My Rule 5 coverage didn’t go to plan. While I successfully tabbed first overall pick Thad Ward, he was the only Rule 5 eligible player chosen of the 25 we evaluated. Ryan Noda was left off due to his age. All the others chosen were not on my radar.
With the Winter Meetings behind us, we’ll swing into full offseason mode here at Big Hype Prospects with a focus on young players affected by recent news.
Five BHPs In The News
Andrew Painter, 19, SP, PHI (AA)
(A/A+/AA) 103.2 IP, 13.5 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.56 ERA
The Phillies had what can only be described as a successful Winter Meetings, checking off all three boxes on their offseason wishlist. With Taijuan Walker joining the rotation, the club reportedly intends to leave the fifth slot as a battle between Bailey Falter and their stable of prospects. Though he’s younger than Mick Abel, Griff McGarry, and other candidates, Painter is under consideration for an early-season rotation role. He turns 20 shortly after Opening Day. While Falter is the odds-on favorite for the fifth slot, that assumes no preseason injuries to their planned rotation.
Painter carried an unusually large workload for a teenager including two late-season outings of 26 or more batters faced. He made short work of three minor league levels. He gives every appearance of Major League readiness, though a stint in Triple-A might prove beneficial.
Gordon Graceffo, 22, SP, STL (AA)
(A+/AA) 139.1 IP, 9.0 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 2.97 ERA
The Cardinals pursuit of a catcher ended with the signing of Willson Contreras. In negotiations with the Athletics for Sean Murphy, Oakland apparently requested Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, and Graceffo. The right-hander has an effective four-pitch repertoire coupled with above-average command. While the details differ, this is basically the same starter kit as Zac Gallen – a deep array or weapons with the means to use them all effectively. Graceffo ran into some speed bumps in Double-A, posting a 3.94 ERA with a 5.07 FIP in 18 starts. He’s on pace to debut in late-2023 or at some point in 2024.
Ivan Herrera, 22, C, STL (AAA)
278 PA, 6 HR, 5 SB, .268/.374/.394
Long considered the heir apparent to Yadier Molina, Herrera isn’t quite far enough along in his development for the Cardinals to hand him the keys. He looked overmatched in a tiny 22 plate appearance Major League sample. While the acquisition of Contreras could render him expendable, the Cardinals have resisted trading touted prospects in recent seasons. It’s entirely plausible St. Louis will treat Contreras as an expensive stopgap to be traded if ever Herrera surpasses him. Herrera draws mixed reviews for his defense with most reports considering him below-average but passable. His athleticism suggests he could be a late bloomer behind the dish. Plate discipline and contact skills are his carrying traits as a hitter. Though he’s no slouch in the power department, he doesn’t hold a candle to Contreras’ exit velocities.
Alek Thomas, 22, OF, ARI (MLB)
411 PA, 8 HR, 4 SB, .231/.275/.344
No longer technically a prospect by the prevailing definition, Thomas is nevertheless prospect-aged and sufficiently talented. His Major League debut didn’t go to plan, but he held his own thanks to positive defense and baserunning. Thomas’ batted ball profile is built for generating high-BABIPs and batting averages, but he slumped to a .263 BABIP in the big leagues. Part of his minor league success included plus plate discipline. He was below average in this regard in his debut, a sign he didn’t adjust well to sharp scouting reports.
Arizona’s outfielders will be in-demand all winter long, especially once the remaining quality free agents like Andrew Benintendi and Michael Conforto sign.
Hayden Wesneski, 25, SP, CHC (MLB)
(AAA) 110.1 IP, 8.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 3.92 ERA
The Cubs signed Jameson Taillon last week and were reportedly among the finalists for Kodai Senga before he signed with the Mets. Their focus on upgrading the rotation could leave Wesneski without an Opening Day role in the Majors. Acquired in the Scott Effross trade, Wesneski finished 2022 with a lovely 33-inning stint with Chicago. He pitched to a 2.18 ERA with a 3.20 FIP. Wesneski wields a five-pitch repertoire of three fastballs, a slider, and a changeup. They bleed together in a way that stymies hitters despite a lack of overpowering stuff. One scout I spoke with believes the Cubs are better suited than the Yankees to get the most from his particular approach. Whether or not Wesneski opens in the rotation, he is an important part of the club’s 2023 plans.
