It’s time to shift our attention to the frozen wasteland of the offseason. With luck, the baseball gods will provide us with an amply warm stove to survive this bleak period without baseball. Already, we’ve seen a number of interesting, tinkering-on-the-margins trades. Teams are also preparing for the Rule 5 draft, set to take place on December 7.
Today, we’ll check in on some players who were not protected per MLB.com. By nature, none of these are consensus Top 100 prospects. In some cases, they had a better prospect pedigree in the past. In others, scouting reports don’t agree with the statistical output. Still others are clearly talented but have struggled to stay on the field.
We’ll cover half today and the other half next week.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Thad Ward, 25, SP, BOS (AA)
33.1 IP, 11.07 K/9, 3.78 BB/9, 2.43 ERA
Ward has scarcely pitched in official game action since 2019, accruing just 59.1 innings over the last three seasons due to Tommy John surgery. He appeared in the Arizona Fall League, adding 12.2 innings to his season total. He held opponents to a 2.84 ERA with 15 strikeouts and six walks.
Any team thinking about drafting Ward will have to consider his readiness for a full campaign after so much lost development time. The right-handed starter has a five-pitch repertoire. It’s believed he could play up in the bullpen as a cutter-slider specialist – they’re his best offerings. He also has a sinker, curve, and changeup, none of which are relief-quality offerings.
Victor Vodnik, 23, RP, ATL (AAA)
27.2 IP, 10.73 K/9, 5.20 BB/9, 2.93 ERA
Vodnik is a relief prospect with a cutting fastball. He has an adequate changeup and a work-in-progress slider. He pitched to a 2.93 ERA at Triple-A last season. He had issues with walks but made up for it by inducing over 50 percent ground balls. He’s allowed high BABIPs – a sign he might not have a high leverage future. He appears to be big league ready. Teams can look at him as comparable to the typical non-roster invitee.
Grant Lavigne, 23, 1B, COL (AA)
242 PA, 5 HR, .245/.347/.370
Lavigne had a strong AFL showing, but it wasn’t enough for the Rockies to protect him from the upcoming draft. The left-handed hitting first baseman is a discipline-first hitter. Although he has plus raw power, he doesn’t access it in-game very often. His swing path could use work, especially since his upper-cut hack has yielded a high ground ball rate. Between his size and discipline, a team might believe there is something salvageable here with the right instruction. A flatter, more adaptable swing plane could yield immediate rewards.
Jayden Murray, 25, SP/RP, HOU (AA)
108 IP, 8.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 3.50 ERA
Part of the Trey Mancini trade, Murray profiles as a high-probability future big leaguer based on his command of a plus slider. His eventual role remains uncertain. He’s spent his entire career starting – with mostly positive results. His ERAs are consistently more than a run below his FIP, a symptom of the aforementioned slider command. Few minor league pitchers have a fine touch with their offspeed stuff. Murray has made only one appearance in Triple-A. Clubs could be curious to try him in a relief role to see if the stuff plays up. Even if it doesn’t, he looks like a plausible innings-eating, low-leverage reliever for any non-contender.
T.J. Sikkema, 24, SP/RP, KC (AA)
69 IP, 10.8 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 4.83 ERA
A former 38th-overall pick, the Royals acquired Sikkema as part of the Andrew Benintendi trade. After dominating at the Yankees High-A affiliate, Sikkema struggled to a 7.44 ERA with the Royals Double-A crew. While his performance doesn’t appear to be that of a plausible Rule 5 pick, he fits a historically favored profile for the draft. A southpaw with a 50 percent ground ball rate, he’s worked almost exclusively as a starter. A team in need of a lefty specialist could be interested to see how he performs as a reliever.
Ethan Hankins, CLE (22): Despite reaching Rule 5 eligibility, Hankins has barely pitched professionally. He’s totaled just 64 career innings across five seasons. He returned from Tommy John surgery at the end of 2022. At times, he has flashed multiple plus pitches. Hankins would rate as an extreme selection – he has yet to appear in High-A. Orgs lacking in both Major League and prospect talent – like the Nationals – might take an interest.
Chase Strumpf, CHC (24): Strumpf has topped out at Double-A where he’s mixed solid power and excellent discipline with a serious strikeout issue. Ironically, he was originally considered a hit-over-power prospect. Strumpf could be seen as a development project, especially if a club thinks they can unlock better results by teaching him selective aggression.
Yolbert Sanchez, CWS (25): Sanchez is a contact hitter who would have been valued more in past eras of baseball. His low-angle contact approach yields a high average at the expense of power and on-base skills. He’s mostly of interest for his value as a utility infielder who can put the bat on the ball – not unlike a Ronald Torreyes type.
Jeremiah Jackson, LAA (22): One of the younger and toolsier options available, Jackson made some notable gains at Double-A last season – specifically his rate of contact. The Angels don’t have a well-regarded development system. Jackson is young and talented enough that a team with better resources – might opt to sacrifice a roster spot for a season to see if they can unlock another level.
Micah Pries, CLE (24): Although he’s flown well-below the radar, Pries has done nothing but hit since his debut in 2021. A 2019 draftee, he missed that season due to a pre-draft hamstring injury. COVID restrictions cost him his 2020 campaign. Pries seems unlikely to be selected on so short a track record and modest scouting grades. In 504 Double-A plate appearances, he batted .266/.341/.473 with 18 home runs and 20 stolen bases. If there are underlying metrics supporting his success (I have no such info on him), a data-savvy team might give him a try.