This week in Big Hype Prospects, we’ll mostly focus our attention upon invitees to the Futures Game.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Nolan Jones, 24, OF, CLE (AAA)
108 PA, 3 HR, 4 SB, .311/.417/.500
Once on pace to debut during the 2020 season as a 22-year-old, several factors considerably slowed Jones’s ascent. First, he came back rusty from the lost 2020 minor league season, performing particularly poorly in May. He improved as the season progressed and could have arrived in Cleveland last September if not for a season-ending ankle injury in late-August. He also opened the 2022 season on the injured list while recovering from surgery for the same injury. The Guardians finally appear poised to promote him after a month in Triple-A.
Jones is best known for his plate discipline. Expect him to show the same discerning eye as Max Muncy. Jones has a little more swing-and-miss to his game which could manifest in a 30 percent strikeout rate. Whereas Muncy’s swing has plenty of loft, Jones skews heavily towards ground ball contact. He has the raw power to be a 30-homer threat, but his combination of grounders and infrequent contact leave him projected for only 20 home runs per 600 plate appearances. Although he’s always posted exceptional BABIPs in the minors, he can get pull happy. That could open him up to BABIP-killing shifts. Since his game revolves around walks and balls in play, anything that negatively affects his BABIP could also affect how he’s used.
Jack Leiter, 22, SP, TEX (AA)
48.2 IP, 11.10 K/9, 5.18 BB/9, 5.36 ERA
Leiter was aggressively assigned to Double-A to start the season, and it hasn’t been an easy transition. Optimists can readily spot encouraging signs. He’s held batters to just 44 hits while recording 60 strikeouts. Unfortunately, he’s also issued 28 walks and hit five batters. Command isn’t expected to be a long-term issue for Leiter, but it is one he’s presently battling. He’s issued 16 walks over his last 19.2 innings.
Fortunately, the recent second-overall pick retains all of his glamorous tools. He features three plus offerings – a rising fastball, curve, and slider. He also has an underdeveloped changeup. He’ll represent the Rangers in the Futures Game.
Francisco Alvarez, 20, C, NYM (AAA)
(AA) 296 PA, 18 HR, .277/.368/.553
With Adley Rutschman graduated, Alvarez is now the consensus top catching prospect in the minors. He was recently promoted to Triple-A where he’s 1-for-10 in 13 plate appearances. He’s the Mets Futures Game representative.
Alvarez is an advanced hitter. Already one of the youngest players at Triple-A, he features plus plate discipline and huge raw power. At times, he sells out for pull-side contact. His minor league batted ball data include low line drive rates which could manifest as a low BABIP in the Majors. That said, he’s on pace to debut early next season as a 21-year-old catcher, a developmental path which tends to lead to storied careers. His bat will need to carry what could be a below average defensive profile. While he’s not bad enough to move off the position, the Mets might opt to use him as a part-time designated hitter to keep his bat in the lineup while allowing certain pitchers to work with a better defender.
Jackson Chourio, 18, OF, MIL (A)
236 PA, 11 HR, 9 SB, .318/.369/.594
Chourio might be the next 20-year-old uber-prospect to debut in the Majors. He will be the youngest participant in the Futures Game. Only 18, he’s already performing impressive feats of strength including three home runs in July. Presently, there’s some swing-and-miss and overaggression to his approach, but not to the extent that either is a problem. We’ll see how these secondary traits develop as he climbs the ladder.
Since earlier this season, I’ve yet to hear or read any description of Chourio that wasn’t effusive in its praise. He’s the hip teenage breakout of the year. MLB Prospect Pipeline actually has him ranked ahead of 2021’s big teenage breakout, Elly De La Cruz. At least one other midseason update will also rank Chourio ahead of De La Cruz.
Elly De La Cruz, 20, 3B/SS, CIN (A+)
268 PA, 18 HR, 26 SB, .302/.357/.597
Speaking of De La Cruz, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are undoubtedly drooling over his combination of power and speed. The switch-hitter produces some of the top exit velocities in the minors. He’s built like Oneil Cruz, albeit two inches shorter. The obvious flaws in his game relate to discipline and whiff rate. He could have exploitable flaws as he ascends the minor league ladder. However, we’ve seen other players with this rare athletic-profile improve their strikeout rate enough to become a superstar. Since June 28, a span of 34 plate appearances, De La Cruz has five home runs and a .387/.441/.903 slash. He might not return to High-A after the Futures Game.
Yosver Zulueta, TOR (24): Zulueta will appear in the Futures Game after already churning through three levels of the minors. His development has been slowed first by Tommy John surgery and then by a torn ACL. He needs to be placed on the 40-man roster after this season (or exposed to the Rule 5 draft) despite having faced only one batter prior to this year. A former big bonus international free agent, Zulueta could move fast as a high leverage reliever, but he might also have the stuff to start with a Spencer Strider-like two-pitch approach.
DL Hall, BAL (23): Since the last BHP, Hall has pitched twice. He’s totaled 10 innings of one-run ball including just four hits allowed and three walks. He struck out 22 of 38 batters faced. Hall is more than halfway to a career-high in innings. He might be seen as ready to get his feet wet in the Majors as a short-burst starter. Notably, his 5.77 BB/9 in Triple-A could be a barrier to starting long-term. Of qualified pitchers, Dylan Cease ranks last with 4.21 BB/9. Pitchers with higher walk rates don’t pile up innings. Hall will not be attending the Futures Game.
Gunnar Henderson, BAL (21): Henderson is the Orioles Futures Game representative. He’s also jumped into the Top five on the MLB.com Prospect Pipeline. He’s actually in his first funk of the season, batting just .133/.188/.167 with 15 strikeouts over his last seven games (32 PA).
Logan O’Hoppe, PHI (22): The Phillies have left O’Hoppe in Double-A where he’s batting .270/.383/.521 with 14 home runs and five steals in 256 plate appearances. His offensive numbers could be inflated both by Reading and a weak Double-A pitching environment. Either way, he profiles as a future big league regular. If the Phillies remain in contention in the upcoming weeks, he’s their one big, expendable trade chip. He might stay in Double-A through the deadline.
Kyle Harrison, SFG (20): Like many pitching prospects, Harrison’s workload was carefully managed early in the season at High-A. Upon promotion to Double-A, he’s been making normal starts typically in the range of 20 to 24 batters faced. He’s on track to make his Major League debut in 2023. His mechanics offer an uncomfortable look. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a front angle. He has a floor as a high-leverage reliever, but he’s likelier to be used as a mid-rotation pitcher.