This week on Big Hype Prospects, we check in with a couple recently-promoted Major Leaguers, peek at a couple more on the cusp, and introduce ourselves to some hot-hitting 2022 draftees.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Vaughn Grissom, 21, 2B/SS, ATL (MLB)
35 PA, 2 HR, 2 SB, .406/.457/.656
Grissom was just playing his way into consensus Top 100 status when the Braves tabbed him for a Major League promotion instead. He had just 98 plate appearances in Double-A after spending much of the season in High-A (344 PA, 11 HR, 20 SB, .312/.404/.487). His numbers have actually improved slightly at each stop. As many have noted (unpleasant noise warning), he’s the second player the Braves have skipped straight past Triple-A. Of course, 35 plate appearances is hardly the basis for Major League success – the true challenge is proving the ability to counter-adjust once the league figures him out. We might not get to that point since Ozzie Albies is approaching a rehab assignment. Grissom will probably hold down the fort until then.
His arrival also has long-term implications. He mostly played shortstop in the minors. So too did Albies back in the day. The club could be using this opportunity to further their postseason bid by using a more dynamic player than Ehire Adrianza while at the same time assessing if a shortstop signing is an urgent need this winter. If they like what they see from Grissom, the Braves might opt to target a lesser free agent like Jose Iglesias or even skip the market altogether.
Jordan Walker, 20, 3B, STL (AA)
430 PA, 15 HR, 17 SB, .310/.393/.522
On Thursday, Walker had his third double-dinger game since July 29. He appears to have accomplished all that he can in Double-A by both improving upon his walk and strikeout rates while continuing to punish the baseball. One of the big impending storylines of free agency is Nolan Arenado’s player option decision. Will he stay or hit the open market? Judging by the ascendancy of Walker, St. Louis might be alright with letting Arenado walk. After all, they can always use Nolan Gorman at third base if Walker isn’t ready in early 2023.
There are still some issues with Walker’s game hidden underneath the beautiful surface level stats. For one, he has a 16.1 percent swinging strike rate. That’s roughly on par with Adolis Garcia, Ryan Mountcastle, Jorge Mateo, and Patrick Wisdom – not exactly the most contact-oriented collection of batters. Moreover, Walker has these whiff issues while running a 45 percent ground ball rate. One of the “tricks” for striking out less is to flatten a swing plane. That adds grounders at the expense of fly balls. Walker has nothing left to give on that front. For what it’s worth, some of the next guys up on the swinging strike rate list are Julio Rodriguez, Teoscar Hernandez, Rafael Devers, and Byron Buxton. Stars can sometimes have whiff problems without dreadful strikeout rates.
Jackson Holliday, 18, SS, BAL (CPX)
6-for-15, 1 HR, 1 SB, 5 BB, 1 K
The number one overall pick of the 2022 draft, Holliday arrived with a bang in the complex league this week. He hit his first professional home run on Friday and has a five-to-one walk-to-strikeout ratio. MLB Pipeline already rates him the 14th-best prospect in the league – an aggressive ranking compared with the recent updates from Baseball America (39) and Keith Law (42). Scouting notes on Holliday remain sparse, mostly focusing on his excellent pre-draft conditioning as well as a need to see him against more advanced competition. With the way he’s playing in his first week, a promotion could come soon.
Brooks Lee, 21, SS, MIN (A+)
30 PA, 1 HR, .333/.400/.444
Another recent first-round draftee, Lee made short work of the complex league. The Twins liked his hit tool so much they assigned him straight to High-A. There, he’s more than held his own albeit with more swing-and-miss than expected. Given the aggressive assignment – nearly every player in High-A has years rather than a few scant weeks of professional experience – Lee’s early success is encouraging. Law believes Lee “is the ne plus ultra” of fast-moving college draftees, meaning we could see him broach the Majors as early as next season. Law also considers a move to third base likely while other sources think Lee can stick at shortstop so long as he’s well-positioned.
The ”fast-mover” middle infield profile typically consists of a near-elite hit tool and nonexistent power. Think Nick Madrigal. Lee’s power is more aptly described as nascent. He’s expect to grow into 10 to 20 home runs annually to go with a disciplined, high-average approach.
Andrew Painter, 19, SP, PHI (A+)
(A+) 36.2 IP, 12.03 K/9, 1.72 BB/9, 0.98 ERA
Last week, we covered Ricky Tiedemann in this spot. Many of the same superlatives apply to Painter. He’s the same age as Tiedemann and rapidly ascending towards Top 10 prospect status. He’s one of the best pitchers left in the minors. At present, Painter has a fastball-slider combo that evokes Spencer Strider. Painter lives upstairs with 98-mph heat then drops sharp sliders into the strike zone. Scouting reports indicate his ability to locate the slider outside of the zone is still a work in progress as are the development of a curve and changeup. Given Strider’s success with the same toolkit, Painter might just find his way to the Majors next season as a two-pitch 20-year-old.
Josh Jung, TEX (24): Last week, we noted Jung’s successful return to Triple-A. Since then, he’s gone 10-for-20 with four home runs, three doubles, two walks, and a strikeout. A promotion should come any day now.
Sal Frelick, MIL (22): Speaking of hot bats, Frelick is hitting .440/.525/.540 through his first 60 Triple-A plate appearances with more walks than strikeouts. The Brewers have fallen three games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central and two games back of the Phillies in the Wild Card race. Milwaukee could consider taking a page from the Braves by promoting Frelick before he’s ticked all the usual developmental boxes. Center field and leadoff hitter are their biggest areas of need. Frelick profiles as Steven Kwan-like.
Brayan Bello, BOS (23): Bello is slated to make a rehab start at Triple-A on Friday. If all goes well, he could return to the Majors in short order. While it’s trendy to count the Red Sox out of the playoff hunt, they’re only five games behind the Rays and Jays. They’re six back of the Mariners. A recovery is certainly possible. Bello, with his domineering stuff and over-60 percent ground ball rate, could be an important piece if Boston is to salvage their season.
Kerry Carpenter, DET (24): A late-bloomer who only started generating hype this season, Carpenter thrashed the upper-minors for 30 home runs in 400 plate appearances. He’s since tacked on two dingers in 25 Major League plate appearances. As expected, he’s shown signs of below average plate discipline and a modest swinging-strike issue in his small sample of big league experience. Overall, his debut has been a rousing success to date so the Tigers have every reason to continue trotting him out on a daily basis.
Marcelo Mayer, BOS, (19): In recent years, we’ve been spoiled with precocious play from young, top prospects. Of all the Top 10 prospect candidates, we’ve had the least to say about Mayer in this column. The long and short of it is he’s having a typical season for a prospect of his age and repute. He hasn’t done anything jaw-dropping while at the same time assuring onlookers of his eventual role as a Major League shortstop of some quality. Personally (remember, I’m not a scout), I see similarities to J.P. Crawford with eventual power outcomes being a tad more accessible/plausible. Since a recent promotion to High-A, he’s hitting .243/.333/.405 in 42 plate appearances.