Ryan Noda, OAK (26): The second overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, Noda is highly likely to slot into the Athletics lineup and never look back. He’s been among the top minor league performers for his entire career. Notably, he has always been old for his levels. He uses discipline as a weapon and has made steady gains in other facets of his game over the years. He even steals bases, though nobody will confuse him for a speedster. Think of him as vaguely similar to a more athletic Dan Vogelbach.
Dominic Fletcher, ARI (25): Though not nearly of the same pedigree as their other in-house options, Fletcher looks the part of a second-division starter or adequate fourth outfielder. He’s slowed to the point that center field is no longer a fit, and his modest power isn’t ideal for a corner outfield role. His batted profile yields high BABIPs, and his discipline improved last season. He could be a draw in trade discussions, and Arizona shouldn’t mind shopping him given their depth.
Keyshawn Askew, TBR (22): True to his name, Askew brings the funk from the left side. Acquired in the Brooks Raley deal, Askew profiles as a likely future reliever who seems destined to flummox hitters for years to come. He throws a sinker and slider out of a quirky sidearm armslot. The Rays love to collect unusual pitchers. There’s yet a chance they keep him stretched out as a starter.
Michael Busch, LAD (25): An accomplished minor league hitter, Busch has slow-burned through the Dodgers system. He’s considered a poor defensive second baseman but might get a chance there nonetheless due to the club’s intention to stay out of Carlos Correa’s market. He hit .266/.343/.480 (102 wRC+) with 21 home runs in 504 Triple-A plate appearances last season.
Jacob Amaya, LAD (24): Amaya is a more defensively able option at second base if Gavin Lux is indeed shifted to shortstop on a full-time basis. After torching Double-A pitching, Amaya was merely decent at Triple-A. He’s shown consistently above-average discipline but there’s often a notable lack of impact when he connects. For a team with Dodgers standards, he looks more like a utility man than a starter. Lesser clubs might happily count him as a regular.
This one belongs to the Reds
Thomas did not make the adjustment when the league adjusted to him. So he is suspect until he proves he can do that.
Just like a guy named Aquino, who never has.
Yes, how could a 22 year old not be able to fully make adjustments to Major League pitching perfectly his first time out there.
This one belongs to the Reds
I remember 19 year olds who had no problem. Age doesn’t have much to do with it if they consider you a major leaguer. That’s your job.
This one belongs to the Reds
You’re comparing generational talents to everybody else; that’s not a reasonable comparison at all. A large number of players are drafted older than that and most won’t produce enough in MiLB to reach MLB until their early-mid 20s.
The average age of all NL RotY winners is ~23.6 (slightly younger in the AL). Granted that Thomas is no longer eligible for the award, but he’ll be under that age all of next season.
Will definitely be interesting to see if he can adjust next year. Will also be interesting to see if that question is answered in AZ or elsewhere.
No reason for AZ to deal him; he’ll be 23, has 5 years of control, was just a finalist for a Gold Glove, and they have the options/depth to give him time to work it out in MiLB.
I agree, but they are open to trading one of their young LH hitting outfielders. Whether it will be Varsho, McCarthy, or Thomas (or none of them) remains to be seen.
They also have other needs. The rotation could use a quality lefty. The lineup could use a RH third baseman. They could use a better hitting catcher.
They absolutely do have other needs, the most pressing of which is quality in the backend of the bullpen. A quality LHP in the rotation is a luxury; a better SP than Bumgarner would be great, but it is what it is (only two more years!). The rotation doesn’t really NEED to be addressed, because they want to leave space for Pfaadt to debut.
A better hitting C would be great, but the most likely addition at this point is Vazquez (whose defense wouldn’t be bad for the young pitchers, because the DBacks SP tended to live on the edge of the Strike Zone). If not, limping through with what we have is an option (although, not a good one).
The DBacks already have a RHH 3B in Emmanuel Rivera. Only 26, had comparable numbers to Longoria against LHP, and had better defense than either Longoria/Turner. The only area in which they were superior to him was numbers against RHP, but there’s already a platoon mate in house in Rojas anyways (and Rivera’s numbers against RHP weren’t unplayably bad either).
The DBacks are doing the right thing in holding on until they can get a desired deal, because all but 6 members of the 40-man roster are controlled for at least the next 3 seasons and they have play time available to extract current value from most all of them.
