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Cardinals Pitching Prospect Tink Hence Has a Sky-High Ceiling

Busch Stadium
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Tink Hence has the highest ceiling among pitchers in the St. Louis Cardinals system. A top 100 prospect with a 50 FV, the 20-year-old right-hander has just 60.1 professional innings under his belt — 68.2 if you count his brief stint in the Arizona Fall League — but that has been enough to turn heads. Displaying an electric array of pitches, the lanky Pine Bluff, Arkansas native has fanned 104 batters and allowed just 44 hits and 22 walks.

Hence, whose given first name is Markevian, discussed his power repertoire and his approach to pitching during his time in the AFL.


David Laurila: Tell about yourself as pitcher. How do you go about your craft?

Tink Hence: “I just go out and do what I do. I know how my my fastball plays, and I know how my off-speed plays off my fastball. I really don’t try to set it all up with the analytical stuff. When I go out there, it’s easier to just play as opposed to thinking, ‘OK, if I throw it there, it does that’ or if I’m trying to make something break more. I just let it come.”

Laurila: How does your stuff play?

Hence: “I throw a four-seamer, a curveball, a changeup, and a slider. I feel like my stuff plays well when I, as they say, ’let it eat.’ My changeup works well off my fastball, and whenever I can get the curveball up… it’s like a buckle piece. I feel like my curveball is more of my strike pitch, and my slider is like my strikeout pitch. My curveball is more north-south, and when they guess fastball they take it for a strike.”

Laurila: Where is your velocity?

Hence: “My fastball probably sits 95–97 [mph]. My curve is around the 75–77 range. With my slider, you’ll see more of the 81–84 range. The changeup, during the season it kind of was slow, but I’m working on getting it around 86–87. I’m working on it a lot here [in the AFL].” Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Chase Utley is Ballot-Bound (and Underrated)

Who was better, Joe Mauer or Chase Utley? I asked that question in a Twitter poll earlier this week and the result was… well, lopsided. The erstwhile Minnesota Twins catcher/first baseman garnered 79.5% of the 1,362 votes cast, while the former Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman received just 20.5%. With both debuting on next year’s Hall of Fame ballot — one that will include numerous notable holdovers — that breakdown could be telling. While it seems unlikely that Utley will join the likes of Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker as a one-and-done snub, might he poll just as poorly, or even worse, with BBWAA voters as he did in the head-to-head matchup with Mauer?

Utley finished his career with 61.6 fWAR and 64.5 bWAR.
Mauer finished his career with 53.0 fWAR and 55.2 bWAR.

Adrián Beltré, who will also debut on the ballot, is a shoo-in to be elected in his first year of eligibility. It is much for that reason that the Mauer-Utley comparison is meaningful — at least for the segment of voters that includes yours truly. Eight of the 10 candidates I voted for this year will be returning, and Beltré is a no-brainer. That leaves one open slot. Moreover, I’m not alone in this conundrum. A total of 54 voters put checkmarks next to 10 names, with eight ballots being identical to mine. Read the rest of this entry »

A Bona Fide Pitching Nerd, Chris Murphy Is a Red Sox Prospect on the Rise

Chris Murphy
Syndication: The News-Press

Chris Murphy is gaining helium. A sixth-round pick in the 2019 draft out of San Diego State University, the 24-year-old southpaw was No. 38 on our Red Sox Top Prospects list going into last season, with a modest 35+ FV. But on the heels of a 2022 campaign that saw him excel in 15 starts with Double-A Portland and then hold his own in 15 more with Triple-A Worcester, this year he will be moving up to the 14–16 range with a 40 FV, per our lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. He also just participated in Boston’s Rookie Development Program, which focuses on easing the transition into MLB — an indication that Murphy could be in Boston as soon as this summer.

A self-proclaimed nerd who is well-versed in his vertical approach angle and pitch metrics, Murphy discussed his craft earlier this week at Fenway Park.


David Laurila: Let’s start with who are you as a pitcher. How do you get outs?

