from left to right.
Ozuna and the now-injured Rosario both are best-suited to DH duties but don’t expect a right-left platoon; despite Rosario’s rocky start, the Braves require his bat in the lineup — and still believe his NLCS MVP performance was no flash-in-the-pan.
In 2020, the only other year the National League used the DH, Ozuna led the circuit in home runs, runs batted in, and total bases. He’s off to a good start and should thrive in that role again, ceding left field to rookie Travis Demerritte until Rosario returns in mid-season.
Duvall did well last October when pressed into service in center but profiles better as a corner outfielder. In fact, he won a Gold Glove last year — primarily for his play in right.
Snitker could return Duvall to that position, leave Rosario in left, and move Acuña to center but the extra leg-work required of the middle man might not be wise to foist on a player with a surgically-repaired ACL.
Since hitting is contagious, Acuña’s return could spark a revival up and down the lineup. The first four — Acuña, Matt Olson, Austin Riley, and Ozuna — are all likely to reach 30 homers and flirt with 100 RBI as well. Ozzie Albies, the little switch-hitter who reached those levels last year, will move from first to fifth, making it tougher to pitch to Ozuna, the revitalized cleanup man.
The Law of Averages — which could also be called the Law of Batting Averages — says Duvall, struggling at the start, will rebound soon. Travis d’Arnaud, when he catches, is already swinging a potent stick.
Maybe Acuña’s return will also reignite strikeout-prone Dansby Swanson, who somehow swatted 27 homers last year plus a couple more in post-season play. Swanson is playing for his next contract so he’s probably pressing.
It’s hard to believe Acuña is still just 24. He’s already come close to a 30/30 season and announced he’d like to become the first 50/50 man someday. If that happens, he’ll head the conversation not only about the All-Star lineup but also about the MVP award. He already has a Rookie of the Year trophy and Silver Slugger, with a Gold Glove probable too.
With Miguel Cabrera on the downside of his brilliant career, all of Venezuela will be watching and waiting for its next superstar. All of Atlanta too.
Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ will be signing his books on Sunday, May 15, from 12-2 at Skybox Baseball Cards in Livingston, NJ. He’s written or co-authored 40, including Designated Hebrew: the Ron Blomberg Story, The New Baseball Bible, and When The Braves Ruled the Diamond 2021 World Championship Edition. E.mail Dan at email@example.com.
Although hopes are high for newcomer Starling Marte, whose 47 steals led the majors last year, no Met has reached 40 steals since Jose Reyes in 2008 . . .
Bryce Harper has hit .300 three times but followed the first two by batting under .250. He is trying to end that pattern this season . . .
Players on the current Dodgers roster have won four MVPs and 12 Cy Youngs . . .
Kansas City rookie Bobby Witt Jr. had 33 homers and 29 steals in the minors . . .
Pittburgh rookie Oneil Cruz is the tallest shortstop in baseball history at 6'7" . . .
Buck Showalter, in his first year with the Mets, has been Manager of the Year in three different decades, each with a different team, but always in a year ending in 4: the 1994 Yankees, 2004 Rangers, and 2014 Orioles . . .
Atlanta’s Matt Olson had a Parkview High School record 168 runs batted in plus 45 home runs and a school-record 28 wins as pitcher, including a 12-1 mark and 1.64 as a senior. His number was retired by the school.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [firstname.lastname@example.org] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [email@example.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [firstname.lastname@example.org] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.