Pitchers and catchers report in 10 days, at which point we’ll have more to discuss in virtually every facet of the sport. Until then, let’s review more prospects tangentially connected to the news. Today’s episode coincidentally includes a number of left-handed hitters with holes in their swing.
Five BHPs In The News
Colton Cowser, 22, OF, BAL (AAA)
(A+/AA/AAA) 626 PA, 19 HR, 18 SB, .278/.406/.469
In a recent radio spot, Orioles general manager Mike Elias indicated a belief Cowser will debut later this season. A recent review of the Baltimore farm system published by FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen offers modest cause for concern. There are now questions about Cowser’s ability to perform against low-in-the-zone breaking balls and inside fastballs. Those are two very large holes for a big league hitter, indicating Cowser might require a carefully managed role once he is promoted. The lower-half stiffness noted by Longenhagen is a new issue and might relate to the workload Cowser shouldered last season. In order to improve and adjust, Cowser could require a long stint in Triple-A.
JJ Bleday, 25, OF, MIA (MLB)
(MLB) 238 PA, 5 HR, 4 SB, .167/.277/.309
The left-handed hitting slugger has two massive issues to overcome – a weakness against up-and-away fastballs and a pulled, fly-ball-oriented approach lacking in high-quality exit velocities. Both issues were on full display in Bleday’s first season, and he has used up his rookie eligibility. Bleday is currently expected to compete with Jesus Sanchez and Bryan De La Cruz for playing time in left field. Unless he improves upon both shortcomings, the former fourth-overall pick will be limited to heavily scripted usage against right-handed sinkerballers. Achieving such an adjustment will likely require a new swing and a return to Triple-A to digest the changes.
Francisco Alvarez, 21, C, NYM (MLB)
(AA/AAA) 411 PA, 27 HR, .260/.374/.511
A burly backstop who frequently draws hitting comps to Salvador Perez, Alvarez will need to play his way onto an Opening Day roster that already includes catchers Omar Narvaez and Tomas Nido. While neither player is expected to block Alvarez, he also has a second pathway onto the roster – designated hitter. As we learned yesterday, the Mets are carrying a veteran tandem of Daniel Vogelbach, Darin Ruf, and Tommy Pham in part to leave a door open for Alvarez and Brett Baty (covered last week) to get at-bats as part of the revolving door at DH.
As a hitter, Alvarez appears primed for the Show. There is near-term concern about his rate of contact and occasional lapses into over-selectivity. Even so, these are small issues to polish rather than fatal flaws.
James Outman, 25, OF, LAD (MLB)
(AA/AAA) 559 PA, 31 HR, 13 SB, .294/.393/.586
Although the Dodgers have made peace with crossing the first luxury tax threshold, they’ve done little to fortify their left field mix. Outman will compete with the likes of Chris Taylor and Jason Heyward for a regular role this spring. Outman’s approach could serve as a roadmap for Bleday. The left-handed hitting Outman makes frequently pulled, fly ball contact, but he isn’t nearly as extreme as the similarly built Marlins outfielder. Outman also consistently delivers line drives which allows him to post above-average BABIPs. Toss in above-average plate discipline, and he has a chance to hit for average, OBP, and power despite expectations of a 30 percent strikeout rate.
Spencer Steer, 25, 3B, CIN (MLB)
(AA/AAA) 427 PA, 23 HR, 4 SB, .274/.364/.515
Acquired as part of the return in the Tyler Mahle trade, Steer looks the part of a future second-division starter or frequently-used utility man. The Reds are in a year of transition with Steer eyeing a role as the regular third baseman. Long-term, he’ll need to contend with the likes of Elly De La Cruz, Edwin Arroyo, Noelvi Marte, and Matt McLain – whichever among those doesn’t take over at shortstop. Steer is considered a well-rounded hitter with a feel for contact, above-average plate discipline, and an ability to pop mistakes. The cozy confines of Great American Ballpark should help his power production. One question he’ll need to answer relates to his consistency of contact quality. In a 108-plate appearance trial last season, Steer posted an 84.7-mph average and 104.4-mph max exit velocity, which were well below Major League average.
George Valera, CLE (22): After managing a league-average batting line at Triple-A last season, Valera is on pace to debut at some point in 2023. He won’t be making the Opening Day roster due to a recent hamate injury. Such injuries are hard to predict, as the recovery is speedy in some cases, but some players are left with lesser bat control for weeks or months after returning. Occasionally, as with Alex Kirilloff, a secondary issue can linger indefinitely.
Kyle Stowers, BAL (25): Currently in the outfield and designated hitter mix for Baltimore, Stowers has a brief window to cement a role as a righty-masher before a flood of high-ceiling prospects joins the roster. Stowers is patient, strikeout-prone, and powerful, rendering him a Three True Outcomes option. Such hitters are volatile as they’re heavily reliant on hitting home runs at just the right time.
Grayson Rodriguez, BAL (23): General manager Mike Elias reiterated his belief that Rodriguez will make the Opening Day rotation. There’s still the messy part of actually navigating Spring Training, especially since Rodriguez’s stuff had declined at last look, though he was returning from a lat injury at the time. Even the September version of Rodriguez looked like a future rotation mainstay.