Chris Murphy: “That’s a good question. There have been times in my career where it’s very fastball heavy — come at you fastball/changeup primarily and then curveball/slider secondarily. I’ve generally been aggressive with the fastball up in the zone. I have good vertical break, good two-plane, and a pretty decent vertical approach angle. That’s why I get swings and misses up in the zone and why my changeup plays down in the zone. Using that to my advantage, being a shorter pitcher, is something that’s given me a career to this point. That and throwing from the left side.”

Laurila: How tall are you?

Murphy: “The book will say 6-[foot]-1, but I’m probably just under six feet. I weigh about 185, so I’m not the biggest guy.”

Laurila: You said that you get good vertical but also two-plane. Can you elaborate?

Murphy: “Yes, I get both ride and run. There are days where my fastball is more true and it’s just ride, but ride and run is ideally where I like it to be. And then with the changeup, it’s about killing the spin, killing the vert, and adding more horizontal. The goal this year is to be under six vertical and negative-18–19 horizontal.” Read the rest of this entry »

A’s Prospect Zack Gelof Profiles as Another Brick in the Wall

Zack Gelof
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Zack Gelof doesn’t profile as a boom-or-bust prospect. Coming off of a season that saw him reach Triple-A at age 22, the University of Virginia product is a near lock to perform on the big stage — not as a headliner, but rather as a solid contributor to a lineup that is currently patched together with Band-Aids. The low-budget Oakland Athletics need all the help they can get, so getting Gelof — ditto the higher-ceilinged Tyler Soderstrom — to the big leagues is an organizational priority.

Drafted 60th overall in 2021, Gelof slashed .270/.352/.463 with 18 home runs this past season, with the bulk of his action coming with Double-A Midland. The right-handed-hitting infielder added three more homers in the Arizona Fall League, and it is his power potential that most stands out for our lead prospect analyst. When I asked Eric Longenhagen for a snapshot scouting report on Gelof, he told me that “it is definitely a power-over-hit profile at this point,” adding that while his 70% contact rate wasn’t great, his “peak power and barrel rates were very encouraging.”

When I asked Gelof for a self-scouting report, he chose not to cite specific strengths, but rather his all-around skillset and desire to get better.

“I’d say I’m a really athletic infielder who likes to compete,” the Delaware native told me during his stint in the AFL. “But I try not to think about who I am and what people scout me to be. I just worry about working on basically every area that I can. I want to perform on the field and be the best player that I can be.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Comped To King Felix, Eury Pérez Made Pablo López Expendable

Friday’s trade that saw Pablo López and a pair of prospects go from Miami to Minnesota in exchange for Luis Arraez made sense for both teams. The Twins, who my colleague Ben Clemens wrote got the better of the deal, received a quality pitcher who will slot into their starting rotation, plus the promising-but-raw minor-leaguers. The Marlins got a 25-year-old infielder who just won a batting title and is a .314/.374/.410 hitter over 1,569 big-league plate appearances.

Miami’s top prospect is a big reason why parting with a pitcher of López’s quality is perfectly defensible. While recently-signed Johnny Cueto will take Lopez’s rotation spot in the near term, it is Eury Pérez who promises to make an already-good rotation even better. Arguably the best right-handed pitching prospect in the game — Baltimore’s Grayson Rodriguez and Philadelphia’s Andrew Painter are also on the short-list — Pérez has a Sandy Alcántara-ish ceiling. The 6-foot-8 native of Santiago, Dominican Republic excelled in Double-A this past year as a teenager, and there is a real chance that he’ll reach the big leagues at age 20.

“This kid just has an incredible presence about him,” said Miami GM Kim Ng. “His fastball is 96-99 [mph] with ride, and he’s got a really good breaking ball. And again, the presence, as well as the poise, is unbelievable. He’s not talented beyond imagination, but it’s close.”

