Last week, I described how the Reds might muck about with Elly De La Cruz’s service time – if they chose to do so. Instead, they promptly promoted him. It’s always a relief to see deserving prospects promoted in a timely manner.
To date, De La Cruz is batting .364/.481/.636 in 27 plate appearances with a home run and three steals. His 37 percent strikeout rate is the lone blemish. Like the rookie version of Fernando Tatis Jr., De La Cruz has the capacity to perform despite a high strikeout rate.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 23, 1B/3B, CIN (AAA)
199 PA, 17 HR, .362/.427/.734
Next up in the Reds developmental pipeline is Encarnacion-Strand. Known as CES to those who like to write about him without using 28 characters, the powerful corner infielder has punished opposing pitchers to the tune of .542/.633/1.042 (1.675 OPS) in his last six games. He hit seven singles, three doubles, and three home runs over the span.
There are aspects of his game that can temper enthusiasm. There’s a risk his plate approach and high swinging strike rates could lead to high strikeout rates. At this point, he’s utterly eviscerated Triple-A. It’s time to see if those concerns are warranted. The Reds have a minor issue to resolve when it comes to selecting CES’s promotion date. Joey Votto’s rehab will end in about 12 days. His recovery in Triple-A is progressing at a slow pace. Fitting all three of CES, Votto, and Spencer Steer in the regular lineup could prove challenging – and would cost Tyler Stephenson playing time too. Such impediments shouldn’t block Encarnacion-Strand for much longer.
Jordan Lawlar, 20, SS, ARI (AA)
215 PA, 8 HR, 15 SB, .238/.335/.443
Considered one of the top athletes in the minors, Lawlar’s time in Double-A hasn’t been all that impressive. However, in the last week, he’s hitting .407/.429/.704 in 28 plate appearances. He has a 1.029 OPS over his last 73 plate appearances. It would seem he’s made an adjustment. Reports from public sources note concerns about his hit tool. Every other aspect of his game is expected to be above average. Lawlar is the penthouse apartment of prospects – he has a high floor and higher ceiling. Presently, he is on pace to debut in 2024.
Eury Perez, 20, SP, MIA (MLB)
29 IP, 9.31 K/9, 4.03 BB/9, 2.17 ERA
Perez is a big part of the Marlins recent success. Already 3-1 in just six starts, Perez hasn’t missed a beat since skipping from Double-A to the Majors in mid-May. His only truly sub-par outing occurred at Coors Field. While ERA-estimators (4.34 FIP, 4.68 xFIP) suggest he’s had some luck with run prevention, this is still an impressive performance from a young 20-year-old (he has a mid-April birthday).
A peek under the hood suggests Perez still has a thing or two to learn about using his repertoire. He’s regularly using all four of his pitches. Hitters have performed well against his 97.5-mph heater, but they’ve struggled versus the offspeed stuff. Perez features a “big” fastball. It shouldn’t perform as a below-average offering. It’s possible he’s trying to make pitches that would work in Double-A but not the Majors. As he acclimates, I expect his fastball to grade out better.
Jackson Merrill, 20, SS, SDP (A+)
206 PA, 4 HR, 8 SB, .257/.296/.387
The third-highest ranked “Jackson” on most prospect lists, Merrill was a contender for Top 10 prospect status over the offseason. He’s backed up a bit in the early going. The Midwest League happens to be one of the more difficult hitting environments in the minors. While the above triple-slash probably looks bad, it’s only six percent below the league average. Merrill is a hit-over-power prospect who produces high-quality, low-angle contact. The left-handed hitter draws a Michael Brantley comp from the folks at FanGraphs. Though injuries have reduced his developmental opportunities, he remains on pace to debut by his age 22 season.
Adael Amador, 20, 2B, COL (A+)
228 PA, 8 HR, 12 SB, .306/.392/.510
Last season, Amador profiled as a flexible utility fielder. While there’s never been any question about his feel for contact, the quality of that contact often raised eyebrows in a bad way. Amador looks “small” on the field, and that likely colored scouting reports. He’s strengthened over the last year to the point where he’s no longer seen as an ideal utility candidate. He’ll likely plant at second base for the long haul – especially with defensively adept Ezequiel Tovar ahead of him at shortstop. The switch-hitting Amador still has adjustments to make if he’s to make full use of spacious Coors Field. He taps most of his contact on the ground, though the quality of said contact has continually improved over time. Amador has more walks than strikeouts in his professional career and is running a 4.4 percent swinging strike rate this season. He should reach Double-A before much longer.
Andrew Painter, PHI (20): Painter was on pace to debut as a 19-year-old when a sprained UCL ended his Spring Training bid. He threw a 20-pitch bullpen on Saturday. The coming weeks mark an important step in his recovery.
Marcelo Mayer, BOS (20): Mayer’s time in Double-A isn’t going so hot. The shortstop is batting .154/.227/.333 in 45 plate appearances. A recent report on FanGraphs noted a mechanical shortcoming similar to Jarred Kelenic and Spencer Torkelson – namely, an issue with lifting balls low in the zone.
Connor Norby, BAL (23): There’s no question the Orioles have a lot of infield depth. I’m often asked whom I believe they’ll trade from that depth. Norby is my answer. The short right-handed hitter doesn’t have the utility of others in the system. He’s Major League adjacent and primed for a regular role within the next year. However, he profiles more like a core performer than a high-ceiling star.
Did I miss a detail or nuance? DM me on Twitter @BaseballATeam to suggest corrections.