Bo Naylor made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Guardians on Saturday, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll be a mainstay in their lineup as soon as next year. His tool box and present performance are equally eye-catching. The 22-year-old Mississauga, Ontario native logged a 140 wRC+ between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, and a pair of counting stats were even more notable. Displaying unique athleticism for a backstop, Naylor swatted 21 home runs and swiped 20 bases in 24 attempts.
His emergence as Cleveland’s catcher of the future came on the heels of a confounding 2021 campaign. Returning to action following a minor-league season lost to COVID, the 2018 first-round pick struggled to the tune of a .612 OPS in Akron last year. A flaw in his left-handed stroke was the primary reason for concern. As Eric Longenhagen wrote last spring, Naylor’s swing “can really only cut through the heart of the zone.”
This past Sunday, I asked the younger brother of Guardians first baseman Josh Naylor if he felt that our lead prospect analyst’s assessment was valid. Read the rest of this entry »
Riley Greene was 18 years old and only three months removed from being drafted fifth-overall when he was first featured here at FanGraphs in September 2019. Harking back to our earlier conversation, I asked the Detroit Tigers rookie outfielder what he knows now that he didn’t know then.
“When I first started, I didn’t really think about much,”replied Greene, who celebrated his 22nd birthday four days ago. “I kind of just went up there, and was free-swinging almost. I was a young kid who didn’t really know anything. Since then, I’ve come up with a routine and am more educated on what I need to do at the plate. I have a plan. Whether it works or not is up the baseball gods.”
The extent to which the baseball gods have been on his side is relative. Greene isn’t exactly setting the world on fire — he has a 100 wRC+ and five home runs in 400 plate appearances — but again, he’s been old enough to take a legal drink for barely over a year. He also came into the season with just 198 professional games under his belt, only 55 at the Triple-A level. His potential far exceeds his present.
In some respects, Greene is much the same player Detroit drafted in the first round out of Oviedo, Florida’s Paul J. Hagerty High School. Read the rest of this entry »
On September 1, one day after baseball’s no. 5 overall prospect made his major league debut, Dan Szymborski wrote that the Baltimore Orioles “showed mercy to minor league pitchers … officially calling up infielder Gunnar Henderson.” As my colleague pointed out, the 21-year-old left-handed hitter had slashed .297/.416/.531 with 19 home runs over 112 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. His wRC+ was a healthy 154.
Henderson has continued to impress at the big-league level. In 110 plate appearances with the O’s, the young slugger has punished pitchers to the tune of a 139 wRC+, with 12 of his 27 hits going for extra bases. He’s left the yard four times, with the latest of those blasts leaving his bat at 111.1 mph and traveling 428 feet into Fenway Park’s center field bleachers.
Henderson sat down to talk hitting on Tuesday, one day before he was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year.
David Laurila: Let’s start with your evolution as a hitter. What do you know now that you didn’t when you were drafted by the Orioles [42nd overall in 2019 out of Selma, Alabama’s John T. Morgan Academy]?
Gunnar Henderson: “I would say that it’s the number of good pitches you get to hit. In high school, you’ll get multiple pitches to hit within an at-bat, and then as you progress, at each and every level, it’s less and less. Especially here in the big leagues. You really have to take your walks and not give in to what the pitcher wants you to do. You’ve got to hunt for that one pitch, because you might only get one, maybe two, a game.”
Laurila: How do you go about doing that? Read the rest of this entry »
Nick Frasso has a high-octane heater and an intriguing ceiling. Acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers from the Toronto Blue Jays at this summer’s trade deadline, the 23-year-old right-hander was described by Eric Longenhagen prior to the season as “an uncommon sort of prospect,” a projectable hurler who’d had a velocity spike before undergoing Tommy John surgery shortly after being selected 106th overall in the 2020 draft.
Loyola Marymount University product has only elevated his profile since returning to the mound in mid-May. Featuring a fastball with more juice than the one he displayed pre-injury, he logged a 1.83 ERA with 76 strikeouts and just 33 hits allowed in 54 innings. Moreover, he did so while climbing from Low-A to Double-A in three months time.
Frasso — No. 20 on our Dodgers prospect rankings, with a 40+ FV — sat down to discuss his repertoire, and recent change of scenery, following an August outing with the High-A Great Lakes Loons.
