Big Hype Prospects remains focused on the Arizona Fall League. Let’s dig in.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Johan Rojas, 22, OF, PHI (AA)
AFL: 44 PA, 10 SB, .297/.386/.378
Rojas is one of the prospects I’m most closely tracking this fall. He’s Rule 5 eligible this winter, though there’s little chance the Phillies would risk exposing him to the draft. With his elite defense and double-plus speed, at least 20 teams could easily hide him on their roster for a full season. His development could affect how the Phillies approach the free agent and trade markets in the coming winters as they transition away from their long-standing reputation as a poor fielding franchise.
The early results in Arizona are a mixed bag. He does have a solid triple-slash and three doubles, though he’s yet to muscle up for a home run. Only Zac Veen (13) has more stolen bases. Rojas and Veen are also the only players to feature a three-steal game. Rojas did it by nabbing each bag once. You can find a video of his thefts of third and home via Jacob Resnick of MLB.com (scroll down). It sure looked to me (Twitter link) that the pitcher was a tad insulted by the steal of home.
Encouragingly, Rojas has five walks (11.4% BB%) and six strikeouts (13.6% K%) in his 44 plate appearances. The two areas of his game that need the most work are in-game power and plate discipline.
Jordan Walker, 20, 3B, STL (AA)
AFL: 47 PA, 2 HR, 1 SB, .300/.362/.525
Although nobody should be upset with the above stat line, Walker ranks just 25th out of 62 qualified hitters by OPS. Nevertheless, he’s putting on an impressive display on both sides of the ball that has only served to highlight his physical readiness. Like Rojas, Walker’s development has major implications for the Cardinals mid-range plans. It’s long been rumored that Nolan Arenado will not opt out of his contract. Walker, however, is a talented defender who has been measured brushing triple-digit velocities on throws across the diamond. He also features Major League caliber exit velocities – he regularly exceeds 100-mph with his batted balls. All this from a 20-year-old who has all the makings of a franchise cornerstone. If Arenado does remain in St. Louis, they’ll have tough decisions to make soon – perhaps as early as next spring.
Andy Pages, 21, OF, LAD (AA)
AFL: 43 PA, 3 HR, .278/.372/.556
A consistent power-hitting prospect, Pages is coming off a solid showing at Double-A. Barring a change in approach, he’s destined to be a low-average, high-ISO slugger. As a hitter, comparisons to vintage Rhys Hoskins are almost unavoidable (Hoskins adjusted his batted ball profile this season). Pages puts more than half of his batted balls in the air, has plus discipline, and features more than enough raw power to casually blast more than 30 home runs per full season. My home run calculator projects a range of 28 home runs (at a 15% HR/FB ratio) to 47 home runs (25% HR/FB ratio) per 600 plate appearances. Presently, he plays center field, though there are questions about his ability to stick there. Some scouts believe he’ll slow considerably as he ages.
Grant Lavigne, 23, 1B, COL (AA)
AFL: 42 PA, 1 SB, .389/.476/.611
Once considered an interesting prospect with upside, Lavigne has fallen off lists in recent years amidst unimpressive results. This season, he posted a 146 wRC+ as a slightly old High-A player before turning in a 102 wRC+ in Double-A. He’s a first-base-only prospect so his lack of power – 10 home runs in 524 plate appearances – could be a fatal blow to his prospectdom. However, he has excellent plate discipline and a batted-ball approach that could outperform expectations at Coors Field. When I squint, I see him as sort of similar to a more patient and whiff-prone version of Eric Hosmer. Although he’s yet to homer this fall, Lavigne leads the league with six doubles. Lavigne is Rule 5 eligible this winter and might be left exposed.
Heston Kjerstad, 23, OF, BAL (AA)
AFL: 57 PA, 4 HR, .352/.386/.648
Kjerstad leads the league with 19 hits and is tied with Matt Mervis for the home run lead. He also has four doubles. The other hit leaders have taken a slappier approach, featuring minimal extra-base contact. As we profiled last week, Kjerstad lost most of two seasons due to COVID shutdowns and heart inflammation.
In less positive news, his 16 strikeouts are second-worst in the AFL, behind only Rece Hinds. Whiffs figure to remain an unavoidable part of Kjerstad’s game. So long as he’s achieving game power – as he is this fall – he remains a promising but volatile prospect.
Lawrence Butler, OAK (22): A slow-burn prospect who has hit at every level up through High-A, Butler has the fourth-best OPS in the AFL. A patient slugger who has always struggled with strikeouts, he tallied 10 walks and only seven strikeouts through 42 plate appearances. As a left-handed hitter, he has an easier path to relevance than other players with a similar toolset like Peyton Burdick. Butler should spend 2023 in Double-A. He’s being evaluated for a 40-man roster spot since he’s Rule 5 eligible.
Yasel Antuna, WSH (22): Antuna will turn 23 next Wednesday. A former top international prospect, his development has been slower and less impressive than originally hoped. His plate discipline is his standout trait, and it’s been on full display in Arizona where he has seven walks and one strikeout in 23 plate appearances. There are rumors his discipline is actually passivity. A dose of targeted aggression could unlock better power outcomes.
T.J. Rumfield, NYY (22): Acquired from the Phillies in exchange for Nick Nelson, Rumfield is an intriguing first base prospect who missed considerable development time – both in college and post-draft. When he’s been on the field, he’s demonstrated superb plate discipline. He puts on power displays in batting practice, though this has yet to translate in-game. He currently leads the AFL with a 1.236 OPS in 38 plate appearances.
Austin Martin, MIN (23): Martin is next-best with a 1.168 OPS in 48 plate appearances. It’s a BABIP-driven batting line – only three of his 18 hits have gone for extra bases. An important component of the Jose Berrios trade, Martin has intriguing discipline and contact skills. In his present form, he profiles as a most-days super utility guy. There’s risk higher-level pitchers will overpower him.
Edouard Julien, MIN (23): Another future Twins utility guy, Julien features pristine plate discipline that can verge into passivity at times. His pickiness results in an elevated strikeout rate despite above-average contact skills. He’s also never posted below a 19.3 percent walk rate. For comparison, among qualified Major Leaguers, only Juan Soto (20.3% BB%) exceeded a 16 percent walk rate this season. Julien isn’t on par with Soto, but he does have a well-rounded skill set and… surprise, surprise, he leads the AFL with 13 walks (30.9% BB%) and 10 strikeouts (23.8% K%) in 42 plate appearances.