Just to clarify, my personal opinion is that they should hold on to all of them because they can improve the team with moderate spending and not jump ship on a very nice looking OF unit.
– Sign Vazquez
– Sign multiple relievers
– Make Rivera the starting 3B so Rojas can have max impact as a super utility
The only place where I could see them splurging that makes sense is SS for Swanson (still unlikely, I know). I know Lawlar is on the way, but that’s no reason to not sign Swanson in my opinion. Lawlar’s defense is questionable so far. He can play 3b or 2B in lieu of a long term Swanson deal. Dansby gives them a long term leader for a young team, very good defense at a premier position, and quality hitter at a position that was beyond dire last year.
Finally! A reasonable person that understands player value! It’s a Christmas Miracle!
All kidding aside, I pretty much agree with your bulleted points. Vazquez’s skillset fits the rosters current needs fairly well. I’d like to see them make a gamble that Strom could help Fujinami and hop into the running if Taylor Rogers’ market doesn’t materialize the way he’d hope. I’m mostly in agreement on the Rivera/Rojas situation, but I’m leaning more toward a true platoon with Rivera handling the defense late/close (although, I’m not opposed to giving him intermittent PAs against RHP when he’s hot). Rojas’s defense isn’t going to be good regardless of where you put him, but playing longside of the 3B platoon and covering 2B when Marte DHs should get him a decent number of PAs.
Swanson would be a good fit and would make for what I would view as easily the #1 team defense. The problem is the draft pick compensation. The DBacks have to draft almost perfectly to even have a shot at a window of contention. Example, the 2019 DBacks draft brought in: Carroll, Walston, Jameson, Nelson, Henry, Fletcher, Malone (who was traded to Pitt for Starling Marte and struggled with injuries), and Canzone.
Not having even one of those players makes this team look significantly different, and not having two of those players makes the team look dramatically different. So, I generally tend toward conserving draft picks (and the accompanying slot value) unless absolutely necessary.
Yeah, I get the desire to hoard picks. However, I think Swanson is a special case because he becomes the long term solution to a position of extreme need. Again, I don’t currently view Lawlar as necessarily being the guy because his defense seems much worse than was originally assumed (he was supposed to be a glove first player with a projectable bat, but now seems to be a bat first player with an inconsistent glove). I could be proven wrong though because he is very young. However, Lawlar’s projected bat at 2B looks elite with Swanson as the superior SS defender. Swanson’s age also fits with what looks like the soft opening of their contention window (2024).
I’m not so convinced that Lawlar isn’t going to be at least an above average SS.
In regards to his defense, if you’re referring to the 20 E in 37 games at A ball you have to remember that that was his first stop after coming back from a season ending injury (after only getting into 8 games his debut season). The rate at which he accrued his E slowed down as he kept climbing.
If his projected bat at 2B is elite, then his bat at SS would likely be only underneath the first tier players. I’m not going to go full Homer and say he’s going to be the best SS in the sport, but an above average offensive SS with above average defense is a plus player. If either side of the equation trends toward plus, he’s a better option than Swanson all things considered.
We know the team is really high on him, maybe not quite to the same degree as Carroll, but I’m pretty certain that they view him as a having a solid shot at RotY next season. We may see a late season appearance to get acclimated to MLB like we saw with Carroll last season.
Totally valid take. Like I said, he’s so young that I could definitely be proven wrong. But I think Swanson at SS, Lawlar at 2B, and Marte at DH is better and more settled than Lawlar at SS, Marte/? at 2B, and Marte/? at DH. In my opinion, Swanson is a good player who makes them better now and long term, especially in the context of who they have at the MLB level, and who is on the way from their minor league system.
This one belongs,
Thomas was a 2022 Gold Glove finalist in CF where he provides a spectacular nightly highlight reel defense.
Yes, he was sent down to make swing adjustments, however if you knew anything about the Dback’s situation last year instead of being the skeptic you claim to be, you would hold the same opinion virtually every scout in MLB holds—that Thomas will play All-Star caliber offensive and defensive CF for years to come. You might personally think his offense is suspect, but you are a lone voice crying in the wilderness.
This one belongs to the Reds
Not doubting him defensively but offensively I will wait and see how he adjusts the next year or so.