Asked who the youngster comps to, Ng initially demurred. As she pointed out, not many pitching prospects are Pérez’s size. When she did ultimately offer a name, it was a notable one. Read the rest of this entry »

Talented But Raw, Canada’s Owen Caissie Aspires To Be a Cub

Owen Caissie
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Owen Caissie has a high ceiling and a long way to go to reach it. Acquired by the Chicago Cubs from the San Diego Padres as part of the December 2020 Yu Darvish deal, the left-handed-hitting outfielder is 20 years old and has just 159 professional games under his belt. Moreover, he was drafted out of cold-weather Burlington, Ontario. As Eric Longenhagen noted when ranking the 2020 second-rounder No. 3 on last year’s Cubs Top Prospects list (and just outside of our overall Top 100), Caissie “had never played a night game in his life until the Arizona Complex League opener in 2021.”

Looking mostly at the raw numbers, Caissie’s future looks less sunny than it did prior to last season. Playing in High-A South Bend, he slashed an uninspiring .254/.349/.402 with 11 home runs in 433 plate appearances, and that was followed by an even more lackluster .220/.270/.356 line in the Arizona Fall League. Perspective is needed; Caissie was a teenager for the first half of the season, and his tools, originally crafted in Canada, are both projectable and loud. He simply remains relatively raw.

Caissie, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, discussed his early-career development during his stint in the AFL.


David Laurila: Let’s start with your development as a hitter. How have you evolved since entering pro ball?

Owen Caissie: “I feel like what has changed the most is… I mean, I did make some swing adjustments. When I got drafted, I was kind of bent down, and now I’m straight up. But what’s really changed is my approach, my pitch selection, my ability to kind of keyhole the ball in the middle. I’ve never read my scouting report. I wouldn’t even know how to get to it. But there are obviously holes in my game that I need to close up.”

Laurila: What type of hitter do you consider yourself?

Caissie: “I like to classify myself as a hitter over a power hitter. At least that’s what I try to be.” Read the rest of this entry »

Drafted For His Bat, Zac Veen Is Running To Colorado

Coors Field
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies didn’t draft Zac Veen ninth overall in 2020 because of his wheels. They did so because he could bash baseballs. As Eric Longenhagen wrote the following spring, the left-handed-hitting outfielder possessed “the most obvious long-term power projection” among that year’s high school draftees, adding that Veen’s “in-the-box actions are quiet and smooth up until the moment he decides to unleash hell on the baseball.” Longenhagen rated him the organization’s top prospect before he had played his first professional game.

Two seasons into his career, Veen’s still-promising power has been overshadowed by his running game. Through 232 contests, the 6-foot-4 Port Orange, Florida native has left the yard a modest 27 times and swiped an immodest 91 bases. Counting his past-season stint in the Arizona Fall League, those totals are 28 home runs and 107 stolen bases in 253 games.

I asked Veen, who came in at No. 51 on Baseball America’s newly released Top 100 list (our own rankings are forthcoming), about his Eric Young Sr.-like theft numbers prior to an AFL game last October. Was stealing a lot of bases a goal coming into the 2022 season?

“Honestly, it was just something where I learned a lot last year, and I wanted to carry that over to this year,” he told me. “A lot of it is picking the right time to run. Last year I kind of just ran whenever, and this year I really only tried to run when I needed to run.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Ceddanne Rafaela Might Be Boston’s Answer in Center (or Short)

The Red Sox have question marks in center field and at shortstop, and Ceddanne Rafaela could eventually be the answer at either position. Or both. One of Boston’s top prospects, the 22-year-old native of Curaçao profiles as the organization’s best defender on the grass, and he’s nearly as adept on the dirt. Moreover, he can swing the bat. Playing at High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland, Rafaela put up a 134 wRC+ while logging 32 doubles, 10 triples, and 21 home runs.

How soon he is deemed big-league-ready is a question that looms every bit as large as that of his primary position going forward. Rafaela is coming off of a season where he played 92 games in center, versus just 21 at short, but opportunity is knocking far louder at the latter. With Xander Bogaerts leaving for San Diego and Trevor Story going under the knife, Boston has a huge void to fill. Enrique Hernández could fit the bill, but he’s better suited for second base or center field.

What does the bad news the Red Sox received on Story earlier this week mean for Rafaela’s near-term future? I asked that question to Chaim Bloom.

