A Thursday Scouting Notebook – 5/6/2021

Prospect writers Kevin Goldstein and Eric Longenhagen will sometimes have enough player notes to compile a scouting post. This is one of those dispatches, a collection of thoughts after another week of college baseball and the return of minor league play. Remember, prospect rankings can be found on The Board.

Kevin’s Notes

After nearly 600 days without them, it was sure nice to have minor league boxscores. It was also overwhelming in terms of thinking about who to highlight for today’s notebook. During a lunchtime call with Eric Longenhagen, we probably discussed 40 or 50 guys. To celebrate the long-awaited return of minor league baseball, I’ll push the draft aside for a week and talk about some prospects with real numbers next to their names for the first time in over a year. Instead of just finding five players, I decided to focus on a quintet of catchers who had big starts to the season. Catching prospects fascinate me as it’s the toughest position to find. There’s aren’t 30 legitimate starting catchers in baseball, but there are 30 teams, so while the bar is ridiculous on a defensive level, the necessary production in terms of offense is nowhere near that of other positions. Here are five real prospects — some big names, some sleepers — who have a shot at becoming that everyday guy.

Francisco Álvarez, C, New York Mets (Low-A St. Lucie)

Álvarez put up a .916 OPS in his 2019 stateside debut as a 17-year-old, and his 2021 is off to an impressive start. Eric ranked Álvarez as the best prospect in the Mets system this spring, and I support that ranking whole heartedly. Famous in the international community since his early teens, Álvarez commanded a $2.7 million bonus, and it’s easy to see why as there is the potential for the Venezuelan product to be an plus contributor both at the plate and behind it. He’s tightened up his meaty frame over the past year, which gives him good mobility in terms of block and receiving to go with a plus arm. With a bat in his hands, he has showcased an impressive approach for a teenager to go with real power that projects for 20-plus home runs annually when all is said and done. He’s not only the Mets’ best prospect, he’s on of the best catching prospects in all of baseball, a player who has the potential to be ready somewhere around the end of James McCann’s four-year deal.

Patrick Bailey, C, San Francisco Giants (High-A Eugene)

Despite being the club’s first-round pick in 2019 (13th overall), Tuesday night represented Bailey’s professional debut. Like Álvarez, Bailey excites scouts for his upside on both sides of the ball, but in Bailey’s case, it’s the defense that stands out more. He moves well laterally, is a comfortable receiver, and despite allowing a pair of stolen bases on Tuesday, the raw arm strength is plus. Offensively, he’s a secondary skills type who might not hit for average and will likely rack up high whiff totals, but he should more than make up for it will plenty of walks and well above-average power for the position. Buster Posey has found the fountain of youth so far in 2021, but the contest to be the Giants’ catcher of the future should be an interesting two-man race between Bailey and Joey Bart.

Gabriel Moreno, Toronto Blue Jays (Double-A New Hampshire)

Moreno is a personal favorite who ranked seventh in the Toronto system and 93rd overall entering the year. Moreno is a bit on the small side, but he’s bulked up and had a strong finish to the 2019 season, showing some sudden power to go with his well above-average contact ability. After a strong showing in the Venezuelan Winter League, the Jays pushed him to Double-A and after one game, that doesn’t look like an aggressive assignment. With a career strikeout rate in the minors under 10%, Moreno’s plus bat control is apparent, and while it leads to an aggressive approach, his added pop helps mitigate the issue. He’s not a remarkable defender, but he’s more than capable, with most of his receiving and arm strength grades averaging in the 50 range. Toronto has had a number of interesting catching prospects over the last decade fizzle out in the minors; Moreno’s unique skill set will hopefully allow him to break the trend.

Logan O’Hoppe, Philadelphia Phillies (High-A Jersey Shore)

Here’s the sleeper of the group. Normally, raw products from the Northeast (O’Hoppe played his prep ball on Long Island) go to school unless they are seven-figure talents, but the Phillies scouting department did their homework on O’Hoppe, taking him in the 23rd round of the 2018 draft and signing him to a bonus north of $200,000 to lure him away from a college stint at East Carolina. He’s performed admirably in short-season ball (a phrase I won’t be writing anymore now that it’s gone), and received a shocking assignment to the Phillies’ alt site in 2020, which led to a push to High-A this year and an impressive Opening Day. O’Hoppe has tools. He’s a physical presence with plus raw power and an average arm, but his game is still a bit rough around the edges as he can be prone to strikeouts and needs to sharpen up his receiving. He earns raves for his makeup and work ethic, which should help with his development. He’s a long way from sitting towards the top of a prospect list, but all of the arrows are pointing in the right direction.

