This week, we look at prospects who are among the top minor-league performers — a few of whom have struggled lately. Let’s skip Jackson Holliday.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Coby Mayo, 21, 3B, BAL (AAA)
(AA/AAA) 450 PA, 20 HR, 4 SB, .283/.393/.560
While Mayo’s seasonal line is impressive, he’s scuffled to a .205/.291/.420 triple-slash in 103 Triple-A plate appearances. He’s still impacting the ball with Major League-caliber exit velocities. The big difference between Double-A and Triple-A is BABIP. This isn’t a write-it-off-as-luck situation. Mayo makes a lot of pulled, fly ball contact. He’s the sort of hitter who might be prone to low BABIPs in the Majors. He’s always been a high-BABIP guy in the minors which is actually a classic sign that the hitter isn’t being challenged at the level. Perhaps Mayo is finally feeling some pain. He’ll likely make a couple small adjustments and resume hitting at an above-average level. We might witness similar growing pains when he’s eventually summoned to the Majors.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 23, 1B, CIN (MLB)
91 PA, 3 HR, .250/.308/.381
Speaking of growing pains, Encarnacion-Strand has reverted to his previous poor discipline in his first taste of the Majors. While his average contact is impressively firm, he’s not getting to the top end of his power range – at least not yet. Presently, he’s both strikeout and fly ball prone. The fly balls aren’t as much a concern as they are with most prospects – it’s not called Great American Smallpark without reason. A power barrage awaits ahead for CES. In the meantime, we’re also getting a good look at the downside for this probably-volatile slugger. He produced a 1.042 OPS at Triple-A.
Drew Thorpe, 22, SP, NYY (AA)
(A+/AA) 117 IP, 11.31 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 2.62 ERA
The Yankees have an obnoxious habit of developing promising-looking pitchers who struggle to make the transition between the minors and Majors. Thorpe is on pace to debut next season. In my opinion, he should rank higher on prospects lists. The rub is his velocity. He’s currently a soft-tossing southpaw with a “projectable frame.” In other words, scouts think he can add velocity. Thorpe is a command artist with a plus changeup and a slider he locates with ease. Even if the velocity never comes, he’ll give hitters fits as a reliever. Nearly all of the above stats were accrued in High-A.
Chase Hampton, 22, SP, NYY (AA)
95.2 IP, 12.51 K/9, 3.39 BB/9, 3.86 ERA
Evaluators prefer Hampton to Thorpe because he more closely resembles the classic workhorse. He’s already pushing for Top 50 prospect status on Baseball America’s list. Hampton has a five-pitch repertoire featuring four average or better offerings and a platoon-changeup. He’s able to use his four-seam, cutter, or slider as his primary pitch, depending on the matchup. His curve offers a change of pace for right-handed hitters, and he commands everything well. Hampton has met some challenges in Double-A (4.90 ERA, 4.02 xFIP). It’s possible he’s running out of steam in his first full professional season.
Junior Caminero, 20, 3B/SS, TBR (AA)
(A+/AA) 400 PA, 21 HR, 4 SB, .322/.380/.565
Caminero draws heavy hype among the fantasy prospect ranking crowd for his precocious power output. Traditional evaluators are slowly approaching the same level of excitement. Baseball America ranks him fifth in the league. The missing ingredient is plate discipline, but he’s shown modest signs of improvement at Double-A. Personally, I tend to be skeptical of this profile until I see it perform in the Majors. The jump from Triple-A to the Majors is particularly large for hitters who either lack discipline or feature a high whiff rate. Caminero checks both boxes. So did Fernando Tatis Jr. That’s not to say they’re similar athletes, only that an expectedly “tough” transition can be easier for some players than others.
In any event, don’t be surprised if Caminero stalls out for a few years before finding his stride in the Majors. The Rays have a knack for putting their players in situations where they thrive. See their development of Josh Lowe.
Abimelec Ortiz, TEX (21): One of the top-performing breakout power hitters, Ortiz is a slow-footed, left-handed first baseman who takes massive hacks. He’s produced 26 home runs in 350 plate appearances on the season, mostly at High-A. He profiles as a future 30-homer slugger with a strikeout problem.
Heston Kjerstad, BAL (24): A late-bloomer by today’s heady standards (and due to missed time), Kjerstad is posting MLB-caliber exit velocities in Triple-A along with a .383 BABIP. This is a function of approach, not luck. Even so, we usually see these line-drive boppers lose their BABIP fuel upon matriculating. Kjerstad projects as a league-average corner outfielder.
Emmanuel Rodriguez, MIN (20): Expected to eventually move from center field, Rodriguez has more than enough bat to survive in an outfield corner. He’s a discipline-forward slugger who verges on passivity. He’s walked in more than 20 percent of plate appearances as a professional. He’ll need to learn more selective aggression against higher-quality pitchers.
Did I miss a detail or nuance? DM me on Twitter @BaseballATeam to suggest corrections.