This week in Big Hype Prospects, we’ll check in with a few recent and upcoming promotees along with a smattering of others.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Max Meyer, 23, SP, Marlins
AAA: 58 IP, 10.09 K/9, 2.95 BB/9, 3.72 ERA
Meyer is poised for his first taste of the Majors on Saturday, just ahead of the All-Star Break. As MLBTR’s Anthony Franco explored at the time his promotion was announced, the northpaw has made short work of minor league opponents at all stops. His ascent has not been without caveat. Some commentators worry about his ability to hold down a rotation role in the Majors for three reasons. The first is easiest to dismiss as unnecessary fretting. At 6’0’’, Meyer is slightly undersized which can presage an inability to tolerate 180-inning workloads. That said, there are plenty of “short” pitchers in baseball history, most notably Pedro Martinez.
The second and third issues are a bit more worrisome. They tie together, too. Meyer’s fastball command isn’t as sharp as his walk rates suggest. He’s gotten away with using it in the zone in the minors, but he could run into some trouble in the Majors. He relies almost exclusively on his fastball and an elite slider, a combination which often portends a future in the bullpen. That said, lower caliber pitchers like Brad Keller and Brady Singer have managed mid-rotation quality results with the same repertoire. We’ve also seen a few others like Spencer Strider thrive this season while using a different two-pitch repertoire.
Nick Pratto, 23, 1B, Royals
AAA: 337 PA, 17 HR, 8 SB, .240/.373/.484
Like many of his power-hitting Major League colleagues, Pratto got off to a slow start this season before eventually finding his stride. The Royals have promoted him for a series in Toronto in which they’ve infamously left 10 players south of the Canadian border. As such, his debut might be short-lived.
Pratto is a classic patient, left-handed slugger in the mold of Kyle Schwarber. Like the upcoming Home Run Derby participant, Pratto runs a mid-teens walk rate while striking out in around 30 percent of plate appearances. He makes up for so little contact by punishing those with which he does connect. Nearly half of his batted balls are flies and over 20 percent of those leave the yard. Per a home run calculator I’ve developed, Pratto projects for 33 home runs per 600 plate appearances. While he’s shown a willingness to run, he has below average speed. Like Schwarber, Pratto will probably be a volatile performer whose carrying trait is slugging.
Esteury Ruiz, 23, OF, Padres
AA: 232 PA, 9 HR, 37 SB, .344/.474/.611
AAA: 142 PA, 4 HR, 23 SB, .315/.457/.477
Ruiz draws his hype from our friends in the fantasy baseball realm where his combination of power and speed could make him one of the most celebrated players in the game. From a real-world perspective, there are a lot of things that could go wrong. Starting on defense, he only has about a year of experience as an outfielder. His routes can be inconsistent or even circuitous. Fortunately, he has enough speed to recover while he learns the position. Speed doesn’t guarantee eventual mastery as an outfield defender. Roman Quinn is similarly fleet and still takes baffling routes to the ball at times.
Scouts also worry about his hit tool. Prior to this season, Ruiz had consistently below-average plate discipline. He struggled with swinging strikes, strikeouts, and consistency of contact. Notably, he’s produced 13.9 percent walk and 17.4 percent strikeout rates this season across two levels. His swinging-strike rate has also improved. Perhaps a more selective approach has yielded better contact results (I’m still awaiting comment from my sources). Regardless, speed is his carrying trait. Nabbing 60 bases (69 attempts) in 374 plate appearances is seriously impressive work.
I’m reminded of Michael A. Taylor, an outfielder who, at his peak, occasionally hit for power, often stole bases, but never quite made enough contact to stick as a regular. He’s carved out a nice career based on gold glove caliber center field defense. As noted above, Ruiz will need to improve considerably to match Taylor on defense. The raw tools are there.
Riley Greene, 21, OF, Tigers
MLB: 109 PA, 1 HR, 1 SB, .255/.358/.340
Greene’s prospect eligibility will soon expire. His first taste of the Majors has yielded mixed results. On the one hand, he’s effectively working counts. His 21.1 percent strikeout and 7.9 percent swinging-strike rates exceed even the wildest hopes for his early-career performance. The swinging-strike rate, in particular, is a marked divergence from expectations.
