The NL Central remains a hotbed of prospect promotions. Henry Davis is the latest big name scheduled to make his debut. Out west, Emmet Sheehan appeared last Friday. Unless you’re a diehard Dodgers fan, chances are you first heard about Sheehan’s rising star during our AFL coverage last fall. Sheehan tossed six scoreless innings.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Grayson Rodriguez, 23, SP, BAL (AAA)
(AAA) 22 IP, 11.86 K/9, 4.91 BB/9, 2.86 ERA
Earlier in the season, Rodriguez posted a 7.35 ERA in 45 1/3 Major League innings. His is a cautionary tale about pitcher prospectdom. Like many pitchers who sustain a lat injury, he hasn’t returned at the top of his game. In particular, his offspeed stuff and command haven’t been as crisp post-injury. He still profiles as a high-quality starter. There’s less certainty he’s an ace in the making. Since returning to the minors, Rodriguez has seen his swinging strike rate improve. He continues to walk too many hitters. His issues with the dreaded disease homeritis followed him back to the minors (1.23 HR/9). One straightforward path forward for Rodriguez is to get his BABIP and home runs in order. He posted a .372 BABIP and 2.58 HR/9 in his big league time. Per his 3.87 xFIP, which assumes a league-average BABIP and HR/FB ratio, a small adjustment could be all that’s needed.
Endy Rodriguez, 23, C, PIT (AAA)
227 PA, 4 HR, 4 SB, .245/.326/.380
Entering this year, Rodriguez appeared to be on the cusp of promotion. Since then, Davis leapfrogged him. Rodriguez’s surprise 2022 campaign was built upon a sturdy foundation of discipline and high-quality contact. The switch-hitter remains disciplined, but his contact profile has taken a step back. His exit velocities are acceptable but unexceptional. He isn’t hitting many fly balls with authority. The one thing I see jumping out in the data is a sharp surge in opposite-field contact. That indicates… something. Of what, I can’t be certain. Likely, the Pirates advised him to balance his previously pull-heavy approach. Perhaps reembracing his past tendencies might be the way forward.
Kyle Harrison, 21, SP, SFG (AAA)
47.1 IP, 15.21 K/9, 7.04 BB/9, 3.42 ERA
From the four numbers reported above, the one that stands out is the walk rate. The good news: over his last five starts, he has allowed 4.35 BB/9. There’s no doubt about his ability to miss bats. It’s less certain if he’ll develop the command necessary to start. The Giants are carefully managing Harrison’s workload – perhaps with an eye on using him in the Majors later this season. He often works on six or more days of rest, and he’s yet to face 20 batters in a start. Even when he no-hit the Dodgers affiliate, Harrison was removed after four innings. If he arrives this season, such usage leads me to expect a bulk relief role. Those hoping Harrison will take the place of Alex Cobb are liable to be disappointed.
Brandon Pfaadt, 24, SP, ARI (AAA)
(AAA) 44 IP, 10.43 K/9, 2.25 BB/9, 3.89 ERA
Like Grayson Rodriguez, Pfaadt had a rough go in his first taste of the Majors. He posted a 8.37 ERA. Unlike Rodriguez, ERA estimators didn’t care for his effort (7.16 FIP, 5.38 xFIP). In four starts since returning to the minors, Pfaadt has posted a 3.86 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings. Home runs continue to plague him, although that’s hard to hold against a pitcher in the PCL. When he was demoted, the Diamondbacks noted they would work on mechanical issues to get him back up to snuff. At his best, Pfaadt features four pitches he can use to generate whiffs.
Harry Ford, 20, C, SEA (A+)
280 PA, 8 HR, 13 SB, .249/.411/.410
The Mariners find themselves faced with a classic conundrum. Ford’s bat is substantially ahead of his glove. He could move to an easier-to-learn position and perhaps debut in 2024. As a catcher, we should expect him to advance level-to-level with a debut in 2026. Even then, it’s possible he’ll quickly move off the position like Daulton Varsho. Ford features excellent plate discipline and above-average power. His hit tool is trending as middling. The Varsho parallel is made all the more obvious by Ford’s rare speed for a catcher – a trait which would just so happen to make learning another position relatively easy. Reports (and journalists) praise Ford for his work ethic and amiability.
Junior Caminero, TBR (19): Though his pace has slowed since reaching Double-A, Caminero continues to thrive at the plate. One of the youngest players at the level, he’s hitting .297/.347/.438 in 72 plate appearances with two home runs. Encouragingly, his walk rate is up two points from his time in High-A. Many expect discipline to determine his final outlook.
Tsung-Che Cheng, PIT (21): One of the top-performing hitters in the minors, Cheng has greatly improved his prospect status this season. Defensively capable all over the infield, he’s now showing multi-faceted capacity as a hitter too. His once-minus power is approaching average. His plus discipline, contact, and speed could help the total package to play up.
Andrew Abbott, CIN (24): Abbott, who we covered in more detail shortly before his debut, is now 17 2/3 scoreless innings into his career. It’s looking rather fluky. ERA estimators range from 3.50 to 5.50. After missing piles of bats in the minors, he’s suddenly no longer inducing whiffs. He also isn’t avoiding hard contact. If nothing changes, the other shoe will drop in a big way. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher with Great American Ball Park as his home.
Did I miss a detail or nuance? DM me on Twitter @BaseballATeam to suggest corrections.