Tyler Soderstrom, Oakland Athletics (Low-A Stockton)

When talking to people who saw alt site and spring training action up close, Eric and I both kept hearing one name over and over: Tyler Soderstrom, who everyone we spoke to predicted would have a huge year offensively. So far, so good after one game, and we’re ready to shove him up an upcoming update to The Board. It’s hard to find anyone who isn’t optimistic about Soderstrom’s potential with the bat, and it’s getting to the point where questions about his future development come into play. He’s not a bad defender per se, but the bat feels way ahead of the glove at this point, and catching is just so hard on the body. There has to be at least some consideration given to a move to a corner outfield slot where his athleticism should play, while the less arduous physical demands should keep him healthier and hitting more. It’s a conundrum, and I’m glad it’s not my decision, but he’s catching for now and is thus on today’s list. Here’s a great edit from Eric’s views this spring:

Eric’s Notes

Robert Puason, Oakland Athletics (Low-A Stockton)

Hopefully Oakland fans were pleased to read about the best player I saw during minor league spring training in Kevin’s portion of this post, but now you’re going to eat your vegetables. Robert Puason, he of the $5 million bonus in 2019, does not look very good. His defensive performance has been mixed (he made some fantastic plays this spring while also botching some of the routine ones), but where he’s really lagging right now is on offense. He’s been very, very late on fastballs in my looks, even below-average ones in the 90-92 range. This is occurring from both sides of the plate and even when Puason chokes up with two strikes. Puason is still a big-framed switch-hitter who flashes defensive excellence, and I understand why he was sought after on the amateur market, but I don’t think we’re looking at a future star here, at least not one who’s going to come along quickly.

Pierson Ohl, RHP, Grand Canyon University Antelopes

Since velocity seems to be the easiest thing to develop nowadays, one could argue it’s more logical to draft pitchers with command of well-demarcated stuff and try to get them to throw harder. Does this make Ohl, who has walked just eight hitters all year and has racked up five (seven-inning) complete games, a higher priority target than would be typical for a small school guy who sits about 88? In this case I don’t think so. Ohl is a control-over-command type who hammers the zone but isn’t dotting his stuff on the corners with precision, and I don’t think the action on his secondary stuff is already so good that velocity is the only thing he needs to be successful as a pro. He’s put up great numbers and I do think he helps make the Lopes a postseason threat because he might be able to save their bullpen for a Regional’s weekend slog, but he’s still more a Day 3 prospect for me.

Jhoan Cruz, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers (Low-A Carolina)

I saw the 20-year-old Cruz during the spring and he already has a plus changeup, one that got Tyler Soderstrom to swing and and miss twice in the same at-bat. He’s a Lilliputian 5-foot-9, a trait that runs through many Brewers minor league pitchers as, I’ll speculate, they’ve been on the lookout for low release heights. He was only 87-90 with the fastball when I saw him and Cruz’s slider in the 78-83 mph range looked below-average to me, but this is a loose, athletic 20-year-old with an out pitch.

Jacob Berry, 1B/3B/DH, University of Arizona Wildcats (2022 Sophomore Eligible)

I’ve now seen four Berry games and I’m still not totally sure what I think of him. He’s a switch-hitting sophomore currently slashing .409/.495/.770 in a big conference, second in the Pac-12 in home runs (11) and I can’t decide if I like him or not. Berry’s swing has a lot of length from the left side of the dish and he’s often late on fastballs on the outer third that he just can’t get to in time, but he’s otherwise making contact with pitches all over the zone. Sometimes he’s late on stuff that he should be pulling but he’s strong enough to drive it the other way with power. I’ve barely seen him hit right-handed to this point, and he’s also DH’d in two of my looks so I don’t have great feel for his defense yet, but he’s squarely on the 2022 radar after laying such a strong statistical foundation as an older-than-typical freshman.

Jose Dicochea, RHP, Oakland Athletics

Another young pitcher whose stock is up after showing increased velocity this spring is Dicochea, a 2019 eighth rounder who signed for an over-slot $400,000 out of a Tucson-area high school. He was 87-92 during his first pro summer but was 91-95 for me this spring, and consistently toward the top of the velo band early in his start. He also has what might be two distinct breaking balls in the same low-80s velo range, or just one breaking ball that has inconsistent shape. Either way, there’s impressive spin talent here and I saw several plus curveballs this spring. He had a solid first outing at his affiliate, striking out six in 2.2 innings. There’s still some room for mass on Dicochea’s frame but I think he’s likely a reliever in the end. I think the combination of physical maturation and a role shift means he’ll sit in the mid-90s and have a nasty hook.

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1 year ago

“O’Hoppe played his prep ball on Long Island”

Us Long Islanders appreciate the use of “on”.

1 year ago
Reply to  Chris

Strong Island status verified by use of “Us” instead of “We”.

The Ancient Mariner
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris

What other preposition would anyone use? (I grew up on an island on the other coast, so it seems obvious to me.)

Smiling Politely
1 year ago

If you pay attention to how many reporters talk about being “IN capital hill,” you’ll realize how quickly prepositions become interchangeable in English 🙂

1 year ago

It’s a pronoun that we English speakers use.