This week, we check in two players making their debut, another on the cusp of return, and two others who have mixed results.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Josh Lowe, 24, OF, TBR (AAA)
125 PA, 5 HR, 4 SB, .291/.368/.527
Lowe began the season in the Majors where he struggled with strikeouts en route to a .188/.257/.344 triple-slash. Upon returning to Triple-A, Lowe immediately dealt damage with his bat. He blasted four home runs in his first 46 plate appearances, but they came at the cost of 21 strikeouts (45.7% K%). Since then, Lowe’s exploits at the plate have been less emphatic. He’s hitting .300/.380/.443 with seven doubles and one home run over 79 plate appearances. The good news – and the reason for this update – is his strikeout rate has steadily declined. He’s done particularly well over his last 12 games, striking out just once every five plate appearances.
Although Lowe hasn’t socked many home runs lately, he’s still hitting plenty of doubles. The improvements to his strikeout and walk rates suggest he’s ready to return to the Majors. The Rays don’t have an odd man out among their position players. However, they’re currently carrying 14 pitchers and will need to trim down to 13 on June 19. Unless Brandon Lowe or Wander Franco make a miraculous recovery from their injuries, Lowe will be the most impactful position player already on the 40-man roster.
Steven Kwan, 24, OF, CLE (MLB)
171 PA, 1 HR, 4 SB, .271/.368/.368
Kwan was a revelation during the first week of the season. He has a preternatural ability to avoid missing pitches. His 2.1 percent swinging strike rate not only leads the league, it leads all player seasons since Marco Scutaro’s heyday. Unfortunately, all strengths are also weaknesses. In Kwan’s case, he rarely makes hard contact. Among qualified hitters, he ranks fifth-worst in hard contact rate, sixth-worst in average exit velocity, and second-worst in max exit velocity. Nicky Lopez, Myles Straw, and Tony Kemp are the most-similar hitters by contact quality. Kwan has recently dropped to the bottom of the Guardians lineup amid all these softly-hit baseballs.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that his bat-to-ball skills remain elite, even if the result of that contact isn’t anything special. He has a 12.3 percent walk rate compared to a seven percent strikeout rate. To put this in context, I sorted all player seasons of 150 or more plate appearances over the last decade by walk rate minus strikeout rate. Thus far, Kwan’s debut ranks seventh-best. Appearing ahead of him are Yandy Diaz (2022), Juan Soto (2020, 2021), Joey Votto (2017), Jose Ramirez (2022), and Tommy La Stella (2020). While most of the players on this list are superstar sluggers, a few names like Luis Arraez and Eric Sogard are also present. Kwan seemingly fits in this tier of player.
George Kirby, 24, SP, SEA (MLB)
32 IP, 3.38 ERA, 8.72 K/9, 0.84 BB/9
On the surface, Kirby is having a fantastic debut. After skipping Triple-A entirely, he’s contributing above average outings to a Mariners club desperate to recapture their 2021 swagger. There are some causes for concern, namely the bluish hue of his Statcast metrics. Kirby has been plagued by loud contact. He hasn’t yet felt the sting – at least not in any disastrous way, but it’s only a matter of time. To truly succeed in the Majors, he’ll need to work on quality of contact.
The good news is he has multiple tools at his disposal. Presently, he’s far too predictable when it comes to attacking the strike zone. A stint in Triple-A might have helped him to learn how to work outside of the zone effectively. Now, he’ll have to learn on the fly – though it isn’t too hard of a lesson. You’ve undoubtedly heard someone say pitching is a game of chess. In this case, Kirby telegraphs his moves which helps opponents to employ stunning counters (hard contact). As he matures, Kirby will learn to use opponents’ expectations against them.
Gabriel Moreno, 22, C, TOR (AAA)
150 PA, 1 HR, 3 SB, .324/.380/.404
Moreno is expected to join the Blue Jays lineup tonight and will instantly become the best defensive catcher on the roster. While they both have plenty of bat for the position, neither Alejandro Kirk nor Zack Collins is well-regarded defensively. Danny Jansen, who is considered a good defender, is currently sidelined with a finger injury.
Moreno began to turn heads during 2020 then parlayed his growth into an explosive 2021 when he was on the field. Unfortunately, his season ended after just 159 plate appearances. He’s nearly matched that total this year. Although he’s continued to provide above average offense, his power has wilted. In addition to the one lonesome home run, he’s hit only eight doubles.
Shane Baz, 23, SP, TBR (AAA)
13 IP, 1.38 ERA, 13.85 K/9, 2.77 BB/9
Baz, the final piece of the Chris Archer haul, made his big league debut last season. He flashed a lightning fastball and two wipeout breaking balls. An elbow injury slowed his 2022 debut. He’s made four rehab appearances in Triple-A and has been declared ready. He is scheduled to pitch on Saturday.
Although I don’t have specific velocity readings from his outings, the results seemingly speak for themselves. Baz recorded 20 strikeouts against just eight hits, four walks, and a hit batter. His most recent appearance came against a weak Brewers affiliate. He faced 18 batters and struck out 10. To preserve his health, he’ll likely face 20 or fewer batters in his upcoming outings.
MJ Melendez (23): The return of Salvador Perez has not slowed Melendez. He’s now regularly batting fifth in the lineup while playing catcher, right field, or designated hitter. Melendez has hit a healthy .271/.340/.518 with five home runs over his last 94 plate appearances.
Juan Yepez (24): Called up when the Cardinals were dealing with a stack of injuries, Yepez has cooled in recent weeks. Since May 24, he’s batting .186/.229/.256 in 48 plate appearances. Dylan Carlson’s return could result in fewer opportunities for Yepez.
Nolan Gorman (22): Despite hitting well, Gorman has fallen into a part-time role. His .288/.362/.519 line in 58 plate appearances is partly overshadowed by a 34.5 percent strikeout rate. That’s in line with his performance in Triple-A. When he does connect, he makes loud contact.
Noelvi Marte (20): Briefly considered a Julio Rodriguez-caliber international prospect, scouts have recently taken to describing Marte in more ordinary terms. Apparently, he reached physical maturity ahead of his peers. While he still seems destined to reach the Majors in short order, a superstar ceiling might prove difficult to achieve.
Roansy Contreras (22): Contreras’s 24-batter outing on June 4 was his first in the Majors in which he faced more than 20 batters. Concerns remain about the lack of changeup, but Contreras gives every appearance of being a reliable Major League contributor. Like many young pitchers, he’s allowed more hard contact than is ideal.