On the other hand, Greene is supposed to be a power hitter. With just one home run, three doubles, and a triple to his name, he’s been one of the most punchless batters since his debut in mid-June. Only 19 players have a lower ISO over that span – mostly names like Geraldo Perdomo, Myles Straw, and Steven Kwan.
Better times likely await ahead. Greene is making consistent hard and barreled contact. It’s also encouraging to see him make adjustments. He’ll need to continue to do so to correct for the biggest flaw in his profile – an over-50 percent ground ball rate. While he’s currently using a shift-proof all-fields approach, he’s the kind of hitter who could benefit from a more pull-centric profile.
Colton Cowser, 22, OF, Orioles
High-A: 278 PA, 4 HR, 16 SB, .258/.385/.410
AA: 53 PA, 3 HR, 1 SB, .308/.491/.615
In a crowded Orioles system, a lot of attention is paid to Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez, and DL Hall. However, Cowser is also a Top 50-caliber prospect who is quickly working his way towards a big league debut in early 2023. With a patient approach, good rate of contact, and a swing geared for high BABIPs, Cowser profiles as a top-of-the-lineup force. He produces premium line-drive rates while using an all-fields approach. A left-handed hitter, he won’t be as penalized by the new dimensions at Camden Yards as his right-handed hitting teammates. Yet, since he hits to all fields, he’ll still use the spacious left field pasture to splash doubles.
If Cowser has a shortcoming, it’s that he doesn’t consistently get to in-game power. As mentioned, his swing skews to low-angle contact. He produces plenty of well-hit balls, but his game is mostly geared around reaching base. In today’s MLB, you never know when a player will make an adjustment that unlocks another gear, but it’s not strictly necessary in Cowser’s case. The Orioles have plenty of mid-lineup bats penciled into their future lineups. However, they could use a leadoff hitter who works counts and jumps on mistakes in the zone.
Michael Massey, Royals (24 years old): Another temporary beneficiary of the Royals’ roster triage, Massey isn’t technically a hyped prospect. However, my best scouting resource has been talking him up for a full year as a future regular. While it isn’t the most exciting profile, he skews to line drive and “fliner” contact which helps him to run high BABIPs while also regularly hitting for extra bases. The elevated BABIP will be necessary if he’s to be an above average hitter – his plate discipline and contact skills are slightly below average. Defensively, he profiles as a utilityman who fits best at second base.
Eury Perez, Marlins (19): With Shane Baz returning to the injured list due to an ominous elbow sprain, Perez is the last truly elite pitching prospect (Baz, Daniel Espino, and Grayson Rodriguez) left standing. The Marlins are carefully managing his workload – both by holding him to around 20 batters faced per appearance while using him every seven or eight days. He’s carved through Double-A competition and could probably more than hold his own in the Majors. He’s only 19 years and three months old, so Miami is taking the long view with his development.
Jordan Walker, Cardinals (20): Walker has yet to appear in this column for two simple reasons. His performance hasn’t merited effusive praise or words of caution. As one of the youngest players in Double-A, he’s batting .302/.392/.476 with seven home runs and 15 steals while demonstrating good strike zone judgment and a batted ball approach based around liners and ground balls. His light-tower power is handicapped by hitting too many grounders. It’s not a death blow to his presumed future as a top slugger. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are among the notable power hitters who skew to low-angle contact.
Mick Abel, Phillies (20): With the usual caveats about injury, Abel will be one of the most-hyped pitching prospects this time next year. He’s performed well though not exceptionally at High-A this season, producing a 4.23 ERA with 10.50 K/9 and 3.95 BB/9. Recently, he’s struggled with both home runs and walks. The Phillies have allowed him to pitch surprisingly deep into his starts. He often faces 24 or more batters, which is more than the average big leaguer. This workload has been mitigated with extra rest between starts.
Brayan Rocchio, Guardians (21): Since a four-hit, two-homer game at the end of June, Rocchio is batting .452/.500/.833 over his last 46 plate appearances. In his second stint at Double-A, he’s noticeably improved upon his walk and strikeout rates. He’s beginning to track as a shortstop whose defensive and offensive prowess will remind Guardians fans of Francisco Lindor. Including last season, he now has 506 plate appearances at Double-A. A promotion to Triple-A is almost certainly imminent.