David Laurila: Let’s start with your early-career development. What do you know now that you didn’t when you signed your first professional contract?
Nick Frasso: “My last year in college is when we finally got a TrackMan at our school and as that was the COVID year, I didn’t even get to use it a ton. It wasn’t until I jumped into pro ball that I really got access to all the analytical stuff — the metrics that allowed me to see what my pitches do, what works better in certain situations, and stuff like that. I’ve kind of gone from there.”
Laurila: I was at last night’s [August 16] game and saw you hit triple digits a couple of times. How does your fastball profile outside of the velocity? Read the rest of this entry »
Niko Kavadas climbed multiple levels in his first full professional season. Moreover, he was one of the best hitters in the minors. Drafted in the 11th round last year by the Boston Red Sox out of the University of Notre Dame, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound first baseman slashed .280/.442/.547 with 26 home runs, those numbers coming between Low-A Salem, High-A Greenville, and Double-A Portland. His 170 wRC+ ranked third highest among MLB farmhands who logged at least 300 plate appearances.
I recently asked Portland Sea Dogs development coach Katie Krall what makes Boston’s 2022 Minor League Player of the Year as good as he is.
“Niko understands his thumbprint as a hitter,” she said of Kavadas, who came to the plate 515 times and augmented his 110 hits with 102 walks. “He knows where he does damage. He’s got a disciplined approach in terms of the types of pitches he’s looking to hit and doesn’t chase a lot. If you look at his heat map, he does most of his damage belt to below, so a message we’ve tried to hammer home with him is to focus on that. He’s really bought into it. Even here in Double-A, where he hasn’t had the same results that he did in Greenville, the underlying processes are trending in the right direction.”
Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham offered a similar assessment. Citing Kavadas’ combination of power and plate discipline, he expressed that the left-handed hitter is unique in that he “almost has a contact approach that produces power.” Read the rest of this entry »
Back in the 1950s, Hall of Fame slugger Ralph Kiner famously said that “singles hitters drive Fords and home run hitters drive Cadillacs.” Michael Massey’s grandmother may or may not have been familiar with the quote, but she did her best to send the 24-year-old Kansas City Royals rookie down the right road. I learned as much when I asked Massey about his first big-league blast, which came on August 18 against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
“What I thought of when I hit it was my nana,” said Massey, who grew up in the Chicago area and went on to play his college ball at the University of Illinois. “She passed away toward the end of last season — she was 93 — and growing up she’d always give me a hundred bucks for every home run I hit. She loved it when I hit home runs, and did that for every league I played in.”
Massey has never tallied up his earnings from over the years, although he does acknowledge that the benevolence was bountiful. Along with his homers in youth leagues, high school, and college, he left the yard 21 times in High-A last year.
His grandmother — his mother’s mother — escaped Illinois winters by vacationing in Florida, and eventually became a snowbird. That the Sunshine State became her “favorite place in the world” made Massey’s first MLB home run even more special. And the memories include much more than money. The family matriarch regularly played whiffle ball with him when he was growing up, and she wasn’t just a fan of her grandson. She loved baseball. Read the rest of this entry »
Kyle Manzardo was one of the best hitters in the minors this year. Among players with at least 300 plate appearances, only San Francisco Giants prospect Vaun Brown logged a higher wRC+ (175 compared to 173) or wOBA (.464 compared to .450). A 22-year-old first baseman in the Tampa Bay Rays system, Manzardo put up his numbers over 397 PA, a hamstring injury having kept him out of action from mid-April until mid-May. Playing with High-A Bowling Green and Double-A Montgomery, he slashed a combined .327/.426/.617 with 22 home runs.
Manzardo began honing his hitting skills in a state that has produced just 32 major leaguers. Born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound left-handed hitter went on to play college ball at Washington State University, where he did what he does best: square up baseballs. In three years with the Cougars, Manzardo batted .330 with an OPS north of 1.000. That he lasted until the back end of the second round of last year’s draft was both positionally predictable and unexpected.
“I was a little surprised that it was the Rays,” admitted Manzardo, who went 63rd overall. “I hadn’t had a ton of contact with them, although I did do a Zoom meeting right before the draft. I was kind of expecting to go towards the end of the third round. That’s kind of what I’d been hearing.” Read the rest of this entry »
Clarke Schmidt has added an important weapon to his arsenal since he was first featured here at FanGraphs in January 2021. Given the organization he plays for, it isn’t much of a surprise that that addition is a sweeping slider — or, in New York Yankees vernacular, a “whirly.” The 26-year-old right-hander is throwing his version of the pitch 37.2% of the time this season, and with great success: Opposing hitters are batting just .148 against the offering, with a .164 SLG and a .186 wOBA.