If you saw the movie, you would know Billy Beane was supposed to be better than Darryl Strawberry according to all the scouts too (though I remember when it happened). I have learned over the years to trust my eyes when they get to the big leagues over what the organization tries to sell as far as prospect talk. That’s why I say wait and see over all these hot Reds prospects.
This one belongs,
Consider this as you apply the eyeball test to Thomas. Yes, he has happy feet and lunges into pitches, but those mechanical flaws can be fixed. So, I admit Thomas was sent down for good reasons, and needs to make adjustments.
However, also consider this context. The Dbacks aggressively promoted their top CF and Starting pitching prospects last year. Thomas was the first to be promoted.
He was doing OK for a rookie offensively, until the Dbacks promoted their other left handed CF and committed to give them at bats. At the same time, ALL of their right handed lineup against left handed pitching started to tank. As teams threw every left handed starter and reliever at this weakness, the Dbacks started rotating these left handed CF prospects, including Thomas, into the lineup to see how they could fare against same handed pitching. Thomas did worse than the others, but it was a bit unfair to ask rookies to make those adjustments on top of the challenges of trying to adjust to superior pitching in the Bigs.
I’m not making excuses for Thomas, just giving you some context. Given that context, I personally wouldn’t be so harsh or skeptical of Thomas’ abilities as you seem to be. That is merely the difference in perspective between two different sets of eyes looking at the same athlete.
Yeah, I still think Thomas can hit and will show that this year. The tools are present. Not as good as Carroll, but still very good.
“…vaguely similar to a more athletic Dan Vogelbach.”
More athletic than Vogey? You mean like a cross between Jose Molina and the Michelin Man?
Gin up trade value
Pittsburgh Paints on sale, Bryan
Keep home in Keystone
The R5 really is an enigma. Just when you think you have it measured you get thrown a curveball.
cubs haven’t had a big hype pitching prospect in a long time. Either Wesneski makes the cubs or is mistaken for a polish bears player.
DeGrom Texas Ranger
I really don’t understand the hype over a catcher who hasn’t hit too well above the low minors
It’s entirely plausible St. Louis will treat Contreras as an expensive stopgap to be traded if ever Herrera surpasses him.””
Willson Contreras has a full no-trade clause in his deal: https://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/birdland/im-a-winner-i-came-here-to-win-cardinals-introduce-new-catcher-willson-contreras/article_a2f0763b-2d2c-5d3e-9af7-7bda84a46fa3.html
Yep, Thought the exact same thing. Instead of speculating on a trade when a player has a trade clause, the writer could have mentioned that as Contreras ages, Herrera could get more PT at catcher with Contreras seeing additional time at DH..So many teams have gone to sharing the catching duties and I could see the Cards doing this as well. Also, the writer mentioned how Herrera’s defense is below average but passable. This is honestly the worst I’ve ever seen Herrera’s defense criticized. Usually, it’s considered average to slightly above. MLB Pipeline has his arm rated at 55 on the 20-80 scale and his defense is also rated at 55 as well. He will be fine if those numbers pan out.
Brad Johnson 2
Again, that’s a recent report from a trusted source. I was surprised enough when I saw it that I watched about 10 innings of him catching to verify it. I will say I’m not personally convinced of anything yet – he had some mistakes that seemed correctable. I usually go with whatever information is newest/trusted so that’s what I presented.
Brad Johnson 2
I missed that detail. My bad.
I think Painter has a chance to be really good. Big durable frame. But just 28.1 innings above A+ ball is quite the small sample. Spencer Howard cautions you to let him marinate a little more.
Unfortunately, the article’s author has mistaken Dominic Fletcher for the other Dbacks OF prospect named Dominic (Dominic Canzone), when he mistakenly says Fletcher has “slowed to the point that CF is no longer a fit.” Dominic Canzone was moved to Corner OF and 1b because of his lack of foot speed. But Dominic Fletcher is highly regarded as a CF, with virtually all scouts thinking he can stick there. Fletcher’s problem is that there are 5 left handed hitting CF blocking him from promotion. Scouts say Dominic has superior skills compared to his major league brother David. Fans of other teams don’t know anything at all about Dominic Fletcher, but other GMs do know. Don’t be surprised to hear that multiple teams will try to pry him loose from the Dbacks and that he gets an unexpectedly strong trade return package.
Brad Johnson 2
I got that defense comment straight from a recent scouting report about Dominic Fletcher.. I’ll look into it more anyway.