“I think we would ill-served by sidetracking proper development for him in response to this,” Boston’s Chief Baseball Officer replied. “He’s a really exciting player, and we’re excited for him to impact us, but there is still development left.”

Following up, I asked the under-fire executive if the plan is for Rafaela to continue to play both positions. Read the rest of this entry »

A Fresh Start Is Just What Yankees Pitching Prospect Clayton Beeter Needed

Yankee Stadium
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Clayton Beeter was a promising pitching prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization when he was first featured here at FanGraphs midway through the 2021 season. He’s now a promising prospect in the Yankees’ system, having been acquired by New York early last August in exchange for Joey Gallo. A 24-year-old right-hander whom the Dodgers drafted 66th overall in 2020 out of Texas Tech University, Beeter is coming off of a season where he logged a not-so-impressive 4.56 ERA at a pair of Double-A stops, but also 129 strikeouts in 77 innings. Possessing a power arsenal, he’s a hurler with a high ceiling.

Command has been Beeter’s bugaboo. The Fort Worth native walked 5.4 batters per nine innings last year, and his career mark as a professional is 4.7. Much for that reason, our lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen feels that Beeter profiles best out of the bullpen, where he would feature a fastball that “has big carry thanks to its backspinning axis.” Eric has likened the action of Beeter’s best pitch to the one thrown by Tampa Bay Rays reliever Nick Anderson.

Beeter believes that he can remain a starter, and the Yankees appear to want to give him that opportunity. They loosened the reins on his pitch count after trading for him, and not only was that welcome news for the young right-hander, but it also had a positive effect on his walk rate. After issuing 35 free passes in 51.2 innings with Double-A Tulsa, Beeter issued just 11 walks in 25.1 innings with Double-A Somerset.

Beeter discussed the deal that brought him to Yankees, and what it could mean for his future, at the end of the 2022 season.


David Laurila: Let’s start with the trade. How surprised were you?

Clayton Beeter: “Everyone knows it’s a possibility to get traded, but no one really sees that actually happening. That’s kind of the way it was for me. My pitching coach with the Dodgers had asked me the week before if the deadline was weighing on me, and I was like, ‘Not really, I don’t think I’m getting traded at all.’ Then, sure enough, I’m riding in the car to a road trip, and Twitter starts blowing up with my name on it. It happened.”

Laurila: Surprise aside, what was your reaction?

Beeter: “I was sad to leave, because I had some really good friends over there, but I’d also been feeling a little… I guess ‘stuck.’ I kind of needed a fresh start, and that’s exactly what happened. I was actually really excited to move teams.” Read the rest of this entry »

Released by the Tigers, Spenser Watkins Learned How to Pitch as an Oriole

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

It looked like Spenser Watkins’s career might be over when he was released by the Detroit Tigers in July 2020. Six years had passed since he was drafted in the 30th round out of Western Oregon University, and at no point over that span was he viewed as more than a fringe prospect. Possessing neither plus velocity nor a difference-making secondary, the right-hander was coming off a minor league season where he’d logged a 6.07 ERA. That the only offers Watkins was receiving were for non-playing roles wasn’t exactly a surprise.

Then the Orioles came calling. That opportunity, fueled by an education in pitching that he never received with the Tigers, ultimately catapulted him to the big leagues. On July 2, 2021 — nearly a year to the day after Detroit gave up on him — Watkins walked onto a mound in a Baltimore Orioles uniform. A year and half later, the Scottsdale native has 39 major league appearances comprising 160 innings under his belt. Moreover, unlike in his Tigers days, he knows how his arsenal plays.

Watkins discussed his education-driven evolution as a pitcher late in the 2022 season.


David Laurila: Two years ago, you were a career minor leaguer who’d been let go by the Tigers. How did you go from there to where you are now?

Spenser Watkins: “I was released during the COVID season, so I wasn’t playing; I didn’t go to the alt site, or anything like that. Basically, it was ‘OK, let’s see what the free agent market has to bring.’ Come December, that became, ‘OK, I’ve got to figure out what the next step is; I’ve got to figure out a way to provide for my family.’ Read the rest of this entry »