His overall numbers are likewise impressive. The 2017 first-round pick has made 23 appearances this year — all but three out the bullpen — and boasts a 2.82 ERA and a 3.17 FIP. He’s allowed 41 hits and fanned 51 batters in the same number of innings.
Schmidt discussed his “baby whirly” when the Yankees visited Fenway Park earlier this month.
David Laurila: We talked pitching prior to last season. What’s changed since that time?
Clarke Schmidt: “When we spoke, I wouldn’t have been throwing a slider. That’s the main thing I’ve added, and it’s probably been my biggest pitch this year. My usage has been high, and I’ve had some really good results with it. Beyond that, I’ve cleaned up some things — some arm path stuff — and there has probably been more maturity in my pitch selection. But I’d say that the slider has been the number one change.”
Laurila: I recall you saying in January 2021 that some people considered your curveball more of a slider.
Schmidt: “For sure. I’ve always had a big breaking ball, but it’s hard — it’s 84-85 [mph] — so even though people are throwing harder curveballs now, it does get considered a slider sometimes. But now that I’m throwing both, there are distinct differences. I have two different shapes. Read the rest of this entry »
Dave Raymond has fond memories of June 13, 2012. Then in his final year as a broadcaster for the Houston Astros, the now TV play-by-play voice of the Texas Rangers got to call a historic pitching performance — and it wasn’t even his biggest thrill of the day. Prior to the game, he was in the presence of a legend.
Raymond had an inkling that the season would be his last with the Astros. He was in the final year of his contract, and an ownership transition was resulting in numerous changes throughout the organization. With his future up in the air, Raymond decided that he was going to “hit all the high notes,” making sure to enjoy aspects of his job that can sometimes be taken for granted. That’s how he met Willie Mays.
“In San Francisco, Willie was always down in the clubhouse, just available to chat,” recalled Raymond, who graduated from Stanford University before becoming a broadcaster. “I’d never wanted to bother him all those years, but I decided to make it a point to talk to him, whether that was for five minutes, 10 minutes, or whatever. So I went to the ballpark early, hoping to ask him some questions and hear a few stories. For instance, he’d hit his 500th home run at the Astrodome, and they’d brought him a cake afterwards.”
The hoped for five-to-10 minutes ended up being far longer. Mays held court for hours, to the point where Raymond had to tell the iconic Hall of Famer that he needed to head upstairs, as the game was about to start. As he was getting up to leave, he added that the Astros would be returning to San Francisco right after the All-Star break, and maybe they could talk again. Mays responded by saying, “Well, you’ve got to come over to my house then.” Read the rest of this entry »
Jackson Jobe has a bright future. Currently first in our Detroit Tigers prospect rankings, the 20-year-old right-hander is coming off a first full professional season during which he logged a 3.94 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 77-and-a-third innings spent between Low-A Lakeland and High-A West Michigan. Drafted third overall last year out of Oklahoma City’s Heritage Hall High School, he pairs an array of plus offerings with elite athleticism. What’s more, according to our own Eric Longenhagen, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Jobe “would have been a Day Two pick as a position player.”
Jobe discussed his early-career development, as well as the pitches in his power arsenal, at the conclusion of the Midwest League season.
David Laurila: Along with pitching, you showed a lot of promise as a position player. At what point did it become clear that your future was on the mound?
Jackson Jobe: “I’ve always pitched a little bit. Growing up, I always had a good arm — obviously, you’ve got to have a good arm to play shortstop — but I want to say it was my junior year. My junior year spring was COVID, so I only got one outing before our whole season got banged. At that point, I just kept training. Then summer came around, and they were still doing some of the showcases.
“Perfect Game had a showcase — I want to say it was PG National — and I got invited there to play shortstop and pitch a few innings. I ended up throwing really well. It kind of just clicked, I guess. I threw harder than I’d ever done before. The slider was good. From that point forward, my phone was blowing up with agents and scouts. That was kind of the beginning for me as far as pitching goes.” Read the rest of this entry »